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Tech stocks under pressure
Markets remain on the hook to the trade war rumblings, but a new war has opened up that threatens equity investors – a war on tech. What the Fed threatens to give, the DoJ takes away.
Yesterday we saw a soft start in the US before the ISM print missed and investors raised bets the Fed will cut rates this year. But the Fed put was not enough to fight the tide off tech woes.
Fangs are under severe pressure amid fears they are in the crosshairs of trust busters. The DoJ and FTC are marking targets and loading up. Whilst it’s far too early to say if any would, or could, be ripe to be broken up, there’s a real threat this will depress multiples and mean we need to reset expectations. Given the Fangs have been at the front of the market expansion in recent years, this will act as a drag on sentiment as well.
A couple of very big moves yesterday in Alphabet and Facebook.
Alphabet –6% – support now seen around $968, before $895 comes into play.
Facebook –7.5% – key support seen at $159, below that we look to the $145 level.
Calls have been growing louder and louder for the authorities to at least look at antitrust issues for the tech giants. Political pressure is building – lawmakers sniff votes in tackling big tech. The shift really happened last year with Facebook’s scandals, which broken the illusion of Silicon Valley being in it for the little guy. They’re just big corporations out to make money like any other – the politicians can smell blood. As I noted a year or two ago, I always thought Trump had the hallmarks of a Teddy Roosevelt trust-buster.
So now we have the Nasdaq in correction territory – down 1.6% yesterday to take it more than 10% off its all-time highs. The Dow was flat, while the S&P 500 notched a decline of 0.3%. The FTSE 100 ended the day in the green, up 0.3% at 7184 with the key 7150 level holding.
Asian shares followed Wall Street’s lead overnight, and futures show European shares are under the cosh again today.
US Treasury yields continue their slide with the 10yr slipping to 2.085% and threatening to find the 2.05% level now. EURUSD has broken out of technical resistance due to the slide in yields as markets bet on a Fed rate cut. EURUSD faces resistance at 1.126/7 but having broken out of the long-term descending wedge we could now look for more gains. Has the dollar rally ended? Well it all depends on the Fed.
Today’s Jay Powell speech is now key to market sentiment after dovish comments from James Bullard yesterday.
St. Louis Fed boss James Bullard – a voting member of the FOMC – says a rate cut may be warranted soon. He talked about a sharper than expected slowdown. He also discussed a cut as insurance – some sense the Fed is seeking to get ahead of the curve – too late! Over to Powell later today.
Bullard has always been one of the most dovish members of the FOMC – the market may have massively miscalculated the US central bank’s view of the economy, inflation and risks to its forecasts. I rather think the Fed will be a lot less ready to ease than the market thinks, and this suggests a significant decoupling between the Fed and market expectations.
Ahead of this we have the Eurozone CPI print. The last
reading showed inflation rose to a 6-month high in April at 1.7%, whilst core
price growth rose to 1.3%. However, this uptick seems to be down to
one-offs and the core read is expected to revert to trend around 1% in May,
with the headline print at 1.4%.
Woodford shut – worse to come?
Neil Woodford has suspended trading in the Woodford Equity Income. Woodford has clearly made a series of poor investment decisions. Out of love UK stocks with entirely domestic may have been ultra-cheap, but they’re still unloved and still cheap. Provident has been a disaster. Kier, whose shares tumbled 40% yesterday, also disaster. It’s been a tough few years for Woodford and things look like they will get worse still.
No surprise the RBA cut rates, it had been fully priced in. The question now is how many more? The statement didn’t tell us anything new. No indication there will be more this year. Worth noting the RBA’s own forecasts are predicated on 50bps of cuts so we’re only half way there. Watch the data. AUDUSD has gained a few pips post the statement, with little detail on future cuts likely to give the bulls some hope. Resistance at 0.6990, the 38.2% Fib level, tested and rejected.
UK retail sales fell off a cliff in May – down 2.7%. This is the worst ever decline in retail sales and will hit the sector today.
Sell in May and go Huawei: US-China ad nauseum
When can we stop talking about the US and China? European stocks called to open higher after a robust session in Asia showed investors are weighing the latest US-China spat over Huawei for what it is. SPX closed down 0.67% yesterday on the broad US-China-Huawei-Google spat, with tech stocks the worst hit. The Nasdaq 100 shipped 126 points to close 1.7% lower. Chip makers were rocked but look set to bounce back today – these rose in after-hours trading and Asian peers were much firmer overnight.
After blacklisting the Chinese firm, the White House has issued three-month reprieve to allow US companies continue to do business with the group. It’s all rather like the way Trump slaps on tariffs but delays the execution to allow room for negotiation. Whether it’s Huawei or tariffs, I would see all of this in the broader context of giant tug-of-war between the two superpowers being played out in front our eyes. As such, the more this goes on the lower the chance of a meaningful resolution to any of it. Trade disputes ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
China has vowed to retaliate but stocks in China rose overnight – the more damage the US tries to do the more the market expects stimulus from Beijing.
