Health Concerns Hammer Stocks, Dollar Jumps 

Europe

Traders in Europe are paying close attention to developments in the US. According to Reuters, 42 of the 50 states in the US registered an increase in the number of new cases yesterday, so that is influencing sentiment on this side of the Atlantic.

Grafton Group shares are in demand today as the company confirmed that trading in June was better than expected. The group, like its peers, remarked on the pent up demand as a result of the lockdown. Revenue last month increased by 11.4% to £247.8 million. It is worth noting the company made an acquisition last July, so the numbers were a bit misleading, but nonetheless, demand was robust.

The pandemic had a negative impact on the business as revenue for the six month period fell by over 19% to £1.06 billion, but traders are focused on the rebound in activity since things have gone back to normal. Grafton is in a strong position in terms of liquidity as it has access to £658 million, so there are no concerns on that front. No guidance was issued on account of the uncertainty. In April, it was announced that directors would be taking a pay cut, and because of the strong trading last month, the cut has been reversed, and that is a sign the company is over the worst of the crisis.

Rolls Royce shares had a volatile start to the trading session on the back of its first half update. The engineering giant has been hit hard by the pandemic as air travel has been severely impacted, so in turn demand for aircraft engines has tumbled. In May, the group announced plans to cut up to 9,000 jobs from its workforce of 52,000. At the back end of last week, the group said it was exploring its options in regards to strengthening its balance sheet, and traders took that as a sign that even more restructuring plans would be mapped out.

This morning, the group said it cut costs in the first half by £300 million, and it will cut costs by another £700 million by the end of the year. Its pro-forma liquidity position stands at £8.1 billion. The stock initially traded higher as dealers were encouraged by the cost cutting plans, but the positive move didn’t last long. Traders latched onto the fact that cash outflow was £3 billion in the first half and that an additional £1 billion would flow out in the rest of the year. Looking further down the track, the company expects cash consumption to significantly reduce. Rolls Royce is targeting free cash flow of at least £750 million in 2022.

Vistry, the housebuilder, saw a doff-off in completions in the first half as the lockdown disrupted activity, but demand is respectable and the order book is healthy. In terms of forward sales, including partnerships, the group has £1.26 billion worth of work in the pipeline, and that has taken the light off the underperformance in the first half.

Revenue from house building in the six month period was £344 million, and that was a big fall from the £854 million registered last year. The fall in revenue from the partnership’s unit was less severe. Efficiencies from integration are improving at a faster rate than expected. The net debt position was cut to £355 million from £476 million in May. The sizeable fall in debt should take some pressure off the company in terms of interest rate payments.

Persimmon issued an update covering the first six months of the year. It was similar to that from Vistry, whereby there was a fall in the number of houses it completed, but the order book is robust. Revenue in the six month period was £1.19 billion, which was a 32% fall on the year. Average selling prices ticked by 3.7% to £225,050. The order book is up 15% on the year at £1.86 billion. The economic climate is uncertain, but the housebuilder confirmed that cancellations are at historic lows.

The housebuilding sector as a whole is higher today on the back of yesterday’s announcement from Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the stamp duty threshold will be lifted from £125,000 to £500,000.

SAP shares hit a record high as its preliminary second quarter results were well-received. Revenue increased by 2% to €7.64 billion. Operating profit rose by 7% to €1.96 billion. The group confirmed that full-year earnings will be €8.1-€8.7 billion.

Boohoo shares are back in fashion after a torrid few days. The group is still carrying out an investigation into its UK supply chain. There has been an allegation that the group was connected to a supplier who paid its staff below the minimum wage, something Boohoo has denied.

US

The S&P 500 is showing a loss of over 1% as the health crisis is hanging over sentiment on Wall Street. Lately, the tech sector has been booming, but even the NASDAQ 100 is 0.35% lower this afternoon.

The initial jobless claims reading fell from 1.41 million to 1.31 million. It has dropped for 14 weeks in a row. The continuing claims update came in at 18.06 million, and that was a fall from the previous reading of 18.76 million. It is clear that the labour market in the US is improving, but the pace of progress is slow. Several US states have either paused or reversed the reopening of their economies so that is likely to hold back the jobs market.

