All eyes on Powell, oil steady in face of Laura

Morning Note

Golf can be bad for your career. Just ask Phil Hogan, the now ex-EU trade commissioner, who’s resigned after a golf dinner in Kildare which fell foul of Ireland’s coronavirus restrictions. Maybe he was testing his eyesight – ‘ah yes, I can see that prawn. I’m safe to go to Claridge’s now’.  Golf hasn’t been this newsworthy since Tiger Woods went for a joy ride.

Global stocks hit a record high as the FTSE All World Index beat its peak set in February. The only word we can use to describe this is ‘liquidity’. It’s simply a result of a huge injection of stimulus and money that has needed to find a home. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also both notched fresh record highs.

For the most part the path of least resistance is upwards – for global stocks led by the US that is probably true when there is so much liquidity and so little yield. But for the UK market, the path of least resistance seems to be sideways – the FTSE 100 remains anchored to 6,000 and it may take a move in the FX markets to drastically alter its range-bound price action.

Will Powell’s speech live up to expectations?

European indices were flat to slightly negative in early trade on Thursday ahead of Jay Powell’s speech at 14:10 London time. Investors are waiting for the substance of the speech amid expectation he will detail the outcome of the monetary policy framework review (that is the title of today’s speech).

The Fed chair is expected to tee up a new monetary policy framework based around average inflation targeting (AIT), which would let the Fed run the economy as hot as it likes for a longer period. Of course, he may skirt round the details and prefer to use the September FOMC meeting to make a formal announcement.

Expectations are rather high ahead of this speech – there is a potential to underwhelm.

WPP and Hays earnings hopeful, Rolls Royce dives towards one-year low

WPP shares rose 5% after the company reported a 15% drop in life-for-like revenues less pass-through costs in the second quarter but signalled the worst is over for the advertising market. The company also said it is on course to achieve the upper end of the £700-800m cost savings target and declared an interim dividend of 10p.

Trading is improving but lumpy. In July, the LFL revenue less pass-through costs of -9.2% was a steady improvement on Q2 but the performance across markets remains volatile.

Another good bellwether Hays said it’s seen some stabilisation in fees since May and ‘modest’ signs of improvement in permanent hiring. Net fees were down –11% for the year to the end of June, whilst pre-tax profits were –63% lower as a result of a collapse in recruitment due to the pandemic. Shares ticked up 1%.

Even worse news for Rolls Royce; shares slumped over 7% and neared the 52-week low after the engineer reported a £5.4bn loss due to the crippling of civil aviation during the pandemic. It also included a £2.6bn loss from FX hedges. Underlying revenues were down by a quarter. CFO Stepehen Daintith has resigned.

Hurricane Laura in focus for oil markets

Oil prices were steady as Hurricane Laura makes landfall in the US amid significant amount of production and refinery shut ins. The hurricane is at risk of strengthening to a category 5 storm. WTI (Oct) maintained the $43 handle but backed off from a 5-month high.

Yesterday the Energy Information Administration noted a draw of 4.7 million barrels last week, but oil inventories remain 15% above the average for this time of year.

The market reaction has been rather muted by the fact inventories are unseasonably high and demand is down compared to last year. Whilst more than 80% of Gulf of Mexico crude production has been shut in, stocks at Cushing at 25% above the five-year average, and distillates are 24% above average.

One further note on yesterday’s inventory data relating to travel and the airlines – over the four weeks to Aug 21st jet fuel product supplied was down 45.7% compared with the same four-week period last year.

FTSE comes under pressure ahead of Powell speech tomorrow

Morning Note

Stocks in Europe chopped sideways after fresh records were set on Wall Street and traders start to turn their attention to Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell’s speech tomorrow.  Tuesday saw risk appetite go off the boil after a strong start to the European session – the FTSE 100 ended sharply lower while the DAX closed at the session low to end flat on the day.

The timid recovery across European bourses has left the rally in the US looking even more impressive. A pullback in Apple shares did hit the Dow – it won’t have such a big effect come Monday when its weighting will fall with the stock split (the Dow Jones is a price-weighted index). Shares in ExxonMobil, Pfizer and Raytheon all fell as they were given their marching orders from the index, while their replacements – Honeywell, Amgen and Salesforce.com – all rose sharply. The S&P 500 rose 0.36% to a new all-time high.

