European markets steady after ugly tech selloff

Morning Note

Ugly, ugly, ugly. That could be the description of yesterday’s brutal sell off in tech stocks which led a broad market decline. The selling in some of the big tech darlings yesterday was spectacular: Tesla –9%, Apple –8%, Microsoft –6%, Zoom –10%. The Nasdaq settled down -5% for the day but off its lows and it’s only back to where it was last week, which simply shows what an extreme melt-up it’s been. The S&P 500 closed down -3.5%.

Ugly is the only word.

US Presidential election gets messy

Ugly is also the description of the general state of the economy and politics in the US and, arguably to a somewhat lesser extent, the U.K. The US presidential battle is getting nasty as hell. We should have expected this – it will likely get much worse. But the implications for the market need serious consideration.

I worry there is an increasingly grave risk the election result is contested to a point where the concept of a smooth handover of power is tested – well beyond ‘hanging chads’. American democracy is in peril and this should worry us all.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have covered themselves in glory thus far and the fighting will only become more acrimonious. The election is now by far the most serious risk to markets in that it could fatally undermine faith in the American system that has underpinned the West for 80 years.

Will today’s US NFP disappoint?

Meanwhile the US economy remains in serious trouble. Jobless claims remain exceptionally high. Although yesterday’s initial claims was better the only stat that really mattered after the Department of Labor changed the way it measured things was this: The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending August 15th was 29,224,546, an increase of 2,195,835 from the previous week.

Today’s nonfarm payrolls – expected at +1.375m – may well surprise to the downside, as the ever-insightful Christophe Barraud argues in his blog. The U.K. economy is hardly in better shape with the furlough scheme setting up the prospect of a wave of unemployment.

Whilst this is happening, all the central banks can do is further inflate the bubble. Yesterday’s sell off was about excessive buying in a handful of stocks, bad money in the markets chasing an ever-decreasing number of stocks, and a volatility skew that told us things were not right and heading to a rollover.

Excessive call option volumes leading to market makers needing to buy the underlying stocks seemingly chased the markets higher, but retail buying has played a strong part too. It’s all been rather unseemly and a correction is required – there may be further to run lower ahead of the election as risk ramps up.

We’d been worried by spiking Vix futures whilst the market was making all-time highs and so it proved to be a red flag. The question longer term for this market is whether we should be confident earnings will recover. That remains a problem, but not intractable –  a vaccine would help a lot.

On the interest rate side of the equation, the Fed remains on side and will keep rates on the floor – as discussed earlier this week, stretched valuations may not matter if the Fed is never going to raise rates.

European equities quickly recover after tech selloff hits sentiment

European equities were dragged lower by the tech-induced sell-off on Wall Street yesterday but recovered in early trade on Friday morning. With sentiment rolling over in the big US names, any rally may prove to be a selling opportunity.

Shares in Spanish banks Bankia and Caixabank shot higher on plans to merge, lifting the entire Spanish banking sector. UK house builders were under pressure after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced enforcement cases against Barratt Developments, Countryside Properties, Persimmon Homes and Taylor Wimpey.

The CMA said it found ‘troubling evidence of potentially unfair terms concerning ground rents in leasehold contracts and potential mis-selling’, adding that it is worried leasehold homeowners ‘may have been unfairly treated and that buyers may have been misled by developers’. Shares in the four accused dipped though TW recovered as of send time.

Vix futures, which we’ve been tracking higher with some trepidation as a sign of a toppy market, spiked. Oct futures settled above 38.

The weekly S&P 500 chart, which I said yesterday morning was starting to push the envelope to breaking point, looks a little different but still stretched.

FTSE 100 – last night closed at the 38.2% retracement level at 5850 before the selling in the US dragged the futures even lower. Higher this morning but susceptible to a pullback should the US selling continue for a second day ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

The stock market rally is facing a major hurdle

Morning Note

European equities opened firmer again on Thursday morning, extending gains from a very strong session on Wall Street. France’s CAC led the way after President Macron announced an extra €100bn stimulus package over two years. Remember the EU’s bailout fund is still to be delivered. The FTSE 100 moved back towards the 6,000 level as the pound came under further pressure from a resurgent dollar.

US stocks power higher, but Vix raises red flag

US equity markets jumped – the Dow and S&P 500 both rallied more than 1.5% on another strong day for equities. But Vix futures show no signs of backing down either, which indicates fears about the sustainability of the rally. Technical indicators are stretched too – the 14-day relative strength index is flashing a warning light at above 80 for the S&P 500.

