How are Commodity Prices Expected to Impact Earnings in 2022?

Commodity Prices 2022According to the World Bank, there’s a mixed picture for commodities in 2022.

Globally, prices for crude oil are expected to hit $74 per barrel during 2022, compared to 2021’s $70 price tag. This is attributed to greater economic activity as the world continues its reopening. Metal commodities, on the other hand, are projected to drop in 2022 by 5 percent. Similarly, the “softs,” or farming-based commodities, are expected to find an equilibrium or fall nominally in 2022. With much uncertainty related to the pricing of commodities and their impact on 2022’s markets, how have commodity prices impacted company profits and past market cycles?

Earnings, Profits and Measuring Margins

When it comes to evaluating margins, we examine how profitable sales have been after factoring in external and internal costs. Be it at the net margin level, the gross margin level, or the operating margin level, businesses get a wide analysis of their profitability.

There are many reasons companies could see margin pressure, and therefore reduced profitability. Competition, internal production challenges (e.g., rising overhead caused by increases in wages, raw materials, electricity, etc.), so-called “black swan” events such as pandemics, and other geopolitical events impacting commodities and tariffs are among the many reasons for margin pressure.

The World Bank, focusing on the outlook for oil, sees a potential for domestic shale production to pick up less quickly, and the favoring of crude oil versus natural gas. Higher energy prices could slow growth, and the uncertainty of the pandemic could affect energy demand. However, based on reduced investments in crude oil, recovery has fallen since 2014, and again in 2020. Many initially think of the price they pay at the pump. However, indirect costs of increasing crude oil impacts shippers, retailers, airlines, fertilizer manufacturers and farmers, the transportation industry – and the stock prices of those publicly traded companies.

As for other commodities, there are considerations for direct and indirect industry performance. For example, the price of lumber can immediately impact how much homebuilders charge for a new home; however, it also impacts the real estate market, additions, and other industries that use large quantities of wood.

Analyzing Stock Market Sector Performance

When it comes to looking at commodity prices, consumer behavior, and market cycles for the past six decades (starting in 1962), consumer staples have been a steady winner. Looking 10 years back from mid-April 2021, based on Indices, consumer sector stocks grew by 8.2 percent, versus the S&P 500’s annualized returns of 11.86 percent over the same timeframe.

The consumer staples sector is one industry where high commodity prices are likely to impact earnings less than consumer discretionary. With consumer staples a necessity that is independent of the health of the economy, the level of demand is stronger than other sectors. While consumer staples aren’t immune from competition, they are often easier for companies to push price increases through.

In 2022, many Central Banks globally are expected to push a more hawkish monetary policy. Only time will tell whether or not global monetary actions will get a handle on commodity prices and influence markets accordingly. 

Fed Chair Nomination in 2022: How Will it Impact Markets?

Fed Chair Nomination in 2022As the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System points out, Jerome Powell was appointed to a four-year term on Feb. 5, 2018. With the Fed Chair’s term expiring in February 2022, there has been much uncertainty as to whether he would be reappointed or replaced.

Powell’s first term as the Chair of the Fed began in 2018, after being nominated by President Trump in November 2017. If reappointed, Powell will serve another four years, where he will guide the nation’s short-term monetary policy and become the Federal Open Markets Committee’s (FOMC) chair.

During a Nov. 22 announcement, President Biden said that he’s renominating Powell for another term for the chair position of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. President Biden also announced that Lael Brainard has been nominated for the vice chair position of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. With the Fed vice chairman for supervision resigning at the end of 2021, these series of events are providing President Biden with additional nominations to promote his policies.

Understanding the Federal Reserve’s Influence on the Markets

Similar to a chief executive officer, the chair is entrusted to carry out the mandate of the Fed. The primary foci include influencing short- and long-term interest rates, maintaining price stability and encouraging a balance in employment.

The chair of the FOMC is the steward for the nation’s monetary policy by adjusting the federal funds rate, discount rate and buying/selling of government securities to support the economy in its role in fulfilling its economic goals.

How President Biden’s Decision is Expected to Impact Markets

With Brainard having a favorability for fintech and cryptocurrencies and the ability to curry favor with progressives due to her desire for strong bank regulations, her nomination will provide the market with greater stability in conjunction with Powell’s renomination. This is due to Powell’s past four years of steering the market through its challenges, especially with COVID-19. With Powell already communicating the timeline of tapering and when the Fed is likely to increase rates, it should provide greater certainty for the markets.

