EUROPEAN MIDDAY BRIEFING: Stocks Fall as Investors Take Risk-Off Stance

MARKET WRAPS

Stocks:

European stocks fell Friday as investors took a risk-off stance across global equity markets.

The monthslong rally in U.S. stocks has grown fragile in recent weeks on signs that the pace of economic growth may be slowing and snarls in the global supply chain for goods are persisting. Lingering concerns over China's clampdown on its internet and technology businesses as well as lofty expectations for corporate earnings has weighed on sentiment this week.

"There are so many crosscurrents going on at the moment influencing markets," said Sebastian Mackay, a multiasset fund manager at Invesco. "We've entered a more volatile period for markets, but markets will continue to move higher because we're still seeing economic growth."

The selloff this week in Hong Kong due to the recent regulatory crackdown in China also continued, with the city's Hang Seng Index declining almost 1.4% by the close on Friday. The index has shed 9.9% in July, its biggest monthly drop since October 2018.

Meanwhile, Eurozone gross domestic product grew 2.0% over the previous quarter in 2Q. The eurozone's economic recovery firmed up in the second quarter, as the gradual lifting of Covid-19 restrictions allowed some activity to spring back, said Tej Parikh, director of the economics team at Fitch Ratings. Both consumer and business confidence are booming across the region, Parikh noted.

"The reopening of non-essential shops has seen retail sales leap back toward pre-pandemic levels, while there are signs that firms' investment plans are rising, which bodes well for continued growth," he said. The momentum from economies reopening should carry into 3Q, but a rise in cases of the Delta variant across the eurozone may pose a downside risk, Parikh said.

U.S. Markets:

Stock futures fell, suggesting that the S&P 500 may end the week on the back foot on its way to close out its sixth straight month of gains.

Amazon.com shares fell over 6% premarket after the giant retailer reported second-quarter sales that were slightly below analysts' expectations, and signaled that it expects sales to slow further in the current quarter. The results highlighted the challenge of sustaining the unfettered growth it has logged during the pandemic.

Ahead of the market opening, other giant growth stocks including Facebook and Tesla slid more than 1% apiece. Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet edged down by less than 1%. The tech sector makes up a big component of U.S. markets, and a decline in those stocks can weigh on the S&P 500 index.

Another batch of blue-chip corporate earnings are set to be released before markets open, with Caterpillar, Procter & Gamble, Exxon Mobil and Chevron slated to report.

The Commerce Department is also set to release data on June consumer spending and inflation at 8:30 a.m. ET. Investors and central bankers have closely monitored inflation reports and indicators as they assess whether price increases will persist for a prolonged period.

Forex:

The dollar is likely to recover after falling on profit taking following the Federal Reserve's policy announcement on Wednesday, ING said.

The Fed's extra "hawkishness" in signalling that it is moving closer towards tapering asset purchases was largely in the dollar's price and may have prompted some profit taking, ING analysts said. "We wouldn't read too much into the recent USD correction or conclude this is a sign that the greenback's momentum may have peaked already."

The global recovery looks "mixed at best" and China-related sentiment remains volatile due to fears of more regulatory clampdowns, which could boost safe haven flows into the dollar, the analysts said.

Speculators appear to be rebuilding bets on a stronger sterling ahead of the Bank of England's next policy meeting on August 5, ING says.

The pound has recently been buoyed by a fall in U.K. coronavirus cases and is set to end the week as one of the best performing G10 currencies, ING analysts said, noting that GBP/USD has risen about 1.7% since last Friday.

"At the same time...GBP/USD appears to be mostly a function of the dollar's moves: if it looks too early to see a break above 1.1900 in EUR/USD, it equally looks early to see any move above 1.4000 in Cable [GBP/USD]."

The euro stayed higher against the dollar after data showed the eurozone economy grew by more than forecast in the second quarter and inflation accelerated at a faster-than-expected pace in July.

