Equity markets eye European Covid count, US postal ballots become electoral flash point

Dog days on animal farm: it’s a very quiet start to the session with European indices trading either side of the flatline in the first hour as traders eye the rise in coronavirus cases across the continent. Basic resources, healthcare and tech were higher, offsetting broad weakness in the rest of the market with travel stocks leading the losses.

Europe’s rising Covid-19 cases cause investor alarm

As noted in the week ahead, the number of new Covid-19 cases across Europe is the number one thing to watch in the coming days as it has the potential to send nascent economic recovery into reverse. Germany has extended travel warnings to nearly all of Spain, which while making it easier to grab a sun lounger is taking the shine off travel and leisure stocks again this morning. IAG and TUI both fell another 3-4%, with EasyJet down more than 2%.

A sharp rise in cases in Spain, France and Germany will make traders nervous about new lockdowns and ensure that local equity markets remain volatile. Nevertheless, basic resources stocks registered strong gains in early trade to offset much of the losses elsewhere.

US stocks tried many times but failed last week to notch a record intraday high, falling shy of the Feb 19th peak at 3,393.52 several times. The problem is that this is not a simple bull market, with the split between growth and value plain to see. All stock sectors are equal, but some are more equal than others.

US data mixed, stimulus talks going nowhere fast

Last week, US retail sales were soft, although ex-autos the number was better than expected. Unemployment claims fell below 1m for the first time. However a stimulus bill has not been discussed by Congress and with the end of the $600-a-week stimulus cheques, there may be a tougher time ahead for consumers and companies dependent on them – 70% of the US economy is consumer driven, so the loss of this additional income will be hard felt.

Unless a stimulus package is agreed, stock markets may need to take corrective action. Even if bears don’t take control, a pullback from the all-time high to consolidate gains before bulls mount a fresh drive higher should also be considered.

Asia moves higher despite cancelled US-China trade talks

Asian markets were broadly higher on Monday but shares in Tokyo fell 0.8% as figures showed Japan’s economy shrank by the most on record in the second quarter, declining 7.8%. This works out at -27.8% annualised, which makes it the sharpest downturn since 1980 when such records began. It’s also the third straight quarter of contraction. We also note that Tesla’s new registrations in China fell to 11,623 units in July, down from 15,529, which may indicate a slower rate of recovery in the world’s second largest economy.

US-China trade talks slated for Saturday did not happen with sources blaming scheduling conflicts and a desire to give China time to increase its purchase of US exports. Meanwhile, in Washington developments around the November election are starting to heat up. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called on the House of Representatives from recess to vote on a bill to ‘protect’ the US Postal Service, accusing President Trump of a “campaign to sabotage the election”.

Election officials are worried about delays that could mean ballots are not counted – a huge amount of extra demand this year because of Covid-19. Donald Trump doesn’t trust mail-in voting and has previously said he would block additional funding for the USPS. In short, Covid-19 has created a vast amount of extra demand for postal ballots and the White House recognises these are more likely to be Democrat votes.

Meanwhile the Democrat convention gets underway on Monday and lasts until Thursday, marking the end of the phoney war and start of the campaign proper. Watch for a speech from Kamala Harris, the VP candidate, on Wednesday, with Joe Biden to speak on Thursday.

GBP/USD in focus as Brexit talks resume

Brexit talks resume this week and the European Commission fired the opening salvo in the exchange, with executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis warning that the City will have to wait beyond the end of the year for equivalence. Talks between the UK and EU resume on Tuesday. Last week David Frost, the UK lead negotiator, said that a deal ‘can’ be reached in September, and that the UK was not interested in threatening the EU’s single market.

However he also reiterated that Britain would never compromise on the jurisdiction of the courts nor on fishing rights. There is significant headline risk for GBP this week as August rolls on. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal as far as sterling is concerned. GBPUSD was trading above 1.31 with the dollar offered across the board and the dollar index taking a 92 handle.