Wentz Weekly Insights
Third Quarter Earnings Preview

Last week US stocks finished mixed in another volatile week. Volatility is typically associated with the stock market, however, as of late volatility is being seen more in the bond market. Typically, bonds are much more stable and less volatile than stocks. Bloomberg noted last week that volatility in the bond market is exceeding the volatile in the stock market by the most in 18 years, going back to when data collecting began in 2005. The volatility in the Treasury ETF tracked was more than 4% higher than the S&P 500, versus the longer term average of being 3% lower.
In fact, Treasuries are experiencing one of the worst periods ever. As mentioned last week, some Treasury bonds with 30 year maturities are down 55% since mid-2020 while stocks are up roughly 40% over the same period. Supply and demand is mostly to blame. In the first half of the year the government borrowing was limited due to the debt ceiling issue, so there was very little new issues of Treasuries. If supply is lower and demand unchanged, prices go higher (and yields go lower). Issuance began to surge in the second half of the year as the debt ceiling bill was passed and the Treasury had to replenish its general account (basically the governments checking account). At the same time there has been foreign selling, and among other reasons, this brought a spike in supply were there was not enough demand, resulting in lower prices and higher yields.
Stocks saw high dividend paying sectors as well as energy outperform as bonds yields moved lower (it was the week prior those high dividend paying stocks were down substantially as Treasury yields spiked), while growth sectors like consumer discretionary underperformed. This resulted in the NASDAQ and Russell 2000 ending lower and Dow and S&P 500 ending up slightly.
While geopolitics carried most of the media headlines due to the Hamas-Israel conflict, markets were focused on notable events in the US – the most recent read on the consumer price index and the unofficial kickoff of third quarter earnings season.
After having declined 11 of the past 12 months the annual rate of inflation has increased three of the past four months. The change in the consumer price index was 0.4% in September and 3.7% compared to a year earlier, slightly higher than expected. Energy drove some of the increase due to higher oil prices, but core prices, which strip out the often volatile food and energy categories, was still 0.3% higher. One of the more important readings, which is what the Fed has been following closely and which they refer to as “super core” and excludes food, energy, and shelter, rose 0.6% in the month and is up at a 4.8% annualized pace over the past three months. This is higher than both the headline index and core index and something worth watching.
Based on recent public comments by many Fed policymakers, they are suggesting the Fed is nearly finished raising rates. Several have noted the recent surge in Treasury yields and how that in a way equates to another rate increase as it further tightens financial conditions. In addition, the risks are more balanced – the risk of doing too much and raising rates too high to where it pushes the economy into a recession is now in better balance with the risk of not doing enough and having inflation bounce back. We think there is a high chance the Fed holds rates at its November 1 meeting, but another inflation report like this one could cause them to raise rates one more time at its final meeting of the year on December 13. As we have said several months ago, the issue is no longer how high rates get, but how long they stay this high.
The other big focus for markets was at the end of the week when several of the big US banks reported Q3 financial results to kick off earnings season. JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup all reported earnings and revenues that were better than expected and a large increase in net interest income due to higher interest rates. In addition, provisions for credit losses (funds banks set aside for potentially bad loans) were below expectations, suggesting a healthier consumer than feared. A couple weak spots however included investment banking and trading.
We are interested to see if there is a divergence between the big banks like JPMorgan, who are very well capitalized, and smaller/regional banks who are under more pressure from rising interest rates due to the impact on its balance sheet (banks own Treasury bonds and higher rates create large unrealized losses).
This week we will see about 10% of the S&P 500 report quarterly results. The outlook on this earnings season is shaping out to be a little more optimistic than the prior three quarters, although still pretty mixed. JPMorgan is estimating earnings will increase 8.8% compared to the same quarter last year, and data from FactSet shows the average estimate sees earnings up less than 1%. With revenues expected to grow around 1%, profit growth will likely come from margin expansion due to decelerating input and wage costs.
From a sector view, as shown in the chart above, financials are expected to generate the biggest profit growth due to higher interest rates driving net interest income and profits higher. Consumer sectors like consumer staples, consumer discretionary, and communication services are expected to continue to see modest growth due to higher consumer spending. On the other hand, energy is expected to see a contraction in earnings from last year (although much better than the beginning of this year) as oil prices were higher this time last year.
We still expect a lot of focus on the top eight companies, those same companies that have driven almost all of the S&P 500’s year-to-date performance (see here). Those same eight companies (Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Nvidia, Tesla, Meta, and Netflix) make up about 30% of the S&P 500 as measured by market cap (size) but is expected to contribute just 10% of Q3 sales and 16% of profits, according to Barron’s. AI (artificial intelligence) will continue to be a focal point for these companies, and investors may start demanding more from them for shares to continue moving higher.
Week in Review:
The big development heading into the new week was the Hamas led attacks on Israel. Stocks opened lower over the increased risks that the conflict could spread. Oil rose 4.3% over worries that oil producing countries in the Middle East could be drawn into the conflict. Stocks ended up recovering after comments from Fed policymakers that policy needs to remain restrictive but the recent surge in Treasury yields may reduce the needs for further rate hikes. Bond markets were closed while the S&P 500 rose 0.63%, driven by big tech again. It was the 14th consecutive positive start to the week for the S&P 500.
Tuesday’s big headline was the backup in Treasury yields with one of the strongest bond rallies of the year, driven by recent less hawkish Fed comments that higher yields may mean no rate hike and a flight to safety over the conflict between Hamas and Israel, which helped move stocks higher. Stocks saw another positive day with broad strength – 10 of the 11 sectors were higher as the S&P 500 finished up 0.52%.
Data on inflation at the producer level was released Wednesday morning and was a little stronger than expected, leading to a slight uptick in bond yields, although that reversed through the day and ended lower on the long end. Markets continued to shrug off the evolving conflict between Hamas and Israel. The big merger & acquisition news of the day was Exxon Mobil agreeing to acquire one of the largest US oil producers Pioneer Natural Resources. The S&P 500 saw its fourth day of gains, rising 0.43%, with an outperformance in high dividend paying sectors like utilities and real estate due to the drop in bond yields.
The main economic data release for the week was Thursday morning with a stronger than expected reading on the consumer price index, driven by higher energy, shelter, and transportation prices for consumers in September. Treasury yields saw a move higher particularly after another Treasury auction disappointed with weaker demand, with the 10-year yield up 13 basis points to 4.70%, reversing the recent rally in Treasury bonds. Energy and Tech led stocks but major averages were lower with the S&P 500 down 0.62%.
Markets were off to a positive start on Friday after several big banks including JPMorgan reported third quarter financial results that were better than expected, driven by higher interest rates which boosted profits. However, the gains were short lived and stocks reversed course after the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey showed inflation expectations moved to the highest levels since May with the 12-month expectation up to 3.8%. Defensive sectors and energy led while tech and consumer discretionary underperformed. The S&P 500 fell 0.50% for the day and Treasury yields saw another sizeable decline.
Stocks were mostly mixed for the week with an underperformance in small caps and tech. Treasuries saw a small rally as yields declined. The yield on the 2-year Treasury note fell just 3 basis points to 5.05% while the yield on the 10-year note fell 17 basis points to 4.80%. Meanwhile, gold finished up over 5% for its best week since March, the dollar index finished up 0.6%, while crude oil was up 5.9% due to the conflict in the Middle East which sparked supply worries. The major US indexes finished as follows: Dow +0.67%, S&P 500 +0.45%, NASDAQ -0.18%, and Russell 2000 -1.52%.

