Trump returns, big tech faces antitrust concerns

Don’t be afraid: President Trump returned to the White House, but it might not be for much longer. Whilst Trump almost revelled in his victory over the virus, telling Americans not to fear it, Joe Biden’s lead in the polls is rising. Trump has work to do in the battlegrounds to swing back in his favour.

Wall Street climbs on stimulus hopes

Wall Street rallied as we saw decent bid come through for risk that left the dollar lower and benchmark Treasury yields higher amid hopes that policymakers in Washington are close to doing a deal on stimulus. House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke yesterday but failed to reach agreement on a fresh stimulus package.

Negotiations are due to resume today and whilst the mood seems to be better, getting agreement so close to the election will be tough but not impossible.

The S&P 500 rose 1.8% to close at the high of the day above the  3,400 level but the intra-day high at 3,428 from Sep 16th remains the top of the channel that bulls will look to take out – failure here may call for a retreat towards the middle of the range again.

Stimulus hopes will drive sentiment, but election risk is also a factor. Vix futures for Oct at $30.86 compared with November’s $32.23.

European markets turned lower in early trade on Tuesday as bulls failed to follow through on the relief rally on Monday – still very much range bound.

As noted last week the key is the 3300 level on the Stoxx 50 and 6,000 on the FTSE 100 to signal the market has broken the range. The S&P 500 is closer to doing it.

Benchmark yields rose firmly with 10-year Treasuries breaking out of the recent dull range towards 0.80%, settling at 0.77% near 4-month highs. The 30-year yield also hit its highest since Jun 9th.

With polling and odds improving for a Democrat clean sweep, the market is starting to price in more aggressive stimulus, greater issuance and bigger deficits. Fed chair Jay Powell speaks later today about the US economic outlook at the National Association of Business Economics annual meeting.

Cable eyes Brexit latest Brexit headlines

Brexit talks rumble on – are we closer to a deal? Deadlines are fast approaching and on the whole it seems more likely than not that we at least see a skinny deal or sorts.

EC vice president Maros Sefcovic has been on the wires this morning underlining that ‘full and timely’ implementation of the withdrawal agreement is not up for debate. The British Parliament and government say otherwise.

Meanwhile the European Parliament is not budging on its demands over the EU budget – whilst the recovery fund was announced to much fanfare, it needs to be delivered for Europe’s economy to recover more quickly than it is.

Democrats to target tech giants

Big tech stocks need monitoring after reports that a Democrat-led House panel will call for an effective breakup of giants like Apple, Amazon and Alphabet. It comes after a long anti-trust investigation by the panel led by Democratic Representative David Cicilline.

If approved and legislation is enacted, it would be the most significant reform in this area since Teddy Roosevelt. Certainly, the concentration of capital in a handful of big tech stocks is worrisome for lots of reason. Even if approved, getting from draft to legislation will not be easy. However, if there were a Democrat clean sweep, it could open the door to some aggressive reforms.

As I noted over a year ago, given that the FAANGs have been at the front of the market expansion in recent years, any breakup or threat of it may act as a drag on broader market sentiment. Calls have been growing louder and louder for the authorities to at least look at antitrust issues for the tech giants.

Political pressure is building – lawmakers sniff votes in tackling big tech. The shift really happened two years ago with the Facebook scandals, which really broke the illusion that Silicon Valley is in it for the little guy.

AUDUSD sinks on dovish RBA meeting

The Reserve Bank of Australia left interest rates on hold, refraining from a cut below 0.25% but maintaining a decidedly dovish bias that still indicates a further cut may occur this year.

The RBA said it will keep monetary policy easy “as long as is required” and will not increase the cash rate target until progress is being made towards full employment and it is confident that inflation will be sustainably within the 2–3% target band. It kept its options open and stressed that it will continue to consider additional monetary easing.

After a decent run since the Sep 25th low AUDUSD was smacked down from its 50-day SMA at 0.7210 to trade around 0.7150. Currently contained by its 50- and 100-day SMAs.

The dollar index broke the horizontal support and the 21-day SMA, with the price action testing the trendline off the September lows. After the RSI trend breach and the MACD bearish crossover flagged yesterday was confirmed. 50-day SMA around 93.25 is the next main support.

The softer dollar gave some support to GBPUSD as it tests the top of the range and big round number and Fibonacci resistance at 1.30 this morning. Markets are also pushing back expectations for negative rates in the UK, which may be feeding through to a stronger pound.

