Global protests gaining attention in financial markets

Global protests gaining attention in financial markets
By Marc Jones and Mike Dolan

LONDON (Reuters) – An alarming spread of street protests and civil unrest across the world in recent weeks looms large on the radar of financial markets, with investors wary the resulting pressures on stretched government finances will be one of many consequences.

Money managers and risk analysts seeking a common thread between often unconnected sources of popular anger – in Hong Kong, Beirut, Cairo, Santiago and beyond – reckon the unrest is particularly worrying following years of modest global economic growth and relatively low joblessness.

If, as many fear, the world is slipping back into its first recession in more than a decade, then the root causes of restive streets will only deepen and force embattled governments to loosen purse strings further to fund better employment, education, healthcare and other services to placate them.

Forced fiscal loosening in a world already swamped with debt and heading into another downturn may unnerve creditors and bond holders, especially those holding government debt as an insurance against recession and a haven from volatility.

“Protests per se are unpredictable for investors by definition and fit a pattern of rising political risks that have affected market perceptions in almost all geographies,” said Standard Chartered Bank strategist Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce.

“Investors will get more nervous when they see that a country’s IMF package or investment promises are conditioned on fiscal consolidation and that the first austerity measures are followed by massive protests.”

More broadly popular pushback against debt reduction and austerity raises serious questions about how still-mushrooming debt loads can be sustained, even after the massive central bank intervention to underwrite it in recent years.

Many also fear the feedback loop.

According to the International Monetary Fund this month, a global downturn half as severe as the one spurred by the last financial crisis in 2007-9 would result in $19 trillion of corporate debt being considered “at risk” – defined as debt from firms whose earnings would not cover the cost of their interest payments let alone pay off the original debt.

Rising bankruptcies at so-called “zombie” firms would, in turn, risk spurring rising job losses and yet more unrest.

Marc Ostwald, global strategist at ADM Investor Services, said he saw many of the protests as ‘straws that break the camel’s back’ – tipping points in a broad swathe of long-standing complaints about inequality, corruption and oppression, variations on the broader themes of populism and anti-globalization.

But Ostwald said there was a worry for financial markets who have surfed rising debt piles for years thanks to central bank money printing and bond buying.

“At some point the smothering impact of QE (quantitative easing) will run its course,” Ostwald said.

“And as many of the zombie companies then go to the wall, so governments will face rising unemployment and desperately need to borrow money to prop up their economies – particularly as social unrest rises, as we are witnessing.”

Of the dozens of protest movements that have emerged in recent years, here are some of the most prominent ones.

HONG KONG

Hong Kong has been battered by five months of often violent protests after the city state tried to bring in legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. The plan has been formally withdrawn but it is unlikely to end the unrest as it meets only one of five demands pro-democracy protesters have.

On Tuesday, authorities announced HK$2 billion ($255 million) relief measures for the city’s economy, particularly in its transport, tourism and retail industries. It followed a more sizeable HK$19.1 billion ($2.4 billion) package in August to support the underprivileged and businesses. Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary has also said more assistance will be given if needed.

The Hang Seng, one of Asia’s most prominent share markets, is down 12% since the protests started and although it has been recovered some ground over the last two months, it has continued to lag other major markets.

LEBANON

Hundreds of thousands of people have been flooding the streets for nearly two weeks, furious at a political class they accuse of pushing the economy to the point of collapse.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced on Monday a symbolic halving of the salaries of ministers and lawmakers, as well as steps toward implementing long-delayed measures vital to fixing the finances of the heavily indebted state.

Markets are increasingly worried it will all end in default. The government’s bonds are now selling at a 40% discount and Credit Default Swaps, which investor use as insurance against those risks, have soared.

IRAQ

Similar factors were behind deadly civil unrest in Iraq which flared in early October. More than 100 people died in violent protests across a country where many Iraqis, especially young people, felt they had seen few economic benefits since Islamic State militants were defeated in 2017.

The government responded with a 17-point plan to increase subsidized housing for the poor, stipends for the unemployed and training programs and small loans initiatives for unemployed youth.

 

EXTINCTION REBELLION

This London-bred movement is pushing for political, economic and social changes to avert the worst devastation of climate change. XR protesters began blockading streets and occupying prominent public spaces late last year, and following 11 days of back-to-back protests in April the UK government symbolically declared a climate “emergency”.

