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BlackRock’s Fink Insists “Stakeholder Capitalism” Isn’t “Woke” – It’s Just Good Business

BlackRock’s Fink Insists "Stakeholder Capitalism" Isn’t "Woke" – It’s Just Good Business

In recent years, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s annual letter to investors has become almost as closely scrutinized as annual letters from JP Morgan chief…

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BlackRock's Fink Insists "Stakeholder Capitalism" Isn't "Woke" - It's Just Good Business

In recent years, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink's annual letter to investors has become almost as closely scrutinized as annual letters from JP Morgan chief Jamie Dimon and Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren Buffett.

But while those other shareholder letters aren't expected until later in the year, Fink has decided to publish his letter just days after BlackRock confirmed in its Q4 earnings that its AUM had surpassed the $10 trillion mark, cementing the firm's status as the world's largest asset manager by AUM - a status that's largely thanks to the firm's blockbuster ETF business.

Just like last year, Fink focused again on shareholder activism, but this time he insisted that the concept of "stakeholder capitalism" isn't "woke", but rather a necessity for companies that want to stick around. Only through "effective" stakeholder capitalism that companies can deliver "long term value for...shareholders" - at least, according to Larry Fink.

That doesn't mean that profitability isn't the single most important corporate metric - it simply means that in a world where financial assets are exploding in value, companies are going to need to find additional strategies to distinguish themselves.

Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not “woke.” It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper. This is the power of capitalism.

In today’s globally interconnected world, a company must create value for and be valued by its full range of stakeholders in order to deliver long-term value for its shareholders. It is through effective stakeholder capitalism that capital is efficiently allocated, companies achieve durable profitability, and value is created and sustained over the long-term.

Make no mistake, the fair pursuit of profit is still what animates markets; and long-term profitability is the measure by which markets will ultimately determine your company’s success.

One such strategy is embracing the "ESG" trend. But it also means that companies that don't generate profits with an eye toward stakeholders simply won't last, according to Fink. "BlackRock wants to see the companies we invest in for our clients evolve and grow so that they generate attractive returns for decades to come." That's not going to happen if companies don't at least pay lip service to the ESG overlords.

It's notable that BR's 2021 letter to shareholders focused on the firm's new commitment to "net zero". That was in keeping with the trend last year. Now that the public has realized that terms like "net zero", "ESG" and "green technology" are merely marketing ploys, it's time for the "thought leaders" of the global financial community to roll out a new batch of buzzwords.

While Fink waxes poetic about the importance of corporate responsibility, readers should probably keep in mind that there are limits to Fink's moral rectitude. For example, BlackRock is one of the biggest Western firms driving investment in Chinese companies as it scrambles to win more business from the Chinese government. BlackRock's increasing investments in China (while it continues to push "ESG" policies that harm American fossil fuel companies) has inspired West Virginia's state treasurer to abandon a BlackRock fund that the state had previously invested in.

"As the state’s chief financial officer and chairman of the Board of Treasury Investments, I have a duty to ensure that taxpayer dollars are managed in a responsible, financially sound fashion which reflects the best interests of our state and country, and I believe doing business with BlackRock runs contrary to that duty," said West Virginia Treasurer Riley Moore said.

Moore further explained that West Virginia was simply choosing not to do business with a company that appears to be directly opposed to the interests of the state and its people.

How's that for "stakeholder capitalism?"

Readers can find Fink's complete letter below:

Each year I make it a priority to write to you on behalf of BlackRock’s clients, who are shareholders in your company. The majority of our clients are investing to finance retirement. Their time horizons can span decades.

The financial security we seek to help our clients achieve is not created overnight. It is a long-term endeavor, and we take a long-term approach. That is why, for the past decade, I have written to you, as CEOs and Chairs of the companies our clients are invested in. I write these letters as a fiduciary for our clients who entrust us to manage their assets – to highlight the themes that I believe are vital to driving durable long-term returns and to helping them reach their goals.

When my partners and I founded BlackRock as a startup 34 years ago, I had no experience running a company. Over the past three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with countless CEOs and to learn what distinguishes truly great companies. Time and again, what they all share is that they have a clear sense of purpose; consistent values; and, crucially, they recognize the importance of engaging with and delivering for their key stakeholders. This is the foundation of stakeholder capitalism.

Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not “woke.” It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper. This is the power of capitalism.

In today’s globally interconnected world, a company must create value for and be valued by its full range of stakeholders in order to deliver long-term value for its shareholders. It is through effective stakeholder capitalism that capital is efficiently allocated, companies achieve durable profitability, and value is created and sustained over the long-term. Make no mistake, the fair pursuit of profit is still what animates markets; and long-term profitability is the measure by which markets will ultimately determine your company’s success.

At the foundation of capitalism is the process of constant reinvention – how companies must continually evolve as the world around them changes or risk being replaced by new competitors. The pandemic has turbocharged an evolution in the operating environment for virtually every company. It’s changing how people work and how consumers buy. It’s creating new businesses and destroying others. Most notably, it’s dramatically accelerating how technology is reshaping life and business. Innovative companies looking to adapt to this environment have easier access to capital to realize their visions than ever before. And the relationship between a company, its employees, and society is being redefined.

COVID-19 has also deepened the erosion of trust in traditional institutions and exacerbated polarization in many Western societies. This polarization presents a host of new challenges for CEOs. Political activists, or the media, may politicize things your company does. They may hijack your brand to advance their own agendas. In this environment, facts themselves are frequently in dispute, but businesses have an opportunity to lead. Employees are increasingly looking to their employer as the most trusted, competent, and ethical source of information – more so than government, the media, and NGOs.

That is why your voice is more important than ever. It’s never been more essential for CEOs to have a consistent voice, a clear purpose, a coherent strategy, and a long-term view. Your company’s purpose is its north star in this tumultuous environment. The stakeholders your company relies upon to deliver profits for shareholders need to hear directly from you – to be engaged and inspired by you. They don’t want to hear us, as CEOs, opine on every issue of the day, but they do need to know where we stand on the societal issues intrinsic to our companies’ long-term success.

Putting your company’s purpose at the foundation of your relationships with your stakeholders is critical to long-term success. Employees need to understand and connect with your purpose; and when they do, they can be your staunchest advocates. Customers want to see and hear what you stand for as they increasingly look to do business with companies that share their values. And shareholders need to understand the guiding principle driving your vision and mission. They will be more likely to support you in difficult moments if they have a clear understanding of your strategy and what is behind it.

A new world of work

No relationship has been changed more by the pandemic than the one between employers and employees. The quit rate in the US and the UK is at historic highs. And in the US, we are seeing some of the highest wage growth in decades. Workers seizing new opportunities is a good thing: It demonstrates their confidence in a growing economy.

While turnover and rising pay are not a feature of every region or sector, employees across the globe are looking for more from their employer – including more flexibility and more meaningful work. As companies rebuild themselves coming out of the pandemic, CEOs face a profoundly different paradigm than we are used to. Companies expected workers to come to the office five days a week. Mental health was rarely discussed in the workplace. And wages for those on low and middle incomes barely grew.

