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Daily market commentary: European equities opened higher on Tuesday

GOLD Gold is trying to react after the selloff seen in the last few trading sessions. The new slowdown of…
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GOLD

Gold is trying to react after the selloff seen in the last few trading sessions. The new slowdown of the greenback is lifting bullion up, in a scenario still dominated by risk on, but where we can see a slowing down of the bullish pressure of last month. Some investors are thinking that markets are too optimistic about the chances of a recovery and perspectives for 2021, despite central banks’ stimulus. This could generate some profit taking on stocks and indices and be supportive for the gold price, although the short-term outlook remains weak for bullion after the break down of the key support level of $1,850.

Carlo Alberto De Casa – Chief analyst, ActivTrades

EUROPEAN SHARES

European equities opened higher on Tuesday, following the trend started overnight in Asia after investors welcomed reassuring macro data from China and Australia. The resurgence of the bullish trading stance ended yesterday’s technical correction and put markets back on track to achieve fresh highs before the end of the year. Optimism continues in Europe with investors expecting more positive performances and betting on a brighter economic future with the end of the Covid-19 crisis potentially in sight. However, as already explained, macro data are likely to keep investors busy in the meantime, especially today with speeches from both Christine Lagarde and Jay Powell as well as the EU inflation report, one of the ECB’s key indicators, due later in the morning. The DAX-30 Index is boosted by automakers and miners and is now trading close to its 3-month high above the 13,400pts level. A clearing of the resistance at 13,450pts could drive the market further up, towards 13,555pts and even 13,820pts.

Pierre Veyret– Technical analyst, ActivTrades


Disclaimer: opinions are personal to the authors and do not reflect the opinions of LeapRate. This is not a trading advice.

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Financial Stress Continues to Recede

Overview: Financial stress continues to recede. The Topix bank index is up for the second consecutive session and the Stoxx 600 bank index is recovering…

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Overview: Financial stress continues to recede. The Topix bank index is up for the second consecutive session and the Stoxx 600 bank index is recovering for the third session. The AT1 ETF is trying to snap a four-day decline. The KBW US bank index rose for the third consecutive session yesterday. More broadly equity markets are rallying. The advance in the Asia Pacific was led by tech companies following Alibaba's re-organization announcement. The Hang Seng rose by over 2% and the index of mainland shares rose by 2.2%. Europe's Stoxx 600 is up nearly 1% and US index futures are up almost the same. Benchmark 10-year yields are mostly 1-3 bp softer in Europe and the US.

The dollar is mixed. The Swiss franc is leading the advancers (~+0.3%) while euro, sterling and the Canadian dollar are posting small gains. The Japanese yen is the weakest of the majors (~-0.6%). The antipodeans and Scandis are also softer. A larger than expected decline in Australia's monthly CPI underscores the likelihood that central bank joins the Bank of Canada in pausing monetary policy when it meets next week. Most emerging market currencies are also firmer today, and the JP Morgan Emerging Market Currency Index is higher for the third consecutive session. Gold is softer within yesterday's $1949-$1975 range. The unexpectedly large drop in US oil inventories (~6 mln barrels according to report of API's estimate, which if confirmed by the EIA later today would be the largest drawdown in four months) is helping May WTI extend its gains above $74 a barrel. Recall that it had fallen below $65 at the start of last week.

Asia Pacific

The US dollar is knocking on the upper end of its band against the Hong Kong dollar, raising the prospect of intervention by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. It appears to be driven by the wide rate differential between Hong Kong and dollar rates (~3.20% vs. ~4.85%). Although the HKMA tracks the Fed's rate increases, the key is not official rates but bank rates, and the large banks have not fully passed the increase. Reports suggest some of the global banks operating locally have raised rates a fraction of what HKMA has delivered. The root of the problem is not a weakness but a strength. Hong Kong has seen an inflow of portfolio and speculative capital seeking opportunities to benefit from the mainland's re-opening.  Of course, from time-to-time some speculators short the Hong Kong dollar on ideas that the peg will break. It is an inexpensive wager. In fact, it is the carry trade. One is paid well to be long the US dollar. Pressure will remain until this consideration changes. Eventually, the one-country two-currencies will eventually end, but it does not mean it will today or tomorrow. As recently as last month, the HKMA demonstrated its commitment to the peg by intervening. Pressure on the peg has been experienced since last May and in this bout, the HKMA has spent around HKD280 defending it (~$35 bln).

