Trader’s thoughts – bullishness cools on sour trade-war headlines

It's a very headline driven market currently, and the finger is being pointed to news that the US and China are squabbling over intellectual property protections as the cause for the cooler sentiment.

USA vs China Source: Bloomberg

The ASX200 was sold into the close on a day where the market's bullishness stalled. Nevertheless, the index ended the day in the green, adding 10 points. It's a very headline driven market currently, and the finger is being pointed to news that the US and China are squabbling over intellectual property protections as the cause for the cooler sentiment. US markets were closed for the Martin Luther King Day public holiday, so the lack of tradeable information probably hindered the market too. But almost universally yesterday, financial markets traded on markedly lower activity. The ultimate result was an overall down day for stocks, a mixed day for bonds, a tinge of a bid for safe-haven currencies, while commodities were higher underpinned by well-supported oil prices.

SPI futures are positioned for the ASX200 to open flat-to-very-slightly-higher come today's open. It's a resilient market at present, with the trend line derived from recent lows looking clean and dutifully respected. The bulls guided the-200 above the 5900-mark for the first time in roughly two months yesterday. As widely expected, the market met resistance at the index's 200-day EMA around 5909 during intraday trade, registering a daily high only a skerrick above that point. Yesterday’s daily candle indicates one slightly more vulnerable to bearish control in the very short-term: the sellers overwhelmed the buyers into the back end of the day, bringing about a close in the green, but well-off the day's high.

Sifting through the ASX on a sector-by-sector basis, and the activity in the market indicates the burgeoning hope and bullishness of traders. Year-to-date, the energy sector has paced the gains, led naturally by oil’s recent recovery. While the high-multiple information technology and health care sectors, and the growth-sensitive consumer discretionary sector, also sits high on the table of year-to-date returns. Perhaps unlike US equity markets, the buying in Australian equities lacks evidence of deep conviction, as revealed by relatively lower breadth and volumes so far this year. Regardless, this phenomenon could be waved-off as reflecting normal trading dynamics: January tends to be a month of lower activity when compared to other stages of the year.

Brexit developments were high on the agenda overnight. Following the profound defeat in last week’s “meaningful vote”, UK Prime Minister Theresa May delivered to the House of Commons her amended vision for a way forward for Brexit. Maybe to the chagrin of traders, little of substance again could be gleaned from the UK House of Commons. The spectacle displayed the same partisanship, gridlock and frustration exhibited last week. Despite this, the Sterling maintained its recent rally and the yield on UK 10 Year Gilts stayed above the 1.3 per cent. Markets still hold the belief that the political dysfunction will force an extension of Article 50 and a delay of Brexit; or even another referendum, with recent polling suggesting a victory to the Bremainers.in such an event.

Turning attention to global-macro themes in the past 24-hours, and the most watched fundamental news was China’s economic data-dump yesterday. In the lead-up, it was a potential make-or-break situation for growth-sentiment, and a potentially pivotal set of numbers for the global growth outlook for early 2019. Lo and behold, despite the high anticipation, upon their release, little came from the data. As far as traders were concerned, the figures received came-in at expectation: China’s economy is slowing (GDP printed 6.4 per cent) but at a rate that was already implied in market pricing. There wasn’t much of a kick-up in many parts of the market after the news. Chinese stocks rallied half-a-per cent, bonds fell slightly, and the Yuan dipped – though that may be due to a stronger USD.

The news pertaining to global growth that proved of greater import was the IMF’s downgrade of its expectations for global GDP in 2019. It’s the second downgrade in three months from the institution, and this time highlighted the impact of Europe’s economic slow-down as being a major cause for concern. Of course, the trade-war has been highlighted as a drag too – Europe’s troubles could well be tied back to that issue, anyway. The drop in the continents economic activity poses challenges for European and global policy makers, as the ECB fights to normalize its monetary policy settings. As it stands, markets are still pricing in a 35 per cent of a rate hike from the ECB this year, but the odds are progressively diminishing.

It bares reminding that as a bloc, the Eurozone economy constitutes comparable economic output to the US. A slowdown in Europe will be a considerable drag on the global economy. World leaders gather in Davos beginning tomorrow and the subject-matter will be high on the agenda, along with the trade-war and tighter global monetary policy. How the economic and financial elite broach these issues will be closely watched by market participants. Financial markets at the core are being dictated still by concerns relating to a drop-off in global economic growth, coupled with the impacts of potentially tighter global monetary policy settings. Language will be scrupulously analysed by traders as world leaders speak – maybe in search for a market moving headline or two – with sentiment liable to swaying on what and how something is said.


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