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first quarter earnings season could stop the ‘bleeding’ on markets

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The S&P 500 Index just posted its first negative quarter since 2015. With earnings season set to kick off in less than two weeks, one strategist says the market’s pain could be behind it.

“We’re just hoping that earnings season shows up and stops the bleeding,” Brian Nick, chief investment strategist at Nuveen, told CNBC’s “Futures Now” this week. “What we’ve been sitting in is a bit of a void from an information perspective.”

This period between the fourth-quarter and first-quarter earnings season has been characterized by news that investors viewed as negative, including President Donald Trump‘s push for steel and aluminum tariffs to Facebook‘s privacy scandal.

Amid whipsaw trading, the S&P 500 has ended lower in three of the past five weeks and sits in negative territory for the year. A return to the fundamentals should give equity markets the support they have needed, Nick told CNBC.

“We haven’t been getting that real key fundamental data the markets key on and has been sustaining this rally since the middle of 2016 which is improving corporate earnings,” said Nick.

“We’re going to be hoping that what’s been sort of interceding here – policy risk, political risk – doesn’t continue to intrude upon earnings season and hopefully creates a bit of a tailwind for the stock market,” he added.

The passage of tax reform in December should give this year’s earnings a sizeable boost. Its anticipated effect has doubled previous earnings estimates for 2018, according to Nick. Bottom-line growth from tax cuts should start to show up in the first quarter.

The rest of the street is equally as optimistic on earnings for the year. Analysts surveyed by FactSet estimate an 18 percent increase in earnings this year, a growth rate that should slow to 10 percent in 2019 and 2020.

How the extra cash generated by tax cuts is spent will determine where the markets head next, Nick cautioned.

Some of the tax savings will be reinvested in corporate expansion through higher capital expenditures, he said. But, “you will also see higher dividends, announcements of share buybacks, and hopefully some additional hiring that wouldn’t have happened without that extra cash on the sidelines.”

More share buybacks and higher dividends would give markets a short-term “pop,” said Nick, but not the longer-term push needed to grow companies and U.S. economic activity.

“It would be a short-term positive for the market if you saw a lot of buybacks and higher dividends. But I think that would probably also lead us to be less optimistic about just how long the cycle can go on,” he added.

The first-quarter earnings season will kick into gear when the major banks report in mid-April. Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan are scheduled to release their 10-Qs on April 13.

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Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) Q3 2020 earnings top estimates

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A customer carries a Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. bag outside a restaurant in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, July 20, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Wednesday reported quarterly same-store sales growth of more than 8%, but a shift to delivery is boosting costs and resulting in fewer drink purchases, which dragged down its net income.

Shares of the company fell more than 5% in after-hours trading.

Here’s what the company reported for the quarter ended Sept. 30 compared with what Wall Street was expecting, based on a survey of analysts by Refinitiv:

  • Earnings per share: $3.76, adjusted, vs. $3.47 expected
  • Revenue: $1.6 billion vs. $1.59 billion expected

Chipotle reported third-quarter net income of $80.2 million, or $2.82 per share, down from $98.6 million, or $3.47 per share, a year earlier. A higher volume of delivery and steak orders and more expensive beef increased costs, which were partially offset by menu price increases, less salsa usage and lower avocado prices.

Excluding $28.7 million in legal expenses and other items, the burrito chain earned $3.76 per share, topping the $3.47 per share expected by analysts surveyed by Refinitiv.

Net sales rose 14.1% to $1.6 billion, narrowly beating expectations of $1.59 billion. Same-store sales climbed 8.3% in the quarter, hitting a peak in August. Strong demand continued into September, but the company was lapping higher same-store sales growth due to the launch of its carne asada option last year in that month.

For the second consecutive quarter, digital sales more than tripled. Online orders accounted for nearly half of all sales, and about half of Chipotle’s digital customers chose to have their orders delivered.

Delivery service revenue, which includes delivery and service fees paid by customers to Chipotle through its app and website, made up 1.3% of its net sales. The company said that revenue charged to customers doesn’t fully cover the commission fees it pays to third-party delivery providers, such as DoorDash and Grubhub.

