Equities hold ranges, gold jumps as US real yields sink

Morning Note

Equity markets are still looking for direction as they flit about the middle of recent ranges. Fear of a second wave of cases is denting the mood today, as the so-called R-number in Germany jumps to 2.88, US cases hit the highest level since early May, and Apple closes more stores in the US.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said the US is preparing for a second wave in the autumn – it’s debatable whether the current spike in cases in some states is still part of the first wave. Equity markets remain sensitive to headline risk around virus numbers, stimulus and economic data, but we are still awaiting signs of whether the strong uptrend reasserts itself or whether we see a more serious pullback.

Looking at the pullback over the second week of June, the major indices are still hovering either side of the 50% retracement of the move. Momentum may start to build to the downside should cases rise, and restrictions are re-imposed. For now, the indices are simply bouncing around these ranges. The question is whether markets finally catch up with the real economy – the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street is a worry for those who think the market has rallied too far, too fast.

Economic data will continue to show a rebound, glossing over the fact that the numbers on the whole still indicate a severe recession. However, to make the bull case – the Fed and central bank peers are on hand and the old maxim still stands: don’t fight the Fed. Meanwhile there are record amounts of cash sitting on the side lines and bond yields on the floor – and will be for a long while – making equities (FTSE 100 dividend yield at 4% for example), more appealing.

The FTSE 100 opened down 1% and tested the 50% line at 6,223, whilst the DAX pulled away from its 50% level around 12,250 ahead of the open to fall through 12,200 before paring the losses. Asian markets were softer, whilst US futures indicated a lower open after falling on Friday – ex-tech.

Oil (WTI – Aug) ran out of gas as it tried to clear the Jun peak at $40.66 but remains reasonably well supported around the $39-40 level. We look at a potential double top formation that could suggest a pullback to the neckline support at $35. Imposing fresh restrictions on movement may affect sentiment ahead of any impact on demand itself, but OPEC+ cuts are starting to feed through to the market and we could be in a state of undersupply before long.

The risk-off tone helped lift gold to break free of the $1745 resistance, before pulling back to test this level again. The rally fizzled before the top of the recent range and recent multi-year highs were achieved at $1764. Whilst benchmark yields have not moved aggressively lower, with US 10s at 0.7%, real yields as indicated by the Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) are weaker. 10yr TIPS moved sharply lower over the last two US sessions, from –0.52% to –0.6%, marking a new low for the year and taking these ‘real yields’ the lowest they’ve been since 2013.

Real yields are currently negative all the way out to 30 years.

In FX, GBPUSD started the week lower but has pulled away off the bottom a little. The momentum however remains to the downside after the failure to recover 1.2450. Bulls will need to clear the last swing high at this level to end the downtrend, though this morning the 1.24 round number is the first hurdle and is offering resistance.

CFTC data shows speculative positioning remains net short on GBP. Meanwhile net long positioning on the euro has jumped to over 117k contracts, from a steady 70-80k through May. Nevertheless, the current trend remains south though the 1.12 round number is acting support – the question is having seen the 1.1230 long-term Fib level broken, do we now and perhaps test the late March high at 1.1150.

Second wave fears weigh on risk

Morning Note

The dreaded second wave: Houston is weighing a new lockdown as it warns of a disaster in-waiting. Other states with large populations and economies like California and Florida are also worried about rising Covid case numbers. Across Europe the reopening continues with little to suggest of a disastrous second wave.

Stocks went into freefall yesterday as the untruths of the reopening trade got found and this particular bubble got pricked. As we discussed, fears of a second wave combined with the Fed well and truly killing off the V-shaped recovery idea.

The Dow tumbled nearly 7%, whilst the S&P 500 fell almost 6%. The forward PE multiple on the latter – which I like to track as a broad indicator of whether stocks are overbought – has retreated a touch but at 23+, it’s still rather pricey. The Vix shot above 40.

Futures indicated a little higher but I don’t fancy the chances heading into the weekend. You could say that Thursday’s tumble was basically just the Fed trade and has now played out so we need to look for new information to act as a catalyst, but the second wave fears persist.

