European stocks hit record high, Jes Staley wins out, monster US jobs report expected

Morning Note

European markets rose handily on Friday, with the Stoxx 600 hitting a record high head of the hotly-anticipated US jobs report. The FTSE 100 rallied to take out 7,100, hitting a new post-pandemic high, and the DAX is buoyed by some positive earnings from German firms, with Adidas advancing 8% as it hiked its 2021 sales outlook and Siemens up 2% as it too raised its net income guidance for 2021. Combined the two stocks are adding 70pts to the DAX this morning.

The overriding market themes remain pretty well unabused: A monster commodity rally continues as the global economy heats up, and massive but messy rotation out of the tech/growth/momentum plays into more cyclical/value parts of the market. Copper rallied to an all-time high, aluminium is extending gains. Palm oil 13-year high, iron ore and steel at all-time highs. There is yet room to run higher in the commodity space.

It was a messy session on Wall Street: After some big moves early doors, the Nasdaq composite managed to stage a comeback to close up by 0.37% as dip buyers took up the reins on some of the bigger names. After opening lower, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon managed to rally and do the heavy lifting on the index. ARK Innovation ETF declined almost 3% and is down 10% this week alone. By the end there were 75 advancing stocks to 26 decliners on the Nasdaq 100. But there was a clear wobble. The S&P added 0.82% as financials led the way and the Dow Jones added another 300+ points for another record high. Pandemic favourite Etsy tumbled 15% on earnings, whilst reopening favourites MGM and Norwegian were both down more than 6%.

Zoom was down again, back to levels last seen in August last year – is the WFH boom over? DocuSign is also trading at a level not seen since the summer of 2020 just before it really took off on some strong revenue growth and expectations for a new normal. Things have changed – vaccines mean we are getting back to the old normal. Bosses are demanding workers make plans to get back in the office.

In the wake of the Archegos blow-up, many are rightly looking to the very high levels of margin debt as a potential red flag. The Federal Reserve – cheerleader in chief for the market rally – agrees. In its semi-annual report on financial stability the central bank warned that existing gauges of hedge fund leverage “may not be capturing some important risks”. It also helpfully said risk assets could decline if risk appetite falls. They might as well say stocks can fall is there are more sellers than buyers, too…

Sterling has failed to make any real headway in the wake of the Bank of England decision despite softer Treasury yields, which are holding under 1.57%, removing some support for the greenback, with the dollar index slinking back under 91. Although it significantly upgraded its near-term economic forecasts and announced a form of ‘technical’ taper’ of bond purchases, the Bank’s outlook on inflation suggests it will be in no rush to raise rates this year. That could act as a headwind for sterling bulls. GBPUSD looks a little perky in early trade today above 1.3920, having fallen to 1.3860 yesterday shortly after it hit a one-week high above 1.3940 at the time of the MPC’s statement. Watch for the Scottish election results coming in over the next 24 hours for a signal on how much pressure for a second independence referendum we might expect. UK breakup remains a tail risk underpriced by the market but one that can probably be confidently kicked down the road for at least 8 years – the current Tory government won’t grant a referendum. Today’s Hartlepool by-election result underlines how far Labour still need to travel to mount any kind of challenge to Boris at the next election.

Jes Staley’s disposition might be likened to the Cheshire cat this morning. Sherborne Investors, the vehicle led by activist investor Edward Bramson, announced it had sold its 6% stake in Barclays. The move ends a high-profile battle over the direction of the venerable British bank, and particular Staley’s pursuit of investment banking success. Barclays shares rose 2% in early trade on the news. It reflects a couple of things. First, the investment banking arm at Barclays has been doing rather well. Earnings from the investment banking arm rose 22% to £12.5bn last year, its best since 2014. The Q1 performance was also solid, with growth in equities trading revenues of 65% ahead of US peers, although Staley admitted FICC ‘wasn’t where we wanted it to be’. The 35% drop in FICC trading was mainly down to tough comparisons with last year – not a terminal problem.

Staley was mainly right, Bramson was mainly wrong. There were always doubts about the whole ‘shrink to grow’ concept that has underpinned the strategy of the likes of Deutsche Bank. Barclays rightly pursued a different course and maintained a more diversified revenue stream. When consumer and business growth markets are strained – like during the pandemic – volatility in financial markets creates a good environment for trading revenues to prosper. Moreover, the stock has enjoyed some decent returns in the last year, getting back to around the level it was at before the pandemic, so it’s a handy time to exit. Sherborne also notes that it has found another target that it did not name. A prize to whoever finds out what it is.

It’s nonfarm payrolls day. ADP numbers were good, but a little light of expectations. Unemployment claims were under 500k for the first time since the pandemic hit. The readings prove the US economy is positively purring. So, the outlook is good and expectations high – something like 1m jobs are expected to have been created by US employers last month, topping the total for March. The question really is how fast the labour market can make up the still roughly 8m jobs lost since the pandemic, at which point the Fed will, by its own policy stance, considering tightening monetary policy. Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic said he’s expecting “a really strong number, and that would be encouraging,” but said a 1m+ number would not trigger a debate among policymakers on tapering the Fed’s $120bn-a-month bond buying programme. A couple of monster jobs reports do not make a for a taper discussion, but give it a few months and – at the current expected pace of expansion – the Fed will be in a position to tighten. Markets are already working on this – beware linear thinking.