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Wall Street’s volatility streak continues as stocks close lower

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Wall Street gyrated wildly on Thursday, the S&P 500 once again narrowly avoiding correction confirmation at the end of a session marked by a rally, selloff and recovery as investors juggled positive economic news with mixed corporate earnings, geopolitical unrest and the prospect of a more hawkish US Federal Reserve.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 7.31 points, or 0.02 percent, to close at 34,160.78. The S&P 500 lost 23.42 points, or 0.54 percent, to end the session at 4,326.51 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 189.34 points, or 1.4 percent, to 13,352.78.

All three major United States stock indexes have been whipsawed by uncertainty in recent days, marked by wide fluctuations and heightened volatility.

Small-caps have had a rougher go of it, with the Russell 2000 now more than 20 percent below its November 8 record high, officially confirming the index has been in a bear market since then.

“This is a market that is schizophrenic,” said Tim Ghriskey, senior portfolio strategist at Ingalls & Snyder in New York. “There are those who believe everything negative has been discounted and there are others who believe that the worst is yet to come.”

“It’s a period of a lot of uncertainty; it’s been this way all month,” Ghriskey added.

Among a spate of economic data released on Thursday, the US Department of Commerce’s advance take on fourth-quarter gross domestic product shows the US economy in 2021 grew at its fastest pace in nearly four decades.

Markets seesawed following the release on Wednesday of a statement from the Fed Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee, which left key interest rates near zero, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s subsequent Q&A session during which he appeared to raise the possibility of more rate hikes this year than previously expected, beginning in March.

The fed funds futures market now prices in nearly five rate hikes this year in the wake of Powell’s remarks.

Geopolitical tensions simmered, as Russia continues to build up troops along the Ukrainian border and diplomats scramble to avoid conflict in the region.

Fourth-quarter reporting season has hit full stride, with 145 of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported. Of those, 79 percent have delivered consensus-beating results, according to Refinitiv data.

Analysts now see, on aggregate, year-on-year fourth-quarter earnings growth of 24.2 percent for the S&P 500, per Refinitiv.

“The numbers and especially the guidance has not been that inspiring and that’s a factor that’s been limiting the upside so far this week,” said Chuck Carlson, chief executive officer at Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana.

Supply-chain challenges, the engine driving inflation through the recovery from the global health crisis, have been a recurring theme this earnings season.

Intel Corp cited that issue as the reason behind its disappointing first-quarter earnings forecast, which sent its shares tumbling.

Intel’s dismal outlook weighed on the broader sector, sending the Philadelphia SE semiconductor index sharply lower.

Shares of Tesla Inc dropped after the company warned that supply issues will last throughout 2022. Shares of rivals Lucid Group and Rivian Automotive also ended sharply lower.

Netflix Inc jumped following news that billionaire investor William Ackman has amassed a new $1bn stake in the company.

Apple Inc results were expected after the market close.

SOURCE: REUTERS

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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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