The US and Japan struck a deal on critical minerals, but the key issue is whether it will be sufficient to satisfy the American congress that the executive agreement is sufficient to benefit from the tax- credits embodied in the Inflation Reduction Act. The Biden administration is negotiating a similar agreement with the EU. The problem is that some lawmakers, including Senator Manchin, have pushed back that it violates the legislature's intent on the restrictions of the tax credit. Manchin previously threatened legislation that would force the issue. The US Trade Representative Office can strike a deal for a specific sector without approval of Congress, but that specific sector deal (critical minerals) cannot then meet the threshold of a free-trade agreement to secure the tax incentives. 

The Japanese yen is the weakest of the major currencies today, dragged lower by the nearly 20 bp rise in US 10-year yields this week and the end of the fiscal year related flows. Some dollar buying may have been related to the expirations of a $615 mln option today at JPY131.75. The greenback tested the JPY130.40 support we identified yesterday and rebounded to briefly trade above JPY132.00 today, a five-day high.  However, the session high may be in place and support now is seen in the JPY131.30-50 band. Softer than expected Australian monthly CPI (6.8% vs. 7.4% in January and 7.2% median forecast in Bloomberg's survey) reinforced ideas that the central bank will pause its rate hike cycle next week. The Australian dollar settled near session highs above $0.6700 in North America yesterday and made a margin new high before being sold. It reached a low slightly ahead of $0.6660 in early European turnover. The immediate selling pressure looks exhausted and a bounce toward $0.6680-90 looks likely. On the downside, note that there are options for A$680 mln that expire today at $0.6650. In line with the developments in the Asia Pacific session today, the US dollar is firmer against the Chinese yuan. However, it held below the high seen on Monday (~CNY6.8935). The dollar's reference rate was set at CNY6.8771, a bit lower than the median projection in Bloomberg's forecast (~CNY6.8788). The sharp decline in the overnight repo to its lowest since early January reflect the liquidity provisions by the central bank into the quarter-end.

Europe

Reports suggest regulators are finding that one roughly 5 mln euro trade on Deutsche Bank's credit-default swaps last Friday, was the likely trigger of the debacle. The bank's market cap fell by1.6 bln euros and billions more off the bank share indices. Then there is the US Treasury market, where the measure of volatility (MOVE) has softened slightly from last week when it rose to the highest level since the Great Financial Crisis. While the wide intraday ranges of the US two-year note have been noted, less appreciated are the large swings in the German two-year yield. Before today, last session with less than a 10 bp range was March 8. In the dozen sessions since, the yield has an average daily range of around 27 bp. The rapid changes and opaque liquidity in some markets leading to dramatic moves challenges the price discovery process. The speed of movement seems to have accelerated, and reports that Silicon Valley Bank lost $40 bln of deposits in a single day.

Italy's Meloni government will tap into a 21 bln euro reserve in the budget to give a three-month extension of help to low-income families cope with higher energy bills but eliminate it for others. It is projected to cost almost 5 billion euros. The energy subsidies have cost about 90 mln euros. Most Italian families are likely to see higher energy bills, though gas will still have a lower VAT. Meloni also intends to adjust corporate taxes to better target them and cost less. Separately, the government is reportedly considering reducing or eliminating the VAT on basic food staples. Meanwhile, the EU is delaying a 19 bln euro distribution to Italy from the pandemic recovery fund. The aid is conditional on meeting certain goals. The EU is extending its assessment phase to review a progress on a couple projects, licensing of port activities, and district heating. These are tied to the disbursement for the end of last year. The EU acknowledged there has been "significant" progress. Italy has received about a third of the 192 bln euros earmarked for it. Despite the volatile swings in the yields, Italy's two-year premium over Germany is within a few basis points of the Q1 average (~46 bp). The same is true of the 10-year differential, which has averaged about 187 bp this year. 