We don’t even have a lot on the Brexit front to worry about today. Euro elections are centre stage this week – as noted in yesterday’s FX note, the Brexit Party is set to win in the UK, whilst Eurosceptics and populists of various hue will sweep about a third of the vote across the continent. Watch therefore for action in EUR and GBP crosses, as well as Italian spreads.
Economic indicators overnight have been less than stellar. South Korean exports shrunk by nearly 12% in May, having decline more than 8% in April. Singapore’s government has downgraded growth forecasts for 2019. Thailand GDP growth hit a 4-year low. Lots of trade related effects being felt, clearly.
Fed chair Jay Powell spoke yesterday but did not really go into monetary policy. His remarks were focused on financial stability, stressing that ‘business debt does not present the kind of elevated risks to the stability of the financial system that would lead to broad harm … should conditions deteriorate’. He added though that ‘the level of debt certainly could stress borrowers if the economy weakens’. Move along, nothing to see here. Fed governor Richard Clarida speaks later – will have a lot more on policy and will be closely watched. FOMC minutes are due tomorrow.
Forex – dollar bid
The dollar continues to find bid, with the dollar index touching on 98 again, its strongest since May 3rd. Meanwhile EURUSD has also sunk to its weakest since May 3rd. US 10yr has risen above 2.4% again, having been as low as 2.35% last week. Firmer US yields and the safe haven appeal of the USD in the current trade war situation is keeping the dollar supported.
Yesterday’s emerging three inside up formation on the GBPUSD daily chart fizzled out, with the pound under the cosh still and threatening now to break below 1.27. The 1.2710 region is acting as support for now but the downwards pressure could eventually tell.
RBA set to cut
The post-election bounce in the Australian dollar proved short-lived as anticipated. AUDUSD was back trading on the 0.68 handle as the RBA gave us a very clear signal it’s ready to cut rates. In fact, this was about as dovish Philip Lowe could be without actually saying ‘I will cut rates in June’.
The June 4th meeting will likely see the central bank move to cut the cash rate to 1.25% from the current 1.5%. The RBA is really tying its policy outlook to the labour market. Unemployment rose to 5.2% in April and the risk is that exposure to China and trade will act as a drag in the coming months. Low inflation currently gives it ample scope to cut rates.
Morning note: Equities pressured on tough talk on China trade, RBA holds
US equity markets pared losses yesterday, with the S&P 500 declining by around half a percent to 2,932.47, having been close to the 2900 handle again.
Rhetoric from the US side has shifted markedly in the last two days. Having seen progress and a good direction to productive discussions, relations have soured.
Tweets from Donald Trump over the weekend saying he would raise tariffs on $200bn in imports from China as early as Friday did the main damage to risk sentiment, sparking a selloff in equities. Following this the Robert Lighthizer and Steve Mnuchin said China had reneged on its commitments and painted a very downbeat picture of the talks. This hit trade sensitive stocks after-market and will keep the downwards pressure on equities.
Quite where this leaves us is hard to say. There is a sense that the US is working extremely hard to extract last-minute concessions from China ahead of a planned visit by vice-premier Liu He. That visit has been confirmed – he is to visit the US May 9th-10th. Equity futures in Europe rose on the news of the Chinese visit still being a go, but risks remain skewed to the downside today it would seem.
Just talking tough?
Will that be enough to avert the tariffs being raised on Friday is unclear, but at least it means the two sides are continuing to talk and a deal is still possible. However, we don’t know if this is a last-ditch rescue mission to save talks or something that moves talks on in a more substantive way. The optics suggest the former, but one cannot but sense that Mr Trump is playing us a little. He may well be making a deal seem further away in order to make the achievement seem all the more impressive when it comes.
The market has been juiced by expectations the US and China would do a deal, combined with a much more dovish sounding Fed. Those two key planks are what the ATHs rest upon – remove one and we should expect more downside.
RBA holds rates before Australian elections
Elsewhere, in the FX space, the RBA chose not to cut rates, leaving the benchmark at 1.5% again. It was about 50/50 whether the central bank would cut or stick, and it seems that for now, with enough evidence that the slowdown can be blamed on transitory factors, the RBA is prepared to wait and see before easing. Also, with the election looming, the RBA probably felt it wise to wait.
We’ve seen global central banks pivot from their tightening stance, but markets have just been a tad quick in calling the new easing cycle – the Fed last week and the RBA today confirm that it’s a done deal. AUDUSD spiked to regain the 70 handle – it may well now keep in a range between 0.7030 and 0.7060, the narrow band it was in for the last week of April.
GBPUSD remains supported above 1.31 but remains susceptible to Brexit news flow again. Despite all the jawboning, there is little evidence that Labour and the Tories can do a deal. Whether this gaping chasm between the major parties forces the UK towards a second referendum, General Election or a hard exit is still unknown.
Finally, a word on Bitcoin – the crypto market remains bullish and Bitcoin futures are moving rapidly towards the $6,000 level. This could attract some technical interest as it would mark the clear move out of the bottom formation, whilst momentum traders may start to pile in on the back of it.