Mixed start for European equities, dollar retreats

Morning Note

A mixed start for European stock markets this morning with equities failing to struggling out of bed after yesterday’s session left indices in the red. The FTSE is really struggling to peel away from the 5,800 level, while the DAX either side of the flatline in early trade as investors try to make up their minds.

US stocks finished higher amid a choppy session on Wall Street. Ten out of 11 S&P 500 sectors rose as the broad market closed up 0.3% at 3,246 having tested the lows at 3.209, its weakest intra-day level since the end of July. When the selling at the open didn’t force further selling, there was an opportunity for dip buyers to come in. Nevertheless, the index is down 2.2% for the week still.

The Dow rose 0.2% but is –3% for the week. The Nasdaq also rose but is down –1% on the week and is on course for its fourth straight weekly decline, which would be the first such run of losses since August 2019. European markets are on course for 3-4% losses on the week.

Can stimulus and vaccine headlines prop up risk appetite?

Some positive headlines around a US stimulus deal and vaccine news may be supportive of risk today but sentiment is fragile, and it’s been a turbulent week – I think we need to see how it shakes out at the close for a better read on where the next move goes.

Whilst the market finished a tad higher yesterday, the S&P 500 keeps making new lows and sentiment seems to hinge around several downside risks. Right now, the up days are not as strong as the down days, which tells me momentum is with the bears for now. Any bounce we get needs to be seen in the context of a very sharp pullback on Monday and on Wednesday.

Until we clear last week’s levels – 3400 on SPX, around 3300 on Stoxx 50 and 6,000 on the FTSE, the bias looks to the downside for me.

UK facing jobs crunch despite new government scheme

For the UK, there is looming unemployment crisis, despite the government’s new jobs scheme. Whilst extending support for another 6 months, the chancellor’s plan will only help those in viable jobs – the crunch comes in November. Just how many are viable longer term? How many of the roughly 3m on furlough won’t have a job at Christmas?

Needless to say with all this support, UK public borrowing is soaring. This raises concerns about tax rises down the line to ‘pay for it’. But as previously discussed, deficits shouldn’t matter: rather than taxing the recovery and stifling it, the government ought to consider outright debt monetization, given the extraordinary circumstances we are in.

House Democrats prepare stimulus bill, Senate leader promises orderly transition after election

House Democrats are working on a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package – we’ve been before, so I wouldn’t assume it will pass. Indeed, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy immediately dismissed the package, but we cannot rule it out entirely. Is this too much of a temptation for bulls?

Meanwhile, the nonsense worries about Trump refusing to leave the White House have thankfully been largely put to rest after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell vowed there will be an orderly transition just as there has been after every election since 1792. However, I still believe the election will be contested and we are unlikely to know the final result on November 4th.

On the vaccine front, there more and more clinical trials happening. Sanofi says it is ready to produce 1bn doses of its vaccine with partner GSK from early next year. Dr Fauci sounded optimistic this week, telling Congress there is “growing optimism” there will be one or more safe and effective vaccines ready either by the end of 2020 or early 2021.

King dollar takes a breather, pressure off precious metals

The re-emergence of king dollar has been a big weight on stocks in the US – it’s no coincidence that the dollar reversed its slide at the start of September just as stocks rolled over. This in can turn can breed defensiveness in other regional equity markets.

The dollar index retreated from resistance around 94.60 – this is an important level with an upside breach calling for a return to 95. However, with the 14-day RSI rolling over this may be a time for a pullback and consolidation around the 94 region with a test of 93.70 on the cards.

With the dollar coming off its highs there has been some relief for precious metals. Both gold and silver seem to put in a near-term bottom after some nasty price action in recent days. Gold found support at $1,850 and rose to $1,870. Silver has rallied back above $23 after the $22 level held.

Sterling is finding bid with GBPUSD making solid progress towards 1.28 as the dollar comes off. Trend resistance above with the confluence of moving average and Fib support offering decent base.

Looking for clearance of 46 on the RSI for bullish signal. Look also at the bearish 21-day SMA crossover with the 50-day at the 1.30 pivot. The 38.2% retracement at 1.2690 is the major support after the 200-day EMA around 1.27650.

BoE quick take: negative rates on the table hit cable

Forex

Sterling dropped sharply along with gilt yields, with GBPUSD down one big figure to take a 1.28 handle and 2-year gilt yields dropping to -0.1% after the Bank of England delivered a dovish statement which included overt references to introducing negative rates.

