Private Wealth

Weekly Research Briefing: Eyes on Kyiv

February 23, 2022
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The market's attention quickly turned over the weekend towards Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Nothing like a major geo-political event to push COVID-19 and the Federal Reserve to the back burners. I have few strong thoughts on how all of this will play out. From what I heard from the speech on Monday, it sounded like Putin was upset about the demise of the U.S.S.R. and the countries should not have been allowed to leave. But, I thought, read and studied... oh, never mind. Will Putin Pac-Man his way back to a larger Russia? Possibly. If so, will those regions and cities inside of Russia that would like to leave and join the E.U. be allowed to? Probably not. Will the increase in financial sanctions and destruction of Russian wealth and financial markets lead any owners of those assets to voice a counter-opinion? That is the number one question. If Russian oligarchs are stripped of their foreign assets and the value of their remaining stocks, bonds and private holdings fall toward zero, then a different path might emerge for Putin. Germany's end of the new NordStream-2 pipeline is a very big deal. This will raise the cost of energy to all of Europe, but they are willing to make a sacrifice to help Ukraine. Pretty crazy to see the actions of one person impact the lives of so many.

While the markets wrestle with Russia's war games into Ukraine, it is still keeping a close eye on the balance between economic growth and inflationary pressures. From all signs last week, growth continued to strengthen while some leading inflationary pressures began to ebb. This could be good news for the Fed as the markets have rapidly moved towards a Fed Fund's hike at every meeting forecast. The other major item in the market has been the revolt against unprofitable growth. As companies continue to report earnings and talk to investors, it has become clear that the market wants to make money in their companies sooner, rather than later. This is not just a result of interest rates rising thus making near-term cash flows more valuable, but also a function of growth stocks underperforming and investors losing patience. Last week's hit list of growth names was just painful to see: DraftKings, Roku, Shopify, Fastly, Palantir, Redfin, and even Viacom. The story was the same at most of the companies: big customer growth, solid top-line growth, but slowing profitability as it becomes more expensive to push the top-line higher. All the stock prices have similar Shift-6 symbols. At some point, this will end when some names get too cheap on a cash flow basis and the value crowd wades into buying them. The private markets will also be ready to buy with their stacks of idle cash, but this could take time, especially with the market's new distraction in eastern Europe.


It seems pretty clear from this chart where Ukraine's loyalties might lie...

Ukraine's westward facing trade

Reuters


If you thought the U.S. had an inflation problem, just wait until the declining Ruble hits Russian wallets...

Ruble Sinks

Bloomberg


Meanwhile, the safety of Russian risk-free bonds is evaporating...

Russia 10yr Government Bond Yield

As Russian credit spreads widen, local businesses will find it very expensive to finance themselves...

Russian Credit Spreads

@C_Barraud


Global grain prices are sprinting higher as Russia is a mid-teens percent exporter of the world's wheat...

A good time for the Midwest U.S. to put up some bumper crop yields this summer.

Bloomberg Grains Subindex

Energy is the biggest chip on the table right now...

Europe needs cheap Russian energy and Russia needs the Euros to continue to flow east. Germany's decision today to halt the Nord Stream-2 is a very big deal. Can global LNG supplies carry Europe through until next winter? Expect alternative energy deployment to accelerate rapidly in Europe. And maybe time to bring a few nukes back online. It is going to take a Herculean effort to wean off of future Russian energy supplies.

Fossil fuels produce the bulk of Russia’s foreign income. Last year, Russia’s natural gas exports brought in $55.5bn — mostly from Europe. That was the highest since 2013. European natural gas prices have quintupled over the past year. Tellingly, the futures curve has now flattened, says consultancy Rystad Energy. Fears of Russian supply disruption have forestalled the typical spring and summer price slide.

Annexing the whole of Ukraine would strengthen Russia’s grip on western Europe’s energy supply. Ukraine would no longer be a transit country able to cut off exports via its ageing pipeline system.

