Feb 3, 2020

Axios Markets

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🎙🇲🇱 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly." - See who said it and why it matters at the bottom.

1 big thing: The global economic threat of the coronavirus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The novel coronavirus has the potential to be as damaging to the global economy as the U.S.-China trade war, economists tell Axios, and if not contained could wreak havoc on businesses across the globe, with great uncertainty over how bad things could get.

Why it matters: The epicenter of the virus is China, which is now the world's top trading nation and largest commodity buyer, and the no. 1 trading partner for many of the world's biggest economies, including Germany and Japan, which both are already suffering from anemic growth.

  • Economists worry the fallout could crimp China's economy, potentially cutting its 2020 growth by tens of billions of dollars and dragging global GDP back to 2019 levels (the worst level of growth since the global financial crisis).
  • Europe, Asia and the Americas also will suffer.

State of play: "If this virus begins to mutate rapidly so that it becomes increasingly more difficult to find a cure for it, that would be extremely alarming," Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group, tells Axios.

  • "And if [the World Health Organization] declares it as a pandemic, that too will have a depressing effect on the global economy because countries will put in certain limitations on commerce, on trade, and that will obviously slow down growth."

The big picture: The global manufacturing sector is already in recession in advanced countries like the U.S. and eurozone, and the coronavirus outbreak is threatening the services sector.

  • A swath of industries already have felt the sting, with American companies ranging from Starbucks, Levi Strauss and Disney to Apple, Google and JPMorgan shutting down operations in China or halting production and banning employee travel.

Between the lines: Fed chair Jerome Powell demurred action from the U.S. central bank at last week's January policy meeting, but his hand (and that of other central bankers) may be forced, Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at tax and consulting firm RSM, tells Axios.

  • "If this continues for another week or two, we will begin debating fresh central bank action to put a floor under asset markets."

Yes, but: The fact that the outbreak originated in China may just be what helps keeps it contained, Foster Finley, global co-leader of the transportation and infrastructure practice AlixPartners, tells Axios.

  • “As much as we Westerners like to wag fingers at authoritarian China, this is one of those rare circumstances where the manner China could go after this may be pretty effective.”

Go deeper: What's happening with the coronavirus

2. Catch up quick

The Shanghai Composite Index fell by nearly 8%, losing around $375 billion in value and touching a one-year low in the first day of trading since the Lunar New Year holiday. (Wall Street Journal)

China's central bank lowered reverse repo rates and injected a record 1.2 trillion yuan ($173.8 billion) into markets to ensure ample liquidity Monday. (Reuters)

The number of U.S. farm bankruptcies rose for the fifth straight year, jumping 20% in 2019 to an eight-year high. (Reuters)

Manufacturing activity in the Midwest sank last month from its already weak levels in December to the worst reading since December 2015. (MarketWatch)

3. Earnings still on pace for 4th straight negative quarter

Strong earnings reports from buzzy tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft have dominated headlines, but the numbers for the broader market remain negative.

What's happening: With 45% of S&P companies having reported earnings, FactSet estimates an overall earnings decline of 0.3% for the quarter.

  • That's smaller than the 1.8% decline its analysis showed during the previous week.

By the numbers: The percentage of companies that have reported actual EPS above estimates is 69%, below the five-year average.

  • In aggregate, companies are reporting earnings that are 4.1% above the estimates, which is also below the five-year average.
  • 65% of companies have reported actual sales above estimates, which is higher than the five-year average.

Between the lines: IT and consumer discretionary companies have delivered the greatest positive earnings surprises, offsetting weakness in the industrials sector.

4. Jim Cramer jolts fossil fuel divestment debate
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Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Axios' Ben Geman writes: CNBC money pundit Jim Cramer is an unlikely new avatar for climate activists with his take on Big Oil's financial future. In short, he thinks they're screwed.

Catch up fast: Cramer made waves Friday with his response to ExxonMobil and Chevron's glum earnings reports...

  • “I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done," he said, later adding, "We are in the death knell phase" and citing divestments by "a lot of different funds."
  • Cramer said fossil fuels' market prognosis is now untethered from their fundamentals. He cited "new kinds of money managers who frankly just want to appease younger people who believe that you can’t ever make a fossil fuel company sustainable."

Where it stands: The comments excited divestment advocates like Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who seized on the comments from an analyst outside the activist ranks.

  • "Why are Wall Street investors getting scared of fossil fuel stocks?" Sanders tweeted.
  • "Because the climate justice movement is making it clear that political pressure for divestment will not stop. It will only grow stronger."

The big picture: Friday's results sent the stocks of Exxon — already at a decade-low after several tough years — and Chevron downward. It's just the latest sign of the sector's waning market performance.

  • Bloomberg analyst Liam Denning notes that energy's weighting in the S&P 500 index last week fell below 4% for the first time in at least four decades.
  • Exxon fell out of the S&P's top 10 for the first time last summer — a sign of its declining market value, especially relative to other huge corporations.

My thought bubble: The oil companies are underperforming, so they're much easier to drop. And because the Dow and S&P 500 haven't dropped them, firms and asset managers can outperform the market and claim it's all an effort to be woke on the environment and sustainability.

5. Super Bowl ads now more about brand values than brands
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Data: Axios research, Ad Age; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Axios' Rashaan Ayesh and Sara Fischer report: More advertisers bought pricey Super Bowl ads this year to sell you on their values, rather than their products.

Driving the news: Advertisers ranging from beverage to skin care companies aired ads that featured values ranging from social justice to support for small business.

  1. Budweiser ran a 60-second ad supporting "typical Americans." The ad has caused some controversy for showcasing footage from the 2016 Charlotte Uprising protests, which began after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
  2. Microsoft ran a 60-second ad profiling San Francisco 49ers coach Katie Sowers, the first woman to coach an NFL team.
  3. Olay ran a 30-second ad mocking the notion there isn't enough space in space exploration for women. The ad comes almost a year after NASA had to postpone the first all-female spacewalk because there weren't enough properly sized spacesuits for the two women. Every tweet will be matched by a $1 donation to Girls Who Code.
  4. Squarespace ran a 30-second ad as part of a campaign featuring Winona Ryder heading back to the small Midwestern town of Winona that she's named after. The ad aims to shed light on American towns and the small businesses that fuel them.
  5. The NFL ran a 60-second ad addressing police shootings of African Americans. The ad, which stars retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin, is being used to promote the NFL's "Inspire Change" social justice program.

For the first time in history this year, not one but two political candidates ran ads during the Super Bowl — the Trump and Bloomberg campaigns, with each campaign paying around $11 million.

The big picture: Most sports fans would have preferred to keep politics out of the Super Bowl, according to a Morning Consult survey.

  • Nearly two-thirds of consumers said the Super Bowl is an inappropriate place for advertisers to make political statements.
  • Overall, most Americans expected the game to be more political this year than last, but few said it would stop them from tuning in.

John Mercer Langston was the first black man to become a lawyer, passing the bar in Ohio in 1854. When he was elected to the post of Town Clerk for Brownhelm, Ohio, in 1855 Langston became one of the first African Americans ever elected to public office in America.

Langston was also the great-uncle of Langston Hughes, the legendary poet of the Harlem Renaissance, who said the quote above.