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

Morning Note

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.

Stocks grind higher, dollar squeeze continues

Morning Note

The S&P 500 is down less than 5% for the year and is 40% above its pandemic trough, whilst the forward price-to-earnings multiple has risen to a two-decade high at 22.4. US GDP is seen falling by an astonishing 52.8% in the second quarter, according to the Atlanta Fed.

Whilst this number is always up for a lot of debate, it’s clear the contraction in the second quarter is going to be massive. Something has to give – but perhaps not yet.

Stocks are continuing in a grind higher with major indices marking new post-trough peaks and global stocks catching up with the US market, whilst the dollar continues to be sold in an unwind of the Covid-inspired rally. The lifting of lockdown restrictions combined with enormous central bank support means investors are shrugging off little things like collapsing GDP and worsening US-China tension.

The FTSE 100 cleared last week’s peak and extended gains on the open this morning to trade around 6290, through the 50% retracement of the peak-to-trough decline. Bulls are now looking to close the gap back to the March 6th 6400 handle.

IAG, InterContinental, Tui and Carnival are the top gainers, indicating all you need to know about this rally – deeply oversold stocks finding bid on hopes that travel restrictions are easing across the globe, particularly in Europe. Having wrestled with the 61.8% retracement, the DAX has cleared its own hurdle with the 200-day moving average now below as it advances beyond 12,100.

The S&P 500 moved to 3,080 and is now eyeing up the March bull trap double-swing highs above 3100 where the market came off and tried to rally before the main collapse.

FX market news: dollar retreat continues

In FX, majors are advancing steadily against the dollar and risk proxies are doing well with the Aussie and Kiwi trading at levels not seen since Jan/Feb, before the crisis really hit. Sterling continues to make ground up as GBPUSD approaches 1.26 and eyes a breach of the Apr double top, which could open up the path back to 1.30. EURUSD has risen above 1.12, breaking above the 61.8% retracement, which clears way back to the 50% line at 1.1450. The dollar index slipped further after breaking down at the 61.8% retracement.

Of course, sterling is also exposed to Brexit risks and on that front, there does seem some vague optimism that this week could see progress. I wouldn’t hold my breathe. The UK services PMI will show little improvement from last month as the survey is yet to capture any kind of lifting of lockdown restrictions. Next month’s survey will be important to show how quickly confidence is returning.

Today’s other data: US ISM non-manufacturing seen at 44.2 vs 41.8 previous, ADP nonfarms expected at –9m. Then it’s time for the weekly crude oil inventories from the EIA, which are expected to show a build of 3m barrels.

Crude oil rises on hopes OPEC will extend record production cuts

Crude oil continues to make new highs with prices advancing on hopes OPEC+ will agree to keep its deepest level of cuts in place for longer. OPEC and Russia will decide tomorrow whether to extend the 9.7m bpd of cuts carried out in May and June, which were due to be tapered to 7.7m from July.

Additional voluntary cuts by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait actually took headline cuts to 11m bpd in June, although we know compliance of 75% in May offsets the extra. If OPEC+ fails to agree to extend these cuts the market will be liable to sell off sharply. Even a one-month extension might not be enough, even though of course it would help rebalance oil markets more quickly.

WTI (Aug) rallied before losing steam at $38 as a draw on US crude oil inventories also buoyed bulls. Whilst the focus is still on the EIA figures today, API numbers showed a draw of 0.483m barrels compared with a build of 8.7m barrels last week.

Could this be the biggest monetary policy meeting in years?

Equities
Forex

Could the upcoming Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) be the most watched monetary policy meeting in a long time?

It certainly has a lot weighing on it.

Stocks are at record highs, pushed higher by a certainty that the FOMC will cut short-term interest rates for the first time in a decade this week. The two-day policy meeting kicks off on Tuesday, with a policy decision announced on Wednesday.

While Chairman Jerome Powell signalled a cut in July, its unclear what the policy could be for the rest of the year. And is a cut even necessary? While the consensus is that a cut is coming – the only quibble is 25bps or 50bps – the recent economic data looks strong. As our Chief Markets Analyst, Neil Wilson, explains:

“Is a cut justified? I would point to underlying core CPI at 2.1%, retail sales +3.4% in June and a 50-year low in unemployment as perhaps arguments to the contrary. Increasingly there is a sense that the Fed is no longer data dependent, but being held to ransom by the White House and the market.”

But what can we expect from the meeting?

The answer is, it depends…

Confirmation of a cut from the FOMC, if paired with signals of a more dovish policy in the long term could send greenback diving.

