Gold makes fresh highs, equities retreat to middle of ranges

Morning Note

Gold broke out to fresh multi-year highs above $1770 as real Treasury yields continued to plunge. US 10-year Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) dipped to new 7-year lows at –0.66% and have declined by 14bps in the last 6 days. The front end of the curve has also declined more sharply in the last couple of sessions, with 2-year real rates at –0.81%. Indeed, all along the curve real rates have come down with the 30-year at –0.14%.

Gold has also found some bid on a softening dollar in recent days, with the dollar index down 1% in the last two sessions. Fears that global central banks are fuelling a latent inflation boom with aggressive increases in the money supply continue to act as the longer-term bull thesis for gold.

Gold climbs on falling bond yields, fears of long-term inflation bubble

As previously discussed, gold is a clear winner from the pandemic. Gold was initially sold off in February and the first half of March as a result of the scramble for cash and dollar funding squeeze. Since then gold has made substantial progress in tandem with risk assets since the March lows because of central bank action to keep a lid on bond yields. The combination of negative real yields and the prospect of an inflation surge due to massively increased money supply is sending prices higher.

Whilst the Covid-19 outbreak is at first a deflationary shock to the economy, the aftermath of this crisis could be profoundly inflationary. Gold remains the best hedge against inflation which may be about to return, even if deflationary pressures are more pronounced right now.

Covid-19 second wave fears keep stocks range bound

Stocks are a little shaky this morning after a strong bounce on Tuesday. European markets opened lower, with the FTSE 100 slotting back under 6,300 at the 61.8% retracement, which called for a further retreat to the 50% zone around 6220. The DAX is weaker this morning and broke down through support at 12,400, the 61.8% level.

The Dow is holding around 26,100 and the 50% level of the pullback in the second week of June, while the S&P 500 is finding support on the 61.8% level around 3,118. Equity markets continue to trade the ranges as investors search for direction on how quickly the economy will recover and whether second waves threats are real.

On the second wave, the US looks clearly to have suffered a new, and in the words of Dr Fauci, ‘disturbing surge’ in cases. Virus hotspots like Texas, Florida, California and Arizona are seeing cases soar. Such is the worry the EU may ban Americans from travelling to its member states. Tokyo has also reported a spike in cases, whilst Germany is locking down two districts in North Rhine-Westphalia and there has been an outbreak in Lower Saxony.

On stimulus, Treasury Sec Steve Mnuchin said the administration is looking at extending the tax deadline beyond July 15th and is seriously looking at additional fiscal support to build on the $2.2tn Cares Act.

Dollar retreats, RBNZ decision hits NZD

In FX, the dollar has been offered this week, allowing major peers to peel back off their lows. GBPUSD has regained 1.25, while EURUSD has recovered 1.13. The kiwi was offered today after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand left rates on hold but said monetary policy easing would need to continue. The RBNZ said it will continue with the Large Scale Asset Purchase programme of NZ$60b and keep rates at 0.25%. The central bank noted that the exchange rate ‘has placed further pressure on export earnings…[and] the balance of economic risks remains to the downside’.

Crude off multi-month highs, mixed on API data

WTI (Aug) pulled back having hit its best level since March, dropping beneath the $40.70 level that was the Jun 8th peak, but remained clinging to $40. Prices have slipped the near-term trend support. Again, I’m looking at a potential double top calling for a pull back to $35. However, the fundamentals are much more constructive, and indicate a stronger outlook for demand and supply than we had feared in May.

API data showed inventories rose 1.7m barrels last week, gasoline stocks declined by 3.9m barrels, while distillate inventories fell by 2.6m barrels. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, fell by 325,000 barrels for the week. EIA figures today are forecast to show a build of 1.2m barrels.

Chart: Gold up over 20% from its March low

A candlestick graph showing gold prices in 2020

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.

RBNZ on hold, US CPI on tap, UK & EU update on growth

Week Ahead

Growth data

With the UK starting 2020 by leaving the EU and striking out on its own, markets would like to see that it ended 2019 on a strong economic footing when preliminary Q4 data is released. The data for most Eurozone members will be the second reading; the preliminary estimates showed expansion of just 0.1% as strong growth in Spain helped to offset contractions in France and Italy. Germany’s Q4 reading will be the flash estimate – analysts expect the Eurozone powerhouse to post a contraction of -0.1%.

RBNZ – Easing cycle is over

A round of strong labour market data last week has markets pricing in stronger odds that the RBNZ is done with its easing cycle. Unemployment dropped to 4% in Q4 and the underutilisation rate, which measures the labour market’s untapped capacity, fell to an 11-year low of 10% in December.

While the Chinese coronavirus outbreak is the latest economic headwind for markets and central banks to contend with, the strength of the domestic data should see the RBNZ confident enough to stand pat and see how the situation develops.

US CPI

Last month’s CPI reading showed the fastest pace of annual inflation in eight years, but a closer look at the numbers revealed some big weaknesses. Month-on-month, price growth slowed to 0.2% from 0.3% in November, core CPI slowed to 0.1% from 0.2%. Average earnings grew just 0.7% in 2019. More soft readings like this will support the market view that Fed policy will remain on hold until well into H2.

Earnings – Kraft Heinz and NVIDIA

Top reports this week will be Kraft Heinz before the market opens on February 13th and NVIDIA after the closing bell the same day. KHC has had a bad start to 2020, declining around 9% even as the S&P 500 and Nasdaq hit fresh record highs. The company is facing weakening demand and a lack of free cash with which to innovate.

Coronavirus fears caused a small stumble in NVIDIA’s continuing rally, with the stock quickly recovering. China accounts for around a quarter of the chipmaker’s revenue, so management may warn that the virus could dent demand in this key market. EPS of $1.66 is expected on revenue of $2.96 billion – both hefty increases on the same period a year ago.

Key Events

(All times GMT)
01.30 GMT 10-Feb China Consumer Price Index
06.30 GMT 11-Feb Daimler – Q4 2019
09.30 GMT 11-Feb UK Preliminary GDP (QoQ) & Manufacturing Production
Pre-Market 11-Feb Hasbro – Q4 2019
After-Market 11-Feb Lyft – Q4 2019
01.00 GMT 12-Feb RBNZ OCR Decision & Monetary Policy Statement
07.00 GMT 12-Feb Softbank – Q3 2019
15.30 GMT 12-Feb US EIA Crude Oil Inventories
After-Market 12-Feb Cisco – Q2 2020
07.00 GMT 13-Feb Barclays – Q4 2019
Pre-Market 13-Feb The Kraft Heinz Company – Q4 2019
13.30 GMT 13-Feb US Consumer Price Index
15.30 GMT 13-Feb US EIA Natural Gas Storage Data
After-Market 13-Feb NVIDIA – Q4 2020
13-Feb Airbus – Q4 2019
07.00 GMT 14-Feb Germany Preliminary GDP (QoQ)
10.00 GMT 14-Feb Eurozone Flash GDP (QoQ)
13.30 GMT 14-Feb US Retail Sales
15.00 GMT 14-Feb US Preliminary UoM Consumer Sentiment Index

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