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The Week Ahead: UK inflation; Fed minutes; Nvidia, M&S results

Get set for an eventful Wednesday. The middle of the working week will see the release of the UK’s consumer price index (CPI) reading for April, the minutes from the US Federal Reserve’s May meeting, and earnings updates from the likes of Nvidia, Marks & Spencer and Kingfisher. On Friday, many traders will be keeping an eye out for the April reading of the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the US core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index.

Our top three economic and company events in order of importance are:

1. UK CPI (April) – Wednesday

After the Bank of England raised interest rates by 0.25 percentage points to 4.5% on 11 May, the CPI print for April could offer some indication of whether to expect further rate hikes next month. Inflation in the UK has remained sticky, despite the drop in energy prices, largely because annual growth in food prices continues to run at about 20%. 

There is also an argument that the government’s energy price cap has prevented lower energy prices trickling down to the headline rate of inflation. With the price cap having come to an end in March, economists expect that the decline in energy prices will be reflected in the inflation numbers for April. The impact on inflation this quarter could be sizeable. Brent crude oil prices have fallen to about $75 a barrel, down from above $100 a barrel a year ago, while UK natural gas prices have halved. 

Consensus estimates suggest headline CPI fell sharply to about 8% in April, down from 10.1% in March, while core prices are expected to have remained steady at 6.2%.

2. Fed minutes – Wednesday

The market reaction to the Federal Reserve’s most recent rate hike – on 3 May, the US central bank raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point to a new target range of 5% to 5.25% – was rather subdued. This was somewhat surprising, given that prior to the two-day meeting there had been speculation that the Fed might signal a pause to rate hikes in light of instability in the banking sector. 

Notably, the central bank’s statement ditched previous guidance that more tightening may be necessary to control inflation. This seemed to strike the right tone as it acknowledged that financial conditions had tightened, without explicitly ruling out the possibility that rates could yet rise further. 

Fed chair Jay Powell’s post-meeting press conference was uneventful, though he did push back on the idea that rate cuts could soon follow. Indeed, rates are likely to remain high for some time to come. Powell said that the Fed’s next move would depend on how the data and events evolve. In the context of a tight labour market and high inflation levels, rate cuts seem some way off. 

So, what will the minutes from the Fed’s 2-3 May meeting tell us? There are two main areas of interest. Firstly, it will be informative to discover how many policymakers were in favour of keeping rates where they were. Secondly, the minutes could reveal whether there was a discussion about how many more rate hikes might be needed, or whether rates are close to having peaked.

3. Nvidia Q1 results – Wednesday

As regular readers of our Week Ahead email will be aware, Nvidia shares have been on an absolute tear in 2023, rising almost 120% year-to-date to more than $313. Having hit two-year lows back in October last year, shares of the California-based technology company are pushing up towards the record high of roughly $330 that they set in November 2021. 

Nvidia, along with Meta Platforms, has helped drive a lot of the gains on both the Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 this year. Nvidia’s share price rebound has been driven by rising demand for higher specification AI chips, of which Nvidia is a key supplier. 

Nvidia’s Q4 revenue was in line with expectations at $6.05bn, while a profit of $0.88 a share beat expectations. Looking ahead, the company was bullish, saying it expected Q1 revenue of $6.5bn, give or take 2%. Nvidia appears to be betting that the global push towards AI will drive revenue growth, while other areas of the business, such as gaming, slow down. Profit for Q1 is expected to come in at $0.92 a share.

More key events

Our calendar of selected upcoming economic and company announcements:

MONDAY 22 MAY

Zoom Video Communications Q1 results

Shares of video conferencing company Zoom have continued to struggle. Over the past year the stock has fallen almost 25% to about $70, a level last seen in January 2020 before Covid-era lockdowns sent the shares to well over $500. The share price’s regression to pre-pandemic levels jars somewhat with how much bigger the business is now compared to three years ago. 

In Q4, sales came in at $1.12bn, pushing annual revenues to $4.39bn. Profit for the quarter was worth $1.22 a share. The company also said it had seen an increase in enterprise customers over the last 12 months as it reported a 27% gain in customers who spent more than $100,000 on a 12-month basis. 

