Looking Ahead – Is It Over Yet?
The concept of Election Day was already antiquated when this year’s enormous preponderance of early and mail-in voting elongated the process into an election month, while the tightness of the presidential race, as well as other key contests, has dragged the nation through an excruciating ordeal of piecemeal and halting ballot tabulation this week (though this is in no way the fault of the great people who are doing the hard work of ballot monitoring and counting). And even though a win looks highly likely for Joe Biden at this point, the Trump campaign is insisting that the race is not over, and recounts and legal challenges are sure to drag on, alongside a litany of unsubstantiated charges of fraud from the President and some of his ardent supporters.
Our base case had long been for narrow and disputed results in the presidential race and key Senate contests, with uncertainty dragging on beyond election day. And though this is how events played out this week, it is a great relief to us, and to financial markets, that the worst case scenario of a breakdown of our obviously creaky electoral system accompanied by major civic unrest has been avoided (thus far, at least). Whether or not the final state tallies will leave any feasible room for doubt, the Trump campaign will surely continue with an array of seemingly desperate legal challenges. The next few weeks will reveal the extent to which the process will remain orderly and legitimate amid massive partisan pressures.
Even if cooler heads continue to prevail in the political arena, as we hope and expect, salient policy questions remain. Most importantly, how does this charged political environment impact the prospects for a pandemic relief bill before year-end? In this bizarre interregnum, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has indicated that passing a stimulus bill is his number one post-election priority, but he is unlikely to take a magnanimous position given the continued uncertainty over control of the Senate. Meanwhile, House Speaker Pelosi has shifting incentives as she prepares to stave off internal challenges to her leadership and eyes the possibility of a better post-transition deal. Last but not least, an obviously distracted President Trump must sign off on the agreement at a time when chief dealmaker Secretary Mnuchin is likely focused on his post-Treasury trajectory.
The other key uncertainty involves control of the Senate. The twin Georgia runoffs in January could be the deciding factor for control of the chamber, and in that case there will obviously be a flood of money and resources into those contests. Both GOP candidates will go in as favorites but with Georgia looking like it may tip for Biden, investors should prepare for uncertainty. So while a Blue Wave certainly did not materialize, the Democrats’ tide still might go high enough to secure control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
In short, this fraught election cycle is far from over, but at least we have made it to the weekend. Cheers!
Looking ahead, next week’s calendar is mercifully light and non-market moving most likely, with third quarter earnings season pretty much a wrap.
- US Price Data, Consumer Confidence & Initial Jobless Claims
- German and Australian Economic Sentiment Gauges
- UK Q3 GDP
- EU Industrial Production
Global Economic Calendar: Nada Mucho
The week begins with German Balance of Trade for September. In August, Germany’s trade surplus declined to €12.8 bill, from €16.4 bil last year, as the coronavirus pandemic hit global demand. Exports dropped 10.2% due to lower sales to the European Union and to third countries, in particular the UK, the US and China. Imports fell at a softer 7.9%, as purchases from the EU dropped 5.4% and those from third countries tumbled 10.5%. Among these, imports fell from the UK and the US, while imports from China were unchanged. On a seasonally adjusted basis, exports rose 2.4% from a month earlier, beating expectations of 1.4%, while imports were up 5.8%, compared to forecasts of a 1.4% gain.
The evening brings National Australia Bank’s Index of Business Confidence. September rose to -4 from -8 in August, pointing to the highest reading since June, amid improving business activity as the economy opens up. Confidence rose in all industries except finance, business & property services which was flat. Business conditions also strengthened to levels not seen since the COVID-19 pandemic brought a nationwide lockdown. All three sub-components rose, with trading and profitability in positive territory while the employment index remaining negative as businesses were not yet ready to add new positions. Alan Oster NAB Group chief economist added, “Meanwhile, forward orders improved while capacity utilization ticked higher to 76.9%. “While the improvement in conditions and confidence in the last few months has been promising, it is important to remember that in a levels sense, things are still weak.”
The day closes with China’s Annual Inflation Rate. September eased to 1.7% from 2.4% in August and slightly below market expectations of 1.8%. This was the lowest reading since February 2019, amid a marked slowdown in prices of food. Furthermore, cost of non-food products was flat, after a 0.1% gain in August. There were declines in cost of transport, rent, fuel, and utilities, household goods and services, and clothing. At the same time, prices increased for health, other goods and services, and education, culture & recreation. On a monthly basis, consumer prices edged up 0.2% in September, the lowest in three months, following a 0.4% gain in August.
The day begins with UK Claimant Count Change. In August, the number of people claiming for unemployment benefits in the UK rose by 28K to 2.7 mil, following a downwardly revised 39.5K increase in July and below market expectations of a 78.8K gain. This added to a rise of 120.3% since March, or 1.5 mil, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the labor market.
The ZEW Indicator of Economic Sentiment for Germany for November follows. October dropped by 21.3 to 56.1, from the previous month’s 20-year high and well below market expectations of 73. Investors voiced concerns about the recent sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal. The current situation in the run-up to the presidential election in the US further fuels uncertainty. By contrast, the assessment of the economic situation in Germany improved again, and currently stands at -59.5 points, 6.7 points higher than in September.
The day closes with the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank Consumer Sentiment Index for Australia. October increased 11.9% m/m to 105 points, following an 18% jump in September. This was the highest reading since July of 2018, amid the ongoing success across the nation in containing the COVID-19 outbreak and the response to the October Federal Budget. All components of the Index were higher in October, the most striking improvements were around the outlook for the economy, with the surge in the five-year outlook taken this sub-index to its highest level since August 2010. In addition, there was a stunning lift in confidence around job security, with the Index improving by 14.2% to be back around the levels of early 2019. Also, confidence in the housing market boomed, the ‘time to buy a dwelling’ index increased 10.6% to its highest level since September 2019.
