Financial and Economic News: January 10, 2024Jan 10, 2024
This week's financial focus centers on the highly anticipated U.S. Consumer Inflation Report for December. The report, which will include things like the U.S. Core CPI, Producer Price Index, and trade figures, promises to shape market sentiment and influence policy decisions and monetary policy. Additionally, brace for the kickoff of the fourth-quarter earnings season, including reports from major players like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, UnitedHealth, BlackRock, Bank of NY Mellon, and Delta Air Lines. Analysts, led by Goldman Sachs, are expressing optimism that S&P 500 firms will surpass expectations. The spotlight is also on U.S. Consumer Credit data, with economists forecasting a November increase of $9B, which will impact things like spending patterns and overall economic growth. In the bond markets, you should keep a close watch on U.S. 10-year rates, which could pivot from their current 4.022% rate, depending on how investors are feeling in the new year. As always, the outcomes of these economic indicators and earnings reports may sway international markets.
China’s Economic Jitters
Meanwhile, over in China, the Shanghai Composite Index (SHCOMP) recorded a -1.42% dip, reflecting concerns about the country’s economic path, in light of struggling government stimulus efforts and growing geopolitical tensions. Notably, the technology sector led the market decline, alongside a slump in Hong Kong-listed mainland developers. China's securities regulator has also recently shifted their policy, which now permits mutual fund managers to sell more shares than they buy. And if you’ve been paying close enough attention, this is a reversal of last year's ban aimed at supporting the struggling stock market. Meanwhile, corporate developments China Evergrande New Energy Vehicle Group saw a HUGE -6% decline after its vice chairman was arrested on suspicion of illegal activities. Amidst a recent global stock rally, investors are turning their attention to forthcoming Chinese inflation and trade data, which will be an indication of where things are headed.
Tech Giants Move to Saudi
In the Middle East, tech giants like Amazon., Google, and Microsoft are significantly expanding their presence in Saudi Arabia. This is happening in response to Saudi Arabia's initiative to address 'economic leakage' by mandating these companies to establish regional headquarters in the country. This strategic move seamlessly aligns with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's push to streamline government spending, especially for foreign companies. I know you’re probably wondering what’s in it for them? Well, the Saudi government sweetened the deal by offering enticing incentives, including massive tax breaks for firms choosing Riyadh for their regional bases. While the details are still being worked out, other industry leaders like Bechtel, and PwC have already designated Riyadh as their regional headquarters. This orchestrated shift is a vital element of Saudi Arabia's broader economic strategy, which aims to reshape its economic landscape, attract international investment, and position itself as a central commercial and tourism hub. As major corporations adjust their strategies, the global business community is closely watching this paradigm shift in the Middle East.
Power Surge for Northvolt
Northvolt AB (a Swedish electric car battery developer) has gained EU approval for nearly a billion euros to establish a plant in Germany. The German aid includes a €700 million direct grant and a €202 million guarantee. Originally considering a U.S. plant under President Biden's green subsidy program, Northvolt's move aligns with Europe's strategic response to global competition. Margrethe Vestager, the EU's competition commissioner, noted the historic nature of the German deal, the first individual aid approved to protect a European investment. Criticizing the EU's state aid framework, countries like Germany argue it impedes strategic investments in globally competitive firms. Endorsed under relaxed EU state funding rules from March 2023, the German support package advances the broader goal of accelerating the bloc's transition to a net-zero emissions economy, and will also be vital to job creation.
CEO Greed Reaches Stunning New Heights
Denise Coates, founder and joint CEO of Bet365 Group, received a shocking raise to a £220.7 million annual salary. If that sounds like a huge pay increase, the crazy part is that's only 3.4% more than she was paid last year. Unsurprisingly, this development raises eyebrows, especially because the company's reported pretax operating loss was £72.6 million last year, a significant drop from their previous year's profit of £49.8 million. This disparity between executive compensation and the company's financial struggles is making a lot of people (especially me as a business owner) ask questions about fairness and corporate governance. Bet365's financial challenges, which were attributed to escalating costs in new market ventures, add complexity to discussions surrounding their CEO’s pay increase. For context, the UK’s median CEO pay is just £3.8 million! And given that Coates owns over 58% of the company's shares, this situation underscores the importance of transparent compensation structures aligned with long-term company success. This should be a real wake up call to employees and shareholders everywhere to ask difficult questions about their companies and stay informed about what’s going on ‘upstairs’.