The company said it expected Q1 revenue to be between $1.08bn and $1.085bn, which was slightly disappointing to some investors. However, profits are expected to come in between $0.96 and $0.98 a share. Full-year revenue is expected to rise to between $4.44bn and $4.46bn.

TUESDAY 23 MAY

No major scheduled events

WEDNESDAY 24 MAY

UK CPI (April); Fed minutes; Nvidia Q1 results 

See our top three events, above

France, Germany flash PMIs (May)

One notable trend of recent months has been the divergence between European services and manufacturing activity. Across the board, manufacturing purchasing managers’ indices (PMI) readings have weakened. In contrast, services sector activity has improved as the drop in energy prices helps free up consumers’ disposable incomes, prompting a rebound in retail spending.

How long can this trend continue? Although price pressures have been easing, prices are still rising, notably when it comes to wages. In both Germany and France, services activity rose to a one-year high in April, while manufacturing slipped further into contraction territory. In the UK, PMI readings are exhibiting similar traits. Services activity appears strong; manufacturing remains weak. 

Kingfisher Q1 results

When B&Q owner Kingfisher reported its full-year numbers in March, the shares initially popped higher. However, the gains soon disappeared as the shares sank to a year-to-date low in May amid investor concerns over the company’s outlook. 

The full-year numbers showed that profits declined 39% to £611m, while revenue fell modestly to £13.08bn, mainly due to higher costs and discounting. Those factors also ate into margins, which fell to 36.7%, a decline of 70 basis points. In Q4, group like-for-like sales came in flat, indicating a more cautious consumer. However, in the Q1 numbers so far there has been evidence of a pickup, with modest gains of 0.5%. 

Looking ahead to its new fiscal year, Kingfisher said Q1 had got off to a good start across all regions, although the French and British business were being impacted by strike action. Consensus forecasts for Q1 are for revenues to come in at £3.3bn, with same-store sales in the UK and Ireland expected to decline by 2%, with B&Q expected to post a fall of 4.25%.

Marks & Spencer full-year results

Although shares of Marks & Spencer have risen almost 30% this year to more than 160p, they remain well below the 2022 peak of more than 250p. Since the October lows of just over 91p, the shares have recovered roughly 50% of the losses incurred since the 2022 peaks. This year’s gains have been driven by improving investor sentiment towards the retailer as it executes a solid turnaround plan, with both food and general merchandise performing well. 

At the start of this year, the company reported better-than-expected Q3 results, despite tough trading conditions. Total food sales rose 10.2%, while on a like-for-like basis they rose 6.3%, as the food business grew its share of the grocery market. Market share could continue to grow as M&S plans to open 20 new shops (of which 12 will be food halls with wider aisles, slated to open next year) and refurbish many existing stores.

Significantly, clothing sales grew 8.8%, and 8.6% on a like-for-like basis, and according to management achieved over 10% market share during the period, the best level since 2015. Total group sales came in at £3.6bn, a rise of 9.9%. Click and collect orders increased 20%, helped by Royal Mail strikes as customers had to collect their own orders. 

Despite the strong Q3 performance, management maintained their full-year guidance, with revenue expected to come in at £11.78bn, up from £10.9bn last year. However, profits are expected to be lower due to higher costs.

Snowflake Q1 results

Cloud computing company Snowflake benefited from the shift to remote working and cloud storage during the pandemic. Recent earnings updates from larger competitors Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet show their cloud businesses continuing to grow, and there is no reason why a rising tide shouldn’t lift all boats in this case. 

Snowflake’s share price, up 36% year-to-date, has been boosted by the company’s strong Q4 results and solid guidance. In Q4, revenue rose 54% to $555.3m, while bosses projected that revenue for 2024 would rise by 40% to $2.7bn. For Q1, Snowflake projected revenue of between $568m and $573m, though analysts’ consensus estimate has risen to $609.5m. Profit in Q1 is expected to come in at around $0.05 a share.

THURSDAY 25 MAY

US Q1 GDP

The first estimate of US first-quarter gross domestic product was somewhat disappointing. It showed that the US economy grew 1.1% in the first three months of the year, slowing by more than expected versus Q4, mainly due to a bigger-than-expected scaling down in inventories. On the plus side, growth in personal consumption rebounded strongly from 1% in Q4 to 3.7% in Q1 as US consumers went on a new-year spending spree. The revised estimate isn’t likely to radically move the dial. 

