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Futures Jump In Volatile Session Dragged By Latest Twists In Omicron Saga

Futures Jump In Volatile Session Dragged By Latest Twists In Omicron Saga

Much of the overnight session was a snooze fest with stocks drifting first higher then lower after surging on Tuesday, as the narrative meandered from "omicron fears…

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Futures Jump In Volatile Session Dragged By Latest Twists In Omicron Saga

Much of the overnight session was a snooze fest with stocks drifting first higher then lower after surging on Tuesday, as the narrative meandered from "omicron fears ease" optimism to "vaccines won't work" pessimism, before futures took a sudden leg lower, dropping into the red just after 530am ET, following news that UK's Boris Johnson would introduce new restrictions in England to curb Omicron spread, sparking fears that Omicron is more dangerous that expected (and than futures reflected). However, this episode of pessimism proved short-lived because just an hour later, the WSJ confirmed that Omicron is really just a pitch for covid booster shots when it reported that even though the covid vaccine loses significant effectiveness against Omicron in an early study, this is miraculously reversed with a booster shot as three doses of the vaccine were able to neutralize the variant in an initial laboratory study, and the companies said two doses may still protect against severe disease.

Futures quickly shot up on the news, spiking above the gamma "all clear" level of 4,700 in a move best summarized with the following chart.

And so, after going nowhere, S&P futures climbed for a third day, last seen 12 points, or 0.3% higher, just around 4,700 after rising the most since March on Tuesday. Europe’s Stoxx 600 Index rose following the biggest jump in more than a year. In addition to the omicron soap opera, which as we noted yesterday turns out was just one staged covid booster shot advertisement (because Pfizer and Moderna can always do with a bigger yacth), sentiment was also lifted by Chinese authorities' reversal to "easing mode" and aggressive efforts to limit the fallout from property market woes which lifted risk assets in Asia even as key debt deadlines at China Evergrande Group and Kaisa Group Holdings Ltd. passed without any sign of payment.

"Clearly in the very short term uncertainty has risen over the Omicron virus... but overall at this stage we do not believe it will derail the macro picture in the medium-term," said Jeremy Gatto, multi-asset portfolio manager at Unigestion.

Treasury yields were little changed after rising across the curve Tuesday. The VIX spiked first on the FT news, then dropped back into the red, while the dollar was flat and crude rose after turning red.

Besides macro, micro was also in play and here are some other notable premarket movers

  • Apple (AAPL US) ticks 1% higher in premarket trading following a Nikkei report that the tech giant told suppliers to speed up iPhone output for Nov.-Jan, citing people it didn’t identify.
  • Amazon.com (AMZN US) shares in focus after an Amazon Web Services outage is wreaking havoc on the e-commerce giant’s delivery operation
  • Stitch Fix (SFIX US) tumbles 25% in U.S. premarket trading after a 2Q forecast miss that analysts called “surprising,” while customer additions also disappointed
  • Pfizer (PFE US) shares drop 2% in U.S. premarket trading after an early study showed that the company’s vaccine provides less immunity to the omicron variant
  • Dare Bioscience (DARE US) soars 41% in premarket trading after Xaciato gets FDA approval for treating bacterial vaginosis
  • EPAM Systems (EPAM US) soars 8% in premarket after S&P Dow Jones Indices said co. will replace Kansas City Southern in the S&P 500 effective prior to the opening of trading on Dec. 14
  • Goodyear Tire & Rubber (GT US) upgraded to buy from hold and target boosted to Street-high $32 from $29 at Deutsche Bank with the company seen as a major beneficiary from the shift to electric vehicles. Shares up 4.3% in premarket trading
  • NXP Semiconductor (NXPI US) shares slide 2.2% in U.S. premarket trading after the chipmaker got a new sell rating at UBS
  • Dave & Buster’s (PLAY US) gained 3.5% postmarket after the dining and entertainment company reported EPS that beat the average analyst estimate and authorized a $100 million share buyback program

"Every day that passes without a wave of severe cases driven by Omicron is offering more hope that this won't be the curveball to throw the recovery off course," wrote Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid in a note to clients.

In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 Index initially drifted both higher and lower then bounced 0.3% on the favorable Pfizer and BioNTech news one day after posting its bigger surge in a year. European benchmark index earlier rose as much as 2%, dropped 2.1%. Health care sub-index leads gains, rising 1.2%, followed by travel stocks. The Stoxx 600 closed 2.5% higher on Tuesday, biggest gain since November 2020

Earlier in the session, Asia stocks also rose for a second day as concerns about the omicron variant and China’s economic slowdown eased. The MSCI AsiaPacific Index climbed as much as 0.9% after capping its biggest one-day gain in more than three months on Tuesday. Technology and health-care shares provided the biggest boosts. Benchmarks in New Zealand and India -- where the central bank held rates at a record low -- were among the day’s best performers.

“The biggest point appealing to investors is that the Omicron variant doesn’t seem to be too fatal,” which is encouraging to those who had been going short to close out their positions, said Tomoichiro Kubota, a senior market analyst at Matsui Securities in Tokyo. “Worry that the Chinese economy will lose its growth momentum has subsided quite a bit.” Thus far, Omicron cases haven’t overwhelmed hospitals while vaccine developments indicate some promise in dealing with the variant. While vaccines like the one made by Pfizer and BioNTech SE may be less powerful against the new strain, protection can be fortified with boosters. The two-day rally in the Asian stock benchmark marks a sharp turnaround following weeks of declines since mid-November. Stocks in China also climbed for a second day. The nation’s central bank said Monday it will cut the amount of cash most banks must keep in reserve from Dec. 15, providing a liquidity boost and helping restore investor confidence

