Some of Wall Street’s largest brokers are quietly tightening rules on who can bet against meme stocks popular among retail traders in an effort to protect themselves against the fallout from sharp price surges and falls, according to a Bloomberg News report.
Firms that have adjusted risk controls at their prime-brokerage operations include Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup, and Jefferies Financial Group, the Friday report said, citing people familiar with discussions about internal policy decisions.
With the adjustments, some hedge funds and other institutional investors now face higher collateral requirements or are limited from shorting certain stocks.
Jefferies Prime Brokerage will no longer offer custody on naked options in AMC Entertainment, GameStop, and MicroVision, the firm told clients in a memo seen by Bloomberg News. Naked options allow investors to short a stock without owning the underlying securities. Jefferies will not permit short sales of those securities and other stocks may be added to its list.
The changes come during a new wave of rallies among so-called meme stocks including AMC GameStop as retail investors on social media sites such as Reddit’s Wall Streets Bets forum band together to force short squeezes on hedge funds that betting shares of the companies will fall. AMC has been the key focus of the latest rally, similar to GameStop’s role during a trending frenzy in January.
It’s not unusual for banks to make risk-control adjustments as market conditions change, the report noted.
A number of brokerages have been looking over their risk controls after some large prime brokers in March were forced to liquidate at a discount the multibillion-dollar portfolio of Bill Hwang’s Archegos Capital Management. The family office collapsed after making wrong-way bets on media and technology companies. Bank of America and Citigroup were not hurt by the Archegos matter, Bloomberg said.
Tilray shares stepped up by roughly 10% on Friday, bolstered by a double upgrade to “buy” from “underperform” at Jefferies, which said the cannabis company entered into a “perfect” merger with Aphria.
The rating was lifted from underperform in a note published Friday. Jefferies also raised its price target to $23 a share from $4.77, which would represent 63% upside from Thursday’s closing price of $14.15.
The analysts said in an upside scenario, the stock could rise to $31, which would mark an upside of 119% from Thursday’s close.
Tilray said in December it had planned to merge with Aphria in a $4 billion deal that would create the world’s biggest marijuana company.
“For us, when Aphria and Tilray combined, it was the perfect match,” said Jefferies equity analyst Owen Bennett. “In Canada, a leading portfolio of brands, supported an efficient cost structure. In Europe, the market is now picking up, while Tilray’s scale and Aphria’s unique German positioning make it perfectly suited to succeed,” he wrote.
Meanwhile in the US, the combined company’s portfolio of consumer goods and strong balance sheet supports “excellent optionality” around both THC and cannabidiol, or CBD. When full federal legalization arrives in the US, brand awareness of hemp-food/CBD and alcohol offerings will be advantageous, with Jefferies seeing the US market sized at $50 billion in 2025.
Shares of Tilray on early Friday climbed by 9.9% to $15.55 in heavy premarket volume. The stock has pushed higher over the past 12 months by 81%.
Jefferies said it has been mostly cautious on Tilray during its coverage. “Our issue has been that while arguably being the best-placed business to capitalize on future European growth, industry development in that region to date has stalled.” At the same time, Tilray’s Canadian business had “struggled” and it saw Tilray as not taking advantage of its opportunity in the US, “arguably due to its constrained balance sheet.”
But it had been bullish on Aphria, it said, citing the company’s strong approach to branding and efficient cost structure while it had a “very robust” balance sheet.
When “the Tilray and Aphria businesses announced they would be combining in December 2020, we were encouraged. In our view, a combined company presents a compelling proposition,” wrote Bennett.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ upcoming jobs report is expected to show strong payroll growth through April as the US reopened. But where most economists see a moderate month-over-month improvement, Aneta Markowska of Jefferies stands out in her bullishness.
The median estimate from economists surveyed by Bloomberg for April payroll growth sits at 1 million payrolls. That would mark a pickup from the 916,000 jobs added in March and the strongest month of job growth since August.
Markowska, Jefferies’ chief economist, forecasts that the economy added 2.1 million jobs last month. Not only is that more than double the median forecast, but also 800,000 payrolls greater than the next highest projection from a top economist. The unemployment rate will fall to 5.2% from 6% and beat the forecast of 5.8%, according to the bank.
While Markowska’s estimates stand leagues away from the consensus, the chief economist told Insider she has a tougher time understanding the median forecast than supporting her own.