Recent Economic Data

  • Inflation at the consumer level was a little higher than expected in September. The consumer price index rose 0.4% in the month, slightly more than the 0.3% increase expected, coming after a 0.6% increase in August. The index was expected to fall to a 12-month increase of 3.6% but stayed at 3.7% in September. The index for energy prices was up 1.5% in September, after a 5.6% increase in August, due to higher oil prices, while food prices remained stable, rising 0.2%. Excluding these two volatile categories gives us the core index where it rose 0.3% as expected, matching August’s increase after two months of increasing 0.2% which happened to be the lowest since February 2022. Core prices were up 4.1% from a year ago, down from the 4.3% 12-month increase in August and have not been below 4.0% since May 2021. In the core index there were several categories with lower prices including used vehicles, apparel, and medical care, while shelter increased 0.6% and transportation continues to run hot, rising 0.7% (up 9.1% y/y). Insurance costs is an interesting one – both vehicle and home insurance are up double digit pace over the past year, while health insurance costs are down 37%. The Fed’s closely followed “super core” index rose at a faster 0.6% rate in the month, up 3.8% over the past 12 months, but is concerning as the 3-month annualized pace was 4.8%, much hotter than the Fed’s 2% target.
  • Prices producers pay rose at a faster pace than expected in September. The producer price index rose 0.5% in the month, higher than 0.3% expected and are 2.2% higher from a year earlier, increasing from the 1.7% annual pace in August. Final demand goods prices rose 0.9%, driven by a 3.3% increase in energy prices and 0.9% increase in food prices, while final demand services prices increased 0.3%, driven by trade up 0.5% and offset by a 0.4% decline in transportation/warehousing. The less volatile core index that excludes food, energy, and trade prices, rose 0.2% as expected and is 2.8% higher than a year ago.
  • The price index for US imports increased a less than expected 0.1% in September after a 0.6% increase in August which was the largest monthly increase in 15 months. Prices were driven by fuel products, offset by a decline in prices for non-fuel goods/services. Prices of imports are still down 1.7% over the past 12-months. The price index for goods/services exports from the US rose 0.7% in September, after a 1.1% increase in August which was also a 15-month high. The increase was driven by industrial supplies, vehicles, and capital goods, offset by declines in agricultural and consumer goods. Prices of exports are still down 4.1% from a year ago.
  • The number of unemployment claims filed the week ended October 7 remains low at 209,000, unchanged from the prior week. The four-week average declined slightly to 206,250. The number of continuing claims was 1.702 million, up 30k from the prior week, with the four-week average relatively unchanged at 1.674 million.
  • The flash reading on October consumer sentiment index, based on the survey compiled by the University of Michigan, was 63.0, a drop from 68.1 in September where the index has held steady for about two months, and for the worst reading since May this year. The index on current conditions was 66.7, down from 71.4 in September, while the index on expectations fell to 60.7 from 66.0 in September, also the weakest level since May. One of the more important readings is expectations on inflation over the next 12 months which increased to 3.8% from 3.2% in September (which was the lowest since March 2021) for the highest since May, and remains well above its long-term range of about 2.5%. Inflation expectations over the next five years moved to 3.0%, up from 2.8%.