The movement is developing alongside the growing FridaysForFuture led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg which sees school children boycott lessons on Fridays.

It has been particularly strong in Germany and the government there recently launched the ‘Gruene Null’ or ‘Green Zero’ policy which specifies that any spending that pushes the government’s budget into deficit must be on climate-focused investments.

Incoming European Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, has also introduced an ambitious “European Green Deal” which would include the support of 1 trillion euros ($1.11 trillion) in sustainable investments across the bloc.

Amazon <AMZN.O> Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos last month pledged to make the largest U.S. e-commerce company net carbon neutral by 2040.

CHILE

At least 15 people have died in Chile’s protests which started over a hike in public transport costs but have grown to reflect simmering anger over intense economic inequality as well as costly health, education and pension systems seen by many as inadequate.

Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera announced an ambitious raft of measures on Tuesday aimed at quelling the unrest, including with a guaranteed minimum wage, a hike in the state pension offering and the stabilization of electricity costs.

ECUADOR

Violent protests at the start of October forced Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno to scrap his own law to cut expensive fuel subsidies that have been in place for four decades.

The government had estimated the cuts would have freed up nearly $1.5 billion per year in the government budget, helping to shrink the fiscal deficit as part of a $4.2 billion IMF loan deal Moreno had signed.

BOLIVIA

Mass protests and marches broke out in Bolivia this week after the opposition said counting in the country’s presidential election at the weekend was rigged in favor of current leader Evo Morales.

The unrest – already the severest test of Morales’ rule since he came to power in 2006 – could spread if his declaration of outright victory is confirmed, after monitors, foreign governments and the opposition called for a second-round vote.

EGYPT

Protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi broke out in Cairo and other cities in September following online calls for demonstrations against alleged government corruption, as well as recent austerity-focused measures.

Protests are rare under the former army chief and about 3,400 people have been arrested since the protests began, including about 300 who have since been released, according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, an independent body.

The country’s main stock market <.EGX30> dropped 10% over three days as the protests kicked off although it has since recovered over half of that ground.

FRANCE

The Gilets Jaunes movement named after the fluorescent yellow safety vests that all French motorists must carry began a year ago to oppose fuel tax increases, but quickly morphed into a broader backlash against President Emmanuel Macron’s government, rising economic inequality and climate change.

Macron swiftly reversed the tax hikes and announced a swathe of other measures worth more than 10 billion euros ($11.3 billion) to boost the purchasing power of lower-income voters. That was followed up with another 5 billion euro package of tax cuts in April.

ARAB SPRING

Beginning in late 2010, anti-government protests roiled Tunisia. By early 2011 they had spread into what became known as the Arab Spring wave of protests and uprisings which ended up toppling not only Tunisia’s leader but Egypt, Libya, and Yemen’s too. The Arab Spring uprisings in Syria developed into a civil war that continues to be waged today.

ETHIOPIA

A total of 16 people have been killed in at least four cities since fierce clashes broke out on Wednesday against the reformist policies of Nobel Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The greater freedoms that those policies bring have unleashed long-repressed tensions between Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups as local politicians claim more resources, power and land for their own regions. Ethiopia is due to hold elections next year.

(Reporting by Marc Jones and Mike Dolan, additional reporting by Karin Strohecker in London and Mitra Taj in La Paz; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

As Amazon burns, 230 big investors call on firms to protect world’s rainforests

By Gram Slattery

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – With widespread fires wreaking havoc on the Amazon, over 200 investors representing some $16.2 trillion under management on Wednesday called on companies to do their part in halting the destruction of the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

Nongovernment organization Ceres said in a statement that 230 funds have signed a declaration calling on firms to keep a close tab on supply chains, among other measures to curtail forest destruction.

Signatories range from major private managers like HSBC Global Asset Management and BNP Paribas Asset Management to public pension funds like California’s CalPERS, according to a list provided by Ceres, a Boston-based NGO encouraging sustainability among investors.

“Deforestation and loss of biodiversity are not only environmental problems. There are significant negative economic effects associated with these issues and they represent a risk that we as investors cannot ignore,” said Jan Erik Saugestad, CEO of Storebrand Asset Management, Norway’s largest private asset management firm and one of the signatories.

