Lighthearted

At this point one must be impressed
Investors have not become stressed
A trade war has started
Yet they are lighthearted
With willingness still to invest

On top of that word from the Fed
Is they will keep pushing ahead
With rate hikes until
Our growth starts to chill
Or when markets start to bleed red

There has certainly been a lot to digest in the past twenty-four hours. Arguably the biggest story is the imposition of tariffs by the US on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods, which began at midnight last night. China is responding in kind and the Trump administration is determining whether they want to up the ante by an additional $200 billion. Now that the trade war is ‘officially’ underway, the key questions are just how far it will go and how long it will last. While there has been nothing in the press indicating that background negotiations are ongoing and that things can be resolved soon, based on the US equity market’s insouciance, it certainly seems that many investors feel that is the case. I hope they are correct, and soon, because otherwise I expect that we will see a more substantial correction in stocks. As to the dollar in this case, I expect that it will continue to benefit from its safe haven status in a time of market turmoil.

A second fear for equity investors has to be the Fed, which explained in yesterday’s release of the June meeting minutes, that while the trade situation could well become a concern in the future, for now they are much more focused on the potential for the US economy to overheat. The upshot is that the Fed is bound and determined to continue normalizing policy by gradually raising rates and by allowing the balance sheet to continue to gradually shrink. Speaking of the balance sheet, starting this month, they are going to allow $40 billion per month to roll off, and then beginning in October, it will be $50 billion per month until they reach whatever size they determine is appropriate. That means that $270 billion of bids for Treasury’s are going missing for the rest of the year. As the Fed continues to drain liquidity from the economy, I expect that the dollar will continue to benefit across the board, and that the US equity market will face additional headwinds. After all, QE was effective in its goal of forcing investors further out the risk curve and driving equity prices around the world higher as central banks everywhere hoovered up government bonds. Well, with yields rising and central banks backing away from the market (all while equity prices remain robustly valued) it seems there is ample opportunity for a substantial correction in stocks.

You may have noticed I said exactly the same thing when discussing the trade war situation. My point is that we are starting to see multiple catalysts align for a potential change in tone. A higher dollar and lower US (and likely global) equity prices seem like an increasingly possible outcome. Be prepared.

This leaves us at our third big story for the day, the payroll report this morning. Yesterday’s ADP Employment number was a mild disappointment, rising 177K rather than the 190K expected, but the reason appeared to be a lack of available workers rather than a lack of demand for hiring. In other words, the labor market in the US remains extremely strong. Or so it seems. Here are this morning’s expectations:

Nonfarm Payrolls 195K
Private Payrolls 190K
Manufacturing Payrolls 18K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (2.8% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
Trade Balance -$43.7B

It strikes me that this is a potential third catalyst that will line up with the trade war and Fed story in that a strong print today will encourage the Fed to continue or even accelerate their activities; it will encourage the administration that they can outlast the Chinese in this war of attrition, and so the dollar is likely to firm up while equity markets suffer. In the event payrolls disappoint, I think we could see the dollar’s modest correction lower continue and I expect that equity markets will be fine, at least in the US.

Remarkably, I don’t have space to more fully discuss what appears to be a euro positive, where Chancellor Merkel has averted disaster in Germany by getting the third coalition partner, the SPD, to agree to her immigration reforms thus keeping her government intact. As long as this internal truce lasts, there should be no further impact on the euro, but if the problem arises again (and I’m pretty sure it will soon) the euro is likely to suffer. At the same time, the pound is on tenterhooks as PM May is meeting with her cabinet today to finalize a negotiating stance regarding Brexit. If she cannot get the cabinet to agree, I expect the pound will feel the heat as concern over the fall of the May government will rise and an election campaign just nine months before the deadline for leaving the EU cannot be seen as a positive, especially with the chance that Jeremy Corbyn, the far-left Labour Party leader could become the next PM. Investors will not appreciate him in that seat, at least not at first.

As to the overnight session, the dollar is slightly softer and equity markets are under modest pressure, including US futures, as the market awaits the labor situation report. Remember, too, that many trading desks remain lightly staffed because of the holiday, and so liquidity is going to be a bit less robust than normal. If pressed my thought is that NFP will print near consensus, around 200K. I just wonder if the Unemployment Rate doesn’t tick even lower. And keep an eye on AHE, where my gut tells me it will be 0.4% enough to get Fed tongues wagging again. Net, I like the dollar to end the week on a strong note.

Good luck and good weekend
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