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Sam Rines wrote a piece on business costs and uncertainty weighing on earnings this season. He talked us through what’s happening with interesting charts on Caterpillar and Old Dominion.
We saw Facebook turn dramatically this week and we saw KWEB up over 7% on Friday. At the same time, Amazon, Pinterest, and others with disappointing earnings. Tech isn’t really a sector-wide play as it was in 2020 and 2021. Alber Marko explains what should we be looking at in tech.
We’ve had a lot of action in Europe with Russia cutting off the gas in Poland and Bulgaria and a demand that oil and gas be paid in Rubles. Tracy Shuchart explains what it means for commodity prices and the market in general.
Key themes from last week
- Earnings: COGS in the Machine
- Earnings: Tech
- Europe-Gas-Ruble Chaos
This is the 16th episode of The Week Ahead in collaboration with Complete Intelligence and Intelligence Quarterly, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.
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TN: Hi everyone. This is The Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash. We’re joined today by Tracy Shuchart, Sam Rines, and Albert Marko. Before we get started, I’d like to ask you to like and subscribe. Also, please note this is the last weekend for our CI future promo. $50 a month for thousands of assets reforecast weekly. So please go to completeintol.com/promo. Subscribe for $50 a month and you will get global market and economic information. Thanks for that.
So, guys, this week is a little bit exciting. We have a few key themes that we’re looking at this week. Two of them are earnings-related. One is COGS in the machine, which is related to a newsletter that Sam Rines put out today. The other one is tech. And the last thing we’re looking at is the Europe-Gas-Ruble chaos.
So, Sam, you wrote a piece today on business costs and uncertainty weighing on earnings. So can you walk us through this? We’ve got a couple of slides from your newsletter up. One is Caterpillar Earnings. Maybe you could walk us through that first and then we’ll go to the Old Dominion earnings and walk through why those are so important.
SR: I think it’s really interesting to kind of at least be able to get some real-world understanding of what’s happening on the ground. Right. We all know wages are going up. We know costs are going up. We know shipping costs are going up. But how that was going to be reflected through the earnings season was somewhat of an unknown. Right. We knew it was going to affect us, but we didn’t know to what extent.
The interesting part about Caterpillar and one of the reasons I like to point it out is that they had pricing power. They pushed prices pretty heavily down the system. The problem for them was that they couldn’t push the price as much as their materials and shipping costs went up. It was simply too big of a headwind, at least for the first quarter. Their orders are fine. The business itself is okay. But generally what we saw was pricing power. Not… There were a few, but pricing power was generally unable to keep up with the cost pressures overall.
The interesting one and kind of related to Caterpillar are Polaris. Polaris is one of the most interesting companies. It’s consumer-facing yet, it’s a manufacturer. It’s something you don’t need a new side by side typically. You don’t need it. Right. These aren’t needs. These are more of discretionary spending. They had a very similar problem to Caterpillar. But the end market user for these is very similar to Harley Davidson. There was another one that had issues.
The inventories are extraordinarily low. Right. Their inventory levels at dealerships are very low. So eventually when they can pick up their production, they’re going to be able to push up their production numbers pretty significantly just to be able to refill the inventory pipeline at their dealership. So while it’s a big headwind today, it’s worth watching call it nine to 18 months down the road when you begin to see signs of these material costs abating, the supply chains getting back to normal.
Those companies are going to be able to put up some pretty interesting numbers very quickly.
TN: So, Sam, will they leak in gradual price rises? Because it doesn’t sound like they’ve been able to do it all at once. But will they continue to raise prices even as, say, the primary factors of inflation start to abate a little bit?
SR: Oh, yes. That’s been a constant theme of this earnings season has been. We will continue to either try to find ways to squeeze costs out of the supply chain, and normalize those somewhat, but almost more emphasized was there will be price increases to offset all of this.
To your point on Old Dominion, they just tossed on fuel surcharges.
SR: If you’re going to have problems with freight, fine. But we’re going to surcharge you on fuel. And they only pushed about 50% of their overall gain. And year over year was pure surcharge. So it was an interesting one.
TN: And fuel charges are sticky, right. They don’t take those off right when fuel prices go down, they keep those for a year after the prices go down, right?
SR: Correct. Right. It’s the interesting part about all of this is these price increases are not going to be reversed. Caterpillar is not going to take off their price increases. Polaris probably isn’t going to take off some of their price increases, Old Dominion is unlikely in the near term. These are going to be fairly sticky over time.
