Market Insights Podcast – 13 June 2022
The U.S. inflation burst again in May – Data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 8.6% in May from a year earlier, accelerating from 8.3% last month while CPI rose 1% month-on-month in May, up from 0.3% last month. Core CPI, excluding food and energy, grew 6% year-on-year and 0.6% month-on-month, both higher than expected, it surprised the market. CPI data dashed hopes of a peak in U.S. inflation. This trend reinforces the psychological impact of CPI data on consumers and has a negative impact on future consumer spending. It is an uncomfortable number but that is what will happen when inflation is so hot. Bond traders appear to be preparing for the Fed’s more aggressive response to soaring oil prices. The 2-year Treasury yield, considered highly sensitive to Fed rate hikes, spiked 22 basis points to 3.04%, its highest level since 2008. The yield curves of 3- and 10-year and 5- and 10-year Treasuries were both inverted, highlighting the sharp flattening of the yield curve, which is unfavourable to banks.
Fed policy makers have sent a message that they are prepared to raise benchmark interest rates by 50 basis points at a time in June and July. Vice Chairman Lael Brainard also hinted last month that she doubted there would be any reason to suspend the rate hike in September. The focus of the debate is whether we need to raise interest rates by 25 or 50 basis points in two months’ time, a more productive discussion should be between 50 and 75 basis points. Expectations for rate hikes surged to their highest level in the cycle, with traders expecting the Fed to raise interest rates by 50 basis points each in June, July and September. Wall Street began to discuss whether the Fed would raise interest rates by 75 basis points. Barclays became the first major Wall Street bank to raise interest rates by 75 basis points. Even on this week, the swap market expects a 75 basis point rate hike in July. It is not just headline inflation. If all these come from energy, we can tend to ignore it but everything in this CPI report is very strong and is getting stronger.
We have to know that, over the past 60 years, private consumption has gradually accounted for 70% of U.S. GDP. Private consumption is highly correlated with the change of GDP. There has never been a decline in private consumption but a rise in GDP. U.S. consumer sentiment deteriorated further at the beginning of June. The preliminary estimate of the consumer sentiment index, published last Friday by the University of Michigan, fell to 50.2 in June from 58.4 in May, reaching its lowest level ever recorded, as concerns over inflation weighed on Americans’ views on the economy and their finances. Given the huge role of private consumption in the economy, a drop in consumer confidence below 80 is a six-month to one-year lead for a recession. Recently, hit by inflation, Michigan’s consumer confidence has fallen below the readings of the recessions of 1991 and 2001, second only to the stagflation of the 1970s and the financial crisis of 2008.
If the income of consumers keeps pace with or exceeds the rate of inflation, inflation does not necessarily weaken purchasing power. Yet the truth is that real income (adjusted for inflation) has fallen for more than a year. In other words, although nominal wages are increasing, their purchasing power is declining. With inflation growing at 8% and wages rising by about 5%, consumers are actually “cutting wages”, whether they realize it or not. The situation is even worse for the lower and middle classes, not only because they have a higher marginal propensity to consume but also because the prices of food, energy and rent, which spend most of their income, are rising faster than the overall rate of inflation. Moreover, Inflation will consume savings and increase debt to curb future consumption. To maintain a certain amount of purchasing power, consumers will use their savings. Although the absolute value of personal savings is still high, the level of personal savings adjusted for inflation has actually fallen to its lowest level in eight years. Consuming savings to support consumption means less spending or an increase in debt in the future. Similarly, consumers have increased their use of revolving consumer credit instruments such as credit cards. The year-on-year growth rate of consumer credit card debt has climbed to its highest level in more than a decade. Consumers can continue to borrow but higher credit card interest rates and larger debt balances will limit consumers’ future use, thereby curbing future consumer spending.
Retail giant Target along with other major retailers, have warned that the companys’ profits will be severely affected if it does not take active action to reduce excess inventory. Target slashed its profit margin forecast for the second quarter as it plans to implement additional price cuts to its products, clearing excess inventory and canceling some orders. The decline in consumer confidence does not mean that the economy must decline, but after all, 70% of the economy is closely related to the fate of consumers.
The dollar recently rebounded to a two-decade high, climbing 10% in three months. For U.S. companies conducting business from overseas, USD strength can make their products expensive for holders of other currencies to purchase. Also, the value of their international sales is lowered when converted back to dollars. Worth noting that S&P500 companies generates 41% revenues outside of the U.S. .
Apple said that could lead to lower sales growth in its current fiscal third quarter compared with the second quarter. They expect to hurt revenue by about 3%. Microsoft’s currency hedging alarm raises new worry for software stocks. Software makers that have been battered amid this year’s stock slump were dealt another blow last week when Microsoft warned of even more headwinds coming down the pike. The world’s largest software maker cut its profit forecast for the current quarter last Thursday and blamed the surging U.S. dollar for an upcoming drag on its earnings to the tune of USD460 million. The company’s rare mid-season revision took markets by surprise. Salesforce earlier also cited that a stronger U.S. dollar as lowering its sales outlook for the year. The business software company doubled its expected impact this year to USD600 million from a strong USD300 million forecast in March.
After the release of CPI data, Biden expressed that the U.S. needed to “do more quickly to lower prices” and called on Congress to pass legislation to reduce energy, prescription drugs and transportation costs. To combat high inflation, the U.S. shipping sector will implement the largest reform since 1998 and the situation of “high freight rates and hard to get a container” may be reversed. The bill will make it harder for shipping companies to refuse to export goods. In the past two years, shipping companies have shipped many empty containers back to Asia to earn more shipping costs, leading to a shortage of containers in North America. Biden stressed the issue of high freight costs and called on Congress to “crack down” on international shipping companies. He pointed out that the main reasons for the rise in shipping costs is that nine ocean shipping companies have controlled the trans-Pacific market and increased freight rates by 1,000%.
