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Mail-in Ballots: The Battle That Will Decide the War?
Track all the latest developments in the race for the White House with the special US Presidential Election 2020 site from Markets.com.
With the coronavirus pandemic calling into question the safety of in-person voting this November, many states have already taken steps towards allowing voters to cast their ballots from home during the US Presidential Election 2020.
President Trump has repeatedly spoken out against such actions, citing rampant voter fraud as a potential consequence of mail-in voting. However, behind the veneer of concern for electoral integrity, lies the real reason for Trump’s focus on the issue: turnout.
Turnout concerns for Trump as ‘swing states’ expand mail-in voting
If voters had turned out in 2016 as they had four years previously, Hillary Clinton would now be sitting pretty in the White House: a recent study shows that her 2016 defeat was largely down to a sharp decline in minority voting.
Recent research by the New York Times suggests that the proliferation of mail-in voting nationally could increase overall turnout by as much as 9%, with particularly large upswings among young and minority voters.
Given that these demographics heavily favour the Democrats, it is easy to see why the President is eager to discourage any move towards mail-in voting for November’s election. And yet, despite Pres Trump’s protestations, every one of the crucial ‘swing states’ has already taken steps towards a liberalisation of their vote from home policy.
Do mail-in ballots really disadvantage Trump?
If we look at each of these states in more detail however, we see Trump has less to fear. The rust belt states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania simply don’t have the diversity that would benefit from the mail-in votes.
If the Democrats are winning there, then they’ve already got enough cross-community support to be sure of success, whether it’s through ballots cast in person or through the post.
Focus on Florida in US Presidential Election
There is one state that is diverse enough to cause Trump to stumble, and that’s Florida. Famous for George Bush’s hanging chad victory in 2000, where he scraped out a gain of just 0.01% of the vote, it’s possible that mail-in ballots might boost the Democratic demographic enough for Biden to steal the state.
Hence Trump’s latest provocation. He has threatened to withhold funding from the US Postal Service (USPS), which could render mail-in voting unfeasible. It could also upset the President’s own voter base, as it risks alienating rural voters who are heavily dependent on the USPS.
Will threatening USPS aid progress on new stimulus bill?
The truth is that he is merely using this threat as a bargaining chip in the latest round of Congressional stimulus negotiations. If the Democrats play ball with his fiscal plans, he will leave the USPS alone.
It also is yet another classic Trumpian tactic to provoke the woke. He relishes poking at the dividing lines of America. The noise delivers oxygen to his campaign, stealing headlines from his opponents, as well as forcing the liberal left into ever more pearl-clutching outrage that incenses his right-wing voter base.
Impact of mail-in voting on the Senate
Given that any President’s legislative agenda depends on which parties hold the balance of power in Congress, mail-in ballots might prove decisive for determining if the Republicans can hold onto the Senate.
The picture here is rather similar to that of the Presidential election: the vast majority of competitive states lack the diversity required for mail-in voting to be decisive, but a small and significant minority should still be highlighted.
In particular, of the ten states that will decide the balance of power in Washington come 2021, two are likely to see a sizeable Democratic advantage, thanks to new vote from home protocols: Georgia and North Carolina. However these are typically Republican leaning, so the Democrats will have to be sweeping across the nation to ensure they pick them up.
How worried should Republicans be?
Given that many states have already opted to shift towards mail-in voting, the Republicans have already lost the battle over voting from home. Whilst the President will continue to make a lot of noise on this issue, dragging out threats of USPS defunding, come election day voting from home will be ubiquitous.
Far from being the final nail in the coffin for the Trump campaign, voting from home poses only a minimal obstacle to re-election in the vast majority of swing states.
Florida is the only, but perhaps crucial, exception to this rule. Whilst not election-deciding in and of itself, we have seen Presidential elections in the past be decided by far, far smaller margins. And in the case of the Senate, we see a similar story: small but potentially crucial areas where mail-in voting could have the deciding impact.
Advantage Biden. Advantage Democrats. But only just.
Don’t forget to check out the latest polling data for the US Presidential Election 2020.
US Presidential Election: Step Forward, Kamala
After months of deliberation and internal conflict, the Biden campaign announced this week that Kamala Harris would join his ticket this November. Praised for her articulate dynamism during the primaries, and famed for her debating acumen, this choice will inject some much-needed energy into the Democratic ticket
In the short term, this announcement will afford the Biden campaign a flurry of positive press coverage, likely leading to a bump in the polls. However, with almost three months to go until election day, this short-term hype is largely irrelevant. She won’t be able to move the dial where it counts: the swing states.
