In the span of a month, the bottom has dropped out of the bull-market rally as investors have come to grips with the prospect of “higher for longer” interest rates worldwide. The sell-off in global stocks and bonds picked up steam on Thursday. And weary market watchers will be looking for more hints on the Fed’s view at next week’s Jackson Hole summit of central bankers and policymakers.
Technology stocks have been hit particularly hard. The high-flying FANG+ Index — which comprises the largest tech stocks by market capitalization, including Apple, Nvidia, Tesla and Meta — fell into correction territory on Thursday. The group of Nasdaq heavyweights is down nearly 11 percent since July 18.
High-growth tech stocks tend to be sensitive to rising interest rates and bond yields. They rallied earlier in the year on investors’ belief that the Fed was pivoting to a more dovish rates policy, which could inspire a rebound in tech spending. (Investors’ voracious appetite for stocks that could benefit from the boom in artificial intelligence also fueled the tech rally.)
Just a month ago, Wall Street was hailing the so-called “magnificent seven” for driving the gains this year in the S&P 500. As MarketWatch notes, four of the seven (Apple, Nvidia, Meta, and Microsoft) have fallen at least 10 percent from their highs in July. Tesla, the worst of the bunch, has tumbled more than 25 percent in that period, putting it in bear territory.
Rising bond yields have investors on edge. On Thursday, alarm bells sounded on both sides of the Atlantic as investors sold government bonds en masse, sending yields to multiyear highs. The 10-year Treasury note climbed to a height it last hit in the early days of the global financial crisis in 2008.
This sentiment trickled down to stocks and crypto. Bitcoin and Ethereum, the largest cryptocurrencies, plunged overnight, with Bitcoin sinking to a two-month low below $26,500. The Wall Street Journal’s report that SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, wrote down the value of its Bitcoin stake over the past two years and sold some of it hasn’t improved sentiment around the highly volatile asset class.
China’s woes are also weighing on global markets. The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong fell into a bear market on Friday as investors pulled back on Chinese stocks with the economy slowing and a property-market crisis brewing. Also on Friday, analysts at Nomura were the latest to lower their forecast for China’s growth. Adding to the jitters, the renminbi hit a 16-year low against the dollar on Friday, prompting emergency moves to prop up the currency. That did little to soothe investors’ nerves.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The Chinese property giant Evergrande files for bankruptcy in the United States. The company defaulted on its bonds in 2021, spurring a crisis across a sector that is a crucial driver of Chinese growth, and is pursuing a restructuring agreement with creditors. Country Garden, another developer, missed international debt payments this month amid a wider economic slowdown in China.
Instacart is reportedly planning an I.P.O. as early as next month. The country’s largest online grocery delivery company is pursuing a traditional listing on Nasdaq after considering a direct listing, according to Bloomberg. Separately, Arm, the chip designer owned by SoftBank, has lined up 28 banks to underwrite an I.P.O. that could be the biggest this year, Bloomberg reported.
Mortgage rates hit a 21-year high. The lending giant Freddie Mac said on Thursday that the average rate on a 30-year mortgage, the most common home loan in America, surpassed 7 percent this week; a year ago it was at 5.19 percent. Ballooning rates for financing and a tight supply of homes are pricing an increasing number of Americans out of the housing market.
The Southwest braces for Hurricane Hilary. The Category 4 storm is expected to make landfall in Baja California on Saturday and then head inland over the Mexican border into California, where it will weaken to a tropical storm. A flood watch has been issued for Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
A full-metal fight
A cornerstone of President Biden’s effort to counter China is to secure access to the commodities critical to supply-chain security. An emerging bidding war for U.S. Steel could test that ambition in a sector dominated by Chinese rivals.
But a brewing geopolitical fight on the other side of the world could have even longer-term consequences for the economy and the Biden administration’s plans to power an energy transition.