On the flip side, if the markets are surprised and a cut doesn’t happen, expect stocks and commodities to tumble and the dollar to surge.

At this stage, despite stronger-than-expected data, growth momentum is weaker. While a recession has been avoided, a cut is still the safe bet. This policy meeting could define the direction of global monetary policy for years to come and provides a lot of opportunities for traders. One thing’s for sure, the announcement on Wednesday is not one to miss.

Gold & bitcoin firmer, stocks and dollar softer

Equities
Morning Note

Stocks and the US dollar were softer whilst gold and Bitcoin continued to drive higher as markets look ahead to the G20 meeting.

Stocks have eased as markets look ahead to the G20 meeting – optimism is fading a little and we would expect investors to perhaps take some risk off the table ahead of the meeting, particularly given the recent bump. Bear in mind also this is a weekend meeting that implies gap risk. 

Equities

The S&P 500 eased 5pts yesterday to finish on 2,945. Asia has been softer overnight. Futures indicate European shares are lower today since there is really little fresh catalyst for bulls before we learn more about the Trump-Xi meeting in Osaka and what this means for global trade, tariffs et al.  

US trade supremo Robert Lighthizer spoke to Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on Monday, at least paving the way for talks to take place in Japan. The FTSE 100 might struggle to hold the 7400 level today.

The US has hit Iran with more sanctions. No sense of de-escalation, but also no material worsening in the situation. The tensions offer short-term support for oil still with Brent steady around $64 and WTI shade below $54. 

Gold

Gold firmed again overnight as we see the path to more gains being cleared. Gold hit a fresh six-year high amid a perfect blend of supporting factors. Four things are really driving gold – falling yields, a weaker dollar, a soft macroeconomic outlook and geopolitical risks rising in the Middle East. 

Prices hit $1438, breaking resistance on $1433 before paring those gains to trade around $1426 at send time. Looking to break $1446 next. 

Gold has huge negative correlation with real yields, which have come right down. US 10yr around 2%, now back to where they were in 2016 – if it goes lower, we would expect further gold strength. The surge in negative-yielding debt is undoubtedly key to the rally, and can be viewed as similar to the rise in gold prices and negative yield assets in 2016. 

Forex

The dollar remains on the defensive. The dollar index has dropped further to trade around 95.50. 

Sterling can’t catch much bid – GBPUSD remains off its lows around 1.2750 but is failing to make real inroads versus the greenback as Brexit uncertainty weighs heavily. Short positioning has eased but this remains a crowded trade. 

We have the no-deal exit risk of course – Boris Johnson has said he is prepared to take Britain out without a deal come October 31st. But we also have General Election risk – chatter about a no-confidence vote being supported by a dozen or so Tory rebels could lead to the government falling and inevitably an election. Boris Johnson could end up the Lady Jane Grey of Downing Street if that were the case. This introduces risks of a) Brexit delay and ongoing political uncertainty, b) a hung parliament with no clear route out of Brexit, and c) a Corbyn-led Labour government that would be very risky for UK assets and equites. 

The euro is faring better, with EURUSD up to regain the 1.14 handle, trading at 3-month peaks. 

Cryptos

Bitcoin firmed again, cementing the gains above $11k. I would reiterate the comments from yesterday – it’s a hard market to stand in front of when it builds momentum like this. The buzz and the hype has returned. You can talk about Libra, or the halving next year, more and more institutional interest and so on, but ultimately this is a bubble again. Look for $11,600, the highs from Feb last year as offering the big test. 

Trump’s Mexican standoff rattles investors

Equities
Forex
Indices
Morning Note

Mexican standoff

A Mexican standoff is one in which there is no strategy that exists that allows either side to gain victory. Donald Trump may take note.

Any hopes May would end on a high were dashed as the White House slapped tariffs on all goods from Mexico. Tariffs of 5% will take effect Jun 10th, and could rise to as much as 25% by October. The intent is to ratchet pressure on Mexico to stop illegal immigration to the US.

Coming at a time of a breakdown in talks with China, it’s another blow to bulls and we should consider further downside risks from escalation. The worry is who’s next on Trump’s list – the EU may be next.

A fight with its neighbour and largest trading partner was not on the agenda. With all eyes fixed on China, and with Nafta 2 agreed and all apparently all hunky dory on the Mexico front, the caprice of Trump has caught investors off guard and will weigh on investor sentiment.

Trump has weaponised trade and economic might of the US. We have to assume that talks with China are going nowhere, and that this therefore – in the absence of being able to find a new stick with which to beat Beijing – is Trump finding a new ‘enemy’ to attack.

