Markets Expect Fed to Raise Rates Despite Bank Turmoil
Banks in focus as the Fed weighs its rates move
If market predictions are correct, the Fed on Wednesday will raise borrowing costs by a quarter of a percentage point, even as growing turmoil in the stocks of regional banks threatens to choke off credit to businesses and consumers, pushing the economy into recession.
The decision comes amid a brutal sell-off in regional banks’ shares, which has wiped billions off smaller lenders’ market valuations. Investors have been worried about the health of these banks since March, when Silicon Valley Bank collapsed in one of the most prominent bank failures in U.S. history.
Regulators had hoped that the sale of the embattled First Republic Bank to JPMorgan Chase this week would contain the panic. But short sellers, investors who profit off bets that stock prices will fall, have continued to take aim at regional lenders like PacWest, Western Alliance and Zions Bancorp. (Shares in PacWest and Western Alliance are down again in premarket trading.)
The market carnage could result in more pain for regional banks. Falling prices may cause C.F.O.s to say, “‘You know what, maybe I should think about diversification and moving my funding’” out of these lenders, Ryan Nash, a research director at Goldman Sachs, said in a webinar on Tuesday.
He added that while “most of the large failures are likely behind us, I do think there is a risk that pressure on stock prices could reinvigorate” worries about the sector’s health.
Meanwhile, the Fed faces political pressure. Ten progressive lawmakers, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, urged the central bank to pause its rate hikes to “avoid engineering a recession that destroys jobs and crushes small businesses.”
The lawmakers cautioned Jay Powell, the Fed chair, that raising borrowing prices could further compound trouble for beleaguered banks.
None of this is likely to deter the Fed from raising rates on Wednesday, analysts said. Indeed, a “shock pause” would “do more harm than good” by spooking an already jittery market, according to Elsa Lignos, the global head of FX strategy at RBC Capital Markets.
But economists increasingly believe that Wednesday’s increase will be the last in this tightening cycle. Watch what Mr. Powell says about upcoming Fed meetings: If he suggests that the central bank needs to remain hawkish on rates to fight inflation, that could send stocks — especially those of regional banks — especially hard.
Ms. Lignos advised paying attention to what Mr. Powell says about whether “additional policy firming may be appropriate,” a line of guidance he used after the March meeting: If that wording is softened or deleted altogether, she said, it may indicate a dovish turn by the Fed.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Elon Musk threatens to give away NPR’s Twitter account. In an email exchange with a reporter at the news outlet, Mr. Musk wrote that he could give the @NPR handle to “another company” if the broadcaster did not start tweeting again. NPR stopped posting on Twitter in protest last month after the platform labeled it “state-controlled.”
House Democrats work on a long-shot plan to avert a U.S. default. It involves a so-called discharge petition that would bypass Speaker Kevin McCarthy but would require Democrats to win over some Republicans. Meanwhile, the White House is debating whether to pursue what is effectively a constitutional challenge that would let it sidestep Congress and raise the debt limit.
Howard Schultz’s final quarter is a success. The coffee chain reported better-than-expected earnings for the first three months of the year, during which Mr. Schultz handed over the C.E.O. title to Laxman Narasimhan. The company benefited from a surge in sales there after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted; however, Starbucks shares were down 5 percent in premarket trading after it kept its guidance for the second half of 2023 unchanged.
Donald Trump ends a boycott of CNN. The former president is set to participate in a town-hall-style meeting on May 10 organized by the news network. His appearance may be a sign that the Republican presidential candidate, who hasn’t appeared on CNN since 2016, may be broadening his media profile beyond Fox News and other conservative channels.
Late night shows go dark on the first day of a writers’ strike. “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” was a repeat on Tuesday, and new episodes of shows hosted by Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel have been suspended as movie and TV writers hit the picket lines. Unlike in the 1990s, late-night stars have publicly signaled support for the unions.
Hindenburg turns the tables on Icahn
Over nearly a half-century, Carl Icahn has shaken up Wall Street as a corporate raider and activist shareholder, making corporate titans bow down to his demands and change strategy.
But Tuesday, his publicly traded company became a target of Hindenburg Research, the short-seller firm that has made its name in recent years by taking on the Indian tycoon Gautam Adani and the Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
Hindenburg accused Mr. Icahn Enterprises of being overvalued. The company trades well above its net asset value, unlike similar financial vehicles run by Bill Ackman and Dan Loeb. Hindenburg also called out what it said was an unjustifiably hefty dividend being financed by stock sales.