In FX, news on the Omicron variant rippled through G-10 currencies after a report the Pfizer vaccine could neutralize the Omicron variant boosted risk appetite. The pound underperformed other Group-of-10 peers, extending declines after reports that the U.K. government is poised to introduce new Covid-19 restrictions.  A gauge of the dollar’s strength fluctuated as Treasuries pare gains and stocks rally after a report that said Pfizer and BioNTech claim three vaccine doses neutralize the omicron variant. EUR/USD rose 0.1% to 1.1277; USD/NOK falls as much as 0.8% to 8.9459, lowest since Nov. 25

Sterling fell against the euro and the dollar, as traders pare bets on the path of Bank of England rate hikes following reports that the U.K. could introduce fresh Covid-19 restrictions such as working from home and vaccine passports for large venues. Money markets pare rate hike bets, with just six basis points of interest rate hikes priced in for the BOE meeting next week. GBP/USD falls as much as 0.6% to 1.3163, testing the key level of 1.3165, the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement of gains since March 2020. EUR/GBP gains as much as 0.7% to 0.85695, the highest since Nov. 11.

“The market will probably see this as more U.K. specific and therefore an issue for the pound at least in the short term,” said Stuart Bennett, FX strategist at Santander.

In rates, Treasuries were mixed with markets reacting in a risk-on manner to the Dow Jones report that Pfizer and BioNTech claim three vaccine doses neutralize the omicron variant. Yields remain richer by less than 1bp across long-end of the curve while front-end trades cheaper on the day, flattening curve spreads. Session’s focal points include $36b 10-year note reopening at 1pm ET, following Tuesday’s strong 3-year note auction. Treasury 10-year yields around 1.475%, near flat on the day; gilts outperform slightly after Financial Times report that further Covid restrictions will be announced imminently to curb the variant’s spread. U.S. 2-year yields were cheaper by 1bp on the day, rose to new 2021 high following Pfizer vaccine report; 2s10s spread erased a flattening move

In commodities, crude futures turned red, WTI falling 0.8%, popping back below $72. Spot gold holds Asia’s modest gains, adding $8 to trade near $1,792/oz.

Looking at the day ahead, and Olaf Scholz is expected to become German Chancellor in a Bundestag vote today. From central banks, the Bank of Canada will be deciding on rates, and we’ll also hear from ECB President Lagarde, Vice President de Guindos and the ECB’s Schnabel. Finally, data releases include the JOLTS job openings from the US for October.

Market Snapshot

  • S&P 500 futures up 0.2% to 4,693.75
  • STOXX Europe 600 little changed at 480.55
  • MXAP up 0.7% to 194.84
  • MXAPJ up 0.6% to 632.78
  • Nikkei up 1.4% to 28,860.62
  • Topix up 0.6% to 2,002.24
  • Hang Seng Index little changed at 23,996.87
  • Shanghai Composite up 1.2% to 3,637.57
  • Sensex up 1.8% to 58,654.25
  • Australia S&P/ASX 200 up 1.3% to 7,405.45
  • Kospi up 0.3% to 3,001.80
  • Brent Futures down 0.5% to $75.04/bbl
  • Gold spot up 0.3% to $1,790.33
  • U.S. Dollar Index down 0.17% to 96.20
  • German 10Y yield little changed at -0.38%
  • Euro up 0.2% to $1.1286
  • Brent Futures down 0.5% to $75.04/bbl

Top Overnight News from Bloomberg

  • The omicron variant of Covid-19 must inflict significant damage on the euro-area economy for European Central Bank Governing Council member Martins Kazaks to back additional stimulus
  • “The current phase of higher inflation could last longer than expected only some months ago,” ECB vice president Luis de Guindos says at event
  • The earliest studies on omicron are in and the glimpse they’re providing is cautiously optimistic: while vaccines like the one made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE may be less powerful against the new variant, protection can be fortified with boosters
  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce new Covid-19 restrictions in England, known as “Plan B,” to stop the spread of the Omicron variant, the Financial Times reported, citing three senior Whitehall officials familiar with the matter.
  • French economic activity will continue to rise in December, despite another wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and fresh uncertainty over the omicron variant, according the Bank of France
  • The Kingdom of Denmark will sell a sovereign green bond for the first time next month to help the Nordic nation meet one of the world’s most ambitious climate targets
  • Tom Hayes, the former UBS Group AG and Citigroup Inc. trader who became the face of the sprawling Libor scandal, has lost his bid to appeal his U.K. criminal conviction
  • Poland is poised for a hefty increase in interest rates after a spike in inflation to a two- decade high convinced central bankers that spiraling price growth isn’t transitory. Of 32 economists surveyed by Bloomberg, 20 expect a 50 basis-point hike to 1.75% today and 10 see the rate rising to 2%. The other two expect a 25 basis-point increase
  • Australia is weighing plans for a central bank-issued digital currency alongside the regulation of the crypto market as it seeks to overhaul how the nation’s consumers and businesses pay for goods and services
  • Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Masayoshi Amamiya dropped a strong hint that big firms are in less need of funding support, a comment that will likely fuel speculation the BOJ will scale back its pandemic buying of corporate bonds and commercial paper

