What’s in this week’s Report:
- Weekly Market Preview
- Economic Cheat Sheet
- ECB Meeting Takeaways – What Do They Mean for Markets?
- Gold & Real Interest Rates – What’s Next?
- Oil Outlook (Updated)
Futures are slightly lower following a series of mildly disappointing economic data points overnight.
Both Japanese and EU July flash composite PMIs missed expectations. The Japanese number dipped to 52.2 vs. 52.4 in June, while the EU PMI declined to 55.8 vs. (E) 56.2.
Additionally, the IMF trimmed US economic growth expectations to 2.1% in ’17 (down from 2.3%), reflecting the lack of any fiscal progress in Washington.
Today focus will remain on economic data and specifically the July Flash Manufacturing PMI (E: 52.0), although we also get Existing Home Sales (E: 5.58M saar). But, unless a that PMI is shocking soft, stocks should remain resilient as economic expectations are already pretty low. So, tech remains the key – if tech can continue to grind higher, the market will stay resilient in the face of slower economic growth.
S&P 500 Futures
U.S. Dollar (DXY)
Last Week (Needed Context as We Start a New Week)
Stocks hit another set of all-time highs last week thanks to upbeat earnings and positive momentum in tech shares.
It was a very quiet start to the trading week Monday, as stocks opened flat and traded within a very tight, 5-point range until closing effectively flat. Notably, strong Chinese economic data was offset by soft inflation in Europe and a weak Empire State Manufacturing survey in the US.
On Tuesday, volatility edged higher as stocks pulled back the most in a week in initial reaction to news the health care bill was going to be abandoned by the Senate (this later proved to be a tailwind). Earnings fueled rallies, especially in JNJ and NFLX, which helped stocks stabilize by midday. The S&P closed with a slight 0.06% gain.
Stocks powered to all-time highs Wednesday, thanks to the idea that the health care failure will make Congress turn its focus to tax reform, a topic that actually has positive implications for US companies. More strong earnings, this time from MS, also helped support the broad rally. The S&P notched a 0.54% gain.
It was another flat trading day on Thursday, but volatility spiked as politics reared its head as a negative influence on risk assets. Headlines regarding a more in-depth investigation into Trump’s businesses by special counsel Mueller as part of the Russia investigation hit stocks early, causing a pullback of nearly 10 points. Once again, though, the “Russia dip” was bought, and stocks finished the session flat.
Stocks pulled back modestly Friday, as the market continued to digest the political headlines, as well as the recent volatility in currencies. But early session losses were reversed, and the S&P recovered to finish the day virtually flat. The S&P 500 was up 0.54% for the week.
Your Need to Know
Earnings proved to be the biggest influence on the market internals last week, as we approached the height of Q2 earnings season. The Nasdaq outperformed to hit new highs thanks to earnings and general upside momentum while the Dow transports badly underperformed, falling 2.79% on the week.
Both the S&P and the Russell notched gains on the week, but closed off their best levels while the Dow Industrials underperformed (again mostly thanks to earnings) and ended up with a loss on the week.
Moving into the individual sectors, utilities and telecom were among the best performers as a rally in government bonds and the subsequent drop in interest rates spurred money flows in search of yield.
Elsewhere, tech continued to trade well and large-cap internet stocks are still leading this bull higher. On that note, consumer discretionary traded very well on earnings, most notably NFLX, as the company reported a larger-than-expected increase in new subscribers. The upside surprise was welcomed by investors who are betting on a pickup in economic growth this year.
The healthcare sector was another strong performer, with most of the gains coming in the back half of the week after the Senate abandoned the health care bill.
Looking to the underperformers, energy continued to lag, and turned lower on the week after energy futures rolled over on Thursday. Energy remains one of the most hated sectors, and sooner or later that will have to change. Because of our dim outlook for the oil market in the medium term, we don’t believe now is the time. Yet at some point, there will be an opportunity to get exposure to energy stocks very cheap relative level to the rest of the market.
Industrials underperformed on the week because of underwhelming earnings while financials traded poorly as bond yields declined and the yield curve flattened, weighing on the outlook for net interest margins in the second half of the year. Furthermore, MS released solid earnings, but there were more disappointing reports from banks than encouraging ones, and on balance, and that weighed on the sector as well.
The bull market in stocks remains well intact, and while the path of least resistance remains higher, the divergence between stocks and bonds got worse last week. That divergence remains one of our biggest concerns regarding the broader market.
