Last week saw equity markets tread water ahead of a number of upcoming notable events and catalysts expected this week. Still, the narrative around US trade relations with the rest of the world was a prime focus, as US President Donald Trump shared his thoughts on the US relationship with a number of different countries.
A Week of Catalysts Ahead
This week there are a number of interesting events that could shape equity market performances into year-end and possibly beyond.
Events in focus for investors include the US Federal Reserve (US Fed) and European Central Bank (ECB) meetings, the UK general election and the deadline for further US tariffs to be added to Chinese imports on December 15.
In the context of strong year-to-date gains for many equity markets and with trading volumes likely to start declining next week ahead of the holiday season, we think some investors might be tempted to take profits on any bad news stemming from these events.
UK Election Crunch Time
The United Kingdom goes to the polls on Thursday, and by the time the markets open on Friday morning we will know the result.
The most market-friendly result in the short-term should be a Conservative majority, as it offers a path to an orderly Brexit. One might argue a Labour government could lead to a softer Brexit or even no Brexit, which would likely be seen as supportive for UK assets. However, offsetting those potential positives are the Labour policies of nationalisation of key industries, increased corporate taxes and ad-hoc taxes on the energy sector.
Also, the old cliché that markets do not like uncertainty would ring true if we faced fresh negotiations with the European Union (EU) and further extensions to Brexit deadlines.
The polls have consistently shown the Conservatives to have a 10% lead over Labour for some time now. In order for there to be a hung parliament, that gap would need to tighten to around 7%.
Based on these polls, it would appear the United Kingdom is on track for a Conservative majority. That said, the polls have been wrong in the last two UK elections (2015 and 2017) and there are a few curveballs to watch for. It could be that tactical voting changes the dynamics. There are also a high number of undecided voters (13% of votes) that could be a factor.
Trade Talks in Focus
Trade rhetoric was once again a key driver of equity market performance last week. Comments around a US-China trade deal were plentiful as we approach December 15, the deadline for new tariffs to come into effect.
Equities were led lower on Monday last week after President Trump re-imposed steel and aluminium tariffs on Brazil and Argentina, then again on Tuesday after Trump insisted he does not have a deadline for a deal with China. He suggested it might be better to wait until after the November 2020 election for a deal.
Global equities then staged a fairly impressive recovery after the publication of an article which suggested the United States and China are moving closer to a deal. The progress in talks apparently related to the specific tariffs which would likely be rolled back as part of a “phase one” deal. By Friday morning, US equities had bounced back as strong non-farm payroll numbers (which beat expectations) provided support.
But differences still persist between the United States and China, and whether these can be ironed out in the next week remains to be seen. Like last week, we expect choppy days ahead for global equity markets as investors react to headlines.
It isn’t just China in the firing line. Trump introduced tariffs of US$2.4 billion on French products, including sparkling wine, cheeses, handbags and makeup. This is in response to an existing French tax on online revenue that hit US-based tech giants.
US Fed and ECB Meetings
The two big central bank meetings this week do not have the drama of the UK election result or the US/China trade talks, but nevertheless, they are still important events to watch. The ECB meeting will be notable as it is Christine Lagarde’s first as ECB President.
The markets see little chance of an interest-rate change from the Fed, and most commentators expect Fed Chair Jerome Powell to stick to a similar narrative as he has at recent meetings.
When Powell spoke in Congress recently, he stated: “The current stance of monetary policy [is] likely to remain appropriate as long as incoming information about the economy remains broadly consistent with [the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC)] outlook.” And, he insisted the FOMC would respond accordingly to a “material reassessment of [its] outlook”.
Likewise, the market does not expect any changes to ECB policy at its meeting this week. In her first few speeches as ECB president, Lagarde has stressed her belief in the need for fiscal policy action from member states to support ECB actions.
European equities ended the week little changed overall, with mixed moves from individual indices. Trade rhetoric largely drove intraday moves. Regional politics were also at play.
Spain was the week’s outperformer last week, with political concerns an overhang for some other euro-area countries and weaker macro weighing on Germany’s market.
The United Kingdom’s exporter-heavy large-cap index was the clear underperformer, although this was primarily a result of a standout week for the pound, buoyed by more opinion polls suggesting the Conservatives are on course to gain a majority in Thursday’s election.
