It has been a quiet start to Quadruple Witching Friday (expiration of stock index futures, stock index options, stock options and single stock futures) but expect that to change, as erratic price action is a recurring hallmark of Quad Witches, especially with persistent low volume and markets that tend to shut down for no reason. So far stocks have traded steady in Europe this morning, credit spreads widened and Bunds traded in positive territory as market participants positioned for the much-anticipated German elections which are to be held on Sunday, with exit polls to be made available after the close of polling stations at 6pm local time. Ahead of that, and as reported here previously, Germany’s AfD Eurosceptic party could win enough support in the general election on Sunday to gain seats in the German Bundestag, an opinion poll published for a leading newspaper has forecast for the first time. Basic materials and utilities underperformed in Europe, with RWE trading sharply lower in Germany after the company announced plans to cut its dividend by half (and with the Adidas fiasco yesterday, one wonders just how bad things in Europe really are).
- Expectations for Fed to begin to taper asset purchases by USD 10-15bln
- Ranges for pace of Treasury purchases: high USD 45bln, low USD 25bln
- Ranges for pace of MBS purchases: high USD 45bln, low USD 30bln
- Some see FOMC lowering unemployment threshold from current 6.5%
- Summary of Economic Projections and Press Conference from Fed Chairman Bernanke follow the announcement
Overnight trading started with Asian markets continuing where yesterday's S&P 500 fizzle ended, wishing Summers could withdraw from Fed running again, as both the Nikkei and SHCOMP were well lower by the close. Perhaps all the easy multiple-expanding, headline-driven money is made, or perhaps economic fundamentals will finally start having to justify a 17x multiple on the S&P (a good is good regime for those who may be too young, or old, to remember), but overnight US futures were dull, and no doubt anticipating today's start of the "Most important FOMC meeting ever", which concludes tomorrow with an announcement by the Fed of what and how much (if any) tapering it will commence with an eye toward halting QE next summer, although more realistically what will happen is an Untaper being announced before then. While the start of the FOMC meeting is the main event, today we get CPI, TIC flows and the NAHB housing market index. Today's POMO is another modest $1.25-$1.75 billion in the long-end sector.
Overnight asset classes got a jolt following a report by Nikkei that Obama was moving toward naming Summers the next Fed chairman, citing “several close US sources,” pushing stocks modestly lower in Europe, with bond yields higher. According to the report, Obama is to name Summers as next Fed chairman as early as late next week, after the Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Otherwise, risk is still digesting the news of the confidential Twitter IPO, as it is becoming quite clear that some of the largest names (Hilton also announced yesterday) are seeking to cash out in the public markets. Is this the top?
As macro news continues to trickle in better than expected, the latest batch being benign (if completely fake) Chinese inflation data (CPI 2.6%, Exp. 2.6%, Last 2.7%) and trade data released overnight which saw ahigher than expected trade balance ($28.5bn vs Exp. $20.0; as exports rose from 5.1% to 7.2%, and imports dipped from 10.9% to 7.0%, missing expectations), markets remain confused: is good news better or does it mean even more global liquidity will be pulled. As a result, the release of an encouraging set of macroeconomic data from China failed to have a meaningful impact on the sentiment in Europe this morning and instead stocks traded lower, with the Spanish IBEX-35 index underperforming after Madrid lost out to Tokyo to win rights to host 2020 Olympic Games. Even though the news buoyed USD/JPY overnight, the pair faced downside pressure stemming from interest rate differential flows amid better bid USTs. The price action in the US curve was partly driven by the latest article from a prolific Fed watcher Jon Hilsenrath who said many Fed officials are undecided on whether to scale back bond purchases in September. Hilsenrath added that the Fed could wait or reduce the programme by a small amount at the upcoming meeting. Going forward, there are no major macroeconomic data releases scheduled for the second half of the session, but Fed’s Williams is due to speak.
Just when the market thought it had priced in a new equilibrium without (or with - it is not quite clear) a Syria war, here comes Thursday with a data dump that will make one's head spin. Central bankers are once again on parade starting overnight, when the BOJ announced no change to its QE program and retaining its monetary base target of JPY270 trillion. The parade continues with both the BOE and ECB, the latter of which is expected to address the recent pick up in Eonia rates and take praise for the recent very much unsustainable "recovery" in the periphery even as Germany continues to slide lower (this morning's factory orders plunged 2.7% on exp. -1.0%), which in turn lead the Bund to pass above 2.0% for the first time since March 2011. Speaking of bonds blowing out, the US 10Y is now just 6 bps away from 3.00%, the widest since July 2011, and likely to breach the support level, taking out a boatload of stops and leading to the next big step spike in rates as the second selling scramble ensues. And just to keep every algo on its binary toes, today we also get a NFP preview with the ADP private payrolls at 8:15 am (Exp. 180K, down from 200K), Initial Claims (Exp. 330K), Nonfarm Productivity and Unit Labor Costs (Exp. 1.60% and 0.9%), Factory Orders (Exp. -3.4%), Non-mfg ISM (Exp. 55), Final Durable Goods, EIA Nat Gas and DOE Crude Inventories, oh and the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg where Putin and Obama are not expected to share much pleasantries, and where John Kerry's swiftboat may not be allowed to dock.
The equity futures euphoria carryover from this weekend, buoyed by sentiment that the Syrian war is postponed if not cancelled, carried over into Tuesday morning despite news that Israel had launched a missile test, which looked at from almost any angle was an attempt at provoking a response from its adversaries. Also the Chinese boost driven by a solid beat in the country's two manufacturing PMIs persisted despite a drop in the August Non-manufacturing PMI reported last night. So once again we have returned to a state where good news is good news and bad news can be ignored. This, even with the Taper announcement just two weeks away. Of note also is that overnight Nokia shares surged 40% after Microsoft announced that it is to buy Nokia mobile business. In tandem, other EU based related names such as STM and Ericsson also gained ground, trading up 3% and 4.5% respectively. Nokia shares traded sharply higher today after Microsoft said it will pay €3.79bln to purchase substantially all of Nokia's devices & services business and will also pay €1.65bln to license Nokia's patents. A fitting farewell present from Steve Ballmer perhaps. Once again, keep an eye on Syria as the president begins his congressional consultations to take the escalation to the next level, with or without provocations from Israel.