Global investors have been reluctant so far to send benchmark stock indices to new record highs since the global pandemic, despite coming tantalisingly close.

Asian stocks are now mostly lower, with regional indices pulling the MSCI Asia Pacific index further away from its January 20th closing level, despite yesterday coming within less than four points of that record high.

However, the S&P 500 could have another shot at posting its highest ever close today, with US stock futures in the green at the time of writing. It could all come down to the July US retail sales data announcement later today.

Considering that the figures from May and June’s retail sales already beat market consensus, a third consecutive monthly reading that exceeds expectations might just get the S&P 500 over the line in setting a new record high. Given the US economy’s reliance on domestic consumption, retail sales must demonstrate a sustainable recovery in order to spur risk sentiment onto greater heights and further embolden equity bulls.

US economic readings have been surprising to the upside of late, including Thursday’s weekly jobless claims falling below the one million mark for the first time since March. Still, looking at the broader picture, these jobless figures remain far elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels, which necessitates additional economic support from policymakers. The positive data surprises of late could prove fleeting if major countries cannot get a firm grip on the pandemic, or if policymakers pull back on their respective support measures too soon, while noting that the road ahead still holds downside risks for the global economy.

Chinese economy still finding its footing

China’s economy continues to take strides into the post-pandemic era, even if some soft spots remain. July’s industrial production grew 4.8 percent year-on-year, matching June’s expansion rate, while July retail sales contracted by 1.1 percent compared to the same month in the year prior. Property investments last month posted a better-than-expected reading of 3.4 percent year-on-year.

As China continues to show other economies the way past the pandemic, this could bolster hopes that the global recovery can stay the course and justify the stellar gains in stock markets since March.

US-China talks, US stimulus in focus

Global investors will also be on the lookout for how the US-China trade talks unfold, as both economic powerhouses check in regarding their phase-one trade deal. At the same time, markets will be keeping an eye on whether the stalemate surrounding the next round of US fiscal stimulus can be broken.

Should either of these events take a negative turn, that could upend attempts to register new records for benchmark stock indices while paving the way for Gold to return back above the $2000 psychological level.


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