STOCKS ARE AT RECORD HIGHS, BUT THINGS WILL ONLY GET HARDER FROM HERE | Kanebridge News
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STOCKS ARE AT RECORD HIGHS, BUT THINGS WILL ONLY GET HARDER FROM HERE

Expectations for interest-rate cuts are waning. Some investors say stock gains might be hard-won as a result.

By ERIC WALLERSTEIN
Mon, Jan 22, 2024 9:51amGrey Clock 4 min

Wall Street entered 2024 betting the year would go perfectly, but an up-and-down start for stocks and bonds suggests the going won’t be easy.

Stocks have climbed to records, driven by cooling inflation that has spurred investors to anticipate as many as six interest-rate cuts. Falling rates often boost share prices by reducing the relative appeal of bonds and making it cheaper for companies and consumers to borrow, lifting corporate profits.

But despite Friday’s record close in the S&P 500, the rally in major indexes has stalled in recent weeks—the benchmark index is up less than 2% from where it was a month ago—while the labour market and economy show few signs of slowing. Bond yields have ticked up in the new year after falling sharply at the end of 2023.

This dynamic is prompting some analysts and portfolio managers to warn that further stock gains might be halting because the rate cuts that are widely expected to power the market higher might not arrive as quickly as bullish investors had wagered.

“Clearly, the consensus is that inflation is under control and we’re heading for a soft landing,” said Doug Fincher, a portfolio manager at New York City-based hedge fund Ionic Capital Management. “It’s certainly possible—but a lot of that is priced in.”

The S&P 500 is up 1.5% this year, but analysts see more signs of caution under the hood.

Investors have retreated this year from shares of banks, smaller companies and real-estate firms that posted big gains during the fourth-quarter rally, which was kicked off by investor belief that the Federal Reserve had pivoted in November to a rate-cutting stance. Bond yields, which rise when prices fall, have climbed as traders have pared back bets that Fed officials will start cutting rates in March.

There is a greater than 50% chance the central bank keeps rates where they are at its March meeting, according to the CME FedWatch tool. At the start of the year, traders expected rates to end December around 3.85%. Now they expect closer to 4.1%, per futures contracts tied to the fed-funds rate.

Behind those moves: data showing persistent economic strength that could lift inflation. Treasury yields, a benchmark for borrowing costs, surged last week after Fed governor Christopher Waller cautioned against rushing to cut rates. Yields’ climb continued after data on retail sales, housing starts and unemployment filings all beat economists’ projections. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield finished the week at 4.145% after starting the year at 3.860%.

Traders are now betting inflation will average above 2.4% over the next five years, the highest level since November, based on swap contracts tied to the consumer-price index.

The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks—which gained 22% in the last two months of the year—is down 4.1% in January. Speculative stocks have taken a beating; both Rivian and Coinbase have lost more than 25% after rising during the Fed-pivot rally. A KBW index of regional banks, which added 31% in November and December, has slid more than 3%. Shares of real-estate and utility companies are down even more, also having surged in those months.

The Bloomberg Barclays aggregate bond index, which soared in the final months of last year, is down 1.4% to start 2024.

“People tried to front-run the rate cuts by buying long-duration assets, like tech stocks and bonds,” said Nancy Davis, founder of asset management firm Quadratic Capital Management. “What if the Fed doesn’t cut that much or that quickly? Those people get hung out to dry.”

The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model shows the economy likely grew at a 2.4% inflation-adjusted pace in the fourth quarter. That is nowhere near the conditions that have historically necessitated rates coming down 1.5 percentage points—which traders were betting on heading into 2024.

The extra compensation investors receive for buying high-quality corporate bonds over Treasurys is slimmer than before the Fed began raising rates, now around a percentage point. Credit spreads on junk bonds are similarly tight, signalling little concern over company defaults. Leveraged loans—used to fund private-equity buyouts or finance poorly rated companies—are in such high demand that companies are slashing their borrowing costs.

Some investors believe a strong economy could still boost stocks.

Sophia Drossos, an economist and strategist at Stamford, Conn.-based hedge fund Point72, expects robust consumer spending—and a proactive Fed—to help avert a recession and prop up corporate profits. The strong underlying U.S. economy “means risky assets can benefit,” Drossos said.

Not everyone is optimistic. Some fear new sources of inflationary pressure, such as trade disruptions from the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and a drought in the Panama Canal.

And technical factors also could undermine the market gains. Interest-rate bets often represent investors protecting their portfolios against the risk of a recession or crisis that requires sudden rate cuts. Without a major slowdown, investors might remove those hedges, raising market rates. That could tighten financial conditions and disrupt stocks without any fundamental changes to the economic outlook.

But considering the strength of the economy, many doubt rate cuts will be as aggressive as investors hoped just a few weeks ago, threatening one of the rally’s biggest pillars of support.

“You’d think the wheels would have to come off to see that number of cuts,” said Fincher.



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AACCI’s Strategic Vision for Enhancing Australia-Arab Trade Relations

The Australian Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) is fostering robust trade relations between Australia and Arab countries.

Mon, May 20, 2024 5 min

In an era where global trade and international relationships are more crucial than ever, the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) serves as a bridge, for cooperation and growth between Australia and the Arab nations. Led by its Chairman, Mr. Mohamed Hage, the AACCI has taken on projects aimed at strengthening relationships and fostering development across borders.