“Icahn has been using money taken in from new investors to pay out dividends to old investors,” the firm wrote in a public report. (Hindenburg is betting that Icahn Enterprises’s shares will fall; the company’s stock tumbled 20 percent on Tuesday.)
Hindenburg also called out Jefferies, which it said was the only large investment bank to publish research on Icahn Enterprises — and also helps the company sell stock.
Mr. Icahn punched back. “We believe the self-serving short seller report published by Hindenburg Research today was intended solely to generate profits on Hindenburg’s short position at the expense of I.E.P.’s long-term unit holders,” the company said in a statement, adding that it stands by its disclosures.
Hindenburg got one prominent endorser: Mr. Ackman. The hedge fund mogul memorably clashed with Mr. Icahn over the prospects of Herbalife, the supplements company that Ackman had shorted. (Remember the verbal brawl between the two on CNBC that gripped Wall Street?)
They made peace — but time may not have healed all wounds. “There is a karmic quality to this short report that reinforces the notion of a circle of life and death,” Mr. Ackman tweeted of Hindenburg’s report. “As such, it is a must read.”
Artificial intelligence 101
Shares in education companies plunged on Tuesday, after Dan Rosensweig, the C.E.O. of Chegg, warned that ChatGPT was cannibalizing growth. The sell-off was one of the biggest indications yet of how companies may struggle to protect their legacy businesses from a powerful new crop of artificial intelligence tools that have captured the public’s imagination.
ChatGPT began hitting Chegg’s business in March, Rosensweig told analysts on an earnings call this week. It was among the first times a C.E.O. offered a candid take on the chatbot’s potential financial toll on a company. “We now believe it’s having an impact on our new customer growth rate,” he said.
The comments spooked investors. Chegg’s stock fell more than 48 percent on Tuesday, and shares in other education companies also tumbled: The London-listed Pearson slid 15 percent, and the language learning platform Duolingo dropped 10 percent.
Rosensweig called the sell-off “extraordinarily overblown” in an interview afterward with CNBC, comments that helped shares regain some lost ground.
The market impact is only a hint of the disruption A.I. will cause. “These swings in share price demonstrate that markets haven’t started to price in the effect of breakthroughs in generative A.I. — even in the sector where its impact is the most apparent,” Nathan Benaich, founder of the A.I.-focused investment firm Air Street Capital and an author of the State of A.I. Report, who told DealBook that “education businesses will only be the first dominoes to fall.”
In other A.I. news:
Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, outlines her vision for regulating A.I. in a Times Opinion guest essay: “Although these tools are novel, they are not exempt from existing rules,” she writes.
Inflection AI, a start-up created by the LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Mustafa Suleyman, a co-founder of Google DeepMind, introduced Pi, a chatbot that is intended to be more conversational than rival offerings like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard.
Cohere, a Toronto-based A.I. start-up, raised $250 million at a valuation of about $2 billion. Backers included the tech giants Salesforce and Nvidia.
‘It’s not how white men fight’
More details are emerging about what may have ultimately led to Tucker Carlson’s firing at Fox News last week: The New York Times reports that the evidence uncovered during the discovery phase of the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against the media company included a particularly inflammatory text message that the television host had sent to a producer hours after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
From Carlson’s text message:
Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it.
Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering.
The Fox board learned of the text only the day before the Dominion trial was set to begin, and told top executives that it would hire the top-flight law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to investigate Carlson. It isn’t clear how significant this particular message was to Fox’s decision-making — but within days, the company agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle Dominion’s lawsuit, and within a week, Carlson was out.
THE SPEED READ
Inside the first days of Harvey Schwartz’s tenure as C.E.O. of Carlyle Group: lots of listening sessions, but no drastic restructuring of the investment firm — yet. (FT)
Lilium, a German air-taxi start-up that went public via SPAC, plans to sell up to $250 million worth of stock to finance development of its electric jet. (Reuters)
Best of the rest
Shein, the fast-fashion giant, is embarking on a charm offensive to counter criticism of its ties to China and accusations of copycat designs ahead of a potential I.P.O. (NYT)
Anheuser-Busch InBev has reportedly promised free beer and more to Bud Light distributors to compensate for blowback from an ad campaign featuring a transgender influencer. (WSJ)
“The true cost of our obsession with superfoods like avocado, açaí, and durian.” (Insider)
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