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Wall Street caps worst week since start of coronavirus pandemic

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Stocks fell, capping the worst week since the outbreak of the pandemic roiled markets, with tech shares bearing the brunt of the selloff amid shaky company earnings and prospects for higher U.S. interest rates.

The S&P 500 closed below its 200-day moving average, a key technical level, for the first time since 2020. The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 slid the most among major benchmarks Friday, led by a more than 20% plunge in shares of streaming giant Netflix Inc. Bitcoin tumbled in an extended selloff for cryptocurrencies, briefly falling below $38,000 to its lowest level in more than five months.

Volatility that has gripped markets this month showed little sign of letting up Friday, with the S&P 500 falling for a fourth day, extending losses in the period to 5.7% for the worst, albeit shortened, week since March 2020. Option expirations of more than $3 trillion helped add to market turbulence.

“This is the longest short week, I think, in history, right?” Jay Pelosky, founder and president of TPW Investment Management, said on Bloomberg TV. “It’s only been a four-day week and it feels like it’s been two weeks rolled into one.”

The U.S. company reporting season so far has been uneven, highlighting the risk that it may fail to enliven animal spirits in the stock market. While Netflix’s disappointing subscriber outlook sent its shares tumbling, while Peloton Interactive Inc. suggested it was poised to rebound after the darling of the stay-at-home trade was hit by a report of temporary production halts.

Markets are also bracing for rate liftoff by the Federal Reserve. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect policy makers to raise interest rates in March for the first time in more than three years and shrink their balance sheet soon after. Geopolitical tensions are also adding to the jitters. A report that Washington is allowing some Baltic states to send U.S.-made weapons to Ukraine stoked concerns about a standoff with Russia.

“There are plenty of risks in the global economy, including geo-political events,” wrote Ethan Harris, head of global economics at Bank of America Global Research. “However, in our view, the biggest near-term risk is right in front of us: that the Fed is seriously behind the curve and has to get serious about fighting inflation.”

Demand for havens pushed the 10-year Treasury yield down more than 10 basis points in three days to 1.76%, leaving the rate lower on the week, the first decline for the period in five weeks.

The selloff in equity markets has volatility indexes pricing more turbulence near term than in the future. The setup, known as an inverted VIX. Such an inverted curve has occurred four other times in the past year and all coincided with market bottoms.

“We’re all going to breathe an extra sigh of relief once this session finally closes and then we can put an end to this week, because it’s been painful all around,” said Adam Phillips, managing director of Portfolio Strategy at EP Wealth Advisors in Torrance, California.

Some of the main moves in markets:

Stocks

  • The S&P 500 fell 1.9% as of 4 p.m. New York time
  • The Nasdaq 100 fell 2.7%
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.3%
  • The MSCI World index fell 1.8%

Currencies

  • The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index fell 0.1%
  • The euro rose 0.3% to $1.1345
  • The British pound fell 0.3% to $1.3557
  • The Japanese yen rose 0.4% to 113.68 per dollar

Bonds

  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries declined five basis points to 1.76%
  • Germany’s 10-year yield declined four basis points to -0.06%
  • Britain’s 10-year yield declined five basis points to 1.17%

Commodities

  • West Texas Intermediate crude fell 0.7% to $84.91 a barrel
  • Gold futures fell 0.7% to $1,832.70 an ounce

SOURCE: BLOOMBERG

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BUSINESS

US stocks suffer biggest daily drop in almost two years

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US stocks posted the biggest daily drop in almost two years as investors assess the impact of higher prices on earnings and prospects for monetary policy tightening on economic growth. The dollar and Treasuries gained amid a pickup in haven bids.

The selloff sent the S&P 500 down 4%, with the plunge in consumer shares surpassing 6%. Target Corp. tumbled more than 20% in its worst rout since 1987, after trimming its profit forecast due to a surge in costs. Shares of retailers from Walmart Inc. to Macy’s Inc. were caught in the downdraft. The Nasdaq 100 fell the most among major benchmarks, dropping more than 5% as growth-related tech stocks sank. Megacaps Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. slid at least 5%.

Treasuries rose across the board, sending the 10- and 30-year Treasury yields down as much as 11 basis points. The dollar rose against all of its Group-of-10 counterparts, except the yen and Swiss franc. Gold caught bids in the move into havens.

The benchmark S&P 500 is emerging from the longest weekly slump since 2011, but any rebounds in risk sentiment are proving fragile amid tightening monetary settings, Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s Covid lockdowns.

