A version of this story first appeared in CNN Business’ Before the Bell newsletter. Not a subscriber? You can sign up right here.
In the past week, global investors have largely shrugged off concerns about fresh pockets of coronavirus infections in some US states, Germany and China, as well as the climbing caseload in Latin America and the Caribbean.
But traders are showing signs Wednesday that they’re getting uncomfortable.
What’s happening: The price of gold, the essential safe haven asset, has climbed above $1,776 per ounce, its highest level in nearly eight years.
“The technical picture now suggests that gold can begin its long-awaited assault on $1,800 an ounce,” Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at Oanda, told clients.
In Germany, the DAX fell more than 2% even as the closely-watched Ifo business survey beat expectations and indicated that the country’s recovery is underway.
Concerns about another wave of infections are growing after the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia imposed a new lockdown in the area around a meat processing factory hit by a coronavirus outbreak.
US stock futures are also lower as investors contend with rising cases in states such as California, Florida, Arizona and Texas. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned Tuesday said if the country doesn’t get the pandemic under control by fall, “you’re essentially chasing after a forest fire.”
As countries reopen, the situation in the United States could weigh on the global economy. The European Union may recommend that member states block Americans from visiting their countries due to the spike in Covid-19 cases, according to two EU diplomats.
Remember: Even as investors tread carefully, risky assets like stocks aren’t showing real signs of faltering. The S&P 500 finished Tuesday up nearly 40% from its low point on March 23.
Even absent a surge in cases that leads to fresh lockdowns, economists are still concerned about the strength of the recovery.
Jörg Krämer, the chief economist at Commerzbank, said that despite the upward movement in Germany’s Ifo business climate survey, he thinks the recovery will moderate in the second half of the year.
The crisis facing America’s shale industry
The American shale oil industry is celebrating its 15th birthday at a perilous moment.
Massive growth from shale transformed the United States into the world’s leading producer of crude. But the shale industry failed to turn those surging barrels into consistent profits, and the pandemic has turned the world upside down.
What it means: Depressed crude prices, massive piles of debt and capital flight away from fossil fuels threaten to set off a tidal wave of bankruptcies and fire sales to larger players, my CNN Business colleague Matt Egan reports.
About 30% of US shale operators are technically insolvent at $35-a-barrel oil prices, according to a study released this week by Deloitte. That means the discounted future value of these frackers is lower than their total debt.
US oil is now trading at between $39 and $40 per barrel.
The backstory: Aided by historically-low interest rates, US shale oil companies long enjoyed easy access to capital from investors captivated by their potential for growth. These investments enabled tech innovations that sent production skyrocketing and made frackers more efficient.
Yet earnings and free cash flow proved elusive. The US shale industry has burned through $300 billion since 2010, according to Deloitte.
The ongoing recession and subdued energy prices are now forcing large and small oil companies to slash the value of their once-lucrative portfolios. This surge in write-downs will have big consequences for the industry.
Is the pound effectively an emerging market currency?
The British pound is one of the most traded currencies in the world. But erratic price movements and persistent weakness are causing some investors to rethink its standing in financial markets.
See here: In a recent note to clients, Bank of America suggested that it may be time to treat the pound as an emerging market currency.
“We believe [the pound] is in the process of evolving into a currency that resembles the underlying reality of the British economy: small and shrinking,” strategists Kamal Sharma and Myria Kyriacou said.
The currency, which is down 16% against the dollar since the 2016 Brexit referendum, has been extremely volatile since March.
Sharma and Kyriacou described its fluctuations as “neurotic at best, unfathomable at worst.” The only currency that investors see as more unstable is the Brazilian real, they noted.
The pound looks especially vulnerable heading into the second half of the year. The country’s large funding gap as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is a major risk, per Bank of America. And concerns loom about whether the United Kingdom can reach a trade deal with the European Union — not to mention what such a deal will mean for the British economy.
“Brexit is likely to permanently alter the way in which investors view the pound,” Sharma and Kyriacou said.
The June economic outlook from the International Monetary Fund posts at 9 a.m. ET.
Also today: The latest data on US crude inventories arrives at 10:30 a.m. ET.
Coming tomorrow: Initial US unemployment claims are expected to have dropped to 1.3 million last week. That would mark the 12th straight week of declines.