AIMSTAR FINANCIAL INSIGHTS – March 15, 2024

Your Weekly Guide to Financial Insights and Market Trends

Vikki Zhao and Olena Li

PUBLISHED FRI, March 15, 2024, 11:30 AM EST. 6 min read.

The financial markets have recently navigated through a significant batch of economic data from February with relative ease. Slight increases in bond yields to 4.19%, staying beneath the highs of February near 4.35%, along with anticipations of a Federal Reserve rate decrease expected in June, have been observed. Additionally, the equal-weighted S&P 500 has achieved new record highs.

Here’s a closer look at the data highlights:

  • The job report for February unveiled a growth of 275,000 in nonfarm payrolls, with January’s figures adjusted down from 353,000 to 229,000. A slight uptick in the unemployment rate to 3.9% from 3.7% was noted, alongside a modest 0.14% increase in wage growth — the smallest monthly rise in two years, with January’s growth corrected down to 0.5% from 0.6%. These results were seen positively, indicating stable employment (beneficial for the economy) and slowing wage increases (advantageous for controlling inflation).
  • On another note, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for February came in higher than preferred, with core CPI climbing by 0.36% after a 0.39% increase in January. Surprisingly, sectors like used cars saw a 0.5% increase (after a 3.4% decline in January), apparel went up by 0.6%, and transportation services surged by 1.4%. This suggests that while inflation is complex and shifting, it’s gradually moving in the right direction, albeit more slowly than desired.

From our perspective, the market has been able to overlook the recent unexpected rises in core CPI, focusing instead on leading indicators that hint at a decrease in inflation over the next year. We concur that inflation is on a more favorable trajectory, buoyed by the delayed impact of strict monetary policy and diminishing employment costs due to a stabilizing job market — factors that ease inflationary pressures. A gradual reduction in inflation, even if slower than expected, is likely to pave the way for Federal Reserve rate reductions, economic expansion, and higher valuation multiples, all of which underpin our optimistic stance on stocks. However, the recent leniency shown by the market towards CPI figures emphasizes the importance of forthcoming data in the next few months to validate or refute this optimistic view of inflation’s trend. Moreover, it’s crucial that the economy remains robust.

From a technical standpoint, the market’s momentum is still strong, yet there might come a time when gains must be consolidated. Underneath the market’s surface, participation is on the rise, with the equal-weighted S&P 500 reaching unprecedented heights. Despite this, sustainable upward trends in relative strength are yet to be seen, suggesting that, for the moment, technology remains a key sector driving the market. Nevertheless, the improvement in price trends across the board, evidenced by 80% of S&P 500 stocks trading above their 200-day moving average — the highest in two years — signals a promising opportunity for broader diversification beyond technology, which we view positively.

The February jobs report released on Friday revealed an addition of 275,000 nonfarm jobs, although the numbers for January were adjusted downward from 353,000 to 229,000. The unemployment rate increased slightly to 3.9% from 3.7%. Furthermore, the rate of wage increase was a mere 0.14%, the smallest monthly rise in two years, even though the figure for January was revised down to 0.5% from 0.6%. The overall outcome is seen as positive, with employment remaining robust (which is beneficial for the economy) and the rate of wage increases slowing down (which helps in controlling inflation).

In contrast, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for February was again higher than preferred. The core CPI for February increased by 0.36%, after a 0.39% rise in January. Surprisingly, this month saw different areas experiencing price hikes compared to last month – used cars went up by 0.5% (after a 3.4% decrease in January), clothing by 0.6%, and transportation services by 1.4%. This underscores the lesson that inflation is complex and varies across different sectors, but it is gradually moving in the desired direction, albeit not as swiftly as hoped.

Despite recent unexpected rises in the core CPI, the market has mostly overlooked these, concentrating instead on forward-looking indicators that predict a decrease in inflation in the upcoming year. We concur that inflation is trending towards improvement, aided by the delayed effects of stringent monetary policies and a reduction in employment costs due to a stabilizing job market, which in turn lowers inflationary pressures. While the decrease in inflation may be slower than expected, it is likely to facilitate Federal Reserve rate reductions, foster economic expansion, and lead to higher valuation multiples – fundamental principles underpinning our optimistic outlook on stocks. Nevertheless, the leniency shown by the market towards recent CPI figures emphasizes the need for future data to validate or refute this optimistic projection regarding the direction of inflation. It is also crucial for the overall health of the economy to continue its positive trend.

