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Why is the US stock market index going up even as COVID-19 remains unchecked?

The market enables price discovery, and prices are based on interplay of supply and demand.

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U.S Stocks set to surge higher, on hopes of a stimulus package deal

The rise is spectacular; the NASDAQ 100’s market cap is about $13.5 trillion, the S&P 500 Index is about $28.8 trillion, while the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is about $19.4 trillion. What is going on?

The stock market is a market, and in every market, a willing buyer and a willing seller meet, negotiate, discover prices through bargaining and conclude a sale. Where there is oversupply, the buyer has the advantage and can bid down prices. Where supply is limited, the seller holds the advantage and can bid up prices. So, the market enables price discovery, and prices are based on interplay of supply and demand.

READ: Apple, Tesla share prices drop massively from record highs

What drives supply and demand? Earning expectations of the companies trading their equity on the stock market. The stock market reflects expectations of future earnings. This means that if an investor believes that earnings, specifically future earnings of a company, are going up, the value of the company is going up. This, the investor believes, translates to a rise in the prices of individual stocks of the company and/or an increase in the returns the company will pay to the holders of equity in the company by way of dividend.

This expectation drives the investor to seek to participate in the equity of the company by buying shares, thus creating a demand for more shares. On the flip side, if the investors believe that the company’s fortunes by way of earnings are falling, then the investor seeks to exit being an equity participant in the company by selling his shares, which creates supply.

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READ: Airtel speaks on its readiness for 5G technology in Nigeria

However, the expectations of investors in the market are also relative to other asset classes. This means the investors have other options to invest their money. If equities as an asset class return a risk-adjusted return of 5%, and bonds are returning 9%, the investor has the option of taking his capital away from volatility and investing in “safe” bonds. The point is capital is mobile and goes to where it finds yield. So, if the yield on other assets is lower than the yields on equities, then the investor will keep his money in “risk” assets i.e., equities. This is key; when investing, the investor is taking a holistic view of the market, comparing options and looking for the most risk-adjusted asset class with the highest return.

Having that background, why does the US stock market record profits even when earnings are weak?

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READ: Bulls boost global financial markets as gold hits 7-year high

First, tax cuts. The US saw corporate marginal taxes cut from 35% to 21% and allowed American firms immediately and fully deduct the cost of new capital investment, allowing them to invest more in CAPEX and hopefully boost earnings in the future. The tax cuts provide US companies with an incredibly soft landing and prepare them to reinvest in productivity post-COVID-19. Investors are making a bet that post-COVID-19, forward earning will reflect these new CAPAX investments.

Second, the US Federal Reserve (The Fed) has embarked on a massive stimulus program to prop up the US financial system; this has translated to the Fed buying bonds, blue-chip and even junk bonds and keeping the interest rates at essentially zero. The practical translation of this is that yields on “risk-free” 10-year treasuries have crashed to about 0.65%. The yield is paltry when compared to the earnings yield of about 3.7% on the S&P 500. The Fed is expected in the coming week to announce its new monetary policy which will keep short term interest rates at near zero for five years or even more, and would not change this policy even if inflation in the US were to go above the 2% target.

Taking these policies together, the US investment picture looks noticeably clear, fixed income will yield next to nothing for the next 5 years, and earnings yield on equities is sufficient to post a real return. The investing community is taking a position today to benefit from equity yields.

That simple.

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Columnists

World Bank: Lower oil demand may persist till 2021

Energy price remain well below pre-pandemic levels and is expected to stabilise below pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

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Now that oil is recovering, when will naira recover?

According to the World Bank’s semi-annual commodity outlook, the organisation anticipates demand for oil will remain below pre-pandemic levels beyond 2021. In the statement credited to the multi-lateral body, it tried to juxtapose the performance of energy commodities with agriculture and metal commodities. According to the World Bank, metal and agricultural commodities have recouped losses posted due to the impact of the pandemic and are even expected to post some modest gains in 2021. However, energy price, despite some decent recovery, remain well below pre-pandemic levels and is expected to stabilise below pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

READ: $70 billion per annum will be needed to tackle pandemic induced poverty – World Bank

We recall in February/March 2020, oil price began to dip on the back of fears of price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia as well as demand concerns stemming from lockdown measures (which restricted movements) implemented to control the spread of covid-19. As a result, oil prices dipped close to the US$22/bbl support level. However, an OPEC+ meeting in April which led to historical cuts in crude oil supply lent some support to oil price as Brent rallied to a c.US$40/bbl. resistance.

READ: Bitcoin surges pass $11,500, BTC wallets activity hit 2.5 year high

While compliance to cuts have been impressive (underproduction in some countries compensated for overproduction in non-complying countries), production is gradually climbing as the cuts are being relaxed in phases in line with the April agreement. Despite this, the same cannot be said of demand which has recovered decently but remains well below pre-pandemic levels. According to the World Bank, tourism and travel continues to be held back by health challenges, thus, demand for jet fuel and other energy products
remains weak.

