PPG Industries Warns of Intensifying Inflation Pressures and Weakening Demand

{Originally published on One-Twenty Two by Dr. Duru}

““As we look ahead, we currently do not anticipate any relief from inflationary cost pressures in the third quarter. We expect aggregate global economic growth to remain positive with end-use market activity comparable to the second quarter, adjusted for traditionally lower seasonal demand. However, uncertainties exist regarding global trade policies, which may create uneven demand by region and in certain industries. Specific to PPG, we expect that the previously announced architectural customer assortment change will lower our third quarter year-over-year sales volume growth rate by between 120 and 150 basis points. We remain confident that our leading-edge technologies and products, which are bringing value to our customers, will facilitate our growth going forward….

Currently the new tariffs are starting to add some modest cost to our raw materials. Based on the strength in the US dollar in the second quarter, we expect foreign currency exchange rates to have an unfavorable impact to our sales in the third quarter”

This was the essence of the guidance industrial paint company PPG Industries (PPG) provided in its 2nd quarter earnings report. I added the emphases because the warnings on inflation and international demand were clear precursors to the company’s pre-earnings warning tonight. The stock traded down about 10% in after market trading in response to significant cuts in revenue and earnings guidance. I was most interested in the explanation which made the second quarter’s caution come to life (emphases mine)…

““In the third quarter, we continued to experience significant raw material and elevating logistics cost inflation, including the effects from higher epoxy resin and increasing oil prices…These inflationary impacts increased during the quarter and, as a result, we experienced the highest level of cost inflation since the cycle began two years ago.

“Also, during the quarter, we saw overall demand in China soften, and we experienced weaker automotive refinish sales as several of our U.S. and European customers are carrying high inventory levels due to lower end-use market demand…Finally, the impact from weakening foreign currencies, primarily in emerging regions, has resulted in a year-over-year decrease in income of about $15 million. This lower demand, coupled with the currency effects, was impactful to our year-over-year earnings and is expected to continue for the balance of the year.”

Instead of moderating, inflationary pressures are mounting on PPG. The weakness in China is telling in the context of the trade war with the U.S. The lower “end-use market demand” points to the trickle-down impact of “peak auto.” These warnings are each important given PPG has a market cap of $26.5B and trailing 12-month revenue of $15.4B. I fully expect other industrial companies to deliver similar news this earnings season.

Interestingly, Credit Suisse downgraded the stock in late September and the market responded by taking PPG down 2.8% on relatively high trading volume. The gap down confirmed the end of PPG’s post-earnings run and breakout above 200-day moving average (DMA) resistance. Until the downgrade the stock finally looked ready to challenge its 2018 high.

PPG Industries (PPG) never quite recovered from the February swoon. The recent breakdowns below 50 and 200DMA supports now look like fresh warnings.
PPG Industries (PPG) never quite recovered from the February swoon. The recent breakdowns below 50 and 200DMA supports now look like fresh warnings.

Source: FreeStockCharts.comThe market is supposed to be a forward-looking mechanism, so it is natural to wonder why PPG was rallying so well in the first place. I do not put all the blame on investors. I assume the company itself was partially responsible through its sizable share repurchase program. For the first half of 2018, PPG spent $1.1B on its own shares: 4.1% of the company’s current market capitalization. With this kind of aggressiveness, PPG should quickly move in on the new 52-week low to add to take out even more shares.

As earnings season unfolds, I will be paying close attention to company commentary on trade woes and inflation. The stock market has spent most of the past several months ignoring risks, so there are a good group of over-priced stocks out there waiting their turn for a douse of realty. Collectively, these warnings could be the catalyst that delivers the oversold market conditions I am anticipating.

Full disclosure: no positions


Hong Kong Property Market Defies Tame Inflation

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority just published its Quarterly Bulletin on economic conditions in Hong Kong and around the planet. The HKMA concludes that inflation is tame overall:

“Inflationary pressure eased further, as the underlying inflation rate tapered to a year-on-year 3.8% in October from 4.5% in June. The sequential pressure moderated slightly to an annualised 3.1% on a three-month-on-three-month comparison. This reflected waning food price inflation and moderation in price increases for other major CPI components.”

