It is the end of January, so time for the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF), and Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde are among this year’s big-name speakers.
But Davos was not spared the pandemic hit; instead of gathering at the Swiss ski resort, the world’s great and good will do so virtually.
With the global economy deep in crisis, there is no shortage of topics: soaring unemployment and debt levels, growing income inequality and climate change.
And, like everyone else, the WEF is pinning hopes on normality returning – it plans a face-to-face meeting in Singapore in May.
Outpaced by a late-2020 surge in so-called value stocks, tech shares have roared back amid the pandemic’s unrelenting march. That is reflected in recent hefty gains for Russell’s 1000 “growth” index versus its value counterpart.
The gains could extend when Apple, Microsoft and Facebook report earnings. Also on deck is Tesla, which recently joined the S&P 500.
The results could push the combined market capitalisation of the FAANGs – Facebook, Amazon, AAPL Netflix and Google-parent Alphabet – back above their all-time peak of $6.16 trillion.
Netflix has done its part; robust subscription numbers reported on Jan. 19 have boosted its shares 17%. Now there are high expectations for the rest. Morgan Stanley has boosted the price target for Apple, declaring themselves “buyers ahead of what we expect to be a record December quarter print”. Microsoft reports on Jan. 26, followed by Apple, Facebook and Tesla a day later.
RED ENVELOPE FOR HONG KONG
Record amounts of Chinese money are flowing into Hong Kong stocks, pushing the Hang Seng index above the 30,000 mark, making it a global top performer and putting a floor under Chinese companies blacklisted by Washington.
The inflows have also pushed Hong Kong interbank rates to multi-year lows, meaning authorities may not even need to inject cash, as they usually do in the run-up to February’s Lunar New Year holiday.
An upcoming $5 billion IPO from Chinese online video company Kuaishou may draw in even more mainland money.
For a city rocked by pro-democracy unrest since 2019, this endorsement of its markets is a positive. Unless, that is, one views this as another sign of China’s growing political and financial stranglehold on the special administrative region.
DRIVING OUT EUROPE INC BLUES
Europe’s STOXX 600 firms are expected to report a 26% earnings drop during the Q4 season which has just got under way. But that is history – let’s look instead at the January-March 2021 season when a 44% profit jump is predicted.
Such a surge seems intriguing given new continent-wide lockdowns. The explanation lies in consumer cyclicals, which Refinitiv I/B/E/S predicts will post an eye-popping 3,118% profit gain, versus the pandemic doldrums of Q1 2020.
Drilling down to single stocks, Daimler (1,471%), Fiat Chrysler, now Stellantis (177%) and Volkswagen (602%) turn out to be the largest contributors. Carmakers have seen their biggest earnings revisions in a decade and boosting shares to 14-month highs.
The coming week brings prelimary Q4 GDP data from France, Spain and Germany. Okay, the data is outdated and we already know the first quarter will show an activity dip from lockdown extensions. But let’s not be too hasty in dismissing the end-2020 numbers.
If the economies fared better than expected, it provides a cushion for the blow coming this quarter – that is the conclusion some reached after 2020 growth in powerhouse Germany turned out less bad than feared.
Also pay attention to Germany’s January inflation numbers, out Thursday. Those could show that a reversal in VAT cuts is easing the downward pressure on prices. In short, amid the pain inflicted by lockdowns, some positives might well lurk.