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CHINA: COMING BACK INTO FOCUS  

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CHINA: COMING BACK INTO FOCUS  

By Jaisal Pastakia, Investment Manager at Heartwood Investment Management 

China has not been a source of concern for investors in 2017 as perhaps might have been feared. In fact, economic growth came in better than expected in the first half of the year and data has been on an expected gently slowing trend since. Investors have perhaps being lulled into a false sense of security, given how well China’s equity and currency markets have behaved. Nonetheless, we believe that as the Chinese authorities continue to deleverage specific areas of the economy, these actions may have the capacity to create pressure points in 2018, leading to potentially more volatility in economic data and, crucially, in markets – albeit from very low levels.

Deleveraging has been a policy priority for China’s authorities over the last 18 months and will continue to be a key focus for investors. Efforts to rein in risks in the credit markets have not been achieved by conventional means – i.e. lowering interest rates – but instead through an emphasis on regulatory reform; the impact of which is starting to be felt in China’s bond market. Ten-year government bond yields in China broke through 4% at the end of November for the first time since 2014.

A significant driver of the move higher in yields over the past couple of months has resulted from the reduction in bond purchases from small banks and asset management funds. These institutions have been expanding their balance sheets to a lesser extent, evidenced by a lower take-up of newly issued government bonds. Demand for bonds is likely to be further undermined by the latest proposals from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) to limit the use of leverage in the 102 trillion yuan asset management industry.

With new regulations and reduced bank demand pushing up borrowing costs, market concerns around liquidity may pick up over the coming weeks and months. In the near term, these concerns could be accentuated by banks hoarding cash in December ahead of year-end reporting. Higher borrowing costs could also place pressure on those large institutions, such as China’s Development Bank and local government investment vehicles, which need to refinance maturing debt in 2018.

Hitherto, China’s authorities have stepped in with sizeable injections to support liquidity and there is little to suggest they will change their behaviour. It is worth emphasising that the PBOC has made sure that volatility in the much watched seven-day repo market – the effective rate at which banks lend to one another – remains low by historical standards.

The slowdown in housing is expected to be moderate

As well as the financial system, we have also seen deleveraging measures take effect in China’s housing market. These measures have been targeted at the largest Tier 1 cities – Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzen. Annual growth in property sales in both volume and value terms has contracted and the trend may deteriorate further owing to base effects.

While housing construction activity is expected to slow, there are reasons to believe it will be only a moderate slowdown as opposed to anything more sinister. In smaller cities, where the focus is on destocking inventories through favourable policies, prices have continued to increase on a month-to-month basis, albeit at a slower pace. In fact, overall levels of housing inventories are at their lowest point since 2013. Further support to construction activity in 2018 is likely to result from strong land sales to developers in 2017.  And while housing starts have seen a steady slowdown since the summer, the trend appears to be bottoming.

None of the above changes our view of expecting a moderate slowdown in Chinese growth together with targeted tightening measures. However, after what has been a relatively benign 2017, investors may see more market volatility next year from very low levels.

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Shares rise as cyclical stocks provide support; yields climb

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Shares rise as cyclical stocks provide support; yields climb 1

By Saqib Iqbal Ahmed

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A gauge of global equity markets snapped a 3-day losing streak to edge higher on Friday, as the recent selling pressure on high-flying big technology-related stocks eased even as investors showed a preference for economically sensitive cyclical sectors.

Oil prices fell from recent highs as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather, while the U.S. Treasury yields extended their recent rise.

The MSCI’s global stock index was up 0.47% at 681.88, after losing ground for three consecutive sessions.

On Wall Street, stocks steadied as cyclical sectors edged higher while tech names made modest advances after concerns about elevated valuations led to some selling in recent sessions.

“What we saw (this week) represents a market that is tired and may not do very much. So we are headed for some sort of a pullback, but I don’t think we’re there just yet,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.

“Investors are not really pulling out of the market, but they are becoming more cautious. It already has factored in another good positive earnings season.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 119.97 points, or 0.38%, to 31,613.31, the S&P 500 gained 12.93 points, or 0.33%, to 3,926.9 and the Nasdaq Composite added 92.58 points, or 0.67%, to 13,957.93.

The S&P 500 technology and communication services sectors, housing high-value growth stocks, were among the smallest gainers in early trading, while financials, industrials, energy and materials rose more than 1%.

European shares edged higher on Friday as an upbeat earnings report from Hermes boosted confidence in a broader economic recovery. The pan-European STOXX 600 index was 0.64% higher.

U.S. Treasury yields on the longer end of the curve rose to new one-year highs on Friday as improved risk appetite boosted Wall Street, while the yield on 30-year inflation-protected securities (TIPS) turned positive for the first time since June.

Core bond yields have pushed higher globally, led by the so-called reflation trade, where investors wager on a pick-up in growth and inflation. Growing momentum for coronavirus vaccine programs and hopes of massive fiscal spending under U.S. President Joe Biden have spurred reflation trades.

The benchmark 10-year yield was last up 5.1 basis points at 1.338%, its highest level since Feb. 26, 2020.

Oil prices retreated from recent highs for a second day on Friday as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather.

Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, analysts estimated.

Brent crude futures were down 28 cents, or 0.44%, at $63.65 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 66 cents, or 1.09%, to $59.86.

Copper jumped to its highest in more than nine years on Friday and towards a third straight weekly gain as tight supplies and bullish sentiment towards base metals continued after the Chinese New Year.

Spot gold XAU= was down 0.58% at $1,785.71 an ounce.

The dollar lost ground on Friday, extending Thursday’s decline as improved risk appetite sapped demand for the safe-haven currency and drew buyers to riskier, higher-yielding currencies. The dollar index was off 0.295%.

