The European Central Bank held its most-watched meeting of the year, setting out a roadmap for the withdrawal of quantitative easing (QE) that investors interpreted as moderately dovish. The Bank of Canada also took a more dovish than expected tone in the comments that accompanied its decision to leave its overnight rate unchanged. In Japan, Shinzo Abe’s landslide win in last weekend’s election shored up investor confidence in the continuation of stimulative monetary policy there. In stark contrast, increasing speculation that John Taylor might be the next Chair of the Federal Reserve pushed U.S. treasury yields up, with 10-year treasuries breaking solidly above 2.40%, the highest they have been since last March. The resulting U.S. dollar strength, and weakness in virtually every other currency, including the Canadian dollar and the Japanese yen, was the primary mover of most markets this week.
As the Bank of Canada sounded caution on Wednesday, citing household indebtedness and NAFTA uncertainty (among other things), the Canadian dollar dropped sharply. But strong corporate earnings helped the S&P/TSX Composite index shake off the Bank’s wariness and finish the week at a record high. The staples, industrials, telecommunication services, and technology sectors all posted strong gains, while the materials and health care sectors led decliners.
The S&P 500 managed a small gain (to another record high), but was held back by concerns that a “Taylor Fed” would raise interest rates too far, too fast, and choke economic growth. Also in Washington, comments from retiring Senators Corker and Flake increased fears of political resistance derailing tax reform efforts. Meanwhile actual economic readings and most corporate earnings reports continue to come in strong. New home sales blew away expectations, purchasing managers indices suggested accelerating growth, and third quarter GDP was solid despite the effect of hurricanes. Technology was the leading sector as mega-cap names such as Amazon.com and Alphabet (Google) surged on earnings reports. The telecommunication services and health care sectors saw big declines, driven by subscriber losses at AT&T, and earnings misses at Biogen Inc. and Celgene Corporation.
European equities were mostly higher as investors welcomed the dovish bias to the ECB statements, while keeping a cautious eye on Catalonia as Madrid took control of the region. Meanwhile economic news was also generally supportive. Eurozone PMIs pointed to ongoing expansion, GDP in the United Kingdom was stronger than expected, and the German business confidence index rose to its highest level in history. The yen sell off in Japan helped the Nikkei rally to its highest level since July 1996. The equity index’s step up on Tuesday capped a record 16-day winning streak, during which it gained about 7%. Stocks in Shanghai moved solidly higher as the Communist Party’s congress came to an end, elevating President Xi Jinping’s stature and power. However, Hong Kong equities didn’t get as enthused.