In the short term, Putin has the whip hand. Autocrats can contemplate hardship for their compatriots more cheerfully than democratic politicians. The west is unlikely to impose a full export ban on gas. Germany has few other energy choices. Conventional sources, such as coal and nuclear, are politically unpalatable with the Green party, a member of Scholz’s coalition government.

Longer-term, Germany must build up alternative gas supplies. It should finally heed US warnings and mothball Nord Stream 2 permanently. It should invest in terminals to import liquefied natural gas. It has none operating and only one under construction.

Financial Times


Oil prices got a Russia/Ukraine boost today...

Light Crude Oil

The Russian stock market has imploded as one would have expected...

It will be interesting to see if Russian stocks get removed from some passive indexes and ETFs.

Russia Moex Index

@Schuldensuehner


Russian equities have fallen to 4x forward earnings...

But very likely that the forward 'E' needs to be adjusted for future sanctions and inflation. So, if you cut forward earnings in half, the market index could remain very expensive at today's prices.

Russian Equities-Valuation

@jsblokland


Idea of the day to solve the Ukraine situation...

Tweet from @evan_lorenz

The events of the long weekend have now put the S&P 500 back into correction territory...

S&P 500 Large Cap Index

Away from Europe, the market's cooled their jets a bit on a +0.5% Fed Funds rate hike at the March meeting...

It was feeling a bit aggressive with all of the leap frogging on forward FOMC rate increases over the last few weeks.

Number of Fed Rate Hikes

The Daily Shot


And history does suggest that the market forecast typically overdoes it...

Implied Fed Funds Rate by Futures

Fundstrat


Inflation focus remains front and center...

“Inflation has the risk of being a real headwind to growth”
- Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO David Solomon

The Transcript


Equity investors would enjoy seeing a fall in inflation data...

Investors believe a fall in CPI

BofA


Very strong February Markit PMI data today shows that the U.S. is moving quickly past Omicron...

Growth of private sector output in the US gained considerable momentum in February as companies reported a notable recovery in demand from COVID-related disruptions at the start of the year. Services firms led the rise, although manufacturers likewise registered a stronger increase in output, buoyed by a slight easing of supply bottlenecks. However, February also saw a survey record rise in average prices charged for goods and services.

Rising from an 18-month low of 51.1 in January to 56.0 in February, the seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Flash US Composite PMI Output Index indicated a substantial expansion in private sector output that outpaced the long-run series average. Both the manufacturing and service sectors recorded stronger expansions in output, with companies linking growth to substantial gains in new business, employees returning from sick leave, increased travelling and greater availability of raw materials.

February data highlighted a sharp and accelerated increase in new business among private sector companies that was the fastest in seven months. Firms mentioned that sales were boosted by the retreat of the pandemic, improved underlying demand, expanded client bases, aggressive marketing campaigns and new partnerships. Customers reportedly made additional purchases to avoid future price hikes. Quicker increases in sales were evident among both manufacturers and service providers.


IHS Markit

IHS Markit Composite PMI and US GDP

Last week's Philly Fed data also showed that forward price expectations are falling...

@RenMacLLC: Prices pressures for durables to ease. While current delivery times remain elevated, Philly Fed survey respondents see improvement in the months ahead. The future delivery time index sank to -22.3, the lowest since October 2008. Firms see product moving faster out the door.

Philly Fed Mfg Business Outlook

U.S. truck transport rates are also no longer surging...

@BittelJulien🇺🇸: The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index was also lower in January, albeit still up 7.2% YoY.

This index measures market fluctuations in per-mile truckload LH rates, independent of additional cost components such as fuel & accessories. Still high, but clearly coming down, & fast…

Cass Truckload Linehaul Index

And volumes seem to be moving much more smoothly through the Port of L.A...

@Lvieweconomics: Days at anchor & berth at LA port continue to fall - suggesting that supply chain tensions are beginning to ease. Will that have a noticeable effect on coming inflation readings?

LA Port traffic

Wal-Mart echoed the same on their earnings call last week...

