A stellar earnings season has done little to impress the market in recent days, and the weakness continues at the start Tuesday. Next up are earnings from the two ride-hailing giant Uber and Lyft—reports that could offer a glimpse into life beyond Covid.
Early pressure as investors await earnings from Lyft today, Uber tomorrow
10-year yield remains stuck near 1.6% early on, with volatility up slightly
(Tuesday Market Open) After racing into earnings season, stocks have basically treaded water the last two weeks. The S&P 500 Index (SPX) finished Monday less than 1% changed from mid-April when reporting season began.
That’s despite an amazing Q1 earnings performance by S&P 500 companies so far, with average earnings per share up more than 40%. With more than half of the reporting season done, 86% of companies have beaten earnings expectations, according to FactSet.
When you accompany that with the lack of gains in major indices, you have to ask yourself how much of the good news was priced in. We were already at all-time highs ahead of the reporting period, so can the reality match the expectations?
Anyway, this stall in forward progress isn’t something to be overly concerned about. We’re heading into summer, which tends to be a time of lighter volumes, but lighter volumes can mean good things as well.
For the next act, investors might have their eyes peeled on ride-sharing companies Lyft (LYFT) and Uber (UBER) today and tomorrow to see if they can provide insight into reopening progress.
Before that, investors got another set of solid earnings news this morning as CVS (CVS) and Pfizer (PFE) outran consensus expectations and raised guidance. PFE raised revenue guidance by 18% for the year, which is pretty impressive. Some of that is related to their Covid vaccine, but not all of it.
Technology—particularly the so-called “FAANG” sector of that group—appeared to be taking the worst of it early Tuesday. The Tech sector is by far the worst SPX performer over the last week even though earnings from most of the “mega-caps” in that sector looked solid. At the same time, cyclical sectors—think Financials and Energy—have led gains recently. It’s more along the lines of what we were seeing earlier this year before Tech made a move going into earnings season.
Call it what you want: “Consolidation” is a word some people are using to describe this lack of direction in the markets amid a slowing news flow. The directionless trading appears to be extending into Tuesday, with major indices losing ground ahead of the opening bell and the closely watched 10-year Treasury yield back at 1.6%, right in the middle of its recent range.
Still, commodity prices—and not just the semiconductors we’ve talked about recently—are on the rise, with the Bloomberg Commodity Index ($BCOM) among those commodity benchmarks sitting on multi-year highs. Even if long-dated Treasury yields remain muted and the Fed sticks to its narrative of “transitory inflation” (see more below), commodities seem to be factoring in higher prices.
Volatility is up slightly, too, not surprising considering the pressure on stocks. Keep an eye on the 20 level for the Cboe Volatility Index (VIX). We’re only slightly below that benchmark figure, and looking at forward contracts, the message looks like we’ll continue to bounce around for a while.
It’s kind of fitting that “reopening” stocks led the way Monday in a week that features earnings from Uber (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT), two companies that would likely stand to benefit if people are getting out more. LYFT is expected to report today after the close and UBER is up to bat tomorrow after the close.
Both companies are apparently having some trouble finding drivers to meet all the new demand, kind of a good problem to have. However, it could be costly, with both having to spend more on driver incentives. There’s also a regulatory headwind after the U.S. Labor secretary told Reuters that many gig economy workers should be treated as employees.
If that ends up happening nationwide and UBER and LYFT have to treat drivers as employees instead of independent contractors, it seems that would substantially increase costs for these companies. However, that’s far from settled yet.
In the meantime, what investors probably want to know is whether LYFT and UBER were able to continue cutting their losses in Q1 after shrinking their annual net losses last time out. They’re still going to likely face tough comparisons on revenue, because a lot of the 2020 quarter they’re comparing to took place before the pandemic hit last March.
In contrast, other big earnings reports over the coming days include some of the companies many investors embraced big time last year when the pandemic hit. We’re talking Peloton (PTON), Paypal (PYPL), Moderna (MRNA), Square (SQ), and Roku (ROKU). A lot of these companies had amazing performance in 2020, but might have pulled forward years of demand. Now, as the economy reopens, they face pressure to explain how they’re going to drive toward profits and how they can keep the excitement going.