Walgreens Boots Alliance shares are in the red as the third quarter EPS was 83 cents, while equity analysts were expecting $1.19. Revenue was slightly higher on the year as it was $34.63 billion, fractionally topping forecasts. Same store sales in the US increased by 3%, and traders were anticipating a decline of 0.2%. The UK business suffered amid the lockdown even though stores remained open as it was deemed an essential service. The group is cutting costs on account of the economic environment. Boots will cut 4,000 jobs.

Carnival Corp shares are up today as it was announced that its Germany subsidiary, AIDA, will recommence three cruises from August. The business has to restart from somewhere, and even if that is a low point, but at least it projects a positive message.

The recent rally in Chinese stocks has spilled over to the US, as stocks like NetEaseJD.Com and Alibaba have listings in New York too. Recently, the China Securities Journal published a bullish article about domestic equities, and the positive sentiment is still doing the rounds.

Bed Bad & Beyond shares have tumbled on the back of the latest quarterly update. Revenue fell by 49% to $1.31 billion, undershooting the $1.39 billion forecast. The loss per share narrowed to $1.96, but equity analysts were predicting a loss per share of $1.22. The company plans to close roughly a fifth of its namesake stores over the next two years.

It was reported that Wells Fargo is planning on cutting jobs, the group will post its latest quarterly numbers next week.

FX

The US dollar index fell to its lowest level in nearly one month in this session, but it has since rebounded as traders are in risk-off mode. EUR/USD is down today on account of the move in the greenback. The latest trade data from Germany showed that imports and exports in May increased by 3.5% and 9% respectively. Both readings showed huge rebounds on the month, but the levels missed economists’ forecasts of 12% and 13.8% respectively.

GBP/USD was higher earlier, but the turnaround in the greenback hit the currency pair. Political uncertainty exists in regards to the UK’s post-transition period relationship with the EU, but the pound has been gaining ground this week. According to a report from the FX options market, there has been an increase in the number of bullish trades on GBP/USD.

Commodities

Gold is just about above the $1,800 mark. Yesterday the metal hit its highest level since September 2011 and it remains in its uptrend. The commodity has been popular lately as it attracted safe-haven flows but that isn’t the case today on account of the upward move in the dollar. European and most US equity markets haven’t retested their June highs as health fears continue to circulate, and that has helped gold in the past month.

Oil prices are in the red today as fears that US demand will dwindle on account of the pandemic has impacted the energy market. The EIA report yesterday showed that gasoline inventories in the US fell by over 4.8 million barrels, a sign that people were driving more. The finer details showed that areas where lockdown restrictions were reintroduced, saw a fall in consumption, so traders are mindful of that today.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

By David Madden (Market Analyst at CMC Markets UK)

Rolls Royce drags on the FTSE100, as SAP Boosts the DAX

Investors appear to be making the conscious decision to find safety in the US trillion-dollar big caps rather than move their capital into the traditional safe haven of government bonds.

Asia markets have taken their cues from yesterday’s positive US session, despite the continued rise in coronavirus cases across the US, and which US Federal Reserve President Loretta Mester expressing concern that the rising virus count is introducing increased downside risks to the US economic recovery. On Wednesday we saw Texas set a new record for daily cases, hospitalisations hit a new high in California, while Arizona posted a new record number of deaths.

After two successive negative European sessions, markets here in Europe have taken their cues from yesterday’s recovery in US markets and this morning’s positive Asia session, opening modestly higher, though still well off their peaks from Monday, and struggling to make much in the way of headway early on.

If anything, the rising coronavirus case count in the US, is helping to weigh down any confidence in a more global recovery in equity markets, however on the plus side there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of a second wave here in Europe so far as various lockdown measures continue to get eased.

While this is positive for markets in Europe the lack of any imminent agreement between EU leaders on any pandemic recovery fund appears to be deterring a wholesale move of capital back into European markets for the time being.

The problems in the aerospace sector continued to be laid bare this morning as Airbus the European plane maker reported that it had failed to obtain any new aircraft orders for the third month in succession. This is equally bad news for Rolls Royce who have been having difficulties of their own, as they reported their latest first half numbers this morning.

Last Friday there were reports that Rolls Royce was looking at reinforcing its balance sheet further by raising additional capital, or disposing of some of its assets with ITP Aero, its Spanish operation one likely option. There was no mention of raising additional capital in todays’ Q2 update which has seen management say that they expect a better performance in the second half of the year.

