Stocks slip ahead of Jackson Hole, wobbly German economic confidence

Morning Note

Risk takes a pause: Stock markets dropped in early trade on Thursday and the dollar rose a touch ahead of the Jackson Hole meeting, whilst wobbly German confidence knocked the wind out of this week’s rally in Europe. The major bourses were roughly 0.5% in the red at the start of the session, coming off a decent rally so far this week and another set of records on Wall Street. In London, 7-1 decliners to advancers indicates the broad selling with just healthcare keeping in the green in the early part of the session with AstraZeneca doing all the work. Basic materials is the weakest sector with all the major miners in the red. Characterise today as risk talking a pause for breath after a solid run this week.

There’s a strong sense of anticipation ahead of Jackson Hole. Rates are on the move, with the German 10-yr bund at a month-high. All eyes are on Fed chair Jay Powell on Friday, though markets seem relatively comfortable that either course he takes will ultimately not create a taper tantrum – we will see. Minutes from the last FOMC meeting clearly stated that most participants expect to be tapering this year. This does not mean the Fed needs to send a clear message to the market this week. Powell can keep some dry powder and wait for the September FOMC meeting at least. The last couple of weeks have shown growth momentum fading and US covid cases spiking, but it’s also showing inflation is proving to be sticky. If anything what we are seeing is just how difficult it will be to exit such a huge policy response (to the pandemic) without serious repercussions – be they inflation scarring, financial stability, financial bubbles or whatever. South Korea lit the torch as the country’s central bank raised rates overnight from 0.5% to 0.75%.

Germany’s GfK consumer sentiment declined to –1.2, data this morning showed. It comes after the Ifo business climate index declined for a second month as supply chain problems and rising covid cases worried companies. Another worry emerged as the EU may reimpose travel restrictions on the US. UK car production has hit lowest since 1956.

Slow appreciation: Wall Street rose again for fresh records, with the S&P 500 breaking above 4,500 for the first time and the Nasdaq closing north of 15,000. These look like prime areas for a pause. Bond yields are higher, with 10s at 1.34% and the reflation-reopening trade probably has more legroom than mega cap tech/growth/momentum names, though the latter is not yet blowing up like it has done in previous episodes. Yesterday the biggest contributors to SPX were big banks, whilst pharma and health dragged. Market breadth still not great but better and momentum is decidedly slack but the buy-the-dip conditioning has yet to be really tested by a really aggressive selloff or major policy/economic surprise. Delta concerns are probably less than they were two weeks ago even as cases rise, with markets more comfortable that companies can weather any rise, whilst the kind of ultra-lockdowns are behind us in the US, UK and Europe.

Jobs boom: Recruiter Hays said that despite an 8% drop in fees in the year to June 30th, trading improved through the year, with strong sequential growth in all regions. First half fees down 24% but in the second half they were up 13%. Management also noted a sharp increase in permanent roles in the second half, whilst the temp business has remained quite resilient. Chief executive Alistair Cox said the company sees a “clear route back to, and then exceeding, pre-pandemic levels of profit, faster than we envisaged even six months ago”. Bullish and reflective of the strong economic rebound and business demand for staff as they seek to fill headcount.

Crude oil inventories fell for a third week and fuel demand hit its highest since March 2020, figures from the EIA showed yesterday. Inventories at Cushing rose for the first time in 11 weeks, however. Price action is a little weaker today as spot WTI wrestles with the 100-day and trend resistance. Delta worries seem well priced – question is still whether the physical market continues to tighten over the rest of the year and this will be all about demand recovery. Closure of travel routes into the autumn (see EU on US) could knock confidence.

Spot Oil Chart 26.08.2021

Gold continues to drift lower, now under the 50-day SMA and sitting in the middle of the Bollinger range. $1,774 offers the near-term support should the price continue to drift back, which could then see a test of $1,760. Resistance offered at the $1,800 – $1,810 round number – 200-day SMA area.

