Doves may cry as nine US Fed members take stage

Local shares are poised to start the week lower, with thoughts of rising trade protectionism potentially at the forefront of investors’ minds and ahead of a raft of speeches from central bankers.

ASX futures closed down 13 points over the weekend as financials, including Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, slumped in New York. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped 0.1 per cent to 2378, limiting its weekly gain to 0.2 per cent.

But, while momentum faded on Friday, global stocks recorded the best week since January after the US Federal Reserve raised its benchmark lending rate without accelerating the timetable for future hikes.

As the week progresses, a litany of speeches by central bankers – specifically in the United States – may add to the market’s comfort with a global trend towards tighter monetary policy, or threaten to puncture it.

The Reserve Bank of ‘s Luci Ellis is first off the mark in Canberra on Monday. The RBA’s latest meeting minutes are to be released Tuesday with Guy Debelle speaking at a conference in Singapore on Wednesday. On Thursday there is a policy meeting across the Tasman at the RBNZ. Not so dovish

There are also nine Fed speeches on the schedule this week, which will “provide an opportunity for the Fed to re-calibrate market expectations after what the market interpreted to be a somewhat dovish hike,” NAB economist David de Garis said. All bar three of the nine are voting members of the Fed’s monetary policy setting committee, Mr de Garis noted.

RBC Capital Markets chief US economist Tom Porcelli said it was “puzzling” that the market took last week’s US Fed meeting so calmly.

“There are now only three [board members’] forecasts calling for less than three hikes this year, compared to six in the last go-around,” Mr Porcelli said. “In other words, you now have 82 per cent of the [Federal Open Market Committee members] in the three-hike camp or higher.”

“Yet the market closed that day at a 50-50 chance of two or three hikes this year. Why the market views what is a higher probability that we get three hikes as something that should equate to lower odds of three hikes this year is puzzling to say the least.” Protectionism risk

Turning to the weekend’s G20 meeting, and it’s unclear how investors will interpret the finance ministers’ joint statement. The world’s top finance ministers, including ‘s Treasurer Scott Morrison, along with the world’s top central bankers met in Germany for two days.

They acquiesced to the US in dropping a long-standing reference to free and open global trade, a result of rising protectionist sentiment around the world. Thus far, markets have remained sanguine around the potentially damaging effect of a possible global trade war.

Over the next few weeks, there will be a keen focus on the setting of contract prices for both thermal and metallurgical coal. In a March 15 report, Macquarie Wealth Management said its current forecast for thermal coal is $US87.5 a tonne, or roughly $US26 a tonne higher than current levels. “Producers will be keen to get this settled before Chinese coal demand seasonally weakens in April,” the analysts said.

As for met coal, used in steel making, Macquarie sees $US175 a tonne, “although we expect achieved prices for producers to come in well below this, even after adjusting for quality”.

“One potential factor to watch is the Chinese domestic hard coking coal price, which after a period of stability (when international quotes were falling) is now dropping quickly, with expectations from our China trip earlier this month of a further 10-15 per cent decline over the coming couple of months.” Corporate earnings prospect

The good news, and a key reason why markets have been rallying, is that the global economy is performing relatively better than expected, bolstering the prospect for corporate earnings.

Optimism remains that the global equities rally has room to run with Bank of America seeing the S&P 500 reaching as high as 2500 before the end of the year, and to push towards 2600 before correcting. That puts BofA’s upside for the benchmark US sharemarket index at 4.9 per cent.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, found support around $US50 a barrel, which appears to have triggered some profit taking, OANDA senior market analyst Craig Erlam said. As for US oil, it “appears to be having similar trouble with the psychological $US50 level but from below”.

“The price action over the last few days doesn’t look particularly bullish for oil and I do wonder whether the $US50 level in Brent is on borrowed time,” Mr Erlam said.