UK growth cools, British Land resumes dividend

Morning Note

UK growth unexpectedly cooled  in August, signalling a slower pace of recovery into the back-end of the year. GDP rose by 2.1% in August, which was below the 4.6% expected, despite the eat out to help out scheme boosting the hospitality sector significantly. The food and beverage service activities industry grew almost 70% over July thanks to the easing of lockdown restrictions and the government support scheme. 

 

Nevertheless, the outlook is not particularly encouraging. August 2020 GDP was now 21.7% higher than its April 2020 low, but the UK economy is still 9.2% below pre-pandemic levels. Sticking plasters like eat out to help out act only as a mild salve. Moreover, as the government considers more restrictions on people’s liberties to combat the virus, it is clear the path of recovery to pre-pandemic levels of activity will be slow and difficult. The pace of recovery has peaked, and things may get worse as we head into the winter before they improve again. The UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak will announce the next phase of the job support programme later today, which is set to include support for workers in industries forced to close under local lockdowns, such as bars and pubs. Sterling was unfazed by the loss of momentum in the economy with GBPUSD nudging up to 1.2970, yesterday’s high and close to the top of the range at 1.30.

 

Markets of course rather decoupled from the realities of the economy thanks to vast amounts of central bank stimulus and liquidity. The FTSE 100 rose above 6,000 for the first time in three weeks but this level continues to act as a very difficult barrier for bulls to clear. The S&P 500 closed up 0.8% at the highs of the day at 3,446. The Dow added 0.43% for its third positive session of the week and the Nasdaq added 0.5%. House speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would reject any standalone stimulus packages. But we know stimulus of some sort is coming either before or after the election – the problem emerges if there is a contested election. 

 

Dallas Fed president Robert Kaplan underscored his more hawkish credentials, saying there is no need for additional QE on top of the Fed’s $120bn-a-month programme. A Fed paper this week suggested it could increase asset purchases by $3.5tn to boost the economy. Kaplan said that “the bond-buying needs to curtail, the Fed balance sheet growth needs to curtail”. The Fed’s position however remains that it will continue to purchase assets at least at the current clip.  

 

Election Watch 

 

With 25 days to go to the US election, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by 9.7pts at a national level but his lead in the top battlegrounds has come down to 4.6pts. Trump trailed Hilary Clinton by 5.1pts in the key battleground states at this stage in 2016, but we should note there are fewer undecided voters this time. Latest betting odds imply 65% chance of a Biden win. 

 

Equities 

 

The pandemic has wrought damage on the commercial property sector as businesses have found it difficult to meet rent payments on time and the value of assets has been written down. Land Securities advised today that of £110m rent due Sep 29th, just 62% was paid within 5 working days, vs 95% for the same period a year before. Businesses renting office space (82% on time) were timelier than retailers (33% on time). For the earlier part of the year, the company has received 84% of rent due on 25 March (up from 75% at 2 July) and 81% of rent due on 24 June. Nevertheless, shares rose 3.5% in early trade as these numbers are perhaps not as bad as feared. 

 

British Land gave a very robust update though, noting all retail assets and 86% of stores are open. Footfall is 21% ahead of benchmark, retailer sales 90% of the same period last year. Collection rates for June have improved to 74%; 98% offices, 57% retail. Meanwhile 69% of September rents have been collected (91% offices, 50% retail). Management was also keen to talk up balance sheet strength – £1bn in undrawn facilities and cash, with no need to refinance until 2024. So robust in fact it’s resuming dividend payments – another little boost for the bedraggled income investor. Divis will be paid at 80% of underlying EPS. Those income investors cheered as shares rose 5%. 

 

London Stock Exchange confirmed plans to offload Borsa Italiana to Euronext. The €4.325bn is perhaps a little behind what had been touted, but it’s a necessary step to clear the decks for their Refinitiv acquisitions.  

 

Charts 

 

Gold still within the falling channel but making higher lows and now pushing up to the top of the channel – 50-day SMA above but the horizontal resistance at $1.920 needs to be cleared first.

