Summer is usually known as a low-volatility period in the financial markets, as traders take some time off their desks to enjoy long vacations. However, with several market-movers in play these days, it’s hard to imagine investors refraining from actively managing their portfolios even during the summer months. Here are the top five topics everyone’s watching lately.
- Central bank stimulus
First up is talk of easy money from central banks, as policymakers appear to be concerned about inflation, global growth prospects, and the looming Brexit. For now, the Bank of England has refrained from lowering interest rates but the minutes of their meeting earlier this month revealed that they discussed a range of policy tools that they can use, keeping expectations for an August rate cut in play.
The European Central Bank is scheduled to make its monetary policy statement this week and analysts are divided on whether Governor Mario Draghi and his fellow policymakers would take their cue from the BOE or stay true to his hints that “further stimulus is in the pipeline.” Also this week, the Reserve Bank of Australia released its monetary policy meeting minutes, which revealed that officials were actually more concerned about inflation prospects than they seemed in their rate statement.
Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand also seems to be setting the stage up for a potential rate cut now that it made plans to tighten lending conditions in the housing market. The Bank of Japan is set to announce its policy statement next week and investors are also on the lookout for additional stimulus after Prime Minister Abe ordered his cabinet to draft a new set of economic stimulus plans last week.
- US earnings
Earnings season is still going on in the US, as companies are rounding up their financial results for the second quarter of this year. So far, results are looking mixed, as revenues were mostly weaker while some companies managed to beat analysts’ earnings expectations.
Results from the financial sector have been upbeat, followed by indications of a rebound in the tech sector. This has led the S&P 500 and DJIA to close at all-time highs early in the week. Moving forward, retailers and manufacturing companies are still scheduled to make their earnings calls, providing a clearer picture of how the consumer and business sectors have fared in Q2 and potentially keeping Fed rate hike expectations in play.
Among the major central banks, the US Federal Reserve is the only one that’s not looking to lower interest rates or introduce new easing measures, solidifying the US dollar’s status as a safe-haven currency, but dollar price action would still depend on overal market sentiment for the next few months.
- Another crude oil slump
After a brief recovery as risk appetite improved in the past months, fears of a crude oil supply glut have resurfaced as firms continue to drill while demand remains feeble. Production has resumed in energy-rich Alberta, allowing inventories to rise once more, while expectations of a dent in supply due to the coup in Turkey were short-lived.
Apart from that, the recent price rallies have encouraged shale oil companies in the United States to resume operations, adding to fears of an oversupply. Weekly crude oil stockpiles could start indicating gains once more, as the crude oil market seems to be reverting to its previous state.
Still, OPEC leaders have reiterated that they expect oil market fundamentals to stabilize for the rest of the year. In the United Kingdom, mining companies such as Rio Tinto, Glencore, and BHP Billiton also suffered a blow from commodity price declines that don’t seem to have bottomed out for now.
- Italian banking crisis
Perhaps one of the newer topics being discussed by market participants these days is the banking crisis in Italy, which threatens to pose a new shock to the euro zone economy. Banks in the region’s third largest economy are in trouble as its borrowers are holding loans they can no longer afford, bringing the country’s non-performing loans to a staggering 18% of its GDP.
And with banks in the euro zone exposed to each other’s sovereign debt, the possibility of contagion is looking very real. As it is, this banking crisis appears to be swelling into a political issue, threatening the stability of the entire region.
Analysts project that the Italian economy can’t recover until 2025, possibly sparking a financial crisis that could rival the Greek debt drama. The government would need to recapitalize its banks quick or face tremendous repercussions. As policymakers have noted, the situation would only get worse if no action is taken. Bailouts, tax hikes, and spending cuts could be on the table, putting the nation’s economic performance in peril, but any of these might be the bitter pill that Italy has to swallow.
For now, investors still seem to be heavily focused on the Brexit process, although a sense of calm has been restored in the markets now that Prime Minister Theresa May is at the helm. This should jumpstart the discussions among UK officials and allow them to bargain for amenable trade and immigration deals with the EU officials in Brussels.
Prime Minister May voted to stay in the EU but she has reiterated her plan to make a success of the Brexit. So far, her cabinet appointments have supported these plans as she will be working with officials who have voted to exit the EU and might therefore have a stronger negotiating stance for the future of the UK economy.
Still, there’s still a considerable amount of uncertainty left in the financial markets as EU officials might give the UK a difficult time once Article 50 of the Treaty of European Union is finally invoked. This could hinge on the new trade agreement between the EU and the UK, as these parties share strong trade ties that a huge chunk of overall economic activity.