Global stocks mostly edged lower on Tuesday as investors remained focused on inflation data, with the US consumer price index report due on Thursday.
Futures on the Dow Jones, S&P 500, and Nasdaq fell 0.1%, indicating a slightly lower start to trading later in the day.
The S&P index was still less than a quarter of a percent away from its all-time closing high a month ago, Deutsche Bank strategists said.
Biotech stocks added 1.13% to the Nasdaq the previous day, driven primarily by a record 38% jump in Biogen’s closing price after the company received FDA approval for its new drug to treat Alzheimer’s.
The growth rate of weekly COVID-19 cases is currently at its slowest since mid-March, according to Deutsche Bank. Cases in the US are rising at their slowest pace since March 2020, while India reported fewer than 100,000 daily cases for the first time in over two months. Numbers in the UK, however, have jumped 53% compared to last week, as the Delta variant spreads.
“While we remain alert to inflation risks, we believe the backdrop remains benign for stocks – with benefits most obvious for cyclical parts of the market, including energy and financials,” Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, said.
Separately, lower commodity prices weighed on European stocks with basic resources declining 1.6% and energy down 0.25%, while auto stocks rose 0.8% and consumer products added 0.7%.
“Cryptos face an existential threat from major economies regulating or banning them,” said Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at OANDA. “China has started, and the wolves are circling. The Colonial Pipeline saga was a case of flying too close to the sun. Attacks on critical infrastructure will not go unnoticed by important and powerful people.”
Asian equities mostly traded flat or lower. “In general, commodity-related sectors like materials and energy are leading the underperformance,” Deutsche Bank said.
“The price action has all the hallmarks of a very long speculative market getting nervous at the highs and is not indicative of an overall change in sentiment for energy,” Halley said.
“With some improvement in the pandemic situation in India and the recovery in the US, China and Europe remaining on track, oil should remain a buy on dips, with no warning signs coming from the technical momentum indicators,” he said.
Global shares eased on Monday, as investors digested a slightly disappointing read of the US labor market and prepared for key inflation data later this week, while oil pulled back from two-year highs.
Friday’s employment report showed the US economy created 559,000 jobs in May, below the 650,000 economists had expected, while April’s number was revised up marginally to 278,000.
The report didn’t offer traders the confirmation they had hoped for of a robust recovery in hiring. At the same time, it dampened the prospect that the Federal Reserve might have to quickly rein in some of its support for the economy, which allowed stocks to end last week on a positive note.
“What the May jobs report does tell us is that despite the high levels of vacancies being reported, there is a reluctance on the part of US workers to return to work,” CMC Markets chief strategist Michael Hewson said.
“This flies in the face of optimism that the economic reopening would prompt a rehiring blitz, making it much less likely that the Fed will look at an early tapering of asset purchases,” he said.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Bloomberg in an interview on Sunday that if the US economy ended up with slightly higher rates and inflation, this would be “a plus”.
“We’ve been fighting inflation that’s too low and interest rates that are too low now for a decade,” she told Bloomberg.
The next major data point will be US consumer inflation on Thursday, which is expected to show prices accelerated by 4.7% in May, following April’s 4.2% increase.
The Fed has repeatedly said it is willing to tolerate a sharper rise in consumer prices, which it believes will be short-lived. But investors are highly sensitive to any hint from economic data that might suggest an abrupt change in course by the central bank.
The dollar index was up 0.2% on the day, buoyed largely by gains versus sterling and the euro, which were both down by around 0.1% against the greenback. Yields on the 10-year Treasury note, which can act as a gauge of investor confidence, rose 2 basis points to 1.577%, indicating a degree of caution.
Overnight in Asia, Chinese trade data showed the country’s imports rose at their fastest rate in a decade. The world’s biggest commodity consumer overlooked higher raw material prices, although its crude intake slowed and exports undershot expectations. This had little impact on the major indices. The Shanghai Composite ended up 0.2%, while Tokyo’s Nikkei rose 0.3% and Seoul’s KOSPI closed 0.2% higher.
“What is clear is that the value of both imports and exports is a major contributor due to sky-rocketing raw materials prices, and that in volume terms, the evidence for a commodity supercycle emerging is thus far wholly unconvincing,” Marc Ostwald, chief global economist for ADM Investor Services, said.
Oil prices pulled back from last week’s two-year highs after the Chinese trade data, as traders weighed up the market’s ability to absorb a potential supply increase from Iran, which is in talks with global powers over its nuclear activity. Overall, demand is expected to accelerate over the course of the year, although outbreaks of COVID-19 in the likes of India have tempered some of the optimism.
Brent crude futures were last down 0.8% at $71.34 a barrel, having touched a high of $72.17 last week, while WTI futures were down 0.7% at $69.12 a barrel.
