WeekWatch – ‘Chinese stocks ended their remarkable recent rally last week’ July 2020
Chinese stocks ended their remarkable recent rally last week, despite second-quarter data suggesting that the country’s economy is rebounding quickly.
The CSI 300 Index slumped almost 5% on Thursday in its worst one-day fall since February. The news suggests that investors have doubts surrounding the announcement that Chinese GDP grew 3.2%, compared with the same period last year. The picture is slightly uneven, with data suggesting that sectors such as industry and construction are faring well, but hospitality, retail and transport are lagging.
“The upshot is that while there are some reasons to think the GDP figures may be overstating growth slightly, there is little doubt that the recovery has been rapid,” noted Julian Evans-Pritchard, Senior China Economist at Capital Economics.
Meanwhile, a renewal of tensions between China and the US is continuing to weigh on markets. The situation worsened last week, as President Trump retaliated to China’s imposition of a draconian security law in Hong Kong by signing the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, a piece of legislation that paves the way for sanctions on Chinese officials.
Last week provided an example of the effects of that tension. Boris Johnson’s Cabinet decided to ban Huawei, the Chinese technology giant, from supplying new 5G equipment to the UK. The decision follows intense debate about the security implications of Huawei’s involvement in critical infrastructure due to its close ties to China’s ruling party
Earnings season began last week. Companies have begun releasing their second-quarter results, detailing the true impact of COVID-19 and the global economic slowdown. Very few companies will escape unscathed from the crisis – S&P 500 earnings in some sectors are expected to drop almost 45% year-on-year, according to FactSet. Investors are now scouring results for clues about how companies have coped, and how they are positioned for the coming months.
“We expect headlines to be bad, but for the market reaction to be muted to positive on outperformance of exceedingly low expectations”, argued George Curtis from TwentyFour Asset Management, co-managers of the St. James’s Place Diversified Bond fund.
Kicking off the season last week were the major US banks, which have largely benefitted from market volatility and central bank support. However, in a sign of further fallout from COVID-19, Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan and Citigroup together set aside $28 billion to deal with expected loan losses due to COVID-19.
Wells Fargo also reported a $2.4 billion loss for the quarter. The bank is grappling with operating costs that it can’t cut easily due to pressure from regulators, while unable to improve its margins by growing its balance sheet due to federal limitations, notes Dan O’Keefe of Artisan Partners, co-manager of the St. James’s Place Global Value fund. Artisan Partners exited its position in Wells Fargo earlier this year due to its view that the bank was being “squeezed on all fronts”.
Both Citigroup’s and JP Morgan’s results were positive, says O’Keefe, but they were interpreted differently by the market – with the former’s stock going down and the latter’s going up. In his view, the only explanation is that Citigroup’s statement was more pessimistic about the future than J.P. Morgan’s. That difference highlights how a tumultuous quarter has left investors especially keen to hear predictions about the future business environment.
But it’s more useful to scan results for clues about the present, says O’Keefe: “Nobody knows what’s going to happen for the rest of the year, but the results reporting season gives you insight as to how well the businesses are managing, how good those management teams are, and how resilient those businesses are.”
Two big meetings took place in Europe last week. The first was at the European Central Bank, which, as expected, decided not to alter its level of stimulus. European stocks fell on the news.
Markets were more focused on the summit in Brussels, where European leaders gathered on Friday to thrash out the details of a €750 billion COVID-19 recovery fund. There were disagreements surrounding how much of the total ought to consist of grants rather than loans, and what sorts of conditions should be attached to funds when they are distributed. It appeared that the final sum, if agreed, might be smaller after the weekend.
At the time of publication, a weekend of talks had pushed the participants closer to a deal, with negotiations set to resume this afternoon. Markets seemed cautiously optimistic that an agreement was near. The euro strengthened against the dollar on signs that progress had been made, reaching its highest level since March.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, one of the ‘frugal group’ of nations seeking to limit the amount of grants that are disbursed, struck a note of optimism in the early hours of Monday morning, when he told reporters that the talks were “back on track” after clashes over the weekend.
Artisan Partners and TwentyFour Asset Management are fund managers for St. James’s Place.
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