Stocks choppy after sharp risk reversal, gilt yields strike fresh lows

Stocks continue to chop around their June-July ranges after risk sentiment rolled over at the start of yesterday’s US session. Surging Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths in several US states continues to weigh on risk sentiment, Donald Trump was dealt a blow by the Supreme Court, and Joe Biden – who may well become the next president – said he would end the era of ‘shareholder capitalism’.

Around 3pm yesterday we saw a sharp reversal in risk appetite as stocks, bond yields and oil fell and the dollar rallied. California, Texas and Florida reported their biggest one-day increase in Covid-19 related deaths. Stocks hit the lows after Florida reported a spike in Covid-related hospitalizations, but recovered somewhat after Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, revealed Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine candidate would enter phase 3 trials soon.

Supreme Court rules on Trump tax returns, Biden announces economic plan

The Supreme Court ruled Donald Trump’s tax returns should be seen by the Grand Jury, but it threw out rulings that allowed Democrat-led Congressional committees to obtain Trump’s financial records. Although this means further litigation, it should mean the documents are not a factor in the election.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden launched his $700bn economic plan by taking aim at Wall Street a threat to ‘end to the era of shareholder capitalism – the idea that the only responsibility a corporation has is to its shareholder’. Whilst no Bernie Sanders, there is little doubt that Biden will raise taxes and regulation risk – equity markets need to start to price in the risk better and there are signs that some investors already are.

Investors need to be wary of a Democrat clean sweep of the House, Senate and White House, which could greenlight some pretty aggressive redistributive policies. ‘During this crisis, Donald Trump has been almost singularly focused on the stock market, the Dow and the Nasdaq. Not you. Not your families,’ Biden added. After 2008 it was fashionable to bash the banks, now all corporate America is fair game if they are not woke enough. ‘Wall Street bankers and CEOs didn’t build America,’ Mr Biden said.

Europe opens weak, turns green

European shares were choppy after Asian markets fell and China’s equity rally finally ran out of steam. The FTSE 100 fell under 6,000 this morning before paring losses, returning to the low end of its June range. After a weak open, European indices were turning green after the first hour of trade.

The S&P 500 struck a low at 3,115 yesterday before closing down 0.5% at 3,152, flat for the week. Energy stocks led the drop, declining 4% as oil prices sank. Futures are lower and indicate a weaker open at the 61.8% retracement of the June-July range. The Nasdaq rose 0.6% to a fresh record as the tech sector continued to be the only real area of safety.

US unemployment numbers were a little better than expected but continue to show just how long the road is ahead. Weekly initial jobless claims fell to 1.314m, better than the 1.375m expected and representing a decline of 99k from a week ago. Continuing claims fell to 18.06m, a drop of almost 700k and much better than the 18.9m expected. The previous week’s number was also revised down over half a million.

Treasury yields fell, with US 10s back to 0.58% having notched a record low yield on an auction. UK 2- and 5-year gilt yields have hit a record low this morning, following Eurozone and US yields lower. Investors are showing no fears that massive issuance is going to force up borrowing costs as long as central banks remain in full support mode.

WTI through trend support as risk appetite cools

Crude oil fell sharply with stocks as risk rolled over. WTI (Aug) broke down through the trend support and may push lower. From a technical perspective we can start to consider completion of the head and shoulders reversal pattern and look for the move to head towards the neckline around $35. The IEA’s July report this morning suggested oil demand will pick up in the second half and that the worst of the demand destruction is behind us.

The IEA said oil demand this year will average 92.1m bpd, down by 7.9m bpd versus 2019, which is a slightly smaller decline than forecast in the April report, mainly because the decline in the second quarter was less severe than expected. But at this point it remains very hard to say how demand will recover longer-term given we do not know how the virus will progress nor how governments and citizens will respond – at least it seems negative prices were only a blip.

Fresh shutdowns in the populous Sun Belt states remains the worry, albeit we did see a decent draw on gasoline stocks last week, according to the EIA. Nevertheless the IEA noted that the accelerating number of Covid-19 cases is ‘a disturbing reminder that the pandemic is not under control and the risk to our market outlook is almost certainly to the downside’.

Elsewhere, gold fell with risk assets, with the near-term pullback finding support at $1796 and should look for consolidation around the $1800 level. The outlook for gold remains constructive and we should expect lots of pullbacks along the way – nothing goes up in a straight line, and gold is particularly prone to these tactical retreats. In FX, the dollar rallied on the broad drop in risk sentiment. GBPUSD moved down to test near term trend support formed by the bullish channel. EURUSD pulled back from highs at 1.1370 to chop around the 1.1270 region.

Investors eye UK mini budget, gold heads to $1800 as stocks slip again

Stock markets remain in choppy trading ranges. The optimism that fuelled the rally at the start of week has fizzled out, leaving indices back towards the middle of the June range and back close to where they finished up at the end of last week. Investors continue to look at soaring case numbers on the one hand and on the other the pace of recovery and massive stimulus which has already been administered.