European stocks volatile on the open

European stocks also got whacked and were extremely volatile in the first hour of trading on Friday as the bulls and bears pull either end of the rope.  The bears were winning at time of writing. We do seem to be at a key moment as the market makes up its mind – are we due a proper retracement of the recent rally or is this just a normal pullback before resumption of the trend higher. I would tend to favour the former.

The good news for the likes of the FTSE is that it’s underperformed since the March trough, versus its US counterparts. It’s also got an appealing dividend yield, despite some very noteworthy cuts and the prospect of BP likely needing to cut its pay-outs. From a technical point of view there seems to be strong support just a little below where it’s currently trading.

UK posts record GDP drop in April

ONS data shows the UK economy declined over 20% in April, the worst decline on record. It’s backward-looking of course, but it underlines how much of a recovery is required to get back to normal. The slow lifting of restrictions – pubs and cafes are still not open – means the UK may endure a wider bottom than many others, making recovery all the slower. All this before the jobs Armageddon this autumn when furlough support ends.

Chart: FTSE 100. The index has broken out of the channel on the downside. The three black crows candle pattern signal weakness and when combined with the bearish MACD crossover in overbought levels, suggest a pullback is not done yet. There is decent support around the previous Fib support level and the 50-day simple moving average in the 5800-5900 region.

Chart: S&P 500. The broad index closed at the lows, but bulls will be looking for the 200-day moving average around 3020 to hold. The area around 2975 at the bottom of the channel still looks appealing and if breached could act as a gateway to 2800. Another bearish MACD crossover in overbought levels signal weakness and a retrace of some of the recent rally.

Oil fell with other risk assets. WTI for August has moved back to test the $35 support level, with a potential retreat to the $31.50 area next if the trend continues. A bearish MACD crossover is again evident, signalling weakness.

Stocks off a little at month end, US-China tensions rise

Morning Note

What did they do just when everything looked so dark?
Man, they said “We’d better accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative”

Stocks are ending May on a slightly downbeat note, but investors have definitely been accentuating the positive this week and for the whole of May.

Thank goodness, Covid-19 is getting bumped off the headlines; trouble is it’s not for good news. At last though we are seeing some caution displayed in the markets over China’s decision to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong and the ensuing ramp up in US-China tensions.

US stock markets close in the red, Trump to give press conference on China

US stocks were positive for most of Thursday before sharply reversing in the last hour and closing in the red, after the White House announced that Donald Trump would hold a press conference on China on Friday. ‘We are not happy with China. We are not happy with what’s happened’, he said. The UK, which signed a joint statement condemning China for its actions with Australia, Canada and the US, is opening the door to citizenship for 300,000 Hong Kong residents.

Given how stretched valuations have become, worries about US-China tensions don’t seem fairly priced in. As previously noted, investors need to be prepared for things to get worse from here, particularly given the back drop of a looming election for a second term, the worst recession in memory and 100,000 deaths from Covid – blamed on China – and the trade war, which is still rumbling on.

The pressure on Donald Trump at home is high. The press conference today will likely see Trump increase the war of words with China but he could go further an announce further sanctions on individuals associated with law, or revoke Hong Kong’s special status with the US on trade.

The S&P 500 was up most of the session but closed 6 points lower at the death, whilst the Dow fell 0.6% to 25,400, crumbling 300 points in the last 45 minutes of trading on the news of the White House presser.

Overnight, shares in Hong Kong fell again. European equities followed suit on Friday, declining by around 1% after a decent run in the previous session. The FTSE 100 faded off the 6200 handle reclaimed on Thursday. Hong Kong and China focused HSBC was down another 2.5%. But the FTSE was still headed for a roughly 200-point gain this week. European equities are still firmly higher this week as investors rotated somewhat away from the Covid/tech/quality play and back into cyclicals as economies reopen without undue rises in cases.

