European equities rally as euro, pound crack lower

Forex
IPO
Morning Note

European markets were on the front foot on Friday morning despite a weak cue from the US and Asia as currency weakness and expectations for yet lower interest rates fuelled risk appetite. Asian shares plumbed a three-week low but European bourses are trading up again. The FTSE 100 continued the good work from Thursday to hit 7400 and make a clear break out of the recent range. With the move north a decent case to make for the 7450 area, the 61.8% retracement of the August retreat.

The S&P 500 declined quarter a percent to 2977.62 against a back drop of political uncertainty in Washington. Markets won’t like these impeachment hearings but ultimately the risk of Mr Trump being ousted by Congress appears very slim indeed.

Another stinker of an IPO – Peloton shares priced at $29 but were down $2 at $27 on the first tick and ended 11.2% lower at $25.76. First day nerves maybe but this stock has fad written all over it. Think GoPro.

On the matter of dodgy prospectuses and dubious IPOs… S&P has downgraded WeWork debt another notch, and slapped a negative outlook on for good measure.

FX – the euro now looks to be on the precipice, on the verge of breaking having made fresh two-year lows on EURUSD. Whilst the 1.09 level may still hold, the banging on the Sep 3/12 lows at 1.09250 has produced a result with overnight tests at 1.09050. We’ve seen a slight bounce early doors in Europe but the door is ajar for bears. The Euro is under pressure as ECB chief economist Lane said there is room for more cuts and said the September measures were ‘not such a big package’. How much more can the ECB feasibly do?

Sterling is tracking lower against the broader moves in favour of USD. There is a chance as we approach crunch time on Brexit that GBPUSD pushes back to the lower end of the recent range, the multi-year lows around 1.19. Bulls have a fairly high bar to clear at 1.25. At time of publication, the pound had cracked below yesterday’s low at 1.23, opening up a return to 1.2280 and then 1.2230. The short-covering rally is over – time for political risk to dominate the price action.

Bank of England rate setter Saunders made pretty dovish comments, saying it’s quite plausible the next move is a cut. In making the case for a cut now it conforms to the belief in many in the market that the Bank is barking up the wrong tree with its slight tightening bias in its forward guidance. The comments from Saunders are clearly an added weight on the pound.

On Brexit – there’s a lot of noise of course and all the chatter is about MPs’ use of language and how could Boris possibly still take the UK out of the EU by October 31st without a deal. The fact is he can and he intends to. There is some serious risk that GBP declines from here into the middle of October on the uncertainty and heightened risk of no deal. This would then be the make or break moment – extension agreed and we easily pop back to 1.25, no deal and it’s down to 1.15 or even 1.10.

Data to watch today – PCE numbers at 13:30 (BST). If the core CPI numbers are anything to go by, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation may point to greater price pressures than the Fed has really allowed for. Core durable goods also on tap, expected -1.1%. Plenty of central bank chatter too –de Guindos and Weidmann from the ECB follow Lane and then Quarles and Harker from the Fed. Should keep us busy this Friday.

Oil is in danger of entirely fading the gap back to $54.85, the pre-attack close, having made a fresh low yesterday at $55.40. There’s still a modicum of geopolitical risk premium in there though, but bearish fundamentals are reasserting themselves over the bullish geopolitics. WTI was at $56.10, ready to retest recent lows at $55.40. Bulls require a rally to $57.0 to mark a gear change. However we are now touching the rising trend support line drawn off the August low at $50, so could be finding some degree of support.

Gold is pretty range-bound now, but we are seeing it test the $1500 level which could call for retreat to near $1482, the bottom of the recent range and key support.

WeWork sets the bar lower as existing investors push to postpone IPO

IPO

Co-working firm WeWork is on the brink of IPO, but it seems like We might have some problems.

It seems that being a fast-growing tech company isn’t enough anymore; investors need a well-defined path to profitability as well.

Which has been a real kicker for the likes of Uber, Lyft, and IPO-hopeful WeWork, none of which is anywhere near actually making a cent.

WeWork was last valued at $47 billion during a private round of funding. But now it’s rumoured that WeWork will be seeking a $20 billion valuation or lower at IPO – and that’s if it even goes ahead at all.

Do existing investors want to halt the IPO?

