Except for a few rallies along the way, short sellers on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) have been in full retreat in recent months – as highlighted by the short position in the iShares S&P/TSX 60 exchange-traded fund (ETF).
On Nov. 30, it stood at 70 million units, down considerably from 120 million units in July.
Bearish bets at the sector level
The three most shorted sectors as of Nov. 30 were preferred shares, energy companies and banks, as represented, respectively, by the BMO Laddered Preferred Shares, iShares S&P/TSX Capped Energy and BMO Equal Weight Banks ETFs.
Some sectors have managed to show increases in short interest since Aug. 31. The biggest were: BMO MSCI Emerging Markets (1,893.1 per cent), iShares S&P/TSX Capped Financials (113.0 per cent) and iShares Canadian Corporate Bond (85.4 per cent).
Consultation paper on activist short sellers
Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA), which represents provincial securities regulators, released a consultation paper on activist short sellers on Dec. 3. The consultation paper reports that activist short sellers have launched 113 campaigns against 73 Canadian companies since 2010.
Campaigns by activist short sellers against Canadian companies past 10 years
As for the charge that activist short sellers “distort and short”, the CSA paper states that a U.S. study “found that separate investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice reached similar conclusions as activist short sellers in 90% of the [U.S.] campaigns.” Sources are cited on other issues, including my Globe and Mail article, “Regulations to rein in short-sellers must not undercut activists’ positive effects”
Non-reporting of foreign short sales
A report by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada publishes the number of shares short for public Canadian companies twice a month. However, it does not include short sales of Canadian stocks trading in other countries. This omission substantially understates short selling activity and bearish sentiment, according to databases developed by S3 Partners.
They show that close to 900 Canadian firms have foreign short sales, mostly in the U.S. Not only are inter-listed companies shorted in other countries but so are Canadian companies listed exclusively in foreign jurisdictions. Furthermore, many companies listed solely in Canada are shorted in foreign over-the-counter markets. The S3 Research data also reveal that well over a third of large-cap Canadian companies have more than 50 per cent of their short sales outside of Canada; the value is US$12.5-billion for the top 30 companies.
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Stock market news live updates: Stocks wrap up strong January as Fed decision looms
U.S. stocks rose Tuesday, closing out a strong January amid a continued flurry of corporate earnings and the start of the Federal Reserve’s latest policy meeting.
The S&P 500 (^GSPC) rose 1.5%, as it gained over 5% for the month. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI) moved up 1.1%. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) added roughly 1.7%, ending the month with an 11% gain. It marked the Nasdaq’s best month since July and best January since 2001.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note ticked down to 3.511% from 3.546% on Monday. The dollar index ticked down 0.21% to $102.06.
The major U.S. stock averages rebounded after tumbling on Monday, kicking off a week packed with macro events and major tech earnings.
The biggest item on the macroeconomic calendar is the FOMC’s policy meeting, which commenced on Tuesday ahead of an anticipated Wednesday decision to hike rates by quarter percentage point, bringing the federal funds to a target range of 4.5% to 4.75%. Yet It’s unclear what could come next.
“[We] expect Powell to be quite hawkish in the press conference,” Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JP Morgan, wrote in a note. “We look for him to stress two themes: (i) slowing is not stopping, and (ii) don’t expect rate cuts in ’23.”
It’s also a significant week for the European Central Bank and the Bank of England, as it’s widely expected for officials to raise benchmark interest rates by 50 basis points on Thursday. Such a move would mark a slowdown from last year’s aggressive hikes, as inflation cools and unemployment levels remain low.
Elsewhere on the economic data front, consumer confidence fell to 107.1 compared to 109.0 in the prior month but remains above July 2022 levels, according to The Conference Board. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecasted a range of 105.0 to 112.5.
Earnings season in full force
The busiest week of the fourth-quarter earnings season kicked off, with more than 100 companies representing nearly one-third of the S&P 500’s market value reporting results.
Exxon Mobil (XOM) shares rose more than 2% Tuesday after the company reported earnings that beat expectations in the fourth quarter, while revenue came in short. The oil giant posted adjusted quarterly earnings per share of $3.40 compared to analyst forecasts of $3.29. Revenue in the quarter was $95.43 billion, lower than expectations of $97.3 billion.
McDonald’s (MCD) shares dipped after the company reported fourth-quarter earnings Tuesday morning that beat expectations as more customers visited the fast-food chain amid higher menu prices. Revenue for the quarter came in at $5.93 billion compared to $5.75 billion expected, while the company posted adjusted earnings per share of $2.59 compared to analysts forecasts of $2.44.
