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South Korea Poised for Change

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South Koreans head to the polls, volatility vanishes, and anti-corruption efforts weigh on Macau casino operators. Here are some of the things people in markets are talking about.

South Korea Votes

The French election wasn’t the only leadership choice with potentially global implications this week. South Korea selects its next president on Tuesday after the impeachment (and subsequent detention) of former President Park Geun-hye on corruption charges. The left-leaning Moon Jae-in, a former opposition leader, is considered to be the front-runner, with software tycoon Ahn Cheol-soo also in contention. Despite the high-profile risk posed by North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the Korea Stock Exchange Index has soared to record highs in recent weeks amid expectations of massive profit growth and corporate governance reform.

Volatility Disappears

The CBOE Volatility Index, commonly known as the VIX or “fear” index, fell below 10 to close Monday at its lowest level since 1993. The outcome of the French election is seen as driving this retreat, but the dearth of volatility is giving some strategists an eerie feeling of déjà vu. The proliferation of exchange-traded funds that own short-term VIX futures may be steepening the front end of the curve, some analysts contend, which provides a tailwind for traders betting against a rise in volatility. One place where traders do expect more turbulence? High-yield bonds.

Casino Woes

Macau casino operators including Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. slumped after Union Pay, a Chinese bank, pulled its ATMs from the market. The lender plans to replace its cash machines with ones that include facial recognition technology, a move that may put a damper on spending by Chinese visitors. The move threatens to derail the impressive streak for industry revenue in the region, which had advanced for nine consecutive months through April.

Chinese Stocks Keep Sliding

The Shanghai Composite Index’s losing streak reached five consecutive sessions, hitting the lowest level since October, while the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index posted a solid gain. Analysts in the region contend that Chinese stocks traded Hong Kong stocks look oversold. Meanwhile, S&P/ASX 200 and Nikkei 225 equity futures are poised to open higher as of 5:30 a.m. in Tokyo after Japanese stocks fueled gains in the MSCI Asia Pacific Index in the opening session of the week.

A Little Relief

The S&P 500 index inched higher to post another record close on a quiet day for markets following centrist Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election. While there weren’t many signs of a major relief rally in markets, the spread between French and German two-year yields did narrow to its smallest level in almost three months. Meanwhile, West Texas Intermediate prices recovered to above $46 per barrel as both Saudi Arabia and Russia affirmed their commitment to capping production to help alleviate a supply glut.

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