Gold Chart 26.08.2021

Blonde Money: Down the J Hole with the J Pow

There couldn’t be a better sign of the predicament in which the Fed finds itself than this year’s Jackson Hole symposium. The annual conflab for the world’s central bankers has suddenly gone from a long weekend of huntin’ and fishin’ in the wilds of Wyoming to a virtual one-day webinar, all thanks to the Delta variant. Hope springs eternal but Fear persists. Powell recently admitted as much himself, warning “the pandemic is still casting a shadow on economic activity, we cannot declare victory yet”. Not all of his colleagues agree. Recent Fed pronouncements have taken a distinctly hawkish turn, with the highest inflation rates in thirteen years scaring a number of FOMC members that they’re running the economy too hot. So which way will the J Pow turn when he goes down the J Hole – a dove who fears the job is not yet done, or a hawk who needs to remove monetary stimulus ASAP?

The rebel hawks

The Fed is famously not a democracy but neither is it purely the work of just the Chair. There is usually a centre of gravity that forms around the Chair, comprised of a few key lieutenants. Quarles and Clarida have taken on this role under Powell but even as he attempts to retain his dovish colours, they have pivoted to hawks.

  • At the end of May, Quarles made a speech embracing reflation, noting his optimism that ‘we are poised to enter a robust and durable expansion’.
  • At the beginning of August, Clarida sounded the alarm on inflation, noting ‘if, as projected, core PCE inflation this year does come in at, or certainly above, 3%, I will consider that much more than a “moderate” overshoot… and I believe that the risks to my outlook for inflation are to the upside’
  • In between these two speeches, we got the infamous June dot plot, where the Summary of Economic Projections showed six more of them expected rate hikes in 2023 than they had the quarter before

Quarles and Clarida have read the room. And the room is now more worried about overheating inflation than anything else.

The FAIT Accompli

The Flexible Average Inflation Targeting regime introduced at last year’s Jackson Hole has barely survived one year. That framework was supposed to let inflation run high while the economy overheated, precisely so that it would reduce a shortfall in employment. And not just overall employment, but jobs for everyone. Brainard, Daly and Bostic have been at pains to point out that although jobs are coming back, they’re doing so more slowly for minority groups. But as Kashkari recently noted, the Fed must “pay attention to… the inflation side of our dual mandate” as they “do not have the ability of targeting, for example, the Black unemployment rate”.

The tapering dove

So the inflation bear is at the door. The latest Fed Minutes show most participants “judged that it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year”. Given the painful experience of 2013’s taper tantrum, they will want to signal ahead of time what we should expect the taper to involve so that there are no nasty surprises. The market has helped them out on this front, given the US 10 year yield has fallen from 1.50% at the end of June to 1.25% now, giving ample room for yields to spike up without doing too much damage. So we can expect a further nudge towards a taper when Powell speaks at 3pm London time on Friday.

It will only be a gentle nudge. If he’s too aggressive in signalling the pace at which asset purchases will be reduced, the market will bring forward their expectation of interest rate hikes. Powell knows this is not the moment for tighter financial conditions. The Delta variant has swept across America, just as it has across the rest of the globe. It has already caused the New Zealand central bank to delay their first rate hike, given their meeting came the day after a snap lockdown began. Powell doesn’t want to frighten the horses. The American consumer is already wobbling: the Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey this month suffered the third-largest drop in its half-century history.

Powell also has a personal stake in the game. His term as Chair of the Fed expires early next year and his reappointment lies in the hands of Biden and the Senate Democrats. As BlondeMoney explained in our piece on the 8 Crucial Senators who hold the balance of power in a 50-50 split Senate, there is currently a monumental battle taking place for the soul of the Democratic Party. On the one side there are the progressives who mourn that Biden hasn’t been left-wing enough, and on the other the moderates who fear too large a price tag for such profligacy. None of them would be very happy if interest rates were to rise too quickly.

Powell then will strike the politically delicate balance for which he is renowned and emerge as a dove.