United Parcel Service (UPS) posted a decline in revenue for the fourth quarter as the company delivered fewer items during the holiday season. Revenue for the quarter fell 2.7% to $27.0 billion, missing analyst expectations of $28.09 billion. UPS reported an adjusted profit of $3.62 per share for the quarter ended Dec. 31, higher than expectations of $3.59 per share.
Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) posted lower-than-expected quarterly profit, the first time since the start of the pandemic. Caterpillar reported Tuesday adjusted fourth-quarter earnings of $3.86 a share, while analysts expected $3.97.
Spotify (SPOT) reported fourth-quarter results that gave investors a mixed outlook ahead, as the company delivered a wider-than-expected loss and a beat on gross margins. Revenue for the fourth quarter missed. Meanwhile, total monthly active users surpassed expectations, coming in at 489 million compared to 478 million expected.
Finally, Pfizer (PFE) shares dipped, then rebounded after the pharma giant reported adjusted earnings of $1.14 per share on $24.29 billion in sales. The company said it expects lower sales in 2023, including a steep fall in sales for its COVID vaccine.
Elsewhere in markets, shares of Carvana (CVNA) surged on Monday by as much as 33% and rose again in Tuesday trading. According to Bespoke Investments data, Carvana is part of the list of the 35 most heavily shorted stocks in the Russell 1,000 at the moment. These stocks on average are up 18.8% this year.
Meanwhile, things will quickly turn to tech after the bell. Snap (SNAP) is set to provide an early look into what is cooking in the world of online advertising, user growth and consumer spending, following Microsoft (MSFT) signaling a continued slowdown in cloud growth in December.
Overseas, the International Monetary Fund said on Monday that it expects the global economy to slow. In the U.S., economic growth will slow to 1.4% this year as central banks continue to work to tame inflation, the IMF said.
Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @daniromerotv
A shortage of pilots is making travel chaos in Canada even worse
From pandemic-related travel restrictions to extreme weather events, Canada’s travel industry has navigated an unprecedented amount of uncertainty of late. And now, just as demand for travel has returned to its 2019 level, airlines are navigating their next patch of turbulence: a lack of qualified pilots.
According to Transport Canada, in a typical pre-pandemic year, roughly 1,100 pilot licences were issued. When complemented by foreign-trained pilots, that was generally more than enough to satisfy the needs of carriers as large as WestJet and Air Canada, all the way down to regional, charter and cargo airlines.
But as demand for flying collapsed in 2020, so did the number of new pilots getting their paperwork. Government data shows less than 500 licences were awarded in 2020, a figure that fell to less than 300 in 2021 and just 238 last year.
The department told CBC News in a statement that while labour shortages in the airline sector has been “identified as a priority area for action,” there are no current plans to loosen regulations. But the agency says it’s doing what it can to “increase the competitiveness of the Canadian flight training industry as well as improve the viability of aviation careers to address any shortages.”
Whatever changes do come will do little to help anyone in the short term, and travellers are already seeing the impact of the industry’s current labour crunch.
Staff shortages were a factor in charter airline Sunwing’s cancellation of 67 flights over the last two weeks of December, along with extreme weather.
Salaries for experienced pilots generally go up faster and higher at the major airlines than they do at most others, they are so typically able to have their pick among those available. That causes shortages just about everywhere else.
The head of the Air Transport Association of Canada says it’s a problem that had been brewing for many years, even before the pandemic.
“We haven’t had enough pilots for a long time, mostly at the regional level,” John McKenna said.
Long, expensive process
Getting a commercial licence is the last step in a multi-year process of becoming a pilot, a journey that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take years.
In Canada, for many that journey ends with a dream job at either WestJet or Air Canada, but because of the expense and time commitment of training a new pilot, the major airlines often hire top staff from smaller carriers instead of methodically developing their own.
“Their fishing grounds is the regional carriers. And the regional carriers go down to the smaller carriers, air taxi groups … those levels have been hurting for many years,” McKenna said.
Canada’s two biggest airlines told CBC News in emailed statements that while there is indeed a higher than normal demand for pilots right now, both of them are managing to meet their needs.
“As a large global carrier operating the most modern, largest aircraft, we are a very desirable destination for talented pilots,” AIr Canada said. “As a result, we are able to attract pilots as required.”
“We have and continue to responsibly manage and plan our operations to meet the anticipated demand of our guests and are fully staffed across our network to support our operation,” WestJet said.
That’s not the case for everyone else. Small airlines often have so few pilots on staff that it doesn’t take the loss of very many to stop planes from flying.
