Week Ahead: The economic outlook for the EU, US CPI release & UK GDP unveiled

Week Ahead

In the week ahead, the EU reveals what could be a less-than-optimistic economic forecast. The UK is also releasing GDP figures – is a double dip recession on its way? Over in the US, CPI data is released which could point towards inflation, and earnings season continues on Wall Street with Disney and other large caps reporting in. 

US CPI – is inflation going to ramp up? 

Are the dogs of inflation starting to bark? We’ll find out in the US this week as CPI data for January is reported. 

The Labor Department reported the CPI rose 0.4% in December, following a 0.2% rise in November. Consumer prices may have risen, but the key driver here was gasoline. Gas prices jumped 8.4% in the last CPI review period, account for 60% of the index’s overall growth. Food, on the other hand, rose 0.4%. 

Excluding volatile food and energy prices, CPI growth in December was at 0.1%, kept in check by a decrease in the price of used vehicles, as well as drops in airfares, health care costs, and recreation activities. 

Last month’s CPI readings were in line with economists’ expectations. Overall, the CPI rose 1.4% in 2020, which is the smallest yearly gain since 2015, representing a drop from 2.3% in 2019. 

There are mixed outlooks going forward. On one hand, over $has been pumped into the economy via stimulus packages so far, and President Biden has plans to add an extra $1.9 trillion. Whether that full figure makes it through Congress, we don’t know yet, but either way more stimulus is probably on its way, which could cause inflation to breach targets. 

On the other, price pressures may stay more benign.  Some 19 million Americans are on unemployment benefits. Stress in the labour market could also curbing wage growth and increasing rental vacancy rates are could restrain rental inflation too. 

A not so bright EU economic forecast 

Europe could be about to head into a double dip recession. That’s the stark headline as the EU shares its economic forecast in the week ahead.  

The last quarter of 2020 pulled back any gains made that year, with the EU’s overall economy retracting 0.5% in 2020’s last 3 months. It’s the same story we’ve seen across the year: lockdown loosens, GDP goes up, but virus cases surge; lockdown tightens, GDP shrinks, virus cases still increase. 

The EU is facing particular difficulty in its vaccine programme, although coordinating efforts across the bloc’s many constituent members requires almost Olympian effort. So far, it doesn’t look like it is paying off. Difficulty in sourcing vaccine supplies is one aspect of the EU’s vaccination woes, in particular the recent EU/UK spat over exports of Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine.  

The euro has fallen against both the dollar and pound too, with a euro now worth about 88p at the time of writing, and roughly $1.20 – nine-month lows for the currency, and not a great indicator of a healthy economy. 

Will Europe double dip? It’s possible. Basically, the bloc needs to pick up the pace when it comes to vaccination and get people out and about again. Stimulus will play a key role here too, as the first cash from its €750bn package should start reaching the EU’s economy in 2021’s first half. A reason for hope? Maybe, but for now the forecast isn’t particularly bright. 

UK GDP – will the UK be double dipping? 

The UK releases its latest quarterly GDP data this week. Q3 2020 showed rapid 16% growth, according to headline figures published by the House of Commons Library, but that was still down 8.6% compared with the previous year. Will we see a contract or continued growth in the upcoming quarter’s figures? 

The Bank of England’s report from 4th February is actually better than previously feared. UK GDP is expected to have risen a little in the last quarter, to a level roughly 8% lower than Q4 2019.  

This is a little surprising. Most of the UK returned to tough lockdown restrictions during November, with non-essential shops opening. While some were let open again in the run up to Christmas, and businesses of all sorts adapting to changing conditions, it may still not be enough to avoid recession. That said, it was spending season as Christmas and Black Friday fall in the last quarter. Perhaps they‘ve played a role in keeping the UK economy afloat. 

Recession will be still be on everyone’s lips watching Q4’s official GDP figures, as they’ll be a barometer for what’s going to happen in Q1 2021. Lockdown measures are tight across the UK, and non-essential businesses remain shuttered for the foreseeable. Goldman Sachs has reconfigured its UK Q1 2021 outlook for 1.5% growth.  

A mixed outlook then, but there is a small sliver of sunlight through the cloud. The UK’s vaccine rollout has been one of the most successful in the world, with evidence suggesting the spread of the virus is slowing with vaccine uptake. But will businesses remain closed, GDP growth seems out of reach for the UK economy going forward. We’ll know more when official GDP figures are released. 

Earnings season rolls on 

Plenty of large caps are yet to report their latest earnings as earnings season rolls on  Wall Street.  

