Stocks weaker as US continuing claims rise, ECB goes big

European shares held losses and Wall Street opened lower as the June rally in stocks paused for a wee breather, with tensions around Hong Kong resurfacing and US jobs data indicating a lacklustre recovery in the labour force.

The ECB seems to have passed the test today but we are still unsure on OPEC’s moves and the ensuing effects on oil prices, which could affect other risk assets. Meanwhile US jobs numbers were disappointing.

US initial jobless claims fell to 1.9m but the key continuing claims number rose 650k from last week to 21.5m, which was ahead of expectations. It’s a worry that we are not seeing this number coming down as it suggests employers are not calling their staff back as quickly as had been hoped.

Tomorrow is nonfarm payrolls day, of course, with expectations for the headline print to come in at –8m jobs but we note the ADP number yesterday was just –2.76m vs –9m expected.

Meanwhile risk sentiment looked to be a little weaker as scuffles were reported in Hong Kong as protestors try to mark the Tiananmen Square anniversary. The situation in Hong Kong and related US-China tensions remain a significant, under-appreciated tail risk for equity markets.

The S&P 500 opened about a third of one percent lower but held 3100 even as the Vix declined to take a 25 handle. After the ECB meeting the DAX tested lows of the day at 12,321 before recovering to the 12,400 support.

The ECB surprised with a slightly bigger expansion of its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) than was expected, perhaps as it saw this as a good opportunity to front load the scheme rather trying to top up later down the line as limits approach. This does provide it ample room for the rest of the year without the market chatter resurfacing about whether and when it needs to do more.

The ECB took three steps: the PEPP envelope is being widened by an additional €600bn to €1.35bn, the scheme will last at least until June 2021 and it will reinvest proceeds at least until the end of 2022. This is emergency QE forever – or at least we are in a situation where the ECB has no option but to be on a war footing just to keep the show on the road. What price peace?

Staff projections were interesting – inflation is now seen at just 0.3% in 2020 vs 1.1% expected in March before magically picking up over the next two years. May showed outright deflation in 12 of the 19 countries using the euro and the weakest HICP inflation in four years. Growth is seen –8.7% under the ECB’s baseline scenario.

Christine Lagarde said she expects a rebound in Q3 and the staff projections indicate growth bouncing back to 5.2% in 2021. But she cautioned that weaker demand will exert a longer-lasting pressure on inflation. Inflation for 2022 is seen at just 1.3%, down from 1.5%, despite this massive amount of stimulus.

This is already well short of the 2% target and of course the ECB is very good at missing its target when the stimulus as ever has decreasing marginal effects. What’s clear is that we are at the limits of monetary policy efficacy.

More interesting perhaps for the future of the EZ – Finland has just said it cannot accept the EC’s recovery package as it stands – it will be a long slog getting this budget and bailout fund approved by all members.

German bund yields reversed their earlier fall to trade flat, whilst the euro pared some of its gains after spiking through the important Fibonacci level at 1.1230, with EURUSD last at 1.1350. GBPUSD was off its lows having bounced off the 1.2510 support to move back to 1.2540.