That world is gone.

Workers demanding more from their employers is an essential feature of effective capitalism. It drives prosperity and creates a more competitive landscape for talent, pushing companies to create better, more innovative environments for their employees – actions that will help them achieve greater profits for their shareholders. Companies that deliver are reaping the rewards. Our research shows that companies who forged strong bonds with their employees have seen lower levels of turnover and higher returns through the pandemic.

Companies not adjusting to this new reality and responding to their workers do so at their own peril. Turnover drives up expenses, drives down productivity, and erodes culture and corporate memory. CEOs need to be asking themselves whether they are creating an environment that helps them compete for talent. At BlackRock we are doing the same: working with our own employees to navigate this new world of work.

Creating that environment is more complex than ever and reaches beyond issues of pay and flexibility. In addition to upending our relationship with where we physically work, the pandemic also shone a light on issues like racial equity, childcare, and mental health – and revealed the gap between generational expectations at work. These themes are now center stage for CEOs, who must be thoughtful about how they use their voice and connect on social issues important to their employees. Those who show humility and stay grounded in their purpose are more likely to build the kind of bond that endures the span of someone’s career.

At BlackRock, we want to understand how this trend is impacting your industry and your company. What are you doing to deepen the bond with your employees? How are you ensuring that employees of all backgrounds feel safe enough to maximize their creativity, innovation, and productivity? How are you ensuring your board has the right oversight of these critical issues? Where and how we work will never be the same as it was. How is your company’s culture adapting to this new world?

New sources of capital fueling market disruption

Over the past four decades, we have seen an explosion in the availability of capital. Today, global financial assets total $400 trillion.2 This exponential growth brings with it risks and opportunities for investors and companies alike, and it means that banks alone are no longer the gatekeepers to funding.

Young, innovative companies have never had easier access to capital. Never has there been more money available for new ideas to become reality. This is fueling a dynamic landscape of innovation. It means that virtually every sector has an abundance of disruptive startups trying to topple market leaders. CEOs of established companies need to understand this changing landscape and the diversity of available capital if they want to stay competitive in the face of smaller, more nimble businesses.

BlackRock wants to see the companies we invest in for our clients evolve and grow so that they generate attractive returns for decades to come. As long-term investors, we are committed to working with companies from all industries. But we too must be nimble and ensure our clients’ assets are invested, consistent with their goals, in the most dynamic companies – whether startups or established players – with the best chances at succeeding over time. As capitalists and as stewards, that’s our job.

I believe in capitalism’s ability to help individuals achieve better futures, to drive innovation, to build resilient economies, and to solve some of our most intractable challenges. Capital markets have allowed companies and countries to flourish. But access to capital is not a right. It is a privilege. And the duty to attract that capital in a responsible and sustainable way lies with you.

Capitalism and sustainability

Most stakeholders – from shareholders, to employees, to customers, to communities, and regulators – now expect companies to play a role in decarbonizing the global economy. Few things will impact capital allocation decisions – and thereby the long-term value of your company – more than how effectively you navigate the global energy transition in the years ahead.

It’s been two years since I wrote that climate risk is investment risk. And in that short period, we have seen a tectonic shift of capital.3 Sustainable investments have now reached $4 trillion.4 Actions and ambitions towards decarbonization have also increased. This is just the beginning – the tectonic shift towards sustainable investing is still accelerating. Whether it is capital being deployed into new ventures focused on energy innovation, or capital transferring from traditional indexes into more customized portfolios and products, we will see more money in motion.

Every company and every industry will be transformed by the transition to a net zero world. The question is, will you lead, or will you be led?

In a few short years, we have all watched innovators reimagine the auto industry. And today, every car manufacturer is racing toward an electric future. The auto industry, however, is merely on the leading edge – every sector will be transformed by new, sustainable technology.

Engineers and scientists are working around the clock on how to decarbonize cement, steel, and plastics; shipping, trucking, and aviation; agriculture, energy, and construction. I believe the decarbonizing of the global economy is going to create the greatest investment opportunity of our lifetime. It will also leave behind the companies that don’t adapt, regardless of what industry they are in. And just as some companies risk being left behind, so do cities and countries that don’t plan for the future. They risk losing jobs, even as other places gain them. The decarbonization of the economy will be accompanied by enormous job creation for those that engage in the necessary long-term planning.

The next 1,000 unicorns won’t be search engines or social media companies, they’ll be sustainable, scalable innovators – startups that help the world decarbonize and make the energy transition affordable for all consumers. We need to be honest about the fact that green products often come at a higher cost today. Bringing down this green premium will be essential for an orderly and just transition. With the unprecedented amount of capital looking for new ideas, incumbents need to be clear about their pathway succeeding in a net zero economy. And it’s not just startups that can and will disrupt industries. Bold incumbents can and must do it too. Indeed, many incumbents have an advantage in capital, market knowledge, and technical expertise on the global scale required for the disruption ahead.

Our question to these companies is: what are you doing to disrupt your business? How are you preparing for and participating in the net zero transition? As your industry gets transformed by the energy transition, will you go the way of the dodo, or will you be a phoenix?

We focus on sustainability not because we’re environmentalists, but because we are capitalists and fiduciaries to our clients. That requires understanding how companies are adjusting their businesses for the massive changes the economy is undergoing. As part of that focus, we are asking companies to set short-, medium-, and long-term targets for greenhouse gas reductions. These targets, and the quality of plans to meet them, are critical to the long-term economic interests of your shareholders. It’s also why we ask you to issue reports consistent with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD): because we believe these are essential tools for understanding a company’s ability to adapt for the future.

The transition to net zero is already uneven with different parts of the global economy moving at different speeds. It will not happen overnight. We need to pass through shades of brown to shades of green. For example, to ensure continuity of affordable energy supplies during the transition, traditional fossil fuels like natural gas will play an important role both for power generation and heating in certain regions, as well as for the production of hydrogen.

The pace of change will be very different in developing and developed countries. But all markets will require unprecedented investment in decarbonization technology. We need transformative discoveries on a level with the electric light bulb, and we need to foster investment in them so that they are scalable and affordable.

As we pursue these ambitious goals - which will take time - governments and companies must ensure that people continue to have access to reliable and affordable energy sources. This is the only way we will create a green economy that is fair and just and avoid societal discord. And any plan that focuses solely on limiting supply and fails to address demand for hydrocarbons will drive up energy prices for those who can least afford it, resulting in greater polarization around climate change and eroding progress.

Divesting from entire sectors – or simply passing carbon-intensive assets from public markets to private markets – will not get the world to net zero. And BlackRock does not pursue divestment from oil and gas companies as a policy. We do have some clients who choose to divest their assets while other clients reject that approach. Foresighted companies across a wide range of carbon intensive sectors are transforming their businesses, and their actions are a critical part of decarbonization. We believe the companies leading the transition present a vital investment opportunity for our clients and driving capital towards these phoenixes will be essential to achieving a net zero world.

