Markets Battered in Worst Week Since Pandemic Emerged

January 21st, 2022

Markets suffered another bruising performance this week coming on a variety of disappointing earnings announcements and forward-looking guidance from notable names in the banking and growth sectors. While company specific announcements have left their marks, the market is primarily struggling with an overall awakening to a rising interest rate environment. The U.S. 10-year treasury surged to a high of 1.90% on Wednesday, prompting a continued sell-off in richly priced growth stocks. The tech heavy Nasdaq Composite fell into correction territory, down more than -14.00% from its 52-week high. Earnings announcements in the banking sector continued to prompt a sell-off in financial stocks with the sector falling -10.00% this week alone. Rising compensation costs continued to be a sticking point as Goldman Sachs joined JPMorgan citing rising wages as a hit to the bottom line. On Friday, Netflix announced that it was experiencing slowing subscriber growth. This sent its shares down -21.79%. With earnings and interest rates once again dominating the headlines, less attention was paid to the week’s economic news on housing or China Q4 2021 GDP. By the closing bell, the S&P 500 fell -5.68% on the week.
A Mixed Housing Market
High prices and a lack of inventory led homebuyers to take a break from buying homes in December, sending existing home sales down -4.60% to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 6.18 million units. The sticker shock for homebuyers continued with the median price of a home rising 15.80% year-over-year (yoy) to $358,000. Prices have continued to move higher for existing homes as inventory remains tight. At the end of December, there were a mere 910,000 homes up for sale, a record low. That represents a 1.8-month supply. Historically, six to seven months is considered a healthy balance between supply and demand. Home sales continue to be driven by the upper end of the market. Sales of homes priced between $750,000 and $1 million rose 32% yoy. Meanwhile, sales of homes priced between $100,000 and $250,000 dropped -23% from the year ago period. Would-be homebuyers are forecasted to see some price relief in the spring with more sellers placing their houses on the market. 
The tight existing home market conditions continued to push homebuyers into new construction. An unseasonably warm December helped lift homebuilding 1.40% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.702 million — a nine-month high. For the full year, housing starts were up 15.60% to 1.595 million. December’s increase was driven by a 13.70% surge in multi-family housing as homebuilders sought to fill the strong demand for rental housing. The rise helped more than offset the -2.30% decline in single-family housing starts. The pipeline for new construction looks strong with permits for future homebuilding jumping 9.10% to a rate of 1.873 million units. Although demand for housing is likely to remain healthy in 2022, labor and materials costs remain a formidable headwind. Prices for softwood lumber, used for framing, soared 24.40% in December as the Biden administration quietly doubled duties on imported Canadian softwood lumber. The mounting costs and limited supply has added weeks to the typical construction timeline. Despite the delays, the acute shortage of existing home sales should continue to drive traffic to new homebuilders.
Covid and Real Estate Woes Cool China GDP
Economic growth in China continued to slow in Q4 2021 as the country maintained its zero-Covid strategy and as regulators have intervened to cool an overheated property market. Q4 2021 GDP decelerated to a 4.00% annualized rate, down from Q3 2021’S 4.90% rate. During the quarter, consumers curtailed their expenditures as China locked down a greater number of regions in order to contain Covid outbreaks. Economic momentum also slowed as defaults at some heavily indebted firms have weighed on the housing market, prompting Chinese regulators to step in to prevent contagion. Q1 2022 is setting up to be another challenging quarter for Chinese growth. With several new cities being hit with outbreaks in advance of Chinese New Year celebrations commencing on January 31 and with the Olympics on the horizon, greater lockdowns have been ordered and economic momentum is waning. China is preparing to add monetary and fiscal stimulus in response. Just this week it announced it would cut interest rates to help support the economy. Fiscal stimulus, in the form of tax cuts, could also soon be on the way. It is rumored that the government may revisit its zero-Covid strategy once the Omicron wave has crested and once international eyes are not so tightly focus on the country following the Olympics’ conclusion.
It was clearly another tough week for markets, but investors should recognize that the S&P 500 is still higher than its level in October, and it is 1200 points higher than where it was a year prior to that. It has been a remarkably strong and calm period that has encouraged investors to take on greater leverage and risk, which we’re now seeing unwind. The fact that rates went to zero to support the economy during the pandemic always meant this corrective moment would come, and long-term investors should not be discouraged by the de-risking of traders around them. We’d add that we don’t think that this sell-off is over. The Nasdaq and select sectors may have hit correction territory, but the broader indices have yet to do so. We’re in a transition period, and while we’d expect volatility to be front-loaded relative to the Fed’s actual rate increases, we’ve not seen the type of decline needed to convince us we’re back at fair value after having been overvalued for so long. The Fed holds its FOMC meeting next week but we’re unlikely to see a material change in their messaging. The good news in all of this is that, based on the Fed’s dot plot, the projected Fed Funds rate does not reach pre-pandemic levels until after 2024. Rates will still be very low, and a Fed Funds rate at 2.00-2.25% is unlikely to stall growth. As such, we are still constructive on the economy and equities by extension (exception to speculative growth noted). Unfortunately, investors often find themselves swept into the currents created by traders surrounding them, but it is also times like these when the most attractive opportunities present themselves.  

