Trader thoughts - the long and short of it

Geopolitical ructions became the dominant theme late in North American trade, setting up a day for Asian markets distracted by trade-war developments and rising diplomatic tensions in other geographies.

Source: Bloomberg

The heightened trade war anxieties were piqued by the news that China would be slapping retaliatory tariffs of 25 per cent on the US$16b worth of US imports, in response to the Trump administrations go-ahead earlier in the week to implement comparable tariffs on Chinese imports. The trade concerns were then exacerbated by news that the US would increase sanctions on Russia for its involvement in poisoning an ex-Spy in the UK. Both stories are fresh but add to already tense diplomatic relations between the US and China, and the US and Russia: expect the news to rattle Asian and European markets, which have proven far more vulnerable to geopolitical risks.

US Indices: Wall Street has slipped in late trade during the North American session, during a day in which US indices traded relatively flat. The industrials laden and therefore trade-war sensitive Dow Jones has given up the most ground, staring down a close of -0.2 per cent. The benchmark S&P 500 is still effectively flat, while the Nasdaq has held onto very modest gains, illustrating once more that the all-conquering tech spacer is what underpins US share-market strength in the face of trade-conflict. US share were showing signs of a potential run toward the record levels set at the start of 2018, with the S&P coming as close as 13 points to that milestone. The inflamed trade-war tensions may put this ambition on hold, notwithstanding the record earning’s season on Wall Street.

Oil: Oil prices have experience the most volatility overnight, courtesy of the increase in geopolitical risks, falling several per cent, even despite a lower than expected print in US crude oil inventories. Brent Crude is currently trading around the $US72.35-mark, stripping most of this week’s gains, as markets factor in the greater risk of a global economic slowdown, along with the possibility Russia may intervene in oil markets in response to new sanctions. The dump in oil prices does not bode well for equity markets, which have benefited from climbs in energy stocks in response to the oil rally. The ASX 200 will certainly remain amongst the most vulnerable to this dynamic, with eyes now on the performance of the energy and materials sectors today.

ASX: SPI futures are slipping as the morning unfolds, as prices in that market progressively fall as news about trade war risks develop. The Australian share market performed relatively well yesterday, adding 0.23 per cent to close at 6268. The closing price placed the ASX effectively in the middle of its recent range, with traders now acclimatising to some sideways trading. It is difficult to imagine that further gains are on the cards for ASX today amid this morning’s trade war developments, particularly given a gathering fall in commodity prices.  Perhaps a good indicator of trader sentiment and market strength will be in how well support at around 6235 holds up today.

CBA: The major catalyst for the ASX200’s little climb yesterday was the relief rally in the price of CBA shares, which added 2.63 per cent throughout the day. Although the bank’s results effectively ended its run of recorded profits — weighed down by the roughly $1.1b of outlays relating to regulatory costs and legal penalties — the earnings report appeared to reassure investors that the poor results could be pinned on transitory factors, and that the business fundamentals appear strong enough to justify buying at current levels. It will be a point of interest as the markets digests CBA’s earnings and await updates from the other major banks, how far a rally in bank stocks can go: there is certainly a lid on prices around the bank’s pre-Royal Commission levels and given the headwinds of a slack economy and weaker property prices, further climbs in bank stocks seem improbable.

China: Chinese markets will likely take much of the attention of global markets today, considering the unwelcomed developments in the trade war. Activity in the Yuan will be closely watched, as it appears the PBOC are beginning to play a big part in supporting the weakening Chinese currency. Anywhere above or near the 6.90 level seems to be the line in the sand for Chinese policy makers, with stabilization measures quickly applied to currency markets when traders push the Yuan through that mark. A strong argument could be made that the actions of the PBOC indicate that Chinese officials won’t look to weaponize the Yuan in this trade war, who appear to be more worried for now about the issue of financial stability within the Chinese economy.

RBNZ: The RBNZ meet this morning, with news still to break on the bank’s decision at time of writing. With this uncertainty in mind, some context regarding the RBNZ’s monetary policy considerations may be valuable. The RBNZ are one of the few major central banks in the world in a genuinely neutral position when it comes to monetary policy. Economic fundamentals are quite strong in New Zealand – arguably more so than that of Australia – but being a little more trade sensitive and vulnerable to global swings, RBNZ Governor Wheeler has reassured market participants that he and his team stand prepared to cut interest rates again if the economy requires it. Although no such move is expected this morning, the commentary emanating from today’s meeting could lead to some choppiness in currency markets, as the NZD/USD creeps back toward multiyear lows.

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