The March quarter earnings season hit its stride this week, and just about half of the S&P500 components have released quarterly results. Global indices remain at or near all-time highs: in Asia, a PBoC RRR cut helped neutralize fears of a Chinese selloff after last Friday’s regulatory crackdown (although there was another round of similar fears regulators would be tightening the screws), while in the US a few rounds of strong earnings propelled the Nasdaq above its March 2000 all-time closing high and kept the S&P near its March all-time highs. In Europe, Greece missed another deadline to present its European partners with reforms to unlock funding, but equity and bond markets seem to be reacting much less severely to the story. Leading manufacturing indicators in Asia showed a difficult start for Q2, as advance PMIs for China and Japan saw significant deterioration. Beyond the unending Greek drama, Europe was looking slightly better, with a 10-month high in the Germany April IFO survey and another month of expansion in the preliminary Eurozone manufacturing PMI data. For the week, the DJIA added 1.4%, the S&P500 rose 1.7% and the Nasdaq surged 3.2%.
There was next to no progress made in resolving the Greek crisis at Friday’s Eurogroup meeting and yet another deadline for Athens to unveil its reform proposals was missed. With Europe’s patience running very thin, there was talk the ECB was mulling a plan to cut off the Greek financial system from ELA support and ECB President Draghi said the council would examine the issue at a May 6th meeting. In public statements, Greek and European officials continued to talk about the need to reach a deal and Greece made a few concessions, but press reports suggested talks were very heated and Greece’s creditors were considering a “final ultimatum” for Greece, with no funds released short of a comprehensive deal. The next big payment faced by Athens is a €1.4 billion bill redemption on May 8th. EUR/USD tested lows around 1.0660 on Tuesday and Thursday then rose to its highs of the week at 1.0900 on Friday.
The March home sales reports were mixed. March US existing home sales bounced higher, improving on the flattish February numbers that had been impacted by the harsh winter weather. Sales of previously owned homes climbed to the highest level since September 2013, up 13.5% y/y. Conversely, March new home sales disappointed with a 10% decline from February’s relatively good level. Analysts highlighted that both reports are highly erratic and subject to big revisions. Two major homebuilders also reported contrasting quarterly results this week. DR Horton met expectations in its second quarter and offered slightly improved FY guidance, with orders up ~30% y/y. Pulte Homes widely missed earnings and revenue targets. Pulte’s performance was weighed down with construction delays, which impeded closings.
In big tech, Microsoft and Amazon saw impressive gains in cloud computing revenue. Amazon’s quarterly revenue rose 12% and its quarterly loss was slightly smaller than expected. Investors were happy to see the firm break out AWS metrics for the first time: AWS had revenue of $1.5 billion in the quarter, with a run rate of $5 billion a year and profits of $265 million. Microsoft’s results showed CEO Nadella’s turnaround well under way, with mobile hardware and cloud services revenue up sharply even as legacy licensing and PC revenue continued to decline. IBM saw its 12th straight quarter of revenue contraction, exacerbated by lower hardware sales and the strength of the dollar
Facebook’s results were very good across the board, with advertising revenue up 46% y/y and user metrics up double digits. The social network joined the chorus of firms complaining about the effects of the strong dollar, saying forex headwinds would be even greater in Q2 than the 7% crimp in Q1. Google’s revenue and paid clicks rose slightly less than expected, although costs were lower. Analysts had been criticizing the firm for swelling expenses over recent quarters.
Industrial names showed stress from the strength of the dollar and overseas economic weakness. Caterpillar crushed earnings expectations, however the firm warned sales and profit in each of the remaining three quarters of 2015 would be lower than the first quarter. General Motors meanwhile widely missed on earnings and revenue, with significant losses in key overseas markets. Lockheed and United Technologies both missed on revenue, although Lockheed also slightly increased its FY guidance. Boeing’s revenue missed and the backlog shrank.
Consumer names Pepsi and Procter & Gamble saw flat profits and declining revenues; PG’s revenue fell for the fifth quarter in a row. McDonalds disclosed grim first-quarter results: revenue declined 11% y/y and guest traffic was down in all major segments. Shares rose post-earnings after the firm said it would disclose a major turnaround plan soon and said it closed another 220 locations worldwide in the quarter. YUM! Brands saw lower profits and continuing drag in China, but tweaked its FY outlook slightly higher. Coke had a solid quarterly report. Airlines United Continental and Southwest reported very good results, citing lower fuel prices and growing demand.
Dow Chemical saw its earnings bulked up by asset sales, even as its revenue declined 14% y/y. Competitor 3M missed earnings expectations and cut its FY guidance. Both names warned FX negative impacts on sales would be substantial for the full year. Steel firms Nucor and Reliance Steel disclosed very strong first quarter results, with both companies widely beating earnings expectations. Executives from the two firms cited improving industry conditions, although they also warned pricing remains under pressure.
Comcast officially abandoned its $45 billion deal to acquire Time Warner Cable. The announcement does not come as much of a surprise, as the consensus emerged that after the FCC’s net neutrality gambit the deal was next to impossible. The FCC was gearing up for hearings on the merger and press reports out this week suggested that DOJ lawyers were close to a decision to recommend blocking the merger. There is no breakup fee for either firm for walking away from the deal. Charter Communications (which is controlled by Liberty Media Corp) is widely understood to be interested in making a bid for Time Warner now that Comcast is out of the way, but reports indicate that TWC would demand a higher price than the $159/share that Comcast offered.
After weeks of rumors, Teva launched a $40.1 billion offer for rival Mylan. The cash-and-stock bid is valued at $82/share, a 48.3% premium compared to Mylan’s stock price on March 10, the last trading before speculation of a link-up between the two companies. The contest won’t likely be a friendly one: just last week, Mylan said a merger with Teva would be unlikely to win antitrust approval because of “significant overlap” among the two businesses. Mylan’s first line of defense was making its own offer for Perrigo. However, Perrigo rejected the initial unsolicited offer of $205/share and then also spurned a formalized cash and stock offer on the grounds that Mylan’s stock has been inflated by the Teva bid.
The PBoC started the week off with a bang, cutting its Reserve Requirement Ratio (RRR) by 100 bps to 18.5%, which eased some of the anxiety caused by new limits placed on margin trading last week. The economic data didn’t cooperate, however. The China flash HSBC PMI registered its fourth consecutive contraction and a one year low as the headline number missed estimates. Meanwhile, Japan’s preliminary April Markit manufacturing PMI missed expectations as well, and slipped into contraction for the first time in nearly a year. Japan monthly trade data saw its first surplus in almost three years, but that was at least in part due to the crash in oil prices pushing down import values.