Making Sense Of A Stock Market Just 16% Off Its High While A Pandemic Costs 26 Million Jobs

Why isn’t the stock market much lower?

This question is occurring to plenty of observers right now, given the apparent contrast between economic realities and equity performance.

A pandemic-driven economic catastrophe of unprecedented speed has cost more than 26 million jobs, which to many seems unreflected in an S&P 500 index that’s up 29% from its low a month ago, down a mere 16% from a record high and resting near levels from late summer 2019 – a time when we were at full employment and record corporate profitability.



Even some on Wall Street are remarking on this perceived Wall Street-Main Street disconnect.

Cantor Fitzgerald strategist Peter Cecchini last week argued, “The equity market just isn’t getting the joke. Three factors make this rally appear somewhat ridiculous because the likely extent of the slowdown will be severe relative to historical experience for three reasons: 1) a pandemic whose duration is unknowable, 2) an oil shock whose impacts on earnings will be deflationary, and 3) an already fragile economy as indicated by an inverted yield curve and already contracting loan volumes.”

Credit Suisse’s Jonathan Golub notes the S&P 500 has been at the current 2800 level a couple of times in recent years, comparing the fundamental context for each visit. When the S&P traded here in both January 2018 and March 2019, forecast earnings over the next year were appreciably higher (meaning stocks now look more expensive) and credit spreads are much wider now (suggesting a riskier environment).

Only when comparing valuations on the profit projections two years out does today’s market look roughly in line with the prior stops at 2800. And it’s probably fair to assume that today’s consensus forecast calling for 2021 earnings growth well above 2019 levels is unadjusted for the full realities of the economic shock underway.

Certainly, the trillions in Federal reserve asset buying has helped enable the rally in risk assets that has lifted equities off their lows and bolstered valuations.

Market internals tell the true story
Yet the way the S&P has returned to 2800 doesn’t truly suggest that the market has rushed to anticipate a roaring economic revival.

If stocks were handicapping such a quick resurgence in the economy, one would expect “early cycle” groups such as autos, banks, consumer durable goods and retail to lead the market. This is the opposite of what’s going on.

Binky Chadha of Deutsche Bank notes that the firm’s early-cycle long-short basket of stocks “after falling massively during the sell-off has continued to fall during the rally.”

Similarly, the Direxion MSCI Cyclicals Over Defensives ETF, a small fund that goes long economically sensitive stocks and short non-cyclical names, has had a fairly feeble bounce after a 38-percent collapse, badly trailing the S&P on the rebound.

Big, steady secular-growth stocks in technology, healthcare and consumer staples are holding things together at the big-cap index level against a steady undertow from shares of cyclical businesses with flagging demand and shakier balance sheets.

This is visible in the gulf between the performance of classic “recession-recovery” plays such as General Motors, flooring-products maker Mohawk Industries and consumer lender Capital One Financial and secular-growth or counter-cyclical names like Amazon, Abbot Laboratories and Campbell Soup.

Amazon exemplifies another dominant trend, the premium being placed by investors on the acclaimed winners of an even more winner-take-all economy that might follow this downturn. Amazon’s $1.2 trillion market value, in fact, now accounts for more than 40% of the entire value of the S&P 500 consumer-discretionary sector.

Of course, just because the market is leaning on sturdy growth businesses rather than outright positioning for a better economy doesn’t mean this theme can carry the market indefinitely higher from here.

Market stalling
The S&P, in fact, has stalled over the past two weeks, chopping sideways just below the rebound-rally highs, as some growth stocks take a breather and short-term overbought conditions are worked off.

It would not be surprising for the indexes to continue digesting the move, assimilating the rush of corporate earnings in coming weeks, with some observers looking for a potential pullback of a few percent from here simply as a matter of technical market positioning.



And at some point, the extreme reliance on the mega-cap growth leaders can go too far. The five largest stocks already make up more than 20% of the S&P, pushing record concentration at the top.

Flows into the ETFS that track the Nasdaq 100, technology, healthcare and utilities have reached extremes, a sign they are getting a bit overheated and are prone to backing off.

At the same time, the market will almost certainly start to anticipate the trough in economic activity well before it seems obvious on Main Street that things are getting better. That would be visible in a rotation out of the crowded stable-growth names and into those distressed, struggling cyclical consumer, financial and industrial groups.

Historically, the stock market has some of its best returns when conditions are shifting from awful to less bad. The recent rally in energy stocks in the face of record-low washout prices in crude oil is an illustration of that.

As Strategas Group technical strategist Chris Verrone notes, “It’s difficult to get worse than worst ever,” and many gauges are, like oil prices, indeed at or near their worst readings on record: unemployment claims, Europe manufacturing indexes, Citigroup Economic Surprise Index.