Capitalism has the power to shape society and act as a powerful catalyst for change. But businesses can’t do this alone, and they cannot be the climate police. That will not be a good outcome for society. We need governments to provide clear pathways and a consistent taxonomy for sustainability policy, regulation, and disclosure across markets. They must also support communities affected by the transition, help catalyze capital for the emerging markets, and invest in the innovation and technology that will be essential to decarbonizing the global economy.

It was the partnership between government and the private sector that led to the development of COVID-19 vaccines in record time. When we harness the power of both the public and private sectors, we can achieve truly incredible things. This is what we must do to get to net zero.

Stakeholder capitalism is all about delivering long-term, durable returns for shareholders. And transparency around your company’s planning for a net zero world is an important element of that. But it’s just one of many disclosures we and other investors ask companies to make. As stewards of our clients’ capital, we ask businesses to demonstrate how they’re going to deliver on their responsibility to shareholders, including through sound environmental, social, and governance practices and policies.

In 2018, I wrote that we would double the size of our stewardship team and it remains the largest in the industry. We’ve built this team so we can understand your company’s progress throughout the year, not just during proxy season. It’s up to you to chart your own course and to tell us how you’re moving forward. We seek to understand the full range of issues that you face, not just the ones on the ballot – and that includes your long-term strategy.

Just as other stakeholders are adjusting their relationships with companies, many people are rethinking their relationships with companies as shareholders. We see a growing interest among shareholders – including among our own clients – in the corporate governance of public companies.

That is why we are pursuing an initiative to use technology to give more of our clients the option to have a say in how proxy votes are cast at companies their money is invested in. We now offer this option to certain institutional clients, including pension funds that support 60 million people. We are working to expand that universe.

We are committed to a future where every investor – even individual investors – can have the option to participate in the proxy voting process if they choose.

We know there are significant regulatory and logistical hurdles to achieving this today, but we believe this could bring more democracy and more voices to capitalism. Every investor deserves the right to be heard. We will continue to pursue innovation and work with other market participants and regulators to help advance this vision toward reality.

Of course, many corporate leaders are responsible for overseeing equity assets, whether through employee pension funds, corporate treasury accounts, or other investments your company makes. I encourage you to ask that your asset manager gives you the opportunity to participate in the proxy voting process more directly.

BlackRock’s Investment Stewardship team remains core to our fiduciary approach, and many of our clients prefer that the team continues to engage and execute voting on their behalf. But fundamentally, clients should at least be given the choice and chance to participate in voting more directly.

Our conviction at BlackRock is that companies perform better when they are deliberate about their role in society and act in the interests of their employees, customers, communities, and their shareholders.

However, we also believe that there is still much to learn about how a company’s relationship with stakeholders impacts long-term value. That's why we are launching a Center for Stakeholder Capitalism, to create a forum for research, dialogue, and debate. It will help us to further explore the relationships between companies and their stakeholders and between stakeholder engagement and shareholder value. We will bring together leading CEOs, investors, policy experts, and academics to share their experience and deliver their insights.

Delivering on the competing interests of a company’s many divergent stakeholders is not easy. As a CEO, I know this firsthand. In this polarized world, CEOs will invariably have one set of stakeholders demanding that we do one thing, while another set of stakeholders demand that we do just the opposite.

That is why it is more important than ever that your company and its management be guided by its purpose. If you stay true to your company's purpose and focus on the long term, while adapting to this new world around us, you will deliver durable returns for shareholders and help realize the power of capitalism for all.

Tyler Durden Tue, 01/18/2022 - 10:40

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Economics

Weekly investment update – Weaker economic outlook weighs on markets

Global equities have continued their sell-off over the last week. What is new is that markets are now reacting to risks of weaker economic data weighing…

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Global equities have continued their sell-off over the last week. What is new is that markets are now reacting to risks of weaker economic data weighing on earnings. Real bond yields, whose rise triggered the recent drop in equity markets, have fallen as investors price a higher probability of a recession.   

Yields of US Treasury bonds have slipped since reaching around 3.12% in early May (see Exhibit 1). The rally has been driven by fears of a global recession due to poor economic data, strong inflation numbers, aggressive talk from central bankers and concerns over the consequences of Covid in China.

Recent data that contributed to the bond market’s unease about the prospects for the US economy includes: 

  • The Richmond Federal Reserve Manufacturing survey, which fell to its lowest since 2020 at -9.
  • The monthly survey of manufacturers in New York State conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York fell to -11.6, with the shipment measure falling at its fastest pace since the start of the pandemic two years ago.
  • The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s May business index dropped 15 points to 2.6, with the six-month outlook falling to its lowest since December 2008 (though the underlying details were better than the headline number).
  • Existing and new home sales dropped for a third month, to its lowest since 2020, held back by lean inventory, rising prices and higher mortgage rates. 

Taken together, the various regional Federal Reserve surveys suggest that the ISM Report for Business may come in at around 53, above 50 so still clearly in expansion territory for the US economy, but down noticeably from the upper 50s/lows 60s readings to which markets have become accustomed.

US equities still weak

US equities have remained weak as the down move continues for its seventh week.

It has been apparent that, in contrast to the start of the year when rising real bond yields were undermining equity markets, it is now fears of falling earnings due to a weaker economy that are weighing on stocks.

The last week has seen, in accordance with the risk-off regime, more buying-the-dip and selling-the-rally. There has also been a rotation out of growth and cyclicals into value and defensives (healthcare, real estate, utilities and staples).

European markets under the cosh

Bearish sentiment is prevalent in Europe, too, with investors cutting exposures to European equities.

There was another outflow in the week to 18 May, taking the total to 14 weeks of outflows in a row. Cyclicals, in particular, saw strong outflows, led by the materials, financials and energy sectors.

Our multi-asset team are inclined to reduce exposure to equity markets given the deterioration in the outlook.

European economy resists

Economic activity indicators have fallen so far in May, but remain above 50. Activity edged up in the manufacturing sector despite the fallout from the Ukraine war and supply chain disruptions that have intensified with China’s coronavirus lockdowns.

Although factories continue to report widespread supply constraints and diminished demand for goods amid elevated price pressures, the eurozone economy is being boosted by pent-up demand for services as pandemic-related restrictions are wound down.

While purchasing manager indices are still pointing to growth, it may be that these surveys understate the shock to activity, while sentiment surveys likely overstate the shock. Markets are increasingly tilting towards anticipation of a contraction in the coming quarters.

Higher food prices

Restrictions on the export of Ukrainian cereals continue and risks increasing food insecurity as the UN World Food Programme has highlighted.

As much of Russian and Ukrainian wheat goes to poorer nations, hunger could be a critical risk, driving up political instability.

The risk of further rises in food prices will be a key driver of inflation, particularly in emerging markets, the worst-case scenario being that the situation worsens significantly.

