Jittery Markets Rebound From Sharp Losses, Italy Slumps On Anti-Establishment Surge

What started off as a sea of red, with S&P futures tumbling as much as -25 points ahead of the European open, on fears of trade wars and concerns about the surge in Italy's anti-establishment parties, has managed to rebound notable and stabilize, with most Asian and European markets now green. The dollar was steady and Treasuries gained, while Italian bonds dropped as the nation headed toward a hung parliament

For those who missed it, Italian election results pointed to a hung parliament with anti-establishment 5-Star Movement as the largest single party and the Centre-Right seen as the leading coalition, with far-right junior coalition partner Northern League having possibly outperformed Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Following the results, Italian League Head Salvini says the party is not available for bizarre coalitions, adding that the centre right coalition has won and can govern, adding that he is open to talks with all parties but rules out a broad coalition. Meanwhile, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to form her fourth government after the SPD voted in favour of another grand coalition. Merkel is set to be sworn in for her fourth term on 14th March.

As BBG notes, the Italian election result and Germany’s move toward a coalition kick off a busy week for macro events. Both the Bank of Japan and European Central Bank will meet to decide on interest rate policy, while China hosts its National People’s Congress. Overshadowing it all, however, will be the next developments on global trade after U.S. President Donald Trump riled markets with his proposed tariffs last week.

There’s a “lot of politics this week with Italy elections and NPC in China, also trade measures,” Frank Benzimra, head of Asia equity strategy at Societe Generale SA in Hong Kong, said. “The return of volatility we have seen since the end of January will probably remain.”

On Monday morning, Europe's Stoxx 600 was up 0.6%, rebounding after closing in the red in the past four sessions, even as Italian stocks drop after a tremendous showing by anti-establishment groups in Sunday’s election, assuring a hung parliament and further chaos.

Surprisingly, in a day many expected a European bloodbath, almost all Stoxx 600 industry groups rise; carmakers pare an earlier drop of 1.4% to trade little changed; the sector fell at the open after U.S. President Donald Trump upped the ante on import tariffs, threatening taxes on cars from Europe that “freely pour into the U.S.”

Meanwhile, equity gauges from Tokyo to Sydney slumped during the Asian trading session amid worries about the implications of U.S. tariffs for the world’s economy. Italy’s stocks and bonds were the standout losers as Italy's FTSE MIB Index remained in the red, dropping around 1%, after paring an earlier drop of as much as 2%.

Italian bonds, however, are slower to respond to this morning's relief rally, and at last check were trading north of 2%.

As noted above, US index futures rebounded sharply from a much weaker open, and have declined only fractionally after a wave of buying was unleashed withe the European open.

Shares in Shanghai bucked regional weakness as China kept its 2018 growth target of around 6.5 percent. Newly added stocks accounted for six out of 10 worst performers on Hang Seng China Enterprises Index, as the big-cap gauge extended losses after its worst month since January 2016. China Gas tumbles as much as 5.2% to lead declines on HSCEI, which slides 1.8%; China Mobile drops 3.3% to head for its weakest finish since April 2014; ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance and Cnooc dropped more than 3%. The stocks were weighed down by declines in the broad market, said Ken Chen, Shanghai-based analyst with KGI Securities.

In macro, the yen initially gained, supported by populist parties’ surge in Italian elections, talk on trade wars and a BOJ looking toward the exit of its stimulus program; it strengthened as much as 0.4% to 105.35 per dollar, nearing a fresh 16-month high, before paring almost gains; Japan’s bonds advance as traders buy back after selling heavily last Friday following BOJ Governor Kuroda’s comments on monetary exit.

Meanwhile, the euro took a hit after Tokyo fix as investors were unclear over Italy’s future political direction, but wasn’t knocked down, managing to rebound strongly above 1.23 handle.  The Euro holds little changed after rising above the 21-DMA, while risk reversals for the pair gain in the front-end, with one-week remaining in negative territory ahead of the ECB policy decision on Thursday.

The pound reversed an earlier drop after stronger-than- forecast U.K. PMIs

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index is steady and the Treasury curve bull flattens. Bund futures rose and BTPs slipped from the open, while European equities outside Italy traded in the green. The dollar steadied even as Treasuries advanced.

Elsewhere, China is reportedly seeking high level meetings with US in an effort to diffuse trade tensions and has asked for a list of US demands. Over the weekend, White House officials stated that President Trump plans to apply steel and aluminium tariffs globally and will not exempt allies such as Canada and Europe. In related news, EU's Juncker said on Friday the EU will respond to US steel action which may involve tariffs on motorcycles, while there were also source reports that EU duties of about USD 3.5bln are to be considered if the US goes ahead with its tariff plan.
US President Trump also tweeted that the US could apply tax to cars from the EU.

