Sterling’s RoRo Yo-Yo day

Brexit

The pound endured some wild whipsaws today on a range of Brexit headlines. First sterling slid through the morning as the EU lodged its legal complaint over the internal market bill. GBPUSD hit the LOD at 1.2820 by 10am.

But then GBPUSD rallied aggressively through 1.295 on reports officials were close to entering the tunnel, with the FT’s Whitehall correspondent quoting one as saying: ‘We’ve gone from about 30% chance of a deal to the other way around. I think it’s almost certain we’ll enter the tunnel.’ The implication that officials see a 70% likelihood of a deal got sterling bulls running the stops.

Sterling pushed up to a fresh two-week high, but the 1.30 round number was not tested as the rally ran out of legs at 1.2980. The 1.30 level is the big horizontal and Fibonacci resistance to unlock the move to the mid-1.30s once a Brexit deal is signed.

However, cable was back down almost one big figure again, taking a 1.28 handle after an EU official said there is no sign of a landing zone on fisheries, or level playing field. At send time GBPUSD was sitting on the 1.29 round number around the mid-point for the day.

What we learned from this:

Sterling is on the hook to some wild price swings on headlines, which we knew would be the case. No one wants to try 1.30 unless there are more concrete rumours from ‘sources’. Talks wrap up tomorrow – more market-moving headlines to come.

Twitter is a very good source of information for trading – cable shot higher a couple of minutes after the initial 70/30% tweet. Algos were slow to respond for once – shows they don’t read Twitter very well – yet (H/T @PriapusIQ).

It does seem like there are tentative signs of ‘progress’ despite all the chuntering around the internal market bill, which looks increasingly like a sideshow to the main event of trade talks.

In short, a deal seems more likely than not. I’ve moved from 60/40 to 50/50 after the IMB to back to 60/40 again.

Moody music around Brexit sends sterling lower

Forex

Sterling took  a bit of a kicking as the mood music around this week’s Brexit talks took a decided turn for the worse. The EU came out with some pretty stern words for the British government over its internal markets bill. Less Ode to Joy and more Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March.

The EU Commission has come out fighting, saying the bill would, if adopted, represent a serious breach of the withdrawal agreement (perhaps) and of international law (more dubious, since the EU cannot hold any sway or sovereignty over UK domestic markets, laws or affairs after the exit from the EU).

Anyway, the British position (on paper at least) remains resolute. The UK government legal opinion is that it remains a sovereign matter of UK domestic law, which of course, it is, regardless of what the EU may think.

Brexit talks under threat as EU warns UK has ‘seriously damaged trust’

The EC called on Britain to ditch the problem elements of the bill by the end of the month and warned that the UK has ‘seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK’, adding that ‘it is now up to the UK government to re-establish that trust’.

This is real brinkmanship. It is one of three things: it is either a cynical masterstroke in negotiating a deal. Two, it is a cynical move but a miscalculation on the British side, as it may fatally undermine the good faith basis discussions. Or three, it is simply a genuine good faith step based on the British desire to main the integrity of its own internal market, just as much as the EU insists on maintaining its own single market.

Either way the language and tone coming out of everything today would suggest a material increase in no deal risks – more no doubt to follow later this afternoon.

Pound sinks on heightened no-deal risks

GBPUSD sank to fresh six-week lows under 1.2860 with the road to 1.280 clear after breaching the 50-day line, which had offered the support yesterday. EURGBP surged to its strongest in 6 months above 0.92, boosted as a hawkish-sounding ECB put a firm under the EUR.

The euro was sent spiking against the dollar before easing back a touch after the ECB left rates unchanged and indicate it was all very pleased with itself and doesn’t think it needs to do a lot more. Christine Lagarde seemed far too relaxed about the appreciation in the euro, which helped send the currency back up to 1.19.

All in all she did beat a dovish drum and seems to have got her communication rather muddled, again. But after this spike, a bit of dollar bid came back as risk assets soured following the US open.

Bank of England wheels for fresh charge

Morning Note

Central banks need to be marshalled like cavalry and stimulus like charges. If your stimulus doesn’t rout the enemy immediately, you can easily get bogged down in a melee in which you lose your advantage. The Federal Reserve keeps wheeling around and managing to rally troops for fresh charges – the corporate bond buying announcement this week was a fine example.

But increasingly the cavalry is wearying and the more this drags on the less impact the Fed’s repeated charges will have against the twin enemies of deflation and unemployment. Investors are clinging on to central bank stimulus like the Gordon Highlanders gripped the stirrups of the Scots Greys, as they rode down the French columns at Waterloo.