Moreover, lower fertiliser supply will have a greater impact on the next few months’ harvests, while the pass-through of costlier logistics and input prices is likely to drive food prices even higher.

Coming up…

Minutes of the meeting of the US Federal Open Markets Committee on 3-4 May will be published later on Wednesday.

However, market conditions have soured appreciably since the Fed’s first 50bp rate rise, so some of the language in the minutes pertaining to financial risks and market conditions will be outdated.

Instead, the three major focus points for market participants will likely be: 

  • Policymakers’ views on the conditions which could lead to a shift down, back to a pace of raising rates by 25bp at each FOMC meeting;
  • Any hints as to how far and for how long policymakers intend to push policy rates into restrictive territory;
  • Guidance shaping expectations for the next Summary of Economic Projections — aka the dot plot — due to be released at the June meeting. 

Forthcoming economic data  

US personal income and spending data for April should give investors an insight into the US consumer’s behaviour: Are they tightening the purse strings? The report may also show the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge (core PCE deflator) starting to decelerate.

Perhaps equally important, the report should shed light on how consumers are responding to the current high inflation environment, indicating how wages are performing relative to inflation and how aggressively consumers are tapping into the USD 2.5 trillion of accumulated savings from the pandemic period.

Disclaimer

Any views expressed here are those of the author as of the date of publication, are based on available information, and are subject to change without notice. Individual portfolio management teams may hold different views and may take different investment decisions for different clients. The views expressed in this podcast do not in any way constitute investment advice.

The value of investments and the income they generate may go down as well as up and it is possible that investors will not recover their initial outlay. Past performance is no guarantee for future returns.

Investing in emerging markets, or specialised or restricted sectors is likely to be subject to a higher-than-average volatility due to a high degree of concentration, greater uncertainty because less information is available, there is less liquidity or due to greater sensitivity to changes in market conditions (social, political and economic conditions).

Some emerging markets offer less security than the majority of international developed markets. For this reason, services for portfolio transactions, liquidation and conservation on behalf of funds invested in emerging markets may carry greater risk.

Writen by Andrew Craig. The post Weekly investment update – Weaker economic outlook weighs on markets appeared first on Investors' Corner - The official blog of BNP Paribas Asset Management, the sustainable investor for a changing world.

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Government

China Will Struggle To Reach Positive GDP This Quarter Premier Says, Warning Economy “To Some Degree” Worse Than 2020

China Will Struggle To Reach Positive GDP This Quarter Premier Says, Warning Economy "To Some Degree" Worse Than 2020

Over the weekend, we…

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China Will Struggle To Reach Positive GDP This Quarter Premier Says, Warning Economy "To Some Degree" Worse Than 2020

Over the weekend, we quoted Goldman's head of hedge fund sales Tony Pasquariello who had some very choice words for China, saying its economy was so bad, "it’s simply eye-popping (witness the worst IP print on record)", and prompted Goldman's sellside research desk to cut its expectation for 2022 Chinese GDP growth to just 4%, which ex-2020 would be the slowest growth rate since 1990! For the sake of balance, Pasquariello noted that Shanghai was set to reopen on June 1st which could be a potential upside catalyst at a time when foreign investors have largely written away Chinese equities.

Fast forward to today when we find that Pasquariello's hedging was not necessary, because on Wednesday, China's Premier Li Keqiang held a teleconference this afternoon under the topic of "stabilizing economic growth" with provincial, city-level and county-level local government officials across the country in which he had some very dismal comments about the current state of China's economy.

As Goldman notes, "while there are not many new measures being announced from this conference, the nature and scale of this conference is quite unusual. Chinese policymakers are in greater urgency to support the economy after the very weak activity growth in April, anemic recovery month-to-date in May, and continued increases in unemployment rates."

Specifically, premier Li said China’s economy is worse off to a “certain extent” than 2020 when the pandemic first emerged, urging efforts to reduce the unemployment rate which as we noted recently has soared to the highest level since the covid crash.

“Economic indicators in China have fallen significantly, and difficulties in some aspects and to a certain extent are greater than when the epidemic hit us severely in 2020,” Li said Wednesday following a meeting with local authorities, state-owned companies and financial firms to discuss how to stabilize the economy, Bloomberg reported.

China’s premier also said the world’s second-largest economy would struggle to record positive growth in the current quarter, urging officials to help companies resume production after Covid-19 lockdowns, according to the FT.

“We will try to make sure the economy grows in the second quarter,” Li said, according to a transcript that the Financial Times verified with three people briefed on the premier’s remarks. “This is not a high target and a far cry from our 5.5 per cent goal. But we have to do so.”

The last time China’s growth entered negative territory was when output plunged 6.9 per cent year on year in the first quarter of 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic ended an era of uninterrupted growth dating back more than 30 years.

The comments by Li Keqiang, to tens of thousands of officials on an internal videocast on Wednesday, underscore the difficulties President Xi Jinping’s administration will have in reaching its annual growth target of 5.5% while also battling Omicron outbreaks.

Concerned that the unemployment rate is approaching levels where the dreaded "social unrest" becomes a possibility, the premier urged officials to make sure the unemployment rate falls and the economy “operates in a reasonable range” in the second quarter of this year, state media cited him as saying. Earlier in May, Li warned of a “complicated and grave” employment situation after the nation’s surveyed jobless rate climbed to 6.1% in April, the highest since February 2020, and sent the yuan plunging to the lowest level since late 2020.

Today's meeting was the latest in a series of urgent calls by Li (who is quitting his job next March) to shore up the economy, which has come under enormous pressure from Covid outbreaks and lockdowns in recent months, threatening the government's growth target of about 5.5%. President Xi's stubborn commitment to Covid Zero means China is guaranteed to miss that goal this year: Economists now forecast gross domestic product growth will hit just 4.5%, according to a new Bloomberg survey, with Goldman predicting GDP will rise just 4.0% as noted above.

In hopes of offsetting some of the gloom and doom unleashed by Beijing's flawed covid policies, Li indicated that China will try to reduce the impact of its strict Zero-Covid policy on the economy. “At the same time as controlling the epidemic, we must complete the task of economic development,” he said.

Li also stressed implementation of current support policies, and said more detailed implementation measures would be issued by the end of this month. Somewhat bizarrely, he said that economic data for the second quarter would be released “accurately”, hinting that prior Chinese data was - gasp - inaccurate? Perish the thought.

As Bloomberg reported earlier this week, China's State Council outlined 33 support measures on Monday to help businesses struggling to cope with the lockdowns, including extra tax rebates, relief on social insurance payments and loans, and additional funding for aviation and rail construction. Local governments were told to spend most of the proceeds from special bonds -- used mainly for infrastructure -- by the end of August. Judging by the lack of market reaction, investors saw right through this latest mostly verbal attempt to prop up confidence in the country ahead of the 20th Party Congress later this year, where Xi's fate will be determine (amid some rumors that his political career may be cut short if China's economy does not stabilize).

