Market Insights

3 MAY 2022

Inez Chow
Inez Chow

Chief Strategist & Co-Head of EAM
(Private Asset Management)

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Key takeaways
  • Has the U.S. economy really shrunk in early 2022? Is recession coming soon?
  • Oils and oil giants Q1 2022 results
  • Big tech giants Q1 2022 results review. What does this earnings season mean for the market?
  • How has Buffett’s holdings performed so far this year?
  • Forex market shakes
  • China market: what were the major signals released to the market from the Politburo meetings? 

Has the U.S. economy really shrunk in early 2022? Is recession coming soon?

U.S. stocks fell sharply last Friday, with a dismal performance in April. The S&P 500 was down 8.8% and the Nasdaq was down 13.3%, its biggest monthly decline since 2008. A series of unfavorable factors, such as worrying about the possibility of an economic recession caused by the Fed’s aggressive interest rate hike, the ongoing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, epidemic spreading in China etc, all put pressure on the stock markets in April. Technology stocks with high valuations and disrupted supply chains have become selling target. The results of the tech giants have also been influencing market sentiment this week, with Amazon and Apple warning that poor second-quarter revenue guidance also caused panic. The tipping point of the S&P 500 market is at the 4,000-point psychological barrier and falling below may trigger a large-scale capital flight. The euro zone’s reconciled Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 7.5% in April. Investors continue to pay attention to the impact of European energy security and the situation in Russia on inflation and the economy. Yet, the core Personal Consumption expenditure (PCE) inflation in the U.S. rose 6.6% in March was weaker than the previous month, raising hopes of inflation peaking.

Getting closer to the time for the Fed to shrink its balance sheet and some believe that the stock market may plummet, economic growth may slow and bonds may rebound when the Fed withdraws hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. bond market. Some believe that as the Fed may not raise interest rate hikes too aggressive as inflation will fall. The economy will recover and the stock market may resume its upward momentum. Both scenarios are the focus of debate among investors, who are preparing for the most aggressive monetary tightening in the U.S. in decades. Fed policymakers say that they are confident of tightening without stifling the recovery. However, investors should stay conservative and cautious on the ongoing war in Ukraine, high inflation and the Federal Reserve’s hawkish stance on monetary policy could combine to significantly increase the chances of a recession. The U.S. will still be a relatively strong and growing economy for the rest of 2022 but it is difficult to be certain of the future beyond that. JPMorgan Chase revealed their first quarter results, it had set aside USD 902 million in credit reserves, ​​largely due to higher probabilities of downside risks. The bank appears to be preparing for all eventualities.

Speaking of growth, GDP in the U.S. shrank for the first time since the pandemic, contracting 1.4% in the first quarter (vs. forecast +1.1% and +6.9% in Q4). The surprise was exacerbated by a widening trade deficit, reflecting supply chain problems, as well as lower private inventory investment and fading government stimulus spending. The real strength of the economy, however, lies in consumer spending and business investment and both were quite sturdy in the first quarter. Consumer spending rose at a healthy 2.7% pace after inflation, the highest in three quarters and business investment jumped 7.3%. That was the biggest increase in a year. The first quarter was not as bad as it looks at first glance. A better way to assess the economy’s performance is to look at final sales to U.S. customers. Simply put this measure strips out exports and inventories, and focuses on how much stuff Americans are buying from U.S. and foreign sellers. Although GDP fell in the first quarter, the U.S. economy is not in recession. VISA’s March quarter results showed very solid growth in most countries around the world. Income payment by consumers grew by more than 20%. There are no signs of inflation, supply chain disruptions or the war in Ukraine affecting consumer spending. Business travel is also starting to recover, on a very similar trajectory to consumer travel as well.

