NEW$ & VIEW$ (14 OCTOBER 2013)

Democrats in Senate Press New Front in Budget Battle

Lawmakers attempting to avoid a debt default remained at loggerheads and escalated the standoff by reopening the contentious issue of automatic spending cuts.

Capitol Hill at sea(…) Democrats made plain that one of their top priorities was to diminish the next round of across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, due to take effect early next year.

Many Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), oppose retreating from those cuts. That set up a clash that seemed almost as intense as the one that caused budget talks between House Republicans and President Barack Obama to collapse Friday.

“Total federal spending has now gone down for two years in a row—the first time that’s happened since the Korean War,” Mr. McConnell said Sunday. With the additional sequestration cuts on tap for 2014, the budget limits have produced “the most significant spending reduction in modern history and Senate Republicans will not accept anything that undoes these cuts.” (…)

Confused smile  Lawmakers said they would watch Monday’s opening of financial markets to see whether investors, already jittery, show greater concern. That, in turn, could affect the climate for further negotiations. Crying face

(…) a possible compromise that sources familiar with Senate budget talks said that Mr. Reid floated to Mr. McConnell on Sunday: Continue spending at current levels until mid-December, set up a mechanism for negotiating over the across-the-board cuts and other budget matters for the rest of the year, and extend the debt limit for about six months. It wasn’t immediately clear what Mr. McConnell’s response was.

Thinking smile  Europe Stocks Slip as Stalemate Drags On

U.S. Stock Futures Fall on Debt Concerns

 

EARNINGS WATCH

In case you forgot, we are entering Q3 earnings season with some 161 companies reporting this week including 70 S&P 500 companies.

Earnings rose an estimated 1.4 percent for Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies last quarter, trailing gains of 3.8 percent in the previous three months and an average 10 percent over 15 years. Analysts have reduced the quarterly estimate by 75 percent since June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The official S&P estimates are now $26.62 for Q3, down 0.8% from the September 30 estimates. Q4 estimates have been shaved a nickel to $28.83. Here’s Zacks Research’s early read:

Total earnings for the 31 S&P 500 companies that have reported results are up +9.8% with 51.6% beating earnings expectations, while total revenues for these companies are up +1.4% and 45.2% are beating top-line expectations.

This is still early going, but the results thus far are weaker than what we have seen for this same group of companies in recent quarters. The +9.8% earnings growth in Q3 for these companies compares to +18.2% in Q2 and the 4-quarter average of +17.8%, while the +1.4% revenue growth is below Q2 and the 4-quarter’s average of +4.2%. The beat ratios are similarly tracking lower.

The weak comparisons are primarily because of the Finance sector. If we exclude results from the Finance sector, the remaining companies that have reported results are tracking better than what those same companies reported in Q2 and the last few quarters. (…)

Ghost  This good analysis should worry you:

Total earnings growth for the remaining 469 companies is barely in the positive relative to the same period last year (+0.1%) and in the negative excluding the Finance sector (-1.1%). The composite earnings growth rate, combining results from the 31 companies that have reported with the 469 still to come, is +0.9% for the S&P 500. (…)

While estimates for Q3 have come down, the same for Q4 and the following quarters have held up fairly well, as the chart below shows.

Part of the strong Q4 growth is a function of easier comparisons, as 2012 Q4 represents the lowest quarterly earnings total for the S&P 500 in the last six quarters, with the comps particularly easy for the Finance sector.

But it’s not all due to easy comparisons, as the expected earnings totals for Q4 represent a new all-time quarterly record. Total earnings for the S&P 500 reached a new record at $259.5 billion in Q2, surpassing Q1’s $255 billion record. But they are expected to reach $269.7 billion in 2013 Q4, with total earnings growth outside of Finance expected at +4.9%.

Pointing up  The evolving outlook for Q4 is perhaps the most important aspect of the Q3 earnings season, more so than Q3 earnings/revenue growth rates and beat ratios. While the overall level of aggregate earnings is in record territory, there isn’t much growth. The longstanding hope in the market has been for earnings growth to eventually ramp up. But the starting point of this expected growth ramp-up keeps getting delayed quarter after quarter. The hope currently is that Q4 will be the starting point of such growth.

