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Synthetic Economy

 In Audio and Podcasts

Tony Nash joins the BFM Morning Run podcast from Malaysia and explained why we have synthetic economy and how to navigate through this. Also discussed are tech stocks — is this the end for them?

 

This podcast first appeared and originally published at https://www.bfm.my/podcast/morning-run/market-watch/synthetic-economy on March 4, 2021.

 

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Show Notes

 

WSN: Nasdaq closed sharply down last night, continuing a trend that sees it almost erased all its year-to-date gains led by declines in Apple, Amazon and Tesla. Is this the end of big tech?

 

TN: I don’t think it’s the end of big tech. I think investors are taking a pause. We saw tech jump a lot in the wake of Covid. Investors are really starting to wonder how much additional growth is there over time. We’ve seen the work-from-home stocks and other things really get lifted through Covid. But how much immediate rapid growth is left is where a lot of the investor questions lie.

 

WSN: Is this also the beginning of a trend where we really see the rotation from growth into value?

 

TN: “Value” is a scary word right now. It has been for a long time. We have a ways to go, but I think we could get there. We’ve been talking for a few months about a pullback in March and we expect the pullback to continue and will begin to recover in late March, April. So we think this has a little ways to go unless there’s dramatic intervention by central banks and other things. But we think this pullback is not ideal but it’s necessary given stretched valuations and stretched expectations. So this is healthy for us. We just need to figure out what to do with it.

 

PS: Just give me another angle that instead of looking at it from values about sector specific, because yesterday, energy and financials did do relatively well. But was the energy upside due to the rising prices? And how does that correlate with OPEC’s decision coming soon with respect to oil production?

 

TN: I don’t think it gets really much more complicated than rising oil prices. These energy companies generally are still extremely bloated, extremely inefficient. Aside from the crude pressurizing, there really isn’t a lot that we see driving it. So we do expect commodities to take a pause. We’ve expected this for some time. We’ve seen copper come down by five percent or something.

 

Over the past few trading days, crude oil has leveled off in general. It’s not rising as fast as it was. Some of this has to do with CNY starting to weaken a bit. Chinese and the U.S. Dollar to start to strengthen their sort of related, but they’re not necessarily one and the same. So as we see some of that, an unraveling of some of that, Kerry, we’ll see some commodities start to come off of it as well.

 

WSN: BDA shows that the U.S. manufacturing grew at its fastest pace in three years. So are we really on the road to recovery?

 

TN: I don’t necessarily think that the economic growth expectations that we’ve seen from economists saying seven percent growth or something like that are necessarily the right way to go. When we look at the growth that we saw in Q4 and the growth that we’ve seen in Q1, I’m not sure we’re already back, at least in the U.S., to where we were before the virus. And so it’s really questionable for an economy that’s been growing one to three percent, depending on the year. Is a seven percent growth rate really warranted? Additionally, when you see things like deflation and the Chinese CPI, those two growth engines, we’re not necessarily seeing the rapid growth that some people have been claiming.

 

PS: Just another angle then, which is employment data, because December, January data didn’t meet expectations. What’s your outlook for February then?

 

TN: It’ll probably be OK. I think if the employment data is extremely positive. The US is susceptible to politicization of macro data just like everyone else. If we see a pop in employment data, I think they would be revised out. All of these macroeconomic indicators are revised three or four times. If we see a pop in a sample of employment data, which they look at a subset of houses and companies, they don’t look at the entire economy. If we see a pop, which we’re not necessarily seeing, we think that would be revised out over time. So I would say be really careful about optimism here. OK, it’s great. I live in Texas. We just announced that Texas one hundred percent open yesterday. All this stuff. It’s great to be optimistic, but we’ve really had synthetically driven growth. It’s not necessarily real growth. It’s all subsidized growth in many, many countries over the last, say, nine to 12 months.

 

WSN: That’s very true because this the twin Goldilocks effect of monetary and fiscal stimulus but somewhat related to unemployment numbers is that if the number is better on Friday, do you think markets might get nervous? Because that’s one of the indicators the feds are looking at to raise rates.