Brexit risks remain but the odds of a deal seem to be better than evens, at least a ‘skinny’ deal that keeps dollar-parity wolves from the door.

The weaker dollar, higher inflation outlook is pushing up gold prices, which have broken above $1,900 but faces immediate resistance at the 21-day SMA on $1,916. Yesterday’s potential MACD bullish crossover has been confirmed.

Unhealthy market fixations, Cineworld’s time to die?

There has been a lot of column inches written, and much ink spilled, over Donald Trump testing positive for the coronavirus. There were, I fear, a few too many quick to sound the alarm and say this would see stocks ‘tumble’, etc.

True, US stock markets fell on Friday, with the S&P 500 down 1%. But this was 25pts above the lows of the day and likely just as much about a tepid September jobs report from the US as anything else; the broad market finished the week up by 1.5% in the end. Hopes of stimulus persist and Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday that lawmakers are making progress.

Traders should still be on alert for updates on Trump’s status, but unless things go very bad it should just be a lot of noise. The President could be discharged from hospital today.

European markets rose in early trade but pared gains as PMIs crossed to show lacklustre recovery in the Eurozone. US stock futures indicated a bounce when Wall Street opens later. One market that has seemingly been brought back from the brink is the bond market, which looked to all intents and purposes like it had been completely killed by the Fed.

Treasury yields moved higher on hopes of stimulus with the US 10-year showing some vital signs at last and nudging up to 0.7%.

US labour market recovery slows

The US labour market is not in good health, with the economy creating 661k jobs in September vs the 800k expected. This was also a marked decline from the 1.371m created in August. The unemployment rate declined for a fifth straight month to 7.9%, but it remains at historically high levels.

The US economy has recovered about half the jobs lost at the peak of the pandemic. The problem remains the same as we have been saying for months now – the reopening rebound was the easy part. The hard slog lies ahead, and it could take years to fully recover all the lost jobs. The UK seems to be in a similar position.

Cineworld stock tumbles as chain shuts UK and US theatres

Time to die? Cineworld is closing all its cinemas in the UK and US amid a collapse in demand due to the pandemic. Shares plunged 50% on the news this morning. The delay to the next James Bond film was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but Cineworld was a little bloated before the pandemic struck.

Net debt of over $8bn – thanks mainly to two large leveraged acquisitions in recent years – and a market cap of $540m by the close on Friday left Cineworld in a difficult position to refinance if punters were not coming through the doors; without the Bond franchise to draw people in there was little option – closing its theatres at least gives it a chance to preserve cash and wait for things to improve. Refinancing by some sort of rights issue seems inevitable.

However, I fear there have been permanent behavioural shifts in consumers that will mean the market is forever smaller. It is hard to gauge right now what permanent damage is done to cinemas, but the closure of Cineworld, however temporary, is a plain indicator that it could be significant and lasting.

The advance of over-the-top streaming services, especially Netflix with its vast Hollywood budgets and ability to make feature films, has been a critical blow to the industry and Covid has vastly compounded the problem by keeping viewers away. In its interim results last month, the company warned that a worsening of the pandemic could leave it unable to survive; today’s announcement confirms that it is on the brink.

Demand uncertainty hits Tesla

Tesla shares fell 7% on Friday after the company failed to quell longer-term demand concerns despite delivering a record number of cars in the third quarter. The company delivered 139,300 vehicles, compared with expectations of 137,000 vehicles.

It looks to be a bit of an unusually bad reaction to very impressive numbers. As the Shanghai factory ramps production Tesla should be able to steadily increase volumes despite the pandemic, albeit Elon Musk’s target of 500k this year looks out of reach for now.

Monetary policy in focus this week

It’s going to be a busy week for central bank jawboning – the Fed’s Powell, Kaplan (the hawk), Harker, Williams, Kashkari, Barkin and Evans are all due on the wires in the coming days. Also watch for the FOMC minutes from the September meeting for more granular detail about how policymakers view the shift to average inflation targeting, and to what extent the consensus is strained.

The ECB latest meeting minutes are also due on Thursday and similarly there is a slew of speakers slated for the week, including Lagarde, Lane, Guindos and Mersch.

Meanwhile the Reserve Bank of Australia could cut rates to 0% when it meets this week. Futures markets have indicated odds of a rate cut at about 50%. However we could well see the RBA cut from 0.25% to 0.1%, or it could delay until November 3rd.

Deputy governor Guy Debelle recently outlined policy tools the RBA is considering to help it meet its twin mandates on employment and inflation, including foreign exchange intervention and negative interest rates.