A detailed summary of global markets courtesy of Newsquawk

Asian equity markets traded positively as the region took impetus from the global risk momentum following the tech-led rally in the US, where Apple shares rose to a record high and amid increased optimism that Omicron could be less dangerous than prior variants. This was after early hospitalisation data from South Africa showed the new variant could result in less severe COVID and NIH's Fauci also suggested that Omicron was 'almost certainly' not more severe than Delta, although there were some slight headwinds in late Wall Street trade after a small study pointed to reduced vaccine efficacy against the new variant. The ASX 200 (+1.3%) was underpinned in which tech led the broad gains across sectors as it found inspiration from the outperformance of big tech stateside, and with energy bolstered by the recent rebound in underlying oil prices. The Nikkei 225 (+1.4%) conformed to the upbeat mood although further advances were capped after USD/JPY eased off the prior day’s highs and following a wider-than-expected contraction to the economy with the final annualised Q3 GDP at -3.6% vs exp. -3.1%. The Hang Seng (+0.1%) and Shanghai Comp. (+1.2%) were less decisive and initially lagged behind their peers as sentiment was mired by default concerns due to the failure by Evergrande to pay bondholders in the lapsed 30-day grace period on two USD-denominated bond payments and with Kaisa Group in a trading halt after missing the deadline for USD 400mln in offshore debt which didn’t bode well for its affiliates. Furthermore, China Aoyuan Property Group received over USD 650mln in repayment demands and warned it may not be able to meet debt obligations, while a subdued Hong Kong debut for Weibo shares which declined around 6% from the offer price added to the glum mood for Hong Kong’s blue-chip tech stocks, as did reports that China is to tighten rules for tech companies seeking foreign funding. Finally, 10yr JGBs languished after spillover selling from T-notes and due to the heightened global risk appetite, but with downside stemmed by support at the key psychological 152.00 level and amid the presence of the BoJ in the market today for over JPY 1.0tln of JGBs.

Top Asian News

  • China Clean Car Sales Spike as Consumers Embrace Electric
  • Gold Edges Higher as Traders Weigh Vaccine Efficacy, Geopolitics
  • Paint Maker Avia Avian Falls in Debut After $763 Million IPO
  • Tokyo Prepares to Introduce Same-Sex Partnerships Next Year

Equities in Europe shifted to a lower configuration after a mixed open (Euro Stoxx 50 -0.7%; Stoxx 600 -0.1%) as sentiment was dented by rumours of tightening COVID measures in the UK. Markets have been awaiting the next catalyst to latch onto for direction amidst a lack of fresh fundamentals. US equity futures have also been dented but to a lesser extent, with the YM (-0.1%) and ES (Unch) straddling behind the NQ (+0.2%) and RTY (+0.2%). Sources in recent trade suggested an 85% chance of the UK implementing COVID Plan B, according to Times' Dunn; reports indicate such restrictions could be implemented on Thursday, with the potential for an announcement today. In terms of the timings, the UK cabinet is penciled in for 15:45GMT and presser for 17:30GMT on Plan B, according to BBC's Goodall. Note, this will not be a formal lockdown but more so work-from-home guidance, vaccine passports for nightlife and numerical restrictions on indoor/outdoor gatherings. APAC closed in the green across the board following the tech-led rally in the US. The upside overnight was attributed to a continuation of market optimism after early hospitalisation data from South Africa showed the new variant could result in less severe COVID, albeit after a small study pointed to reduced vaccine efficacy against the new variant. Participants will be closely watching any updates from the vaccine-makers, with the BioNTech CEO stating the drugmaker has data coming Wednesday or Thursday related to the new COVID-19 variant, thus markets will be eyeing a potential update this week ahead of the Pfizer investor call next Friday. Back to European, the UK’s FTSE 100 (Unch) and the Swiss SMI (+0.8%) are largely buoyed by their defensive stocks, with sectors seeing a defensive formation, albeit to a slightly lesser extent vs the open. Healthcare retains its top spot closely followed by Food & Beverages, although Personal & Household Goods and Telecoms have moved down the ranks. On the flip side, Retail, Banks and Travel & Leisure trade at the bottom of the bunch, whilst Tech nursed some earlier losses after opening as the lagging sector. In terms of individual movers, Nestle (+1.8%) is bolstered after announcing a CHF 20bln share repurchase programme alongside a stake reduction in L'Oreal (+1.0%) to 20.1% from 23.3% - worth some EUR 9bln. L’Oreal has shrugged off the stake sale and conforms to the firm sectoral performance across the Personal & Household Goods. Meanwhile, chip names are under pressure after Nikkei sources reported that Apple (+0.8% pre-market) was forced to scale back the total output target for 2021, with iPhone and iPad assembly halted for several days due to supply chain constraints and restrictions on the use of power in China, multiple sources told Nikkei. STMicroelectronics (-1.7%) and Infineon (-5.0%) are among the losers, with the latter also weighed on by a broker downgrade at JPM.

Top European News

  • ECB’s Kazaks Sets High Bar for Omicron-Driven Extra Stimulus
  • Biden Is Left Guessing Over Putin’s Ultimate Aim in Ukraine
  • Byju’s Buys Austria’s GeoGebra to Bolster Online Math Courses
  • Scholz Elected by Parliament to Take Charge as German Chancellor

In FX, the Dollar index continues to hold above 96.000, but bounces have become less pronounced and the range so far today is distinctly narrower (96.285-130) in fitting with the generally restrained trade in pairings within the basket and beyond, bar a few exceptions. Price action suggests a relatively muted midweek session unless a major game-changer arrives and Wednesday’s agenda does not bode that well in terms of catalysts aside from JOLTS and the BoC policy meeting before the second leg of this week’s refunding in the form of Usd 36 bn 10 year notes.