It looks like Bailey is prepared to go big and fast if there is an unemployment crisis once the furlough scheme ends. For the time being he is keeping his powder dry.

Whilst the MPC kept rates on hold at 0.1% and the stock of asset purchases at £745bn, it looks like it is on the cusp of delivery further accommodation. The Bank ‘stands ready’ to do more, it said, adding that will not tighten monetary policy until there is ‘clear evidence’ of achieving its 2% inflation target in a sustainable way.

But it was the mention of negative rates that seems to led to sterling being offered.

Bank of England puts negative rates on the table

The bit that did the damage was included right at the bottom (underlines my own):

The Committee had discussed its policy toolkit, and the effectiveness of negative policy rates in particular, in the August Monetary Policy Report, in light of the decline in global equilibrium interest rates over a number of years. Subsequently, the MPC had been briefed on the Bank of England’s plans to explore how a negative Bank Rate could be implemented effectively, should the outlook for inflation and output warrant it at some point during this period of low equilibrium rates. The Bank of England and the Prudential Regulation Authority will begin structured engagement on the operational considerations in 2020 Q4.

It also set the stage for more QE, with the MPC noting that the Bank ‘stood ready to increase the pace of purchases to ensure the effective transmission of monetary policy’. With the current QE ammo due to run out by the end of the year, the Bank looks likely to expand the asset purchase programme by around £100bn in November.

We can now also start to worry about negative rates being implemented – a lot will depend on the unemployment rate as we head towards Dec with the furlough scheme ending.

On the economy, the Bank thinks the UK economy in Q3 will be 7% below Q4 2019 levels, which is not as bad as previously forecast. Inflation is forecast to remain below 1% until next year.

Chart: Cable breaches near-term trend but tries to find support at 1.29.

Looking to see whether this move reasserts the longer-term downtrend – lots depends on the Brexit chatter taking place in the background.

Nikola shares tumble (again)

Equities

Volume leaders today include Apple as normal, as well as Peloton after a blow-out earnings report – EPS of $0.27 almost treble the street consensus of $0.10 indicating the stay-at-home Covid trend is playing out well for the brand. A new cheaper version of its bike should help, too. Apple shares were flat, with Peloton up just +1%, well below its highs.

Hidenburg Research slams Nikola, shares tumble

Nikola shares fell about 15% on high volumes after the Hindenburg Research article. Whilst shares had fallen yesterday following publication, it seems investors have taken fright at the lack of any detailed refutation by Nikola.

A statement today from the company only said the allegations are not accurate and described the report as a ‘hit job’. If it is a hit job, it’s been a very well timed one with the stock having jumped only a couple of days prior on the tie-up with GM. But the lack of detail from the company so far has left investors unimpressed.

Without being able to comment on the details of the report, short attacks can and do happen, and more often than often there is rarely smoke without fire.

Equities move higher into the weekend

Elsewhere, the S&P 500 ticked higher after testing yesterday’s cash close at 3,339, with the 50-day line offering further support untested at 3,321.90. Yesterday’s tap on the 21-day SMA at 3,425 looks a long way off. Nasdaq also higher as risk is catching some bid into the weekend.

European equity markets are closing the day out with some decent weekly gains in the bag. Overall we have seen a real divergence between the US and Europe this week with equity markets this side of the pond doing better. Partly that is down to the rotation out of tech, but also we need to be aware of election risk that will play an increasing role in driving sentiment over the next month and a half.

Crude oil found some bid as the risk sentiment improved as the US session progressed.

Listening to the usual talking heads it seems there is more appetite for value after the three-day tech rout saw the penny drop for many that valuations had gotten out of hand. Let’s see how that goes with Ocado and Next on stage next week.

Brexit headline risk keeps pressure on GBPUSD

In FX, DXY ran out of gas at 93.38 as it tries to make another stab at the top of the descending wedge. GBPUSD tried three times to break below 1.2770 today but the level has just about held for now – sterling remains exposed to Brexit headline risks and bulls may be thin on the ground.

Post fix it looks pretty meek and liable to further downside into the weekend with UK-EU trade talks next week in focus. The current consolidation range looks pretty bearish and flaggy but we should always caution that sellers can get exhausted into the weekend just much as buyers can and there may be some profits being taken.

Pound at 6-week low, European stocks stabilise but risk sentiment fragile

Morning Note

Tech stocks bled heavily again for a third straight day as trading resumed on Wall Street following the Labor Day weekend. Tesla slumped a whopping 21% to notch its worst day ever. The other major tech giants also dropped heavily as the Nasdaq fell 4% and entered correction territory – down 10% from its recent peak.

