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Market Insights Today: Easing US wage pressures; Fed decision eyed – 1 February 2023

Equities 7 minutes to read
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Summary:  Equities ended January on a positive note, jumping higher yesterday as easing Q4 employment cost index and consumer confidence further supporting the case for a smaller rate hike of 25bps from the Fed later today. Earnings remained a mixed bag with GM and Exxon delivering a beat, but most other signaling margin pressures and dampening consumer growth. Gold and most industrial metals reversed the recent downtrend, helping AUDUSD to rebound from post-retail sales slump lows. Today’s focus will be on Eurozone CPI, US ISM manufacturing and the Fed announcement.

MI 1 Feb 2023

What’s happening in markets?

Nasdaq 100 (NAS100.I) and S&P 500 (US500.I) rallied on cooler worker compensation trend

After consolidating for one day, U.S. stocks resumed their charge higher, being aided by a softer print of the Employment Cost Index that increased the odds of a pause by the Fed in March or May this year. Nasdaq 100 rose 1.6% and the S&P500 gained 1.5%. The rally was broad-based as all 11 sectors within the S&P500 advanced. Materials, consumer discretionary, real estate, and industrials outperformed. General Motors (GM:xnys) jumped 8.3% on earnings and revenue beats. Exxon Mobil (XOM:xnys) gained 2.2% as the oil major reported record profits. Leading home builder PuteGroup (PHM:xnys) surged 9.5% following reporting Q4 earnings beating estimates. United Parcel Service (UPS:xnys) rose 4.6% on a 2023 business outlook largely in-line with expectations. Caterpillar (CAT:xnys) slid 3.5% after the construction and mining machine maker’s Q4 earnings missed expectations and said that sales in China will be softer in 2023. McDonald’s (MCD:xnys) declined 1.3% on weaknesses in Q4 as well as the 2023 operating margin outlook dragged by inflation pressure. Snap (SNAP:xnys) tumbled 14.4% in extended-hour trading following reporting Q4 revenue in-line with expectations and earnings beat but expecting a decline in revenues in Q1 this year, citing significant headwinds.

Yields on US Treasuries (TLT:Xmas, IEF:xnas, SHY:xnas) 2bps to 4bps richer as the Employment Cost Index softened

Bids came into the front end to the belly of the Treasury curve following the growth in the U.S. employment cost index, a preferred wage and benefit barometer of the Fed came in at 1% in Q4, below the 1.1% expected, and decelerated from 1.2% in Q3. The 5-year notes outperformed with a 5bp drop in yield to 3.62%. Yields on the 2-year and the 10-year were 3bps lower to 4.20% ad 3.51% respectively. Gabriel Rubin and Nick Timiraos of the Wall Street Journal suggested that the cooler worker compensation gains increased “the possibility of a pause in rate rises this spring”.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng (HIG3) and China’s CSI300 (03188:xhkg) extended decline

Stocks in the Hong Kong and mainland bourses extended the decline from their recent highs on a risk-off day. After the strong gains in January on the positive development in the potential peaking of the exit wave of inflection in China, traders booked their profits ahead of the U.S. Fed’s rate decision as well as in response to fear about the risk of escalation of tension between the U.S. and China on the technology front.  In addition to the recent Politico story on the Biden administration’s plan to ban U.S. investments from investing in certain high-tech areas in China, Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the U.S. Commerce Department has stopped issuing licenses to companies seeking to export to China’s Huawei. Hang Seng Index and CSI 300 Index each fell by around 1%. Hang Seng Index was partly dragged down by Hang Lung Properties (00101:xhkg), which tumbled 5.3% following reporting underlying profit falling 3.8% Y/Y and below expectations. EV stocks advanced. BYD rose 2.3% after reporting a preliminary 2022 profit of RMB 6.7 – 7.7 billion which represents a 425% to 458% growth from a year earlier. Li Auto (02015:xhkg) climbed 1.5% following confirmation that its new EV model L5 would not be a SUV, implying less cannibalization of existing models. In A-shares, Chinese white liquor, food and beverage, semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, and electronics were the major laggards while property developers, petrochemicals, farming and fishery, and machinery stocks gained.

