Equity markets hungover ahead of Presidential debate + Brexit breakthrough?

There is the whiff of a hangover for investors this morning as European shares stumbled after an exuberant rally in the previous session that left the major bourses around 2-3% higher to start the week. We haven’t made it back to the key mid-Sep levels and bulls may be looking at downside risks in the shape of the slowing economic recovery and pre-election jitters.

Nancy Pelosi and Steve Mnuchin may be able to cut one last stimulus deal before the election, but it still looks like the odds of it passing the House and Senate are less than evens.

The FTSE 100 and DAX both fell 1% and the failure by bulls to build any momentum from these one-day bounces is a sign of tepid sentiment.

First presidential debate in focus

It’s all going to kick off later tonight, as the first US presidential debate takes place in Cleveland. The fun starts at 9pm US eastern time and will last one and a half hours. Trump won in Ohio, a typical battleground rust belt state, by eight points last time around but it is leaning towards Biden in 2020, according to the polls.

But we know polls only tell a portion of the story – it’s in the battlegrounds where it counts.

JPM did an investor survey of potential election outcomes – 79% said the worst-case scenario is a Democrat president and Senate, whilst 49% said the best case would be a Republican president and Senate.

We know which way Wall Street is leaning, but there is not a clear sense that the result will materially impact the course of equity markets. As discussed last week, whilst a Democrat clean sweep – the Blue-nami – would mean higher taxes and regulation, other factors may play into the bulls’ favour, notably the chance of a comprehensive fiscal package.

More importantly, the global recovery from the pandemic, the Fed and earnings will be key drivers for equities after the election. The only thing the market wants is to get the election out of the way – the real danger to near-term valuations would be a long period of legal disputes post-election, which may mean price action continues to chop sideways within the range set in the second half of September.

Vix futures are starting to look interesting again with the spread from Oct to Nov widening to $2 with the near month trading at $31 and November at $33, with December at $31.

Sterling up on hopes of breakthrough in Brexit talks

Brexit breakthrough? Hopes of a deal are on the up, amid reports that the EU is prepared to ditch its requirement to reach a broad agreement before drafting a text. This means they can start on the joint legal text whilst there are still a few outstanding issues that need to be resolved.

This has positive overtones, but the two sides still appear no closer on these critical last steps.  European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said yesterday: “The UK’s positions are far apart from what the EU can accept.”

Sterling drove to a two-week high, with GBPUSD rising to 1.29 before paring gains to sit around 1.2850 this morning.

Bank of England deputy governor warns over negative rates

But it the rally was less about Brexit than it was about comments from Dave Ramsden, the deputy governor of the Bank of England, who sounded a strong sound of caution over negative interest rates. The MPC seems to be airing its dirty laundry in public – the comments came only a day after Silvana Tenreyro pointedly backed negative rates.

Anyways it looks there is some clear ideological disputes among rate setters that needs to be worked out over the autumn, implying as Andrew Bailey suggested last week that negative rates are not likely on the near horizon, albeit they are being considered actively.

The problem for the Bank would be an unemployment crisis into Christmas that could put pressure on the MPC to act.

The dollar peeled off its recent two-month highs in the 94.60 region which is offering the near-term resistance. The pullback called for last week has been slow to emerge with a couple of retests of this level but near-term weakness is certainly becoming more evident.

Elsewhere, oil markets remain trapped in a tight range but could be heading for a pullback as global inventories start to build. API numbers later today, EIA numbers on tap Wednesday. Watch the Chinese numbers too as global inventories swing to builds.

Surging cases numbers cripple demand, whether rational or not. Contango spreads indicate softer demand and inventory builds ahead. The price action alone on WTI is a not a pretty picture for bulls.

Coming up, there is a slew of Fed speakers later today with Clarida, Quarles, Harker and Williams on the slate. Richard Clarida is probably the most important, with the Fed governor due to speak on Future Considerations for Treasury Market Resilience. Meanwhile, the Treasury market is completely dead as yields remain trapped in their tight ranges.

Chart: The S&P 500 is still trapped by the moving averages

The market rallied 1.6% on Monday and ran slap into the 50-day SMA, shy of the 21-day SMA. We have to see whether this marks the swing high and calls for another pullback.