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European Equities: A Month in Review – April 2021

The Majors

It was yet another bullish month for the European majors in April, which logged a 3rd consecutive monthly gain.

The CAC40 rose by 3.33% to lead the way, with the DAX30 and EuroStoxx600 gaining 0.85% and 1.85% respectively.

After a bearish start to the year, with January having delivered heavy losses, the CAC40 was up 12.93% year-to-date. The DAX30 and EuroStoxx600 weren’t far behind, with year-to-date gains of 10.33% and 9.65% respectively.

Economic data, corporate earnings, and continued assurances from the ECB and the FED delivered support in April. Stats in the final week, which included Q1 GDP numbers, delivered some disappointment, however.

Market optimism towards the economic outlook, as the EU began to play catch up on the vaccination front also delivered support. This was in spite of the reintroduction of lockdown measures that continued to weigh on the economy.

The Stats

It was a busy month on the Eurozone economic calendar and another important one.

Private sector activity continued to be a key area of interest for the markets, with GDP numbers also garnering plenty of interest. In April, while German firms reported a slight slowdown in private sector growth, the Eurozone’s manufacturing PMI hit a new all-time high.

More importantly, the services sector also returned to growth in April, with the PMI hitting an 8-month high.

The continued pickup in private sector activity came in spite of the upward trend in new COVID-19 cases worldwide.

GDP numbers for France, Germany, and the Eurozone delivered mixed results, however.

In the 1st quarter, the German economy contracted by 1.7%, which was worse than a forecasted 1.5% contraction. The German economy had expanded by a modest 0.3% in the 4th quarter.

Year-on-year, the economy contracted by 3.3% in the 1st quarter. The economy had contracted by 2.7% in the final quarter of last year.

The French economy expanded by 0.4% in the 1st quarter, coming in ahead of a forecasted 0.1% growth. The economy had contracted by 1.4% in Q42020.

In the 1st quarter, the Eurozone economy contracted by 0.6%, quarter-on-quarter, and by 1.8% compared with Q1 2020.

In the 4th quarter, the economy had contracted by 0.7% quarter-on-quarter and by 4.9% year-on-year.

Other key stats in the month included business and consumer confidence figures from Germany and the Eurozone.

From Germany, factory orders, industrial production, and trade data were also in focus.

The stats were skewed to the negative, with industrial production in decline and Germany’s trade surplus narrowing in February.

There was an increase in factory orders, however, albeit at a slower pace than in January.

Inflation figures for the Eurozone and member states had a muted impact on the majors, however, with the ECB expecting inflationary pressures to ease later in the year.

From the U.S

Economic data was also skewed to the positive in the month.

Key in the month were improving labor market conditions and a further pickup in private sector activity.

For March, nonfarm payrolls surged by 916k, following a 468k jump in February. While the participation rate increased from 61.4% to 61.6, the unemployment rate fell from 6.2% to 6.0%.

Jobless claim figures were also pointing to an improvement in labor market conditions.

In the month, initial jobless claims fell to a low 553k in the week ending 23rd April. This was the lowest level since the sharp spike in claims at the start of the pandemic.

Initial jobless claims had hit an all-time high of 6,606k back in the week ending 2nd April 2020.

Improving labor market conditions supported a pickup in consumer confidence in the quarter.

Retail sales bounced back in March, with core retail sales surging by 8.4% to reverse a 2.7% decline from February. Personal spending figures for March also impressed, with spending rising by 4.2% reversing a 1% fall from February.

With consumer confidence on the rise, consumption drove a pickup in service sector activity. In April, the CB Consumer Confidence Index increased from 109.0 to 121.7. The pickup painted a positive outlook on the consumption front in the near-term.

1st quarter GDP numbers from the U.S also impressed, with the economy expanding by 6.4%. In the 4th quarter, the economy had expanded by 4.3%.

Monetary Policy

There were no major surprises from the ECB, with ECB President Lagarde talking of a possible contraction in the 1st quarter.

For the markets, the ramp up in bond purchases was good enough…

From the FED, FED Chair Powell continued to quash any talk of a shift in monetary policy outlook and any tapering. The FED Chair reassured the markets that there would be plenty of warning before the FED even considering any tapering to its asset purchasing program.

The Market Movers

For the DAX: It was a bearish month for the auto sector in April. Volkswagen slid by 9.21% to partially reverse a 37.96% surge from March.

BMW and Daimler ended the month down by 5.94% and by 2.35% respectively, while Continental slipped by 0.09%.

It was a bullish month for the banks, however. Deutsche Bank rallied by 13.80%, with Commerzbank gaining 4.97%.

From the CAC, it was another bullish month for the banking sector. BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole rose by 2.91% and by 4.21% respectively. Soc Gen led the way once more, however, gaining 6.05%.

It was a bearish month for the auto sector. Renault and Stellantis NV ended the month down by 9.21% and by 8.43% respectively.

Air France-KLM slid by 9.10%, while Airbus SE rose by 3.52%.

On the VIX Index

It was a 3rd consecutive month in the red for the VIX in April, delivering a 5th monthly decline in 8-months. Following on from a 30.59% slide in March, the VIX fell by 4.07% to end the month at 18.61.

In March, the Dow rose by 2.71%, with the NASDAQ and the S&P500 ending the month up by 5.40% and by 5.24% respectively.

VIX 010521 Monthly Chart

The Month Ahead

Mid-way through the 2nd quarter, we can expect even greater focus on the Eurozone economic calendar. While the markets will look for manufacturing sector activity to deliver, service sector conditions will also need to improve further.

An easing of containment measures would be needed to support a marked pickup in service sector activity. This would, therefore, likely place greater emphasis on vaccination rates for France, Germany, and Italy in particular.

Labor market conditions and consumer and business confidence will need to improve to support a pickup in hiring and business investment.

From the U.S, nonfarm payrolls, service sector activity, spending, and consumer confidence will continue to remain key areas of focus.

Out of China, trade data and private sector PMIs will also provide direction.

On the monetary policy front, the markets will remain wary of any shift in monetary policy outlook, particularly from the FED.

Geopolitics will also garner some interest, with China, Russia, and Iran remaining key areas of focus.