Daily Agenda: Markets Shrug off Brussels Attacks

Profits plunge at PetroChina due to low oil prices; primaries in the presidential race fail to consolidate frontrunners’ leads.


Calm quickly returned to global financial markets after the terror attacks in Brussels yesterday. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index rose by 0.5 percent in early market trading today and the German DAX benchmark rose by a full percent as investors shrugged off geopolitical risk factors. While bond markets remained relatively unchanged, a rise in the dollar put pressure on commodities markets, with precious metals particularly affected as a flight-to-safety rally dissipated. Despite increasing uncertainty over security within Europe that cast a shadow over both the debate over Syrian refugees and the upcoming U.K. Brexit referendum, investors for now appear to remain focused on accommodative European Central Bank policies.

PetroChina profits plunge. The listed division of China’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, or PetroChina, announced full-year 2015 results that included a decline in profits of 67 percent versus 2014, the lowest level since 1999, after accounting for writedowns totaling more than $3.5 billion. Officials at PetroChina announced further cuts in capital spending for 2016 after slashing investment last year, but took an optimistic tone on global oil prices, indicating that the market has bottomed.

Nike announces downbeat guidance. Beaverton, Oregon–based footwear giant Nike reported fiscal third-quarter earnings on Tuesday that beat consensus analyst estimates despite eroding revenues. Critically, company officials guided expectations lower for total sales, even though future orders excluding currency adjustment jumped by 17 percent from the same three-month period last year.

Lloyd’s of London takes hit on low investment returns. Insurance market Lloyd’s of London, which traces its roots to the 17th century, announced full-year returns 30 percent lower than fiscal-2014 profits, after investment returns on fixed-income allocations dwindled and underwriting margins came under pressure. Profitability was also hurt by massive claims stemming from the Tianjin port explosion disaster.

Tuesday primaries leave fields divided for both parties. A series of state primaries yesterday edged the U.S. presidential race closer to a conclusion with Donald Trump securing 70 delegates for the Republican nomination after a victory in Arizona and GOP rival Senator Ted Cruz emerging with 60 delegates with wins in Idaho and Utah. Trump boosted his lead, but Cruz’s victories did increase the possibility that the real-estate magnate and reality TV star might not arrive at the party convention with the necessary delegate count. Democratic races in the three states gave Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders with 57 delegates to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 51, though he remains far behind in total delegates.

Portfolio Perspective: Is the FOMC going to hike in April?Robert Savage, CCTrack Solutions

Another Federal Reserve speaker and another “get on with it” comment about rate hikes — this is at odds with the Federal Open Market Committee dots and the dovish economic-forecast tilt from last week and so we have volatility. “I think we need the committee to get on with it,” said Patrick Harker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and a nonvoting member of the FOMC this year. “We have to consider every (FOMC) meeting a live meeting,” said Harker, answering questions following an evening speech to the New York University Money Marketeers, but added that he “won’t put a date on it.” Harker said, “It’s really a function of how the data plays out.”

Clearly the key question is which data? The consumer price index or inflation expectations or the jobs report? Markets are not fully pricing in the risk of two hikes and this may be the move that sends the U.S. dollar back bid into April.

Robert Savage is the chief executive officer of CCTrack Solutions, a hedge fund firm in New York.