Whilst this began as more of a technical correction within tech following the astonishing ramp in August than a broad risk-off move, it is nonetheless bleeding into the broader market and dragged down the majority of stocks. US benchmark yields have retreated and oil prices have rolled over.

SPX not far behind after Nasdaq enters correction territory

There was some rotation going on – Disney, Nike, McDonald’s, Ford and GM rose – but the S&P 500 still declined almost 3% and is not so far off correction territory itself. On the whole there is a sense that this selloff represents that sentiment has become too exuberant and needed to correct.

We may expect the US market now to chop in W-pattern over the coming months and follow the path taken by European equities since June with the loss of momentum in the economic recovery and US election risks likely to become more visible in equity markets.

Asian equities fell with the weak US handover. European stocks opened a little bit higher in early trade but risk sentiment appears very fragile. The FTSE 100 is enjoying the pound’s distress with heavyweight dollar-earners like BP, Shell, Unilever and British American Tobacco among the best risers.

In dollar terms the market is flat. The index got a confidence boost as Barclays raised their call on UK equities to ‘market-weight’ from ‘underweight’.

Increase in coronavirus cases weighs on recovery outlook

Nevertheless, investors are becoming worried again about rising Covid cases across many developed markets which threaten the trajectory of the recovery and may well weigh on demand in a number of sectors.

The evidence is evident in a couple of markets. Oil prices have rolled over with WTI dropping under $37 to hit its weakest since the middle of June. Another tell that this tech-led selloff is more than just a simple technical correction are bond yields.

US 10-year Treasury yields logged their biggest drop in a month, sliding from 0.72% Friday to 0.682%. Despite the move in yields gold prices remain resolutely stuck to the $1930 anchor having tested $1906 and the 50-day SMA yesterday.

There is also some negative headlines around work on a vaccine which may weigh on risk a touch, or at least provide algos with a sell signal. AstraZeneca shares fell after it was forced to pause clinical trials of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate after a participant in the study was taken ill.

Such are the problems with pinning hopes on a vaccine for a return to normal to be possible. The worry is that while we have all kind of assumed that one company will come up with vaccine later this year, it’s not going to be plain sailing.

Tesla tumbles after S&P 500 snub

Tesla shares got well and truly smoked after it was not added to the S&P 500, to some surprise. Tesla stock hadn’t traded below its 50 day average price since April 13 and closed the day at this level at $330 – this level needs to hold or we could see further declines for the stock.

The market was surprised by Tesla not being included in the index. At the time, we talked a lot about how possible inclusion in the S&P 500 was a big driver of the stock’s rally earlier in the year and therefore being snubbed will force some funds to rethink whether they need to hold such a high beta stock if it’s not part of the index.

Pound sinks on Brexit worries, strong dollar

In FX markets, sterling is finding the going very tough, sinking to a 6-week low with the dollar catching a bid and Brexit risks weighing. DXY has advanced to clear 93.50 and test the top of the descending wedge, while EURUSD dropped further under 1.18 ahead of the ECB meeting which might be a lot more dovish than the market thinks.

This is not a pure dollar move by any means – the pound was also at its weakest since the end of July against the euro, too. For cable this has meant the build-up of downside pressure has blown out the stops at 1.30 and GBPUSD is running south with not a lot of support until 1.28.

Brexit risks are a major factor – the UK government admitted it will break international law in order to fix the withdrawal agreement should there be no deal by October 15th. Talks continue today between the UK and the EU and there are clear headline risks as traders see a higher chance of no deal emerging.

However, we should caution that a deal will likely emerge at the last moment after considerable brinkmanship from both sides that makes it seem as though a deal is impossible. Nevertheless, with still 5 weeks to go before the deadline imposed by the British government, there may be a very rough ride ahead for the pound.

Chart: Stops are out as GBPUSD trades below 50-day SMA

Chart: Having pushed clear of the 21-day SMA the dollar tests top of the descending wedge, 50-day SMA above

Primark sales recovering, sterling eyes Brexit talks

Morning Note

Is there a better guide to the health of the high street than Primark? The cheap-as-chips clothing jumble sale is about as good a barometer as any for what’s happening, with Next going increasingly online and M&S not what it once was in clothing and more of a grocer than ever. Primark also doesn’t do online so we get an unmuddied view.

