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Asia and Europe’ Monday: The confirmed election of populist Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro boosted emerging market indices. News that German Chancellor Angela Merkel would be stepping down as leader of the governing CDU party, combined with a ratings downgrade of by Italian debt S&P 500, sent minor ripples throughout Europe, pricking some nerves about the state of the European Union and its economy. But the lack of event risk, dearth of corporate reports, and limited external news managed to keep negative sentiment in Asian and European trade relatively mooted, leading to a mixed day for Asian shares, and a generally solid-one for Europe’s.
Trade War escalation in US trade: True to form however, the cautious optimism of market bulls has been kicked-down again late in Wall Street trade, as news filtered through the wires that the Trump Administration intends to slap additional tariffs on Chinese imports if talks between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at next month’s G20 fall by the wayside. Early price reactions to the news were of course negative, proving enough to wipe the session’s early gains from the Dow Jones, NASDAQ and the S&P 500, while turning the tide of positivity in futures markets into a state of vigilance. Upon their close, US stocks have dropped in the realms of one-percent, setting a tone to the week’s trade very much in line with last week’s.
The Trumpian approach: It’s hard to pick the rationale of the Trump Administration and its hard-headed approach to China. In the hysteria to point-out President Trump’s characteristic buffoonery, it is often lost that several legitimate concerns exist regarding China and its behaviour as a global economic citizen. Some sort of response to anti-competitive trade practices and the like from China is perhaps overdue, but the question is whether the Trump Administration’s approach is one designed to really achieve results. The Chinese despise backing down to a foreign power, wishing – as is widely stated about Chinese culture – “to keep face”. Waving a big stick at the Chinese is sure to only make them more stubborn and delay any material change.
US mid-terms: Perhaps the approach can be viewed cynically as a populist-play ahead of US mid-terms to fire-up the American public – and more specifically, Trump’s core constituency. Votes are cast for Congress in slightly over a week, and it is shaping up as a test of Trump’s legitimacy. Talks of a Democratic “blue wave” washing over the US Senate and House of Representatives would surely have the White House concerned -- an outcome that, if witnessed, would surely shift Trump’s power-base and policy platform. It’s something the Chinese will be monitoring closely: a Republican thumping in the mid-terms could be seen as a vote of no-confidence in the White House, and potentially by extension, a vote of no-confidence in President Trump’s belligerent approach to foreign policy.
Risk-off on a protracted trade-war: Nevertheless, a protracted trade-war, based on the balance of evidence, seems likely – a fact last night’s developments dutifully reminded market participants. Backing-up some stark guidance from US industrial giants last week about the profit-eroding impacts of the trade war, the effects on equity markets of the possible introduction of new and bigger tariffs will be lingering. Haven assets furthered their bid higher on this basis, adding to their short-term spike: the yield on benchmark US 10 Year Treasuries fell again to 3.07 per cent, pushing the US Dollar higher across the board. Naturally, the stronger greenback and heightened risks to global growth has pushed the AUD/USD lower, to trade back towards the recently penetrated support level of 0.7040.
China can’t take a trick: Last night’s new trade-war salvo can’t be good news for Chinese equity indices today, especially after China’s stocks were the great underperformers during yesterday’s Asian session. Though there was no overt news to precipitate it, Chinese indices took another bath in trade yesterday, tumbling 3.05 per cent (if using the CSI300 as the benchmark). Despite quite attractive valuations and policy makers full bore attempts to support stock markets, the power of sellers has proven too overwhelming for China’s equities. While the fundamentals are surely not as bad as price action suggests, very little impetus apparently exists for investors to jump-back into Chinese stocks right now. Adding to the bear base, the technicals suggest that (on the daily charts) that the market isn’t yet entirely oversold, meaning a plunge below recent lows at 2980, down toward support at 2900, is a possibility.
ASX today: SPI futures are indicating that the ASX 200 is in for a considerable dump at market open of around 78 points. There was an element of hope amongst investors yesterday that the strong activity in Australian shares was the turning point bulls had been waiting for: the momentum/growth plays in the health care space lead the ASX higher, while the sectoral map showed gains in every sector on market-breadth of 69 per cent. To the assumed vexation of the bulls, last night’s trade war developments are poised to erase yesterday’s bounce, reaffirming the bearish tone to trade on the Australian share market. And (arguably) justifiably too: the ASX200 remains oversold, implying bounces are necessary on the path of this trend lower – the dynamic of which is being perpetuated by a set of bearish fundamentals, that have not yet changed.