The resolution did not explicitly say signatories were threatening to withdraw investments from any companies. Still, it added to the pressure that international corporations and investors have put on partners operating in the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest that lies in Brazil, Bolivia and seven other countries.

In Brazil alone, more 2,400 square miles of the Amazon have been deforested this year, an area larger than the U.S. state of Delaware.

Meanwhile, 60,472 fires have been recorded year-to-date in the Amazon, up 47% from last year, according to government data. Many fires have been set intentionally by farmers and ranchers, and the response of the government of Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been criticized as indifferent.

In neighboring Bolivia, President Evo Morales has come under scrutiny for his ambitions to make the country a global food supplier, calling agricultural commodities the “new gold” that will help diversify the economy.

The resolution called on companies to implement a “no deforestation policy” with “quantifiable, time-bound commitments,” assess and disclose the risks their supply chains pose to forests, establish a monitoring system for supply chain partners and report annually on “deforestation risk exposure and management.”

“There is an urgent need to focus more on effective management of agricultural supply chains,” Jan Erik Saugestad, CEO of Storebrand Asset Management, was quoted as saying in a statement released by Ceres.

In August, VF Corp – owner of apparel brands such as The North Face and Vans – said it would stop purchasing leather from the Amazon in response to the fires.

Norway, home to the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has urged several of its companies to ensure they do not contribute to Amazon deforestation, including oil firm Equinor ASA, fertilizer-maker Yara International ASA and aluminum producer Norsk Hydro ASA.

Separately, investors managing $15 trillion in assets turned up the heat on oil and gas sector ahead of a United Nations summit in New York aimed at accelerating efforts to fight climate change.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Additional reporting by Tatiana Bautzer in Sao Paulo; Editing by David Gregorio)

Wall St. takes a breather with all eyes on Fed meeting

By Shreyashi Sanyal

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes took a pause on Wednesday, after a rally the previous day, as investors held back from making big bets ahead of the Federal Reserve’s policy statement that is expected to lay the groundwork for future interest rate cuts.

Markets have climbed this month, with the S&P 500 index gaining 6% so far and 1% away from its all-time high hit in early May, fueled by hopes of a rate cut.

The Fed’s statement and new economic projections are scheduled to be released at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT), providing investors an opportunity to gauge the impact of a prolonged U.S.-China trade conflict, President Donald Trump’s demands for a rate cut and softer-than-expected economic data on monetary policy thinking.

The U.S. central bank will likely leave rates unchanged but the market is factoring in a cut as soon as next month. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. ET (1830 GMT).

“I think the potential for the Fed to disappoint today is significantly higher than the market expects,” said Yousef Abbasi, global market strategist at INTL FCStone Financial Inc in New York.

“The Fed has already told us that it’s ready to act but with the metrics we’ve seen in the economy – yes, they’re mixed, but they’re still growing – it just becomes very difficult for someone to say we absolutely need a rate cut.”

U.S. Treasury yields rose on Wednesday, tracking the European market, after steep falls the previous day, as investors rebalanced positions ahead of the Fed decision.

The financial sector gained 0.40%, with bank stocks rising by 0.15%.

At 11:18 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 39.27 points, or 0.15%, at 26,504.81 and the S&P 500 was down 0.23 points, or 0.01%, at 2,917.52.

The Nasdaq Composite was down 3.74 points, or 0.05%, at 7,950.15.

The healthcare sector rose 0.44%, the most among the 11 major S&amp;P sectors, helped by gains in UnitedHealth Group Inc, Pfizer Inc and Allergan Plc.

Allergan climbed 4.03% after the drugmaker said its constipation drug, jointly developed with Ironwood Pharmaceuticals Inc, improved symptoms of bloating, pain and discomfort in patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome with constipation.

Adobe Inc jumped 4.43% after the Photoshop software provider beat analysts’ estimates for quarterly profit and revenue.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.10-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 1.30-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&amp;P index recorded 15 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 35 new highs and 43 new lows.

(Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

Fed policymakers promise response if U.S. economy slows

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell poses for photos with Fed Governor Lael Brainard (L) at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Saphir

By Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Signs that the economy is losing momentum hung over a Federal Reserve summit for a second straight day as policymakers hinted they would be ready to cut interest rates if the U.S. trade war threatens a decade-long expansion.