“...what we're seeing right now is better flow through all across the supply chain. You heard the increase in inventory, a large reflection of what is inbound. So we see recovery have pretty quick. There are a couple of categories in the store that you'll see some out of stocks that are really national issues. And as far as the supply chain, we talked about it in Q3. There were some significant improvements in flow-through at ports, changing lead times, getting containers moved into the country and that's all helped.”
- Walmart (WMT) President & CEO of Walmart US John Furner

The Transcript


U.S. consumers are ramping spending into February...

@carlquintanilla: Consumers digging out from #Omicron.

Chase consumer card spending tracker

Seeing the recovery in dining and subway usage...

OpenTable's measure of seated diners increased from a low of 69% of 2019 levels in January to an average of 82% so far in February, suggesting restaurant spending has bounced back over the past month. Furthermore, subway usage in NYC rebounded from a low of 43% of the seasonal norm in January to 57% today.

Goldman Sachs


As well as many other travel datapoints...

Reopen: (1) DIS drops mask mandate for fully vaccinated guests to US theme parks; (2) Marriott disclosed that CRM hosted its largest corporate meeting since the start of the pandemic held in NYC; (3) Coachella + Stagecoach drop all COVID safety precautions.

Travel: (1) SABR said 'February month-to-date global GDS bookings are on pace to reach a similar level of recovery versus the same period in 2019 as November 2021, which was the best month since the onset of COVID-19. For these reasons, we believe 2022 is shaping up to be a year of recovery and progress', (2) Marriott said that Leisure travel remained strong in the Q, business transient + group travel continued to pick up, and new bookings have rebounded to pre-Omicron levels.

Morgan Stanley


Even car dealer surveys are rebounding suggesting better sales and inventory levels...

Evercore ISI Auto Dealers Sales Survey

The Daily Shot


Auto prices added almost +2% to CPI in 2021. This was 1/2 of the year's increase. So, when prices drop, it will have a big effect...

@carlquintanilla: JPMORGAN: “.. there is a good chance that vehicle prices actually drop if production eventually normalizes .. In our view, something like a 5% decline in the vehicle CPI seems possible.” Larger declines, like “a 20% fall .. are also possible ..”

New and used vehicle CPI

Speaking of autos, the State of Michigan is #1 right now for economic health...

Among 37 states with a population greater than 2 million, Michigan is No. 1 based on equally weighted measures of employment, personal income, home prices, mortgage delinquency, state tax revenue and the stock market performance of its publicly-traded companies, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Michigan, whose 10,077,331 population is 2% greater than 9,883,640 in the 2010 census, was perennially near the bottom of the U.S. during the past two decades. Whitmer’s first year in the governor’s mansion marked the beginning of the biggest manufacturing boom since the recovery from the 2008 recession. Non-farm payrolls since April 2020 surged 25%, almost double the 14.3% U.S. average and leading every state in the nation. Michigan unemployment is 5.6%, down from a pandemic high of 23.6%.

The increase in tax receipts for the same period also was best in the U.S. as home values, mortgage health, personal income and publicly-traded equity of Michigan-based firms appreciated more than the U.S. average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Michigan under Whitmer has become a standout for investors. In the market for local government debt, the state’s AA-rated bonds returned 5.6% (income plus appreciation) since April 2020, outperforming neighboring Wisconsin (4.3%), Indiana (4.7%) and Ohio (4.7%) as well as the entire municipal market (5.3%), according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Bonds issued by the Michigan Strategic Fund returned 15% while those of the Detroit Downtown Development project gained 14%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Washington Post

Leading the Pack

There are literally no homes for sale...

NAR US Existing Home Inventory

The Daily Shot


So new home construction could not be stronger...

“New construction activity had a robust year in 2021 and would have been even stronger if unimpeded by labor availability and supply chain inefficiencies. -- with all-time record low existing housing inventory in the U.S., inventory is turning over nearly as fast as it is becoming available. There are simply not enough homes to purchase”
- Fortune Brands Home & Security (FBHS) CEO & Director Nicholas Ian Fink

The Transcript


One point six months of supply...