Chart: Gold continues to slide down the channel – watch the 21-day SMA at the top and 100-day offering support underneath as potential pivots

Stocks sink as Trump tests positive for Covid-19

President Trump and First Lady Melania have tested positive for Covid-19. How has the market reacted, and what does this mean for the US Presidential Election?

Stay on top of the polls and all the latest election news with our dedicated US Presidential Election site.

EIA oil inventories preview: Crude struggles after mixed API data

Crude oil and Brent oil are struggling below opening levels today after a bearish inventory report from the American Petroleum Institute.

Both benchmarks headed back towards the two-week lows hit yesterday before returning to trade just under opening levels.

Crude is on track to record its first monthly loss in five months, while Brent looks set to end lower for the first time in six months.

API: Oil draw falls short, surprise gasoline build

The API reported a smaller-than-expected draw in crude oil inventories and a surprise build in gasoline inventories.

Crude oil inventories fell by 831,000 barrels in the week ending September 25th, against analyst forecasts of a 2.256 million barrel drop.

Gasoline inventories also disappointed forecasts, rising by 1.623 million barrels during the same period, instead of falling by 1.3 million barrels as expected.

In more supportive news, US oil production fell to 10.7 million barrels per day.

Rising coronavirus cases raise questions over global recovery

The rising number of coronavirus cases as winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere has heightened fears of new restrictions that could curb economic activity and therefore demand for oil.

While certain parts of the global economy are bouncing back, others continue to be hammered by the pandemic. Airlines are a key market for oil and various restrictions combined with a general fear of air travel given the current circumstances has seen a huge drop in bookings.

On Tuesday the global Covid-19 death toll passed the 1 million mark, up from 500,000 three months ago, with the number of infected exceeding 33 million.

Traders are also worried that the US Presidential Election may not produce a clear winner on November 3rd, leading to more disruption for the world’s largest economy as both Trump and Biden contest the results.

US election playbook: navigating the volatility with 40 days to go

  • Temporary dislocation
  • Too many variables
  • Bigger risks ahead

Given the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, the US election is being held in exceptional circumstances. All else being equal though, we can deduce something about how current polling might play out. The market consensus is that a Biden win and Democrat clean sweep will lead to higher taxes and regulatory risk for a large number of corporates, which will hurt equities.

There are however plenty of other ways in which the market might like a Blue-nami, from pragmatic trade policy to combined loose fiscal and monetary policy.

Trade

Could Biden open up trade with China again? The Democrat candidate is taking a hard line on China – which is playing well with both sets of voters – but will he become more emollient once in office?

Tony Blinken, a senior foreign policy adviser to Biden, said fully ‘decoupling’ with China as urged by Donald Trump is ‘unrealistic’ and ‘counter-productive’. Biden will instead reset ties with China while seeking to redress unfair practices on trade and IP. However, it will be difficult for Biden to withdraw Trump’s tariffs immediately, without gaining significant concessions.

Biden has to play the hand Trump dealt, but he might seek to drive greater consensus with China and work out a more pragmatic trade policy.

MMT

Biden may not have expressed much support for Modern Monetary Theory – in fact he was once a fiscal hawk in the old style – but under a Democrat Congress and White House there would be no rush to reduce the deficit.

In fact, Biden’s economic stimulus plans entail more borrowing. Whilst it is a stretch to suggest that Biden is a supporter of MMT, the economic and social backdrop has changed drastically in recent years and it is gaining traction in more corners of the Democrat machine.

Moreover, the Fed’s recent average inflation targeting shift opens up a new front for MMT proponents in explicitly pushing full employment as the primary goal of monetary policy.

The Fed

At Jackson Hole the Fed announced a policy shift that ought to have a material impact on expectations around rates and inflation. The Fed is taking a more practical approach than in the past when it has been guided by theories about maximum employment, the Philips Curve and inflation.

Instead of saying that the economic outcomes need to fit its models – which have always been nothing more than a best guess – it will let the outcomes drive the policy. Some would say this is a step towards fully embracing MMT, even if Powell has been against this approach in the past.

The fact is that the crisis has thrown MMT from economic theory to economic practice without any real debate. Powell has embraced a central tenet of MMT – why should millions of people be thrown on the economic scrapheap and left unemployed as the price to pay for low inflation.

Under a Democrat-led Congress and White House, MMT proponents will gain a louder voice, with implications for federal economic policy.

