Trader’s thoughts – volatility falls as Wall Street adds to recent gains

For the first time in a month, perhaps more, trade has been characterised by a relative sense of calm.

Wall Street Source: Bloomberg

Wall Street’s follow-through:

Markets have basked in the afterglow of Wall Street's bull-friendly Friday session. They've gotten what they've been screaming for: some strong data and a more-dovish US Federal Reserve. For the first time in a month, perhaps more, trade has been characterised by a relative sense of calm. The VIX is drifting lower and toward the 20-mark. Stocks are up on Wall Street after a solid day in Asia, and global bonds are down. This could all change in an instant, that much is known. There are too many moving parts in this market to truly believe stability will be an ongoing theme. For now, a recess from the mad volatility that capped the end of 2018 is being welcomed by investors - and perhaps lamented by your risk-loving active-trader.

Markets placated… for now:

It's the behaviour one might consider akin to that of an obstinate child. Markets, particularly in the equities space, threw as many toys out of the pram as they could find in the past 3 months, in protest of the Fed's tough talk. US Fed Chair Jerome Powell's back down and soothing words finally placated markets, giving the financial equivalent of a candy-bar in exchange for markets' good behaviour. Last night, Fed Speaker Bostic backed his chief up and reaffirmed the dovish-tone: he sees little more than one hike this year, even amid a solid growth outlook. Taking aside whether it’s the right kind of positive reinforcement, the question becomes whether the underlying problem has been fixed or is just a distraction from the facts.

Improved sentiment:

Perceptions relating to the growth outlook have changed again, and that much is a positive for the bulls. The general description regarding the data coming out of the US is that it's mixed, amid deteriorating activity in Asian and Europe. That in and of itself is justification for hope: there have been some economic low-lights lately, but they aren’t enough to establish a trend. It's a precarious balance and will likely result in further volatility down-the-line as traders become accustomed to a patchwork economy. A dynamic such as this might be palatable for the Bulls in the short-to-medium, on the proviso that the Fed is standing at the ready to jump in to save markets once true signs of economic stress manifest. However, orthodoxy suggests that, at some point, it must.

The big contradiction:

The everyday punter would be happy with this result. An absence of the daily doom and gloom about capital markets’ hardships would be good for economic sentiment. The central conceit remains that a harmony can exist between economic fundamentals and the monetary policy makers seeking to manage them. The primary contradiction confronting financial markets is this: growth needs to be strong so to ensure attractive returns, though not strong enough to inspire a hawkish Fed. Where the middle ground lies in this dynamic is nebulous and up for debate. 2019 could well prove the year that markets and policymakers strike a tacit accord to maintain this condition. It’s understand though that this as an assumption would that far too optimistic: the more likely outcome is confusion and uncertainty.

An ongoing balancing act:

Market participants are often on the look-out for that elusive "Goldilocks-zone" where markets operate calmly in the middle of its inherent extremes. Arguably, the global financial system as it operates now exists to fulfil that objective: to iron out the extremes of unbridled capitalism. And sometimes it succeeds, even if the successful policy amounts to simply kicking-the-can down the road. The challenge (and opportunity) facing markets now is that today's "Goldilocks-zone" is narrower than what it's been in the recent past. The parameters are obscure and moving, meaning achieving market stability takes on the qualities of walking a tight rope. A push from weak economic data will send markets off the rope one way; a push from higher US interest rates will send markets off the rope the other.

“Risk-on”:

Until the next market spill, risk will be “on”. The S&P 500, with half an hour left in trade, is tracking roughly 0.9 per cent higher, on solid breadth of about 84 per cent. Indicative of higher risk appetite, consumer discretionary and IT stocks have led the charge. European stocks were lower for the day, as Brexit speculation returned to newswires. US Treasury yields are up very slightly across the curve, which has flattened its inversion somewhat. Credit spreads have narrowed, especially that of “junk bonds. Oil has climbed very slightly on positive-growth sentiment. The US Dollar is down with the JPY and gold is effectively flat, as currency markets take a punt on riskier currencies like our A-Dollar, which is trading around 0.7140.

ASX200:

SPI Futures are indicating a flat start for the ASX 200 as it stands, following on from a respectable 1.14 per cent rally yesterday. Activity was still light in the Australian share market, and the psychological resistance level of 5700 was faded when it was reached. But overall, the market belonged from start to finish for the bulls. The materials sector reflected the easing concerns regarding global growth to add 22 points to the index; higher bond yields meant the financials sector was the second greatest contributor. The day ahead has Aussie Trade Balance figures on the calendar, which will inform local investors about whether the economy’s trade surplus held together to end 2018. Not much of a response to that data is expected, however.


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