For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic swept across America, investors will finally start hearing how severely businesses and the market have been affected by the outbreak and the resulting shutdown of our nation’s economy.
Today kicks off the first-quarter earnings season, and many on Wall Street are bracing themselves for a very rough ride.
The market has rebounded significantly from the March 23 lows. However, the rally may run into a roadblock if a significant number of companies report numbers well below already lowered expectations.
More than 70 S&P 500 companies have already withdrawn guidance and many more are likely to join them.
Overall, stocks in the S&P 500 are expected to report a 10.2% decline in profits. And keep in mind, the economy was only shut down for the last 3-4 weeks of the quarter.
What Market Data Say
Refinitiv’s Institutional Brokers Estimate System estimates that first-quarter profits will drop by 21% for financial companies. On the other hand, consumer discretionary companies will see a 30% decline in profits. Industrials will also see profits slip by 31%.
The price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, coupled with tumbling WTI crude prices, will hit oil companies particularly hard. Profits are expected to decline by 50% or more.
In addition to earnings reports, we will also get economic data that Peter Boockvar, the chief investment strategist at Bleakley Advisory Group, thinks could snap the market back to reality.
The economic reports this week include mortgage applications, March’s retail sales, and March’s industrial production. It also includes April’s housing market index, March’s housing starts and building permits, and initial jobless claims for last week.
“This is going to be a long slog. Any opening, and we’re all hoping it happens in the next four to six weeks, is going to be drawn out and slow,” Boockvar said. “Life is not going to be what we’re used to. That reality we face is what’s coming next,” he added. “I think company balance sheets are going to be where the focus is going to be. The bottom line is who is going to get through this and who is not.”
He added that conference calls coming with the release of earnings will be vastly different from those in the past. Back then, analysts rarely ask tough questions, he went on to say.
What Comes Next?
“It’s going to be a different type of conference call than a lot of people are going to be used to, when you’re going to have equity guys asking questions about debt covenants.”
Boockvar also expects companies to begin slashing dividends to preserve cash. He added that “a good balance sheet can turn into a bad one rather quickly when your revenues are going to zero.”
Ed Keon, chief investment strategist at QMA, believes that if a company does issue guidance for the remainder of the year, it will simply be guessing.
“We’ll see the guidance of course,” Keon said. He added that “companies will be guessing just as we’re going to be guessing what the impact will be.”
He also says that investors face a new challenge this earnings season.
“Not every company is going to survive this downturn,” he started. He also said, “trying to sort out which ones are likely to survive and which ones will thrive when this is over is going to be a challenge for investors.”
Market Loses 500 Points, More Pain Could Be In Store For Investors
With the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping as much as 900 points yesterday before recovering to close out “only” 500 points lower, many are speculating that there’s even more pain in store for investors over the coming weeks.
One of the big differences with yesterday’s plunge was the stocks that slipped the most. Earlier in September, tech and growth stocks fell the most during the market pullback. Yesterday, it was the cyclical stocks that were heavily tied to economic recovery.
Sam Stovall, the chief market strategist at CFRA, wonders if the possibility of a second lockdown has spooked investors.
“Things had to have changed for investors to be so nervous. With Europe starting to see a sharp increase in Covid cases, does that mean they’re going to reimpose shutdowns?”
He also says that the weak recovery from the early-September pullback indicated more drops before the market would finally march higher.
“Because the recovery from the earlier Sept. 8 low was so anemic, it was an indication that the market needed to go through more backing and filling before it’s ready to advance.”
Technical analysts are now pointing to the 200-day moving average as a potential battle line for the markets. That currently stands at 3,104.
Scott Redler, a technical strategist and partner with T3Live.com, says the S&P 500’s next test could be the psychological level of 3,200 before potentially slipping down to the 200-day moving average. “I would say there’s a high probability we at least test 3,200 if not the 200-day.”
He added that the S&P 500 chart looks to be forming a head and shoulders chart pattern, which is a negative sign for stocks. “That would give us a measured move down to 3,136,” he said.
Redler said the market has been flashing warning signs that a bigger sell-off was in store.
“There are four or five things that are nipping at the heels of the market,” he said. “In the last two weeks there have been many signals that this kind of action could happen.”