FX: Dollar reversed gears to drop as Fed decision nears

The dollar index made a further recovery to 102.60 on plunging German retail sales data, but the index slumped lower as US data including Fed’s preferred wage measure came in softer than expected. USDCAD hit a low of 1.3300 amid a rebound in WTI prices. EURUSD continues to struggle to break above 1.0900 ahead of EZ CPI and ECB decision due today. AUDUSD reversed the drop below 0.7000 after the plunge in AU retail sales, with metals gaining traction again.

Crude oil (CLG3 & LCOH3) recovers ahead of Fed and OPEC

Crude oil reversed the early drop from Tuesday as sentiment shifted amid signs of cooling inflation and wage pressures emerging from the US economic data (details below) ahead of the key Fed decision due today, and the US dollar slipped. Further, Exxon CEO post-earnings said he sees potential for continued tight global oil markets and tight supplies as some producers pull back. WTI rebounded back above $79 while Brent was above $85. Meanwhile, API inventory data for crude oil suggested another built of 6.3 million barrels, as stockpiles of gasoline and diesel also increased. Reports also suggested that OPEC is likely to maintain a cautious path on oil policy as it awaits clarity on China’s reopening.

Gold (XAUUSD) finds support at $1900

Gold snapped a three-day downtrend with US employment cost index and consumer confidence data suggested that there remains scope for the Fed to slow its rate hikes. Lower US yields prompted interest in the yellow metal, reversing it from key support level of $1900 and it reached close to $1930, bringing the recent high of 1949 in focus again. The World Gold Council reported that gold demand reached a decade high in 2022 amid strong buying from central banks.


What to consider?

Where has the most momentum been in markets and can it continue?

It’s vital to reflect on the global equity markets rally in January  - and where momentum has been. In the US the Nasdaq gained 10%, the S&P500 5.6%, with EV names, Lucid and Tesla up 40-70% off their lows. In Europe the biggest 50 stocks (Stoxx 50) gained 10% with designers such as Hermes and LVMH providing the most heat, up 18% on expectations of higher earnings as China reopens. Australia’s ASX200 lifted 6.2% with lithium miners Sayona Mining and Pilbara Minerals up the most, 37-27%. Ultimately the Fed's decision in interest rates and it outcome this week, along with the ECB's put some of these companies on notice. 

The Fed is expected to downshift again

The expectations of a soft landing have picked up since the start of the year, relative to the rising recession bets seen in H2 of last year. Meanwhile, inflation has been on a steady downtrend in the last six months, which has allowed the Fed to downshift to a 50bps rate hike in December after a spate of rate hikes in 75bps increments before that. The consensus expects the FOMC will downshift again to lift its Federal Funds Rate target by 25bps to 4.50-4.75% on February 1, although some still expect the central bank to hike rates by a larger 50bps increment. Fed speakers have also broadly guided for a smaller hike at the next meeting. With economic data remaining volatile, there is some reason to believe that Powell and team may be aiming to lengthen the hiking cycle in order to buy more time to assess both the incoming data and the impact of their previous aggressive rate hikes. This warrants a smaller rate hike of 25bps at the February 1 decision. The key risk factor, favouring another 50bps rate hike, could be the financial conditions which are the easiest since April 2022 or the risks of another shoot higher in inflation due to China’s reopening and the resulting rise in commodity prices. Read our full preview here.

US economic data still supporting a smaller rate hike

The Fed’s preferred measure of wage gains, the employment cost index, slowed to 1% last quarter from +1.2% in Q3, coming in a notch softer than the expected at 1.1%. The fall was led by wages and salaries falling to +1.0% from +1.3%, while benefit costs fell to +0.8% from +1.0%. While the report signals that wage pressures may be easing and could mean that the Fed’s against inflation is working, more data will be needed to confirm the trend. Meanwhile, US consumer confidence in January dipped to 107.1, short of the expected 109.0 and the prior, revised higher, 109.0. The present situation index encouragingly rose to 150.9 (prev. 147.2), but the forward-looking expectations index declined to 77.8 (prev. 82.4). Chicago PMI slightly declined in January to 44.3 from 45.1, beneath the expected 45.0.

Eurozone CPI on the radar today as the ECB meets

With Spain and France’s inflation getting another bump higher in January, and Germany’s inflation release postponed to next week due to technical issues, jitters are running high for the Eurozone inflation print due today. More so, it comes a day ahead of ECB’s policy decision, where a 50bps rate hike in baked in with a small chance of a 75bps. Slowing energy and electricity prices mean that headline inflation can come in softer, but the focus will be on the core measure which is likely to remain firm. Bloomberg consensus expects the Eurozone headline inflation to slow to 8.9% in January from 9.2% in December, but the core measure at 5.1% from 5.2% previously.

