Stocks nudge up, GBP breaks higher

Morning Note

Stock markets continued to strengthen as economies re-open but have yet to retest last Thursday’s highs. The unrest in the US is not likely to have a material impact on equity markets in the near term, largely because of the large-cap weighting, but we should caution that it has the potential to delay the economic recovery in the US.

People who would have been going back to work, spending in restaurants and bars, reopening their stores, will not in this febrile environment. President Trump is doubling down on using force to combat the unrest.

There was news on Remdesivir from Gilead – shares fell as the company reported indications that the drug has some positive impact, but it’s a long way from a slam dunk Covid-beater. Shares fell more than 3%.

So far, the situation with Hong Kong and simmering US-China tensions are being shrugged off. News that China was reducing soy imports from the US temporarily dented risk appetite yesterday. Today China’s foreign ministry said there was no information on any soy bean halt. Could be a load of rumours, but we should be very attuned to further developments on this front.

On the whole investors continue to see the glass half full even though the real extent of the economic damage is yet to be really felt. Furlough schemes and government bailouts may insulate people and companies from the shock, but these only delay the pain.

The FTSE 100 had a look at 6200 again this morning having moved added 90pts to 6,166 on Monday. Thursday’s peak at 6,234 remains the bull’s target for the cash market. The DAX moved to 11,900 with bulls eyeing the 200-day moving average at 12,100.

US stocks climbed by around a third of one per cent despite the civil unrest dragging on and drawing some attention. The S&P 500 finished at 3,055, above its 200-day moving average and making a high at 3,062 in the process, just short of last week’s peak at 3,068. The Dow is trading around the 25,500 level with the 200-day SMA in sight at 26,360.

It’s a very light day for data but overnight the RBA left rates on hold at 0.25% and signalled a more optimistic view of growth. ‘It is possible that the depth of the downturn will be less than earlier expected,’ Governor Philip Lowe said. AUDUSD is stronger, moving back to 0.68 and its best level since January.

News this week will be crucial – US services ISM on Wednesday and the nonfarm payrolls on Friday – for getting more of a handle on how much damage has been done and how quickly businesses are recovering.

Crude oil continues to hold the break on hopes that OPEC+ will agree to further extending the deepest production cuts. OPEC is set to meet June 4th now, with market participants expecting the cartel and Russia to rollover the May-Jun level of cuts for another 1-3 months.

Having brought the meeting forward it looks like OPEC+ will extend the most aggressive cuts of 9.7m bpd through to the end of the summer, though an extension for the rest of 2020 looks off the table. As noted yesterday, with compliance at just 75% last month, all else being equal, OPEC will need more time to rebalance the market as it wishes.

In FX, sterling has made a nice move higher, with GBPUSD breaking north above $1.25, after there was talk of a Brexit compromise ahead of the next round of talks this week. According to reports, the UK is making the first move to compromise – let’s see if the EU can be flexible enough to get a deal done. GBPUSD pushed through the 23.6% retracement around 1.251, potentially opening up a move back to the Apr double top above 1.26.

Removing a no-deal risk at this time would be a significant boost to the pound right now and may well take cable back above 1.30.

GBPUSD technical analysis chart for June 2nd 2020

Shell sold, Lloyds crumples, markets look to future post Covid

Morning Note

Shares in Shell slumped 7% as it cut its dividend and reported net income in the first quarter almost halved. Whilst BP chose to absorb a $6bn rise in net debt to $51bn and gearing above 36x in order to preserve its precious dividend, Shell seems to be taking a more prudent approach in cutting its dividend for the first time since the 1940s. Arguably BP is better placed to weather the storm, but Shell is taking the more sensible course of action. Shell’s gearing ratio is down to around 28x, a more comfortable level for Ben van Beurden than it is for Bernard Looney. This poses a simple question for investors – can BP keep it up? 

 

Shares in Lloyds sank 4% after profits collapsed in the first quarter and it significantly raised impairment charges. Profits before tax fell by 95% to £74m, as it raised credit losses provisions to £1.4bn. More worryingly for Lloyds is the 11% fall in revenues – if the housing market remains sluggish it’s got a lot of exposure to worry about and doesn’t have the investment banking arm to fall back on that Barclays does. The read across hit RBS, which is similarly exposed to credit impairments in the UK, with shares almost 4% lower.