Oils and oil giants Q1 2022 results

Oil prices rose for the fifth month in a row in April, the longest monthly cycle since January 2018. Yesterday (2 May), U.S. oil also created the largest spot premium structure in a month, indicating a tight supply. The increase in oil prices was significantly magnified later last week, related to the imminent emergence of the German-backed EU crude oil embargo on Russia, which will continue to push up prices if Europe suddenly seeks many alternative supplies of oil and gas in the international market. This logic has also made U.S. diesel futures jump to their highest level since data were available in 1986, up more than 10% last week and 22% in April but oil prices will remain volatile because of the uncertain demand outlook from China has continued to face scaling lockdowns. Still, supply remains a concern. The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects that Russia will shut in up to 3m barrels per day of supply by May due to a lack of markets. The EU will seek to strengthen cooperation with African countries to help replace Russian gas imports and reduce its dependence on Moscow by nearly two-thirds this year.

U.S. oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron benefited from the sharp rise in oil and gas prices in the first quarter. Chevron Corp’s profit quadrupled. Exxon Mobil said that the “cost” of withdrawing from Russia in the first quarter is still doubling the profit of USD 3.4 billion and tripling the stock buyback. Even if oil prices fell to USD 35 a barrel, about 90% of the company’s dollar investments were expected to earn double-digit returns. The size of the share buyback program had tripled from USD 10 billion to USD 30 billion, a much higher-than-expected 50% increase. This is due to the company’s operating cash flow of about USD 14.8 billion and free cash flow of about USD 10.8 billion.

Chinese oil giant China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) also announced its Q1 2022 results, revenue of about RMB82.4 billion, up 70% yoy. The net profit reached RMB 34.3 billion, up 132% yoy, exceeding market expectations. The company achieved an average oil price of USD 97.47, up 65% yoy, which is basically in line with the trend of international oil prices of USD 98 average in the first quarter. The cost of the company’s barrel of oil is USD 30.59. The company declared a special dividend of HKD1.18 per share to shareholders, plus the interim dividend of HKD0.30, a total of HKD1.48, dividend yield is over 13%. Consensus earning per share forecast for 2022 to 2024 is RMB 2.43, 2.64 and 2.82 respectively. The Chinese oil giant is trading at low valuation with single digit PE and double-digit dividend yield.

Big tech giants Q1 2022 results review. What does this earnings season mean for the market?

All the big tech giants just announced their March quarter results last week. It should be noted that in the context of the overall tightening of liquidity, the patience of the market is not high. Once the performance is not as expected, it would be severely punished.

Netflix: the company’s post-performance share price plummeted nearly 40% after it showed that the “home economy” dividend during the epidemic had faded and user growth was under great pressure. The mixed results arrive on the heels of lighter-than-expected sales and earnings from Google parent Alphabet last week, deepening concerns that companies dependent on advertising may face a rough patch with a war raging in Ukraine and inflation is burning spending power of consumers.

Meta platform (formerly Facebook): the latest tech giant to feel an economic pinch. It reported that its slowest sales growth in a decade and issued lukewarm revenue guidance. Nonetheless, Meta’s stock jumped nearly 19% after the company disclosed first quarter results. Meta’s total revenue in the first quarter was USD 27.9 billion, up 7% while net profit was USD 7.5 billion, down 21%. Its sales fell short of the consensus of USD 28.3 billion. Meta issued a second-quarter revenue forecast of between USD 28 billion to USD 30 billion. Facebook executives have cited increased competition from services such as TikTok and Apple changed the mobile operating system that makes Facebook more difficult to track consumers in ads. Daily active users(DAU), a crucial metric for Meta’s growth globally, increased 4% to USD 1.96 billion is the only bright spot.

Google: 22Q1’s revenue and operating profit slightly exceeded expectations, net profit was under short-term pressure but overall performance was still resilient. Net profit was under short-term pressure due to market fluctuations, with a net interest rate of 24.17%, down sharply from the same period last year of 32.41%. Its cloud business maintained a high growth rate, YoY +44% mainly benefited from orders from major customers. It trades on forward PE of 20x with strong cash on hand of USD 130 billion, the company announced a USD 70 billion share buyback program post the results.

