US Election, Recession, Brexit: What’s in store for markets in 2020 H2?

Equities
Forex

The first half of 2020 has been a wild ride. We’ve seen unprecedented moves in markets, historic stimulus efforts by both central banks and governments, and record-breaking data that grabbed headlines across the globe.

H1 has already brought plenty of drama, but what should we expect from the next two quarters? Join us for a recap of some of the biggest events in market history and a look at the risks and opportunities that lie ahead.

Coronavirus pandemic prompts worst quarter in decades for stocks

At the start of 2020 the main themes of the year looked to be the US Presidential Election, the trade war with China, and Brexit.

It seems like years ago that markets began to get jittery on fears that the handful of novel coronavirus cases in Wuhan, China, could become something ‘as bad as SARS’. It quickly became apparent that we were dealing with something much worse, and the market was quick to realise the full, brutal, reality of a global pandemic.

The panic reached its zenith towards the end of March. As the sell-off ran out of momentum global stock markets were left -21.3% lower. The S&P 500 had its worst quarter since 2008; the Dow dropped the most since 1987 and set a new record for the biggest single-day gain (2,117 points) and single-day loss (2,997 points). European stocks had their worst quarter since 2002, with a -23% drop in Q1.

Oil turns negative for first time in history after Saudi Arabia sparks price war

Things became even more chaotic in the oil markets when, after OPEC and its allies failed to agree a pandemic response, Saudi Arabia opened the floodgates and slashed prices of its crude oil exports. Oil prices endured the biggest single-day collapse since the Gulf War – over -24%.

It was further strain for a market now seriously considering the risk that shuttered economies across the globe would hit demand so hard that global storage would hit capacity. The May contract for West Texas Intermediate went negative – a first for oil futures – changing hands for almost -$40 ahead of expiry.

Meanwhile US 10-year treasury yields hit record lows of 0.318%, and gold climbed to its highest levels in seven years, pushing even higher in Q2.

Economies locked down, central banks crank up stimulus

Nations across the globe ordered their citizens to remain at home, taking the unprecedented step to voluntarily put huge swathes of their economies on ice for weeks. Even when lockdown measures were eased, the new normal of social distancing, face masks, and plastic screens left many businesses operating at a fraction of their normal capacity.

The world’s central banks were quick to step in during the height of market volatility and continued to do so as the forecasts for the economic impact of the pandemic grew even more grim. The Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Bank of Canada, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand all dropped rates to close to zero. Along with the European Central Bank, they unleashed enormous quantitative easing programmes, as well as other lending measures to help support businesses.

Unprecedented stimulus as unemployment spikes

Governments stepped in to pay the wages of furloughed employees as unemployment spiked – the US nonfarm payrolls report for April showed a jaw-dropping 20.5 million Americans had become unemployed in a single month. In the space of just six weeks America had erased all the job gains made since the financial crisis. The bill for US stimulus measures is currently $2 trillion, and is set to go higher when further measures are approved.

While most of the data may be improving, we’re still yet to see just how bad the GDP figures for Q2 are going to be. These, which will be released in the coming weeks, will show just how big a pit we have to dig ourselves out of.

H2: Recovery, US election, trade wars, Brexit

Markets may have recovered much of the coronavirus sell-off – US and European stocks posted their best quarter in decades in Q2 – but the world is still walking a fine line between reopening its economies and fending off the pandemic. Second wave fears abound. In the US in particular, economic data is largely pointing to a sharp rebound in activity, but at the same time Covid-19 case numbers are consistently smashing daily records.

These key competing bullish and bearish factors threaten to keep markets walking a tightrope in the quarters to come. Because of this, progress in the race to find a vaccine is closely watched. Risk is still highly sensitive to news of positive drug trials. The sooner we get a vaccine, the sooner life can return to normal, even if the world economy still has a long way to go before it returns to pre-crisis levels.

US Presidential Election: Trump lags in polls, Biden threatens to reverse tax cuts

The biggest talking point on the market in the coming months, aside from coronavirus, will undoubtedly be the US Presidential Election. The stakes are incredibly high, especially for the US stock market, and Democrat nominee Joe Biden intends to reverse the bulk of the sweeping tax cuts implemented by president Donald Trump.

Trump is currently lagging in the polls, with voters unimpressed by his response to the pandemic and also to the protests against police brutality that swept the nation. The president has long taken credit for the performance of the stock market and the economy, so for the latter to be facing a deep recession robs him of one of his key topics on the campaign trail.

Joe Biden may currently have a significant lead, but there is a long time to go until the polls, and anything could happen yet.