Harris’ well-spoken nature will help to keep the attention away from Biden as much as possible, reducing the risk of a race-ending gaffe. He can stay in his bunker while she takes centre stage. Whilst the presence of such a dynamic running mate will likely make Sleepy Joe look like Even Sleepier Joe, this will not impact the race in a meaningful fashion – voters have already made up their minds one way or the other on Biden: endearingly gaffe-prone or scarily senile.
Senator Harris brings with her two strategic benefits:
- Law and Order
- Criticised in the primaries for her overly harsh sentencing decisions as California’s Attorney General, this record will become an asset in winning over the centre, given the current climate of unrest. Although such a record upsets the left wing of the Democratic party, their votes can be relied upon as they are so keen to dispose of Trump
- Campaign funding
- Harris has deep roots in California politics – first as Attorney General and then as Senator. Her home state is notorious for its heavyweight fundraising capacity, particularly from Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Having built a decade long relationship with these donors, Senator Harris’ presence on the ticket will open up a huge reservoir of campaign funding. However, this flood of cash comes at a price. The Republicans will be eager to capitalise on this Hollywood connection by levelling accusations of ‘Liberal Elitism’ at the Biden-Harris ticket, which could be potentially damaging in the crucial rust belt states. Luckily for Biden, he has a long-established reputation as ‘middle class Joe’ which can neutralise this line of attack.
So, nationally it would appear that Senator Harris brings with her an injection of energy and a mountain of cash – both extremely useful on the national level. However, as Hillary Clinton discovered in 2016, the national vote means nothing without an electoral college majority. It is the swing states who will decide this election one way or the other, and it is in those states where the Harris pick is likely to resonate least.
Many have predicted that Harris, as a black woman, will help to achieve a surge in minority turnout. However, it should be noted that polling indicates only 6% of African American voters thought race should be a factor in the selection of a VP. And in any case, it was Senator Warren, not Senator Harris, who African Americans preferred for VP prior to this announcement. Therefore, if a surge in minority voting is to occur in November, it will not be as a result of Harris’ VP candidacy.
And a side note, if Biden does win this November, Harris will leave a vacant California Senate seat in her wake – one of the most liberal states in the country. The left vs centre battle that played out in the Presidential primary will be replayed in that race too, reopening old wounds and worsening Democratic divisions.
President Trump will be keen as always to profit from divisions wherever he can find them. He has already attacked Harris as being of the ‘radical left’ and ‘phony’. Being a woman of colour from California, Harris hits all of the Trumpian flash points – a chance for Trump to roll out his favourite electoral strategy of inflaming tensions and forcing the electorate to take sides.
Overall, Senator Harris will provide the Biden campaign with a much-needed sense of energy and a near-limitless supply of campaign cash. This will boost Biden’s chances of winning the popular vote but is likely to be less effective in the crucial rust belt states where she will simply play into Trump’s strategy of provoking disagreement between the haves and have-nots.
UK enters worst recession, European stocks steady after Wall St slips on stimulus doubts
What did I miss? Stimulus measures keep being debated, vaccine hopes are at first raised then more sensibly assessed, and stocks in the US keep going up; the S&P 500 has risen about 5%, whilst European markets are flat over the period. I seem to recall in July a lot of chatter about European equities outperforming, but there has been little to show from that trade so far. Gold has smashed a new all-time high and profits been taken, an easy win for most, whilst oil prices have barely moved.
UK economy posts worst decline since records began
So, what has changed? Britain’s economy is on the ropes, but we knew this already. UK GDP fell by 20.4% in the second quarter, which was largely in line with expectations. Economic activity is bouncing back – the economy grew 8.7% in June but remains well below the levels seen in February. Having been out and about over the last three weeks, I can safely say there will be more recovery recorded in July and August.
But getting back to 2019 levels of activity is going to take a very long time as we see permanent impairment in certain sectors of the economy, as well as behavioural and social changes. Cable recovered off the 1.3020 horizontal support formed by the low on Monday on the update to continue to trade its August range. With the dollar turning around and seemingly finding its near-term support, GBPUSD may struggled to hold its 1.30 level.
Gridlocked US stimulus talks weigh on stocks
The Democrats and Republicans can’t agree anything. Stocks on Wall Street slipped after gridlock in Washington left investors wary of pinning their hopes on a bipartisan stimulus package, but the S&P 500 was at one point just a few points from its all-time high at one point and could still take it out this week. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell naturally blamed the Democrats for this but revealed the two sides had not spoken since Friday.