Overall, whilst Biden’s tax policy might be tougher on Wall Street, trade and monetary policy could be easier. But it is not quite so straightforward as that. With polls close in the key battleground states and huge uncertainty over the potential impact of postal votes, it is currently difficult to put a price on any outcome, which in turn makes it hard to trade the election per se.

Going long or short based on the outcome is far too simplistic and you could just as easily call it wrong as get it right. What we can say is that the pandemic, the economic recovery and the monetary policy response are longer term going to matter much more. And so, all else being equal is far too simplistic a view to take in what’s a very complex situation.

Will the election outcome be contested?

The only thing the market wants is to get the election out of the way – the only real danger would be a long period of legal disputes post-election, but again this ought only to create volatility at the time and would eventually be forgotten once it all shakes out.

Veiled threats by Trump to not accept a Biden win are probably over-analysed. The Supreme Court (and Secret Service) would see to that. It turns out the most antagonistic election in a generation for the people of America might well end up merely a short term ripple when it comes to markets, given everything else they have to contend with in the long term.

With 40 days to go, the race is tight and in the major battlegrounds it is too close to call. Markets will be volatile and dislocations will occur that present opportunities. The best approach is to be agile enough to contend with both outcomes and no clear winner on the morning of November 4th.

You can follow our election coverage here.

Stocks attempt rally after selloff, sterling down on Bailey remarks, Kingfisher enjoys DIY boom

Stock markets firmed in early European trade but remain battered and bruised by yesterday’s sell-off as fears of a second wave of cases and new lockdown measures dealt a blow to risk sentiment. Selling pressure has been building for some time and the dam broke yesterday.

A recovery in the final hour of trade lifted the market off the lows so it wasn’t full capitulation, but there could yet be more downside as the S&P 500 approaches correction territory.

SPX, Dow tumble, tech strength stems Nasdaq losses

The S&P 500 declined by 1.2% and the Dow dropped 1.8% but tech stocks fared better with the Nasdaq flat for the day. Shares in Apple rose 3% and Microsoft was up 1% as some of the Covid winners showed more resilience to fears over second waves of the pandemic and fresh lockdown measures, which seemed to be the trigger.

Despite the heavy selling, bulls put in a strong finish – the Dow was down over 900 points at the low before ending –500pts. At its lows the S&P 500 plunged by as much as 2.7%. Nevertheless, the broad market is now already –6% for the month of September, has notched four straight daily declines for the first time since March, and is over 8% off its all-time high.

The FTSE 100 fell over 3%, breaching the 21-day simple moving average line. Despite the pressure the bulls just held the 5,800 round number and closed above the Sep 4th low of 5,799. The Stoxx 50 breached the July lows and is now close to its Jun bottom having sunk under its 200-day SMA. The move follows a clear period of congestion that was calling for a breakout, having been caught in an ever-narrower range.

The DAX fell almost 4.5% with heavy selling into the closing bell seen as bears tried but failed to crack the 12,500 round number as the 78.6% retracement of the Feb-Mar rout held. There were modest gains in early trade on Tuesday but the rally looks a little wobbly.

Fading hope for another round of stimulus in the US is another weight, with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg over the weekend seen as a decisive blow against a bipartisan deal being achieved before the election, since it materially magnifies the polarisation in Washington. A deal will need to wait until after November 3rd.

In addition, a heavy ramp up in August with far too much hot money chasing too few shares, increasingly stretched valuations, the lack of a vaccine on the horizon and the rising risk of volatility around the US Presidential Election – and uncertainty over whether we will get a clean result – seems to have caught up with the markets.

UK government set to introduce new Covid curbs, Kingfisher gets DIY boost in Q2

The UK government is set to introduce fresh measures to ‘control’ the virus – curfews and working from home if possible. What a difference a month makes – only a few weeks ago we were being implored to get out and about to help out. It’s almost like they don’t know what they are doing.

While pub shares fell on curfew news, several earnings reports today highlight the uneven nature of the recovery so far, and the uncertain path ahead.

Tui – uncertainty over the course of lockdowns and quarantine rules is leaving holidaymakers unsure about booking in the coming months. The winter 20/21 programme has been further reduced by 20% since the Q3 update, to around 40% adjusted capacity, reflecting ‘the current uncertainty relating to travel restrictions’. TUI says it is currently 30% sold for the adjusted winter capacity.

Compared to the normal levels of prior year, bookings are currently down 59%, in line with adjusted capacity. Consumers are much happier to assume things will be ‘back to normal’ by summer 2021. Tui says bookings are up 84% but at 80% adjusted capacity, however we should caution that much of this will be pushback demand from this summer as consumers changed travel dates to next year.

