Trader thoughts - the long and short of it

There are tentative signs that the global equity rout witnessed last week has subsided, at least for now.

Market data
Source: Bloomberg

Rout over? The tone shifted during Asian trade on Friday, and despite a weak day for European markets, Wall Street ended the week on a positive note, led by a bounce in the major tech stocks. It’s not to say that there isn’t the risk that this sell-off may not continue at some stage this week: in fact, futures markets are indicating a sluggish start for Asia today. More to the point, the fundamentals haven’t changed and the concerns that precipitated the tumble in share markets are still there. True, bond yields are now 10 points down off their highs and some positive news about the trade war and Chinese growth boosted sentiment on Friday. However, neither of these issues have disappeared and will almost certainly rear their head again.

Fundamentals haven’t changed: The crux of the matter is that, as has been repeated ad nauseum, interest rates in the US are going higher and that seems very unlikely to change. The growth story in the US is so strong that the Fed feels compelled to keep telling us so, as it apparently prepares markets for the inevitable end of the easy money era. If this is the case, then maybe the kind of wild bursts of volatility above 20-25% (if assessed against the VIX) sporadically is the new norm. Markets have seen two bouts of it this year already, largely due to the same structural factors, though it must be said that provided we’ve arrived at the end of this sell-off, the impacts were much smaller than February’s sell off. Nevertheless, assuming continued strength in the fundamentals, a more turbulent journey on this bull-run could become the status quo.

A sell-off, not a correction (yet): Once again, this assessment is entirely predicated on the belief that this pull-back has come to an end, which with a high-impact week ahead of market participants, is less than guaranteed. There may be an element of being at a cross-road now, though it’s almost always impossible to tell in the present moment whether this is so. Despite the opacity of the current market conditions, defining what’s so far been seen is appropriate, especially to provide perspective regarding the panic some have felt toward the notion of a “correction” in the market. Different geographies and individual indices must be judged differently, but if Australian and US markets are the yardsticks, neither are at a technical correction phase yet. A true correction is a sell-off of over 10% from highs, something the major US indices nor the ASX 200 has experienced yet.

ASX: SPI futures are pointing to a soft start for the week for the ASX. The last price on that contract is indicating a 51-point drop at the open, furthering last week’s rather heavy losses. First glance suggests that the drop-in financials stocks on Wall Street, which fell by way of virtue of the pullback in US Treasury, and despite strong earnings updates from JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc, will follow through to the Australian share market today. The boost to US tech stocks may bode well for the pockets of growth stocks in information technology and healthcare within our market, as too may the slight lift in industrial metals prices and oil over the weekend. However, even considering these modestly improved fundamentals and a solid lead from Wall Street, perhaps the break of a technical medium-term uptrend on Friday has tipped the balance of activity in favour of the sellers.

China and greater Asia: Being a Monday, the Asian region is at risk of witnessing a lack of volume on the markets today, on the back of a US session Friday that experienced a 30 per cent lift in its average volume. That could make markets sputter a little, however several events and a general positioning for the week could turn that around. An impetus will need to come out of China to see noteworthy shift in sentiment, be that bullish or bearish, as traders attempt reform their views on the Chinese growth story. That narrative received a much-needed boost during last week’s final trading session, after the release of much better than expected Chinese Trade Balance data assayed some concerns relating to the impact the trade war is having on Chinese growth, a belief that will be tested throughout the week by a slew of Chinese fundamental data releases.

Fundamental economic data: Fundamental data will be abundant in the week ahead for market participants, both domestically and abroad. Interest rate traders will be treated to insights from the RBA in tomorrow’s RBA Monetary Policy Minutes on Tuesday, FOMC Minutes on Thursday morning (AEDT), along with several speeches from central bankers throughout the week. Volatility in currency, money and credit markets was nowhere near the levels registered on share markets last week, although as safe-haven plays into US Treasuries, the Yen and Gold emerged. Given the primary cause of Thursday’s major sell-off can be tied back to interest rate expectations and activity in US Treasuries, the FOMC’s minutes will probably be the most watched event. The yield on the benchmark US 10 Year Treasury note is down to 3.16 per cent currently, 10 points below the highs that ignited the stock market sell-off: with an overly hawkish tone in the Fed’s minutes a risk of bringing about this dynamic again.

Political economy: Geopolitical risk will lurk in the background to the week’s trade, threatening to dull risk appetite above and beyond the uncertain fundamental outlook for markets. A Brexit deal could eventuate this week, in what could amount to the final round of talks between the UK Government and European bureaucrats. An eye on China and particularly its handling of the Yuan could be a hot-point, after the US Treasury department opted not to label the Chinese policymakers as currency manipulators, catalysing a rally in the Yuan before the PBOC intervened and lowered the currency’s fix well above expectations, suggesting a controlled devaluation will remain at play. Finally, fears of disruption in the middle-east and therefore oil markets could flare-up, as relations deteriorate between Saudi Arabia and the global community on the increasing possibility that Saudi’s brutally murdered a dissenting journalist within its embassy in Istanbul.

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