After surging in the early part of the week, U.S. equity markets slumped back after weak data to finish slightly in the red, further clouding the American economic outlook heading into the key election season in November. The main catalyst for this week’s slump was a sharp rise in new unemployment claims which hit the psychologically important half million mark, suggesting to many that as the stimulus and census boosts end the economy will teeter dangerously close to a double dip recession. European equity markets also trended lower to end the week thanks to comments from German Central Bank president Axel Weber, who expressed his concerns over exiting crisis programs too early. This combination of weakness in two of the largest markets in the world spooked many investors who are hoping for a quick recovery; it looks like the global economy is more likely to muddle along for the foreseeable future until the jobs issue is resolved.
With U.S earnings season over, many investors will turn to a variety of international firms which offer up their earnings reports this week. Additionally, look for key data reports, including U.S. durable goods orders, to give markets direction. Below, we profile three ETFs that look to be in focus over the next several days:
iShares MSCI Australia Index Fund (NYSEARCA:EWA)
Why EWA Could Be In Focus: With the Australia election still to close to call at the time of writing, Australian equity markets look to be in focus to start trading this week. A shakeup in the government could come this week after an extremely close election that seems likely to produce a hung parliament. This means that either Gillard or Abbott could end up being Prime Minister of Australia depending on who is able to form a coalition with the minority parties the quickest. If there is one thing that markets do not like it is uncertainty, so look for a rocky start to the week in Sydney as the parties jockey for position. Once the outcome is decided, look for two key issues to be at the forefront; the “Big Australia” policy–the population was scheduled to grow by nearly 50% thanks largely to immigration–and the controversial tax on mining profits, which could have a major impact on some of the largest metal miners in the world.
BHP has also been in the news lately after making a hostile bid for Canadian based Potash Corp of Saskatchewan (POT). The Australian mining giant looks to remain in focus as the pursuit of the fertilizer maker continues and the firm releases its earnings report later this week. BHP, which makes up nearly 15% of EWA, is expected to report earnings of about $12.6 billion, excluding special items such as asset write-downs. Investors will likely focus on the company’s plans to acquire the potash giant, which some believe could end up producing 20% of the company’s total sales in just three years.
PowerShares Golden Dragon Halter USX China Portfolio (NASDAQ:PGJ)
Why PGJ Could Be In Focus: A number of Chinese ADRs are scheduled to report earnings this week, helping to shed some light on the rumors of a ’slowdown’ in the People’s Republic. These earnings reports stretch across all sectors with companies such as PetroChina (NYSE:PTR), Yanzhou Coal Mining (NYSE:YZC), and China Life Insurance (NYSE:LFC) highlighting a crowded field of important Chinese companies due to give results this week. These three companies are all in the top ten holdings for PGJ and will help to show how the large cap equity market is faring in China and how these giants anticipate the rest of the year will shake out. The fund has lost close to 3% over the last two weeks so a few stellar reports will go a long way in-terms of bucking this downward trend and will help to alleviate fears over a continued slowdown in the world’s most populous country.
iShares MSCI Canada Index Fund (NYSEARCA:EWC)
Why EWC Could Be In Focus: Earnings from the Royal Bank of Canada (NYSE:RY) and the Bank of Montreal (NYSE:BMO), which together account for roughly 10% of EWC’s assets, look to put the relatively strong Canadian financial sector into focus this week. These big Canadian banks are expected to benefit from shrinking loan-loss provisions which look to more than cancel out the decline in trading revenue expected for most banking giants. Forecasts compiled by Thomson Reuters predict the Bank of Montreal to earn $1.22 per share, up from $1.05 a year earlier. Royal Bank of Canada will report Thursday, and is expected to earn $1.03 per share, down from $1.21 a year ago. Since financials make up roughly one-third of EWC, look for guidance from these two companies, as well as a few other key banks, to help drive EWC during this week’s trading.
RTH: Despite disappointing numbers on the unemployment front, RTH managed to squeeze by with a gain of 0.1% on the week. This gain came thanks to quality earnings from market bellwether Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and solid sales figures from competitor Target (NYSE:TGT). Wal-Mart reported an earnings increase of 8 cents a share from the same period last year, in line with analyst estimates despite a same-store sales decline of 1.8%. Meanwhile, Target reported a 17% EPS increase thanks to a 1.7% increase in same-store sales. This news helped to boost shares of Target by over 2.5% for the day. These positive reports from two of the sector’s largest companies helped to buoy shares despite overall market weakness.
EWU: British markets continued to struggle last week as the main ETF tracking the country slid by 1.7%. These sharp losses came after Britain reported a decline in its month-over-month CPI levels, which sank by 0.2% compared to a predicted increase of 0.1%. This news made many believe that the Bank of England would be far closer to increasing its quantitative easing program and thus keeping rates low to stimulate the still extremely weak economy. In fact, the Bank voted 8-1 to keep the rate at 0.5% and maintain the bond purchase program at 200 billion pounds, suggesting that the bank does not believe by any means that the economy is in a position to maintain a recovery on its own.
IAH: This HOLDR also managed to squeeze by with a gain of 0.1% on the week thanks to estimate-beating earnings reports from Dell and Hewlett-Packard, which make up roughly 25% of IAH. For Dell, net income rose to $545 million, or 28¢ a share, from $472 million, or 24¢, a year earlier. HP reported that net income rose 6.1 percent to $1.77 billion thanks to rising sales. These solid reports helped to keep the sector in positive territory on the week despite weakness in the overall economy.
Disclosure: Author is long EWA.
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