Futures sink

It’s early yet but following yesterday’s steadying of the ship, futures in the US are off south again and a retest of the 200-day moving average on the S&P 500 seems assured. Dow futures are printing a 24k handle and are on course to close sharply lower for the month. Sell in May and go away turns out to have been accurate this time. You’d have anyway wanted to see a much firmer rally yesterday to suggest the bottom had been found.

Futures show European equities are retreating on this fresh trade threat and it’s set to be a down day. FTSE 100 key support at 7150 and may well get taken out today.

FX: Peso hit

Needless to say the Mexican peso plunged on the news and will now be sensitive to news flow on any escalation of tariffs, or likewise, any detente. USDMXN has broken up through 19.64 and is trading very near the highs of the year from Jan. Peso bears will have the 20 handle in their sights.

Japanese auto stocks were hit as they use Mexico as base to import to US. Mazda, Nissan, Toyota among the sharpest fallers. This is likely to have some read across for European carmakers in today’s session.

Havens that had briefly retreated amid yesterday’s more upbeat session, are once again bid. USDJPY has fallen through support to find the 108 handle. Gold has rallied through $1294 even as the relative safety of the dollar left greenback just a few pips from two-year highs.

GBPUSD has held the 1.26 handle but, having broken through this level and below last week’s lows, the pound is now sensitive to further downside squeezing as uncertainty over the next prime minister and the direction of Brexit persists.

Overnight data is not helping risk today. China PMI figures slipped to 49.4 against 49.9 expected, signalling contraction in factory activity again. The PMI data suggests China is feeling the heat from the trade war and tariffs. Caixin PMI is due Monday and May show an even steeper contraction.

Oil

The whole picture is bearish for oil. Crude prices are at three-month lows. US inventories yesterday showed a smaller than expected drawdown at just -282k versus -860k expected. Stockpiles are at their highest in two years. Speculative long positions continue to be cut. Supply uncertainty is losing out to demand uncertainty. Simply put, with OPEC and co curbing output, there is ample excess capacity in the market should it be needed, so supply worries can be overstated. Traders are also betting Permian offtake constraints will lessen as the year goes on. Copper’s also been slipping and is retesting the Jan lows. Commodity markets are telling us there’s trouble in the global economy.

Uber

Uber losses hit $1bn but this was at the lower end of guidance, whilst revenues came in at the top of the guided range at $3.1bn. Top marks for that, but fundamental questions remain over top line growth in bookings.

Quarter on quarter bookings growth of a mere 3.4% is a worry, and shows how tough this market is becoming. Costs rose 35% from a year ago, whilst grids booking revenues were up 34%. Monthly active users jumped to 93m from 91m. Nevertheless these were solid results in line with management expectations, which should give investors some confidence

Little help for rangebound yen likely from Bank of Japan commentary

Forex

The Bank of Japan releases its Summary of Opinions and monetary policy meeting minutes this week. Policy normalisation is moving at a glacial pace, so the safe-haven yen is unlikely to find support on the latest comments from policymakers.

Central banks around the world are tilting towards the dovish end of the spectrum. This is epitomised by the futures market’s pricing in of a rate cut from the Federal Reserve this year. However, when it comes to caution, the Bank of Japan is the archetype – it was the first to implement quantitative easing and continues to pump trillions into the economy while tinkering with the yield curve and keeping rates negative.

The plan is unlikely to change any time soon, especially now that global conditions appear to be weakening. There is little certainty on a macro level to suggest the BOJ’s work is anywhere near done, even if the fears of a worldwide recession that tanked markets at the end of 2018/beginning of 2019 were overdone.

This leaves the yen facing more of the same; a narrow trading range against its major peers.

USD/JPY edges higher as fears over US growth fears ease

The US dollar has been slowly pressuring the yen lower over the course of the past few months. Strong US data has helped ease fears over the need for the Federal Reserve to pivot too severely into dovish territory.

EUR/JPY rangebound as ECB and BOJ battle for dovish crown

The EUR/JPY pairing was almost slap-bang in the middle of its multi-week trading range at the time of writing. While the European Central Bank could bring quantitative easing back into play later in the year, which would be yen-supportive, the long-term outlook remains that it will be the weakening of overseas policy outlooks that push JPY higher in the near-term, not the machinations of its own BOJ.

Yen unable to take advantage as Brexit uncertainty keeps pound floored

GBP/JPY is just a pinch overbought on the Relative Strength Index. The chart above shows how the pairing has settled into a narrow channel over the past few weeks. Brexit uncertainty is keeping sterling on pause, however the yen is unable to capitalise on this due to the lack of optimism surrounding Japanese monetary policy.

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