All eyes on Powell, oil steady in face of Laura

Morning Note

Golf can be bad for your career. Just ask Phil Hogan, the now ex-EU trade commissioner, who’s resigned after a golf dinner in Kildare which fell foul of Ireland’s coronavirus restrictions. Maybe he was testing his eyesight – ‘ah yes, I can see that prawn. I’m safe to go to Claridge’s now’.  Golf hasn’t been this newsworthy since Tiger Woods went for a joy ride.

Global stocks hit a record high as the FTSE All World Index beat its peak set in February. The only word we can use to describe this is ‘liquidity’. It’s simply a result of a huge injection of stimulus and money that has needed to find a home. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also both notched fresh record highs.

For the most part the path of least resistance is upwards – for global stocks led by the US that is probably true when there is so much liquidity and so little yield. But for the UK market, the path of least resistance seems to be sideways – the FTSE 100 remains anchored to 6,000 and it may take a move in the FX markets to drastically alter its range-bound price action.

Will Powell’s speech live up to expectations?

European indices were flat to slightly negative in early trade on Thursday ahead of Jay Powell’s speech at 14:10 London time. Investors are waiting for the substance of the speech amid expectation he will detail the outcome of the monetary policy framework review (that is the title of today’s speech).

The Fed chair is expected to tee up a new monetary policy framework based around average inflation targeting (AIT), which would let the Fed run the economy as hot as it likes for a longer period. Of course, he may skirt round the details and prefer to use the September FOMC meeting to make a formal announcement.

Expectations are rather high ahead of this speech – there is a potential to underwhelm.

WPP and Hays earnings hopeful, Rolls Royce dives towards one-year low

WPP shares rose 5% after the company reported a 15% drop in life-for-like revenues less pass-through costs in the second quarter but signalled the worst is over for the advertising market. The company also said it is on course to achieve the upper end of the £700-800m cost savings target and declared an interim dividend of 10p.

Trading is improving but lumpy. In July, the LFL revenue less pass-through costs of -9.2% was a steady improvement on Q2 but the performance across markets remains volatile.

Another good bellwether Hays said it’s seen some stabilisation in fees since May and ‘modest’ signs of improvement in permanent hiring. Net fees were down –11% for the year to the end of June, whilst pre-tax profits were –63% lower as a result of a collapse in recruitment due to the pandemic. Shares ticked up 1%.

Even worse news for Rolls Royce; shares slumped over 7% and neared the 52-week low after the engineer reported a £5.4bn loss due to the crippling of civil aviation during the pandemic. It also included a £2.6bn loss from FX hedges. Underlying revenues were down by a quarter. CFO Stepehen Daintith has resigned.

Hurricane Laura in focus for oil markets

Oil prices were steady as Hurricane Laura makes landfall in the US amid significant amount of production and refinery shut ins. The hurricane is at risk of strengthening to a category 5 storm. WTI (Oct) maintained the $43 handle but backed off from a 5-month high.

Yesterday the Energy Information Administration noted a draw of 4.7 million barrels last week, but oil inventories remain 15% above the average for this time of year.

The market reaction has been rather muted by the fact inventories are unseasonably high and demand is down compared to last year. Whilst more than 80% of Gulf of Mexico crude production has been shut in, stocks at Cushing at 25% above the five-year average, and distillates are 24% above average.

One further note on yesterday’s inventory data relating to travel and the airlines – over the four weeks to Aug 21st jet fuel product supplied was down 45.7% compared with the same four-week period last year.

FTSE comes under pressure ahead of Powell speech tomorrow

Morning Note

Stocks in Europe chopped sideways after fresh records were set on Wall Street and traders start to turn their attention to Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell’s speech tomorrow.  Tuesday saw risk appetite go off the boil after a strong start to the European session – the FTSE 100 ended sharply lower while the DAX closed at the session low to end flat on the day.

The timid recovery across European bourses has left the rally in the US looking even more impressive. A pullback in Apple shares did hit the Dow – it won’t have such a big effect come Monday when its weighting will fall with the stock split (the Dow Jones is a price-weighted index). Shares in ExxonMobil, Pfizer and Raytheon all fell as they were given their marching orders from the index, while their replacements – Honeywell, Amgen and Salesforce.com – all rose sharply. The S&P 500 rose 0.36% to a new all-time high.