Turning to Europe, gains in the benchmark indices were restricted by declines in the mining and resources sector. Shares in Anglo American fell nearly 3%, while copper producer Fresnillo dropped 1.9%, and commodity trader Glencore lost 1.6%. French oil major Total shed 1.3%, making it one of the biggest losers on the STOXX 50 index, which slipped 0.1%. London’s FTSE 100 edged up 0.1%. Meanwhile, the mid-cap FTSE 250 rose 0.2%, shrugging off a 15% loss in the shares of office-space provider IWG, which dropped 15% after the company issued a profit warning for 2021.
US investors are expecting a flurry of earnings and economic policy announcements this week. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is due to give a press conference on Wednesday when the central bank concludes a two-day monetary policy meeting. Economists are not expecting significant changes, but investors will nonetheless scour every word for insight into the likely path of interest rates.
“The April FOMC meeting should primarily serve as a barometer check of the economic recovery relative to the substantial forecast upgrades the Committee unveiled at their last meeting in March.” Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axi said. “He’s likely to continue his subtle shift in tone about the outlook in a more promising direction,” Innes added.
President Joe Biden will be delivering his first speech in a joint congressional session on Wednesday, where he will likely shed further light on his infrastructure spending plans. Investors will also get the first glimpse of how the US economy fared in the first three months of the year later this week.
US 10-year Treasury note yield rose to 1.577%, up 1.3 basis points.
Asian markets came under pressure from the surge in COVID-19 cases in India and elsewhere across the continent. China’s Shanghai Composite closed 0.95% down, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was down 0.4% at the end of the trading day.
The Japanese Nikkei 225 continued to recover after last week’s mixed performance linked to lockdown extensions in the country and closed 0.36% up. The Bank of Japan is set to release rate decisions and its quarterly outlook on Tuesday, although no significant policy changes are expected.
Concern about the economic impact of another wave of Covid-19 also impacted oil prices. WTI crude oil prices were last down 1.14% and Brent crude oil was down 1.16% on Monday. Cases in India, the third largest oil consumer in the world, rose at record rates this weekend, leaving families of patients scrambling for hospital beds and oxygen.
“There have been reports that’s various models are predicting this could hit over 500,000 per day this week which will gain huge headlines. While Indian case loads are so high, there will be concerns about the unevenness of the global recovery and the ability of variants to escape,” Deutsche Bank research strategists said.
Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission said fully vaccinated Americans could travel to the European Union this summer, potentially providing some impetus for the long-haul travel and energy sectors, but this was not enough to prop up crude oil.
European stocks started flat on Monday, the pan-European Euro Stoxx 50 was last up 0.04%, the UK’s FTSE 100 was down 0.07% and the German DAX was up 0.14%.
Bitcoin recovered over the weekend and rose above $50,000 again, after a highly volatile week which saw the cryptocurrency reach record highs paired and lose significant ground. It was last valued at $52,772.93 on Monday.
Oil rose as much as 4% on Wednesday after a huge container ship ran aground and blocked the Suez Canal, a key shipping route for crude and refined products. The blockage raised some concern about fuel supply.
Overall, the price of oil is set to fall for the third consecutive week this week. Another round of lockdowns in Europe could threaten the recovery in demand growth and have undermined some of the recent strength in the oil market.
One of the biggest container ships in the canal ran aground early on Tuesday and is stuck at a right-angle to the passage. Hundreds of cargo ships are now unable to pass through the canal, forcing them to divert their routes. It is unclear when the issue will be resolved. “This could have an impact on movement of oil and consumer goods.” Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid said in a daily report.
Throughout the pandemic and subsequent cycles of lockdowns and travel bans, oil prices have been highly volatile. Over the last 12 months, Brent crude oil prices have fluctuated from as little as $16 a barrel to as much as $71. As demand for oil, and therefore its price, is inherently linked to sectors that are impacted heavily by lockdown measures, such as travel, they have been sensitive to the developments of the pandemic. Over the last two weeks, prices have fallen by around 12% and are still on course for a third weekly fall, in spite of Wednesday’s rally.
The price response to the hold-up at the Suez Canal may not reflect expectations for a prolonged improvement in demand, analysts said. The futures market has eliminated a bullish structure known as “backwardation” – where prompt contracts trade at a premium to further-out futures contracts, which reflects bullishness among traders and investors about the demand outlook.
“The reprieve seems temporary, though, as the spot price fall overnight has completely removed the backwardation in the oil futures market for prompt deliveries. With speculative markets still long, it seems, oil is likely to be a sell on rallies until Covid-19 and economic recovery sentiment swings back into the black.” Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, said.
Oil prices shot up past $70 for the first time in more than a year after key facilities in Saudi Arabia came under a missile and drone attack Sunday.