Last week it was reported that CEO Adam Neumann had flown to Tokyo to meet with SoftBank Group – one of the company’s biggest investors. Amongst the ideas floated was the possibility SoftBank could provide another capital injection so that the IPO could be postponed until 2020.

Whether SoftBank will or not remains to be seen. The company might be feeling stung at having committed to investing $4 billion at a valuation of $47 billion when there is no chance WeWork will hit that kind of market capitalisation when it goes public.

SoftBank has to be careful. The company’s largest investment was in Uber – pouring billions into yet another dire tech company float would not reflect well on a company look to raise money to launch a second tech-focussed Vision Fund.

It isn’t just in conversation with SoftBank that the idea of shelving the IPO has been raised. Some existing investors, perturbed by the reception the IPO prospectus has garnered are suggesting putting things on hold.

WeHaveConcerns

Executives at WeWork showed they are not entirely unaware of the market reaction to unprofitable tech companies. Both Uber and Lyft are well below their initial offer price. But they were wrong if they thought even more-than-halving the valuation would be enough to placate concerns –especially when similar-sized competitor IWG is profitable and yet only valued at $4.6 billion.

There are other issues bothering investors anyway, who have concerns over the way the business is run, it’s structure, and the huge concentration of power.

WeWork’s share structure includes three classes; CEO Adam Neumann owns 2.4 million class A shares (<1.5%), 113 million class B shares (98%) and 1.1 million class C shares – that’s all of them. Class A shares give one vote, class B and C each grant 20. Neumann’s total holdings equates to 2.27 billion votes.

The co-founder occupies a large amount of space in the Risks section of the company’s S-1 filing due to potential conflicts of interest. Neumann has, or had, significant operational interest in several of the locations WeWork leases. He also charged the company almost $6 million to use the We trademark (WeWork is owned by The We Company – the structure is very complicated and has created further unease amongst investors).

WeWork scrambles to avoid becoming the next IPO flop

At the start of the year, Uber and Lyft seemed like exciting prospects. Markets looked likely to get swept along by the spiel of these cash-burning, lossmaking companies. But it seems Uber and Lyft failed to provide a convincing response to the profitability question.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that when WeWork released its prospectus, complete with an admission it may remain unprofitable ‘for the foreseeable future’, investor response has been cold.

WeWork seems to have realised that its current offering isn’t enough to get the market onboard. But with expectations that its roadshow could begin this week, does the company have enough time to fix such deeply-entrenched issues as corporate structure and distribution of power, let alone its financial outlook, in time to avoid becoming 2019’s next big IPO flop?

Morning Note: Market selloff, Uber tanks again, Vodafone grasps the nettle

Forex
Indices
IPO
Morning Note

It was another, more brutal sell-off on Wall St led Asian shares lower overnight, setting us up for a nervy session in Europe. Futures right now look positive but we may well see selling pressure re-emerge.

SPX closed 2.41% lower, taking it back to March levels. This was its worst decline since the turmoil at the start of January. The Nasdaq suffered its worst day since December as tech stocks were the worst hit from the fallout of the US-China spat. The Dow shipped over 600 points, to end around 25,324, with some of its biggest hitters affected by the China trade story directly (Boeing, Apple).

Risks for now seem very much skewed to the downside until we see some kind of equilibrium achieved again. The market is seeing the window for a deal causing tightly, although with tariffs not taking effect yet we could yet see some improvement in relations. If this is the third shoulder of a giant triple top in the market there is a hell of a long way to go lower. But we are probably not at that stage yet. The Fed remains on side – bets on a cut this year have shot up from around 50/50 to around 75%.

Commodities

Gold spiked higher as a risk-off proxy. Prices which had dithered around $1280 level for a while drive up through the big round number at $1300 and was last just down a shade beneath this.

Oil had risen amid escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf. However the reality of the trade war began to hit home later and crude prices slid again. Brent, which had leapt clear of $72, was last holding just shy of the all-important $70.60 level. This is a level we have talked about time and time again and it is proving something of magnet for Brent right – a decisive break in either direction could signal a fresh direction.

FX markets are completely ignoring the whole stooshie, although there a touch of movement in the Chinese yuan, but not a lot. Little movement for now as central bank liquidity is onside to keep volatility low. BoJ now also talking more stimulus should consumer prices lose momentum.

Uber stock reels post-IPO

It was a bruising session for Uber with shares down by more than 10% on the day. Adding insult to injury, they fell further after market to trade below $37.