The Nasdaq, which has notably outperformed on a year to date basis, has markedly underperformed benchmarks this week. Remember it’s the last day of the month of May – it’s been a solid week and month for equities so investors may seek to take a little risk off the table going into the weekend and into June. The Hong Kong/US/China situation is all the excuse needed.

Data continues to show the dire economic impact of Covid-19

The economic data still stinks. 1 in 4 Americans have lost their jobs since Covid hit. US initial jobless claims rose another 2m to top 40m. But it’s slowing, with the weekly count down again for the 8th straight week. Moreover, continuing claims fell 3.9m to 21.1m, which indicates the labour force is returning – hiring is beating firing again, but it will be a long slow process to recover the 40.8m jobs lost, far longer than it took to lose them. A portion will be lost forever.

The US economy slowed more than previously thought, with the second GDP print for Q1 at -5%, vs 4.8% on the initial print. The Atlanta Fed GDPNow model forecasts Q2 GDP down 40.8%.

French GDP in the first quarter was down just 5.3% vs the 5.8% initially printed. Retail sales and industrial production in Japan both declined by more than 9%. Retail sales in Germany dropped 5.3% in April, not as bad as the -12% forecast – spendthrifts! Meanwhile those frugal French consumers spent even less than forecast, with spending down more than 20% vs a 15% declined expected. France is though reopening its culturally vital bars, restaurants and cafes from next week, so that should get consumers parting with a few more sous.

Dollar offered despite risk-off trade in equities

Despite the risk-off to trade in equities the dollar was offered into the month end. The euro extended its rally after breaking the 200-day moving average yesterday, with EURUSD pushing up to 2-month highs at 1.11. The March peak at 1.1150 is the next target. Sterling was also firmer against the buck, with GBPUSD recovering the 1.23 handle, trying to hold the 50-day line as support.

Shares in Twitter declined by more than 4% as Donald Trump signed an executive order that paves the way for legislation to tighten rules for social media platforms around third party content liability. It’s probably all a lot of hot air and distraction as he pursues a personal vendetta following the fact check warning on a couple of his tweets. Nevertheless, we have consistently warned that social media companies will need to face up to more and more scrutiny and tighter regulation around content distribution and the use of personal data.

Oil first fell but since recovered after EIA figures showed a build in crude oil inventories. Crude stocks rose 7.9m barrels, though inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma, declined by 3.4m. WTI (Aug) was hovering around $33 at send time, just about slap in the middle of its consolidation range.

Equity indices clear big hurdles even as Hong Kong tensions simmer

Morning Note

Tensions between the US and China are worsening, with the two sides clashing at the UN over Hong Kong. China rejected a US proposal for the Security Council to meet over the issue, whilst US secretary of state Mike Pompeo declared that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from Beijing. China’s ‘parliament’ this morning approved the controversial national security legislation for the territory.

We also note reports this morning that China escorted a US navy ship out of its waters. Meanwhile Taiwan is to buy Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the US, which is likely to further rile Beijing. Tensions are showing signs they could boil over – we cannot play down the importance of an embattled US president facing a national crisis at home in an election year – one he can blame on his chief geopolitical adversary. Expect more sabre rattling.

Shares in Hong Kong and Taiwan fell, whilst Japanese equities rose by more than 2% in a mixed session overnight in Asia. The FTSE 100 rallied towards 6200 on the open, but shares in Standard Chartered and HSBC fell, signalling investor concern about what’s going on in Hong Kong.

Nevertheless, equity markets continue to strengthen and move out of recent ranges and clear important technical resistance. Confidence in equity markets is strong thanks more stimulus and signs economies are reopening quicker.  A resurgence in cases in South Korea is a worry.

Yesterday, US stocks surged with the S&P 500 closing above 3,000 for its best finish since March 2nd, whilst the Dow added over 500 points to clear 25k at stumps. The S&P 500 cleared the 200-day moving average and is now trading with a forward PE multiple of about 24x – making it look decidedly pricey.

