Franklin Templeton’s Notes from the Trading Desk offers a weekly overview of what their 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 softer last week, with a few headwinds at play. The MSCI World Index closed the week down 0.8%, whilst the S&P 500 Index closed the week down 0.6%, the STOXX Europe 600 Index was down 1.0%, and the MSCI Asia Pacific Index underperformed, down 1.6%. There were large volumes later in the week with Friday’s “quadruple witching,” expiration of stock options, stock index futures and options, and single-stock futures, which is a huge liquidity event for equity markets. COVID-19 continues to have an economic impact and the resultant supply chain bottlenecks were a focus last week.
Chinese data continue to disappoint, with retails sales the latest datapoint to miss expectations. Commodities were also in focus, as iron ore prices dropped 20.8% last week on news of China reducing steel output. Energy prices were higher through the week, with natural gas prices up again and WTI crude oil prices up 3.2%, adding fuel to the debate on whether price rises are transitory or not. Despite overall market performance, fund flows signalled a risk-on undercurrent, with a big outflow of cash mainly getting reallocated to equities.
A continuation of the same global themes from the previous week kept European equities subdued last week, as European equities traded lower overall. Both the STOXX Europe 600 Index and the STOXX Europe 50 Index broke through their 50-day moving averages (a key technical indicator) to the downside last week.
Fears of peak growth and central bank hawkishness as well as recent tax hikes to pay for the impact of COVID-19 stimulus measures have all contributed to recent market bearishness. The upcoming German election this coming Sunday (26th September) has garnered more attention. Whilst the latest polls don’t show a clear winner, it is likely the German government will be comprised of three parties for the first time ever, and any coalition negotiations will likely take some time, especially with three parties around the negotiating table. Any prolonged uncertainty could feed into equity and bond markets.
In terms of sectors, basic resources had a tough week, down 7.7%, as iron ore prices plummeted to their lowest level in 2021. The market interpreted falling demand following reductions on steel production in China. Personal and household goods stocks weakened overall, with luxury stocks back under pressure. In terms of outperformers, travel and leisure stocks saw some short covering last week in anticipation of the United Kingdom relaxing travel restrictions. The sector closed up, breaking through its 50 and 200-day moving average resistance levels last Thursday. Energy stocks were higher last week following the rally in oil prices.
Utilities were a notable laggard in Europe, with smaller providers struggling to cope with rising gas prices on the back of lower supply ahead of the colder months. Recent media reports suggest that the Italian, Spanish and Greek governments are prepared to intervene to prevent consumers from incurring crippling energy bills. Bloomberg reported that Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi was ready to step in again to reduce the impact of rising gas prices. Draghi’s administration had already spent €1.2 billion in the second quarter of 20201 to reduce the impact on consumers, with electricity bills increasing 9% vs. the 20% increase expected before the government stepped in.
Roberto Cingolani, the Ecological Transition Minister, said last week he expects prices to rise by 40% in the third quarter; hence, increased government funding is required. In Spain, the government approved measures to lower bills via temporary tax cuts, limiting the amount prices can rise. Also, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said: “We are going to reduce the profits of energy companies and redistribute to the consumers”. The Financial Times reported that Spain would claw back €3 billion in profits from utilities, which sparked a firm response from energy groups. It was also reported last week that the Greek government intends to spend €150 million to reduce energy bills for households through the rest of the year.
In terms of data out of Europe, eurozone industrial output was stronger than expected, up 1.5% on the month in July and up 7.7% year-on-year. Within that data, capital goods jumped 2.7% in July and non-durable consumer goods production was up 3.5%. Reuters also reported that Italy is expected to post its strongest gross domestic product (GDP) growth since 1970, suggesting it may reach up to 6% for 2021.
US equities declined last week as the recent market bearishness continued. The market appeared to be on the lookout for negatives again last week following a long period of equity market strength, which has seen the S&P 500 Index up 18% year-to-date.
The US Consumer Price Index (CPI) print became a focus throughout the week, coming in at +0.30% for August, which was down from July and less than anticipated, offering some mild reprieve for inflation worries. COVID-19-sensitive travel services such as air fares and car rental prices saw a large decline. Inflation in recreation, restaurants and other personal discretionary services saw a slowdown in price increases. Nonetheless, stagflation conversations continued to pick up last week.
Some economists flagged expectations that the Federal Reserve (Fed) will offer explicit tapering hints at this week’s meeting, but strategists also expect monetary policy to remain extremely accommodative. Additional fiscal stimulus has been complicated by Democratic divisions, while any compromise also brings tax risk.
In terms of sectors, like in Europe, energy stocks outperformed (unsurprisingly) last week. For the same reasons mentioned in the Europe section, utilities and materials stocks were also weaker in the United States. There is a nervousness in markets ahead of the Fed meeting. Equities continue to hover near record levels, but options traders are piling into contracts betting that the stock market will fall.
CNN’s Fear and Greed Index is now in “Extreme Fear” territory. In the details, it noted on Friday: “During the last five trading days, volume in put options has lagged volume in call options by 51.84% as investors make bullish bets in their portfolios. However, this is still among the highest levels of put buying seen during the last two years, indicating extreme fear on the part of investors.”
Events in Asia were a clear focus for equity markets last week as slowing Chinese growth, continued supply chain disruption, regulatory action, steel production cuts and COVID-19 cases all garnered attention. As such, the Shanghai Composite Index closed the week down 2.4%, whilst the Hang Seng Index lagged in the region, down 4.9%. Japan’s Nikkei Index continued its recent strength following the recent political shake-up in Japan, up 0.4%.
Chinese economic activity continues to slow. Industrial production in August rose 5.3% year-on-year vs. a 6.4% year-on-year growth in July. Declines in automobiles, steel and mobile telephones were the key drivers behind the miss. Retail sales also missed last week, growing just 2.5% on the year to August, a notable deceleration from 8.5% growth on the year to July. Fixed asset investment rose 8.9% year-to-date, but also missed expectations, consistent with a steady slowing in real estate.
Real estate stocks were a focus last week in Asia after property developer Evergrande defaulted. Authorities in China told major lenders not to expect interest payments due this week on loans, signalling liquidity stress. Standard & Poor’s said the developer’s liquidity access is said to be “shrinking severely”. Yet, recent issues within the Chinese property market have largely been ignored. Gambling stocks were also a focus for a Chinese regulatory crackdown, with some Macau casino stocks losing a third of their value. Macau’s economic secretary said there were still some deficiencies in industry supervision.
In Japanese politics, the Administrative Reform Minister, Taro Kono, remains the favourite to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Suga. According to the latest poll, Kono is the preferred candidate, with 27% support. Support for the Liberal Democratic Party also rose nine percentage points to 48%. The presidential election is scheduled for 29 September. Equity markets remain buoyant following Suga’s resignation and the Japanese Nikkei Index traded at a 31-year high on Tuesday.
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