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Global markets - APAC brief 5 Feb

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Global markets relatively still: Wedged between the beginning of Chinese New Year and Superbowl Sunday in the US, financial markets, on a global scale, have been a relatively quiet place in the past 24-hours. The excitement, anxiety and anticipation that has catalysed movement and activity in global markets lately was noticeably absent. Last week was a hard act to follow, what with the Fed, US corporate earnings, trade-war negotiations, Brexit, and a litany of fundamental data to keep traders occupied. Not to mention that being a Monday, news flow in the financial press is always a little lighter than what it is the rest of the week. Overall, the major equity markets in Asia closed in the green yesterday, Europe was on-balance lower come the end of the session, and Wall Street should finisher the day higher.

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The Hayne Report handed-down: Considering the quietness – and as this is being written, the hope is US President Trump keeps his fingers away from Twitter – it provides a good opportunity to pop-on the parochial Australian hat and look at how local markets are evolving. In a reasonably significant way, Australia was where the locus of interest lay, if only in the Asian session, during yesterday’s trade. The final report of Kenneth Hayne, QC’s Banking Royal Commission had Aussie markets on edge throughout the day; and had global investors curious as to what game-changing findings would come out of the report. The pre-positioning in the morning’s trade had the ASX experiencing much larger volumes than the average Monday, though that petered out as the session unfolded and attention turned to simply awaiting the report’s release.

The initial reactions: Avoiding the legalese and focusing simply on the initial market sentiment, and it might be fair to say that investors are quite pleased with the findings handed down in the final Hayne Report. It’s only a very early indicator, and the move was modest, but upon re-opening yesterday afternoon, SPI futures registered a quick 12-point jump after digesting the report’s findings and the subsequent Press Conference addressing them from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. The move was pared as the European and Middle Eastern markets took control of price action. However, what the activity reveals is that the emotional money – the one that reacts straight-out-of the gates to news and noise – judged what was contained and prescribed within the Hayne Report as being on-balance beneficial to bank stocks.

Smart money buying bank bargains? Taking a slice of Wall Street’s overnight upside as well, and SPI Futures at time of writing are pointing to a 28-point jump at the open for the ASX200. During intraday trade, the ASX managed to deliver a positive day for market-bulls. Whipsawing for the first hour of trade, the bulls took control of the market as the day unfolded, led by the bank stocks, which added over 17 points to the ASX200 by the day’s end. The price action screams of the classic “dumb-money-versus-smart-money” dynamic: the dour headlines about the Royal Commission spooked the emotional retail investors, who sold at the market’s open and pushed the price lower, only to establish better buying conditions for the “smart” institutional investors, who bid the banks and the index higher throughout the day.

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The banks avoid the worst-case outcome: Given the activity in futures, the market reaction could simply be a matter of “buy the rumour and sell the fact”, as the cliché goes. Alternatively, it could be a sign that market participants believe the 76 recommendations in the report were a little softer than expected on the financial services industry. Looking at what was recommended, and the kind of structural change that some pundits were calling for did not get mentioned. In short: the banks won’t need to be broken apart, and ASIC and APRA will remain the “two-peaks” of the regulatory framework. Most of the pain falls upon mortgage brokers and financial planners, with the general intent of the recommendations looking at existing laws and institutions to kill dodgy sales practices, abolish perverse remuneration programs, improve financial advisory practices, and hold future wrong doers to account.

Credit and trust: The Royal Commission itself, we’ve been told, is to restore trust in the banking system, while ensuring ample credit-conditions and the necessary competition remain in the financial system. It’s always a poetic reminder: the origins of the word credit come from the Latin word “credere”, which means to “believe” or to “trust”. The extension of financial credit – the thing that invents and keeps capital in the world moving around – is essentially an exchange of trust. Fortunately, given what’s been revealed the Banking Royal Commission, consumers need not believe in the goodwill of a monolithic institution to extend their trust to it. We have legal coercion instead. The hope is now, out of all of this, even if power isn’t redistributed by breaking-up the banks, the legal institutions who are there to “keep the bastards honest” start doing their job.

RBA day and Retail Sales: Staying focused on the fortunes of the Australian economy, the day ahead will be headlined by local Retail Sales data and the RBA’s first meeting for 2019. It’s a fitting mix, considering the major risk to the domestic economy and RBA policy, given mounting household debt, sluggish wages growth and falling property prices, is the strength of the Australian consumer. Today’s meeting from the RBA is the first we’ve formally heard from the central bank since the start of December. Given the many developments in the world economy since then, there will be plenty for the RBA to catch-up on. They won’t move rates today; that much is known. But the guidance moving forward is key, with rates markets still pricing in a 40 per cent chance of a rate cut this year.

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Written by Kyle Rodda - IG Australia

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