April 18, 2019 / 7:58 AM / a month ago

Daily Briefing: Race for seats in Euro assembly quickens

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Parliament releases new forecasts today for the likely outcome of European Union elections in May, when far-right and eurosceptic movements are hoping to capitalise on the fragility of many of the continent’s mainstream parties.

The building of the European Parliament is seen in Strasbourg, France March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The forecasts will also include polling for Britain, where a YouGov survey yesterday showed the Brexit Party of Nigel Farage ahead with 27 percent of the vote, with Labour in second place and the ruling Conservatives on just 15.

The poll also underlined the downside of the decision by the three most overtly pro-Remain parties - the Greens, Libdems and Change UK - not to run on a joint pro-EU ticket: They scored just 10, seven and six percent respectively.

A separate FT calculation published today showed that a unified slate of candidates would win them over twice as many seats in England as they would if they maintained separate lists.

Opinion polls in Ukraine before the weekend's presidential run-off continue to show a strong lead for Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian with no previous political experience.

If maintained, that would confound earlier expectations that voters would in the end turn back to the establishment candidate, the incumbent Petro Poroshenko, and yield one of the most bizarre electoral outcomes in modern-era politics.

Zelenskiy, who plays a fictitious president in a popular TV series, has promised to keep Ukraine on a pro-Western course and tackle corruption but has only just started releasing a policy agenda.

He also faces scrutiny over his ties to an oligarch who would like to see Poroshenko out of power.

The newly named country of North Macedonia also goes to the polls with a first round of its presidential election on Sunday, which its leaders hope will consolidate its path towards NATO membership and ultimately EU accession.

Ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia’s candidate, Stevo Pendarovski, is ahead in polls but unlikely to get enough votes to win in the first round.

The snag is that for the second round to be valid, at least 40 percent of those registered to vote must participate: the nationalist opposition is encouraging a boycott.

MARKETS AT 0655 GMT

There’s a feeling in the markets that the global economy is just starting to stabilise.

So will today's flash manufacturing PMIs in the euro zone and United States confirm that?

Last month’s PMIs showed German manufacturing cratering last month to a seven-year low, so any pickup will be welcome.

Earlier, there was some good news from Japan where manufacturing activity contracted at a slower pace in April thanks to a pick-up in hiring. On the other hand, new export orders fell at the fastest pace in almost three years, implying global demand remains sluggish.

Still, hopes of a turnaround, fed by yesterday’s better-than-expected data in China, has helped 10-year German bund yields hit a one-month high of 10 basis points, rebounding from a 2 1/2-year low of minus 0.094 percent last month.

World shares have pulled back a touch after Wall Street fell yesterday, pressured by healthcare stocks and mixed earnings – upbeat numbers from Morgan Stanley and Pepsico but misses from IBM and Netflix.

So far, world stocks are on track for a fourth week of positive returns, but that could change – European shares are opening a touch lower and SPX futures are 0.2 percent lower.

The tentative risk-on mood has pushed the dollar index down this week after three weeks in the black, while the euro is trading just off three-week highs after yesterday’s robust Chinese data.

The other major news focus of the day will be the release in the United States of the report by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, due at 1330 GMT in a redacted format (400 pages).

The question is will there be anything nasty in it for Trump and Russia. Russian markets appear insouciant, with the rouble rising after investors poured money into local bond markets.

The rouble is a touch weaker today, though.

Sterling has been becalmed after the six-month extension to Brexit granted by the EU, and it’s unlikely to react much to March retail sales data.

They are expected to be bleak, as consumer spending stalled before the original March 29th Brexit deadline.

The United States and Canada also report retail sales numbers.

European futures are sliding as investors get jittery ahead of key euro zone factory activity data and a long Easter break.

Futures are down 0.1 to 0.3 percent despite decent numbers from some European bellwethers in the food, booze and fashion industries. 

Gucci owner Kering has delivered better-than-expected first-quarter sales, but growth slowed in its flagship product. Shares are down 6 percent.

Nestle, which has the biggest market cap in the STOXX 600 index, was up 1 percent after first-quarter sales beat estimates, driven by better-than-expected momentum in the United States and China.

Rival Unilever also exceeded first-quarter sales expectations and was up 1.5 percent.

French spirits maker Pernod Ricard said it expected profit at the top end of its guidance but reported a slowdown in its recent quarter, which may weigh on its shares.

Keep an eye on European drug makers after the overnight sell-off in the U.S. amid uncertainty over possible changes to the healthcare system as campaigning for the 2020 election ramps up. Chipmakers are again in focus today after Samsung reported damage to the displays of samples of its foldable smartphone.

Suppliers, including ASML and STMicroelectronics, could come under pressure.

In other news, a short-selling ban on volatile Wirecard shares imposed by Germany’s financial watchdog is due to expire at 2200 GMT today.

An interesting watch after Easter.

In emerging markets, China’s blue-chip shares slipped 0.2 percent on Thursday as investors focused on how much more stimulus Beijing will apply after data showed its economy grew at 6.4 percent in the first quarter, better than expected. 

Indonesian stocks jumped after early elections results indicated incumbent President Joko Widodo was likely to be re-elected for a second term.

Malaysian equities plunged after FTSE Russel said on Monday that it might drop the country from a key global bond index.

South Korea’s central bank cut its 2019 growth forecast to a seven-year low while keeping its policy rate unchanged.

Turkey’s lira was sliding again as the country’s largest city still faces an appeal over its recent election.

South Africa’s rand was weaker.

Finally, it’s a long weekend across much of the world, but Japan posts March inflation data tomorrow and the United States will continue to get earnings – General Electric is the prominent name.

A look at the day ahead from European Economics and Politics Editor Mark John and EMEA markets editor Sujata Rao. The views expressed are their own. 

Editing by Larry King

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