Equities: New extremes and a challenging opportunity set
Discover insights on the future of equity markets in Q1 2024 and navigate the potential recession with strategic investment choices.
Summary: Strong US November payrolls and especially strong earnings growth data failed to engineer a recovery in US treasury yields or the US dollar, taking both to new cycle lows, which kept global risk sentiment on an even keel for now after the recent rally. Focus tonight swings to Australia’s Reserve Bank which has lagged its global peers in this policy tightening cycle and kept a lid on the Aussie in the crosses, even as hopes for China’s “opening up” have found further encouragement.
US equities continued in Friday’s session to fade the big rally back from Wednesday last week but did however recover from a big dip during the session with S&P 500 futures finishing above the 200-day moving average. This morning S&P 500 futures are trading lower with the 200-day moving average again being key to watch on the downside and then of course the big 4,000 level. There are no major earnings today and the VIX Index remains relatively calm sitting just above the 19 level. The US 10-year yield also remains in a downward trend adding little headwinds to US equities at this point.
Hong Kong and China equity markets surged on yet more signs of easing of Covid-related restriction measures in mainland China. Hang Seng Index soared 3.5% and CSI 300 gained 1.6%. Hang Seng TECH Index rallied 7.4%. Technology stocks, online healthcare platforms, EV makers, and consumer stocks led the charge higher. Bilibili (09626:xhkg) jumped 24% and Alibaba (09988:xhkg) surged 7%. EV maker XPeng (09868:xhkg) soared more than 22%. Leading Chinese catering stocks gained over 10%.
The US November payrolls and earnings data (more below) was stronger than expected Friday, which briefly jolted US yields and the US dollar stronger, only to see both rolling back over ahead of the close on Friday and then the US dollar following through lower still to new cycle lows in many places in Asia overnight. USDCNH plunged through 7.00 and EURUSD set a new multi-month high above 1.0550, for example. US data this week is sparse after today’s November ISM Services (that survey’s relative strength compared to the S&P Global measure, which has suggested contraction in the US Services sector for the last five months) as we await next Tuesday’s November CPI data and the FOMC meeting the following day. Without a revival in US treasury yields, the US dollar’s only source of support might be a fresh weakening of risk sentiment.
The supportive factors for precious metals continue to line up – China’s reopening, lower US yields and a weaker dollar. This helped gold run higher to test a break above the key $1800 level for the first time since August. Meanwhile, silver’s impressive November rally has extended into December with the price breaking above $22.25 – a 50% retracement of the March to September selloff – and on route to the next level of resistance at $23.35. Other metals such as copper and iron ore also charged with China now reopening Shanghai, while the risk of a policy error by the Fed continues to run high.
After strong gains in crude oil last week, some softness was seen at the end of the week after speculation of no production cut from OPEC mounted. WTI traded back to $80/barrel from $83 levels mid-week on China’s reopening optimism, while Brent retreated from $90 levels to sub-86. The Sunday OPEC meeting did come out with an unchanged output decision, as expected, while the EU’s price cap on Russian oil was also fixed at $60. This week will be key to watch further China reopening and any signs of a retaliation from Russia on the price cap. European gas prices also continue to pick up as falling weather boosts heating demand, and expectations are for a colder-than-expected winter.
The stronger than expected US payrolls and earnings data failed to inspire a sustained recovery in US yields on Friday, as the US 10-year yield continues to hover near the 3.50% level, having dipped slightly below at times. This was a major high in that important benchmark yield back in June. The strong data pushed the 2-10 yield spread inversion back toward the cycle low of –80 basis points.