Euro Stoxx 50 – still within the long-term range but after moving above 21-day SMA now is looking to clear a cluster of moving averages including the 50-day SMA and 200-day EMA.

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.

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.

Equity markets track lower after Wall St falls

Morning Note

Public Health England has approved an antibody test from Roche, which could mean easing lockdown restrictions sooner. A junior health minister described it as a ‘game changer’. We shall see – the record on testing so far has been sketchy but it’s a step in the right direction. Russia has also announced positive trials of a treatment drug favipiravi, which was first developed under the name Avigan in Japan. Despite some good news around these drugs however, it seems markets are waking up to the economic reality at last.

US Treasury yields fell and equity indices rolled over, with the S&P 500 down 1.75% at 2820 and the Dow dropping 500 points as hopes for a swift recovery from the Covid-19 recession faded.

Fed chair Jay Powell painted a pretty gloomy picture, He warned that additional policy measures may be needed to avoid an extended period of low productivity. He is erring towards doing more not less. Nothing explicit on negative rates, just repeating the preference for not using them.

As we near the end of earnings season, the recent gains look like over exuberance. David Tepper, a billionaire hedge fund guy, said it’s the second-most overvalued market ever – only ‘99 was worse. Certainly at 20 times forward earnings, it looks pricey – the priciest in 18 years. Earnings in Q1 for S&P 500 companies are down 14% and are seen weaker all year, with Q2 especially hard hit. Already this is the 4th quarter in 5 of year-over-year earnings declines. Valuations are starting to look exceedingly optimistic at these levels – 2600 on SPX is a lot more realistic than 3000.  We may not retest the lows, but a significant pullback from the post-trough highs around the 61.8% level seems likely.

At the lows SPX tested the 2790 level, the 50% retracement. MACD crossover confirmed.

Asian markets tracked the fall on Wall Street and European bourses traded broadly weaker on Thursday.

WTI and Brent futures spiked after a surprise draw on US oil stocks but have pared gains. EIA figures showed a 745k barrel drawdown vs an expected build of more than 4m barrels. Stocks at the key Cushing, Oklahoma hub fell by 3m barrels, the first such draw since February.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission warned brokers and clearing houses “to prepare for the possibility that certain contracts may continue to experience extreme market volatility, low liquidity and possibly negative pricing”. The June WTI contract expires on May 19th.

In FX, the pound weakened further as the risk-off trade hit currency markets. Andrew Bailey, the Bank of England governor, said markets’ basic assumption was that there would more QE.

GBPUSD breached the 1.2250 support and headed for the bottom of the range and is now on track to knock on the Apr 6th low around 1.2160.

Negative rates: not now Bernard

Morning Note

Not Now, Bernard is a children’s story about parents who don’t pay attention and don’t notice their son has been gobbled up by a monster, which they duly allow into the house. One could make parallels with central banks and the monstrosity of negative rates.

Last week a strange thing happened: Fed funds futures – the market’s best guess of where US interests will be in the future – implied negative rates were coming. The market priced in negative rates in Apr 2021. It doesn’t mean they will go negative, but the market can exert serious gravitational pull on Federal Reserve policy. Often, the tail wags the dog, and the market forces the Fed to catch up. Of course, given the vast deluge of QE, it’s not always easy to read the bond market these days – central bank intervention has destroyed any notion of price discovery.

Now this is a problem for the Fed. Japan and Europe, where negative rates are now embedded, are hardly poster children for monetary policy success. Nevertheless, the President eyes a freebie, tweeting:

As long as other countries are receiving the benefits of Negative Rates, the USA should also accept the “GIFT”. Big numbers!

The Fed needs to come out very firmly against negative rates, or it could become self-fulfilling. Numerous Fed officials this week are trying their best to sound tough, but they are not brave enough to dare sound ‘hawkish’ in any way. Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari said Fed policymakers have been ‘pretty unanimous’ in opposing negative interest rates, but he added that he did not want to say never with regards to negative interest rates.

