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Not company earnings, not data but vaccines now steering investor sentiment

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Not company earnings, not data but vaccines now steering investor sentiment 1

By Marc Jones and Dhara Ranasinghe

LONDON (Reuters) – Forget economic data releases and corporate trading statements — vaccine rollout progress is what fund managers and analysts are watching to gauge which markets may recover quickest from the COVID-19 devastation and to guide their investment decisions.

Consensus is for world economic growth to rebound this year above 5%, while Refinitiv I/B/E/S forecasts that 2021 earnings will expand 38% and 21% in Europe and the United States respectively.

Yet those projections and investment themes hinge almost entirely on how quickly inoculation campaigns progress; new COVID-19 strains and fresh lockdown extensions make official data releases and company profit-loss statements hopelessly out of date for anyone who uses them to guide investment decisions.

“The vaccine race remains the major wild card here. It will shape the outlook and perceptions of global growth leadership in 2021,” said Mark McCormick, head of currency strategy at TD Securities.

“While vaccines could reinforce a more synchronized recovery in the second half (2021), the early numbers reinforce the shifting fundamental between the United States, euro zone and others.”

The question is which country will be first to vaccinate 60%-70% of its population — the threshold generally seen as conferring herd immunity, where factories, bars and hotels can safely reopen. Delays could necessitate more stimulus from governments and central banks.

Patchy vaccine progress has forced some to push back initial estimates of when herd immunity could be reached. Deutsche Bank says late autumn is now more realistic than summer, though it expects the northern hemisphere spring to be a turning point, with 20%-25% of people vaccinated and restrictions slowly being lifted.

But race winners are already becoming evident, above all Israel, where a speedy immunisation campaign has brought a torrent of investment into its markets and pushed the shekel to quarter-century highs.

(Graphic: Vaccinations per 100 people by country, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/azgvolalapd/Pasted%20image%201611247476583.png)

SHOT IN THE ARM

Others such as South Africa and Brazil, slower to get off the ground, have been punished by markets.

Britain’s pound meanwhile is at eight-month highs versus the euro which analysts attribute partly to better vaccination prospects; about 5 million people have had their first shot with numbers doubling in the past week.

Shamik Dhar, chief economist at BNY Mellon Investment Management expects double-digit GDP bouncebacks in Britain and the United States but noted sluggish euro zone progress.

“It is harder in the euro zone, the outlook is a bit more cloudy there as it looks like it will take longer to get herd immunity (due to slower vaccine programmes),” he added.

The euro bloc currently lags the likes of Britain and Israel in terms of per capita coverage, leading Germany to extend a hard lockdown until Feb. 14, while France and Netherlands are moving to impose night-time curfews.

Jack Allen-Reynolds, senior European economist at Capital Economics, said the slow vaccine progress and lockdowns had led him to revise down his euro zone 2021 GDP forecasts by a whole percentage point to 4%.

“We assume GDP gets back to pre-pandemic levels around 2022…the general story is that we think the euro zone will recover more slowly than US and UK.”

The United States, which started vaccinating its population last month, is also ahead of most other major economies with its vaccination rollout running at a rate of about 5 per 100.

Deutsche said at current rates 70 million Americans would have been immunised around April, the threshold for protecting the most vulnerable.

Some such as Eric Baurmeister, head of emerging markets fixed income at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, highlight risks to the vaccine trade, noting that markets appear to have more or less priced normality being restored, leaving room for disappointment.

Broadly though the view is that eventually consumers will channel pent-up savings into travel, shopping and entertainment, against a backdrop of abundant stimulus. In the meantime, investors are just trying to capture market moves when lockdowns are eased, said Hans Peterson global head of asset allocation at SEB Investment Management.

“All (market) moves depend now on the lower pace of infections,” Peterson said. “If that reverts, we have to go back to investing in the FAANGS (U.S. tech stocks) for good or for bad.”

(GRAPHIC: Renewed surge in COVID-19 across Europe – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xegvbejqwpq/COVID2101.PNG)

(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe and Marc Jones; Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker; Writing by Sujata Rao; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Analysis: Global bond rout puts BOJ’s yield curve control in spotlight

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Analysis: Global bond rout puts BOJ's yield curve control in spotlight 2

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan’s success in controlling the shape of the bond market’s yield curve could tempt other central banks to consider deploying similar tactics as they grapple with a rise in borrowing costs that could cripple their economies.

The Japanese central bank has kept bond yields largely pinned inside a narrow range around 0%, since it adopted its yield curve control (YCC) policy in 2016.