After slipping lower in most of the Asia Pacific session, the euro caught a bid late that carried into the European session and lifted it to session highs near $1.0855. The session low was set slightly below $1.0820 and there are nearly 1.6 bln euros in option expirations today between two strikes ($1.0780 and $1.0800). Recall that on two separate occasions last week, the euro be repulsed from intraday moves above $1.09. A retest today seems unlikely, but the price actions suggest underlying demand. Sterling has also recovered from the slippage seen early in Asia that saw it test initial support near $1.2300. Yesterday, it took out last week's high by a few hundredths of a cent, did so again today rising to slightly above $1.2350. However, here too, the intraday momentum indicators look stretched, cautioning North American participants from looking for strong follow-through buying.

America

What remains striking is the divergence between the market and the Federal Reserve. On rates they are one way. Fed Chair Powell was unequivocal last week. A pause had been considered, but no one was talking about a rate cut this year. The market is pricing in a 4.72% average effective Fed funds rate in July. On the outlook for the economy this year, they are the other way. The median Fed forecast was for the economy to grow by 0.4% this year. The median forecast in Bloomberg's survey anticipated more than twice the growth and projects 1.0% growth this year. As of the end of last week, the Atlanta Fed sees the US expanding by 3.2% this quarter (it will be updated Friday). The median in Bloomberg's survey is half as much. 

The US goods deficit in February was a little more than expected and some of the imports appeared to have gone into wholesale inventories, which unexpectedly rose (0.2% vs. -0.1% median forecast in Bloomberg's survey). Retail inventories jumped 0.8%, well above the 0.2% expected and biggest increase since last August. Given the strength of February retail sales (0.5% for the measure that excludes autos, gasoline, food services and building materials, after a 2.3% rise in January), the increase in retail inventories was likely desired. FHFA houses prices unexpectedly rose in January (first time in three months, leaving them flat over the period). S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller's measure continued to slump. It has not risen since last June. The Conference Board's measure of consumer confidence rose due to the expectations component. This contrasts with the University of Michigan's preliminary estimate that showed the first decline in four months. Moreover, when its final reading is announced at the end of the week, the risk seems to be on the downside, according to the Bloomberg survey. Meanwhile, surveys have shown that the service sector has been faring better than the manufacturing sector. However, the decline in the Richman Fed's business conditions, while its manufacturing survey improved, coupled with the sharp decline in the Dallas Fed's service activity index may be warning of weakness going into Q2.

The US dollar flirted with CAD1.38 at the end of last week is pushing through CAD1.36 today to reach its lowest level since before the banking stress was seen earlier this month. The five-day moving average has crossed below the 20-day moving average for the first time since mid-February. Canada's budget announced late yesterday boosts the deficit via new green initiatives and health spending, while raising taxes, including a new tax on dividend income for banks and insurance companies from Canadian companies. The market appears to be still digesting the implications. Today's range has thus far been too narrow to read much into it. The greenback has traded between roughly CAD1.3590 and CAD1.3615. On the other hand, the Mexican peso has continued to rebound from the risk-off drop that saw the US dollar surge above MXN19.23 (March 20). The dollar is weaker for fifth consecutive session and seventh of the last nine. It finished last week near MXN18.4450 and fell to about MXN18.1230 today, its lowest level since March 9. However, the intraday momentum indicators are stretched, and the greenback looks poised to recover back into the MXN18.20-25 area. Banxico meets tomorrow and is widely expected to hike its overnight target rate by a quarter-of-a-point to 11.25%.

 


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The ONS has published its final COVID infection survey – here’s why it’s been such a valuable resource

The ONS’ Coronavirus Infection Survey has ceased after three years. Two experts explain why it was a uniquely useful source of data.