Asian markets slipped, albeit China stood out as it continued to rally on some good stoking by the state-run press. The ASX fell 1.5% as investors reacted to the lockdown in Victoria. European stocks followed suit and were softer on the open on Wednesday. The FTSE 100 pulled back further below 6200 where it has found some degree of support at 6153 on the 38.2% retrace of the pullback in the second week of June that has formed that range of the last month and a half.

Gold climbs towards $1800, US yields hit fresh lows

Treasury yields slipped on a broad risk-off mood. US 10s went to 0.655% which left 10yr TIPS – our favourite gold indicator – at fresh seven-year lows at –0.78%. This gave further succour to the gold bulls and lifted prices to fresh seven-year peaks above $1797 and it looks like $1800 can be taken out. The gold bull thesis rests not only on the requirement for safe assets given the economic uncertainty, but also longer term on fears of a surge in inflation caused by the massive increase in the money supply caused by central banks. In large part due to the corresponding fiscal actions, unlike the QE that occurred after the financial crisis, this time the excess cash is not going to get lost in the banking sector.

While yields dipped and gold is at multi-year highs, the prospect of more stimulus may keep markets relatively buoyant for the time being. The worry is that as the support packages roll off, particularly the kind of financial aid for employees from the likes of the UK’s furlough scheme, the pace of recovery slows drastically. The economic data could really start to crunch as temporary layoffs become permanent and the pressure for governments to continue to ‘do whatever it takes’ will increase.

UK coronavirus ‘mini budget’ on tap

Today, Britain’s chancellor Rishi Sunak will respond with a ‘mini budget’, to be delivered at 12:30 BST after PMQs. This will aim to shift the support on offer from the emergency to the more lasting with measures such as cash for training young people to prevent the risk of mass youth unemployment, a stamp duty holiday to goose the housing market, a maybe a VAT cut to help the hospitality sector. Housebuilders ought to be among the main beneficiaries of the budget, but shares in Barratt and Taylor Wimpey slipped this morning after rallying this week ahead of the statement. Meanwhile Marston’s and Mitchells & Butlers shares plunged around 5% this morning ahead of the statement which may not have as much for the hospitality industry as some had hoped.

Sterling held gains above 1.2540 ahead of the statement, having gained sharply yesterday arguably on some hopes that the budget will get the economy moving a bit quicker. GBPUSD remains well within the recent range and shows little signs right now of mounting a serious ascent to 1.30, however having created a bottom at 1.2250 the recent move higher can continue and the bullish bias persists – the Jun high at 1.28 is the key.

A huge part of the problem facing investors in this market is figuring out what the data is telling us. As noted many times in recent weeks, the economic data is noisy and difficult to interpret because the speed and magnitude of the collapse was like nothing we have ever seen. For example, France’s statistics body, Insee, says the French economy will rebound 19% in Q3, but still be down 9% in 2020. This points to the difficulty in reading too much into the easy part of the recovery process as lockdowns end. The longer-term recovery to activity levels comparable with 2019 will take a lot longer.

Key Eurogroup vote on new president tomorrow

Eurogroup members to vote on a new president tomorrow. The vote comes at an important moment for the Eurozone as it tries to agree on financial aid package as part of budget talks. The summit of July 17th and 18th is the date for your diaries.  Christine Lagarde said the ECB may hit the pause button on its easing programme, telling the FT that the ECB has ‘done so much that we have quite a bit of time to assess [the incoming economic data] carefully’. This should put to rest any thoughts the central bank would announce fresh easing measures at its meeting next week. Ms Lagarde wants to stress that it’s time for the EZ member states to step up and sort out the fiscal support rather than leaning ever more on the ECB and lower rates.

Meanwhile, the White House is said to be looking at ways to undermine the Hong Kong dollar peg to the US dollar as a potential way to hit China. If such a tactic were to be deployed, it could raise risks for Hong Kong banks to access dollars and we could feasibly see ripple effects across the FX space – albeit I don’t see the US embarking on any kind of outright manipulation to weaken or strengthen the dollar. It’s probably not a tactic that will be considered seriously or pursued by the administration, but it’s one to watch.

Oil steady after API data shows oil storage build, gasoline draw

Crude oil (WTI for August) was steady still around the $40 handle. API data showed a build in US crude stocks of 2m barrels, whilst gasoline stockpiles fell by 1.8m barrels. Crude at the Cushing, Oklahoma, hub rose 2.2m barrels. Meanwhile the U.S. Energy Information Administration presented a more bullish fundamental case and raised its WTI price forecast for 2020 to $37.55 a barrel, up almost 7% from the June forecast.  2021 prices are forecast to average $45.70 in 2021, a gain of 4% from before. The EIA said changes in supply and demand have shifted global oil markets from an estimated 21 million barrels per day of oversupply in April to inventory draws in June. EIA crude oil inventories later today are forecast to see a draw of 3.2m barrels, but the consensus estimate has been wide of the mark for several weeks now.

Equities feel the hangover

Equity markets look a tad bleary-eyed and hungover this morning after a bit of binge. Call it exuberance, but the strong rally in China stoked by the state-run press left markets with only way to travel on Monday and now the price has to be paid. Meanwhile we continue to monitor the rising cases in the US and an emerging spat between the UK and China over Hong Kong and Huawei which simply evinces the fact that Covid is reshaping the world.