GOOD NEWS

Good news for National Bank of Canada shareholders: The country’s sixth-largest bank is exploring options for its Cambodia unit including a sale of ABA Bank, which could be valued at more than US$2 billion in a deal, according to people familiar with the matter. National Bank has been one of the better banking stocks in Canada this year, rising 10.4 per cent.

Good news for IPO fans: Reddit Inc. is seeking to raise as much as US$748 million in what would be one of the year’s biggest initial public offerings. The social-media platform in a filing Monday said the company and its investors are planning to sell 22 million shares for US$31 to US$34 each.

Good news for some fossil fuel investors: Disruptions on the world’s major trade routes, refinery closures and resurgent demand are pushing up global fuel prices, outpacing those for crude oil in some of the world’s most important markets. U.S. gasoline futures are up by more than a fifth so far this year and diesel in Europe has risen 10 per cent.

BAD NEWS

Bad news for Canadian Overseas Petroleum Ltd. shareholders: The Calgary-based oil and gas production company has filed for bankruptcy in both Canada and the United States and requested an immediate trading suspension of its shares on both the London Stock Exchange and the Canadian Securities Exchange. It says existing lenders have offered to provide as much as US$11 million in financing to fund its proposed restructuring.

Bad news for Gildan Activewear Inc. shareholders: The ongoing boardroom battle for control of the clothing manufacturer continues unabated as Browning West LP filed a lawsuit against the company and its board to ensure they hold the annual meeting “without delay and with the oversight of an independent chair” on May 28. Gildan shares have lost almost eight per cent since the battle began in December.

Bad news for Dollar Tree Inc. shareholders: Dollarama Inc.’s stock may be rising, but its American equivalent is suffering so much that on Wednesday it announced plans to close about 1,000 stores in a bid to improve profitability as the discount retailer battles a spate of litigation and other headwinds. Its stock dropped about 14 per cent that day.

                                                      This report by The PF Investor was first published on March 15, 2024.

Focus On Canada

Bank of Canada Rate Cut Expectations Shift to July

The year 2024 started with stronger economic performance than anticipated, prompting the market to anticipate a potential interest rate cut by the Bank of Canada around July. With the economy showing signs of growth, the market is on alert for any signs of a resurgence in inflation. Bond yields, which influence fixed mortgage rates, have been fluctuating, with today seeing an increase due to stronger U.S. economic data. However, there’s no immediate concern for a spike in fixed rates, provided that Canada’s five-year yield remains below 3.85%. Looking ahead, market indicators suggest that the first rate cut by the Bank of Canada may occur around July, although significant rate relief is likely still several months away.


Wholesale Sales Rose 0.1 Per Cent In January: Statistics Canada

Statistics Canada says wholesale sales, excluding petroleum, petroleum products, and other hydrocarbons and excluding oilseed and grain, rose 0.1 per cent to $82.4 billion in January. The agency says the increase from December came as sales climbed in three of the seven subsectors it studies, including machinery, equipment and supplies, and personal and household goods. Sales in the machinery subsector alone grew by 1.4 per cent to $17.4 billion in January, its first increase in five months. For a fourth consecutive month, the personal and household goods subsector also rose, jumping 1.8 per cent to $12 billion in January. In volume terms, wholesale sales, excluding petroleum, petroleum products, and other hydrocarbons and excluding oilseed and grain. were unchanged in January. Statistics Canada began including oilseed and grain as well as the petroleum and petroleum products subsector as part of wholesale trade earlier this year but is excluding the data until there is enough historical data.


Canada’s Pension Investment Ambitions Stall Amidst Political Hurdles

According to a report by Barbara Shecter on Thursday, March 14th, Canada’s pursuit of directing pension billions towards domestic projects faces hurdles as pension managers prioritize fund stability and struggle to find viable investment opportunities at home. Since Trudeau’s 2016 roundtable with pension officials, efforts to channel pension funds into Canadian infrastructure projects have faltered. The proposed Canada Infrastructure Bank failed to materialize as envisioned, leaving the government’s ambitions unfulfilled.