Last week, we discussed the topic of whether we are going to see “Reflation or Stagnation,” and price action across markets last week suggest that stagnation is the more likely outcome after the global central banks pulled a “180” and turned more dovish (the previous week they were collectively hawkish). Specifically, they remain cautious against getting too hawkish too soon because of lack of inflation in developed markets. That more-dovish approach to the markets puts a damper on our reflation thesis, and the names that go with it (KRE/KBE/XLI/IWM/TBT/TBF). We are not throwing the towel in on that basket just yet, but if we are about to see another longer-term bond rally, then those names will not perform well.
Our other preferred destinations for tactical capital continue to do very well, with big tech still the major engine behind the rally in US stocks. Healthcare is also doing well, including XLV and IBB. Also, the drop in the dollar and more dovish outlook on major central banks is positive for emerging markets (IEMG hit a new high).
Bottom line, it’s too early to get defensive on the broad stock rally, because the uptrend and momentum behind it are simply too strong. But, we will continue to watch several leading indicators on both momentum and sentiment, as we remain leery to the next bout of volatility.
Economic Data (What You Need to Know in Plain English)
Need to Know Econ from Last Week
Economic data was thin last week, but we did get our first look at July data in the form of regional Fed outlook surveys as well as a few reports on the housing markets.
Beginning with the Fed surveys, the Empire State Manufacturing Survey was released on Monday, and despite the bad headline it was not a terrible report. The headline missed estimates (9.8 vs. E: 15.0), but the forward-looking New Orders component remained solidly above 13. The reason the report was not that bad was the fact that it had started to run hot at unsustainable level recently, and was due for a dip. And the correction we saw in the June data wasn’t too deep, and the details remained encouraging.
The Philly Fed Survey out on Thursday was not as bad a miss as the Empire data on the headline (19.5 vs. E: 22.0), but the details definitely dimmed the outlook for the Mid-Atlantic manufacturing sector. The forward- looking component of the report, New Orders, fell more than 20 points to just 2.1. The survey Philly data last week finally started to show a decline in enthusiasm from the extremely strong survey reports we’ve seen since the election. If these reports are foreshadowing a pullback in the broader US economy, that would be very bad for stocks, as solid growth is still priced into the market at current levels.
Housing data was mixed last week as the Housing Market Index missed expectations, but Housing Starts and Permits were very solid. Data on the real estate market has been all over the place recently, and it will take more data to try to decipher where the trends actually are in the sector. But if the strong Starts and Permits data from last week are any indication (this is a more material data point than the Housing Market Index) that will be a sign of confidence in the US economy.
Lastly, jobless claims were very solid last week as new claims fell back towards a four-decade low. The very positive weekly report was significant, because the data collected corresponds with the survey week for the July BLS Employment report. So, based on jobless claims alone we can expect another very strong official employment report early next month.
Important Economic Data This Week
The economic calendar picks up this week beginning with the flash PMI today (9:45 a.m. ET), as we continue to get an initial look at the July data. So far, the data has been a bit underwhelming as both the Empire and Philly Fed surveys came in light last week.
As far as hard data goes, Durable Goods comes out Thursday, and the preliminary second-quarter GDP number comes out Friday.
Housing data also picks up this week, and after last week’s mixed results (remember the Housing Market Index missed but Housing Starts was solid) economists will be looking for a better read on the current status of the real estate market. The two big reports this week are Existing Home Sales on Monday, and New Home Sales on Wednesday. However, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller HPI also will be worth watching (due out Tuesday). If the housing data is more in line with the strong Housing Starts data we saw last week, that will be an underlying positive for the economy and supportive for risk assets near term.
Turning to the central banks, the FOMC meets Tuesday and Wednesday, and the meeting will be concluded with an announcement on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. There are no material changes expected to come from the meeting, and it would be a shock if rates were not left unchanged. There is no press conference or forecasts released with this meeting, but language in the statement will be closely watched for any further clues on the Fed’s plans to reduce the balance sheet, or on when rates will be raised. Right now, expectations are for a December hike, but based on the trend in other central bank rhetoric the risk is for a dovish development due to the complete lack of inflation acceleration.
Commodities, Currencies & Bonds
In Commodities, the segment was mixed last week, as energy gave back early gains to finish lower on Friday while gains in the metals market were driven by the notable weakness in the dollar. The broad-based commodity ETF, DBC, declined 0.55% on the week.
Beginning with the metals, there were a lot of moving parts, but one thing that helped all metals was the broad weakness in the dollar. Industrial metals got off to a strong start thanks to the very solid Chinese economic data released Sunday night. Futures proceeded to chop sideways into the end of the week before they hit new four-and-a-half month highs Friday thanks to labor disputes in South America, and signs that supply conditions are tightening in China. Copper ended up 1.3% on the week. Looking ahead, copper is in a well-defined uptrend dating back to the May lows, and that’s an anecdotal positive for the outlook of the global economy.