European stocks handed back some of Monday’s gains on the open on Tuesday after the strong start to the trading week pushed the FTSE 100 back above 6200. Energy and financials led the fall but all Stoxx 600 sectors dropped in the first hour of trade. Tokyo and Hong Kong fell, but shares in China continued to rally on very high volumes.

Nasdaq hits fresh record high, but is a correction incoming for Wall Street?

Wall Street also rallied after the bump up in China, with the Nasdaq hitting a fresh all-time high, but yesterday had a feel of a frothy move based on nothing but fumes. The put/call ratio for the S&P 500, which reflects market positioning and sentiment, has fallen to levels that have in the past indicated a correction is in the offing. Speculators have also lately aggressively cut their net long positioning on S&P 500 futures.

The upcoming earnings season will be crucial, and investors may see earnings estimates reduced given that many companies simply scrapped guidance, which could call for a rethink of valuations. Indices continue to track the ranges of June, so until we break out in either direction the pattern is one of a choppy but sideways market as investors try to figure out the balance on offer between reopening & stimulus vs cases & permanent economic damage from falling confidence and increased saving.

Recovery is happening, but is it fast enough: German industrial production rose 7.8% in May, but the figure was short of the 11% that was expected. Meanwhile, BMW Q2 sales in China rose from the same period a year ago, which might be down to the pent-up demand from the shutdown in the country in Q1, but nevertheless indicates a decent pace of recovery in the world’s second largest economy.

The UK’s Halifax mortgage survey showed prices fell for a fourth month in a row in June, but activity levels are rebounding, with enquiries up 100% from May. It’s too early to tell if this rebound can be sustained – a truism across the economic data prints we see right now.

Fed’s Bostic cautious over US recovery

Meanwhile we got another dose of salt from Raphael Bostic, the Atlanta Fed president, who warned of signs the US recovery is levelling off. Indeed, the headline nonfarm payrolls number last Thursday masks a lot of ills. Not least of which, permanent job losses are on the rise: while the number of unemployed classed as being on temporary layoff decreased by 4.8m in June to 10.6m, following a decline of 2.7m in May, the number of permanent job losers continued to rise, increasing by 588,000 to 2.9m in June.

Additionally, the data for the June report was collected largely before the spike in cases in several of the big economically important states like Texas and California. Dr Fauci said the US is still ‘knee-deep’ in the first wave.

RBA holds rates, notes increased uncertainty on rising Covid-19 cases

The Reserve Bank of Australia left interest rates on hold at the record low 0.25%, but noted households and businesses are worried about the state of the economy after the jump in cases in Victoria raised doubts about the country’s handling of the outbreak, which had been assumed to be as good as New Zealand.

“The downturn has been less severe than earlier expected,” RBA governor Philip Lowe said in a statement, but added that “uncertainty about the health situation and the future strength of the economy is making many households and businesses cautious, and this is affecting consumption and investment plans”. Scott Morrison’s government will deliver a statement on July 23rd outlining further support on the fiscal side.

Gold still bullish, EUR and GBP drift lower

Elsewhere, gold’s bullish bias remains intact as it consolidates around $1780 and may be preparing for a fresh run towards $1800 – first up it needs to clear the seven-year highs at $1789. WTI (Aug) is steady at $40 for now and in FX we see the majors still trading within recent ranges as the dollar recovers a little from Monday’s risk-on sell-off.

EURUSD failed to break the June swing high at 1.1345 yesterday and has pulled back towards the middle of the bullish pennant. GBPUSD has also drifted lower after several failed attempts in the last session to clear the 1.2520 resistance, finding some immediate support on the 200-period SMA on the 4-hr chart. Sterling has that RoRo feel.

US Election, Recession, Brexit: What’s in store for markets in 2020 H2?

The first half of 2020 has been a wild ride. We’ve seen unprecedented moves in markets, historic stimulus efforts by both central banks and governments, and record-breaking data that grabbed headlines across the globe.

H1 has already brought plenty of drama, but what should we expect from the next two quarters? Join us for a recap of some of the biggest events in market history and a look at the risks and opportunities that lie ahead.

Coronavirus pandemic prompts worst quarter in decades for stocks

At the start of 2020 the main themes of the year looked to be the US Presidential Election, the trade war with China, and Brexit.

It seems like years ago that markets began to get jittery on fears that the handful of novel coronavirus cases in Wuhan, China, could become something ‘as bad as SARS’. It quickly became apparent that we were dealing with something much worse, and the market was quick to realise the full, brutal, reality of a global pandemic.

The panic reached its zenith towards the end of March. As the sell-off ran out of momentum global stock markets were left -21.3% lower. The S&P 500 had its worst quarter since 2008; the Dow dropped the most since 1987 and set a new record for the biggest single-day gain (2,117 points) and single-day loss (2,997 points). European stocks had their worst quarter since 2002, with a -23% drop in Q1.

Oil turns negative for first time in history after Saudi Arabia sparks price war

Things became even more chaotic in the oil markets when, after OPEC and its allies failed to agree a pandemic response, Saudi Arabia opened the floodgates and slashed prices of its crude oil exports. Oil prices endured the biggest single-day collapse since the Gulf War – over -24%.