European followed Wall Street higher with broad-based gains. The DAX yesterday closed above the 61.8% retracement around 11,581 and extended gains through the 11,700 level. The FTSE 100 thrust towards 6200 this morning, hitting its highest intra-day level since March 10th. The 50% retracement around 6250 is the next target before bulls can seek to clear the gap to the March 6th close at 6,462.

EasyJet is planning to reduce its fleet by 51 and cut up to 30% of staff. This is the big fear playing out – temporary furlough becomes permanent firing once businesses figure out that demand has vanished. Whilst airlines will feel this more than just about any other sector, this trend will be seen in a wide range of industries, albeit to a lesser extent.

Shares in EZJ rose 8% – cost cuts are welcome of course for investors, but also the indication of running at 30% of capacity over the summer is better than had been feared. Efforts by the likes of Greece and Spain to salvage the summer season will help a lot. IAG and Ryanair shares rose 2-3%.

Twitter shares fell and were down more in after-hours trading after Donald Trump threatened to shut down social media sites that stifle conservative voices. Having been sanctioned by Twitter with fact-check warnings, the president is very unhappy. It hurts his ego and it blunts his most effective tool.

The White House said the president will sign an executive order on social media today. Facebook shares were also lower yesterday and extended losses in after-hours trade. Will Trump try to silence Twitter and Facebook? No, but he can put more of a regulatory squeeze on them and raise their costs.

Europe’s bailout proposals were greeted with optimism, but the frugal four countries of Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands did not seem terribly impressed at plans that will raise their budget contributions. They will need to be brought round. Estonia has also said it won’t vote for the proposals. Work to be done – getting all countries on board with a complex budget takes a long time in the best of circumstances, let alone amid a dreadful recession.

The euro has largely held gains after rising on the EU’s budget plans. EURUSD firmed above 1.10 but is struggling to clear the 200-day moving average around 1.1010. Bulls need to see a confirmed push above this to unlock the path back to 1.1150, the March swing high. Failure calls for retest of recent swing lows at 1.0880.

Sterling was steady with GBPUSD around 1.2270 after yesterday giving up the 1.23 handle and testing support at 1.220 following Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator gave a pretty downbeat assessment of trade talks to MPs.

Today’s data focuses on the US weekly unemployment claims, which are forecast at +2.1m. As we enter the summer and states reopen, the hiring will gradually overtake the firing but we are not yet there. Durable goods orders – an important leading indicator of activity – are seen at –19% month-on-month with the core reading seen at –14.8%. A second print of the US Q1 GDP is seen steady at –4.8%.

Oil dived and took a look at last week’s lows as API figures showed a surprise build in crude inventories in the US. Stocks rose by 8.7m in the week ending May 22nd, vs expectations for a draw of 2.5m barrels. The build in stocks means the EIA data today will be more closely monitored than usual, given that expected drawing down of inventories has underpinned the resurgence in crude pricing. WTI (Aug) slipped back to $31.60, just a little short of the May 22nd swing low.

Stocks stage fightback, Trump raises China stakes

Morning Note

US stocks staged a mighty comeback and closed at the highs as beaten-up financials managed to recover ground. The S&P 500 traded under the 50% retracement level at 2790, dipping as low as 2766 as US jobless claims rose by another 3m, before rallying to close up 1% at 2852. Financials, which have failed to really take part in the rally since March, led the way as Wells Fargo rose 6.8% and Bank of America and JPMorgan both rallied 4%. Energy stocks also firmed as oil prices rallied.

European indices were softer on Thursday but managed to recover a little ground in early trade on Friday. The FTSE 100 rose over 1% to clear 5,800, with the DAX up a similar amount and trying gamely to recover 10,500. Asian shares have largely drifted into the weekend with no clear direction.

The rally for Wall Street snapped a 3-day losing streak but the indices are still on for the worst weekly performance since mid-March. We’re still in this tug-of-war phase as the real-world impacts of Covid-19 run up against the stimulus and central bank support. Markets are still trying to figure it all out.  SPX needs to rally to 2915 today to finish the week flat, while the FTSE 100 requires 5,935.