The central bank and banking regulator also held a meeting with major financial institutions on Monday to urge them to boost loans.
Li met with local authorities in April, when Shanghai was in the middle of a lockdown, telling them to “add a sense of urgency” as they rolled out policy. During a trip to Yunnan province last week, he said they should “act decisively” to support growth. Of course, when banks artificially inject loans into an economy where there is no loan demand, what you end up getting is just another bubble.

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/25/2022 - 11:25

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Bonds

Futures Slide Before Fed Minutes, Dollar Jumps As China Lockdown Fears Return

Futures Slide Before Fed Minutes, Dollar Jumps As China Lockdown Fears Return

Another day, another failure by markets to hold on to even the…

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Futures Slide Before Fed Minutes, Dollar Jumps As China Lockdown Fears Return

Another day, another failure by markets to hold on to even the smallest overnight gains: US futures erased earlier profits and dipped as traders prepared for potential volatility surrounding the release of the Federal Reserve’s minutes which may provide insight into the central bank’s tightening path, while fears over Chinese lockdowns returned as Beijing recorded more Covid cases and the nearby port city of Tianjin locked down a city-center district. Contracts on the Nasdaq 100 and the S&P 500 were each down 0.5% at 7:30 a.m. in New York after gaining as much as 1% earlier, signaling an extension to Tuesday’s slide that followed a profit warning from Snap.

In premarket trading, Nordstrom jumped 10% after raising its forecast for earnings and revenue for the coming year suggesting that the luxury consumer is doing quite fine even as most of the middle class has tapped out; analysts highlighted the department store’s exposure to higher-end customers.Meanwhile, Wendy’s surged 12% after shareholder Trian Fund Management, billionaire Nelson Peltz' investment vehicle, said it will explore a transaction that could give it control of the fast-food chain. Here are the most notable premarket movers in the US:

  • Urban Outfitters (URBN US) shares rose as much as 5.7% in premarket trading after Nordstrom’s annual forecasts provided some relief for the beaten down retail sector. Shares rallied even as Urban Outfitters reported lower-than-expected profit and sales for the 1Q.
  • Best Buy (BBY US) shares could be in focus as Citi cuts its price target on electronics retailer to a new Street-low of $65 from $80, saying that there continues to be “significant risk” to 2H estimates.
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS US) sinks as much as 20% premarket after the retailer cut its year adjusted earnings per share and comparable sales guidance for the full year. Peers including Big 5 Sporting Goods, Hibbett and Foot Locker also fell after the DKS earnings release
  • 2U Inc. (TWOU US) shares drop as much as 4.3% in US premarket trading after Piper Sandler downgraded the online educational services provider to underweight from neutral, with broker flagging growing regulatory risk.
  • Verrica Pharma (VRCA US) shares slump as much as 61% in US premarket trading after the drug developer received an FDA Complete Response Letter for its VP-102 molluscum treatment.
  • Shopify’s (SHOP US) U.S.-listed shares fell 0.7% in premarket trading after a second prominent shareholder advisory firm ISS joined its peer Glass Lewis to oppose the Canadian company’s plan to give CEO Tobi Lutke a special “founder share” that will preserve his voting power.
  • Cazoo (CZOO US) shares declined 3.3% in premarket trading as Goldman Sachs initiated coverage of the stock with a neutral recommendation, saying the company is well positioned to capture the significant growth in online used car sales.
  • CME Group (CME US Equity) may be in focus as its stock was upgraded to outperform from market perform at Oppenheimer on attractive valuation and an “appealing” dividend policy.

US stocks have slumped this year, with the S&P 500 flirting with a bear market on Friday, as investors fear that the Fed’s active monetary tightening will plunge the economy into a recession: as Bloomberg notes, amid surging inflation, lackluster earnings and bleak company guidance have added to market concerns. The tech sector has been particularly in focus amid higher rates, which mean a bigger discount for the present value of future profits. The Nasdaq 100 index has tumbled to the lowest since November 2020 and its 12-month forward price-to-earnings ratio of 19.7 is the lowest since the start of the pandemic and below its 10-year average.

“The consumer in the US is still showing really good signs of strength,” said Michael Metcalfe, global head of macro strategy at State Street Global Markets. “Even if there is a slowdown it’s going to be quite mild,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

Meanwhile, Barclays Plc strategists including Emmanuel Cau see scope for stocks to fall further if outflows from mutual funds pick up, unless recession fears are alleviated. Retail investors have also not yet fully capitulated and “still look to be buying dips in old favorites in tech/growth,” the strategists said.

"Our central scenario remains that a recession can be avoided and that geopolitical risks will moderate over the course of the year, allowing equities to move higher,” said Mark Haefele,  chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management. “But recent market falls have underlined the importance of being selective and considering strategies that mitigate volatility."

The Fed raised interest rates by 50 basis points earlier this month -- to a target range of 0.75% to 1% -- and Chair Jerome Powell has signaled it was on track to make similar-sized moves at its meetings in June and July. Investors are now awaiting the release of the May 3-4 meeting minutes later on Wednesday to evaluate the future path of rate hikes. However, in recent days, traders have dialed back the expected pace of Fed interest-rate increases over worse-than-expected economic data and the selloff in equities. Sales of new US homes fell more in April than economists forecast, and the Richmond Fed’s measure of business activity dropped to a two-year low. The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped for a second day to 2.73%.

“Given the risks to growth and our view that positive real rates will be unmanageable for any significant length of time, we expect the Fed to deliver less tightening in 2022 overall than it and markets currently expect,” Salman Ahmed, global head of macro and strategic asset allocation at Fidelity International, wrote in a note.

In Europe, stocks pared an earlier advance but hold in the green while the dollar rallies. The Stoxx 600 gave back most of the morning’s gains with autos, financial services and travel weighing while miners and utilities outperformed. The euro slid as comments by European Central Bank officials indicated policy normalization will be gradual. The ECB is in the midst of a debate over how aggressive it should act to rein in inflation. Here are some of the most notable European movers today:

SSE shares rise as much as 6.3% after strong guidance and amid reports that electricity generators are likely to escape windfall taxes being considered by the U.K. government.

  • Air France-KLM jumps as much as 13% in Paris after falling 21% on Tuesday as the airline kicked off a EU2.26 billion rights offering.
  • Mining and energy stocks outperform the broader market in Europe as iron ore rebounded, while oil rose after a report that showed a decline in US gasoline stockpiles. Rio Tinto gains as much as 2.3%, Anglo American +2.6%, TotalEnergies +2.8%, Equinor +3.7%
  • Elekta rises as much as 9.3% after releasing a 4Q earnings report that beat analysts’ expectations.
  • Torm climbs as much as 12% after Pareto initiates coverage at buy and says the company may pay out dividends equal to 40% of its market value over the next 3 years.
  • Mercell rises as much as 104% to NOK6.13/share after recommending a NOK6.3/share offer from Spring Cayman Bidco.
  • Luxury stocks traded lower amid rekindled Covid-19 worries in China as Beijing continued to report new infections while nearby Tianjin locked down its city center. LVMH declines as much as 1.4%, Burberry -2.6% and Hermes -1.7%
  • Sodexo falls as much as 5.7% after the French caterer decided not to open up the capital of its benefits & rewards unit to a partner following a review of the business.
  • Ocado slumps as much as 8% after its grocery joint venture with Marks & Spencer slashed its forecast for FY22 sales growth to low single digits, rather than around 10% guided previously.

