Friday, May 16, 2014

Market Week Wrap-up  Weekly Market UpdateThe New Neutral

- Aggressive buying in government bond markets had many wondering if they should pay heed to warnings of a potential short squeeze this week. The action in US treasuries knocked the S&P500 off of all-time highs and sent the 10-year benchmark yield as low as 2.472%, matching the lows seen last October. A panicky reaction to weak European GDP numbers and a trial balloon in Athens regarding possible retroactive capital gains taxes on bond sales sent the 10-year bund yield momentarily below 1.30%. In addition, weak April China industrial output and fixed asset investment data also added to the scramble. The equity slide was more muted in Europe and Asia, and by Friday most US and global indices rebounded driven by options expiration. PIMCO chief Bill Gross made his mark on the week publishing his big new call on the next phase for the global economy: the 'New Neutral,' featuring "low returns but less downside risk than expected and an end to bull markets as we've known them." For the week, the DJIA lost 0.6%, the S&P500 slipped less than 0.1% while the Nasdaq added 0.5%, breaking the tech heavy index's three week losing streak.

- Inflation data out this week (coupled with the strong April NFPs) shows the Fed finally seems to be getting what it wants. April core CPI (which strips out volatile food and energy costs) rose to 1.8% from 1.7% in March, putting the measure at a 13-month high. April wholesale prices measured by the core PPI index were up to 1.9% from 1.4% in March, for the biggest m/m increase in the series since September 2012. At the same time, an NFIB's survey of small-business optimism for April showed sentiment at its best level since before the recession began in December 2007.

- Big retail chains Walmart, Macy's and Kohl's offered disappointing first quarter numbers, but after seeing countless earnings reports out over the last month citing the deleterious impact of winter weather on business, this comes as no surprise. On the other hand, former retail basket case JC Penny reported its second consecutive quarter of comp growth after nine straight quarters of decline. Weather was no excuse for the weak April US advance retail sales report's scant 0.1% gain, although the March numbers were revised to 1.5% from 1.1% prior, making the month's advance the biggest gain in the series in four years.

- Deere cut its equipment sales outlook for 2014 and its outlook for certain regional sales. Note that in its first quarter, agricultural equipment net sales declined 12% y/y. Net profit and revenue fell on a y/y basis, although earnings declined less than expected. According to Deere, the agricultural economy remains in a relatively healthy condition but farm income is forecast to be lower than last year.

- After several quarters of offering weak guidance, Cisco managed to post better than expected Q3 results and solid guidance for Q4. Nevertheless, as emerging markets challenges persist, the company still forecast a y/y decline in Q4 revenue even if it managed to top its own guidance and consensus targets.

- On Thursday, the FCC voted 3-2 to adopt new rules for governing broadband internet service. As written, the proposals would allow ISPs to enter 'paid prioritization' deals, giving some firms a 'fast lane' to customers, while also specifically prohibiting them from knowingly slowing data. The proposed rules are open to public comment for four months before a final vote, and the comments came fast and furious after the vote. Big telecoms seemed fairly content with the new structure, while a broad spectrum of large and small tech firms condemned it, claiming that it effectively gutted the principle of net neutrality.

- Hillshire Brands reached a deal to acquire Pinnacle Foods in a cash and stock transaction valued at $6.6 billion, including Pinnacle's outstanding net debt. The combined company would have about $6.6 billion in annual sales and maintain leading positions in frozen and refrigerated grocery categories. Deal making in the healthcare sector continues unabated: Kindred Healthcare made an unsolicited offer to buy Gentiva Health Services for about $514 million in cash and stock, and Abbot said it would acquire Latin American company CFR Pharmaceuticals for $2.9 billion.

- Only a portion of India's 550 million votes have been counted after national elections held over the last several weeks, but as of Friday the Indian National Congress, which has dominated for most of the post-Independence era, conceded the contest to Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP will hold at least 272 out of 543 seats in parliament, meaning it could rule alone without a coalition government, the first party to do so since 1984. Rumors that Modi had won a supermajority drove India's Sensex up 6.1% early on Friday, before the index gave up most gains.

- Last weekend's 'independence' referendums in Eastern Ukraine came and went without much impact (most notable was the very tepid reception they got in Moscow), and this week there has been a distinct feeling that most parties involved in the crisis are looking for ways to de-escalate. There has been more troubling violence, but also late in the week thousands of steel workers and miners came out into the streets in the East in support of a united Ukraine and to help local police impose order. On the energy front, Putin insisted that Russia would still demand prepayment for Ukraine gas deliveries starting June 1st, even as both sides appeared to be working for a solution to the gas question. Negotiations between Russia, the EU and Ukraine on Ukraine's outstanding bill and future rates for gas are slated to take place on Monday, May 26th, and Russia PM Medvedev said the Kremlin is ready to talk about terms of payments if at least part of the nation's gas debt is paid.

- Tensions between China and its neighbors flared up this week after China placed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands - claimed by both Hanoi and Beijing - and began building an airstrip on one of the islands. There were reports that Chinese ships rammed Vietnamese coast guard vessels attempting to patrol near the oil rig. The actions triggered widespread protests in Vietnam that heavily damaged foreign factories, some run by Chinese firms but also a few run by Taiwanese and South Korean companies. Taiwan tech manufacturer Hon Hai - which manufactures Apple's iPhones and iPads, among many other mobile devices - told its workers in Vietnam to take a three-day leave of absence beginning on Saturday.

- On Tuesday morning, reports made the rounds that the Bundesbank was finally giving a green light to ECB stimulus action in June if 2016 inflation forecasts were lowered. EUR/USD came into the week around 1.3760 and plummeted to 1.3700 on the news. The Buba pooh-poohed the report, calling it nothing new, but in a major policy speech the next day Bundesbank President Weidman acknowledged that there was a slight deflation risk at the moment and said he would support ECB action if it was needed. Weidman stopped short of endorsing QE, calling it not the best solution to deal with low inflation.

- Advance Q1 GDP data from several European states and overall Eurozone advance GDP report were pretty weak. Besides Germany and Poland, every European state that reported missed expectations and all the peripheral states reporting saw negative q/q growth. Analysts said that the disappointing data will be another element pressuring the ECB to act in June to keep growth on track and fight deflationary risks.

- Cable hit one-month lows under 1.6750 after the Bank of England quarterly inflation report was a bit dovish, diminishing the risk of an early rate hike. The BOE left its growth and inflation forecasts broadly unchanged, meaning a rise of its main benchmark rate is still expected in the first half of 2015.

- The Shanghai Composite hit a two-week high above 2,050 on Monday but quickly retreated on the heels of an underwhelming set of economic data on Tuesday. China Industrial output growth of 8.7% missed the 8.9% consensus, while fixed asset investment YTD growth was the slowest on record at 17.3%, below the 17.7% estimate. Secondary data from the mainland were similarly tepid: CNY770B in April new lending was below CNY800B forecast, power consumption grew less than 5% and non-performing loans in the banking sector for the first quarter spiked up by the biggest margin since 2005. Kynikos' Jim Chanos reiterated his bearish call on the China property sector and Fitch affirmed its below-the-official-target 7.3% GDP forecast for 2014 after the "almost universally weaker" round of economic indicators.