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September worst month for stocks since pandemic hit U.S.

Wall Street closed out a miserable September with a loss of 9.3%, the worst monthly decline since March 2020. The S&P 500 fell 1.5% Friday and is at its lowest level in almost two years. The benchmark index has lost ground for six of the last seven weeks and posted its third straight losing quarter. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1.7% and the Nasdaq fell 1.5%. Nike fell sharply after the company had to slash prices to clear inventories, while Carnival dropped following weaker-than-expected quarterly results. Bond markets were showing more calm as yields relaxed.

Wall Street is at its worst levels in almost two years Friday as the end nears for what’s been a miserable month for markets around the world.

The S&P 500 was down 0.4% in afternoon trading after flipping between small losses and gains through the morning. It’s at its lowest level since November 2020, and it’s on pace to close out its sixth weekly loss in the last seven, one of its worst months since the early 2020 coronavirus crash and its third straight losing quarter.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 213 points, or 0.7%, at 29,010, as of 1:56 p.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was down 0.2%.

The main reason for this year’s struggles for financial markets has been fear about a possible recession, as interest rates soar in hopes of beating down the high inflation that’s swept the world.

The Federal Reserve has been at the forefront of the global campaign to slow economic growth and hurt job markets just enough to undercut inflation but not so much that it causes a recession. More data arrived Friday to suggest the Fed will keep its foot firmly on the brakes on the economy, raising the risk of its going too far and causing a downturn.

The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation showed it was worse last month than economists expected. That should keep the Fed on track to keep raising rates and hold them at high levels a while, as it’s loudly and repeatedly promised to do.

Vice Chair Lael Brainard was the latest Fed official on Friday to insist it won’t pull back on rates prematurely. That helped to keep snuffed out hopes on Wall Street for a “pivot” toward easier rates as the economy slows.

“At this point, it’s not a matter of if we’ll have a recession, but what type of recession it will be,” said Sean Sun, portfolio manager at Thornburg Investment Management.

Higher interest rates knock down one of the main levers that set prices for stocks. The other lever also looks to be under threat as the slowing economy, high interest rates and other factors weigh on corporate profits.

Cruise ship operator Carnival dropped 21% for one of Wall Street’s worst losses after it reported a bigger loss for its latest quarter than analysts expected and revenue that fell short of expectations.

Nike slumped 12.1% in what could be its worst day in two decades after it said its profitability weakened during the summer because of discounts needed to clear suddenly overstuffed warehouses. The amount of shoes and gear in Nike’s inventories swelled by 44% from a year earlier.

This year’s powerful surge for the U.S. dollar against other currencies also hurt Nike. Its worldwide revenue rose only 4%, instead of the 10% it would have if currency values had remained the same.

Nike isn’t the only company to see its inventories balloon. So have several big-name retailers, and such bad news for businesses could actually mean some relief for shoppers if it leads to more discounts. It echoed some glimmers of encouragement buried within Friday’s report on the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation. That showed some slowing of inflation for goods, even as price gains kept accelerating for services.

Another report on Friday also offered a glimmer of hope. A measure of consumer sentiment showed U.S. expectations for future inflation came down in September. That’s crucial for the Fed because tightly held expectations for higher inflation can create a debilitating, self-reinforcing cycle that worsens it.

Treasury yields eased a bit on Friday, letting off some of the pressure that’s built on markets.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 3.75% from 3.79% late Thursday. The two-year yield, which more closely tracks expectations for Fed action, sank to 4.16% from 4.19%.

Still, a long list of other worries continues to hang over global markets, including increasing tensions between much of Europe and Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. A controversial plan to cut taxes by the U.K. government also sent bond markets spinning recently on fears it could make inflation even worse. Bond markets calmed a bit only after the Bank of England pledged mid-week to buy however many U.K. government bonds are needed to bring yields back down.

The stunning and swift rise of the U.S. dollar against other currencies, meanwhile, raises the risk of creating so much stress that something cracks somwhere in global markets.

Stocks around the world were mixed after a report showed that inflation in the 19 countries that use Europe’s euro currency spiked to a record and data from China said that factory activity weakened there.

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Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk texts criticize Twitter board

If Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey was hoping to see a culture change in the company’s top brass, Elon Musk would certainly fit the bill.

But the Tesla CEO’s first foray into the social media space may prove short-lived. After striking a $44 billion deal last April to buy Twitter, Musk has been attempting to pull out of it since July, citing the unverifiable number of spam accounts on the platform.

With his court date set for next month in Delaware, details continue to emerge about those turbulent few months, including Musk agreeing to sit on the company’s board before abruptly changing his mind and opting instead to buy out all of Twitter’s remaining shares to take the company private.

Musk made it clear that if he had become the sole owner of Twitter—or, now, if a judge compels him to go through with the purchase anyway—he would bring about some big changes to the social media network and how the company is run. And new evidence reveals just how much Twitter cofounder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who stepped down from the company’s board last May, wanted to see those changes happen.

“The board is terrible,” Dorsey wrote to Musk in a text message, one of many that were collected and disclosed this week as part of a pretrial discovery process. 