It was further strain for a market now seriously considering the risk that shuttered economies across the globe would hit demand so hard that global storage would hit capacity. The May contract for West Texas Intermediate went negative – a first for oil futures – changing hands for almost -$40 ahead of expiry.

Meanwhile US 10-year treasury yields hit record lows of 0.318%, and gold climbed to its highest levels in seven years, pushing even higher in Q2.

Economies locked down, central banks crank up stimulus

Nations across the globe ordered their citizens to remain at home, taking the unprecedented step to voluntarily put huge swathes of their economies on ice for weeks. Even when lockdown measures were eased, the new normal of social distancing, face masks, and plastic screens left many businesses operating at a fraction of their normal capacity.

The world’s central banks were quick to step in during the height of market volatility and continued to do so as the forecasts for the economic impact of the pandemic grew even more grim. The Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Bank of Canada, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand all dropped rates to close to zero. Along with the European Central Bank, they unleashed enormous quantitative easing programmes, as well as other lending measures to help support businesses.

Unprecedented stimulus as unemployment spikes

Governments stepped in to pay the wages of furloughed employees as unemployment spiked – the US nonfarm payrolls report for April showed a jaw-dropping 20.5 million Americans had become unemployed in a single month. In the space of just six weeks America had erased all the job gains made since the financial crisis. The bill for US stimulus measures is currently $2 trillion, and is set to go higher when further measures are approved.

While most of the data may be improving, we’re still yet to see just how bad the GDP figures for Q2 are going to be. These, which will be released in the coming weeks, will show just how big a pit we have to dig ourselves out of.

H2: Recovery, US election, trade wars, Brexit

Markets may have recovered much of the coronavirus sell-off – US and European stocks posted their best quarter in decades in Q2 – but the world is still walking a fine line between reopening its economies and fending off the pandemic. Second wave fears abound. In the US in particular, economic data is largely pointing to a sharp rebound in activity, but at the same time Covid-19 case numbers are consistently smashing daily records.

These key competing bullish and bearish factors threaten to keep markets walking a tightrope in the quarters to come. Because of this, progress in the race to find a vaccine is closely watched. Risk is still highly sensitive to news of positive drug trials. The sooner we get a vaccine, the sooner life can return to normal, even if the world economy still has a long way to go before it returns to pre-crisis levels.

US Presidential Election: Trump lags in polls, Biden threatens to reverse tax cuts

The biggest talking point on the market in the coming months, aside from coronavirus, will undoubtedly be the US Presidential Election. The stakes are incredibly high, especially for the US stock market, and Democrat nominee Joe Biden intends to reverse the bulk of the sweeping tax cuts implemented by president Donald Trump.

Trump is currently lagging in the polls, with voters unimpressed by his response to the pandemic and also to the protests against police brutality that swept the nation. The president has long taken credit for the performance of the stock market and the economy, so for the latter to be facing a deep recession robs him of one of his key topics on the campaign trail.

Joe Biden may currently have a significant lead, but there is a long time to go until the polls, and anything could happen yet.

China trade war in focus, Hong Kong law adds fresh complications

The trade war with China would be a focus for the market anyway, but will come under increasing scrutiny in the run-up to the election. Thanks to Covid-19, anti-China sentiment is running high in the United States. This means Biden will also have to talk tough on China, which could mean that the damaging trade war is set to continue regardless of who wins the White House this time around.

Tensions have already risen on the back of China’s passing of a new Hong Kong security law, and coronavirus makes it virtually impossible that the terms of the Phase One trade agreement hashed out by Washington and Beijing will be carried out. Trump may be forced to stick with the deal, because abandoning it would leave him unable to flaunt his ability to make China toe the line during the presidential race. This would be positive for risk – markets were already rattled by fears that the president’s response to the Hong Kong law would include abandoning the deal.

How, when, and if: Unwinding stimulus

Even if we get a vaccine before the end of the year and global economies do rebound sharply, the vast levels of government and central bank stimulus will need to be addressed. Governments are running wartime levels of debt.

We’re looking at an even longer slog back to normalised monetary policy – something that banks like the Bank of England and the European Central Bank were struggling to reach even before Covid. There will be huge quantitative easing programmes to unwind and interest rates to lift away from zero, or potentially even out of negative territory.

Markets have been able to recover thanks to a steady cocktail of government and central bank stimulus. The years since the financial crisis have proven that it is incredibly difficult to wean markets and the economy off stimulus. There could be some tough decisions ahead, especially as governments begin to consider how they plan to repair their finances in the years to come.

Brexit deadline approaches, impasse remains

There is also Brexit to consider. While the coronavirus forced officials to move their negotiations online, little else seems to have happened so far. Both sides are refusing to budge and both sides are claiming that the other is being unreasonable. The UK does not want an extension to the transition period, and the two sides are running out of time to agree a trade deal.

We’ve seen before that both Downing Street and Brussels like to wait until the last possible moment to soften their stance. However, the risks here are higher because before there was always the prospect of another extension.

The last time negotiations were extended the battle in Westminster shocked the UK to its constitutional core. The Conservative landslide victory of 2019 gave Boris Johnson a much stronger hand this time around – the UK will leave in December, regardless of the situation.

