First-quarter corporate earnings are pouring in, and the results have been mixed. So far, the numbers have been good enough to keep the market from falling significantly, but not good enough to warrant further gains.
It is still early days, with only 15 percent of companies reported, but so far, the best I can say is mixed. The multicenter banks continued to surprise to the upside this week, while the regionals have been so-so but not as bad as some expected. Of course, the Silicon Valley Bank debacle did not occur until toward the end of the quarter, so much of the impact won't be known until the second quarter results are announced.
Tesla, one of the cult favorites of many in the markets, was disappointed. That threw the markets into a funk, at least on Thursday and Friday. The electric vehicle market is in the throes of a price-cutting war globally, which Tesla started. The EV leader has cut prices 5 times on its vehicles since the beginning of the year. They did so as the global economy slowed. The company wants to not only maintain its worldwide market share but expand it as well.
In China, the price war is particularly ferocious where competitors such as Nio Inc, XPeng Inc. and BYD Co. Ltd. are selling some EV models at a 50 percent discount to prices in the U.S. and Europe. This, as you may imagine, is having an impact on Tesla's profit margins and thus the disappointing earnings results.
The prevailing sentiment right now is that while the economy may be slowing, the Fed is still hell-bent on raising rates another 25 basis points at their May meeting. After that, some expect a pause, while others disagree. It will depend on the data, in my opinion.
We will be getting another reading on inflation in the coming week (April 28) when the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCE) is reported. The PCE measures the prices paid for goods and services and it is a data point that the Fed watches carefully.
Economists and the Fed will be paying special attention to the services side of the report where inflation has been sticky. A hotter number may convince the Fed that a pause in their tightening program may be premature. As such, investors will likely assign great importance to the PCE print.
What many investors fail to realize is that even as the Fed continues to tighten, liquidity in the financial markets is rising. The contradiction can be explained by the U.S. Treasury's actions in the face of the nation's fast-approaching debt limit. The government can no longer sell Treasury bonds as it has in the past without triggering that limit prematurely.
Instead, the Treasury has been spending down its checking account, called the Treasury General Account. That adds money to the system in two ways. With fewer bonds able to be purchased there is more cash looking around for a home. Second, the cash disbursements from the Treasury General account also inject additional liquidity directly into the system.
In addition, the recent regional bank issues (Silicon Valley Bank, etc.) have forced the Fed to also increase liquidity to the banking system. Taken together, there is now more money sloshing around the system than many realize.
A lot of that money flows into other assets in the financial markets (like the stock markets), at least in the short term. At some point this summer, when the new debt limit is finally passed in Congress, that situation will reverse but, in the meantime, it helps explain why the stock market has been resilient in the face of rising interest rates, a slowing economy, and inflation. I look for the stock market to continue to fluctuate in the week ahead.
Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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