Many of the top stocks like Apple are also trading above 80 on the RSI. Salesforce and Apple fell, but there were otherwise broad gains for the Dow, with the likes of IBM and Coca-Cola leading the way. Tesla was down 5% after its stock sale announcement. Apple remains +20% over the last month, representative of the wider tech trend, which remains strong.

Citi this morning upgraded their call on Value stocks from ‘neutral’ to ‘positive’, however they caveat this by saying they mean Value ex-Financials. Whilst rising inflation breakevens favour cyclical value stocks, low nominal rates continue to weigh on financials.

The S&P 500 continued to extend above its long-term weekly trend line (in red) and is really starting to push the envelope to breaking point.

Vix futures (Sep) are extending higher but the sharp contango between the front and back months is extreme with October printing above 35. This risk premium implied by the options market is simply not being reflected by equity markets.

Global economy slow to recover from Covid slump

Economic indicators continue to show a slow recovery. The Fed’s Beige Book – an anecdotal snapshot of businesses across the US – noted that “activity remained well below levels prior to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

PMIs continue to show a slowdown in August – following some softer European numbers, China’s Caixin services PMI slipped to 54 from 54.1 last month. Italy’s services PMI slipped to 47.1 in August from 51.6 in July, indicating businesses think things are getting worse, not better.

US jobs numbers were poor – the ADP report showed the US private sector added just 428,000 jobs in August, which was less than half what was forecast. It bodes ill for Friday’s nonfarm payrolls report. Today’s initial claims number is forecast to come in under 1m, but the slow pace of jobs growth relative to layoffs earlier in the year continue to point to a very long, slow recovery in the labour market.

On a happier note – the New York Times reported that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed officials to get ready to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine as early as October. There are several candidates are in the running and there is clearly a lot more confidence we will have a vaccine and be able to declare victory over Covid.

Sanofi and GSK announced today the start of their Phase 1/2 clinical trial for their adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine. If the trials are positive, the companies aim to move into a Phase 3 trial by end of 2020 and target producing up to one billion doses in 2021.

Odds of Trump re-election grow as White House race grows tighter

Yesterday, betting markets turned in favour of Donald Trump being re-elected. The RCP average showed Trump +0.1pt over Biden at 49.8 to 49.7. Whilst clearly too close to call, the speed at which Trump has narrowed the gap shows how quickly things can change. Betting markets are not, however, the same as polls. They are only market participants’ best guess at what the outcome will be.

But according to our US Presidential Election poll tracker, polls also show a tighter race. On a national level Trump is polling better than at any time since May and has eaten into Biden’s clear lead, which remains strong. However, looking into the key battlegrounds where we know the fight will be bitterest and where it really counts, the lead Biden has is also narrowing and now well within the margin for error area.

The RCP data showed Biden at +2.6 in the top battlegrounds, having been more than +6pts in July. By Thursday however, Biden bolstered his lead again to +3.3 in the battleground states. Suffice to say, the race is going to be very close.

Increasingly we see the biggest risk to market stability being a disputed election result, which would considerably dent risk appetite going into the end of the year. Will President Trump resist leaving the White House? Will Biden refuse to concede on the night goes against him even if the vote on the night goes against him? Lots of risks ahead. A clean sweep for the Democrats would mean more regulation and more taxes.

Yields have come back down to pre-Jackson Hole levels with US 10s back at 0.647%. Gold slipped further from the Tuesday swing high towards $1930 and again contending with long-term trend support.

The dollar notched further gains – GBPUSD has retreated to take a 1.32 handle and EURUSD briefly taking a 1.17 handle again. The unwind for these pairs has been sharp but it still looks to be a tough period for USD.

Oil settled lower at its weakest in a month despite a large draw on oil inventories. WTI slipped to $42 as the temporary nature of the shut-ins from Hurricane Laura failed to offer support. The EIA said US crude inventories fell by 9.4m barrels for the week ended Aug 28th, after the API had reported a drop of 6.4m barrels.

Equities head for strong finish, all eyes on the bond market, NFP jobs report

Morning Note

No V? The lack of a V-shaped recovery may not be worrying stock markets too much, but it is a source concern for consumers who lost confidence over the course of May. Perhaps this was due to the glacial pace of easing of lockdown restrictions and annoyance at the government; or perhaps it was economic – worries about job losses and a big drop in house prices finally sinking in and offsetting the novelty of being furloughed.