China trade war in focus, Hong Kong law adds fresh complications

The trade war with China would be a focus for the market anyway, but will come under increasing scrutiny in the run-up to the election. Thanks to Covid-19, anti-China sentiment is running high in the United States. This means Biden will also have to talk tough on China, which could mean that the damaging trade war is set to continue regardless of who wins the White House this time around.

Tensions have already risen on the back of China’s passing of a new Hong Kong security law, and coronavirus makes it virtually impossible that the terms of the Phase One trade agreement hashed out by Washington and Beijing will be carried out. Trump may be forced to stick with the deal, because abandoning it would leave him unable to flaunt his ability to make China toe the line during the presidential race. This would be positive for risk – markets were already rattled by fears that the president’s response to the Hong Kong law would include abandoning the deal.

How, when, and if: Unwinding stimulus

Even if we get a vaccine before the end of the year and global economies do rebound sharply, the vast levels of government and central bank stimulus will need to be addressed. Governments are running wartime levels of debt.

We’re looking at an even longer slog back to normalised monetary policy – something that banks like the Bank of England and the European Central Bank were struggling to reach even before Covid. There will be huge quantitative easing programmes to unwind and interest rates to lift away from zero, or potentially even out of negative territory.

Markets have been able to recover thanks to a steady cocktail of government and central bank stimulus. The years since the financial crisis have proven that it is incredibly difficult to wean markets and the economy off stimulus. There could be some tough decisions ahead, especially as governments begin to consider how they plan to repair their finances in the years to come.

Brexit deadline approaches, impasse remains

There is also Brexit to consider. While the coronavirus forced officials to move their negotiations online, little else seems to have happened so far. Both sides are refusing to budge and both sides are claiming that the other is being unreasonable. The UK does not want an extension to the transition period, and the two sides are running out of time to agree a trade deal.

We’ve seen before that both Downing Street and Brussels like to wait until the last possible moment to soften their stance. However, the risks here are higher because before there was always the prospect of another extension.

The last time negotiations were extended the battle in Westminster shocked the UK to its constitutional core. The Conservative landslide victory of 2019 gave Boris Johnson a much stronger hand this time around – the UK will leave in December, regardless of the situation.

Stay on top of the biggest events in H2

Whatever happens in the coming months, we’ll be here to bring you the latest news and analysis of the top developments and market events via the blog and XRay.

BlondeMoney Bank of England rate decision preview

Forex

BlondeMoney CEO Helen Thomas explains what to watch out for from the upcoming Bank of England policy decision.

Get more top insight from Helen with Blonde Markets every week on XRay.

ECB preview: Welcome to Japan?

Equities

The European Central Bank (ECB) convenes next week (June 4th) and is expected to increase emergency asset purchases as it continues to show it will ‘do whatever it takes’. With the scope of the Covid damage becoming a little clearer and deflation rearing its ugly head again, the ECB will stick to the old playbook of more QE to fight it. As ever the market will wonder whether this is ‘enough’, and as ever the answer will come back in the negative.

ECB monetary policy outlook: Japanification?

Eurozone inflation sank to its weakest in 4 years in May, data on Friday showed, only making further expansion by the ECB all the more certain. HICP inflation declined to 0.1% for the euro area, but outright deflation was recorded in 12 of the 19 countries using the single currency. Things have changed a lot since Mario Draghi declared victory over deflation in March 2017.

Nevertheless, core HICP inflation remains stable at 0.9%, which will give some comfort to policymakers. The decline in the oil price passed through to petrol pumps, with energy –12% year-on-year.

Recovery in oil prices should boost the headline reading going forward but the core reading may not be able to withstand the pressures of demand destruction and mass unemployment. The reading today only means the ECB will keep its foot to the floor with increased asset purchases.

However, in reality, given the ECB is already at the absolute limits of monetary policy efficacy, it cannot actually do much about this and only hope that consumer confidence comes back and for energy prices rise – and for global money printing efforts by central bank peers to stoke a round of inflation, which some think will be the outcome post Covid-19.

The concern of course is that Europe, like Japan, has driven itself into a vicious cycle of deflationary tendencies and negative interest rates that will be very hard to escape, particularly as it contends with long-term, perhaps permanent, damage to productivity and economic activity due to the pandemic.

Eurozone economic projections

There will be a lot of focus on the staff macroeconomic projections, although the extreme uncertainty around the extent of damage to the Q2 readings and speed of recovery forecast for Q3/4 means a lot of this remains guesswork.