Saudi Arabia said the attacks were intercepted, with an attempted drone strike aimed at one of the petroleum tank farms in the Ras Tanura port while a ballistic missile targeted Saudi Aramco facilities in Dharan, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Brent oil, oil’s international benchmark, climbed to an intraday high of $71.38 per barrel as it packed on more than 2% from Friday’s settlement. Brent oil hadn’t traded above $70 since January 2020. The price on Monday eventually turned lower, losing 0.2% at $69.24.
The West Texas Intermediate continuous oil contract reached as high as $67.26 before pulling back. It was off $0.02 at $65.43.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Sunday claimed they hit facilities in Ras Tanura, according to the Washington Post. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia has been fighting against the rebels backed by Iran since 2015.
“The Ministry of Defense will undertake all necessary, deterrent measures to safeguard its national assets in a manner that preserves the security of global energy,” said Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki of Saudi Arabia’s defense ministry in a statement.
Oil prices climbed last week after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies agreed to keep production cuts intact through April, a decision made as a recovery in the market is still taking shape while the COVID-19 pandemic persists.
Oil prices soared Thursday in the wake of reports that major oil producers have agreed to keep their supply cuts intact through next month.
OPEC and its allies had been discussing whether or not to restore as much as 1.5 million barrels a day of oil production. The group ultimately decided that it will leave output at current levels, according to a Bloomberg report.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, committed to extend its voluntary cut of 1 million barrels of oil per day. The oil market officials meet via video-conference. The discussion took place at a time when recovery in the oil market is still taking hold after a plunge in demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prices for Brent crude, the international benchmark, jumped as much as 5.3% to an intraday high of $67.47, with the gain later trimmed to 4.7%.
The decision by OPEC+ was “incredibly bullish,” and Saudi Arabia’s decision “was shocking as it leaves them vulnerable to losing market share next month when the oil market is in deficit by a couple million barrels,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a note.
West Texas Intermediate oil futures also popped up as much as 5.3% to an intraday high of $64.51. The continuous contract was later up by 4.6%.
Brent oil should jump 17% from current levels to $75 per barrel this summer, with Goldman Sachs expecting a lag in supply relative to demand to support a further gain in prices.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies next month are poised to agree to boost production but the investment bank said the increase will likely fall short of its demand forecast.
Goldman Sachs now expects Brent to reach $70 in the second quarter and $75 in the third quarter, with each forecast raised by $10 per barrel. The investment bank’s call would represent a 17% upside from Brent’s intraday high of $63.94 in its continuous contract.
The “cross-asset oil outperformance this year remains driven by fundamentals, with better than expected demand and still depressed supply once again creating a larger deficit than even we expected in January and February, and with timespreads strengthening,” said Goldman Sachs in a research note published Monday and led by senior commodity strategist Damien Courvalin.
Brent oil prices have jumped about 23% this year after starting 2021 at nearly $52 per barrel. The vaccination of millions of people worldwide to curb the spread of COVID-19 has bolstered expectations that more businesses will reopen, which in turn brighten the outlook for oil demand.
OPEC next month appears ready to raise its oil production quotas by 500,000 barrels a day beginning in April, with Goldman Sachs saying its base case also includes Saudi Arabia reversing its production cut of 1 million barrels a day, a unilateral move announced in January.
“This remains however well below the 2.4 [million barrels per day] increase in demand we forecast from now to April — with as a result an agreement to hike production not bearish in our view,” said Goldman Sachs. “In fact, these barrels would arrive a month later at destination by which point we expect demand would have risen an additional 0.2 mb/d, further tightening the spot oil market.”
Goldman also said it has seen no signs of higher activity among most non-OPEC+ producers outside of North America, which creates risks that output will fall short of its demand forecasts by 900,000 barrels per day over the coming year.
Global oil demand should reach 100 million barrels a day by late-July, said Goldman Sachs, which would be sooner than its previous forecast for oil to reach that level in August.
The army of Reddit day traders appears to be moving on, having pumped up everything from cryptocurrencies, to tiny biotech stocks in the last week, now that their firing up of GameStop, AMC, Nokia and co seems to have mostly run its course.
This coming week, we’ll be looking at the future of Ethereum, the pickup in consumer inflation and what the major forecasters are saying about the outlook for oil, now the price is trading around one-year highs.
The dawning of the age of Ethereum
Another week, another cryptocurrency at a record high. Earlier in the year, it was bitcoin, then XRP, then “meme token” DogeCoin, which got swept up in the Reddit-driven trading frenzy and given an extra shout-out on Twitter by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
This time, it’s Ethereum grabbing the headlines. The second-largest cryptocurrency by market value after bitcoin has seen the price soar by more than 25% this week to record highs above $1,600. It’s not just down to the Wall Street Bets guys, either. Exchange operator CME group will launch its first Ethereum futures contract on February 8, another offering in the crypto market alongside its bitcoin futures and options.
