Equity markets whipsaw on US-China trade uncertainty

Morning Note

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 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.

How will the US-China relationship define the Presidential election?

US Presidential Election

Trump knows that antagonising China is a dangerous game. But in the run up to the election, it’s also a political necessity.

Before the coronacrisis, there was already a perfect storm of economic and security disputes brewing between the US and China. Covid-19 compounded all the existing issues as well as adding a whole new dimension to the rift. Tension is escalating on all fronts.

Economic

Phase one of the trade deal is dead. The promises made by China – purchasing at least $200 billion in US exports over two years – looked unrealistic from the get-go. But the virus means meeting phase one’s targets will be downright impossible. Throw in that China is already buying more from competitors (its imports from Brazil are up 35% on May 2019) even in an economic downturn, and any revival of the Trade Deal before the Election look dead and buried.

Security

The tech war has entered a period of unprecedented turbulence. Trump continues to affirm that Huawei threatens national security, upping the ante in May when a new rule was issued barring Huawei and its suppliers from using American technology.

Foreign policy

The Trump administration is reportedly exploring several measures that could punish China for its handling of the virus, including suing the Chinese government for reparations and cancelling US debt obligations to the country. Meanwhile, China has ordered its state-owned enterprises to stop purchases of US farm products after the US threatened to withdraw its special status treatment for Hong Kong – itself a response to China’s new security law for the territory.

The President was aiming to run his campaign based around strong economic performance, and failing that, a successful response to the pandemic. As both these options become increasingly difficult to achieve, China must serve as the scapegoat on which Trump can pin his administration’s failings.

Usefully for Trump, the American people aren’t too fond of the Chinese right now either. A Pew Research Center poll from April suggests that Americans have increasingly negative views of the country with two-thirds now holding an unfavourable opinion towards China.

This sentiment is widespread across a range of groups in America, which is unusual in an ever more polarised electorate.

A Republican ad campaign has been launched proclaiming, “One nation deserves the blame: China”, while the America First Action SuperPAC says it’s spending around $10 million on ads in swing states condemning Biden over China.

It’s rare for two thirds of Americans to reach such a strong consensus so inevitably both the incumbent and his challenger are attempting to burnish their anti-China stripes.

Each also believes they can use China to score personal points against the other candidate.

  • Trump is quick to criticise “Beijing Biden” and his son’s alleged profiteering from Chinese business.
  • A recent Biden campaign ad reads, “Trump rolled over for the Chinese. He took their word for it.”, and goes on to cite some of Trump’s early remarks praising China’s pandemic response.

This fight isn’t without its risks however.

  • In May, Biden’s aforementioned ad sparked outcry from representatives of Asian American Organizations who accused the Democratic candidate of feeding the rise of anti-Asian racism in the US.
  • For Trump, a new economic cold war would imperil any incipient return to growth not to mention leave it isolated when big global discussions take place. Hence the recent decision by the US Commerce Department to allow American companies to collaborate with Huawei on 5G technology standards.

As we know though, Trump is no stranger to risky political moves. With winning the election his top priority and alternatives running out, the President will hold onto the anti-China card for dear life to avoid being trumped by Biden.

The battle of ‘who’s tougher on China’ shows no signs of relenting. Both candidates will be forced to push harder and harder to have the last word on an issue which has galvanised such a strong reaction among the American public.

Bank of England wheels for fresh charge

Morning Note

Central banks need to be marshalled like cavalry and stimulus like charges. If your stimulus doesn’t rout the enemy immediately, you can easily get bogged down in a melee in which you lose your advantage. The Federal Reserve keeps wheeling around and managing to rally troops for fresh charges – the corporate bond buying announcement this week was a fine example.

But increasingly the cavalry is wearying and the more this drags on the less impact the Fed’s repeated charges will have against the twin enemies of deflation and unemployment. Investors are clinging on to central bank stimulus like the Gordon Highlanders gripped the stirrups of the Scots Greys, as they rode down the French columns at Waterloo.

BoE preview: more QE on the way

The Bank of England will mount a fresh charge at the enemy formations today. Coordination is the name of the game: it needs to keep on top of the huge amount of issuance – borrowing – by the UK government. Wartime levels of debt means the BoE must expand the envelope to hoover it up or risk yields starting to rise and spreads widening.

So, the BoE is expected to increase QE by at least £100bn, but I think it may well opt for £200bn, or even more, given that even £100bn would only last it until the end of the summer and the real long-term economic problems are going to emerge later in the autumn. Interest rates will stay at 0.1% and expectations firmly anchored for the near future with forward guidance repeating that the Bank will do whatever it takes.

