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AMC, meme stocks could spark more heat in the week ahead as investors await inflation news

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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

NYSE

Inflation data is a highlight of the week ahead, as investors focus on economic news in the void between earnings season and the next Fed meeting.

May’s consumer price index is reported Thursday, and it could be hot after it surged at a 4.2% annual pace in April. Inflation is viewed as an important trigger that could cause the Fed to step back from its easy policies, if rising prices appear to be hotter and more persistent than expected.

Stocks were slightly higher in the past week, but the meme stocks were hot. AMC Entertainment gained another 100% and was up 2,700% since January.

Energy was the best performing major sector, gaining more than 6% as oil prices jumped nearly 5% in the past week. REITs were the second best performer, up 2.6%, followed by technology, up 1%.

But it’s the meme stocks that took the headlines, and also contributed to concerns about froth in the stock market.

“People think this is new. It completely isn’t,” Satori Fund founder Dan Niles said of the trading frenzy. He noted there was similar froth in individual stock names in 1999, when companies added dotcom to their names to attract investor attention.

“What’s new is the fact that these traders are armed with stimulus checks. They can organize more easily on things like WallStreetBets, they can work from home, and there’s no-cost trading. Those are the differences,” Niles said on CNBC.

So, if it gets people interested in investing, that’s great. What I don’t like is when you have people sort of taking out mortgages on their home, and putting themselves at risk if the thing collapsed,” he added. “You want to be able to invest what you can afford to lose if you’re going to play in something like this.”

Steve Massocca, managing director at Wedbush, said the trading in names like GameStop and Bed Bath and Beyond is one of the things that has made him more cautious on the market. He said the high valuations on the meme names are unlikely to last. “It’s going to be around as long as cicadas are,” he said.

Watching the inflation signs

Massocca said investors should stay focused on things like inflation, since that could be what makes the Federal Reserve reverse its easy policy. The Fed has so far said it sees the higher inflation readings as transitory.

May CPI follows a 4.2% year-over-year pace for April.

“I’m getting nervous. I’m seeing signs of a top. I’m systematically raising cash. I think the market looks too expensive,” Massocca said. “We’re going to shake off the dust from Covid. The economy is going to be very, very good and as a rule, I think monetary policy is going to respond to some degree.”

He said the memes mania is just one sign, but the spark for a sell off could be anything including a hawkish comment from the Fed.

“Who knows what it is, but the kindling is building and as soon as a match hits it, the market is setting up for a 7% to10% pullback at some point,” he said. “Who knows what starts it … One of the candidates very likely will be some kind of reductions in monetary policy.”

Fear of the Fed stepping back from its easy policy has been hanging over the market.

Friday’s May jobs report was being watched closely, but the lower than expected job gains reinforced that the Fed could continue to hold off on policy changes for the time being. There were 559,000 jobs added in May, well below the 671,000 expected.

Now the CPI report is the next point of focus, ahead of the Fed’s June 15-16 meeting. The question is, will it be so hot that the Fed may have to reassess its view about the temporary nature of inflation, or could it show that price increases are peaking?

“There’s inflation out there. You can see it everywhere,” said Massocca.

Taper talk

The market has been expecting the Fed to begin to talk about unwinding its bond buying later this year, with many strategists targeting the Fed’s Jackson Hole symposium at the end of August. The Fed is expected to first discuss cutting back its purchases months ahead of taking action. Then it will slowly reduce its buying.

After that, it could consider interest rate hikes, now not expected by the market until 2023.

Niles said the meme stock trend has been fueled in part by the Fed. The markets are awash in liquidity as the Fed keeps rates at zero and maintains its monthly purchases of at least $120 billion in Treasury and mortgage securities.

“When the Fed backs off of that with tapering, I think that’s when you can go in and say, ‘OK’ we can potentially go after and short some of these highly valued names because that’s when the free money disappears and you actually start to contract some of that free money,” he said. “That’s when things start to get dangerous to the downside.”

For now, Niles said he’s staying away from the names that are heavily sought by retail investors or have large short interest and are targeted by Wall Street. “You want to stay away from this stuff now unless you’re doing it in very small size,” he said.

There are just a few earnings in the week ahead. One of the handful of names reporting is meme name GameStop on Wednesday. Campbell Soup also reports that day, and Chewy reports Thursday.

G-7 finance ministers meet this weekend, and President Joe Biden will attend a meeting of the organization’s leaders in Cornwall, England on Friday.