Stay on top of the biggest events in H2

Whatever happens in the coming months, we’ll be here to bring you the latest news and analysis of the top developments and market events via the blog and XRay.

Stocks go up, cases go up, US jobs harder to call

European equities followed the US and Asia higher on hopes for a vaccine and a strong US jobs report, whilst shrugging off soaring numbers of new cases in the world’s largest economy.

US cases of Covid-19 continue to surge, rising more than 50,000 in a single day for the first time. Florida’s new case count rose 4.3%, vs the previous 7-day average of 5.7%, so indications perhaps that the rate of new cases may be coming down there. But California, Texas and Arizona recorded their largest one-day rise in cases.

Meanwhile, Tokyo also reported its highest number of cases in two months. Whilst the rise in cases is slowing the reopening of many states, some may argue that the US is simply heading for herd immunity a lot faster than anywhere else; in the long run this may help, not hinder, the country’s ability to get back to normal social and economic functioning.

Investors largely are shrugging off higher cases though as Pfizer reported positive results from a vaccine trial. But we have been here before – it’s too early to get too excited – but a working vaccine is the holy grail as it would allow real normality to return to the economy.

The S&P 500 rallied 0.5% to move to the 61.8% retracement, whilst the Nasdaq Composite set a new record high. The Dow finished a little lower. Shares in Asia took the cue to rally, whilst European bourses have opened with strength on Thursday morning. Lots of noise around but equity markets are not showing any real trend – major indices are still sitting around the middle of the June ranges.

Nonfarm payrolls tough to call

The ADP jobs report showed private employers in the US created 2.4m jobs in June, while the figure for May was completely revised to show a gain of 3m gained versus a previous estimate of 2.76m lost. Nonfarm payrolls today are again especially hard to call given the crisis. For May the consensus was for 8m jobs to be lost, but instead 2.5m were added.

For June the consensus is for 3m+ to be created. But the exceptionally wide range of forecasts suggests no true consensus – as I’ve mentioned a few times here the data is particularly difficult and noisy right now. Even if we get 5.5m created over the last two months, it still leaves 15m or so from the 20.5m lost in April unemployed, so recovery to the status quo ante remains a long way off.

Fed minutes indicated policymakers are keen to offer more detailed forward guidance about the path of interest rates but seemed less ready to go for yield curve control – a policy it last pursued during the second world war and one that the Bank of Japan is currently practising with limited success in achieving its goals.

Which leads us on nicely to the theme of Japanification, which is a thread which we like to explore from time to time. It can be summed up long-term economic malaise, deflation and a reliance on ever-larger monetary easing and low bond yields to prop up growth. Usually it’s Europe that seems to be tarred with this particular brush, but lately there are murmurings that the UK is heading down the same path.

For the first time, 30-year gilt yields fell below their Japanese counterparts this week. This is anomalous for a couple of reasons. First, the fact that gilt yields across the curve are at or near record lows highlights that investors haven’t blinked at the super-high issuance by the government to fund its response to the pandemic – the Bank of England’s asset purchase programme is doing its job. Two, the yield on Japan’s long bonds went up because the Bank of Japan said it would increase purchases of debt up to 10 years in maturity but keep buying of longer-dated maturities unchanged. This pushed up the yield curve, a fine example of yield curve control in action.

Whilst the crisis is disinflationary at present, the vast increase in the supply of money, which unlike the post-2008 QE is not going to end up sloshing around the banks but be put to work directly in the economy, means it may be too soon to call Britain the next Japan, whatever the chart vigilantes tell us.

Gold eases back from multi-year high, crude oil soft on rising gasoline stocks

Gold pulled back off its recent multi-year high in a sharp corrective move but has found support around $1765. Yesterday I said fading momentum on the CCI with a bearish divergence to the price action suggested a near-term pullback may be required – this came a little swifter than expected and we may see further weakness as a bearish flag formation may call for another leg lower to $1750.

Crude oil stocks declined by 7.2m barrels vs an expected drop of about 1m, driven by lower imports due to an expected drop from Saudi Arabia. Price action was weaker on the news though as gasoline stocks rose 1.2m barrels vs an expected decline of 1.6m. WTI (Aug) initially eased back but has recovered a little to sit on $40. Again, as mentioned previously, the estimates on WTI stocks right now are also way off the mark.

In FX, GBPUSD broke out as the dollar was offered across the board. The double tap on 1.2250 produced a strong bounce that carried forward to see the downtrend broken as it broke out of the channel resistance and cleared the 50-day simple moving average. Bulls will need to see the last swing high around 1.2540 cleared to reassert an uptrend. Brexit headline risk remains a big hurdle to getting real momentum behind a rally for cable, but if there is a breakthrough the upside could run very quickly. EURUSD pushed up on dollar weakness with bulls needing to take out the Jun 29th high at 1.12877.

Candlestick price chart showing the pound to dollar FX pair

Stocks head for best quarter in years, Powell testimony weighs on yields

The UK’s economy shrank a little more than expected in the first quarter – the 2.2% plunge was the joint worst since 1979. Of course, it will be dwarfed by the Q2 drop, with April already printing 20% lower. Meanwhile China’s PMI data showed a slight improvement and Japan’s industrial production plunged over 8%.