TN: Okay. So last week when both you and Tracy weren’t here and Albert and I did the heavy lifting to keep the show going, we talked about sticky prices and we talked about how we hit new pricing levels. Even if the rate of inflation slows down, we’ve hit new pricing levels. Is that semi-permanent? Is that permanent or is that transitory?
SR: It’s a step function, right. Okay. You step up and then you’re not going to step back down. You step up the price increases and then maybe you can trickle two or 3% inflation on top of that going forward. But step-functions do not reverse. And I would say that this is much more of a step function type deal.
TN: Okay, good news, Tracy. You were going to add?
TS: I was just going to add I mean, the business survey. The Fed business survey came out small business survey came out this week and they were looking at it in four out of ten small businesses said they were looking at price increases of 10% or more. So this is across the board, not just for mega-cap companies.
TN: Right. Yeah. And even since I talk about coffee so much, even one of the small coffee roasters who I know, said his costs had risen 50% over the last year and he was only able to put in a 20 to 25% price rise. But I’m certain that he’s going to continue to gradually work price rises over the next year or two as we’ve hit this kind of plateau, or at least step function in price rises. So good news all around. Right.
So as we stay on COG, Sam, you had a portion in your newsletter talking about Meta, and we’ve got that on-screen talking about their G&A increase. Can you talk us through that?
SR: Yeah. So I thought it was pretty interesting. They increased their employee base by 28% year over year. I mean, this whole idea is that hiring is tough. It wasn’t for Meta. But the funny part is, or not funny. But G&A was up 45, so you hired 28% more people, but G&A popped 45. Again, that’s a step up that probably isn’t going to step down any time soon unless they’re going to begin laying people off. Right. Maybe it’ll roll out of earnings next year, but it’s not going well.
TN: We’ve seen some tech layoffs, right.
TN: Announced over the past week. It’s not like it’s not a huge trend yet, but we’ve seen a few.
SR: Yeah. And the other important part that I think was overlooked was Snapchat, Facebook, or Meta, whatever you want to call it, when they announced earnings, they cited that, listen, when you have inflationary pressures, wage pressures and you’re a small business, guess where the discretionary spend is, that’s marketing budgets.
Marketing budgets will get cut and get cut fairly dramatically and fairly quickly if you continue to have this. And not to mention if you don’t have the stuff to sell and you continue to have supply chain issues, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to spend a lot of money on marketing. So I think those two raised some red flags, I think we’re subtly overlooked by a lot of people sitting on.
TN: We talked about this last week and how a lot of ad inventories are likely to come online soon. So there’s a supply problem and a demand problem with those companies going forward. I think the names that come to mind will probably do fine. The smaller names are probably going to suffer. So it might be tough.
Albert, on that, we saw Facebook turned dramatically this week in the last half of the week after they reported earnings. KWEB was up 7% today, a stock that we talked about here a few weeks ago. But at the same time, Amazon, Pinterest, and others are disappointed. So tech was a sector-wide play in ’20 and ’21. It’s not that anymore, is it?
AM: Yes and no. The problem with tech is that there are about a dozen names that the Fed uses to pump the market. So forget about Pinterest. That’s too small of a company. We’re looking at Google, Facebook, Meta, whatever you want to call it. Not so much Amazon, but the other ones like AMD and whatnot? So they’re going to yoyo those earnings in those pumps. So what they’ll do is they’ll wait until Netflix…
They know that Netflix will miss and they’ll pump the market to soften the blow and then they know that Apple is going to beat so they’ll let the market sell-off and use that to drive up the market. So this is just a cat and mouse game by the Fed to just manipulate the markets until what they’ve been saying is a soft landing.
The tech earnings are just playing right into that narrative of theirs. They know what the earnings are beforehand and they just play the market like that. So going on with tech earnings? Yeah, I mean they are weak. We can see that they are incredibly weak.
Will they be weak for the whole year? I don’t know. They do like the Nasdaq. So I wouldn’t want to be short tech going into the summer. But that’s just my personal opinion. But then you see KWEB surge because the Chinese start talking…
TN: Ion subsidies. Right. And government activity.
AM: It is what it is and you never know what type of government contracts Meta, Google, or whatnot will start popping into their bookkeeping. It’s a really dangerous game to short tech in my opinion.
