Stocks up, Fed floats trial balloon, Kingfisher sales surge

Morning Note

Markets in Europe have opened broadly higher this morning as they recover some of the losses from the swathe of selling on Wednesday, whilst the Federal Reserve underscored it’s in no rush to tighten monetary policy, minutes from its April meeting showed. Focus remains on the broader pace of inflationary pressures and recovery in the US with the weekly unemployment claims data (f/c +453k) and the Philly Fed manufacturing index. Iron ore and other industrial commodities linked to steel making feel as China said it would step in to curb rampant prices, though copper is rallying this morning. Focus also remains on the volatile crypto space after a dramatic day.

Crypto prices collapsed, with Bitcoin tumbling 30% to $30k on the nose before staging a big rally off this level. Outages at the Coinbase and Binance exchange didn’t help, fuelling a sharp leg lower around midday to the lows at $30k, but chiefly this seems to have been a run on stops triggering margin calls in the wake of China’s regulatory crackdown, which followed a period of steady losses seemingly brought about by a toppy market chart pattern and Elon Musk somewhat walking back his prior enthusiasm for the crypto. Institutional options activity seems to have further accelerated some of the moves as strikes were hit. As of this morning, the rout had stabilised, with Bitcoin trading around 30% off yesterday’s low, above $40k. There will be a lot of stranded longs now selling into any kind of strength. Stocks exposed to crypto prices like MicroStrategy, Coinbase and Tesla, were caught up in the storm, though they too closed well above their low of the day as the market recovered some of the losses.

Michael Saylor of MicroStrategy said he’s not selling. “Entities I control have now acquired 111,000 #BTC and have not sold a single satoshi. #Bitcoin Forever,” he tweeted. I expect him to keep Martingaling until it all unravels. Tesla boss Elon Musk tweeted that the emoji for ‘diamond hands’, following up by saying ‘Credit to our Master of Coin’, aka the CFO, Zach Kirkhorn. (I now check Elon’s Twitter the way I used to check the Donald’s each morning). Cathie Wood stuck to her $500,000 ‘target’ for Bitcoin, and suggested there were multiple signs the market is in a capitulation phase, which is often a good time to buy. Har har, Cathie would say any time is a good time to buy if it’s what she is pumping. The Innovation ETF ended the day down by almost 2%, and is roughly 34% below its all-time high struck in Feb.

The Fed floated a trial balloon, as minutes from its April meeting indicated some policymakers are thinking about thinking about tapering asset purchases. “A number of participants suggested that if the economy continued to make rapid progress toward the Committee’s goals, it might be appropriate at some point in upcoming meetings to begin discussing a plan for adjusting the pace of asset purchases,” the minutes said. This was the first pointer – the first signal. It was done on purpose. Members of the FOMC also stressed the importance of “clearly communicating its assessment of progress toward its longer-run goals well in advance of the time when it could be judged substantial enough to warrant a change in the pace of asset purchases”. Tentative – the question remains: when does the Fed think it’s hit the landing area for the economy, and does inflation take off in the meantime? US 10-year yields looked to test the 1.70% level again, trading at 1.672% this morning. Gold remains held up by technical support at the 50% retracement around the $1,870 mark, though real rates moved slightly higher – taper talk could make life trickier for gold bulls in the near term. Meanwhile the ECB warned of financial stability risks stemming from rising levels of sovereign debt. Vice president de Guindos warned of a “legacy of higher debt and weaker balance sheets which … could prompt sharp market corrections and financial stress”.

Markets were in a broad risk-off mode yesterday. There is talk of greater correlation between crypto and risk assets these days – certainly when you see a big move in either direction they tend to follow each other. The FTSE 100 ended the day down more than 1% at 6,950. The rub for the FTSE 100, as we witnessed from yesterday’s concentrated selling in consumer cyclicals, miners and energy, is that whilst the reflationary environment and reflation trade may still broadly said to be ‘on’, the index is really quite exposed to emerging market growth – so rising cases across Asia – India, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and Thailand in particular – may pose a risk to the market’s ability to regain the kind of 7,700 handle we saw pre-pandemic. Whilst the situation in the UK, Europe and US is improved greatly, the risk to emerging markets from the pandemic remains. Stocks like oil majors, miners and big consumer goods companies rely a lot on emerging markets for growth. Materials continued to roll over yesterday but copper firmed this morning after hitting its weakest since May 6th, while WTI  oil is also firmer around $63.50 after hitting its weakest since Apr 26th. However iron ore amid concerns China will act to keep a lid on surging prices. Again I’d be encouraged by the flat rejection of anything sub-6,900.

Kingfisher trades at highs not seen since 2017 after raising guidance for the first half of the 2021/22 year. After a particularly strong first quarter, management now expect mid-to-high teens group like-for-like sales growth, having previously guided for growth of low double-digit growth. As a result they’ve hiked adjusted pre-tax profit guidance to between £580m and £600m. This comes after a stonking first quarter in which group  LFLs rose 23% from 2019 levels and were up 64% year-on-year. Stunning year-on-year stats can be misleading, but the performance against the 2019 comparison is noteworthy and shows how Kingfisher has not only put integration problems behind it but also managed to successfully adapt to the pandemic. Execution of the ecommerce strategy has been exceptional – online sales up 258% from two years a Of course, DIY has been a popular pandemic past time, but nonetheless, group growth is ahead of the market.

EasyJet shares fell as it reported a 90% drop in revenues and a headline loss of £701m for the six months to the end of March. Passenger numbers for the 6-month period decreased by 89.4% to 4.1 million. I’d like to know who these 4m people are and what they are doing.