The merits of the policy are clear. By shifting to targeting yields, the BOJ could buy fewer bonds than under its massive bond-buying programme many analysts saw as unsustainable.

With a pledge to cap the 10-year Japanese government bond (JGB) yield at zero, the BOJ has kept rises in the benchmark yield at just 17 basis points this year, even as the U.S. Treasury yield spiked 70 points.

“YCC is working quite well. It relieved the BOJ from the burden of having to buy bonds at a set pace,” said former BOJ executive Shigenori Shiratsuka, currently professor at Keio University.

“Major central banks will probably follow in the footsteps of the BOJ,” as keeping rates low would be crucial in helping governments manage the huge cost of combating COVID-19, he said.

Indeed, some central banks are warming to YCC as they hunt for ways to reflate growth with dwindling policy ammunition.

Australia’s central bank adopted YCC in 2020 and defended its three-year yield target with huge bond buying.

The European Central Bank does not conduct explicit YCC but is tying its stimulus more heavily to the yield curve.

ECB board member Fabio Panetta said on Tuesday the recent steepening in the yield curve was “unwelcome and must be resisted,” pointing to the merits of a “firm commitment to steering the euro area yield curve.”

“This has to be as far as any ECB official ever went in terms of YCC commitment,” Pictet Wealth Management strategist Frederik Ducrozet said of Panetta’s comments.

NOT FOR EVERYONE

Japan’s nearly five years of experience with YCC has exposed some of its flaws. The BOJ has said it will look into making its tools more “sustainable and effective”, including by addressing the demerits, when it carries out a policy review this month.

Indeed, YCC could be difficult to maintain and may not suit everyone. The Fed has stopped short of introducing a yield cap, despite studying it for years.

BOJ policymakers concede YCC worked in Japan because of the central bank’s huge presence in the bond market and a dearth of expectations that inflation would pick up.

On the rare occasion the 10-year yield deviated from its target, the BOJ stepped up purchases such as through a “special” operation where it offered to buy unlimited amounts at a set price.

This could be a costly operation in a vastly diverse $18 trillion U.S. Treasury market, where controlling yields could be far more challenging than in the $9 trillion JGB market.

“I won’t rule out the chance of the Fed adopting a two-year yield cap, if interest rates continue to rise and destabilise the stock market,” said former BOJ official Nobuyasu Atago, who is now chief economist at Japan’s Ichiyoshi Securities. “But there’s a lot of uncertainty on whether it will work.”

For now, major central banks see no problem with higher inflation. Fed policymakers consider the recent jump in yields as an “appropriate” reaction to hopes for higher growth.

Even if the rise were to be considered too much, the Fed has an interim step short of YCC, such as buying longer-dated bonds.

Being too successful with YCC comes at a cost. Market liquidity dried up as Japan’s 10-year yield mostly hugged a 20-basis-point band around the 0% target since YCC was rolled out.

(Click here for an interactive graphic of Japan’s JGB yields since early 2016: https://tmsnrt.rs/2May3Ye https://tmsnrt.rs/2May3Ye)

The BOJ will thus discuss ways to allow 10-year yields to deviate more from its target at the March review, sources have told Reuters.

Allowing yields to rise more would help make YCC more sustainable, as vaccine rollouts could drive up economic growth, inflation and long-term rates in the coming months, analysts say.

But if the BOJ allows rates to fluctuate more widely, it risks undermining the credibility of YCC.

“If the BOJ is being forced to allow yields to move at a wider range around its target, it shows that markets are deciding the shape of the yield curve and that there are limits to the BOJ’s ability to control it,” said former BOJ deputy governor Hirohide Yamaguchi.

“It’s hard to control long-term interest rates within a tight range for a long period of time.”

(Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi in Frankfurt and Howard Schneider in Washington; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

 

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Wall Street slides on tech sell-off, other world stocks flat

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Wall Street slides on tech sell-off, other world stocks flat 3

By Suzanne Barlyn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wall Street fell on Wednesday as investors sold off technology stocks, while shares from Asia to Europe were flat, while the dollar rose even as U.S. jobs data disappointed investors and virtual currency bitcoin jumped.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.05% and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.68%.

“We’re seeing a lot of what we’ve seen over the past week or so, that is markets being stymied to some extent by rising interest rates,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 119.98 points, or 0.38%, to 31,271.54, the S&P 500 lost 50.51 points, or 1.31%, to 3,819.78 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 361.04 points, or 2.7%, to 12,997.75.

Equities retreated as benchmark U.S. Treasury yields moved higher after declining for three straight days.

High-flying technology shares sold off as investors pivoted to sectors more likely to benefit as the economy recovers due to fiscal stimulus and vaccinations.

