Stocks weaker post-Fed, Bank of England, OPEC+ meetings ahead

Morning Note

Wall Street fell and Asian equities followed the weak handover even as the Fed stayed very much on script with a dovish lower-for-longer message, whilst also presenting a more upbeat take on the economy in the near term.

The Fed put some meat on the new average inflation targeting skeleton that was sketched out by Jay Powell at Jackson Hole, saying it will aim to achieve inflation ‘moderately above 2% for some time so that inflation averages 2% over time and longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored at 2%’. But the rub is that it doesn’t see this inflation coming through until 2023 at the soonest.

There were no explicit easing measures to get there sooner, so the FOMC has only really filled in some blanks as to what we already knew, and seems content for now to wait for Congress to sort the fiscal side out before it does anything more. The lack of any real determination to get inflation up sooner seemed to disappoint for risk.

Equities lower after FOMC, dollar catches bid

Equities peaked after the statement and then progressed lower during the presser with Powell right into the close, with the S&P 500 finishing down half of one percent at 3,385, led by a decline in tech, which is about a quarter of the index, whilst energy – now a tiny c2% weighting of the index – rallied 4% as oil climbed.

The 21-day SMA offered resistance and now we are looking again to the 50-day line at 3,335, with futures pointing lower. Meanwhile the Nasdaq finished –1.25% lower with Tesla, Apple, Amazon et al falling, and is likewise trapped between its 21-day and 50-day lines, with big trend line support close. European equity markets took the cue and fell over 1% at the open as the FTSE 100 again tested the 6,000 level.

USD caught a bid as well, with the dollar index lifting from a post-statement low of 92.85 to clear 93.50 overnight, before coming off a touch to 93.30 in early European trade. GBPUSD retreated to 1.2950 having earlier hit the 1.30 level. Gold came off its highs at $1970 to test the $1940 support area.

The Fed sees unemployment at a lower level and a larger economy by the end of the year than it did in June. Real GDP forecast for 2020 was revised down to –3.7% from –6.5% in June. Unemployment is seen at 7.6% compared with the 9.3% anticipated in June. Inflation is seen picking up more than it was in June albeit the rise in breakevens has levelled off at about 1.7%.

The key takeaway from the economic projections is that both core and headline PCE inflation are not seen returning to 2% until 2023 – the Fed even had to add a year to the forecast horizon just to get this in. Given it didn’t manage to get to 2% with unemployment under 4%, there is a lack of credibility around this, even though I for one believe inflation will come through.

The Fed is in the dark and there is no more it can really do without spiralling into the abyss of negative rates. The Fed is in the dark not just because it has no control over inflation, but also because the political situation remains very unclear with regards to fiscal stimulus and the presidential election in November.

So, there is a lot of uncertainty and all the Fed can really do is continue to stress its willingness to do whatever it takes and its willingness to overlook overshoots on inflation should they emerge. I’m in the camp that does expect inflation to feed through due to the massive increase in the money supply combined with supply chain disruption and the fiscal largesse.

The Fed’s policy shift also raises the prospect of inflation expectations becoming unanchored. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the pandemic has had a chilling effect on confidence and spending may be slow to reappear, pushing down on inflation for a while longer.

US data softens, focus switches to jobless claims and Bank of England

US retail sales lost momentum last month, with sales rising just 0.6% versus the 1.1% expected, signalling the effect of the expiration of $600 stimulus cheques that made many at the lower end of the income scale better off out of work than in.

US jobless claims later today will be closely watched for signs of any improvement after last week’s disappointment. Last week’s print of 884,000, which was flat on the previous week, signalled a slow down the recovery in the labour market and worried economists.

The Bank of England delivers its monetary policy statement at midday – will it surprise by going ‘big and fast’ with more QE – as governor Andrew Bailey suggested is the best approach for central banks in times of crisis last month?

There is also speculation that the Old Lady of Threadneedle St will turn to negative interest rates to stimulate the economy. Speaking to MPs recently, Bailey refused to rule out negative rates – a policy that has systematically failed to deliver the required inflation in the Eurozone – saying that it remains in the box of tools.

I’d expect the Bank to tee-up an increase in QE in November and not further rate cuts, but it may choose to fire first and ask questions later.

Snowflake surges on IPO

Snowflake (SNOW) shares made an astonishing stock market debut. After pricing the IPO at $120, the stock flew to almost $280 in the first few hours of trading before settling at $253. The price to sales multiple of about 360 is simply astounding – a lot of future growth was priced into the stock on its first day.  It’s the biggest software IPO ever and demand was exceptionally high, and the multiples being paid even loftier.

It seems to be a story of the scarcity value of growth. It also shows just how much wild, free-flowing money there is in the market right now chasing whatever’s seen as hot and whatever offers the most growth.

We’re almost into the territory of describing these tech stocks as Veblen goods, where demand rises with the price. The IPO market is getting very frothy. We can blame/thank the Fed for this situation with ultra-low rates assured for a very long time and massive liquidity needing to find a home at whatever price that is. It’s like 1999 all over again.

London sees biggest listing in years as The Hut Group IPOs

Even London is getting in on the action with The Hut Group getting its IPO off with a swagger and a close at more than £6 after listing at £5. As noted when the listing was announced at the end of August, the valuation it deserves depends very much on your point of view.

In 2019 THG achieved year-on-year revenue growth of 24.5% to reach £1.1 billion with adjusted EBITDA of £111.3 million. The float aimed to raise £920m at £4.5bn market cap, which at c40x last year’s EBITDA and x4 sales doesn’t seem like too much to pay for this kind of growth….or does it?! The answer rests surely on whether it deserves a techy or a retail multiple.

Management forecast overall revenue growth of 20-25% over the medium term, with its tech platform Ingenuity (the capital-light growth lever) forecast to grow at 40% primarily as a result of increasing mix of e-commerce revenues as global brand owners accelerate their adoption of D2C strategies.

But revenues from Ingenuity remain relatively small – £61m in the first half of 2020, which was flat on last year and less than 10% of total group revenues. As a percentage of group revenues, the contribution from Ingenuity is going down. Again it’s the promise of growth that is appealing to investors right now.

Oil softens after FOMC statement

Elsewhere, oil was a little softer overnight as risk sentiment came off the boil after the Fed, but this came after a couple of very solid days. WTI for Oct breached $40 on the upside before paring gains but the $39.50 area has held for the time being and offered a springboard in early European trade.

EIA data showed inventories fell 4.4m barrels, contrasting with forecasts for a build. Gasoline stocks were drawn down at twice the rate expected. However, we remain concerned about the demand pick-up through the rest of the year – as all the main agencies have recently revised their demand forecasts lower.

We note also a report suggesting that OPEC is not about to panic by further cutting production – however that would depend on prices; WTI at $30 again might induce action. OPEC+ members are holding an online meeting today to assess compliance and whether additional cuts may be necessary – I would think for now they will stand pat, with the focus chiefly on compliance with current targets, which currently stands at 101%, according to sources reported yesterday.

But if prices come a lot more pressure there would likely be an OPEC+ response.