Investors have all eyes on the February Employment Report scheduled for release this morning. Wall Street is expecting a gain of anywhere from +205,000 to +225,000 with the unemployment rate holding steady at 3.4%.

Bulls think the more than +500,000 job gains reflected in the January report was an anomaly so they are looking for a print on the softer side to support that theory.

Investors are also watching the level of wage gains as that is a key area of focus for the Federal Reserve.

Most expect average hourly earnings to remain flat for the month at +0.3% but the year-over-year rate to climb to +4.7% from +4.4% previously. Any numbers that are much above expectations could reinforce fears that the jobs market is still not reacting to the Fed's rate hikes.

Meaning investors could start penciling a higher end rate for the central bank's tightening cycle, putting even more downward pressure on stocks.

I should mention that we are starting to see more damage in the financial sector that appears to be directly tied to the Fed's higher rates. Bank stocks took their biggest dive in almost three years yesterday as the enormous losses to bond holdings were highlighted by SVB Financial Group.

The tech-focused lender, parent company of Silicon Valley Bank, disclosed it had to sell nearly -$2 billion in US treasuries and mortgage-backed securities at a loss in order to cover declining customer deposits.

SVB is getting hit on two fronts. First is a decline in deposits as less venture capital flows to its customers. According to Dow Jones, SVB is the banking partner for nearly half of US venture-backed technology and healthcare companies that listed on stock markets in 2022.

Second, much of the cash SVB has taken in was put into US Treasuries and other government-backed debt, investments which have taken a beating since the Fed began hiking interest rates. As rates move higher, bond prices typically move lower. To cover customer outflows, SVB was forced to sell those losing assets.

The worry is that SVB is just the tip of the iceberg, particularly for small and regional banks that are more dependent on customer deposits. Most banks, big and small, are sitting on enormous losses in their bond portfolios but those losses aren't counted on the balance sheet if they don't sell them. However, if they suddenly need cash, selling those losing assets may be the only option.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) in February reported that US banks were sitting on unrealized losses of $620 billion in US Treasuries and other debt-backed securities, up from $8 billion a year earlier.

Big Wall Street banks are at much less risk as they have multiple streams of inflows but investors are nonetheless worried that fallout at smaller banks could spread and cause a more widespread crisis in the financial sector.

And as long as the Fed is set to continue lifting interest rates, the more financial institutions will be exposed.

Turning to next week, investors will remain focused on economic data and what it means for upcoming Fed moves.

The top highlights will be the Consumer Price Index on Tuesday followed by the Producer Price Index and Retail Sales on Wednesday. Bulls are hoping CPI and PPI will reveal a return to "disinflation" while also wanting to see a pullback in consumer spending, which are all seen as key to convincing the Fed that rates don't need to climb much further.

Next week's data also includes Housing Starts and Import/Export Prices on Thursday, and Consumer Sentiment and Industrial Production on Friday. Things will be pretty quiet on the earnings front, but big names like Adobe and Williams Sonoma report on Wednesday; and Dollar General and FedEx on Thursday.

Staying very conservative.

Have a great weekend, and don't forget to push the clocks forward one-hour when you go to sleep Saturday night.

Opec Cartel Back in Control of the World Oil Market as the shale revolution peters out, according to a number of industry executives who warned of higher prices for crude in the year ahead. Despite recent record profits, the heads of American shale producers told the Financial Times that rising costs and investor pressure to return cash to shareholders would continue to hamper US supply growth. The dim outlook is a reversal from the previous decade when the shale industry’s ability to quickly boost production prompted claims the sector had become a new “swing producer” with market power to rival Opec kingpin Saudi Arabia Source Financial Times

