Travel stocks rally, China PPI shrugged off for now

European markets opened mixed but broadly remain calm as they have for the whole week. Everyone’s waiting for signals on inflation – investors seem to be largely shrugging one from China today. Having led the way higher yesterday, the FTSE 100 is weaker today, whilst European indices are just in the green as they chop sideways ahead of tomorrow’s ECB and US CPI double-header. The Tiggerish outgoing chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, said this morning that the UK economy is going gang-busters and inflation pressures are strong.

 

It was a mixed bag over the US in yesterday’s session as the Dow slipped a modest 30pts, the S&P 500 stayed flat as it struggles to make a new all-time high, and the Nasdaq rose 0.3%. The S&P 500 rose by less than 1pt to 4,227.26, a whisker below the record 4,238.04 reached on May 7th. 10yr Treasury yields slipped to 1.513%, the lowest level in a month. Remember payrolls data last week showed strong but not too strong job creation – enough to keep tapering talk at bay, or at least so the market seems to think. Yesterday’s huge JOLTS jobs openings report highlighted that the US economy is booming but a shortage of the right labour in the right places could a) force up wages and b) restrain growth (stagflation?). But, in the words of Mario Draghi, this is a ‘high class’ problem to have.

 

China’s producer price index, a key leading indicator of global inflation, rose at its fastest pace in 13 years as base effects from last year’s pandemic and a boom in commodity prices fed into higher prices paid by businesses. PPI in China rose at 9% in May, the highest it’s been since 2008, and a signal that inflationary pressures are not going away soon. It’s not a major surprise – expectations were for 8.5%: we know inflation is here right now. The question remains about the degree to which this is a transitory force or a lasting shift. There is another question: can companies pass these on to the consumer? If so, it runs the risk of stagflation; if not it could means slowing earnings growth. Does this favour the value trade still? We’ve seen a big rotation already, but growth and inflation this year ought to continue to be supportive. Cathie Wood of Ark thinks otherwise. “The rotation back to growth is probably close at hand,” she said at an Ark Invest webinar on Tuesday.  

 

Travel stocks popped up a touch on news the EU parliament has approved vaccine passports to ease travel this summer. We saw the likes of TUI, IAG, EasyJet and Ryanair all jump as the news broke on the wires. WH Smith also ticked higher, dependent as it is now on travel sales. SSP, the operator of food and beverage outlets in travel locations worldwide, should also be pleased. It reported a £300m loss this morning as revenues declined by almost 80%. Management say they don’t think sales will return to pre-Covid levels until 2024. Shares dropped at the open on the big loss but turned higher as the EU travel news broke. Meanwhile, the US eased travel restrictions for 61 countries, but not the UK. Nevertheless, there is a real sense that vaccines are working to open up the US, EU and UK to travel this summer, albeit not quite how it once was.

Oil pushed to fresh highs ahead of the EIA inventory report later and tomorrow’s OPEC monthly report. WTI drove on beyond $70 to mark an almost-three-year high overnight amid encouraging signs of demand recovery. Meanwhile fears of Iranian supply hitting the market later this year subsided after the US secretary of state Anthony Blinken said hundreds of sanctions would remain on the regime in Tehran, even if the two countries reach a nuclear deal. Whilst vaccines and the reopening of economies have left the market in deficit, helping to drive prices up 35% this year, the persistence of cases in some parts of the world combined with ongoing travel restrictions in Europe/US means there are still doubts about how quickly demand will recover this year.  Nevertheless, prices hit their highest since Oct 2018 after the API reported a draw of 2.1m barrels last week. 

Thursday sees the release of the latest OPEC monthly oil market report.  Last month’s report saw the cartel reiterate its belief in a strong recovery in world oil demand in the second half of 2021. This month’s report is not expected to show much change from the previous version, which said demand will rise by 5.95m bpd this year, up 6.6% from 2020 levels. Ahead of this, traders will look to today’s inventory report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Last week’s EIA inventory report showed stockpiles declined by 5.1m barrels, a larger-than-expected draw that helped to support the bullish view on oil prices as demand in the US recovers. Analysts expect a draw of 3.3m barrels to be posted today.

Elsewhere, Bitcoin trades at $34k after touching $31k yesterday. A SEC official expressed concern about the US financial regulator’s push to enforce stricter rules around cryptos. GBPUSD continues to hold below 1.42, but a breakout of the triangle to the upside needs to be monitored with MACD (1hr) crossover still supportive of a nudge up to 1.42 – failure at 1.4180 could beget a drop to the 1.4120 area.