Stocks retreat before ECB, US + UK jobless numbers in focus

Morning Note

European stocks pulled back a little after a rally in the previous session as upward pressure on equities continues to hold firm despite rising case numbers as hopes for a vaccine are the new hopes for a US-China trade deal. Moderna has reported encouraging results from initial trials, while there is a lot of hope being pinned on AstraZeneca’s phase one trials, results of which are due to be published July 20th.

Whilst nothing is certain, it seems things are moving in the right direction for a vaccine to emerge by next year.

Shanghai fell 4% and Hong Kong was down almost 2% overnight after a mixed bag of Chinese economic data. US stocks rallied yesterday with the S&P 500 posting its highest close since the June peak, though futures point to the index opening around 20 points lower. The Dow is seen opening about 200 points lower.

UK jobless data reveals first wage drop in six years

The number of employees on payrolls in the UK fell by 650,000 between March and June, but the worst of the employment is still in front of us. Vacancies are at their lowest level since records began in 2001, earnings fell for the first time in six years, and the ONS noted that the standard definition of unemployment does not include half a million employees temporarily away from their jobs specifically for coronavirus-related reasons, who are receiving no pay while their job was on hold.

Unemployment claims were better than feared but we can pin this on furlough schemes which are extending the pretence, delaying the worst and providing a soft landing; but the jobless numbers clearly do not reflect the true extent of what’s coming. Meanwhile the number of hours worked – a key metric for the nation’s productivity – has collapsed.

China GDP rebounds, consumption lags

Chinese GDP grew 3.2% in Q2, up from the –6.8% contraction in Q1, which was better than forecast, albeit we apply the usual caveats about Chinese economic data. Industrial production rebounded 4.8%, but retail sales were down –1.8% vs an expected +0.3% improvement.  Richemont flagged a strong recovery in China despite sales globally falling 47% in its first quarter, with luxury goods stocks weaker. Burberry shares fell another 3%.

US data was solid enough, with industrial production +5.4% in June whilst the Empire State manufacturing index hit 17.2, a beat on the 10 expected and a big jump from the –0.2 in the prior month. It remains to seen however to what extent the rate of change in the recovery turns lower as data starts to reflect the ‘second wave’ of cases and the imposing of some fresh lockdown restrictions in some key states.

In the Fed’s Beige Book, the Dallas Fed noted that while the outlook has improved, the upward trend in new COVID-19 cases has increased uncertainty. “Economic activity increased in almost all Districts, but remained well below where it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the national summary read.

US-China tensions are bubbling away – plans by the White House to impose travel restrictions on millions of Chinese Communist party members is the latest in the saga.

Goldman Sachs earnings crushed expectations with a stunning quarter of trading revenues. Bond trading revenue jump 150% to $4.24bn, while equities trading revenue climbed 46% to $2.94bn. For me all it did was underscore the divergence we are seeing between the real economy and the market, which is benefitting hugely from two-pronged monetary and fiscal stimulus.

Oil still rangebound after OPEC agrees to begin tapering production cuts

Oil couldn’t break free from its narrow range as OPEC+ extended cuts but began tapering with production curbs in August down from 9.7m barrels per day to 7.7m bpd, although the total effective cuts will be around 8.1m-8.3m barrels a day as countries which overproduced in May and June would make additional compensation cuts in August and September. OPEC will need to play this carefully – the longer its barrels are off the market the more it could encourage higher cost US oil to come back on.

Inventory data from the States was bullish with the –7.5m drawdown much higher than the –1.3m expected. Gasoline inventories also fell by more than expected at –3m. WTI (Aug) rallied from the medium-term trend support around $39.20 yesterday to press on the $41 handle but it continues to lack momentum – the CCI divergence on the daily timeframe chart points to the rally running out of legs and buyer exhaustion that could call for a further pullback.

In focus today: ECB, Netflix, US jobless claims and retail sales

Lots coming up today…

ECB meeting: Following the top-up to the PEPP programme in June to €1.35tn, the European Central Bank should be keeping its powder dry with the key EU summit starting tomorrow to hammer out the budget.

I expect Christine Lagarde to stress the importance of the fiscal side and leave policy unchanged but stress that ECB’s accommodative position – this is not the time for a discussion of tapering or the details of how much of the envelope you need to use.

In a recent interview she said the central bank had ‘done so much that we have quite a bit of time to assess [the incoming economic data] carefully’. The EU recovery fund is more important for EUR crosses right now – agreement this week may push EURUSD beyond the key 1.15 level.

Netflix earnings: The ultimate stay-at-home company, Netflix (NFLX) has made hay in the pandemic, with the stock hitting an all-time high and clearing $520. In the March quarter, Netflix added 15.77m new subscribers, which was more than double the original forecast of 7m net adds.

The company has forecast 7.5m new adds in the June quarter and may easily beat this with around 10m subscriber additions.  Sequentially lower net adds should not weigh on the stock given the exceptional performance in the first quarter. ARPU could benefit from a depreciation in the dollar since it last reported.

As Netflix itself noted in its Q1 report, there is a lot of unknown to its forecasts. “Given the uncertainty on home confinement timing, this is mostly guesswork. The actual Q2 numbers could end up well below or well above that, depending on many factors including when people can go back to their social lives in various countries and how much people take a break from television after the lockdown.”

The market expects $6.1bn in sales and EPS of $1.8, with paid subscribers to hit 190m.

US weekly unemployment claims: Last Thursday’s data was better than expected for the week ending Jun 27th, however the total number of people claiming benefits in all programmes, including both regular state and all others, and including Covid-related programmes, rose 1.4m to 32.9m in the week to Jun 20th.

Initial claims today are seen falling again to 1250k from 1314k the previous week, with continuing claims seen down to 17500k from 18062k last week.

US retail sales: Expect to see continued improvement as the economy recovers off the lockdown lows. Retail sales should print another strong reading as consumers binge on their $600-a-week stimulus checks, which are due to finish this month.

German court ruling update

Forex

The euro and Euro-area sovereign bonds dropped but were not exactly going into freefall after the German constitutional court gave a mixed ruling on the ECB’s bond buying programme. Judges said the asset purchase programme partially violated the German constitution, but on a key point it did not say the ECB’s actions constituted monetary financing. And it said the ruling has no bearing on the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme for the Covid-19 response.

Relating to long-standing Public Sector Purchase Programme going back some years under Mario Draghi, the court said the ECB needs to show that the scheme is ‘not disproportionate to the economic and fiscal policy effects.

Essentially the Bundesbank won’t be allowed to take part in PSPP unless the ECB proves, within the next three months, that QE was proportionate. If not, the Bundesbank won’t be allowed to take part, and would need to pay back bonds already bought under the scheme.

Without being German constitutional experts, it seems to boil down to the central bank ‘proving’ to a German constitutional court that its actions were taken in good faith and were proportional to the economic risks. Are the German judges saying the ECB didn’t know what it was doing? How do you retrospectively argue that your actions were proportionate? It seems absurd to think that the ECB ever committed to anything that it considered disproportionate.

PEPP is not affected by the decision, despite the looser rules. This may imply that it is already viewed as ‘proportionate’, in the eyes of the judges. However, the point was this case dates back years to PSPP and never was about PEPP – what is to stop cases being lodged now in relation to PEPP?

Fundamentally, anything that throws doubt on the ability of the ECB to provide the backstop to the bond market is a concern. The market is trying to figure this one out as the ruling is complex. For now, downside risks persist for the euro and bonds, especially peripheral debt, will be under pressure. We await the ECB’s response with the utmost interest.

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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