Gold breaks out, European equities rally

Morning Note

Equities and oil are higher as investors cautiously welcome signs lockdowns are ending but markets remain in this tug-of-war pattern where we simply don’t know whether the damage will be a lot worse than feared or the recovery will be much swifter. Indices remain in broad ranges are still seeking direction.

On Sunday, Robert Chote of the UK budget watchdog warned a V-shaped recovery was unlikely. Fed chair Jerome Powell cautioned recovery in the US would likely be slow, and it could take a vaccine to see activity rebound to 2019 levels. This week in a testimony to Congress he will likely stress the ‘whatever it takes’ mantra and push for more on the fiscal side.

Absent buying equities and negative rates, the Fed has had its six. What’s going to be interesting is whether the policy response of different governments leads to different speed recoveries. This is most dangerous moment for people and the economy – the logic of lockdown made sense to prevent health system overload, but we are not anywhere near that now. We need to get moving a lot quicker than we are.

The Atlanta Fed forecasts GDP will contract 42.8% in the second quarter. Overnight data showed Japan has entered a recession already. The Bank of England’s assumptions for a V-shape recovery look rather naïve.

Gold has emerged as a clear winner from the economic turmoil created by the pandemic. Prices were slotted into a consolidation pattern since mid-April and a tentative upside breach was attempted on Friday, but the daily close was below the $1747 level that marked the multi-year high struck last month. There has been more energy about gold bulls today and prices have driven up to above $1760, the highest since Oct 2012. The peak in that month of $1795 is the next target for bulls.

As noted in Friday’s commodities note, although gold was sold off in February and the first half of March, this was prompted by a scramble for cash at all costs due in part to a dollar liquidity squeeze that has since eased considerably. Gold has made substantial gains in tandem with risk assets since the March lows.

Whilst sentiment and relative dollar values exert short-term pressure, the combination of negative real yields and the prospect of an inflation glut due to massively increased money supply is sending prices higher. Whilst the Covid-19 outbreak is at first a deflationary shock to the economy, the aftermath of this crisis could be profoundly inflationary.

Gold remains the best hedge against inflation which may be about to return, even if deflationary pressures are more pronounced right now.

Equities finished Friday on a more solid footing but were still lower for the week. On Monday, European equities charged out of the gate. Basic resources, oil & gas and autos led the way. The FTSE 100 rose over 2% reclaimed 5900 and was just about flat with where it opened last Monday. The DAX rallied 2% in early trade after declining 4% last week.

Global indices are still in their recent ranges, albeit moving back towards the top end. Today’s early bounce only wipes out last week’s losses. At 5940 the FTSE 100 is about 50% back to the Apr 30th peak.

Regulators across Italy, France, Spain and others have decided to end the ban on short selling, which was introduced in March to stem some of the bloodletting. This move signals greater confidence among regulators that the bottom is in for equities.

WTI oil (Jun) jumped $1.70 to above $31 and Brent futures also traded higher amid signs the market is rebalancing a little faster than had been expected. Easing of lockdown measures has been positive, whilst supply has come off due to shut-ins. OPEC has been talking up making deeper cuts for longer. The worry is that this rally simply prompts producers to carry on pumping.

WTI for August was only a little higher than the June contract as the contango spread tightens. Maybe things are not so bad as we thought in oil, but the issue of storage capacity remains as long as supply exceeds demand.

In FX, GBPUSD crashed through key support on Friday and closed at the lows of the day. The pair opened lower today but has pared losses. The tenor of Brexit talks is not supportive for sterling right now, after talks last week ended with no progress. Time is running out fast and we become less sure that either side has the political will and capital to expend on this when dealing with the economic catastrophe of the pandemic.

Chatter around the Bank of England looking at negative rates is another weight on sterling right now. It’s a huge moment as we deal with a massive increase in government debt, run huge twin deficits and exit the EU whilst in the midst of the worst global recession since the 1930s. What then happens to the pound if rates go negative?

After losing the 1.2160 support GBPUSD has now opened up a potential retreat to 1.18. Next Fib support at 1.2034.