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Equity markets whipsaw on US-China trade uncertainty
It’s over, it’s not over: The White House looked to be as dysfunctional as ever as Peter Navarro, trade adviser to President Trump, said the US-China trade deal was over, prompting a sharp fall in risk assets in trading during the Asian session. He was forced to retract the statement, saying it was taken out of context, before Donald Trump himself quickly tweeted:
The China Trade Deal is fully intact. Hopefully they will continue to live up to the terms of the Agreement!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
The reality is of course the US-China relations are exceptionally poor, but on paper at least, the trade deal lives. The market wouldn’t like fresh open conflict on trade between the two world’s largest economies, as it would make recovery from the pandemic even slower. Navarro may speak the truth, but it’s an inconvenient truth that the White House would prefer to avoid right now. Markets are happy to nod along as long as the Fed has their back.
Overnight, equity markets were whipsawed by the comments from Mr Navarro, but Asian stocks eventually rallied. US stocks edged higher on Monday but stayed well within the recent ranges; futures were all over the place overnight.
Europe opens higher, but second-wave risks cloud outlook
European stocks opened firmer having slipped yesterday, again though sticking to the near-term ranges. Whilst the FTSE is trading in the range and favouring the 61.8% level over the 38.2%, the market has made a series of success lower highs that may indicate bulls are not feeling very confident about recovering the post-pandemic highs any time soon. Rallies are still lacking conviction, but dips are still being bought.
Further increases in cases across big economies make the outlook uncertain. US cases continue to surge, while South Korea says it is in the midst of a second wave that arrived sooner than previously thought. Meanwhile England is set for reopening of pubs, restaurants and more on July 4th.
Pound hits resistance at 1.25, BoE governor Bailey due to speak later
In FX, the pound is higher having apparently found a near-term trough around the 1.2340 area. GBPUSD pushed up to 1.25 but hit resistance here and has retraced a little to the 1.2450 support area on the 50% retracement of the May-Jun rally. Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, speaks today after giving some policy hints yesterday in an article in which he said the Old Lady was more likely to reduce its balance sheet before raising rates.
He also was widely reported to have said the Government could have run out of cash had it not been for the central bank, which is patently untrue, since governments which borrow and print their own currency cannot run out of money – what the Bank did was smooth out the functioning of bond and currency markets. Indeed what Mr Bailey said was not that the government would run out of money – he knows it cannot; his comments were widely misreported and misinterpreted in the press.
Euro spikes on French PMI strength
The euro took off higher after French PMI data went over 50, signalling expansion. The PMIs are a bit of a wonky indicator right now given they are entirely sentiment-based and ask only a narrow question – whether things are better, worse or the same as the prior month.
Given the reopening of the economy in the last few weeks, it would be very strange indeed if the PMIs were not improving – it does mean the economy is out of the woods. EURUSD drove up to 1.13 but hit resistance here and turned back.
Gold eased a little off its highs above $1760 but looks well support around $1750. US benchmark real rates – 10yr Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) – fell again, slipping to –0.63%, the lowest level in 7 years. Crude oil was firmer above $40 and managed to make a fresh post-negative-pricing high.
Risk offered into the weekend
A number of factors have conspired to create a more risk-off tone to the end the trading week than we saw at the start of the European session.
Although European indices are just about holding the line, US futures are indicated lower and we may see the S&P 500 retest the lows under the 50% retracement level at 2790. The Dow is indicated -200pts.
The FTSE 100 has retreated sharply from the morning highs of the day and may well stutter into the close should Wall Street drag sentiment down. The DAX is also well off the highs though still positive, the CAC is already weaker, and the Euro Stoxx 50 is flat. US indices are already set for their worst week since the middle of March. Key test at yesterday’s lows at 2,766 for SPX.
In FX, the Japanese yen was the strongest and kiwi was the weakest. Sterling sank to its weakest since late March. Gold has broken out above the Apr 24th peak and now has the $1747 region its sights. A breakout above $1750 could see the next leg higher to $1800.