Despite recent calls for increased investment at home, pension funds remain cautious. Freeland’s plea for collaboration in creating investment opportunities received a lukewarm response, with pension officials citing concerns over government interference and uncertain returns. Trudeau’s government has grappled with misconceptions about pension investment preferences, with early proposals overlooking the funds’ preference for mature assets over greenfield projects.

Furthermore, the reluctance to privatize existing infrastructure assets, coupled with past policy unpredictability, has eroded confidence in government initiatives among pension executives. The government’s recent push to revive Canadian investments, such as the proposed electric battery plant financing, met skepticism from pension leaders. Concerns linger over the removal of the real-return bond program, impacting pension funds’ ability to hedge against inflation.

As Canada heads into budget discussions and an impending election, the government faces the challenge of aligning its investment aspirations with pension funds’ realities. With pensions seeking stable returns and global diversification, the path to unlocking domestic investment opportunities remains uncertain.


Harry Rosen Launching $50-Million Overhaul Of Its Retail Stores Over Five Years

Luxury menswear retailer Harry Rosen is investing $50 million over five years in a major overhaul. Its flagship store in Toronto will relocate to a new three-floor space on Cumberland Street, featuring a client lounge, espresso bar, and valet parking. Renovations are also planned for its West Edmonton Mall location, and a new store will open in Vancouver’s Oakridge Park development. Harry Rosen, established in 1954, operates 19 stores across Canada and runs a successful e-commerce business.


Canadian Airline Market On Path To Consolidation, Raising Risk Of Higher Fares

Canada’s airline market is heading towards consolidation, with newer low-cost carriers disappearing and major players like WestJet expanding. The disappearance of Swoop and Lynx Air, along with WestJet’s acquisition of Sunwing Airlines, has raised concerns about reduced competition and potentially higher fares. Experts warn that shrinking options could lead to fewer services and increased prices, especially in Western Canada and smaller markets. Challenges such as high airport fees and Canada’s vast geography hinder the growth of budget airlines. The dominance of Air Canada and WestJet, which now command 79% of domestic traffic, adds to the competitive pressures faced by smaller players. Despite regulatory scrutiny and challenges faced by newcomers, the airline industry landscape continues to evolve in Canada.


Declining Alcohol Consumption Impacts St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations

As Canada prepares for St. Patrick’s Day festivities, there’s a noticeable shift away from alcohol consumption compared to a decade ago. Restaurants and pubs are adapting by offering mocktails and non-alcoholic options like buzz-free Guinness to cater to changing consumer preferences. Economic factors, health consciousness, and changing demographics are driving this trend, with younger Canadians leading the way in reducing alcohol intake. While traditional favorites will still be available, establishments are diversifying menus to include more non-alcoholic beverages. Despite the decline, bars like Toronto’s Fox and Fiddle remain adaptable, offering a range of options to meet customer demands. This reflects a broader shift in drinking patterns and highlights the evolving landscape of social gatherings.

Focus On International

Economist Warns Against Overly Optimistic June Rate Cuts

Economic indicators released Thursday, including February’s Producer Price Index (PPI) and US retail sales, exceeded expectations, suggesting persistent inflation. Stifel Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza joins Yahoo Finance Live, noting that these readings may hinder near-term rate cuts by the Federal Reserve. Piegza predicts the Fed will likely hold off on policy changes until the second half of the year, contrary to market expectations of rate cuts in June, which she deems “overly optimistic” given the elevated inflation data. Piegza emphasizes the risk of inflation persisting above 2% if the Fed remains sidelined, potentially necessitating future rate hikes.

Stocks showed volatility in early trading, moving away from recent highs. The S&P 500 fell 0.5%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.1% and the Nasdaq slipped 0.7%. Adobe’s weak revenue forecast contributed to the downward trend. Investors remain cautious amid lingering concerns over inflation, despite signs of a slight cooling. Economic reports throughout the week have fueled speculation about the Federal Reserve’s next move on interest rates, with potential for a cut in June. Fed officials are set to reveal their interest rate forecasts next Wednesday, adding further uncertainty to market sentiment.


