EU MID-SESSION UPDATE: Investors spooked as the US trade policy may steer further into protectionist territory

The departure of NEC Director Cohn spooked investors as the US trade policy may be steered further into protectionist territory while reports from a US administration official stated that White House adviser Peter Navarro and commentator Larry Kudlow are the top two candidates to replace Gary Cohn. Asia-Pacific stocks reacted with a decline across the board. European cash open took the lead from Asia with most major bourses in the red. FTSE 100 outperforming, supported by a weaker sterling. The materials sector is underperforming, pressured by the fall in commodity prices fuelled by US API crude stocks printing a build more than twice as expected. Rolls-Royce (+12.8%) outperforming on the back of strong earnings. Smurfit Kappa (+3.3%) after US based International Papers confirmed its EUR 8bln offer to the company which was then rejected as an “opportunistic” takeover bid. Telecom Italia (-0.2%) is trading in a choppy fashion after company CEO stated the joint venture with Vivendi’s Canal+ will be put on hold.

Usd/Jpy, and Usd/Chf to a lesser extent, continues to provide the clearest if not best barometer of broad risk sentiment and the headline pair’s latest retreat from 106.00+ levels highlights the resurgence of aversion prompted by the US President’s import tariff plans. The failure to extend gains on conciliatory gestures from North Korea on the nuclear front to and beyond a key upside Fib just ahead of 106.50 is deemed to be bearish in terms of the technical outlook, while the departure of chief White House economic adviser Cohn is widely perceived as negative from the global trade wars perspective given his more temperate approach towards protectionist policies. 105.50 bids/support now being tested again, and the 2018 low around 105.25 is back on the radar ahead of reportedly big barriers at 105.00. Usd/Chf is sitting roughly in the middle of 0.9400-0.9350 parameters, and the pseudo safe-haven Eur is looking to climb further above 1.2400 vs the Greenback, while eclipsing its previous ytd base against the still Brexit-weighted Gbp to circa 0.8965 (having breached 0.8950 resistance more convincingly). Back to G10 majors, and it’s all change again for the commodity bloc that has reversed gains vs their US Dollar counterpart. Usd/Cad has rebounded over 1.2900 with the Loonie underperforming on the tariff proposals and NAFTA ahead of the BoC policy meeting, which is now even more likely to underscore the need for caution. Aud/Usd is pivoting around 0.7800 after mixed Aussie GDP data overnight and Nzd/Usd is back below 0.7300 as the Aud/Nzd cross holds above 1.0700 in wake of the latest GDT auction showing a dip in prices. 

UK debt, and STIRs in particular were reluctant to follow the upturn in core bond and 3 month counterparts, but Gilts have belatedly moved higher after an opening markdown and dip below the 121.00 level to register a new Liffe high of 121.23 (+18 ticks on the day). Although global trade wars are dominating risk sentiment overall, the domestic focus remains on Brexit and the latest round of negotiations in Brussels have prompted some mixed/contrasting headlines on the state of developments in terms of a transition deal. Ahead, Halifax house prices unlikely to cause much of a stir, while Bunds have drifted back a bit further from best levels to a fresh 156.59 Eurex low (+2 ticks vs +31 ticks at best), but not breaching interim support around 156.66 with enough momentum to fill an intraday gap down to 156.50, or stops seen on a breach of 156.47

WTI and Brent crude futures are trading with losses of over 1% this morning, largely following last nights API report which showed a wider than expected build in crude inventories (5.7mln vs. Exp. 2.7mln). As such, WTI trades south of the USD 62/bbl level, while Brent moved back down to USD 65/bbl, which has offered some support. Elsewhere, gold has been trading relatively sideways throughout the morning, having pared its gap higher overnight after initial support from reports of Cohn’s resignation. Good news out of Australia, which reported record high iron ore exports from Port Hedland (largest iron ore loadings port in Australia).