@LizAnnSonders: Another new record low for monthly supply of existing homes for sale

US Existing Home Sales

As months of inventory falls, prices rise...

Housing: Months of Inventory vs. House Prices

@calculatedrisk


Housing completions are lagging starts right now due to the material and labor shortages...

Housing Starts and Completions

Calculated Risk


Soaring mortgage rates have not slowed the housing markets, yet...

@charliebilello: The 30-year mortgage rate in the US rises to 3.92%, its highest level since May 2019. In January of last year it hit an all-time low of 2.65%.

30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate

In the event single-family homes become unaffordable, the multi-family industry is also building at a rapid rate...

@SoberLook: There are a lot of apartments currently under construction in the United States.

New Privately Owned Housing Units

Speaking of building, Google is going to follow Apple and build a privacy sandbox around its users...

"Today, we’re announcing a multi-year initiative to build the Privacy Sandbox on Android, with the goal of introducing new, more private advertising solutions. Specifically, these solutions will limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID...The Privacy Sandbox on Android is an important part of our mission to raise the bar for user privacy while giving developers and businesses the tools they need to succeed on mobile. We look forward to working with the industry on this journey."
- Alphabet (GOOG) VP, Product Management, Android Security & Privacy Anthony Chavez

The Transcript


The Wall Street Journal had some thoughts...

"Google plans to adopt new privacy restrictions to curtail tracking across apps on Android smartphones, following Apple in putting restraints on an advertising industry that has covertly collected data across billions of mobile devices.

"Google’s plans for Android could hasten an end to more than a decade of advertising practices across smartphones in which companies including Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook layered their code into hundreds of thousands of apps to track consumer behavior.

"Apple’s changes, which went into effect last year, have already upended the digital-ad industry and contributed to a wipeout of more than $300 billion from Meta’s market value.

WSJ


The good news is that Facebook will own all of the ads in their future Metaverse...

Martha Krueger, who runs a gift-basket business called Giften Market, used to spend her entire advertising budget on Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook and Instagram. She picked up a new customer for every $14 she spent.

When Apple Inc. introduced a privacy feature for mobile devices last year that restricts user tracking, she said, her costs to acquire such customers rose 10-fold. In October, she shifted her whole ad budget to search ads on Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

Lots of other companies that depend on e-commerce sales, including makers of nutritional powders, eyebrow stencils and toilet sprays, are taking a look at their bottom lines and deciding the same thing. They are slashing their spending on Facebook and Instagram and sending their ad money to Google, Amazon.com Inc., Snap Inc. and other platforms, according to ad buyers and e-commerce companies.

The privacy change is hitting the heart of Meta’s business: its ability to target ads at users with precision and prove to marketers that the ads generate sales. Earlier this month, Meta said it expects a roughly $10 billion hit to sales this year as the result of the Apple change, which requires apps to ask users for permission to track their activity and share it.

“It kind of feels like the end of an era with Facebook’s targeting ability,” said Ms. Krueger.

WSJ


Yes, yes, yes...

"I suspect we are currently entering a sustained new market environment for valuations, where the cost of capital will return closer to historical norms and a risk premium will return and stay for a while."

Q4 2021 IAC/InterActiveCorp conference call


The market now wants profitable growth. Focusing on subscriber or revenue growth will no longer cut it...

@LizAnnSonders: NASDAQ’s price/sales ratio has come down considerably from peak but still looks quite stretched relative to history

Nasdaq Composite Index

The market would have rewarded DraftKings to shrink their customer base in exchange for ANY profitability...

Instead, they set fire to $1b and the stock is trading 80% off of its 52-week highs.

DraftKings Inc. shares fell their most in almost two years after the company added fewer new customers in the fourth quarter and projected a wider loss this year than Wall Street had expected.

The company said Friday that an average of 2 million monthly unique paying customers engaged with DraftKings during the fourth quarter. Analysts were looking for 2.1 million monthly payers, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The company also forecast an adjusted loss excluding some items in the range of $825 million to $925 million this year, steeper than analysts expected.

