Jun 12, 2019

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

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Situational awareness:

  • CFTC Commissioner Rostin Behnam says financial risks from climate change are comparable to the mortgage meltdown that triggered the 2008 financial crisis. (NYT)
  • Sprint stock fell 6% Tuesday after Democratic attorneys general from 9 states and D.C. sued to block T-Mobile's $26.5 billion proposed takeover. (Bloomberg)
  • Juul said its Q1 sales were $528 million in a letter to investors, an increase of about 23% from the previous quarter's revenue. (Bloomberg)
  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Hong Kong stormed roads next to government offices in another day of protest, following an estimated 1 million who rallied against the proposed extradition bill over the weekend. (Reuters)
1 big thing: Greece's epic 2019

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Greek assets have been on fire this year, and more particularly in the past 2 weeks as investors position for a more business-friendly government to take the reins from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Why it matters: After years of being viewed as a market pariah — thrice bailed out by its eurozone creditors, limping from one austerity budget to the next — Greece last year began its road to economic recovery, with "positive developments" noted by an IMF monitor. (Though it is still the fund's 3rd largest borrower after Argentina and Ukraine.)

Driving the news: Tsipras' far-left Syriza party suffered massive defeats in European Parliament elections on May 26, and the government called for snap elections by June 30.

  • Greece's benchmark stock exchange has surged 38% year-to-date and an MSCI collection of its largest companies has gained 28%, outpacing every major stock index in the world, data from FactSet shows. Much of that has come in the weeks since the May 26 ballot.

The big picture: Bonds globally have performed well, but Greece has seen particularly rousing returns. Yields on 10-year notes fell to record lows after the election results and have continued to drop. (Yields fall as prices rise.)

  • The yield spread between 10-year Greek government debt and its German equivalent has fallen to just 300 basis points, even with German yields at all-time lows well below 0%.
  • Greece's 5-year government bond yields earlier this month were lower than comparable Italian bonds for the first time since 2008.

"The decline since the start of the year is remarkable, with Datastream data showing that the yield dipped below 2% for the first time since the series started in 1997," analysts at Fathom Consulting note.

  • It's all the more impressive given that Greece issued a 10-year bond with a yield of around 3.9% in March.
  • GDP has returned to growth, rising an estimated 2.1% in 2018 with an IMF forecast of 2.4% in 2019 after years of declines.

Yes, but: Greece's economic numbers have not been spectacular all around. Its current account deficit rose significantly in March and its unemployment rate remains an elevated 18% — well below the 28.4% record high reported in February 2014, but still almost double 2009 levels of 9.7%.

Bonus: A Greek fortune
Expand chart

Data: FactSet; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

What's next? The initial market move following the European Parliamentary elections was impressive, but Greek assets have managed to maintain their bid for all of June. The stock performance is particularly impressive given a massive selloff in April and May ahead of the elections.

  • "The market will now cheer a clear [center-right] New Democracy win, hoping that a new administration will tilt the fiscal mix towards a more growth-friendly manner, and be much better at attracting investment, including much-needed foreign direct investment," Thanassis Drogossis, head of equities at Athens-based Pantelakis Securities wrote in a note to clients, according to Bloomberg.
2. The staggering impact of falling coffee prices
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Data: Investing.com; Chart: Axios Visuals

Global coffee prices staged a small rally at the end of May, rising by around 10% as they bounced off a 15-year low of $0.867 per pound.

However, that rally was short-lived and has since reversed, including a 6.2% fall for futures prices last Wednesday. Now coffee is again trading below $1 a pound, less than half the value it fetched 5 years ago, because of a flood of beans from leading producer Brazil, which is falling into recession and has seen its real currency weaken.

  • In an unusual market twist, the falling prices of coffee beans could lead to higher coffee prices for Western consumers.

What's happening: "Many growers around the world are having to abandon their farms or turn to illicit crops such as coca. This, in turn, is casting doubt over the future sustainability of supplies — and could, ultimately, prove costly for consumers," Chelsea Bruce-Lockhart and Emiko Terazono of the Financial Times write.

  • "Consumers might assume that at least part of any price increase for their morning cup of coffee is passed on to the farmer. But in an everyday £2.50 [$3.18] brew, the coffee itself accounts for just 4 per cent of the cost, or about 10p, while rent, labour and tax make up three-quarters of the overall price, according to consultancy firm Allegra Strategies."

The Washington Post's Kevin Sieff points out that coffee's downturn also is adding to the historic flow of migrants to the U.S. from Central America, another major coffee bean hub.

"Since 2017, most farmers have been operating at a loss, even as many sell their beans to some of the world’s best-known specialty-coffee brands.

  • "A staggering number of those farmers have decided to migrate."
3. Beyond Meat's wild ride
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Data: Investing.com; Chart: Axios Visuals

JPMorgan's downgrade of pretend meat purveyor Beyond Meat to Neutral from Buy was credited for the stock's 25% plunge Tuesday.

  • The stock had risen 600% from its IPO price of $25 a share by Monday and was more than 65% above the average Wall Street 12-month price target of $103.85 a share.

What they said: ""[T]his downgrade is purely a valuation call," JPMorgan equity strategists wrote in a note to clients.

  • "We believe the company's growth opportunity, strong management, and near-term ability to post financials that exceed Street expectations are balanced by a valuation higher than what we are comfortable with."
  • "We value the BYND shares using a discounted cash flow analysis that indicates $121 fair value. Thus, we raise our December 2019 price target to $121 from $120 (our financial estimates are unchanged; the increased target reflects lower interest rates)."
4. U.S. lags in socially responsible investing

Global sustainable investment reached $30.7 trillion at the start of 2018, an increase of 34% over the past 2 years, according to a new survey from UBS.

The study found:

  • Europe has the highest proportion (82%) of asset owners already active in the ESG space.
  • In Asia, Oceania and Africa, integration is 76%; these regions also have the largest number of "adopters" who are intending to integrate ESG factors going forward.
  • The U.S. drags with 68% of asset owners who say they incorporate ESG into their investment thesis vs 11% who say they do not.

Interestingly, 63% of survey respondents are not signatories to the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment.

  • "When talking with our large institutional clients, we increasingly see a changing attitude towards Sustainable Investing," said Michael Baldinger, head of sustainable and impact investing at UBS Asset Management, in a statement. "This latest research confirms our conviction: no longer a 'nice to have', it's now a 'must have.'"

Methodology: The survey interviewed 613 respondents in 47 different countries who collectively manage more than $19 trillion, UBS said in the report.

Dion Rabouin

Mike will sit down with former Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), whose district's economy relies on cross-border trade, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) on the way the farming state has been impacted by tariffs, and president of the U.S.-China Business Council Craig Allen to discuss U.S. trade policy and the news of the day. RSVP here.