Dorsey’s text—dated April 5, the day Twitter announced Musk as a new board member—spared only company CEO Parag Agrawal, who Dorsey called “an incredible engineer.” 

But as the takeover deal dragged on and tensions emerged between Musk and Twitter’s board, Dorsey made his true feelings about Agrawal and the rest of Twitter’s board known in a series of messages that criticized the board’s cautious behavior, while painting Musk as the savior the company had been waiting for.

Dorsey and Twitter’s board

In texts sent to Musk last March, Dorsey revealed that he had tried to get him approved by the board as early as 2020, which the board refused. Dorsey criticized Twitter’s board for being too “risk-averse” and said they had refused to bring on a figure like Musk because they felt it would create “more risk” for the company.

It wouldn’t be the last time Dorsey criticized Twitter’s board in his text exchanges with Musk. 

On April 25, Dorsey defended Agrawal as being “great at getting things done when tasked with specific direction,” but the next day, seemingly after a board meeting, Musk texted to Dorsey that the two of them were in “complete agreement” over Agrawal, specifically that the Twitter CEO had been “moving far too slowly and trying to please people who will not be happy no matter what he does.”

Dorsey answered around two hours later: “It became clear that you can’t work together. That was clarifying.”

Unpredictable Musk

As CEO and founder of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk made a name for himself as a hard, unforgiving, and at times even rash boss.

Last June, Musk mandated that all of Tesla’s white-collar staff return to the office full-time, warning that those who didn’t could “pretend to work somewhere else.” He expects long work hours, willingly working for upwards of 120 hours a week himself, and once allegedly worked a 24-hour day—on his birthday.

Musk’s unique leadership style has gotten him into hot water with his own companies at times. A single foray on Twitter can send Tesla stock prices plunging or cryptocurrencies soaring, and shareholders of his businesses have even asked judges to muzzle his Twitter feed.

Musk’s unpredictability as a person and as a boss left some Twitter employees concerned last spring that him taking over would mean a complete culture change, including a return to the office and a more demanding work environment overall.

But while Twitter employees worried, Jack Dorsey appears to have been eagerly awaiting Musk getting involved at Twitter for quite some time. Last April, shortly after the takeover deal had been announced, Dorsey heavily criticized Twitter’s board, saying “it’s consistently been the dysfunction of the company.”

A week later, Dorsey publicly vouched for Musk as the right person to take the company forward by first taking it private. “Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness,” Dorsey wrote.

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Bank of America breaks down brutal reality of European energy crisis, warns against ‘false sense of security’

Seven months after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, an energy crisis continues to roil Europe. Things might only get worse from here.

In a global research note by Bank of America released Friday, analysts warned that higher storage levels of gas in Europe still might not be enough to hold the continent over in the cold months ahead. 

“One winter’s storage is not a long-term solution,” the bank’s analysts wrote.

European gas inventories are above seasonal averages at 88% full, they noted. Storage levels could rise above 90% in October—which could put “pressure” on spot prices (current prices at which an asset could be bought or sold). 

“Yet we caution against a false sense of security,” the analysts said. 

Their reasoning? For one, full European gas inventories represent only two months of peak winter demand. Additionally, the high prices are directly responsible for higher levels of storage—so if prices decrease, storage could deteriorate. 

This comes as leaks hit the Nord Stream pipelines in what both the European Union and U.S. President Joe Biden called deliberate acts. Although Russia had already cut its gas supply to Europe for some time now, reports of the leaks and the question of who’s to blame have escalated tensions. 

“Whatever the cause, it raises the possibility that gas may never flow via Nord Stream again— thereby locking in our ‘ugly’ supply disruption scenario of ~€200/MWh Europe gas prices,” the analysts wrote. “This is a picture that we see persisting for several years until tangible new LNG (liquefied natural gas) supply comes to the market from 2025/26.”

Before the war, the European Union relied on Russia for 40% of its natural gas supply. Since the supply was cut off, countries throughout Europe have been working to reduce their gas and electricity consumption by placing restrictions on both businesses and consumers—all while increasing their imports of liquefied natural gas. 

But the fear of what’s to come remains. 

If Russia’s gas imports cease, Europe’s total gas supply for 2023 will be 25% lower than 2019 levels, even if Europe makes maximum use of its existing capacities in LNG regasification and planned ones in floating storage regasification units.

The bank’s analysts also warned that more demand deconstruction—a sustained decline prompted by a prolonged period of high prices or constrained supply—is needed as European gas demand increases 60% across colder months.

“Demand destruction to date might be balancing markets, but we highlight that a 15% reduction in summer demand is very different from -15% during winter,” they wrote. “Peak demand months are as much as double summer lulls, hence nominal demand destruction may have to rise in step in order to balance flows.”

Additionally, the bank’s analysts suggested the effects of the gas crisis will spill over into coming years, in terms of sustained higher gas prices for Europeans.

“The bottom line is that a permanent alteration in daily flows has a much greater impact than starting storage levels, which can only be consumed once.”

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