The ECB has detailed three scenarios for GDP in 2020 relating to the damage wrought by the pandemic: mild -5%, medium –8% and severe –12%. Various comments indicate we can now rule out the mild scenario. Christine Lagarde said this week that the “economic contraction likely between medium and severe scenarios”, adding: “It is very hard to forecast how badly the economy has been affected.”

There is no way of really know how badly Q2 went. We have various sources estimating pretty seismic falls; INSEE says French GDP will contract by 20% in the second quarter. Estimates for Germany suggest a roughly 10% decline.

We know that tough lockdown measures that started to be introduced across Europe in March produced a noticeable impact on Q1. Whilst economic activity is emerging from the cold again as June begins, there is little doubt that April and May saw considerable declines in output.

More PEPP announced after the ECB monetary policy meeting?

The ECB seems all but certain to increase the size of its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP). The €750bn limit looks likely to run out by the autumn and the ECB will want to push the envelope by a further €500bn.

Germany’s Constitutional Court ruling has obvious repercussions for the Bundesbank, but that ruling relates to ‘normal’ QE and not PEPP, which would tend to argue in favour of expanding this programme now during the emergency, rather than trying to top up later on.  Moreover, the ECB wants to make sure that the ‘whatever it takes’ message gets through to the markets to avoid dislocations in bond markets.

Finally, whilst our focus is on the ECB in the coming days, the most important thing for the EZ and the euro is not Ms Lagarde and co, but the frugal four and the EU’s rescue fund. The European Commission’s 7-year budget including the €750bn rescue fund were only published this week so a final decision is not expected any time soon.

Budget talks look set to be long and arduous – the numbers of budget contributors highlight that Sweden, Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands pay their fare share and some: all contribute more than 3% of GDP vs 2.2% by France and 3.9% by Germany. Which is why Germany throwing its weight behind the bailout grants (as opposed to loans) is so crucial. Ultimate the EU will work out a fudge to keep the frugal four on board- the question is whether it can somehow achieve debt mutualisation and make its ‘Hamiltonian’ moment real.

EURUSD chart analysis

The dollar was offered on Friday with DXY sinking to its weakest since mid-March and test the 61.8% retracement of the Covid-inspired rally at the 98 round number support.

This helped push EURUSD higher as the pair cemented the breach of the 200-day simple moving average on the upside. Bulls looking to take out the late March swing high at 1.1150, which could open up a pathway to the 50% long-term retracement at 1.1450.

Hong Kong dents optimism but stocks remain on track

Morning Note

US shares surged on Tuesday, with the Dow rising more than 2%, briefly trading above the 25k level again before closing a little short. The S&P 500 rose over 1%, traded above 3,000 for the first time since March 5th hitting a high at 3,021 before it too closed below this psychologically important level. The broad index traded above the important 200-day moving average but failed to close above this indicator.

Economies continue to reopen a little quicker than we’d feared. US airlines are reporting a uptick in passenger levels vs where they were last month, but were down about 80% from the same Memorial holiday weekend a year before. Globally, it seems as though countries are able to ease lockdown restrictions without sparking immediate secondary waves of infections – albeit the risk of such emerging down the line should not be ignored.

The higher the S&P 500 rises without earnings picking up the pricier it gets. PE multiples already look stretched and further gains for the index would come despite declining earnings, stretching these valuations still further. What happens when banks really lay bare all the non-performing loans they are going to need to write off?

US stock markets test key 200-day SMA

In the last two major recessions (see below chart), the 200-day simple moving average has been the ceiling for the market. A breakout here would be important for recovering market highs – failure could suggest it will contain price action for a while. I hate to say it but this time could be different – central bank largesse was not a factor like it is today. This only concentrates the power of the largest capitalised companies.

What’s going on in the real economy is not reflected by markets. Even as we reopen, the economic uncertainty and long-term health fears will support household deleveraging, boost savings rates and knock consumer spending.

Today the Fed will release its Beige Book providing anecdotal evidence of business activity across the US – there will be some very grim stories to tell and will underline how it will take a long time to get businesses and people moving at the same rate they were before the crisis.

Tensions in Hong Kong weigh on global equities – will the US sanction China?

The rally in global equities seen at the start of the week ran out of steam a little in Asia overnight though as tensions in Hong Kong hove into view once more. Riot police fired pepper pellets at groups gathering to protest a bill that would ban people from insulting the Chinese national anthem. This comes as tensions were stoked by China’s planned introduction of sweeping national security powers in Hong Kong.