Company News

  • Exxon Mobil confirmed it has agreed to acquire Pioneer Natural Resources, the second largest oil producer in the Permian Basin, for $59.5 billion, or $253/share in an all-stock deal. The is approximately a 18% premium to where shares traded prior to the initial report last Thursday. The terms of the deal say Pioneer shareholders will receive 2.3234 shares of Exxon for each Pioneer share owned.
  • The United Auto Workers union said it would expand its strike to its Kentucky truck plant, which has about 8,700 UAW members, and in which is one of Ford’s most profitable plants. UAW said it is making the move after Ford refused to make progress on bargaining. Bank of America analyst estimates each week of work stoppage would equate to a $247 million hit to EBIT for Ford, which is equal to about $0.05 in EPS, and would bring the total, between all plants it is striking, to $430 million in EBIT loss per week. In comparison, Ford’s 2023 EBIT is estimated to be around $10.7 billion. An estimated 30% of US vehicle production by the big three automakers is now affected by strikes.
  • Microsoft said it has received a notice from the IRS that it owes $29 billion in backed taxes, plus interest and penalty, from 2004 through 2013. Microsoft responded that it believes its “allowances for income tax contingencies are adequate,” and it will challenge the IRS notice.
  • After a long battle with regulators, Microsoft closed on its acquisition of Activision Blizzard on Friday.

Other News

  • The Congressional Budget Office released its monthly budget review that provided estimated fiscal year 2023 deficit numbers. According to the report, the federal budget deficit was $1.690 trillion in the fiscal year (the 12-month period ended September 30), $315 billion or 23% more than fiscal year 2022’s deficit. If it was not for a timing difference (October 1 falling on a weekend in 2023), the deficit would have been 28% higher in 2023 versus 2022. The larger deficit was due to a $455 billion, or 9%, decline in tax revenues, offset somewhat by a $141 billion, or 2%, decline in outlays. However, the deficit was skewed from the planned (and later struck down by the Supreme Court) cancellation for student loan debt. If this was excluded from fiscal 2022 and 2023, the deficit in 2022 would have been $900 billion and the deficit in 2023 would be estimated to be $2.0 trillion, indicating a $1.1 trillion increase in the deficit in fiscal year 2023. One of the consequences of higher interest rates is the cost to service the U.S. debt is growing. Net interest on the debt increased $177 billion, or 33%, in 2023 to a total of $711 billion.
  • The FTC said it will propose a new rule that would ban junk, or hidden, fees that are charged by businesses such as hotels/resorts, airlines, concert tickets, utility bills, etc. The FTC last year opened public comments on how consumers are affected by junk feeds where a common complaint was sellers do not advertise the total amount they have to pay, disclosing the fee only at the point where the transaction was submitted.
  • Recent comments by Fed policymakers:
  • Vice Chair Philip Jefferson said he is seeing evidence the imbalance between labor demand and supply is narrowing while saying he will take into account the recent surge in Treasury yields when assessing future policy decisions. He added policy is at a “sensitive period” because of the balance of risks in tightening too much versus not enough, and this was a reason for holding rates unchanged at the prior meeting.
  • Atlanta’s President Bostic said “I actually don’t think we need to increase rates anymore,” adding that if unexpected developments impact the outlooks, it may require more rate hikes. A week ago, he mentioned he sees one more rate increase by the end of the year.
  • Governor Michelle Bowman reiterated that rates could go higher and stay there for some time, but also talked about the increased risks the Fed faces regarding financial stability, citing the sizeable move in interest rates and geopolitical tensions/conflicts. She added that failing to get inflation back to target would lead to greater financial stability risks.
  • Minneapolis President Kashkari spoke on the recent spike in 10-year Treasury yields, saying it is a “little bit perplexing.” He said the Fed is assessing whether there is more optimism that economic growth will be stronger for the next five to ten years. He added it could be that investors believe the Fed could be more aggressive, which he called a head scratcher, or that the rise reflects increased US debt issuance. He also said it is possible that the higher yields could help in bringing inflation lower.
  • Philly Fed President Patrick Harker said that “absent a stark turn in what I see in the data and hear from contacts,” the Fed is at a point where it can hold rates at these levels due to the progress it has seen in inflation and its downward trajectory. He added “I am sure policy rates are restrictive, and as long they remain so, we will steadily press down on inflation and bring markets into a better balance.