Bonds:

U.S. Treasury yields now discount an "unduly pessimistic view" of the medium- to long-term outlook, Jonas Goltermann, senior markets economist at Capital Economics, said.

Another shock coming along can't be excluded and worries about these possibilities explain at least some of the recent drop in bond yields, he said.

"But absent those risks actually materializing, we continue to expect that Treasury yields will eventually resume their rise," he says. CE forecasts the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield to end 2021 at 1.75% and rise to 2.5% by the end of 2023, Goltermann says.

Financial markets are known to overshoot, and as regards government bond markets, ING is of the view that the move down in yields has been "a lot more" exaggerated than on the way up.

The Fedand the European Central Bank continue to buy $120 billion and EUR100 billion, respectively, in assets per month, and in the best of times, this has a distorting effect on rates, said ING's senior rates strategist Antoine Bouvet. "In illiquid summer months, these distortions are magnified," he says.

Commodities:

Oil prices were lower, though both benchmarks are on course to close out the week with gains of 1% and 1.8%, respectively. Those gains came after upbeat data from the EIA and API earlier in the week showing tightening inventories in the U.S.

That, plus a weaker dollar--dollar-denominated commodities such as oil become less expensive for other currency holders when the dollar drops--are behind oil's gains this week, ING's Warren Patterson said.

A rise in the dollar is behind Friday's gentle losses, and Patterson says that given the some weakness in heavier crude markets, there's little to justify further gains for futures prices.

Gold was mostly flat alongside expectations that the Fed won't abandon its accommodative monetary policies anytime soon, Oanda said, pointing to U.S. economic data that fell short of its expectations.

"A downside surprise in both GDP and jobless claims justifies the Fed's dovish stance," it said. "That should provide a short-term bullish environment for bullion."

Oanda said that if gold can exceed the $1,850/oz resistance level, technical buying could support a strong rally back toward the $1,900/oz.

EMEA HEADLINES

Eurozone Economy Showed Stronger-Than-Expected 2Q Rebound

The eurozone economy grew at a faster-than-expected pace in the second quarter, thanks to the easing of coronavirus restrictions across the continent.

Across the 19 countries that use the euro as their currency, gross domestic product grew 2.0% in the second quarter, the European Union's statistics agency Eurostat said Friday in a first estimate for the period. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had expected a 1.5% expansion.

German Economy Grew at Slower-Than-Expected Pace in 2Q

Germany's economy grew in the second quarter, according to a first estimate published Friday by the Federal Statistical Office, but missed expectations.

Gross domestic product rose by an adjusted 1.5% from the previous quarter, Destatis said. This expansion was smaller than economists' expectations of 1.9% growth in The Wall Street Journal's survey.

BNP Paribas 2Q Profit Rose on Retail Growth, Lower Provisions

BNP Paribas SA said Friday that second-quarter net profit and revenue rose as it booked lower provisions and its domestic markets division rebounded, while it will distribute another dividend.

France's largest listed bank by assets posted net profit for the period of 2.91 billion euros ($3.45 billion), up from EUR2.30 billion a year earlier and beating expectations of EUR2.46 billion, according to a consensus provided by FactSet. Revenue edged up 0.9% to EUR11.78 billion, it said.

UniCredit 2Q Profit, Revenue Beat Estimates

UniCredit SpA posted profit and revenue well ahead of analysts' estimates for the second quarter, with loan loss provisions down from the high levels seen last year.

The Italian bank said Friday that net profit surged to 1.03 billion euros ($1.22 billion) from EUR420 million a year earlier, above analysts' median estimate of EUR720 million based on company-provided consensus.

IAG to Ramp Up 3Q Capacity But Still Can't Provide Full-Year Guidance -- Update

International Consolidated Airlines Group SA said Friday that it was ready to take advantage of a surge in air travel demand in line with increasing vaccination rates but it remains unable to provide full-year guidance.