Additionally, the investment community believes the markets will perceive Brainard as more politically focused due to her contributions to Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions in 2016. With Brainard expected to consider and strongly influence the FOMC’s actions on the 2022 midterm elections, she’ll likely lobby the committee to raise interest rates deeper into 2022 after the “tapering” or bond purchasing schedule is complete, compared to the earlier path under Powell’s lead alone.

Political Implications

According to a Nov. 19 statement in support of a Fed Chair other than Jerome Powell and who is committed to addressing climate change, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley made their thoughts clear on how they want the nomination process to not go in favor of Powell.

While Powell has been renominated, he’ll certainly face Congressional pressure during confirmation hearings and beyond if he’s indeed confirmed for a second term. However if the Federal Reserve nomination process plays out for Biden, Powell and Brainard, the FOMC will certainly have its policy influenced by more than President Biden.

Will the Natural Gas Squeeze Derail the Recovery?

Natural Gas PriceEnergy is expected to increase in price as 2021 closes and 2022 begins, according to the Oct. 13, 2021 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Between October 2021 and March 2022, the U.S. benchmark, Henry Hub, is expected to average $5.67 million British thermal units (MMBtu). For 2022, the average price is expected to be $4.01/MMBtu. This is attributed to increased consumer need, a decline in domestic natural gas production, and sub-par inventories stockpiled as the weather becomes increasingly cold.

According to the EIA, the price of natural gas is influenced by a multitude of factors. These include supply and demand, production, storage levels, imports and exports, seasonality, the state of the economy and the availability of other fossil fuels.

For example, looking at hurricanes and seasonality in 2001, 25 percent of “dry natural gas” was produced in the Gulf of Mexico; however, only 2 percent was produced there in 2020. Cold weather also can impact prices due to slowing production – and if it’s coupled with increased demand, it can similarly increase natural gas prices.

Power generation creates additional need for air conditioning and power. With natural gas used for power generation, and if there’s increased demand coupled with limited inventories, trading on the cash market could see significantly higher prices than normal.

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (FRBSF) saw how higher prices of natural gas impacted individuals and businesses in its Federal District. The agricultural sector used it for greenhouse temperature control, using mechanical equipment to prepare crops for the market. It led to some farmers halting their operations due to unprofitability.

Consumers in the nation’s West use natural gas as their chief source for warming homes. During 1999 and 2000, the FRBSF explained that it wasn’t uncommon for the price to increase by 60 percent or even double.

Considerations for the Stock Market

With the price of natural gas projected to increase as the weather gets colder, it’ll impact businesses and consumers. Businesses will be forced to determine how much of their additional costs to absorb, impacting profit margins, and how much to pass on to consumers. For consumers, there are two considerations – they will be impacted by increases in prices of goods and services, and the likelihood of decreased consumer spending and confidence, both impacting the economy.

It’s important to understand how consumer confidence impacts spending and therefore is a good indicator of how publicly traded companies will perform on their quarterly earnings. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), consumer confidence gives a good idea of how they’ll spend and save determined by a survey of their budget and their outlook on the overall economy. The higher the consumer’s confidence, the more likely they are to spend and save less.

With production low and supply availability uncertain globally, depending on how hard consumers are hit in the wallet, price fluctuations of natural gas will impact consumers accordingly – and in-turn, that of company earnings.

Does the Fed’s Beige Book Forecast Negative Market Headwinds?

Fed's Beige Book Forecast Fall 2021According to the Sept. 8, 2021, release of the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, the U.S. economy is facing many headwinds.

The report found that restaurants and the travel sector saw a drop in activity. Home and auto sales were low because of fewer available houses on the market and a challenging supply of computer chips for auto makers. The same report found that although more people have found work, the level of newly created employment was mixed, despite a continuing need for more workers. Due to people quitting their jobs, people retiring, and those unable to find means of suitable childcare, the employment situation remains uncertain. With continued stressors on the economy, how will the stock market fare through the rest of 2021 and into 2022?

The Beige Book, officially known as the Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions, comes out eight times throughout the year. Information collection begins six weeks before, and the report is released two weeks prior to Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings, providing an overview of the economic health of each of the 12 districts of the Federal Reserve Bank.

The Sept. 8, 2021, Beige Book Report found challenges in different sectors; however, some challenges, such as the semi-conductor shortage, were faced nationally. Based on past analysis, current sentiment reported by businesses and consumers will be confirmed or dispelled by forthcoming data.