So, it’s good news that AB Foods reports Primark sales have bounced back strongly since reopening. Sales to the year-end since reopening are due to hit £2bn, but in the UK sales are still likely to be down 12% from last year on a like-for-like basis. Shopping centre and regional high street stores are trading broadly in line with last year.

Large destination city centre stores, which rely on tourism and commuters, have seen a significant decline in footfall. Exclude the big 4 city centre stores and the LFLs are only -5%. Perhaps there is life in the British high street after all? A lot of this will be pent-up demand, but Primark’s low-pricing model makes it very resistant to cyclical downtrends.

ABF shares rose 4% at the open before paring gains to trade around 2% higher.

European stocks move higher, US markets shut

Stocks in Europe were broadly higher on Monday after a pullback at the end of last week seemed to run out of steam. US markets are shut for Labor Day, which will keep volumes thin. The FTSE 100 notched its weakest close since May on Friday, a whisker under 5,800. Early trade on Monday took the index back to the 38.2% retracement at 5850 and we are looking for this level to hold for the market to build any upside momentum.

Tech shares led the worst two-day decline for US stocks in some time, but the bulls fought back late in the day on Friday. The S&P 500 closed down 0.8% at 3,426 but this was some 75 points above its lows. Futures show weakness though at 3,400 on our indicative cash market.

Vix futures (Sep) have come down sharply from the highs hit last week in the depths of the sell-off, but are holding the rising trendline and the October contract remains solidly in contango implying election risk remains a problem.

Is the European economic rebound losing steam?

On the data front, Chinese exports rose a healthy 9.5% in August as its trading partners reopened their economies and pent-up demand for goods fed into the figures. However, imports declined 2.1%, indicating softer domestic demand.

Meanwhile German industrial production rose in August but at a much slower pace than July. Output climbed by just 1.2%, short of the 4.7% expected and the +9.3% recorded in the prior months. There are clearly signs that the bounce back in the Eurozone is running out steam – lots for the European Central Bank to consider when it meets this week.

GBPUSD trades above 1.32 despite Brexit focus

Brexit talks also resume this week (The Week Ahead: Brexit talks resume, ECB frets over exchange rate contains a full preview). Of course, we remain a long way from getting a deal done – at least if the pessimism from Michel Barnier is to be believed.

A lot of the chatter and commentary is very downbeat. But this should be expected – the nature of the brinkmanship means a deal always seems further away than it may be in reality. News that the UK is drawing up legislation to override the withdrawal agreement’s requirements for new Northern Ireland customs arrangements is likely to set a fire under the EU.

To me this looks like the Johnson government’s brinkmanship designed to show they mean it when they say that no-deal is an option. Expect negative headlines to weigh on sterling; although this morning it’s put in a decent opening trade, with GBPUSD finding bid north of 1.32. However, the near term downtrend remains in force unless bulls can regain the rising trend line at 1.3250 and push clear of Friday’s swing high at 1.33190.

Crude prices continued to slide after Aramco said it would cut prices in October as the pandemic keeps a lid on demand. WTI (Oct) declined towards $38.56 before paring losses to hold the $39 handle after a letter on Saturday said Aramco would cut its US-bound crude by 50-70 cents, with pricing for Asia discounted by 90 cents to $1.50. Gold remains a very narrow range at $1930.

Week Ahead: Brexit talks resume, ECB zones in on exchange rate

Week Ahead

Brexit talks resume this week for another round of horse trading that has so far resulted in very little progress. Will the two sides break the deadlock or will headlines weigh on sterling? Meanwhile the European Central Bank meeting comes after a significant rally for the euro that has got policymakers worried. 

Brexit Talks

The next formal round of talks between the EU and UK are due to take place in London this week and introduce event risk for GBP crosses and the FTSE by implication. The underlying mood is not very positive. The last round of discussions in August produced very little progress.

Afterwards Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said an agreement seems ‘unlikely’ and is concerned about the state of play. David Frost, his British counterpart, said talks were useful but little progress had been made. 

Informal talks last week delivered nothing more, with Barnier saying he was “worried and disappointed” over the UK’s approach to the talks. 

Grappling with the competing concerns of sovereignty (UK) and integrity of the single market (EU) goes to the very heart of the talks. Both sides need to make philosophical compromises before the practical compromises can follow. This is where I start to become concerned about a big, comprehensive deal being done. 

ECB Meeting

The European Central Bank (ECB) meets amid a sharp rally for the euro that has left policymakers concerned. It looks like 1.20 was the line in the sand for the central bank – a level that prompted chief economist Philip Lane to comment that while the ECB does not look at the exchange rate “the euro-dollar rate does matter”.

