Global Investing

Full of Sound and Fury: Earnings Arrives

On some level, every quarter is a make-or-break earnings season, and maybe that’s particularly true for the midsummer earnings season, as it comes at an otherwise quiet time for the broader markets.

 

But as investors get ready for Alcoa’s ‘kick-off’ of earnings season (and really, Alcoa serves as a nice beginning more for its symbol’s position in the alphabet than as any barometer for earnings), there may be something to all of the fretting this time around. After all, investors endured an awful fourth quarter, where the entire S&P collectively managed to lose money on an operating basis (thanks, AIG, and Citigroup, and GM, and, um…), and a first quarter mostly notable for a slightly better performance than expected – even though earnings were down 36% from the previous year.

 

It’s still hard to see where the improvement is going to be, however. Earnings are expected to fall about 36% once again, and investors in recent weeks have finally cottoned to the idea that vaulting over low bars really isn’t much to get optimistic about. If the market is truly going to turn higher, it will depend on the quality of earnings, and there, some aren’t so optimistic. Mike Lewitt, president of Harch Capital Management, said, “I don’t think there’s a lot of revenue growth, just shrinkage – basically everybody is shrinking across the board and that’s what we’re seeing.”

 

The hope, somehow, is that consumer demand is starting to rebound, however slightly, as people get used to the new economic reality – relieved to still have a job, and ready to buy goods after putting off purchases for some time. “Many people made decisions to postpone purchases but not forego them,” said Diane Garnick, investment strategist at Invesco.

 

We’ll see. What may be necessary is a bit of reading between the lines when listening to conference calls. Visibility is still limited, and executives aren’t going to be eager to put forth rosy expectations when the economy remains stretched. An outbreak of brutal honesty among top execs isn’t likely, but a bit of hesitancy in describing current business decisions would say a lot.

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

Q3 – CLUES AND CUES
- Global equity markets started the quarter positioned for economic stabilisation after a strong Q2 performance but, even so, EPFR data shows less than a third of the cash that flooded into money market funds in 2008 has exited in the year to date. The Q2 reporting season, which is about to kick off (Alcoa out this week), will show whether there are reasons for investors to draw down their cash holdings further. The U.S. data that came out before the long July 4 weekend held more negative surprises than positive ones, and macroeconomic confirmation of recovery will be needed to tempt more wary investors into equities.

BOND YIELDS
- Benchmark U.S. and euro zone bond yields broke lower after the U.S. non-farm payroll data but the VIX hit some of its lowest levels post-Lehman and a recent compression of intra-euro zone spreads has yet to go markedly into reverse. Which of these trends turns out to be sustainable will become more evident in the next few weeks, particularly as U.S. supply resumes this week with TIPS, 3, 10, and 30 year auctions.

L’AQUILA SUMMIT
- The slow-burning international reserve currency debate could pop up at the G8/G8+5 big emerging powers summit in Italy this week. China’s public stance is that it is not pushing the issue but Beijing also reckons a debate on this would be normal at such a forum. It is unclear if any final statement will mention it in a way that would rattle FX markets. But sideline comments on the debate will be closely watched and particular focus will be on which countries, if any, would be willing to join China, Brazil and Russia in their commitment to buying the IMF SDR notes — for which crucial groundwork was laid down this week.

Hung, drawn and (second) quartered

By any standard the second quarter of 2009 was remarkable. Here are some numbers to chew over as the third quarter gets under way:   

— World stocks as measured by the MSCI All-Country World Index had their best quarter since the benchmark was first compiled in 1988.

    — The world index gained 21.2 percent for the second quarter. Its nearest “competitor” was the fourth quarter of 1998 when it rose 20.66 percent.

Bad Corp is better than Zqjrlbawzx Corp

Got a company to set up? Better go for a simpler name.

That is what psychologists at Princeton University found in a  survey when they studied data from two major U.S. stock exchanges on initial public offerings.

They found that people are more likely to purchase newly offered stocks that have easily pronounced names than those that do not. After the IPO, investing $1,000 in companies that have easy-to-pronounce names generated $333 more than investing in the 10 hardest to pronounce companies.

In one case, an initial investment of $1,000 yielded a profit of $112 more after one day of trading for a basket of fluently named shares than for a basket of “disfluently” named shares.

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

STALLING RALLY
- The global equity market rally has stalled in June and is threatening to go into reverse. With this week effectively the last full week of the second quarter, the temptation for many funds to book profits on such a lucrative quarter will be high. Any knock on boost to volatility would pose more risks for some of the trades that looked the most attractive in a lower volatility environment, such as cyclical versus defensives plays, emerging markets, and foreign exchange carry trades.

POLICY, SUPPLY RISKS FOR BONDS
- How the U.S. Federal Reserve will respond to the interest rate market gyrations of the past month has been a key market talking point. Questions centre on whether it will expand the size of buybacks, whether there will be any change in the length of time the buyback programme lasts, whether the central bank makes any effort to unwind the rise in bond yields seen in the past months, and whether there will be any talk of an exit strategy. Another risk to the front end will be the Treasury refinancing, which resumes after a week of no supply and will be concentrating on the shorter end.

WHAT COLOUR ARE THE SHOOTS
- This week’s data will show both whether the inventory rebuilding that was priced in over recent months is actually materialising and whether there are any other drivers of economic activity out there. The flash PMI in Europe and sentiment indicators will be particularly relevant in deciding on the latter issue, with consumer and income data out from both sides of the Atlantic providing an additional window on how domestic demand is shaping up.

from MacroScope:

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

BOND YIELDS 
- Nominal bond yields have risen across the curve, while term premiums and fixed income volatility are higher in an environment of uncertainty about how central banks will exit from quantitative easing policies once recovery takes hold. Bonds have turned into the worst-performing asset class this year according to Citi and none of the factors which markets have blamed for this are about to disappear. Curve steepening seen in April/May has started to reverse and whether it continues is being viewed as a more open question than whether yields head higher still.

