Fed braces for long haul, second wave worries hit equities

Morning Note

Time to dig in for the fight. Usually, at least for the last decade, a dovish Federal Reserve would help boost risk sentiment. But we are in different times and however accommodative monetary policy remains, the market needs a lot more, like a patient hooked on painkillers. Whilst the Fed last night committed to keeping rates at zero all the way through 2022, stocks (excluding the Covid-immune tech sector) are selling off.

The Fed’s extremely downbeat assessment of the US economy and jobs market, combined with expectations for a slow recovery, left risk assets looking very exposed after a big run up last week. Stocks in Europe slipped up ahead of the meeting and have extended losses today with the major bourses down more than 2% again.

Asian shares fell and Wall Street closed in the red, although the Nasdaq managed to secure another record closing high above 10,000. US Treasury yields sank partly on the commitment on keeping rates down but also because investors see a slower recovery taking place and lasting damage to the economy. Gold rallied to $1740.

FOMC economic projections dash hopes of V-shaped recovery

Assessments for the economy are grim. The Fed forecast the US economy to contract by 6.5% this year and for the unemployment rate to be above 9% by the end of the year. This would be an improvement from the current rate of 13.3%, but it points towards a very slow recovery.

Indeed, unemployment is still seen at 6.5% through 2021. Faced with this, Jay Powell, the Fed chairman, said he is “not even thinking about thinking about raising rates”. And as many have warned, some of the damage will be permanent, meaning significant lost productivity. Powell said: “My assumption is there will be a significant chunk…millions…who don’t go back to their old jobs.” The V-shaped recovery theory died last night with the Fed.

Gloomy forecasts from the Fed chime with the OECD’s downbeat outlook. It said the UK economy will contract 11.5% this year even without a second wave. And second wave worries are another factor dragging down on stocks, particularly as we see rising numbers of Covid cases in several US states like Texas, Florida and California, where hospitalisations are at their highest since May 13th after rising for nine of the last ten days.

Really the market got too far ahead of itself and is reacting to the Fed’s gloomy outlook and fears of a second wave of infections. We will get more indications about the pace of hiring vs firing today with the US initial and continuing jobless claims number.

European equities slump on the back of FOMC meeting

Today’s market moves show the reopening trade unwinding in the wake of the Fed. Carnival and IAG led the losers on the FTSE 100 whilst only Polymetal, Fresnillo and Unilever were higher. European travel & leisure shares fell 5%, with automakers and banks down 4%.

The S&P 500 is likely to open weaker after sliding 0.5% yesterday to close under 3200 at 3190. Ocado shares fell 6% after announcing a £657m share placing and that it would raise a further £350m by way of a convertible bond. Whilst shares are lower, this is about raising cash to grow, possibly transformational growth. This is what Amazon would do.

Tesla led the tech sector and Nasdaq higher, as shares rose 9% yesterday to close above $1,025. The leg up came after Elon Musk said the company would ramp production of the Tesla Semi, its electric freight truck.

In FX, the dollar is finding bid as risk sentiment sours. GBPUSD has moved back to test 1.2650, having spiked as high as 1.28 yesterday. The pound is now very much a RoRo currency – risk-on, risk-off.

Copper prices fell having rallied for the last few sessions on fears of a slow economic recovery. Oil was holding losses as it hit around $38 for WTI after a surprise rise in US crude stocks combined with the hit to risk sentiment.  EIA figures showed crude oil inventories rose 5.7m barrels vs expectations for a 1.45m drawdown.

Sellers return: S&P 500 in retreat, next leg lower to 2975? 

Candlestick price chart of the S&P 500 index