The slowly growing economy is expected to continue to keep inflation at bay. However, this calm surface masks a still roiling property market. Indeed, the HKMA believes the property market is well ahead of the economy given meager gains in income:

“In the property market, the disconnect between housing prices and economic fundamentals appeared to have become more acute. In contrast to tepid income growth, housing prices surged by a cumulative 23.2% in the year to October. Housing affordability deteriorated as a result, with both the price-to-income ratio and the mortgage payment-to-income ratio rising to their post-1997 highs.”

This is likely a matter of cheap money finding a home somewhere. In this case it is the property market. The government has responded to the growing problem with a series of taxes that seem to be moderating demand.

The HKMA places partial blame for inflationary pressures in the property market on the the Federal Reserve’s recent rounds of quantitative easing:

“Risks to inflation have also increased with additional quantitative easing in the US, through its potential impact on global commodity prices and local property prices.”

Note that the HKMA recognizes that QE in the U.S. will drive commodity prices higher. This dynamic is something Ben Bernanke has refused to acknowledge. With the Federal Reserve adding a “stealth” QE4 in the December statement, I will look to commodity prices to catch bids in 2013…and for central banks to work to try to counter-act the moves of the Federal Reserve.


Wages on the rise in China

Several reports have been published this year documenting rising wages in China. In “Wage Rises in China May Ease Slowdown“, the WSJ notes that these increases may help lower the impact of a slowdown in China as workers have more money to purchase goods (although it is not clear to me how much this helps if a lot of the money goes into buying foreign goods as the article suggests could happen).

The current and projected jumps in labor costs are dramatic:

“…wage income for urban households rose 13% year-on-year in the first half, and average monthly income for migrant workers rose 14.9%, according to data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics. A labor ministry survey of 91 cities in the first quarter showed demand for workers outstripping supply by a record amount, pointing to low unemployment…

…At current rates, China’s private-sector manufacturing wages will double from their 2011 levels by 2015, and triple by 2017, eroding competitiveness and denting the exports that have played a key part in China’s early growth.”

These wage hikes are coming off low levels. For example, as of February of this year, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, the company that manufactures Apple (AAPL) iPads, reported a 10% increase in base salary for its factory workers to 2,200 yuan ($345) per month.

Moreover, the supply of new, young workers will decrease thanks to China’s one-child policy:

“In 2005, there were 120.7 million Chinese people aged 15-19, according to United Nations estimates. By 2010, that had fallen to 105.3 million, and by 2015 it is expected to dip to 94.9 million.”

Finally the government is forcing the minimum wage and benefits higher:

“China is committed to sharply raising minimum wages, which puts pressure on employers to raise salaries for higher skilled workers. Beijing also has increased requirements for severance payments, which discourages layoffs unless business drops severely.”

It will be interesting to watch what happens to China’s economy as its manufacturing competitiveness declines slowly but surely with the increase in wages.


U.S. workers missing out on the “reflation celebration”

Several times on these pages, I have “celebrated” various confirmations of reflation as indicated by the soaring salaries of CEOs, largely through stock-based compensation. On October 10th, the New York Times printed the results of a study that confirmed what many of us already knew from informal observation: the wages of U.S. workers have fallen at a faster rate than they did during the recession. This “deflation” is working in the exact reverse of the trend for those who who hire these workers and run their companies! From “Recession Officially Over, U.S. Incomes Kept Falling” (NY Times via CNBC):

“Between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and June 2011, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7 percent, to $49,909, according to a study by two former Census Bureau officials. During the recession — from December 2007 to June 2009 — household income fell 3.2 percent.”

This is a sobering statistic that has potentially dire implications for the economy in general. Compare this situation to that in China where an on-going study in the New York Times concludes that China’s government has propped up its banks and large corporations at the expense of Chinese workers (see “As Its Economy Sprints Ahead, China’s People Are Left Behind.”):

“Under an economic system that favors state-run banks and companies over wage earners, the government keeps the interest rate on savings accounts so artificially low that it cannot keep pace with China’s rising inflation. At the same time, other factors in which the government plays a role — a weak social safety net, depressed wages and soaring home prices — create a hoarding impulse that compels many people to keep saving anyway, against an uncertain future.