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Things might soon line up for investors to start making a more aggressive bet the worst will pass before long and the real economy can start the healing process. And perhaps that bet will prove premature for a while once its laid.

But that doesn’t mean that right now Wall Street has already given the economy credit for recovering from an ordeal whose pain and duration are not yet known.




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Coronavirus Infections Pass 200,000 Globally, Death Toll Tops 8,000

The rapid increase in world-wide cases reflects, in part, how people in many countries were unwittingly transmitting the respiratory virus before governments grasped the scale of the problem.


There were more than 205,000 confirmed cases of the disease known as Covid-19 on Wednesday, with infections outside of mainland China—where the epidemic began—now above 124,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Deaths globally have also more than doubled over the past two weeks to 8,248. In Europe, the death toll reached 3,415, overtaking China for the first time and cementing the continent’s position as the new epicenter of the pandemic.

Italy, the second worst-hit country after China, has seen infections top 31,500 and deaths reach 2,503. Scientists expect the number of fatalities in Italy to overtake those in China within days.

The U.S. plans to close its northern border with Canada to nonessential traffic, President Trump said. The president, who made the announcement on Twitter, said the decision was made by “mutual consent.”

A Canadian official said talks with the U.S. are aimed at targeting nonessential travel like tourism, while allowing trade and commerce to continue between the two countries. Canada on Monday banned most nonresidents from entering the country, although it made an exception for U.S. citizens.

U.S. stocks dropped sharply Wednesday, following declines in international markets. In a tweet, Mr. Trump said he would hold a news conference later in the day to announce “very important news from the FDA about coronavirus.”

The U.S. has more than 6,500 confirmed cases in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., including 115 deaths. Case numbers are expected to grow as testing capabilities expand. U.S. hospitals are already facing a shortage of masks, gowns and other equipment needed to care for patients.

States and local officials took more aggressive measures to promote social distancing in recent days, closing restaurants, bars and nonessential businesses. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is weighing whether to require residents to shelter in place, while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he didn’t intend to impose such a quarantine. Meanwhile, officials in San Francisco and the Bay Area ordered residents to stay home for three weeks, and the city of Hoboken, N.J., imposed a self-isolation policy.


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Officials in Chicago, the biggest city within the three states that voted Tuesday, said election-day turnout was low as nervous voters stayed home. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called for states with coming primaries and caucuses to use mail-in ballots and other alternatives, after Ohio’s abrupt cancellation of its primary caused confusion.

In an effort to cushion households and businesses amid this economic slowdown, the Trump administration on Tuesday backed a plan to send checks directly to Americans as part of a $1 trillion stimulus package. The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on a second coronavirus response bill, focused on free virus testing and two weeks of paid emergency leave for people dealing with its effects.

Many economists say it is looking more likely that there will be a global recession. Deutsche Bank AG said gross domestic product could shrink 24% in the eurozone and 13% in the U.S. in the second quarter on an annual, seasonally adjusted basis—declines that would be the biggest in recorded history.





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Markets News: U.S. Travel Ban Stoked Renewed Worries About The Coronavirus’s Economic Toll


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S&P 500 futures were down 4%, suggesting U.S. shares could be set for another punishing session later Thursday, a day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid into a bear market. European indexes fell at the start of trading Thursday, with the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 shedding 5.4% and Italy’s FTSE MIB falling 5.8%.

Benchmarks in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan and South Korea fell to multiyear lows, crude-oil prices dropped and U.S. government bonds rallied.

On Wednesday night, President Trump issued a 30-day ban on most travel from Europe to the U.S., a new serious disruption to everyday activity. Mr. Trump said he would offer financial assistance to those affected by the coronavirus and that the pandemic isn’t a financial crisis.

Daryl Liew, head of portfolio management at REYL Singapore, said markets were reacting negatively to “drastic containment strategies,” such as those introduced by the U.S. and Italy, which are likely to hurt economic activity and business operations.

Italy has ordered all restaurants and bars, and most stores, to close as it races to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak outside China.

Investors were disappointed Mr. Trump didn’t clearly articulate details of how he planned to roll out an economic stimulus package, said Takeo Kamai, head of execution services at CLSA Securities Japan Co. in Tokyo.

U.S. 10-year Treasury yields fell to 0.747%, according to Tradeweb. Bond yields fall when prices rise. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, fell nearly 5% to $34.01 a barrel.

In Tokyo, Japan’s Nikkei 225 plunged 4.4%, joining the Dow and numerous international counterparts in a bear market—a measurement defined as a retreat of more than 20% from a recent peak.

Australia’s benchmark S&P/ASX 200, whose performance is heavily influenced by financial and natural-resources stocks, fell 7.4% to its lowest in more than three years.