BoE preview: more QE on the way

The Bank of England will mount a fresh charge at the enemy formations today. Coordination is the name of the game: it needs to keep on top of the huge amount of issuance – borrowing – by the UK government. Wartime levels of debt means the BoE must expand the envelope to hoover it up or risk yields starting to rise and spreads widening.

So, the BoE is expected to increase QE by at least £100bn, but I think it may well opt for £200bn, or even more, given that even £100bn would only last it until the end of the summer and the real long-term economic problems are going to emerge later in the autumn. Interest rates will stay at 0.1% and expectations firmly anchored for the near future with forward guidance repeating that the Bank will do whatever it takes.

In order to achieve this, the government and central bank will need to coordinate throwing more money at the problem. Indications suggest furlough has been costly but only delayed a lot of the pain – a looming unemployment crisis will require further central bank support, which means more QE is likely.  And don’t talk about negative interest rates – Andrew Bailey mentioned it once, but I think he got away with it. Once you go negative, it’s very hard to get back to normal.

Whilst fresh forecasts are not due until August, the Bank will likely set a more defensive tone in terms of its expectations for the recovery. As noted here on May 7th (BoE: for illustrative purposes only) the Bank’s assumptions on economic recovery seem rather optimistic.

Sterling was steady ahead of the decision. GBPUSD held around the middle of its trading range, sitting on the 38.2% retracement of the bottom-to-top rally from the May low to the Jun high. Monday’s test of the 1.2450 (50% level) remains the support whilst the upside seems well guarded by the 200-day moving average just above 1.2690 that sparked the run lower since Tuesday.

Stocks on the back foot on fears of second Covid-19 wave

Wall Street stocks fell yesterday, except for tech, whilst European markets are on the back foot this morning as investors parse new cases in the US and China. The bulls lost energy as new hospitalisations in Texas due to Covid-19 rose 11% in the space of 24hrs. Several other US states are seeing rising cases that are a worry, albeit the kind of mass lockdown seen earlier this year appears an unlikely course of action. The economic damage is too high, and we are generally better equipped to handle it.

Worries about China are also important – markets had largely not bet on a second lockdown in the world’s second largest economy.

Overall, the market swings now suggest investors are reacting to various headlines about recovery, stimulus and new cases without much clear direction as to what it all means as a bigger picture. The major indices are right in the middle of recent trading ranges, sitting around the 50-60% retracements of the move from the multi-month highs at the start of last week to the swing lows this week.

Elsewhere, the US pulled out of talks with Europe over a global digital services tax, which raises the risk of individual countries taking their own steps, in turn sparking a fresh wave of US-EU tensions. An escalation of dormant trade wars is not out of the question if EU nations and the UK decide to tax US tech giants aggressively.

This comes of course after the EU launched an anti-trust probe into Amazon. In Europe, Germany passed additional fiscal stimulus to combat the pandemic costs. This morning Angela Merkel called on the EU to agree to the Covid fund before the summer break.

Crude steady on EIA inventories data

Crude prices were steady as they hold within the consolidation pattern printed since the start of June. WTI for August was holding around the $38 marker after the EIA inventories rose 1.2m barrels, vs expectations for a draw.

This matched the API data (+3.9m) and suggests there are more supply-side pressures at present, but OPEC data indicated demand not falling as much as previously expected in the second half of the year. Meanwhile it seems Iraq is working its way towards complying with OPEC+ cuts.

Macron and Merkel’s rescue fund: Europe’s Hamiltonian moment?

Forex

Germany and France have agreed to push for a €500bn EU fund to help member states combat the economic fallout of Covid-19. The proposal comes as EU leaders fail to reach a consensus over what form a rescue package should take.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have backed the scheme to support the Eurozone economy, which would be in the form of grants not loans.

The stimulus will be funded by the European Commission borrowing money – ‘coronabonds’ in all but name. The EC could borrow money from capital markets on behalf of all EU nations, secured against the next seven-year budget. The debt would mature after 2027.

This is an important breakthrough for the EU and has been dubbed Europe’s ‘Hamiltonian’ moment, in reference to Alexander Hamilton, who federalised the debts of the various US states in 1790.

This week on Wednesday EU President Ursula von der Leyen will present her plans, which will build on the Franco-German proposal.

If the budget talks are successful it should lower risk premia on EU sovereign debt, lowering bond yields and offering succour to the euro as well as to European equity markets.