Indeed, economists say this nation’s decade of remarkable economic growth, led by exports and government investment in big projects like China’s high-speed rail network, has to a great extent been underwritten by the household savings — not the spending — of the country’s 1.3 billion people.

This system, which some experts refer to as state capitalism, depends on the transfer of wealth from Chinese households to state-run banks, government-backed corporations and the affluent few who are well enough connected to benefit from the arrangement.”

Neither system, in the U.S. or China, appear stable to me. With China dependent on the income (or rising debt) of U.S. workers to keep its exports alive, these systems of increasing inequity actually start to look increasingly unstable. I will be monitoring these processes even more closely going forward. They are certainly deflationary, not inflationary.


High rare earth prices impact more and more products

In “China Consolidates Control of Rare Earth Industry“, the NY Times builds from a General Electric FAQ on rare earths (covered here) to describe the spreading impact of high rare earth prices. In addition to compact fluorescent bulbs, these prices are driving up the costs of giant wind turbines and hybrid gasoline-electric cars. Even Walmart has been forced to increase the price of the compact fluorescent bulbs it sells.

China’s efforts to consolidate its rare earths industry and to move it more effectively under the government’s watchful eyes promise to increase international pressures for manufacturers to relocate to China to get cheaper prices.

See the article reference above for more details.


Diamond prices up 17% in the first quarter

In “Diamond Prices Set To Sparkle“, CNBC reports that diamond prices increased 17% in the first quarter of this year. While the U.S. remains the biggest market for diamonds at 40% of sales, Indian and Chinese demand is rapidly rising. DeBeers thinks it may have to double output in 15 years at China’s current rate of growth. This will mark quite a turnaround for the diamond company as it turned in a loss in 2009 and required a $1B “injection” of capital to stay afloat.


China hikes electricity rates for the first time in two years

It is pretty amazing that China has experienced rapid growth without rate hikes for electricity, but such has been the case for two years. The resulting power shortages are getting dire according to “China Raises Power Prices as Shortages Loom“:

“China’s electricity demand is running so far ahead of supply that it is expected to be short of 30-40 gigawatts of power capacity this summer, twice the deficit caused in Japan by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11.”

China is hiking rates by 3% for some users in an apparent effort to cool demand and/or encourage the production of more supply. It is feared that increases in supply will only further drive up the price of coal and offset any profits power companies would have otherwise earned.


Vancouver Housing Keeps On Soaring

In “Homes: Chinese Buyers Make Vancouver Pricier Than NYC“, Bloomberg provides a startling and illuminating account of the dynamics in Vancouver’s over-heated real estate market. The statistics are absolutely astounding. Here is a sample:

“Sales of detached homes, townhouses and condominiums in metropolitan Vancouver jumped 70 percent in February from January, to 3,097 units from 1,819, and were up 25 percent from a year earlier, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. In March, sales climbed 32 percent from February, to just shy of a record for the month of 4,371 transactions set in 2004. Sales increased by 80 percent from two years ago.”

“In 2010, Vancouver had the third-highest housing costs among English-speaking cities worldwide, according to Canada’s Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Only Hong Kong and Sydney, another magnet of Asian immigration, were more expensive. Vancouver’s median home price of C$602,000 ($618,000) was 9.5 times the annual median household income of C$63,100, the group said in a study released Jan. 24. Canada had a 4.6 national multiple, making it ‘seriously unaffordable,’ while the U.S. at 3.3 was ‘moderately unaffordable,’ the study showed. To be affordable, the multiple must be 3 or less.”

The rest of the article explains how buyers from China are helping to drive prices in Vancouver as they escape property restrictions back home. Given three waves of Chinese buyers have descended upon Vancouver since 1990, market participants must feel like everything is normal. As an outsider, this market seems to have all the classic markers of a bubble. As long as the money keeps flowing, the market will remain inflated…


China’s inflation could be worse but stimulus money sitting in investments, not consumption

Nightly Business Report produced a short video segment describing China’s inflation woes (transcript included) called “China’s Inflation Battle.” The commentator identifies China’s RMB¥ 4 trillion stimulus program (about $585B USD at the time) as the original source of the inflation and takes us to Pengshui, 1000 miles from Beijing, to see some of the examples of how inflation is impacting the lives of the average Chinese person.