Cost-cutting has helped TUI weather the storm – that and some whopping bailouts from the German government, but it and the entire travel industry needs governments across Europe to give far greater clarity over restrictions and quarantines. Shares rose a touch but the rest of the travel sector was weaker with Carnival off another –4% and IAG down –3% after a drubbing yesterday.

Kingfisher enjoyed a strong recovery in Q2 as DIYers tackled their jobs lists. This recovery has continued into Q3 to date, management say, with growth across all banners and categories. Q3 20/21 group LFL sales to Sep 19th are up 16.6%.

DIYers are driving the recovery – sales at B&Q rose 28% in Q2 on a like-for-like basis. Trade less so – Screwfix LFL sales were up just 2.4%, though they are +9.9% in Q3 so far – as the construction industry struggles to get going again. Overall UK & Ireland sales rose 2.4% in the first half despite lockdown as people rediscovered their homes and their desire for improving them. French bounced back strongly, with Q2 sales +27% vs the –41.5% decline in Q1.

First half sales were –5.9% lower. Overall H1 sales were a tad lighter but cost reductions meant adjusted pre-tax profit rose 23% to £415m, with retail margins +140bps to 9%. Shares rose 6% in early trade and have more than doubled off the March low.

Dollar climbs on Fed jawboning, BoE’s Bailey to speak today

In FX, the rollover in risk sentiment and some interesting Fed jawboning played into the dollar bulls, with DXY sustaining a breach of the channel on the upside and clearing its 50–day SMA, which had been a key point of resistance last week. Gold retreated under $1,900 at one point with the stronger dollar weighing.

The Fed’s Bullard said the US has done enough on the fiscal front, whilst Dallas Fed president Kaplan stressed that the Fed should not keep its hands tied by committing to ZIRP forever even if the economy bounces back. Powell stressed that the Fed will use all its tools to do whatever it takes.

More Powell today plus Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey, who said in remarks this morning that the recovery in Q3 has been ahead of expectations but stressed that the hard yards are ahead.

All the market wants to know is whether negative rates are coming or not – he said the Bank has looked ‘very hard’ at the scope to cut rates further, including negative rates. So this was not the attempt to distance the MPC from the negative rate comments in last week’s release to give the central bank more flexibility. As the MPC indicated last week, Bailey wants to leave negative rates on the table.

GBPUSD was under fresh pressure under 1.28 and could be set up for a bear flag continuation with a possible dive back to 1.22. If this holds, bulls need to clear 1.30 to be encouraged. The key test is the 200-day EMA around 1.2760 which was tested last week and held, encouraging a rally back to 1.30. Cable shed this support in the early European session as Bailey got on the airwaves – one to watch today with the 100-day the last line of defence.

Stocks softer as UK mulls second lockdown

Boris Johnson says a national lockdown would be disastrous, but his scientific advisers are proposing a two-week lock-up in October. A new risk-averse religion with devotees kneeling to the great NHS deity has been born.

The question is whether the government decides to ‘follow the science’ or not. Cases are certainly up, but the number of tests being carried out daily is exponentially higher than it was in March and April. The worry, of course, is that there is a lag of a couple of weeks and the rise in cases we have seen translates into a spike in hospital admissions in a fortnight.

British shoppers are a robust lot. UK retail sales rose 0.8% and are now 4% ahead of February’s pre-pandemic levels. When you can’t do things like go on holiday you can buy stuff, like DIY materials.

Home improvement spending drove sales of household goods to rise by 9.9%. We will see just how this translates into companies when Kingfisher reports half-year results next week.

Consumer spending is a big driver of the economy, but unfortunately a V-shaped recovery in retail sales is only part of the picture and we are yet to see what happens as the furlough scheme ends and real permanent unemployment rises.

Equity markets fell, with chatter about a vaccine more conservative and hopes of any delivery in volume really focused on next year and not by the end of October, despite what Donald Trump says. What we might have by the end of October is some really compelling results from clinical trials, which might be enough for markets.

Donald Trump is pressing House Republicans to up their offer for another round of stimulus.

European stocks were broadly lower on Friday, with the FTSE 100 again looking around the 6,000 level. The S&P 500 down almost one per cent and again testing its 50-day line. The Nasdaq dropped over 1% to close under its 50-day moving average.

