Take Five: Two years of war and an AI bull

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Take Five: Two years of war and an AI bull © Reuters. People stand around a crater crated by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the village of Buda-Babynetska, outside Bucha, near Kyiv, Ukraine February 15, 2024. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

(Reuters) -It’s been two years since Russia invaded Ukraine, bringing war to Europe for the first time in decades, while the markets’ AI bull’s seemingly unstoppable run continues, and China returns from a week-long holiday to economic uncertainty.

Here’s your week ahead primer in world markets from Rae Wee in Singapore, Lewis Krauskopf in New York, and Marc Jones, Dhara Ranasinghe and Naomi Rovnick in London.

1/ UNWELCOME ANNIVERSARY

Feb. 24 marks two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. While markets have long overcome their initial panic, the anniversary is an unwelcome reminder of the war’s ongoing and multifaceted toll.

Aside from the human tragedy, the rebuild cost alone is now estimated to have reached almost half a trillion dollars, or 2.8 times Ukraine’s annual economic output. Western governments have provided $100 billion – $60 billion in military aid and $40 billion in budgetary help – a year since the invasion.

The grumblings are growing in Washington, where Joe Biden’s leading Republican opponent Donald Trump is revving up for November’s election that he fully expects to be part of. European leaders could also be about to raid some of the frozen Russian asset money that is currently sitting idle.

2/ ADIOS RECESSION RISK

A resilient U.S. economy, with its strong labour market, explains why global recession fears have fallen away.

Yet, even with China in the doldrums and powerhouse Germany now the sick man of Europe, business activity data out globally from Thursday should show that the picture beyond the U.S. is not all bleak.

While in contraction territory, the January euro zone PMI hit six-month highs and the bloc avoided a recession late last year, the latest GDP data suggests. German Q4 GDP data and the Ifo sentiment index are out Friday. Note, German business morale brightened last month.

Emerging markets outside China, notably India and the Middle East, are strong and the U.S. PMI likely remains in expansionary territory after reaching six-month highs in January.

No surprise then, that investors no longer expect a recession.

3/ RESCUE EFFORTS

Markets in China return from the week-long Lunar New Year holiday on Monday, and investors are looking out for what Beijing does next to shore up its battered stock market.

In the run-up to the festive period, authorities scrambled to pull out all the stops to stem losses in mainland shares that had cratered to five-year lows.

That included appointing a new head of the country’s market regulator, nicknamed the “broker butcher” for his tough stance on containing risks.

The week also brings a decision from the People’s Bank of China on its benchmark lending rates, though persistent headwinds for the yuan could limit the scope for any monetary easing.

    Home prices, meanwhile, land on Friday, which will show just how deep the downturn in the beleaguered property sector is.

4/ AI DARLINGS While stunning gains of the so-called Magnificent Seven have been the story of the U.S. stock market over the past year, one of those megacap tech and growth stocks has been the main character: Nvidia (NASDAQ:), and it reports quarterly results on Feb. 21. After its stock more than tripled in 2023, the chipmaker at the centre of the excitement over AI has seen its shares soar another roughly 50% so far this year. Nvidia has now surpassed Amazon (NASDAQ:) and Alphabet (NASDAQ:) in market value, making it the third biggest U.S. company by market cap as of Feb. 14. Such mammoth stock gains stand to raise the bar for its results, which the company reports after the U.S. market closes on Wednesday. And any disappointment potentially has a broad market fallout given Nvidia’s growing heft in major indexes and importance to the outlook for AI’s financial promise.

5/ DISMAL RECORD

The UK’s biggest banks are set to release financial results for 2023 showing they have had the best year on record. Investors are unlikely to cheer.

HSBC, Barclays, NatWest, Standard Chartered (OTC:) and Lloyds (LON:) should announce combined pretax profits of 51.6 billion pounds ($64.8 billion), above the 2007 record of 35.8 billion, stockbroker AJ Bell calculates.

Markets tend to focus on the future, however. And for UK banks, much is uncertain.

High interest rates, which banks have passed on to borrowers while shrugging off pressure to equally compensate savers, have fattened up their profit margins for now.

But a new mortgage price war and the need to repay Bank of England pandemic-era support are threatening future earnings. Borrower stress is also increasing, with insolvencies running at their highest since 1993.

UK bank shares, trading at hefty discounts to lenders’ asset values, suggest the record year the industry is about to report has already faded from investors’ minds.

($1 = 0.7966 pounds)

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