“To be honest, I’m sort of asking the same question in reverse. What is everybody else not seeing?” Markowska said. “I run a number of models and the lowest one gives me an estimate of 1.4 million.”
Looking to quantitative data, Markowska highlighted changes in jobless claims as supporting growth of more than 1 million payrolls. Kronos data tracking hours worked correlates well with nonfarm payrolls and signals an April gain of 1.6 million jobs, she added.
BLS’ survey timing also backs up Jefferies’ forecast. The March report had little to do with reopening, as the survey window closed on March 13, Markowska said. The April report, due for release Friday morning, should better capture how reopening and Democrats’ stimulus boosted job growth in the leisure, hospitality, and retail sectors, she added.
Still, the hard data only makes up part of Markowska’s projection. Reports like the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and The Conference Board’s own survey point to growth as high as 4 million payrolls, the economist said. Although survey responses are volatile and harder to tie to quantitative data, they support Markowska’s argument for a blowout month of job gains.
“Obviously [3 million] sounds excessive, and I wouldn’t rely on any of those individually. But they certainly give me more confidence that we could get something closer to 2 million,” she said.
Looking beyond April growth and into 2022
Robust hiring could last into the summer, and even though Markowska sees the pace tapering off later in the year, she still expects growth to trend above the pre-pandemic norm. Jefferies’ GDP forecast calls for a 7% expansion in 2021, slightly exceeding the Federal Reserve’s estimate for 6.5% growth. That rate implies average monthly payroll additions of about 500,000 payrolls in the final month of 2021, Markowska said.
The chief economist’s optimism isn’t relegated to 2021. Consensus forecasts see the rate of recovery dropping off in 2022 as stimulus expires and easy gains turn into more modest improvements. But where the Fed expects GDP growth to slow to 3.3% next year, Markowska cited a still-elevated savings rate and expectations for stronger production for her 5% growth forecast.
“There’s still a lot of upside for industrial production. I think, by the middle of the year, you’re going to be looking at capacity utilization rates that match the peaks from the last cycle, and they’re going to keep going,” she said.
“That’s where I really differ: the ability of this economy to sustain a lot of that momentum. Whereas a lot of people see a fiscal cliff happening next year, I think that’s more of a story for 2023.”
What began as a hefty uptick in home purchases evolved into an all-out buying spree in a matter of months. Americans taking advantage of low borrowing costs and looking to flee cities for suburbs snapped up homes at a rate not seen since the mid-2000s housing bubble.
It didn’t take long for strains to crop up. Homebuilders struggled to keep up with demand, and lumber shortages cut into construction. The national supply of existing homes fell to a record low in January and stayed there in February, even as the pace of sales slowed. Inventories of US single-family homes now sit 40% lower than at the start of the pandemic, while apartment inventory is down 10%, according to UBS data.
The supply-demand imbalance was most evident in home prices. The national median home-sale price grew at the fastest year-over-year rate on record in March, according to Redfin data published Thursday, which called it the hottest month ever in the US housing market. This extraordinary price inflation now risks making the housing market far less accessible at a time of intense economic struggle.
Potential homebuyers need not worry, Taylor Marr, lead economist at Redfin, said. After the housing’s hottest month in history, stronger homebuilding activity and attractive mortgage rates should help the market settle into a slower and more sustainable expansion, he added.
“Despite the intense competition and high prices we face, I still see more big gains to be made in home equity,” Marr said in the Thursday report. “Waiting for the market to cool could take many months, and at that point we may have missed out on the opportunity to benefit from these super-low mortgage rates and price gains in the year ahead.”
Solving the decade-old problems plaguing the housing market
One factor that should ease pressures on the market is a sharp uptick in homebuilding. Housing starts leaped nearly 20% last month to their highest level since 2006, according to Census Bureau data published Friday. Permits for building residential units also swung higher, albeit at a slower pace. The readings follow February declines linked to harsh winter storms.
Contractors are also growing increasingly confident in market conditions. The National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo sentiment index edged higher in an early April reading, boosted mainly by new traffic from prospective buyers.
Still, some lockdown measures are still in place, and lumber prices remain elevated.
“While states have mostly lifted restrictions, demand surges in residential construction and supply chain disruptions have made certain materials scarce, creating long lead times and cost overruns, putting additional pressure on contractors trying to service their clients, pay their employees and still have something left for themselves,” Ben Johnston, chief operating officer of lending firm Kapitus, said.