Bitcoin Retreats, Dropping Below $66,000

Bitcoin experienced a significant downturn on Friday, falling by 7% and hitting a weekly low, diverging from its recent record high. This decline follows another unexpected rise in US inflation, raising concerns among investors about the cryptocurrency’s stability.

Despite Bitcoin’s recent surge to $73,740.9 on Thursday, marking a new all-time high for four consecutive days, analysts at JPMorgan Securities believe that this pullback may only represent a minor setback. They suggest that inflows into Bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs) could continue to drive its price upward, potentially reaching $280,000 over the next three years. However, concerns linger regarding the sustainability of Bitcoin’s upward trajectory, especially as companies like MicroStrategy increase their Bitcoin holdings through debt financing.

MicroStrategy (MSTR.US) Issues Bonds Again, Expands Bitcoin Holdings, Bullish Bitcoin Market Ahead?

MicroStrategy (MSTR.US) announced this month that it will issue convertible notes to purchase more Bitcoin, having just completed a $1 billion investment in the cryptocurrency. The company anticipates a continued rise in Bitcoin, with its total holdings now exceeding 205,000 coins valued at over $15 billion. MicroStrategy’s stock price closely follows Bitcoin’s surge, with its market capitalization surpassing $30 billion. As faith in Bitcoin reignites in the market, bullish sentiments from Wall Street persist, with several institutions predicting new highs for Bitcoin prices.


TikTok May Be Doomed, Facing Forced Breakup in the US

On Wednesday (13th), the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill requiring ByteDance to divest its social media app TikTok within six months or face a ban in the US, citing national security concerns. Analysts suggest that in an election year, many politicians do not want to appear soft on Chinese companies. The bill will also be submitted to the Senate for review, although senators seem more divided than representatives, but not enough to block approval, with reports indicating that three-fifths of senators currently support the bill’s approval.

Once the bill is signed by US President Biden, ByteDance will have 165 days to take legal remedies, and President Biden has already stated last week that he will sign the bill. Meanwhile, TikTok CEO Zhang Yiming responded that the company will take legal action if necessary. However, some analysts believe that the legal weapons ByteDance can use are only the First Amendment to the US Constitution. However, given that the bill does not directly prohibit TikTok but rather mandates a “forced breakup,” it may be difficult to obtain judicial approval, and the time may be insufficient to overturn the bill.

On the other hand, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce had already formulated laws in previous years when TikTok was demanded to be sold by Trump, prohibiting ByteDance from selling one of TikTok’s core technologies, algorithms.

In the current US political consensus on China and the global landscape, TikTok, which dominates the short video app market but has Chinese origins, is destined to face an epic challenge. What’s more dangerous is that once the US opens this forced breakup door, allies like Europe may follow suit, dividing up TikTok’s market share.


Apple Faces Challenges, and Acquires AI Startup DarwinAI

Despite a tough 2024 with a 7% stock drop and slowing iPhone sales in China, Apple sees opportunities ahead. Analysts highlight potential in AI and subscription sales, with a new iOS version expected in June. Services remain a bright spot, driven by a large user base. Apple’s high-end Pro series continues to boost device revenue. Despite hurdles, Apple aims for turnaround in the coming months.

On Friday(March 15), Reports confirm that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has acquired Canadian artificial intelligence (AI) startup DarwinAI, with dozens of its employees joining Apple’s AI division. DarwinAI’s AI technology offers visual inspection of manufacturing components and caters to various industries. Additionally, it possesses a core technology that enables faster and smaller AI systems, potentially integrating AI directly into Apple’s devices like the iPhone and Mac. As per the acquisition agreement, one of DarwinAI’s founders and a researcher at the University of Waterloo, Alexander Wong, will also join Apple to lead the AI division. Apple responded to inquiries about the acquisition, stating their occasional acquisition of smaller tech firms but refrained from disclosing specific AI development plans.


Copper Prices Surge to 11-Month Highs on Chinese Smelters’ Production Cut Talks

Copper prices surged to an 11-month high on Wednesday, driven by discussions among Chinese smelters about potential production cuts. US copper futures for May delivery soared 3.3% to $4.0690 per pound, marking the highest level in nearly a year. Chinese smelters’ meetings to discuss production cuts and ongoing disruptions in copper production in Peru and Chile contributed to the bullish sentiment. The surge in copper prices also boosted major mining stocks globally, with Rio Tinto and BHP Group rising over 2% in Australia, while Freeport-McMoran surged 7.6% in the US.