China’s PMI data bounced back to the expansionary territory; strong recovery in services

China’s manufacturing PMI bounced back to 50.1 in January from 47.0 in December as economic activities have picked up as expected. The new orders sub-index jumped to 50.9 in January from 43.9 in December while the new export orders sub-index was below 50 for 21 consecutive months at 46.1, rising modestly from December’s 44.2. The improvement in employment was also lackluster, with the employment sub-index coming in at 47.4, staying in the contraction territory for 22 consecutive months.  Non-manufacturing PMI rose more strongly than expected to 54.4 in January from 41.6 in December. The brightest spot was the services sub-index which jumped to 54.0 in January from 39.4 in December, driven by the release of strong pent-up demand for in-person services, particularly dining, tourism, and entertainment. The construction sub-index improved to 56.4 from 54.4.

Caixin China Manufacturing PMI is scheduled to release today

Unlike the official NBS manufacturing PMI, the private Caixin China Manufacturing PMI which has a bigger representation of SMEs in the eastern coastal regions is however expected, according to the survey by Bloomberg, to improve only moderately to 49.8 and stay in the contractionary territory in January from 49.0 in December.

IMF upgrades global growth; expects China to grow at 5.2% in 2023 and 4.5% in 2024

In its World Economic Outlook Update released yesterday, the IMF has marginally increased its global growth forecast for 2023 to 2.9% from 2.7% previously. Meanwhile, the IMF expects China’s real GDP growth to be at 5.2% in 2023 and then to fall to 4.5% in 2024. The medium-term growth rate in China is expected to settle at below 4% due to “declining business dynamism and slow progress on structural reform”.

Australian full year earnings season kicks off; will mining companies deliver triple digit growth  

February is an important time of year with full earnings season kicking off. ASX200 companies will report their 2022 profits and earnings, and guide for 2023, which could set the course for equites for the next few months. A company’s shares will generally do well if the company reports a better than expected outlook and results, and inversely their shares will typically sink if they disappoint. That said, the most earnings growth is expected to come from the Mining sector with well over 100% earnings growth (consensus); with gold and lithium companies are expected to outperform. BHP as an example, could report 17% dividend growth and it could give a rosy outlook after kicking off coal exports to China for the first time in two years. Energy companies are expected to report a 30% earnings jump and 300% revenue growth. For a list of stocks and inspiration refer to the Australia Resources basket. Today, Credit Corp reports results, Pinnacle on Thursday, NewsCorp Friday. In the third week of February the season ramps up with CBA and Fortescue reporting Feb 15, on Feb 21, BHP reports, with Rio the next day, followed by Qantas.

Mixed messages for the Australian dollar; Coal cargoes head to China, but retail sales slump and borrowing disappoints

With commodity prices falling across the board from their highs, the Australian dollar continued its 3-day pull back, falling below the 200-day moving average. Adding to the bearish short-term picture, weaker than expected Australian retail trade was released for December (with sales down 3.9%), while weaker than forecast borrowing data also added to Aussie woes. On the positive side, Australia sent two cargos of metallurgical coal to China’s steel production centre, officially marking the end of China’s two-year Australian coal ban. Earlier this month BHP struck the deal with China Baowu Steel. So although the RBA could potentially pause rate hikes sooner, longer term upside could be underpinned by Aussie commodity demand. We continue to monitor short term risks, for the Aussie, especially if the USD thunders up ahead and after the Fed meeting, while further commodity price weakness could also pull the Aussie down.

Meta’s Q4 may help investors gauge the health of digital advertising

While the importance of Meta Platforms (META:xnas) to the market has declined substantially over the past year, investors and traders have their eyes on the social platform’s Q4 results and outlook for 2023, to be released on Wednesday, to provide an early glimpse to the state of health of the digital adverting before the Q4 results from the heavy-weight Alphabet (GOOGL:xnas) on Thursday. The weakness in the guidance from Snap on Tuesday added to investors’ concerns about softening digital advertising amid macro headwinds.

For what is ahead at markets this week – Read/listen to our Saxo Spotlight.

For a global look at markets – tune into our Podcast.

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