 

The US economy shrank more than expected in the first quarter, declining by 4.8% and signalling the slowdown in Q2 could be well beyond estimates. Spain’s economy declined by 5.2% in the first quarter, marking the steepest contraction since records began in 1995. It was also worse than the ~4% decline expected.  

 

But the extent of economic destruction matters less to the market than the speed at which recovery will happen, so news from Gilead that its remdesivir drug can probably treat Covid-19 sent stocks into a strong rally. White House health advisor Dr Anthony Fauci gave it a cautious thumbs up, too. Global stock markets are looking to a world post-Covid-19, although the wider macro trade is less optimistic.

 

The S&P 500 rallied over 2.6%, closing 5 points above the important 61.8% retracement found at 2934, after the Gilead news. The Dow also rallied and is on pace for its best month since 1987. The broader S&P 500 is tracking its best month since Oct 1974. These are strange times for markets, but you have to look at the way in which tech is driving gains and how large caps can lean on central bank support. 

 

European markets jumped yesterday and are skirting around the flat line after almost an hour of trading as traders try to figure out whether there is any more left in this rally. I don’t think markets are going to want to retest the highs any time soon and profit-taking and renewed risk-aversion will likely see a pullback before long.

 

Last night the Federal Reserve warned of medium-term risks to the economy and signalled there is not going to be a V-shape recovery. Jay Powell did nothing to upset markets and suggested it was likely the Fed would need to do more. The European Central Bank will need to communicate a similar message of support today. 

 

Microsoft and Facebook earnings were very strong, beating estimates, but this does nothing but underline the relative safety to be found in high quality technology companies with strong balance sheets and resilience to lockdown measures. Facebook jumped 10% in after-hours trading as it said April showed some stability in ad revenues, echoing the statement from Alphabet.  

 

Oil continues to notch gains as the risk rally reflects hopes of the global economy opening up sooner, and after a smaller-than-feared build in US crude inventories. Front-month WTI rose above $17 in early European trade. US crude oil inventories rose by 9m barrels from the previous week less than the 11-12m expected and giving some flicker of hope to beleaguered oil traders. Domestic US production slipped, but not by a lot, falling to 12.1m bpd from 12.2m bpd a week before.  

 

Russia’s energy minister Novak said the country’s producers would cut output by 20% from February levels in May, while Norway is playing ball with the OPEC+ arrangement by reducing production by 13%. But demand falls still seem to exceed the capacity of the market to reduce supply. The International Energy Agency said Thursday that global energy demand will fall by 6% in 2020, and will be down 9% in the US and 11% in the EU.  

Markets jump on Gilead news

Equities

European stocks added to gains and US futures extended higher after a report indicated positive results from Gilead’s drug trials for treating Covid-19.  

 

Gilead said it was aware of positive data emerging from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID) study of its antiviral drug remdesivir for the treatment of Covid-19. Gilead will share additional data on its own trials in due course, stating in a PR: This study will provide information on whether a shorter, 5-day duration of therapy may have similar efficacy and safety as the 10-day treatment course evaluated in the NIAID trial and other ongoing trials. Gilead expects data at the end of May from the second SIMPLE study evaluating the 5- and 10-day dosing durations of remdesivir in patients with moderate COVID-19 disease.’

 

This is undoubtedly positive for risk – the closer you get to treatment or a vaccine the quicker we reopen the economy and the lower the risk of a 2nd, 3rd wave outbreaks. Rumours of positive results from Gilead a week ago helped lift spirits and this is yet more encouraging news. We are also hearing that there will be a press conference later today with Dr Fauci on the NIAID results, which may offer further details for markets. 

 

The FTSE 100 extended gains to take out 6060, whilst the DAX moved aggressively back to with touching distance of 11,000. The S&P 500 headed to open up at 2920, with the Dow seen up +400 points at the open around 24,540. 

 

Meanwhile, after some delay and an initial misprint we learned US GDP contracted 4.8% in the first quarter. The usual caveats pertain – it’s backward-looking data and the worst of the damage will be done in Q2, but nonetheless it was worse than the –4% expected. 

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.

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