The narrative’s starting to shift
As good news is getting short shrift
From ‘Here comes the boom’
To darkness and gloom
Short sellers are giddy and squiffed
In Europe the data is fading
While Covid continues invading
At home in the States
All our interest rates
Are falling amidst active trading
Just two weeks ago, equity markets were pushing higher, and despite the growing resurgence in Covid cases worldwide, it looked like new all-time highs were in store for investors. After all, there was so much optimism that a stimulus package would be enacted before the election, and there was so much optimism that a vaccine would be approved in short order, with the combination of those events resulting in the final leg of that elusive V-shaped recovery. There was hope on the Brexit front, and the story of the blue wave in the US election was everywhere, which seemed (for some reason) to be seen as a positive for risk assets. Ah…the good old days.
But that is soooo two weeks ago! This morning, the world looks a different place. Seemingly, every headline revolves around either government reactions to quickly inflating Covid case counts (Curfews in Spain, German restaurants, bars, clubs and gyms to be closed for a month, Chicago closing restaurants for a month), or central bank responses to these issues (Bank of Canada to reiterate lower
forever for longer, ECB to describe expansion in PEPP). And guess what? Investors are no longer feeling the love of the longest bull market in history. Risk assets, overall, are being tossed out as quickly as possible and haven assets are in demand. While yesterday had many risk-off features, today is the textbook definition of a risk-off session.
Let’s dive into the equity market first, the asset class that most associate with risk appetite. While Asian markets were mixed (Nikkei -0.3%, Hang Seng -0.3%, Shanghai +0.45%), Europe really spit the bit this morning, with the FTSE 100 (-1.7%) the best performer of the lot. The DAX (-3.2%) and the CAC (-2.9%) are both under significant pressure, as is Spain’s MIB (-2.9%) after the curfew announcement. Not only have all these markets fallen below key moving averages, but the DAX (-11% from the recent high) and CAC (-9% from recent high) have either entered or are nearing correction territory. The big difference between European markets and those in the US has been that post-Covid, European markets never came close to regaining the pre-Covid highs. So, these declines are quite painful. As to US futures markets, all are much lower, with DOW futures down by more than 1.5%, and even NASDAQ futures down by more than 1.0%. In other words, equity investors are running scared today.
What about bond markets, you may ask? We couldn’t have a more classic risk-off session in government bond markets than we are seeing today. Treasury yields are down 2 basis points in the 10-year, which takes the move since Friday’s highs to 11 basis points. Perhaps that much steeper curve is not in our immediate future. Meanwhile, in Europe, Bunds are 2.5bps lower, now trading at their lowest yield (-0.64%) since the spike in March. But we are seeing buying interest in OAT’s (-1.2bps) and Gilts (-2.3bps) as well. At the same time, the PIGS are showing their true colors, government bonds that are risk assets, not havens. This morning, Portugal (+1.4bps), Italy (+4.4bps), Greece (+5.3bps) and Spain (+1.0bps) have all seen selling interest, with the two countries with the biggest debt loads seeing the worst outcome. I would also note that Canadian Treasury yields have fallen 3 basis points this morning as investors prepare to hear from Governor Tiff Macklem at 11:00, after the BOC announcement, with near universal expectations that he will reiterate the fact that the BOC will not be raising rates for many years to come, as they seek to sustainably achieve 2.0% inflation.
Nobody will be surprised that commodity markets are under pressure this morning, with oil really suffering (WTI -3.8%), and the metals and agricultural complexes also feeling the heat.
Finally, as we turn to the FX market, we once again see classic risk-off behavior, with the dollar higher against all its G10 brethren except the yen (+0.2%). Leading the way lower is NOK (-1.5%) as the weak oil price is taking a significant toll on the krone, but also SEK (-1.0%), NZD (-0.65%) and GBP (-0.55%) are under serious pressure. Prior to today’s decline, SEK had rallied more than 5% over the past month and was the top performing G10 currency during that time. Sweden’s approach to Covid, while blasted in the press back in March, turned out to have been pretty successful, as they are the only country in Europe not suffering a second wave of note. As such, their economy has outperformed the rest of Europe, and the currency benefitted accordingly. But not today, when risk is out the window. As to Kiwi, the news that the government is forcibly removing infected people from their homes and placing them in government run facilities has certainly tarnished the image of the country being a free land. The resurgence in the UK, and truthfully throughout all of Europe, as well as the government responses is making clear the idea that whatever economic gains were made in Q3, they are likely to be reversed in Q4. So, while things are no picnic in the US, the situation here seems to be better than there.
In the emerging markets, we are also seeing a significant sell-off in most currencies. TRY (-1.3%), MXN (-1.25%) and RUB (-1.15%) are the worst performers, with the latter two clearly under pressure from declining oil prices while Turkey continues to suffer capital flight as the President Erdogan courts more sanctions from Europe and the central bank is
forbidden restricted from raising rates to protect a free-falling currency by the president. But the weakness is pervasive as the CE4 are all much weaker, led by PLN (-1.1%) and HUF (-1.0%) and the rand (-0.85%) and even KRW (-0.45%) are falling. LATAM currencies have yet to open, but after yesterday’s performance (BRL -1.45%), they are all called lower at this hour.
Interestingly, there has been no data of note released anywhere in the world, and we are not expecting any here in the US either. So, this market movement is far more about market positioning and market sentiment, two things which are the direct consequences of the narrative. We have discussed the record short positions in Treasury bond futures as the narrative had focused on the assumed Biden victory in the election resulting in massive fiscal stimulus and correspondingly massive debt issuance driving bond prices lower and yields higher. The thing is, the trajectory of recent polls shows that the certainty of a Biden victory is fading, which would naturally change that piece of the narrative. It is critical to remember, as one is managing risk, that markets move for many reasons, with clear catalysts like data points or election results, driving a minority of the activity. Most movement comes from narrative shifts and position adjustments as well as particular flows in a currency or other instrument. The point is, if the narrative is shifting like I described, and I do believe it is doing so, then we have further risk reduction in store.
Good luck and stay safe