Guidance has overwhelmingly been negative over the last few quarters. But if current Q4 expectations have to hold, then we will need to see a change on the guidance front; we need to see more companies either guide higher or reaffirm current consensus expectations.

Anything short of that will result in a replay of the by-now familiar negative estimate revisions trend that we have been seeing in recent quarters. The market didn’t care much as estimates came down in the last few quarters, hoping for better times ahead. Will it do the same this time as well, pushing its hopes of earnings ramp up into 2014? We will find out the answer to that question over the next two months.

Punch  I suggest you also read “Myths about cash” below.

Eurozone production grows 1%
Data are latest sign of recovery in currency bloc

Industrial production in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, grew 1.8 per cent in August, lifting the entire eurozone, while in France, the second-largest economy, it rose by a much slower 0.2 per cent.

However, the most encouraging news came from Portugal and Greece, two of the countries worst affected by the sovereign debt crisis, which recorded robust growth in industrial production. In Portugal it rose 8.2 per cent while in Greece it increased 1 per cent.

I am more concerned by the facts that France’s IP rose only 0.2% after cratering 2.3% in the four months previous and that Italy’s IP declined 0.3% after falling 1.0% in July and 0.8% in the March-June period. These are two heavyweights.

The reality is that Eurozone IP rose 1.0% in August, offsetting July’s 1.0% decline. During the 4 months to June, IP rose 1.5%, thanks primarily to automobile production as IP of durable consumer goods rose 2.3% between March and June and 0.6% in July-August. A very slow grind (full Eurostat report)

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Here’s the YoY trend:

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Housing Affordability Hits Four-Year Low

Housing affordability hit a four-year low in August amid steady gains in home prices during the spring and higher interest rates during the summer.

(…) At prevailing interest rates in August, the mortgage payment on the median priced home stood at $851, or around 16% of the median U.S. income. By contrast, the equivalent mortgage payment one year earlier, at $683, accounted for 13.3% of the median income. (…)

But the affordability figures show unmistakable evidence of how rising interest rates hurt housing affordability in July and August because median prices didn’t rise in those months, even as the average monthly payment went up due to rising rates. The average monthly payment rose from $787 in June to $851 in August — even though median prices fell slightly from June to August.

Monthly payments last stood above $850 in November 2008, and monthly payments as a share of income last stood at 16% in July 2009.

Mortgage rates have declined modestly since August, which means that the 16% figure could be — for this year, at least—the high watermark for the payment-as-a-share-of-income metric. (…)

Home for Sale, With Freebies Home builders, concerned by flagging sales due to rising prices and higher mortgage rates, have boosted cash incentives and materials upgrades in some markets.

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China’s Exports Shrink

(…) Exports fell 0.3% in September compared with the year-ago period, data from the General Administration of Customs showed Saturday. This was sharply down from August’s 7.2% growth and far below economists’ median forecast of a 5.5% expansion.

The drop in exports was broad-based, with volumes to the European Union, Hong Kong and Taiwan dropping. Exports to many developing economies also fell. (…)

The overinvoicing of exports to disguise capital inflows—which started in the second half of last year and lasted into the first half of this year but has since waned—inflated the base in September 2012, said RBS economist Louis Kuijs, adding that actual export growth for September is estimated at about 1.7% in U.S. dollar terms.

(…) Chen Weiqiang, president of Guangdong Xinyi Underwear Group Co., a garment maker in the southern Chinese city of Foshan, said the slowdown in demand for his products hit last year and hasn’t abated.

“I have no obvious feelings that exports are recovering in the garment industry,” he said. “My company can still get orders, but profits are really pathetic due to rising labor costs, and we have actively cut export volume.” (…)

Compared with a year earlier, China’s exports to Hong Kong slipped 4.1%, while exports to Taiwan decreased 8.6% and exports to the European Union fell by 1.1%. However, exports to the U.S. rose 4.2% and to Japan rose 1.3%. (…)

September imports rose 7.4% compared with a year ago, slightly up from the 7% rise in August and beating economists’ median forecast of a roughly 6.8% increase. (…)

China’s crude-oil imports in September surged to 6.27 million barrels a day, surpassing a previous record set in July of 6.17 million barrels a day. September’s crude imports were up 28% when compared with the corresponding month last year. (…)

China inflation at 7-month high, limits room for easing despite export tumble

China’s annual consumer inflation rate rose to a seven-month high of 3.1 percent in September as poor weather drove up food prices, limiting the scope for the central bank to maneuver to support the economy even as exports showed a surprise decline.