Snowflake fell, with the stock declining 10% after the frenzied first day of trade led to some profit-taking. Tesla was down 4% ahead, but remains up this week ahead of the Battery Day event next Tuesday.

Jobless claims in the US improved slightly, the picture remains troubled and one of a slower recovery. Initial claims fell marginally to 860,000, but this is still very high. Unemployment remains high at 8.6%, albeit this was a drop from 9.3% the previous week.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending August 29 was 29,768,326, an increase of 98,456 from the previous week.

Bank of England edges towards further easing, ponders negative rates

Yesterday, the Bank of England kept rates on hold at 0.1% and the stock of asset purchases at £745bn, but it looks like on the cusp of delivering further accommodation. The Bank ‘stands ready’ to do more, it said, adding that will not tighten monetary policy until there is ‘clear evidence’ of achieving its 2% inflation target in a sustainable way.

With the current QE ammo due to run out by the end of the year, the Bank looks likely to expand the asset purchase programme by around £100bn in November. There were also overt references to the Bank actively considering negative rates, which hit sterling and sank gilt yields and saw money markets pricing in negative rates this year.

Cable recovered some ground after the BoE-inspired drop as the dollar reversed course, with GBPUSD rising back to its 50-day SMA at 1.30. DXY hit resistance at the 50-day and the longer-term downtrend reasserted itself, although for now the dollar remains in a non-trending sideways pattern. We await to see whether this is the bottom or a pause (bear flag) before the next leg lower.

Oil prices climbed again after the OPEC+ meeting revealed Saudi Arabia’s determination to keep the alliance together and conforming with the production cuts. WTI (Oct) rose above $41, the highest in two weeks.

There were words of warning for traders from Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi energy minister, who said anyone gambling on the market would be ‘ouching like hell’, in reference to a question over whether OPEC+ would taper cuts in December.

OPEC+ won’t say whether it will take further action to boost prices, but as mentioned yesterday, this will depend on the price, which largely will be a factor of sentiment based around demand.

Global equities up on vaccine, trade hope

You just can’t keep ‘em down: Stocks surged again as vaccine hopes and positive language around US-China trade lifted the boats. The S&P 500 closed at a new record high at 3,431, led by Energy and Financials, two of the most beaten-up sectors, with Technology and Healthcare were at the bottom.  European stocks caught a strong bid with the major bourses rallying around 2% on Monday. Asian markets followed the lead overnight, with Tokyo up more than 1% and although Shanghai and Hong Kong were a tad weaker.

Germany Q2 GDP slump revised, European stocks firm

Today, the narrative is much the same as yesterday. European stocks continued to advance with gains of around 1% as risk sentiment remained robust after official figures showed Germany’s economy shrank less than previously thought in the second quarter. The numbers are still terrible: output declined by –9.7%, but this was an improvement on the –10.1% drop in the original release. Germany’s Ifo business survey showed sentiment is on the rise too.

The euro caught some bid after these two releases to advance above 1.1830 and test trend resistance having come under a bit of pressure yesterday evening again as the near-term downtrend remains the dominant force. Yesterday’s high at 1.1850 is the bulls’ target and this needs to be cleared to suggest the bears have lost control.

The DAX rose above 13,200 to take it near the post-trough high at 13,313 hit on July 21st. The FTSE 100 advanced towards 6,200 with beaten up travel & leisure stocks among the leaders. Both pared gains after the first hour of trading however. US futures point to further gains on Wall Street.

Apple continues to surge, US and Chinese officials discuss trade

Apple shares rose over $500 as investors continued to pile in and analysts noted that its forward earnings multiples are not that rich after all, and certainly not as expensive as rivals. Apple has transformed itself from a pure hardware manufacturer to a full service led tech platform and therefore the stock has rerated.

Top US and Chinese officials discussed the phase one trade agreement after a meeting scheduled for earlier this month was postponed. Both sides are seeing progress in areas like the increase in purchases of US products by China.

The two sides also discussed how China will ensure greater protection for intellectual property rights, remove impediments to American companies in the areas of financial services and agriculture, and eliminate forced technology transfer, the US Trade Representative said in a statement. This came after the US and EU agreed to reduce tariffs on some goods.

AstraZeneca begins antibody trials, economists concerned over double-dip recession

Meanwhile vaccine news is still helping rather than hindering risk sentiment. AstraZeneca said today it has begun the phase one clinical trial of its monoclonal antibody combination for the prevention and treatment of Covid-19. However, Hong Kong has reported its first confirmed coronavirus re-infection, with a man found to have been infected months apart by different strains of the virus.