Does any of this tell us much as investors and traders? In normal times, yes of course, as it might make a difference of a few points on the margins, but in the time of coronavirus there is an awful lot of noise around the data which makes it a lot more challenging, as well as of course all the stimulus, which muffles the notes that the data is trying to sound. Boris Johnson will launch an FDR-like New Deal infrastructure package today to distract us from the harsh reality of rising unemployment and ongoing restrictions on our liberties.

Powell’s economic outlook weighs on US yields

US Treasury yields declined as Federal Reserve chair Jay Powell said the outlook for the economy is ‘extraordinarily uncertain’. In prepared remarks for today’s Congressional hearing alongside Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Mr Powell said output and employment remain ‘far below their pre-pandemic levels’, adding: ‘The path forward for the economy is extraordinarily uncertain and will depend in large part on our success in containing the virus.’

He also noted that ‘a full recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities’. San Francisco Federal Reserve President Mary Daly said it’s too early to tell and is just ‘watching the data’. Aren’t we all.

A strong quarter for stocks, but risks of a sharp pullback abound

Stocks rallied on Monday despite a wobbly start, as US pending home sales jumped the most on record in May, whilst Boeing surged 14%, heaping dozens of points on the Dow as it restarted test flights on the 737 MAX aircraft yesterday.

But as I keep stressing, this is a very rangebound market. The S&P 500 rose 1.5% but is caught between the 38.2% and 50% retracement of the pullback in the second week of June. The Dow added more than 2% but couldn’t even achieve the 38.2% line. Whilst indices are still trading this range, there is a downside bias evident lately and emerging down trend channels as we’ve made a couple of lower highs and lower lows. If this trend strengthens it could gain enough momentum to retest of the June lows.

Indeed, during cash equity trading hours the last 5 sessions has produced a lower low and lower high on the S&P 500. Valuations still look too high and based on a far-too-optimistic view of an earnings rebound in 2021 and does not account for permanent productivity and demand destruction. Of course stimulus is making a big difference here, but risk assets are exposed if we see the pandemic get worse from here. World Health Organisation boss Tedros said the worst is yet to come. Cases across states like Arizona, Texas and Florida continue to surge and look to be completely out of control.  A short, sharp pullback is a very real possibility.

Nevertheless, it’s been a solid month and an exceptionally strong quarter. US equities have enjoyed their best quarter in 20 years, whilst stocks in Europe have fared pretty well too as investors participated in the rebound off the March lows. It’s mirrored elsewhere in risk assets – copper is up a fifth, but is slightly weaker for the year. For instance, the S&P 500 is up 18% QTD, but down 5% YTD. The FTSE 100 is up almost 10% QTD, but down over 17% YTD.

On the open on Tuesday, European stocks were mixed and lacking direction as they traded either side of the flatline. The FTSE 100 was trading around the 50% retracement of the June pullback and took a little hit as Shell downgraded its oil outlook and warned it will need to take up to write down the value of its assets by as much as $22bn. This follows a similar move by BP, which moved lower apparently on the Shell read-across.

Chart: Dow tests 50-day SMA support, downtrend starts to gain momentum.

Elsewhere, gold was supported around $1770 but slightly below the recent 8-year high as the flag pattern starts to near completion following the leg up on Friday. Needless to say, we can look to US real rates and 10yr Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) dipping to –0.7%, a new seven-year low. Across the curve real rates are more negative than they have been a decent while.

Crude oil recovered the $39 handle but has failed to ascend all the way to $40 and has peeled back this morning. The near-term rising trend is offering support but the double top still exerts its influence and may well result in a further pullback to $35.

In FX, the dollar continues to find bid and the dollar index is making a nice little move off its lows still in a strong uptrend channel but is just running into horizontal resistance around the 97.65 area – breakout could see 98 handle again in short order. The downtrend dominates for cable as the pair continued south down the channel to test 1.2250. Whilst this held, the failure to recover 1.23150 on the swing higher may call for a further decline to the 1.22 round number support, and thence our old friend 1.2160 may come into play.

Chart: Downward trend dominates for cable

Coronavirus outbreaks leave stocks stuck in their ranges

Virus outbreaks in the US continue to weigh on the mood, as it suggests the run-up in stocks on hopes of a V-shaped economic recovery may be overly optimistic. Several states, mainly in the south, have been forced to re-impose lockdown restrictions after being the first to reopen. Dr Fauci described it as a ‘serious problem’. The dangers of reopening too quickly seem all too apparent, but investors are also keeping an eye on outbreaks in Tokyo, Australia and China.

European equities were a touch softer but trading near the flatline on Monday morning, with a general lack of direction about today’s trade. Major indices tracking around the middle of their June ranges after Asian equities fell. US equities were lower Friday and finished down for the week but, as the month ends, stocks have enjoyed a very strong quarter.

The FTSE 100 is up over 8% quarter-to-date, while the S&P 500 has rallied over 16% in Q2 and the DAX has surged 21%. Valuations remain the concern as we head into earnings season with the S&P 500 still trading at more than 22x on a forward basis.