IAG said second-quarter passenger capacity was 22% of the level in 2019, and had been affected by Covid-19 and government restrictions and quarantine requirements. It said capacity for the third quarter will be around 45% of 2019's level, although this remained uncertain and was subject to a continuing review.

Swiss Re Swung to 1H Profit

Swiss Re AG said Friday that it swung to profit in the first half and that it expects coronavirus-related losses to diminish in the coming quarters as vaccination campaigns progress globally.

The Swiss reinsurer posted a net profit of $1.05 billion in the period, from a net loss of $1.14 billion a year earlier.

NatWest Swung to 2Q Pretax Profit, Resumes Dividend, to Launch GBP750 Mln Share Buyback -- Update

NatWest Group PLC on Friday reported a swing to a pretax profit ahead of market views for the second quarter of 2021 and said that it intends to launch a significant share buyback program after resuming its dividend.

The FTSE 100 listed bank said it aims to launch a share buyback program of up to 750 million pounds ($1.05 billion) in the second half of the year. It said it also intends to close the year with a full year net release of provisions instead of an impairment loss.

Bayer Plans for Roundup Litigation Claims Rising by $4.5 Billion

Bayer AG sees expenses from lawsuits accusing its Roundup weedkiller of causing cancer potentially rising by $4.5 billion-significantly more than it had previously planned for.

The company will set aside the additional funds to cover Roundup claims in its next quarterly financial report, Bayer executives said Thursday. The new provisions would raise Bayer's funds earmarked for the claims to more than $16 billion from the $11.6 billion the company had previously said it would pay to resolve the cases.

Pearson 1H Pretax Profit Fell; Sees Full-Year on Track

Pearson PLC said Friday that first-half pretax profit fell due to the sale of its remaining stake in Penguin Random House last year and restructuring costs, and that it is on track to meet its expectations for the full year.

The FTSE 100 education company said pretax profit for the first six months of the year was 4 million pounds ($5.6 million) compared with GBP35 million for the same period last year.

EU Overtakes U.S. in Covid-19 Vaccines as Delta Variant Spreads

MILAN-The European Union passed the U.S. in Covid-19 vaccinations, with the continent inoculating people at a sustained pace and America struggling to persuade vaccine holdouts to get a shot to slow the spread of the Delta variant.

The EU has given at least one vaccine shot to 259 million people, or 58.3% of the total population of its 27 member countries as of Thursday, according to figures compiled by Our World in Data, an Oxford University project tracking the global vaccine rollout. The U.S. has reached 56.7% of its population, equivalent to 189 million people.

U.K. Shop Vacancies Rise for Third Consecutive Year

The second quarter marked the third year in a row of increasing vacancy rates at U.K. shops and this trend is set to continue, according to the latest report by Local Data Company and the British Retail Consortium.

Perpetuating a trend started in the first quarter of 2018, the vacancy rate in the second quarter of 2021 rose to 14.5% from 14.1% in the first quarter of the year, the report found. This means that one in seven British shops is unoccupied.

GLOBAL NEWS

Household Spending Likely Rose in June, Before Delta Variant Upswing

U.S. households likely boosted spending in June, contributing to robust growth during the second quarter, though the current upswing in Covid-19 cases related to the Delta variant and higher inflation are injecting uncertainty into the economic outlook.

Economists estimate that the Commerce Department will report Friday that personal-consumption expenditures-a measure of household spending on goods and services-increased 0.7% last month. That would follow a flat reading in May, when consumers pulled back on purchases of goods but boosted spending on services.

Big Oil Is Vulnerable to Climate Change. Literally.

Alaska seems like one of the last places on the planet that could use extra cooling. That is exactly what it will soon need, though, to prevent one of the world's largest oil pipeline systems from sinking into melting permafrost.

Recent wildfires, floods and droughts across the world are bringing the spotlight once again to the contribution that the oil-and-gas industry has made to climate change. Less talked about is how exposed the industry is itself to unusual and extreme weather. It doesn't quite threaten the industry's existence and could even benefit some producers. Shareholders and consumers could be left with the tab, though.