Average freight rates in the global container market rose eightfold during the outbreak, according to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC). The shipping industry is competitive and the rapid rise in prices is driven by a “lack of shipping capacity as a result of a surge in U.S. consumer demand. Freight rates have fallen sharply in recent months due to weak U.S. consumer spending. The average spot freight rate for containers on congested routes from Asia to the west coast of the United States has fallen 41% to USD9,588 in the past three months, according to the Freightos-Baltic index.
Hot weather and summer driving season further continue pushing up fuel prices. Sanctions on Russian exports and repercussions from supply chain turmoil have affected global energy markets, soaring electricity prices have also raised inflation concerns. The national average price of a gallon of gasoline is 59% higher than it was a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). There are now 10 states in the U.S. with an average price of more than USD5 a gallon. JPMorgan Chase & Co. had previously predicted that the national average gasoline price could rise to more than USD6 per gallon. That means that there is still nearly 25% room to rise compared with current prices.
The Biden administration is considering “bowing to reality” in order to calm international oil prices and thus reduce the economic and political pressure brought about by high domestic gasoline prices in the U.S. First, Biden is considering relaxing restrictions on Iranian oil, its old enemy, or acquiescing in Iran’s export of more oil to the global market. If a deal is reached in Vienna, Iran will be allowed to export an additional 500,000 to 1 million barrels of crude oil a day to the international market, enough to hold down oil prices. For Biden, curbing oil prices before the mid-term elections may be more beneficial than strictly enforcing sanctions against Iran. Second, Biden is considering visiting Saudi Arabia in July, in the hope that the other side will increase oil production. Relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are not as expected after Biden took office. If Biden’s visit is successful, it will mean a “180-degree shift” in the U.S. government’s policy toward Saudi Arabia.
From the latest report from Goldman Sachs, oil prices needs to rise further to normalize unsustainably low global oil inventories. The bank expects Brent crude to be priced at USD140 a barrel in the third quarter (previous forecast: USD125), USD130 in the fourth quarter (previous forecast: USD125) and USD130 in the first quarter of 2023 (previous forecast: USD115). Institutional analysis pointed out that oil prices above USD125 may affect demand. Since 1985, when oil spending exceeds 4.5% of global GDP, oil demand and prices will reverse. The average price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) in 2022 is USD125 a barrel, which could push oil spending to the 4.7% mark.
China is almost operating two economies in parallel. The first is the ‘pandemic economy’ requiring mass testing at times and an ongoing reporting of infections. Meanwhile, the real economy is helped by prompting policies as Premier Li Keqiang is trying to ‘normalize’ against the backdrop of supply chain constraints and weak domestic demand. The ‘pandemic economy’ is forcing the hand of the authorities to ‘relax’ a number of measures that had either suffocated the private sector or had inhibited economic conditions. By the end of May, the State Council announced a package of 33 measures covering fiscal, financial and industrial policies to revive the economy. There has also been ongoing implementation of programs announced in 2020 under the ‘Dual Circulation’ strategy. Chinese consumer’s spending spirits are still highly cautious due to the paranoia over ongoing Covid testing and the fear of lockdowns.
On the policy side, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Energy Bureau have issued an implementation plan for the high-quality development of new energy and the Ministry of Finance has also issued opinions on carbon peaking and carbon neutrality. It is expected that the policy will promote the faster growth of new energy installed capacity, which will be beneficial to the promotion of wind power projects and to optimize the combination of domestic coal power and new energy. Chinese power operators are expecting to receive more subsidies from the government in second half this year.
Under the carbon neutralization target, the demand of the photovoltaic industry is expected to accelerate growth. Domestic annual installation in China is expected to increase to 75-80GW and global installation is expected to exceed 230GW. Meanwhile, White House plans to exempt four Southeast Asian countries from photovoltaic import tariffs for two years. If the plan is officially launched, it is expected to promote the rapid recovery of Southeast Asian exports to the U.S. and photovoltaic installations in the U.S. Due to the polysilicon supply bottleneck, the new installed capacity still needs to be fully implemented by the photovoltaic enterprise to achieve the forecast. It is conservatively estimated that some installations will be postponed to next year and stronger demand will support the high polysilicon price for a longer time. Therefore, polysilicon enterprises will benefit the most from the increase in photovoltaic installations.
Overall, in the face of the uncertain environment of domestic growth and global market condition, Chinese market may continue to consolidate in the short term, but the downside space is relatively limited. Variables to watch closely in the future include: 1) changes in the epidemic and resumption of work and production in major cities; 2) follow-up policy landing; 3) U.S. macro data, U.S. stock market performance, U.S. rate of return and U.S. dollar exchange rate trend; 4) Sino-U.S. relations and regulatory cooperation. In this context, it is still a good idea for investors to find certainty from stable cash flow. Specifically, on one hand, there may still be room for downside in China’s risk-free interest rates and liquidity remains loose. High dividend yield, for example banks, energy and utilities, would provide stable dividend returns and defence. On the other hand, in the context of the improvement of the economic regulatory margin of the internet platform and the continuous efforts to promote stable consumption growth policies, valuation correction is sufficiently done and growth prospects are still good. High quality growth stock, with valuations match growth prospects, such as automobiles, some consumer services and the internet, may provide better operational cash flow certainty. The Biden administration is considering to abolish some tariffs on China introduced by former President Donald Trump, to curb the current high inflation, would also be positive for Chinese enterprises. Unless there is significant volatility in the external markets, we expect the stock market of Hong Kong and/ or Chinese mainland to show relative resilience.
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