Coming up this week – Powell testimony, US nonfarm payrolls

Of course stocks haven’t only rallied because of reopening economies – enormous liquidity thanks to the coordinated action of central banks has been key. Central bankers have been striking similar notes in terms of the response to the crisis and Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, will testify in Congress again this week. The Fed’s rather downbeat assessment of the economic recovery helped to stop the rally in its tracks and since then indices have been trading ranges.

The US jobs report – on Thursday this week due to the July 4th holiday – will provide an important view on the pace of recovery, but we should note that the weekly unemployment claims numbers are proving a more sensitive and up-to-date barometer, not least since there are problems with the data gathering for the monthly nonfarms report.

Facebook shares tumble on ad boycott, but how long can brands stay away?

Facebook shares tumbled more than 8% on Friday as a growing number of companies join a boycott of the platform over hate speech. We saw how a boycott of Facebook by users failed to move the needle on earnings, but this time it’s different – it’s the big brands that pay the big bucks and the loss of Unilever, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Levi’s and Diageo among others will create a headwind to revenue growth in the coming quarter.

I would think Facebook can and will do a lot more and will be able to take steps to assuage brands’ concerns, allowing the stock to recover. Moreover, will brands be able to avoid Facebook for very long? Virtue signalling is one thing, but they also need to shift product.

Crude oil was steady with WTI (Aug) around $38 after rallying off the medium-term support around $37.50. OPEC+ compliance in June is expected to be higher than in May, mainly because Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE are cutting above their quotas. In FX, cable continues to track its channel lower with a new low put in at 1.2315, with the previous support in the 1.2390 region now acting as resistance.

Equities in retreat as Covid-19 cases advance, oil drops

Equity markets have come under pressure again as a spike in new Covid cases across the US has investors worried, whilst the IMF drastically cut its growth forecasts for the year. Major equity indices have retreated towards the lower end of the range traded in June but have yet to make fresh lows for the month – when they do it will get very interesting and could call for another leg lower.

Stocks in Europe were down 3% on Wednesday, whilst Wall Street dropped 2.6%. European markets opened lower again Thursday, with a risk-off trade seeing all sectors in the red and telcos, healthcare and utilities declining the least.

Investors are pulling their heads in a little as the surge in cases raises concerns about how quickly the US economy can emerge from the ashes. There are also clusters in Germany of course but the focus is on the divergence between the European and US experience.  The FTSE 100 retreated close to 6,000 round number but found support around the 23.6% retracement at 6,066.

The S&P 500 closed at 3,050, on the 38.2% retracement. With softness on the open in Europe and futures indicating a lower open, we may see SPX test its 23.6% level on the 3,000 round number. A retest of the June lows looks increasingly likely.

IMF cuts global outlook, US-EU trade tensions simmer

Meanwhile the IMF lowered its 2020 outlook, warning the global economy would shrink a lot more this year than it had forecast in April. Global output is forecast at –4.9%, vs –3% in April. The UK and EU will decline 10%, whilst the US economy will shrink 8%. Tellingly, the IMF also lowered its 2021 bounce-back forecast – growth globally is expected to rally 5.4%, vs the 5.8% forecast in April.

In other words, the decline will be deeper and the recovery slower; that is, no V-shaped recovery. We can also add US-EU trade tensions into the mix hitting stock market sentiment, as the White House has threatened fresh tariffs. I’d also suggest that the closer we get to the election and the more polls show Biden leading Trump, the greater the risk of a Democrat clean sweep, which will need to be priced into equity markets.

Improved virus response, central bank stimulus lowers risk to equities

Although we see clear headline risk around spikes in Covid cases for equity markets, any second wave is not going to result in the same level of lockdown restrictions endured in the first wave: it’s just too costly economically and because we have learned a lot in how to cope with this virus, both in terms of treatment and prevention. This means any further pullback we see, whilst potentially quite sharp, is unlikely to see a retest of the lows in March.

Meanwhile central bank stimulus is still strong. The Fed has shifted materially – it now has a $7tn balance sheet, setting a floor under the bond market that pushes up equities. The risk to equities comes later in the year when we get a real insight into both the pace of economic recovery and, by extension, corporate earnings – does the S&P 500 still justify x23 forward PE, or should it start to trade at more like x19? The current forward PE of around x23 suggests hope of a bounce back in earnings next year that may not come to fruition.

US weekly jobless claims in focus

On the pace of economic recovery, today’s weekly jobless claims report will be of great significance. Last week’s underwhelmed. Following the surprisingly strong nonfarm payrolls report, the weekly numbers didn’t follow through with conviction – initial claims were down just 58k to 1.5m, whilst continuing claims only fell by 62k to 20.5m. The slowing in the rate of change was the main concern – hiring not really outpacing firing at a fast-enough pace to be confident of a decent recovery. I would like to see a greater improvement given the reopening of businesses, and it suggests more permanent scarring to the labour market.

Gold eases back as dollar recovers

Gold eased back off 8-year highs as the US dollar gained on the risk-off trade, but at $1765 in early European trade had bounced off lows around $1753 struck overnight. Short-term we see a stronger dollar exerting some pressure on gold prices; longer term the focus is on US real rates, which have just risen a touch off the lows. 10yr Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) eased away from 7-year lows at –0.66 to –0.64, providing another little headwind to gold prices in the near term. 