Following the Uber and Lyft debacles, there are now questions over whether some remaining unicorns choose to lust this year. The likes of Airbnb and WeWork could decide to pull their planned IPOs until there is more certainty.

Moreover current market conditions do not seem favourable for listings right now and companies may prefer to wait for a rebound in the broad market before listing. That said, it’s too easy to lump all IPOs into the same basket and see a read across.

There have been notable positives in the latest round of IPOs – Beyond Meat, Zoom and Levi’s shares rising firmly from the strike price post-IPO. Perhaps it’s just a case of good old fashioned stock picking and valuations after all.

Vodafone cuts dividend

Vodafone has bowed to pressure and cut its dividend. Or rebased to use the euphemism. The dividend was cut from 15 eurocents to 9, which is a very hefty cut indeed and investors will punish this move. Unlike some notable others, though, Vodafone has grasped the nettle and chosen to put the future of the business ahead of short-term returns to yield hungry investors. Now it’s not great news, but at least it shows the new CEO is willing to think longer term and is seeking to manage the debt.

On top of controlling debt, one of Vodafone’s key problems is the very large investment needed for 5G rollout. Auctions in Italy and elsewhere (Sweden, Australia) indicate the enormous costs and further divestments to shore up the dividend whilst still investing enough in capex seems inevitable. It is very likely Vodafone will flog its towers as part of this strategy, or to use another euphemism in today’s update – monetise. Vodafone also announced that it will sell its NZ business for $2.2bn in a move that frees up some cash.

Today’s results were full of euphemisms actually. The raw results showed a 6.2% decline in revenues and a loss for the year of €7.6bn. But instead management is directing us to ‘alternative performance measures’, which show far healthier EBITDA growth of 3.1% and group services revenues rising by 0.3%. Caveat emptor. In addition to the 5G cost, Vodafone faces a number of competitive headwinds in Italy, Spain and South Africa. There’s a lot of restructuring going on amid big changes in the industry with 5G. Management seems to be grasping the nettle and should be allowed time to deliver on the strategy

Uber set for big pop despite Lyft worries

IPO

Uber will price its IPO today with shares set to be set somewhere between $44 and $50, with the stock to start trading on Friday.

There is certainly a more cautious tone to this one than when its big rival, Lyft, listed. Shares in the latter have fallen over 30% since IPO day. Fears that this is just the froth at the top of a tech bubble are surfacing. However with the pricing range there is a big chance of a significant pop on the day, even if one remains of a conservative disposition and wonders about the fundamentals and whether Uber can ever be profitable. FOMO will win the battle on the day, but maybe not the war.

Uber will be valued at between $80.5bn and $91.5bn, well below the $100 bandied about for some time but still well ahead of the last funding round in August, when the company was valued at around $76bn.

The FT reports that Uber will price at or below the midpoint of that range. I would anticipate a big pop on the day if that were the case, as this is already a fairly conservative range.

Uncertain earnings

The latest financial figures raise as many questions as they answer. In Q1 2019, Uber made a net loss of $1bn, on revenues of $3bn. That represented growth of 18-20 per cent, solid enough, but well down from the 70 per cent growth a year ago.

Last year’s numbers also present investors with problems. 2018 revenues rose 43% last year to $11.3bn from $7.9bn in 2017 – good but slower than that of the prior year when we saw revenues double. The company burned $2.1bn in cash in 2018, albeit down from $4.5bn just a couple of years before. Meanwhile, revenues from the core ride-hailing division have flatlined over the last two quarters. Uber’s revenue for the fourth quarter came in at $3 billion, up 25 percent from the same quarter last year, but this was lower than the 38 percent in Q3.

Lyft’s spectre

Lyft casts something of a shadow over the Uber IPO. Having been aggressively priced ahead of going public shares in Lyft are now down over 30 per cent from where they were on IPO day. Lyft is a spectre in another sense – gaining market share from Uber. Indeed, it’s not just Lyft – Uber is losing market share to many other local rivals in a number of geographies. In the US and Canada it’s barely recovered from its 2017 annus horribilis.

Lyft’s Q1 earnings have been said to cast a pall over the Uber IPO. I would be less certain about that – it was a huge loss for sure, but below last year. Uber has said that 2019 will be when losses peak. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people selling Lyft stock are simply doing so in preparation for the Uber listing.

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