The FTSE 100 has endured a tough 24 hours – having hit a high yesterday morning near 6,180, this morning the blue-chip index is testing the 6,000 support. Last week’s low at 5,948 is yet to be tested again, however, and bulls will be hopeful that a base is forming and the near-term downtrend off the June highs is ending. If the dollar weakens further and sterling rallies, this support level could go.

Data today is light – US durable goods orders forecast at +4.4% and +1.9% core, which would be a sharp slowdown from last month’s +7.6% (+3.6% core). The weekly EIA crude oil inventories report is also coming later today.

Oil rises as API data reveals forecast-beating draw, Hurricane Laura approaches

WTI rose on a bigger than expected API draw as well as concerns about Hurricane Laura affecting supply. The American Petroleum Institute (API) reported crude oil inventories fell 4.5 million barrels for the week ending August 21st, after a 4.3m barrel draw the previous week. The forecast for the EIA figures today is for a draw of 3.4m. WTI (Oct) rallied for the best part of yesterday to test the $43.50 resistance where it immediately backed off.

Crude prices continue to grind higher as the economic data continues to indicate a slow recovery.

Central bank speeches in focus as markets eye virtual Jackson Hole symposium

Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist and leading V-shaped recovery proponent, will speak later. His optimistic attitude the economic recovery is at odds with many.

The real focus on the central bank front this week though is the virtual Jackson Hole Symposium and Jay Powell’s speech tomorrow as US cash equity markets open. Expectations are running high: Powell is set to use this to deliver a shift in the way the Fed approaches inflation, sending a dovish message to the market that the central bank is in this for as long as it takes. The lack of fresh fiscal stimulus only makes the Fed likely to be more dovish.

Essentially, we think the Fed will signal explicitly it is prepared to allow inflation to run hot for longer with a new average inflation target. All this means is the Fed will be lower for longer. This should support risk and could weigh on the US dollar, but there is a risk that inflation expectations can start to become unanchored as they did in the 1970s.

If inflation spikes and the Fed lets it by continuing to keep yields down, stocks and gold should be the main beneficiaries. The vast increase in the supply of money combined with major supply chain readjustments and reshoring taking place against the backdrop of US-China trade tensions, suggests a bout of inflation is around the corner when a vaccine arrives and the real recovery takes hold, despite the initial disinflationary effects from the pandemic.

Will Powell speech hit the dollar?

The US dollar has marched lower since its March blowoff. But lately there have been signs of a base forming around the 92-93 level for the dollar index. An aggressively dovish message from Powell this week could see this support tested initially, but we should also bear in mind that average inflation targeting without, for example, yield curve control, could create a much steeper yield curve (i.e. higher long end yields) in tandem with higher inflation expectations, which could support USD in the longer term. US 10 year yields have already start to move higher, rising to 0.7%.

BT shares leap as European equities trade higher

Morning Note

Still no love for Europe? Equity indices in Europe dropped last week as risk appetite waned into the weekend, whilst US stocks closed Friday at record highs, albeit the rally since the March lows has been very uneven – all the chatter over the weekend was about a K-shaped recovery.

Can beaten down value stocks catch up? With Europe lacking a lot of the high-quality tech and growth names, it may struggle until there is a vaccine, the pandemic is over, and dividends are reinstated. Short-term the price action in stock indices seems more down to the individual narrative of the day or week.

Stocks up as markets focus on Covid-19 treatment and vaccine news

Today it’s positive. European equities took the cue from a strong Asian session and pushed higher on Monday morning, with the narrative centring on treatment and vaccine news. Donald Trump is said to be mulling fast-tracking AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate, whilst the FDA issued an emergency use authorisation for using plasma from recovered patients to treat Covid-19. Shares in AstraZeneca rose 2% in early trade.

Meanwhile, the US and EU have struck a ‘mini’ deal to cut tariffs on a range of items, which marks an important de-escalation of trade tensions that has dogged relations for many months.

