Reporting of third quarter earnings got underway this week with hopes that continued improvement in corporate results will deliver another month of positive returns to equities. On a total return (USD) basis, the S&P 500 Composite index has been up each month of 2017 so far. There has never been a full calendar year when this has happened all 12 months. Trading was pretty slow in North America (on Monday Canadian markets were closed for Thanksgiving and U.S. fixed income trading shut for Columbus Day), but news headlines bristled with activity that could normally be expected to move markets.
The Catalan push for independence from Spain remained at the forefront of geopolitical news, with investors breathing a sigh of relief when the Catalan leader put off an immediate declaration of independence. Meanwhile tensions between the U.S. and North Korea continued and a diplomatic standoff between the U.S. and Turkey became more heated. Closer to home, U.S. President Donald Trump’s feud with Senator Corker raised concerns that attempts at tax reform will fail, and the President’s comments as NAFTA talks resumed in Washington elevated fears that the trade agreement might collapse. In spite of all these growing risks, markets saw only mild downward pressure on the U.S. dollar and Treasury yields as gold gained. Yields got some support from the Federal Reserve’s September meeting minutes that clearly signaled rates would likely be hiked again in December.
In Canada, the S&P/TSX Composite index managed a fractional gain in mostly listless trading. Major sectors posting advances included industrials and financials, as well as the “bond proxies” (utilities, real estate, staples) that benefited from the downward drift in interest rates. The health care sector led decliners as Valeant Pharmaceuticals came under pressure once again, and the heavily-weighted energy sector extended the losses seen last week when crude prices dropped on news of growing supplies. Even as energy equities slid, oil prices were recovering after Saudi Arabia said it will cut exports, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries predicted robust demand next year.
The advance in equities was even less impressive in the U.S. than in Canada, but all major indices, including the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrials Average, the NASDAQ Composite, and the Russell 2000, notched new all-time highs. The bond proxies led the gainers along with the technology sector. The telecom services sector stood out on the downside as subscriber losses at AT&T highlighted the threat to the industry of consumers “cutting the cord.”
As tensions in Spain cooled, European equities got an added lift from strong industrial production numbers for the euro area, particularly Germany. Almost all major European equity indices saw modest gains. In Britain, the most recent round of Brexit talks ended with Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes for a transition deal before year end looking increasingly unlikely. Asian markets were mostly higher as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised its forecast for global economic growth and Chinese shares played catchup after missing out on last week’s global rally due to the Golden Week holidays.