Trader thoughts - the long and short of it

SPI futures are indicating an 11-point drop at the open, on the back of a day that saw the ASX 200 she'd just shy of 0.6%.

Market data
Source: Bloomberg

ASX: The local session could be characterised as being somewhat lacklustre: the lion's share of the day's losses came shortly after the open, volume was below average, and market breadth finished at 30%. Most sectors finished the day in the red, but naturally it was a pullback in bank stocks that contributed greatest to the markets falls. The materials space made a very humble play higher in afternoon trade it must be said, courtesy of a tick higher in iron ore prices, to sit near the top sectoral map by close. But at just shy 0.1%, the day's recovery wasn't anywhere near sufficient to salvage the day for the ASX 200.

Financial sector: As it presently stands: where goes bank stocks so goes the ASX 200. Not a revolutionary idea of course, given financials' weighting in the Australian index. However, with buying impetus missing across the ASX currently, combined with overall bearish sentiment, the effects of the bank-trade are much more pronounced. Having popped higher from oversold levels last week, the financial sector pulled back in this week's opening stanza by 0.76%, accounting for about 14 points of the ASX 200's total losses. The down trend appears still intact for the financial sector, auguring poorly, as one ought to infer, for the Australian stock market.

Domestic risks: The fortunes of this big banks mirror many of the issues afflicting the Australian economy now. The weekend's Wentworth by-election outcome, which has delivered Australia another hung-parliament, is one; another is the possible regulatory crack following the Financial Services Royal Commission, coupled with the likely election of a hard-line Labor opposition come the next election. The most compelling explanation for the banks' weakness (at least yesterday) was another poor auction-clearance figure on Saturday. The local property market looks in a very shabby state presently, exacerbating concerns regarding the feeble position of Australian households and consumption in the broader economy.

House prices and households: Granted cooling house prices have predominantly afflicted the Sydney and Melbourne markets, and prices remain elevated relative to historical standards. Amid higher global borrowing costs and by some measures unprecedented indebtedness, soft credit conditions in the Australian economy is a risk to the property market and households alike. Ultimately, the concern is whether with income growth slowing, savings dwindling and interest rates bottoming, the loss of the "wealth effect" will stifle demand in the economy even more. On balance, signs are that gradually improving economic fundamentals will cushion the ill effects of a property slowdown; however, the fragile state of the Australian consumer means the broader economy is increasingly vulnerable to external shocks.

China: Of course, the biggest and most pertinent of possible external shocks to the Australian economy is the health of the Chinese economy. Trade on China's financial markets proved the power and willingness of its policy makers do whatever it takes to stabilise its markets and economy, particularly in the face of the escalating US-China trade war. Though it's never easy to say, volumes at 136% of CSI 300's Average-Volume-At-Time suggest that perhaps massive intervention by Chinese policy makers was at play. This isn't to say that the entire flow of funds into equity markets came from (effectively) the state's pockets, more that whatever liquidity injected into them certainly stoked investors animal spirits.

Overnight: China's powerful stance yesterday may in time be considered much akin to ECB President Mario Draghi's "whatever it takes" moment. The follow through in Chinese equities will be closely observed today, to witness what lasting impact the actions have. Overnight though, the carry over effect into the European and North American session diminished throughout the day, muted by other more regional concerns. The Italian fiscal crisis took a temporary back seat and supported the narrowing of European sovereign bond spreads. However whipsawing sentiment regarding the likely outcome of Brexit led to another dip in the GBP below 1.30 and in the EUR below 1.15. The macro-fears weighed on European stock indices, dragging the majors by up to as much as 0.5%.

US session: The USD caught a bid on last night’s macro-dynamic as traders modestly increased buying of US Treasuries. Gold dipped as a result, while in other commodities, oil climbed on supply concerns amid heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and the West, and Dr. Copper was flat. Fundamental data was very light, with positioning underway leading into the massive ECB meeting and US GDP prints in coming days. North American equities saw an inversion of Friday’s theme: growth/momentum stocks, such as the FANGs, generally higher, while the industrials-laden Dow Jones pulled back 0.50%. The meaty part of earnings season is about to get underway in the next 24-48 hours and may well dictate the theme in US equity markets adopt for the next several weeks.

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