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cktravels.com/Shutterstock

March 24 marked the publication of the final bulletin of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Coronavirus Infection Survey after nearly three years of tracking COVID infections in the UK. The first bulletin was published on May 14 2020 and we’ve seen new releases almost every week since.

The survey was based primarily on data from many thousands of people in randomly selected households across the UK who agreed to take regular COVID tests. The ONS used the results to estimate how many people were infected with the virus in any given week.

In the survey’s first six months, we had results from 1.2 million samples taken from 280,000 people. Although the number of people participating each month declined over time, the survey has continued to be a highly valuable tool as we navigate the pandemic.

In particular, because the ONS bulletins were based on surveying a large, random sample of all UK residents, it offered the least biased surveillance system of COVID infections in the UK. We are not aware of any similar study anywhere else in the world. And, while estimating the prevalence of infections was the survey’s main output, it gave us a lot of other useful information about the virus too.

Unbiased surveillance

An important advantage of the ONS survey was its ability to detect COVID infections among many people who had no symptoms, or were not yet displaying symptoms.

Certainly other data sets existed (and some continue to exist) to give a sense of how many people were testing positive. For example, earlier in the pandemic, case numbers were reported at daily national press conferences. Figures continue to be published on the Department of Health and Social Care website.

But these totals have usually only encompassed people who tested because they had reason to suspect they may have been infected (for example because of symptoms or their work). We know many people had such minor symptoms that they had no reason to suspect they had COVID. Further, people who took a home test may or may not have reported the result.

Similarly, case counts from hospital admissions or emergency room attendances only captured a very small percentage of positive cases, even if many of these same people had severe healthcare needs.

Symptom-tracking applications such as the ZOE app or online surveys have been useful but tend to over-represent people who are most technologically competent, engaged and symptom-aware.

Testing wastewater samples to track COVID spread in a community has proved difficult to reliably link to infection numbers.


Read more: The tide of the COVID pandemic is going out – but that doesn't mean big waves still can't catch us


What else the survey told us

Aside from swab samples to test for COVID infections, the ONS survey collected blood samples from some participants to measure antibodies. This was a very useful aspect of the infection survey, providing insights into immunity against the virus in the population and individuals.

Beginning in June 2021, the ONS survey also published reports on the “characteristics of people testing positive”. Arguably these analyses were even more valuable than the simple infection rate estimates.

For example, the ONS data gave practical insights into changing risk factors from November 21 2021 to May 7 2022. In November 2021, living in a house with someone under 16 was a risk factor for testing positive but by the end of that period it seemed to be protective. Travel abroad was not an important risk factor in December 2021 but by April 2022 it was a major risk. Wearing a mask in December 2021 was protective against testing positive but by April 2022 there was no significant association.

We shouldn’t find this changing picture of risk factors particularly surprising when concurrently we had different variants emerging (during that period most notably omicron) and evolving population resistance that came with vaccination programmes and waves of natural infection.

Also, in any pandemic the value of non-pharmaceutical interventions such wearing masks and social distancing declines as the infection becomes endemic. At that point the infection rate is driven more by the rate at which immunity is lost.

A woman wearing a face mask receives a vaccine.
The survey gave us insights into the protection offered by vaccines and non-pharmaceutical interventions. Paul Maguire/Shutterstock

The ONS characteristics analyses also offered evidence about the protective effects of vaccination and prior infection. The bulletin from May 25 2022 showed that vaccination provided protection against infection but probably for not much more than 90 days, whereas a prior infection generally conferred protection for longer.

After May 2022, the focused shifted to reinfections. The analyses confirmed that even in people who had already been infected, vaccination protects against reinfection, but again probably only for about 90 days.

It’s important to note the ONS survey only measured infections and not severe disease. We know from other work that vaccination is much better at protecting against severe disease and death than against infection.


Read more: How will the COVID pandemic end?


A hugely valuable resource

The main shortcoming of the ONS survey was that its reports were always published one to three weeks later than other data sets due to the time needed to collect and test the samples and then model the results.