The Week Ahead

The Federal Reserve holds its first FOMC meeting of the year. Traders will be tuning in to hear if the central bank will announce the end of its bond taper program and the commencement of its interest rate tightening cycle. We’ll also see the impact the Omicron surge had on economic growth with the release of the first estimate of Q4 2021 GDP. Personal income and spending figures for December will round out the week’s reports.

Oreo Turns 110

The humble, beloved Oreo cookie turns 110 this year, and to celebrate, a limited edition flavor made with sprinkles, called the Chocolate Confetti Cake, will be available at retailers later this month. Since its introduction in 1912, an estimated 500 billion Oreo cookies have been sold in more than 100 countries. Approximately 34 billion Oreos are sold each year – 92 million cookies per day – with 10 billion of those cookies sold in the U.S. annually.
The Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookie, as it’s officially known, is emblematic of childhood for many people. The company’s success is likely due to their ability to capitalize on this nostalgia. The brand’s ads celebrate playfulness and connections with family. They’ve built campaigns around the concept that there is no right way to eat an Oreo, inviting consumers to twist it, lick it, dunk it, or bite it. Over the years, other campaign taglines such as, “Who’s the kid with the Oreo cookie?” and “For the kid in all of us” have tapped into childhood memories and rituals of enjoyment around the sweet treat. 
The Oreo origin story begins in the mid-1800s when America’s commercial bakeries were growing out of a cottage industry into the more formal factories known today. It was during this time that the Loose Brothers – Jacob and Joseph – bought a controlling interest in a bakery in the Midwest. Through a series of acquisitions and mergers of approximately 35 independent bakers, the company became a multi-million dollar business and the second-largest corporate bakery in America, known then as the American Biscuit and Manufacturing Company. Jacob Loose was opposed to a proposed merger with one of their company’s largest competitors, the New York Biscuit Company, but Joseph pushed the deal through when his brother was overseas recovering from an illness. The merger of the two companies became the National Biscuit Company, known as Nabisco, in 1898.  
In 1902, Jacob Loose formed a new bakery called the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, which later became the Sunshine Biscuit Company, and competed against Nabisco. Sunshine sold Takhoma Biscuits while Nabisco sold Uneeda Biscuits. Sunshine offered Trumps Cookies against Nabisco’s Aces. Sunshine also sold Animal Crackers to compete against Nabisco’s Barnum’s Animal Crackers. Most importantly, Sunshine introduced the Hydrox cookie, a cream-filled chocolate sandwich with an embossed design, four years prior to the launch of Oreos.
The marketing team at Nabisco saw an opportunity to introduce their knock-off and began making Nabisco’s sandwich cookie with two chocolate disks and a white cream filling. They even included an embossed design — just like Hydrox. Unfortunately for Sunshine, Hydrox cookies are often seen today as the imposter while Oreos have become an American icon, raking in more than $3 billion annually according to Mondelēz International, the parent company that now owns Nabisco. Some say the Hydrox name was its demise. After the launch of the Sunshine brand, the company used the two elements of water—hydrogen and oxygen—to name its Hydrox cookie in a nod to the concept of purity, but the result has a less appealing connotation of the chemical hydrogen peroxide. The Hydrox cookie was largely discontinued in the late 1990s and early 2000s after a series of mergers and acquisitions in the baked goods industry and due to poor sales. A company called LeafBrands bought Hydrox in 2015 and began making a version of the cookie with real cane sugar as opposed to the high-fructose corn syrup in Oreos, and without hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, or GMOs. LeafBrands has been fighting to gain market share since the cookie’s relaunch, and filed a lawsuit against Oreo’s parent company, accusing Mondelēz of hiding the Hydrox on grocery store shelves. The battle of the baked goods is likely to continue to be heated, but it doesn’t look like Oreo will be giving up the top spot anytime soon. Sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

Important Disclosure: The information contained in this presentation is for informational purposes only. The content may contain statements or opinions related to financial matters but is not intended to constitute individualized investment advice as contemplated by the Investment Advisors Act of 1940, unless a written advisory agreement has been executed with the recipient. This information should not be regarded as an offer to sell or as a solicitation of an offer to buy any securities, futures, options, loans, investment products, or other financial products or services. The information contained in this presentation is based on data gathered from a variety of sources which we believe to be reliable. It is not guaranteed as to its accuracy, does not purport to be complete, and is not intended to be the sole basis for any investment decisions. All references made to investment or portfolio performance are based on historical data. Past performance may or may not accurately reflect future realized performance. Securities discussed in this report are not FDIC Insured, may lose value, and do not constitute a bank guarantee. Investors should carefully consider their personal financial picture, in consultation with their investment advisor, prior to engaging in any investment action discussed in this report. This report may be used in one on one discussions between clients (or potential clients) and their investment advisor representative, but it is not intended for third-party or unauthorized redistribution. The research and opinions expressed herein are time sensitive in nature and may change without additional notice.