The Dow and S&P 500 both snapped a 7-day winning streak, whist European markets rose a touch on Wednesday’s open after a strong run-up on Tuesday. The FTSE 100 continues to trade the narrow range of the June pullback without any signs of breaking out.
Gold tumbles on profit-taking
The lack of fresh stimulus left gold bulls wary and profits were taken but we have seen a big bounce off some important technical support this morning. Spot dropped under $1900 but found support on the old resistance at $1865 and the 200-period SMA on the 4hr charts may offer some technical support. More important is the trend support offered by the line drawn from the lows made since the March trough.
Gold’s rally has been all about stimulus and inflation and so doubts about whether there will be more stimulus saw investors recast inflation expectations a little and the technical exhaustion of the move needed to be factored in. US real rates rose, with 10yr TIPS back to –0.99%, having struck a low of –1.08% last week. Benchmark 10yr yields rose to 0.66% but whilst real rates are so deeply negative gold will have support.
Chart: Gold recovers $1,927 after finding support at $1,865
Biden picks Harriss as running mate
Joe Biden named Kamala Harris his running mate for the race to the White House. Two points about this really stand out. The duo needs to get the vote out, and Harris should energise many who may not otherwise vote, but they cannot risk losing the centre in the rust belt where the issue is the economy.
But the problem for Trump is that accusations that Biden’s VP pick was too zealous a prosecutor when acting as California attorney general make it difficult for Republicans to say the Democrats won’t be tough on crime. Her appointment will somewhat blunt Republican attacks on law & order.
The key question for investors is who wins in November and whilst details like VP picks are important, they are just a small part of the story. Trump still wins in my opinion whatever the polls are saying.
Kiwi weakens after RBNZ extends QE, opens door to negative interest rates
New Zealand is in full panic mode, locking down Auckland amid a mystery outbreak of Covid. The RBNZ duly announced it would expand the Large Scale Asset Purchase programme to $100bn, which just nudged the kiwi lower. But the real focus is on negative rates – a full four mentions of the committee looking at a negative OCR were in the release. Lower and negative rates is increasingly the path of least resistance for the RBNZ, which makes the NZD open to further downside risk.
Oil prices were up a touch, with WTI (Sep) taking a $42 handle this morning ahead of the inventory figures from the US Energy Information Administration, which are expected to show a draw of 2.9m barrels. API data yesterday showed stockpiles fell 4.4m barrels last week.
Elsewhere in FX land, watch the double top on the EURUSD pair with the rejection of 1.19 looking more convincing we look for neckline support around the 1.17 level to hold for bulls to make a fresh drive higher. However, the pullback in US Treasuries and uptick in yields may offer support for the dollar to push back hard.
What will happen to the US dollar if Trump wins re-election?
After years of threatening a devaluation, in the face of China’s own currency manipulation, President Trump recently indicated that he is now in favour of a strong dollar. Given the President’s inconsistency on the issue, and the current turbulent economic environment, what exactly would a second term entail for the most important currency in the world?
How a second Trump term could impact USD
The crucial distinction here is one of means versus ends. In the mind of President Trump, the currency is just a tool to deliver a buoyant stock market and booming economy, whatever he might tweet.
The Trump administration will do whatever it takes to catalyse the recovery, whether appreciation or depreciation is the required remedy. In our view, the latter will prove to fit the bill, and so the US dollar’s value will fall if the Trump train continues to roll through November.
Whilst the dollar has been relatively stable in its value over the course of Trump’s first three years in office, the gargantuan nature of the economic task at hand means that this trend simply cannot continue.
When he began his first term, the economy looked to be in a relatively healthy state. Discounting the remote possibility of a miraculous economic recovery, his second term will debut in very different circumstances.
Massive relief spending set to continue
Looking at the demand side, one could be forgiven for assuming that a dollar appreciation was imminent. The US economy comfortably outperformed the G7 and G20 averages in the first quarter of 2020, shrinking by just 1.3% compared to 2% and 3.4% respectively.
This is likely the result of mammoth congressional stimulus packages, which have allowed the US to lead the world nominally in terms of relief spending and come second in terms of percentage of GDP.
A second Trump term would almost certainly see further waves of relief, likely in the form of his $1 trillion infrastructure plan. This particular avenue of execution benefits from relatively healthy levels of bipartisan support, meaning that such spending can be expected no matter who controls the Congress come 2021.
US stocks likely to continue outperforming, pressuring USD
And in terms of the stock markets, the US has also consistently outperformed global averages throughout the President’s first term, including in the post-Covid era.
This is exemplified by the fact that the S&P 500 index has risen by over 50% since 2016, whilst the FTSE has fallen by around 9% in this same period. Given all of the above, the US is likely to continue attracting investors the world over, delivering inflationary demand-side pressures that would support USD.
However, the aforementioned upward pressure caused by a healthy economy will be insignificant when compared with the deflationary pressure instigated on the supply-side.
Federal Reserve stimulus measures will help Trump get weaker dollar
Since February, the Federal Reserve has increased its balance sheet by almost $3 trillion, moving from $4.2 trillion to $7 trillion. This rapid increase is expected to continue, with Trump calling the policy ‘something that’s really great for our country’.
In addition, the possibility of extreme measures in the form of yield curve control is rising, with several current Fed governors commenting that the policy should be on the table if necessary.
All of this is indicative of our central point: the authorities are prepared to do whatever it takes to prop up the stock market and the real economy and will stop at nothing to achieve this end.
Expanded balance sheet, flat interest rates, yield curve control to cause dollar depreciation
Trump has repeatedly held up rising stock prices as a beacon of success in his first term and will continue to do so if he wins a second. With quasi-control over the Fed, afforded to him by his position at the bully pulpit, the President will get what he desires, no matter the cost.
In this particular instance, the cost will be an expanding Fed balance sheet, rock-bottom interest rates and, if it comes to it, yield curve control measures. The sheer enormity of the response on the supply-side will be more than enough to drown out any inflationary pressures on the demand-side – depreciation inbound.
Overall, Pres Trump doesn’t really care about the value of the dollar outside of its utility as an economic tool or a stick with which to hit China. The real motivation behind the President’s actions in a second term will mirror those of the first: growth in the stock market and the real economy, in that order of importance.
In his pursuit of these goals, no policy instrument is off limits, whether it be a trusty expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, or an as yet untested tool like yield curve control.
Whilst the Fed is technically a quasi-independent body, such independence is illusory, particularly in the context of Trump’s propensity for the use of public pressure. Whilst some demand-side inflationary effects will be initiated by a better-than-average recovery, such effects will be lost in the vastness of the supply-side avalanche that is to come.
If he achieves a second term, Pres Trump will leave office in 2024 having achieved two things that he initially desired: a stock market on the rise and a depreciated dollar.
Trump suggests delaying US Presidential Election, US GDP better than expected
US President Donald Trump has tweeted that the US Presidential Election 2020 should be delayed beyond November. US stock market futures paid little attention to the comment, but the Dow was 300 points in the red anyway after US growth and jobs data. Trump claimed, without providing any evidence, that November’s ballot would be “the most inaccurate & fraudulent election in history”.
With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020
Can Trump delay the US 2020 Presidential Election?
The president has long taken issue with mail-in ballots, and has claimed before that they pose a high risk of fraud. Many states have already taken the decision to open mail-in ballots to all voters for safety reasons given the huge number of coronavirus cases in the United States.
As Helen Thomas pointed out in our earlier election coverage, “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”.
US GDP better than forecast, but jobless claims rise
Markets were little cheered by the latest US economic data, despite a smaller than expected decline in Q2 GDP. The economy shrank by -32.9% between April and June, compared to forecasts of a -34.1% drop. The decline is still the largest drop in output since the Second World War.
Jobless claims figures published alongside the latest US growth data pointed to a small uptick in claims. 1.434 million Americans filed for jobless benefits in the week ending July 25th, up from 1.416 million the previous week. The four-week average has risen from 1.360 million to 1.368 million, and the number of continuing claims rose from 16.2 million to 17 million – a much larger increase than had been forecast.
Stocks edge further into negative territory
European stocks and US futures slowly drifted further into negative territory after the data, with Wall Street going on to open around -1% lower. Equities had been languishing in the red ever since this morning’s European data, which showed a larger-than-expected drop in Q2 GDP for Germany and a rise in Eurozone unemployment.
US Election2020 fast update: Biden ramps clean energy plans
- Biden plans $2tn clean energy investment
- Clean energy stocks may prosper under Democrat clean sweep
- Potential risks?
