Morning Markets Brief 12-1-2020

Summary and Price Action Rundown

Global risk assets are mixed this morning after stellar month-to-date performance, with US equities registering record highs last Friday, as investors assess the latest China-related developments and await a key OPEC decision tomorrow. S&P 500 futures indicate a 0.2% lower open after the index edged to a new record high in Friday’s holiday-shortened session, gaining 0.2% to up its year-to-date gain to 12.4%, while the Dow Industrials has slipped a bit after crossing 30,000 for the first time last week. Equities in the EU are consolidating their recent gains as well, while Asian stocks were mostly lower overnight. A broad dollar index is descending to a new multi-year low, at a level last seen in April 2018, while longer-dated Treasuries are generally steady, with the 10-year yield ticking up to 0.85%. Brent crude is paring its recent upside, dipping below $48 per barrel, ahead of a pivotal OPEC meeting (more below).


China Headlines in Focus

Solid purchasing managers’ index (PMI) figures overnight reflected the robustness of China’s recovery but more potential additions to the US trade blacklist highlight ongoing US-China tensions. China’s official PMI figures for November topped estimates across the board overnight, with the composite reading registering a solid 55.7 versus October’s 55.3. For context, PMI readings over 50 denote expansion. The manufacturing reading accelerated to 52.1, outpacing the consensus forecast of 51.5 and the prior month’s 51.4. Services were even more impressive at 56.4, topping estimates of 56.0 and October’s 56.2. Nevertheless, the People’s Bank of China added liquidity to the financial sector as analysts cited proactive management of year-end cash needs. This positive data has helped support the renminbi near its strongest level versus the dollar since June 2018, which takes pressure off the incoming Biden administration on the currency front, but other key US-China sources of tension persist, with the outgoing Trump administration obviously intent on keeping up the pressure in its final weeks. Reports overnight indicated that the White House is preparing to add more Chinese companies to its trade blacklist due to ties with China’s military, including chip giant SMIC and oil major CNOOC, shares of which fell 2.7% and 14.0%, respectively, on the Hong Kong exchange overnight. Analysts have been pondering the extent to which the Biden administration will continue President Trump’s hardline policy direction against China. – MPP view: We believe the Biden administration will take a more multi-lateral approach to confronting China, focusing more on using its human rights transgressions to marshal international pressure on officials and businesses, while still maintaining the segments of the Trump China policy that cover national security, IP, property rights, and investments. We expect trade and currency to be de-emphasized, or perhaps more accurately, dealt with in a more subtle fashion.

OPEC+ Members Lack Consensus Ahead of Pivotal Meeting

With the cartel and its allies meeting today and tomorrow, traders are highly attuned to signs of disagreement over the key issue of whether or not to extend supply caps into 2021. The full cartel meeting will commence later today following headlines indicating that informal interactions among members revealed rifts over the potential extension of price-supporting output restrictions beyond their scheduled expiry in January. Oil prices are retracing a portion of their recent upside this morning, but remain close to multi-month highs, as caution sets in over the possibility of a less ambitious extension or even a deadlock. For context, prices of international benchmark Brent crude and US benchmark WTI both reattained levels from early March last week amid a confluence of bullish factors, including the brightening demand outlook stemming from the encouraging Covid-19 vaccine developments, a weakening dollar, and indications that Saudi and Russia were set to push their fractious OPEC+ allies to hold to their supply curbs well into 2021, with a three-month extension the consensus expectation. Reports now suggest that the timeframe could be limited to two months or feature a gradual tapering of the curbs over three to four months. The UAE is said to be one of the key holdouts and had reportedly threatened to withdraw from OPEC earlier this month over dissatisfaction with other members’ uneven compliance with the cartel supply cuts. Nigeria and Iraq are the two OPEC members that have struggled to implement the curbs and have been pushed for compensatory cuts. – MPP view: Like stocks, oil prices are in a transition phase as traders try to look past the dire near-term outlook to the post-vaccine demand surge. This will make cartel discipline harder to maintain into 2021, but Russia/Saudi should succeed in securing one last supply curb extension at their meeting this week. As we have expected, anticipation of this last OPEC boost will provide some short-term support to prices, and post-election US stimulus dynamics (when they materialize) should provide some additional lift, but we expect the dismal demand dynamics of the coming quarters to keep prices capped, though this short-term rally has exceeded our expectations. This burst of optimism in oil markets increases the risk that OPEC fails to deliver meaningful additional support to the market in this week’s pivotal meeting, as member discipline will be questionable.   

Additional Themes

Black Friday Spending Shows a Resilient US Consumer – US consumers spent $9 billion online on Black Friday, up 21.6% on a year ago. Adobe had originally forecast sales of between $8.9 billion and $9.6 billion. The figure makes Black Friday the second-largest online spending day in US history, after 2019’s Cyber Monday. The National Retail Federation (NRF) has predicted that holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% this year from 2019 to a total of between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion, up from last year’s 4% gain that totaled $729.1 billion. Of that amount, NRF expects that online and other non-store sales will increase between 20% and 30% to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year. Nevertheless, holiday sales metrics can often contrast with overall consumption figures, and the disappointing October retail sales reading suggested a degree of deterioration in demand as the pandemic intensifies into its second winter season.

Signs of Progress Keep Brexit Deal Hopes High – The pound is turning higher again this morning, though remains below recent multi-month highs versus the dollar and euro, amid upbeat assessments of the prospects for an agreement this week between the UK and EU to avoid a disorderly year-end Brexit. The thorny matter of fishing rights apparently remains the key sticking point, though UK Foreign Secretary Raab expressed optimism that a compromise could be found, and indicated greater clarity on possible resolution of UK state aid and “level playing field” issues. – MPP view: Our base case remains a hard and/or disorderly Brexit at year-end, though the renewed pressure from the pandemic is adding further impetus for PM Johnson to compromise and secure a deal, while the sidelining of arch Brexiteer Cummings also suggests a possible softening of the UK position. We do not expect the EU to give much ground from here.