Investors added to bets that the Fed would have to lower borrowing costs multiple times by year-end on Wednesday after a report by a payrolls processor showed private employers added 27,000 jobs in May, well below economists’ expectations and the smallest monthly gain in more than nine years.

The U.S. economy will mark 10 years of expansion in July, the longest on record. Strong job gains have been a key feature. But rising trade tensions between the United States and China have led to tit-for-tat tariffs, put a chill on U.S. businesses’ spending and exacerbated a manufacturing slowdown.

Current and threatened U.S.-China tariffs could slash global economic output by 0.5% in 2020, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday as world finance leaders prepare to meet in Japan this weekend.

“We’ll be prepared to adjust policy to sustain the expansion,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard said in an interview with Yahoo Finance on the sidelines of the Fed’s Chicago summit. “The U.S. economy, generally, is in the midst of a very lengthy expansion, the U.S. consumer remains confident, but trade policy is definitely a downside risk.”

Brainard’s remarks follow a pledge on Tuesday by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to react “as appropriate” to trade-war fallout. Other Fed officials struck a similarly cautious tone.

Since the Fed’s last rate-setting meeting, Trump slapped new 25% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports and threatened new import taxes on Mexican goods unless immigration slows. Until recently officials had been largely signaling that they would keep rates at their 2.25-2.50% target range.

The trade war added urgency to what was intended to be a strategy session at the Chicago Fed focused on how the central bank can shore up its policies. Officials worry that economies risk getting stuck in a self-fulfilling cycle of low rates and low inflation that will make it harder to rebound from recessions and require increasingly forceful intervention.

To combat those risks, Fed officials are considering whether they want to temporarily welcome inflation a bit above their 2%-a-year target – and keep rates lower for longer – in the hopes that such a strategy will make attaining the central bank’s goals for maximum employment and price stability more likely.

Policymakers are also revisiting exactly what maximum employment means and whether they are doing a good enough job in how they speak to the public. No changes are expected until next year.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir; Writing and additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Wall Street plunges on heightening U.S.-China trade worries

By Amy Caren Daniel

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes tumbled more than 1 percent on Tuesday, as renewed worries over trade negotiations with China stoked global growth worries and kept investors away from risky assets.

Beijing said on Tuesday that Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will visit the United States this week for trade talks, playing down U.S. President Donald Trump’s unexpected threat on Sunday that he would raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent.

Trade tensions also pushed U.S. treasury yields lower as investors turned to low-risk government bonds, pressuring interest rate sensitive banking stocks, which fell 1.69%. [US/]

“Many had been looking at this week as providing a potential breakthrough in talks between the world’s two largest economies, yet we instead have seen the U.S. threaten a raft of new tariffs,” Joshua Mahony, senior market analyst at IG, wrote in a note.

“Much of the gains of the eventual deal have been factored into market valuations and thus there is a substantial risk that markets could jolt lower if the direction of talks shift towards more, rather than less barriers to trade.”

Boeing Co, the single largest U.S. exporter to China, slipped 2.7% and Caterpillar Inc declined 1.9%.

All the major S&amp;P sectors were trading in the red, with technology companies posting the steepest decline of 2%.

The CBOE Volatility Index, a gauge of investor anxiety, spiked to its higher level in over three months.

At 10:55 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 355.41 points, or 1.34%, at 26,083.07. The S&P 500 was down 42.23 points, or 1.44%, at 2,890.24 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 138.67 points, or 1.71%, at 7,984.62.

Marquee names including Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc fell more than 1.7% and weighed on markets.

The earnings season has now reached its homestretch. Of the 414 S&P companies that have reported earnings so far, about 75% have surpassed analysts’ estimates, according to Refinitiv data.

The upbeat reports have turned around earnings estimates for the first quarter to an almost 1.2% rise, a sharp improvement from the 2.3% decline expected at the start of the earnings season.

American International Group Inc jumped 6.7%, the most among S&amp;P companies, after the insurer reported a quarterly profit that blew past expectations.

Among decliners, Mylan NV tumbled 17% after the drugmaker missed Wall Street estimates for quarterly revenue, hurt partly by manufacturing problems at its Morgantown plant in West Virginia.

Shares of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc fell 5% after the drugmaker missed quarterly profit estimates.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 4.26-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 2.95-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded four new 52-week highs and four new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 37 new highs and 22 new lows.