TN: Yeah, well it’s interesting to me to see the user’s numbers like aint Netflix and I know there’s a couple of weeks old now but Netflix goes down. Pinterest goes down, Snapchat. These sorts of things. Amazon was kind of tepid but Facebook was really good. So I think we’re seeing almost some elasticity in some of these markets as we see people going back to work and we see other things happening. We’re finding out who’s going to be there no matter what and whose demand is a little bit flexible.
AM: Yeah. And then you’ll also find that some of these tech companies will look to acquisitions to boost their user numbers going into the fall. So this is why I don’t like the short tech at this level.
TN: By the way, if anybody is looking for a tech acquisition. Right here.
AM: Yeah, cool. 46 billion. Cool 46 billion will do it.
TN: Okay. Let’s move on to commodities. Tracy, there have been a lot of issues in Europe with the ruble as we’ve seen more countries decide to pay for oil and gas in rubles. We’ve seen some interesting action with the Euro and the ruble and with gas prices. Can you talk us through what’s going on there? And really, what does it mean? Because we’ve seen the price action. But what do you see its kind of meaning going forward?
TS: I mean what it means is Europe’s not directly paying in rubles. Right. What they’re going to do is they’re going to set up an account at Gasprom Bank. They will continue to pay in Euros, dollars, and local currency. In turn, Gasprom Bank will convert that currency into a separate account. So it’s not technically against sanctions. It’s a workaround. Right.
The interesting thing is EU didn’t have a choice, to be quite honest. They’re dependent on Russia for 67% of their natural gas. They don’t have LNG storage facilities built out. Those are going to take at least two to four years. I don’t care what they say next year, it’s not going to happen. Those things take a very long time.
So right now, they’re kind of being held hostage by Russians. So they’re going to have to pay as much as they don’t want to. Now they can wean themselves off of Russian oil a lot quicker because you can have the Middle East pick up that slack and they don’t import all that much. Right. It depends on the country. But Europe is not a huge source of oil exports for Russia. So that can happen.
And so for what I foresee, they’ll probably do that just so that they say we’re getting rid of Russian energy. Right. So I think you’ll see Russian oil cuts, I think that can be done relatively quickly. But as far as nat gas, I think it’s going to take a lot longer than most think. Even though they said they wanted two-thirds off by the end of 2022 and then completely out of Russian gas by 2027.
Again, I think that’s going to take a lot longer than they anticipate.
TN: Yeah. Can you imagine the conversion fees that Russian banks are charging for Euro to ruble? We’ll never know. Right.
TS: Banks are going to make money. It’s good for Russia. Right. That keeps the currency stable and it keeps their economy stable. And so, I mean, it’s kind of a win for Russia on this because the banks are winning and their currency and economy are winning on this one.
TN: Yeah. So we also had an emergency kind of this week with Russia saying they would turn off gas to Poland. And they did. But Poland has taken other measures since the war started to get other sources of gas. So it didn’t hurt them all that much, did it?
TS: Yeah, no, not at all. I mean, it was Poland and Bulgaria. They’re very adamant from the beginning to get out of Russian gas. They also don’t rely on it as much as, say, Germany does. Poland already built out an LG storage facility tank that’s completed.
They also produce a lot of coal and they use a lot of coal. And so that was not a surprise to me, nor did it hurt those countries very much.
TN: Right. What country do you think is in the most difficult position right now? Is it Germany?
TS: Germany hands down. A lot of the reasons are because they don’t have any other pipelines into Germany except Russia. So they’re definitely in the weakest position right now.
TN: Okay. So, guys, what do we expect, like, with the ruble going forward? It’s hit its pre-war levels. Do we expect the ruble to strengthen?
TS: Right now, yes, I think that it probably will continue to strengthen just because they’re asking for payments of commodities in the ruble.
TN: They’re not asking.
TS: Well, yes, they’re holding hostage. But it’s not just in other words, it’s not just the energy complex. It’s metals, agriculture, et cetera. So I think that we’ll probably see that continue to strengthen.
TN: Okay. Hey, I also wanted to ask you about fertilizer. I saw some of the Fertilizer stocks come off a bit this week. I know that we’ve talked about fertilizer before. Is it still as urgent of an issue as it was, say, three weeks ago? And if it is, why are Fertilizer stocks coming, falling this week?