Banks were notable losers across the region. For lenders, tough economic times can mean less new business, more bad loans, and thinner margins on lending because both short- and long-term interest rates are low. Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group fell 5.3%, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia dropped 7.9%.

The outlook for the world economy is dimming rapidly due to the pandemic. This week IHS Markit slashed its forecast for global growth this year by 0.8 percentage point to 1.7%, saying it expects zero growth in the eurozone, a contraction in Japan and expansion of just 4.3% in China this year.

On Monday, U.S. stocks suffered their biggest drop since the 2008 global financial crisis. They rebounded a day later, and then sold off again steeply on Wednesday, with declines intensifying after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus crisis a pandemic.

Paul Sandhu, the Asia-Pacific head of multiasset quant solutions and client advisory for BNP Paribas Asset Management in Hong Kong, said markets would remain volatile. “The fear coming off from the coronavirus is going to be something that continues over the next few weeks at least,” he said.


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By midafternoon Thursday in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index dropped more than 3%. Stocks in mainland China, which have proved resilient recently, dropped modestly, with the Shanghai Composite retreating 1.7%.

Elsewhere in the region, Thailand’s SET Index plummeted more than 8% to the lowest since 2012. “Thailand’s economy is vulnerable to the pandemic because it is heavily reliant on tourism,” said Joanne Goh, investment strategist at DBS Bank in Singapore.





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Market Turbulence: Investors Sell Bonds And Bank Stocks In Europe On Fears Of A Deeper Slowdown

The market rout in stocks spilled into the corporate-debt markets Friday after investors began to more fully assess the harm that prolonged economic disruption from the coronavirus could do to highly indebted companies.

Reaction to the virus had been relatively muted in credit markets, where yields on even riskier junk bonds and loans had remained below levels seen during the selloff in late 2018. However, data on Thursday showed accelerating withdrawals from U.S. high-yield bond and loan funds in the past week, which was followed by a drop in European bank stocks driven by investors’ concerns over loan losses.

In Europe, the cost of protection on risky corporate credit jumped to its highest level in nearly four years on the leading IHS Markit index of riskier credit derivatives, the iTraxx Crossover. The cost rose to more than €388,000 ($436,000) annually to cover €10 million of bonds.

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This followed a sharp rise in the U.S. CDX High Yield index, showing that it cost more than $409,000 annually to protect $10 million of bonds at the close on Thursday. The price of a BlackRock Inc. exchange-traded fund that often serves as a proxy for the high-yield market—known by its ticker symbol HYG—fell to about $84.68 from $86.02 Thursday.

While selling was broad-based, bonds of companies in sectors that could be most affected by the spread of the coronavirus, such as travel and energy, fell especially sharply. The yield investors demanded to hold short-term bonds of American Airlines Group Inc. jumped as high as 12.4% from 5% earlier in the week, with prices falling as low as 86 cents on the dollar from 92.75 cents Thursday, according to MarketAxess.

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Amid a steep decline in oil prices, a Laredo Petroleum Inc. 9.5% bond due in 2025, which was issued at par in January, fell to 57.5 cents on the dollar from 69 cents Thursday.

Friday’s selling is notable because credit markets are critical to the functioning of the economy. Earlier this week, companies of varying credit quality were still issuing bonds, and the average yield of U.S. speculative-grade bonds remained below levels from last summer, according to Bloomberg Barclays data. But extended volatility could make it difficult for companies to borrow, exacerbating any economic hit from the coronavirus.

Today was the day when it flipped from equity market leadership of the selloff to credit market leadership,” said Barnaby Martin, head of European credit strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “We were building up vulnerabilities…this is what happens when the market reaches for yield, which is hubris.”

The rush to buy protection and withdrawal from bonds was driven by dedicated credit funds being forced to cut back positions, amplified by a lack of liquidity in the markets, according to one senior credit trader in London.

This follows a wave of withdrawals from U.S. funds that invest in riskier credit, according to LCD, the loan research arm of S&P Global Market Intelligence. More than $5 billion was pulled from U.S. high-yield bond mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in the week to March 4, up from $4.2 billion the week before, according to Refinitiv Lipper. There had been net inflows, year to date, before last week.

Funds that invest in risky loans, typically used to fund private-equity-backed companies, have also seen growing outflows, with $2.3 billion pulled in the week to March 4, bringing the total outflow over the past seven weeks to $4.7 billion, according to LCD.

After two weeks of equity market declines, corporate debt investors and analysts are growing more concerned about how economic disruption brought about by the coronavirus will hurt the cash flow and the credit quality of weaker companies, and particularly of smaller companies that typically have less capacity to bridge a drop on cash flows.