Economists remain concerned about the double dip: according to the National Association for Business Economics, there is a one in four chance the US economy could fall into a double-dip recession. Two-thirds of economists surveyed think the world’s largest economy remains in recession.

Republican convention kicks off with warnings of election rigging

President Trump got the Republican convention off to a belligerent start as he warned of a rigged election as he sought to cast doubt over the voting process ahead of the election. I don’t think the market really needs to worry about there not being a smooth handover of power, but I would think that a close result could see Trump launch multiple legal challenges which would create the kind of uncertainty markets don’t like.

Elsewhere, gold continues within the near-term downtrend but is yet to make a new low since the $1911 trough last week and is catching support from the longer-term rising trend line. US real rates (10yr TIPS) slipped further into negative territory again.

BT shares leap as European equities trade higher

Still no love for Europe? Equity indices in Europe dropped last week as risk appetite waned into the weekend, whilst US stocks closed Friday at record highs, albeit the rally since the March lows has been very uneven – all the chatter over the weekend was about a K-shaped recovery.

Can beaten down value stocks catch up? With Europe lacking a lot of the high-quality tech and growth names, it may struggle until there is a vaccine, the pandemic is over, and dividends are reinstated. Short-term the price action in stock indices seems more down to the individual narrative of the day or week.

Stocks up as markets focus on Covid-19 treatment and vaccine news

Today it’s positive. European equities took the cue from a strong Asian session and pushed higher on Monday morning, with the narrative centring on treatment and vaccine news. Donald Trump is said to be mulling fast-tracking AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate, whilst the FDA issued an emergency use authorisation for using plasma from recovered patients to treat Covid-19. Shares in AstraZeneca rose 2% in early trade.

Meanwhile, the US and EU have struck a ‘mini’ deal to cut tariffs on a range of items, which marks an important de-escalation of trade tensions that has dogged relations for many months.

BT surges as it readies takeover defence

BT shares leapt 7% after reports it is seeking to bolster its defences against a possible takeover. At a valuation of £10bn, the group has become a definite target. And whilst BT has a lot of legacy baggage – notably £18bn in net debt and a major pension deficit – it’s also got the Openreach crown jewel, which would be worth considerably more on its own than the group is valued today.

Of course, there is no formal offer, but shares could jump further if one emerges. Deutsche Telekom, which owns 12% in BT, is seen as a likely candidate. The question is whether there could be more bombed out UK-listed stocks that could be taken out by a timely takeover…perennial rumour-favourite ITV, for instance?

Deadlocked Brexit talks weigh on Sterling

Elsewhere, sterling made a push higher last week, but the dollar came back. Brexit talks did not go very well and there was virtually zero progress on some key elements. The failure to break the long-term weekly trend resistance makes GBPUSD susceptible to further pull backs, with a gravestone doji weekly candle also a bearish indicator. Support kicked in at 1.3060 on Friday and offers the near-term test for bears.

Bulls will require a weekly close above the trend line to be confident. EURUSD failed to overcome 1.1960 and pulled back to 1.1760 where it has found support. A further rise in EUR net long positions to almost 200k contracts evident in Friday’s COT report from the CFTC indicates extremely bullish positioning that may be too crowded and liable to a squeeze lower. GBP speculative positioning turned net long from net short for the first time since April.

What we’re watching this week:

Republican convention fires campaign starting pistol

The Democrats seem to have got through their set-piece without a hiccup. Now over to Trump and co for the Republican convention, which will not only mark the starting pistol for this year’s presidential run, but also the race for the 2024 GOP candidate. Market attention will increasingly come around to the November presidential race with barely over two months left until polling day.

Vix futures indicate investors are starting to position for more volatility as the election approaches and we should be prepared for a decent nudge higher in volatility and swing lower for stocks over the next two months. This is will be the last major set piece event before the first presidential debate on September 29th.

Jackson Hole

A confusion of central bankers convene in Wyoming online for the annual Jackson Hole Symposium. This year’s virtual theme is “Navigating the Decade Ahead: Implications for Monetary Policy”. I could answer that in one sentence: lower for longer, outright debt monetization, force inflation up to clear debts. But I’m not a central banker, although I would go to Jackson Hole for the trout fishing.

Federal Reserve chair Jay Powell speaks on Thursday just a few moments before the US cash equity on Wall Street. Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem follows and Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey speaks on the Friday. Given the way the minutes of the Fed’s July meeting rocked risk appetite and checked the bulls’ progress, this will offer a chance to catch up on where the Fed one month on with its mid-September FOMC meeting in focus.