In the latest Brexit developments, the EU is reportedly set to uncover differences with the UK in draft Brexit guidelines with the proposals to be vague to force UK to explain what it is seeking, according to reports. Elsewhere, EU negotiators will this week offer a Canada-style trade deal putting pressure on Theresa May’s Brexit ‘red lines’. Further reports suggest, the European Commission is preparing to take a hard line over plans to “roll over” 50 EU free trade agreements during the Brexit transition period, in a threat to British exports.

Looking ahead, highlights include US services PMI, ISM non-mfg PMI, Fed’s Quarles and Evans, as well as earnings from YY and Gibson Energy.

Bulletin headline summary from RanSquawk

  • Italian election results pointed to a hung parliament with anti-establishment 5-Star Movement as the largest single party
  • White House officials stated that President Trump plans to apply steel and aluminium tariffs globally and will not exempt allies such as Canada and Europe
  • Looking ahead, highlights include US services PMI, ISM non-mfg PMI, Fed’s Quarles and Evans

Market Snapshot

  • S&P 500 futures down 0.2% to 2,685.25
  • STOXX Europe 600 up 0.2% to 367.92
  • German 10Y yield fell 2.6 bps to 0.625%
  • MSCI Asia Pacific down 1% to 172.68
  • MSCI Asia Pacific ex Japan down 1.2% to 564.41
  • Nikkei down 0.7% to 21,042.09
  • Topix down 0.8% to 1,694.79
  • Hang Seng Index down 2.3% to 29,886.39
  • Shanghai Composite up 0.07% to 3,256.93
  • Sensex down 0.9% to 33,754.18
  • Australia S&P/ASX 200 down 0.6% to 5,895.03
  • Kospi down 1.1% to 2,375.06
  • Euro up 0.02% to $1.2319
  • Italian 10Y yield rose 2.3 bps to 1.702%
  • Spanish 10Y yield fell 3.2 bps to 1.518%
  • Brent futures up 0.5% to $64.71/bbl
  • U.S. Dollar Index little changed at 89.96

Top Overnight News from BBG

  • Projections based on ballot-counting on Monday morning, following Italy’s vote on Sunday, suggested the two forces with the most gains, the euroskeptic Five Star Movement and the anti- migrant League, could reach a majority in at least one of the houses of the Rome-based parliament should they join forces
  • China stepped up its push to curb financial risk, cutting its budget deficit target for the first time since 2012, to 2.6 percent of GDP from 3 percent, and setting a growth goal of around 6.5 percent that omitted last year’s aim for a faster pace if possible
  • Chinese lawmakers will vote to appoint a new PBOC governor on March 19, according to a National People’s Congress agenda; while current bank regulatory chief Guo Shuqing and Hubei provincial party chief Jiang Chaoliang have both been tipped for the post, President Xi Jinping’s top economic policy adviser and Politburo member Liu He has recently been named by analysts in connection with the top monetary policy job and a vice premier position
  • Trump administration shows scant sign of watering down its plan to impose stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports with carve-outs for specific countries, despite opposition from U.S. allies and Republican lawmakers.
  • Tariffs would have “devastating effects on Europe, but also on the U.S. and the rest of the world,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom says to Swedish broadcaster SVT
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel says her government must begin its work “quickly” after Social Democrat vote to join coalition, citing global trade and competitiveness with China as urgent issues

Asian equity markets began a risk-packed week with a downbeat tone as region digested Italian elections, China economic announcements and continued trade war concerns. This ongoing political uncertainty and rise of the Euro sceptics dampened the risk tone with ASX 200 (-0.6%) and Nikkei 225 (-0.7%) negative throughout the session, while Japanese steel names and automakers remained pressured on lingering tariff/trade war concerns. Elsewhere, Hang Seng (-2.3%) underperformed and Shanghai Comp. (+0.1%) bucked the trend as participants contemplated over China’s economic work report in which the official GDP growth target was maintained at 6.5% as widely expected, before disappointing Chinese Caixin Services and Composite PMI data. Finally, 10yr JGBs were higher and reclaimed the 151.00 level, amid a rebound in Tnotes and a flight-to-quality due to the subdued risk tone. Chinese Premier Li delivered the Economic Work Report at the NPC in which he announced that China maintained GDP growth target at about 6.5% this year but dropped reference to ‘higher if possible’. Premier Li further stated that China will keep  prudent monetary policy neutral and maintain proactive fiscal policy, while China will also take further measures to lower tax burden for companies.