This is also one reason why bank stocks are getting hit, particularly in Europe, where there is already wide disruption to travel and one U.K. airline has been pushed into insolvency. The Euro Stoxx Banks index has dropped 7.5% in the past two days and is now down 24% since cases were reported in Italy in late February.

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Some analysts are now beginning to worry more about highly indebted businesses, and where exposures to them lie through the system of investment funds and structured products known collectively as the shadow banking sector.

“We are concerned that there are skeletons out there in closets we may not be aware of that come out in times like this, particularly leverage from the shadow banking system,” John Briggs, head of Americas strategy at NatWest Markets in New York, wrote in a Friday morning note. “I also worry about the small and medium sized businesses in particular.”





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OPEC Agrees To Drastic Oil Cuts

The plan approved Thursday by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would involve production cuts of 1 million barrels a day through the end of June to be shared among its 13 member nations. It also calls for another 500,000 barrels of daily cuts to be divided among the cartel’s 10 Russia-led oil-producing allies.

OPEC earlier in the day had agreed to only a three-month cut. But Saudi Arabia decided it wanted to force Russia into a more ambitious effort. Other OPEC members worried that the plan announced earlier in the day had failed to stimulate flagging prices, cartel delegates said.

“It’s a gamble,” one delegate said.

Brent crude, the global benchmark oil price, ended the day down 2.2%.

The production cuts would come on top of 500,000 barrels a day of existing curbs, which OPEC has agreed to carry through the end of the year, the cartel said. Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf producers are also considering additional production cuts outside the group, delegates said.

The coronavirus’s impact on oil demand has weighed heavily on recent talks among members of the so-called OPEC+ alliance led by Saudi Arabia and Russia. Brent is down 23% so far this year, as the virus outbreak hammers global demand.

The epidemic is expected to diminish global crude demand by as much as 2.1 million barrels a day in the first half of 2020, according to an estimate from Goldman Sachs. Meanwhile, IHS Markit and Standard Chartered forecast a decline in demand for 2020’s first two quarters by around 2 million barrels a day from the same period a year earlier. Gulf nations’ additional cuts would take OPEC+’s cuts to 2.1 million barrels a day.

“It’s not just about bleeding demand growth,” said Mohammad Darwazah, director for geopolitics and energy at Medley Global Advisors. “We’ve had inventories building through this whole period and it’s about cleaning up the market and 2.1 [million barrels in cuts] would go a long way to reversing these builds.”

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The OPEC plan needs the approval of Russia and other non-OPEC allies, which are set to weigh the proposal on Friday. Russia has agreed in principle to reduce its output but hasn’t approved any production figure, OPEC officials said.

“Tomorrow, everything depends on a non-OPEC agreement,” Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, told reporters as he exited the meeting. “If [Russia] doesn’t accept it, we have no deal…We have no plan.”

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak refused to endorse the Saudi-backed plan at a technical meeting Wednesday and flew back to Moscow to consult with President Vladimir Putin, according to OPEC delegates. Mr. Novak also wants Russia to increase output this summer, a move that contradicts the cartel’s nine-months plan, according to one delegate.


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An OPEC official who attended Wednesday’s gathering said Moscow’s delays are negotiation tactics aimed at securing a deal that would have Russia cut relatively little. Russia is now seeking cuts of about 100,000 barrels a day, leaving Saudi Arabia to bear the brunt of the reduction effort, OPEC officials said.

Russia’s hard bargaining is increasingly wearing down Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, casting a cloud on the future of their four-year alliance. “Maybe it’s time to consider the whole point of non-OPEC,” said one Persian Gulf official.

The Saudis’ commitment to carry the bulk of the cuts on their own could lead to further complacency among OPEC nations, some of which have historically flouted production cut agreements.

“The Saudis want collective action, and going above and beyond means they may only encourage more free-riding,” said Medley Global Advisors’ Mr. Darwazah.

Oil prices swung higher following the news that Saudi and its Gulf neighbors were considering their own additional cuts, before quickly reversing those gains.





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U.S. Stocks And Bond Yields Dropped As Anxiety About Virus Fallout Returns

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 650 points, or 2.5%, erasing much of the gains notched Wednesday. A strong Super Tuesday performance by former Vice President Joe Biden and growing signs of a coordinated response to the coronavirus had led to a sharp rally in U.S. stocks.

That enthusiasm quickly dissipated Thursday. The S&P 500 fell 2.3%. The Nasdaq Composite shed 1.8%. Losses in the stock market were broad, with all 11 of the S&P 500’s sectors falling in early trading Thursday.



It has been a dizzying week on Wall Street. Sharp stock swings up and down have dominated the week, continuing a bout of volatility that led to the worst selloff since the financial crisis last week.

“I know that these wild swings are overwhelming for all of us,” said Amy Kong, chief investment officer at Barrett Asset Management. “The situation is still unfolding.”

