Dashing Hopes

Said Trump when he landed in London
Your Brexit deal needs to be undone
Because as it stands
We’ll never shake hands
On trade, dashing hopes ere they’ve begun

On Thursday, PM Theresa May has had yet another trying day. President Trump came to town and wasted no time skewering her recently outlined Brexit framework indicating that if the UK heads down her preferred road (you remember, trade in goods to remain within the EU umbrella, but services to be wide open) that the US would not be able to sign a free trade deal. Trump’s point, albeit indelicately made, is that a comprehensive trade deal with the UK will be impossible because the EU will be involved. And, as you may remember, Trump has several issues with the way the EU approaches trade. This was a terrible blow to May because she has clearly been counting on a deal with the US to help offset the changed status with the EU.

It should be no surprise that the pound did not take the news well and as I type, it is lower by 0.6% today and 1.7% this week. And this is despite the fact that Governor Carney virtually promised to raise rates at next month’s BOE meeting. We are still a long way from any resolution on the Brexit situation, and I continue to believe that uncertainty over the outcome will weigh on Pound Sterling. The pound remains some 12.5% below its levels prior to the Brexit vote two years ago. While it is still well clear of the lows seen at the beginning of last year (1.2000 or so) given my belief that there will be no Brexit deal signed, I expect that the market will return to those lows over time. Higher rates or not, confidence in the UK right now is somewhat lacking.

The other big news overnight was the Chinese data releases that showed that the trade surplus rose sharply to $41.6 billion with the US portion rising to a record $29 billion. This may be a timing issue with many companies anxiously shipping product ahead of the imposition of tariffs. But it also could simply reflect that the Chinese economy is slowing down, thus import growth is ebbing, while the US economy continues to power ahead and lead the global economy. In the end, I am certain that the Trump administration will look at these numbers and feel further justification in their stance on trade.

But on top of the trade data, Chinese Money Supply growth continues to ebb, a sign that economic activity on the mainland is slowing. Other indications of a Chinese slowdown are that the government’s campaign to reduce excess leverage seems to have gone into reverse. There have been several stories about how Beijing is now looking for local governments to insure they spend allocated money rather than worry about cutting back on new allocations. It seems that there is a growing fear that real GDP growth (not necessarily what is reported) is slipping more quickly than President Xi is prepared to accept. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the renminbi is under further pressure this morning, down 0.45%, and is now trading back at levels not seen since last August. And it has further to fall. I expect that we will be testing 7.00 before the year is over.

One last noteworthy item was yesterday’s CPI release, where headline CPI printed at 2.9%, its highest since 2012, and the ex food & energy number printed at 2.3%. What this tells us is that wage gains are barely keeping up with inflation, and so consumers are not really benefitting from the recent modest uptick we have seen there. We heard from both Chairman Powell and Philly President Harker yesterday and both indicated they were comfortable with the Fed’s current trajectory. Both also indicated that while the trade situation has not yet impacted the economy in any meaningful way, they could foresee how that might come about and cause the Fed to rethink their strategy. As of now, I remain in the four hikes this year camp, and will need to see a substantial change to the economic data to change that view.

Turning to the overnight FX performance, the dollar has continued its recent uptrend, rising against almost all its counterparts in both the G10 and the EMG. In fact, the dollar has risen every day this week, completely unwinding last week’s decline. There was a modest amount of data from the Eurozone, all pointing to the ongoing lack of inflation in the region, which continues to undermine the ECB’s case to normalize policy quickly. We also continue to see issues throughout emerging markets with TRY, for example, plummeting 6% this week as the market responds to President Erdogan’s cabinet moves. Remember, he installed his son-in-law as FinMin and ousted all the market friendly ministers in the cabinet. As I have written before, this currency has much further to fall.

Meanwhile, US equity markets continue to power ahead, well at least the big tech names continue to do so and that has been sufficient to drive the averages higher overall. However, market breadth continues to narrow which is always an ominous trend. Treasury yields have been stable in the 10-year space, but the 2-year continues to march higher and that spread is down to 26bps, edging ever closer to inversion. While I believe that the signaling effect this time is not quite the same due to the massive distortions in bond markets brought about by QE, I am in a minority view there.

In the end, the big trends remain intact, which means to me that the dollar is going to continue its march higher. Hedgers keep that in mind as you start to think about your 2019 hedging needs.

Today’s only data is Michigan Sentiment (exp 98.2) and then we hear from Atlanta Fed President Rafael Bostic. But given what we just heard from Harker and Powell (and Brainerd and Williams earlier in the week), there is no indication that the Fed is going to change its tune in the near future. The trend is your friend, and right now that trend is for the dollar to continue to rally.

Good luck and good weekend
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