The deterioration in US-China relations is another worry for investors, with Donald Trump saying he doesn’t even want to speak to President Xi and threated to ‘cut off’ China ties. He’s not angry, he just ‘very disappointed’. As I’ve pointed out in a past note, in an election year with the economy suffering from the worst recession in memory, Trump is likely to go very hard against China, particularly as this has bi-partisan support and polls indicate anti-China feeling running high. This will be partly a political game, partly what the US ought to be doing anyway, but either way it will likely provide yet another downside risk for investors.

Neckline support of the head and shoulders pattern is feeling pressure but yesterday’s rally is positive for bulls. Expect further push-and-pull around this region.

Overnight data showed Chinese factory output rise while consumer demand slowed. Retail sales declined 7.5% vs 7% expected in April. US retail sales today  are forecast at -12%, or -8.6% for the core reading.

Oil put on a good show with front month WTI rising above $28. The August WTI crude oil contract trades a little higher than $29, meaning the contango spread has narrowed by two-thirds in the last week. Price action suggests traders are far less worried about the underlying demand and storage constraints that have dogged prices for the last couple of months.

In FX, as flagged sterling tested the Apr 6th low, which has held for the time being and GBPUSD has recovered the 1.22 handle. Risks look to the downside, but short-term momentum looks like we could see a nudge up.

Gold has driven off the support and was last up a $1736. Whilst Covid-19 is initially a deflationary shock (negative for gold), the extent to which governments have fired up the printing presses and the fact that monetization of this debt seems the only way out, a significant period of inflation could be around the corner. Gold is still the best hedge against inflation. The Apr 23rd high at $1738 is first test before a retest of the previous top at $1747 and then $1750 to call for a breakout to $1800.

FTSE 100 completes 400pt round trip this week

Morning Note

Stocks turned broadly weaker yesterday as investors reacted to some stinky data from Europe and the US. Overnight Asian data has also had the whiff of soft cheese that’s been left out too long. Stocks are softer once more, though most of Europe is on holiday so the focus is on London until New York opens.

The S&P 500 eased back almost 1% to relinquish the 61.8% retracement at 2934 but closing at 2912 it finished well off the lows. Both the Dow and the S&P 500 recorded their best months since 1987 as equity markets rebounded on central bank largesse, government bailouts and the outperformance of US tech over just about anything else. The tech-heavy Nasdaq was up 19% for the month and is nearly flat for the year. It’s shame we don’t really have any tech firms left, as nothing else is growing.

The FTSE 100 endured a terrible session, finishing 3.5% weaker as Shell tumbled, just holding onto 5900 and the 38.2% retracement of the drawdown. At Friday’s open the index shipped another 2% to break under 5800 and move back to where it opened on Monday at 5,752, completing a 400-pt round trip this week. This will be a level bulls will seek to defend. RBS shares rallied 3%, whilst Lloyds fell 4%. RBS said profits fell 59% to £288m as it set aside £800 for loan losses. But revenues were down just 1.6% at £3.2bn – Lloyds reported an 11% decline in revenues. Something doesn’t look right.

South Korean exports declined 24.3%, the worst slump in 11 years. Japanese factory activity fell to its lowest since 2009. The AIG Australian PMI dropped by 17.9 points to 35.8 in April, its largest month-to-month fall in the 28 years since it began. New Zealand consumer confidence fell 21 points in April to 84.8, where it troughed in 2008. Today’s main event will be the US ISM manufacturing PMI, which is seen declining to 36.7 from 49.1 a month ago.

Donald Trump is threatening new tariffs on China in retaliation for the coronavirus – trade tensions back on the agenda won’t be terribly positive for risk appetite but for now remains something on the margins. But the US and Europe will demand China steps up – if we talk about what permanent changes are taking place or what trends have accelerated sharply, then deglobalisation has to be at the forefront.

Apple shares declined in extended trading after it reported a slowdown in revenue growth and declined to offer guidance for the June quarter. It will however continue to buy back stock and increased its share repurchase programme by $50bn. Revenues from iPhones declined 7% to $29bn, but Services revenues rose 16% to $13.3bn. Overall revenue growth was down to +0.5% vs 9% in the previous quarter.