This exclusive interview explores the initiatives implemented by the AACCI to expand its presence and influence in the region including the significant establishment of a new operational hub in Dubai. We also delve into how the Chamber embraces education through training and research, its participation in major international exhibitions, and its active support for both large corporations and small businesses.

Looking towards tomorrow, Mr. Mohamed shares his vision for broadening AACCI’s reach emphasizing the importance of the on-ground operations and cultural understanding in building business connections.

-Could you elaborate on the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry, including its objectives and main areas of focus?

The Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) plays a fundamental role, in promoting business partnerships and trade between Australia and the 22 Arab countries. As a member of the Union of Arab Chambers affiliated with the Arab League, AACCI focuses on strengthening trade and investment ties, across these countries.

To nurture these connections effectively AACCI has outlined four objectives: facilitating trade and investment activities, certifying documents, educating stakeholders, and offering marketing assistance.

Our initiatives are designed not only to empower trade and investment endeavors but to also ensure engagement with specific sectors that drive these activities. With an understanding of the characteristics, strengths and preferences of each country, AACCI prides itself on its specialized knowledge customized to suit the distinct business environments of these nations.

– As the AACCI approaches its 50th anniversary, what have been some of the key milestones and achievements?

I believe one of AACCI’s accomplishments is the opportunities it has opened up for numerous Australian companies to access markets, in the region. Moreover, the strong bilateral trade relationship that has developed between Australia and the 22 Arab nations over the five decades has led to trade transactions amounting to billions of dollars.

This extensive trade covers industries such as food and beverages, luxury hotels and many more services. Each successive generation, within AACCI has built upon the foundation laid by its predecessors enriching their knowledge base and expanding their range of services.

– How does the AACCI leverage its diverse leadership team to enhance trade and investment opportunities between Australia and the Arab region?

Since taking on the role of chairman, my main focus has been on expanding our presence in the region. This led to the idea of opening an office in Dubai, which symbolizes our dedication to deepening our engagement in that area. We have successfully secured the license to open our first office in Dubai after 50 years, which will serve as a gateway to the GCC and North Africa.

I strongly believe that building two-way trade and investment ties requires more than a degree of business connectivity; it demands having local representatives present in each region. With trends emphasizing strategies the value of face-to-face engagements cannot be overstated.

Setting up offices in the region is essential for the Chamber to truly serve as a link and support system for business activities. Ultimately this expansion will bring benefits to our members and partners by providing them with access, to dynamic markets and diverse prospects.

– Can you discuss the significance of AACCI’s role in cultural and business exchanges between the two regions?

The importance of understanding cultures in our operations cannot be overstated. To address this, we have included a training platform within the Chamber to strengthen our cultural awareness initiatives. This new program offers our members access to modules on our website focusing on global business practices.

Furthermore, we have set up a Center of Excellence specifically dedicated to researching areas like food security and cultural awareness. These research endeavors are essential for promoting knowledge between the two regions.

By combining the resources of the Center of Excellence, our training resources, and the forthcoming local office in Dubai, we’re providing cultural awareness not only in the region but also in Australia. This approach ensures that our members are well equipped and knowledgeable boosting their effectiveness and involvement, in markets.

– What is the objective of your on-ground presence at conferences and events?

Participating in conferences and on ground events is very important for increasing awareness in industries like construction where knowledge of opportunities in the Arab world may not be widespread. When we see projects such as NEOM or notice the construction boom happening in the region it becomes important for organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to highlight these prospects. By taking part in large scale expos such as the Sydney Build Expo we position ourselves at the forefront of these advancements.

Our presence at these events enables interaction giving entrepreneurs a chance to visit our booth engage in discussions and learn more about the region in an approachable and personalized manner. This plays a role in simplifying the process and making opportunities concrete.

– With such a diverse membership base, how does AACCI tailor its services to meet the needs of both large corporations and small startups?

When it comes to discussing business it’s important to grasp how influence and vision come into play. Businesses looking to expand are often motivated by a desire to achieve something whether they are big companies or small enterprises. Small businesses typically aim to raise their brands profile while larger corporations seek recognition and market dominance.

Standing out in this area can be tough mainly because the key driving force is the passion to showcase the brand and products on a platform. This determination serves as a motivator for entrepreneurs.

At the Chamber we make a point of recognizing the needs of both big and small players by understanding each members individual situation. We ensure that every member is well informed about the opportunities and risks that come with expanding. For small businesses, this means being aware of the financial demands, while large businesses are advised on the necessity of both financial and emotional resilience.

– How does AACCI plan to expand or evolve its services in the coming years to further support its members?

The importance of having resources on the ground cannot be emphasized enough. Having local staff is key to establishing connections with the communities we serve. Without a presence in the area staying updated on events and activities becomes quite challenging.

This is why, as I’ve mentioned before, we have established an office in Dubai, staffed with personnel dedicated to supporting our members. This local office will help us effectively bridge the gap between Australia and the Arab world. And our members will benefit from insights and assistance from someone who truly knows the landscape.

In Australia we have equipped offices throughout the country staffed by individuals who play a significant role in our operations. This strong domestic network complements our efforts ensuring that we provide support to our members both locally and globally. This strategic approach is crucial, for nurturing business relationships and fostering continental understanding.

 

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