Last week was positive for equity markets as hopes for a resolution to the US debt ceiling issues increased. In addition, it was a quieter week with regards to the US regional banks, although press reports that US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sees further mergers in the space pulled the KBW Regional Banking Index trade lower on Friday.1 In Europe, it was quieter with some market holidays for Ascension Day. In Asia, Japanese equities continued to grab headlines as their march higher continued. Last week, the MSCI World Index closed up 1.2%; the Stoxx Europe 600 Index was up 0.7%; the S&P 500 Index was up 1.6%; and the MSCI Asia Pacific was up 0.8%.2
Week in review
US equities saw their first weekly move of +/-1% since March, with the S&P 500 Index testing a key technical resistance level at 4200.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 Index also surged last week, up 3.5%. With that move, the Nasdaq 100 has made a 52-week high for the first time since November 2021. The tech sector’s strong performance is interesting, as its correlation with bond yields seems to have broken down somewhat. Some observers have suggested that tech stocks have performed well because investors are growing more comfortable with the idea that US interest rates have peaked for now, which is seen as supportive for highly leveraged balance sheets. On top of this, the buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) has attracted interest in the sector. That said, market breadth was poor, with a small number of tech heavyweights accounting for the bulk of the move higher.
The US debt ceiling talks were a key focus for investors throughout the week. Sentiment see-sawed somewhat on this issue. Earlier in the week, markets jumped on much better “mood music” from the talks, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy stating that negotiations were in a much better position, and he anticipated reaching a deal on the House floor next week. The mood then soured on Friday, as Republican negotiators ended a meeting with White House representatives, announcing that talks were now paused. Over the weekend, President Joe Biden called McCarthy from Air Force One on his way back from an international summit in Japan. McCarthy told reporters the call was “productive” as Biden noted: “It went well.”
Meanwhile, the clock continues to count down to the Federal government’s debt default deadline, with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stating the government will fall short of funds to meet its obligations by mid-June.
There was some interesting Fedspeak last week. Federal Reserve (Fed) Chair Jerome Powell commented on Friday that he “strongly” favours a June pause. While the markets are pricing in Fed rate cuts this year, Atlanta Fed Bank President Raphael Bostic stated this was unlikely. In addition, St. Louis Fed Bank President James Bullard, a non-voting Federal Open Market Committee member, expressed concern about the slow pace of disinflation and suggested that the Fed could raise rates as a precautionary measure.
Until Friday, the mood around US regional banks had improved, but Friday’s press reported that Yellen said further mergers in the sector would be necessary.
It was a quieter week in Europe, with a number of markets closed on Thursday for Ascension Day and public holidays in a number of other countries (markets were open but trading volumes were poor). The path of least resistance was higher overall. As in the United States, key European indices are testing resistance levels, with the Stoxx Europe 50 Index at levels last seen in 2021.3 Following a strong first-quarter corporate earnings season, Germany’s DAX Index made a new all-time high Friday before closing slightly lower on the day. It was still up 2.3% overall last week.
As in the United States, European tech stocks outperformed other sectors, while real estate remained unloved, again the worst-performing sector.
There was some commentary from European Central Bank (ECB) officials last week. President Christine Lagarde stuck with the hawkish narrative. Backing this up, the European Commission raised its inflation outlook for the eurozone and acknowledged the resilience of the region’s economy, while also highlighting “persistent challenges.” EU officials now anticipate consumer price growth of 5.8% in 2023 and 2.8% in 2024.4
Following the presidential election, Turkish equities ended last week down 7.2% as the country now faces a two-way vote on 28 May between incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
In contrast, Greece’s market rose after this weekend’s election saw a large victory for the ruling party of New Democracy. There was no seat majority, as expected. The second round will probably take place on the 25th of June.
In the United Kingdom, the GFK Consumer Confidence Index reached its highest level since February 2022, with a score of -27, matching estimates, compared to -30 in the previous month.
Finally, the Bank of America Fund manager survey came out last week. Respondents remained the most bearish so far this year.5
Asian equities finished higher overall last week. Cyclicals outperformed defensives, with tech and industrials leading, while utilities and consumer staples were amongst the laggards in the region.
Japanese equities led the way as the Nikkei hit a new 33-year high, closing the week up 4.8% and notching its best week since mid-January. Strategists are currently bullish on Japanese stocks, citing cheap valuations, better-than-expected earnings, yen weakness, and a consumer-led economic rebound. Optimism on the US debt ceiling issue and hawkish Fed commentary pushed the dollar higher against the yen as the week went on. This led to heavier buying in Japanese exporters. Japanese stocks have now seen seven consecutive weeks of buying by foreign investors.6
The Shanghai Composite Index closed last week up 0.3% but sluggish economic data was a hinderance. April Industrial Production rose 5.6% year-on-year, much lower than anticipated. Retail sales rose 18.4% in April, although also slightly shy of expectations given a low base of comparison from last year. Growth in fixed-asset investment slowed to 4.7% year-on-year, also weaker than forecast. Housing metrics were also poor, with real estate investment contracting at a faster pace. With that, we saw renewed calls for further support to be given to the Chinese economy, but so far, the government hasn’t made any clear moves. In its latest Monetary Policy Operations Report, the People’s Bank of China signalled no change in policy rates is appropriate for now.
US-China tension remained in focus as Chinese authorities said products of a US chipmaker presented “significant security risks” to its critical information infrastructure supply chain. They have barred the use of its products from key infrastructure operations.
Talks resume on the US debt ceiling this week, so this will no doubt be a key talking point. Aside from that, the Fed May policy meeting minutes will be released on Wednesday will be closely watched. Looking to macro data, global manufacturing reports, UK inflation data and US gross domestic product (GDP) will be key. Next Monday there are a number of market holidays, including the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the United States.
Monday, 22 May
- Bi-partisan talks resume on the US debt ceiling
- Japanese core machine year-over-year
Tuesday, 23 May
- Purchasing Managers Index data: US, UK, eurozone, France, Germany
Wednesday, 24 May
- UK Consumer Price Index
- Fed meeting minutes
- Japan machine tool orders
Thursday, 25 May
- German GDP
- US GDP
Friday, 26 May
- Tokyo CPI
- UK Retail Sales
- US University of Michigan Survey on sentiment; US durable goods orders
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1. The KBW Regional Banking Index is designed to track the performance of US companies that do business as regional banks or thrifts. Indices are unmanaged and one cannot directly invest in them. They do not include fees, expenses or sales charges. Past performance is not an indicator or a guarantee of future results.
2. Indices are unmanaged and one cannot directly invest in them. They do not include fees, expenses or sales charges. Past performance is not an indicator or a guarantee of future results.
3. Source: Bloomberg, 19 May 2023.
4. There is no assurance that any estimate, forecast or projection will be realized.
5. Source: Bloomberg. “Investors Most Pessimistic So Far This Year, BofA Survey Shows.” 16 May 2023.
6. Sources: Bloomberg, Japan Ministry of Finance, 22 May 2023.