The FTSE 100 has endured a tough 24 hours – having hit a high yesterday morning near 6,180, this morning the blue-chip index is testing the 6,000 support. Last week’s low at 5,948 is yet to be tested again, however, and bulls will be hopeful that a base is forming and the near-term downtrend off the June highs is ending. If the dollar weakens further and sterling rallies, this support level could go.

Data today is light – US durable goods orders forecast at +4.4% and +1.9% core, which would be a sharp slowdown from last month’s +7.6% (+3.6% core). The weekly EIA crude oil inventories report is also coming later today.

Oil rises as API data reveals forecast-beating draw, Hurricane Laura approaches

WTI rose on a bigger than expected API draw as well as concerns about Hurricane Laura affecting supply. The American Petroleum Institute (API) reported crude oil inventories fell 4.5 million barrels for the week ending August 21st, after a 4.3m barrel draw the previous week. The forecast for the EIA figures today is for a draw of 3.4m. WTI (Oct) rallied for the best part of yesterday to test the $43.50 resistance where it immediately backed off.

Crude prices continue to grind higher as the economic data continues to indicate a slow recovery.

Central bank speeches in focus as markets eye virtual Jackson Hole symposium

Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist and leading V-shaped recovery proponent, will speak later. His optimistic attitude the economic recovery is at odds with many.

The real focus on the central bank front this week though is the virtual Jackson Hole Symposium and Jay Powell’s speech tomorrow as US cash equity markets open. Expectations are running high: Powell is set to use this to deliver a shift in the way the Fed approaches inflation, sending a dovish message to the market that the central bank is in this for as long as it takes. The lack of fresh fiscal stimulus only makes the Fed likely to be more dovish.

Essentially, we think the Fed will signal explicitly it is prepared to allow inflation to run hot for longer with a new average inflation target. All this means is the Fed will be lower for longer. This should support risk and could weigh on the US dollar, but there is a risk that inflation expectations can start to become unanchored as they did in the 1970s.

If inflation spikes and the Fed lets it by continuing to keep yields down, stocks and gold should be the main beneficiaries. The vast increase in the supply of money combined with major supply chain readjustments and reshoring taking place against the backdrop of US-China trade tensions, suggests a bout of inflation is around the corner when a vaccine arrives and the real recovery takes hold, despite the initial disinflationary effects from the pandemic.

Will Powell speech hit the dollar?

The US dollar has marched lower since its March blowoff. But lately there have been signs of a base forming around the 92-93 level for the dollar index. An aggressively dovish message from Powell this week could see this support tested initially, but we should also bear in mind that average inflation targeting without, for example, yield curve control, could create a much steeper yield curve (i.e. higher long end yields) in tandem with higher inflation expectations, which could support USD in the longer term. US 10 year yields have already start to move higher, rising to 0.7%.

BT shares leap as European equities trade higher

Morning Note

Still no love for Europe? Equity indices in Europe dropped last week as risk appetite waned into the weekend, whilst US stocks closed Friday at record highs, albeit the rally since the March lows has been very uneven – all the chatter over the weekend was about a K-shaped recovery.

Can beaten down value stocks catch up? With Europe lacking a lot of the high-quality tech and growth names, it may struggle until there is a vaccine, the pandemic is over, and dividends are reinstated. Short-term the price action in stock indices seems more down to the individual narrative of the day or week.

Stocks up as markets focus on Covid-19 treatment and vaccine news

Today it’s positive. European equities took the cue from a strong Asian session and pushed higher on Monday morning, with the narrative centring on treatment and vaccine news. Donald Trump is said to be mulling fast-tracking AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate, whilst the FDA issued an emergency use authorisation for using plasma from recovered patients to treat Covid-19. Shares in AstraZeneca rose 2% in early trade.

Meanwhile, the US and EU have struck a ‘mini’ deal to cut tariffs on a range of items, which marks an important de-escalation of trade tensions that has dogged relations for many months.