Week ahead calendar

Monday

Earnings: Vail Resorts, Marvell Tech, Stitch Fix, Coupa Software

3:00 p.m. Consumer credit

Tuesday

Earnings: Thor Industries, Casey’s General Stores

6:00 a.m. NFIB small business survey

8:30 a.m. International trade

10:00 a.m. JOLTS

10:00 a.m. Quarterly Financial Report

Wednesday

Earnings: Campbell Soup, GameStop, Brown-Forman, United Natural Foods, RH, Bradley

10:00 a.m. Wholesale trade

Thursday

Earnings: Chewy, Dave & Buster’s, Signet Jewelers, John Wiley

8:30 a.m. Initial claims

8:30 a.m. CPI

10:00 a.m. Quarterly Services Survey

2:00 p.m. Federal budget

Friday

10:00 a.m. Consumer sentiment

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Here’s what you need to know

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People queue outside a vaccination center in Sydney on June 24, 2021, as residents were largely banned from leaving the city to stop a growing outbreak of the highly contagious Delta Covid-19 variant spreading to other regions.

SAEED KHAN | AFP | Getty Images

The “delta variant” has come to dominate headlines, having been discovered in India where it provoked an extreme surge in Covid-19 cases before spreading around the world.

But now a mutation of that variant has emerged, called “delta plus,” which is starting to worry global experts.

India has dubbed delta plus a “variant of concern,” and there are fears that it could potentially be more transmissible. In the U.K., Public Health England noted in its last summary that routine scanning of Covid cases in the country (where the delta variant is now responsible for the bulk of new infections) has found almost 40 cases of the newer variant, which has acquired the spike protein mutation K417N, i.e. delta plus.

It noted that, as of June 16, cases of the delta plus variant had also been identified in the U.S. (83 cases at the time the report was published last Friday) as well as Canada, India, Japan, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey.

India third wave?

As is common with all viruses, the coronavirus has mutated repeatedly since it emerged in China in late 2019. There have been a handful of variants that have emerged over the course of the pandemic that have changed the virus’s transmissibility, risk profile and even symptoms.

Read more: The fast-spreading delta Covid variant could have different symptoms, experts say

Several of those variants, such as the “alpha” strain (previously known as the “Kent” or “British” variant) and then the delta variant, have gone on to be dominant strains globally, hence the attention on delta plus.

India’s Health Ministry reportedly said Wednesday that it had found around 40 cases of the delta plus variant with the K417N mutation. The ministry released a statement on Tuesday in which it said that INSACOG, a consortium of 28 laboratories genome sequencing the virus in India during the pandemic, had informed it that the delta plus variant has three worrying characteristics.

These are, it said: increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells and the potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response (which could reduce the efficacy of a lifesaving monoclonal antibody therapy given to some hospitalized Covid patients).

India’s Health Ministry said it had alerted three states (Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh) after the delta plus variant was detected in genome-sequenced samples from those areas.

The detection of a variation to the delta variant largely blamed for India’s catastrophic second wave of cases has stoked fears that India is ill-prepared for a potential third wave. But some experts are urging calm.

Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, a physician-epidemiologist and vaccines and health systems expert based in New Delhi, told CNBC on Thursday that while the government should remain alert to the progress of the variant, there is “no reason to panic.”

“Epidemiologically speaking, I have no reason to believe that ‘Delta plus’ alters the current situation in a manner to accelerate or trigger the third wave,” he told CNBC via email.

“If we go by the currently available evidence, Delta plus is not very different from Delta variant. It is the same Delta variant with one additional mutation. The only clinical difference, which we know till now, is that Delta plus has some resistance to monoclonal antibody combination therapy. And that is not a major difference as the therapy itself is investigational and few are eligible for this treatment.”

He advised the public to follow Covid restrictions and to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Analysis from Public Health England released last week showed that two doses of the PfizerBioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective against hospitalization from the delta variant.

The WHO has said it is tracking recent reports of a “delta plus” variant. “An additional mutation … has been identified,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead said at a briefing last week.

“In some of the delta variants we’ve seen one less mutation or one deletion instead of an additional, so we’re looking at all of it.”

