US Earnings, Virus Cases, Dollar & Data

Last week US equities registered gains, led by value rather than momentum stocks, with US equities closing higher for a third straight week amid low volumes and declining volatility.  However, the S&P 500 is still marginally lower year to date, compared to a 17% gain in the tech heavy Nasdaq index.  In theory this implies more room to catch up for value stocks vs. momentum but I wouldn’t bank on it. If the surge in virus cases equates to renewed lockdowns, the value stock story will likely fail to gain traction until either the virus curve flattens again or a vaccine is found.

Unfortunately Covid-19 infections continue to accelerate, with more than 14 million cases confirmed globally, but mortality rates are likely to be key to the extent that lockdowns intensify. US, Latin America and India are at the forefront, risking another downturn in global activity if lockdowns intensify at a time that concerns about a fiscal cliff in the US have grown.  All of this has to put against vaccine hopes, with some success in various trials, but nothing imminent on the horizon.

Meanwhile the US dollar (USD) remains under pressure, continuing its grind lower since the start of this month, with the euro (EUR) capitalizing on USD weakness to extend gains as it targets EURUSD 1.15.  The USD has maintained its negative relationship with risk, and sentiment for the currency has continued to sour as risk appetite has strengthened.  It’s hard to see the USD turning around soon, especially given uncertainty about renewed US lockdowns, fiscal cliff and US elections.

Over the weekend European Union leaders’ discussions over the “recovery fund” failed to reach a deal though there has been some softening from the “frugal four” on the issue of grants vs. loans.  However, after a third day of meetings there was still no agreement on how much of the recovery fund should be distributed via grants versus loans.  Despite the lack of agreement EUR continues to remain firm against USD and approaching key resistance around 1.1495.

US Q2 earnings remain in focus and this week is particularly busy, with tech earnings under scrutiny (including IBM today).  Last week banks were the main highlight of the earnings calendar, with US banks reporting a very strong quarter in trading revenues amid heightened market uncertainty and volatility, but large loan loss provisions. Aside from earnings expect more jawboning from US officials over China. While there is some focus on whether the US will target Chinese banks with sanctions, it is still likely that the US administration will avoid measures that will roil markets ahead of US elections.  

On the data and event front, highlights over this week include Australia RBA minutes (Tue), Eurozone PMIs (Fri) and policy rate decisions in Hungary (Tue), Turkey (Thu), South Africa (Thu), and Russia (Fri).

Data, Earnings, Central Banks and Virus Cases In Focus

Risk appetite took a turn for the better at the end of last week despite an array of the usual suspect risk factors (accelerating Covid-19 cases, US-China tensions, rich valuations). This kept the US dollar under pressure given the inverse relationship between equities and the USD over recent weeks.  Market positioning continues to show sentiment for the USD remaining negative (CFTC IMM data revealed that aggregate USD speculative positions have been net short for 15 out of the last 17 weeks, including the last 5).  Increasingly risks of a US fiscal cliff as stimulus programs run out, with Republicans and Democrats wrangling over more stimulus and US Presidential elections will be added to the list of factors testing market resilience in the days and weeks ahead.

This week there are several key data and events including China June trade data (Tue), China Q2 GDP (Thu), US June  CPI (Tue), US June retail sales (Thu), Australia June employment data and several central bank decisions including Bank of Japan (Wed), European Central Bank (Thu), Bank of Canada (Wed), Bank Indonesia (Thu), Bank of Korea (Thu), and National Bank of Poland (Tue).  Aside from economic data and events the path of virus infections will be closely watched, especially in the US given risks of a reversal of opening up measures.  Last but not least the Q2 earnings season kicks off this week, with financials in particular in focus this week.  Low real yields continue to prove supportive for equities and gold, but very weak earnings could prove to be a major test for equity markets.

On the data front, Chinese exports and imports likely fell in June, but at a slower pace than in the previous month, China’s Q2 GDP is likely to bounce, while US CPI likely got a boost from gasoline prices, and US retail sales likely recorded a sharp jump in June. Almost all of the central bank decisions this week are likely to be dull affairs, with unchanged policy decisions amid subdued inflation, although there is a high risk that Bank Indonesia eases.  The EU Leaders Summit at the end of the week will garner attention too, with any progress on thrashing out agreement on the recovery package in focus.  Watch tech stocks this week too; FANGS look overbought on technical including Relative Strength Index (RSIs) and more significantly breaching 100% Fibonacci retracement levels as does the Nasdaq index, but arguably they have looked rich in absolute terms for a while.

There has been plenty of focus on the rally in Chinese equities over recent weeks and that will continue this week.  Last week Chinese stocks had their best week in 5 years and the CSI 300 is up close to 19% year to date.  Stocks have been helped by state media stories highlighting a “healthy” bull market, but the rally is being compared to the bubble in Chinese stocks in 2014/15, with turnover and margin debt rising.  At that time stock prices rallied sharply only to collapse.   However, Chinese equity valuations are cheaper this time and many analysts still look for equities to continue to rally in the weeks ahead.  China’s authorities are also likely to be more careful about any potential bubble developing.

USD firm but running into resistance

Happy New Year!

The consensus view for 2013 favours equities over bonds helped by expectations of a sustained improvement in risk appetite as tail risk diminishes further. Additionally relative valuations support the consensus. So far equities are on track although it may be a mistake to make a strong judgement based on the first week’s trading.

