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20 February, 2023 - Higher interest rates for longer.


The slower drop in inflation and hawkish central bank comments, was the cocktail for the bond market to undergo another repricing last week. Before last week, the bond market was pricing a terminal rate lower than 5% despite the fact that the FED's projections were for the rate to go to 5.25%. And rate cuts were expected in the second half of the year. All this has changed for now. The bond market has come in-line with the FED, having priced in with certainty that the central bank will raise rates by 25 bp both in the March and May meetings. But it has also started pricing a rate increase in June and rate cuts in 2023 have disappeared from the pricing. In the Eurozone, investors are now pricing a terminal ECB rate as high as 3.85%, while they were expecting the central bank to stop around 3.25-3.50%.


The US and German yield curves moved higher by 20-25 basis points in response. The 10-year yield of US government bonds moved to 3.90%, from around 3.70% at the start of the week and compared to 3.80% at the start of the year. The German 10-year yield reached a new cycle high of 2.50%, slightly higher than the peak it reached at the end of last year and reversing the whole move of 2023. It is worth noting that the German 10-year had reached a low of 1.95% in mid-January, from which point it has moved higher by 55bp in one month. This represents about 4% drop in value.


Equity markets tried to stabilize, after dropping the previous week. Europe outperformed the US significantly, with the French market up 3% being the out-performer within the region while its peers moved higher by about 1% on average. The US indices were mostly unchanged after a volatile week. In terms of sectors, Energy dropped again by almost 5% as oil prices have failed to make any move higher despite the China re-opening and the narrative for a "soft-landing" rather than a recession in Europe and US. Consumer Staples, which include companies in the food, beverage and other defensive sectors, rose b 1.5%.


As already mentioned, the US inflation dropped in January at a slower pace than expected. The annual inflation edged down to 6.4% from 6.5% in December, but expectations were for a drop to 6.2%. The monthly change in January (+0.52%) was much higher than in November (+0.21%) or December (+0.13%) as gasoline prices pushed up inflation. The core CPI, which excludes energy and food prices, dropped to 5.6% from 5.7% in December, but again expectations were for a drop to 5.5%. All in all, this inflation report was disappointing for those (including ourselves) who believed in a steeper and quicker drop of inflation in the first months of the year.


The Producers Price Index (PPI) data were also much worse than expected. The January headline PPI was announced at +0.7% on a monthly basis vs consensus for a 0.4% rise and December's -0.2%. The annual rate of change was 6.0% vs 5.5% expected and 6.5% in December, which is still a downward move but much less pronounced than expectations. The Core PPI was up 0.5% on a monthly basis vs consensus for +0.3% and prior month's 0.3% increase. Overall, these data played into the theme of stickier inflation and higher rates for longer.


The US Retail Sales jumped by 3% in January, after 1% drops in both of the previous two months. The rise in sales was the largest since March 2021. However,we should note that the pattern of weakness in holiday-related spending (November/December) followed by an exaggerated rebound in January also occurred last year. And if what happened last year is any guide, retail sales' growth dropped significantly in the following months.


The US Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI) fell by 0.3 percent in January to 110.3 following a decline of 0.8 percent in December. The LEI is now down 3.6 percent over the six-month period between July 2022 and January 2023—a steeper rate of decline than its 2.4 percent contraction over the previous six-month period (January–July 2022). “Among the leading indicators, deteriorating manufacturing new orders, consumers’ expectations of business conditions, and credit conditions more than offset strengths in labor markets and stock prices to drive the index lower in the month", according to the report. The current level of this macro-economic index is consistent with a recession in the coming months, according to its history in the last decades.


The USD strengthened as the scenario of higher than anticipated rates helps the American currency vs its peers. The EURUSD dropped closer to 1.0600, a rather large move from the 1.1000 handle that we touched only two weeks ago. Gold has been a victim of higher interest rates and stronger USD. It has now fallen almost 7% in just three weeks, from a high of around 1950$ to the current 1820$ price.


As the company reporting season comes to an end, results have been underwhelming. Only 69% of the US companies beat expectations, which compares with the 5-year average of 77%. In aggregate, companies have been reporting 1% better revenues than expected, which compares with a 5-year average of 8% beat. Estimates for the 2023 profits of the S&P500 have fallen by almost 3% since the start of the year, and now the estimates represent a small 2.5% growth. Only a few months ago that expected growth in profits was 8%.


 

Chart of the Week :

Time to get defensive again in equities.



In the above chart by Kepler Chevreux the orange line represents the performance of the European cyclical stocks vs their defensive peers. The higher the orange line moves, the cyclical stocks (ie the economically sensitive companies like banks, autos, luxury etc) perform better in comparison to the defensive sectors (healthcare, food, utilities etc). When the orange line is falling the defensive stocks perform much better than the cyclicals. The blue line is the PMI manufacturing index which is a proxy for economic activity. We see very clearly that the current significant outperformance of the cyclical stocks has occured with only a small uptick in the PMI index and has reached levels that are almost consistent with the end of the recovery. And the recovery has not even been verified yet. What we do know is that a deep recession has for now been avoided in Europe, but an acceleration in growth has yet to be corroborated with actual data. It appears to be a good time to rebuild defensive equity positions again for the next few months, which will create significant returns, were the orange line to start moving lower again.


Disclaimer

• The content of this document has been produced from publicly available information as well as from internal research and rigorous efforts have been made to verify the accuracy and reasonableness of the hypotheses used. Although unlikely, omissions or errors might however happen.

• The data included in this document are based on past performances and do not constitute an indicator or a guarantee of future performances. Performances are not constant over time and can be positive or negative.

• This document is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument and it should not be considered as investment advice. The market valuations, views, and calculations contained herein are estimates only and are subject to change without notice. Any investment decision needs to be discussed with your advisor and cannot be based only on this document.

• This document is strictly confidential and should not be distributed further without the explicit consent of Kendra Securities House SA.

• Sources: Chart of the Week : Kepler Chevreux

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