Traders brace for a choppy day as the bet on big fiscal stimulus unravels

November 4, 2020, 2:25 PM UTC

Traders are paring back their reflation trades amid fading odds of a fiscal splurge now that a Blue Wave takeover of the Senate is all but out of reach.

While U.S. stocks look set to open in the green, investing strategies acutely sensitive to the economic cycle are getting hit. Value stocks are underperforming, inflation expectations are dropping and defensive tech stocks are reclaiming market leadership.

In the run-up to Tuesday, reflation hopes were nurtured by money managers looking forward to massive new government spending to battle the pandemic with the White House and Congress both under Democratic control.

“Early price action is indeed showing a sharp fall in U.S. yields and an unwind of the ‘blue wave’ trade,” Barclays Plc strategists led by Emmanuel Cau wrote in a note. “The recent rotation, which saw bond yields rising and value outperforming along with EM, could be halted for now.”

The reversal is evident in U.S. index futures. The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 is up 2.7% as of 7:13 a.m. in New York, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average is flat. In Europe, MSCI indexes show value stocks trailing growth by 1.4 percentage point, with banks slumping the most among sectors.

In pre-market trading, an exchange traded fund that is a three-times leveraged bearish bet against small caps, ticker TZA, surged 2.8%. The biggest small-cap product (IWM) dropped 0.4%.

The very fact that U.S. stocks look set to beat both Europe and emerging markets on Wednesday is also an indication of risk aversion. The American market is made up of more growth stocks and generally considered less risky.

“This, however, could be a very short-term trade and just in place until we have some clarity on the win,” she added.

In the fixed-income market, the gap between five- and 30-year Treasury yields narrowed to 122 basis points, compared with 128 basis points on Wednesday. Inflation swaps dropped four basis points and five-year breakeven rates both fell three basis points.

All the same, reflation bets in the run-up to the vote have been relatively modest. Money markets had been pricing in just one rate hike by the Federal Reserve by the end of 2023, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co., and rotations from growth into value or from U.S. large-caps into emerging markets have been small.

And there’s still hope yet for trades tied to faster economic growth, according to John Normand, a JPMorgan strategist.

“The 2020 election isn’t over yet and neither are a range of trades related to global reflation,” he wrote in a note, citing the possibility of smaller-scale stimulus, vaccine progress and eventual economic re-openings in Europe. “But if the trigger was supposed to be a quick path to big stimulus via the Senate, preliminary poll results suggest another path must be found.”

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