Friday, May 8, 2015

Market Week Wrap-up Weekly Market Update: Tory Surprise and US Jobs Report Save the Week
Fri, 08 May 2015 16:30 PM EST

Global equities lost altitude through Thursday as the parade of poor economic data and bond market choppiness continued. Early in the week, the ADP jobs report raised real worries that the US would see another anemic payrolls number for April, while Chinese trade data was concerning. There was no breakthrough on Greece, with both sides seemingly committed to forcing negotiations down to the wire. The global bond market rout continued apace this week and the surge in yields kept pressure on stocks worldwide, nudged further by Fed Chair Yellen weighing in on equity valuations. The stampede out of stocks and bonds sent European indexes to their lowest levels in two months. Note that the UST 10-year yield peaked just below 2.3% on Wednesday and then headed back below 2.12%, while the 10-year Bund peaked around 0.777% on Thursday and quickly dropped below 0.540% by Friday. The surprise landslide victory by the Conservative government in UK elections and Friday's not-too-hot, not-too-cold US jobs report helped equities recoup their losses for the week, with DJIA gaining 0.9%, the S&P500 adding 0.4% and the Nasdaq ending just above flat.

Fed Chair Yellen raised eyebrows on Wednesday after commenting on equity market valuations in a panel discussion. "I would highlight that equity market valuations at this point generally are quite high," said Yellen. "There are potential dangers there." Commentators compared Yellen's remarks to her call on biotech valuations a year ago as well as Alan Greenspan's notorious "irrational exuberance" comments. "We've also seen the compression of spreads on high-yield debt, which certainly looks like a reach for yield type of behavior," added Yellen. She also warned that another potential trouble spot was low long-term interest rates, which could spike as the Fed normalizes its policy, causing disruption across the financial system.

On Thursday, European bond yields had a serious hiccup, with the yield on the German 10-year Bund surging by as much as 21 bps to 0.80%, its highest level since last November, before easing back below 0.60%. Interestingly, peripheral Europe yields saw weaker gains and then fell significantly as buyers stepped in. There was no apparent proximate cause for the spike, besides a general lack of liquidity. Analysts have begun watching the rebound in yields with a certain degree of skepticism: the oil price rebound helped blunt fears of outright deflation, relieving some of the pressure on yields. The euro has reversed course and has begun strengthening, and European stocks have been heading lower in the face of Greek chaos. Economic data is not showing a big improvement in the real economy.

The April jobs report showed the US labor market bounced back firmly from the anemic March results. April non-farm payrolls rose to 228K, about in line with expectations, but the March figure was slashed to 86K from the already disappointing 126K. Unemployment fell to 5.4% from 5.5% in March. Hourly earnings fell slightly, raising worries that wage pressures were not sufficient to deliver much more economic growth. The biggest jobs growth was in white-collar and healthcare sectors, construction saw modest gains, while manufacturing was flat.

The US trade deficit rose 43% y/y to $51.5 billion in March (a six-month high), reflecting a surge of imports that followed the settlement of the West Coast port dispute. Exports edged up 0.9% to $187.8 billion, but imports leaped a record 7.7% to $239.2 billion. Economists say the numbers were less favorable than those used to calculate advance Q1 US GDP, however it remains unclear how much the imports will boost March inventory numbers and their impact on Q1 US GDP revisions.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron won an absolute majority in Britain's Parliamentary elections, taking 326 of the 650 seats up for grabs in the House of Commons. The outcome was surprising after weeks of polls that had been predicting a dead heat between Labour and the Conservatives. Labour's Ed Miliband said he would step down as party leader after his party's share fell to 229 seats from 258 prior. Nick Clegg resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats after a disastrous result for his party, whose representation fell to eight seats from 57 prior.

Negotiations between Europe, the IMF and Greece went back and forth again this week and became even more divisive. Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis reinserted himself in the mix, denying he had been sidelined and claiming he was prepared to go "down to the wire" in talks. Greece made its payment to the IMF this week, while the next big payment is €745 due on May 12th. There were no signs that the two sides would be able to reach a deal at the Eurogroup meeting on Monday, May 11th. The ECB doled out another ELA expansion to the Greek banking system but deferred making a decision on collateral haircuts to next week. The ECB has used bank collateral obligations as a bargaining chip in bailout negotiations, and by deferring the decision it allows the EU to put a bit more pressure on the Greeks.

The gains in oil prices continued through midweek, with WTI coming within a dollar of the $70 level on Wednesday after the DoE weekly report included the first draw-down in crude inventories since early January. There has been a persistent feeling that the worst of the oil rout is over and prices were seeking a new, higher level, however traders warned of persistent weakness in the physical market (and it was softness in crude deliveries that wreaked havoc late last summer). EIA and OPEC data shows the world still producing more oil than it consumes, and a report that Iranian oil production capacity would be around 3.96M bpd in 2016 helped take futures off their highs.

The March quarter earnings season is slowly winding down. Ecommerce giant Alibaba saw revenue up nearly 50%, with users and mobile metrics rising sharply. Chairman Jack Ma also decided to reinvigorate his management team by bringing in a new CEO. Comcast hit an important milestone, as subscribers for internet service now outnumber cable TV subscribers. Sprint's headline numbers were a bit disappointing, but its widely watched churn rates improved. Green Mountain tanked after missing top- and bottom-line expectations and cutting its FY forecast. Whole Foods said it would launch a new "value-oriented" chain, upsetting some investors. Metlife and Prudential reported firm first quarter results.

McDonalds unveiled its big turnaround strategy. The main focus will be reorganization into four new corporate segments in an effort to strip away unwanted layers of management. McDonald's will also refranchise more than 3,000 restaurants through 2018, bringing its total percentage of franchised restaurants to 90% from 81% globally. Improving food quality will be a top priority. Friday MCD reported April SSS that were down again, by 0.6% globally, but the stock rallied after the decline was less then generally expected.

Lumber Liquidators suspended sales of Chinese laminate flooring, bowing to accusations that the products had dangerous levels of formaldehyde. The firm insisted that while 97% of 26,000 indoor air quality tests with kits provided by the company came back clear, it would suspend sales until a special committee looking into all allegations wrapped up its work. The sudden gain in LL's stock price after the announcement evaporated within hours. Meanwhile, activist Whitney Tilson told CNBC that the development would be the decisive point in the eventual collapse of Lumber Liquidators and disclosed he had "materially increased" his short position.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals agreed to pay a huge premium to buy rare disease specialist Synageva BioPharma for $8.4 billion in cash and stock. Notably, Synageva has no products on the market. Alexion officials said the deal will help their company accelerate and diversify its revenue growth and expand its manufacturing abilities. Alexion's shares tumbled after the deal was announced as investors decided the firm was overpaying.

Trade data out of China showed more signs of slowing growth in the domestic economy. April imports declined for the sixth month in a row, and it was the fourth consecutive month in which imports dropped by a double digit percentage. Chinese exports fell for the second straight month, dismissing hopes of a seasonal rebound while adding to the expectation the PBoC is close to stepping in again. Meanwhile, the China April final HSBC manufacturing PMI sank lower, racking up the biggest contraction in a year. The Shanghai Composite traded down by over 7.5% at its low point of the week before Friday's 2% rally on rate cut expectations. Inflation data due out early Saturday morning in China is expected to show CPI continuing a rebound off of five-year lows registered in January.