CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet

Global stocks gain, U.S. futures flatline as a big ‘Triple Witching’ deadline looms today

September 17, 2021, 9:25 AM UTC

This is the web version of Bull Sheet, a no-nonsense daily newsletter on what’s happening in the markets. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Today is one of those triple witching Fridays in which retail traders must dress up as their favorite… oh, wait, that’s not right. Triple witching days happen once per quarter. It’s the day options on stocks and stock indexes, plus stock index futures, all come due. Today’s expiry date is expected to be a huge one, impacting trillions in traded assets.

So far the markets look pretty calm—maybe too calm. U.S. futures are mixed. They’ve been in and out of positive territory all morning. Over in Asia and Europe, stocks are trading steadily higher as investors appear to jump back into risk.

Crypto is flat, with Bitcoin and Ethereum edging lower.

Let’s see what else is moving markets as we close out the trading week.

Markets update

Asia

  • Asia is bouncing back somewhat, with the Nikkei up 0.6% in afternoon trading.
  • Christophe Barraud, the economist whose forecasts on China are closely watched, now predicts Q3 GDP growth in the world’s No. 2 economy will be “near zero.”
  • The Evergrande Group’s debt crisis is roiling China’s debt markets yet again. On Friday, China’s PBOC had to inject $14 billion in short-term financing to send a message it will do whatever it takes to evade a wider crisis in the real estate market.

Europe

  • The European bourses were higher in early trading with the Stoxx Europe 600 up nearly 0.7% in the opening minutes, before slipping some. Travel and leisure stocks led the way higher.
  • U.K. retail sales figures came in this morning and they show a distressed consumer: a fourth straight month of declines. The pound sterling slipped on the news.
  • They’re calling it Europe’s toughest back-to-work protocol of the COVID era. Italy will now mandate all workers will need the “green pass” to enter the workplace in the hopes of warding off a spike in cases this winter.

U.S.

  • U.S. futures are gaining, but not by much. The Nasdaq finished in the green yesterday, helped by Netflix, Microsoft and Amazon. All three major averages cling to meager weekly gains.
  • Investors got mixed signals about the health of the economy yesterday: retail sales exceeded expectations, but jobless claims came in worse than expected.
  • It could be a volatile one today. Goldman Sachs calculates that $3.4 trillion of equity options, alone, are set to expire, a kind of record for triple-witching days.

Elsewhere

  • Gold is rebounding, but it’s had a rough week, now trading above $1,760 again.
  • The dollar is flat.
  • The Crude rally is taking a breather. Brent trades above $75/barrel.
  • Bitcoin is flat, trading around $48,000. Ethereum is down nearly 2%.

***

By the numbers

0.7

At +0.7%, August retail sales data came in above expectations yesterday, and that was enough to send consumer discretionary stocks higher on the day as investors bet the Delta variant won’t stifle the almighty American consumer. As UBS economist Paul Donovan writes in his morning note, “yesterday’s US retail sales data was strong, as U.S. consumers do what they do best—spending money on things they do not need. It is worth remembering such data when reading sensational stories of supply chain disruption. This is not a world of Soviet-style shortages—if goods were not getting through, retail sales would not be happening.” Alas, the rosy headline figure did little to move the overall markets. Eight of the 11 S&P sectors closed in the red yesterday.

0.13

It’s an understatement to say the markets have been pretty weak of late. Over the past month, the S&P 500 is up 0.13% with six of the 11 component sectors—materials, industrials, financials, utilities, consumer staples and health care—in the red over that period. But if this is the beginning of a sell-off, it’s a tepid one. The benchmark still trades 2.65% above its 50-day moving average, which would suggest the prevailing trend is stable to positive. As always, Delta will be the thing to watch. “A critical issue in the coming months is the path the Delta variant and the public health situation at large will take, particularly as flu season approaches,” writes Mickey Levy, chief economist for Americas and Asia at Berenberg Capital Markets. “Early signs however are positive, daily case counts and hospitalizations appear to have reached an inflection point and begun to trend down which bodes well for future economic activity.”

***

Postscript

Here’s one from the “oddball file.” Warning: this one contains some toilet talk.

Scene: After dinner. The kids have scattered. My wife and I, after a marathon day, are sitting at the table on our cramped terrace, catching up on life.

My wife: Oh, I’ve got a story for you.

Me: Oh yeah?

My wife: Monica and Gianluca are doing work on the new house. The other day they told the workers they want to get rid of the bidet to make more room in the bathroom. Do you know what the workers told her?

Me (failing to see newsworthiness of this story): [frumpy shoulder-shrug]

My wife: It’s against the law! Turns out, in Italy, all homes must have at least one bidet.

Me: Are you telling me it’s a criminal act to remove all the bidets in our house? By order of whom? The Ministry of Bidets?

Incredulous, I go into fact-check mode. Yes, I openly fact-check my wife. (I hope she never fact-checks me.) And this bidet mandate story of hers checks out! According to a 1975 ministerial decree, in each lodging in Italy, there must be at least one bathroom that contains all of the following: toilet, sink, bathtub or shower, and a bidet.

Me: Wow, Italy’s Big Bidet lobby is a pretty big deal.

My wife (ignoring my crack): And the bidet is a green technology. Do you want to know why?

Me: Does it have something to do with toilet paper?

My wife: It’s because you use less toilet paper. With a bidet.

My wife then launches into a jingoistic observation about “dirty cultures” (senza bidet) and enlightened, hygienic cultures (the few countries that embrace the bidet.) This is not the first time I’ve heard this argument. It usually starts in English, veers into Italian, and ends with some Roman expression about backwards non-Italians.

My wife: Italians have had indoor plumbing for thousands of years. And what were your people doing then?

Me: [still frantically fact-checking]

My wife: There were even toilet seats in Ostia Antica!

That checks out, too. There were public toilets in Ostia Antica all those centuries ago. There was probably a law mandating them.

***

Have a good weekend. But first, there’s more news below.

***

Bernhard Warner
@BernhardWarner
Bernhard.Warner@Fortune.com

As always, you can write to bullsheet@fortune.com or reply to this email with suggestions and feedback.

Today's reads

The U.K. went all in on wind power. Here’s what happens when it stops blowingFortune

Short of gas, wind, and power: How a perfect storm is roiling the world’s energy marketFortune

Months after the SPAC boom, returns have been ‘weak,’ says Goldman SachsFortune

Bull Sheet readers, we have a special offer: 50% off your subscription to Fortune. Just click here, and use the promo code: BULLSHEET . . . Thank you for supporting our journalism.

Market candy

Quote of the day

If you can understand the human relationship between two celebrities, then you can understand any financial concept.

Oooookay, that's Haley Sacks, a.k.a. Mrs. Dow Jones, a "finfluencer" racking up big dollars and huge followers explaining the world of finance to neophyte investors on TikTok and Instagram, Bloomberg Wealth explains. They pocket thousands for each post. Each post! I'm doing something wrong.

Our mission to make business better is fueled by readers like you. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.