In some of his most hawkish remarks to date, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the US central bank will raise interest rates until there is “clear and convincing” evidence that inflation is in retreat. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said Wednesday he sees a half-point rate increase at next month’s meeting and “probably thereafter.”

In Europe, new-vehicle sales shrank for a 10th month in a row as the industry remains mired in supply-chain crises, while euro-area inflation plateaued at a record high. Meanwhile, UK inflation rose to its highest level since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister 40 years ago, adding to pressure for action from the government and central bank.

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Netflix lays off 150 employees due to slow revenue growth and business needs

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Netflix is reportedly laying off nearly 150 employees in the coming days due to disappointing earnings and slow revenue growth.

According to a Variety report, the Amazon Prime Video rival might also terminate its contract with contractual contributors.

The layoffs are about 2 per cent of Netflix’s US workforce. “As we explained [in reporting Q1] earnings, our slowing revenue growth means we are also having to slow our cost growth as a company. So sadly, we are letting around 150 employees go today, mostly U.S.-based,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

The statement further revealed that the decision was primarily driven by business needs rather than individual performance. Netflix reported $7.87 billion in Q1, which was short of Wall Street’s estimates of $7.93 billion.

The report further reveals that nearly 70 part-time employees in Netflix’s animation studio will have to pack up and leave. A report by The Verge stated that about 26 contractors working on Netflix’s fan-focused Tudum website might see a termination.

“A number of agency contractors have also been impacted by the news announced this morning. We are grateful for their contributions to Netflix,” the company said.

Netflix, in its recent earnings call, revealed that it lost thousands of subscribers, which is a first for the company in over a decade.

The company expects to lose an additional 2 million in the next quarter due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Netflix has shut shop in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Dollar breaks N600/$ ceiling ahead of party’s presidential primaries

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Less than two weeks to the presidential primaries of the political parties ahead of the 2023 elections, the US dollar has broken the N600/$ mark at the parallel market and set the tone for a possible uptick in the coming days.

The black market rate had traded between N570/$ and N590/$ since the beginning of the year while the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s intervention at the Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange (NAFEX) has kept its rate under N420/$.

With the latest slump of the naira, the arbitrage between the parallel and NAFEX, which is regarded as the official window, is now inching close to N200/$. The spread measures the deviation of the controlled official rate from the real rate of exchange, with experts calling for liberalisation of the market to enable naira to find its true value.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have also warned of the repercussions of sustaining an artificially high naira while calling on the CBN to embark on market reform.

But the CBN has maintained that Nigeria, with the current high level of importation and underperformance of the industrial sector, cannot afford to float the naira completely as the exchange rate could spill out of control.

At the Lagos street market, yesterday, naira traded between N595/$ and N600/$ band. With the presidential primaries of the two leading political parties scheduled for Abuja next weekend, there is an expectation the demand pressure has not peaked, suggesting that naira is in for a protracted pressure.

At peer-to-peer (P2P) trading platforms, the dollar has been trading above N600 in the past three weeks, which had signaled that the black market rate could break through the psychological ceiling.

With that eventually happening, naira could be on a renewed free fall.

But there is also hope that it is a season to offload warehoused hard currencies for political campaigns to possibly shore up supply.

Experts are not sure where rising demand and supply of foreign exchange would lead the naira to, but the interplay between the movements of the two variables is a key factor in predicting the value of the naira in the tense political season. Godwin Owoh, a professor of applied economics, advised Nigerians to prepare for a steeper fall of the local currency, saying partisan politics and intra-party meetings, which are highly dollarised would bring much pressure to bear.

The CBN has promised to continue to protect the naira but its ability could be constrained by the equally falling reserve. For the first time in eight months, the gross reserves dropped below N39 billion on Monday, when CBN data put the figures at N38.92 billion. Effectively, the country’s reserves have depleted by $160 billion year-to-date.

Bismarck Rewane, an economist, had projected the reserve to collapse to $32 billion in the year as he expected the CBN to spend $8 to $10 billion defending the naira, which is taking much pressure from excessive importation.

The value of Nigeria’s imports increased by 64 per cent last year to N20.84 trillion. Sadly, the value of exports increased at a slower rate – 51 per cent – to N18. 91 trillion in the same period. The falling reserves and rising imports have put the apex bank in dire straits in its efforts to continue to defend the naira.

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