Oil spikes as Iran responds, Trump to speak

Morning Note

Geopolitics will dominate the session on Wednesday as traders grapple with the US-Iran fracas. Geopolitics always means uncertainty – we simply cannot know what will happen next, so look carefully at positions as markets are liable to knee-jerk moves.

Oil and gold spiked and stocks fell as Iran fired 22 surface-to-surface missiles at two US airbases in Iraq, in direct retaliation for the killing of Soleimani. So we know the Iranian response at last – this could actually reduce uncertainty unless we see escalation.

The next move lies with the US. Iran said the attacks were ’concluded’ and said it is not seeking a broader conflict. “We do not seek escalation or war,” Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister tweeted in English. The implication is that they will not carry out further reprisals and wish to draw a line under the situation. Frankly they’ve barely scratched the US with this attack – it appears like nothing but a way to save face. Threats to hit Dubai and Haifi are frankly ridiculous.

However Donald Trump has said previously he would respond to any reprisals with his own. The president plans to address the media on Wednesday morning eastern time.

Following the attacks he tweeted:

“All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.”

The president has a chance to de-escalate – but does he want to? My inclination remains that a broader conflict will be averted, largely because Iran does not want to be lured into a regime-changing conflict before it has the bomb, even if that’s what the US is seeking. But increasingly there is the risk of miscalculation as neither side wants to back down.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed shortly after take-off in Tehran with all 176 souls lost – not sure what this means or whether related. It was a Boeing. The coincidence is too much to ignore – it was surely caught in the crossfire?

Oil surged as the Iran strikes broke but has pared gains. WTI jumped to $65.60 but has since retreated to a little above $63. The May 2019 peak at $66.60 remains intact for the time being. Brent rallied north of $71 but subsequently fallen back to $69. Should this escalate quickly into a broader conflict there is a risk of supply disruption in the region that could send Brent to $80 a barrel. However, we must as ever stress that the global oil market is simply not exposed to shocks like it once was.

Gold surged to new 7-year highs at $1610 before easing back to $1590. Net longs are already stretched – is there any more this can run? As ever keep an eye on US real yields. Against this backdrop of rising geopolitical tension oil and gold are making new highs and higher lows for the time being. Gaps need to be filled quickly or they don’t get filled.

US stock market indices weaker on Tuesday handing back much of Monday’s rally, and we will see the impact of the Iranian reprisals dent European stocks on Wednesday. US futures have dipped but erased most of the initial drop following the strikes. Dow last trading around 28445 having dipped under 28150.

We need this US-Iran stuff to go away to focus again on the data. US services ISM yesterday was v good but Europe is still not swinging. German factory orders were below expectations coming in -6.5% yoy vs expected -4.7%. But the Ifo momentum points to turnaround coming.

In FX, GBPUSD has held the key support around 1.3140 to trade at 1.3150. Brexit comes back on the agenda but the exit is now a done deal. EURUSD is steady at 1.1150 but the failure to surmount 1.12 raises downside risks near-term.

Bitcoin jumps, stocks steady ahead of G20

Forex
Morning Note

All that glitters is not gold. Bitcoin is sparkling again but beware…breakdown’s coming up ‘round the bend. 

Bitcoin jumped above $11,000, taking it to its highest level since March 2018. Futures are back down to $10,855 around send time. Investors are ignoring what happened the last time we saw parabolic rises like this. Is it different this time? No, but people have short memories. Facebook’s Libra white paper may have stoked renewed interest in cryptos at a time when the buzz had already returned.

Bitcoin is more mature etc, but the fundamentals of this scheme remain unaltered. What I would say is that arguably big money is starting to view this differently and think it could be very costly to ignore if they get left behind. 

It may also be that the sharp liquidity boost we’ve seen from central banks is helping bitcoin. As we noted last week, it was only a matter of time before the $10k level was taken out it and now ultimately a retest of the ATHs near $20k looks very plausible. 