Paul LaRosa, the chief market technician at Maxim Group, also thinks a larger market plunge is in store. He said he expects the S&P could dip as low as 3,100, and Nasdaq could drop under 10,000 if it breaks support at 10,639. He said the Dow should see support at 27,450 but could slip down to 26,000.
Stovall added that the markets are in a seasonally negative time. This comes with September the worst month of the year on average. He also warns that with the end of the month coinciding with the end of the quarter, losses could accelerate as big investors rebalance their portfolios before the month-end.
Peter Boockvar, chief investment strategist at Bleakley Advisory Group, says we could be seeing investors shifting back to the “work from home” stocks as fears of a second lockdown grow.
“I think some of it is that [cyclicals] had a good month. I think you have the algorithms that say to buy the stay-at-home names after the drubbing that went on in Europe, with the possibility of the U.K. crackdown again, and what that means for growth. To me, this is an allocation shift. Let’s go back to buying Zoom, Walmart and Peloton and selling anything that’s leisure or travel-related. The sell-off in tech that started in early September started a very different tenor in the market. We were on a much more vulnerable footing going into today.”
Gold Will Climb To $2,200 An Ounce By Year End, Says Industry Insider
Ronald-Peter Stoeferle, the managing partner of Incrementum, says gold is in a “stealth” bull market. Additionally, he expects prices to climb above $2,200 per ounce by the end of the year.
Speaking with Kitco News, Stoeferle says proof of the stealth bull market in gold is actually silver outperforming gold and junior mining stocks outperforming senior mining stocks.
“It’s pretty obvious, we’re in a stealth bull market in gold. What are the reasons for that? First of all, we’re seeing that gold is rising in every currency. Gold is up 27% in US dollar terms, we’re seeing that silver is outperforming gold, so silver is up almost 50% since the beginning of the year, so the gold/silver ratio is falling is a great confirmation for the strength of gold. Then we are seeing that actually the mining equities are outperforming the price of gold itself, so we are seeing outperformance of the large caps versus gold, we are seeing the juniors outperform the seniors, those are all confirmations.”
A Sign of a Healthy Bull Market?
He says the recent pullback in gold prices is also a positive sign of a healthy bull market. Stoeferle says there was too much optimism as prices climbed and sentiment got too high.
“We saw that when gold went over $2,000 everyone was writing about gold and sentiment felt a bit too positive. Then we came down, but it seems that there’s so much capital waiting on the sidelines at the moment that we just don’t see any deeper correction. Can gold go to $1800, $1850? Of course. But it is just normal and healthy within the course of this bull market to take a breather.”
Institutional demand will take gold to $2,200 an ounce by the end of the year, according to Stoeferle.
“September from a seasonal perspective is one of the very best months for gold and I think we can easily go to $2,200 or even higher by the end of the year. The important message is we are in a stealth bull market, I think this party has only just begun, and we are seeing the most important driver going forward is the institutional demand is coming back and I think that is what is really going to move the price of gold.”
Benefits of Higher Inflation
He says that gold investors, mining stock investors and central bankers make odd bedfellows; all three benefit from one thing: higher inflation.
“Just look at inflation-sensitive assets like TIPS and also gold, silver, the commodity space, they are all rising pretty strongly in the last couple of months, so I think the market is already telling us: be careful, inflation is on the horizon. And that’s actually what the Federal Reserve and central bankers and politicians want. So you could say that gold investors and mining investors are basically sitting in the same boat as central bankers, which feels a bit odd.”
Very few investment managers have lived through a period of strong inflation or even stagflation, and Stoeferle says that means many will be caught under-invested as gold prices rise.
“The average investment manager nowadays is 52-years old so they have never experienced a period of long, strong inflation or even stagflation. So I think this will catch many, many investors on the wrong foot. And at the moment, 0.5% of all assets are invested in gold. So basically there is no allocation at the moment and this will change, and I think really this year marked the beginning of the public participation phase.”
That small allocation to gold will change as people start looking around for the best inflation hedge, says Stoeferle.
“I think with inflation being really what central banks and politicians want to see and want to achieve, many many investors will have to consider “what’s the best inflation hedge out there?” and I think gold made a really solid case not only over the last few decades but over the last couple of centuries.”
Allocation for Gold
Finally, he says a rule of thumb he has come up with is for 8% of your investment portfolio to be allocated towards gold. However, he acknowledges that there are many variables for each investor.