Top Asian News

  • China Turns Fiscal Screws While Targeting GDP Growth Around 6.5%
  • China’s Top Tech Firms Heed the Call to Bring Listings Home
  • Go-Jek Explores First IPO of a Billion-Dollar Indonesian Startup
  • HSBC Is Said to Poach Morgan Stanley’s Top Indonesia Dealmaker

Amidst the prospects of ongoing global ‘trade wars’ and the political uncertainty stemming from the Italian elections, European equities saw a pessimistic open following a similar tone in the Asia-Pac session. As of now, major bourses have pared back earlier losses (Eurostoxx 50 +0.3%) with the exception of FTSE MIB (-1.2%) as a clear underperformer. Financials lag with banks amongst the worst performers on the FTSE MIB with BPER Banca (-7.3%), Banco BPM (-6.2%), Ubi Banca (-4.6%) seen at the foot of the index dragged down by the Italian elections. The Berlusconi-controlled Mediaset (-5.4%) are also lower following projections showing the centre-right coalition fronted by the former PM falling short of an absolute majority. Following US President Trump’s latest threat to hike tariffs in EU auto imports, German auto names are underperforming with DAX 30 heavyweights BMW (-1.1%) and Daimler (-0.4%) seen lower.

Top European News

  • BMW May Have Most to Lose in Autos Trade War, Evercore Says
  • U.K. Services Prop Up Economy on Better-Than-Forecast Growth
  • Euro-Area Economy Looked a Little Less Buoyant in February
  • May Secures Temporary Cease-Fire in U.K. Tory-Brexit Infighting
  • Amid China M&A Drive, EU Rushes for Investment-Screening Deal

In FX, the DXY has given up 90.000 status after last week’s roller-coaster ride when the index almost recovered to 91.000 before recoiling on US President Trump’s plans to slap import tariffs on steel and aluminium that sparked another wave of global trade war and protectionism jitters. However, a recovery in the EUR has moved EUR/USD back above 1.2300 and moved the DXY back into negative territory for the session. Meanwhile, Eur/Jpy initially breached strong technical support at 129.50 before reclaiming 130.00 amid the recent EUR strength. Elsewhere, the Nzd, Aud and Cad are G10 underperformers after Chinese PMI misses and a general risk-off tone on the Trump proposals and pledges of retaliation, with the Kiwi extending gains above 0.7200 vs the Greenback, Aud/Usd trading around 0.7750 and Usd/Cad just off fresh 2018 highs but back below 1.2900 and just shy of key resistance in the 1.2915-25 area. The Jpy and Chf are both benefiting from their safe-haven appeal, with the former around 105.50 vs the Usd (strong barriers still reported at 105.00) and the latter within a 0.9750-85 range vs its US counterpart. Cable at session highs above 1.3800 and Eur/Gbp still above 0.8900 between 0.8905-50 with Sterling continuing to be hampered by Brexit uncertainty amidst more reports about the EU’s hard-line stance on transition terms and conditions.

In commodities, WTI and Brent crude futures traded higher despite the firmer USD as Libyan supply disruptions provide some reprieve after Libya’s Sharara oil field (largest in the nation) has halted pumping crude amid domestic protests. However, it was then later reported that production has resumed at the oil field. In terms of other energy newsflow, the IEA have upgraded their US oil output growth estimates by over 2mln bpd through 2023. Focus ahead will be on any comments from the meeting between OPEC and US shale producers as both sides look to address the ongoing global oil glut. In metals markets, gold prices remain modestly supported by the general risk tone with gains capped by the firmer USD. Elsewhere, Chinese steel futures were seen lower for a second consecutive session as demand in the region remains soft and despite China announcing that they will reduce around 30mln tonnes of steel capacity this year. Focus going forward will be on how Trump views/responds to threats made by the EU and Canada over counter-measures to last week’s tariff announcements. 

Politics should dominate the start to the week for markets. In China the National People’s Congress is due to begin in Beijing, with Premier Li due to present a draft of his work plan for 2018 (continues to March 20th). Away from politics, the main data releases on Monday will be the final February services and composite PMIs around the globe, along with Euro area retail sales for January, the Sentix investor confidence reading for March and the February ISM non-manufacturing in the US. Elsewhere BOJ Deputy Governor nominee's confirmation hearing will begin, while the Fed's Quarles is also due to speak. It's worth also highlighting that EU Council President Donald Tusk may circulate draft negotiating guidelines about the future relationship between the EU and UK on Monday.