Once this market builds up a head of steam, it’s hard to stop it. As previously argued, this is a big momentum play and the more buzz there is, the more that traders will pile in behind the rising wave. Bears could get burned before the market turns – maybe better to wait and let it fizzle out, which it will eventually. The more it rallies, the bigger the blow-up when it comes. However, we should expect some pullbacks and retracements along the way. 

Equities, G20 

Stocks are maybe looking a little softer with the S&P 500 easing off its all-time highs on Friday and we’ve had a mixed bag from Asia overnight. Japan closed a shade higher at 21,285.  

Futures indicate European shares are trading on the flatline as investors take a breather and look ahead to the G20 later in the week. FTSE 100 finding support at 7400, with resistance at 7460.

Coming up this week the G20 is centre stage for markets. President Donald Trump is expected to meet Chinese counterpart XI Jinping at this week’s G20 meeting in Osaka. 

Last week Mr Trump tweeted: “Had a very good telephone conversation with President Xi of China. We will be having an extended meeting next week at the G-20 in Japan. Our respective teams will begin talks prior to our meeting.” No one thinks the US and China will do a deal in Osaka, but there is some hope that we will have a positive development that marks a shift in the rhetoric and a re-energising of talks following the breakdown in the recent discussions.  

Iran, oil 

Iranian tensions are not going away, providing some support for oil. Brent was trading around the $65 mark, with WTI at $58. Fundamentals remain bearish but the uncertainty in the Middle East, specifically the risk of a closure of sea lanes, is enough to keep crude above water. 

Since last week we’ve had news of the US launching a cyberattack on Iran and warnings from Iran about what a war would mean. Expect lots of turbulence from this but ultimately it does not look like the White House is spoiling for a fight. The risk is, as ever, in a miscalculation. 

Gold remained firm, holding above $1400 as a weaker dollar combined with dovish central banks kept traders happy to bid up the metal. Geopolitical tensions may be a small factor, but ultimately gold has huge negative correlation with real yields, which have come right down. Friday’s move off the lows later in the session were key and the bull trend remains intact. A rebound in USD could trap bulls.

FX 

The dollar is softer with the euro and sterling holding gains. The euro is holding at a three-month high around 1.1380 – look for a push to 1.14. 

Trading around 1.2760, GBPUSD is facing stiff resistance from previous highs and a big Fib level coming in, so we need to see this level breached on the upside to be more confident that the pound can maintain its gains.  

Coming up this week – Fed speakers and the PCE inflation print will keep the FX market interested.

Commodities: Gold hits five-year high as Fed strikes dovish tone, crude oil up after attack on US drone

Gold is trading at its highest level in more than five years after the US Federal Open Market Committee yesterday indicated that monetary policy may become more accommodative.

Gold has gained 1.7% after the FOMC held rates in the 2.25-2.5% range but signalled a cut was coming. It’s trading around $1,383 after rising to test resistance at $1,394 – prices haven’t been this high since March 2014.

Bulls may now be targeting the $1,400 handle, but there is plenty of room for a pullback before support comes into play at $1,362.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell stated in the post-meeting press conference that “Many participants now see the case for somewhat more accommodative policy has strengthened.”

Markets had been pricing in a rate cut in July. A weakening US dollar has helped push commodity prices higher in the wake of the meeting. Cable is up 0.6%, EUR/USD up 0.5%, and USD/JPY down 0.4%.

Crude oil rises as US and Iran clash over missile attack on drone

Oil prices have extended gains of up to 3% today after tensions in the Middle East cranked higher. Washington claims that a US military drone was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile in international airspace. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard asserted this morning that the drone had entered Iranian airspace.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have been building of late, after the US accused Iran of carrying out the recent attacks against oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran’s oil exports are the subject of sanctions by the US which came into force last year.

The news pushed Brent up to a ten-day high of $63.85, while crude oil rose to a 20-day high above $55.50.

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