Microsoft: 22Q1’s revenue reached USD 49.36 billion, +18.35% yoy, net profit was USD 16.728 billion, +8.2% yoy. (net profit margin 33%) The revenue of Microsoft’s cloud business Azure has grown beyond expectations, forming the next growth curve: Microsoft’s intelligent cloud business revenue was USD 19.1 billion. At present, Microsoft’s cloud business revenue accounts for 38.7% of the total revenue. It is used by 95% of Fortune 500 companies for a variety of purposes. Benefiting from the growing demand for downstream cloud computing and the acceleration of the digital transformation process of enterprises, it is expected that the proportion of subsequent cloud business revenue will continue to increase, supporting the company’s future development. It dominates the mainstream operating system since last century. Microsoft has high-frequency consumer usage scenarios and has already won the ticket to the next cloud computing era.

Apple: delivers strong better than expect quarter results but warns of challenge ahead. Apple’s revenue for the January-through-March period rose 9% to USD 97.3 billion, yet it was only 9% higher than the same time last year. It marked the first time in the past six quarters that Apple has not produced double-digit gains in yoy revenue. Sales of the iPhone rose 5% to USD 50.6 billion in the past quarter compared with a year ago. Analysts had expected 1% growth. Apple cautioned that the resurgence of Covid-19 in China threatens to hinder sales by USD 4 billion to USD 8 billion in the quarter through June. CEO Tim Cook told investors, “We are not immune to these challenges.”. The lockdowns are also expected to damp demand in China. Market estimates that 85% of Apple’s products are assembled in China while the country accounts for almost 20% of the company’s annual sales. At the just-concluded 2022 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meeting, Buffett personally revealed that Berkshire bought USD 600 million worth of Apple shares after Apple recorded a three-day decline in the first quarter. He also said that if Apple had remained low, he would have continued to buy in the first quarter.

Amazon: the share price dropped more than 14% after the e-commerce giant posted its first quarterly loss since 2015 on slowing sales growth, high fuels and labour costs. Though big tech giants also facing challenges ahead, these three companies still seem in better position to weather the storm: Apple, Google and Microsoft are still the best well-run companies in the world. It will also be supported by their strong cash flow, rock solid balance sheets and free cash flow that allow them to continue the large share buy-back.

How has Buffett's holdings performed so far this year?

Let’s first review the performance of these Buffett stocks and stocks this year: under the rising energy stocks, the most obvious is that Occidentale Petroleum and Chevron’s natural gains this year exceeded 97% and 39% respectively. Consumer stocks Kraft Heinz and Coca-Cola rose 22.8% and 12.6% respectively. Technology stocks are inferior, Buffett’s largest position Apple Inc. fell by 7.73%. Among the stocks whose positions account for 1%, the stocks that have fallen the most are General Motor, down by 34%; other financial stocks such as Bank of America also recorded double-digit declines. Noted that Buffett repeatedly increased his holdings of Occidental Petroleum and Hewlett-Packard this year. Berkshire Hathaway ploughed a net USD 41 billion into stocks last quarter and slowed its share repurchases. Berkshire stock has climbed about 7% so far this year, versus a 13% decline for the S&P 500.

Forex market shakes

The U.S. dollar index rose about 4.7% in April, its best monthly performance since 2015, driven by expectations of higher interest rates in the U.S. and safe-haven demand for concerns about economic growth in Europe while the yen hovered at a 20-year low. The dollar will continue to strengthen globally if rest of the world does not keep up in matching interest rate hikes. The dollar is also getting a haven bid along with Treasuries amid concerns about economic growth and a possible recession. The euro has been on the back foot due to the war in Ukraine, and China’s severe COVID-19 restrictions have led to a weaker yuan and Japan’s widening policy and trade gap has sent the yen into freefall this year. We had two decades of the benefits of low inflation but now central banks are trying to win back their inflation-fighting credibility. Yet, the European Central Bank (ECB) is facing stagflation and will struggle to keep with the Fed and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) isn’t even coming to the party. With lower exposure to China and lower exposure to Ukraine, the U.S. stands out as resilient.

Strength in the dollar is also the result of weaker comparative currencies. Gold, which has also been suppressed by the surge in the dollar, has shown technical buying momentum, diversified asset allocation, stock and debt volatility, as well as the risk of fighting stagflation and other gold price drivers have not disappeared. Bitcoin fell for the first month since January, as rising borrowing rates dented investor demand for risky assets.

