Equities: New extremes and a challenging opportunity set
Discover insights on the future of equity markets in Q1 2024 and navigate the potential recession with strategic investment choices.
Summary: Markets gyrated wildly on yesterday’s US January CPI release, which showed higher than expected inflation on a year-on-year basis, which kept US treasury yields firm as a number of Fed members chimed in with hawkish comments. Elsewhere, has the consumption led Chinese recovery been oversold as many new consumer credit loans are being funnelled to pay down mortgages and on stock speculation rather than on consumption.
As we wrote in yesterday’s equity note in a response to the US January CPI report, the initial positive reaction in S&P 500 futures seemed weird and most likely reflected clearing of hedges and other derivatives positions. The market eventually settled on the interpretation that inflation remains stubbornly high, and the trajectory lower might take longer than expected. The dilemma for investors is that if the economy does not slip into a recession hen high inflation will remain and eventually push on bond yields and likely increase the equity risk premium leading to lower equity valuations. In the case the economy slips into a recession, equity valuations will come down to reflect lower growth and hit to margins. In any case, equities could have seen the best for now and investors might consider reducing equity exposure at these levels. S&P 500 futures bounced back during the session from the lows after the inflation report, but this morning the index futures trade lower again around the 4,127 level with the 4,100 level naturally being the key level to watch on the downside.
Hang Seng dropped 1.6% on Wednesday to levels last seen on 4 January and pared its 2023 gain to only 5%. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority intervened in the forex market for the first time since last November to sell USD1.9 billion against buying the Hong Kong dollar to cap the USDHKD from going about 7.85 the upper limit of the special administrative region’s link-exchange-rate regime. Selling was across the board. Baidu (09888) bucked the market decline and rallied over 5% supported by the somewhat return of the hype on the AI-generated content concept. In A-shares, CSI300 fell 0.6%. AI-generated content concept stocks advanced while domestic consumption, financial, healthcare, and non-ferrous metal names retreated.
The USD ended largely unchanged after gyrating wildly in the wake of the January CPI release and Fed comments (more below). After US treasury yields ended the day firmer all along the curve, the JPY was the weakest of USDJPY rallied and took out local resistance, trading above 133.00 into this morning. ay but ended unchanged. Elsewhere, AUDUSD was choppy but could not sustain a move above 0.70 yesterday and stumbled badly in late Asian trading. GBPUSD also gave up 1.22 despite the strong labour market data questioning the Bank of England’s pause signal, eyes on inflation due this morning (breaking news below on that). EURUSD has edged lower toward 1. 0700 overnight with the preliminary readings of the Eurozone Q4 GDP matching 0.1% QoQ and 1.9% YoY forecasts. Lagarde will be on the wires today.
While reports of the US release of crude oil from its strategic reserves continued to nudge oil prices lower, a large stockpile build and inflation concerns also added to a weak demand outlook. WTI dropped below $79/barrel while Brent slid below $85. US private inventories, as reported by API, were up by 10.5 million barrels last week. A hot US CPI printed also raised concerns on the disinflation narrative taking hold, suggesting Fed may have to go for a higher terminal rate and pause there for some time, which raises concerns on the demand outlook. The slide in oil prices however got some support from the OPEC report, which hinted at a tighter oil market as it nudged up the demand estimate and trimmed its supply outlook. IEA monthly report will be on tap today.
Gold dropped further yesterday, taking out the 1,850 level as US treasury yields closed the day firmer after wild gyrations across markets in the wake of the US CPI release and hawkish talk from Fed speakers (more below). The next important levels include the 1,829 level, which is the 38.2% retracement of the rally off the November lows, the 1,809 area which was broken on the way up, and then the 200-day moving average, currently coming in just above 1,775.
Growth in the U.S. CPI came at a slower pace but slowed less than what the consensus forecast expected. After choppy initial reactions, selling emerged in the front end, seeing the 2-year yield finish 10bps cheaper at 4.61%. The SOFR June-Dec 2023 spread narrowed by 9bps to -24bps from -33bps, signalling a further reduction in the bet of rate cuts in the second half of 2023. Hawkish-leaning comments from Fed’s Logan and Barkin, plus the departure of Fed Vice-chair Lael Brainard to join the Biden Administration as head of the National Economic Council added fuel to the higher-for-longer narrative. Brainard is perceived to be the “most persuasive policy dove” at the Fed, as the Wall Street Journal’s Nick Timiraos puts it. Yields on the 10-year rose 4bps to 3.74%, paring some of the rises in yield after a large block buying of nearly 20,000 contracts in the 10-year futures. Across the pond, yields on 2-year Gilts jumped 19bps on a hot employment report.
Bloomberg reports that China’s attempt to engineer a consumer-led recovery may be hindered as funds issued by banks for consumer credit are in many cases funnelled to unintended destinations, especially for mortgage prepayments, but also for speculation in stocks. The rates on the new bank lending are often lower than those for mortgages.
