The Middle East war rages, and stocks decline
London, October 19, 2023 – The world’s financial markets experienced a challenging day on Thursday, grappling with a complex mix of factors. Two significant concerns weighed on investors’ minds – the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and a sharp rise in the yields of 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds. Furthermore, market participants eagerly awaited insights from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and digested a flurry of corporate earnings reports.
Interest Rates and Bonds: Recent developments have seen interest rates increase. The primary driver behind this trend is the Federal Reserve, often regarded as the manager of the United States’ monetary system, signaling no immediate plans to lower rates. Elevated interest rates tend to make stocks, representing ownership in companies, less appealing, leading to declines in stock prices.
Traditionally, during economic uncertainty, investors seek refuge in safe-haven assets such as bonds. However, a shift has occurred because bond interest rates are rising, diminishing their attractiveness. Consequently, investors have turned their attention to gold, a historic safe haven in times of financial unease.
Corporate Earnings Reports: Companies are presently disclosing their financial performance, influencing investor sentiment and, in turn, stock market dynamics. Notable companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), a leading chip manufacturer, as well as Philip Morris, Blackstone, and Fifth Third Bancorp, reported their earnings.
Global Stock Market: The MSCI All-World index, serving as a barometer for global stocks, declined by 0.25% on the day. This trend was reflected in the 0.9% drop in Europe’s STOXX 600 and a broader weakness in Asian equity markets.
U.S. Treasuries: U.S. Treasuries are essentially IOUs issued by the U.S. government. Investors purchasing these bonds receive a promise from the government to repay the principal amount with interest. Recently, the prices of these bonds have fallen, causing yields, which move inversely to bond prices, to surge. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note now stands near 5%, the highest level in 16 years.
Gold as a Safe Haven: Amid the prevailing financial uncertainty, investors have sought refuge in gold, a traditional safe haven. The uncertainty surrounding the Middle East situation has caused gold prices to increase by 8% over the past two weeks.
Future Expectations: The market also anticipated Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s commentary on the economic outlook. Most financial experts project that the Federal Reserve will not reduce interest rates at its forthcoming meeting on November 1. Some even anticipate that there will be no interest rate cuts until the latter half of 2024. Powell is expected to reiterate the view that interest rates will remain elevated for an extended period.
Currencies and the Middle East: In the realm of foreign exchange, the U.S. dollar and the Japanese yen held significance. The U.S. dollar exhibited minimal change, while the Japanese yen remained at a one-year low relative to the dollar. These currency movements may be influenced by the financial market’s apprehension surrounding the Middle East situation.
Oil Prices: Oil prices have witnessed fluctuations recently. They reached highs of $93 per barrel, contributing to increased volatility in the oil market this month, which is characterized by the most turbulence since November 2021. Notably, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) did not endorse Iran’s proposal to halt oil sales to Israel. Simultaneously, the United States announced plans to ease sanctions on Venezuela, facilitating increased global oil supply.
In conclusion, the world’s financial markets grapple with a confluence of factors, including rising interest rates, Middle East tensions, and corporate earnings releases. Investors are increasingly turning to gold as a safe haven, while Jerome Powell’s economic outlook statement was keenly awaited. The oil market’s heightened volatility is also shaping the financial landscape in late 2023.