BOJ announced unlimited buy bond plan. Apparently, BOJ is sticking to the bond market and “ditching” the yen and reiterated its firm commitment to the ultra-loose monetary policy and started an unrestricted bond buying frenzy, which directly caused the yen exchange rate to plummet. According to a Reuters survey of 500 large and medium-sized Japanese non-financial companies, more than 75% of Japanese companies have been hit by the depreciation of the yen, which has had a negative impact on their business and almost 50% of them expects net profit to take a hit. Japan, the largest overseas holder of U.S. Treasuries, has reduced its holdings of U.S. Treasuries by nearly USD 60 billion in the past three months. The change may be small compared with Japan’s total holdings of USD 1.3 trillion but the threat of reduction is likely to rise. It is because the divergence in monetary policy paths between the U.S. and Japan is widening, with the yen falling to a 20-year low and market volatility in the U.S. soaring. All this increases the cost of foreign exchange hedging, depriving the attractiveness of higher nominal yields in the U.S., especially for large life insurers.

Under the influence of multiple factors such as the Fed rate hike, the RMB has fallen 4.6% this month to 6.63 yuan per dollar. That is the biggest percentage fall since the currency was released from its peg to the U.S. dollar in 2005. This also caused the A-shares to break out on a large scale. The Shanghai Stock Exchange fell below 3,000 points. Investors are worried about the impact of exchange rate fluctuations on listed companies.

China market: what were the major signals released to the market from the Politburo meetings?

Tech stocks soared, bolstered also by a South China Morning Post report that China’s leadership is planning a symposium in early May with key internet companies, including Alibaba Group Holding, Tencent Holdings, food delivery giant Meituan and TikTok owner ByteDance. The developments gave investors hope that the worst may be behind China’s tech sector, which has endured an ongoing regulatory crackdown. Chinese tech stocks rally sharply last Friday after Beijing signaled that it may ease a crackdown on its giant tech companies as policymakers move to shore up growth in an economy that’s being pounded by swingeing Covid lockdown.

The Politburo said that it’s aiming to support the economy and pledged further stimulus efforts as the country faces its slowest growth in three decades. The incremental policy tools next is focusing on infrastructure investment which is already on the horizon. The follow-up fiscal policy will speed up the issuance of special bonds, expand effective investment, promote investment in infrastructure investment, implement well the policies of tax reduction, fee reduction and tax rebate, improve the anti-risk ability of small and micro enterprises; may consider issuing special treasury bonds, mainly investing in infrastructure investment, fighting the epidemic and alleviating hardship, ensuring the operation of grass-roots governments. The Politburo meeting is a positive sign that the government seeks to prioritize growth. There will need to be a trade-off between deleveraging and crackdowns versus growth and that’s why the market is a bit more optimistic in the short term. 

Worth-noting that China’s top internet companies include Tencent Holdings, Alibaba Group, Meituan, ByteDance, Pinduoduo posted a 10.3% annual drop in profit in the first quarter of the year as the increase in their research and development spending offset the marginal growth in sales. The combined profits of China’s large internet firms came in at RMB 15.45 billion (USD 2.34 billion), according to data from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) on Friday. Investors should be still cautious on the short-term rally. 

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Inez Chow

Chief Strategist &

Co-Head of EAM

(Private Asset Management)
  • Responsible Officer of SFC Licenses (Type 1, 4, 9 regulated activities)
With two decades of experience in investment management, Inez is a seasoned investment professional, well-versed in global financial markets. At VSFG, Inez is responsible for thought leadership in forecasting and creating investment recommendations for institutional and high-net-worth clients to align with their individual investment profiles. She specializes in macro analysis and forming predictive thematic investment ideas in global markets, and then aligning those high conviction ideas by recommending the optimal investment vehicles aimed to capture the best risk-adjusted returns for clients.
Prior to joining VSFG, Inez was an Investment Director at a major global asset management firm, focused on developing investment strategies and managing portfolios of family offices and high-net-worth clients. She also managed a flagship fund which produced returns that consistently outperformed the market over many years.


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