(Reporting by Amy Caren Daniel and Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Arun Koyyur)

Your Money: What another U.S. interest rate rise means for you

A woman shows U.S. dollar bills at her home in Buenos Aires, Argentina August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

By Beth Pinsker

NEW YORK (Reuters) – If you have credit card debt, take the next U.S. Federal Reserve move to raise interest rates as a big, flashing warning sign.

Short-term rates are the most affected when the government nudges up the federal funds rate, which the Fed is expected to do on Wednesday, likely raising it a quarter point. That will be the third move in 2018 and the eighth since the Fed started inching rates up from effectively zero in December 2015. One more hike is expected before the end of the year.

“That means your 15 percent interest rate on a credit card is now a 17 percent rate,” said Greg McBride, chief economist for Bankrate.com. “If you haven’t already, it’s important to take steps to insulate yourself.”

The message to get out of debt is a hard sell to the American households holding nearly a trillion dollars in credit card debt, according to Nerdwallet.com’s 2017 survey.

Many pay only the monthly minimum payments, incurring interest charges that balloon their balances.

It is a “treadmill to nowhere,” McBride said.

On a card with a $10,000 balance, paying the minimum (interest plus 1 percent of the balance) will cost you $12,000 in interest and take 27 years to pay off at a 15 percent rate. Bump that up to a 17 percent interest rate, and you pay $13,600 in interest – plus, it would take an extra year to be out of debt, according to Bankrate.com’s calculator (https://bit.ly/2v4vaMm).

Experts say you should push your credit card debt to a zero-percent balance transfer card. You can still get offers for as long as 21 months, with fees, according to Nick Clements, co-founder of the money advice site MagnifyMoney.com. Then pay down as much money as you can to reduce the debt in that time period.

It is also a good idea to explore the personal loan market, where rates are rising but not as fast because of competition, Clements said. These loans have short repayment periods, typically under five years.

AVOID HOME EQUITY LOANS

If you are in debt and own a home, now is not necessarily the best time to be tempted with a home equity loan to pay off debt, said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist of housing site LendingTree.com.

The variable interest rates of a home equity loan are also affected by the Fed raising interest rates, although not as highly correlated.

The biggest risk? Cashing out home equity to pay down debt, but then as soon as you are even, digging another financial hole and not having anything left to tap.

“You need a broader plan to control your spending,” said Kapfidze.

For those looking to buy a house or refinance, the latest Fed move will have a slower impact. Other things influence mortgage rates along with the Fed funds rate, but those factors are heading in the same direction.

Kapfidze does not expect any large mortgage rate moves in the near term, but that, he said, is because there had already been a runup in recent weeks.

Savings rates are the last to move because of Fed actions. Banks raise rates on what they are selling before they raise rates on what they are buying, Kapfidze said.

But if savers turn into shoppers, they will find some better deals in the coming months. Online banks are being particularly aggressive about rates for certificates of deposit, with new players like Goldman Sachs’ Marcus, Clements said.

Investors should look at the yield on their fixed income investments, which might be around 3 percent and compare it to a 12-month CD for 2.5 percent.

“If you think about it, low rates mean people take more risk. As rates are rising, people should be able to take less risk,” Clements said.

(Editing by Lauren Young and Bernadette Baum)

Twelve charts to watch for signs of the next U.S. downturn

FILE PHOTO: The Dow Jones Industrial average is displayed on a screen after the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Megan Davies

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Economists and investors are watching for signs they hope can predict when the wheels will come off a near-record U.S. economic expansion and equities bull market.

Some are already worried about a flattening Treasuries yield curve and slowing housing market, even as other economic vital signs remain healthy.

U.S. economic growth will probably slow gradually over the next two years and the threat of a trade war has made a recession more likely, a recent Reuters poll predicted.

A majority of bond market experts in a separate poll now predict a yield curve inversion in the next one to two years, a red flag for those who believe short-term yields rising above longer-term yields means an imminent recession.

“Almost every client meeting includes questions about where the economy and markets sit in the cycle,” JPMorgan head of cross-asset fundamental strategy John Normand wrote in a recent research note.

The U.S. economy is a year away from surpassing the record 120-month 1991-2001 expansion, according to data from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The stock market bull run is also nearing a record. Bull markets are typically measured retroactively, but U.S. equities could hit their longest bull run in history on Aug. 22, according to S&amp;P.