Amazon shares also dipped after hours as it warned massive costs incurred because of Covid-19 could lead it to a first quarterly loss in 5 years. Amazon always spends big when required and is prepared to make the investment at the expense of short-term earnings per share metrics.

Despite these results, both Apple and Amazon are in the camp where you think they will be thriving under the new world order. More smartphone time – yes, more home delivery – yes, more cloud servers required – yes.

Crude oil continues to find bid with front month WTI running to $20 before dropping back to $19. Crude prices are stabilising as OPEC+ cuts begin to take effect this month, potentially easing the supply-demand imbalance. Markets are also more confident about US states reopening for business, which will fuel demand for crude products like gasoline. Texas oil regulators don’t seem prepared to mandate production cuts, with chairman Wayne Christian against plans for 1m bpd reduction.

In FX, yesterday saw a pretty aggressive 4pm fix as we approached the month end. GBPUSD made a big-figure move and rallied through 1.25 and beyond 1.26 but turned back as it approached the Apr 14th swing high at 1.2650 and the 200-day SMA. It looked an easy fade but the euro also spiked but has held its gains, with EURUSD trading at 1.0960, having briefly dipped to 1.0830 after the ECB decision.

Charts

GBPUSD fades after hitting near-term resistance

EURUSD – clears 50-day SMA, looking to scale Apr 14th high

Wall St opens weaker on hangover for risk assets

Equities

Yesterday’s risk party has left participants with a bit of a hangover: risk assets have taken a bit of a beating today amid a slew of pretty rotten economic data and an ECB presser that maybe wasn’t all that. There is also a sense that equity markets rode too aggressively on the Gilead news and need to see more evidence, whilst the FTSE has notably underperformed thanks to the oil majors.

The S&P 500 opened down more than 1% before paring losses to trade 0.5% lower after half an hour of trading, whilst European stocks extended losses through the trading session to erase yesterday’s rally. The FTSE 100 has been knocked back under 6,000 as Shell tumbled on its dividend cut. Shell scrubbed around 60 points off the index, or about 1% of the value of the market. BP scrubbed another 15 points or so as the Shell effect weighed on its peer – dividend doubts creeping in. AstraZeneca put on the most index points on hopes it will have a vaccine ready for limited use this year.

Aside from the meltdown for Shell shareholders and income investors, the news on the economic front has not been terribly good. Eurozone growth was -3.8% in Q1, whilst US personal spending declined 7.5% in March and US initial job claims surged by another 3.8m – taking total losses to almost 30m since the crisis broke.

FX markets showed a very sharp reversal for risk later on in the session as the AUD tumbled. AUDJPY broke the 0.6930 swing low before paring losses in a sharp move lower in the afternoon. AUDUSD also slid, taking an 0.64 handle briefly as it balked at the 100-day SMA at 0.65670. EURUSD was pretty well flat on the day as it endured the usual ECB whipsaw.

On that, the ECB didn’t really wow the markets with any major new support but did try to smooth bank liquidity operations with a new acronym – PELTROs, or pandemic emergency longer-term refinancing operations. The central bank did not expand the PEPP envelope but made it very clear

More focus was on the presser and whilst Christine Lagarde’s delivery is still not very smooth, she repeated commitments on country-specific support in a clear and determined fashion that indicates the ECB is not going to let peripheral spreads blowout.

Charts

The peak hit ahead of the European open was the highest we’ve seen all day. The S&P 500 topped out at the Mar 6th cash close at 2973 before the European session got underway and headed weaker through to the cash open on Wall Street, with SPX testing the 2900 level again, which was rejected firmly. Looking to reclaim the 61.8% retracement at 2934, with support at 2885.

Barclays shares pop, SPX faces big hurdle with Fed, GDP ahead

Morning Note

Barclays CEO Jes Staley reckons that after Covid-19 the idea of sticking thousands of people in a building may be a thing of the past. I heartily agree. Working from home is clearly working rather well. Also, banks are no doubt looking at this and thinking they can cut costs by closing offices, call centres and branches. Nevertheless, it highlights how bosses and government have a very hard task in exiting lockdown. Moreover, what about the Pret or the pub that depends on lunch trade from the City workers filling up these offices every day? The impact on the economy will be permanent.