  • AUD/EUR - Notwithstanding the largely contained currency moves noted above, the Aussie is maintaining bullish momentum on specific factors including strength in iron ore prices and encouraging Chinese data plus PBoC easing that should have a positive knock-on effect for one of its main trading partners even though diplomatic relations between the two nations are increasingly strained. Aud/Usd has also cleared a couple of technical hurdles on the way up to circa 0.7143 and Aud/Nzd is firmer on the 1.0500 handle ahead of the RBA’s latest chart pack release and a speech by Governor Lowe. Elsewhere, the Euro has regained composure after its sub-1.1250 tumble on Tuesday vs the Buck and dip through 0.8500 against the Pound, but still faces psychological resistance at 1.1300 and the 21 DMA that comes in at 1.1317 today, while Eur/Gbp needs to breach the 100 DMA (0.8513) convincingly or close above to confirm a change in direction for the cross from a chart perspective.
  • CHF/CAD/JPY/GBP/NZD - All sitting tight in relation to their US counterpart, with the Franc paring some declines between 0.9255-30 parameters and the Loonie straddling 1.2650 in the run up to the aforementioned BoC that is widely seen as a non-event given no new MPR or press conference, not to mention the actual changes in QE and rate guidance last time. Nevertheless, implied volatility is quite high via a 63 pip breakeven for Usd/Cad. Meanwhile, Sterling lost grip of the 1.3200 handle amidst swirling speculation about the UK reverting to plan B and more Tory MPs calling for PM Johnson to resign, the Yen is rotating around 113.50 eyeing broad risk sentiment and US Treasury yields in context of spreads to JGBs, and the Kiwi is lagging after touching 0.6800 awaiting independent impetus from NZ manufacturing sales for Q3.
  • SCANDI/EM - The Nok extended its advantage/outperformance against the Sek as Brent rebounded towards Usd 76/brl in early trade and Riksbank’s Jansson retained reservations about flagging a repo rate hike at the end of the forecast horizon, while the Mxn and Rub also initially derived some support from oil with the latter also taking on board latest hawkish talk from the CBR. However, the Cny and Cnh are outpacing their rivals again with some assistance from a firmer PBoC midpoint fix to hit multi-year peaks vs the Usd and probe 6.3500 ahead of option expiry interest at 6.3000 and a Fib retracement at 6.2946, in stark contrast to the Try that is unwinding recent recovery gains with no help from the latest blast from Turkish President Erdogan - see 10.00GMT post in the Headline Feed for more. Conversely, the Czk has taken heed of CNB’s Holub underscoring tightening signals and expectations for the next rate convene and the Pln and Brl are anticipating hikes from the NBP and BCB.

In commodities, crude futures have been hit on the prospect of imminent COVID-related measures in the UK, albeit the measures do not involve lockdowns. Brent and WTI front month futures slipped from European highs to breach APAC lows. The former dipped below USD 74.50/bbl from a USD 76.00/bbl European peak while its WTI counterpart tested USD 71.00/bbl from USD 72.50/bbl at best. Overnight the benchmarks traded on either side the USD 75/bbl mark and just under USD 72/bbl after the weekly Private Inventories printed a larger-than-expected draw (-3.6mln vs exp. -3.1mln), albeit the internals were less bullish. Yesterday also saw the release of the EIA STEO, cut its 2021 world oil demand growth forecast by an insignificant 10k BPD but raised the 2022 metric by 200k BPD – with the IEA and OPEC monthly reports poised to be released next week. On the vaccine front, a small preliminary study of 12 people showed a 40x reduction in neutralization capacity of the Pfizer vaccine against Omicron, but early hospitalisation data from South Africa showed the new variant could result in less severe COVID. BioNTech CEO said they have data coming in on Wednesday or Thursday related to the new Omicron variant. The geopolitical space is also worth keeping on the radar, with US President Biden yesterday warning Russian President Putin that gas exports via Nord Stream 2 will be targeted and more troops will be deployed if he orders an invasion of Ukraine. Further, reports suggested, an Indian army helicopter crashed in Tamil Nadu, with Chief of Defence staff reportedly on board, according to Sputnik. Note, Tamil Nadu is located towards the south of the country and away from conflict zones. Elsewhere spot gold was supported by the overnight pullback in the Dollar, but the recent risk aversion took the yellow metal above the 100 DMA around USD 1,790/oz, with nearby upside levels including the 200 DMA (1,792/oz) and the 50 DMA (1,794/oz). Copper prices meanwhile consolidated within a tight range, with LME copper holding onto a USD 9,500/t handle (just about). Dalian iron ore extended on gains in a continuation of the upside seen in recent trade.

US Event Calendar

  • 7am: Dec. MBA Mortgage Applications, prior -7.2%
  • 10am: Oct. JOLTs Job Openings, est. 10.5m, prior 10.4m

DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap

A reminder that we are currently conducting our special 2022 survey. We ask about rates, equities, bond yields and the path of covid in 2022, amongst other things, and also return to a festive question we asked in 2019, namely your favourite ever Christmas songs. The link is here and it’ll be open until tomorrow. All help filling in very much appreciated.

My optimism for life has been shattered this morning. Not from the markets or the virus but just as I woke this morning England cricketers finally surrendered and collapsed in a heap on the first day of the Ashes - one the oldest international rivalries in sport. It was all I could do not to turn round and go back to bed. However out of duty I’m soldering on. After the twins nativity play went without incident yesterday, this morning it’s Maisie’s turn. Given she’s in a wheelchair at the moment she can’t get on stage so they’ve given her a solo singing spot at the start. I’m going so I can bring a bucket for all my wife’s tears as she sings!! If I shed a tear I’ll pretend it’s because of the cricket.

The global market rebound continued to gather strength yesterday as investors became increasingly optimistic that the Omicron variant wouldn’t prove as bad as initially feared. To be honest, it was more the absence of bad news rather than any concrete good news helping to drive sentiment. Late in the US session we did see some headlines suggesting that the Pfizer vaccine may provide some defence against Omicron but also that the new variant does evade some of the immunity produced by this vaccine. This report of the small study (12 people!!) from South Africa lacked substance but you could take positives and negatives from it. More information is clearly needed.