Oil Prices Surged 3% Overnight to Hit A Four-Month High, Rattling The Market As Russia Comes Under Attack

In the Asian market on Thursday (14th), oil prices surged by over 3% from Wednesday (13th), maintaining levels near four-month highs. Both Brent crude and US WTI crude closed at their highest levels since late November. On one hand, concerns escalated in the market as a significant Russian refinery came under attack. Reports indicate that Ukrainian drones attacked a major Russian refinery, leading to its shutdown. This is expected to drag down Russia’s fuel production, with its gasoline market already tight. On the other hand, unexpected reductions were seen in the oil and gasoline inventories of the United States, the world’s largest consumer of fuel. According to official US data, as of the week ending March 8th, US crude oil inventories decreased by approximately 1.5 million barrels, contrary to an expected increase of 900,000 barrels.


EU Launches Probe into Alibaba’s AliExpress Over Illegal Products

On Thursday (March 14th), The European Commission has initiated an investigation into Alibaba’s AliExpress marketplace for potential dissemination of illegal and pornographic materials. This probe marks the third such investigation under the Digital Services Act, following similar actions against other platforms. EU regulators are concerned about the presence of fake medicines, non-compliant food, and ineffective dietary supplements on AliExpress. Additionally, they are scrutinizing possible hidden links and the role of influencers in promoting non-compliant products. While AliExpress asserts its commitment to compliance, violations could result in fines of up to 6% of the platform’s global annual turnover. The Commission has also sent requests for information to other major tech companies regarding their use of generative artificial intelligence and data privacy practices.


Goldman Sachs Downgrades Pinduoduo: U.S. Legislation May Impact Cross-Border Operations

Goldman Sachs downgraded Pinduoduo’s rating from “Buy” to “Neutral” on Tuesday (12th ), lowering the target price to $136. The decision stems from two factors: potential U.S. legislation that could affect Pinduoduo’s cross-border business and intensifying competition in China’s e-commerce market. Goldman Sachs noted a potential slowdown in Pinduoduo’s domestic business growth, leading to downward revisions in revenue and earnings forecasts for 2024 and 2025. While there is still upward potential in Pinduoduo’s valuation, investors may remain cautious until policy clarity emerges.


China’s February New Yuan Loans Below Expectations

Preliminary data released by the People’s Bank of China revealed that China’s social financing scale increased by 1.56 trillion yuan in February, significantly lower than the market’s anticipated 22.2 trillion. Among them, new yuan loans amounted to 1.45 trillion yuan, also falling short of the market’s expectation of 1.54 trillion. Although yuan loans reached a balance of 243.96 trillion yuan by the end of February, marking a 10.1% year-on-year increase, loans issued to the real economy only rose by 5.82 trillion yuan, a decrease of 932.4 billion yuan compared to the same period last year. This suggests that the People’s Bank of China has adopted a cautious approach in controlling the scale of social financing.


Chinese Property Market Update: February Shows 1.4% YoY Drop, Shanghai Bucks Trend with 0.2% MoM Increase

Official data released Friday(March 15th) indicated a 1.4% year-on-year decline in property prices across China’s 70 major cities for February, nearly double January’s dip. However, month-on-month, the decline lessened to about 0.36%. While overall prices continued their downward trend, there were signs of improvement in the rate of decline. Notably, Shanghai saw a slight 0.2% month-on-month increase.


Russian Election Begins, Putin Expected To Win Overwhelmingly

Russia is set to hold its national election across 11 time zones from March 15th to 17th, with voters starting to cast their ballots today. It is widely anticipated that Putin will secure reelection as president with an overwhelming majority. According to data from Russia’s most prominent polling organization, the Levada Center, Putin enjoys an 86% approval rating. Despite Russia currently being embroiled in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and facing sanctions from Western nations, the country’s GDP grew by 3.6% last year, with real wages increasing by 7.8%. On the other hand, German Chancellor Scholz is scheduled to meet with the leadership of France and Poland in Berlin later today, where he is expected to express support for Ukraine. However, last month, French President Macron and Scholz had differences of opinion on how to support Ukraine. Meanwhile, US support for Ukraine is also waning, highlighting a leadership vacuum in the West.


