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Wall Street Breakfast

Author: bmotrader   |   Latest post: Fri, 10 Sep 2021, 7:54 AM

 

Wall Street Breakfast: Masks Are Back

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Pointing to the Delta variant and a high number of unvaccinated individuals, the CDC has reversed its indoor mask policy, saying fully vaccinated people and kids should wear face coverings indoors. New data from the agency apparently suggests that fully vaccinated individuals can carry high enough viral loads that can infect other people because Delta behaves "uniquely differently from past strains of the virus." Guidance from the CDC is only a recommendation, meaning states and local officials will have to decide whether to reintroduce mask rules.

Across the country: Some regions have already recommended or required that residents resume wearing masks indoors, including 17 counties in California and Clark County, Nevada, which houses Las Vegas casinos. Localities from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Provincetown, Massachusetts, have also issued an "indoor mask advisory" regardless of vaccination status. The updated guidance comes ahead of the fall season, when Delta is expected to cause another surge as employers bring workers back to the office and kids head back to school.

"More vaccinations and mask wearing in the areas most impacted by the Delta variant will enable us to avoid the kind of lockdowns, shutdowns, school closures, and disruptions we faced in 2020," President Biden said following the CDC guidance. He's also expected to lay out additional steps today to get more Americans jabbed. Among them will be a requirement that all federal employees and contractors be vaccinated against COVID-19, or be required to submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements.

It's confusing: While higher rates of transmission have been seen in areas that are less vaccinated, like much of the U.S. South and Western states, other data has shown conflicting outcomes. The Bay Area News Group found that five California counties, Los Angeles, San Diego, Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco, had both a higher percentage of people who are fully vaccinated than the state average and a higher average daily case rate. That compares to five other California counties, like Modoc, Glenn, Lassen, Del Norte, and San Benito, which have below-average vaccination rates and decreasing case rates. Before the Delta variant, vaccines were previously thought to reduce COVID-19 transmission, but several factors may also be playing a part in the latest analysis like population density and willingness to be tested.

Statistics: The weekly average of new daily COVID-19 infections in the U.S. is more than 57,000, an increase of 65% from the week prior, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Earnings - Big quarter for Big Tech

Apple: A blowout quarter from the iPhone maker shattered expectations, with earnings of $1.30 per share (vs. $1.01 estimated) on revenues of $81.4B (vs. $73.3B). Every one of Apple's (AAPL) major product lines grew over 12% on an annual basis, while it saw "very strong double-digit increases in both [iPhone] upgraders and switchers during the quarter." Shares still fell 2.2% in AH trading after the company warned that sales growth may be slowing and chip shortages will affect production in the current quarter. Apple also declined to provide formal guidance for the sixth quarter in a row, a practice it adopted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Google: Shares of parent Alphabet (GOOG, GOOGL) jumped 3.3% in extended trading after advertising revenue soared 69% Y/Y to $50.4B. CEO Sundar Pichai credited the number to a "rising tide of online activity in many parts of the world," though longer-term trends were harder to forecast as markets reopen and COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Google Search soared 69% Y/Y to $35.85B in sales, Cloud revenue climbed 54% to $4.63B and YouTube ad sales surged 84% to $7B.

Microsoft: The stock inched up 0.5% AH after ending its financial year on a strong note. Microsoft (MSFT) reported a 21% jump in revenue amid a flood of new business in Azure cloud computing, LinkedIn advertising and business applications. It didn't stop there. Microsoft's "More Personal Computing" segment, which features Windows, as well as devices, gaming and search advertising, notched $14.09B in FQ4 revenue, while the tech giant finished the year with $60B in annual earnings (and $165B in sales) for the first time ever.

Facebook: The social network is expected to report a surge in quarterly revenue after today's closing bell as the pandemic drove consumers to shop and spend more time online. Despite advertising demand, Facebook (FB) still projects revenue growth year-over-year to slow in the last two quarters of the year. Also watch out how Apple's recent software update - which allows users to opt out of tracking in iOS apps - will impact its bottom line, as well as user retention, e-commerce ambitions and updates to Instagram and WhatsApp.

Stocks - Fed policy update

Wall Street snapped a five-session winning streak on Tuesday before a policy decision from the Federal Reserve, though things looked better in the overnight session. Nasdaq futures are ahead by 0.3% following some blowout results from Big Tech, while contracts linked to the S&P 500 and Dow were up 0.2% and flat, respectively. "I wouldn't write this off to anything more than taking a little bit of a breather after the pretty good rally that we saw last week," said Jason Vaillancourt of Putnam Investments.

Fed in focus: While no action is expected from the FOMC today, there may be a possible mention of tapering the central bank's bond program. That could shake up some investing sentiment as the winding down of purchases is seen as the first step toward interest rate hikes (especially with inflation heating up). The Fed is currently purchasing $120B in securities a month, including $80B in Treasury bonds and $40B in mortgage-backed securities.

Meanwhile, the busiest week of earnings season will continue today with results from Boeing (BA), Pfizer (PFE), McDonald's (MCD), Facebook (FB), Ford (F), Qualcomm (QCOM) and PayPal (PYPL). Of the S&P 500 companies that have already reported Q2 numbers, 89% have topped earnings estimates, while 86% have exceeded revenue expectations, according to data from Refinitiv.

Go deeper: There's more important economic news coming up this week. Gross domestic product for the second quarter will be released tomorrow, as well as weekly jobless claims. On Friday, the Fed will publish the personal consumption expenditure index, which is the central bank's preferred measure for inflation.

Trending - 'Walkout for Equality'

Employees at Activision Blizzard (ATVI) are planning a walkout today at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET, which will take place outside headquarters in Irvine, California. Fallout is growing over the company's values after California legislators sued Activision Blizzard, citing "pervasive 'frat boy' culture" and mistreatment of women. Some are even likening the developments to a #MeToo movement for the video game industry.

Backdrop: A two-year investigation into the firm claimed that female employees (who make up 20% of Blizzard's workforce of about 9,500) were routinely discriminated against. The actions included verbal and physical advances from male co-workers, as well as allegations that women employees were underpaid, promoted "more slowly," and terminated "more quickly" compared to their male counterparts. Not helping the situation is the compensation package of Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, who was the second-highest paid CEO in the S&P 500 in 2020.

Activision Blizzard has called the lawsuit "irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California." That didn't go over too well. An employee letter called the response "abhorrent and insulting," with workers and former staff taking to social media in droves with their own stories about company culture. "We believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership," they wrote before the walkout.

Outlook: Workers are issuing four demands: (1) an end to forced arbitration clauses in employee contracts; (2) new hiring and promotion processes to increase representation; (3) publishing salary and promotion data for all employees; (4) allowing a diversity, equity and inclusion task force to hire a third party to audit executive staff.



 

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