Despite the improved sentiment heading into the election, the effect of the drawn-out political uncertainty was seen again last week as the UK’s services industry suffered its sharpest fall in eight months, raising concerns that we may see the country’s economy contract in the fourth quarter of 2019.
In Italy, the three-month old coalition government is already starting to look shaky as tensions peaked over the potential reform of the European Stability Mechanism (the EU’s bailout fund). Italian government bonds declined after Democratic Party leader Nicola Zingaretti revealed the rift between his own party and coalition members Five Star in a letter to local press.
In France, there have been fresh protests over the weekend regarding planned pension reforms from the government. Last Thursday saw more than 800,000 people take to the streets, with strikes halting transport services in one of the biggest demonstrations of trade union power in 10 years.
We will continue to keep an eye on this situation in the coming days, with the pension reforms set to go ahead on Wednesday and another major street protest planned on Tuesday. A recent poll suggested that 60% of the general public is in favour of the protests, suggesting that they may continue for some time.
In Germany we saw the CDU’s coalition partners SPD elect new left-leaning leaders. The new leaders will likely look to boost fiscal stimulus, which pushed bund yields higher last week. However, fears that the new leadership would look to disrupt the coalition are yet to materialise, giving some hope early this week.
There were further concerns on the macro front for Germany, however, with the biggest downturn since 2009 hitting the industrial sector. Industrial output in October was down year-on-year and is likely to weigh on fourth-quarter eurozone growth. However, on balance euro-area data last week was supportive, with positive purchasing manager index (PMI) data revisions offsetting the disappointing data from Germany.
European government bond (EGB) yields backed up on the positive shift as well as on commentary from ECB members voicing their concerns around negative interest rates. It will be interesting to see how this latest data plays into the message from the ECB this Thursday, as investors will likely be on the lookout for any hawkish slant to commentary.
US equities performed a fairly impressive turnaround last week to finish close to flat, and back near all-time highs. Trade rhetoric was the main driver.
The release of a robust November employment report also buoyed equities on Friday, as non-farm payrolls came in showing a much higher-than-expected rise. Wages were also better with upward revisions year-on-year. The strength in job growth was fairly broad across most industries. However, it’s worth noting the return of striking automobile workers boosted the numbers.
In terms of sector performances, there was a slight defensive theme to moves with telecommunications, consumer durables and energy outperforming. Transport lagged, while retail was also weak post-Black Friday, just as Christmas shopping is expected to hot-up.
It was a strong week for equities in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, with the exception of Australia.
Australian equities failed to recover from losses sustained at the beginning of the week as the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) opted to leave interest rates on hold.
Positive developments on trade and a spike in oil ahead of key OPEC meetings provided a tailwind for sentiment in the region on Thursday and Friday.
Autos were among the outperformers amid fresh stimulus hopes after China raised its 2025 Electronic Vehicle sales target to 25%.
Macro data also helped, with both the Caixin and NBS Manufacturing PMI data from China coming in ahead of estimates.
In Japan, prime minister Shinzo Abe revealed a Yen26 trillion stimulus package, including ¥9.4 trillion of fresh spending.
The package was described as a “three pillared” approach to aid disaster relief, protect against downside risks to the economy, and prepare the country for growth after next year’s Olympics. Final manufacturing data from Japan was also revised higher, helping to support Japanese equities.
- Tuesday: Argentina’s new President Alberto Fernandez takes office.
- Thursday: UK Election; EU leaders meet to discuss climate neutrality and the EU budget (through December 13).
- Sunday: Deadline for fresh US tariffs on China if no deal is agreed upon.
- Tuesday: China inflation data; Japanese Machine Tool Orders; UK, French and Italian Industrial Production (IP); UK gross domestic product (GDP).
- Wednesday: China Foreign Direct Investment; US consumer price index data (CPI).
- Thursday: German CPI.
- Friday: Japanese IP; US retail Sales.
- Wednesday: US FOMC interest-rate decision; Brazil interest-rate decision.
- Thursday: ECB interest-rate decision and Christine Lagarde briefing; Swiss interest-rate decision; Turkey interest-rate decision.
- Friday: Bank of Russia interest-rate decision.
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