The most interesting quote came from Associate Professor Patrick Chovanec of Tsinghua University, School of Economics and Management:

“When you see over 50 percent growth in the money supply, the question isn’t, why is there inflation? The question is, why isn’t there more inflation? Why haven’t we seen it sooner? The reason is because a lot of that money didn’t go into a consumption boom. It went into an investment boom.”

It is a scary thought to think inflation problems could (will?) get even worse once the Chinese figure out how to make use of all this massive investment.

http://www-tc.pbs.org/video/media/swf/PBSPlayer.swf

Watch the full episode. See more Nightly Business Report.


Inflation may be forcing China to let its currency appreciate

In “Beijing turns to currency to cool inflation“, the Associated Press gives a good summary of China’s current problems with inflation, including the following:

“Economists blame China’s inflation on the dual pressures of consumer demand that is outstripping food supplies and a bank lending boom they say Beijing allowed to run too long after it helped the country rebound quickly from the 2008 global crisis.

Attempts at price controls, subsidies for the poor and orders to local leaders to guarantee adequate vegetable supplies have had mixed results.”

The failure to control inflation to-date is forcing China to allow the currency to appreciate faster. The near-term increases still seem modest at 5% (against the dollar), so it will be interesting to see whether China continues pushing harder on non-currency methods.

China’s currency is not traded on open markets, but if it were, it seems the currency would soar given current conditions.


Looking at CPI from all angles suggests an imminent problem

I typically ignore most of the inflation numbers reported by the government, but I could not resist reading Calafia Beach Pundit’s latest piece titled “Consumer price inflation is heating up.” Calafia takes a look at the CPI from all angles, month-over-month, year-over-year, rate of change, and even non-seasonally adjusted (which is the basis for payments to TIPS). Calafia convincingly demonstrates that all arrows are pointing upward for inflation. He even concluded that China’s current struggles with inflation will be America’s future inflation problem:

“The ongoing rise in China’s inflation rate is making headlines today, but U.S. inflation is not too far behind, as this chart shows. It’s not surprising that inflation should be moving higher both in China and the U.S., since China has essentially outsourced its monetary policy to the U.S. Federal Reserve by pegging the yuan to the dollar. Chinese inflation is somewhat more volatile than ours, and that is also not surprising since its economy is smaller and less burdened by long-term supply and labor contracts. If China has an inflation problem, then so does the U.S. It will just take longer for the problem to become obvious in the U.S.”

This piece is a must-read.

Disclosure: author is long TIPS


Still room for more rate hikes in China

In “China inflation may hit 6 pct, no end to tightening -paper“, Reuters reports that the official China Securities Journal insists fighting inflation is the number one job for monetary authorities. Given a consumer price index hitting 32-month highs in March and likely to rise as high as 6% this year, China will continue to hike rates to thwart these inflationary pressures.

Yesterday, China’s central bank increased interest rates for a fourth time in six months.


Hedging activity by copper producers hits five-year highs

In “Miners Bet on Falling Copper Prices,” the Financial Times reports that concerns over softening demand from China are driving copper producers to hedge more and more of their future output:

“‘For a while, hedging had become unfashionable. This has changed,’ said François Combes, head of commodities trading at Société Générale. ‘You have to go back at least five years to find the last time there was genuine hedging of this scale.'”

Currently, this seems to equate to a hedge of about 25% of production. This reported bearishness has not yet shown up in lower copper prices. An analyst in the article claims that copper prices have so far remained firm because producers are buying options instead of selling futures.

The robust recovery in copper prices has been led by Chinese demand. With other major economies experiencing sluggish growth, there is no likely buyer to fill any gap in Chinese purchases anytime soon. These dynamics imply that the volatility in copper prices could significantly increase in the near future without clear signs that Chinese demand will remain firm.