This was the ECB attempting to intervene in the rally – a stronger euro will make it harder to stoke inflation and will hurt growth. Lane simply let the market know the exchange rate does matter. The last thing we need right now is a currency war, but the ECB may be about to start one. We await to see what Christine Lagarde has to say on the matter.

Meanwhile we should also look to see whether the ECB follows the lead of the Federal Reserve and signals its intention to not let inflation (should it ever materialise) get in the way of recovery.  

The big question is whether the ECB strives for a dual mandate like the Fed has. In actual fact, it already has a wider mandate. In addition to its primary objective to support price stability, it has a mandate to support the EU’s ‘general economic policies’. If this is not a green light to support employment, then what is?  

At Jackson Hole the Fed announced a policy shift that has a material impact on expectations around rates and inflation. The Fed has taken a more rational approach. Instead of saying that the economic outcomes need to fit its models – which have always been nothing more than a best guess – it will let the outcomes drive the policy.

Some would say this is a step towards fully embracing MMT, even if Powell has been against this approach in the past. The fact is that the crisis has thrown MMT from the hinterland of economic theory to practice without any real debate. Powell has embraced a central tenet of MMT – why should millions of people be thrown on the economic scrapheap and left unemployed as the price to pay for low inflation.

I think the ECB will be following this direction and this meeting will prove very interesting. 

Economic data to watch

Besides the above, watch out first for the US Labor Day holiday on Monday which will keep cash equity markets closed. The UK house price index from Halifax is published the same day just before the Eurozone Sentix investor confidence report.

On Tuesday look for the NAB Business Confidence report for Australia as well as spending and GDP data for Japan. Wednesday sees the Bank of Canada interest rate decision and Japanese preliminary machine tool orders, an interesting leading indicator of demand. Aside from the ECB meeting on Thursday there is the US PPI inflation numbers and weekly crude oil inventories. Friday ends the week with UK GDP figures, US CPI inflation numbers and the start of Eurogroup meetings of European finance ministers.

Earnings to watch

Among the major companies reporting earnings this week are Lululemon, Oracle, Richemont and Slack. But perhaps the main focus should be on Covid-winner Peloton, whose shares have surged in recent weeks to all-time highs. 

JPMorgan last week raised its price target to $105 from $58 and added the stock to its top picks list.  

“Peloton’s biggest near-term challenge in our view is keeping up with elevated demand, with Bike order-to-delivery times of ~6-7 weeks on average across the top 20 US DMAs as of our checks on 9/1,” said analyst Doug Anmuth. 

A full economic and corporate events calendar is available in the platform.

Highlights on XRay this Week 

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European equities bounce, dollar fights back

Morning Note

What is the right multiple when the Fed is stoking inflation and says it will not withdraw accommodation? What price should stocks carry in a world of ZIRP and QE-4-ever? It’s very hard to say: the usual model for forming a judgment on how richly or poorly valued stocks should be – using interest rates and earnings – is becoming out of step with the reality of unlimited central bank support. How do you derive the right discount rate?

We have always assumed that central banks will withdraw accommodation as the economy gets hot and inflation picks up. Or in other words, it’s always been there to take away the punch bowl whenever the party got a little rowdy. Indeed, often it was too quick to turn the music off just as people started to dance.

Now the Fed says it won’t do that and the ECB and others are set to follow – where the Fed goes usually the rest of the world needs to follow. If it’s unlimited Fed support, who cares if the forward multiple on the S&P 500 is x25? If there is no hiking cycle on the horizon, then stocks could continue to rally from these already very stretched levels.

Vix points to uncertainty as US Presidential Election nears

Of course, as repeated nearly every day, near term I worry that this extended rally is ripe for a pullback as the US election approaches, and I am not alone. Whilst retail investors rich on stimulus cheques still think ‘stonks only go up’, there are signs investors are worried about how far this has gone.

Vix futures keep moving in an upwards trajectory that suggests investors are paying more for downside protection on the S&P 500. Vix futures settled above 28 and contracts expiring in Oct are north of 33, signalling a lot of uncertainty around the election. The race will be far closer than polls show. Our election tracker shows Trump narrowing the gap.

FTSE lags global stocks

Such concerns about stretched valuations and ever-higher multiples are not a concern for UK investors. The FTSE 100 has rather majestically shrugged off the rally in global stocks and serenely plunged to its weakest since May. A stronger pound undoubtedly took the wind out of the sails and a bit of a catchup trade was in play after the market was closed for the bank holiday on Monday, meaning it didn’t take part in the mild sell-off across Europe yesterday.