There is a strong chance that the anti-Beijing feeling grows and leads to the kind of unrest we saw over several months last year. The US is said to be considering sanctions against China; Beijing said yesterday it was increasing its readiness for military combat. Whilst the eyes of the world are on Hong Kong, China is already engaged in a military standoff on its border with India.

Asia soft, European stocks firm

Asian shares fell broadly, although Tokyo held up as Japan said it will carry out another $1.1 trillion stimulus package on top of a $1.1tn programme already launched last month. The Hang Seng dipped by almost 1%. But European shares rose with the FTSE 100 recapturing 6100 and making a sally towards 6200 and to close the early March gap.

Yesterday the DAX made the move back towards its Mach 6th close at 11,541 to fill the gap but failed to complete the move on the close. This morning the DAX moved strongly through this level after a pause at the open, moving back to 11,600.

Euro, pound come off highs, retreat from key technical levels

In FX, both the euro and pound failed to really make any real breach despite a strong gain yesterday and have come off their highs. EURUSD moved back towards the middle of the recent range, having fallen short of a move back to 1.10 and was last trading around 1.0960.  GBPUSD has retreated under 1.23 having fallen short of the 50% retracement of the move lower over the last month around 1.2375.

After Germany and France proposed a €500bn bailout fund based on mutual debt issuance (what some have dubbed Europe’s Hamiltonian moment), EC President Ursula von der Leyen will present her plans, which will build on the Franco-German proposal and call for a €1 trillion plan. If the budget talks are successful it should lower the risk premium on EU sovereign debt, lowering bond yields and offering succour to the euro as well as to European equity markets. It would also mark a major step towards EU fiscal policy coordination and possible fiscal union. The frugal four remain a hindrance but Merkel’s weight is behind this.

We’re also looking at the appearance before MPs today by Michael Gove and UK Brexit negotiator David Frost.

Gold falls to test $1700, WTI crude oil edges down to $34

Gold was weaker, testing $1700 again as US yields rallied on economic reopening, but 10yr Treasury yields peeled back off the highs at 0.7% due perhaps to the US-China tension.

WTI (Aug) has retreated further from the $35 level and is testing support around $34. The pattern suggests a pause for thought as we try to figure out the mess of supply and demand. The pattern is one of consolidation with a bullish flag forming, with better demand forming the basis for the move alongside supply impairment that was evidenced by a new report from the IEA saying Covid-19 will cause investment in the energy sector to decline by $400bn this year. That is the kind of capex carnage that will remove a lot of supply and force rebalance quickly.

Chart: The 200-day line has been a ceiling in past recessions

Fed and ECB previews

Forex

First up, the Federal Reserve kicks off its two-day meeting today (Apr 28th) and whilst there is always scope for a surprise, we would not anticipate any change to the policy outlook, chiefly because the Fed is no longer waiting for scheduled policy meetings but is operating in ‘real-time’.  

 

There is virtually zero chance the Fed will remove any accommodation until the threat of Covid-19 has passed. But if anyone thinks the FOMC will go negative they are in for a shock – there is no appetite to cut rates any lower and go below the zero lower bound. Europe and Japan are hardly shining examples of that policy working. Jay Powel has already ruled it out, though that in itself is not a reason it won’t happen.

 

The Fed has already thrown the kitchen sink at the market and the economy, announcing unlimited bond buying  – QE4ever – and expansion of corporate debt buying to include junk. There is not a huge amount left for the Fed could realistically do, save buying stocks outright and taking rates negative, neither or which are palatable or likely in the near term, partly because the efforts so far have calmed market stress and prevented further dislocation.  

 

Markets will be looking for any signal from Jay Powell about how the Fed views the rebound – is he still confident of a bounce back in the second half? Formal projections are not due until June. 

 

It’s a fairly similar story for the European Central Bank (ECB). We think they will not commit to any further policy moves right now but will likely signal they are ready to do so by June. The Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) QE lift has been initiated with an overall envelope of €750bn, and it appears likely to be expanded by an additional €500bn in the next month or three. 

 

Two key things will be the focus. First the communication needs to be crystal clear – we don’t want a repeat of the spreads widening fiasco from Christine Lagarde. Since then the ECB has been absolutely on-point. The ECB must be continue to show to the market that it stands four-square behind the functioning of markets, the single currency and supporting the EZ economy. And on this, I would anticipate a lot of the focus in the press conference to be on the European Council efforts on a bailout package. Watch the BTPs-Bund spreads for how the market views the ECB performance. 