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READ: Manufacturing: Activity levels pick up albeit readings still below water

We agree with the World Bank’s prognosis on outlook for energy commodities. We recall highlighting new cases of new covid-19 cases in many European countries that had previously brought the pandemic under control which implies a second wave may be in swing as we enter the winter months. This may to lead to renewed lockdown measures in different regions as countries try to limit the spread. In addition, we expect it to weigh on the minds
of travellers & tourists who may be reluctant to travel as health concerns remain elevated.

READ: Nigerian economy since 1980: Are we under a resource curse?

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Examining the impact on the Nigerian economy, we think an above US$40/bbl Brent price remains healthy for the 2021 budget revenue projections which is critical to achieving the historic revenue numbers projected in an ambitious budget. However, we retain grave concerns on the countries external conditions and consequently exchange rate. We think the prolonged weakness in oil prices would drag on export receipts and thus FX earnings.
That said, we reiterate our agelong clamour for economic managers to adequately diversify the country’s export earnings particularly exploring opportunities in mining and agriculture. Furthermore, investments and business regulations to accelerate local industrialisation which would foster local production of many imported products would significantly help to reduce dependence on imported products and thus conserve scarce FX.

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How Cash flow, Liquidity, and Leverage impacts your financial plans

Aja discusses how Cash flow, Liquidity, and Leverage impacts your financial plans.

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cash flow

It is key to discuss cash under the three themes of Liquidity, Leverage, and Cashflow. These concepts are interrelated, but each has different impacts on your financial plan.

Cashflow

It captures only cash transactions and is simply the amount of cash flowing in and out of your business or person. Hence, if you buy an asset and issue a Purchase Order to pay a supplier in 90 days, that transaction will not show up on your cash flow.

As an illustration, if Emeka buys a TV with N200,000 but issued a cheque for N100,000 cashable in 90 days; only N100,000 will be captured leaving his cash position. Thus, Emeka has positive cash flow and negative leverage, because his debt has gone up.

For Okafor, the seller who received half of the proceeds in cash, he may be liquid but cannot replace his stock due to lack of enough cash flow. He may have to leverage to generate cash. Should he need cash, he can create liquidity from his paper check of N100,000 by discounting to cash before 90 days, but at a cost.

You must be aware of negative and positive cash flow and avoid as much as possible, generating cash from financing activities i.e. borrowing to fund non-income generating assets or activities.

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Liquidity

It is determined by how fast an asset can be converted into cash. If Okafor gets a cheque offer from Dangote Cement and another from Emeka to pay for a TV, which do you think he will accept all things being equal? Most likely the Corporate cheque, because he perceives that it is easier to discount to cash; thus, more liquid than the individual cheque.

Federally issued bonds are said to be less risky than State or Corporate bonds of similar tenor because the issuer (the FGN) is more liquid than the States or even Corporates.

The same can be said of Equities. Stocks that are traded more often and held by more investors are more liquid and commands a better premium to the bonds of a similar company. This is one reason large blue-chip stocks command higher market prices, the investors are also paying for the ease of liquidity.

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A good metric for measuring liquidity has to be the Acid Test liquidity ratio that determines how easy it is for you to generate cash in an emergency. It is calculated by dividing your assets by your liabilities, but the key is that the assets are stripped off all hard assets and will include only cash and easily marketable securities and commodities like gold that can be sold. The higher the ratio the better.

Leverage

Simply put, leverage is borrowing. You can borrow to increase potential profits or to meet an obligation that is due. When cash is borrowed, it must be paid back with a cost called interest. Leverage can produce cash flow and liquidity, but no firm or household can remain a going concern solely on cashflow financed by leverage.

Eventually, the interest cost will swell and more of future operating cash generated by the firm or household will be earmarked to pay off interest, leaving the principal to remain and generate more interest cost.

In the earlier example, Emeka used leverage to buy the TV and gave Okafor a cheque, who will in turn generate cash flow by liquidating the instrument from Emeka.

Bottomline

A good leverage analysis is to calculate your Leverage Ratio. To determine your leverage ratio, list out all your liabilities, divide by your total assets, and multiply by 100. The answer tells you how much of your assets are financed by debt i.e. leverage ratio.

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Hence, you can have positive cash flow, be liquid but be highly leveraged, which is not ideal. The rule of thumb says the lower the leverage ratio, the better.

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Summarily, with cash, you must be aware of the implication in terms of cash flow, liquidity, and leverage.

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#EndSARS: Analyzing the economic prospects of another lockdown

Decisions taken in the next few days will determine how soon the issues surrounding the #EndSARS protests will be resolved.

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#EndSARS: Analyzing the economic prospects of another lockdown

The past five to seven days in Nigeria have been nothing short of fictional for the Nigerian people.

One would be hard-pressed to describe the events without seeming to take sides with either part of the standoff as emotions, euphoria and sometimes, unfounded principles have seemed to become the order of the day. Logic, accountability and common sense being on vacation as they often are in such matters.

