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S&P/ASX 200 set to fall – RWC, BKG & iron ore shares in focus

The S&P/ASX 200 (ASX: XJO) is expected to tumble when the market opens on Thursday. Here’s what’s making headlines.

ASX finishes lower, Reliance Worldwide benefitting from renovation boom

The ASX 200 awoke from the long weekend falling 0.7% on the back of weakness in the materials and energy sectors. The iron ore price remains one of the key drivers of daily market performance, with its ~3% fall overnight sending Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX: FMG) down 6.4% and BHP Group (ASX: BHP) 3.4% on the sign of slowing demand.

Australian inflation forecasters missed the boat once again with prices increasing 0.9% during the quarter, ahead of the 0.7% expected, with childcare fees increasing 37.7% following the removal of pandemic subsidies; the measure remains a poor indicator of the real prices of goods and services in the real economy.

Plumbing supplier Reliance Worldwide Corporation Ltd (ASX: RWC) was the highlight, jumping 6.6% after announcing an HY21 trading update, with sales expected to be 13% higher in the first half, hitting $642 million. The company has also reported improving profit margins with the huge boom in home renovations seeing an increase in production at its facilities.

Temple & Webster share price tumbles, Booktopia sales surge

Online furniture retailer Temple & Webster Group Ltd (ASX: TPW) felt the brunt of the sky-high valuations in the sector, falling 12.9% despite any news from the retailer.

Recently listed book retailer, Booktopia Group Ltd (ASX: BKG) improved 9.4% after reporting record shipments of books in December of 728,000. The company, which struggled to raise capital via crowdfunding several years ago, floated recently at $2.30 and is riding the e-commerce wave, but I’m not confident this is sustainable in the current environment.

Booktopia reported a 52% increase in revenue in the six months to December, and a 506% increase in earnings to $8.0 million. This is one case where investors need to look past the 506% profit growth to the raw data to understand the thin margin of these businesses.

It was a similar story for telecommunications roll up Uniti Group Ltd (ASX: UWL) which increased just 0.3% despite reporting a 544% increase in operating cash flow to $16.1 million for the second quarter.

Woodside Petroleum Limited (ASX: WPL) has seemingly been downgraded by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s in what has been termed their ‘climate crackdown’. Woodside shares fell 2.9% and remain a volatile proposition.

US markets suffer biggest loss since October, Gamestop attracts White House attention

US markets fell the most in several months, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both finishing down 2.6% despite the Federal Reserve announcing they would keep interest rates on hold for the foreseeable future. Issues with the rollout of vaccines in addition to another 4,000 deaths in a single day are putting pressure on seemingly overvalued markets.

In another sign of froth entering the markets, Gamestop (NYSE: GME), a US gaming retailer, has rallied nearly 1,600% in January after DIY traders banded together against hedge funds shorting the company. Such has the been the velocity of the moves that trading in shares have been restricted and now the Biden White House is launching an investigation.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has continued to smash expectations, hitting US$40 billion in quarterly sales for the first time and US$15 billion in profit. The cloud platform Azure grew 50% in the quarter, beating expectations as it continues to take market share from Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN).

Sales of Microsoft’s Xbox gaming system jumped 40% after the launch of a new product which jumped 85% on 2020. The company continues to power the mass digitalisation of the economy, with even its Office 365 platform growing 13%, as companies across the world have been forced to embrace online options. This stands out as a powerful and continuing thematic opportunity not to be missed.

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Disclosure: At the time of publishing, the author of this article does not have a financial or commercial interest in any of the companies mentioned.

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Wattle Partners is a financial advice firm, servicing clients around Australia, specialising in retirement planning (pre and post retirement). 

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