 

TN: We’re in that place where bad news is bad news and good news is potentially bad news. So we really have to be careful. What’s going to happen to Treasuries? Is the Fed going to raise rates? How does all that work if we start going to hot? I think it’s the right question that you’re asking. When we have an equity market and global equity markets that are so stretched, if the cost of money, which is what interest rates are, starts to rise, then we really have to be careful about equity valuations.

 

PS: During a deep dove into a specific sector, which is basically all this office collaboration companies like Zoom and Slack, what’s your outlook for those kind of sectors in the short term and mid-term?

 

TN: It’s good. They’ve grown a huge amount over the past year, but I really think we have to look at what growth is. They’re likely going forward, meaning there is growth. But is it as fast as what we’ve seen over the past year? I think the answer is probably no. They are probably also working on their revenue models to monetize some of the things that they’ve been giving away for free for the past year. Like a Zoom call is free. How do they monetize those things? That’s a serious question, but what are they substitution for and what do they enhance?

 

They’ve been substitution for meeting face to face people in the same office. But as more places go back to work, albeit slowly, they won’t necessarily need that for day to day, although it’ll still be used. Again, my question is the growth will be slower, but I would hope it’s better growth, meaning more monetized growth.

 

WSN: All right. Thank you for your time. That was Tony Nash of Complete Intelligence, giving us his views on markets and a very important point in that all these work from home teams may be the easy money is made because we did see stellar growth. Right, as everyone switch to zoom calls and all these kind of new technology. But now the question is, are we going to really see profit coming in? Is there going to be margin expansion?

 

PS: I want to know how they’re going to monetize and whether they’re going to expand the services beyond what they do. As Tony, you see, a lot of it is kind of free of charge. So what is the business model going to evolve to deliver sustainable profit? It’s a big question mark for me.

 

WSN: Yeah, and one company which hasn’t impressed is actually Snowflake, and that’s a data cloud company. Now, they announce a revenue for fourth quarter, which came in at one hundred and ninety million U.S. dollars, slightly better than the one hundred seventy eight million dollars that was expected. So this represents I mean, it is impressive when you just look at the headline numbers. It represents one hundred and seventeen percent growth year on year. But like as Tony highlighted, this company actually suffers a net loss.

 

So their net loss widened to one hundred and ninety nine million U.S. dollars. That’s more than double that 83 million in the. The same period a year ago.

 

PS: Yeah, I mean, the markets didn’t like it because the stock dropped eight percent on Wednesday. I mean, just a reminder to all of you guys, Snowflake was the largest IPO in 2020. Right. So with respect to guidance, snowflakes specs 185 to 200 million U.S. dollars in productivity in the first fiscal quarter, which is will be up about 90 to 96 percent year on year.

 

WSN: So, yeah, you can be hard on a stock that has a fantastic concept data. Right. Everybody wants that in the clouds. But in a day, patience with investors will run thin if you don’t make money. And that’s the reality of any business. So I think, like you sit like what Tony highlighted those companies where you see stellar revenue growth, but not profit after a while.

 

Market’s not going to tolerate it for that long. And when they issue like a set of results, which are below expectations and widened widening, no losses, no end to that, you know, no no sense of when are they going to turn around. I think you then see that sharp sell down again.

 

PS: And take, you know Tony, said something really interesting. Bad news is bad news. Good news could be potentially bad news.

 

WSN: Is that there is the cup half full or is it half empty? Sometimes the market is like this, the same set of data. Depending on the mood, the sentiment can be viewed either very positively or negatively. So if you get a better data but you’re in a positive mood, you can say, oh, the worst is over, let’s look forward.

 

But if you’re in a bad mood or you think the market’s being pessimistic and resolve, everyone’s like, oh, no more to come. So who knows? But up next, we’ll be speaking to on JinMing MP for Bungay about Malaysia’s economic recovery. Stay tuned. BFM eighty nine point nine.

 

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