Clean energy stocks were among yesterday’s best gainers as Joe Biden, presumptive US Democrat president, outlined a $2tn green energy and infrastructure spending plan. Traditional oil companies also rebounded, with Chevron and Exxon up over 3% and Schlumberger, EOG Resources and Halliburton both adding over 5% as Biden appeared to steer clear of any fracking bans.
Biden plans “irreversible path” to net-zero emissions
First the numbers – it’s more money, faster with a more ambitious target than in the primaries after – it has all the hallmarks of Bernie Sanders on it. The $2tn over 4 years exceeds the $1.7tn over ten imagined in Biden’s primary campaign.
Biden outlined plans to set the US on an “irreversible path” to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, with an ambitious goal to build a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. There is a clear break being made with the oil & gas sector implicit in this, but crucially we did not hear an aggressive take on fracking or proposals to restrict US shale.
The focus was on job creation in new industries, not on going after the oil & gas sector per se, albeit the proposals clearly imply a far more aggressive shift away from fossil fuels than a Trump administration would pursue. As much as it cemented the Democrats as the green party, this is an election pitch to voters in some key swing states who may have lost their jobs.
Meanwhile, the Democrat proposals would also involve upgrading millions of commercial and residential properties over 4 years to increase energy efficiency, with among other things the installation of solar panels, which is a potentially huge growth area (Sunrun, Solaredge, FirstSolar).
We also note a positive policy position on EV (Tesla, Nikola) with plans to invest in 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. Biden’s goal is to combine going green with economic recovery: to Build Back Better. He is promising to create 1 million new jobs in the auto industry, domestic auto supply chains, and auto infrastructure, from parts to materials to electric vehicle charging stations, which will depend on the repurposing of the auto industry from ICE to EV.
How will oil and gas sector workers react in key states?
Whilst Biden is playing a strong hand here in tying jobs and economic recovery to the green economy, killing two albatrosses with one very large boulder, there are of course risks to this strategy, notably among the millions of workers in the oil & gas sector in states like Pennsylvania and Texas.
Biden boasts of creating more than 250k jobs “immediately to clean up local economies from the impacts of resource extraction”, but they may see Trump as a better guarantor of their jobs when it comes to the crunch.
Broadly the announcement appeared to be positive for the S&P 500 Energy sector, which rose 3.43%. Our Biden20 Blend clean energy constituents, selected as potential gainers from a Democrat clean sweep, notched broad gains, with some solar energy names taking off after Biden’s announcement.
|Company||Ticker||% daily move|
|Brookfield Asset Management Inc||BAM||+2.93%|
|Brookfield Renewable Partners||BEP||+3.92%|
|Atlantica Sustainable Infrastructure||AY||-1.95%|
|Nextera Energy Partners||NEP||+2.95%|
Will Joe Biden crash the stock market?
Will stocks go down with a Biden win and Democrat clean sweep?
Joe Biden launched his $700bn economic plan by taking aim at Wall Street, banks, the stock market and shareholder capitalism in general. Based on polling data, the stock market will need to better reflect the chance of a Biden presidency combined with a Democrat clean sweep of the House and Senate.
Biden issued a threat to “end to the era of shareholder capitalism – the idea that the only responsibility a corporation has is to its shareholder”. Biden, whose policies would tend to raise taxes and regulation risk for corporate America, added: “During this crisis, Donald Trump has been almost singularly focused on the stock market, the Dow and the Nasdaq. Not you. Not your families.”
The argument about taxation is central to the thesis, as explained by Goldman Sachs in a recent note. The bank noted the US used to have one of the most uncompetitive corporate tax regimes in the OECD at 37% vs the average 24%. Donald Trump changed that with Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) 2017…
Under Trump the effective tax rate paid by median S&P 500 company fell by 8 percentage points, from 27% to 19%, which boosted EPS in 2018 by 10%.
Since 1990, declining effective tax rates have accounted for 200bps of the 400bps increase in net profit margins and 24% of total S&P 500 earnings growth, according to GS.
But Joe Biden could undo the cuts and lower earnings for the average S&P 500 company. Under his plans statutory federal tax rate on domestic income would go up from 21% to 28%, reversing half of the cut from 35% to 21% instituted by the TCJA, according to the Tax Foundation.
GS notes that a Biden presidency could also result in a doubling of the GILTI tax rate on certain foreign income, a minimum tax rate of 15%, and an additional payroll tax on high earners. Biden could increase capital gains tax, which could push investors to sell down stock holdings before it is introduced.