Oil slides on rising stockpiles

Crude oil declined with the broader risk-off trade. Rising US stockpiles – which hit a record high for the straight week – have also started to spook traders. Crude inventories climbed 1.44m barrels in the week to June 19th, to 540.7 million barrels. Gasoline stocks were down 1.7m barrels, giving encouraging signals about driving demand. US crude oil refinery inputs rose 239,000 bpd to 13.8m bpd. Total US production rose 500,000 bpd to 11m bpd due to the return of Gulf of Mexico output following Tropical Storm Cristobal. 

WTI (Aug) retreated off the $40 level to trade just above $37 – as suggested whilst the fundamentals have started to build in favour of stronger pricing, the market will not be immune to a technical pullback on overbought conditions and/or a decline in sentiment among traders due to rising US cases. The emerging double top is less nascent than it was and increasingly calls for the $35 neckline to be touched. A breach here calls for $31.50, the swing lows touched in the second half of May.

In FX, we can see a downwards channel for GBPUSD. The cross has pulled back to 1.24 as the dollar found bid, before paring losses a little this morning. Bulls need to clear the swing high at 1.2540 to break the downtrend, but trend resistance appears around 1.25 first. Bears can eye a pullback to under the Jun 21st low around 1.2334, with the channel suggesting we may see a 1.22 handle should the bulls fail to break 1.25 next.

XRay Live Talks: Trading in the time of Coronavirus

This week we invited our traders to take part in a live conversation with our chief market analyst Neil Wilson.

This was the first of our Live XRay Talks, our virtual trading roundtables and Q&As where we give traders the chance to meet the experts and discover what’s really going on in the markets.

Neil took questions on both the economic and market impact of Covid-19, the reaction of central banks and what could still be to come, OPEC production cuts, the green revolution and more.

Watch it here:

We’ll be bring our traders plenty more of these exclusive events, where you can get your questions answered by veteran traders and market professionals. Our next session takes place on July 4th with Andrew Barnett, senior trader at Trading Mastery.

Make sure you’re signed up to Marketsx for your chance to join our next Live XRay Talk.

Equities rebound on Covid breakthrough as cases mount

Stocks are in recovery mode as investors are energised by the prospect of further stimulus, a rebound in US retail sales and on hopes of a ‘major breakthrough’ treatment for serious cases of coronavirus. The Fed’s decision to buy individual corporate bonds and hopes the White House will swing a $1tn infrastructure package continue to help lift the boats.

US retail sales jumped 17.7% in May from the previous month, but still remain down sharply on a year-over-year basis – remember sharp rebounds are to be expected after the easing of lockdown, it doesn’t mean things are peachy.

Scientists in the UK found a cheap and widely available steroid, dexamethasone, reduces mortality rates among hospitalisations for covid-19. Meanwhile AstraZeneca says it will have a vaccine ready by October that will protect people for one year.

Markets overlook second wave fears and India-China tensions

Meanwhile investors are shrugging off fears of a ‘second wave’ as we see rising numbers of cases in the US and an outbreak in Beijing that has prompted the Chinese authorities to introduce new travel restrictions. Markets also seem unconcerned by a confrontation between India and China that left several soldiers dead on both sides.

Whilst investors will need to monitor the situation closely, I would not expect any serious escalation to impact financial markets. China’s foreign ministry said this morning the overall situation is stable and controllable.

European equities surged three per cent yesterday, while Wall Street rose 2%. This morning stocks in Europe extended gains with the FTSE 100 advancing back to 6,300 and the DAX above 12,400. The S&P 500 yesterday closed a point above the 3,123 level that we talked about, which was the Thursday opening daily high. Futures indicate a higher open as stocks in Europe open up firmly.

UK inflation slows sharply, eyes on Bank of England tomorrow

Data this morning showed UK inflation at a miserly 0.5%, which was in line with expectations, but again signals the very deflationary impact of the pandemic right now. But as previously discussed, there may be a large dose of inflation coming round the bend.

The Bank of England will tomorrow almost certainly announce more QE, likely increasing purchases by at least £100bn. Numbers yesterday pointed to a looming unemployment crisis in the UK as businesses slash jobs over the coming months.

FX majors hold ranges, oil rises on improved IEA demand outlook

In FX, the majors are holding their ranges. GBPUSD moved back under 1.26 having broken down at the 200-day moving average at 1.2690 yesterday, looking potentially to test the 100-day line around 1.2530 before a retest of Monday’s lows around 1.2450 as a near-term support. EURUSD pulled back under 1.13 having again bounced off the 23.6% Fib level around 1.1230 yesterday.

Crude oil rose on the turnaround in risk sentiment and gained further support after the International Energy Agency raised its oil demand outlook by 0.5m bpd to 91.7 million bpd. Near-term there are still pressures though – API inventories showed a rise of almost 4m barrels.

EIA figures today may show a slight build – but as noted last week the consensus estimates for these prints have been quite wide of the market over the last couple of months. Whilst risk is bid right now as equities climb, a rise in cases in the US and China may dampen hopes for an immediate rebound in oil demand.

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