This podcast is originally published by BFM 89.9: Morning Run. Find the episode here: https://www.bfm.my/podcast/morning-run/market-watch/us-equities-dollar-house-meeting-china-trade-tensions
In this BFM 89.9 podcast, CEO of Complete Intelligence, Tony Nash, discusses the February US equities market and gives his predictions for March. Nash predicts another down month for US markets, albeit not as much as February, with China also being down markedly. He also expects Malaysia to do well and increase by about 1%. Nash also comments on US earnings season, stating that the quality of earnings reported so far is not great and that only $0.88 was matched by cash flows for every dollar of profit, with some companies passing along price hikes successfully but for how long can they keep it up. Nash also discusses interest rates and a more hawkish Fed, which could lead to the dollar rising. He also comments on a newly formed House committee aimed at examining economic competition between the US and China.
BFM: BFM 89.9. Good morning. You’re listening to the Morning Run at 7:07 on Thursday the 2nd of March. I’m Shazana Mokhtar with Chong Tjen San and Wong Shou Ning. Now, in half an hour, we’re going to discuss Malaysia’s bilateral ties with the Philippines in light of our Prime Minister currently on a visit there. But as always, we’re going to kick-start this morning with a recap on how global markets closed.
Overnight, US markets were mixed. The Dow was up marginally by 0.2%, the S&P 500 down 0.5%, NASDAQ down 0.7%. Asian markets were also mixed. The Nikkei was up by 0.3%, Hang Seng popped it up and was up by 4.2%, Shanghai Composite up by 1%, Straits Times Index down by 0.2% and the FBMKLCI was down by 0.3%.
That’s right. Well, we’re going to try and kind of peel some trends with Tony Nash, CEO of Complete Intelligence. Tony, good morning. Let’s review what happened back in February. It wasn’t such a great month for US equities. We did see the Dow and SP 500 both lose 4% and 2.6%, respectively. Where do you see the stock market heading in March? Is it going to be more volatility or perhaps brighter skies on the horizon?
Tony: Oh, yeah, it’s going to be pretty choppy. Generally, we expect US markets to have a down month, not down as much as it had been in Feb, but we do expect another down month. Obviously, if the Fed comes in with a very hawkish meeting, then we could see more chop there. We do expect China to be down this month as well. That kind of goes against what we’ve seen in News early this month, but we are seeing China down markedly, say more than 2% this month as well. Good news is we expect Birth of Malaysia to be up about 1%. So while we see chop in others, we may see Malaysia do squeak out a good positive month.
BFM: And Tony, as the US earnings season starts to taper off, what is your assessment of the results that have been released so far? In particular, the most cyclical consumer-facing companies?
Tony: Yes, so the quality of earnings reported so far is not great. So for every dollar of profits, only about $0.88 was matched by cash flows. That’s the largest discrepancy since at least 1990. So that means 12% are from kind of non-cash earnings. So it’s really accounting and other things. So what we’re seeing, especially on the consumer side, is some companies are passing along price hikes, and we see some of them doing that really successfully. I think we’ve talked about that here before, where they’ll hike between eight and say 15% and their sales volume will be down maybe 5%, something like that. That’s really helped the top line and margin expansion. But the real question is for how long can they keep raising those prices and kind of sacrificing transaction volume. So there’s a real question there. But many of those companies have said they’re going to continue to raise prices into later in ’23. The problem is when we run into a company like Coals, which is a retailer here in the US that reported today, and it was all bad, they’re losing customers they’re not able to keep with their costs and other things.
For those companies that cannot pass along price hikes, for whatever reason, it’s really bad news for them. The inflation they’re importing from their vendors is just squeezing their margins, and in some cases, they’re losing money. So, I don’t think the quality of earnings improves from here for at least two quarters. That’s just something to think about as we go into the next Q1 and Q2 earnings.
BFM: Okay, I want to come back to interest rates, Tony, because I’m reading Bloomberg and it seems like the Street is now expecting a terminal rate of 5.6%. Honestly, this changes every day. It was 5.4% not too long ago. But what does this mean for the US dollar? Are we back to the reign of King Dollar again?
Tony: Well, if we see a more hawkish Fed, then I would say yes, that’s probably the case. So, what we would likely see are things like 25 basis points, at least for the next three meetings, if not longer. If we continue to see hot inflation, as we have over the past couple of days, they could do a surprise 50. I don’t think that’s what they’re going to do, but we can’t rule it out. We could also see quantitative tightening, meaning the Fed could unload more mortgage-backed securities or other things, accelerating that from their balance sheet. Because housing is still pretty hot, actually. Prices aren’t moving that much, so we could see the Fed move on MBS or some other things to accelerate that off of their balance sheet. I don’t think that’s highly likely, but it’s a possibility. All of those bode well for the dollar and dollar strength. If that happens, we would definitely see the dollar rise generally.
BFM: Can we take a look at what’s happening over in the US Congress, Tony? There’s a newly formed House committee aimed at examining economic competition between the US and China. I think they held their first hearing earlier this week. What was the outcome? And do you think, as a result, we’re just going to see more trade conflicts between these two superpowers?
Tony: Yeah, so there’s a lot of focus on decoupling from China. There will never be a full decoupling from China. I don’t think we’ll even have a majority decoupling from China. But there are some key industries, like semiconductors and pharmaceuticals, some healthcare aspects that people really do want to decouple from China because we saw through the pandemic that supply chains are very, very dependent on China. Americans want many of those core things closer to home. They’re focused on decoupling. For some reason, people in Congress are just becoming aware that the CCP is in charge of everything in China. So they’ve underestimated the influence of the CCP and they’re waking up to the fact that they’re central in China. We had a couple of former national security advisors suggesting things like accelerating the arming of Taiwan and helping Chinese circumvent the Great Firewall, those sorts of things. And then, of course, human rights. They talked about CCP police outposts that are in US cities where there are actually these CCP outposts that will pursue Chinese nationals within the US, among other things. It’s taking a pretty tough stance on China. I’m not sure to what extreme that will go and what policies will be adopted yet, but I think it’s definitely trying to at least uncover some of the things that Americans haven’t been aware of.
Keep in mind, a little bit of this is theater, right? It’s people in Congress holding hearings to publicize some of their agenda. So, I think it’s a little bit of that so that they can then move into legislation and move the needle just a little bit. I don’t think we’ll see anything extreme, but you will certainly hear some extreme talk over the next couple of months.
BFM: Yeah, but does this change the way fund managers invest? You’ve got this continuing geopolitical tension between the US and China. Is it going to stop, for example, American fund managers from buying Chinese stocks?
Tony: I think it definitely puts China as a higher risk for US portfolio managers. And certainly over the past couple of years, more US portfolio managers have become aware of the risks of investing in China as supply chains close down, among other things. So, I think you will see more of a tighter risk calibration and more weighting of risk for Chinese equities. So, it could potentially not be good for American money investing in Chinese exchanges. Absolutely.
BFM: Tony, thanks very much for speaking with us. That was Tony Nash, CEO of Complete Intelligence, giving us his take on some of the trends that he sees moving markets in the days and weeks ahead. As he was talking about how March is possibly going to be down, although not as down as February, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Oh, beware the eyes of March.’ But, yes, it’s still choppy out there, especially as the FOMC will be having their meeting this month. I think everyone’s going to wait and see how much they’re going to hike those rates.
Yeah, he gave some predictions on Malaysia as well. He thinks the market will possibly be up by about 1% in March, but the market has been quite disappointing in Malaysia. And he also expects the China market to be down in March by about 2%. And we spoke about the geopolitical risk which may impact US fund managers as well.