Global Investing

Crowing about good earnings

Investors have been cock-a-hoop about the latest earnings season — and probably with some reason. There has been positive surprise after positive surprise, particularly in America. Thomson Reuters latest research shows that of the 337 companies in the S&P 500 that had reported through Friday, 74 percent came in above analysts expectations.

A wag might suggest that this only means that analysts are not very good. Chances are, however, that it reflects that they overshot in their pessimism, a not unusual factor. Are they now being overly optimistic?

Investors are now buying away and putting bad news to one side. Consider as one example how the ballooning of bad debts in European banks have not stopped the sector from rallying sharply.

Rupert Robinson, chief executive at Schroders Private Bank, is one of those who have injected a note of caution into the earnings euphoria. Speaking primarily of  FTSE 100 index, which is up 35 percent since a March low, he says:

“One should not lose sight of the fact that the reason profits have come in ahead of expectations is cost-cutting –- not top-line revenue growth. Cost-cutting means higher unemployment and less consumption. Less consumption means less final demand, and therefore top-line growth is likely to remain very sluggish.”

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week: 

RESULTS RUSH 
- The early wave of Q2 earnings last week prevented any major risk shakeout but there are plenty more results this week, including from banking, technology (Apple, Microsoft), and other sectors (Lockheed Martin, Coke, McDonalds). Investors with bullish inclinations will be looking for the VIX to stay subdued after it fell last week to lows last seen in September 2008, especially if more pent up cash is to be released from money market funds. Bears will be thinking that what might be the S&P’s best weekly performance since mid-March could be setting the market up to be more sensitive to bad news.

BANKS – IS THE BEST PAST? 
-  It is hard to see how bank results this week can top the boost which Goldman and JPM gave stocks last week. More of a mixed bag is likely with the U.S. slate including Bank of New York Mellon, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Capital One, and American Express while Credit Suisse will be the first major European bank to report. Defaults and delinquencies will be in focus for banks more exposed to the retail sector — both for what it means for their outlook and for what it bodes for household solvency and spending. 

DRILLING DOWN 
-  The breakdown of company results this week (ABB, Texas Instruments, Caterpillar, DuPont, Boeing, 3M) will show the extent to which the inventory rebuilding story, which has helped lift world equities almost 40 percent from their March lows, can offer more sustainable support to stocks in the weeks and months ahead. Earnings this week will be closely scanned to see how inventories are stacking up verus orders. How deeply firms are cutting into costs to defend profit margins, as well as their business investment plans, will be key for unemployment and other macroeconomic data.

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week

TUSSLE FOR DIRECTION
- The tussle between bullish and bearish inclinations — with bears gaining a bit of ground so far this month — is being played out over both earnings and economic data. Alcoa got the U.S. earnings season off to a good start but a heavier results week lies ahead and could toss some banana skins into the market’s path. Key financials, technology bellwethers (IBM, Google, Intel), as well as big names like GE, Nokia, Johnson and Johnson will offer more food for thought for those looking past the simple defensive versus cyclical split to choices between early cylicals, such as consumer discretionaries, and late cyclicals, such as industrials, based on the short-term earnings momentum. Macroeconomic data will need to confirm the picture painted by last week’s unexpectedly German strong orders and production figures to give bulls the upper hand.

FINANCIAL FOCUS
- The heavy financial results slate (Goldman, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citi) will show the extent to which balance sheets are being cleansed of toxic assets and the health of, and outlook for margins, trading revenues, etc. The relative performance of the firms reporting could put the spotlight on the split between investment banking and retail exposure. In Europe, Swedbank’s results will be watched for Baltic exposure while clarity is still being sought on what banks plan to do with the large chunk of ECB one-year money which they continue to park back at the ECB in the form of overnight deposits.

JAPANESE DILEMMA
- The BOJ’s policy meeting poses thorny questions on quantitative easing (QE), with the policy debate complicated by sharp gains in the yen. The yen has risen as much as 10.5 percent in three months against the dollar and is nearing the 90 threshold which is viewed by the foreign exchanges as the point at which the Japanese authorities start ratcheting up the rhetoric. Further sustained yen gains will fuel market debate about the fallout for carry trades and for exporters — and by extension economic activity.

EBRD to puzzle over E.Europe crisis

Ministers and bankers meeting at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development‘s annual gathering in London tomorrow and Saturday have a sorry mess to scrutinise.

By the bank’s own (revised) forecasts, its region of central and eastern Europe will contract by over 5 percent this year. Many countries in eastern Europe took too much advantage of western banks’ lending spree, and businesses and households are struggling to pay back foreign currency loans.

Falling commodity prices have hit countries like Russia and Kazakhstan, and a burst consumer credit bubble is risking double-digit contraction in the Baltic states and Ukraine.

from DealZone:

Stress-Test Expertise

NEWYORK-SPITZER/It seemed only a bit odd that media star Arianna Huffington was the guest host on CNBC the day the all-important stress test results were due. Not to play down her credentials in media or commentary circles, but where were the celebrated bank analysts, the corporate chieftains and the investment gurus who so routinely enjoy a dose of the limelight on America's Business Channel?

