Summary and Price Action Rundown
Global risk assets are surging this morning as the positive impulse from easing US political uncertainty has been further boosted by exceptionally positive news on the Covid-19 vaccine front. S&P 500 futures indicate a 3.6% jump at the open, which would add to the 7.4% rally last week that upped the index’s year-to-date gain to 8.7%, only 2.0% below early September’s record high. Equities in the EU are also soaring while Asian shares were mixed overnight. With risk appetite in ascendance, a broad dollar index is dipping to a new multi-year low, while longer-dated Treasuries are climbing, with the 10-year yield back at multi-month highs of 0.92%. Brent crude is surging toward $43 per barrel this morning as the demand outlook brightens.
US Political Uncertainty Eases as Biden Named President-Elect
Concerns over a breakdown of the rickety US electoral process and civic unrest amid extreme partisan pressures have been allayed as the slow but steady process ultimately resolved into a relatively clear-cut victory for Biden/Harris, although President Trump continues to dispute the result. Major news outlets called the election for Democratic candidate Joe Biden after he was declared the winner in Pennsylvania and Nevada early on Saturday, securing 279 electoral votes versus President Trump’s current tally of 214. Final results in the presidential race are still pending in North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and Alaska though with Biden already beyond the 270 electoral votes needed to win, these results are largely academic. Biden and Harris delivered their victory speeches on Saturday night, with the President-Elect calling for national unity and announcing the formation of a coronavirus task force to coordinate a federal-level response to the worsening pandemic. President Trump has declined to concede the race and vowed to continue an array of legal challenges, seeking overturn the result while making unsubstantiated allegations of ballot fraud and unfounded declarations of victory. On the Senate front, the balance currently stands at 48-48 between the two parties. The contests in North Carolina and Alaska are expected to deliver wins to the GOP candidates, though counting is still ongoing. That puts Georgia’s two races firmly in the spotlight, as Republican frontrunner David Perdue’s vote share has slipped below 50%, resulting in two run-off elections in January for the state’s two Senate seats. The outcomes of these elections are therefore set to decide control of the Senate. While Biden may win Georgia, both Perdue and Senator Loeffler will be favored against their Democrat opponents, with a win for either keeping control of the Senate in Republican hands. – MPP view: 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 over the past 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). Meanwhile, uncertainty persists over control of the Senate, with significant policy implications, the most immediate of which is the pandemic relief bill. We expect a small lame duck session stimulus and a somewhat larger deal post-election but do not expect a GOP-controlled Senate (our base case) to go above the $500 billion level of their proposed bills, particularly since the vaccine news may be showing us the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
Covid-19 Vaccine News Lifts Market Spirits
With the pandemic resurgence accelerating in the US, EU, and UK, this morning’s disclosure from Pfizer and BioNTech that its vaccine trials are yielding highly encouraging results is boosting investor sentiment. The drug giants have announced that their third stage vaccine trial is indicating 90% effectiveness with no serious safety concerns, with analysts expressing surprise and elation at such a positive announcement. For context, a Covid-19 vaccine was generally expected to be 60-70% effective, with the possibility that it would be even lower, like a seasonal flu vaccine, which can be merely 40% effective. The Pfizer/BioNTech trial is continuing and other biotech firms working on vaccines are expected to announce their results in the coming days or weeks as well. Pfizer has estimated that it will have 50 million doses available before the end of the year and 1.3 billion doses distributed in 2021, though each individual vaccination requires two doses. – MPP view: Outstanding news! Pending further details and additional confirmation, this is better than we dared hope. Time of rollout and degree of public uptake are key variables, and it will be a delicate policy balance to deploy sufficient stimulus and rebuild trust in the scientific community in order to facilitate deployment.
Earnings Season Wraps Up – Third quarter earnings season is winding down after providing scant direction to equities. This week, a smattering of earnings reports remains on the calendar, including McDonald’s, Beyond Meat, Lyft, DR Horton, and Disney. With 448 of the S&P 500 corporates having reported, 83.2% of results have featured a positive earnings-per-share (EPS) surprise and 75.9% have topped revenue estimates, far exceeding typical rates of outpacing consensus. But since the start of reporting season, the S&P 500 had been down 0.7% going into today’s session and price action has been driven primarily by macro factors.
Oil Prices Vault Higher – With the Covid-19 vaccine news lifting growth-sensitive asset prices, crude prices are jumping this morning as the prospect of a widely available and effective vaccine brightens the demand picture. This comes as Saudi’s energy authorities have been gearing up for another contentious OPEC+ meeting later this month at which they were likely to push for a pause in plans to taper the cartel’s supply curbs despite apparent slippage in discipline among some members. The positive prospects for a near-term vaccine, however, may allow OPEC+ to continue on its current supply increase trajectory without sinking oil prices.