For the markets though, every day that passes without a wave of severe cases driven by Omicron is offering more hope that this won’t be the curveball to throw the recovery off course. Indeed, to get a sense of the scale of the market rebound, both the S&P 500 and the STOXX 600 in Europe have now clocked in their strongest 2-day performances of 2021 so far, with the indices up by +3.27% and +3.76% respectively since the start of the week. Meanwhile, the VIX fell below 25 for the first time in a week.

On the day, the S&P 500 (+2.07%) put in its strongest daily performance since March, whilst the STOXX 600 (+2.45%) saw its strongest daily performance since the news that the Pfizer vaccine was successful in trials back in November 2020. Once again the gains were incredibly broad-based, albeit with cyclical sectors leading the way. The Nasdaq (+3.03%) outperformed the S&P 500 for the first time in a week as tech shares led the rally. Small cap stocks also had a strong day, with the Russell 2000 up +2.28%, on the back of Omicron optimism.

This recovery in risk assets was also seen in the bounceback in oil prices, with Brent crude (+3.23%) and WTI (+3.68%) now both up by more than $5.5/bbl since the start of the week, which puts them well on the way to ending a run of 6 consecutive weekly declines.

For further evidence of this increased optimism, we can also look at the way that investors have been dialling back up their estimates of future rate hikes from the Fed, with yesterday seeing another push in this direction. Before the Omicron news hit, Fed fund futures were fully pricing in an initial hike by the June meeting, but by the close on the Monday after Thanksgiving they’d moved down those odds to just 61% in June, with an initial hike not fully priced until September. Fast forward just over a week however, and we’re now not only back to pricing in a June hike, but the odds of a May hike are standing at +78.8%, which is actually higher than the +66.1% chance priced before the Omicron news hit. A reminder that we’re just a week away now from the Fed’s next decision, where it’s hotly anticipated they could accelerate the pace at which they’ll taper their asset purchases.

With investors bringing forward their bets on monetary tightening, front-end US Treasury yields were hitting post-pandemic highs yesterday, with the 2yr Treasury yield up +5.8bps to 0.69%, a level we haven’t seen since March 2020. Longer-dated yield increases weren’t as large, with the 10yr yield up +3.9bps to 1.47%, and the 5s30s curve flattened another -1.8bps to 54.4bps, just above the post-pandemic low of 53.7bps. Over in Europe there was similarly a rise in most countries’ bond yields, with those on 10yr bunds (+1.4bps), OATs (+1.0bps) and BTPs (+4.4bps) all moving higher, though incidentally, the 5s30s curve in Germany was also down -2.2bps to its own post-pandemic low of 50.0bps.

One pretty big news story that markets have been relatively unperturbed by so far is the rising tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine. Yesterday saw a video call between US President Biden and Russian President Putin. The US readout from the call did not offer much in the way of concrete details, but if you’re looking for any optimistic news, it said that both sides tasked their teams with following up. Setting the background for the call, there were reports immediately beforehand that the US was considering evacuating their citizens and posturing to stop Nord Stream 2 if Russia invaded Ukraine. The Ruble appreciated +0.42% against the dollar, and is now only slightly weaker versus the dollar on the week.

Overnight in Asia stocks are trading mostly higher led by the Nikkei (+1.49%), CSI (+1.11%), Shanghai Composite (+0.86%) and the KOSPI (+0.78%) as markets respond positively to the Pfizer study mentioned at the top. The Hang Seng (-0.12%) is lagging though. In Japan, the final Q3 GDP contracted -3.6% quarter on quarter annualised against consensus expectations of -3.1% on lower consumer spending than initially estimated. In India, the RBI left the key policy rate unchanged for the ninth consecutive meeting today while underscoring increasing headwinds from the Omicron variant. Futures markets indicate a positive start in the US and Europe with S&P 500 (+0.41%) and DAX (+0.12%) futures trading in the green.

Back on the pandemic, despite the relative benign news on Omicron, rising global case counts mean that the direction of travel is still towards tougher restrictions across a range of countries. In fact here in the UK, we saw the 7-day average of reported cases move above 48,000 for the first time since January. In terms of fresh restrictions, yesterday saw Canada announce that they’d be extending their vaccine mandate, which will now require employees in all federally regulated workplaces to be vaccinated, including road transportation, telecommunications and banking. In Sweden, the government is preparing a bill that would see Covid passes introduced for gyms and restaurants, while Poland put further measures in place, including remote schooling from December 20 until January 9, while vaccines would become mandatory for health workers, teachers and uniformed services from March 1. One move to ease restrictions came in Austria, where it was confirmed shops would be reopening on Monday, albeit only for those vaccinated, while restaurants and hotels would reopen the following week. If you see our daily charts you’ll see that cases in Austria have dropped sharply since the peaks a couple of weeks ago, albeit still high internationally.

In DC, Congressional leaders apparently agreed to a deal that would ultimately lead to the debt ceiling being increased, after some procedural chicanery. Senate Majority Leader McConnell voiced support for the measure, which is a good sign for its ultimate prospects of passing, but it still needs at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate to pass. McConnell indicated the votes would be there when the Senate ultimately takes it up, which is reportedly set to happen this week. The House passed the measure last night. Yields on Treasury bills maturing in December fell following the headlines.

Looking ahead, today will mark the end of an era in Germany, as Olaf Scholz is set to become Chancellor in a Bundestag vote later on, marking an end to Chancellor Merkel’s 16-year tenure. That vote will simply be a formality given the three parties of the incoming coalition (the centre-left SPD, the Greens and the liberal FDP) have a comfortable majority between them, and the new cabinet will feature 7 SPD ministers, 5 Green ministers, and 4 from the FDP. Among the positions will include Green co-leader Robert Habeck as Vice Chancellor, Green co-leader Annalena Baerbock as foreign minister, and FDP leader Christian Lindner as finance minister.