The U.S. economy is “late cycle” but a recession is not imminent, a number of economists and strategists say.

“We believe that the U.S. economic expansion is entering the final third of its cycle,” wrote analysts at Wells Fargo Investment Institute, although they said various indicators do not suggest a recession this year.

1. THE YIELD CURVE

The U.S. yield curve plots Treasury securities with maturities ranging from 4 weeks to 30 years. The spread between two-year and 10-year notes is typically used when discussing yield curve inversion. The gap between long- and short-dated yields turning negative has been a reliable predictor of recessions. The yield curve has been flattening in recent months.

2. SHORT-TERM BILLS

An alternative yield curve measures the difference in the current interest rate on 3-month Treasury bills and expectations for the yields 18 months from now. Federal Reserve officials have found this measure is a stronger predictor of recession in the coming year. The measure currently suggests little recession risk.

3. UNEMPLOYMENT

The unemployment rate and initial jobless claims ticked higher just ahead or in the early days of the last two recessions before rising sharply. Unemployment hit an 18-year low in May of 3.8 percent but nudged up to 4 percent in June.

4. OUTPUT GAP

The output gap between the economy’s actual and potential gross domestic product has fallen ahead of the last two recessions.

“Currently we estimate that the output gap is nearly closed, but not yet in the ‘overheating’ territory,” wrote Kathy Bostjancic, head of U.S. investor services at Oxford Economics, in May.

FILE PHOTO: A trader works in a work space on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A trader works in a work space on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

5. STOCK MARKETS

Falling equity markets can signal a recession is looming or has already started to take hold. Markets turned down before the 2001 recession and tumbled at the start of the 2008 recession.

On a 12-month rolling basis, the market has turned down ahead of the last two recessions. The 12-month rolling average percent move is now below its 2018 peak but higher than recent lows.

6. BOOM-BUST BAROMETER

The Boom-Bust Barometer devised by Ed Yardeni at Yardeni Research measures spot prices of industrials inputs like copper, steel and lead scrap, and divides that by initial unemployment claims. The measure fell before or during the last two recessions and is below its 2018 peak.

7. HOUSING MARKET

Housing starts and building permits have fallen ahead of some recent recessions. Housing starts and permits fell to the lowest level since September 2017 in June.

8. EARNINGS GROWTH

S&amp;P 500 earnings growth dipped ahead of the last recession. Earnings growth is expected to slow slightly this year and more next year, but remain in the high single digits or low double digits in 2019.

9. SOUTH KOREA EXPORTS

South Korean exports fell during the last recession and before the previous recession.

Those exports, which include cars, phones, steel and other products, tend to be a leading indicator, said Bank of America Merrill Lynch chief investment strategist Michael Hartnett. Exports from China are also increasingly important as weak Asian exports tend to coincide with weak global and U.S. growth.

South Korea’s export growth came to a halt in June. China, the world’s largest exporter, reported exports accelerated in June.

The United States and China have fired the first shots in what could become a protracted trade war. The United States and South Korea agreed in March to revise a trade pact.

10. HIGH-YIELD SPREADS

The gap between high-yield and government bond yields rose ahead of the 2007-2009 recession and then widened dramatically. Credit spreads typically widen when perceived risk of default rises. Spreads have fallen slightly this year.

11. INVESTMENT-GRADE YIELDS

Risk premiums on investment-grade corporate bonds over comparable Treasuries have topped 2 percent during or just before six of the seven U.S. recessions since 1970. Spreads on Baa-rated corporate bonds rose to 2 percent this month based on Moody’s Investors Services data, according to Leuthold Group’s chief investment strategist Jim Paulsen.

12. MISERY INDEX

The so-called Misery Index adds together the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. It typically rises during recessions and sometimes prior to downturns. It has nudged higher in 2018 but is still relatively low.

(Additional reporting by Richard Leong, Dan Burns, Jenn Ablan and Howard Schneider; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

Explainer: Rising U.S. inflation and what it means for markets

A man unloads vegetables at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, California, March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Chuck Mikolajczak and Lucia Mutikani

(Reuters) – U.S. financial markets have been roiled recently by something neither the economy nor investors have had to contend with for the better part of a decade: concerns they may soon have to reckon with rising inflation.

