There have been a lot of bullish indicators lately, and not just in share prices rising. However, there is a big warning sign that investors need to be paying attention to. One of the challenges of assessing corporate earnings is to get a feel for where things are really headed when the whole Wall Street reporting mechanism is stacked to make you think companies are always outperforming. One way to do so is to look at spreads between GAAP earnings and so-called “adjusted earnings”, or the doctored earnings companies love to show to make themselves appear more attractive. The wider the spread, the more companies are reaching to appear as though things look good. This, therefore, makes it a bellwether for how earnings and the economy are really trending. The spread between the two types of earnings stood at $200 bn for year-end 2018, the highest level since 2010.
FINSUM: This is not a perfect proxy, but it is certainly indicative, and the indication right now is not positive.
How does a big global housing meltdown sound? Crappy. Well, that is exactly one of the things that the IMF is currently warning investors about. Americans will already be well aware of the several month downturn in real estate, but what is likely much less well understood is that many markets around the world, including emerging markets, look at risk of a major housing bust. One of the big worries of the IMF is that a real estate downturn will spark a banking crisis in overseas markets that could then bubble over to the rest of the world.
FINSUM: We don’t tend to think of real estate as a particularly globally-correlated asset class. However, the banking industry that underpins it certainly is, so the risk is definitely there.
The bond market took on a very strong position about the Fed in its recent rally—that rate cuts were likely this year in order to stimulate the economy. However, upon the release of the most recent Fed minutes, that view appears to be quite clearly wrong. The Fed minutes show no indication at all of cuts to come this year. Instead, those at the Fed merely indicate that hikes are likely to be put on hold for the rest of the year.
FINSUM: We don’t think there is much of a chance the Fed will cut this year. Recent economic data has been a little better, which means they seem much more likely to stand pat than to cut.
A rising tide lifts all boats right? Well it also means credit scores get lifted alongside the economy. Goldman Sachs thinks this is a problem. The bank is arguing that credit scores have been artificially inflated by FICO, a dangerous development that could have implications for all sorts of lending. Goldman thinks that current FICO scores are not an accurate reflection of consumers’ ability to pay in an economic downturn, meaning there is much more credit risk sloshing around in the economy than is currently priced into the market.
FINSUM: The big risk here is really at the lower end of the lending spectrum. There are 15 million less consumers with scores of 660 or below than there were before the last Crisis. Therefore, the risk of borrowers in that area is probably being underappreciated.
HSBC just put out a big warning to investors—it is time to sell Apple stock. The news comes as a bit of a surprise because the iPhone maker has been performing well this year and there have been rumors of a big new push into healthcare. However, HSBC says investors should get out of the stock because Apple’s new services business will disappoint. The bank summarized its view this way, saying “Services makes ecosystem more sticky but won’t necessarily enable Apple to recruit more consumers to iPhone … All in, we remain far more cautious on services than some of the numbers in the street might suggest”.
FINSUM: Not only does HSBC think the new services offerings will disappoint on the top line, but they think they will be lower margin too! It is hard to speculate how this might go, but we do think this transition to services will be harder than many expect.