Cleveland-Cliffs started the bidding for U.S. Steel with a $10 billion offer. A successful bid would add to consolidation of a U.S. industry that has dwindled to four major companies: Cleveland-Cliffs, U.S. Steel, Nucor and Steel Dynamics. China is the world’s biggest producer by far, accounting for about half of global production; the United States ranks fourth.
U.S. Steel publicly rejected the initial offer. The company called the Cleveland-Cliffs terms “unreasonable” and announced a formal review process. The United Steelworkers supported Cleveland-Cliffs’ bid, but manufacturers worry that more consolidation would give steel makers outsized power to raise prices and squeeze customers.
Another major metals fight worth watching is unfolding in Indonesia. The country has the world’s biggest reserves of nickel, a mineral used in electric vehicle batteries — and a key material in the green economy. The Biden administration has offered billions of dollars in subsidies to spur EV manufacturing, and the energy transition is a crucial aspect of the Inflation Reduction Act.
But Indonesia’s nickel industry relies on Chinese companies for investment and technology. That is complicating Jakarta’s efforts to build ties with global companies that want to get access to the country’s reserves and to American tax credits via the I.R.A. The Indonesian government had been wooing Tesla to build a factory, but the company set up its Southeast Asian headquarters in Malaysia instead.
That may give China another opening. Indonesian officials are considering other options, including stepping up efforts to convince BYD, China’s largest EV maker, to set up shop. “We are aiming basically to the United States,” Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, one of Indonesia’s most powerful ministers, told The Times’s Peter Goodman. “But if the Americans finally say, ‘We don’t want to take it,’ fine, we’ll look for some other places to go.”
— The amount Spotify could add in profits by steering listeners away from white noise podcasts, according to Bloomberg. The company’s algorithm pushed users looking for “talk” content to shows that broadcast everything from whale noises to bird song on repeat. But those users typically remain on the free, ad-supported version of the platform instead of opting for the subscription shows that are more lucrative for Spotify. The company considered directing listeners to shows that made more money, but didn’t put the plan into action.
What’s next for Hawaiian Electric?
The death toll from the wildfires that have ripped across Maui stands at 111, and focus is turning to what led the blaze to become one of the country’s worst natural disasters in decades. Maui’s emergency management chief resigned last night as questions swirled over the decision not to use outdoor alert sirens. Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest utility, is also facing major scrutiny.
It could take months for officials to assess the company’s role — if any — in the blaze. But markets fear the worst. Hawaiian Electric shares have fallen by more than 65 percent since Aug. 7, the day before the wildfire started. On Friday, Moody’s was the latest credit ratings firm to downgrade Hawaiian Electric as potential liabilities mount.
A big question is whether the company will be forced to follow a similar path to Pacific Gas and Electric, the California-based utility company that filed for bankruptcy in 2019 under the burden of wildfire liabilities.
The factors to watch include whether insurance can cover Hawaiian Electric’s massive rebuilding costs, and the size of its potential liabilities. At least four lawsuits have already been filed, contending the company was negligent in operating and maintaining equipment.
Evidence is building. Videos and photos posted from Maui appear to show power lines starting fires. In addition, data from Whisker Labs, a company that monitors electrical grids for fire hazards, seems to identify faults on power lines in the area where the fires started.
There’s an important difference between Hawaiian Electric and PG&E. California has inverse indemnification laws, which makes it easier to hold public utility companies like PG&E liable. Hawaii has no such regulations, meaning litigants will have the higher bar of proving management is to blame.
Would Hawaii allow the company to file for bankruptcy? Regardless of how bad Hawaiian Electric’s financial situation becomes, Hawaii may not want to allow its largest utility to go bankrupt. That could delay rebuilding on the island.
The state has been through big bankruptcies before, including those of Hawaiian Airlines in 2008 and Liberty House, its largest retailer, in 1998. Working to keep the company out of bankruptcy could be seen as a more politically fraught option, versus handing over questions about its future to a judge.
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