Trader's View - Stocks keep climbing, but risks remain elevated

Global stocks have maintained their bounce.

Source: Bloomberg

Stock markets continue to recover

Global stocks have maintained their bounce. It’s looking more like a market that is searching for it’s next high now, as price action, from a technical perspective, suggests the recent wave-lower is over. Hence, from here, considering trade-war risks, and therefore anxiety in the market, remains high, the matter becomes whether stock indices are preparing to pop in a new higher-high, or whether what we will see is a new lower-high. The result of that simple binary will inform market participants what the broader trend is in the market: are we still trending higher, or are we seeing the start of a trend reversal?

The litmus test to come

This commentary pertains primarily to the S&P 500, which has been the bellwether for global equities, recently. But it could equally be said of the ASX 200, too, which demonstrated its resilience yesterday. Just sticking to the S&P 500, the price set-up offers some potentially interesting insights about the world, in the weeks to come. Another high for US stocks is another record high and a clear continuation of that market’s bull run – defying, really, what is a deteriorating global backdrop. If this fails to occur, then talk will certainly emerge whether stocks are beginning a prolonged period of weakness, in line with clearly softer fundamentals.

The signs of nervousness

Time will tell, of course, and all manner of things can change this underlying dynamic, in the long term. However, as it relates to the here-and-now: though the tension eased in Wall Street and European trade, safe havens are still in vogue for investors, currently. US Treasuries have pulled back overnight, but yields have kept close to their recent lows, and traders have flooded into the USD. German and Japanese bonds are still in negative yield territory, removing some of their haven appeal, however the Euro, Yen, and (at that) the Swiss Franc are still broadly catching a bid.

Trade-war keeps escalating

Conspicuously, gold prices are lower, but that’s a function of the much stronger greenback, while commodity prices have generally rallied across the board. That behaviour probably belies yesterday’s news flow, which was preoccupied with another small escalation in the US-China trade-war, after US President Donald Trump paved the way for sanctions on Chinese mega-company Huawei. The dynamic probably manifested in global-growth sensitive currencies more than anywhere else. The Nordic Currencies, the Canadian Dollar, the Kiwi Dollar, and our own Australian Dollar continued to sell-off overnight, on the presumption that Chinese economic growth will be further stifled by US trade-aggression.

Australian jobs data disappoints

Speaking of the Australian Dollar: it registered a new low in the last 24 hours, and is now cosying up with the 0.6800 handle. The driver was yesterday’s local employment numbers, which was probably, on balance, a negative one overall. On the plus side: jobs growth exceeded expectations and the participation rate moved a little higher. But crucially, the unemployment rate climbed, and the jobs added to the economy last month (according to the data) were predominantly part-time jobs. Also underquoted, but perhaps more importantly, was a big tick-up in the underemployment rate, which rose from 8.2 to 8.5%.

The problem with the jobs data

So: this is the kicker, as it applies to the jobs data: the problem the market sees in the numbers doesn’t directly stem from the unemployment rate or jobs change numbers per se. The devil’s in the detail, and the details suggest that considerable spare labour capacity exists in the Australian economy, at-the-moment. Crucially, for financial markets, this means one thing: that the long pined-for lift in wages growth is unlikely to be forthcoming. By extension, this likely means further weakness in inflation, and probably consumption too, which, if left unmanaged, will drag on economic activity moving forward.

The need for economic stimulus

Hence, it’s this general perception that has driven traders to price in a fifty-fifty chance of an RBA interest rate cut next month; and also, price in a full cut by July, as well as more than another full cut on top of that by year end. This development comes at a fortuitous time, too. The election is upon the Australian electorate, and promises from both sides of politics to adopt stimulatory measures, by way of income tax cuts and major infrastructure spending, is giving hope that the government can juice the economy just enough to guide it through this current soft patch.


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