The inflation rate was higher than a median forecast of 2.9 percent in a Reuters poll and August’s 2.6 percent, but was still below the official target of 3.5 percent for 2013.

Month-on-month, consumer prices rose 0.8 percent, the National Bureau of Statistics said, bigger than a rise of 0.5 percent expected by economists.

Food prices gained 1.5 percent in September from August due to droughts and floods in some areas, pushing up the CPI by 0.51 percentage points, Yu Qiumei, a senior statistician at the bureau, said in a statement.

In annual terms, food prices jumped 6.1 percent.

Producer prices fell 1.3 percent from a year earlier, a smaller fall than the 1.4 percent expected by the market and the 1.6 percent drop in August.

However, there was some relief to manufacturers struggling to cope with profit-eating price declines, as producer prices rose 0.2 percent from August.

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Inflation in China: veg now, pork later From Nomura via FT Alphaville:

We see a rising risk of CPI inflation sitting above 3.5% for some months in 2014, as pork prices enter the upswing phase of the cycle, given that the ratio of corn prices to pork prices was below the important level of 6x for most of H1 2013 (Figure 10). Historically, pork prices have exhibited long cycles, with upswings preceded by this ratio dropping below 6x. Concerns over inflation will make monetary policy easing unlikely in 2014, because with the benchmark deposit rate at only 3% there is little room to cut rates.

India’s headline inflation at 7-month high, another rate hike seen
 
Gulf oil production hits record
Region defies fears of impact from US shale revolution

(…) Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar set aggregate production records in each of the last three months, according to fresh estimates from the International Energy Agency. In September they accounted for 18 per cent of global demand – a level only matched twice in IEA data stretching back to the 1980s. (…)

As a result Gulf states are capturing more of the fast growing Asian market. India imported 44 per cent of its crude from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE in July, up from 36 per cent in 2011, while China relies on the countries for a quarter of its imports compared to 21 per cent in 2007.

A rapid return to production among other Opec members, for example through a resolution to Iran’s nuclear standoff with the US, could yet leave the Gulf states exposed to the US shale revolution. And some analysts argue that Opec could yet need to discuss production cuts when its oil ministers next meet in Vienna in December.

The record output has provided a windfall for the oil-dependent monarchies. The 16.4m barrels a day produced by the four states during the third quarter was worth more than $150bn at today’s prices of more than $100 a barrel.

The principal beneficiaries have been Saudi Arabia, which has increased output more than 10 per cent since the start of the year to a record of 10.19m b/d in August, and the UAE where the 2.77m b/d produced in September was a record, and 7 per cent higher than at the start of the year. Kuwait has also set a series of production records this year, but Qatar has been unable to raise production significantly.

It also means the region remains crucial to the world’s major powers. The US continues to import almost 60m barrels a month from the Gulf, a number that has actually increased in the last three years even as US imports overall have fallen.

The WSJ digs deeper:

Increasing oil output in the U.S. and Canada are already redirecting global oil flows, but those being hit the hardest are West Africa’s crude-oil producers and the refineries of Western Europe that are suddenly competing with cheap North American products.

The four Gulf kingdoms that dominate OPEC have actually increased their exports to the U.S. over the past three years, the Financial Times reports, taking advantage of Nigeria’s fragile infrastructure and Libya’s political chaos.

Instead, the rise of Asia as a consuming region is having just as big a sway on the flows of money, products and political capital. (…)

A report from the Asian Development Bank anticipates that oil-deficient Asia will have to increase net imports of crude and refined products by more than 10 million barrels a day by 2035, The Wall Street Journal’s Simon Hall reports.

The ADB’s forecast echoes that of the International Energy Agency, which forecasts Southeast Asia’s oil imports will more than double by 2035. This is a region that excludes China, which is just beginning what should be a lengthy stay at the top of the list of the world’s crude-oil importers. (…)

This great shift brings with it new factors—logistical, political and financial—for the oil markets to consider.