Whatever the cause, GfK’s UK consumer confidence index slipped to –36 in the second half of May, down from –34 in the first half and near the –39 printed in July 2008. Meanwhile, Japanese household spending fell even further in April, declining more than 11%. This was the fastest drop in spending since 2001 and built on a 6% drop in March.

Stock markets fell yesterday, pausing what’s been a robust risk-on rally in June, whilst bond yields snapped out of their funk. European stock markets suffered a broad decline. The Nasdaq hit a record intra-day high but ended down 0.7% on the day. The Dow eked a small gain, but the broad S&P 500 index declined 0.34%, though held the 3100 handle after dropping as low as 3090.

European stock markets rebound, eyes on bonds after ECB QE hike

Today, European stock markets rallied back to their highs of the week in the first half hour of trading, with the FTSE rising above 6400 and the DAX at 12,700. Both set to complete a very strong week of gains, with a German stimulus package and ECB bond buying helping to lift sentiment. The DAX’s breach of the 61.8% retracement was a very good bullish signal –  since then, in the last week it has cleared the 200-day line and advanced through the 78.6% level, up close to 10% since last Friday’s close. The FTSE is over 5% higher this week.

Eyes on the bond market again: after being somewhat subdued by central bank actions for many weeks US 10yr yields broke out to 0.85% even as stocks slipped up, whilst 2s couldn’t move beyond 0.2%. I think you have to look deeper into what the central banks are doing here as well as the amount of issuance. The Fed is reducing the pace of asset purchases, but investors think it will need to keep a lid on the front end of the curve for a long time by keeping its target rate at zero.

The move in US yields seemed to be a result of the ECB move to increase QE by a further €600bn. I’m not sure we can draw any immediate conclusions from this sharp move in US rates, but it will be very interesting to watch how the Fed responds to this development. Does it seek to influence the yield curve – yield curve control like the Bank of Japan, or does it let bond markets function?

If investors are dumping longer-dated bonds, and driving up yields, it may be that the inflation trade is on – given the tsunami of issuance and central bank intervention, it is logical enough to expect a bout of inflation coming round the bend, even if the immediate pressures from the pandemic are deflationary. Or it may just be a signal that the bond market thinks the worst of the crisis is over and we can chill out a bit – the move up in yields and drop in the Vix under 25, combined with the rally in equities should all be telling us that things are hunky dory.

When you look at the economic data, however, it’s hard to be to very optimistic. One to watch.

US nonfarm payrolls report on tap

The US nonfarm payrolls print is the last big risk event of the week, and seen at –8m, albeit Wednesday’s ADP number was just –2.76m vs –9m expected. Last month showed a massive –20m drop, but it only really told us what we already knew after several weeks of dreadful weekly initial claims numbers. Yesterday, US initial jobless claims fell to 1.9m but the continuing claims number rose 650k from last week to 21.5, ahead of expectations.

The fact that this number is rising is a worry that either businesses are not rehiring very fast, or worse, workers laid off simply don’t want to go back to work because they earn more now being unemployed thanks to the expanded benefit package. One report indicated about 40% of US workers are better off not working.

WTI oil, Brent oil near highs as OPEC again suggests moving meeting

Oil was near the highs with WTI (Aug) above $38 and Brent (Aug) above $40.50 as OPEC brings its off-again, on-again meeting forward from June 9th to June 6th (tomorrow) – at least that is the current understanding.

At various stages this week it’s been taking place yesterday, next week and not at all. Russia and Saudi Arabia want to get this extension over the line before the start of the new trading week. The meeting taking place on a Saturday does raise the prospect of a gap open on Sunday night.

Dollar unwind continues, euro higher on ECB stimulus

In FX, the dollar continues to get hit in an unwind of the pandemic trade that pushed it aggressively higher. EURUSD has advanced with the ECB stimulus which is going to give the politicians a better chance of agreeing to fiscal stimulus as per the EC’s budget proposals.

EURUSD broke above 1.1350 to trade around 1.1370 – eyes on the 1.1450 target still. GBPUSD is up around 1.2640, near to breaching the 200-day moving average, despite worries about Brexit talks going nowhere and the British parliament rejecting any extension of the transition period. The break by the pound above the twin peaks of the April highs opens up the path back to 1.28 and then 1.31, but the 200-day line offers a big test first.

Candlestick price chart for the pound sterling to US dollar FX pair

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