Still, some investors said they expected the stock market gyrations to continue, with much remaining unknown about how far the coronavirus will spread and its ramifications on economic growth around the globe.

In recent days, the outlook for corporate earnings and economic growth this year has darkened, weighing on the stock market. Many have been worried that the virus will harm consumer sentiment and business investment around the world.

Investors will analyze fresh economic data this week for signs of wilting growth. Data on Thursday showed that U.S. factory orders fell in January. New orders for manufactured goods decreased 0.5%, the Commerce department said, more than what economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected.


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On Friday, investors will be parsing the monthly jobs report to see if U.S. hiring remained strong in February. The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits fell last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, suggesting anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus haven’t yet affected layoffs.

The early stock decline Thursday suggests that steps by the Federal Reserve and U.S. lawmakers this week to bolster economic growth are failing to assuage investors.

Health authorities are warning that it may be impossible to fully contain the pathogen as infections are spreading within many communities. Meanwhile, steps taken to halt the outbreak have curtailed travel and business activity in the epicenters of the disease.

“There is a sense that there is only so much monetary policy can do, given markets have priced that in already,” said Jonas Goltermann, senior markets economist at Capital Economics. “Even with all the stimulus measures, those are not going to stop the virus and until there are signs the rate of infection is slowing we don’t think there will be a sustained rally.”

Investors are betting on more interest-rate cuts later this year, CME Group data show.

As stocks fell, investors sought the relative safety of government bonds, pushing the yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note down to 0.930%, from 0.994% at the close on Wednesday. Yields fall as bond prices rise.

The falling yields reflect high anxiety in markets as investors seek traditionally safer investments. They also have wide-ranging effects on borrowing costs and bank profitability. Shares of financial companies were some of the hardest hit in the stock market Thursday. Falling yields can crimp profits for big banks.

Meanwhile, mortgage rates fell to their lowest level on record Thursday as yields fell.

European stocks also fell, with the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 index down 1.6%. The basic resources sector and aerospace and defense companies were among the hardest hit.

U.S. stocks are poised to remain turbulent with the Cboe Volatility Index, or VIX, climbing to over 35. The index, sometimes known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, last week topped 40 to hit its highest level since 2011.
With volatility elevated and gauges of investor confidence low, markets are likely to keep swinging, according to Olivier d’Assier, head of applied research for the Asia-Pacific region at financial analytics firm Qontigo.

“We are going to be stuck in this for a while” Mr. d’Assier said. “You’ve got short-term traders buying on the stimulus and then you have medium- and long-term investors de-risking.”

Investor sentiment had shown signs of improvement Wednesday after U.S. lawmakers passed an $8 billion-emergency spending package on Wednesday to combat the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund detailed the $50 billion in lending programs it has that could help countries grappling with the virus.

Travel and leisure stocks continued to take a beating. Cruise line operator Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings fell about 9.8%, while Royal Caribbean Cruises dropped 12% as travelers continue to back out of planned cruises because of virus fears. American Airlines retreated 8.4%.

In contrast, most Asian markets rose Thursday, with the Shanghai Composite Index and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index both closing up around 2%.
Eli Lee, head of investment strategy at Bank of Singapore, said he viewed recent market action as noise. “The rebound is the latest in a series of gyrations we’ve seen, and reflects the fact equities were likely oversold,” he said.


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Mr. Lee said a coordinated international monetary and fiscal response would help boost financial conditions and investor sentiment, but added: “These are ultimately very blunt tools against a medical crisis that is poised to cause a sharp shock to consumer demand and production.”

In commodities, Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, wavered between gains and losses before edging down 0.6% in recent trading. OPEC has reached a preliminary agreement to cut crude output amid a global glut and eroding demand, The Wall Street Journal reported, as members of the oil-exporting group and their allies gather for a two-day meeting in Vienna. The collective plan, in response to the virus outbreak, still needs to be approved by Russia.

“In order for this to succeed, they need Russia to be onboard or they would just pass over market share to a major competitor,” said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.





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Coronavirus Fears Hammer Europe’s Tourism Industry

The long line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is gone. The coronavirus outbreak in Europe is scaring away travelers and hammering tourism just as the high season is getting under way.

Thousands of people have canceled their trips to the region since the disease began to spread in Italy last month, drying up revenue for hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and conference planners across the continent. Those businesses are the economic lifeblood of many regions in Europe, clustered around its famed cultural attractions. The outbreak is costing the European Union’s tourism industry €1 billion ($1.1 billion) a month, said Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner.

“It gets worse and worse. The cancellations are piling up,” said Franck Trouet, spokesman for France’s Group of Independent Hoteliers and Restaurateurs. A third of its members have seen their revenue fall in February compared with a year ago, when business was already suffering because of the yellow-vest protests in France. In Paris, some cafes and nightclubs have seen a 40% drop in sales, he said.