US Event Calendar

  • 9:45am: Markit US Services PMI, est. 55.9, prior 55.9; Composite PMI, prior 55.9
  • 10am: ISM Non-Manf. Composite, est. 59, prior 59.9
  • 1:15pm: Fed’s Quarles Speaks on Foreign Bank Regulation

DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap

What’s the toughest business out there? After this weekend it’s definitely “snowbiz”. After a deluge of snow late Friday afternoon we made a big family snowman. By Saturday night after an incredibly quick melt it was as good as gone. I now know how mayflies feel.

Through history snowmen have lived as precarious as an existence as Italian Governments and as we bring news of yesterday’s election it’s worth remembering that they have seen around 90 governments since the start of the twentieth century. Counting is still underway, but initial results suggest there is no clear majority with a hung parliament very likely, while the Five Star Movement will likely be the most popular single party with c32% share of
the votes (up 6ppt vs. 2013 elections), as per RaiNews24, and better than final opinions polls suggested. RaiNews24 further notes that the Berlusconi led center-right coalition could achieve 35.5% of votes but still short of the 40% needed to avoid a hung parliament. However the League (c.16%) look set to beat Forza Italia (c.14%) which makes the centre-right look more anti immigration and euro sceptic. The center-left group led by Renzi could achieve c.23% of the votes. If the projections are true, it could lead to months of uncertainty until a coalition government could be formed. DB’s Mark Wall noted that an important lesson from the various political events over the last couple of years in the euro area is that unless there is a clear threat to euro area membership, there is little lasting impact on market sentiment. Further, it appeared all Euro sceptic parties had softened their stance on euro exit before the election. As long as the market remains convinced of this, he believes calmness should prevail. However for us there’s no doubting that populist parties have done better than expected and Italy is going to struggle to get a reforming agenda after these results.

In contrast, in Germany the political stalemate has ended after the SPD voted in favour (66% to 34%) of forming a new coalition government with Ms Merkel’s bloc, paving the way for her to be re-inaugurated as Chancellor by mid-March. Mark believes the appearance of a post-Schaeuble pro-European policy stance by Germany is a buffer against the potential risks from Italy. This morning, the Euro initially strengthened on Germany’s developments but pared back gains to be marginally lower following news from Italy.

In Asia, markets are broadly lower with the Nikkei (-0.71%), Kospi (-0.92%), Hang Seng (-1.26%) and China’s CSI 300 (-0.15%) all down as we type, while the UST 10y yield is down c2.5bp. Datawise, China’s February Caixin composite PMI (53.3 vs. 53.7 previous) and Japan’s Nikkei composite PMI (52.2 vs. 52.8 previous) were both softer than the prior month’s reading. Elsewhere, China has set an economic growth target of “around 6.5%” for 2018 but did not include the comment of “higher if possible in practice” as it did in 2017. Notably, the c6.5% target is in line with DB’s expectations.

Looking forward it’s a big week ahead macro wise with the back end where most of the action will come. On Friday, 5 weeks on from the average hourly earnings shock that caused the vol quake, we’ll see the latest US payroll report  with all focus on this month’s wages number. The consensus is for another strong +0.3% mom number in February however base effects mean that the YoY rate would hold at +2.8% (in line with DB) if that is the case.

Before that we have the ECB meeting on Thursday and the BoJ on Friday. No change in policy is expected at either. For the ECB though, our economists expect the ECB to redefine the QE reaction function, reducing the likelihood that the ECB responds to economic and financial shocks with QE. The current forward guidance links the potential for an extension or expansion of QE to shocks to the economy and/or financial conditions. Our team expect the ECB to say that it will respond to shocks with the monetary policy stance more generally rather than QE specifically. By redefining the reaction function, this will set the ground for a June announcement that net asset purchases will end in December. The BoJ meeting should be a less exciting affair with the status quo maintained. Perhaps of most interest will be whether or not policy board member Goushi Kataoka officially puts forward his proposal for another easing. After we went to print on Friday Mr Kuroda caused a little bit of a stir though by suggesting that “Of course we will be considering and debating an exit [around fiscal year 2019].” This ends in March 2020 and is someway off but it’s a further sign that the bias for global QE continues to be for it to be wound down (for now).