The company opened 44 restaurants and permanently closed 3 during the quarter. Twenty-six of the new locations had Chipotle’s drive-thru lanes, which are only for picking up digital orders.

Chipotle once again declined to provide an outlook for 2020, citing the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Read the full earnings report here.

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

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Wall Street donors keep distance from cash-strapped Trump in final days

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Conservatives on Wall Street and in the broader finance community apparently no longer consider President Donald Trump a worthy investment.

People in the securities and investment industry pumped $20 million into his 2016 run for president, with most going toward super PACs backing his candidacy, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That total doesn’t also include the millions of Wall Street contributions that went toward the president’s inauguration after he defeated Hillary Clinton.

This time, though, donors in the same industry have given just over $13 million to back Trump. It doesn’t look like he’ll make up the difference in the campaign’s final stretch, either, according to GOP strategists. Meanwhile, many of the people who donated to his inaugural committee have disappeared from the fundraising scene.

In some cases, records show that these GOP megadonors have put their money toward efforts to help Republican Senate or House candidates.

Wall Street support for Trump backed off mainly due to his response to the coronavirus outbreak, despite the tax and regulation cuts during the president’s tenure, according to Republican strategists who work with financial leaders. These strategists spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.

“Wall Street craves policy, predictability and strong government institutions. Trump has delivered the opposite. The Covid crisis gave Wall Streeters the excuse they needed to move,” said a GOP advisor who works for a former Trump donor in the finance world. 

This person pointed to Biden as the alternative many in the finance world were looking for. Biden and his joint fundraising committees raised over $4 million from finance leaders in the third quarter. Biden has seen over $50 million from Wall Street leaders go toward his bid for the White House, including millions being donated to outside PACs. Financial firms have started telling clients there’s a strong chance of a Democratic sweep next month.

Another Republican strategist who actively works with people in finance said that the few donors who donated to back Trump early in the campaign don’t plan to give again with just under two weeks left in the campaign. The strategist said his clients weren’t happy with how the campaign spent its previously massive war chest. 

Former Trump campaign chief Brad Parscale once boasted that the organization was a financial “Death Star.” Entering October, it had just over $60 million in cash on hand, compared to Biden’s nearly $180 million.

These same financial leaders also believe that Trump is going to lose, making support for his campaign an unwise investment from their standpoint, according to this strategist.

“Wall Street is watching the same polls as everyone else. They can see the direction the campaign is going and they are starting to alter their strategy,” Trump donor Dan Eberhart told CNBC. “It’s about risk management. If they can’t beat Biden, they know they are going to have to join him.”

As of Wednesday there were no plans by the campaign to have financial leaders in New York host a fundraising event for Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Representatives from the Trump campaign and RNC did not return a request for comment.

A few finance industry leaders have indeed given to Trump over the past three months, including Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade; Marc Rowan, the co-founder of Apollo Global Management; and former hedge fund manager John Paulson. Each gave between $250,000 and $315,000 to the Trump Victory committee, a joint fundraising effort between Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Rowan, according to NBC News, reached out to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, in an attempt to relax rules on coronavirus relief money in a way that would benefit Apollo. Paulson hosted a fundraising event for Trump in the Hamptons in August.

Other prominent Trump donors have scaled back their giving or, in some cases, gone completely quiet.

Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman gave $3 million to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action in January, but nothing toward efforts supporting the president since then. 

Robert Mercer, the former co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, gave $15 million to the anti-Clinton super PAC Make America Number 1 in 2016. He gave $1 million to the president’s inaugural committee and invested $15 million in controversial data outfit Cambridge Analytica, which worked with Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Mercer cut a $350,000 check in February to the Trump Victory committee. He started cutting back his support two years ago after he and his daughter Rebekah came under public scrutiny for backing Trump the first time.

Stephen Feinberg, the co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, gave over $1.4 million in 2016 to a pro-Trump super PAC titled Rebuilding America Now. This cycle he has given nothing to any pro-Trump related entity, records show.