Singapore will become a sweet spot for the new trade flows, with the Malacca and Singapore straits joining the Strait of Hormuz as the oil market’s narrow waterways of note, the Journal’s Eric Yep writes. The New York Times pinpoints Fujairah, in the United Arab Emirates, as a products hub to rival Singapore and Rotterdam.

Economically, surging crude-oil imports will put strain on the Asian economies.

The IEA says that spending on net oil imports for the whole region is expected to reach $240 billion, from $77 billion today, and that the $51 billion the region currently spends each year on annual fossil-fuel subsidies should be reorganized to discourage wasteful consumption. (…)

Nerd smile  MYTHS ABOUT CAPEX

Conventional wisdom says that corporate America is flush with cash which it refuses to invest. Sometimes, aggregated data can be misleading. Factset just published an analysis of S&P 500 companies which reveals the true picture:

Cash & short-term investment balances (“cash”) in the S&P 500 (ex-Financials) rose by 13.5% year-over-year and settled at a balance of $1.27 trillion at the end of Q2 2013. The elevated growth in cash partially resulted from 13.3% growth in free cash flows (operating cash flows less capital expenditures) and continued net debt issuance. The $39.4 billion in cash flows represented the twelfth consecutive quarter of cash inflows from net debt issuance.

Index-level, fixed capital expenditures increased by 4.1% in Q2. This marks the second consecutive quarter of single-digit, year-over-year growth following a period when growth averaged 18.5% over eleven quarters. Though seven of the nine sectors under consideration increased year-over-year CapEx spending in Q2, the Energy sector, which represented a third of all spending, reduced CapEx by 0.1% for the second consecutive quarter. Chesapeake Energy’s prior divestments and strategic shift were again the primary reason for the decline—the company’s move to bring spending in line with cash flow continues to be compared against periods of higher investment. In addition, Hess Corp. and Occidental Petroleum also reduced capital expenditures. Hess cited the need for a balance with cash inflows, while Occidental Petroleum cited a need for cost reductions. Hess should also experience reduced capital spending expectations following its close of the multi-billion dollar divestiture of Samara-Nafta ZAO and its Russian oilfield properties in Q2.

S&P 500 companies have thus been growing capex at an 18.5% annual rate for 18 consecutive quarters until a few oil companies decided, because of their own particular situation, to strategically reduce their capex. In spite of this:

Despite a moderation in quarterly capital investment, trailing twelve-month fixed capital expenditures grew 7.5% and reached a new high over the ten-year horizon. This helped the trailing twelve-month ratio of CapEx to sales (0.068) hit an 11% premium to the ratio’s ten-year average. Overall, elevated spending has been a product of aggressive investment in the Energy sector over two and a half years, but, even when excluding the Energy sector, capital expenditures levels relative to sales are in-line with the ten-year average.

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Low capex at the national level may thus have more to do with smaller businesses as this NFIB chart suggests:image

Nerd smile  MYTHS ABOUT CASH

S&P 500 (ex-Financials) cash and marketable securities balances grew 13.5% year-over-year to a balance of $1.27 trillion at the end Q2. In particular, the growth of 15.4% in the Information Technology sector was most significant due to the sector’s enormous cash weight in the
overall index (36.7%). The sequential growth rate for the aggregate cash balance was 3.3%.

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However, 10 companies account for 37% of the cash pile which they have grown 20% in the past year. The remaining 490 companies’ cash grew 10% YoY. Furthermore, only 4 of the S&P’s 9 main sectors had positive free cash flow growth in Q2.

Shareholder distributions in the form of dividends and the repurchase of stock ($164.3 billion) increased 22.3% year-over-year and 23.5% sequentially. On the other hand, Cash inflows from debt issuance were positive ($39.4 billion) for the twelfth straight quarter.

As this next chart shows, average net debt has increased over the last 10 years and all sectors but one currently have higher debt levels than their 10-year average.

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This confirms Moody’s findings shown in my N&V post of October 7: corporate America is getting more leveraged, not cash rich as some aggregated stats make us believe.

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Ghost  The capex and cash myths having been debunked, we can now more objectively assess how the economy would fare in the event of rising interest rates. Capex would slow even more and corporate profits would feel the adverse effect of leverage. And even though the Fed controls short-term rates, it has little control on longer-term market rates it found out in recent months.

 

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