Emerging market stocks rose 1.30%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 1.42% higher, while Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.51%.

The U.S. economy’s modest recovery continued over the first weeks of this year, with businesses optimistic and housing demand “robust,” with slow improvement in the job market, the Federal Reserve reported.

Other data showed U.S. services industry activity unexpectedly slowed in February due to winter storms, while private payrolls increased less than expected as manufacturing and construction jobs declined.

Investors were growing optimistic that U.S. stimulus will soon energize the global economy. The U.S. Senate was set to open debate on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, with Democrats eager to pass it soon.

UK Finance minister Rishi Sunak delivered what he hopes will be a last big spending splurge to get Britain’s economy through the COVID-19 crisis, and announced a corporate tax hike starting in 2023 to bolster public finances.

Longer-term U.S. Treasury yields rose as investors looked toward comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Thursday for signs the central bank was set to acknowledge the risk of a rapid rise in rates.

The benchmark 10-year note was poised to snap a three-day streak of declines following a jump to a one-year high of 1.614 percent last week, with many Fed officials having downplayed the rise in recent days.

Benchmark 10-year notes last fell 15/32 in price to yield 1.467%, from 1.415% late on Wednesday.

Euro zone government bond yields rose again on doubts about whether the bloc’s central bank will step in to curb the recent sharp increase, while data reflected optimism about economic recovery.

Although yields have dipped from their highs, pressure remains, with Germany’s 10-year Bund yield, the benchmark for the region, rising 5 basis points to -0.29%. It remained far below its Feb. 26 spike of -0.203%.

The dollar gained as investors priced for strong U.S. growth relative to other regions, while the safe-haven Japanese yen continued to weaken to a seven-month low.

The dollar index rose 0.157%, with the euro down 0.21% to $1.2064.

Bitcoin hit $52,652, the highest in a week. It was last up 4.1% at $50,533.

Spot gold dropped 1.3% to $1,715.40 an ounce. U.S. gold futures fell 0.85% to $1,715.30 an ounce.

Oil prices rose, boosted by expectations that OPEC+ producers might decide against increasing output.

U.S. crude recently rose 2.44% to $61.21 per barrel and Brent was at $64.04, up 2.14% on the day.

(Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn; Editing by David Gregorio)

 

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European stocks muted as rise in yields, inflation bets curb initial gains

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European stocks muted as rise in yields, inflation bets curb initial gains 4

By Sruthi Shankar and Ambar Warrick

(Reuters) – European stocks ended flat on Wednesday, with gains in economy-sensitive sectors offset by a rise in bond yields as investors raised their inflation expectations for the year.

Consumer-oriented automobile and travel stocks were the day’s best performers, while British stocks rose after finance minister Rishi Sunak extended emergency programmes to support the economy through the COVID-19 pandemic.

A strong outlook from Stellantis boosted the automobile sector.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index ended largely unchanged after opening stronger, with utility stocks leading losses in the euro zone.

Utilities are often considered as proxies for bonds, and are sold off when debt offers relatively higher yields.

European bond yields rose on Wednesday, while a market gauge of long-term euro zone inflation expectations rose to its highest level since May 2019. [GVD/EUR]

Healthcare and technology shares also suffered big losses as focus turned away from defensive stocks and towards sectors more likely to benefit from an economic recovery.

“Healthcare has performed well during difficult periods in the market. Now that conditions have improved, people are considering general recovery areas which are benefiting from a recovery economy,” said Chris Bailey, European strategist at Raymond James.

Hopes of COVID-19 vaccines spurring a return to economic normality drove optimism about euro zone business activity to a three-year high in an IHS Markit survey.

British bank stocks rose after Sunak said the UK would review a tax surcharge on bank profits to make them more competitive against foreign rivals.

But Sunak also announced future tax hikes to offset the large hole left in public finances by current spending.

German stocks ended about 0.3% higher as investors anticipated a gradual easing of coronavirus curbs as a sluggish vaccination campaign accelerates. Falls in major technology stocks helped to drag them down from a record high hit earlier in the session, however.

Automobile supplier Continental jumped 5.4% after UBS upgraded its rating to “buy”, citing “attractive” value creation from the company’s plans to spin off its powertrain unit Vitesco.

Swiss logistics group Kuehne & Nagel International rose 7.1% to the top of the STOXX 600 as it notched up record full-year operating profit.

Shares in UK insurer Hiscox Ltd tumbled 11.8% to the bottom of the STOXX 600 as the firm swung to a huge loss for 2020 and continued to withhold a dividend.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Anil D’Silva)

 

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