At the same time, crypto fund manager Grayscale reopened its Grayscale Ethereum Trust, after having closed the fund to new investors in late December for “administrative purposes.” In this week alone, the trust has seen inflows of nearly 100,000 ETH. Grayscale now manages nearly $5 billion in Ethereum.
JPMorgan estimates that initial volumes in Ethereum futures are likely to be low, much like bitcoin in the early days, but this will change quickly.
“The listing of CME bitcoin futures coincided with all-time highs in bitcoin prices, and researchers at the San Francisco Fed suggested that, by providing a market where bearish positions could be more readily expressed, the listing of these futures contributed to the reversal of bitcoin price dynamics,” JPMorgan analysts led by Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou said in an note last week.
“In a similar vein, it may be that this week’s listing of ethereum futures contracts will be followed by negative price dynamics by enabling some holders of physical ethereum to hedge their exposures,” they said.
The oil price hit its highest in a year this past week, leaving Brent crude futures trading just shy of $60 a barrel. The catalyst for the rally wasn’t the Reddit crowd, but ongoing evidence of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the UK and US in particular that many hope will pave the way out of lockdowns and into more normal activity.
The futures market shows traders and fund managers are more optimistic about the prospects for oil demand than at any time in the last year. The most recent data on oil inventories shows stocks of unused crude are at their lowest since last April, when a frenzied scramble for storage led to the WTI crude futures price dropping to -$40 a barrel.
This coming week, the three major forecasters will release their most recent assessments of demand and their estimates of demand growth. OPEC, the International Energy Agency and the US Energy Information Administration will release their regular monthly reports.
The EIA, which issues longer-term demand forecasts, expects to see the global crude market tilt into a modest deficit over 2021 as a whole, with consumption forecast at 97.77 million barrels per day, against supply of 97.13 million barrels per day. The IEA expects demand to grow by 5.5 million bpd, following a record contraction of almost 9 million bpd last year, while OPEC is looking for a more optimistic 5.9 million bpd.
OPEC and several partner countries continue to restrict daily oil production to keep a safety net under the price. Investment bank UBS says the group will remain “in full control of the oil market” this year and this, together with the advent of an effective vaccine, means the price of a barrel of crude will continue to rise.
“Given that we target Brent at $63 a barrel in 2H21, we continue to advise investors with a high-risk tolerance to be long Brent or to sell its downside price risks,” UBS strategist Giovanni Staunovo said in a note last week.
Inflation and, more to the point, the market’s expectations for inflation, is creeping up. A combination of increases in the price of things like oil and food, as well as vast amounts of cash flowing through the financial system are slowly translating into a pickup in consumer inflation. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, analysts say.
The oil price is at its highest in a year, while food prices – as measured by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization – rose by more than 4% in January to hit their highest since mid-2014. Central banks generally use inflation measures that strip out food and energy prices when setting monetary policy, but that hasn’t stopped investors from betting on more increases to come.
Pumping up inflation
This coming week brings inflation readings from the US and China, as well as Brazil, India, and Mexico among others. In the US, consumer inflation is forecast to have risen by 1.5% in January, at the same rate as in December. The bond market shows investors believe consumer and producer price pressures are going to continue rising.
Analysts at DataTrek said in a note last week US five-year Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) have done “a reasonable job” of forecasting the stable rate of inflation seen in both producer and consumer prices over the last decade.
“The most recent move higher for 5-year inflation expectations (2.18%, the highest since 2013) is therefore significant,” DataTrek analyst Nicholas Colas said.
“Importantly, TIPS are NOT saying rampant inflation is just around the bend. The 2.2% forecast embedded in those bond prices is simply a validation of the idea that the US will see a reasonable and lasting economic recovery in the years ahead,” he added.
The so-called breakeven inflation rate – derived by subtracting the yield of the five-year TIP from that of the nominal five-year Treasury note – has risen to 2.25% this week, its highest in almost eight years, having doubled in the space of eight months.
“While the chatter around the inflation outlook is elevated now, we would expect it to become even more intense as we approach mid-year if our CPI forecasts are right,” strategists Ralph Axel and Olivia Lima at Bank of America wrote last week. They forecast a consumer price inflation (CPI) rate of 3.4% by May, which might prompt investors to revise their view on when the Federal Reserve may begin to tighten monetary policy – but they add a caveat.
“History shows that markets tend to overreact to positive developments and price in hikes long before the Fed actually delivers,” they said.
The army of Reddit retail traders is still active, but it would appear most have booked profits on their positions in the likes of GameStop and AMC – GameStop is now worth just over half of what it was at the height of the Wall Street Bets frenzy one week ago.