Just Splendid

While last week the world almost ended
This morning all things seem just splendid
It seems a trade war
May not be in store
Here’s hoping the rally’s extended!

I guess the world is actually not going to end this morning. I know that if you watched the price action Friday afternoon, it certainly seemed like it was the beginning of the end. Between the imminent trade war with China and the ongoing reputational destruction of US mega cap tech companies, the leaders of the equity market rally, there was no place to hide. Treasuries, which did rally sharply last week on their haven status, find themselves subject to the largest weekly supply surge in history this week, with the Treasury looking to sell $294 billion worth, so it is reasonable to expect some pressure there. And the dollar? Well everybody continues to hate the buck with a vengeance and keeps calling for an imminent collapse. So what’s a risk manager to do?

Well first off, it now appears as if the trade talk was not quite as dangerous as previously thought. This morning’s storyline is that the US and China have been engaged in an active trade dialog behind the scenes covering autos, steel and financial services, and that real headway has been made. In addition, it turns out that the US and South Korea have reached an updated trade agreement covering autos and steel and that the Koreans will not be subject to any steel tariffs. So one of the biggest concerns from Friday has been ameliorated.

Second, and in a related fashion, the background threat of the Chinese stepping away from the US Treasury market as a weapon against the US also seems to have abated. To begin with, that threat has always been oversold in my view, as the Chinese have virtually no alternatives when it comes to investing their reserves. The fact is that US Treasuries are the only market that can handle the flow while simultaneously offering liquidity and safety. Ask yourself this, if they sold their Treasury holdings, ignoring the fact that it would destroy hundreds of billions of dollars of value by simply doing it, where would they put the money they got? No other market is capable of receiving that type of investment without severe distortion. But on top of that, given the new story about the ongoing trade dialog, it seems clear that there will be no perceived need for the Chinese to do so. As such, I think we can expect that they will continue to participate in US Treasury auctions and that the bond market is not going to collapse. That said, I still do believe that Treasury yields rise throughout the year, just not that rapidly.

In fact, of the big concerns last week, the only one that has not seemingly been addressed is the tech stock story, with news this morning that Europe is now seeking to break up Google hitting the tape. This story, which is truthfully outside the purview of this note, probably still has legs, and in many ways is likely more impactful on equity markets, and by extension the global market situation. The one thing I will say is that from all that I have read, it has become abundantly clear that there are going to be changes forced on this sector through either legislation or regulation, and that the business models are going to be forced to change to the detriment of shareholders.

With all this in mind, let’s now look at the dollar. This morning, the trade has been one-way, with the dollar under pressure against both G10 and EMG currencies. It seems that the underlying FX narrative, that the Fed will behave less hawkishly than their own rhetoric while the ECB and BOJ will be more hawkish continues to drive the debate. There is also a growing expectation that central bank reserve managers, who have been increasing their share of USD reserves over the past several years, may start to reverse that trend. Historically, the dollar has represented between 60%-64% of international reserves with the euro next at between 20%-24%, and then a smattering of other currencies like the yen, pound, Canadian and Australian dollars, and ever since the renminbi was named part of the SDR, a small portion of renminbis. However, based on the idea that the global trade situation is going to change given the potential for increased tariffs and quotas, it seems the idea is that other nations won’t need as many dollars to manage their affairs. At least that was clearly the thought before the news that the imminent US-Chinese trade war may not actually be imminent. Certainly, as reserve managers adjust their ratios it impacts the FX markets. But history has shown that those adjustments tend to come after large movements in the dollar have already taken place, they don’t precede them. And while the dollar did fall between 8%-10% last year, that simply doesn’t qualify as a large move historically. In addition, that comes after the dollar had rallied more than 25% in the prior two years, so I would contend that reserve managers are not quite ready to act. However, the story is getting play.

As to the movers overnight, there was very little data released to drive things. In the G10, the pound has been the best performer, rising 0.7%, after news that the Labour Party has tabled a bill that would seek to prevent a hard Brexit in the event an agreement isn’t reached on time. What I find interesting about that is the idea that if the UK and EU fail to agree on a timely basis, who’s to say the EU will be willing to extend the interim package, regardless of whether the UK is willing. But the market saw this as a positive. However, we have seen strength in the euro as well, and Aussie has performed well on the abatement of trade tensions. Interestingly, the yen is virtually unchanged this morning.

In the EMG bloc, it should be no surprise that CNY is stronger, up 0.65%, on the lessened trade tensions. But also we have seen RUB rally 0.5% on continued strength in the oil price and ZAR rally after Moody’s left their Baa3 rating intact and moved them up to a stable outlook. This prevents many international bond funds from being forced to liquidate their positions and has relieved some pressure on the currency. Overall, the APAC and EEMEA blocs have performed quite well, with the reduced trade tensions the obvious catalyst.

Data this week is limited but important and as follows:

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 6.2%
  Consumer Confidence 131.0
Wednesday Q4 GDP (Final) 2.7%
Thursday Initial Claims 228K
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.2%
  PCE 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.5% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 63.2
  Michigan Sentiment 102

My take is all eyes will be on the PCE data given the Fed continues to focus on that. With the FOMC meeting out of the way, we also get a decent number of Fed speakers starting with Mester, Quarles and Dudley today, then Bostic tomorrow and Wednesday and finally Harker on Thursday. Given the fact that the important data this week doesn’t appear until Thursday, it seems unlikely that any of these speakers will be giving us new information. Rather they are far more likely to discuss how their view fits with the prevailing Fed narrative.

In the end, it feels like the dollar will have a hard time making much headway this week, unless there is a more definitive outcome on trade, one which satisfies all parties. My sense on that is it will take a bit longer to come about, so look for the dollar to remain under pressure.

Good luck