It’s up to Fed chair Jay Powell today to set the record straight and make it clear the Fed will never go negative, or the US will go the way of Japan and Europe. Powell has to push very hard against this market mood. Too late says Scott Minerd, Guggenheim CIO, who believes the 10-year yield will eventually hit -0.5% in the coming years. Powell speaks today in a webinar organized by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. If he doesn’t lean hard on the negative rate talk it will cause a fair amount of mess on the short end.

UK 2yr yields turn negative, RBNZ doubles QE

Another strange thing happened this morning – UK interest rates also went negative. The 2yr gilt yield sank to an all-time low at -0.051% as markets assessed how much stimulus the UK economy is going to need (more on this below).

Inflation may or not be coming; deflation is the big worry right now as demand crumbles. The Covid-19 outbreak, or, more accurately, the response by governments, creates a profoundly deflationary shock for the global economy. Just look at oil prices. And yet, as central banks approach the precipice of debt monetization and Modern Monetary Theory, inflation could be coming in a big way.

So, we move neatly to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ), which last month said it was ‘open minded’ on direct monetisation of government debt. Today’s it has doubled the size of its bond buying programme but kept rates at 0.25%. The kiwi traded weaker.

German judge slams ECB

Sticking with central banks, and Peter Huber, the German judge who drafted the constitutional court’s controversial decision was reported making some pretty stunning remarks about the European Central Bank. Speaking to a German publication he warned the ECB is not the ‘Master of the Universe’, and, according to Bloomberg, said: ‘An institution like the ECB, which is only thinly legitimized democratically, is only acceptable if it strictly adheres to the responsibilities assigned to it’. These are pretty stunning and underline the extent to which this decision upends the assumption of ECJ oversight in the EU and over its institutions. Remarkable.

US stocks tumble on talk of lockdown extensions

US stocks had a dismal close, sliding sharply in the final hour of trading as Los Angeles County looked set to extend its stay at home order for another three months and Dr Fauci warned of reopening too early. The S&P 500 fell 2% and closed at the session low at 2870. The close could leave a mark as it broke support and we note the MACD crossover on the daily chart. European markets followed suit and drove 1-2% lower – this might be the time for the rollover I’ve been talking about for the last fortnight.

Pound off overnight lows after Q1 GDP decline softer-than-expected

Sterling is softer but off the overnight lows after less-bad-than-feared economic numbers. GBPUSD traded under 1.23 having tested the Apr 21st swing low support at 1.2250 ahead of the GDP print. The UK economy contracted by 5.8% in March. However, the –1.6% contraction in Q1 was less than the –2.2% expected, while quarter-on-quarter the economy contracted -2% vs –2.6% expected. GBPUSD bounced off its lows following the release, but upside remains constrained and the bearish MACD crossover on the daily chart still rules. We know it’s bad – the extension of the furlough scheme does not indicate things will be back to normal this year.

Oil markets are still looking quite bullish. A number of OPEC ‘sources’ yesterday suggested the cartel would stick to the 9.7m bpd cuts beyond June. API figures showed a build of 7.6m barrels, though there was a draw on stocks at Cushing, Oklahoma of 2.3m barrels. Gasoline inventories fell 1.9m barrels, but distillates continued to build by 4.7m barrels. EIA inventory data is later today is expected to show a build of 4.8m barrels.

BoE: for illustrative purposes only

Morning Note

The Bank of England left rates at 0.1% and, to the surprise of some, did not increase the size of its asset purchase programme. Sterling bounced back a bit after a week of losses following the decision. GBPUSD tested support at 1.23 overnight but spiked north of 1.2380 on the Bank of England’s announcement.

The assessment of the economy from the Bank is grim. The BoE said indicators of UK demand have generally stabilised at “very low levels” with a reduction in the level of household consumption of around 30%.  “Consumer confidence has declined markedly, and housing market activity has practically ceased,” the MPC statement noted. Company sales are seen –45% in Q2, with business investment –50%.

In a ‘plausible illustrative economic scenario’, the BoE forecasts a fall in UK-weighted world growth from 2% in 2019 to -13% in 2020, before bouncing back 14% in 2021 and 4% in 2022. Andrew Bailey, the new governor, said there will be some long-term damage to the capacity of the economy, but in the illustrative scenario, these are judged to be relatively small. The Bank seems to be in the –V-shaped reovery camp.