Good progress has been made in reducing one-off costs with £300m achieved in H1, with another £700m expected by the end of 2020. The company also said it would be taking a charge of £1.45bn over the next 6 years, in respect of reducing the size of its hedge book, with £100m of that charge being taken this year and £300m in 2021 and 2022, and then £750m spread over 2023 to 2026.

The company also said that they had pro-forma liquidity of £8.1bn, including an undrawn credit facility of £1.9bn, and commitments for a new 5-year term loan facility of £2bn underwritten by a syndicate of banks and a partial guarantee from UK Export Finance. The company also took a £1.45bn write down in respect of hedges spread over 6 years.

Not all sectors are in the doldrums, with the increasing focus on cloud technology, helping to benefit the tech sector, as more and more business moves on line. This morning German software giant SAP reported an improvement on its Q1 numbers, with cloud revenues rising 21% in Q2, driven by improvements in its Asia markets.  This outperformance in SAP has helped underpin the DAX in early trade this morning.

Rio Tinto this morning announced it was closing its New Zealand operations as an aluminium supply glut takes its toll on its profits.

In the wake of yesterday’s budget measures on stamp duty, house builder Persimmon announced its latest first half update.

Unsurprisingly given the lockdowns in April total revenues fell to £1.19bn, down from £1.75bn in 2019, with completions sharply lower at 4,900, down from 7,584. On the plus side average selling prices were modestly higher at £225k, however higher costs are likely to eat away at overall margins in the months ahead, which could act as a drag on profitability.

Much will depend on whether the removal of stamp duty for properties up to £500k will offset any loss of confidence prospective buyers have about the economic outlook. Recent mortgage approvals data suggests that consumers are becoming much more cautious.

In terms of future expectations there does appear to have been a fairly strong rebound since sales offices reopened with forward sales up 15% from the same period last year, helping to push the shares higher in early trade.

Vistry Group also posted a positive first half update, delivering a total of 1,235 completions in H1, down from 3,371 a year ago, with an average selling price of £290k. Revenue was sharply lower at £344m, down from £854m in 2019. Forward sales saw an improvement to £1.66bn, up from £1.5bn at the end of May.

Real estate investment trusts have had a rough time of it recently, with Intu going into administration only recently. Workspace Group has been one of those companies that have done things a little differently over the last ten years, in terms of how it sold its office space, and that has helped cushion it to some extent, due to its focus on small or micro businesses, selling flexible office space, and short-term leases with superfast connectivity.

This does appear to be reflected in this morning’s Q1 update, which has seen the company report cash collection of rents at 75%, net of rent reductions and deferrals. The company has received 65% of rents due in Q2, compared to 80% a year ago. Activity in its business centres has remained low at 15% of normal. Demand is now picking up as lockdowns get eased further.

Building materials and DIY retailer Grafton Group has seen its shares rise in early trading after it reported H1 numbers, which saw revenues fall 19.4% to just over £1bn. June trading has proved to be more resilient, with revenues 11.4% higher than the same period last year.

Boohoo shares are also sharply higher this morning as buyers start to return after the precipitous falls of earlier this week, with some saying that the declines have been too severe, when set against the underlying long-term fundamentals.

US markets look set to open modestly lower against this morning’s rather indifferent European session, with the main focus once again set to be on the latest weekly jobless claims numbers, and in light of the recent re-imposition of lockdowns, the main focus will once again be on continuing claims and whether that number starts to edge up again in the weeks ahead. This could take some time to be reflected in the numbers with continuing claims expected to fall below 19m to 18.95m.

Weekly jobless claims are expected to fall to 1.37m.

Bed Bath and Beyond shares are also expected to be in focus after the company announced the closure of 200 stores over 2 years due to a 50% fall in sales.

Delta Airlines is also expected to give its latest Q2 update and it’s not expected to paint a pretty picture. Delta had a standout 2019 largely due to its reliance on sales of Premium class tickets. Business travel, which a lot of national carriers rely on, is likely to see a big drop off in the months ahead as companies realise that lots of meetings can take place just as easily on Zoom and other remote conferencing facilities.

Year on year revenue for Q2 is expected to decline by 90%, with the carrier losing 85% of its flight capacity at the height of the pandemic, while losses are expected to come in at $4.43c a share. Delta expects to add 1,000 new flights to be scheduled this month, and another 1,000 in August.

Dow Jones is expected to open 60 points lower at 26,007

S&P500 is expected to open 4 points lower at 3,166

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

By Michael Hewson (Chief Market Analyst at CMC Markets UK)