“We crunched the numbers and we came to a rule of thumb of 8-10%. But I think it doesn’t make any sense to stick to those numbers because it depends on the rest of your portfolio, it depends on your time preference, it depends on your risk preference and so on, but if you believe that inflation will become a concern, if you think that real rates will stay very low, if you believe at some point we will have to deal with our debt, then I think you should have a pretty high allocation to gold and also the mining space.”
The Pandemic Is Transforming to Digital Economy
Even before coronavirus, paper money and coins are generally considered dirty. With a full-blown pandemic, people are less willing to go outside and buy items. And even when they did, they avoided carrying cash to use it to pay for everything. By September, the pandemic has changed the way people look at cashless transactions. And the companies handling this digital economy? They’re laughing their way to the bank.
Cashless is King
Last February, mobile payment company Square reported that 5.4% of its stores are cashless. By April, the number of stores jumped to 23.2%. The number went down to 13.4% in August when the government eased restrictions.
For the same Square vendors, 37% of transactions were cash. Once Covid-19 went full-blown, it dropped to 33% by August. Compared to the year before, it stood at 40%. Under normal circumstances, a 7% drop usually takes three years to happen.
Only 13.2% of Square outlets accepted online payments last February. By August, that number rose to 40%. Meanwhile, contactless payments increased 6.6% from February to August, settling at 70%.
Square economist Felipe Chacon thinks the new normal has included methods of payment. He said: “These new findings show a significant and stabilizing increase in cashless adoption rates compared to pre-pandemic, with business owners reliant upon contactless and online payments and consumers utilizing those alternatives. This signals that COVID-19 has already had what will likely be a lasting impact on consumer behavior.”
Fintech Outperforming Traditional Banks
As cashless/online payment gained ground, financial tech owners began growing too. CNBC reports that the total worth of Square, Visa, PayPal, and MasterCard is $1.07 trillion. This amount eclipsed the market value of America’s big six banks. Together, the value of JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs is below $900 billion.
Investors have rewarded these companies, pushing their stock prices to new highs. Visa has grown from $180.82 in August 2019 and is now $215.71 a year later. Mastercard shares now cost $366.12 last August 28, but it was $281.37 a year before. Paypal increased from $109.05 in August 2019 to $204.48 after a year. Square rose from $61.84 to $155.93 in the same period.
These companies are now pushing forward to make their brands provide more. Square announced last Tuesday that Cash-App users can now get their wages ahead of payday. This encourages cardholders to connect their app with their direct deposit payroll. Venmo, a PayPal subsidiary, also lets users access earned wages. Meanwhile, banks need to deal with increasing loan defaults and low-interest rates.
The March of the Apps
With the pandemic, people have now ditched passbooks and purses and switched to apps. It’s not only bank apps, but also an investment and financial planning apps. People will likely stick with the apps even after the crisis blows over.
In a CNN interview, Plaid CEO Zach Perret noted the increase in users. He said: “What we’ve seen is that consumers during this period have increased their reliance on digital financial services built by banks but also, built by non-banks.”
Plaid is the digital infrastructure provider that links bank accounts to the apps. From March to May 2020, Plaid’s partner firms recorded a 44% increase in new users compared to last year. Despite the pandemic, Plaid had to hire an extra 20% of workers to keep up with demand. “I think the pandemic has made it incredibly clear that digital financial services are here to stay,” Perret said. Visa and Plaid have earlier announced that the former will buy the latter for $5.3 billion.
PayPal expects 70 million users new accounts this year, double the rate from 2019. Even the traditional banks saw its users shift to its digital persona. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan reported an influx of a million mobile account users. 22% of them were senior citizens who used to resist the bank’s digital versions. Merill Lynch’s digital log-ins spiked more than 100% from 2019. Even Robinhood, the popular stock trading app, outpaced gambling apps. With American millennials stuck at home, they used the time to bet on stocks. Robinhood traders were instrumental in fueling a Wall Street rally earlier this year. Last May, the app reported adding 3 million new users.
Watch this as CNBC’s Closing Bell talks about how fintech demand has been affected by the pandemic:
Digital transactions are fast becoming part of the new normal. Not only are they designed for the pandemic, but they will also offer convenience after the outbreaks have passed. Do you have digital accounts in place at present? If not, what is holding you back? Share with us your opinions on how you plan to participate in the digital economy.
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