In the fall, Sunwing applied to bring in more than 60 temporary foreign workers to meet demand for pilots, but that application was rejected, which exacerbated the chaos seen at the end of 2022. The airline has since cancelled almost all flights out of Saskatchewan and most out of Manitoba for the rest of the winter travel season.
Pandemic reduced numbers, too
It’s not just the big boys gobbling up all the qualified pilots, either. Many simply left the profession during the pandemic.
“Two years ago, to the day, literally almost every pilot [was] out of work,” says Dave Boston, a pilot with 25 years experience who’s also the man behind Edmonton-based aviation job board, Pilot Career Centre.
Faced with furloughs and layoffs at airlines big and small, many pilots tried to wait it out, but many simply moved on, he told CBC News in an interview.
“Many who had businesses or other interests, after maybe six months to a year, had to put food on the table, and they left the industry,” Boston said.
For the pilots who are left, headhunting is the new normal. He says he hears from desperate airlines every day, because they either can’t find the staff, or just lost yet another one. “It’s very common for pilots, unfortunately, to work there for six months [then] get a surprise interview that they don’t expect to get, and then they’re gone,” he said.
“It’s a real challenge right now.”
One person hoping to meet that challenge is Zona Savic, a soon-to-be graduate of one of Canada’s premier aviation schools, Seneca College in Peterborough, Ont.
While she had planned to go into engineering, she joined the Air Cadets while in high school, and was quickly bitten by the aviation bug.
“I just knew from the moment that I was in that plane, this is what I was going to do,” she told CBC News in an interview.
She’s on track to get her pilot’s licence soon, and while she may do additional training to become an instructor herself, she says it’s a load off her mind to know that she won’t have to worry about finding a job.
And even better for the industry, she has no qualms about working her way up at smaller carriers flying niche, remote routes.
” I just love the feeling of flying, so if that’s what I’m doing, I don’t really care if I’m in Paris, or in Nunavut,” she says. “Anything is good for me, as long as I get to experience that.”
Q4 economic growth slows to 1.6% as aggressive hikes bite
Canada’s economy geared down at the end of 2022, growing at about half the pace of the third quarter and setting the stage for a period of little to no growth.
Preliminary data suggest gross domestic product was flat in December as increases in retail, utilities and the public sector were offset by decreases in the wholesale, finance and oil and gas industries, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday in Ottawa. That followed a 0.1 per cent gain in November, which matched economist expectations in a Bloomberg survey, and a 0.1 per cent increase in October.
Overall, the monthly gains point to annualized growth in the fourth quarter of 1.6 per cent, according to an initial estimate from the statistics agency. Though it will likely be revised, it’s down sharply from a 2.9 per cent pace in the third quarter, 3.2 per cent during April to June, and 2.8 per cent in the first three months of last year.
The numbers show that higher interest rates, which have jumped 425 basis points since last March, are slowing economic activity and weighing on consumption. The lagged effects of the Bank of Canada’s aggressive tightening campaign are expected to drag growth to a halt this year, with economists seeing two quarters of shallow contraction in the first half of 2023.
That’s a key reason why Governor Tiff Macklem and his officials said this month they plan to hold the benchmark overnight lending rate at 4.5 per cent if growth and inflation evolve broadly in line with their outlook. While the 1.6 per cent growth in the final quarter is slightly stronger than policymakers forecast last week, signs of slowing demand are mounting.
“The economy hasn’t yet absorbed the impact of past rate hikes,” James Orlando, an economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, said in a report to investors. “Even though today’s growth numbers are holding up well, the BoC can feel comfortable keeping its policy on cruise control a little while longer.”
In November, growth in services-producing industries was partially offset by a decline in the goods sectors, the statistics agency said. Interest-rate increases continued to dampen activity for real estate agents and brokers, residential building construction, and legal services which have been trending downward since spring.
Construction dropped 0.7 per cent, with new construction of single detached homes and home improvement leading the decline. Accommodation and food services contracted 1.4 per cent on lower activity in bars and restaurants. Retail trade decreased 0.6 per cent, with the food and beverage subsector falling to its lowest level since April 2018.
The central bank expected fourth-quarter growth of 1.3 per cent annualized, while economists in Bloomberg surveys predicted a gain of 0.9 per cent. Official data for December and the fourth quarter will be released Feb. 28.
Based on initial estimates, Canada’s economy expanded 3.8 per cent in 2022, broadly in line the Bank of Canada’s estimate for a 3.6 per cent growth.
“The overriding message is that the economy is just managing to keep its head above water, which squarely fits with the BoC’s view,” Doug Porter, chief economist at Bank of Montreal, said in a report to investors.
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