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The week ahead: US election; Uber, Sainsbury, M&S results

Watch our week ahead video preview, read our pick of the top stories to look out for this week (2-6 November), and view our key company earnings schedule.

Michael looks ahead to a busy week of politics, macro and company announcements, including the US election, central bank meetings from the Federal Reserve and Bank of England, as well as PMIs and the US employment report.

AMC Entertainment Q3 results

Monday: The problems being suffered by the cinema sector were already well documented even before the arrival of the pandemic. The challenge being faced by the competitive streaming markets were already making it hard to compete, and the closure of cinemas as a result of the economic lockdowns merely compounded those problems. While attention has been focused on the survival of Cineworld here in the UK, AMC Entertainment’s problems are no less serious, with the company's revenue plunging to $18.9m in its Q2 numbers, from $1.5bn in the same period a year ago. The owner of the Odeon chain and IMAX cinemas posted a net loss of $561m in Q2, with the company warning as recently as three weeks ago that it could run out of cash by the end of this year. 

The second postponement of the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, for next month has once again thrown the future of the entire industry into doubt, as the absence of big new blockbuster releases serves to keep customers away. At times like this the movie studios and cinemas need to be working together, given their symbiotic relationship. AMC has agreed a deal with Universal to shorten the theatrical window to 17 days, with Universal giving the theatre a proportion of the revenue when selling directly to consumers is a start, but it’s not a silver bullet. Unless movie studios step up, cinemas as we know them will cease to exist as the business model dies.

Global manufacturing PMIs (October)

Monday: The manufacturing sector has been much more resilient to the effects of the pandemic than the services sector. The most recent flash purchasing manager index (PMI) numbers from the likes of Germany and France showed that economic activity remained robust despite rising infection rates across Europe. Part of this is likely to be down to inventory restocking, however if we see further lockdown restrictions being implemented there will be a drag on economic activity as we head into year end. In China, manufacturing activity has already returned to levels last seen at the beginning of the year, and this looks set to continue. Pockets of weakness are still expected to be found in southern Europe, as well as Japan, however it is in the services sector that we are seeing the real problems.    

Associated British Foods full-year results

Tuesday: The problems of the retail sector have not bypassed the Primark brand. For so long the 'pile it-high-sell-it-cheap' model of Primark saw it eat the respective lunches of Next and Marks & Spencer. It’s not in such a strong position now due to its lack of an online operation, which meant that while other shops could see their goods online, Primark could not and was only able to do so when the shops reopened. Despite this disadvantage overall sales have been strong since the reopening, even if the ABF share price performance doesn’t reflect that. The closure of its stores at the beginning of the year has meant the company will have to carry over £150m worth of stock into next year, but still expects full-year operating profit to be at the top end of September forecasts. The grocery part of the business has managed to outperform, driven by increased demand for flour and yeast, as well as tea. The company could also announce a dividend, with estimates of around 25p per share, well down from last year’s 46p.

US presidential election 

Tuesday: In the next few days we will find out whether the next president of the United States is Donald Trump or Joe Biden, however what is likely to be more important is who manages to control the Senate. Currently it's under the control of the Republicans, and majority leader Mitch McConnell. If the Democrats manage to win control, and maintain control of the House of Representatives, their grip on the policy levers of the US economy would be complete, and as such they should find it much easier to push through the fresh fiscal stimulus measures needed to help the US economy, if Joe Biden wins the final vote. Currently the Republicans hold the Senate by a majority of 53-47, which means if they hold on to it, they will be able to block anything Joe Biden does as US president, if he's elected.

Read all our US election coverage here

Global services PMIs (October) 

Wednesday: These aren’t expected to make for comfortable reading. The most recent flash PMI numbers from France and Germany pointed to contractions in their latest October numbers. This weakness is likely to be replicated in the latest Spain and Italy numbers as well and it is here that the biggest worries for EU leaders are set to increase.These slipped into contraction territory in August and are likely to show a contraction for the third month in succession. In Italy the services sector was only able to eke out a single month of positive output, in July. Spain was only slightly better with a similarly positive month in July, however since then the slide in economic activity has been much worse than Italy, with a 42.4 reading in September. With the EU still arguing about their own fiscal stimulus pandemic plan, and unlikely to agree the grants so badly needed by both Italy and Spain, the next few months are likely to be even more painful for the most fragile economies in the Euro area. As far as services activity goes the outliers are expected to be China, the US and the UK, which are all expected to be positive, though the UK numbers are likely to start slipping back sharply in November as tighter restrictions weigh on the economic output.    