Also this week China's NPC starts today and continues through to March 20th with headlines already coming out as we discussed above. Our economists have also published a preview of the event which you can find here. For the rest of the week ahead see the day by day guide at the end. Watch out today for the final February services and composite PMIs released around the globe. The slowing Euro PMI manufacturing numbers of late have been a big market driver recently Of more unpredictable timing will be the next round in the latest trade rhetorics around the world after Thursday’s steel/aluminium tariffs announcement from the US President. Friday initially saw a big risk off/flight to quality when Mr Trump tweeted that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,”. EC President Juncker said Europe was prepared to respond forcefully to the developments by targeting imports of Harley-Davidson, Levi Strauss, and bourbon whiskey from the US.

Mr Trump didn’t let this topic stay quiet and tweeted on Saturday that “If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S.”

As the war of words was escalating, the European session was very weak on Friday before a US rally restored some stability into the market. The Stoxx 600 (-2.09%) and DAX (-2.27%) both fell the most since early February, while the FTSE was the relative outperformer (-1.47%). In the US, the S&P initially traded 1.1% down but closed 0.51% higher, in part as tech stocks rallied and investors seemed to have toned down the potential for a large scale trade war.  Elsewhere, the Nadaq was up 1.08% while the Dow and the VIX (19.59) was down 0.29% and 12.8% respectively.

Over in government bonds, UST 10y yields initially traded 1.6bp lower but weakened throughout the day to close 5.6bp higher to 2.865%, effectively reversing Thursday’s gains. Some suggests the weakness was amplified due to rate-lock selling ahead of this week’s large IG credit issuances but the swings said much about confusion as to whether protectionism is likely to cause riskoff (lower yields) or higher global prices (higher yields). Elsewhere, core European 10y bond yields were little changed and rose c1bp (Bunds and Gilts +0.7bp; OAT +1.1bp).

Away from the markets and back onto President Trump’s tariff proposals. DB’s Brett Ryan believes the tariffs would  have a negligible impact on the US trade deficit as imports of steel and aluminum account for 2% of all goods imports. On inflation, he believes the impact should be limited as cost increases are unlikely to be fully passed on to end customers. Overall, he believes it is the second order impacts of retaliatory measures undertaken by trading partners  that could come with more substantial costs for the US and its trading partners further down the line. Our Chinese economists suggests the actual impact of the trade measures on China will also be relatively small - China exports only small shares of US steel (2%) and aluminum imports (11%). Further, with a senior advisor to President Xi (Liu He) visiting the US this week, they believe this indicates China is wanting to negotiate rather than retaliate (Link). Notably, this is consistent with comments by China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhang over the weekend where he noted “China does not want to fight a trade war with the US, but we absolutely will not sit by and watch as China’s interest are damaged”.

Over in the UK, on Friday the UK PM May reiterated that the UK intends to leave the Single market and Customs unions as well as impose an end to freedom of movement. However, DB’s Oliver Harvey believes there were shifts in tone, particularly to the importance of trade and services. Overall, he believes the EU will welcome the level of detail in her speech, but he is sceptical whether it can form the basis of negotiations on a future trade deal. Much will depend on the response of the EU leadership in the coming days. Refer to his note for more details.

Finally on credit, Michal in my team has just published the monthly “IG Strategy: Issuance and Fund Flows” which provides commentary and data charts on the IG corporate bond market size, issuance and fund flows. This  comprehensive report covers EUR, GBP and USD markets, including both DM and EM. It also puts both issuance and fund flows in the IG space into a broader global context. You can download the full report here.

We wrap up with other data releases from Friday. In the US, the final reading for the February Uni. of Michigan’s consumer sentiment was revised up by 0.2pts to 99.7. In the details, both 1 and 5 year-ahead inflation expectations were unrevised at 2.7% and 2.5% respectively. Back in Europe, the Euro area’s January PPI was in line at 0.4% mom, but prior revisions means the annual rate was softer than expectations at 1.5% yoy (vs. 1.6%). The final reading for Italy’s 4Q GDP was unrevised at 0.3% qoq and 1.6% yoy. Elsewhere, Germany’s January retail sales was below market at -0.7% mom and 2.3% yoy (vs. 3% expected), although the prior annual reading was revised up by 1.7ppt.

Politics should dominate the start to the week for markets. In China the National People’s Congress is due to begin in Beijing, with Premier Li due to present a draft of his work plan for 2018 (continues to March 20th). Away from politics, the main data releases on Monday will be the final February services and composite PMIs around the globe, along with Euro area retail sales for January, the Sentix investor confidence reading for March and the February ISM non-manufacturing in the US. Elsewhere BOJ Deputy Governor nominee's confirmation hearing will begin, while the Fed's Quarles is also due to speak. It's worth also highlighting that EU Council President Donald Tusk may circulate draft negotiating guidelines about the future relationship between the EU and UK on Monday.