It would also mark a major step towards EU fiscal policy coordination and possible fiscal union.

Will Eurozone members agree to rescue grants?

But it needs consensus and agreement from all the members of the common currency. Leaders struggled to agree an emergency funding package back in April, and the issue of how to support the recovery once the health crisis had passed was left alone.

Some nations have argued that making any rescue funding into a loan means saddling more debt on member states, like Italy and Spain, that are already struggling with their existing liabilities.

The ‘frugal four’ – Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden – are not playing ball with the French and Germans, putting forward a counterproposal to the €500bn bailout fund.

The four countries said they would not agree to a mutualization of debt, nor an increase in the EU budget.

Budget talks over the next few weeks will be crucial to the Eurozone and its economy.

For more, follow Helen Thomas from BlondeMoney here on XRay for weekly video updates and sign up for bespoke research analysis on how EU politics is driving financial markets.

Leg up: stocks make new ground, travel stocks soar

Morning Note

Sentiment among German companies has recovered somewhat after a “catastrophic few months”, the Ifo Institute said yesterday, in what neatly sums up where the global economy stands right now: horrendous, but perhaps not as horrendous as it could have been.

Of course, this is not the main reason stocks keep making new highs; this lies in the action of central banks and the vast amount of liquidity being pumped into the system.

The European Central Bank’s Villeroy – the governor of the Bank of France – said in all likelihood more stimulus is on the way. Overnight we’ve also heard from the Bank of Japan and PBOC, both of which have stressed they will keep their hands on the pump no matter what.

Global stocks have begun the week on a very solid footing and taken a leg higher to set new post-Covid highs as economies start to reopen and investors shrug off the simmering tensions over Hong Kong. The Nikkei rose over 2% to its best level since early March as Asian equities made broad gains with Japan ending its state of emergency.

Germany’s DAX extended Monday’s almost 3% gain, rallying 0.75% more on Tuesday morning. US futures are indicating the S&P 500 will recover 3,000 and look to take out the 200-day simple moving average, which would be its highest since March 5th. The FTSE 100 rallied 2% to 6100 as it played catch up to Europe’s Monday gains.

Travel & leisure are leading the charge today, with IAGTui, easyJet, InterContinental Hotels all posting double-digit percentage gains to top the index movers. Strength in this sector underscores confidence among investors that economies are reopening, and consumers are keen to travel.

There is a lot more hope that travel restrictions across Europe will be eased in time for the summer holidays. If the summer holiday season can be saved it would be a big plus after most of us wrote it off. Some people are a lot more willing to travel long distance than others. Tui rose 35% in London and was 17% higher in Frankfurt having gained on Monday.

Aston Martin shares shot up 30% after Andy Palmer walked the plank. It’s a pretty damning indictment of his tenure that the shares jumped this much after news of his sacking. Mercedes AMG stalwart Tobias Moers picks up the chalice.

Aston Martin has been one of the worst stock listings in living memory. In spite of rocketing higher today they are still worth a tenth of the IPO price – listing at about £5.50 today they are worth 45p. Things had already got pretty horrendous before this year; the coronavirus outbreak has been the coup de grace.

Across global equity benchmarks the indices are at or testing these March 5/6th-9th gaps. Momentum can see this run a bit more but there are still concerns that economic reality will catch up in the coming months and should there be secondary and tertiary waves of the virus it will see risk assets reverse.

There are many positives for markets to latch on to: Japan ended its nationwide emergency, England will reopen non-essential shops by Jun 15th, whilst Dubai and Hong Kong are easing lockdown measures.

The death rate in the US slowed to a 2-month low but may have been distorted by the Memorial Day holiday weekend seeing fewer cases reported. Germany’s Ifo business survey indicated things might not be as bad as feared. Spain is looking to save its summer holiday season by ending the quarantine of arrivals by July 1st.

There are hopes too on the medical front: Novavax has begun clinical trials of its Covid-19 vaccine, although Japan has postponed approval of the Avigan drug for the treatment of the coronavirus. The WHO has suspended trials of hydroxychloroquine – take note Donald Trump.

Yet there are lots of concerns still for the markets. Singapore lowered its GDP estimate to fall by as much as 7% this year and clearly the optimism being shown in equity markets is at odds with what’s happening on the ground.

Moreover, the situation in Hong Kong needs to be monitored and has the potential to become a lot more dangerous, whilst US-China tensions seem set to get a lot worse as we run into the US presidential election. Secondary and tertiary coronavirus waves are another significant risk to the global economy.