Authorities around the world have told people not to travel to northern Italy, the site of Europe’s largest outbreak. That warning, however, is having a ripple effect far beyond the canals of Venice.

“The damage this is causing has the potential to be way out of proportion to the threat posed by the virus,” says Tom Jenkins, chief executive of ETOA, which represents European tour operators.


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The outbreak comes at a particularly bad time for the industry: The start of the period when people book their spring and summer travel plans. That includes pilgrims coming to the Vatican for the Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday, and tourists from the U.S. and Asia coming to the continent over summer vacation.

Flight bookings to Europe the last week of February, when the Italian outbreak emerged, fell 79% compared with the same period a year earlier, according to ForwardKeys, which tracks travel data. In Italy, cancellations have exceeded new bookings over that time, the firm said.

The Louvre reopened Wednesday after closing for several days, because staff refused to work. They were spooked by the French government’s decision to ban indoor gatherings of more than 5,000 to contain the spread of the virus. The museum, which is the most visited in the world, welcomes more than 26,000 visitors on a typical day.

Given bottles of hand sanitizer by management, staff were back at work, watching small groups of visitors drift through the museum. The Dutch masters section—stocked with Rembrandts and Vermeers—was nearly empty. Michelangelo’s “Slaves” sculptures weren’t surrounded as usual.

And inside the room housing the Mona Lisa, there was plenty of space to gaze at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece and other paintings of the Italian Renaissance.

“Normally, you almost don’t see the paintings there are so many people,” says Luis Filipe De-Souza, an attendant at the Louvre.


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The Vatican is facing a sharp drop in visitors to the Vatican Museums, which bring in €40 million in profit in a normal year and are a key revenue source for the church. Vatican officials declined to comment on a report in an Italian newspaper saying the museums had experienced a 60% drop in attendance.

Organizers of ITB Berlin, the travel industry’s main annual conference, announced last week that they had canceled the meeting because of the coronavirus outbreak. German health authorities feared the event, which draws tens of thousands of people from around the world, could lead to a spike in cases in the country.

The cancellation has led to grumbling that the travel industry itself is feeding into global panic about the virus.

“It sends a dreadful signal,” said Mr. Jenkins, head of the tour operators’ group.





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Wall Street Tries To Recover From Massive Sell-Off

Stocks rose sharply on Monday in volatile trading as Wall Street attempted to pare losses incurred during the worst week since the financial crisis amid fears of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded 576 points higher, or 2.3%. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 2% each.

“The market has been conditioned to buy on any weakness,” said Keith Buchanan, portfolio manager at GLOBALT. “I think we’ll look back at these past few years at some point as some level of complacency.”

“Buying the dip takes more bravery now,” Buchanan said.

Stocks briefly came off their highs after a key measure on the U.S. manufacturing showed a slowdown last month. The ISM manufacturing index fell to 50.1 in February, the lowest level since the end of 2019. It also came below an estimate of 50.8.

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Apple shares led the Dow higher with a 7% jump; Merck and Walmart gained 4.6% and 6.5%, respectively. Consumer staples, utilities and real estate were the best-performing S&P 500 sectors, advancing more than 3% each. Tech, meanwhile, jumped 2.9%.

Monday’s moves mirrored the volatile overnight session where Dow futures traded in a range of more than 1,000 points, indicating this week may be as volatile as last week as well.

The Dow, S&P 500, and Nasdaq Composite all fell more than 10% last week, their biggest weekly declines since October 2008. They also entered correction territory, down more than 10% from all-time highs notched earlier in February. Both the Dow and S&P 500 have fallen for seven straight days.

Those declines came after a sharp increase in coronavirus cases outside of China. The number of cases continued to increase over the weekend, including in the U.S.

“The outbreak of Covid-19 has certainly changed the near-term narrative,” said Chetan Ahya, global head of economics at Morgan Stanley, in a note to clients Sunday. “It is an untimely shock, considering that the starting point of global growth was weak, and the recovery was very nascent.”

As of Sunday, more than 89,000 cases have been confirmed around the world along with more than 3,000 virus-related deaths. Australia, Thailand and the U.S. reported over the weekend their first coronavirus-related deaths. Rhode Island was the first U.S. state on the East Coast to report a coronavirus case. The number of cases in England rose to 35 after 12 new cases were confirmed on Sunday. Cases in China also reported more than 500 new cases on Saturday. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed Sunday night the state’s first positive coronavirus case.



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Horrible China economic data
Wall Street got its first look over the weekend at the economic toll the virus has taken on China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

A private survey on Chinese manufacturing activity released during Asian trading hours on Monday came in at its weakest level ever. The Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) came in at 40.3 for February, far below expectations of a reading of 45.7 by economists in a Reuters poll. PMI readings above 50 indicate expansion, while those below that level signify a contraction.