Williams-Sonoma Q1 results

High-end kitchenware and home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma has seen its shares fall roughly 17% since hitting year-to-date highs in early February, partly due to concerns over the company’s outlook. 

In Q4, revenue came in at $2.45bn, 5% below consensus estimates, as all areas of the business missed forecasts. Guidance for Q1 was underwhelming, even allowing for the fact that Q1 tends to be a slow quarter for the owner of Pottery Barn. Revenue in Q1 is expected to decline from last year to $1.79bn, although e-commerce is expected to do well. Given the low expectations, there may be scope for an upside surprise. Profit in Q1 is expected to drop to $2.38 a share.

FRIDAY 26 MAY

UK retail sales (April)

With inflation running at more than 10%, and food price inflation even higher, it’s perhaps somewhat surprising that British consumers have remained so resilient. In January, retail sales in the UK increased 1.2% compared to December, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. This was followed by growth of 1.1% month-on-month in February. Retail sales declined 0.9% month-on-month in March as economic activity was hampered by strike action among healthcare and transport workers. 

In April, the Easter holidays may have fuelled an uplift in retail spending, but the big question is whether further strike action acted as a drag. The recent CBI retail sales numbers showed a modest increase for April, as did the latest British Retail Consortium numbers. It therefore seems likely that the ONS’ retail sales figures will also show an improvement compared to March. 

US core PCE price index (April)

The Fed's favourite inflation measure, the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, increased 4.6% in the year to March, easing from 4.7% in February. This stickiness in core price growth likely contributed to the Fed’s interest rate hike this month. With the publication of the Fed minutes on Wednesday expected to shed light on policymakers’ deliberations over that rate rise, the core PCE reading for April could help determine whether the Fed will pause its tightening cycle at its next meeting in mid-June. 

While core inflation may be easing from one month to the next, prices are still higher than they were three months ago, as the US Q1 GDP report highlighted. Nonetheless, slowing inflation could support expectations that interest rates may not go much higher. Evidence of core inflation heading back towards 4% would likely be welcomed by many Americans.

INDEX DIVIDEND SCHEDULE

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SELECTED COMPANY RESULTS

MONDAY 22 MAY RESULTS
Big Yellow Group (UK) Full-year
Kainos Group (UK) Full-year
Wincanton (UK) Full-year
Zoom Video Communications (US) Q1
TUESDAY 23 MAY RESULTS
Assura (UK) Full-year
Avon Protection (UK) Half-year
Bytes Technology Group (UK) Full-year
Cranswick (UK) Full-year
Dick's Sporting Goods (US) Q1
Intuit (US) Q3
Palo Alto Networks (US) Q3
RS Group (UK) Full-year
Watkin Jones (UK) Half-year
Williams-Sonoma (US) Q1
WEDNESDAY 24 MAY RESULTS
Abercrombie & Fitch (US) Q1
American Eagle Outfitters (US) Q1
Analog Devices (US) Q2
Great Portland Estates (UK) Full-year
Kingfisher (UK) Q1
LondonMetric Property (UK) Full-year
Marks & Spencer Group (UK) Full-year
N Brown Group (UK) Full-year
Nvidia Corp (US) Q1
Severn Trent (UK) Full-year
Shoe Carnival (US) Q1
Snowflake (US) Q1
Splunk (US) Q1
SSE (UK) Full-year
UiPath (US) Q1
Zuora (US) Q1
THURSDAY 25 MAY RESULTS
23andMe Holding Co (US) Q4
AJ Bell (UK) Half-year
Build-A-Bear Workshop (US) Q1
Costco Wholesale (US) Q3
Gap (US) Q1
Johnson Matthey (UK) Full-year
Pets at Home Group (UK) Full-year
QinetiQ Group (UK) Full-year
Ralph Lauren (US) Q4
Tate & Lyle (UK) Full-year
Workday (US) Q1
FRIDAY 26 MAY RESULTS
Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Co (US) Q4

Note: While we check all dates carefully to ensure that they are correct at the time of writing, company announcements are subject to change.


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