Gold also rallied early in the week, then paused, and then extended gains into week’s end before futures finished the week up 2.0%. The fact that Draghi and the ECB were able to come across as dovish, offering a bid to the bond market while at the same time letting the euro rally, hit the dollar hard. It also offered two-pronged support for the gold rally last week. With inflation still so subdued, and rates moving lower, (causing real rates to fall) the fundamental outlook is favorable for gold. Technically speaking, gold violated support in early July, and for that reason we remain neutral near term.
Turning to energy, it was a volatile week for the oil market. WTI futures rallied through Thursday morning, reaching six-week highs before the bulls lost momentum and the market rolled over. From the highs on Thursday, WTI futures gave back all of the week’s gains, and ended up printing a weekly loss of over 2%.
Bottom line, some recent supply draws have offered a reason for short covering, but, the longer-term fundamental backdrop remains bearish mostly due to rising US production. Also, Ecuador was the first OPEC member to drop out of the production cap agreement, which caused some concerns about the global production surplus and the lack of control OPEC appears to have over it, to reemerge. And those factors leave the oil market in a lower-for-longer environment.
Looking at Currencies and Bonds, there was a lot of movement in the currency market last week, but the two most-important developments were the dollar falling to new lows and the euro making new multi-year highs. The dollar fell 1.22% on the week.
The reason for the big move in the euro/dollar pair was as much the result of euro strength early in the week as it was dollar weakness at the end of the week. Beginning in Europe, a weak inflation number first weighed on the euro, but the “core number” showed a slight firming in inflation, which was seen as mildly bullish ahead of the ECB. Then, while the ECB announcement was mostly a non-event, Draghi’s press conference was seen as dovish (so bunds and other EU bonds rallied). But he failed to mention the strength in the euro, something he has regularly done in the past. As a result, the euro screamed higher on Thursday, adding more than 1% to hit multi-year highs.
The dollar was initially just suffering losses last week because of the strong euro, but political concerns, specifically the potentially deeper look at Trump’s businesses by Mueller, further pressured the greenback later in the week. Bottom line, both the uptrend in the euro and downtrend in the dollar remain intact, and that is likely to continue. A weaker dollar is a mild tailwind for US stocks while the stronger euro is beginning to cause growth concerns in the Eurozone.
In the commodity currencies, the Aussie rallied .5% last week after the minutes from the last RBA meeting were seen as hawkish, but the gains were pared late in the week after some dovish comments from an RBA official.
In the bond market, yields declined after the ECB “kicked the taper can” to their September meeting (a Reuters article later suggested it is more likely the October meeting) while the BOJ pushed back their timeline to reach their 2% inflation target by a year, to 2020. Treasury yields slipped back to new July lows, with the 10-year falling 9 basis point to 2.32% while the yield on the long bond declined 11 basis points to end the week at 2.80%.
Bottom line, economic growth is not a problem right now as it is slow but steady. Inflation, however, remains an issue and the world’s central banks are openly paying attention to the lack of price pressures. Without inflation picking up, the medium-to-long-term outlook for the Fed and other central bank policies is shifting more dovish, which will keep a lid on yields for the foreseeable future.
Special Reports and Editorial
ECB Meeting Announcement Takeaways
As expected, the ECB left all major policy decisions as they were at the July meeting, including interest rates, QE and a lack of any material new forward guidance. The initial reaction to the statement was dovish, as policymakers appeared to simple “kick the can” toward the September meeting.
But, Draghi’s press conference following the statement offered more mixed signals. First, the ECB president reiterated his upbeat view of the European economy, which is slightly hawkish, but did mention that he and other policymakers remain cautious about the lack of inflation. To that point, Draghi repeated his pledge to increase QE in both size and duration should the economy falter or financial conditions worsen. This was largely expected, but it offered a dovish reminder. At this point in the press conference, the release was still a wash.
The catalyst for the surge in the euro, which gained well over 1% in intraday trade, was actually due to the lack of attention Draghi gave to the recent strength in the currency. He had several opportunities to address the recent gains in the euro, which hit multi-year highs earlier this week. Yet the failure to do so was enough for currency traders to chase the shared currency up to new highs.
