Highlights

Wall Street Breakfast

Author: bmotrader   |   Latest post: Fri, 23 Jul 2021, 11:18 AM

 

Wall Street Breakfast: Watch 'Em Dots

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Today's Federal Reserve meeting may be the most watched in recent years, with famed investor Paul Tudor Jones even calling it "the most important in Chair Jay Powell's career." With inflation gathering speed and the job market tightening, the FOMC will have to weigh the path for the country's monetary policy - chiefly the federal funds rate target range (now at 0.0%-0.25%) and asset purchases that continue at a $120B monthly pace. Again, it's widely expected that no tightening will occur this time around, but investors will be watching closely for any signals that the Fed is setting the stage to become less accommodative.

Dot plot: Investors will be focused on the central bank policymakers' summary of economic projections, specifically the dot-plot charts showing expectations on when Fed officials expect interest rates to start rising. More than half of 51 economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast the median of 18 officials seeing an interest rate hike during 2023, in contrast to the March dot-plot where the median expectation was for a 2024 liftoff. Fed watchers will also be parsing Powell's comments on whether he softens his insistence that inflation is "transitory."

Perhaps the most vocal critic of the "transitory inflation" theory is Lawrence H. Summers, former Treasury Secretary and ex-director of the National Economic Council. "I do not see how any responsible policymaker can fail to recognize that overheating is now the largest risk in the near term U.S. macro outlook," he said via Twitter on June 10. "If overheating takes place in the U.S. and there is an eventual spike in interest rates driven either by the Fed or the markets, there will be enormous risks to an already fragile and over leveraged global economy." The bond market, however, seems to agree with Fed's narrative of transitory inflation, with the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield remaining below 1.5%.

Taper talk: Looking to avoid the 2013 "taper tantrum," when markets were caught by surprise by the Fed's change in policy, Powell has said the central bank will give advance notice of when it plans to trim its asset purchases. Some 40% of economists in the Bloomberg survey expect the Fed to indicate in late August its intention to start tapering (Jackson Hole?), while some 24% of the economists expect that signal to come in September - with actual reduction of purchases likely to start in early 2023. Recall that many Fed officials have commented that they're willing to let inflation run hot for a period of time after the measure has lagged its 2% target for years.

 

Little changed

Traders are in wait-and-see mode before the latest Fed meeting, with U.S. equity futures hovering close to the flatline for most of the night. While the central bank is not expected to take any action, there will be plenty of accompanying commentary when Chair Jerome Powell takes the stage at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Bigger picture: Scott Ruesterholz, portfolio manager at Insight Investment, expects the Fed to strike a "patient tone" at the gathering, "wanting to ensure they do not overreact and slow the pace of recovery." "There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty: how much of the inflation is being driven by transitory factors, like supply chain disruptions, and how much of the slower job growth is being driven by temporary measures like enhanced unemployment benefits." Powell's recent balancing act has emphasized the need for a full rebound before the Fed would consider raising rates, but has also highlighted a strong economic revival, which has maintained investor confidence in the economy.

The latest outlook comes as retail sales dropped in May, marking a shift in pandemic spending, while producer prices rose at their fastest annual rate in nearly eleven years, triggering worries about inflation. Others are less concerned. "On a one-year basis, inflation is indeed high," declared Brad McMillan, CIO at Commonwealth Financial Network. "On a two-year basis, which captures the downturn and the upturn, inflation is still in the normal range over the past decade. The one-year numbers are simply misleading. When you dig in, on time frame and components, inflation is not nearly as bad as the headline numbers suggest."

Go deeper: Another area that has been getting a lot of attention is commodities. While everything from lumber to copper and corn have been falling precipitously in recent weeks - denting expectations for a new commodities super cycle - oil continues to hold the line above $70/bbl. That could prompt Chair Powell to say he's monitoring the situation, or shake it off as another "transitory" event. While some of crude's rise may be inflationary, there are signs of stronger demand and tight supplies, with many U.S. companies balking at investment given the transition to a greener economy. Shell is said to be selling holdings in its largest U.S. oil field, the Keystone XL pipeline was recently terminated and activist shareholders last month won a board battle at Exxon.
     
Regulation - Pressure on Big Tech

Progressive tech critic Lina Khan has been sworn in as chair of the Federal Trade Commission, becoming the youngest commissioner ever confirmed to the FTC. Her 69-28 approval in the Senate also points to some bipartisan agreement among legislators that Big Tech needs some tighter reins. Amazon.com (AMZN), Facebook (FB), Alphabet (GOOG, GOOGL) and Apple (AAPL) are watching closely...

Who is Lina Khan? The 32-year-old is a law professor at Columbia University, specializing in antitrust and anti-monopoly cases, and previously worked as a legal adviser to FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra. Last year, she served as counsel to a House investigatory panel, conducting a 16-month investigation into large online platforms and recommending action against the companies' anti-competitive behavior. Coming into focus is also a paper she wrote in 2017, called "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox," which made her a well-known figure in antitrust circles.

More on the article: Khan argues that current anti-competition laws are poorly equipped to address e-commerce. This is because the usual framework for evaluating competitive harm is the popular consumer welfare standard, which is often measured based on prices. However, that harm could be discounted in the modern economy, where practices like online predatory pricing lowers costs for consumers in the short term, but equips a company to gobble up market share. Like others, she also flags problems with Amazon owning a marketplace and selling on the same platform.

"Congress created the FTC to safeguard fair competition and protect consumers, workers, and honest businesses from unfair & deceptive practices," Khan said on Twitter after her confirmation. "I look forward to upholding this mission with vigor and serving the American public."
     
On The Move - RIDE it out


It's been quite a week for Lordstown Motors (RIDE), whose stock has been a rollercoaster ride over the last few days. Shares plunged 19% on Monday, only to rebound 11% on Tuesday, but are again off 3% in premarket trade. Investors and analysts are still figuring out how to size up the company, which was once hyped to take market share from Tesla (TSLA) and Rivian (RIVN), as well as Nikola (NKLA) - which faced its own crisis in September 2020.

Backdrop: Lordstown Motors was founded in 2018 by Steve Burns, former CEO of Workhorse Group (NASDAQ:WKHS), and a year later scooped up a GM (NYSE:GM) plant located in Lordstown, Ohio. Lordstown later inked a deal with Workhorse for the intellectual property rights of its W-15 pickup truck by giving the latter a 10% equity stake in the company. Last October, Lordstown reverse merged with a SPAC named DiamondPeak Holdings and became listed on the NASDAQ at an estimated equity value of $1.6B (roughly around its current market cap).

But... Both Lordstown CEO Steve Burns and the CFO Julio Rodriguez resigned on Monday after a board investigation into claims made by Hindenburg Research. While the internal probe found the short-seller's report "in significant respects, false and misleading," it did flag "issues regarding the accuracy of certain statements regarding" its pre-orders. The news added to a damaging headline from last week, when Lordstown revealed it was almost out of cash, "creating substantial doubt as to our ability to continue as a going concern."

Resetting course? While breaking into a competitive and capital-intensive field like EVs is not easy, Lordstown's new chairwoman feels it can be done. "It's a new day at Lordstown and there are no disruptions, and there will be no disruptions, to our day-to-day operations," Angela Strand said in a statement. She also confirmed that the company remains on track to begin limited production in September and there was enough interest from potential buyers to support factory output through the end of 2022.

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