Steve Cohen, the CEO of asset management firm Point72, contributed $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee after spending millions on a super PAC backing former presidential candidate and eventual Trump ally Chris Christie. Cohen has invested nothing in the presidential election this time.

Henry Kravis, the co-CEO of investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, gave over $300,000 to the Republican National Committee during the 2016 cycle. He gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural. He has given nothing to Trump or the RNC this cycle.

Scott Bessent, the founder of investment firm Key Square Group, gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural. He hasn’t given anything to Trump groups in 2020.

Veteran investor Paul Singer, who was initially against Trump in the early stages of the 2016 election, gave $1 million to his inaugural fund and another $1 million to pro-Trump super PAC Future 45. This time, he hasn’t given anything to back Trump or the RNC.

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Tesla (TSLA) earnings Q3 2020

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends the Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory groundbreaking ceremony in Shanghai, China, January 7, 2019.

Aly Song | Reuters

Elon Musk’s electric car and renewable energy company, Tesla, reports third-quarter results after the bell on Wednesday.

Here’s what Wall Street analysts are expecting, per an average of analyst estimates compiled by Refinitiv:

  • Earnings per share (adjusted): 57 cents
  • Revenue: $8.36 billion

The company already reported that it delivered 139,300 vehicles during the quarter, a new record for Tesla.

At Tesla’s 2020 annual shareholder meeting and battery day presentation in September, CEO and co-founder Elon Musk said that vehicle deliveries in 2020 would be up 30% to 40% from last year, implying a range from 477,750 to 514,500 deliveries total. (Earlier, the company said it would comfortably exceed deliveries of 500,000 this year, but it reined in expectations slightly as the Covid-19 pandemic began to impact Tesla operations and auto sales.)

Tesla completed a five-for-one stock split during the quarter. When a company splits its stock, its total value doesn’t change, but it helps get smaller investors to buy shares.

Ahead of the earnings call on Wednesday, institutional and retail investors submitted questions to a site called Say.com that Tesla uses to pick questions for executives to answer during the Q&A portion of its calls.

Among other things, institutional investors sought information about just how much Tesla plans to spend on new factories over the next decade. They were also curious about Tesla’s pricing and margin targets, after the company recently cut prices on its vehicles including in the U.S. and China. Tesla is currently building new factories in Austin, Texas, and Brandenburg, Germany (outside of Berlin).

In September, Musk and Senior Vice President of Energy Engineering, Drew Baglino also unveiled a new battery cell that the company designed itself, and plans to produce on their own, starting on pilot lines in Fremont, California, then at their other factories.

Institutional and retail investors also wanted to know when Tesla will roll out vehicles, and energy storage products, that include the new battery cells. They also had questions about when Tesla’s vehicles will be capable of functioning as driverless robotaxis, and when Tesla will offer its own ride-hailing service.

Today, Tesla offers its customers what it markets as a Full Self-Driving or “FSD” option, which it sells for $8,000. The FSD package is Tesla’s most advanced driver assistance system, but it is not a fully autonomous one. Tesla recognizes a portion of revenue from FSD sales with each new feature update that moves it closer to what the company defines as driverless capability.

Musk has previously said a Tesla vehicle with FSD should be able to drive itself coast to coast, or from a Tesla facility to a customer’s home, in lieu of a traditional delivery arrangement. It’s been about four years since the CEO promised a driverless vehicle was on the way.

During the third quarter, however, he said that Tesla was rewriting its semi-autonomous system:

In October, he promised a beta software update for select drivers who purchased the company’s Full Self-Driving option. Tuesday after markets closed, Musk wrote the rollout would begin slowly rolling out overnight.

Retail investors, many of whom are enthusiastic Tesla owners themselves, want executives to say whether Tesla will let customers transfer their FSD software to their next vehicle, with or without a transfer fee, much the way that gaming or mobile companies let customers transfer games and apps when they upgrade to newer hardware.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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