The S&P 500.is down more than 7 percent from its lifetime high hit on Jan. 26 through Feb. 13, after falling as much as 10.2 percent, and yields on the benchmark U.S. 10-year note have climbed to a four-year high, largely due to inflation worries.

What exactly is inflation, aside from a rise in prices for goods and services, and why is it having such a strong influence on markets?

Inflation is measured in a number of ways by various government agencies, and as long as the economy continues to expand it will be a consideration for markets.

Investors will get the latest inflation data on Thursday with the monthly Producer Price Index.

WHAT IS INFLATION AND HOW IS IT MEASURED?

While inflation decreases consumer purchasing power, a certain level of inflation is considered a reflection of a strengthening economy and the impact on consumers can be offset by rising wages.

The U.S. government publishes several inflation measures on a monthly and quarterly basis. The main measures are the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price indexes. The CPI and PCE are constructed differently and perform differently over time.

The monthly CPI, compiled by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), measures the change in prices paid by consumers for goods and services. The BLS data is based on spending patterns of consumers and wage earners, although it excludes rural residents and members of the Armed Forces.

CPI measures the prices that consumers pay for frequently purchased items. The components are weighted to reflect their relative importance, with the weightings derived from household surveys. Some of the components of the CPI basket such as food and energy can be volatile. Stripping out food and energy from the CPI gives us the core CPI, seen as a measure of the underlying inflation trend.

The January reading on consumer prices released on Wednesday showed prices rose more than expected, up 0.5 percent versus the 0.3 percent expectation. The core reading rose 0.3 percent against the 0.2 percent forecast. Both numbers increased from the 0.2 percent reading for December.

Another reading is the Producer Price Index (PPI), which measures prices from the seller’s point of view.

The Federal Reserve, whose mandate includes price stability along with maximum employment, prefers the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price indexes constructed by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. PCE is considered to be more comprehensive because it includes some components that are excluded from the CPI. According to the BEA, the PCE reflects the price of expenditures made by and on behalf of households. Weights are derived from business surveys.

Housing has a greater weighting in the CPI than in the PCE index. The weighting for medical care is greater in the PCE price index than in the CPI. As with CPI, food and energy components of the PCE are volatile. Stripping them out yields the core PCE, which measures the underlying inflation trend. The core PCE is the Fed’s preferred measure for its 2 percent inflation target.

WHAT SPARKED THE RECENT INFLATION WORRY?

The government’s monthly employment report for January, released on Feb. 2, showed wages posted their largest annual gain in more than 8-1/2 years, suggesting the economy was moving closer to full employment and inflation was on the horizon.

If the economy continues to gain momentum, inflation is likely to rise further toward the Fed’s 2 percent target.

There is concern, however, that the recent U.S. tax overhaul by the Trump administration, which slashed the corporate income tax rate and cut personal income tax rates, could cause an economy that may be nearing full capacity to overheat and prompt the Fed to become more aggressive than anticipated in its course of interest rate hikes.

Markets are pricing in an 87.5 percent chance of a quarter-point increase at the U.S. central bank’s next policy meeting in March. The Fed has forecast three hikes this year, after raising rates three times in 2017.

Some market participants are unsure about how swiftly the Fed will react to inflation and market turbulence under its new chair, Jerome Powell. The March meeting will be the first since Powell took over from Janet Yellen. Recent comments from some Fed officials suggested the possibility of more hikes should the economy continue to strengthen.

HOW HAS INFLATION AFFECTED MARKETS?

Many analysts believe the stock market was overdue for a pullback because valuations, as measured against corporate earnings, have been rich by historic standards, and that the employment data showed economic fundamentals underpinning stocks are strong. Inflation has yet to rise to concerning levels, and as long as the pace remains modest, stocks have room to climb.

Healthy economic growth, along with U.S. deficit spending and moves by central banks around the world to lift interest rates from ultra-low levels, has driven U.S. bond yields to a four-year high. Rising yields could dent the attractiveness of high dividend-paying stocks to investors and trigger increased borrowing costs for U.S. companies and households, which could crimp economic growth.

The initial reaction to the CPI data on Wednesday was sharp, with S&amp;P 500 e-mini futures &lt;ESc1&gt; falling to a session low of 2,627 while yields on the benchmark U.S. 10-year note &lt;US10YT=RR&gt; rose as high as 2.891 percent. The dollar initially spiked higher against a basket of major currencies &lt;.DXY&gt; before weakening.