UK headline CPI out this morning at –0.6% MoM and +10.1% YoY vs. -0.4%/+10.3% expected and 10.5% YoY in December. The core figure was 5.8% YoY vs. 6.2% expected and 6.3% in Dec.
The US January CPI came in at 0.5% MoM, in-line with estimates, while the core CPI was at 0.4% MoM also as expected. December prints were however revised higher with headline up to +0.1% MoM from -0.1% previously, and core up to 0.4% MoM from 0.3% previously. Markets were wobbly on the release, as the YoY prints came in higher-than-expected at 6.4% for the headline (vs. 6.2% exp) and 5.6% for the core (vs. 5.5% exp). However, a key measure that Powell has highlighted earlier – core services ex shelter – cooled to 0.3% in the month from 0.4% previously. Housing contributed the most to the monthly increase in the CPI, but it is a lagged measure. Meanwhile, disinflation in goods slowed as core goods prices rose +0.1% MoM vs. -0.1% MoM prior. Overall, there wasn’t enough evidence that core inflationary pressures are cooling enough to support calls for the Fed to pivot.
A chorus of Fed speakers last night talked about the slow pace of disinflation, suggesting the Fed isn’t yet taking comfort in the inflation trends. NY Fed President Williams repeated there is "still a ways to go" to control inflation and the current levels of inflation are far too high. His views on the terminal rate also differed slightly, in December he suggested rates between 5.00-5.50% is reasonable before last week changing the view to 5.00-5.25%. However, he has now seemingly switched back his views of the higher upper bound for the FFR to 5.50% in wake of the January inflation data. Philly Fed’s Patrick Harker noted that how far above 5% the Fed needs to go depends on incoming data, and Tuesday's inflation report shows inflation is not moving down quickly. Dallas President Logan stressed that tightening policy too little is the top risk. All three are voters this year. Thomas Barkin, a non-voter said it was about as expected and there's going to be a lot more inertia and persistence to inflation than the Fed thought. However he was slightly more dovish saying that if inflation settles, they may not go as far on the terminal but he stressed data dependence. Markets are now pricing in a higher terminal rate of 5.26% in July, and one rate cut has also been driven out of this year’s pricing.
Warren Buffett’s investment company cut 86% of its stake in TSMC in the previous quarter in a quick reversal that is unusual for the investor. As the rivalry in chips is heating up between the US and China, Berkshire Hathaway is likely finding it uncomfortable to hold exposure to physical manufacturing in a conflict area.
Airbnb delivered Q4 revenue that beat estimates growing 24% y/y and Q4 adj. EBITDA was $506mn vs est. $435mn, but the Q1 outlook took the market by surprise with Q1 revenue guidance at $1.75-1.82bn vs est. $1.68bn as travel demand remains strong. GlobalFoundries beat slightly on revenue and earnings with Q1 revenue guidance also coming out higher than estimated suggesting strong demand for computer chips. NU Holdings, the parent company behind Nubank, reports Q4 total revenue of $1.45bn vs est. $1.28bn and the second straight quarter of positive net income as the Brazilian bank continues to navigate the credit turmoil in Latin America due to the recent interest rate shock.
CBA’s shares sank almost 6%, falling from their record highs to $103, while also dragging down the broader Australian share market (ASXSP200.I). Australia’s biggest bank and lender reported disappointing profit results and guided for a challenging year ahead - putting aside more capital for bad debts, as higher price pressures continue to hurt consumers, along with falling home prices. Its net interest margin came in at 2.1%, which was on par with expectations, but its cash profit missed expectations, despite rising 8.6% YoY to $5.15 billion (vs $5.17 billion Bloomberg consensus). The big Bank announced a $1 billion share buy-back and consensus also expects 2023 profits to hit another record, and for margins to improve. CBA shares gapped down, wiping out a month of gains.
-With the January CPI data leaving observers none the wiser on the future course of inflation, the market may remain sensitive to incoming data that offers signs of whether economic activity remains robust. Today’s focus is the January US Retail Sales data, which is expected to rebound sharply from the weak December numbers, possibly in part on out-of-date seasonal weightings. Consensus expectations are for headline Retail Sales to have risen a chunky +2.2% month-on-month, with the core, ex Auto and Gas figure to show +0.9%. Elsewhere, the February NAHB Housing Market Index, one of the more leading indicators on the US housing market, is also up today, expected to show further marginal improvement after bottoming in December at 31 and surprisingly rebounding to 35 in January.
Today’s US earnings focus is Kraft Heinz and Biogen with analysts expecting revenue growth of 8% y/y in Q4 for Kraft Heinz as the consumer staples company’s revenue track inflation. Kraft Heinz is also expected to expand its EBITDA margin in Q4. The biotechnology sector is still under pressure from higher interest rates and slower pipeline of drugs, so the industry is relying on the old guard to delivering results. However, Biogen is expected to report a –11% y/y revenue growth in Q4 and lower EBITDA compared to a year ago.
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What happened to the future?
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