Chile’s Spicy Rate Cut Expectations
Over in Chile, consumer prices took an unexpected dive in December. At a reduction of 0.5%, it’s the most significant monthly decline in over a decade. As a result, the country has seen swap rates shift downward and are expecting aggressive interest rate cuts to follow. Annual inflation also eased to 3.9%, aligning with the central bank's projection toward the 3% target. Set for a substantial rate cut at the upcoming Jan. 31 meeting, the central bank attributes this unforeseen drop to weakened consumer demand and sluggish economic growth. Analysts are now speculating that the surprising December downturn increases the likelihood of rate cuts exceeding 75 basis points. Reflecting these expectations, two-year swap rates took a nosedive to 4.97%, the lowest since November 2021. The peso also experienced a notable decline, raising concerns that monetary policy may lag behind the evolving inflation landscape.
Euro-Zone Wealth Inequality Gap Narrows
Meanwhile, the European Central Bank (ECB) recently unveiled the results of an eight-year research project, which sheds light on the evolving landscape of wealth inequality in euro-zone households. While net wealth inequality persists, a noteworthy shift has occurred over the last five years. The share held by the top 5% has marginally decreased compared to the bottom 50%, showing signs of progress. And while the wealthiest households still hold over 43%, the median net wealth has seen a remarkable 40% increase. One key driver of this positive trend is the housing market, which has benefitted over 60% of the population. Homeowners experienced a significant 27% surge in net wealth, driven by rising house prices, while non-homeowners saw a 17% growth, mainly due to increased deposits. The ECB, however, warns that a reversal in house prices could potentially worsen inequality. In total, euro-zone household net wealth has soared by 29%, reaching an impressive €13.7 trillion ($15 trillion).
Budget Breakthrough: US Congress Strikes Bipartisan Deal
Here in the U.S., a bipartisan agreement has been reached in Congress on an overall budget totaling $1.7 trillion, setting the stage for further government funding deals in the coming weeks. This compromise, announced on Sunday, outlines funding limits for both military and domestic programs for the current fiscal year, which began on October 1. Negotiated by Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the accord allocates $886 billion for defense and nearly $773 billion for non-defense expenses. Despite Johnson celebrating $16 billion in extra spending cuts beyond the debt agreement terms, fiscal conservatives remain concerned, raising the prospect of a funding lapse. A swift resolution is critical, as federal funding for several departments expires on January 19, and a broader government shutdown looms on February 2.
Bitcoin Surges to 21 Month High
In the crypto world, Bitcoin recently surged above $47,000, reaching its highest point since April 2022. This spike is fueled by widespread anticipation of U.S. regulators approving exchange-traded funds (ETFs) directly linked to the digital currency. Notable financial entities, including BlackRock, Ark, Fidelity, and others, submitted amended forms to the SEC to make a final push to introduce Bitcoin ETFs. Analysts predict the SEC could make decisions on these applications as early as January 10 (today). However, SEC Chair Gary Gensler continues to warn about the risks associated with investing in cryptocurrency. So looking ahead, investors may see opportunities in this new arena, but heightened regulatory scrutiny and potential market volatility underscore the need for caution.
Big Pharma’s Spending Spree
Finally, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Boston Scientific collectively spent $6.4 billion during a major buying spree at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. In particular, J&J committed to a $2 billion deal to acquire Ambrx Biopharma, which focuses on therapies targeting tumors with lethal drugs. Meanwhile, Merck announced a $680 million purchase of cancer drugmaker Harpoon Therapeutics, who are known for their immune system-targeted cancer treatments. And last but not least, Boston Scientific entered a $3.7 billion acquisition of device-maker Axonics. Amid changing market dynamics in the pharmaceutical industry, some are navigating these challenges through mergers and acquisitions. It will be interesting to see how these business deals affect their ability to attract other investors as these newly acquired technologies continue to evolve.
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