Trader’s thoughts – shares shift higher on cautious optimism

Several of the panic-inducing issues that drove the bearish activity in markets in the last quarter of 2018 appear to be progressing positively.

Calmer trade, vigilance remains:

The sense of cautious optimism in markets remains. Extreme swings in sentiment have been absent. Calm prevails, albeit within a mindset of greater vigilance. There hasn’t been a face ripping rally, nor a vertigo inducing fall, in global equities this week. The trading activity does feel distinct from that which was experienced in December. Fear and subsequent volatility is unwinding. The VIX continues to edge lower, though at a slower pace now. Several of the panic-inducing issues that drove the bearish activity in markets in the last quarter of 2018 appear to be progressing positively. But it’s understood that in the case of almost all these matters, ranging from slowing global-growth, to the trade-war, to Brexit and to Fed policy, that there is much more to unfold.

US stocks await their test:

An inflection point will arrive where market participants will have to decide whether to push this rally in global equities from simple bounce to true recovery. The United States stock market sits at the epicentre of financial market volatility right now and judging by the price action on the S&P 500, we may be inching towards that point. Putting aside the nuance of individual geographies, the S&P500 has set the tone for trade in the rest of the world’s markets. As it stands, the index has demonstrated an initial higher low, following its recent bottom at 2350. The Bull’s fight really begins now, as traders eye a cluster of resistance levels between 2580 and 2630, which will determine in a big way whether this rally has legs.

The risks and opportunities for US bulls:

The impetus to get US stocks through that cluster becomes the question. We’ve arrived at this juncture courtesy of confirmation of a still-strong US labour market and a dovish-Fed. That is: good data, and (relatively) easy monetary policy conditions going forward. From here, to sustain the market’s run, that’s what the bulls want to see. There are several opportunities coming up toward the back-end of the week to test these two parameters. FOMC Minutes get released tomorrow, Fed Chair Powell speaks on Friday, and US CPI data is released early Saturday morning (AEDT). Moderate inflation and a cool, supportive and deliberate Fed is what bulls are after. An overshoot of the former (which isn’t expected) and a more Hawkish tone from the latter could drag the rally-down.

Geopolitics: trade-war and Brexit:

There are a couple of other not-so-fundamental macro-events that may also dictate sentiment. The trade-war and the ongoing negotiations between the US-China in Beijing is one; the other – and this is very much secondary to the trade-war – is Brexit and the upcoming “meaningful vote” on a Brexit bill in the UK House of Commons. Trade war negotiations are progressing well, from what is being reported: talks have been extended another day, as China’s top economic policy maker, Liu He, joined the fray in the past 24 hours. Brexit is looking far less optimistic. In-fighting and chaos remain in UK Parliament and in the Tory party, in-particular. Article 50 looks as though it could be extended, however a no-deal Brexit still appears the likely outcome at this stage.

Risk remains “on”:

The confluence of stories has developed into a metanarrative that is supportive of risk-taking. It must be said that the fundamentals haven’t changed that much, however sentiment has shifted and markets are now playing follow the leader. The effect of this in the last 24-hours saw gains in global share-indices (with the notable exception of China), another leg lower in global bonds, a lift in commodity prices, a contraction in credit spreads, and a bid-higher of riskier growth-currencies. The US Dollar climbed slightly overnight, but that was mostly due to a weaker EUR and Pound following Brexit developments and very weak German Industrial Production data. Gold, the proxy for risk throughout the recent market volatility, continued its pullback courtesy of the stronger greenback and generally lower risk-aversion.

The ASX200’s climb:

SPI Futures are pointing to a lift for the ASX200 this morning, of about 19 points. The Australian share-market is demonstrating activity still below average, though well within the normal range for this time of year. Nevertheless, the bulls did well to maintain control of the market yesterday. Following a sputtering start that saw the ASX200 dip below its opening level, the buyers wrestled control of trade, and after several attempts, managed to push the index clear of resistance at 5700. Breadth was solid at a 70.5 per cent, and every sector finished in the green for the day’s trade. Promisingly too, two of the better performing sectors were health care stocks and information technology stocks, revealing an appetite for growth by investors.

The Aussie market’s test:

Like its US counterpart, the ASX 200 confronts a handful of resistance levels that mark potential inflection points. The resolve of the bulls has proven ample this week in general: downward sloping trend-lines have been broken, and yesterday the index managed to close above its 50-day moving-average. Such with the S&P 500, a higher-low has been established in the price, follow the recent bottom at 5410. The hurdles for the market in its bid to prove a recovery in the day ahead is twofold: major trendline resistance, traced back to the ASX200’s decade-long September high, exists at a scratch above 5670, before a play to 5780-5800 exposes itself. A break and hold above these levels will add credence to the notion a bottom has been formed in the market.

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