Copper prices cling to pre-recession levels

Copper prices cling to pre-recession levels


Price of soap and detergent going up in China

Reuters reports that Proctor & Gamble Company (PG) and Unliever (UL) are hiking the price of soap and detergent in China by 15% (see here). This action has apparently attracted the attention of government authorities who have promised to “investigate.”


Battling inflation is a top priority in 2011 for China

In “China says cannot lower guard against inflation“, Reuters reports that “China’s Premier Wen Jiabao said on Saturday inflation was affecting social stability, and taming it was a top priority for this year…The government is aiming for annual average inflation of 4 percent in 2011, higher than the 3.3 percent rise in consumer prices last year.”

The article notes several measures Chinese authorities are taking to curb inflation, everything from increasing food supplies, reducing transportation costs, and controlling the money supply and bank lending. These measures seem to be working, but the Chinese are not declaring victory just yet…


China tightening cycle hits its third rate hike

China raised interest rates for the third time in four months as the scramble against inflation continues. For a good accounting of the move and its implications see “China raises rates to battle stubbornly high inflation.”


China’s holiday greetings: a 25 basis point rate hike

China’s scramble to battle inflation continues. On Saturday, Christmas Day in many parts of the world, the People’s Bank of China raised interest rates 25 basis points. The benchmark one-year lending rate is now 5.81%, and the one-year deposit rate is set to 2.75%. More details and analyst commentary on Bloomberg: “China Increases Interest Rates to Curb Its Fastest Inflation in Two Years.”


Inflation Expectations Are Not Contained in China

In “Chinese Consumers Signal Deepest Concern With Prices Since 1999“, Bloomberg reports that inflation expectations are definitely not contained in China.

A survey conducted by China’s central bank reveals troubling trends in inflation expectations amongst the Chinese people on the heels of the biggest increase in price levels in 28 months and food costs soaring 12%:

“A price satisfaction index fell to 13.8 this quarter, the lowest level since data began in the fourth quarter of 1999, the central bank said on its website today.

In total, 74 percent of households considered prices too high, up 15.6 percentage points from the third quarter, the central bank said. Its fourth-quarter survey was of 20,000 households in 50 cities.

Inflation expectations are ‘intensifying,’ the central bank said, with 61 percent expecting price gains in the next quarter. In the previous survey, the proportion was 46 percent.”


China continues to lose its fight against inflation

We have chronicled on these pages China’s struggles with inflation. It appears the pressures are only getting worse. Bloomberg reports “China Inflation May Be Too Hot for Controls Amid Cash Glut“:

“Standing near his 12-table noodle shop on Beijing’s Yonghegong Avenue, owner Liu Heliang says meat and vegetable prices have climbed 10 percent in a year and staff wages are up 40 percent.”

“Premier Wen Jiabao’s cabinet last week announced it will sell grain, cooking-oil and sugar reserves, ordered an end to tolls on trucks carrying produce and threatened price controls to rein in a 10 percent inflation rate for food. Because the measures would do nothing to counter the 54 percent surge in money supply over the past two years, the risk is they will prove insufficient to cope with the challenge.”

It seems consumption is declining in the wake of this inflation, but not fast enough to cool prices down. The Chinese government is worrying even more about what will happen to the many millions of poor people who may no longer be able to afford the little food that they currently consume.


Hong Kong braces itself for Fed-induced money flows

Bloomberg reports that Norman Chan, the head of Hong Kong’s central bank, is preparing to take additional tightening steps to prevent additional Federal Reserve monetary easing from adding to Hong Kong’s inflationary pressures:

“The U.S. Federal Reserve’s expansion of stimulus will add to the risk of a housing bubble in Hong Kong and may force extra measures to cool prices…”

“The Hong Kong Monetary Authority will take measures that are specific to the housing market if necessary…The risk of an asset bubble in Hong Kong’s property market is rising.”

It must seem odd to monetary authorities on this side of the Pacific that a central bank is trying to get ahead of a property bubble and not just plan for clean-up duty after it bursts. Since August, Hong Kong’s authorities have “…raised down-payment ratios, stopped offering residency to foreigners who buy property in the city, and increased land auctions to boost supply.” Despite these measures, sales of news homes still doubled in October.