That came after an official data released Saturday showed China’s official manufacturing PMI plunging to 35.7 in February, a record low, from 50 in January. A reading below 50 indicates contraction in a sector.

The plunge “shows the extent to which an outbreak can hit an economy,” said Ed Hyman, a widely followed economist on Wall Street and Evercore ISI chairman, in a note to clients. “All this is quite uncertain, and we may be overreacting. But we also don’t want to underreact.”

Gaming revenues in Macau also plunged nearly 88% last month.

Worries over the coronavirus’ impact on corporate profits and the global economy led investors to seek safer alternatives to stocks, pushing U.S. Treasury yields to all-time lows. On Sunday night, the benchmark 10-year rate broke below 1.04% for the first time ever. It was last at 1.07%.

“Global investors will be prone to panic as the virus arrives at their doorstep, underscoring the need for near-run prudence and patience before augmenting favored holdings,” strategists at MRB Partners wrote in a note. “The outlook is uncertain, or rather certainly bearish in the near term as quarantining spreads around the world, but with considerable doubt as to the duration and depth of the economic fallout.”

The virus’ quick spread has raised expectations for easier monetary policy from global central banks, including the Federal Reserve.

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CME Group’s FedWatch tool shows traders have priced in a 100% probability of a 50 basis-point rate cut later this month. Expectations for another rate cut in April are around 70%.

“The ultimate risk factor in our view is the U.S. consumer,” said Gregory Faranello, head of U.S. rates trading at AmeriVet Securities. “We have coronavirus cases showing up in the U.S. To the extent that that continues to spread, which we all hope will not be the case, the risk factor for the Fed grows because this now is no longer something that they can point the finger to relative to tariffs and say the global economy is slow, but we’re okay.”



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Wall Street Slips Into Correction Territory

Wall Street‘s main indexes fell for the sixth straight session and slipped into correction territory on Thursday, as the rapid spread of the coronavirus outside China intensified fears about the hit to economic growth and corporate earnings.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are now more than 10% below their intraday record highs hit on Feb. 19, while the Dow Jones Industrials is 10% off its Feb.12 peak.

The indexes were set for their steepest weekly pullback since the global financial crisis as rising number of new infections outside China raised fears of a pandemic.

Adding to worries, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed an infection in California in a person who reportedly did not have relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient.

“In the recent week, markets have come to realize that the outbreak is much worse and are now realistically pricing in the impact of the virus on the economy,” said Philip Marey, senior U.S. strategist at Rabobank.

“In that sense it’s a bit of a catching up from the relative optimism that was there in the beginning when markets thought (the virus) will be contained to China with some minor outbreak outside.”

Industry analysts and economists continued to sound the alarm as they assessed the impact of the coronavirus, with Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) saying U.S. firms will generate no earnings growth in 2020.

Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) slashed its global growth forecast to the lowest level since the peak of the financial crisis.

At 10:08 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 573.93 points, or 2.13%, at 26,383.66, the S&P 500 was down 67.33 points, or 2.16%, at 3,049.06. The Nasdaq Composite was down 221.07 points, or 2.46%, at 8,759.70. All of the 11 S&P sectors were deep in the red with energy losing the most, down 4.1%. Technology, financial, industrials, consumer discretionary, materials and communication services sectors dropped more than 2% each.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 8.83-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 8.65-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded four new 52-week highs and 90 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 15 new highs and 361 new lows.



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Pandemic Fears Pummel Stocks

Stocks sunk deeper into the red on Thursday, oil prices fell and U.S. Treasuries rallied into record territory as more signs of the global spread of the coronavirus heightened fears of a pandemic.

Global markets have dropped for six straight days, wiping out more than $3.6 trillion in value. Much remains unknown about the virus that originated in China, but it is clear the ramifications of the world’s second biggest economy in lockdown for a month or more are vast.

Analysts have sharply downgraded their China and global growth forecasts, while policymakers from Asia, Europe and the United States have begun to prepare for a potentially steep economic downturn than initially anticipated.

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E-mini futures for the S&P 500 were down 1.4% (ESc1) and Europe appears set for a catch-up slump. EuroSTOXX 50 futures fell 2.7% (STXEc1) and FTSE futures skidded 2.3% (FFIc1).

Oil, sensitive to global growth given the vast energy consumption in a many countries, fell more than 1% to its cheapest in over a year. [O/R]

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan (MIAPJ0000PUS) fell 0.5% and is down more than 4% for the week.

The yield on U.S. Treasuries, which falls when prices rise, dropped in to uncharted waters underneath 1.3% (US10YT=RR). Bets on monetary easing in the United States have surged. [US/]

“I think the market is just pushing the Fed to cut rates,” said Stuart Oakley, Nomura’s global head of flow FX in Singapore.

“It’s a flight to quality as well,” he said.

“The news seems to be creating this mass hysteria everywhere, there’s panic that the world’s about to end, so people are getting out of risk and putting their money in safe havens and the biggest one of those are 10-year Treasury bond.”

China accounts for about 96% of cases but most new infections are now being reported elsewhere.

News on Thursday of a jump in cases in South Korea was accompanied by a warning that the virus may be spreading in California.

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Taiwan raised its epidemic response level to the highest possible. Japan’s Nikkei dropped 2% to a four-month low amid more worries that the Tokyo Olympic Games could be cancelled or shifted. (T)

And on top of that a tour-bus guide in Japan also tested positive to the virus for a second time, raising questions about how the pathogen spreads.

“This feels like a consolidation, potentially before another leg down,” said Jeffrey Halley, Senior Market Analyst at brokerage OANDA by phone from Jakarta.

The only bright spot, ironically, was China’s stock market, which climbed in relief that domestically, at least, the containment efforts are showing signs of working. (SS)

NO EQUIVALENT SHOCK

At the same time as the breadth of the virus’ spread has knocked markets, analysts have been steadily revising their estimates of the economic damage higher.

J.P. Morgan now expects Chinese GDP to shrink 3.9% this quarter, while Capital Economics sees it contracting this year.

“There is no equivalent exogenous shock the world has gone through in the post-Bretton Woods period,” said Deutsche Bank (DE:DBKGn) analyst Alan Ruskin in a note.

“Work place disruption, trade interlinkages, business uncertainties, profit warnings, inability to pay, and capacity to service credit are all related supply-side issues that, in turn, generate demand effects on employment, disposable income, wealth and confidence.”

Only a dramatic ratcheting higher of bets on interest rate cuts in the United States has given pause to the huge flow of money from Asia into greenbacks in the currency markets.

From almost nothing a week ago, markets are pricing a roughly even chance of a Federal Reserve interest rate cut next month and have almost fully priced a cut by April. <0#FF:>

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That was enough to help drag the China-sensitive Aussie dollar from an 11-year low and lend support to the euro (EUR=). [FRX/]

The Aussie last traded at $0.6550 and the euro lifted through $1.09 for the first time in two weeks to buy $1.0908.

The safe-haven Japanese yen firmed to 110.02 per dollar.





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Pandemic Fears Grip Wall Street

Wall Street plunged into the red in early trading Monday as a spike in the number of Covid-19 virus cases confirmed outside of China pushed money out of riskier investments.

The Dow dove 905.27 points, or 3.12%, to 28,087.04 at 9:35 AM ET (14:35 GMT) and the S&P 500 fell 93.63, or 2.8%, to 3,245.62. The Nasdaq Composite plunged 341.72, or 3.6%, 9,234.87, with tech stocks particularly hard hit.

The U.S. Treasury yield curve inverted the most since October and the 10-Year yield fell below 1.37%. Its all-time low is 1.32% hit in 2016 after the Brexit vote.

Worries snowballed over the weekend as the numbers of cases of Covid-19 jumped in Italy, South Korea and Iran. Authorities in Italy imposed a quarantine in the north of the country and its benchmark MIB index tumbled nearly 6%.

The Covid-19 shock is a test of the fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) and buy-the-dip conditioning that has helped stocks overcome the headwinds of valuations, Allianz (DE:ALVG) Chief Economic Adviser Mohamed El-Erian tweeted.

“A key element is whether markets distinguish between Central Banks’ willingness (high) and ability (low) to counter the economic shock,” he said.

Among individual stocks, Dow component Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) sank 6% after the latest data showed shipments of mobile phones in China dove 36.6% in January from the year-ago period.



High-flying Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), which has a factory in Shanghai, was also hit on virus worries, with shares dropping 8.6%.

Chip stocks were also hard hit. Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) lost 10.2%, Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) tumbled 8.4% and Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU) slumped 7.4%.

Expectations that the Federal Reserve would stop in with a rate cut to help the economic situation rose today, with the odds of a March cut rising to more than one in four.

“Growing consensus among economist(s) I am speaking to at (the National Association for Business Economics 2020 conference) is that the Fed will have to cut and do so soon – March – in response to COVID-19,” Grant Thornton Chief Economist Diane Swonk tweeted. “It may not be called a health pandemic yet but it is an economic pandemic.”




Diane Swonk@DianeSwonk

Growing consensus among economist I am speaking to at is that the Fed will have to cut and do so soon – March – in response to COVID-19. It may not be called a health pandemic yet but it is an ecomomc pandemic.









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