Robert Swift takes a look at the US corporate results season to provide a quick update on corporate America. He has noticed a similarity in the commentary coming out of a lot of big companies; is it worth worrying about or should we listen to the Fed?
Recent results for Q1 have generally been very good, especially in operationally leveraged businesses such as UPS, FDX, UNP. Also striking is the commentary from ‘old school’ companies that actually make things. Order books are generally good, margins are holding and capital investment expansion plans are being prepared (which we think a good thing). Results from HON, PCAR, PWR JCI have beaten on revenue, earnings or both. Euphoria is almost tangible along with complacency.
We own many of these companies. UPS has outperformed AMZN over the last twelve months so you really should remember that there is a diverse choice out there.
Prices however are another issue and that is the point of this update. Both input and selling prices are under upward pressure and it is pretty clear that the end user is going to be asked to pay more in the future if not already. We cite a collect of recent comments from USA companies below:-
We know that The Fed isn’t going to say “gee we’re worried about inflation and inflation expectations” because they have about 55% of the USA debt pile maturing in the next 3 years, and they don’t want to pay more interest by spooking the bond market. So if you ask a central banker whether they’re worried about inflation you should remember the Mandy Rice Davies’ response in the Profumo affair. You won’t get an honest answer. To check out what inflation is probably currently under way check out Shadow Stats.
Chart by permission below.
Inflation matters because it will set the clearing price of the longer term treasury notes and bonds which in turn serve as the discounting mechanism for future dividends and earnings from stocks. As yields rise, future cash flows become relatively less certain and valuable which means dividend yields and true earnings will matter. Already the market is waking up to this fact and the SPAC craze appears to be under pressure with a large number of them now trading below their issue price.
Inflation and Regulation are the two big killers of bull markets and we have both coming to the party.
Simply put, we may well be in 1968 all over again when President Johnson had just introduced his ‘Great Society’ with policies on Clean Air, Education, Infrastructure, and Civil Rights. Sound familiar? He of course had to pay for the Vietnam war too and we now pay for the war on Covid. This era ended with a nasty commodity shock, the peaking of the ’Nifty Fifty’ on the stock market and some pretty poor returns for a decade or more.
It’s not too late to return to sound money, and inflation may well prove to be transitory, but it will be going up soon and will test the market’s nerves. We think that Chairman Powell is subtly trying to wean the stock market off the opium of forever easy money. This is essential if painful for some such as overleveraged hedge funds and companies.
For example, his purchases of bonds and mortgages per month have remained static in $ terms even as the deficits have ballooned under the spending plans. He did not even hint that Archegos or Greensill required general bailouts despite billion dollar losses, and so far he has explicitly failed to mention Yield Curve Control.
We could be wrong – we often are. But you may want to invest as if we are wrong? Why?
If we’re wrong it may seem like a free money party but such things won’t last because if something can’t go on forever it won’t. Thus inflation will become embedded; bond yields will rise more than they have to and we may see a return to the era of controlled capital allocation starting with yield curve control. This will be worse than taking the medicine now.
In which case be defensive with duration. Favour small caps over large ones since government regulation is always aimed at large company practices (will AMZN ever pay a decent amount of tax?), and favour earnings and cash flow over concepts and high multiples.
Markets & Commentary
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TAMIM Asset Management provides general information to help you understand our investment approach. Any financial information we provide is not advice, has not considered your personal circumstances and may not be suitable for you.