If there were negotiations (of which there are none presently), parties involved may likely disagree on a couple of things ranging from the sincerity of the other party, approach to a peaceful resolution, what amounts to a peaceful resolution and how to forge ahead.

READ: COVID-19: How CBN policies helped prevent the collapse of the Nigerian economy – Oscar Onyema

READ: CBN removes “third parties” from buying forex routed through Form M

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There would be accusations and counter-accusations, more so, as the chasm of discord between stakeholders continues to widen with each passing day of the #ENDSARS protest across major cities and towns of the Country. Nonetheless, one thing both parties would agree on is that their continued standoff and reluctance to resolve the complex issues around the protest is ruinous to the economy.

Nigeria’s real GDP growth for 2019 was estimated at 2.3% by the AfDB. It was an improvement on the 1.9% estimate for 2018 and an achievement of the 2019 expert projections despite the uncertainty about the 2019 election outcomes, policy implementation slowdown and sell-offs by foreign investors in 2018.

READ: $70 billion per annum will be needed to tackle pandemic induced poverty – World Bank

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READ: Manufacturers receive N459.69 billion from banks, thanks to CBN’s lending policy 

Household consumption was the key growth driver in 2019, followed closely by growth in transport, the oil sector and information and communications technology. Agriculture, for all its Government patronage could not withstand the floods that heralded a climate change while suffering from the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers- it flopped, and so did manufacturing which could not be reckoned with due to a lack of financing. Estimated inflation for 2019 was 11.3%.

After a turnaround from –1.6% in 2016 to 0.8% in 2017, 2020 was supposed to be the year where Nigeria consolidated on the steady GDP growth of previous years by implementing its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan with an emphasis on economic diversification.

READ: Nigeria’s $1.5 billion steel plant set to produce 1 million MT of steel annually

The CBN’s proactive decree that banks hold loan–deposit ratios of 60% was geared to increasing lending to the real sector, even as they eased the risks of lending to small businesses.

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An increase in the value-added tax from 5% to 7.5% was implemented to shore up domestic non-oil revenues, and agro-industrial support from the Government was supposed to make 2020 a year to surpass growth forecasts even as oil revenues began to improve and drive foreign exchange reserves. Then came COVID-19.

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READ: CBN wades into the bank vs Fintech debate

Lacking a clear nationwide pandemic framework, coupled with a nonexistent welfare system and weak healthcare infrastructure, the Nation did a relatively impressive job in managing the pandemic but did lose the economic advantage it started the year with. Negative GDP growths were projected for Q2 and Q3 even as oil prices slumped to an all-time low.

Diaspora remittances (which accounted for 83% of the FG budget in 2018) had reduced to a trickle because of the pandemic, and unemployment surges. The World Bank predicted a recession by Q4, it would be Nigeria’s worst in four decades.

READ: CBN clears air on Diaspora Remittances, official inflows $2.6bn not $26bn 

Once again, Nigeria beat the odds. A series of monetary and fiscal policies saw to it that more funds were made available to the real sector; delinquent loans were restructured to keep from becoming bad; the free fall of the Naira was staved off and key industries were supported through Government’s special intervention programs. A few optimists were beginning to think we had rounded the corner, then came #EndSARS protests.

In the few days since the protests have begun, the Nation is estimated to have lost billions of Naira with Lagos state, understandably, being the biggest loser so far hosting the largest protests. Manpower hours have been lost, properties have been destroyed and worst of all lives have been lost.

READ: CBN knocks airline and shipping firms over non-compliance with form NXP

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Household spending, transportation and manufacturing cannot continue to thrive in these unrests. September inflation was pegged at 13.7%, its highest since February 2018 there is already considerable strain on healthcare due to the pandemic and the exposure of the populace during the #endsars protests and counter-protests could spike up the COVID-19 numbers once again.

The peculiarity of the nature of the protest has seen Nigerians in the Diaspora channel their funds to supporting the protests in Nigeria while organizing theirs in their host country. Another significant loss of diaspora remittances which represent a substantial percentage of the GDP. Also, the protests are beginning to weigh in on stock market activities and could affect other economic indices if tensions escalate further.

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READ: Nike stocks post gains, women’s apparel division grow by 200%

The unfortunate resolve of both sides to fight to the finish without giving room for dialogue could lead to another lockdown of economic activities as witnessed in Edo, where a 24hr curfew has been declared; Lagos where schools and businesses have shut down; Osun, Ekiti, Plateau, Imo and the FCT where business activities have come to a grinding halt.

The cyber warfare being threatened by both sides could also have far-reaching effects on the liquidity of our financial institutions as their customers opt for crypto wallets as safe haven for their funds and as punitive measure for brands they perceive as not being supportive towards their cause.

READ: Leaked memo: CBN instructs banks to block bank account of 38 companies for “forex abuse”

Of course, decisions taken in the next few days will determine how soon the issues surrounding the protests will be resolved, but for a country on the precipice of serious economic repercussions, both parties seem a little too comfortable in staring down the opposition when serious gains could be made by coming to a round table.

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