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Most stock markets rose in June, one driver being the anticipation of a thaw in US-China relations at the G20 summit. After the weekend’s meeting at Osaka, investors had seen enough positives to start July with a sizeable rally.
There was no concrete breakthrough at the summit, but Presidents Trump and Xi did agree to restart talks and to suspend further tariffs for the time being. The detente is fragile, of course: a single tweet could shatter it in an instant. But investors were still heartened by the outcome. In the US, the S&P 500 hit a record high this week, finishing 1.8% up by the time markets closed for the Independence Day holiday.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s next target seems to be the European Union. In response to the subsidies paid by the European Union to Airbus, the US president threatened to impose $4 billion of import levies on such products as olives, pasta and cheese. Nevertheless, European markets played a full part in the week’s rally, with the FTSE World Europe ex UK index up 2.1% by Thursday’s close.
No slowdown in the slowdown
Somewhat counter-intuitively, one factor reassuring investors was generally softer economic data, giving further credence to concerns about a global slowdown. This encouraged expectations of a US interest-rate cut later this month – something the market has fully priced in. The US ISM for manufacturing declined to 51.7; this is a measure of business sentiment and a figure of below 50 suggests a future contraction in activity. The UK equivalent measure (the purchasing managers’ index, or PMI) fell to 48.
Along with these weaker forward-looking indicators, hard data was softer too. German factory orders decreased 2.2% in May, an annual decline of 8.6% – further confirmation that Europe is in a manufacturing slump. The German consumer is also deciding to stay at home, as evidenced by the 0.6% decline in retail sales. Elsewhere, US factory orders slid 0.7% in May. US tariffs don’t appear to be working either: the country’s trade deficit has grown to $55.5 billion. Is there any bright news? The Eurozone’s unemployment rate decreased to 7.5%.
Jobs for the girls?
After the usual horse-trading by national leaders for key positions in European Union bodies, Christine Lagarde, currently the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has been nominated as the new President of the ECB. Several commentators have noted that Ms Lagarde is not an economist; she has, however, been convicted of negligence over the misuse of public funds.
Meanwhile, Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s minister of defence, has been proposed as president of the European Commission. Some would see these appointments as marking a return to Franco-German control of the European project – a cause of resentment in other parts of Europe. Something to watch will be whether the stance of the new office holders becomes increasingly dependent on their nationality.
In Asia, attention focused on the Hong Kong protests, which took a violent turn on Monday as demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council, causing significant damage. China condemned the demonstrations as an “undisguised challenge” to its rule. The region’s markets were unfazed, however: the CSI 300 was only modestly down for the week while the Hang Seng was up 0.9% by Thursday’s close. But despite this apparent indifference, Hong Kong-based businesses have started moving assets offshore.
Meanwhile, there were further signs that the Chinese economy is slowing. The Caixin manufacturing PMI dipped below 50. This faltering confidence was a common theme across Asia; 10 out of the 12 Asian country PMI readings released this week have shown a decline. The Bank of Japan’s Tankan survey indicated a dip in business confidence, and South Korean exports dropped by 13.5% (year on year) in June with imports down 11.1%.
Faced with recent weakness in the oil price, OPEC extended its policy of production cuts for another nine months. But other commodities did better. The price of iron ore hit a five-year high as the Chinese authorities intervened to curb production at Tangshan in a bid to reduce pollution.
Meanwhile, the gold price reached its highest point since September 2011. Even as US-China relations warmed up at the G20, Trump’s threats to impose tariffs on European goods underscored the ‘safe haven’ attractions of the yellow metal. Shares in gold miners surged in response, with Barrick Gold and Newmont Goldcorp, the world’s largest, both doing well.
And finally …
Commuting’s often a bore – or is that a boar? That was the question facing users of Hong Kong’s Kennedy Town underground station this week as they found a wild pig sharing their rush-hour journeys.
Wild boars have become frequent visitors to urban Hong Kong, drawn from the territory’s forested areas by easily accessible food. But the Kennedy Town swine opted to go the whole hog by descending to platform level – to the alarm of commuters and staff alike.
Eventually, underground staff managed to confine the tusked traveller behind barricades, allowing it to be tranquilised and stretchered out. But in its attempts to escape, it still managed to cause minor injuries to a passer-by and to itself. All a bit much – even for the Year of the Pig!