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U.S. consumer prices slow in April, but inflation likely to remain high for a while – The Globe and Mail

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Cars line up at a Sunoco gas station in Delray Beach, Fla., on April 13.Marta Lavandier/The Associated Press

The pressures that have kept inflation elevated for months remain strong, fresh data released Wednesday showed, a challenge for households that are trying to shoulder rising expenses and for the White House and Federal Reserve as they try to put the economy on a steadier path.

Annual inflation moderated for the first time in months in April, but the consumer price index still increased 8.3 percent, an uncomfortably rapid pace. At the same time, a closely watched measure that subtracts food and fuel costs accelerated.

Core inflation – which excludes costs for groceries and gas – picked up 0.6 per cent in April from the prior month, faster than its 0.3 per cent increase in March. That measure is particularly important for policy-makers, who use it as a gauge to help determine where inflation is headed.

While the letup in annual inflation gave President Joe Biden and the Fed a dose of comfort, the overall picture remains worrying. Policy-makers have a long way to go to bring price increases down to more normal and stable levels, and the newest data is likely to keep them focused on trying to slow an inflation rate that remains near its fastest pace in 40 years.

“Inflation is too high – they need to bring it down,” said Laura Rosner-Warburton, senior economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives. “The re-acceleration in core inflation is unwelcome.”

Stocks were turbulent Wednesday, swinging between gains and losses as investors tried to parse the latest data. The S&P 500 ended the day down 1.6 per cent.

Annual inflation may have now peaked, having climbed by an even-quicker 8.5 per cent in March. The April slowdown came partly because gas prices dropped last month and partly because of a statistical quirk that will continue through the months ahead. Yearly price changes are now being measured against elevated price readings from last spring, when inflation started to take off. The higher base makes annual increases look less severe.

Still, even the White House greeted the new report with concern.

“While it is heartening to see that annual inflation moderated in April, the fact remains that inflation is unacceptably high,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “Inflation is a challenge for families across the country, and bringing it down is my top economic priority.”

Economists do expect price increases to continue to ebb somewhat this year because they think that consumer demand will taper off and supply-chain stresses will ease. The crucial question is how much and how quickly that moderation might happen.

Many analysts have been predicting a slowdown in price increases or even outright price cuts on many goods, but those forecasts look increasingly uncertain. Lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine threaten to exacerbate supply shortages for semiconductor chips, commodities and other important products.

“There are persistent issues in supply chains,” said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. “And the most recent developments have not been positive.”

The path ahead for the car market, for instance, remains unclear. Supply shortfalls for used vehicles show some signs of easing, but shortfalls persist in computer chips, which are crucial to automobile production. As a result, companies are still struggling to complete vehicles.

Prices for used cars and trucks declined in April compared with the prior month, though the drop was smaller than the one they experienced in March. While car parts had become cheaper in March, they resumed their monthly increase in April. New car prices also accelerated after a lull, climbing 1.7 per cent from the prior month.

And services prices are now increasing quickly, as rents climb and as worker shortfalls lead to higher wages and steeper prices for restaurant meals and other labour-intensive purchases. If that continues, it could keep inflation elevated even as supply problems are resolved.

Rents picked up 0.6 per cent in April from March, and a measure of housing costs that uses rents to estimate the cost of owned housing climbed 0.5 per cent, up from 0.4 per cent the prior month. The pickup in housing costs is particularly important because they make up about a third of the overall inflation index.

“Domestically generated inflationary pressures remain strong,” Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, wrote after the report was released.

Part of the increase in core inflation in April owed to trends that should not last, most notably a big pop in airfares as travel demand surges following the latest wave of the coronavirus. Even so, Rosner-Warburton said she expected annual CPI inflation to remain at 5.1 per cent at the end of the year, far above levels that prevailed before the pandemic.

The Fed aims for 2 per cent annual inflation on average, though it defines that goal using a related but different measure that tends to run slightly lower and comes out with more of a delay. That inflation index picked up 6.6 per cent in the year through March, and April figures will be released later this month.

The fact that high inflation is lasting so long is a problem for the central bank. After a full year of unusually swift increases, household and investor expectations for future price changes have been creeping higher, which could perpetuate inflation if households and businesses adjust their behaviour, asking for bigger raises and charging more for goods and services.