U.S. Crypto Traders Evade Offshore Exchange Bans

Americans are circumventing bans intended to stop U.S. customers from accessing overseas cryptocurrency exchanges, new research suggests.

A report released Friday found that hundreds of Americans are trading risky crypto derivatives on offshore exchanges such as FTX and Binance. The report sheds light on an open secret in the industry: U.S. crypto enthusiasts can easily bypass measures that seek to block them from offshore exchanges.

U.S. Import Surge Overwhelms Warehouse Space Near Ports

Surging demand for warehousing close to major ports driven by the growth of e-commerce and the flood of container imports hitting U.S. shores is making storage space harder to find and more expensive, adding new stresses to already strained supply chains.

Logistics service providers and real-estate firms say competition for warehouses close to ports such as those in Southern California and New York City is intense, pushing up rents and forcing companies to look to neighboring regions to serve shippers' needs.

China's Tech Crackdown Could Backfire Badly

In the superhero movie "Avengers: Infinity War," antagonist Thanos snaps his fingers and half of life in the universe instantly disappears. After the rout of the past few days, that may sound horribly familiar to investors in certain Chinese educational and internet technology stocks.

The big question is what comes next.

Glynn's Take: RBA Will Choose the Path of Least Regret and Delay QE Taper

SYDNEY-It's been said that conducting monetary policy at the best of times is like driving at night in torrential rain with a fogged and cracked windscreen. The headlights are also out and windshield wipers were an option that you just couldn't afford.

It's like that at the moment for the Reserve Bank of Australia. A fierce storm has been whipped up by the sudden shutdown of Sydney due to a significant outbreak of Covid-19 cases. It has regrettably introduced the city to the highly contagious Delta variant, bringing with it harsh mobility restrictions, with troops now on the ground to enforce compliance.

China's Food Market Remains Stable Despite Henan Floods

Widespread flooding in central China's Henan province only had a partial and short-term impact on the country's food market, China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Friday.

"China's food prices haven't seen significant fluctuations, and the food market has remained basically stable," said Tang Ke, a senior official from the ministry, according to state media.

Covid-19 Outbreak During Olympics Leads Japan to Widen State of Emergency

TOKYO-Japan widened its state of emergency to the entire Tokyo region and extended it until the end of August in response to a Covid-19 outbreak that has erupted during the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said there would be no changes to the Olympics, which run through Aug. 8, and officials said there wasn't a connection between the start of the Games on July 23 and the rapid rise in new cases. Nonetheless, the outbreak put a damper on the nation's mood despite a string of gold medals won by Japanese athletes.

Hong Kong Protester, First to Be Sentenced Under China's National Security Law, Gets Nine Years

HONG KONG-The first person convicted under the national-security law imposed by Beijing was sentenced to nine years in prison Friday, in a case closely watched as a bellwether for how strictly Hong Kong judges will enforce the law.

Tong Ying-kit, 24 years old, had been found guilty Tuesday of inciting secession and committing terrorist activities. During street protests on July 1 last year-the anniversary of the city's handover from British to Chinese rule and the day after the law took effect-he drove a motorcycle that collided with police officers. He was carrying a flag bearing the popular protest slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times," which the local government later declared has forbidden pro-independence connotations.

EU Overtakes U.S. in Covid-19 Vaccines as Delta Variant Spreads

MILAN-The European Union passed the U.S. in Covid-19 vaccinations, with the continent inoculating people at a sustained pace and America struggling to persuade vaccine holdouts to get a shot to slow the spread of the Delta variant.

The EU has given at least one vaccine shot to 259 million people, or 58.3% of the total population of its 27 member countries as of Thursday, according to figures compiled by Our World in Data, an Oxford University project tracking the global vaccine rollout. The U.S. has reached 56.7% of its population, equivalent to 189 million people.

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