But the FTSE’s troubles are not a new phenomenon – a complete absence of tech and growth is a major problem. Dividend cuts have also vanquished income investors, albeit the yield of almost 4% doesn’t seem too bad today. Last night the FTSE 100 settled on the 38.2% retracement of the March to June rally which has offered near-term support for today’s bounce – dollar strength this morning is helping too.

Record closes for SPX and Nasdaq fuel rally in Europe

European stocks rallied in early trade on Wednesday, including the FTSE 100, after the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both hit fresh records. Apple rallied another 4%, seemingly unstoppable. Tesla declined 5% after it announced a $5bn stock sale, which though a bit of a surprise is not a complete shock given Tesla’s vast capex requirements and share price accretion – as it did in February, Tesla is taking advantage of favourable market conditions to raise fresh cash early on in the cycle.

Meanwhile, we are not getting much further on stimulus – US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin rejected the Democrats’ latest $2.2tn coronavirus relief package, but we are set for more spending, more printing until inflation becomes a problem.

The dollar came back fighting with DXY back above 92.50 as both GBP and EUR retreated off key resistance levels. Could be a dead cat bounce for USD. GBPUSD made a run to 1.35 but failed this test and backed off further this morning to take a 1.33 handle.

Watch for the Bank of England’s Andrew Bailey, who will be giving oral evidence to the Treasury Committee in Parliament on the economic impact of coronavirus. Obviously it’s bad, but house prices have hit a record high so that is good if you own one, not so good if you don’t. Messrs Haldane (he of the V) and Broadbent are speaking later, too.

Euro struggles after strong US manufacturing data, US ADP jobs report in focus

The euro – has a line in the sand been drawn? EURUSD pushed up to have a run at 1.20 but got knocked back as the US ISM manufacturing came in better than expected at 56. This could be a line in the sand for the euro bears defending the roaring 20s? Eurozone inflation turned negative in August – a clear signal of the disinflationary pressures wrought by the pandemic.

Inflation fell to –0.2% from +0.4% in July. It lays bare the mountain the ECB needs to climb and simply tells us that the central bank will need to keep monetary policy exceptionally loose for a very long time. It’s worth noting that the much-hyped EU rescue deal has yet to be delivered. EURUSD pulled back under 1.19 in early trade on Wednesday as the dollar caught a bid.

Today, we are looking ahead to the ADP nonfarm employment report ahead of Thursday’s weekly claims count and Friday’s main nonfarm payrolls print. The ADP number is expected to show a gain of 1m jobs from a paltry 167k in July.

US factory orders and crude oil inventories on tap this afternoon, expected to show a draw of –2m barrels. Later we also have the Fed’s Beige Book, while the Fed’s Williams and Mester are speaking.

Risk gains as Powell signals lower for longer on rates

Equities

Fed chair Jay Powell announced a new monetary policy framework based on average inflation targeting (AIT), as had been anticipated. I read this as admission by the Fed that the monetary and fiscal response to the pandemic will ultimately prove inflationary (M1 increase, deglobalisation etc), but that the Fed does not want to pull the handbrake on a long and slow recovery by being constrained with a mandate to keep inflation level. It’s also increasingly politically tuned into recent events in prioritising jobs over price stability.

Essentially the Fed is taking a step back from price stability, it is not going to worry about inflation overshooting; the focus is on employment not stable money. It’s about supporting the economy not prices – this is an important shift, albeit one that we have largely assumed unofficially to be the case for some time. The Fed today made it clear it won’t take the punch bowl away as quickly as it would have done in the past.

Fed AIT framework leaves unanswered questions

But the Fed is keeping its hands relatively free by not sticking to any specific formula relating to AIT – this poses some unanswered questions for the FOMC. There was not much in the way of detail of how the Fed plans to  deliver the new framework. For instance, if inflation runs at 1% for 5 years, does that mean it allows it to run at 3% for the next 5?

Powell’s speech lacked in specifics on the nature of forward guidance that the FOMC is clearly leaning towards – this will be an important lever of the AIT approach, so it needs to be clarified at the next meeting in September.

Should forward guidance be based on a time horizon or specific economic data? Yield curve control has been shelved as an idea by the FOMC but remains an option should it desire. The September 16th meeting will be of great importance to iron out how AIT will be delivered.

