Franklin Templeton’s Notes from the Trading Desk offers a weekly overview of what our professional traders and analysts are watching in the markets. The European desk is manned by eight professionals based in Edinburgh, Scotland, with an average of 15 years of experience whose job it is to monitor the markets around the world. Their views are theirs alone and are not intended to be construed as investment advice.
Global equities were higher across the board last week, with US markets making all-time highs and European equities hitting a 22-month record. The Asia Pacific (APAC) region also fared well. Trade optimism and dovish central banks were the major catalysts.
Last week saw a buzz of excitement as US stock market indices made new all-time highs amid optimism around trade issues and another interest-rate cut from the US Federal Reserve (US Fed).
At its October policy meeting, US Fed Chair Jerome Powell announced a 25-basis point interest rate cut, as expected. This was the Fed’s third cut this year, for a total reduction of 75bps in its benchmark rate. Some feel the fact the Fed is lowering rates means there could be a threat of recession. So it wasn’t a surprise to us that the accompanying commentary was fairly hawkish. It felt like a more upbeat tone on the economy was needed, and Powell delivered on this.
US macroeconomic data was mixed last week, but overall supportive of Powell’s tone. Third-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth was better than expected (though slowing), and October nonfarm payrolls were stronger than expected. Also, while US interest rate cuts may be done for now, balance sheet expansion resumed.
There was plenty of noise on trade, with the United States and China continuing to talk up progress towards a “phase-one” deal that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping could sign later this month.
There was some concern mid-week as China highlighted doubts over the possibility of a long-term trade deal, but this was shaken off on Friday as representatives said that they had reached a consensus with US counterparts on core trade concerns. The US side also issued an upbeat statement.
One caveat to note is that the hope generated by talk of a phase-one deal has the potential to be overly optimistic, especially given that we have absolutely no guidance on how many phases there will even be or whether a long-term deal lies at the end of this.
Global Underperformers Pick Up
Much of the focus has fallen on the new all-time highs for US equities, but it’s arguably more important that many global equities also made new highs as underperforming regions have picked up speed. Europe is one of the regions where we’ve seen new year-to-date highs. A bullish European narrative appears to be gaining momentum after two years of underperformance versus the United States.
There are a number of catalysts behind the return of interest in European equities, including cheap valuations and the potential for a rebound in purchasing manager index (PMI) data for the region. Such a rebound, in addition to a move higher for bond yields, could potentially boost cyclical and value stocks, which have been long-suffering underperformers.
The push towards more fiscal stimulus from the European Central Bank (ECB) is also a factor in improving sentiment for European equities, with incoming President Christine Lagarde keen to support this direction. Last week, Lagarde went on record to suggest that Germany and the Netherlands should begin to splash some cash on areas such as infrastructure.
Last week, the European Union confirmed its Brexit extension until January 31 and the UK parliament subsequently approved a general election for December 12. As a result, the hyped-up Halloween Brexit deadline slipped past in a decidedly anti-climactic fashion.
Political posturing for the general election has already started, and at this early stage the polls and analysts are predicting a Conservative victory.
Markets generally reacted positively to the Brexit extension as it removed short-term risk of a no-deal exit. The announcement of the election also helped as it is seen as the best route towards a deal and gives a chance for the United Kingdom to tidy up the political mess it is in.
We did see some resilience in the UK economy last week as the PMI reading improved (faring far better than the German reading for comparison) despite the headwinds that remain.
European equity markets pushed higher last week, with better sentiment globally thanks to dovish central banks, positives noises on US/China trade and the avoidance (or postponement) of a hard Brexit.
Italian equities outperformed amid news of a potential auto manufacturing merger. French and German equities also closed the week higher, while Spanish equities were down.
Earnings drove European sector performance, as industrials and health care names closed higher, while banks and telecommunications companies ended the week in the red.
There wasn’t much European macro data of note last week. Eurozone quarter-on-quarter GDP growth came in ahead of estimates, while French and Spanish GDP were in line with expectations.
Asian markets were mostly higher for the week. Clearly, hope of a trade deal between the United States and China helped underpin markets. This positive trade narrative helped Hong Kong equities trade up for the week despite some awful macro data. Hong Kong entered recession after another quarter of negative GDP growth. In addition, Hong Kong retail sales and visitor numbers were also weak, as the impact of the protests continues.
In China, market focus centred on weaker manufacturing PMI data, which remains in contraction territory.
South Korean stocks closed in positive territory, getting a boost from strong profits from an electronics heavyweight.
Australian equities underperformed as mixed earnings saw heavyweight financial stocks decline.
It’s shaping up to be a busy week for earnings in both Europe and the United States, with releases likely to drive stock moves. Brexit and trade will likely dominate headlines, and the week’s big monetary policy event will be the US Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Wednesday.
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