As Northwestern University’s Medill School notes, the Beige Book is devoid of formulas, statistical analysis or industry jargon. Rather, it contains observational and comparative data derived from speaking with and sampling business owners and business analysts. In contrast to statistical data, it illuminates what business executives and consumers are worrying about.

It’s often referred to as a key gauge and is especially important because when the economy takes a downturn, the data deterioration often renders business statistics obsolete. It’s also relevant because the FOMC uses it to determine monetary policy chiefly via modifying the federal funds interest rate target. Similarly, when it comes to economic figures, it’s important to keep in mind the timeliness of such statistics because they are announced after they’ve been recorded.

During the coronavirus pandemic, especially when little was known in the beginning, the Beige Book offered Fed officials the ability to speak with industry insiders in the thick of it, especially when data was scant or unknown. Others observe that the Beige Book predicted the 2008/2009 housing crisis starting in October 2006 when mortgage delinquencies began appearing.

By viewing events in real-time, it offers anecdotal evidence compared to questionable forecasts. For example, the July 18, 2018, Beige Book Report found that well before the data confirmed manufacturers’ worries over the trade war with China and Trump’s tariffs, 10 districts reported “moderate economic growth.”

According to a 2003 study performed by Occidental College and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the more confidence-inspiring news a Beige Book Report contains, the greater the correlation with higher interest rates, especially when it comes to long-term rates. It also expresses a bullish correlation with increases in stock prices when the economy is growing, but a deceleration during an economic slowdown. When banks set their lending rates, they directly or indirectly use long-term rates as reference. Policy makers also use this as an indicator for inflation expectations in the financial markets.

While no one has a crystal ball to predict how the economy and stock markets will perform going forward, the Beige Book is an important tool the Fed and those in the government factor in when attempting to steer economic growth.

Are Retail Reports a Sign of a Slowing Recovery?

Are Retail Reports a Sign of a Slowing Recovery?As the U.S. Census Bureau reported on Aug. 17, retail sales fell by 1.1 percent during July compared to the revised June retail sales figures. This is in contrast to an increase of 20.6 percent between May and July and a 15.8 percent increase for the year-over-year comparison to 2020 for the month of July alone.

The National Bureau of Statistics of China released retail sales figures for July on a year-over-year basis. The agency reported an increase of 8.5 percent for the month, missing the 11.5 percent growth target that many predicted, and lower than the 12.1 percent growth in June. The decrease was attributed to the resurgence of COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Aug. 22, 73 percent of adults in America have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination (62.4 percent or 170.8 million adults are fully vaccinated). However, the distribution is uneven, portending the increase in infections, hospitalizations, and loss of life due to COVID-19, especially the Delta variant that is infecting both the unvaccinated and a low percent of the vaccinated. The Kaiser Family Foundation notes that African Americans and Hispanics who are 18 and older make up a significant portion (41 percent) of individuals who are unvaccinated but contemplating whether or not to get the vaccine.

A recent McKinsey & Company study found that if 195 million Americans age 12 and older got the COVID-19 vaccine, which would bring the vaccinated level to 70 percent, this would increase the chances for a more robust economic recovery. The study observed that a successful, broad-based COVID-19 immunization push for the public would speed the recovery by three to six months. This would bring the economy to 2019 levels and generate an additional $800 billion to $1.1 trillion in economic growth.

According to an Aug. 3 publication from The National Retail Federation, the economy’s continued recovery is contingent upon combating increasing COVID-19 infections as retail buyers are concerned about new variants. Even though the Delta variant hasn’t changed individual and retail buyer habits yet, it is negatively impacting their outlook going forward. While inflation is expected to moderate over the next 12 months, a June 2021 University of Michigan survey found that retail shoppers see inflation rising by 4.8 percent.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index takes a broad measure of the economy and the generally expected course of future commercial events. It documents how retail buyers see the economy going forward, what they are likely to purchase in the future, how they will pursue leisure activities, how they see their cost-of-living impacted, the performance of equities, and how interest rates will perform going forward.

The July 2021 Consumer Confidence Survey reported an index of 129.7, slightly above June’s reading of 128.9. As the Conference Board elaborates on this reading, numbers indicate that consumers are still expecting to purchase durable consumer goods.

With mixed economic data and the rate of people opting to take the COVID-19 vaccine in flux, the more people who become fully vaccinated the more likely a full economic recovery will occur, including in the retail sector.