In order to achieve this, the government and central bank will need to coordinate throwing more money at the problem. Indications suggest furlough has been costly but only delayed a lot of the pain – a looming unemployment crisis will require further central bank support, which means more QE is likely.  And don’t talk about negative interest rates – Andrew Bailey mentioned it once, but I think he got away with it. Once you go negative, it’s very hard to get back to normal.

Whilst fresh forecasts are not due until August, the Bank will likely set a more defensive tone in terms of its expectations for the recovery. As noted here on May 7th (BoE: for illustrative purposes only) the Bank’s assumptions on economic recovery seem rather optimistic.

Sterling was steady ahead of the decision. GBPUSD held around the middle of its trading range, sitting on the 38.2% retracement of the bottom-to-top rally from the May low to the Jun high. Monday’s test of the 1.2450 (50% level) remains the support whilst the upside seems well guarded by the 200-day moving average just above 1.2690 that sparked the run lower since Tuesday.

Stocks on the back foot on fears of second Covid-19 wave

Wall Street stocks fell yesterday, except for tech, whilst European markets are on the back foot this morning as investors parse new cases in the US and China. The bulls lost energy as new hospitalisations in Texas due to Covid-19 rose 11% in the space of 24hrs. Several other US states are seeing rising cases that are a worry, albeit the kind of mass lockdown seen earlier this year appears an unlikely course of action. The economic damage is too high, and we are generally better equipped to handle it.

Worries about China are also important – markets had largely not bet on a second lockdown in the world’s second largest economy.

Overall, the market swings now suggest investors are reacting to various headlines about recovery, stimulus and new cases without much clear direction as to what it all means as a bigger picture. The major indices are right in the middle of recent trading ranges, sitting around the 50-60% retracements of the move from the multi-month highs at the start of last week to the swing lows this week.

Elsewhere, the US pulled out of talks with Europe over a global digital services tax, which raises the risk of individual countries taking their own steps, in turn sparking a fresh wave of US-EU tensions. An escalation of dormant trade wars is not out of the question if EU nations and the UK decide to tax US tech giants aggressively.

This comes of course after the EU launched an anti-trust probe into Amazon. In Europe, Germany passed additional fiscal stimulus to combat the pandemic costs. This morning Angela Merkel called on the EU to agree to the Covid fund before the summer break.

Crude steady on EIA inventories data

Crude prices were steady as they hold within the consolidation pattern printed since the start of June. WTI for August was holding around the $38 marker after the EIA inventories rose 1.2m barrels, vs expectations for a draw.

This matched the API data (+3.9m) and suggests there are more supply-side pressures at present, but OPEC data indicated demand not falling as much as previously expected in the second half of the year. Meanwhile it seems Iraq is working its way towards complying with OPEC+ cuts.

JD.com raises $3.9 billion in 2020’s second-biggest IPO so far

IPO

JD.com, the second-largest online retailer in China, has raised $3.9 billion during its secondary listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

The company is pricing its IPO at HK$226 per share, HK$10 below the top end of its indicated range. JD.com already trades on the Nasdaq.

Shares will start trading in Hong Kong on Thursday 18th – the same day as the company holds its massive annual Anniversary Sale (known as 6.18). Last year JD.com reported sales of almost $30 billion – this week’s event will be a key test of demand as China continues to recover from lockdown and battles a fresh outbreak of Covid-19 cases.

The JD.com IPO follows a public offering by NetEase which raised $2.7 billion. Together the two tech giants have raised $6.6 billion – almost double what the rest of the Hong Kong IPOs have raised all year.

NetEase shares ended their first day of trading up 5.7%, closing HK$7 higher than its offer price of HK$123.

Hong Kong IPOs get a boost on US-China tensions

Increasing tensions between Washington and Beijing have helped stoke the Hong Kong IPO market recently. The US House of Representatives is considering a bill that would mandate US-listed Chinese companies to undergo financial audits, which could result in a number of companies being delisted.

This has prompted many companies whose shares are already traded in the US to seek a secondary listing in Hong Kong as a precaution.

NetEase acknowledged the impact that rising tensions could have in its IPO filings. Baidu founder and chairman, Robin Li, also acknowledged recently that his company could consider a secondary listing in Hong Kong if the US government tightens regulations surrounding Chinese firms.

More IPOs on the way

This could be the start of a reawakening for the IPO market in Hong Kong. China Bohai Bank Co is looking to raise over $2 billion, while both Smoore International Holdings and SK Biopharmaceuticals are expected to raise around $800 million.

