Jan 31, 2020

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

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🎙"Many people resented my impatience and honesty, but I never cared about acceptance as much as I cared about respect." - See who said it and why it matters at the bottom.

1 big thing: Getting bullish on the coronavirus outbreak

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press briefing on the evolution of new coronavirus epidemic. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. stocks ended the day higher on Thursday after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak that has spread to at least 19 countries, killing more than 200 people and infecting nearly 10,000, more a global emergency.

What it means: The declaration was taken as good news by bullish investors because the international organization said China's "unprecedented response" and international cooperation would “reverse the tide” and contain the outbreak.

  • WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lauded the "extraordinary measures [China] has taken" in a press conference Thursday.
  • He added that there was "no reason for measures that affect international travel and trade," sparking hope that airlines could soon restart routes to China and businesses might get the green light to open their doors.
  • China's stock markets have been closed for the Lunar New Year holiday and are scheduled to open on Feb. 3.

Why it matters to the market: The risk that the outbreak could cause further disruptions to business and drastically reduce aggregate demand from China was the outbreak's biggest risk, from a business perspective.

  • That would damage not just China's economy, but — as the world's top trading nation — it would have a major negative impact on trading partners like Japan, Germany, Australia and Brazil.
  • “Declaration of an international emergency will undoubtedly sharpen governments’ focus on protecting citizens,” Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust, a U.K. charity that funds biomedical and public health research, said in a statement.

What they're saying: “Some shorts covered after the director gave the WHO’s stamp of approval to China’s aggressive containment effort,” Stephen Innes, Asia Pacific market strategist at AxiCorp, told Reuters.

  • “For now, the market’s risk lights have shifted from flickering on red to a steady shade of amber, which could bring more risk back into play.”

Yes, but: Other assets, like commodities and U.S. Treasuries, suggest the coronavirus fears are far from over.

What's next: The U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory for China to Level 4, telling Americans, “Do not travel to China."

  • “Those currently in China should consider departing using commercial means,” it added in a statement.

The last word: With most headline-grabbing companies having now reported earnings, the market will likely go back to focusing on economic reports next week.

2. Catch up quick

Japan's factory output jumped 1.3% last month, but fell 4% during the fourth quarter, the largest decline in seven years. A separate report showed monthly retail sales fell by 2.6%. (Reuters)

IBM's Ginni Rometty will step down as CEO, to be replaced in April by cloud chief Arvind Krishna. (Axios)

Amazon shares jumped 12% in extended trading after smashing earnings expectations for the fourth quarter, pushing the company's market cap back over $1 trillion. (CNBC)

Reynolds Consumer Products, which makes Reynolds Wrap foil and owns Hefty trash bags, raised around $1.2 billion and priced its IPO at $26 per share. (Reuters)

Altria again wrote down the value of Juul, this time cutting $4.1 billion from the value of the e-cigarette company, which is now one-third the price the Marlboro maker paid a little more than a year ago. (Axios)

3. Dr. Copper is on life support
Expand chart
Data: Investing.com; Chart: Axios Visuals

The price of copper fell for a record 12th straight session on Thursday, falling to its lowest price on the New York Mercantile Exchange since September and its lowest on the London Metal Exchange since October.

Why it matters: Known as Dr. Copper, the metal is seen as a barometer of the economy's health because of its use in homebuilding and commercial construction.

  • Analysts said the continued weakness in copper was a major warning sign for global markets.

The big picture: Prices for copper, crude oil and other commodities are falling based on fear that the coronavirus outbreak will hurt demand from China, the world's top commodities importer.

  • Factories outside of Wuhan have pushed back plans to reopen after the Lunar New Year holiday to Feb. 10.

Yes, but: “Economic activity in China is suffering, though in terms of manufacturing and construction activity we are at a seasonally low point,” Julius Baer analyst Carsten Menke told Reuters.

  • “Typically, when we have this sort of short-term shock, there’s catch-up potential for economic activity once the situation normalises.”
4. The good and bad news about 2019 GDP
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Data: Bureau of Economic Analysis; Note: Shows GDP average over the full year vs. prior year; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

U.S. GDP grew at a 2.1% annual rate in the fourth quarter of last year, the Commerce Department reported, putting economic growth for 2019 at 2.3%.

