Big Banks - Rising Rates And Earnings Synergy

Stellar Earnings

The big bank cohort reported stellar earnings across the board and set the stage for earnings season while sparking a broad rally across the indices. The big banks have benefited from a confluence of impending rising rates, post-pandemic economic rebound, financially strong balance sheets, a robust housing market, and the easy passage of annual stress tests. The most recent earnings reports confirm this secular thesis as Bank of America (BAC), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), and Goldman Sachs (GS) all reported very strong quarters, with stock prices nearing all-time highs. The big bank cohort is in a sweet spot of a post-pandemic consumer, rising rates and balance sheets to support expanded share buybacks and dividend increases. These stocks are inexpensive and stand to capitalize on all these tailwinds over the long term.

A Healthy Consumer

The big banks are already transitioning beyond the pandemic based on the results and commentary from the collective companies’ top executives during their respective Q3 earnings. The six biggest banks by assets posted profit and revenue that beat expectations. These results came on the heels of booming Wall Street deals and the release of funds previously earmarked for pandemic-related defaults.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan stated that whether it was a return to loan growth, credit-card signups, or economic indicators like unemployment levels, the company was back in expansion mode. “The pre-pandemic, organic growth machine has kicked back in,” “You see that this quarter, and it’s evident across all our lines of business.” The company said that loan balances at BAC increased 9% on an annualized basis from the second quarter, driven by strength in commercial loans. Continue reading "Big Banks - Rising Rates And Earnings Synergy"

Market Swoon - Deploying Capital

Market Swoon

Inflation, interest rates, employment, Fed taper, pandemic backdrop, Washington wrangling, supply chain disruptions, slowing growth, and the seasonally weak period for stocks are all aggregating and resulting in the current market swoon. The month of September saw a 4.8% market drawdown, breaking a seven-month winning streak. The initial portion of October was met with heavy losses as well. Many individual stocks have reached correction territory, technically a 10% drop, while the Nasdaq is also closing in on that 10% correction level. Many high-quality names are selling at deep discounts of 10%-30% off their 52-week highs. The outlook for equities remains positive after the weak September as the economy continues to move past the pandemic. During these correction/near correction periods in the market, putting cash to work in high-quality long equity is a great way to capitalize on the market weakness for long-term investors. Absent of any systemic risk, there’s a lot of appealing entry points for many large-cap names. Don’t’ be too bearish or remiss and ignore this potential buying opportunity.

Deploying Capital

For any portfolio structure, having cash on hand is essential. This cash position provides investors with flexibility and agility when faced with market corrections. Cash enables investors to be opportunistic and capitalize on stocks that have sold off and become de-risked. Initiating new positions or dollar-cost averaging in these weak periods are great long-term drivers of portfolio appreciation. Many household names such as Starbucks (SBUX), UnitedHealth (UNH), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Micron (MU), Adobe (ADBE), Qualcomm (QCOM), 3M (MMM), Facebook (FB), Johnson and Johnson (JNJ), Mastercard (MA), Nike (NKE), PayPal (PYPL) and FedEx (FDX) are off 10%-30% from their 52-week highs. Even the broad market indices such as Dow Jones (DIA), S&P 500 (SPY), Nasdaq (QQQ), and the Russell 2000 (IWM) are significantly off their 52-week highs. All of these are examples of potentially buying opportunities via deploying some of the cash on hand. Continue reading "Market Swoon - Deploying Capital"

Ominous Inflationary Signs Evident

Inflation Revving Up

Earnings season is getting underway, and thus far Costco (COST), Federal Express (FDX), and Nike (NKE) have warned that inflation is real and is bound to hit consumers as the holidays approach. Costco, Federal Express, and Nike are seeing rising shipping costs and supply chain disruptions that persist and should continue through the upcoming holiday season. In particular, the cost to ship containers overseas has skyrocketed over the past few months. These rising inflation expectations and the realization of these inflationary pressured could cause the Federal Reserve to change policy course sooner rather than later. It’s going to be a tug-a-war between inflation, employment, Washington wrangling, and the delta variant backdrop. CPI reports will become more significant as these readings are used to identify periods of inflation. The recent CPI readings result in a much stronger influence on the Federal Reserve’s monetary policies hence the recent taper guidance.