Upcoming Hong Kong IPOs

  • JD.com
  • China Bohai Bank
  • SK Biopharmaceuticals
  • Hygeia Healthcare Holdings
  • Kangji Medical Holdings
  • Smore International Holdings
  • Zhenro Services Group

Stocks off a little at month end, US-China tensions rise

Morning Note

What did they do just when everything looked so dark?
Man, they said “We’d better accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative”

Stocks are ending May on a slightly downbeat note, but investors have definitely been accentuating the positive this week and for the whole of May.

Thank goodness, Covid-19 is getting bumped off the headlines; trouble is it’s not for good news. At last though we are seeing some caution displayed in the markets over China’s decision to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong and the ensuing ramp up in US-China tensions.

US stock markets close in the red, Trump to give press conference on China

US stocks were positive for most of Thursday before sharply reversing in the last hour and closing in the red, after the White House announced that Donald Trump would hold a press conference on China on Friday. ‘We are not happy with China. We are not happy with what’s happened’, he said. The UK, which signed a joint statement condemning China for its actions with Australia, Canada and the US, is opening the door to citizenship for 300,000 Hong Kong residents.

Given how stretched valuations have become, worries about US-China tensions don’t seem fairly priced in. As previously noted, investors need to be prepared for things to get worse from here, particularly given the back drop of a looming election for a second term, the worst recession in memory and 100,000 deaths from Covid – blamed on China – and the trade war, which is still rumbling on.

The pressure on Donald Trump at home is high. The press conference today will likely see Trump increase the war of words with China but he could go further an announce further sanctions on individuals associated with law, or revoke Hong Kong’s special status with the US on trade.

The S&P 500 was up most of the session but closed 6 points lower at the death, whilst the Dow fell 0.6% to 25,400, crumbling 300 points in the last 45 minutes of trading on the news of the White House presser.

Overnight, shares in Hong Kong fell again. European equities followed suit on Friday, declining by around 1% after a decent run in the previous session. The FTSE 100 faded off the 6200 handle reclaimed on Thursday. Hong Kong and China focused HSBC was down another 2.5%. But the FTSE was still headed for a roughly 200-point gain this week. European equities are still firmly higher this week as investors rotated somewhat away from the Covid/tech/quality play and back into cyclicals as economies reopen without undue rises in cases.

The Nasdaq, which has notably outperformed on a year to date basis, has markedly underperformed benchmarks this week. Remember it’s the last day of the month of May – it’s been a solid week and month for equities so investors may seek to take a little risk off the table going into the weekend and into June. The Hong Kong/US/China situation is all the excuse needed.

Data continues to show the dire economic impact of Covid-19

The economic data still stinks. 1 in 4 Americans have lost their jobs since Covid hit. US initial jobless claims rose another 2m to top 40m. But it’s slowing, with the weekly count down again for the 8th straight week. Moreover, continuing claims fell 3.9m to 21.1m, which indicates the labour force is returning – hiring is beating firing again, but it will be a long slow process to recover the 40.8m jobs lost, far longer than it took to lose them. A portion will be lost forever.

The US economy slowed more than previously thought, with the second GDP print for Q1 at -5%, vs 4.8% on the initial print. The Atlanta Fed GDPNow model forecasts Q2 GDP down 40.8%.

French GDP in the first quarter was down just 5.3% vs the 5.8% initially printed. Retail sales and industrial production in Japan both declined by more than 9%. Retail sales in Germany dropped 5.3% in April, not as bad as the -12% forecast – spendthrifts! Meanwhile those frugal French consumers spent even less than forecast, with spending down more than 20% vs a 15% declined expected. France is though reopening its culturally vital bars, restaurants and cafes from next week, so that should get consumers parting with a few more sous.

Dollar offered despite risk-off trade in equities

Despite the risk-off to trade in equities the dollar was offered into the month end. The euro extended its rally after breaking the 200-day moving average yesterday, with EURUSD pushing up to 2-month highs at 1.11. The March peak at 1.1150 is the next target. Sterling was also firmer against the buck, with GBPUSD recovering the 1.23 handle, trying to hold the 50-day line as support.

Shares in Twitter declined by more than 4% as Donald Trump signed an executive order that paves the way for legislation to tighten rules for social media platforms around third party content liability. It’s probably all a lot of hot air and distraction as he pursues a personal vendetta following the fact check warning on a couple of his tweets. Nevertheless, we have consistently warned that social media companies will need to face up to more and more scrutiny and tighter regulation around content distribution and the use of personal data.

Oil first fell but since recovered after EIA figures showed a build in crude oil inventories. Crude stocks rose 7.9m barrels, though inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma, declined by 3.4m. WTI (Aug) was hovering around $33 at send time, just about slap in the middle of its consolidation range.