As such risks have mounted, the Fed has begun to lift interest rates to try to keep price increases from galloping out of control in a more lasting way. In March, Fed policy-makers lifted their main policy interest rate for the first time since 2018, then followed that up with the biggest increase since 2000 at their meeting last week.

By making it more expensive to borrow money, officials are hoping to weaken spending and hiring, which could help supply to catch up with demand. As the economy returns to balance, inflation should come down.

Central bankers are hoping that their policies will temper economic growth without actually pushing unemployment up or plunging the U.S. into a recession – engineering what they often call a “soft landing.”

“I really want us to have that be the outcome, but I recognize that it’s not going to be easy to do,” Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said Monday.

Officials have roundly acknowledged that letting the economy down gently will be difficult, and some have suggested that they would be willing to inflict economic pain if that is what it takes to tackle high inflation.

If the economy gets to a point at which unemployment begins climbing, but inflation remains “unacceptably high,” Mr. Bostic said price increases would be “the threat that we have to take on board.”

One challenge for policy-makers – and even more for families – is that price increases are surfacing in essentials. Food costs rose 0.9 per cent in April from the previous month, the 17th consecutive monthly increase, Friday’s report showed.

The increase was driven by dairy, non-alcoholic beverages and a 10.3-per-cent monthly increase in the cost of eggs, as avian flu decimated poultry flocks. Such inflation tends to especially hit the poor, who spend a bigger chunk of their budgets on needs like groceries and gas.

But as Americans see strong job gains and strong wage growth – albeit not strong enough to fully counteract inflation – many are managing to shoulder the rising costs for now, keeping overall demand strong.

“Consumers appear willing to accept the higher menu prices, particularly as inflation is broad,” George Holm, chief executive of food distributor and restaurant supplier Performance Food Group, said on an earnings call Wednesday. “Still, this is something to closely monitor across the next few months and quarters.”

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Canadian banks benefit from consumer spending rebound – The Globe and Mail

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As consumers open their wallets, the surge is pushing businesses to borrow and invest to meet that demand, which has helped drive up fees and interest income collected by banks.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Rebounding consumer spending and business investment are boosting profits for three of Canada’s largest banks as customers travel and dine out more often, and bankers expect that growth to continue – perhaps at a more moderate pace – even amid mounting fears of an economic downturn.

Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank both reported profits for the fiscal second quarter ended April 30 that beat estimates, while Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s earnings fell short of expectations as its costs swelled. All three banks saw revenue and loan balances in their core Canadian retail and business banking operations post strong gains compared with a year earlier.

As consumers open their wallets, the surge is pushing businesses to borrow and invest to meet that demand, which has helped drive up fees and interest income collected by banks.

Canada’s Big Six banks report their Q2 results this week. What we know about earnings, dividends and economic slowdown concerns

But a key question confronting banks Thursday was whether the trend will continue in the face of high inflation, rapidly rising interest rates and growing gloom about the prospects for an economic downturn. Investors and analysts are on edge about whether demand for loans could wane and defaults on existing loans might rise if economies swing toward a recession.

The banks say their clients are still upbeat and the fundamentals that underpin retail banking look strong enough to withstand some economic headwinds.

“It feels like there’s certainly some more caution out there,” said Hratch Panossian, CIBC’s chief financial officer, in an interview. “But at this point in time, on the ground with our clients, there’s still a relatively high level of confidence and relatively high level of activity as the economy has opened up, the services sectors are coming back.”

On Wednesday, Bank of Nova Scotia and Bank of Montreal both reported higher second-quarter profits and rising loan balances, and executives from both banks offered optimistic outlooks for the financial sector.

There are two key factors bolstering banks’ confidence: a tight labour market that has Canada’s unemployment rate at its lowest level in decades, and the financial buffer many customers built during the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of higher savings and lower debt.

As public health restrictions lifted, spending came roaring back. Credit and debit transactions by RBC customers were 30-per-cent higher in April than before the pandemic, and that momentum carried into May, said chief executive officer Dave McKay. TD’s credit card retail sales were up 22 per cent year over year, according to Mr. Tran. And at CIBC, purchase volumes on cards were up 30 per cent from a year earlier, excluding the bank’s newly acquired portfolio of Costco-branded credit cards.

