April 16, 2018, by Lorcan Roche Kelly
The weekend’s missile strikes on Syria by the U.S., France and the U.K. have hampered that country’s ability to use chemical weapons, according to the Pentagon. While the short-term military goal may have been met, the geopolitical fallout is likely to be less cut and dry. The attack on Russia-backed Bashar al-Assad is likely to further open the already widening rift between D.C. and Moscow, with U.S. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley warning the Treasury Department will announce more sanctions against targets in Russia later today. The ruble, already under pressure, is falling further this morning.
While President Donald Trump may have a foreign diplomatic win to be pleased about, it seems matters at home in the U.S. were taking much of his time over the weekend. He traded barbs with former FBI Director James Comey, who said he was “morally unfit” to be president in a prime-time interview on Sunday. Separately, Trump is seeking to delay the Justice Department’s review of evidence secured in raids on the home, office, hotel room, safety-deposit box and phones of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Global markets seem to be treating the weekend attack in Syria as an isolated event, rather than the enlargement of the regional conflict. Overnight, the MSCI Asia Pacific Index fell 0.1 percent, while Japan’s Topix index closed 0.4 percent higher as the yen dropped amid falling haven demand. In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index was broadly unchanged at 5:40 a.m. Eastern Time, with investors seemingly happy to take a wait-and-see approach to the Syria fallout. S&P 500 futures pointed to a gain at the open, the 10-year Treasury yield was at 2.858 percent and gold was slightly lower.
Oil’s next move
Hedge-fund bets that Brent crude futures will continue to climb reached a new high in the week ending April 10, according to data on ICE Futures. Wagers on future rises in West Texas Intermediate slipped, as the U.S. benchmark is seen as less exposed to geopolitical tensions. Bloomberg strategist Julian Lee says that the real upside risk to oil prices is not missile strikes in Syria, but rather the possibility of oil sanctions against Russia and Iran. In the market this morning, a barrel of WTI for May delivery dropped 86 cents to $66.53, after closing on Friday at the highest level for the first forward contract since December 2014.
At 8:30 a.m., U.S. retail sales data for March are released, with expectations for a 0.4 percent rise in the headline rate, the first increase in four months. The number is seen as a test as to whether U.S. workers are putting their extra tax-cut cash into savings and debt repayments, or using it to go shopping. In earnings today, Bank of America Corp. reports before the open, with Netflix Inc. due after the close.