Real World Inflationary Commentary

Supply chain disruptions, specifically in the shipping channels, have led to rising freight costs that have escalated shipping costs dramatically. The cost to ship containers overseas has soared in recent months. A standard 40-foot container from Shanghai to New York costs about $2,000 a year and a half ago pre-pandemic. Now, it runs some $16,000, per Bank of America.

Costco CFO Richard Galanti called freight costs “permanent inflationary items” and said those increases combine with things that are “somewhat permanent” to drive up pressure. They include freight and higher labor costs, rising demand for transportation and products, shortages in computer chips, oils, and chemicals, and higher commodity prices. Continue reading "Ominous Inflationary Signs Evident"

Financials - Clear Runway Ahead?

The Taper

The Federal Reserve indicated that the central bank is likely to begin withdrawing some of its stimulatory monetary policies before the end of 2021. Although interest rate hikes are likely off in the distance, the economy has reached a point where it no longer needs as much monetary policy support. This pivot in monetary policy by the Federal Reserve sets the stage for the initial reduction in asset purchases and downstream interest rate hikes. As this pivot unfolds, risk appetite towards equities hangs in the balance. The speed at which rate increases hit the markets will be in part contingent upon inflation, employment, and of course, the pandemic backdrop. Inevitably, rates will rise and likely have a negative impact on equities.

A string of robust Consumer Price Index (CPI) readings spooked the markets as a harbinger for the inevitable rise in interest rates. Although rising rates may introduce some systemic risk, the financial cohort is poised to go higher. Moreover, the confluence of rising rates, post-pandemic economic rebound, financially strong balance sheets, a robust housing market, and the easy passage of annual stress tests will be tailwinds for the big banks.

2021 Financial Stress Tests Easily Pass

The recent stress tests were easily passed and indicated that the biggest U.S. banks could easily withstand a severe recession. In addition, all 23 institutions in the 2021 exam remained "well above" minimum required capital levels during a hypothetical economic downturn. Continue reading "Financials - Clear Runway Ahead?"

What To Expect From This Week's Fed Meeting

Was last week’s tiny decrease in the August consumer price index just enough to dissuade the Federal Reserve from announcing this Wednesday that it’s planning to start tapering its massive $120 billion a month asset purchase program? The financial markets and the financial press interpreted (hoped?) the report signaled that inflation might really be transitory after all and that the Fed will have no reason to reduce its purchases—at least not yet.

The headline CPI number rose 0.3% from July, slightly below the prior month’s 0.5% jump. The year-on-year increase came in at 5.3%, down a mere one-tenth of a percentage point from July’s 5.4% pace. That prompted near-euphoria from some analysts that the recent spike in inflation over the past five months had mercifully come to an end, giving the Fed little reason to begin the taper soon.

Needless to say, the release a few days before of the producer price index, which jumped 0.7% from the prior month and 8.3% YOY, got much less attention, even though producer prices often presage higher consumer prices. Indeed, many manufacturers have begun to announce they must and will raise prices and make them stick, meaning inflation is anything but transitory.

The Fed, however, is likely to stick to its earlier policy intention to let inflation run “hotter for longer” and not make a commitment to start tapering just yet, despite recent comments from a bevy of Fed officials—including Fed Chair Jerome Powell—that it is poised to do so. The Fed never said what “hotter” or “longer” meant, but five straight months of 4%-plus annualized inflation may not have met the criteria, whatever it is. Instead, Powell has realigned his focus from inflation to the jobs market, fostering full employment being the Fed’s other mandate. And on that score, following August’s disappointing jobs report, we are definitely not in the taper zone just yet. Continue reading "What To Expect From This Week's Fed Meeting"