RATTLING EQUITIES? 
- World stocks' are struggling to extend the near-50 percent gains seen since March 9 but they have yet to succumb to gravity despite a back up in government bond yields. Citigroup analysts reckon global equity markets can rally as long as Treasury yields stay below 5-6 percent but it might be the speed of yield moves that determines whether equities get rattled or keep looking past higher borrowing costs to the recovery story. 

INFLATION EXPECTATIONS 
-  Increases in the prices of oil and other commodities have seen the CRB index rise about 30 percent in less than four months and sustained gains will risk filtering through to prices and price expectations. Inflation reports are due out on both sides of the Atlantic next week but markets are looking further out and starting to price in the risks of a pick up in price pressures. Breakevens have turned positive all along the U.S. yield curve for the first time since autumn and euro zone breakevens have risen. Also, a Bank of England survey indicates public price expectations are up. Bid/cover ratios and tails at inflation-linked bond auctions will tell their own story on extent of demand for inflation hedges.

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:
    
PUTTING THE RALLY TO THE TEST
- The surge in risk markets has tapered off as investors take stock of recent weeks’ rally and the data flow injects a dose of sobriety. The scale and duration of any market pullback will be the test of how much sentiment has really changed. Sluggish April U.S. retail sales were the biggest cause for pause and this week’s flash PMIs will give more Q2 information.

FX FOCUS
- A pause in the recent recovery in relatively risky markets is shifting attention to the changing FX environment. Clear-cut correlations between moves in major FX rates and swings in risk appetite could be in the process of being eroded and some in the financial markets are wondering if and when relative economic performance will replace risk appetite as a driver for exchange rates. Investment flows will be affected if the dollar looks like it might resume a long-term downtrend.

QE EXIT STRATEGY
ECB, BOE, Fed officials are making reassuring noises about QE exit strategies but no clear mechanism or timeframe has yet emerged and all indications are that balance sheet expansion is still the order of the day. Yield moves suggest bond markets are more enthused in the short term by signs they will kept on the QE drip feed than by concern about the potential price problems down the road. Central bankers have yet to address the back up in yields that would be seen if they were they to exit the market at a time when debt issuance is continuing to flood the market – as it will for some time to come.

Big Five

Five things to think about this week:

VALUATIONS
- The MSCI world stocks index has rebounded 37 percent since March, the VIX fear gauge has hit its lowest level since September 2008, and positive earnings surprises in Europe are marginally outstripping negative ones. But there are serious questions over the equity market’s ability to sustain its rise.

MACRO SIGNALS
- Trade data from the U.S., Canada and the UK, all out in this week, will be combed for signs of any recovery in global commerce. Also due are flash GDP data from the euro zone, industry output for the U.S., France, Italy, the euro zone and the UK, and Japan machinery orders.  
  
QUANTITATIVE EASING
- The ECB has finally shown willingness to deploy unconventional easing measures but it’s hard to judge the success of such steps. Narrowing credit spreads, stock markets’ bounce and gains in emerging market assets all show efforts to restore confidence in the financial system are having an effect. But if getting and keeping bond yields down is the yardstick for success, it’s unfortunate that 10-year UK and U.S. government bond yields are back up to levels seen before the announcement of quantitative easing in those countries. And diminishing returns on further balance sheet expansion raise questions over how much more money central banks can print before inflation fears start to preoccupy policymakers and markets.
  
COMMODITIES
- Confusion over the reasons for the commodities rally has reduced the usefulness of commodities prices as indicators of the industrial outlook. An apparent economic recovery in China has helped to boost the CRB commodities index by 21 percent from February’s lows. But how much does the rise reflect a change in supply/demand for commodities, and how much is it simply due to idle money flooding back to unstable markets? Similarly, why has spot gold remained strong above $900 as jitters over the financial system decrease? Gold could be reflecting expectations that recovering economies will boost physical demand for the metal, but it may also be responding to fears of currency debasement after central banks’ radical monetary easing.

EMERGING MARKETS 
- Rising commodity prices and an easing dollar have offered a perfect environment to re-enter emerging markets. The coming week’s  EBRD meeting will focus attention on central and eastern Europe and how it is coping with a nasty period of refinancing (albeit less dire than the IMF initially estimated).

Stocks and the City

The amorous intentions of the British are intimately connected to the performance of the stockmarket, extra-marital dating website illicitencounters.co.uk says.

It notes that although the website has been running since 2004, by far the biggest jump in membership has been in the past 12 months, when it leapt to 310,000 from 180,000 in the previous fiscal year.

“We’re not financial analysts here, but we have noticed a sharp increase in the number of new profiles posted – each time the FTSE moves dramatically, up or down,” says Sarah Hartley, spokesperson for the site.

The site previously reported a surge in membership in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers last September, “suggesting the credit crunch had made way for the ‘lingering lunch’”.

Morgan Stanley bales out

Say this for Morgan Stanley — it is not afraid to buck the trend. With world stocks up more than five percent in the few days that have been April trading and up 24 percent since hitting a low on March 9, the bank has decided bale out. In its latest strategy report, MS says it is moving 5 percent out of stocks to neutral. It likes cash.

This puts Morgan Stanley in the camp that sees the current stock rally as just part of a bear market. It says it is looking at fundamentals to get better before it will decide that trouble is past. 

“The three fundamentals we look at are : 1) earnings; 2) U.S. housing; and 3) banks’ balance sheets”,  it says.