 

EURUSD – as noted on Monday, speculators are dialling up their net long bets on the euro. The Commitment of Traders (COT) from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed euro net longs rose to 87.2k contracts in the week to Apr 21st, the most since May 2017. Traders turned long at the end of March and have been adding to positions since then. We saw a shift like this in speculative EUR positioning in 2017 it preceded a 15% rally in EURUSD.

ECB to loosen policy, data to prompt Fed and BoE easing bets?

Equities
Forex
Indices

Welcome to your guide to the week ahead in the markets. 

ECB monetary policy meeting  

Expectations are high ahead of this week’s European Central Bank policy meeting. A run of poor Eurozone data has raised bets on further rate cuts, while investors have snapped up government bonds in the bloc in anticipation of a potential restart to the quantitative easing programme. 

US ISM was dire – will CPI, retail sales and sentiment be any better? 

Key releases on the US calendar this week could crank up the odds of more easing from the Federal Reserve before the year is through. Last week’s ISM manufacturing print shocked, with the index falling into contraction territory. Soft readings from the upcoming CPI, retail sales, or University of Michigan sentiment index could see further dovish bets. 

UK GDP and average earnings – background noise? 

Sterling remains almost exclusively at the mercy of Brexit-related news flow, but growth and wage figures might draw some attention. After having been stuck on hold thanks to the uncertainty of Brexit, the Bank of England may have to be quick out of the starting gate once the October 31st departure deadline passes. Data recently has been weak and another blow from either growth or earnings would see expectations of a rate cut climb. 

Kroger earnings 

It’s been another bad year for Kroger so far. KR is down 12% year-to-date, compared with rises of 14% for the S&P 500 and 16% for its industry. Peers such as Target and Walmart have had strong quarters. Will Kroger’s own investments in expanding online and delivery offerings help it deliver a strong Q2 report? 

Corporate diary 

September 11thHermes InternationalH1
September 12thWM Morrison SupermarketsQ2 2020
September 13thKrogerQ2

Coming Up on XRay

We’re got loads of great sessions for you this week. with our expert guests and residents. Watch live, or catch up when it’s convenient for you. Subscribe to submit questions that our presenters answer in real time.

07.15 GMTSeptember 10thEuropean Morning Call
15.30 GMTSeptember 10thAsset of the Day: Bullion Billions
15.45 GMTSeptember 10thAsset of the Day: Oil Outlook
07.00 GMTSeptember 12thLive Trading Room
18.00 GMTSeptember 12th The Stop Hunter’s Guide to Technical Analysis

Key Economic Events

Stay ahead of the markets by understanding what key economic events are coming up, and what impact they could have on your trades.

08.30 GMTSeptember 9thUK Monthly GDP
01.30 GMTSeptember 10thChina CPI
08.30 GMTSeptember 10thUK Average Earnings
00.30 GMTSeptember 11thAustralia Westpac Consumer Confidence
11.45 GMTSeptember 12thECB Monetary Policy Rate and Statement
12.30 GMTSeptember 12th US CPI
12.30 GMTSteptember 13thUS Retail Sales
14.00 GMTSeptember 13th US Preliminary Michigan Sentiment Index

Could this be the biggest monetary policy meeting in years?

Equities
Forex

Could the upcoming Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) be the most watched monetary policy meeting in a long time?

It certainly has a lot weighing on it.

Stocks are at record highs, pushed higher by a certainty that the FOMC will cut short-term interest rates for the first time in a decade this week. The two-day policy meeting kicks off on Tuesday, with a policy decision announced on Wednesday.

While Chairman Jerome Powell signalled a cut in July, its unclear what the policy could be for the rest of the year. And is a cut even necessary? While the consensus is that a cut is coming – the only quibble is 25bps or 50bps – the recent economic data looks strong. As our Chief Markets Analyst, Neil Wilson, explains:

“Is a cut justified? I would point to underlying core CPI at 2.1%, retail sales +3.4% in June and a 50-year low in unemployment as perhaps arguments to the contrary. Increasingly there is a sense that the Fed is no longer data dependent, but being held to ransom by the White House and the market.”

But what can we expect from the meeting?

The answer is, it depends…

Confirmation of a cut from the FOMC, if paired with signals of a more dovish policy in the long term could send greenback diving.

On the flip side, if the markets are surprised and a cut doesn’t happen, expect stocks and commodities to tumble and the dollar to surge.

At this stage, despite stronger-than-expected data, growth momentum is weaker. While a recession has been avoided, a cut is still the safe bet. This policy meeting could define the direction of global monetary policy for years to come and provides a lot of opportunities for traders. One thing’s for sure, the announcement on Wednesday is not one to miss.

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