The US December jobs report provided more evidence that the US economy will trundle along this year at a modest pace of growth. Meanwhile, the US fiscal cliff agreement may have played into a tone of firmer risk appetite but the fact that in less than two months there may be even greater tensions on the debt ceiling and spending cuts suggest that a one way bet of improving risk appetite can by no means be guaranteed.

The USD has begun the year in firm shape appearing to break free from the constraint of improving risk appetite at the turn of the year. In part its strength especially against the JPY can be attributed to higher US bond yields which in turn was pushed higher by less dovish than expected Fed December 11-12 FOMC minutes last week. Given that yields are running into technical resistance the USD may find less support from this source over coming days.

A light data week will give little directional impetus to the USD, with highlights including trade data, consumer credit and small business confidence. Instead the USD will take its cue from various Fed speakers who will likely provide more elaboration on their views on an eventual exit from QE. The USD is likely to remain firm in the short term although we would be wary of extrapolating trends based on early year moves.

In contrast to the limited US data schedule there are plenty of data releases and events in Europe to digest this week including the European Central Bank Council meeting. The ECB is unlikely to ease policy at this meeting, with those in the Council against a cut unlikely to have shifted their stance although a rate cut, possibly in March remains on the cards. Data releases will continue to show weakness although importantly sentiment surveys will stabilise rather than drop further.

Sovereign debt issuance may take more importance for the EUR this week, with Austria, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Italy and Spain all scheduled to issue debt. Given the better risk environment a generally favourable reception to the debt issues will give the EUR some solace, likely preventing the currency from sliding further. Strong EUR/USD technical support is set to come just below 1.3000 at 1.2996.

Euro falls, yen rises as risk aversion picks up

The USD index is quickly slipping back to its mid September lows, although downside momentum has been restrained by an overnight jump in risk aversion. The USD had been undermined by a continued improvement in risk appetite as markets expect (hope) that a deal to avert the fiscal cliff can be averted although recent developments have not been encouraging on this front. Additionally, given the relative strong performance of US equities this year there may be an element of profits repatriation out of the US weighing on the USD. A likely upward revision to US Q3 GDP, rise in the Philly Fed survey manufacturing, and existing home sales, will if anything imply firmer risk appetite and consequent USD weakness.

EUR/USD is trading close to multi month highs but dropped from a high of 1.3309 overnight despite a firmer than expected reading for the December German IFO survey on renewed caution over a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. News flow has provided some impetus to the EUR over recent weeks following recent agreements by European leaders on issues such as banking supervision and a positive Greek debt buyback. Such progress has set the background for a firm end to the year for the currency. Nonetheless, as reflected in its drop overnight any increase in risk aversion will limit the ability of the EUR to move higher. Additionally the EUR will be restrained by caution expressed by the Greek finance minister in the FT over the country’s future highlighting that Greece is not out of the woods yet.

The JPY’s slide has continued unabated ahead of today’s BoJ policy decision. Markets have already priced in further easing in the form of an increase in asset purchases and any outcome that reveals anything less than JPY 10 trilion in asset purchases will provoke JPY buying in a market that is heavily short. However, the LDP’s strong showing in elections implies that markets will need to take seriously threats of more aggressive policy action over coming months, especially with regard to JPY strength. Indeed, weak export data revealed yesterday, while not solely attributable to JPY strength, will nonetheless, fuel more pressure for a weaker currency. Therefore, any pull back in USD/JPY will prove short lived as investors once again eye the JPY as the favoured short leg of carry trades.

Please note this will be my last blog post for 2012. Thank you for reading econometer.

Seasons Greetings and best wishes for the new year to all econometer.org readers.

ps. if you haven’t checked it out please click on the link below to order my new book, Chronology of a Crisis.

http://www.searchingfinance.com/products/books-econ-politics-finance/chronology-of-a-crisis.html

USD underperforms

The Fed expanded its asset purchases by buying $45 billion in longer dated Treasuries following the end of Operation Twist, with total purchases at USD 85 billion per month. The Fed went a step further by changing the guidance, now anticipating that policy will be maintained at an “exceptionally low range for the Fed Funds rate” as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6 ½ % and inflation no more than ½ % above the Fed 2% goal.

Equity market reaction was limited, with any positive boost dampened by the recognition that the Fed will not be able to offset the blow to the economy from the fiscal cliff. On this front, progress has been limited as the likelihood of a deal by the end of the year is diminishing by the day.

In Europe sentiment is somewhat better as hopes that the EU Council meeting today will yield an agreement on banking union and supervision. Final approval for the delayed Greek loan tranche is likely to be delivered following the completion of Greece’s debt buyback. The better news in Europe will be reflected in a decent reception to the Spanish and Italian bond offerings today.

The USD did not take too kindly to the latest efforts by the Fed to boost the economy although there are clearly diminishing returns as far as FX markets are concerned with regard to Fed QE. Nonetheless, the USD is coming under growing pressure into year end.

Next year assuming that the fiscal cliff in the US is resolved, with a limited fiscal drag on the economy, a relatively positive growth trajectory for the US alongside an expected increase in US bond yields will mean that the USD will still enjoy gains against currencies with weaker growth paths namely the EUR and JPY.

My forecasts for the USD index based on forecasts for its constituents show a gradual strengthening over the course of the next couple of years (82.4 and 85.7 by end-2013 and -2014, respectively) largely due to the USD’s expected appreciation versus EUR and JPY. In reality, this is misleading as improving risk appetite and continued capital inflows to EM and commodity currencies will mean that the USD will underperform.

%d bloggers like this: