Markets choppy as Beijing cuts rates, Brent passes 2021 high
Chinese economic data confirms the deadening effect of coronavirus restrictions on consumer spending
Sydney — Share markets were choppy on Monday as a slew of Chinese economic data confirmed the deadening effect of coronavirus restrictions on consumer spending, prompting Beijing to again ease monetary policy.
A holiday in the US made for thin trading, but that did not stop Treasury futures from sliding further and Brent crude hitting a three-year top of $86.71 a barrel.
Worryingly for the world's second-largest economy, retail sales rose only 1.7% year-on-year in December, missing forecasts for a 3.7% rise.
Industrial output did fare better and the economy as a whole grew a little above forecasts at 4.0% in the fourth quarter.
China’s central bank also surprised by cutting some key lending rates by a sizeable 10 basis points.
“The cut was larger than expected, suggesting that the authorities have become more preoccupied about weakness in the economy,” said Carlos Casanova, senior Asia economist at Union Bancaire Privee in Hong Kong.
“The latter [Omicron risks] will only start to be fully priced in the combined January-February data, as the most severe lockdowns started in late December.”
What the move by the People’s Bank of China means for the economy and financial markets.
The easing seemed to help China blue chips, which edged up 0.9% in the wake of the data.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.3%, while Japan's Nikkei bounced 0.8% after losing 1.2% last week.
Nasdaq futures slid another 0.3%, while S&P 500 futures lost 0.1%. Euro Stoxx 50 futures edged up 0.4% and FTSE futures were flat.
The main feature of the market recently has been a rotation into value stocks and away from growth, particularly technology. The S&P 500 information technology sector, which accounts for nearly 29% of the index, has shed 5.5% this year.
With valuations still high, earnings will have to be strong to stop further losses. Overall S&P 500 earnings are expected to climb 23.1% this season, according to Refinitiv Ibes, while the tech sector is seen up by 15.6%.
Companies reporting this week include Goldman Sachs, BofA, Morgan Stanley and Netflix.
The market will be spared speeches from US Federal Reserve officials this week ahead of their January 25-26 policy meeting, but there has been more than enough hawkish comments to see the market almost fully price in a first rate hike for March and rates of 1.0% by year-end.
There was also talk the Fed will start trimming its balance sheet earlier than previously thought, draining some of the excess liquidity from world markets.
Yields on cash 10-year Treasuries climbed to their highest in a year at 1.8% last week, while the implied yield on futures jumped to 1.86% on Monday.
A Bank of Japan (BOJ) policy meeting this week will bear watching given talk it will revise up its outlook for growth and inflation, while sources told Reuters policymakers were debating how soon they could start telegraphing an eventual interest rate hike.
While a move is unlikely this year, financial markets may be underestimating its readiness to gradually phase out its once-radical stimulus programme.
This was one reason the yen rallied, with the dollar slipping 1.2% last week. On Monday the dollar had regained some ground to ¥114.45, still well above major chart support at ¥112.52.
The euro was a shade lower at $1.1414, while rising bond yields helped the dollar index inch up to 95.258 and away from a 10-week trough of 94.626 hit on Friday.
“We continue to think that the greenback will strengthen again before long, as we expect strong cyclical price pressures in the US to mean the Fed tightens by more and for longer than investors now discount,” argued Joseph Marlow, an economist at Capital Economics.
They see Fed rates topping 2.5% while the market has priced in a peak about 1.75-2.0%.
The risk of higher rates kept non-yielding gold restrained at $1,816 an ounce, while industrial and energy resources have benefited from resilient demand and limited supplies.
Oil prices have climbed for four consecutive weeks and such is demand that physical barrels of oil are changing hands at near record-high premiums.
Brent added another 13c to $86.19 a barrel, having earlier pipped the 2021 top of $86.70. The 2018 peak is at $86.74, and a break would take it to heights last visited in 2014. US crude also firmed 35c to $84.17.
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