Trader thoughts - the long and short of it

Just when it looked like it was safe to jump back into financial markets, it was risk-off again overnight, as market participants dwelled once more on the myriad of risks facing them.

Market data
Source: Bloomberg

Risk-off (again): There’s nothing entirely new in what has developed during the European and North American session: the same confluence of factors that has weighed on sentiment in markets have simply reared their head again. It’s probably what makes this situation all the graver, if not at the very least, highly gnawing. The anxiety riddling markets regarding the impacts of trade-protectionism, and the beginning of the end of the easy money era, can’t seem to be rationalized, inflating the magnitude of that issue – apparently inexorably. Fear is feeding on fear, making markets more attuned to the roar of the bears.

Haven buying: As has been the case throughout the turbulent journey markets have traversed in the last week, it pays not to catastrophize; but the longer the weak sentiment lasts the more difficult it will probably prove to shake. As a trader, no matter the weather, opportunities abound for those willing to tackle them. It was havens again that attracted a bid higher last night, with gold (as old-reliable) catching the upswing. Carry trades were broadly unwound and kicked-down the likes of the AUD/USD to the 0.7100 handle, a dynamic causing the Japanese Yen to tick higher. 10 Year US Treasury yields maintained the line at 3.17%, amid opposing pressure of haven buying and the carry-through of higher rate expectations, bringing the USD back into haven-vogue.

Europe: European economics and geo-politics threw up some more major worries overnight, drawn out from the EU economic summit in Brussels. Markets over the extent of the week have priced-out an imminent Brexit resolution, pushing the Pound further into 1.30 handle and the Euro into the 1.14 handle. The greatest risk being priced in by markets however is renewed concern regarding Italy’s fiscal position – and Rome’s perceived belligerence towards Brussels’ bureaucrats. The EU slapped down Rome’s budgetary position, effectively labelling it untenable for both that country and the Union. European sovereign bond spreads widened more so in the last 24 hours, the greatest impact naturally being found in the spread between German Bunds and Italian BTPS, which expanded to almost 330 basis points – the widest margin since 2013.

Global equities: The day on Wall Street, backing that up of Europe’s, has been a difficult one for investors, unaided by a session (of what’s being judged) of soft earnings reports. Two days of lukewarm company reports shouldn’t shift the dial of equity markets, but the hope that strong corporate profits would be the saviour from otherwise dour sentiment hasn’t yet eventuated. It’s forced market-bulls to doubt their conviction and fed the bears greater fodder to sell stocks. Consistent with recent themes, US big-tech and the Nasdaq (down 2.08%) have generally led the sell-off on Wall Street over reluctance to go long growth companies, punctuating the shaky European session where the likes of the FTSE100 dipped 0.39%, and the DAX shed 0.97% – the latter in part due to a poor earnings report from market giant SAP.

ASX yesterday: The lead garnered last night augurs poorly for the ASX 200, reflected in an expected 66-point drop for the index according to SPI futures. The shame is that some semblance (or as close as can be found in these circumstances) of equilibrium appeared to return the Australian market yesterday. The tone throughout Asia trade, notwithstanding the struggles of Chinese markets, improved throughout the session, supported perhaps by the reported drop in the domestic unemployment rate, pushing the tepid Wall Street lead aside and allowing the index to recover early losses to close trade effectively flat for the day. Volume thinned as the session wore on to be sure, but breadth recovered to just shy of 50%, revealing a willingness in market participants to acquire and spread some exposure across Aussie equities.

ASX today: For all the contentment that yesterday engendered, in means little in the face of another day of likely heavy losses. The call in these instances is to assume the ASX 200's (modestly sized) tech space, along with the health care sector, will lead losses. In saying that, the selling today risks being rather broad based, with a sell-off in oil prices and a wider dip in commodity prices a potential drag on the energy and materials sectors. The risks abound at this stage, but the major flashpoint will probably come mid-day when a massive data dump, containing GDP data, Fixed Asset Investment numbers and more, is released out of China. It provides a potential queue for investors to form a judgement on the Chinese growth story, and may prove to exacerbate or soothe investors’ fears regarding global growth.

China: The bearishness in China is possibly the severest predicament of all – one that can only become worse today given the sweeping of bearishness through global equity markets. Depending on the index, Chinese equities have tumbled now by 30% off this year’s highs, further entrenching a technical bear market. China’s equities overall look very oversold, with average PE ratios on the blue-chip heavy CSI300 circa 10:1, and presenting on the technicals just above an absolutely oversold reading. Simply, China’s equities can’t find a buyer, fundamentally due to potential fall-out of the US-China trade war. Undoubtedly, there are more complex and murky issues going on under the bonnet of the Chinese economic vehicle – the seemingly controlled devaluation of the Yuan by the PBOC apparently one – but a sell-off like this in spite of not that bad fundamentals suggests that investors can’t move passed the unknown whipped up the unfolding US-China trade war.

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