“In the present environment where tech investors have displayed zero tolerance for large losses, the 2022 Ebitda guidance is going to be a disappointment,” Vital Knowledge analyst Adam Crisafulli said.

Bloomberg


But fun while it lasted...

@michaelbatnick: Zoom is now 1/10th the size of Exxon Mobil after passing it during 2020

Exxon Mobil Corp. Market Cap

I feel like I read this same news story a dozen times last week with only the name of the company and analysts different...

In a market that has turned brutal for richly valued tech companies, investing in growth over profits didn’t go down well.

“In essence, Roku is going to grow revenue at a slower than expected pace in combination with a massive ramp in expenses, into potentially a global economic slowdown with increasing levels of competition,” wrote Pivotal Research Group’s Jeff Wlodarczak, who downgraded Roku’s shares to a sell rating on Friday. Even more positive analysts were taken aback; Michael Pachter of Wedbush maintained his outperform rating but called the full-year earnings guidance “shocking” and predicted that the stock would “remain in the penalty box with investors for some time.”

Roku also has to contend with a market that has grown decidedly less friendly to streaming businesses. Netflix and Spotify both have lost more than one-third of their value just since the first of the year in part due to disappointing subscriber-growth projections. And Paramount Global —the company once known as ViacomCBS—has shed more than a fifth of its value just since its analyst meeting last week where the company sharply boosted its projected spending on streaming content for the next few years.

WSJ

Downstream

The sell-off in growth equities has not gone unnoticed by the largest active mutual funds...

@gmorton512: In "the bear mauls all" category, it has gotten every one of the mgrs of the top growth funds in the IBD mutual fund index--these are some very smart, very experienced mgrs, including Will D at Fid C. Tough YTD numbers

IBD Mutual Fund Index

Gold didn't miss earnings last week...

@RenMacLLC: Gold is now on the breakout list. We don't like chasing geopolitical tensions because they 'tend' to mean-revert, but this chart was bullish pre-Ukraine, & there are more potential dominos w/ Iran deal irking Israel, Xi using Ukraine as Taiwan opportunity, etc. $GLD

Generic 1st 'GC' Future

Unprofitable growth stocks need to take a page out of the new and improved U.S. energy industry: shrink capital expenditure, generate increased free cash flow, raise dividends, and buyback stock...

Crude prices hurtling toward $100 a barrel typically would spark a frenzy of new drilling by independent explorers in shale fields from the desert Southwest to the Upper Great Plains -- but not this year. Influential players like Pioneer Natural Resources Co., Devon Energy Corp. and Harold Hamm’s Continental Resources Inc. just pledged to limit 2022 production increases to no more than 5%, a fraction of the 20% or higher annual growth rates meted out in the pre-pandemic era.

The timing couldn’t be worse for consumers. Outside of OPEC, which has rejected U.S. President Joe Biden’s pleas to accelerate production increases, domestic shale fields are the only other source of crude that can quickly respond to supply shortfalls. Shale executives have been shunning the Biden administration’s entreaties to pump more barrels since late last year. Together with fast-rising global consumption, American drillers’ conservatism is likely to keep oil prices elevated for some time to come.

“Whether it’s $150 oil, $200 oil, or $100 oil, we’re not going to change our growth plans,’’ Pioneer Chief Executive Officer Scott Sheffield said during a Bloomberg Television interview. “If the president wants us to grow, I just don’t think the industry can grow anyway.’’...

But the message from shale country is loud and clear: the independents won’t repeat the mistakes of the past by flooding the world with cheap oil. Record cash flows will go right back to investors through dividends and buybacks, CEOs are saying. That means U.S. drillers are leaving a lot of crude in the ground.

Bloomberg


As the public markets go into retreat, some of the newer private equity entrants are also recalibrating their future targets...

Responding to a steep sell-off in technology stocks, some hedge funds and other investment firms with large public stock portfolios have been turning away from investing in the most mature startups, reducing what’s been a crucial source of funding for the better part of two years. Instead they are focusing on buying beaten-down public tech stocks or investing in younger startups.