BT surges as it readies takeover defence

BT shares leapt 7% after reports it is seeking to bolster its defences against a possible takeover. At a valuation of £10bn, the group has become a definite target. And whilst BT has a lot of legacy baggage – notably £18bn in net debt and a major pension deficit – it’s also got the Openreach crown jewel, which would be worth considerably more on its own than the group is valued today.

Of course, there is no formal offer, but shares could jump further if one emerges. Deutsche Telekom, which owns 12% in BT, is seen as a likely candidate. The question is whether there could be more bombed out UK-listed stocks that could be taken out by a timely takeover…perennial rumour-favourite ITV, for instance?

Deadlocked Brexit talks weigh on Sterling

Elsewhere, sterling made a push higher last week, but the dollar came back. Brexit talks did not go very well and there was virtually zero progress on some key elements. The failure to break the long-term weekly trend resistance makes GBPUSD susceptible to further pull backs, with a gravestone doji weekly candle also a bearish indicator. Support kicked in at 1.3060 on Friday and offers the near-term test for bears.

Bulls will require a weekly close above the trend line to be confident. EURUSD failed to overcome 1.1960 and pulled back to 1.1760 where it has found support. A further rise in EUR net long positions to almost 200k contracts evident in Friday’s COT report from the CFTC indicates extremely bullish positioning that may be too crowded and liable to a squeeze lower. GBP speculative positioning turned net long from net short for the first time since April.

What we’re watching this week:

Republican convention fires campaign starting pistol

The Democrats seem to have got through their set-piece without a hiccup. Now over to Trump and co for the Republican convention, which will not only mark the starting pistol for this year’s presidential run, but also the race for the 2024 GOP candidate. Market attention will increasingly come around to the November presidential race with barely over two months left until polling day.

Vix futures indicate investors are starting to position for more volatility as the election approaches and we should be prepared for a decent nudge higher in volatility and swing lower for stocks over the next two months. This is will be the last major set piece event before the first presidential debate on September 29th.

Jackson Hole

A confusion of central bankers convene in Wyoming online for the annual Jackson Hole Symposium. This year’s virtual theme is “Navigating the Decade Ahead: Implications for Monetary Policy”. I could answer that in one sentence: lower for longer, outright debt monetization, force inflation up to clear debts. But I’m not a central banker, although I would go to Jackson Hole for the trout fishing.

Federal Reserve chair Jay Powell speaks on Thursday just a few moments before the US cash equity on Wall Street. Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem follows and Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey speaks on the Friday. Given the way the minutes of the Fed’s July meeting rocked risk appetite and checked the bulls’ progress, this will offer a chance to catch up on where the Fed one month on with its mid-September FOMC meeting in focus.

Economic data to watch

There is a lot of economic data to get through this week, notably some Q2 GDP second estimates for the US among others. On Tuesday we are looking at the US CB consumer confidence report.  Wednesday sees the weekly crude oil inventories report as well as US durable goods orders and Australian construction activity. On Thursday the US weekly initial jobless claims number gets released, after last week’s disappointing print of 1.1m. Look also at the pending home sales and preliminary (second estimate) GDP numbers.

More US data rounds out the week on Friday with the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the core PCE price index; personal spending; University of Michigan consumer sentiment; and the Chicago PMI on the slate.

Earnings to watch

Ad titan WPP reports it interim results for the six months ended June 30th on Thursday. The advertising giant is a useful barometer of economic confidence. Big brands have slashed marketing budgets to cope with pandemic and WPP has warned of the hit it will take this year.

But rival Publicis reported a 13-% drop in second quarter like-for-like sales, which was well ahead of the –20% anticipated. Shares in WPP are down over 40% this year – could Publicis offer a clue as whether the stock may find a new course? Does WPP see ad spend picking up? How has the Facebook boycott impacted it?

We are also interested in recruiter Hays – which reports finals on Thursday and is often a great indicator as to the overall health of the labour market globally. Salesforce.com(CRM) is expected to deliver earnings and revenue growth when it reports numbers for the quarter ended July on Tuesday. EPS is seen at $0.7 on revenues of $4.9bn.

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