Two things stand out, Firstly, more QE is coming, even if it’s not today. Two members of the MPC voted to increase the stock of asset purchases by £100bn at this meeting.

Secondly, the Bank’s assumptions on economic recovery seem rather optimistic – let’s hope the plausible scenario is right. I have a nasty feeling it won’t be as there will be deep and lasting changes to the way people shop, work, travel and simply move around. The deep central bank and government support, especially furlough schemes, will make a huge difference, but things won’t be the same. IAG today says the level of demand in 2019 won’t recover properly until 2023.

After a decent start to the trading session yesterday the S&P 500 failed to break above 2890 again and bears took hold later to drive the index down 20pts. Europe was dragged lower into the close with the DAX finishing down 1%. European markets rallied a bit at the open on Thursday but the move lacks much conviction – the US will be the driver today and there futures indicate a bounce.

US 10-year bond yields rose to their highest in three weeks, pressuring gold, which has relinquished the $1700 handle to test the $1682 support area. US real yields rose to –0.38% from –0.44% as 10yr Treasuries drove to 0.7%.

Oil is in a holding pattern after the EIA said crude inventories rose less than expected. Crude oil stocks rose 4.6m barrels in the week to May 1st, whilst gasoline inventories fell on a pick-up in driving as states reopen. Domestic oil output in the US fell 200k bpd to 11.9m bpd. Inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma rose a little over 2m barrels, the smallest increase since late March. Having rallied to $26, WTI retreated but has found near-term support at $23 and is bound by resistance at $24.50. The Brent futures curve indicates a narrowing in contango spreads that indicates markets are less fearful of oversupply in the physical market.

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

PMIs crash as social distancing looks set to last, European shares softer

Morning Note

Britain faces future of social distancing. The chief medical officer for England, Chris Witty, says some disruptive lockdown measures will remain in force for the rest of the year. Pubs and restaurants may not open until Christmas. If they can before, you only need to do the arithmetic and work out that a pub which could usually count on being chock full of a Friday night won’t do much business if everyone is forced to stand six feet apart. They will lose less money by staying shut. It’s increasingly looking like a total failure by the British government to implement the testing required to get the country moving. Lockdown measures cannot become normalised.

The economic damage from these lockdowns is still providing some remarkably ugly numbers, but I think equity markets have already discounted the worst. France’s services PMI slid to 10.4 in April, while the composite index slipped to 11.2 vs 26 forecast. Germany’s composite PMI was a little better, but services were also uber-weak at 15.9. This follows some hideous PMIs overnight as Japan’s services PMI sank to its weakest since 2007. It’s notable that the severe lockdown measures that we have across Europe are not in place in Japan. Australia’s services survey down to a record low 19.6, but Australian exports climbed 29% in March thanks to a bounce back in iron ore shipments to China after a sharp decline in Jan and Feb.

When an economy has been effectively shut down it’s no surprise the PMIs will reflect it. It’s like looking in the rear-view mirror at a horrible accident – better to focus on the road ahead. France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire says the government wants all retail outlets to open by May 11th. However, this excludes bars and restaurants – what’s the point? Germany has just announced a new €10bn package of support and is already lifting some lockdown restrictions. Test, test, test.

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is loosening its rules on asset purchases to enable it buy so-called ‘fallen angel’ bonds – paper issued by companies not rated investment grade. Credit ratings agencies are expected to downgrade a slew of corporates from investment to junk, so this merely lets the ECB to operate how it wants – it doesn’t want to narrow the pool of available bonds and only prop up the ones who need it the least.

After the stramash of the last few days, oil has regained some stability, but I would be cautious about reading too much into any gains until we see the supply shut-ins and OPEC cuts start to reduce the flow, and the demand picks up again. Brent futures for June touched a low under $16 yesterday but rallied through to $22 and are last trading around $21.50. WTI for June also rallied from yesterday’s lows at $6.50 but twice failed to recover $16 and were last trading under $15.