Wasn't this the perfect day for a newsmaker rather than a news talker? The Huffington Post founder has been a good reality check on market cheerleaders who live on CNBC, but on Stress-Test Thursday, the less-than-casual viewer expects insiders with insight. It tasted like something strange and exotic had made its way into the DealZone coffee machine.

Then disgraced former New York Governor and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer joined the fray, and the slightly odd became surreal. Spitzer, who casually noted he was invited to the show (hint, hint), gave a spirited view from the nosebleed seats, far back from the federal policymakers' bench.

Big Five

Five things to think about this week:

REBOUND
- The global stock market has lost some of its spring, although it still managed a seventh straight  week of gains last week. A serious pullback has yet to be seen and the VIX is managing to hold fairly close to the sub-40 lows. Faced with a deluge of earnings, investors are picking their way through a mass of mixed earnings news and forecasts and displaying a more symmetric reaction to good/bad news than in past months.

STRESSES
- The U.S. financial stress testing timeline will put the focus back on the health of financials. Results, which are expected to point out banks’ varying ability to cope with a severe recession, are due out on May 4 and the financial industry is already flagging the risks of failing to spell out what would happen to the weaker links in the chain. Stress test results and any rumours or leaks before publication could prompt volatility.

DATA FLOW
- The release of advance Q1 U.S. GDP will offer investors a clearer sense of whether worst is in the past and could point way to what might feed any eventual “green shoots” of recovery. In the euro zone, national and regional sentiment indicators will point the way to firms’ and consumers’ mood at the start of Q2.

Stressed out?

Trying to second guess reaction to news during this financial crisis has been a fraught exercise and the U.S. Treasury may have a few advisers playing game theory to assess the impact of results from bank stress tests.

The tests are an attempt to determine which banks can survive more trouble, and who can’t. And how big any balance sheet holes might be. The results are due out on May 4.

If the results look too good, the process will look like a whitewash. Too negative, and it will destabilise still-jumpy markets. Yet showing up problems at one or a few banks could hang them out to dry.

Big Five

Five things to think about this week:

EARNINGS DELUGE
– A heavy U.S. earnings week looms and the European reporting calendar is picking up. While more banks and financials will be reporting (e.g. Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Credit Suisse and a trading update due from Barclays), results will start flowing from a wider range of sectors in both the U.S. and Europe (ranging from Apple and IBM to Glaxo SmithKline, Du Pont, Coca Cola). Health of the broader economy on display.

MACRO SIGNALS
– The more mixed signals that earnings send, the more investors are likely to look to macro and other indicators as a cross-check of whether the stock market rebound is sustainable and whether the economy is anywhere near an inflexion point. Flash PMIs and Ifo for April will give an early indication of how economic activity was faring as Q2 got underway. Trade data from Japan is also due for release.

FISCAL HELP
 – The UK budget on April 22 is expected to issue grim forecasts and extend a helping hand to some sectors, such as autos. The fiscal presentation will keep the spotlight on the limited room for budgetary manoeuvre in Britain and elsewhere with past bailouts and support measures leaving tough decisions to be made on public spending, taxes, etc.

from MacroScope:

Big five

Five things to think about this week:

-- IS RATE OF ECONOMIC CONTRACTION SLOWING?
Some economic reports have been pointing to a slowdown in the pace at which economic conditions are deteriorating -- eg U.S. home sales data; auto sales data; PMIs; UK lenders seeing improved credit availability in Q2, and PMI data. While job destruction is continuing apace, signs that inventories are being drawn down leave room for hope for those inclined to look for the silver lining, or even seek a bottom to the current downturn.

-- REBOUND MOMENTUM
Investors are wondering whether equity markets can extend a solid Q2 start now that major fiscal stimulus announcements, rate cuts, QE  (in most developed economies), the London G20 meeting, and other big milestones are largely behind them. A sustained narrowing of corporate spreads, the VIX clearly breaking out of ranges that have held post-Lehman, and any shift out of defensive stocks are just some of the signals that would suggest that the rebound has legs.

-- QE CLUB
The European Central Bank opted to wait another month before deciding on whether to join the QE club and unexpectedly left itself room for a further refi cut. By contrast, curveballs are unlikely from Bank of England and Bank of Japan policy meetings given their quantitative easings are under way. The relative performance of their respective sovereign debt markets is in focus as a result, as are the inflation outlooks being priced in by index-linked paper at a time when some are pondering the longer-term fallout of QE policy. The Reserve Bank of Ausstralia also meets this week week but markets finding it tough to call the outcome.

from MacroScope:

Japanese lessons

Japan, slightly sidelined by the U.S.-UK "special" relationship and the Franco-German alliance at the G20 summit, is keen to stress the country can offer lessons to be learned from the country's banking crisis in the 1990s.

Here's a re-cap of what happened. In 1992, then-PM Miyazawa warned of a financial crisis unless banks were recapitalised using public funds now. Yet no action was taken. Between 1995 and 1997, staggering 5 financial institutions failed, forcing the government to inject public funds into 21 banks in 1998. Then two major banks were nationalised, then the government injected additional capital into 32 banks.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner experienced the crisis himself as a financial attache at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo in the 1990s.