Running through yesterday’s data, the US trade deficit narrowed to $67.1bn in October (vs. $66.8bn expected), marking its smallest level since April. Meanwhile in the Euro Area, the latest Q3 growth estimate was left unchanged at +2.2%, but both Q1 and Q2’s growth was revised up a tenth. Over in Germany, industrial production grew by a stronger-than-expected +2.8% in October (vs. +1.0% expected), with the previous month’s contraction also revised to show a smaller -0.5% decline. In addition, the expectations component of the December ZEW survey fell by less than expected to 29.9 (vs. 25.4 expected), but the current situation measure fell to a 6-month low of -7.4 (vs. 5.7 expected).

To the day ahead now, and Olaf Scholz is expected to become German Chancellor in a Bundestag vote today. From central banks, the Bank of Canada will be deciding on rates, and we’ll also hear from ECB President Lagarde, Vice President de Guindos and the ECB’s Schnabel. Finally, data releases include the JOLTS job openings from the US for October.

Tyler Durden Wed, 12/08/2021 - 07:58

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AMC CEO Looks To Refinance Debt Amid Dip In Stock Price

A skittish stock market and a struggling box office are complicating the theater chain’s attempts to turn around its debt situation.

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A skittish stock market and a struggling box office are complicating the theater chain’s attempts to turn around its debt situation.

Let’s give credit where it’s due. Most people don’t follow through with their New Year’s Resolutions, but at least AMC Entertainment (AMC) - Get AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. Class A Report CEO Adam Aron is trying.

Following a Tweet earlier this month in which the head of the beleaguered movie theater chain announced plans to “refinance some of our debt to reduce our interest expense, push out some debt maturities by several years and loosen covenants,” he’s now making moves to try to get the job done. 

Aron has reportedly been “in advanced talks with multiple parties” about refinancing, according to The Wall Street Journal. But the ongoing volatility of the stock market, amongst other factors, is complicating matters.

Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Rough Years For AMC

To make it through the pandemic, AMC ended up having to take on a great deal of debt. It reportedly owed $5.5 billion as of last September and also owed $376 million worth of lease payments, which were deferred for a while during the pandemic. 

But as we’ve previously mentioned, the past few years have been tough for theater chains such as AMC. Even before the pandemic put a pause on theater-going in 2020, leading to an absolutely brutal total box office gross drop of 81.4%, general audiences were increasingly only heading out to movie theaters for blockbuster films and franchise installments, often from the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the “Fast & Furious.”

AMC had a reported net loss of $13.5 million in 2019, even as total revenue was up 2.4% to $1.44 billion from the year before. Things improved for the company last year once people felt safe returning to the theaters, as access to vaccines helped unlock some pent-up demand, and the box office rose by 112.5% to $4,468,850,254. 

A big chunk of that rebound is due to the jaw-dropping success of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which recently returned to the top of the box office, on its way to making $1.69 billion worldwide. (Will Peter Parker eventually conquer the blue aliens from “Avatar” to become the highest-grossing film of all time? Stay tuned.) 

But you can’t turn around a struggling industry based on the success of one film, and even Marvel and Disney  (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report can’t put out a general-audience pleasing blockbuster every week. 

Even with a new “Scream” film out, last weekend’s box office total barely totaled more than $43 million, a far cry from five years ago. “That's down from a pre-pandemic $105 million in 2020, $73 million in 2019, $102 million in 2018, and $111 million in 2017, according to data from Box Office Mojo.”

Memes Saved AMC (For A Little While)

Last year AMC received an unexpected lifeline when it became the subject of an internet-driven rush that turned it into a short-lived meme stock. 

After a Reddit-incubated army of internet investors, who dubbed themselves “apes,” began buying shares in AMC through trading applications such as Robinhood, shares of the company temporarily rose to a robust $62.55 a share. Prices would eventually return to earth, hitting $35 a share after the hype dropped down. But the boost allowed Aron to buy the company some time. 

AMC used the cash infusion to repurchase $35 million worth of debt that carried a minimum interest rate of 15%, according to Yahoo! Finance. The deal cost $41.3 million, but it is expected to reduce the overall annual interest on its debt by about $5.3 million.

This year Aron is stepping up his efforts to refinance AMC’s debt, but it’s rough out there at the moment. 

Amid Wall Street’s current market contraction, AMC’s stock has dropped by 41% this year, erasing the meme stock gains, and AMC’s $1.5 billion in secured 10% bonds “traded as low as 92 cents on the dollar, down from 99.5 cents at the start of the year,” according to The Wall Street Journal. 

AMC isn’t looking to refinance all of its debt. Instead, it is targeting some of the bonds with especially high interest, as a way to cut expenses even as bond prices continue to drop.

But it seems like the meme stock rush has turned out to be a double-edged sword. 

AMC was able to stay in business by “selling new shares, taking on new debt, and getting landlords to agree to delay collecting rent payments.” But meme investors have objected to Aron’s plans to allow more AMC shares to be sold, out of fear that it would dilute what they’ve already purchased. 

Aron and AMC have a skittish-at-best stock market and an industry that is struggling to get people into theaters for all but event films. On the other hand, it has a loyal group of investors that are nonetheless limiting the company’s options. 

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Loonie Slides After Bank Of Canada Keeps Rate Unchanged, Says “Economic Slack Now Absorbed”

Loonie Slides After Bank Of Canada Keeps Rate Unchanged, Says "Economic Slack Now Absorbed"

For once, the majority of forecasters was correct, and moments ago the Bank of Canada kept rates unchanged at 0.25, in line with that 24 of 31 analyst

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Loonie Slides After Bank Of Canada Keeps Rate Unchanged, Says "Economic Slack Now Absorbed"

For once, the majority of forecasters was correct, and moments ago the Bank of Canada kept rates unchanged at 0.25, in line with that 24 of 31 analysts expected. The bank also said that while it is keeping holdings on its balance sheet constant, once it begins rising interest rates, it "will consider exiting the reinvestment phase and reducing the size of its balance sheet by allowing roll-off of maturing Government of Canada bonds."

