It was another day of gains across global equity markets. In the US, the S&P500 gained a further 1.2% Wednesday with more substantial lifts through Europe and Asia after US leaders stopped tunelessly caterwauling to lay the foundations for the $2tn US stimulus package to be rubber-stamped some time in the Asia time zone. The full text of the bill has yet to be released.
Still, the fine print is expected to include a massive expansion of unemployment insurance, loan facilities for small and large businesses, and additional healthcare resources.
The Main Street parachute was initially received well by the markets, so hopefully, it will provide a sufficient safety net for the millions that are lining up at the unemployment window this week. With Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell referring to the package as a “wartime level of investment into our nation.”
Wartime language is convenient for politicians, but wartime maximizes production. Lockdowns minimize production. A lockdown is the ultimate in demand shock. The risk is that companies fail as a result of this, creating a double demand drop. With the stimulus package stamped, the balance of risks must certainly shift back to the evolution of the pandemic.
The question now is not how low Q2 GDP will be, but how long the global ‘lockdown’ will last.
Downside and Upside
On the downside, an increase in new cases in China and other countries that are returning to work is the main risk to monitor. But on the upside, (1) the adoption of large-scale testing for the virus and antibodies and (2) finding an effective medicine.
And when combined, the risks are more balanced now, with the adoption of large-scale testing that should enable a partial return of economic activity once the epidemiological curve has been flattened. Ultimately all roads lead back to the fact investors need conclusive evidence of coronavirus infection curves flattening, bringing an end to lockdowns insight before pressing that buy button with some conviction.
Sure, the US Congress has agreed on a stimulus package worth more than $2 trillion, supporting oil prices and broader markets. While this is good news, but since it’s impossible to gauge the ultimate economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic for weeks, possibly months, and until that point, the sustainability of any rally in oil or equity markets is questionable. And suggests the current high level of volatility will likely extend.
Government handouts ameliorate the US economy hitting a brick wall.
Any economy hitting a brick wall can be mitigated by unemployment benefits and other social transfers over short periods. Staying on that policy hamster wheel creates policy fatigue and opens so many different cans of worms that the markets hate.
As I alluded to in one of yesterday’s notes, the market has a short memory and a short fuse. All the stimulus chatter will fade if the Covid-19 headcount curve goes vertical. The reality is the “Big Bazooka” sway is impossible to sustain, and not to mention the surprise effects greatly diminish. Ultimately policy is harder to maintain the more protracted virus outbreaks continue.
Quant side of things
From a quant side of the equation, it does appear systematic wanton selling has stopped removing one pillar of pressure from the market. Institutions have started to step in and put money to work, but flow dynamics suggest they continue to buy safety and names they already hold, essentially averaging in.
This is not an actual risk-on behaviour. But with little else working across a plethora of growth asset classes, anyone running multi-asset portfolios knows the quick returns are probably to be made in equities right now if you can catch the moves.
Investors wait for US jobless claims.
How will the markets survive the US initial claims going ballistic is probably on everyone’s minds this morning?
The problem is new jobless claims will measure the extent of US policy failure, and with the Congress dilly-dallying, it will not help the matters.
Now market participants are bracing themselves for a horrific peek into their future this week when US initial jobless claims are released. The high-frequency data will confirm we’re in a horrible vortex of the fastest and most substantial rise in the US unemployment in modern financial history.
In many ways, initial jobless claims will be the signpost that matters the most in the coming weeks as it will be a near real-time measure of whether fiscal policy worked.
Oil prices lift a little
Oil markets received a lift from the US stimulus chatter, but for the most part, activity remains rudderless awash in a sea of Oil.
Price action suggests that gauging the ultimate economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is a challenge but does skew lower. Still, one thing that will keep the canary in the product refineries chirping is that the demand collapse will accelerate product storage facility saturation, which could happen over the next few weeks.
And at that tipping point, the producer surplus will become a massive logistical headache for oil storage consideration, which then opens up the trap door for oil prices to plummet below cash costs.
On US shale production sensitivity could react more quickly this time than they did in the previous downturns due to CAPEX concerns as with a few exceptions, the sector is now implying 2020 cash neutrality ~$45/bbl.
In addition to storage constraints, it remains challenging to call a floor in the oil price. I expect a high level of volatility as the market responds to news flow, both positive and negative. Still, we should probably continue to expect that an extended period of oil pricing in the $20s is possible with an occasional deep dive lower on storage constraints and inventory builds. Ultimately Oil prices will need some help from another compliance agreement to get out of the double whammy of negativity.
Spreads are looking much better today after London Bullion Market Association alongside several banks asked the CME to allow gold bars in London to be used to settle futures contract deliveries. Physical gold could then remain in London with underlying ownership then transferred. Lower spreads are always welcome in any market, especially in gold, when physical is especially tight with refiners shut down around the world.
Gold markets like USD liquidity, and it is getting plenty of it, but seems to be getting held back possibly by oil prices and still the lingering crisis dynamics as its too early to rule out further distressed sales near term.
The considerable fall in the price of Oil is creating dollar shortages for oil-producing countries and emerging market (EM) economies alike. None more so than Russia as the massive Ruble decline in March matched by the oil price demise suggest Russia could shift from net buyer of gold to a possible net seller of gold to raise dollars. Even more so, if the US sanctions Russia to force them back to the bargaining table with Saudi Arabia.
Traders are waiting for US claims, so I suspect more position jockeying today rather than a massive spec day, but eyes remain wide open for opportunities.
One such opportunity was USDMXN. The USDMXN is trading entirely in line with the risk on/off the sentiment of global markets. There has been more interest in selling USD overnight. The thought here is the amount of stimulus in the US will eventually benefit MXN.
The other good trade we hit on yesterday was the CNH. Traders had been talking about a possible deposit rate cut by the People’s Bank of China. So, CNH traded from 7.07-08 to just above 7.14 before the market reversed on the assumption 7.15 is a near term line in the sand for the PBoC.
The Malaysian Ringgit
Its an exciting dynamic that is evolving in Asia currency markets as inventors like the more draconian lockdown measures, which will see the virus pass quicker and life return to normal even faster. The improved Ringgit sentiment comes despite the Malaysian economy, which will pay the considerable upfront cost for extending the MCO. Still, with a robust policy backstop from the BNM and government support, the thought is the economy will return to standard form quicker.
International markets analysis and insights from Stephen Innes, Chief Global Market Strategist at AxiCorp