Shares in Barclays popped over 5% despite the lender taking a £2.1bn credit impairment charge, five times the level of a year before. Like its US peers, trading revenues soared by 77% but this offset may be a one-off for banks as volatility returns to more normal levels. Shares were due a rally – they’ve been beaten down so much and haven’t really participated in the upturn. Investors may need to wait for dividends but UK banks could be in much better shape their share prices indicate.

The S&P 500 failed a major test yesterday as bulls stumbled amidst a blitz of earnings releases and doubts about oil prices. The broad index rallied on the open to trade above 2900 but closed lower and crucially below the key 2885 resistance at 2,863, forming a dark cloud cover bearish signal.

Futures though are higher again today, but we will need to see these levels broken decisively on a close before we consider a push to the 61.8% retracement of the drawdown at 2934. For that we will look to earnings and the US advanced GDP print – seen at -4% – but more importantly the messaging from the Fed today will be crucial for sentiment in equity markets.

Asian markets were broadly firmer overnight with traders expecting the Fed to make clear it will not remove any accommodation until the threat from Covid-19 has passed.

European indices opened strongly, building a very solid session on Tuesday that saw the FTSE 100 rally almost 2% and close above the Apr 14th swing high, but then we saw weakness creep in after half an hour’s trading outside of the UK market, which looks pretty solid as it taps on 6,000.

Italian bonds have softened after Fitch cut the country’s debt to one notch above junk. This unscheduled move followed S&P affirming Italy’s status but with a negative outlook. The yield on Italian 10-year BTPs spiked to 1.83%, the highest since Friday, and it just causes a little added worry for the ECB ahead of its meeting tomorrow. BTP-Bund spreads widened.

Alphabet dealt with a sharp decline in ad revenue growth in the first quarter as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown measures that are stifling consumer spending, but management pointed to a rebound in April and outline spending cuts that sent shares up 8% after hours.

The fact that Alphabet sees ‘some signs users are returning to normal behaviour’ does not in itself mean the global economy is anywhere near to normal. Alphabet is one of the best placed companies to grow out of the crisis and should benefit from consumers increasing screen time in lockdown and no doubt growing digital ad spend as economies recover in the latter part of 2020 and through 2021. Structural shifts boosting digital ad growth that Covid-19 is accelerating will also be factor.  Facebook and Microsoft report today.

Elsewhere, front month WTI bounced off the lows after testing $10 to move up through $14 by the European session open. API data showed inventories rising almost 10m barrels in the week to Apr 24th, but this was lower than estimates. As ever we are looking at the EIA figures with more interest. A slowing in inventory builds from the +15M we’ve seen in the last three weeks can be expected as we reach tank tops at Cushing. Expect volatility in the front month WTI to be very high until expiry.

Charts

S&P 500 looks to clear key resistance again, still worried about rolling over

FTSE 100 looks to breakout of recent range, taking out the horizontal resistance and looking to breach 6,000 but first it’s got the 50-SMA to deal with.

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.

Stocks stage mild comeback after tough day, US jobless claims in focus

Morning Note

Stocks suffered yesterday as bulls hopes ran up against a wall of bad economic data, another drop in oil prices and banks’ earnings reports, but have recovered some composure in early trade today.

Wall Street fell about 2%, with the S&P 500 back under 2800 after a couple of shocking economic data releases ratcheted up the pressure on the bulls to find reasons to sustain the rally. US retail sales were sharply lower, falling around 8.7% month on month, the sharpest fall since it was first tracked in 1992. Britain followed suit, with UK retails down 4.3% in March from the same month a year ago, marking the steepest decline since records began in 1995.

Meanwhile the Empire State Manufacturing Index, a gauge of factory activity in New York state recorded its steepest ever fall to hit –78.2, far worse than the –32 expected. April will be even worse for these data sets, as much of the US was not shut down for the entirety of the survey period.