Earlier in the session, Asian stocks were steady as traders continued to gauge growth concerns and fears of a US recession. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index rose 0.1%, paring an earlier increase of as much as 0.5%, as gains in the financial sector were offset by losses in consumer names. New Zealand equities dipped on Wednesday after the central bank delivered an expected half-point interest rate hike to combat inflation. Chinese shares stabilized after the central bank and banking regulator urged lenders to boost loans as the nation grapples with ongoing Covid outbreaks. The benchmark CSI 300 Index snapped a two-day losing streak to close 0.6% higher.

Asian equities have been trading sideways as the prospect of slower growth amid tighter monetary conditions, as well as China’s strict Covid policy and supply-chain disruptions, remain key overhangs for the market. In China, the country’s strict Covid policy is outweighing broad measures to support growth and keeping investors wary. Its commitment to Covid Zero means it’s all but certain to miss its economic growth target by a large margin for the first time ever. The nation’s central bank and banking regulator urged lenders to boost loans in the latest effort to shore up the battered economy.

“The valuation is still nowhere near attractive and you have a number of leading indicators, whether its credit, liquidity or growth, which are not yet indicating that we want to take more risks on the market,” Frank Benzimra, head of Asia equity strategy at Societe Generale, said in a Bloomberg TV interview. He added that the preferred strategy in equities will focus on defensive plays like resources and income. Investors will get further clues on the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate policies with the release in Washington of minutes from the latest meeting on Wednesday. Concerns that the Fed’s tightening will plunge the nation into recession had spurred a sharp selloff in US shares recently.

Japanese stocks ended a bumpy day lower as investors awaited minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting and continued to gauge the impact of China’s rising Covid cases. The Topix fell 0.1% to close at 1,876.58, while the Nikkei declined 0.3% to 26,677.80. Nintendo Co. contributed the most to the Topix Index decline, decreasing 4.3%. Out of 2,171 shares in the index, 793 rose and 1,257 fell, while 121 were unchanged.

Meanwhile, Australian stocks bounced with the S&P/ASX 200 index rising 0.4% to close at 7,155.20, with banks and miners contributing the most to its move. Costa Group was the top performer after reaffirming its operating capex guidance. Chalice Mining dropped after an equity raising. In New Zealand, the S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.7% to 11,173.37 after the RBNZ’s policy decision. The central bank raised interest rates by half a percentage point for a second straight meeting and forecast further aggressive hikes to come to tame inflation.

India’s key equity indexes fell for the third consecutive session, dragged by losses in software makers as worries grow over companies’ spending on technology amid a clouded growth outlook. The S&P BSE Sensex slipped 0.6% to 53,749.26 in Mumbai, while the NSE Nifty 50 Index dropped 0.6%. The benchmark has retreated for all but four sessions this month, slipping 5.8%, dragged by Infosys, Tata Consultancy and Reliance Industries. All but two of the 19 sector sub-indexes compiled by BSE Ltd. fell on Wednesday, led by information technology stocks. Out of 30 shares in the Sensex index, 12 rose and 18 fell. The S&P BSE IT Index has lost nearly 26% this year and is trading at its lowest level since June. 

In FX, the Bloomberg dollar spot index resumed rising, up 0.3% with all G-10 FX in the red against the dollar. The euro slipped and Italian bonds extended gains after comments from ECB officials. Executive board member Fabio Panetta said the ECB shouldn’t seek to raise its interest rates too far as long as the euro-area economy displays continuing signs of fragility. Board Member Olli Rehn said the ECB should raise rates to zero in autumn. The pound was steady against the dollar and gained versus the euro, paring some of its losses from Tuesday. Focus is on the long-awaited report into lockdown parties at No. 10. The BOE needs to tighten policy further to fight rising inflation, but it’s also wary of acting too quickly and risking pushing the UK into recession, according to Chief Economist Huw Pill. Sweden’s krona slumped on the back of a stronger dollar and amid data showing that consumer confidence fell to the lowest level since the global financial crisis. Yen eased as Treasury yields steadied in Asia from an overnight plunge.  China’s offshore yuan weakened for the first time in five days as Beijing recorded more Covid cases and the nearby port city of Tianjin locked down a city-center district.

New Zealand dollar and sovereign yields rose after the RBNZ hiked rates by 50 basis points for a second straight meeting and forecast more aggressive tightening, with the cash rate seen peaking at 3.95% in 2023.

Most emerging-market currencies also weakened against a stronger dollar as investors await minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last meeting for clues on the pace of US rate hikes.  The ruble extended its recent rally in Moscow even as Russia’s central bank moved up the date of its next interest-rate meeting by more than two weeks to stem gains in the currency with more monetary easing. Russia has been pushed closer to a potential default. US banks and individuals are barred from accepting bond payments from Russia’s government since 12:01 a.m. New York time on Wednesday, when a license that had allowed the cash to flow ended. The lira lagged most of its peers, weakening for a fourth day amid expectations that Turkey’s central bank will keep rates unchanged on Thursday even after consumer prices rose an annual 70% in April.

In rates, Treasuries were steady with yields slightly richer across long-end of the curve as S&P 500 futures edge lower, holding small losses. US 10-year yields around 2.745% are slightly richer vs Tuesday’s close; long-end outperformance tightens 5s30s spread by 1.4bp on the day with 30-year yields lower by ~1bp. Bunds outperform by 2bp in 10-year sector while gilts lag slightly with no major catalyst. Focal points of US session include durable goods orders data, 5-year note auction and minutes of May 3-4 FOMC meeting. The US auction cycle resumes at 1pm ET with $48b 5-year note sale, concludes Thursday with $42b 7-year notes; Tuesday’s 2-year auction stopped through despite strong rally into bidding deadline. The WI 5-year yield at ~2.740% is ~4.5bp richer than April auction, which tailed by 0.9bp.

In commodities, WTI pushed higher, heading back toward best levels of the week near $111.60. Most base metals trade in the red; LME aluminum falls 2.3%, underperforming peers. Spot gold falls roughly $10 to trade around $1,856/oz. Spot silver loses 1.1% to around.

Bitcoin trades on either side of USD 30k with no real direction.

Looking to the day ahead now, and central bank publications include the FOMC minutes from their May meeting and the ECB’s Financial Stability Review. Separately, we’ll hear from ECB President Lagarde, the ECB’s Rehn, Panetta, Holzmann, de Cos and Lane, BoJ Governor Kuroda, Fed Vice Chair Brainard and the BoE’s Tenreyro. Otherwise, data releases from the US include preliminary April data on durable goods orders and core capital goods orders.