In its statement, the Bank of Canada said that with overall economic slack now absorbed, "the Bank has removed its exceptional forward guidance on its policy interest rate" but the Bank is continuing its reinvestment phase, keeping its overall holdings of Government of Canada bonds roughly constant

Looking ahead, the Governing Council expects interest rates will need to increase, with the timing and pace of those increases guided by the Bank’s commitment to achieving the 2% inflation target.

Some more from the BoC:

The global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is strong but uneven. The US economy is growing robustly while growth in some other regions appears more moderate, especially in China due to current weakness in its property sector. Strong global demand for goods combined with supply bottlenecks that hinder production and transportation are pushing up inflation in most regions. As well, oil prices have rebounded to well above pre-pandemic levels following a decline at the onset of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Financial conditions remain broadly accommodative but have tightened with growing expectations that monetary policy will normalize sooner than was anticipated, and with rising geopolitical tensions. Overall, the Bank projects global GDP growth to moderate from 6¾ % in 2021 to about 3½ % in 2022 and 2023.

On inflation, the BoC said that "CPI inflation remains well above the target range and core measures of inflation have edged up since October. Persistent supply constraints are feeding through to a broader range of goods prices and, combined with higher food and energy prices, are expected to keep CPI inflation close to 5% in the first half of 2022. As supply shortages diminish, inflation is expected to decline reasonably quickly to about 3% by the end of this year and then gradually ease towards the target over the projection period. Near-term inflation expectations have moved up, but longer-run expectations remain anchored on the 2% target. The Bank will use its monetary policy tools to ensure that higher near-term inflation expectations do not become embedded in ongoing inflation."

The central bank also said that it will keep its holdings of Government of Canada bonds on its balance sheet roughly constant at least until it begins to raise the policy interest rate. At that time, the Governing Council will consider exiting the reinvestment phase and reducing the size of its balance sheet by allowing roll-off of maturing Government of Canada bonds.

A redline comparison of the BoC statement:

Commenting on the move, Bloomberg's Ven Ram writes that this is a lot more dovish outcome from the Bank of Canada than one might have imagined. Not only did the central bank hold its rate, but it didn’t paint itself into a corner on when it may push the button: “Looking ahead, the Governing Council expects interest rates will need to increase, with the timing and pace of those increases guided by the Bank’s commitment to achieving the 2% inflation target.”

Add to that this guidance on balance-sheet runoff: “The Bank will keep its holdings of Government of Canada bonds on its balance sheet roughly constant at least until it begins to raise the policy interest rate. At that time, the Governing Council will consider exiting the reinvestment phase and reducing the size of its balance sheet by allowing roll-off of maturing Government of Canada bonds.”

Net-net this isn’t screaming, “Buy the loonie” and sure enough, in immediate reaction, the canada 2Y yields declined and the loonie weakened, dropping from 1.2560 before the BOC to 1.2640 before paring some of the losses, amid some trader disappointment that the bank did not hike.

* * * Earlier:

In what may be a teaser of what to expect from the Fed later today, the Bank of Canada rate decision is due at 10:00am EST followed by Governor Macklem press conference at 11:00am EST. While the bank is expected to leave rates unchanged, there is the risk of a surprise rate hike. Indeed, about a quarter, or 7/31 analysts, surveyed by Reuters expect a hike. If left unchanged, attention turns to guidance.

Below is a recap of what to expect from the BOC courtesy of Newsquawk

SUMMARY:

  • The Bank of Canada is expected to leave rates unchanged at 0.25% although there is the risk for a hike with 7/31 surveyed analysts expecting a 25bp hike to 0.50% at the January meeting, ahead of the current BoC guidance for the middle quarters of 2022.
  • If the rate is left unchanged, attention turns to guidance to see whether this is bought forward to the end of Q1 (ie March).
  • Market pricing looks for rates to be left unchanged, although this has unwound heavily from last week which saw up to a 90% chance of a 25bp hike in January after the BoC survey and CPI data.
  • The MPR will also be released, analysts at TD securities see 2022 growth being revised lower, while inflation is expected to be revised 0.1% higher for 2022 but revised down by 0.1% in 2023.

LIFT-OFF: The latest Reuters survey saw analysts generally believe the BoC will leave rates unchanged in January, although 7 of 31 surveyed expect a hike will occur. Therefore, the expectation for January is for rates to be left unchanged, although the risk of a hike is there. If the rate is left unchanged, attention will turn to its forward guidance, which currently looks for lift-off “sometime in the middle quarters of 2022”. If it is bought forward to the end of Q1, it will signal a March lift-off is coming. Analysts are currently split on whether the BoC will hike in March with 16/31 calling for rates to be left unchanged again, while the other 15 expect it will rise to 0.50% or more, however, all analysts noted the risk to the pace of rate hikes this year is that they come faster than expected. The median forecast is for the BoC to raise rates to 0.75% by the end of Q2 2022.

