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After President Donald Trump moved to de-escalate tensions with Iran in a speech Wednesday, investors wasted no time piling back into riskier assets — reassured that the geopolitical clouds that swept over markets in the past week had lifted, at least for now.
“For markets, everything really is awesome,” Societe Generale strategist Kit Juckes told clients Thursday morning. “Strong gains for equity indices, higher bond yields and cheaper oil greet European markets as they open.” The Japanese yen, a safe haven investment, has weakened against the US dollar, and gold prices are back below $1,550 per ounce.
Brent crude, the global benchmark for oil, has returned to roughly $65 per barrel. It spiked above $71 per barrel on the news that Iran retaliated over the killing of top general Qasem Soleimani by firing missiles at bases housing US troops in Iraq.
The business-as-usual attitude raises a difficult question: Are investors too complacent in their assessment of lingering risks?
It’s true that the impact of geopolitical events on markets tends to be fleeting. Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial, points out that the S&P 500 fell 5% on average in 20 major geopolitical events going back to the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 (also on the list: Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the Suez crisis, 9/11 and JFK’s assassination). The S&P 500 recovered those losses in fewer than 50 calendar days on average.
Investors are also looking at an otherwise supportive picture for stocks, with the “phase one” US-China trade deal set to be signed next week and a strong US jobs report expected Friday. Oil traders need to consider that there wasn’t a hit to supply, and that the flow of oil in general remains propped up by US shale.
Tilak Doshi, a visiting senior fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, thinks it’s right to put oil in the $60 to $65 per barrel range given supply dynamics. “US shale oil is always there in the background,” he told me.
But Doshi admits it’s difficult to predict what Iran does next — and whether further retaliation is really off the table. “No one can be sure what the internal thinking is within the Iranian regime,” he said.
China’s top trade negotiator will sign ‘phase one’ deal in D.C.
Nearly two years into the unpredictable trade fight between the United States and China, both sides are ready to accept a tentative truce — much to the relief of global investors.
Vice Premier Liu He will lead an official delegation to Washington on January 13, a Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman confirmed Thursday at a press briefing.
From the US: President Donald Trump tweeted previously that he’d be joined by “high-level” representatives from China at the White House to sign the initial trade agreement on January 15. Trump also said he’d travel to Beijing “at a later date” for talks on “phase two” of an agreement.
Investors already digested news of the “phase one” deal when it was announced back in December, so the market reaction may be muted. But optimism that the US-China trade battle won’t escalate further should keep pushing traders toward riskier assets, especially as imminent concerns about the US-Iran situation subside.
“Following the December announcement of a US-China trade deal we do not expect further trade war escalation in 2020,” Goldman Sachs analysts in Europe told clients Wednesday.
Investor insight: It’s good to remember that the text of the “phase one” deal is still under wraps, lending some confusion about what’s actually inside. Plus, “phase two” discussions remain a wild card. It’s not clear how quickly the United States will want to move ahead with talks on deeper, structural issues that could be difficult to resolve.
British Airways parents prepares for a new CEO
British Airways parent International Airlines Group announced Thursday that longtime CEO Willie Walsh will step down from his role in March. He’ll be succeeded by Luis Gallego, who has led group member Iberia since 2014.
Walsh took over as CEO of British Airways in 2005 and steered the company’s merger with Iberia in 2011, followed by its integration with Vueling and Aer Lingus. “Under Willie Walsh’s tenure at British Airways and IAG, the company has been transformed,” analysts at Bernstein said in a research note.
They think the appointment of a corporate insider makes sense and signals “welcomed” continuity. And they think the timing makes sense considering that IAG’s acquisition of Spain’s Air Europa is expected to close in the second half of the year.
German industrial production and the country’s trade balance for November arrive today, followed by initial US job claims for the week.
Coming tomorrow: The US jobs report for December. The American economy is predicted to have added 160,000 jobs, according to a Reuters poll of economists.
— Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect title for Tilak Doshi.