Today’s focus will be the US weekly initial jobless claims, expected to show again that more than 5m Americans claiming unemployment insurance last week. US 2yr yields sank to an 8-yr low on the news to 0.195% whilst stocks fell across the board amid a very weak day for risk.

The FTSE 100 broke down through the rising trend support line to close under 5600. In early trade Thursday the index was up 1%. Travel & leisure at the top indicated a better day for risk, but there is a caution about the move. I think we are back to looking for more good news on the virus now.

We’ve also had a bunch of bank earnings out that weighed on sentiment. With the largest US banks pretty well done with earnings, what is obvious is that the single biggest take-home is the extent of the increase in loss reserves. It’s a funny situation where the main thing we’ve learned also leaves with the biggest unanswered question – will these loan loss provisions be enough?

At Bank of America, credit loss provisions rose $3.8bn, from $1bn in the first quarter of 2019 to $4.8bn today. Citigroup hiked its provisions to $7bn from $2bn, a much bigger hike than others likely down to exposure to credit card debt, which is going to be probably the nastiest area of credit. Wells Fargo raised its reserves by $3.1bn and took a $950 impairment charge. JPMorgan provisions for losses jumped to $8.3bn.

Trading revenues were strong across the board after the massive dislocation in markets, huge volatility and widening of spreads. The strength there makes it a good time to be setting aside cash for loan loss provisions.

Couple of points to make:

1) The big banks are all to slightly varying degrees taking big upfront provisions for expected losses. This looks prudent – better to front load the bad news now so they can over deliver later down the line. If you’ve had a good quarter in trading – which they have – it’s sensible to effectively take those profits and put to one side now. Good news today won’t mean much, better to hold it back.

2) It’s guesswork. We still don’t know what kind of damage the economy will suffer, and we don’t know how quickly it can bounce back. That is to say; we don’t know the extent or duration of economic recession. Banks have been keen to stress the provisions for loan losses could well increase. JPM says it could be worth $45bn this year, implying a significant upward revision of loan losses in the worst-case scenario.

On the coronavirus outbreak itself, UK health secretary Matt Hancock says this morning that the country is reaching its peak but lifting the lockdown now would be premature. Some good news, but there is no time for celebration.

On the shape of the recovery, the W-shape is gaining more credence. The Economist Intelligence Unit is warning of a recession to be followed by a ‘possibly much worse’ downturn sparked by a sovereign debt crisis among highly indebted countries. Helen Thomas of BlondeMoney and a regular contributor to XRay, thinks a U shape is most likely. “The economic outlook is grim, with a double dip recession or even absolute stagnation the most likely outcome,” she says.

Oil took another dive yesterday as the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that demand in 2020 would crumble, whilst US inventory data showed more massive builds of crude. The IEA said demand would fall by 29m bpd in April, around 30% of global demand, and by 9.3m bpd across the whole of 2020. The Energy Information Administration in the US said crude oil inventories rose 19.248m barrels vs 12.7 million barrels expected, the largest stockpile build on record. WTI plunged as low as $19.20, marking a fresh 18-year low.

In FX, the US dollar is staging a fightback as the dire economic outlook again makes it look like the least ugly sister. GBPUSD broke down through the 1.25 level and EURUSD has retreated below 1.09. For GBP we are monitoring the events around Brexit – the UK is keen to get on with it, whilst the EU and IMF would prefer to wait. Expect this to lead to fresh jitters around GBP once the coronavirus news starts to drop down the running order.

Equities

EasyJet shares jumped 8% expected to lose as much as £380m in the first half and has no idea when flights will resume but added that it can survive an extended grounding with a notional cash balance to last 9 months. That would be an absolute worst-case scenario and would burn through about £3bn – slightly more than £1bn for every quarter of grounding is expected. Management say they have already raised £1bn to cover 3 months initially. Investors are relieved for now and will be hopeful that once the lockdown ends people start booking up flights again.

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