According to GS this would cut the S&P 500 earnings estimate for 2021 by roughly $20 per share, from $170 to $150. So, the average EPS would fall 12% just at the time that earnings need to rise to support valuations. The S&P 500 traded at a forward earnings multiple of about 23x in June – the highest since 2001
Regulation risk would also rise on the expectation that a Democrat-controlled Congress and White House would impose tighter restrictions on corporate behaviour, such as buybacks, and increase the cost of doing business by raising the minimum wage and employer contributions. Finally, higher taxes on the rich leaves less cash to invest in stocks.
Stocks choppy after sharp risk reversal, gilt yields strike fresh lows
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 2020: What happens to the US dollar with a Democrat clean sweep?
There are various permutations of results from this year’s US elections, but polling data increasingly indicates a strong chance of a Democrat clean sweep of the House, Senate and White House.
Obviously, the question for forex traders is what this may mean for the USD.
Traditionally the US dollar performs well in election years. The dollar index (DXY) has only fallen in two of the last 12 elections, with the drop in 2012 only marginal.
According to Morgan Stanley, the key is not who wins but whether you get gridlock in Washington or not. The bank sees USD strength from a Democrat ‘blue wave’, that is a clean sweep of the House, Senate and White House. But they also see USD strength from a Republican full house, as unlikely as that seems now based on the polls. The US dollar would be more likely to soften if Donald Trump wins but the House and/or Senate are controlled by the Democrats.
Pandemic changes everything
Historical patterns may not prove much use, however, due in large part to the massive amount of fiscal and monetary easing that has been carried out not just by the US but also its G10 counterparts. This has created an unusual backdrop to the election and means the waters FX traders are swimming in are murkier than usual.
According to researchers at Sweden’s SEB, the dollar rose in the 100 trading days after nine of the past 10 elections from 1980 to 2016. Democrat wins produced a 4% rally on average, whilst a Republican victory saw a gain of 2%.
So, can we expect the dollar to rally after the election no matter what the outcome? It’s clearly a lot more complicated, not least because of the unique macro-economic backdrop created by the pandemic.
Indeed, foreign exchange analysis from investment banks UBS and Crédit Agricole suggests precisely the opposite. One argument is that Trump’s policies of fiscal stimulus and protectionism have supported the dollar, so a Democrat clean sweep could pull these legs from under the USD.
However, there are not many signs of the Democrats taking a more lenient approach to China, in fact both sides seem to be vying to be seen as tougher than the other on China. Therefore, trade disputes and battles of intellectual property rights will, in all likelihood, persist.
On the fiscal side, it’s hard to see much difference – both camps back massive stimulus to support the economy post-pandemic, whilst the Federal Reserve is very clearly prepared to keep rates at zero for as long as necessary. The usual rules of the game in terms of how the dollar responds to fiscal and monetary policy inputs have to a certain extent been thrown out by the pandemic.
Donald Trump has been a little wayward in his messaging around the dollar’s strength – it’s normal for presidents to underscore the idea that a strong dollar equals a strong USA. The ‘strong dollar policy’ has been in place for at least 20 years and initially Trump was seen moving away from this stance.
Whilst he has been more resolutely in the strong dollar camp lately, there is always the risk that post-pandemic the president again calls for a weaker dollar to make the country more competitive.
Relative economic performance and relative expectations of interest rate differentials will be what matters. Will the euro rebound with a fiscal stimulus package? Will the pound stabilise after Brexit?
The euro matters most when we look at this other side of the dollar equation as EUR has an outsized weighting in DXY – more than 50%. So, when we look at USD, or DXY, strength we are also to a large extent looking at EUR too.
The European Central Bank (ECB) has like the Fed responded to the pandemic with a massive increase in its QE programme. Efforts on the fiscal side have been slower, but in spite of concerns among some member states about the nature of stimulus funding, there seemed to be a broad agreement on the need for support.
Crucially right now the more ‘dovish’ policymakers are the more it supports the currency – the worry is that not enough support risks growth, but also creates pressure in bond markets, leading to a widening of spreads between bunds and peripheral yields. The ECB seems to be in ‘whatever it takes’ mode, though we note German resistance to participating in asset purchase programmes. The risk really lies on the fiscal side.
Failure to agree to the fiscal measures being discussed as part of the EU budget talks would be negative for the currency. Whilst an agreement is the base case, it may not deliver fully on its promise and may be a watered-down version to the €750bn rescue fund put forward by the European Commission.
US Presidential Election 2020: The Coronavirus 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.