Firms also have to make up for years of slower building activity. Home construction remained relatively weak for years after the Great Recession as damage to the market left firms desperate to prop up prices.
Those efforts have since come back to haunt contractors. The housing market is about 3.8 million units short of current demand, Sam Khater, chief economist at Freddie Mac, told The Wall Street Journal. That hole would be much smaller had building kept up with demand before the pandemic struck, he said.
“This is what you get when you underbuild for 10 years,” he added.
Transitioning to a cooler, but healthier, housing market
A rebound in supply won’t reverse the market’s expansionary streak. Buying activity will remain robust as the Federal Reserve holds interest rates near zero and the economy rebounds from the coronavirus recession, Redfin’s Marr said.
“Fundamentals like low mortgage rates and high demand for housing are fueling the record-high price gains, so I don’t believe that homes are overvalued,” he said.
Price growth, however, will slow. Supply should balance out with demand in roughly six months as building picks up, Jefferies analysts led by Philip Ng said in an April 8 note.
Lumber prices should also peak over that period. The futures market currently sees the commodity plunging 26% into early 2022. That should cut down on premiums paid for new homes, according to Jefferies.
Contractors also have plenty of warning for a coming wave of fresh demand. Millennials’ homeownership rate shot higher during the pandemic, particularly among those aged 30 to 34. The population of people aged 25 to 34 is about 9% larger than that aged 35 to 44, according to Jefferies. That bigger group’s continued foray into homeownership should drive the construction of 1.7 million to 2 million new homes per year through 2024, the analysts said.
“Underbuilding has left the inventory of new and existing homes for sale at all-time lows, making the only solution to satisfy growing demand from the Millennial cohort to be new residential construction,” they added.
All signs are pointing to a surge of new building. Such a rebound is heavily reliant on lumber supply chains and, as with the broad economy, the path of the coronavirus. If growth cools as Jefferies, Redfin, and current data suggest, homeowners and prospective buyers might both come out winners.
Kent Taylor, the founder and CEO of Texas Roadhouse, known for his deep care for workers and entrepreneurial spirit, died Thursday at age 65, the company said.
Taylor founded the Lone Star State-themed steakhouse – famous for its loyal fans, free peanuts, and unlimited rolls and butter – in 1993. In the decades since, he “dedicated himself to building it into a legendary experience for ‘Roadies’ and restaurant guests alike,” the restaurant’s lead director Greg Moore said in the statement.
“He was without a doubt, a people-first leader,” Moore said, noting that Taylor forfeited his compensation package amid the COVID-19 pandemic in support of his workers. “His entrepreneurial spirit will live on in the company he built, the projects he supported and the lives he touched.”
The company did not specify a cause of death.
Taylor was the visionary behind the company’s partner model and its mission of “Legendary Food and Legendary Service,” Jefferies analyst Andy Barish said in a note. The restaurant chain, which now has more than 600 locations across the country, went public in 2004. Since then, its “unending focus on delivering a quality experience with great value has made it one of the most consistent casual dining companies overall,” Barish said.
Throughout his career, Taylor received many accolades, including becoming a member of the Kentucky Business Hall of Fame and being named the 2014 Operator of the Year by Nation’s Restaurant News, Pitchbook said.
He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of North Carolina, which he attended on a track scholarship. Before founding his restaurant, he worked at KFC, Bennigan’s, and Hooters of America, according to Pitchbook.
Taylor’s successor as CEO will be President Jerry Morgan, the company said, adding that Morgan will be key in helping the business move forward “after such a tragic loss.” Morgan has worked at Texas Roadhouse for 23 years.
In a tweet, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Taylor was a “maverick entrepreneur who embodied the values of never giving up and putting others first.”
“Louisville lost a much loved and one-of-a-kind citizen with Kent Taylor’s passing today,” Fischer said. “Kent’s kind and generous spirit was his constant driving force whether it was quietly helping a friend or building one of America’s great companies.”
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell said Taylor didn’t fit the “mold of a big-time CEO.” He built his company taking bold risks and using creativity and grit, McConnell said. But most of all, he cared about his team.
“When the pandemic threw everything into uncertainty last year, there was no question what Kent would do,” McConnell said. “Like always, he put his people first. He dug deep into his own pockets and covered healthcare and bonuses for thousands all while keeping his stores open to make sure workers got paychecks when they needed them most. These were acts of extraordinary leadership that were all very ordinary for Kent.”