However, stocks recovered and turned positive shortly after the opening bell and yields on the 10-year note eased.

A strengthening currency would normally go hand-in-hand with an improving economy, yet the U.S. dollar is near four-year lows even after a recent uptick. Some of the weakness has been attributed to anticipation of scaling back in stimulus measures by central banks other than the Fed.

If the U.S. economy fails to show any meaningful uptick in inflation as currently feared, that could tie the Fed’s hands when it comes to interest rate hikes and drag the dollar lower.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Additional reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Alden Bentley and Leslie Adler)

Fidelity clients suffer second website glitch in week

News of the Dow Jones Industrial average passing 20,000 and Boeing's stock price play on television at a Fidelity Investments office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

BOSTON (Reuters) – For the second time in a week, some clients at Fidelity Investments could not access their online accounts at the powerhouse retail trading brokerage on Monday morning in a glitch described by the company as a technical issue.

The latest problems began early morning, just as investors geared up to make trades in a surging stock market fueled by a tax bill that could slash corporate tax rates to 20 percent from 35 percent.

Fidelity spokesman Mike Aalto said some clients were unable to log in to their accounts during the first hours of trading.

The issue was not resolved until later in the morning, around 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT), he said.

“We are still looking into what the cause was,” Aalto said.

Boston-based Fidelity, known for its stable of mutual funds, operates a large online brokerage with nearly 25 million customer accounts. Fidelity said Monday’s issue had a sporadic affect on customer accounts.

On Nov. 29, Fidelity clients also experienced problems accessing their accounts because of what the company called an internal technical issue. Fidelity declined to give more details about what caused the issues.

 

(Reporting By Tim McLaughlin and Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)

 

Wall Street opens higher, Dow rises to record high

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., July 20, 2017.

By Sweta Singh and Ankur Banerjee

(Reuters) – U.S. stock indexes opened higher on Monday, with the Dow hitting a record high, as investors remained optimistic on corporate earnings in the second quarter.

Investors have been counting on earnings to support the relatively high valuations for equities, with the S&P 500 trading at about 18 times earnings estimates for the next 12 months, above its long-term average of 15 times.

Of the 289 S&P 500 companies that reported results until Friday, 73 percent of them beat analyst expectations. This is above the 71 percent average over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters.

The S&P 500 slipped on Friday on negative reactions to earnings reports from high-profile names such as Amazon, Exxon and Starbucks and a drop in shares of tobacco companies.

“We had a choppy week last week, we had a very erratic week, so coming off a erratic week, we’re getting some early morning premarket bargain hunting,” said Andre Bakhos, managing director at Janlyn Capital LLC.

“We’re not having anything coming that the markets can sink their teeth into.”

Apple Inc, a part of the Dow, is expected to report quarterly results after market close on Tuesday and its performance may hold the sway over tech stocks this week.

At 9:37 a.m. ET (1337 GMT) the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 61.07 points, or 0.28 percent, at 21,891.38, the S&P 500 .SPX was up 4.68 points, or 0.19 percent, at 2,476.78 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 18.28 points, or 0.29 percent, at 6,392.96.

Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, with the financial index’s 0.38 percent rise leading the gainers.

On data front, contracts to buy previously owned homes rebounded in June after three straight monthly declines.

The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed last month, jumped 1.5 percent to a reading of 110.2.

The Federal Reserve of Dallas will release its monthly manufacturing index for July at around 10:30 a.m. ET.

Oil prices rose on Monday, putting July was on track to become the strongest month for the commodity this year.

Scripps Network was up 1.23 percent at $87.98 premarket after Discovery Communications said it would buy the media company for $14.6 billion.

Charter Communications Inc shares were up 4.3 percent at $386.13 after the U.S. cable operator said on Sunday it was not interested in buying wireless carrier Sprint Corp.

Shares of Snap Inc fell 4.1 percent to $13.10 and hit a record low, as a share lockup ended, allowing for sales by early investors and pushing it further below its March initial public offering price.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange by 1,495 to 1,017. On the Nasdaq, 1,278 issues rose and 971 fell.

 

(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee, Sweta Singh, and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)