Thursday begins with the UK Balance of Trade for September. In August, the UK trade surplus shrank to £1.36 bil from an upwardly revised £1.69 bil in July and was the smallest monthly trade surplus in five months. Exports rose 1.5% to £51.83 bil, boosted by a 2.7% rise in services exports and a 0.4% increase in goods shipments. On the flip side, imports surged 2.2% to £50.46 bil driven by a 3.7% increase in purchases of goods, while services declined 1%.
At the same time, the Preliminary Third Quarter GDP Growth Rate will be released. In the second quarter the British economy shrank 19.8% q/q, slightly less than a preliminary estimate of a 20.4% drop. This remains the largest contraction ever and the second consecutive quarterly decline in GDP, officially entering a recession, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the government measures taken to reduce transmission of the virus. Gross fixed capital formation fell, while both household consumption and government spending shrunk precipitously. Private consumption accounted for more than three-quarters of the fall in GDP, reflecting the implementation of public health restrictions, the mandated closures of non-essential shops and forms of social distancing. Net external demand contributed positively as imports fell more than exports.
Later in the morning Eurozone Industrial Production (IP) will be released. In August, IP rose by 0.7% m/m, following an upwardly revised 5.0% growth in July. An increase in production of durable consumer goods, intermediate goods and energy was partially offset by declines in output for capital goods and non-durable consumer goods. On a yearly basis, IP shrank by 7.2%, compared to a 7.1% contraction in July.
In the US, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for October will be released. In September, Headline CPI increased 0.2% m/m, easing from a 0.4% advance in August and was the lowest reading in four months. Used cars and trucks cost jumped 6.7%, its largest monthly increase since February 1969, as people avoid public transportation. Energy prices went up 0.8%, boosted by a 4.2% climb in natural gas prices. At the same time, food cost was flat. Additional upward pressure came from shelter, new vehicles, and recreation, while declines were seen in prices for motor vehicle insurance, airline fares, and apparel. This put Headline CPI up 1.4% from 1.3% in August. Meanwhile, Core CPI, which excludes the more volatile items such as food and energy, rose 0.2% m/m after larger increases in July and August, pushing up the yearly rate from 1.3% to 1.4%.
Friday begins with the Second Estimate of Third Quarter Eurozone GDP. The preliminary estimate showed the Eurozone economy grew by 12.7% in third quarter, recovering from a record slump of 11.8% seen during the second quarter and easily beating market expectations of 9.4 percent. It was the steepest pace of expansion since comparable data started to being collected in 1995, boosted by a rebound in activity and global demand after European countries lifted lockdowns imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. All major economies in the region posted record increases in GDP.
At the same time Eurozone Balance of Trade will be released. In August, the Eurozone’s trade surplus widened to €14.7 bil from 14.4 bil in July. Imports fell 13.5% to €141.6 bil, due to lower purchases of mineral fuels, lubricants & related materials, machinery & transport equipment, miscellaneous manufactured articles, chemicals & related products, manufactured goods classified chiefly by material, crude materials, inedible, except fuels and food, drinks and tobacco. Export fell 12.2% to €156.3 billion, as sales went down for mineral fuels, lubricants & related materials, manufactured goods classified chiefly by material, machinery & transport equipment, miscellaneous manufactured articles and crude materials, inedible, except fuels.
In the US we will get the Producer Prices Index (PPI) for October. In September, Headline PPI increased 0.4% m/m, following a 0.3% rise in August. Cost of goods advanced 0.4%, after increasing 0.1% in August, led by a 14.7% rise in cost for iron and steel. Prices of services went up 0.4%, lower than 0.5% in August, led by a 3.9% advance in the index for traveler accommodation services. Year-on-year, Headline PPI went up 0.4%, after falling 0.2% in the prior month. Core PPI, which excludes food and energy, went up 0.4% m/m, the same as in August, while the annual rate increased to 1.2% from 0.6%.
At the same time Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims will be released. Last week 751K Americans filed for unemployment benefits, above consensus expectations of 732K but down from the previous week’s revised level of 758K. Initial claims are now at their lowest level since the pandemic began but part of the decline is due to expiration of eligibility. However, those people are still able to apply for help from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance scheme, which runs out of funds in December if Congress does not pass another relief bill. Close to 363K workers applied for PUP assistance, compared with 359K in the previous period. Furthermore, the number of continuing jobless claims fell to 7.29 mil in the week ended October 24th, compared with market expectations of 7.20 mil, also the lowest level since the pandemic began but also due to the same expiration issue. In total, there are 21.508 mil Americans on some sort of Federal assistance, down from 22.661 mil in the previous week.
The week closes with the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment for November. In October, sentiment was revised slightly higher to 81.8, reaching the highest since March. Still, the sentiment remains much below 101 reported in February. Improvements were seen in both expectations and current conditions. On the price front, one-year inflation expectations were revised lower to 2.6% from 2.7% and five-year expectations were unchanged at 2.4%. Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin added, “Consumer sentiment remained virtually unchanged from the first half of October (+0.6 points) and was insignificantly different from last month’s figure (+1.4 points). Fear and loathing produced this false sense of stability. Fears were generated by rising Covid infection and death rates, and loathing was generated by the hyper-partisanship that has driven the election to ideological extremes.”