That said, the value of this infection survey has been enormous. The ONS survey improved understanding and management of the epidemic in the UK on multiple levels. But it’s probably appropriate now to bring it to an end in the fourth year of the pandemic, especially as participation rates have been falling over the past year.

Our one disappointment is that so few of the important findings from the ONS survey have been published in peer-reviewed literature, and so the survey has had less of an impact internationally than it deserves.

Paul Hunter consults for the World Health Organization. He receives funding from National Institute for Health Research, the World Health Organization and the European Regional Development Fund.

Julii Brainard receives funding from the NIHR Health Protection and Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness.

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Candida auris: what you need to know about the deadly fungus spreading through US hospitals

A drug-resistant fungus is a threat to human health.

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A fungal superbug called Candida auris is spreading rapidly through hospitals and nursing homes in the US. The first case was identified in 2016. Since then, it has spread to half the country’s 50 states. And, according to a new report, infections tripled between 2019 and 2021. This is hugely concerning because Candida auris is resistant to many drugs, making this fungal infection one of the hardest to treat.

Candida auris is a yeast-type fungus that is the first to have multiple international health alerts associated with it. It has been found in over 30 countries, including the UK, since it was first identified in Japan in 2009.

It is related to other types of yeast that can cause infections, like Candida albicans which causes thrush. However, Candida auris is very different to these other fungi and in some ways, highly unusual.

First, it can grow, or “colonise”, human skin. Unlike many other Candida species that like to grow in our guts as part of the microbiome, Candida auris does not grow in this environment and seems to prefer the skin. This means that people who are colonised with Candida auris can shed lots of yeast from their skin, and this contaminates bed clothes and surfaces with the fungus. This can lead to outbreaks.

It is unusual for a fungal infection to spread from person to person, but that seems to be how Candida auris infections spread. Outbreaks can happen with this fungus, especially in intensive care units (ICU) and nursing homes where people are at a higher risk for getting fungal infections generally.

The fungus can live on surfaces for several weeks, and getting rid of it can be difficult. Enhanced cleaning and hand washing is needed to try and limit the spread of the fungus and exposure to patients who get ill from it.

Most people who are colonised with Candida auris will not get ill from it, or even know it is there. It causes infections when it gets into surgical wounds or the blood from an intravenous line. Once it gets into the body, it can infect organs and the blood causing a very serious and potentially fatal disease.

The mortality rate for people infected (as opposed to colonised) with the fungus is between 30 and 60%. But a precise mortality rate can be hard to pin down as people who are infected are often critically ill with other conditions.

Diagnosing an infection can be difficult as there can be a wide range of symptoms including fever, chills, headaches and nausea. It is for this reason that we need to keep a close eye on Candida auris as it can easily be confused with other conditions.

In the last few years, new tests to help identify this fungus accurately have been developed.

Candida auris can get into the body via an infected IV line. Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

The first Candida auris infection was reported in the UK in 2013. However, there may have been other cases before this – there is evidence that some early cases were misidentified as unrelated yeasts.

The UK has so far managed to stop any major outbreaks, and most cases have been limited in their spread.

Most patients who have become ill from Candida auris in the UK had recently travelled to parts of the world where the fungus is more common or has been circulating for longer.

Spurred by COVID

Rising numbers of Candida auris infections are thought to be partially linked to the COVID pandemic. People who become very ill from COVID may need mechanical ventilation and long stays in the ICU, which are both risk factors for Candida auris colonisation and infection.

It will take some time to figure out exactly how the pandemic has affected rates and numbers of fungal infections around the world, but these are important questions to answer to help predict how Candida auris cases might fluctuate in the future.

As for most life-threatening fungal infections, treatment is difficult and limited. We have only a handful of antifungal drugs to fight these infections, so when a species is resistant to one or more of these drugs, the options for treatment are extremely limited. Some Candida auris infections are resistant to all three types of antifungal drug.

Healthcare professionals must remain vigilant to this drug-resistant fungus. Without close monitoring and enhanced awareness of this infection, we could see more outbreaks and serious disease associated with Candida auris in the future.

Rebecca A. Drummond receives funding from the Medical Research Council.

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