Bank of Japan Likely to Raise Interest Rates for First Time Since 2007, But May Take a “Dovish” Approach

The Bank of Japan is set to conclude a two-day policy meeting next Tuesday, potentially marking its first interest rate hike since 2007. Despite speculation that the rate hike may not be significant, the central bank’s monetary policy is expected to remain accommodative. Recent rumors about the Bank of Japan adjusting its monetary policy have gained traction, particularly with robust wage growth and stable inflation. While the likelihood of a rate hike in April is higher, there is still a possibility this month, especially considering the central bank has ample room for adjustments. Analysts note that the Bank of Japan may cancel its negative interest rate policy next week and adjust other unconventional monetary policy tools. However, concerns about the outlook for the Japanese economy could deter the central bank from acting hastily. Despite narrowly avoiding a recession recently, the Japanese economy remains fragile, which could limit the central bank’s tightening space.


Dollar General Stock Rises on Q4 Sales Beat

Dollar General (DG) sees a slight uptick in its stock as it reports a 0.7% increase in fourth-quarter same-store sales, surpassing revenue expectations with $9.86 billion in revenue. The company also forecasts higher-than-expected first-quarter same-store sales. Analysts weigh in on the implications for the discount retailer. For more details, watch the full episode of Yahoo Finance Live.


The Parent Company Of Foxconn, Hon Hai Precision, Expects Strong Performance In 2024

Apple supplier Foxconn’s parent company Hon Hai Precision (TW:2317) announced its financial results on Thursday, with a significant increase in profit for the fourth quarter despite a slight decline in revenue. This growth was driven by strong demand for artificial intelligence servers, leading Foxconn to express optimism about its prospects for the year. According to the report, net profit surged by 33% compared to the same period last year, while revenue declined by 6%. Consumer electronics products, including smartphones, accounted for 58% of revenue, while cloud and network products, including servers, contributed 20%. Additionally, Hon Hai Precision expects a substantial year-on-year revenue increase in 2024, despite previously indicating a slowdown in expectations for the first quarter of this year. Hon Hai Precision is a major supplier to Apple. While Apple’s sales and profits exceeded Wall Street’s expectations last month, iPhone sales in China fell short of analysts’ targets.


Lennar Corporation Q1 Earnings Beat Expectations, Revenue Misses

Lennar Corporation (NYSE: LEN) reported Q1 earnings, revealing earnings per share of $2.57, surpassing analysts’ expectations, while revenue fell short at $7.31 billion. Despite this, Lennar’s stock has seen an 11% increase year-to-date. Other consumer cyclical sector companies like Home Depot and Costco also reported earnings, with Home Depot slightly exceeding expectations and Costco surpassing both earnings and revenue estimates.


Ulta Beauty Beats Expectations in Q4 Earnings

Ulta Beauty (NASDAQ: ULTA) reported its fourth-quarter earnings, surpassing analysts’ expectations in both revenue and earnings per share. With earnings per share at $8.08 and total revenue reaching $3.6 billion, the company exceeded market forecasts. However, Ulta’s stock price experienced a 0.96% decline in after-hours trading, hovering around $560.00. Year-to-date, Ulta’s stock has seen a cumulative 15% increase, outperforming the Nasdaq Composite Index. Prior to this, other consumer-related companies such as Home Depot and Costco also reported earnings that exceeded analyst expectations.


Adobe Plunges 11%, Weak Guidance Cited

Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE) plunged 11.83% in pre-market trading after announcing lower-than-expected quarterly performance guidance, exacerbating concerns about intensifying competition. Adobe expects second-quarter revenue to be between $5.25 billion and $5.3 billion, lower than the market estimate of $5.31 billion. Amid high interest rates and economic downturn, both businesses and individuals have shifted focus to cost-cutting, putting pressure on Adobe. However, March 26 marks an important date for Adobe investors as the company is set to launch new products. Adobe has been investing in artificial intelligence tools to attract more users, and the company needs strong evidence to alleviate investors’ concerns about OpenAI’s text-to-video technology, Sora.


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