Crude oil prices jumped this week driving big gains in energy stocks. Meanwhile, comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and the unveiling of the Republican tax plan in the U.S. gave new life to the so-called “Trump trade” (gains in equities, bond yields, inflation expectations and the U.S. dollar) reflecting a growing expectation of tax cuts. Gold and most other major currencies retreated as a result.
West Texas Intermediate oil (WTI) leapt to a five-month high on a number of supports: the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia said they would stay focused on supply cuts and expected the global excess to clear, Turkey threatened to cut off Iraq’s exports following an independence referendum held by Iraqi Kurds, and U.S. industry data showed an unexpected decline in stockpiles. Energy stocks responded with a strong sector performance in Canada, and the best by far in the U.S.
U.S. Treasury yields stepped higher after Yellen said the Fed had to be “wary of moving too gradually.” The hawkish remark drove the greenback to six-week highs and pushed the 10-year Treasury yield to two-month highs. Financial stocks, whose profitability tends to improve with higher interest rates, jumped, while alternative yield plays (utilities, real estate, staples, telecom stocks) all lagged correspondingly. In contrast to Yellen, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz signaled a more cautious approach on future hikes in his first public words since the bank caught forecasters off guard with the September rate increase. The loonie promptly tumbled back to the level it was trading at prior to the September hike, and Government of Canada bond yields dropped, bucking the global move.
The falling loonie fueled broad strength in the S&P/TSX Composite index. Export-oriented sectors industrials and technology, which benefit from a weaker currency, joined energy and financials in posting solid gains. Materials joined the bond proxy groups in lagging performance, held back by weakness in gold miners as the metal price fell. In U.S. equities, the S&P 500 once again touched a new all-time high as the market advanced. Sector winners and losers mostly paralleled those in Canada, save for a dramatic sell-off of big-cap technology early in the week and its bounce back a few days later as risk appetite returned. Technology remains the clear leader year-to-date.
European bond yields rose alongside U.S. yields, bolstered by the highest European confidence reading in a decade. European stocks also advanced, despite last week’s German election which resulted in a more fragmented parliament that will have a harder time finding consensus on important issues, and the fourth round of Brexit negotiations seeming to cast more doubt on Britain’s economic outlook.
Asian markets were mixed. Japan gained slightly on the back of fiscal stimulus optimism after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election, while others fell as North Korea concerns ramped up again. Chinese shares declined as tight restrictions were imposed on the property sector and an escalating push for cleaner air threatened to slow industrial activity.