It’s not like these are necessarily stocks you can consider flash in the pans. People who got used to exercising at home and invested in a PTON machine probably aren’t going to abandon it for the gym right away, or necessarily at all. And MRNA’s vaccine technology has possibilities beyond the success of their Covid vaccine, analysts recently told Barron’s. PYPL and SQ’s technology was already in demand before Covid, though the pandemic might have given them a boost.
Getting back from the newest models to a veteran, General Motors (GM) reports tomorrow. Like other car companies, GM’s earnings call could offer an interesting perspective on the semiconductor chip shortage. Ford (F) said last week the problem is taking a greater toll on its business than previously expected and could put pressure on its operating results in the second half of the year. For more on how the chip shortage is affecting car makers, see below.
Some of the supply shortages in chips and beyond might be playing out in the economic data this week. ISM manufacturing for April released on Monday came in below Wall Street’s expectations at 60.7%, down from 64.7% a month earlier. Supply chain disruptions and higher raw material costs might have played into the lower number.
The Fed has been saying inflation will be transitory, but we’ll see if they end up being right. A couple of weeks ago Intel (INTC) said the chip shortage could last two years. President Biden’s infrastructure plan envisions more domestic production of these products, but you can’t turn on the assembly lines overnight, and there’s still no guarantee the entire bill as it exists now will become reality.
In other data to watch, the ISM non-manufacturing index for April is due Wednesday. Consensus on Wall Street is for a headline figure of 65.0%, up from 63.7% in March, according to research firm Briefing.com.
Of course, the biggest report this week is Friday’s non-farm payrolls, where analysts expect a cool million new jobs created in April vs. 916,000 in March. We’ll dig into that a little more tomorrow, with some things worth watching in the report beyond that headline number. Stay tuned.
Horse’s Mouth Time: Something that might be worth paying attention to today is the Wall Street Journal’s CEO summit, which starts this morning and features interviews with JP Morgan Chase (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon, Merck (MRK) Chairman and CEO Kenneth C. Frazier, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Dimon’s going to be asked about the economic rebound and the markets, the WSJ said, but it might be interesting to see if they ask him any questions about the banking industry now that Q1 earnings are in the rearview mirror. Some analysts note that activity on Wall Street—especially on the Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) front—has slowed down slightly in Q2, and wonder if that means the sizzling investment banking revenues enjoyed by the industry in Q1 might not be as easy to scoop up this quarter. SPACs raised $82 billion last year, the WSJ reported.
Earnings Come Down the Stretch With a Lead: We’ve heard a lot of analysts say what a great earnings season it’s been, but it’s another thing to see the actual number plugged in. How does this sound? 45.8%. That’s the average S&P 500 earnings growth with 60% of companies now reporting, according to research firm Factset. If it remains there or higher for the rest of the way, it will be the best earnings growth for a quarter since the economy was emerging from the financial crisis in early 2010. It also leaves analysts’ average estimate of 24% earnings growth going into the reporting period completely in the dust. In fact, 86% of companies are beating analyst estimates on earnings, and 78% on revenue, Factset says.
This all sounds good, but you’ll hear some naysayers tell you most of the strength in earnings was built into stock prices going in. Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, and you can see that if you follow the 12-month forward price-to-earnings ratio for the S&P 500. It’s now at 22, by Factset’s reckoning, and that’s down from nearly 24 at the start of 2021. Over the same year-to-date time frame, the S&P Equal Weight 500 jumped 16.2%, research firm CFRA noted Monday (equal weight means each of the 500 companies in the index is given a fixed weight instead of the index being weighted by market cap). In other words, stocks have risen while valuations fell, which is a neat trick.
No Chips, No Ride: Have you driven by a car dealership lately? If so, you may have noticed that everything seems more or less in place, except for the cars, that is—they’re missing. As we reported earlier this year, the semiconductor sector is undergoing a massive worldwide shortage. For car buyers, this may mean longer waits and higher prices. And by the way, new cars aren’t the only ones impacted by the shortage. The average price of used cars jumped 12.5% over the last year, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.
For automakers however, this means wider sales, some even seeing record profits as vehicles are sold before they make it to the sales lot. Investors might want to keep an eye on companies like General Motors (GM), Ford (F), and other manufacturers to see how the chip shortage may be impacting their bottom lines. Might the shortage in rides be a ticket to ride the chip shortage to the upside?
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