Bitcoin hit yet another record high on Friday, hitting a market capitalization of $1 trillion, blithely shrugging off analyst warnings that it is an “economic side show” and a poor hedge against a fall in stock prices.

(Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Oil falls after surging past $65 on Texas freeze

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Oil falls after surging past $65 on Texas freeze 2

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Thursday despite a sharp drop in U.S. crude inventories, as market participants took profits following days of buying spurred by a cold snap in the largest U.S. energy-producing state.

Brent crude fell 41 cents, or 0.6%, to settle at $63.93 a barrel. During the session it rose as high as $65.52, its highest since January 2020.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 62 cents, or 1%, to settle at $60.52 a barrel, after earlier reaching $62.26, the highest since January 2020.

Brent had gained for four straight sessions before Thursday, while WTI had risen for three.

“The market probably got a little bit ahead of itself,” said Phil Flynn, a senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “But make no mistake, this selloff in oil doesn’t solve the problems. The problems are going to persist.”

Though some Texas households had power restored on Thursday, the state entered its sixth day of a cold freeze. It has grappled with refining outages and oil and gas shut-ins that rippled beyond its border into Mexico.

The weather has shut in about one-fifth of the nation’s refining capacity and closed oil and natural gas production across the state.

“The temporary outage will help to accelerate U.S. oil inventories down towards the five-year average quicker than expected,” SEB chief commodities analyst Bjarne Schieldrop said.

Prices dropped despite a decrease in U.S. oil inventories. Crude stockpiles fell by 7.3 million barrels in the week to Feb. 12, the Energy Information Administration said on Thursday, compared with analysts’ expectations for an decrease of 2.4 million barrels.

Crude exports rose to 3.9 million barrels per day, the highest since March, EIA said.

“The big nugget was the big jump in exports of crude oil,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in New York. “We’ll have to see what happens with that next week weather in Texas, but I have been looking for a pickup there for a while.”

Oil’s rally in recent months has also been supported by a tightening of global supplies, due largely to production cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied producers in the OPEC+ grouping, which includes Russia.

OPEC+ sources told Reuters the group’s producers are likely to ease curbs on supply after April given the recovery in prices.

(Additional reporting by Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Steve Orlofsky, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)

 

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GameStop frenzy sparks fresh investment in stock-trading apps

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GameStop frenzy sparks fresh investment in stock-trading apps 3

By Jane Lanhee Lee

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – The recent trading frenzy centered on GameStop Corp and other “meme” stocks is sparking a wave of investor interest in start-ups aiming to mimic the success of Robinhood Markets Inc, whose no-fee brokerage app has helped drive a trading boom.

Public.com, a direct competitor to Robinhood that boasts a host of blue-chip backers, said on Wednesday it had raised $220 million, valuing it at $1.2 billion on the private market. Another well-heeled rival, Stash, said earlier this month it had raised $125 million, while Webull Financial LLC, backed by Chinese investors, is also raising fresh funds after enjoying an influx of new users.

Robinhood, meanwhile, raised some $3.4 billion in the midst of the GameStop furor to assure its stability amid rapid growth and demands by its trading partners that it post more collateral.

The fresh investments are coming even as government regulators ramp up scrutiny of Robinhood and others involved in the GameStop trading. A U.S. congressional committee on Thursday grilled the chief executive of Robinhood and a YouTube streamer known as “Roaring Kitty,” among others, as it probes possible improprieties, including market manipulation.

Robinhood came under stiff criticism from some quarters for restricting trading in GameStop and other shares at the height of the frenzy, a move the company says it was forced to make due to requirements of partners that settle trades. It has also drawn scrutiny for a business model that relies on payments for sending trading business to partner brokerages, a practice Public.com and some other rivals are pledging to avoid.

Investors see rich opportunity in bringing easy stock trading to smartphone users globally, though the companies say they are also cognizant of the risks.

Stash, which doubled its active accounts to over 5 million by the end of last year, operates with only four trading windows a day to discourage rapid speculative trading, it said.

U.K.-based Freetrade.io told Reuters by email that its user numbers last year grew six-fold to 300,000 and by mid-February had reached 560,000. It said it had raised a total $35 million, including from crowd-funding rounds from over 10,000 customers.

But it does not offer margin trading or riskier offerings. “These products encourage investors to behave as if they are gambling or speculating rather than investing,” a Freetrade.io spokesman said.

Interest in trading apps is soaring globally. In Mexico, trading app Flink launched seven months ago and already has a million users, according to co-founder and chief executive Sergio Jimenez. He said Mexicans can buy fractions of U.S. stock through the platform, but not Mexican stocks – yet.

“Ninety percent of them are investing for the first time,” said Jimenez.

Flink raised $12 million in a funding round in February led by Accel, an early investor in Facebook. Accel is also an investor in Public.com and Berlin-based Trade Republic Bank Gmbh, which allows European retail investors to buy fractions of U.S. stocks, according to Accel partner Andrew Braccia.

“The bigger story here is there’s just this global trend of… accessibility,” he said.

Start-up investors also see opportunity in the infrastructure behind the trading apps. DriveWealth, which serves Mexico’s Flink and 70-plus other online trading apps around the world, has hundreds more partnerships in the pipeline, according to founder and chief executive Bob Cortright. DriveWealth provides the technology to power digital wallets and trading apps, and also provides clearing and brokerage service to its business partners.

“This is this is only beginning,” said Cortright. “The fact that you could have a smartphone in your hand in India, for instance, and buy $10 worth of Coca-Cola stock at an instant, that’s pretty game-changing.”

Venture capital investments in U.S. fintech companies hit a record last year with $20.6 billion invested, according to data firm PitchBook. Globally, around $41.4 billion was invested in fintech companies in 2020.

(Reporting By Jane Lanhee Lee in Oakland; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Dan Grebler)

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