Market Snapshot

  • S&P 500 futures little changed at 3,942.75
  • STOXX Europe 600 up 0.4% to 433.41
  • MXAP little changed at 163.41
  • MXAPJ up 0.3% to 531.42
  • Nikkei down 0.3% to 26,677.80
  • Topix little changed at 1,876.58
  • Hang Seng Index up 0.3% to 20,171.27
  • Shanghai Composite up 1.2% to 3,107.46
  • Sensex down 0.5% to 53,763.20
  • Australia S&P/ASX 200 up 0.4% to 7,155.24
  • Kospi up 0.4% to 2,617.22
  • German 10Y yield little changed at 0.94%
  • Euro down 0.5% to $1.0677
  • Brent Futures up 1.0% to $114.69/bbl
  • Gold spot down 0.5% to $1,856.22
  • U.S. Dollar Index up 0.30% to 102.16

Top Overnight News from Bloomberg

  • New Zealand dollar and sovereign yields rose after the RBNZ hiked rates by 50 basis points and forecast more aggressive tightening, with the cash rate seen peaking at 3.95% in 2023
  • The euro slipped and Italian bonds extended gains after comments from ECB officials. Executive board member Fabio Panetta said the ECB shouldn’t seek to raise its interest rates too far as long as the euro-area economy displays continuing signs of fragility. Board Member Olli Rehn said the ECB should raise rates to zero in autumn
  • The pound was steady against the dollar and gained versus the euro, paring some of its losses from Tuesday. Focus is on the long-awaited report into lockdown parties at No. 10
  • The BOE needs to tighten policy further to fight rising inflation, but it’s also wary of acting too quickly and risking pushing the UK into recession, according to Chief Economist Huw Pill
  • Sweden’s krona slumped on the back of a stronger dollar and amid data showing that consumer confidence fell to the lowest level since the global financial crisis
  • Yen eased as Treasury yields steadied in Asia from an overnight plunge

A more detailed look at global markets courtesy of Newsquawk

Asia-Pac stocks were mostly positive but with gains capped and price action choppy after a lacklustre lead from global counterparts as poor data from the US and Europe stoked growth concerns, while the region also reflected on the latest provocations by North Korea and the RBNZ’s rate increase. ASX 200 was led higher by commodity-related stocks despite the surprise contraction in Construction Work. Nikkei 225 remained subdued after recent currency inflows and with sentiment clouded by geopolitical tensions. Hang Seng and Shanghai Comp were marginally higher following further support efforts by the PBoC and CBIRC which have explored increasing loans with major institutions and with the central bank to boost credit support, although the upside is contained amid the ongoing COVID concerns and with Beijing said to tighten restrictions among essential workers.

Top Asian News

  • US SEC official said significant issues remain in reaching a deal with China over audit inspections and even if US and China reach a deal on proceeding with inspections, they would still have a long way to go, according to Bloomberg.
  • China will be seeing a Pacific Island Agreement when Senior Diplomat Wang Yi visits the region next week, according to documents cited by Reuters.
  • North Korea Fires Suspected ICBM as Biden Wraps Up Asia Tour
  • Luxury Stocks Slip Again as China Covid-19 Worries Persist
  • Asia Firms Keep SPAC Dream Alive Despite Poor Returns: ECM Watch
  • Powerlong 2022 Dollar Bonds Fall Further, Poised for Worst Week

In Europe the early optimism across the equity complex faded in early trading. Major European indices post mild broad-based gains with no real standouts. Sectors initially opened with an anti-defensive bias but have since reconfigured to a more pro-defensive one. Stateside, US equity futures have trimmed earlier gains, with relatively broad-based gains seen across the contracts; ES (+0.1%).

Top European News

  • Aiming ECB Rate at Neutral Risks Hurting Economy, Panetta Says
  • M&S Says Russia Exit, Inflation to Prevent Profit Growth
  • Prudential Names Citi Veteran Wadhwani as Insurer’s Next CEO
  • EU’s Gentiloni Eyes Deal on Russian Oil Embargo: Davos Update
  • UK’s Poorest to See Inflation Hit Near Double Pace of the Rich

FX

  • Buck builds a base before Fed speak, FOMC minutes and US data - DXY tops 102.250 compared to low of 101.640 on Tuesday.
  • Kiwi holds up well after RBNZ hike, higher OCR outlook and Governor Orr outlining the need to tighten well beyond neutral - Nzd/Usd hovers above 0.6450 and Aud/Nzd around 1.0950.
  • Euro pulls back sharply as ECB’s Panetta counters aggressive rate guidance with gradualism to avoid a normalisation tantrum - Eur/Usd sub-1.0700 and Eur/Gbp under 0.8550.
  • Aussie undermined by flagging risk sentiment and contraction in Q1 construction work completed - Aud/Usd retreats through 0.7100.
  • Loonie and Nokkie glean some underlying traction from oil returning to boiling point - Usd/Cad capped into 1.2850, Eur/Nok pivots 10.2500.
  • Franc, Yen and Sterling all make way for Greenback revival - Usd/Chf bounces through 0.9600, Usd/Jpy over 127.00 and Cable close to 1.2500.

Fixed Income

  • Choppy trade in bonds amidst fluid risk backdrop and ongoing flood of global Central Bank rhetoric, Bunds and Gilts fade just above 154.00 and 119.00.
  • Eurozone periphery outperforming as ECB's Panetta urges gradualism to avoid a normalisation tantrum and Knot backs President Lagarde on ZIRP by end Q3 rather than going 50 bp in one hit.
  • US Treasuries flat-line before US data, Fed's Brainard, FOMC minutes and 5-year supply - 10 year T-note midway between 120-21/09+ parameters.

Commodities

  • WTI and Brent July futures are firmer intraday with little newsflow throughout the European morning.
  • US Energy Inventory Data (bbls): Crude +0.6mln (exp. -0.7mln), Gasoline -4.2mln (exp. -0.6mln), Distillates -0.9mln (exp. +0.9mln), Cushing -0.7mln.
  • Spot gold is pressured by the recovery in the Dollar but found some support at its 21 DMA.
  • Base metals are pressured by the turn in the risk tone this morning.

US Event Calendar

  • 07:00: May MBA Mortgage Applications -1.2%, prior -11.0%
  • 08:30: April Durable Goods Orders, est. 0.6%, prior 1.1%
    • -Less Transportation, est. 0.5%, prior 1.4%
  • 08:30: April Cap Goods Ship Nondef Ex Air, est. 0.5%, prior 0.4%
  • 08:30: April Cap Goods Orders Nondef Ex Air, est. 0.5%, prior 1.3%

Central Banks

  • 12:15: Fed’s Brainard Delivers Commencement Address
  • 14:00: May FOMC Meeting Minutes

DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap

This morning we’ve launched our latest monthly survey. In it we try to ask questions that aren’t easy to derive from market pricing. For example we ask whether you think a recession is a price worth paying to tame inflation back to target. We also ask whether you think the Fed will think the same. We ask whether you think bubbles are still in markets and whether the bottom is in for equities. We also ask you the best hedge against inflation from a small list of mainstream assets. Hopefully it will be of use and the more people that fill it in the more useful it might be so all help welcome. The link is here.

