Stocks choppy after sharp risk reversal, gilt yields strike fresh lows

Morning Note

Stocks continue to chop around their June-July ranges after risk sentiment rolled over at the start of yesterday’s US session. Surging Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths in several US states continues to weigh on risk sentiment, Donald Trump was dealt a blow by the Supreme Court, and Joe Biden – who may well become the next president – said he would end the era of ‘shareholder capitalism’.

Around 3pm yesterday we saw a sharp reversal in risk appetite as stocks, bond yields and oil fell and the dollar rallied. California, Texas and Florida reported their biggest one-day increase in Covid-19 related deaths. Stocks hit the lows after Florida reported a spike in Covid-related hospitalizations, but recovered somewhat after Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, revealed Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine candidate would enter phase 3 trials soon.

Supreme Court rules on Trump tax returns, Biden announces economic plan

The Supreme Court ruled Donald Trump’s tax returns should be seen by the Grand Jury, but it threw out rulings that allowed Democrat-led Congressional committees to obtain Trump’s financial records. Although this means further litigation, it should mean the documents are not a factor in the election.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden launched his $700bn economic plan by taking aim at Wall Street a threat to ‘end to the era of shareholder capitalism – the idea that the only responsibility a corporation has is to its shareholder’. Whilst no Bernie Sanders, there is little doubt that Biden will raise taxes and regulation risk – equity markets need to start to price in the risk better and there are signs that some investors already are.

Investors need to be wary of a Democrat clean sweep of the House, Senate and White House, which could greenlight some pretty aggressive redistributive policies. ‘During this crisis, Donald Trump has been almost singularly focused on the stock market, the Dow and the Nasdaq. Not you. Not your families,’ Biden added. After 2008 it was fashionable to bash the banks, now all corporate America is fair game if they are not woke enough. ‘Wall Street bankers and CEOs didn’t build America,’ Mr Biden said.

Europe opens weak, turns green

European shares were choppy after Asian markets fell and China’s equity rally finally ran out of steam. The FTSE 100 fell under 6,000 this morning before paring losses, returning to the low end of its June range. After a weak open, European indices were turning green after the first hour of trade.

The S&P 500 struck a low at 3,115 yesterday before closing down 0.5% at 3,152, flat for the week. Energy stocks led the drop, declining 4% as oil prices sank. Futures are lower and indicate a weaker open at the 61.8% retracement of the June-July range. The Nasdaq rose 0.6% to a fresh record as the tech sector continued to be the only real area of safety.

US unemployment numbers were a little better than expected but continue to show just how long the road is ahead. Weekly initial jobless claims fell to 1.314m, better than the 1.375m expected and representing a decline of 99k from a week ago. Continuing claims fell to 18.06m, a drop of almost 700k and much better than the 18.9m expected. The previous week’s number was also revised down over half a million.

Treasury yields fell, with US 10s back to 0.58% having notched a record low yield on an auction. UK 2- and 5-year gilt yields have hit a record low this morning, following Eurozone and US yields lower. Investors are showing no fears that massive issuance is going to force up borrowing costs as long as central banks remain in full support mode.

WTI through trend support as risk appetite cools

Crude oil fell sharply with stocks as risk rolled over. WTI (Aug) broke down through the trend support and may push lower. From a technical perspective we can start to consider completion of the head and shoulders reversal pattern and look for the move to head towards the neckline around $35. The IEA’s July report this morning suggested oil demand will pick up in the second half and that the worst of the demand destruction is behind us.

The IEA said oil demand this year will average 92.1m bpd, down by 7.9m bpd versus 2019, which is a slightly smaller decline than forecast in the April report, mainly because the decline in the second quarter was less severe than expected. But at this point it remains very hard to say how demand will recover longer-term given we do not know how the virus will progress nor how governments and citizens will respond – at least it seems negative prices were only a blip.

Fresh shutdowns in the populous Sun Belt states remains the worry, albeit we did see a decent draw on gasoline stocks last week, according to the EIA. Nevertheless the IEA noted that the accelerating number of Covid-19 cases is ‘a disturbing reminder that the pandemic is not under control and the risk to our market outlook is almost certainly to the downside’.

Elsewhere, gold fell with risk assets, with the near-term pullback finding support at $1796 and should look for consolidation around the $1800 level. The outlook for gold remains constructive and we should expect lots of pullbacks along the way – nothing goes up in a straight line, and gold is particularly prone to these tactical retreats. In FX, the dollar rallied on the broad drop in risk sentiment. GBPUSD moved down to test near term trend support formed by the bullish channel. EURUSD pulled back from highs at 1.1370 to chop around the 1.1270 region.

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.

US Election Risk: Corporate Tax Rates

US Presidential Election

The passage of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) in December 2017 lowered the US federal corporate income tax rate to 21% from 35%.

This recent decline in tax rate has been a major contributing factor to profit growth for US companies. For example, S&P Global found that, since the TCJA was enacted, the median effective tax rates for information technology companies in the S&P500 dropped from 21.1% in the first quarter of 2017 to 15.5% in the same period of 2019.

However, Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden has proposed a partial reversal of the TCJA. The Tax Foundation sees the plan as raising the corporate income tax rate to 28%, reversing half of the TCJA cut.

With the 2020 US Presidential Election just five months away and prediction markets starting to price in an increased likelihood of Democratic victories in the House, Senate and Presidential races, it may be worthwhile considering if the market is pricing in the risk of an increase in tax rates.

 

Data source: Predictit.org “Yes Price”

In a note earlier this week, Goldman Sachs strategists saw the plan put forward by Democratic nominee Biden as reducing S&P 500 EPS by as much 12% in 2021, while this week has also seen the index trading with a forward PE multiple above 23, levels last seen around the time of the dotcom bubble.

Of course, much uncertainty remains about the specifics of any potential tax reform, as well as five more months of uncertainty before the election race is completed, which could ultimately remove the likelihood of any tax reform.

US Presidential Election 2020: The Coronavirus Election

US Presidential Election

The outcome of the US Election depends on who swing state voters perceive to be the candidate best placed to fight the twin health and economic crises. President Donald Trump has the advantage of incumbency and healthy campaign coffers, but Democrat Joe Biden polls well in swing states. This is Donald’s to lose, and Joe will be hoping to pick up the pieces.

President Trump’s management of the coronavirus crisis has highlighted the advantages of incumbency: he is the one that can actually do something. A recent poll showed that 44% of respondents thought Trump was the best person to manage the coronavirus, and only 36% responded Joe Biden. The latter has been kept out of the spotlight leading to a recent pitiful poll result that 42% of respondents were either “unaware” or “did not have an opinion” of his proposals for the pandemic.

Will Covid-19 damage Trump’s chances of re-election?

Trump’s approval rating is back to the highs of his Presidency, even as polling over his handling of the crisis remains in net negative “disapprove” territory. The way that voters weigh up their concerns over the health crisis versus the economic crisis will be of critical importance in swing states.

Here the polling looks less positive for Trump. 59% of respondents in Michigan qualified his pandemic response as “too slow”, as did 55% in Florida. As a result, general election polls have given Biden a decisive advantage, with 8-point advantages in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and a slimmer 3-point lead in Florida. This swing-state edge has consequently been reflected in national polls, in which he leads on average by 6 points.

However, these numbers must be read with caution: Biden’s lead is half what Hillary Clinton’s was in 2016 at this point, and his own shaky numbers over the handling of coronavirus will be put under strain once he goes through the scrutiny of an election campaign.

Despite these key swing-state leads, Biden has been unable to build the momentum necessary to make that lead more convincing. A credible sexual assault allegation has gained a lot of attention, and he has thus far failed to fully lock up the progressive left of the party, despite receiving endorsements from Sanders and Warren, which has translated in weak polling numbers with young voters.

Biden presidential bid faces pitfalls over running mate and campaign financing

Biden has the opportunity to boost his campaign by choice of running mate, but even that is laced with potholes. Klobuchar and Harris are too centrist for the Sanders voters and they blame brother Bernie’s woes on Warren staying in the race too long.

Biden already does well with minorities and the Midwest so the impact of Klobuchar/Harris would be minimal among those groups whilst confirming to the left that Biden will run a centrist campaign. In short, the process of selecting the VP will only re-open the deep divisions that exist within the Democratic Party.

Biden faces an uphill struggle given the financial constraints his campaign faces. As of the start of April, the Biden campaign had a cash deficit of $187m on the Trump campaign, which will be even more difficult to make up virtually and in the context of an impending recession.

This hasn’t stopped the Biden campaign from investing heavily in swing states: they have spent more than the Trump campaign in digital advertising in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania; despite this, they are being outspent in North Carolina and Arizona. These weaknesses could potentially be major roadblocks should they not be resolved, with virtual eyeballs ever more important now that so many people are just kicking their heels at home.

Will vote-by-mail expansion swing US Presidential Election for Biden?

In addition to the role the economy and Joe Biden’s momentum will play in the election, the conditions of the election itself will be incredibly important. Firstly, Justin Amash’s Libertarian bid for President, amidst questions of how third-parties can collect the signatures necessary to appear on the ballot, will likely play in Biden’s favour, especially in the key state of Michigan, which Amash, a former Republican, represents in Congress.

How voters will be able to vote in the context of the pandemic will play a crucial role too: some blue states have made vote-by-mail universal, while the measure has received resistance from Republicans.

This is likely because recent electoral results have indicated that expanding vote-by-mail favours Democrats, as the easy access to the ballot has increased turnout in their favour. This will be important amidst the many ongoing legal and political (both in statehouses and in Congress) battles over how to secure the vote in November.

Will Trump win over voters with renewed attacks on China?

The coronavirus has also brought new issues to the fore. Now that Trump is unable to run on the strength of the economy, he has pivoted to the issue of China. He is painting Biden as complacent with China, who he has repeatedly blamed for the coronavirus pandemic.

The heightened tensions between China and the USA will likely endanger their relationship, and push Joe Biden to adopt more aggressive rhetoric towards China. The diplomatic consequences could endanger their cooperation in the future, and push them into a neo-Cold War-esque rivalry.

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