European markets tried to sketch out gains in early trade as oil prices recovered some ground but the PMIs started to weigh. Shell and BP – big FTSE weightings – led the way higher before the economic hit dragged on sentiment. The FTSE 100 put on a good show yesterday, rallying 2.3% and closing near the highs at 5,770. Wall Street rallied 2% yesterday as the Senate passed a relief bill and oil recovered its footing, but stocks finished off the highs and the S&P 500 failed to close above 2800. Futures indicate mild gains.

The DAX was also firmer by 1.6% yesterday but failed to recover the trend line and has turned weaker again this morning. Daily momentum indicators have turned across indices and suggest a period of weakness.

In FX, the dollar is a tad softer at the start of the session but the dollar index remains firmly above the 100 level at 100.480. GBPUSD is flirting with the trend resistance having backed away from this yesterday following the crossover on the 1hr MACD. Bias remains to the downside, support at 1.2250 may be looked at.

EURUSD also maintains a bearish bias and took fright at the PMI horror show to dip under 1.08. Support at the early Apr lows around 1.07750 may be tested, which could open up a move back to 1.0640.

Europe firms as Brent follows WTI’s lead lower

Morning Note

European markets are cautiously higher after yesterday’s decline, but the daily momentum indicators are fading. The reality of economic collapse is being seen in oil markets, but – juiced by central bank support and of course being much more forward-looking than, for instance the June oil contract – equity markets are displaying greater optimism. I’d say oil markets are telling us how bad things are right now, while equity markets tell us how good or bad investors hope/fear things will be next year.

Now it’s the turn for Brent. Turmoil in global oil markets dragged Brent futures under $16, leaving the front month trading at its weakest since 1999. The collapse in WTI at the start of the week has spooked the market and now we see similar concerns about floating storage starting to fill up as physical storage constraints worrying WTI. The roll this Friday could be gappy, although Brent is cash settled, not physically, so in theory it ought not to be as troubled and negative prices are unlikely. That said, if global storage is running out – and that is what the Brent trade is starting to suggest – then there will be no bid and prices could hit zero.

WTI remains under pressure with the June contract suffering a ‘flash crash’ yesterday as it slumped as low as $6.50 before recovering above $10. The June contract, whilst not immediately facing the same liquidity problems as the May contract did on Monday, is going to be under pressure all the way to expiry with nowhere left in the US to take physical delivery. It too could turn negative if paper traders are left holding the baby close to expiry. July is trading around $18.40, August is above $21. Edward Morse, head of commodities at Citigroup, says oil could bounce back to $50 by the end of the year.

Meanwhile the damage is being felt in oil ETFs which are needing to shift their holdings further out in future months. The United States Oil Fund (USO) is ditching its June holdings as it tries to shore its balance sheet, and this will be having an impact on the front month trading. It will also be sharpening the super contango. It becomes a vicious circle as long as no one wants to take delivery. Yesterday saw more than 2m June contracts traded, the CME Group said, the busiest single day for the month ever.

The pain in oil markets is unsettling risk appetite more broadly, with the S&P 500 down 3% and the Dow shedding over 600 points yesterday. It was the worst day for the three main indices since April 1st. Charts and momentum suggesting the rally has lost steam and 50-day SMAs (blue line) almost seem to be frightening the market and forcing it to back off. The question is whether sentiment sours from here and we retest the lows or it’s just a pause in the rally. Earnings are not telling us an awful lot as uncertainty reigns. The key is the emergence from lockdown and restart of economies. And of course, finding a vaccine.

Dow Cash, 1-Day Chart, Marketsx – 08.32 UTC+1, April 22nd, 2020

Whilst European markets are higher today after yesterday’s drop, the momentum is fading and the DAX has broken under trend support. Again the 50-day SMA is major barrier.

DAX Cash, 1-Day Chart, Marketsx – 08.35 UTC+1, April 22nd, 2020

A major boost for Netflix as it added almost 16m new subscribers in the first quarter, well ahead of expectations. The company has been boosted by lockdown measures and should see more net subscriber adds in Q2 but notes in the circumstances it’s all ‘guess work’. But this might be as good as it gets this year – Netflix won’t get a better opportunity to gain new members than now. I’d also be concerned that after such a big runup in the stock to all-time highs, the upside is pretty well discounted now and viewing figures will start to decline as lockdowns end. A stronger dollar is hitting foreign earnings and spending on content is delayed by production shutdowns. EPS was a slight miss but Netflix profits are always a little lumpy due to inconsistent spending on content.