TS: Well, I think partially because we saw kind of natural gas pullback a bit. Right. That kind of alleviated the pressure. We also saw the broader market sell-off, which means sell what you have to if you get a margin call. Right. And you had something like IPI, whose earnings were not as good as they could have been. Right. Considering. So it’s kind of a combination of everything.
SR: Yeah. And you are beginning to see signs of demand destruction as well. There was an announcement by a Brazilian farming giant that they were going to cut their fertilizer usage by 25 or more percent this year. So, yeah. Yields down, fertilizer up.
AM: Not to mention the good old dollar looking like it’s going to go to 110 on the Dixie causing problem everywhere.
TN: What do you think about that, Albert? What’s the time horizon for 110?
AM: I think we get that within the next two months. Yellen is on a mission to destroy emerging markets. She’s going to do with the dollar. She did this in 2013 when she was Fed chair. So, I mean, it’s the same playbook. It’s nothing new.
TN: So if the dollar does hit 110, does it stay there for some time, or is it just kind of marking territory, saying, we can do this again if you don’t behave?
AM: I think it’s a moment in time. Keeping the dollar at 110 is going to cause really big problems across the world. So they can’t keep it there too long. But they can… Even China talking about the stimulus, 109 causes a problem for China. It’s quite an event to see that happen.
SR: Yeah. Into Albert’s point, and I think this is incredibly important, china has to buy food. Right. And they’re buying, you’ve seen the rip lower on RMB, CNY, that thing has gotten crushed over the last week. And they’re still buying corn and soybeans from the US en masse. And that’s getting much more expensive very quickly. That’s going to be a problem.
TS: The only thing that’s helping them right now is that their entire country is locked down. Right. I mean, that’s the only thing that’s helping slow the blow and kind of making these commodities pull back a bit so they’re not as expensive.
TN: But Xi has got to make some money to feed his people. Right. Otherwise, you’re going to have Mao 1961 all over again.
TS: What he’s doing is insane. Don’t starve your people. So obviously ulterior motives are going on there.
TN: Yeah. So we’ll talk more about China next week. Okay, good. Let’s have a week ahead lightning round, guys. What are you looking at? Kind of most Interestingly for the week ahead? Sam, if you can go first, what’s at the top of your mind right now for the week ahead?
SR: Top of my mind is going to be energy company earnings and what they’re saying about their production, whether they’re upping premium, where they’re getting production from, how they’re doing it if they’re doing it, whether or not Capex budgets are moving higher, how they’re moving higher and where. And then any comments on labor pipe concrete, et cetera, I think will be very interesting as we go through next week.
TN: I think you stole Tracy’s answer, though, right?
TS: Exactly what I’m looking at. I expect to look at production probably has not increased that much because I think they’re having labor issues and supply chain issues have not gotten any better, if not ten times worse. So that’s what I’m looking forward to.
Also always keep an eye on China. Beijing is just locked down or partially locked down. So how many more cities are we going to have, how many more States we’re going to have, and how many more people are going to be locked down for how long? Because that’s going to affect the commodities market in the midterm. But that said, if you look at the commodities complex, we’re still over 100, like 104.
So it’s still holding strong, even though we’ve had a lot of demand. They say about a million and a half barrels per day of China demand is kind of off the market right now.
TN: Yes. So if they come back online, it’s game on, right?
TN: All right. And Albert, what are you looking at for the weekend?
AM: Probably the most dovish sounding 50 basis point rate hike you’ll ever hear from the Fed. Like we did this and we’re sorry. If they want to break this market down sub 4000, go ahead and try to talk hawkish but I don’t think they want to do that. So Jerome will just put his foot in his mouth like usual and say something stupid but it’ll be dovish that’s what I’m watching.
TN: Sam, Fed guy? What do you think, Sam?
SR: I think the same. Listen, I think they’re going to try to avoid talking too much about another 50 basis points hike. They’re going to try to get away from providing clear forward guidance and be incredibly vague because if they’re vague about what they’re going to do then it’s going to be perceived as dovish. So agree with Albert, right? You get a 50 basis point hike and then we’re not sure what we’re going to do next, right?
TS: Somebody brought up like 75 basis point hike this week and the Fed was like, no, we’re not even considering that.
TS: Yeah, exciting. Sounds exciting. Okay guys, thank you very much. Have a great weekend. Thank you very much.
AM: Thank you.
TS: You too.