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Booking volumes increase 45% over Q1

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The cruise ships “Carnival Sunrise” (L) and “Carnival Vista” (R) part of the Carnival Cruise Line, are seen moored at a quay in the port of Miami, Florida, on December 23, 2020, amid the Coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

DANIEL SLIM | AFP | Getty Images

Carnival Corporation saw booking volumes increase 45% in the second quarter of this year compared to the first quarter, the cruise operator announced in a business update on Thursday

Carnival also said its cumulative advanced bookings for 2022 are ahead of its 2019 bookings, indicating the company expects a solid return to business after the pandemic shut down the cruise industry.

However, Carnival reported an adjusted net loss of $2 billion for the second-quarter of 2021. It expects a net loss on an adjusted basis for the third quarter and full year as well.

The company’s monthly cash burn rate for the first half of 2021 was $500 million.

Due to several outbreaks aboard cruise ships last year, the cruise industry was one of the last sectors allowed to resume operations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed cruises to return this year with strict safety protocols and requirements in place to prevent outbreaks from occurring onboard.

Carnival has resumed sailing or announced plans to resume sailing 42 ships from eight of the company’s nine cruise brands by the end of November this year.

“We are working aggressively on our path to return our full fleet to operations by next spring. So far, we have announced that 42 ships, representing over half of our capacity, have been scheduled to return to serving guests by this fiscal year end,” Carnival Corporation President and CEO Arnold Donald said in a press release.

Cruise line stocks are slowly rebounding this year after suffering huge losses during the pandemic.

Shares of Carnival fell more than 2% on Thursday. Carnival’s stock has risen 28% this year, putting its market cap at just over $27 billion.

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Rudy Giuliani suspended from practicing law due to Trump statements

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A New York court on Thursday suspended Rudy Giuliani from practicing law in New York state due to making “false and misleading statements” about the election loss of former President Donald Trump, his client.

The suspension, which takes effect immediately, is a stunning blow to Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who previously served as a top Justice Department official and as the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan.

It also comes as Giuliani is under criminal investigation by that same federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan in connection with his work in Ukraine.

Giuliani and Trump since last November have made false claims about the legitimacy of the election of President Joe Biden, claiming that Trump was swindled out of a victory only by widespread ballot fraud in key swing states.

Giuliani’s suspension, which was ordered a day short of his 52nd anniversary as a licensed lawyer in New York, was sought by the Attorney Grievance Committee for the First Judicial Department, which encompasses Manhattan. The suspension was granted by the Appellate Division for that same department of state Supreme Court.

The court, in its 33-page suspension order, noted that “interim suspension is a serious remedy, available only in situations where it is immediately necessary to protect the public from” an attorney’s violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

“We conclude that there is uncontroverted evidence that respondent communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump’s failed effort at reelection in 2020,” the order said.

The court also said Giuliani’s “false statements were made to improperly bolster respondent’s narrative that due to widespread voter fraud, victory in the 2020 United States presidential election was stolen from his client.”

“We conclude that respondent’s conduct immediately threatens the public interest and warrants interim suspension from the practice of law, pending further proceedings before the Attorney Grievance Committee.”

One of the examples cited by the order was Giuliani’s repeated claim in an effort to discredit election results that “dead people ‘voted’ in Philadelphia.”

Giuliani at various times claimed that 8,021 dead people’s ballots were cast, “while also reporting the number as 30,000.”

“As the anecdotal poster child to prove this point, he repeatedly stated that famous heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier continued to vote years after he was dead and stated on November 7, 2020 ‘he is still voting here,’ ” the order noted.

In fact, the order added, “The public records submitted on this motion unequivocally show that respondent’s statement is false. Public records show that Pennsylvania formally cancelled Mr. Frazier’s eligibility to vote on February 8, 2012, three months after he died.”
Giuliani’s suspension is temporary, pending the outcome of a full formal disciplinary hearing.

Giuliani’s lawyers John Leventhal and Barry Kamins said in a statement, “We are disappointed with the Appellate Division, First Department’s decision suspending Mayor Giuliani prior to being afforded a hearing on the issues that are alleged.”

“This is unprecedented as we believe that our client does not pose a present danger to the public interest,” the statement said. “We believe that once the issues are fully explored at a hearing Mr. Giuliani will be reinstated as a valued member of the legal profession that he has served so well in his many capacities for so many years.”

New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman, (D-Manhattan, who had filed the formal complaint with the Attorney Grievance Committee, said, “I’m glad” about the suspension.

“The profession of law is a sacred and noble one,” Hoylman said in a statement. “And there can be no room in the profession for those who seek to undermine and undo the rule of law as Rudy Giuliani has so flagrantly done.”

This is breaking news. Check back for updates.

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