Oil was steady but WTI (Aug) does seem to be running into resistance $35 at the lower end of the gap, which could offer the opportunity for a pullback. Indications that Russia has cut output to 8.5m bpd, complying with its side of the OPEC+ deal, were encouraging. There are signs production cuts are coming through and the key focus will be on the pace of the demand recovery through the summer.

In FX, the euro was moving higher with EURUSD back towards the top of its 2-month range at little above 1.09 despite worries about the Eurozone rescue package. The ‘frugal four’ – Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden – are not playing ball with the French and Germans, putting forward a counterproposal to the ‘Merkon’ €500bn bailout fund.

The four countries said they would not agree to a mutualization of debt, nor an increase in the EU budget. Talks on the EU Budget continue this week but despite the four holdouts, the change of tune by Frau Merkel has completely altered the balance.

GBPUSD was higher in early trade, taking out 1.2250 to move back to 1.2260. The May 19th high just a whisker off 1.23 is the upside target and could open path back to 1.2360.

Michael Gove and Brexit negotiator David Frost will appear before MPs on Wednesday and despite the furore over the PM’s chief adviser, likely toe the Cummings line: the UK is taking a tough line and does not see a reason to budge from this.

Chart: SPX what comes next… leg higher to 3140, or retest 2800? The 200-day simple moving average looks more like a resistance after a 35% run off the March trough. Previously this level has seen rallies run out of steam.

Euro wobbles ahead of German court ruling, risk appetite improves

Morning Note

Attention this morning was on the German constitutional court and its ruling on the ECB’s long-standing bond buying programme. This could limit the amount of bonds the Bundesbank can buy, potentially creating a rift with the ECB and other member states. The real concern is whether it could affect the €750bn Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP), which has much looser rules than other QE programmes.

 

It’s high stakes – if the court blocks the Bundesbank from participating in QE it would be curtains for the ECB and creates significant Eurozone breakup risks. The good news is that the judges probably realise this. High stakes but the risk of serious ructions appears low.  The European Court of Justice has already ruled in favour of the ECB’s bond buying, so it’s hoped the German court will not rock the boat at this critical moment.

 

EURUSD was lower, breaking down at the 1.09 support having failed to sustain the move above 1.10 last week, which could open move back to around 1.0810. The euro seems to be displaying some degree of stress this morning ahead of the German court ruling. 

 

European markets rose after Asian equities made some gains. Markets in Japan, South Korea and China were shut for a holiday, but Hong Kong and Sydney rose. Wall Street closed a little higher after bulls pushed the S&P 500 into positive territory only in the final hour of trading yesterday. There is a little more risk appetite as oil prices climb. 

 

The Reserve Bank of Australia left rates on hold at the record low 0.25% and seems to be well dug in here. The RBA won’t go negative and won’t hike until the Covid-19 crisis is well in the rear view mirror. This is a pattern being repeated by most major central banks. 

 

Oil continues to make steady gains with front month WTI to $22 on hopes lockdowns are being lifted. The idea that we will be moving around anything like as much as before is fanciful, at least in the near term. New Zealand is going to be shut to foreigners – except perhaps their pan-Tasman pals – for a long time to come, the prime minister says. Ryanair has reported passenger numbers in April fell 99.6% and sees minimal traffic in May and June. Carnival is getting cruises going again – tentatively – in August. New car registrations in the UK collapsed in April, falling 97% to just 4,000 vehicles.

API data later today could show a very small build in inventories, but as always we prefer to look at tomorrow’s EIA figures. A small build would give more hope to oil bulls that the glut is not as bad as feared, however I would caution that we are simply seeing inventories naturally build more slowly as we approach tank tops.

Chart: EURUSD wobbles

Stocks head lower after Gilead, EU disappointments

Morning Note

US stocks faded and European equity markets are broadly weaker following on reports Gilead’s Remdesivir drug isn’t what it was cracked up to be. It had been indications of early positive results for treating Covid-19 patients with the drug that sent markets up at the tail end of last week. We should note these are all leaked reports and the data is sketchy at best. What it shows is how the market is prepared to read into positive vaccine or anti-viral news with extreme optimism, setting the bar high for disappointment.

Data on the economy isn’t offering any disappointment – the bar is already so low that nothing can really be really upsetting. US initial jobless claims rose by more than 4m again, taking total unemployment claims to 26m from Covid-19. UK retail sales fell by a record 5.1% in March, but a drop of this magnitude was widely anticipated. Consumer confidence didn’t decline, but held steady at an 11-year low at -34.

