FTSE lags as dollar continues to drop

Morning Note

Back to school: the unruly mob are back. But that is enough about MPs going back to work – children start the autumn term this week and the furlough scheme starts to unwind with the government reducing its contribution to employees’ wages to 70% in September.

Furlough forever is simply not an option – zombie staff, zombie businesses. But it means unemployment is surely set to rise – and consumer confidence always follows. The chancellor is floating a tax raid – better to monetize the debt surely?

Stocks soft after strong August

Stocks were a tad weaker on Monday, but August was a great month. The MSCI World index rose 6.6% and the S&P rallied over 7% to record their best August since 1986. The Nasdaq rose 10%. August is usually a poor month for stocks.

Tuesday morning saw a firm bounce for the major European bourses, though the FTSE 100 lagged as it played catchup following the bank holiday. A stronger sterling is also dragging on the big dollar earners. AstraZeneca has started large-scale human trials of its coronavirus candidate vaccine in the US.

The Federal Reserve has put a floor under markets and a ceiling on rates, delivering conditions where stocks can only float higher. We call this TINA – There Is No Alternative. It’s not sustainable of course, but it won’t stop the Fed and other central banks continuing to inflate the bubble. The Fed’s policy shift on inflation has marked a important change for the central bank and it may be followed by the ECB and others.

Vix futures – the so-called ‘fear gauge’ are telling another story. These have started to grind higher despite stocks rallying, which raises a warning about the future path of the market. As previously mentioned, volatility should rise as the election approaches and the races proves far tighter than it currently looks. In summary, the options market is sending a signal that the stock market is not.

Strong China manufacturing PMI lifts sentiment, despite soft readings from France, Spain

Sentiment this morning is helped by data showing Chinese factory activity rose at the fastest pace since 2011. French and Spanish manufacturing PMIs softened, dropping under 50 to signal contraction, while Italy’s was a little better than expected at 53.1.

Some of the moves in US shares are striking. Apple rose over 3% to $129 after splitting, whilst Tesla shares rocketed 13% on its busiest day ever. Stock splits shouldn’t make a difference, except this time they have. Tesla is up 74% for the month.

Zoom races higher after smashing earnings forecasts

Zoom rose almost 23% in after-hours trade after it reported a 355% rise in revenues to $663.5m for the July quarter, smashing forecasts for around $500m. Zoom has proved to be a Covid winner of epic proportions – but shouldn’t we all be going back to the office by now? The UK significantly lags Europe and others in ‘getting back to work’ statistics – this has a huge implication for productivity and for the wider economy.

The dollar continues to soften and trying to guess the bottom is akin to catching a falling knife. The dollar index sank to fresh two-year lows in the wake of the Fed’s inflation shift. Perennial dollar bulls have been caught off guard with the unwind, however the Fed’s recent shift on inflation targeting only underlines that bears called this early.

More inflation and a central bank prepared to let it happen should reduce the purchasing power of the dollar and therefore it ought to weaken. However, with the buck usually a safe harbour, it shouldn’t soften too much more.

The pound was up, with GBPUSD pressing on the post-election euphoria high of last December a little above 1.34. There are Brexit risks ahead – talks recommence next week – but for the moment the major driver of this is the dollar’s weakness. Gold futures rose to $2,000/oz as the weaker dollar lifted commodity markets and US real rates – 10-year TIPS – have sunk again as inflation expectations rise.