More signs of a tight labour market, the RBA changes their tune, and US earnings season commences...

Last week US weekly jobless claims fell to 166,000, the lowest level since 1968. This was well below estimates of 200,000. To add further perspective to this, the current population of the US is 333 million, whereas it was just 201 million in 1968. There were a lot less people back then to make a jobless claim.

There are currently around 5 million more employment openings than there are available workers, which is something that is putting upward pressure on wages. The number of Americans quitting jobs was also historically high, as a part of the so-called great resignation. This is in part due to the tight labour market conditions where they can more easily shift jobs rather than putting up with their job dissatisfaction.

Due to the tight labour market, as well as other strong economic indicators, the Federal Reserve is upping the ante in their language on monetary policy. Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) minutes released last week reveal that many Fed officials are signalling for half-point (0.5%) rate hikes, in a sign of admission that they may be behind the curve in catching up on elevated prices whilst they were waiting for the economy to recover.

Staying on the topic of central banks, the RBA met last week. The thing about RBA statements is that sometimes it’s more about what they didn’t say than what they actually said. The most glaring omission was the RBA dropping its use of the word “patience” when it comes to hiking rates. This gave a signal that the RBA is looking towards June this year for its first rate rise. This view has been backed up by leading banks such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Macquarie, Commonwealth Bank and others.

RBA Governor Lowe’s statement conveyed that he has seen strong indications that wages were picking up across the country. This is significant as wages has been a key emphasis in Lowe’s statements for the past 6 months, in which he has held the view that it was only with wage increases would he confirm that inflation is persistent enough for the RBA to justify a rate rise.

When this happens, it will be the first rate rise since November 2010. It is interesting to note that RBA Assistant Governor Chris Kent said that the increased spending in the pre-election federal budget delivered by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was “one factor” pushing up inflation.

Rate rises around election time can be a disaster for incumbent governments, in which this time the Coalition government needed to balance out this fear with their need to announce spending to win votes. Although a rate rise in May can’t be ruled out, luckily for the Government it seems that the probability of this will be low. The election is scheduled for May 21.

Looking ahead to this week, we will be looking at a few key economic indicators. The Australian economy is expected to add 40,000 jobs in March, with the unemployment rate expected to be 3.9%. This would be a boon for the government, who were hoping for a ‘3’ in front of the unemployment rate this year. It looks like that this might finally happen, just as the election campaign gets underway. If the figure comes out as forecasted, expect this to be repeated over and over by the government during their campaign.

Over in the US, the expected print for core CPI in March is expected to be 0.5% month-on-month growth. Retail sales are expected to grow 0.6% month-on-month in March.

With all the economic updates recently, it’s somewhat of a relief to say that earnings season in the US is back. This is the opportunity for analysts such as myself to dig through the earnings reports to see how economic developments have affected the actual earnings of companies, and what company management thinks of it. Furthermore, these reports will also reveal company specific performance, and we are looking the confirm that our holdings maintain their excellent fundamentals and will be resilient to top-down impacts in the long-term.

As always, earnings season in the US kicks off with the banks. Rate cycles have quite the impact on banks with retail lending arms given that they lend based on… you guessed it, interest rates.

Lending institutions borrow from customers in the short term through deposits, and they use these funds to give out longer term loans to other customers (such as mortgages). With the yield curve being very flat, this actually is not ideal for these banks as they don’t earn as large of a margin, so we will be interested to see any commentary on this by the CEOs. Rate rises also affects the investment banks in numerous ways.

Here is a summary of earnings per share (EPS) and revenue forecasts for some of the financial institutions reporting:

  • JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM): $2.75 EPS and $30.76 billion revenue

  • Citigroup (NYSE: C): $1.66 EPS and $18.42 billion revenue

  • Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC): $0.82 EPS and $17.85 billion revenue

  • Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS): $1.87 EPS and $14.82 billion revenue

  • Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS): $9.81 EPS and $12.54 billion revenue

  • BlackRock (NYSE: BLK): $9.15 EPS and $4.77 billion revenue

Apart from the financials, healthcare behemoth UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) is reporting. UNH is 5th on the Fortune 500, meaning that is the 5th largest company by revenue listed in the US. We will be interested to see how the omicron variant has impacted results as we believe this company to be highly resilient and stable. UnitedHealth is expected to report earnings per share of $5.35 and revenue of $75.65 billion for the quarter. Notice how this revenue figure is far larger than even a banking giant such as JPMorgan.

Interesting Finance Fact

The first multinational company to issue stocks was the Dutch East India Company, created in 1602. This led to the establishment of the first modern stock exchange in 1611, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.

The Dutch East India Company had a juicy dividend yield of 16%. Even if you weren’t a dividend investor it would be pretty questionable to pass up on that!

Have a great week,

Sam Waldron - Research Analyst

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