US retail sales were even worse than forecast in April, sliding 16.4% vs 12% expected. Core retail sales fell 17.2% vs 8.6% expected. Trying to read too much into individual data points in the current environment is exceptionally tough, but the optics from these figures are hardly reassuring.
US-China relations sour by the hour, with the White House moving to block semi-conductor shipments to Huawei. Reports suggest China is looking at retaliation with measures against US companies like Apple, Qualcomm and Cisco. I think we can assume a ratcheting up of pressure on China by the Trump administration in the coming weeks.
UK-EU relations are also looking very risk-off. GBP is now in full RoRo mode and cable made fresh two-month lows as it breached the April 6th support at 1.2160 to test 1.2150. It looks like real stalemate.
The UK is refusing to countenance the EU’s level playing field demands. Britain also said it would refuse any offer to extend the transition period. Both Frost and Barnier sounded downbeat on the prospects of a deal. Barnier said the positions are extremely divergent, Frost said very little progress has been made.
A lot to do to avoid the dreaded no-deal – downside risks for GBP clearly evident. The pound is already beaten up pretty badly due to the wider macro outlook as a risk-on currency these days, and the Brexit risk has reared its head again to impart more pressure.
Advisory note – Trump as ever is the wildcard and we have Rose Garden update on a vaccine from the president at some point today.
Stocks stage fightback, Trump raises China stakes
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.
European markets tumble in catchup trade, Trump bashes China
On the plus side, the UK is sketching out how it plans to end the lockdown. On the minus side, it’s going to take a long time to get back to normal. This, in a nutshell, is the problem facing the global economy and it is one reason why equity markets are not finding a straight line back to where they were pre-crisis.
Indices on mainland Europe are catching up with the losses sustained in London and New York today, having been shut Friday. The DAX retreated 3% on the open to take a look again at 10,500, whilst the FTSE 100 extended losses to trade about 20 points lower. Hong Kong turned sharply lower ahead of its GDP report.
Whilst monetary and fiscal stimulus sustained a strong rally through April – the best monthly gain for Wall Street since 1987 – it’s harder to see how it can continue to spur gains for equity markets. Moreover, US-China tensions are resurfacing as a result of the outbreak, which is weighing on sentiment. Donald Trump spoke of a ‘very conclusive’ report on China – the demand for reparations will grow, and trade will suffer as the easiest policy lever for the White House to pull. This is an election year so I’d expect Trump to beat on the Chinese as hard as he can without actually going to war. Trade Wars 2.0 will be worse than the original.
And as I pointed out in yesterday’s note, equity indices are showing signs of a potential reversal with the gravestone doji formations on the weekly candle charts looking ominous.
Warren Buffet doesn’t see anything worth investing in. Berkshire Hathaway has $137bn in cash but the Oracle of Omaha hasn’t found anything attractive, he said on Sunday’s shareholder meeting. His advice: buy an index fund and stop paying for advice.
In FX, today’s slate is rather bare but there are some European manufacturing PMIs likely to print at the low end. The US dollar is finding bid as risk appetite weakens, favouring further downside for major peers. EURUSD retreated further having bounced off the 100-day SMA just above 1.10 to find support around 1.09250. GBPUSD has further pulled away from 1.25 to 1.2460.
Front month WTI retreated further away from $20. CFTC figures show speculative long trades in WTI jumped 35% – the worry is traders are trying to pick this market and the physical market is still not able to catch up with the speculators. The move in speculative positioning and price action raises concerns about volatility in the front month contract heading into the rest of May.
BT Group shares dropped more than 3% on reports it’s looking to cut its dividend this week. Quite frankly they ought to have cut it months ago. I rehash what I said in January: Newish CEO Philip Jansen should have done a kitchen sink job and cut the dividend from the start. The cost of investment in 5G and fibre is crippling, despite the cutbacks and cost savings. Net debt ballooned to more than £18.2bn – up £7.2bn from March 31st 2019. How can BT justify paying over £1bn in dividends when it needs to sort this debt out, get a grip on the pension deficit and do the kind of capex needed for 5G and mass fibre rollout? Given the current environment, a dividend cut seems assured.