SURVEYS: The Business Outlook Survey sounded the alarm on inflation with 67% of firms expecting inflation to be above 3% over the next two years, although most predict it will return to target within one to three years. It also noted that demand and supply bottlenecks are expected to keep upward pressure on prices over the year ahead. However, the overall survey saw a continued improvement in business sentiment to see the indicator hit a record high, although it was held back by labour shortages and supply chain issues. Note, the Canadian labour market is back at pre-pandemic levels and has been for a while. A separate BoC survey showed consumer inflation expectations hitting a record high of 4.89% over the next year, noting most people are more concerned about inflation post-COVID than before, where consumers believe it is more difficult to control. Analysts at ING highlight that the latest survey saw respondents note they expect supply disruptions through H2 this year and that labour shortages are constraining output. ING write “where the economic outlook is robust, the jobs market is red hot and inflation is at generational highs, we see little reason for the BoC to delay tightening monetary policy.” Meanwhile, ING adds that Ontario has announced a three-step plan to allow a full reopening from COVID restrictions from the end of January “which should be the final green light for the central bank to hike rates 25bps”.

INFLATION: The latest CPI report saw the headline M/M and Y/Y metrics in line with expectations, although the core Y /Y measure saw a sharp rise to 4.0%, while the BoC eyed measures rose to 2.93% from 2.73%. Analysts at RBC, who expect the Bank to leave rates unchanged at this meeting, say “Inflation trends have evolved largely in line with the BoC’ s forecasts from the October Monetary Policy Report (4.8% vs actual 4.7% for Q4)”. However, this still shows price growth above the 2% target rate and RBC’s own tracking suggests not all that pressure can be explained by pandemicrelated distortions. As such, RBC expects rates to rise soon and believe the BoC will use this meeting to signal the start of lift-off.

MPR: The MPR will also be released, analysts at TD securities see 2022 growth being revised lower, while inflation is expected to be revised higher for 2022, before being revised marginally lower in 2023. In October, the MPR saw 2021 growth at 5.1%, 2022 at 4.3%, and 2023 at 3.7%. CPI was seen at 3.4% for 2021, while 2022 is expected to be revised higher to 3.5% (prev. 3.4%), and 2023 CPI is expected to be revised down to 2.2% from 2.3%. In the October MPR, the output gap was estimated at about -2.25% to -1.25% and is expected to close sometime in the middle quarters of 2022

Tyler Durden Wed, 01/26/2022 - 10:10

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Mainstream Suddenly Realizes Raising Interest Rates In A World Buried In Debt Might Be A Problem

Mainstream Suddenly Realizes Raising Interest Rates In A World Buried In Debt Might Be A Problem

Authored by Michael Maharrey via SchiffGold.com,

The Federal Reserve is talking about raising interest rates. But the US economy is buried under

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Mainstream Suddenly Realizes Raising Interest Rates In A World Buried In Debt Might Be A Problem

Authored by Michael Maharrey via SchiffGold.com,

The Federal Reserve is talking about raising interest rates. But the US economy is buried under piles of debt. I’ve been asking how this is going to work for months. Apparently, the question has finally occurred to the mainstream.

A CNBC article declared, “Fed rate hikes will intensify a global debt crisis, research warns.”

Well, yeah. Duh.

According to the study came from a UK non-profit the Jubilee Debt Campaign, debt payments rose in developing countries by 120% between 2010 and 2021. They are currently at their highest levels since 2001.

The sharp increase in debt payments is hindering countries’ economic recovery from the pandemic, the report suggested, and rising US and global interest rates in 2022 could exacerbate the problem for many lower income countries.”

The study and the CNBC article are really a pitch for debt cancellation, but their narrative swerves into an unpleasant truth for US policymakers. Raising interest rates in a world awash in red ink is going to be a problem. And not just for “developing countries.”

The US government is closing in fast on $30 trillion in debt with no end to the borrowing and spending in sight. The federal government managed to run a deficit in December despite record receipts.

In December alone, the federal government spent $508 billion. The was the highest December spending level ever. Through the first three months of fiscal 2022, the federal government has already spent $1.43 trillion. That’s a record for the first quarter of any fiscal year.

Raising interest rates will drastically increase the cost of servicing all of that debt. And it will increase the cost of borrowing more money for the Biden spending coming down the pike.

In the fiscal year 2020, Uncle Sam spent $345 billion in net interest payments alone, despite near-zero interest rates. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that even a 2% increase in interest rates would cause net interest payments to rise to a whopping $750 billion. And this estimate was calculated before the passage of the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. That was followed up with a big surge in interest rates on US Treasuries. In other words, $750 billion underestimates the cost.

On top of that, American consumers are buried under debt. Consumer debt jumped 11% year-on-year in November. It was the biggest single-month jump in consumer debt in 20 years. Total consumer debt now stands at over $4.41 trillion. And that doesn’t include mortgages.

Revolving debt – primarily credit card balances – grew by a staggering 23.4% year-on-year in November. That was the biggest increase since 1998.

And that’s not all. Businesses and corporations are also leveraged to the hilt.

The year 2020 set a record for corporate debt issuance with $2.28 trillion of bonds and loans, comprising both new bonds and bonds issued to refinance existing debt.

All of this debt is a feature of the Fed’s loose monetary policy - not a bug.

The Federal Reserve and the US government have built a post-pandemic “economic recovery” on stimulus and debt. It is predicated on consumers spending stimulus money borrowed and handed out by the federal government or running up their own credit cards.

Now, the Fed is threatening to turn off that easy money spigot. How is that going to work? How will consumers buried under more than $1 trillion in credit card debt pay those balances down with interest rates rising?  With rising rates, minimum payments will rise. It will cost more just to pay the interest on the outstanding balances.

Overleveraged companies have the same problem.

And so does the US government.

This does not bode well for an economy that depends on borrowing and spending to sustain itself.

The only reason Americans can borrow money is because the Fed is enabling them. It holds interest rates artificially low. That’s how the economy works. And that’s why I think the Fed will ultimately relent on any move it makes toward tighter monetary policy. As Peter Schiff put it, the Fed can’t do what it’s claiming it will do.

Tyler Durden Wed, 01/26/2022 - 08:29

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