Talking of inflation I had a huge shock yesterday. The first quote of three came back from builders for what I hope will be our last ever renovation project as we upgrade a dilapidated old outbuilding. Given the job I do I'd like to think I'm fully aware of commodity price effects and labour shortages pushing up costs but nothing could have prepared me for a quote 250% higher than what I expected. We have two quotes to come but if they don't come in nearer to my expectations then we're either going to shelve/postpone the project after a couple of years of planning or my work output might reduce as I learn how to lay bricks, plumb, tile, make and install windows and plaster amongst other things. Maybe I could sell the rights of my journey from banker to builder to Netflix to make up for lost earnings.

Rather like my building quote expectations, markets came back down to earth yesterday, only avoiding a fresh closing one-year low in the S&P 500 via a late-day rally that sent the market from intra-day lows of -2.48% earlier in the session to -0.81% at the close and giving back just under half the gains from the best Monday since January. Having said that S&P futures are up +0.6% this morning so we've had a big swing from the lows yesterday afternoon.

The blame for the weak market yesterday was put on weak economic data alongside negative corporate news. US tech stocks saw the biggest losses as the NASDAQ (-2.35%) hit its lowest level in over 18 months following Snap’s move to cut its profit forecasts that we mentioned in yesterday’s edition. The stock itself fell -43.08%. Indeed, the NASDAQ just barely avoided closing more than -30% (-29.85%) from its all-time high reached back in November. The S&P 500's closing loss leaves it +1.03% week to date as it tries to avoid an 8th consecutive weekly decline for just the third time since our data starts in 1928. Typical defensive sectors Utilities (+2.01%), staples (+1.66%), and real estate (+1.21%) drove the intraday recovery, so even with the broad index off the day’s lows, the decomposition points to continued growth fears.

Investors had already been braced for a more difficult day following the Monday night news from Snap, but further fuel was then added to the fire after US data releases significantly underwhelmed shortly after the open. First, the flash composite PMI for May fell to 53.8 (vs. 55.7 expected), marking a second consecutive decline in that measure. And then the new home sales data for April massively underperformed with the number falling to an annualised 591k (vs. 749k expected), whilst the March reading was also revised down to an annualised 709k (vs. 763k previously). That 591k reading left new home sales at their lowest since April 2020 during the Covid shutdowns, and comes against the backdrop of a sharp rise in mortgage rates as the Fed have tightened policy, with the 30-year fixed rate reported by Freddie Mac rising from 3.11% at the end of 2021 to 5.25% in the latest reading last week.

The strong defensive rotation in the S&P 500 and continued fears of a recession saw investors pour into Treasuries, which have been supported by speculation that the Fed might not be able to get far above neutral if those growth risks do materialise. Yields on 10yr Treasuries ended the day down -10.1bps at 2.75%, and the latest decline in the 10yr inflation breakeven to 2.58% leaves it at its lowest closing level since late-February, just after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine that led to a spike in global commodity prices. And with investors growing more worried about growth and less worried about inflation, Fed funds futures took out -11.5bps of expected tightening by the December meeting, and saw terminal fed funds futures pricing next year close below 3.00% for the first time in two weeks. 10 year US yields are back up a basis point this morning.

Over in Europe there was much the same pattern of equity losses and advances for sovereign bonds. However, the decline in yields was more muted after there was further chatter about a potential 50bp hike from the ECB. Austrian central bank governor Holzmann said that “A bigger step at the start of our rate-hike cycle would make sense”, and Latvian central bank governor Kazaks also said that a 50bp hike was “certainly one thing that we could discuss”. Along with Dutch central bank governor Knot, that’s now 3 members of the Governing Council who’ve openly discussed the potential they could move by 50bps as the Fed has done, and markets seem to be increasingly pricing in a chance of that, with the amount of hikes priced in by the July meeting closing at a fresh high of 32.5bps yesterday.

In spite of the growing talk about a 50bp move at a single meeting, the broader risk-off tone yesterday led to a decline in sovereign bond yields across the continent, with those on 10yr bunds (-4.9bps), OATs (-4.3bps) and BTPs (-5.9bps) all falling back. Equities struggled alongside their US counterparts, and the STOXX 600 (-1.14%) ended the day lower, as did the DAX (-1.80%) and the CAC 40 (-1.66%). The flash PMIs were also somewhat underwhelming at the margins, with the Euro Area composite PMI falling a bit more than expected to 54.9 (vs. 55.1 expected).

Over in the UK there were even larger moves after the country’s flash PMIs significantly underperformed expectations. The composite PMI fell to 51.8 (vs. 56.5 expected), which is the lowest reading since February 2021 when the country was still in lockdown. In turn, that saw sterling weaken against the other major currencies as investors dialled back the amount of expected tightening from the Bank of England, with a fall of -0.44% against the US dollar. That also led to a relative outperformance in gilts, with 10yr yields down -8.3bps. And on top of that, there were signs of further issues on the cost of living down the tracks, with the CEO of the UK’s energy regulator Ofgem saying that the energy price cap was set to increase to a record £2,800 in October, an increase of more than 40% from its current level.

Asian equity markets are mostly trading higher this morning with the Hang Seng (+0.64%), Shanghai Composite (+0.58%), CSI (+0.17%) and Kospi (+0.80%) trading in positive territory with the Nikkei (-0.03%) trading fractionally lower.

Earlier today, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ), in a widely anticipated move, hiked the official cash rate (OCR) by 50bps to 2.0%, its fifth-rate hike in a row in a bid to get on top of inflation which is currently running at a 31-year high. The central bank has significantly increased its forecast of how high the OCR might rise in the coming years with the cash rate jumping to about 3.4% by the end of this year and peaking at 3.95% in the third quarter of 2023. Additionally, it forecasts the OCR to start falling towards the end of 2024. Following the release of the statement, the New Zealand dollar hit a three-week high of 0.65 against the US dollar.

Elsewhere, as we mentioned last week, today marks the expiration of the US Treasury Department’s temporary waiver that allowed Russia to make sovereign debt payments to US creditors. US investors will no longer be able to receive such payments, pushing Russia closer to default on its outstanding sovereign debt.

To the day ahead now, and central bank publications include the FOMC minutes from their May meeting and the ECB’s Financial Stability Review. Separately, we’ll hear from ECB President Lagarde, the ECB’s Rehn, Panetta, Holzmann, de Cos and Lane, BoJ Governor Kuroda, Fed Vice Chair Brainard and the BoE’s Tenreyro. Otherwise, data releases from the US include preliminary April data on durable goods orders and core capital goods orders.

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/25/2022 - 08:00

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