Equity indices clear big hurdles even as Hong Kong tensions simmer

Morning Note

Tensions between the US and China are worsening, with the two sides clashing at the UN over Hong Kong. China rejected a US proposal for the Security Council to meet over the issue, whilst US secretary of state Mike Pompeo declared that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from Beijing. China’s ‘parliament’ this morning approved the controversial national security legislation for the territory.

We also note reports this morning that China escorted a US navy ship out of its waters. Meanwhile Taiwan is to buy Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the US, which is likely to further rile Beijing. Tensions are showing signs they could boil over – we cannot play down the importance of an embattled US president facing a national crisis at home in an election year – one he can blame on his chief geopolitical adversary. Expect more sabre rattling.

Shares in Hong Kong and Taiwan fell, whilst Japanese equities rose by more than 2% in a mixed session overnight in Asia. The FTSE 100 rallied towards 6200 on the open, but shares in Standard Chartered and HSBC fell, signalling investor concern about what’s going on in Hong Kong.

Nevertheless, equity markets continue to strengthen and move out of recent ranges and clear important technical resistance. Confidence in equity markets is strong thanks more stimulus and signs economies are reopening quicker.  A resurgence in cases in South Korea is a worry.

Yesterday, US stocks surged with the S&P 500 closing above 3,000 for its best finish since March 2nd, whilst the Dow added over 500 points to clear 25k at stumps. The S&P 500 cleared the 200-day moving average and is now trading with a forward PE multiple of about 24x – making it look decidedly pricey.

European followed Wall Street higher with broad-based gains. The DAX yesterday closed above the 61.8% retracement around 11,581 and extended gains through the 11,700 level. The FTSE 100 thrust towards 6200 this morning, hitting its highest intra-day level since March 10th. The 50% retracement around 6250 is the next target before bulls can seek to clear the gap to the March 6th close at 6,462.

EasyJet is planning to reduce its fleet by 51 and cut up to 30% of staff. This is the big fear playing out – temporary furlough becomes permanent firing once businesses figure out that demand has vanished. Whilst airlines will feel this more than just about any other sector, this trend will be seen in a wide range of industries, albeit to a lesser extent.

Shares in EZJ rose 8% – cost cuts are welcome of course for investors, but also the indication of running at 30% of capacity over the summer is better than had been feared. Efforts by the likes of Greece and Spain to salvage the summer season will help a lot. IAG and Ryanair shares rose 2-3%.

Twitter shares fell and were down more in after-hours trading after Donald Trump threatened to shut down social media sites that stifle conservative voices. Having been sanctioned by Twitter with fact-check warnings, the president is very unhappy. It hurts his ego and it blunts his most effective tool.

The White House said the president will sign an executive order on social media today. Facebook shares were also lower yesterday and extended losses in after-hours trade. Will Trump try to silence Twitter and Facebook? No, but he can put more of a regulatory squeeze on them and raise their costs.

Europe’s bailout proposals were greeted with optimism, but the frugal four countries of Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands did not seem terribly impressed at plans that will raise their budget contributions. They will need to be brought round. Estonia has also said it won’t vote for the proposals. Work to be done – getting all countries on board with a complex budget takes a long time in the best of circumstances, let alone amid a dreadful recession.

The euro has largely held gains after rising on the EU’s budget plans. EURUSD firmed above 1.10 but is struggling to clear the 200-day moving average around 1.1010. Bulls need to see a confirmed push above this to unlock the path back to 1.1150, the March swing high. Failure calls for retest of recent swing lows at 1.0880.

Sterling was steady with GBPUSD around 1.2270 after yesterday giving up the 1.23 handle and testing support at 1.220 following Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator gave a pretty downbeat assessment of trade talks to MPs.

Today’s data focuses on the US weekly unemployment claims, which are forecast at +2.1m. As we enter the summer and states reopen, the hiring will gradually overtake the firing but we are not yet there. Durable goods orders – an important leading indicator of activity – are seen at –19% month-on-month with the core reading seen at –14.8%. A second print of the US Q1 GDP is seen steady at –4.8%.

Oil dived and took a look at last week’s lows as API figures showed a surprise build in crude inventories in the US. Stocks rose by 8.7m in the week ending May 22nd, vs expectations for a draw of 2.5m barrels. The build in stocks means the EIA data today will be more closely monitored than usual, given that expected drawing down of inventories has underpinned the resurgence in crude pricing. WTI (Aug) slipped back to $31.60, just a little short of the May 22nd swing low.

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