Disney looks one of the most interesting companies to watch this quarter. The House of Mouse has its fingers in multiple deep pies, but with key revenue streams falling off, like its theme parks and resorts, and of course cinema, it will have to prop those up through gains in other business areas. 

It looks like its working already. Disney+, its own in-house streaming service, has already obliterated subscription forecasts. In April 2020, Disney was targeting 60-90m subscribers by 2024. As of February 2021, subscription numbers had already hit 87m. Now commentators put future subscriber levels in the 250m range.  

As well as its own properties established and developed over decades, Disney’s acquisitions of Marvel and Star Wars basically put two of the most popular franchises in the hands of a company already used to owning, marketing, and creating obscenely popular entertainment properties. Basically, limiting access to both show’s films and TV series together on a single platform is exceptionally shrewd. 

So, while earning may have slumped in physical media, digital output could help propel Walt Disney to a strong quarter. 

Disney is now fourth on Fortune’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies and first overall for entertainment. Its brand recognition is already immense, but, according to Fortune, its business operations are a textbook case of identifying how and where to succeed.   

A look at some of the key large caps reporting this week can be found below. 

Key economic data 

Date  Time (GMT)  Currency  Event 
Wed 10 Feb  1.30pm  USD  CPI m/m 
  1.30pm  USD  Core CPI m/m 
  3.30pm  USD  US Crude Oil Inventories 
       
Thu 11 Feb  10.00am  EUR  EU Economic Forecasts 
  1.30pm  USD  US Unemployment Claims 
  3.30pm  USD  US Natural Gas Inventories 
       
Fri 12 Feb  7.00am  USD  Prelim GDP q/q 

 

Earnings data 

Date  Company  Event 
Mon 8 Feb  Softbank  Q3 2020 Earnings 
  Take Two  Q3 2021 Earnings 
  Loews  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Hasbro  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Namco Bandai  Q3 2021 Earnings 
     
Tue 9 Feb  Cisco  Q2 2021 Earnings 
  Total  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  S&P Global  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Daikin  Q3 2020 Earnings 
  DuPont  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Honda  Q3 2020 Earnings 
  Twitter  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Ocado  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Fujifilm  Q3 2021 Earnings 
  Nissan  Q4 2020 Earnings 
     
Wed 10 Feb  Coca-Cola  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Toyota  Q3 2021 Earnings 
  Commonwealth Bank Australia  Q2 2021 Earnings 
  General Motors  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Heineken  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Vestas  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  A.P Moeller-Maersk  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  IQVIA  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Sun Life  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Uber  Q4 2020 Earnings 
     
Thu 11 Feb  L’Oreal  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  AstraZeneca  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Schneider Electric  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Duke Energy  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Kraft Heinz  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Credit Agricole  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Tyson Foods  Q1 2021 Earnings 
  ArcelorMittal  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  UniCredit  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Kellogg  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  Expedia  Q4 2020 Earnings 
  HubSpot  Q4 2020 Earnings 
     
Fri 12 Feb  ING  Q4 2020 Earnings 

Disney earnings preview: analyst downgrade

Equities

Disney is a three-part business now – theme parks, films and streaming. Whilst streaming is going very well – thanks in no small part to lockdown – the other units are not performing so well.

DIS was downgraded to neutral from buy by MoffettNathanson ahead of the company’s earnings to be released after the market close on Tuesday (May 5th).

There are a number of risks that could lead this unprecedented event to have a longer impact, with earnings revisions massively skewed to the downside,” 5-star analyst Michael Nathanson wrote in the update.

Our Disney downgrade is also an admission that we believe the economic impact on the company will be longer than most anticipate, especially given the risks of a second wave of infections after reopening.

MoffettNathanson expects the theme parks unit revenues to fall 33% from $26.2 billion to $17.7 billion this fiscal year, which ends in September. Revenues are seen down 1% next year as the drag from Covid-19 lingers before bouncing back 22% in 2022. In films, the analyst sees earnings down 20% this year to $2.7bn on a 23% drop in revenues.

Netflix, Apple, Disney: Who will you back in the battle of the streamers?

Equities

Netflix was once the king of streaming, but its dominance could be coming to an end. Competition has already been fierce thanks to Amazon Instant Video and Hulu, but the streaming market is about to get a lot more crowded.

NFLX has now turned negative on a year-to-date basis, with the stock feeling the pressure thanks to an uncertain outlook for the company. Both Apple and Disney are launching their streaming services this year and Netflix is sure to suffer as a result – especially as both drastically undercut its pricing.