Citi Warns That Russia Could Weaponize Metal Exports Next: Russia has restricted exports of natural gas to Europe and announced it will temporarily slash oil output this month in response to Western sanctions. Next, it could weaponize exports of important metals such as aluminum and palladium, researchers at Citigroup have warned. Prices of these commodities could spike as a result, the bank said in a note to clients. Such curbs would disrupt operations for manufacturers around the world. They could also fan already-high inflation. About 15% of traded aluminum comes from Russia, according to Citi. The United States has actually announced a 200% tariff on imports of the metal from Russia, which takes effect today (Friday). So far, no other western countries have followed suit. Russia’s output of palladium, which is used in devices that limit emissions from cars, is said to account for about a quarter of global supply. Some western companies have started to “self-sanction”, avoiding the use of Russian materials, which has created a premium for non-Russian alternatives in markets such as aluminium and nickel. Even more crucially, Russia is a significant exporter of nuclear fuels because of its uranium resources and large nuclear processing capacity. Concerns about possible western restrictions on Russian nuclear fuel have already sent processing prices up to record levels. Source Financial Times

General Motors Offering Buyouts to "Majority" of Salaried Workers: General Motors will offer voluntary buyouts to a “majority” of its 58,000 U.S. white-collar employees, as it aims to cut $2 billion in structural costs over the next two years, according to a letter sent to workers Thursday from CEO Mary Barra. The “Voluntary Separation Program,” or VSP, will be offered to all U.S. salaried employees who have spent five or more years at the company as of June 30. Outside of the U.S., the automaker will offer buyouts to executives with at least two years of time at the company. GM expects to take a pretax charge of up to $1.5 billion related to the buyouts, according to a public filing Thursday. The majority of the charges are expected to be all-cash and occur during the first half of the year, the company said. The last time GM offered such a large buyout program was for roughly 18,000 North American salaried employees in 2018-2019. A company spokeswoman declined to disclose how many employees the company is targeting to accept the buyout packages. At the end of last year, GM employed about 81,000 salaried employees worldwide, according to public filings. Source CNBC

Elon Musk Is Planning a Texas Utopia—His Own Town: Elon Musk is planning to build his own town on part of thousands of acres of newly purchased pasture and farmland outside the Texas capital, according to deeds and other land records and people familiar with the project. In meetings with landowners and real-estate agents, Mr. Musk and employees of his companies have described his vision as a sort of Texas utopia along the Colorado River, where his employees could live and work. Executives at the Boring Co., Mr. Musk’s tunnel operation, have discussed and researched incorporating the town in Bastrop County, about 35 miles from Austin, which would allow Mr. Musk to set some regulations in his own municipality and expedite his plans, according to people familiar with Mr. Musk’s projects. They say Mr. Musk and his top executives want his Austin-area employees, including workers at Boring, electric-car maker Tesla Inc, and space and exploration company SpaceX, to be able to live in new homes with below-market rents. The planned town is adjacent to Boring and SpaceX facilities now under construction. Some Boring employees, including Steve Davis, the company’s president and a top lieutenant to Mr. Musk, have at times described even bigger plans, including creating an entire city, according to some of those people and text messages viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Source WSJ

Platinum On Track for Supply Deficit: The platinum market is expected to tighten this year, with supply challenges and a pickup in demand leading to a supply deficit for the first time in three years. That will boost prospects for a rise in prices. Platinum is now widely substituted for palladium in the production of emission-controlling catalytic converters. Platinum is also essential for environmentally friendly vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The global platinum market is forecast to see a 556,000-ounce deficit this year, after supply surpluses in 2022 and 2021, according to a quarterly report from the World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC) released on March 8. Total global demand from the automotive, jewelry, industrial and investment sectors is expected to rise 24% from 2022, while total supply from mining and recycling is forecast to rise by just 3%, the report said. There are also other risks to supply, such as power shortages in South Africa hitting mine production, as well as the potential effect on Russian output of sanctions restricting importation of mining technologies, said Edward Sterck, director of research at WPIC. Source Market Watch

Apple Launching New Classical Streaming App: Apple is launching a new music streaming service focused on classical music. Based on its 2021 acquisition of Amsterdam-based streamer Primephonic, the new Apple Music Classical app will offer Apple Music subscribers access to more than 5 million classical music tracks, including new releases in high-quality audio, as well as hundreds of curated playlists, thousands of exclusive albums and other features like composer bios and deep dives on key works, Apple says. While the app was announced yesterday, it’s only available for preorder on the App Store for now. The release date will be later this month, on March 28. In addition, the app will only support iOS devices running iOS 15.4 or newer at launch. Source TechCrunch

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