Stocks on track for best first half in 22 years

24-06-2019

Stocks on track for best first half in 22 years

The fate of U.S.-China trade talks could play out in the week ahead, and that could set the tone for markets and the economy in the second half of the year. Stocks set new highs in the past week, after the Federal Reserve signaled it was ready to cut interest rates if necessary, and Fed Chair Jerome Powell said trade and the global economy are two factors the Fed is watching. The S&P 500 was on track, as of Friday, to score a more than 17.6% gain for the first half, which ends Friday. If it stays at that level that would be the best first half performance since 1997, when the S&P was up 19.4% in the first six months. The big event in the coming week has been as anticipated for weeks, and it could sway sentiment for weeks to come. At the end of the week, the G-20 meets in Osaka Japan for meetings Friday and Saturday.

‘Could go either way’

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to have their own dinner meeting at the G-20 next weekend, following discussions between their trade representatives. That meeting could decide how trade negotiations go forward, and whether the U.S. proceeds with another round of tariffs, this time on $300 billion in goods. “Everybody knows the Trump, Xi meeting could go either way,” said Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at Bannockburn Global Forex. “I think everyone expects a new tariff freeze. That the $300 billion won’t go into effect. The most you can hope for out of G-20 meeting is the tariffs are where they are right now, and there’s no more escalation.That also means China will not release the list of companies they won’t do business with.” Chandler said he will be looking for signaling from Trump and Xi on whether they are working on a deal that would be just on the trade topics, or bigger issues like North Korea and differences on the South China Sea. “I do think the G-20 is quite important in that there’s not question in recent months, the trade war started to really move into measures of confidence and measures of manufacturing activity,” said Ethan Harris, head of global economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Harris said he expects a positive message with an agreement of no further escalation, but probably not signs of significant progress. “I think the vibes coming out of it will be modestly positive,” he said. “Whether there’s an escalation to the next round of China tariffs is going to set the theme for the rest of the year. Even if tariffs on China are reversed, or partly reversed, at some point, every time there’s an escalation or temporary escalation, it’s another kind of blow to confidence,” he said. Harris said there’s the same risk as after the Trump, Xi meeting at the last G-20, where it was a positive tone but there was little progress afterwards and the markets then reacted negatively. “I think there’s been this broad increased awareness from every economist that the trade war is starting to have noticeable impact. Further escalation with China would be quite a big signal. If the Trump administration puts tariffs on all the Chinese products it roughly doubles the size of the trade war and it sends a very strong message that there are very few constraints on where [Trump] goes next,” he said.

Powell and data

Besides the meeting between Trump and Xi, the market focus will be on anything that could provide clues on what the Fed or even the European Central Bank will do, after ECB President Mario Draghi last week basically promised a new era of easing. Consumer price inflation data is expected for the euro zone, and on Friday, the U.S. personal consumption expenditure data is released, including the PCE deflator, a major inflation indicator for the Fed. There are also a few Fed speakers, including Powell who speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations Tuesday. “It’s probably going to be a big picture kind of talk about the broader challenges of the Fed,” said Ethan Harris, head of global economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “They’re certainly going to ask questions about political influence at the Fed, and he’s going to dodge those. I think what I’m waiting for him to comment on is what it is they’re looking for to determine whether they’re going to cut in July or not.” Harris said Powell is not likely to say anything he did not reveal at his press briefing in the past week, and the big focus will be on the lead up to the weekend G-20. Falling interest rates and rising oil prices were two big factors in the market int he past week. The 10-year Treasury yield dipped briefly below 2%, a near 3-year low, as the Fed signaled its willingness to cut interest rates. “Should we get some sort of trade agreement that would be a nice pop to the [stock] market, but that could take the rate cut off the table,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA. Stovall said the stock market will also be watching oil after its rapid run higher, and the events in the Middle East surrounding Iran. West Texas Intermediate futures were up more than 9% in the past week, to $57.43. “The old adage is every $10 increase in the price of oil takes off 20 to 25 basis points off of real GDP growth,” he said. Stovall said stocks have had a solid run so far this year, but they may face some rocky times between now and the end of the summer. “For the rest of this ‘sell in May’ period we could be facing some challenges, headwinds. I think we’ will still end higher on the year. I think the seasonally optimistic September to November period will kick in but there will be a lot of challenges...will the Fed be cutting rates? what are the growth prospects?” he said.