Stimulus is being worked out. The US House of Representatives on Thursday approved the $484bn package for small businesses and hospitals.  More will be needed, you feel. Today’s data of note is the US durable goods orders, which are seen falling 12%, with the important core reading down 6%.

In Europe, Angela Merkel made sure Germany’s economic weight will stand behind a €1tn package for the Eurozone to prevent weaker economies from recovering a lot more slowly than richer ones. This will be defining moment for the EU – if it cannot pull together now, what is the point of it? Of course, there are still strong differences between nations on the actual size and nature of the fund. Critically, we don’t know whether cash will be dispensed as loans or grants. There was a definite sense from Thursday’s meeting of the EU kicking the can down the road. The problem for the EU and the euro is that we’re heading towards a world debt monetization and it cannot take part. German and Italian spreads widened.  Support needs to be agred – Lufthansa today says it will run out cash in weeks.

The euro continues to come under pressure on the disappointment and yesterday’s PMI horror show. Support at the early Apr lows around 1.07750 was tested as I suggested in yesterday’s note, which could open up a move back to 1.0640 without much support in the way.

Heading into the final day of trading for the week, the UK was outperforming – the Dow down 3% this week, while the FTSE was about 0.7% higher. The FTSE 100 shed about 100 points though in early trade Friday to give up its 5800 handle and head for a weekly loss.

Overall, it’s been a pretty indecisive week for indices with no significant developments in terms of the virus or economic data. It’s interesting that in terms of earnings releases, we are not seeing much other than a huge amount of uncertainty as companies scrap guidance. American Express is the main large cap reporting today. It’s already warned that Covid-19 would hit payments as lockdown measures force people to stay home. The momentum of the rally from the trough has faded this week and could see stocks roll over next week if there no more good news. It’s either a bullish flag pause, or a roll over to be signalled by a MACD bearish crossover. The question is do you think stocks should be down 10% or 20% from the all-time highs?

DAX: momentum fading

S&P 500: 50-day SMA proves the resistance with 2800. Watch the MACD.

Oil is proving to be more stable. Oklahoma’s energy regulator has said producers can close wells without losing their licences. Donald Trump started to look desperate, stoking tensions with Iran. You would not be surprised if it were a dastardly plan to boost oil prices. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin suggested the White House was looking at a bailout for the oil industry.

Today’s Baker Hughes rig count will be closely watched to see how much production is being shut in. Last week’s figures showed the sharpest decline in active rigs for 5 years, falling 66 to 438, around half the number drilling for oil the same time a year ago.

Boris Johnson will suspend Parliament ahead of Brexit deadline

Forex

Opponents of Brexit are furious after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured the Queen’s permission to suspend Parliament for over four weeks in the run-up to the October 31st Brexit deadline.

Those fearing a hard Brexit have been dealt another blow this week. The Prime Minister will suspend Parliament between mid-September and October, drastically limiting the amount of time opposition MPs have to block his attempts to walk away from the EU with no deal in place.

Although Parliament does traditionally close before the annual Queen’s Speech, this year scheduled for October 14th, the proximity to the Brexit deadline has caused outrage amongst the opposition.

Sterling plunged yesterday on the news, dropping as low as 1.2155 before paring losses, although not enough to prevent it from wiping out all of Tuesday gains by the close of trading. The weakness in the pound has been a small factor today in pushing the FTSE 100 up 1.1% to a five-day high just under resistance at 7,200.

Is this the final nail in the coffin for softer Brexit hopes?

The gloves are really coming off now. Such was the outrage caused by Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament that rebel MPs from his own party joined forces with the opposition to call for a legal injunction to stop it from happening.

With just a couple of weeks to make a move, opponents of a no deal Brexit may have to strike hard and fast. Markets may bet that the opposition will finally be compelled to act decisively – Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has suggested he will call a vote of no confidence in the government when the time is right. He may not have much time left to choose from.

Even if a vote is called though, Johnson could refuse to hold an election until after Brexit has taken place. Remain-supporting MPs are running out of time and options. The markets are firmly pricing in a no deal Brexit, and this seems to be an almost-certainty unless the EU caves at the last second.

However, the latest developments suggest that tensions could continue after the UK has officially departed. A general election could be on the way. The battle for Brexit looks almost won, but the battle for No. 10 may be just about to start.

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