“We have seen, I’m going to say, full recovery in the categories that are travel, hotel, entertainment,” said Laura Dottori-Attanasio, CIBC’s head of personal and small business banking, on a Thursday conference call.

That spending could come under pressure as inflation and rising interest rates push up prices and borrowing costs for customers. “It’s definitely going to eat into their discretionary income … and consumers then need to make choices,” said Kelvin Tran, TD’s chief financial officer, in an interview.

“But I think for the consumer, what is a very important factor is the unemployment rate,” Mr. Tran said. “If people are gainfully employed and we continue to see the [labour] market continues to be very tight, that increases confidence.”

Many customers also have more financial breathing room in the form of lower debts from personal loans, as well as higher savings. At CIBC, use rates on lines of credit are about 20-per-cent lower than in 2019, and the rate of revolving credit card balances is down between 7 and 10 per cent.

“We’re feeling really good about the health of the consumer,” Ms. Dottori-Attanasio said. “We’re seeing very prudent behaviour when it comes to how people are managing their debt and how they’re making payments on their credit cards.”

Though bankers are confident their customers are resilient, they are still struggling to predict how the economy will react to rapidly rising interest rates. Central bankers “have to hit demand really hard” to tamp down inflation, Mr. McKay said. “Do we land it with a slight recession? I think our message today is it could go either way, it’s 50-50. Having said that, … there are good shock absorbers to absorb that uncertainty.”

In the fiscal second quarter, RBC earned $4.25-billion, or $2.96 a share, compared with $4-billion, or $2.76 a share, a year earlier. On an adjusted basis, RBC said it earned $2.99 a share, beating an estimate of $2.71, according to Refinitiv.

TD reported net income of $3.8-billion, or $2.07 a share, helped by a one-time boost of $224-million stemming from a lawsuit settlement. TD’s adjusted earnings amounted to $2.02 a share, down slightly from the year prior but ahead of the consensus analysts’ prediction of $1.93 a share.

And CIBC earned $1.52-billion, or $1.62 a share, compared with $1.65-billion, or $3.55 a share, in the same quarter last year – before the bank completed a 2-for-1 share split. CIBC said it earned $1.77 a share on an adjusted basis, just below analyst estimates of $1.80 a share.

RBC raised its quarterly dividend by 8 cents a share to $1.28, and CIBC increased its dividend by 2.5 cents a share to 83 cents.

RBC and TD continued to unwind large loan loss reserves they stockpiled to guard against the possibility COVID-19 could cause losses to swell. RBC recovered $342-million in provisions for credit losses in the quarter. TD earmarked just $27-million in total new provisions, while releasing some other reserves as loans are being paid back.

Executives at both banks said their expectations for credit are more optimistic now that pandemic-related risks have receded. But each bank also plugged more pessimistic assumptions into models they use to predict future losses, acknowledging the odds of some sort of economic downturn are rising.

“Omicron didn’t have a big impact on [provisions] so that was a favourable factor in this quarter,” Mr. Tran said. “And then you added something that is less favourable, which is this uncertainty, this outlook.”

With a report from Tim Kiladze

Editor’s note: Hratch Panossian’s title has been corrected in the online version of this story.

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Twitter shareholders sue Musk, say he 'deflated' stock price – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Barbara Ortutay, The Associated Press


Published Thursday, May 26, 2022 7:40PM EDT

Twitter shareholders have filed a lawsuit accusing Elon Musk of engaged in “unlawful conduct” aimed at sowing doubt about his bid to buy the social media company.

The lawsuit filed late Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California claims the billionaire Tesla CEO has sought to drive down Twitter’s stock price because he wants to walk away from the deal or negotiate a substantially lower purchase price.

San Francisco-based Twitter is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which seeks class action status as well as compensation for damages.

A representative for Musk did not immediately respond to a message for comment on Thursday. Twitter declined to comment.

Musk last month offered to buy Twitter for $44 billion, but later said the deal can’t go forward until the company provides information about how many accounts on the platform are spam or bots.

The lawsuit notes, however, that Musk waived due diligence for his “take it or leave it” offer to buy Twitter. That means he waived his right to look at the company’s non-public finances.

In addition, the problem of bots and fake accounts on Twitter is nothing new. The company paid $809.5 million last year to settle claims it was overstating its growth rate and monthly user figures. Twitter has also disclosed its bot estimates to the Securities and Exchange Commission for years, while also cautioning that its estimate might be too low.