Did You Know…?

Bank’s Issue With Higher Rates:

As earnings seasons begins, it is typically the case that banks are the first companies to report their financial results from the past three months. Banks generally make more profits in a rising interest rate environment as the interest they earn on the loans they provide is much higher than the cost of the loan, that is the interest they pay on deposits at the banks. However, a rising interest rate environment impacts banks in other ways including high unrealized losses on banks balance sheets. Barron’s notes that banks were sitting on $558 billion in unrealized losses on their balance sheets due to rising rates pushing down the value of the bonds they hold on their balance sheets. If banks don’t pay depositors more in interest on their cash, they risk the depositors leaving, and having to sell the bonds at a large loss. This is what caused the failure of several banks in March, including Silicon Valley Bank.

Social Security Raise:

About 71 million people receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are set to get a 3.2% increase in their benefits in 2024, the Social Security Administration said last week. The cost of living adjustment is lower than the 8.7% increase that beneficiaries saw in 2023, but still above the longer-term average of 2.6%. The average social security benefit will increase $57.30 per month to about $1,847 per month, less than the $144 raise beneficiaries saw in 2023. The increase is based on inflation in the third quarter using the consumer price index. Other areas affected are the maximum amount of earnings subject to social security tax for those still working, which increases to $168,600 from $160,000. This means the first $168,600 in income will be subject to Social Security tax.

WFG News

Medicare Open Enrollment

  • Medicare Open Enrollment period runs from October 15 to December 7 each year
  • During this period, individuals are able to make changes to their current Medicare coverage. Individuals on Medicare should receive an Annual Notice of Change and/or Evidence of Coverage for Medicare Advantage or Part D plan. This is a good time to review coverage, as medical needs, benefits, and premiums may have changed over the year. During this time here are some things to consider:
    • Will your primary doctor still accept you Medicare Advantage Plan?
    • Have your medical needs changed? Different plans offer different benefits and different costs
    • Are there comparable, lower cost plans available? Don’t forget to consider out-of-pocket costs when comparing options
    • Are you medications still on your plan’s list of covered medications?

The Week Ahead

Market participants will be busy assessing many things this week from geopolitics to earnings and more economic data. In the Middle East, the focus will be on how/if Israel escalates the conflict with a full ground invasion as it has warned. Oil markets have been paying close attention, particularly if the conflict escalates and involves other nations, due to the amount of production that comes from the Middle East region. In the US, the House still needs to elect a new Speaker with a government shutdown deadline just one month away. Economic data releases will include updates on the housing sector and more consumer spending data. The housing market index comes out Tuesday, housing starts and permits on Wednesday, and existing home sales on Thursday. Retail sales for September will be released Tuesday where economists are estimating sales rose 0.3%, which would be one of the smallest increases in months. We will also see manufacturing updates with the Empire State and Philly Fed manufacturing surveys, and industrial production. Fed speak will continue to be a big topic as well with many more policymakers lined up to speak this week including Chairman Powell on Thursday afternoon. Earnings reports will ramp up this week before entering the busiest period of the quarter next week. Notable companies reporting quarterly results this week include Charles Schwab on Monday, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Lockheed Martin on Tuesday, Tesla, Procter & Gamble, Netflix on Wednesday, Union Pacific, CSX, American Airlines, AT&T on Thursday, and American Express on Friday.