Economic data to watch

There is a lot of economic data to get through this week, notably some Q2 GDP second estimates for the US among others. On Tuesday we are looking at the US CB consumer confidence report.  Wednesday sees the weekly crude oil inventories report as well as US durable goods orders and Australian construction activity. On Thursday the US weekly initial jobless claims number gets released, after last week’s disappointing print of 1.1m. Look also at the pending home sales and preliminary (second estimate) GDP numbers.

More US data rounds out the week on Friday with the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the core PCE price index; personal spending; University of Michigan consumer sentiment; and the Chicago PMI on the slate.

Earnings to watch

Ad titan WPP reports it interim results for the six months ended June 30th on Thursday. The advertising giant is a useful barometer of economic confidence. Big brands have slashed marketing budgets to cope with pandemic and WPP has warned of the hit it will take this year.

But rival Publicis reported a 13-% drop in second quarter like-for-like sales, which was well ahead of the –20% anticipated. Shares in WPP are down over 40% this year – could Publicis offer a clue as whether the stock may find a new course? Does WPP see ad spend picking up? How has the Facebook boycott impacted it?

We are also interested in recruiter Hays – which reports finals on Thursday and is often a great indicator as to the overall health of the labour market globally. Salesforce.com(CRM) is expected to deliver earnings and revenue growth when it reports numbers for the quarter ended July on Tuesday. EPS is seen at $0.7 on revenues of $4.9bn.

Don’t become immune to what’s going on

We all want a vaccine to Covid-19 to be made, but let’s not become immune to the bad data. It’s very easy to be inoculated against the collapse in economic activity because we’ve had nothing but bad news for 6 months; what you could term the ‘new normal’.

Just as we are at risk of sleepwalking into a lower level of existence, worse education outcomes for our children, persistently lower incomes and reduced social interactions against our will, it’s far too easy to watch the economic data and think it’s not so bad after all. The truth is it remains shocking and will get worse.

UK debt rises, Spanish firms teeter on the brink of collapse

UK debt has risen above £2 trillion, or 100.5% of GDP. This need not be a problem in itself – governments in control of their own currency don’t need to ‘pay it back’ by returning to austerity and raising taxes. One in eight UK workers remains on furlough. Meanwhile 25% of Spanish businesses are in a ‘technical bankruptcy’, it was reported this morning. Germany wants to furlough workers for years, which would lead to a lost generation of zombie employees working at zombie companies. It needn’t be this way.

Weakness in US labour market highlights recovery obstacles

It was a soft initial claims print from the US Department of Labor – over 1.1m vs the sub-one-million number expected, which highlights the lumpy nature of the recovery now that the easy wins are behind us. However, the number of continuing claims and the unemployment rate were better.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 10.2% for the week ending August 8th, a decrease of 0.4 percentage points from the previous week’s 10.6%. Continuing claims were down over 600k to 14.8m, which was a tad better than the 15m anticipated. Giving with one hand but taking away with the other, but jobless claims are still extraordinarily high.

Wall Street hooked on stimulus

Of course, stocks don’t really care much. The Federal Reserve has successfully killed off bear markets as comprehensively as the passenger pigeon. If we define a bear market as when the S&P 500 declines 20% from its previous peak and ends when it reaches a trough and then subsequently rises 20%, then the 2020 bear market was by far and away the shortest on record.

The FTSE 100, which is a much better proxy for economic growth than the US markets are, has languished and is struggling to hold onto the 6,000 level this morning. Indeed equity markets in Europe were mixed after a solid session in Asia. Wall Street was a little higher yesterday as investors continue to hold grimly to record highs.

Eurozone PMIs undershoot expectations

A slew of Eurozone PMIs disappointed. Confidence in France seemed a good deal weaker than expected. The Manufacturing PMI fell under 50, indicating businesses are less confident than they were the previous month. Rising Covid cases in Europe and worries about a big second wave were cited. Germany’s survey was more positive but still fell short of expectations. PMIs may show lots more confidence, or they may not. But as detailed in the week ahead, there is so much wrong with these diffusion indices that we should be paying too much attention to them.

European equity indices opened higher, dropped sharply after the French miss and recovered on the more robust German figures. The euro fell on the softer-than-forecast PMIs, while sterling was close to its recent highs after putting in a strong session yesterday afternoon and overnight in Asian trade. Cable was a little softer having risen as high as 1.32550.

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