What to watch this week
NFP – Friday’s nonfarm payrolls release is likely to be a history-making event. Last month’s -701k didn’t reflect many days of lockdown, so the coming month’s print will be seismic. However, this is backward looking data – we know that in the last initial jobless claims have totalled around 30m in six weeks – the NFP number could be as high as 22m according to forecasts. The unemployment rate will soar to 16-17%. The main focus remains on exiting lockdown and finding a cure.
BOE – The Bank of England may well choose this meeting to expand its QE programme by another £200bn, but equally it may choose to sit it out and simply say that it stands ready to do more etc. The Bank will update forecasts in the latest Monetary Policy Report, with the main focus likely to be on how bad they think Q2 will be. Estimates vary, but NIESR said Thursday the contraction will be 15-25%.
RBA – The Australian dollar is our best risk proxy right now. The collapse in AUDJPY on Thursday back to 68.5 after it failed to break 70 was a proxy for equity market sentiment. We will wait to see whether the Reserve Bank of Australia meeting on Tuesday gives any fresh direction to AUD, however there is not going to be a change in policy.
FTSE 100 completes 400pt round trip this week
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.
GBPUSD fades after hitting near-term resistance
EURUSD – clears 50-day SMA, looking to scale Apr 14th high
Week Ahead: Earnings season and US-China trade deal in focus
US earnings season gets underway next week as the big banks begin reporting on Jan 14th. Weak corporate earnings growth could dent optimism around US stocks, but with the fourth quarter of 2019 out of the way, the market’s real focus is going to be whether we get the 10% earnings growth forecast in 2020.
Consensus estimates indicate a 1-2% decline in Q4 earnings, but the tendency to beat expectations suggests we will see earnings growth, albeit small.
Last year we saw multiple expansion massively outweigh earnings growth as the driver of the 28% rise in the S&P 500 last year. This poses problems as it means valuations are already rather stretched and reliant on strong EPS growth in 2020. However, ignoring the 2018 Christmas drubbing, the S&P 500 has only risen by a modest 10% from the 2018 highs.
US, China to sign phase one trade deal
Markets will surely take heart as January 15th approaches – that’s the deadline for signing the phase one trade deal the US and China managed agree in December. But there have been too many falls at the final hurdle to say that this is deal is done until the ink is dry. Markets could yet be in for a surprise, and even if phase one is agreed, we’ll then have to face the reality that phase two negotiations could be even more complex.
Germany, China growth data
World economic growth is expected to tick higher to 2.5% this year, but will German FY 2019 GDP and China Q4 growth figures shake the foundations of those predictions? Both have seen growth slow thanks to the US-China trade war, while Germany has also struggled due to Brexit uncertainty. The German economy is expected to have expanded 0.5% during 2019, while China’s Q4 reading is expected to tick higher to 6.1% from 6% in Q3.
US CPI – Fed to let inflation run hot
US inflation data is due for release on Tuesday 14th. Expectations are for price growth to moderate to 2% from 2.1%. The Federal Reserve in December made clear that it is prepared to let inflation run hot to compensate for months where it runs below target.
Jan 14th – JPMorgan Chase & Co – Q4
Jan 14th – Wells Fargo & Co – Q4
Jan 14th – Citigroup – Q4
Jan 14th – Markit – Q4
Jan 15th – Bank of America – Q4
Jan 15th – United Heatlh – Q4
Jan 15th – BlackRock – Q4
Key Economic Events
(All times GMT)
09.30 GMT – Jan 13th – UK Monthly GDP / Production Data
15.00 GMT – Jan 13th – CAD BOC Business Outlook Survey
03.00 GMT – Jan 14th – China Trade Balance
13.30 GMT – Jan 14th – US Inflation Data
07.00 GMT – Jan 15th – Germany Full Year 2019 GDP Growth
09.30 GMT – Jan 15th – UK Consumer Price Index
15.30 GMT – Jan 15th – US EIA Crude Oil Inventories
Jan 15th – US-China Phase One Trade Deal Signing Ceremony
12.30 GMT – Jan 16th – ECB Monetary Policy Meeting Accounts
13.30 GMT – Jan 16th – US Retail Sales
15.30 GMT – Jan 16th – US EIA Natural Gas Storage
02.00 GMT – Jan 17th – China GDP
09.30 GMT – Jan 17th – UK Retail Sales
15.00 GMT – Jan 17th – US Preliminary University of Michigan Sentiment
US, China jawbone on trade, but markets aren’t taking the bait
In a remarkable show of restraint, markets have remained in the red despite positive noises on the prospect of reopening trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing.