To fund some of the acquisition, Musk has been selling Tesla stock and shares in the electric carmaker have lost nearly a third of their value since the deal was announced on April 25.

In response to the plunging value of Tesla’s shares, the Twitter shareholders’ lawsuit claims Musk has been denigrating Twitter, violating both the non-disparagement and non-disclosure clauses of his contract with the company.

“In doing so, Musk hoped to drive down Twitter’s stock price and then use that as a pretext to attempt to re-negotiate the buyout,” according to the lawsuit.

Twitter’s shares closed Thursday at $39.54, 27% below Musk’s $54.20 offer price.

Before announcing his bid to buy Twitter, Musk disclosed in early April that he had bought a 9% stake in the company. But the lawsuit says Musk did not disclose the stake within the timeframe required by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

And the lawsuit says his eventual disclosure of the stake to the SEC was “false and misleading” because he used a form meant for “passive investors” – which Musk at the time was not, because he had been offered a position on Twitter’s board and was interested in buying the company.

Musk benefited by more than $156 million from his failure to disclose his increased stake on time, since Twitter’s stock price could have been higher had investors known Musk was increasing his holdings, the lawsuit claims.

“By delaying his disclosure of his stake in Twitter, Musk engaged in market manipulation and bought Twitter stock at an artificially low price,” the lawsuit says.

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​TD holds off on dividend hike; Beats Q2 profit estimates – BNN

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The Toronto-Dominion Bank beat profit expectations in its latest quarter despite muted performances across its major divisions. It also became the only major bank thus far this earnings season to not raise its quarterly dividend.

TD said its net income in the fiscal second quarter, which ended April 30, rose three per cent year-over-year to $3.81 billion. On an adjusted basis, its profit fell to $2.02 per share from $2.04 a year earlier. Analysts, on average, expected $1.93 in adjusted earnings per share. Overall credit quality improved sequentially, as TD set aside $27 million for loans that could go bad, compared to $72 million in the prior quarter.

Revenue and expenses in TD’s Canadian retail banking unit both rose nine per cent year-over-year, while profit inched up two per cent to $2.24 billion. Lending activity ramped up in the quarter, with the total personal loan book hitting an average of $402.7 billion, compared to $373.3 billion a year earlier, while business loans jumped 16 per cent to almost $101 billion.

A number of one-time items affected profit in TD’s U.S. retail banking unit. On an adjusted basis, net income in that business fell 10 per cent year-over-year to $769 million. TD said the downturn was caused in part by a much more moderate release of funds from loan loss provisions (US$15 million, compared to US$173 million a year earlier).

TD is awaiting final regulatory approvals to proceed with its US$13.4-billion takeover of Memphis, Tenn.-based First Horizon Corp. That transaction was announced in February; at the time, TD said the deal would make it a top-six bank in the United States thanks to the addition of First Horizon’s 412 branches and more than 1 million customers. It also said it hoped to close the deal in the first quarter of fiscal 2023, which is a period that ends Jan. 31, 2023.

Meanwhile, similar to many of its peers that reported earlier this week, TD’s wholesale banking unit (which includes capital markets activity) suffered profit erosion as net income fell six per cent year-over-year to $359 million.

“As we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic we face new economic uncertainties and growing geopolitical tensions. TD has proven its ability to adapt to changing circumstances and deliver performance and progress,” said Bharat Masrani, TD’s president and chief executive officer, in a release.

TD most recently announced a dividend hike (to $0.89 per share) in December; before that, the last hike was announced in February 2020. Shortly thereafter, Canada’s banks were told by their regulator (the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions) to hold off on dividend hikes and share buybacks due to the pandemic. That guidance was lifted in November.  

Prior to OSFI’s intervention, TD regularly raised its dividend on an annual basis. However, Masrani has indicated dividend hikes aren’t on a pre-set schedule.

“It’s not a bad assumption that we like to look at this on an annual basis, and then hopefully we get into that cycle. But it doesn’t mean that we will not periodically look at it on a different cycle based on circumstance and the environment we might be in,” he said during a conference call with analysts on Dec. 2.

“Generally, our cycle has been annual and that has worked out reasonably well for us, but it will depend on the environment going forward.”

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