Bottom line, the ECB effectively “kicked the taper can” to the September meeting, which means unless Draghi verbally suggests otherwise between now and then, any changes will likely be very subtle (i.e. modest taper to QE but extended duration). That was underscored by the fact that the 10-year bund was essentially unchanged yesterday. Looking ahead, the ECB still is a long way off from actually tightening policy (as they are technically still actively easing with their QE program) and as such, the rally in the euro is getting a bit extended. Nonetheless, the trend remains bullish for the euro, and until there is a catalyst such as blunt, less-dovish commentary from Draghi or a spike in EU inflation, then the path of least resistance will remain higher for the euro.
EIA Analysis and Oil Update
Last week’s inventory report from the EIA was universally bullish on the headline level as there were sizeable draws in crude oil stockpiles as well as in the refined products.
Commercial crude oil stocks fell -4.7M bbls last week, larger than analysts’ expectations of -3.1M and opposite from the API report that showed a build of +1.628M bbls. Gasoline supply fell -4.4M bbls, and while that was less than the draw reported by the API (-5.4M) it was much larger than the average analyst estimate of -600K bbls. Distillate inventories also fell -2.1M vs. (E) -700K rounding out a broadly bullish set of headlines.
The details of the report, however, once again showed a continuation in the bearish trend of rising US production. Lower 48 production (which filters out the seasonally volatile Alaskan data) rose another +30K b/d last week, above the 2017 average pace of +26K b/d to 8.97M b/d. Lower 48 production is now up +729K b/d so far in 2017, the highest level since late July 2015.
Bottom line, a string of supply draws over the last three weeks in crude oil and gasoline stocks totaling -18.6M bbls and -9.8M bbls, respectively, has offered the market some modest support, and helped curb a decline that pushed oil prices down to new 2017 lows. And with sentiment being very bearish coming into the month of July, the market was due for an upside correction. But, the underlying fundamentals remain bearish and as of now, we believe this is a countertrend rally in an otherwise still broadly downward trending market. We won’t fight the rising tide, and a run at $50/barrel in WTI is very plausible, but we will be looking for signs of the trend to break in the weeks ahead, and for the market to turn back lower based on fundamentals, market internals (term structure), and longer-term technicals.
Gold and Real Interest Rate Update
Gold rallied 0.67% last Tuesday, as political angst spurred a fear bid while strength in the Treasury market continued to help the “real-rate” argument for gold. British inflation data missed expectations, and that was the third release since Friday that showed below-expected price pressures.
That trend helped fuel dovish money flows, which ultimately bolstered the case for gold, because a lower pace of inflation changes the narrative of the world’s central banks. It’s also cause for recalculation of the real interest rate equation (which is simply interest rates minus
equals real rates).
If real interest rates are actually poised to move lower (as nominal rates fall and inflation remains flat/does not accelerate) that will be bullish for gold and the rest of the precious metals, as they are safe-haven assets that do not offer yield.
For now, we remain neutral on gold due to the technical support violation in early July. Looking ahead, it’s all about the fundamentals, which come back to real rates. If real rates continue to fall, even because of soft inflation causing a slightly dovish shift in central bank expectations, that will be bullish for gold long term.
From a broader standpoint, if real rates fall further, that will mean that the economy is struggling, or at the very least not meeting expectations. That will be a concern for stock investors, and ultimately holding gold allocations would be a sound hedge against volatility.
Chinese Economic Data Recap and Analysis
· GDP held steady at 6.9% vs. (E) 6.8% in Q2
· Fixed Asset Investment was 8.6% vs. (E) 8.4% in June
· Industrial Production rose to 7.6% vs (E) 6.5% in June
· Retail Sales rose to 11.0% vs. (E) 10.6% in June
The headlines tell the story of the recent data dump in China. The reports were universally better than expected, but GDP was the report that warranted the most attention as the headline growth rate held steady at 6.9% rather than pulling back as expected. Quarter-on-quarter growth jumped to 1.7% from 1.3%, which suggests that the Chinese economy is starting to stabilize towards the top end of the government’s target range of 6.5%-7%.
Looking ahead, the solid growth level seems to be sustainable, and not just a short-lived spike in economic activity. Without getting deep into the details, the growth is consumption driven, and new government policy and reforms are poised to help continue fueling solid growth into H2’17.
Bottom line, last week’s strong set of Chinese economic reports were welcomed by economists, as they underscored the positive outlook for the global economy going forward. But the reason the data did not ignite a more pronounced rally in global equities is the fact that growth in China has become more of an expectation, and global growth as a whole is no longer a great concern (as it was back in the summer of 2015). Instead, very low inflation rates in the US and Europe are the most notable concern, and until those statistics begin to firm, weak inflationary pressures will be a drag on risk assets like stocks in the months ahead.
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