Powell stressed that if ‘excessive inflationary pressures’ were to build, or inflation expectations were to rise above levels consistent with its mandate, the Fed ‘would not hesitate to act’. This gives it a degree of latitude down the line should there be a major inflation overshoot.

Dollar offered, stocks and gold bid

Markets are trying to make sense of the changes. The dollar index sold off initially to 92.40 but pared losses and came back to 93 as US yields started to pick up with 10s back above 0.719% having dipped to 64bps. EURUSD spiked to 1.190 but quickly retreated to 1.180. GBPUSD surged to 1.3280 before coming back in to the round number support.

Stocks rose with Wall Street hitting fresh record highs at the open as AIT is fundamentally supportive of risk assets, entailing as it does lower interest rates for longer. The S&P 500 approached 3,500 for the first time, meaning it’s up 100 points for the week. Gold drove sharply higher to $1976 but retraced as quickly as it rallied to $1940 as yields climbed. The key for the market is what will AIT do to inflation expectations.

Earlier data showed just what a big task the Fed has in getting unemployment back to pre-pandemic levels (3.5%). It’s clear the US still has a very troubled jobs market – initial claims still above 1m, continuing claims only came down a small amount to 14.54m from 14.76m a week before. Q2 contraction in the US was a little less than previously estimated, with the annualised figure coming in at –31.7% vs –32.9% on the first reading.

Ex-divis hit FTSE, US stocks near record high, trade comes back in focus

Morning Note

US stocks rallied to close near its all-time highs yesterday amid what some are saying are signs of greater confidence in the economic recovery in the US. Or perhaps it’s just even speedier decoupling between Wall St and Main St. Nevertheless, bond yields pushed higher amid a faster-than-expected rise in US inflation, whilst the market is starting to focus again on trade and tariffs.

The fact that the broad stock market is at all-time highs is a testament to unbelievable amounts of monetary and fiscal stimulus – the patient is hooked, and only more drugs will do. The disconnect between the stock market and the real economy is too stark, too unjust and too indicative of a system that continues to favour capital over labour that, sooner or later, a change is gonna come.

Europe soft despite strong close on Wall Street, TUI posts earnings wipe-out

Never mind all that for now though, stonks keep going up. The S&P 500 rose 1.4% to end at 3,380, just six points under its record closing high at 3,386.15, with the record intraday peak at 3,393.52. Asian stocks broadly followed through, with shares in Tokyo up almost 2%.

European stocks failed to take the cue and were a little soft on the open, with the FTSE 100 the laggard at -1%, though 22.3pts are due to BP, Shell, Diageo, AstraZeneca, GSK and Legal & General among others going ex-dividend.

For a taste of the real economy, we can look at TUI, which said group revenues in the June quarter were down 98% to €75m. It’s a total wipe-out of earnings, but it’s not a surprise – the business was at a virtual standstill for most of the period and was only able to resume some limited operations from mid-May. Just 15% of hotels reopened in the quarter, whilst all three cruise lines remain suspended.

TUI posted an EBIT loss of €1.1bn for the quarter, taking total losses over the last nine months to €2bn, with €1.3bn due to the pandemic forcing the business to be suspended. Summer bookings are down over 80% but it has got another €1.2bn lifeline from the German government. Shares fell over 6% in early trade.

Trade in focus as US-China weekend talks approach

US-China tensions are rearing their head again. Officials meet this Saturday to review progress of the phase one deal. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow the deal was ‘fine right now’. Sticking with trade, the US is maintaining 15% tariffs on Airbus aircraft and 25% tariffs on an array of European goods, including food and wine, despite moves by the EU to end the trade dispute.

Crucially it did not follow through with a threat to hike tariffs, however it still leaves the risk of further escalation when the EU is likely to win WTO approval to strike back with its own tariffs.

Strong US CPI raises stagflation fears

Yesterday, despite the optimism in the market, there was – for me at least – some potential signs of bad news for the real economy (not the stock market, remember) with US inflation picking up faster than expected. You can read this as the economy doing better than fared as consumers return, but you can equally take a glass half empty view and see this as a major worry that prices of essentials are going to rise whilst economic growth stagnates – which can be a cocktail for a period of stagflation.

Given the enormous amount of money being pumped into the system, there is a better than evens chance we get an inflation surge even if the pandemic was initially very disinflationary. Unlike in the wake of the financial crisis, the cash is not being gobbled up in the banking system as increased capital buffers etc, but is going into the (real) economy. Moreover, it’s being done in tandem with a massive fiscal loosening.

Short-lived pullback for USD?