Marks & Spencer half-year results

Wednesday: When M&S last reported in August, the Q1 numbers were slightly better than expected. Total food sales for example saw a rise of 2.5%, and with the deal with Ocado now up and running this week’s numbers are set to be closely scrutinised for a further improvement in company performance. Clothing and home have continued to be a drag, however, M&S haven’t been unique in this. Questions do have to be asked; if the M&S online experience was better these numbers might be better. In the eight weeks up until August in which stores were open, total sales fell 29.9%, with store sales down 47.9% and online sales up 39.2%. Management also announced that they were looking to reduce headcount by 7,000 over the next three months, so there are likely to be costs involved, though some of these are likely to be offset by new positions in online roles. The shares have fallen over 10% since the update so the bar is low for an upside a surprise, and the beginning of a possible move back to levels last seen in the middle of August.

Bank of England rate meeting 

Thursday: The slowdown in economic activity that we will eventually come from tighter restrictions is likely to impact the UK economy in Q4, and will be weighing on the minds of UK policymakers as we head towards the end of the year. There has been much speculation about the prospect of negative rates, however it is becoming clear that while Bank of England officials don’t want to be seen to be ruling them out completely, they are likely to be enormously damaging to the UK financial sector. Some Bank of England officials are performing contortions in trying to convince markets that they will make a difference to the point that they risk embarrassing themselves. The groupthink is almost extraordinary and it would be astonishing if the bank were to signal they were going to cut rates into negative territory at this stage. We are likely to see the Bank of England revise its estimates of inflation and GDP for this year and next year.   

US Federal Reserve meeting 

Thursday: At its last meeting the Federal Reserve was somewhat a hostage to events, whether it be a second wave of Covid-19 or political gridlock over a second stimulus package. In recent comments a number of Fed officials have continued to be vocal about the prospect of more aggressive policy action without success as US politicians have procrastinated over a deal that is now unlikely to come before the end of Q1 next year. This week’s US election does remove one obstacle to further policy action and by the time the meeting this week concludes we should have a better idea of the US political landscape. Depending on the outcome of the election the US central bank will still be at the forefront of not only the US policy response, but also the global policy response. They will also need to act as a bridge to further fiscal measures whatever the outcome on 3 November.    

Peloton Q1 results

Thursday: When Peloton posted its end of year results at the beginning of September, its Q4 numbers had blasted through expectations. Sales surged 172%, as a result of the slow reopening of gyms and exercise spaces. Revenue came in at $607.1m, considerably above the $582.5m expected, and well above last year's $223.3m. Profits of $89.1m were posted, compared to the $47.4m loss just a year ago. The big question as we head into the winter months is whether the company can continue at its current rate. While the economic reopenings in its most recent quarter are likely to see a slowdown in the rate of growth, further tightening of restrictions as we head towards year end could see momentum maintained. Management expressed optimism about the outlook for 2021, projecting annual sales of between $3.5bn and $3.65bn, which would be almost double from a year ago. Peloton’s biggest problem with respect to its business model is the upfront cost of its $2,000 bike, which is likely to limit its growth potential. It has competition too: Apple’s new fitness offering is compelling, with a Fitness Plus subscription which connects to the Apple Watch and allows the user to take virtual workouts online.

Sainsbury's half-year results 

Thursday: Supermarkets have managed to ride out the worst of the hit to the retail sector. Designated as an essential business, they have stayed open despite absorbing much higher costs which has held back their share price performance. When Sainsbury's reported in July, these costs increased by £500m, even as total sales jumped by 8.5%, with grocery sales leading those gains. While the sum of £500m is a high number it does need to be remembered that most retailers are getting business rates relief on their store footprint. Clothing sales fell 26.7%, while the Argos business outperformed. CEO Simon Roberts was at pains to say that in terms of guidance, they expected underlying profit to be unchanged for the full year. Sainsbury’s was also in the news in September when it was reported that Daniel Kretinsky, a Czech billionaire, who already has a stake in Royal Mail, became the fourth largest shareholder after taking a 3% stake. It isn’t immediately clear what plans Mr Kretinsky has for Sainsbury's, however it probably won’t be too long before he makes his presence felt. 