US and Chinese officials are trying to sound positive on the odds their nations can reach an agreement on trade. It’s just the latest in a cycle of: sound positive > negotiate terms > back away from a deal > raise tariffs.
But this time around it seems markets are becoming wary of the rhetoric. Today, major indices are mostly in the red. Even the cautious optimism of yesterday’s early rise was quickly wiped out later in the New York session as traders thought twice about bidding up the major indices.
It could partly be exhaustion. The past month has seen the Dow gain or lose over 800 points in a single session on more than one occasion. 1,000 point swings are unusual, but not rare for the Hang Seng these days. Gold has seen movements in the region of 2%, while volatility for oil has produced swings of 5% in both directions.
The mystery phone call
On Monday, China’s top negotiator tried to calm fears ignited by Friday’s new tariff announcements. Vice Premier Liu He stated,
“We believe the trade war escalation is bad for China, bad for the United States and bad for the interest of the people in the world. We are willing to use a calm attitude to solve problems by negotiations and cooperation.”
Trump later claimed that “China called last night”, and strengthened the message by telling reporters at the G7 summit that “This is a very positive development for the world”. He later claimed “I think we’re going to make a deal”.
Asian markets trimmed losses and US and European stocks edged higher. But traders weren’t convinced.
Trump’s claim that there had been a phone conversation between officials from the US and China kept markets on the back foot. China’s Commerce Ministry declined to comment when asked by Reuters for confirmation that a call had taken place. While US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the two sides had been in contact, editor of China’s state newspaper the Global Times, Hu Xijin, claimed that negotiators haven’t talked recently.
After being burned before, markets need something more concrete
It’s not that hard for an official to say that a trade war is bad and they don’t want one. Without confirmation of the key phone call, that’s all markets have to go on.
The major indices today are largely in the red, with the DAX heading towards a 1% loss and US futures pointing to a lower open. Traders clearly aren’t falling for the jawboning – if Trump or Beijing wants to calm market fears they’re going to have to offer up something a lot more solid.
As Trump-Xi prepare to meet, Beijing jabs at Washington
This G20 meeting might as well be the G2 this time around. The United States and China are the main topic, the two having hit economies across the globe with their trade dispute.
Markets have long been hoping that the gathering in Osaka might provide an opportunity for presidents Trump and Xi to meet and work through their differences. It was only a few days ago that state officials confirmed this was happening. Trump had previously dashed any hopes of a discussion.
But while Trump and Xi are preparing to meet to smooth things over, back in Beijing the rhetoric was still accusatory. Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen stated that China wanted the US government to cease “inappropriate” actions against domestic companies.
Beijing hits back at US Commerce Department
On Friday the US Commerce Department blacklisted five Chinese companies from buying components made in the US. It already hit Huawei – the Chinese smartphone giant – which such a ban in May.
CNBC reported that Mr Wang, speaking in Mandarin, commented Monday that:
“We hope the US side, under the principles of free trade and the spirit of WTO principles, can cancel these inappropriate measures against Chinese companies, and remove them from the entity list. This has benefits for both sides.”
Markets are currently holding their breath, but today’s response from China is a good reminder that nothing has changed until the two leaders agree a deal.
We’ve been much closer to expecting a resolution before – there was even a deadline – only for things to worsen again. Trump and Xi are sure to make positive noises after their talk, and that will likely boost stocks, but behind their leaders, the governments of the US and China continue to throw punches.