Year-over-year, headline inflation rose from 0.6% to 1%, whilst core CPI was up 1.6% in July vs the 1.2% expected. Food prices rose 4.6%, whilst the cost of a suit is down a lot. The risk is that inflation expectations can start to become unanchored as they did in the 1970s when the Fed had lost credibility, this led to a period of stagflation and was only tamed by Volcker’s aggressive hiking cycle.

Investor optimism is keeping the dollar in check. The dollar index moved back to the 93 mark, whilst the euro broke above 1.18 against the greenback for a fresh assault on 1.19, twice rejected lately. Sterling is making more steady progress but is well supported for now above 1.30, however the dollar’s pullback may be short-lived. Gold held onto gains to trade above $1930 after testing the near-term trend support around $1865 yesterday.

US EIA data, OPEC report boost oil

Oil prices held gains after bullish inventory data and OPEC’s latest monthly report. WTI (Sep) moved beyond $42 after the latest EIA report showed a draw of 4.5m barrels last week. Meanwhile, as noted yesterday, OPEC’s new report indicated the cartel will continue with production cuts for longer.

In its monthly report, OPEC lowered its 2020 world oil demand forecast, forecasting a drop of 9.06m bpd compared to a drop of 8.95m bpd in the previous monthly report. But the report also sought to calm fears that OPEC+ will be too quick to ramp up production again. Specifically, OPEC said its H2 2020 outlook points to the need for continued efforts to support market rebalancing. Compliance was down but broadly the message seems to be that OPEC is not about to walk away from the market.

US inflation hot, stocks keep higher as bonds slip

Equities

US inflation was a little hot and certainly has a stagflation feel about it, but this won’t be a concern for the Federal Reserve in the slightest. CPI rose 0.6% month-on-month in July, unchanged from a month before and ahead of the 0.3% expected. Year-over-year, headline inflation rose from 0.6% to 1%, whilst core CPI was up 1.6% in July vs the 1.2% expected. Food prices were +4.6% YOY, with beef +14.2%.

Fed unlikely to worry if inflation heads higher

The Fed is going to become more relaxed about letting inflation run above its 2% target. Despite the indicators in the market like TIPs and gold prices suggesting that the massive dose of fiscal and monetary stimulus we have just had, combined with a supply constraint, the output gap is still huge and the economy will run well short of its potential for many years.

So that means the Fed should and could be relaxed about headline inflation running above 2% for a time, instead prioritising the employment level, but it also means inflation expectations can start to become unanchored as they did in the 1970s, which may have longer-term implications for the path of prices and relative values for gold and stocks.

In a nutshell, if inflation expectations lose their anchors then we are faced with a stagflationary environment like nothing we have seen for 50 years. High inflation, low growth for years to come is the unwanted child of a global pandemic meeting massive government intervention.

Treasury yields nudged up with the 5yr up to 0.307% from 0.269% and 10s up to 0.69%. Gold has largely held onto gains after a sharp turnaround this morning with spot trading around $1,935 after touching $1,949 this morning. Higher yields are bad for gold, but higher inflation is so good so the CPI numbers seem to be netting out for now.

EUR/USD moves off lows, SPX eyes all-time high

Earlier in the session, Eurozone industrial production rose over 9% in June but remains down 12% from pre-pandemic levels. EURUSD has moved up off its lows despite the print falling short of the 10% expected.

Stocks were well bid heading into the US session with Europe enjoying broad gains and the FTSE 100 leading the way at +1.5%. The S&P 500 is eyeing a fresh run at the all-time highs with the index only about 1.5% short; the scores on the doors are: record intraday 3,393.52, with the record close at 3,386.15.

The market came up a little short yesterday but you just sense bulls will push it over the line sooner or later. After yesterday’s reversal traders may be a little gun shy but the bulls have the momentum. The Nasdaq remains on the back foot pointing to the kind of rotation out of tech.

Oil heads higher after OPEC report

Crude oil rose with WTI (Sep) north of $42.50 after OPEC’s monthly report indicated the cartel will continue with production cuts for longer. In its monthly report, OPEC lowered its 2020 world oil demand forecast, forecasting a drop of 9.06m bpd compared to a drop of 8.95m bpd in the previous monthly report.

This report seemed to be quelling fears that OPEC+ will be too quick to ramp up production again. Specifically, OPEC said its H2 2020 outlook points to the need for continued efforts to support market rebalancing. Compliance was down but broadly the message seems to be that OPEC is not about to walk away from the market.

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