Uber Q3 results 

Thursday: Even without the pandemic, Uber had already been haemorrhaging cash, and the economic lockdowns hit its cashflow even more. The ride-hailing part of the business makes up the lion’s share of overall revenue, while its delivery or 'Eats' business is the small relation. In Q2 the company posted a net loss of $1.8bn as taxi bookings declined 73%, while delivery bookings rose 113%. The company also exited 12 markets in Q2 including Austria, Czech Republic, Egypt, India and South Korea. Revenues in Q2 were slightly better-than-expected and the economic reopenings in Q3 should see an improved performance for the technology company as it strives to improve its delivery option. Despite Uber’s problems the shares have recovered well from their March lows near $14, and are now trading back above $30. This seems rather counterintuitive considering the company is no nearer to turning a profit than when it came out of the blocks just over a year ago.     

US employment report 

Friday: One of the most encouraging things about the rebound in the US economy in recent months has been the slide in the unemployment rate from its peaks in April of 14.7%, to 7.9% in September. This trend is expected to continue in October with a further decline to 7.7%. Weekly jobless claims have also continued to decline and while there is a concern about a lack of fiscal stimulus, the US economy has managed to absorb a lot of what the pandemic has thrown at it, in spite of the challenges being presented by infection levels that have never really shown any signs of falling back. Sadly, the unemployment numbers only tell part of the story, with labour force participation 2% lower than was the case at the beginning of the year. This week’s non-farm payrolls report is expected to show another 700,000 jobs added to the 661,000 in September, however the gains seen in the past six months still remain some way short of the 21.5m jobs lost in March and April, with just over half of those jobs coming back as of the September report.

Index dividend schedule

Dividend payments from an index's constituent shares can affect your trading account. See this week's index dividend schedule

Selected UK & US company announcements

Monday 2 November Results
AMC Networks (US) Q3
Estee Lauder (US) Q1
Lok'nStore (UK) Full-year
Mondelez International (US) Q3
Premier (US) Q1
Tuesday 3 November Results
Associated British Foods (UK) Full-year
Fox Corporation (US) Q1
Gartner (US)  Q3
GW Pharmaceuticals  (UK) Q3
Prudential Financial (US) Q3
Wayfair (US) Q3
Wednesday 4 November Results
Avista  (US) Q3
BlackRock Capital Investment (US) Q3
Expedia Group (US) Q3
Fitbit  (US) Q3
Gattaca  (UK) Full-year
GoDaddy (US) Q3
Liberty Global (UK) Q3
Marathon Oil (US) Q3
Marks & Spencer (UK) Half-year
Match Group (US) Q3
Noble (UK) Q3
Stobart (UK) Half-year
Tribune Publishing (US) Q3
Upwork (US) Q3
Wendy's (US) Q3
Thursday 5 November Results
AstraZeneca (UK) Q3
Auto Trader (UK) Half-year
Biffa (UK) Half-year
Cloudflare (US) Q3
Cushman & Wakefield (US) Q3
Discovery  (US) Q3
Ferro (US) Q3
General Motors  (US) Q3
Herbalife Nutrition (US) Q3
Iron Mountain (US) Q3
J Sainsbury  (UK) Half-year
New York Times (US) Q3
Papa John's International (US) Q3
Peloton Interactive (US) Q1
SeaWorld Entertainment (US) Q3
Square (US) Q3
Stamps.com (US) Q3
Tate & Lyle (UK) Half-year
Trainline (UK) Half-year
Triumph Group (US) Q2
Utz Brands (US) Q3
Virgin Galactic Holdings (US) Q3
Wincanton Half-year
Friday 6 November Results
AMC Entertainment (US) Q3
Hershey (US) Q3
Moog (US) Q4
TripAdvisor (US) Q3
ViacomCBS Q3

Company announcements are subject to change. All the events listed above were correct at the time of writing.

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