Apple TV+ launches on November 1st and reportedly has a budget of $6 billion in order to help it get some of Hollywood’s biggest stars involved. Already on the starting line-up are Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Momoa and Oprah.

Apple is offering a first-year subscription completely free with the purchase of any new Apple device – a great way to leverage its existing market even if they do already have other subscriptions.

However, it remains unclear whether Apple TV+ will also have a library of licensed shows and films alongside its own original content. Without this its offering could seem rather sparse at launch. The service will launch with nine shows and Apple plans to add another five over the next few months.

This lack of choice could see consumers treating Apple TV+ more as a supplement to Netflix – are many really going to cancel their subscriptions for the sake of nine shows?

Is Disney a bigger threat to Netflix than Apple?

While Apple has the capital to throw behind new content, Disney represents a more established threat. Its streaming service, Disney+ is set to launch with an extensive back catalogue of beloved classics. And that’s not to mention mega-franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as content from National Geographic. This is a much bigger blow to Netflix.

Like Netflix and Apple, Disney will also be investing heavily in new shows. In the first year the service will premiere over 25 original series, as well as 10 films.

In this respect, Apple seems like something of an outlier. It’s tiny library of original shows may attract Apple enthusiasts, and the small price tag might see it sit alongside consumer’s existing subscriptions. Given that a lot of consumers will be getting the first year free anyway, it will be a while before we know whether those initial subscribers translate to paying subscribers in twelve months’ time.

Apple could be hoping to use its TV+ offering as a way of ensuring brand loyalty. Amazon already does this with its Instant Video Service. It’s only a few pounds or dollars more each year to opt for the full Prime subscription, which also includes free delivery and music streaming.

Even if it is built to sit alongside its competitors, it still creates problems for Netflix. The last time the company raised prices it lost subscribers – with more alternatives out there Netflix will have to think twice before it ups its costs again. Just how loyal are Netflix customers: if the company raises its prices will they drop rivals to free up disposable income or just jump from the most expensive ship?

Iger: Apple and Disney might have merged if Jobs were still alive

Equities

As Apple stock nears its all-time highs, Disney CEO Bob Iger muses in an extract from his new autobiography that the two companies probably would have joined forces by now if the company’s founder Steve jobs were still alive. 

Bob Iger and Steve Jobs were good friends, having served on the boards of each other’s companies for many years. Jobs had been on Disney’s board since 2006 after the company acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion, while Iger has been a board member at Apple since 2011. 

Now, with both companies announcing competing streaming services, Iger has chosen to resign from the Apple board. He had warm words for Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook, his fellow board members, and the company as a whole. But his relationship with Apple could have been closer still, he believes. 

In his upcoming autobiography, an extract of which has been published in Vanity Fair, Iger says: 

“With every success the company has had since Steve’s death, there’s always a moment in the midst of my excitement when I think, I wish Steve could be here for this.” 

“It’s impossible not to have the conversation with him in my head that I wish I could be having in real life. More than that, I believe that if Steve were still alive, we would have combined our companies, or at least discussed the possibility very seriously.”

Appney? Disple? Could Apple and Disney really have merged? 

While Iger may have dreamed of a union between Apple and Disney, and many analysts speculated over the prospect, it’s highly unlikely that a deal of that sort could go through today. 

Even if Tim Cook likes what he reads in Iger’s autobiography, there would be a huge number of hurdles to overcome. 

Regulatory scrutiny, particularly over tech companies, has increased significantly in recent months. The Trump administration, although business friendly and borderline allergic to red tape, is currently in the midst of an antitrust probe into Apple, along with Google, Facebook and Amazon. 

Apple has a market capitalisation in excess of $1 trillion. Next to this Disney’s $246 billion market cap may seem quaint, but if Apple were to acquire it, it would be the biggest deal in history. It would have thrown up a huge number of issues at a time when the company is already being heavily scrutinised. 

But it’s a deal that would have made sense: Apple has recently announced its own streaming service, but the company has little experience in this realm. Disney’s resources, not to mention its extensive back catalogue of content, could have done a lot to help Apple+ take on Netflix. 

Instead, Disney and Apple are left with rival streaming services – Disney’s is $2 per month dearer than Apple’s, but promises to launch with some of the most loved and successful movies, TV shows, and franchises on the planet. Apple has the money to invest in its own great content, but in this respect it will be playing catch up to Netflix. 

So even though a merger with Apple may have been desirable, the future is looking pretty solid for Disney on its own. Apple+, on the other hand, remains unproven.

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