In FX, GBPUSD broke down through near-term horizontal support and out of its range yesterday and with the bearish bias persisting the next level comes in around 1.2160, the Apr 6th and late March swing lows. Near-term though the 1hr MACD is positive after a potentially bullish crossover late yesterday.

GBP/USD, 1-Day Chart, Marketsx – 08.35 UTC+1, April 22nd, 2020

 

Oil tumult worries investors as equities retreat

Morning Note

Gyrations and anomalies in the crude oil market grabbed all the attention yesterday, Rightly so, as West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude – the US benchmark – tumbled into negative territory for the first time ever. Prices plunged at one stage to -$40, before climbing back into positive territory.  It was a staggering event.

A few things need to be considered. First this only related to the May contract which was about to expire and had become very illiquid as major trading desks had given up on it several days prior. CME Group data indicated volume of 122k for May contract vs 780k for Jun. Two, the Jun contract remained much firmer, albeit it too was dragged lower towards $20.

You need to bear in mind that Nymex WTI is a physical contract – if you hold it expiration you need to take delivery. Normally as you approach expiration of a futures contract, traders simply roll their positions over to the next month without any fuss. What we saw yesterday was very much a roll over problem – traders holding the May contract couldn’t find any buyers because no one with the ability to take delivery wanted it.

This is because of the collapse in physical demand for crude products like petrol and jet fuel, which means the storage capacity at hubs like Cushing, Oklahoma is near to ‘tank tops’. So, what we got was a severe dislocation as paper traders found they had to offload positions without any liquidity or bid in the market. A unique event, but one that reflects how financial markets can become very dysfunctional very quickly when things go bad.

And whilst it wasn’t a good day for the oil majors, Chevron and Exxon Mobil fell around 4%, hardly the meltdown suggested by the front month implosion. The kind of dislocation witnessed yesterday, however much some may downplay it, points to a fundamental problem in oil markets, namely a lack of storage capacity and demand. But it also shows the market trying to do its job, forcing the price down enough to shut production. The problem is closing down production sites is not that easy and not cheap, so producers are desperately trying to avoid it.

Donald Trump says he will add 75m barrels to the US SPR – always one for a deal. OPEC is said to be looking at cutting oil output immediately, rather than waiting until next month. You should note that Brent is much more stable, albeit still pressured to the downside, as OPEC+ cuts are due to take effect and storage constraints are less pronounced.

WTI – for Jun – was down testing the $20. It’s hard to see how it can hold up against the immense pressure from the lack of storage.

Equities are only 15% from their February all-time highs, but the world seems ‘more than 15% screwed up’. That’s how Howard Marks, the co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, summed up the current state of the bear market rally whilst talking to CNBC yesterday.

The S&P 500 finished the day lower by 1.8%, with futures pointing lower again today and now under the 50-day moving average. European markets are softer, with the FTSE 100 trading under 5700 but remains in the bullish channel, with support coming in at 5600. The DAX is testing trend support around 10,500.

Germany 30 Cash, 1-Hour Chart, Marketsx – 08.16 UTC+1, April 21st, 2020

In FX, the pound retains its bearish bias with GBPUSD making fresh lows overnight before bouncing back into the horizontal channel that has dominated since last Wednesday. The 1-hr MACD may be about to show a positive move. Price action is anchored on the lower Bollinger band.

GBP/USD, 1-Hour Chart, Marketsx – 08.20 UTC+1, April 21st, 2020

UK unemployment figures were a lot better than expected, with the claimant count change up just 12k vs 170k expected. Unemployment emerged at 4%, up from the 3.9% before while average earnings fell to +2.8% vs 3% previously. There will be a lot of hope that the furlough scheme is working, and the UK government support is enough to prevent an unemployment crisis. But a lot depends on how quick you end the restrictions.

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