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Panic stations, still
The behaviour in financial markets is resembling cats trapped in a burning room: the air is unclear, it’s unbearably hot, and people are scrambling to find an exit – or at least, somewhere appropriate to hide. The chaos is one thing, but the true issue – as is always the case, when these situations become particularly fraught – is no one can really describe why this is going on exactly. Now, we all know the stories: the Fed has equivocated and that’s confused the heck out of markets; US-China relations are hot-and-cold; future global growth expectations are being unwound; Brexit is on-again-off-again; and a breakthrough in oil markets out of the OPEC meeting hasn’t emerged. These issues are ongoing, so it’s not any sort of surprise that they’d all be weighing on markets in some form. The confusion is why they are all conspiring to create such fireworks now.
Maybe traders have just taken too many hits in the last 3-months, and the bulls are effectively tapping out. A premature call, here, to be sure, however there seems so little motivation to hold onto riskier assets. It seems that collectively, a clear strategy to handle the volatility isn’t yet to emerge. The classic plays into safe-havens can be seen: US Treasuries are going on a tear presently, for a variety of reasons to be discussed shortly. An unwinding of the Yen carry trade has pushed the USD/JPY to 112.50. And gold is looking at a break-out above resistance at $1240. Inversely, risk proxies have also been thumped: global equities (needless to say) are getting hammered, the AUD/USD is taking a rinsing, and commodities, led by a 3 per cent tumble in oil, and a 1.1 per cent fall in copper, are plummeting.
US interest rates
Interest rates traders have taken it upon themselves to signal to the market that the Fed ought not to be going anywhere in 2019 with interest rates. A December hike is still considered locked-in for all intents and purposes, but even a single hike in 2019 is progressively being priced out by markets. It’s an incredibly aggressive play ahead of key Non-Farm Payrolls, where wage growth figures will be assessed for inflation prospects. But whether rightly or wrongly, interest rate markets are calling it: hikes-off, cycle over – the share market and the economy have peaked. The dynamic is showing up right across the US yield curve: the yield on the interest rate sensitive 2 Year Treasury note is at 2.75%, above the 5 Year note, which is at 2.74%; and the benchmark 10 Year Treasury bond is yielding 2.87 per cent.
Update on the yield curve
Doing the maths: the yield curve is still inverted, and the key spread between the 2 Year and 10 Year Treasuries is about 12 basis-points. For those who believe in the indicator’s efficacy: this still is flashing signs that markets are moving to price in a recession. To be sure, it’s way too early to call such a thing; but what can be inferred with more certainty is that markets believe an economic slow-down is approaching, and the global economy can’t withstand a non-stimulatory US Fed. It’s an indictment on the economic system that it can’t hold itself to together without extraordinary support. Stepping away from the disorder, though: perhaps this big-long cycle of central banks seeking to control the business cycle is seeing such diminished returns, and that the overall structure is no longer viable or sustainable.
Trade war tensions
First comes the Fed, and then everything else. It has to be when assessing these markets. There are other drivers of the current climate of fear, however, that threaten market fundamentals. The US-China trade war took a nasty turn yesterday when it was reported the Huawei’s CFO has been arrested in Canada, and faced extradition to the United States, on allegations of trade violations. Though a long way from certain, some attributed the mini-flash crash on the CME Futures exchange yesterday to the shock of this news. Nevertheless, US-Sino trade relations have become highly-charged again, with the expectation now the goodwill between the US and China as each nation works towards a trade deal is disappearing. Trade sensitive areas of financial markets got smacked-down consequently: Chinese stocks were walloped, the Yuan plunged to 6.88, and industrial stocks bled.
There is about an hour-and-a-half left in trade on Wall Street, and while the isn’t as bad Tuesday’s session, it’s still far from pretty. The Dow Jones is leading losses, down 1.8 per cent, followed closely by the S&P500 which is down 1.42%. The NASDAQ is holding up a trifle better, down only 0.8 per cent. This backed up a day in Europe that saw stock indices across that region shed over 3 per cent. Brexit concerns certainly aren’t helping there. The uncertainty around the day’s OPEC meeting is enervating financial markets. The price of oil is down in the realms of 3 per cent itself, sparking jitters in credit markets and therefore global equities, as traders wait-and-hope for a deal to cut oil production by OPEC. The price of Brent Crude has dived below the $US60.00 handle in the interim, while WTI is buying just above $US51.00 per barrel.
SPI futures are pointing to another down day for the ASX 200. That contract is indicating a 23-point drop at the open. It must be remarked that despite the turmoil in overseas markets, Australian shares are holding up rather well. The session closed with a relatively modest 0.2% loss yesterday, clawing back the losses sustained during the US Futures mini-flash crash. Proven again was the thick support for the index in the low 5600s, which provided a solid floor for the market to bounce off yesterday. Repeated challenges of that mark can’t last forever, but it is heartening to know the buyers are there.
Also positive was a clear rotation within Australian equities yesterday: unlike other parts of the world, traders were discerning enough to rotate into defensives away from cyclical stocks, rather than dumping equities whole-sale. It shows a desire to be exposed to equities at all, at a time where, in some parts of the world, going near the asset class is toxic. A grind lower may well transpire today, with the banks surely to be hurt by falling global yields, the miners to feel the pinch of falling commodity prices, and the energy sector to suffer from oil’s spill. Once again, maybe today can be assessed today on the breadth experienced by markets, and whether defensive sectors can hold it together.