BT surges as it readies takeover defence

BT shares leapt 7% after reports it is seeking to bolster its defences against a possible takeover. At a valuation of £10bn, the group has become a definite target. And whilst BT has a lot of legacy baggage – notably £18bn in net debt and a major pension deficit – it’s also got the Openreach crown jewel, which would be worth considerably more on its own than the group is valued today.

Of course, there is no formal offer, but shares could jump further if one emerges. Deutsche Telekom, which owns 12% in BT, is seen as a likely candidate. The question is whether there could be more bombed out UK-listed stocks that could be taken out by a timely takeover…perennial rumour-favourite ITV, for instance?

Deadlocked Brexit talks weigh on Sterling

Elsewhere, sterling made a push higher last week, but the dollar came back. Brexit talks did not go very well and there was virtually zero progress on some key elements. The failure to break the long-term weekly trend resistance makes GBPUSD susceptible to further pull backs, with a gravestone doji weekly candle also a bearish indicator. Support kicked in at 1.3060 on Friday and offers the near-term test for bears.

Bulls will require a weekly close above the trend line to be confident. EURUSD failed to overcome 1.1960 and pulled back to 1.1760 where it has found support. A further rise in EUR net long positions to almost 200k contracts evident in Friday’s COT report from the CFTC indicates extremely bullish positioning that may be too crowded and liable to a squeeze lower. GBP speculative positioning turned net long from net short for the first time since April.

What we’re watching this week:

Republican convention fires campaign starting pistol

The Democrats seem to have got through their set-piece without a hiccup. Now over to Trump and co for the Republican convention, which will not only mark the starting pistol for this year’s presidential run, but also the race for the 2024 GOP candidate. Market attention will increasingly come around to the November presidential race with barely over two months left until polling day.

Vix futures indicate investors are starting to position for more volatility as the election approaches and we should be prepared for a decent nudge higher in volatility and swing lower for stocks over the next two months. This is will be the last major set piece event before the first presidential debate on September 29th.

Jackson Hole

A confusion of central bankers convene in Wyoming online for the annual Jackson Hole Symposium. This year’s virtual theme is “Navigating the Decade Ahead: Implications for Monetary Policy”. I could answer that in one sentence: lower for longer, outright debt monetization, force inflation up to clear debts. But I’m not a central banker, although I would go to Jackson Hole for the trout fishing.

Federal Reserve chair Jay Powell speaks on Thursday just a few moments before the US cash equity on Wall Street. Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem follows and Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey speaks on the Friday. Given the way the minutes of the Fed’s July meeting rocked risk appetite and checked the bulls’ progress, this will offer a chance to catch up on where the Fed one month on with its mid-September FOMC meeting in focus.

Economic data to watch

There is a lot of economic data to get through this week, notably some Q2 GDP second estimates for the US among others. On Tuesday we are looking at the US CB consumer confidence report.  Wednesday sees the weekly crude oil inventories report as well as US durable goods orders and Australian construction activity. On Thursday the US weekly initial jobless claims number gets released, after last week’s disappointing print of 1.1m. Look also at the pending home sales and preliminary (second estimate) GDP numbers.

More US data rounds out the week on Friday with the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the core PCE price index; personal spending; University of Michigan consumer sentiment; and the Chicago PMI on the slate.

Earnings to watch

Ad titan WPP reports it interim results for the six months ended June 30th on Thursday. The advertising giant is a useful barometer of economic confidence. Big brands have slashed marketing budgets to cope with pandemic and WPP has warned of the hit it will take this year.

But rival Publicis reported a 13-% drop in second quarter like-for-like sales, which was well ahead of the –20% anticipated. Shares in WPP are down over 40% this year – could Publicis offer a clue as whether the stock may find a new course? Does WPP see ad spend picking up? How has the Facebook boycott impacted it?

We are also interested in recruiter Hays – which reports finals on Thursday and is often a great indicator as to the overall health of the labour market globally. Salesforce.com(CRM) is expected to deliver earnings and revenue growth when it reports numbers for the quarter ended July on Tuesday. EPS is seen at $0.7 on revenues of $4.9bn.

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