The nonfarm payroll change (NFP) data came out stronger-than-expected on Friday, with US employers added 263,000 jobs in November, less than October's upwardly revised 284,000 but well short of the turning point Fed officials seek in their battle against inflation. The unemployment rate was maintained at 3.7% (but with a 0.2% drop in the participation rate, showing once again a discrepancy in the household survey vs. the establishment survey used for the nonfarm payrolls calculation) while the wages were very hot: M/M rose 0.6% (exp. 0.3%) and Y/Y rose 5.1% (exp. 4.6%). After a few weeks where markets have been taking the slowdown in the pace of rate hikes by the Fed positively, this report was a reminder that rate hikes will continue well into 2023. WSJ's Fed Whisperer Timiraos said the report keeps the Fed on track to raise interest rates by 50bps at its meeting in two weeks and underscores the risk that officials will raise rates above 5% in the first half of next year.
New BOJ board member Naoki Tamura urged a policy review, in his conversation with Bloomberg, saying that it would be appropriate for the central bank to conduct a review at the right time – soon or a little later depending on what happens to prices. USDJPY was quiet overnight after the exchange rate touched the 200-day moving average on Friday and near where it trades this morning in early European hours at 134.60.
The OPEC+ group decided to keep the current production levels unchanged, as the crude oil prices started to show some tentative signs of a recovery after China’s continued commitment to ease its Zero covid policies. Still, a 2mb/d cut was announced in October, and the full effect of that is yet to be seen. Furthermore, there is volatility expected due to the EU sanctions and a G7 price cap on Russian crude which will go into effect this week, and further changes in China’s zero covid policy are also set to continue. The group’s next meeting is in February.
Cities in China, one after one, announced to ease pandemic control restrictions including removing the requirement to show negative PCR test results when taking public transportation. Shanghai and Hangzhou joined the others on Sunday and announced that the cities no longer require negative PCR test results to enter public venues or take public transportation.
The EU nations have agreed to cap the price of Russian seaborne oil at $60/barrel, with a motive to diminish Russia’s revenues, paving the way for a wider deal with the G7 countries. This price cap is to go in effect on December 5 and represents a discount of ~$27 to the current price for Brent crude, but Urals has been trading at a discount of about $23 in recent days. However, the risk of setting a price cap too low is that Russia could slash its output, which would roil markets. It will be important to watch for Russia’s reaction this week, after Putin has repeatedly said that they will not supply oil to countries that implement the price cap.
Australia’s commodity heavy benchmark index, the ASX200 (ASXSP200.1) hit a new seven month high on Monday as China further eased restrictions in two major provinces. The iron ore (SCOA, SCOF3) price rose 2.2% in APAC trade, taking the steel ingredients’ price over $100 for the first time since August (to $108.30) on hopes China could increase demand. The iron ore price is up 38% from its October low. This is benefiting benefit forward earnings of BHP, Rio, Fortescue and Champion Iron with their shares trading higher today in Australia. Fortescue shares rose 7% taking the iron ore major’s shares to record highs. For inspiration on other commodity stocks exposed to China refer to Saxo’s Australian Resources basket.
The Australia Melbourne Institute Inflation reading for November came out at +1.0% MoM and +5.9% YoY, both new highs for the cycle (the official inflation for October was out last week and was considerably softer than expected) ahead of tonight’s RBA meeting. The RBA has hiked rates at a more cautious pace than many of its peers and consensus is only slightly more than 50/50 that the central bank will hike another 25 basis points at its monthly meeting tonight, which would take the rate to 3.10%. The RBA has maintained a cautious stance on further policy tightening, quite concerned about the impact on households as rises in the adjustable mortgage rates impact disposable income.
Before the Central Economic Work Conference convenes in mid/late December, the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo will meet in early December to discuss economic policies and establish the direction and policy framework for the work conference. Investors will pay close attention to the readout from the Politburo meeting for hints about the macroeconomic policy priorities and how they are balanced with the pandemic control strategy.
Earnings this week are a mish-mash of companies, and include high-end homebuilder Toll Brothers on Tuesday, as it will be interesting to hear their outlook on the new home market after the enormous surge in US mortgage rates and collapse in home sales activity. Broadcom (AVGO:xnas) is the market cap giant of the week to report, with the CEO of the company having said that the semiconductor market will not be affected by the US’ new export restrictions on technology to China.
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