Tiger Global Management told its investors in a webinar earlier this month that it would no longer focus on backing large, late-stage startups preparing to go public, said a person with direct knowledge of the discussion. Instead, partner Scott Shleifer said the New York hedge fund would focus on investing in younger firms in Series A and B rounds, the person added. Shleifer did not elaborate on the reason behind the shift in strategy, but it followed the sharp decline in tech stocks over the past three months.

Other hedge funds including D1 Capital Partners, which invested in dozens of startup deals in the past couple of years, and smaller firms such as Octahedron Capital also have slowed down the pace of new late-stage private investments, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter. These firms, also known as crossover funds, are instead focusing on buying shares of public tech companies that have sunk in value compared to the all-time highs they traded at last year.

The Information


Why would any company want to go public these days?

Josh Vail, Managing Director at Hamilton Lane, wrote a good article this week about why companies are staying private longer and what that means for investors. While an IPO might provide for an extreme windfall for the company, the one-day gain is not without new headaches, risks, and liabilities. With so much capital available in the private markets these days, it makes sense that companies are finding more reasons to partner up with more patient and intelligent capital that wants to invest and grow with a company rather than game the next quarter’s earnings release.

What You Need to Know

ThinkAdvisor


The IOC should permanently place the Winter Olympics in Norway…

Stop draining the earth of wasteful resources to build temporary bobsled tracks, half-pipes and other winter sports venues in snow-starved geographies which will only be abandoned once the games are over. As the numbers below show, the Norwegians are pretty good at cold weather sports. Norway will likely have cold weather much longer than any major country on our blue marble. So, give them the forever rights to the Winter Games which will put them in a time zone that the majority of cold weather sports fans would watch and change the downward trajectory of the viewership and interest. Build your winter house Norway, and then challenge the world to come knock you off!

An average of 11.4 million viewers watched the Beijing Olympics on NBCUniversal platforms each night — the smallest prime-time audience on record for any Winter Games and well off the 19.8 million nightly viewers for the Pyeongchang Games in 2018.

More than two weeks of coverage, starting with the frigid opening show on Feb. 4 and ending Sunday, drew 160 million total viewers across the NBC television channel, the Peacock streaming service and other platforms, NBCUniversal said on Monday.

NYTimes

Winter Olympics Medal Count

@MedalsPerCapita


Speaking of winter sports, there is very little of that going on in the California mountains right now...

If double digit amounts of snow do not begin to fall in the Sierras or Rockies, live grass yards and swimming pools might get the axe from Las Vegas to the ocean. And golf courses will have green tee boxes and pins with dirt in between.

California SSL Snowpack Depth

@pkedrosky


"The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world." Dr. Paul Farmer

I didn't know Dr. Farmer personally but was lucky enough to have friends and colleagues who did. Their shared stories and experiences about his work led me to believe that he was a larger than life, “Mother Teresa” with a stethoscope. While he might be gone, I know that he has paved a road for many health care professionals to follow.

Paul Farmer, a physician, anthropologist and humanitarian who gained global acclaim for his work delivering high-quality health care to some of the world’s poorest people, died on Monday on the grounds of a hospital and university he had helped establish in Butaro, Rwanda. He was 62...

Dr. Farmer attracted public renown with “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World,” a 2003 book by Tracy Kidder that described the extraordinary efforts he would make to care for patients, sometimes walking hours to their homes to ensure they were taking their medication.

He was a practitioner of “social medicine,” arguing there was no point in treating patients for diseases only to send them back into the desperate circumstances that contributed to them in the first place. Illness, he said, has social roots and must be addressed through social structures.

His work with Partners in Health significantly influenced public health strategies for responding to tuberculosis, H.I.V. and Ebola. During the AIDS crisis in Haiti, he went door to door to deliver antiviral medication, confounding many in the medical field who believed it would be impossible for poor rural people to survive the disease.

NYTimes

Dr. Paul Farmer



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