Tesla questions remain, BP and HSBC profits leap, GME roars higher on equity offering

Record highs for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq yesterday failed to really kick start the European session this morning with the major bourses all looking a bit sloppy in the face of a raft of big corporate earnings announcements. We’re into the meat of earnings season proper now with 173 S&P 500 companies that account for around half the market capitalisation are reporting this week. So far so good: of those that have already reported, revenues are up 10% on average, while earnings are up by a third. A stunning turnaround from last year’s pandemic washout, driven by a combination of massive fiscal stimulus, extraordinarily accommodative monetary policy and a vaccine-led cyclical bounce back of epic proportions.

Tesla posted better-than-expected earnings in the first quarter. The company posted GAAP net income of $438m with earnings per share coming in at $0.93 on $10.39 billion in revenue, up 74% from a year ago. Some $518m in regulatory credits helped, whilst it added $101m to its bottom line from the sale of Bitcoin after its $1.5bn ‘investment’ announced in February. Is this an automaker or not? I have been very sceptical about this Bitcoin position and what it exposes the company to. Shares slipped more than 2% in after-hours trade following the results. Still, it was a record quarter for sales and progress is being made on the delayed new models with the new Model S landing on customers’ driveways by May 2021 and Model X deliveries to commence in Q3. Tesla also pointed to Model Y production ramps at Fremont and Shanghai going well. Meanwhile buildout of Berlin ‘Gigafactory’ is continuing to move forward, with production and deliveries remaining on track for late 2021, Tesla said. Chip shortages are a problem, but Tesla suggests it’s finding ways around. And although margins did pic up, there are maybe some questions over margins with the lower average selling prices – excluding regulatory credits the margins in the core auto business were 22%. I don’t think these results really tell us an awful lot more than we already know about Tesla.

BP profits jumped to $2.6bn, easily beating analyst expectations and well ahead of last year. Looney says the company is in good shape. As he puts it, these results really put to rest some of the fears investors may have had around this stock as it’s managed to reduce net debt ahead of schedule and is delivering shareholder returns. Looney seems really committed to pushing the dividend, which I suppose you can do if you are not doing any more oil and gas exploration. Still, he better keep some back for those wind turbines. BP is confident that China and the US will drive the recovery in crude demand.

The reduction in net debt is eye-catching, with the figure down around $18bn in the last year from $51.4bn to $33.3bn, meeting the objective a year early. Reported profit for the quarter was $4.7bn, compared with $1.4bn profit in Q4 2020 and a loss of more than $4.3bn a year before. Underlying replacement cost profit came in at $2.6bn, compared with $0.1bn for the previous quarter. BP said this was driven by an exceptional gas marketing and trading performance, significantly higher oil prices and higher refining margins. Dividend of 5.25 cents per share declared and shares rose more than 2% in early trade in London.

HSBC profits rose 79% from a year ago on a mixture of improving economic conditions and a reduction in provisions for bad loans. Among other things, the company noted solid growth in Hong Kong and UK mortgages. Interestingly for a bank that has been seen to put all its eggs in one Asian basket as other regions have been less profitable, all regions were profitable in Q1 and notably the UK bank reported pre-tax profits of over $1bn in the quarter. Reported profit after tax was up 82% to $4.6bn, while reported profit before tax rose 79% to $5.8bn. The bank said that reduced revenues, which fell 5% $13bn, continued to reflect low-interest rates. Provisions for bad loans were less than expected, particularly in the UK, mainly reflecting a better economic outlook and government support schemes. As such reported provisions for bad loans was a net release of $0.4bn, compared with a $3.0bn charge a year ago. Shares rose a touch in early trade.

Sticking with banks – UBS this morning admitted it took a $774m hit from the Archegos fiasco. This is not as large as the $5.5bn for Credit Suisse, but nevertheless shows how the fallout was wider than initially thought. Despite this, profits at UBS rose 14% to $1.8bn. Wealth management profits rose 16%, whilst investment banking was down 42%. UBS, which has fallen 2% this morning on the update, says it has now unwound all its exposure to Archegos. Nomura meanwhile says it is 97% out and has taken a $2.3bn loss on its Archegos exposure, adding that it expects to book about $570m more in charges related to Archegos this financial year.

Shares in GameStop rallied almost 12% and added a further 9% in after-hours trade to hit $184.50 after the company completed its at-the-market equity offering. In an update to investors yesterday, management said they had sold 3.5m shares of common stock and generated aggregate gross proceeds before commissions and offering expenses of approximately $551m, Roughly, that means they got this offering off at about $157 per share. Net proceeds will be used to continue accelerating GameStop’s transformation as well as for general corporate purposes and further strengthening the company’s balance sheet.

As I previously argued, shareholders who have been bidding up the stock should be pleased by the offering. Although it entrails a meaty dilution, the cash call is entirely expected and without a big capital raise now that takes advantage of rally in the stock, Chewy.com founder Cohen might not have the cash to fulfil the ambition of becoming the Amazon of Gaming.

Elsewhere, oil prices trade higher with WTI back above $62 as OPEC’s technical committee stuck to an optimistic view of demand growth whilst also cautioning about the rise of the coronavirus in India, the world’s number three importer of crude. The technical committee, which met ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, indicated that demand growth is still seen around 6m bpd in 2021, whilst the stock surplus should be eliminated by the end of the second quarter. There are also concerns about Japan, the fourth largest importer of oil. Copper prices continue to advance, hitting a fresh 10-year high this morning, whilst US 10-year yields pulled back from 1.6% yesterday in a choppy session ahead of this week’s Fed meeting.

FOMC preview: Wait and see mode

The Federal Reserve kicks off its two-meeting today. This week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) ought to pass off without too much fanfare or market noise. Even as the economic indicators improve, the Federal Reserve remains in emergency mode. The Fed should be thinking about thinking about tapering, but it likely will not want to signal this just yet. It remains the case, it should be noted, that the Fed is now in a reactive policy stance where it is waiting for the data to hit certain thresholds rather than acting pre-emptively. We also know that not only is the Fed happy to let inflation get hot, but it is also focused squarely not just on employment but the ‘right’ people getting jobs. It’s a central bank that is taking a political angle to its policy making. In any event, tapering of the Fed’s $120bn-a-month asset purchase programme will be signalled well in advance, and this is not the time to do it.

Bond yields have cooled somewhat since the March meeting, with the 10-year note chopping around in a 1.55%-1.60%. In any event, if the rise in nominal yields was not a worry then, it’s certainly not one now. Fed speakers including chairman Powell have made it clear they think rates will move up because of the screaming cyclical bounce, not because people are worried about inflation.

Meanwhile, since the March meeting the pace of vaccinations has meant over half of all adults in the US have had at least one vaccination. Jobless claims have hit the lowest since the pandemic struck more than a year before and retail sales are powering head. The IHS Markit composite PMI hit a record high in April as all corners of the economy picked up steam. Despite this the Fed will remain cautious with regards to the outlook, citing the risk of fresh infections. Chairman Powell will need to acknowledge the economic recovery in progress but seek to tamp down expectations. And despite the strong demand impulse combining with weak supply to put upwards pressure on prices, he will stick to the line that any inflation will be temporary.