What happened: “A downturn in imports, an acceleration in government spending and a smaller decrease in nonresidential investment were offset by a larger decrease in private inventory investment and a slowdown in [personal consumption expenditures],” per the Commerce Department.

What it means: The number was well short of President Trump's promised 3% growth, but the president did succeed in fundamentally shifting the U.S. trade balance, as net exports added 1.5% to GDP. Though experts warned the gain was unlikely to be sustainable.

  • Stephen Gallagher, chief U.S. economist at Societe Generale, said he expected a "major reversal" of the trade balance in the first quarter that would deduct one percentage point from first quarter GDP.
  • He also renewed the institution's call of a recession this year.

Watch this space: Business investment fell for the third straight quarter with a notable decline in inventories while overall gross private domestic investment fell 6.1% during the quarter.

Yes, but: Services account for the lion's share of the U.S. economy and consumer spending came in at a healthy 1.8%. Analysts expect it to continue to grow in Q1.

Hot take: The report drew the ire of trade groups opposed to Trump's tariffs on China, which remain largely in place even after the "phase one" deal.

  • “Tariffs are paid by American consumers and businesses, and prevented the U.S. economy from reaching its full potential last year," according to a statement from Americans for Free Trade, a coalition of businesses, farmers and manufacturers that's launched a multimillion dollar campaign against Trump's tariffs.
  • "It’s clear the trade war and tariffs are still impacting American businesses, workers, and consumers."
5. Bank of England holds steady before Brexit

The Bank of England held interest rates at 0.75% Thursday as governor Mark Carney, in his final policy meeting, said "the most recent signs are that global growth has stabilized."

Yes, but: The BOE cut its growth expectations for Britain to 1.1% for the next three years, down from 2019's 1.4%. The projections are England's lowest since World War II.

  • “We no longer expect much of a pick-up [in productivity growth],” Ben Broadbent, BOE deputy governor for monetary analysis, said after the meeting.

Between the lines: Markets had priced in a 50% chance the central bank would cut rates after a string of unimpressive data, including its latest GDP report showing Britain's economy shrank by 0.2% in the second quarter and grew by just 0.4% in the third.

The big picture: The decision came just a day before Britain exits the European Union. The British pound moved to over $1.31 against the dollar and government bond yield rose.

6. U.S. lost its best ambassador to China

Yao Ming receives the FBWC Trophy form Kobe Bryant during the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Draw Ceremony on March 16, 2019, in China. Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images.

Kobe Bryant’s untimely death in a helicopter crash Sunday has been mourned throughout the U.S., but the impact may have been even greater in China, Foreign Policy's Lauren Teixiera writes.

What happened: "The hashtag about Bryant’s death on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social networking platform, had accumulated 3 billion views by midafternoon, shooting to the top of trending searches and temporarily burying discussion about the deadly Wuhan coronavirus."

  • "Even state media weighed in, with the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily saying of Bryant: 'His fearless spirit of fighting, both on the court and in real life, is worth remembering.'”

Why Kobe was a superstar in China: When Yao Ming joined the Houston Rockets in 2002, the NBA became must-see-TV in China.

  • "Yao acted as a gateway for Chinese fans to look to American basketball stars of that era, and Bryant was the most popular."
  • "For most of this decade, Bryant had the highest-selling jersey in China, eclipsing even Yao."

The big picture: "Bryant also established the charitable Kobe Bryant China Fund, which donated supplies to poor children with the backing of the Chinese government. In the United States, the fund sponsored Chinese cultural activities like Mandarin-language lessons and Chinese cooking classes. Bryant was by all accounts incredibly kind and generous with his Chinese fans."

  • "Two days before he died, he had posted a Lunar New Year greeting video on his Weibo, wishing his 'dear friends in China' a happy and prosperous Year of the Rat."

Go deeper: Kobe Bryant was the United States’ best ambassador in China (FP)

Dion Rabouin

Today would have been the 101st birthday of the great Jackie Robinson who was born on Jan. 31, 1919.