Apparently China’s decided
Their strong money stance was misguided
So look for, ahead
More easing instead
And weaker yuan now abided
Arguably, the biggest story in the FX markets overnight was the sharp decline in the Chinese yuan. For the first time in more than a year, the PBOC set the fixing rate for the dollar above 6.70, which seemed to signal a willingness to allow the currency to fall much further. As I type, the offshore version is trading near 6.80, having fallen 0.8% on the session. As I have discussed over the past months, even absent the trade situation, there are ample reasons to see the renminbi decline further. However, it now seems likely that the ongoing trade dispute with the US is starting to have a bigger impact on the Chinese economy (remember we already saw weak data last week) and that a simple response is to allow the currency to fall.
The trade dispute with the US has come at a bad time for China. They have been tightening liquidity standards for the past two years in an effort to reduce leverage in their economy and the housing bubbles that resulted. But now, the slower growth precipitated by that policy combined with restrictions on their exports is forcing that policy to be reconsidered. So far the PBOC has not actually cut rates, but they have reduced bank reserve requirements by one full percent and encouraged significantly more lending to SME’s. However, in the end, given their still mercantilist economy, a weaker currency is likely to be the best policy available for their conflicting goals of less leverage and strong growth. I’m beginning to think that 7.00 is a conservative estimate for USDCNY at year-end. What is abundantly clear is that there will be further weakness in the near term.
Meanwhile, Carney’s plan to raise rates
In August is in dire straits
The data keeps showing
That UK growth’s slowing
My bet now is he hesitates
This morning’s UK Retail Sales data was the last big data point of the week, and completed a picture of an economy that is not expanding quite so rapidly as had been previously thought. While things aren’t as dire as the Q1 data implied, Retail Sales fell -0.5% in Jun with the -ex fuel number -0.6%. Both were significantly lower than forecast and added to the softer inflation and wage growth data seen earlier this week. As such, none of this data really supports the idea that the BOE needs to raise rates next month, despite a clearly articulated desire by Governor Carney to do so. The problem he faces, along with many other central bankers, is that policy rates remain at emergency settings deep into a recovery, and the concern now is that they won’t have any policy tools available when the next downturn comes. In other words, they are out of ammo and need to reload, which means they need higher policy rates. But if the data don’t warrant that stance, they run the risk of causing a recession in order to be able to fight one. It is an unenviable position, but one that they brought upon themselves with their gigantic monetary policy experiment. When the softening data trend is added to the ongoing Brexit uncertainty, I have a hard time seeing a rationale for the BOE to move next month. The market continues to price a >70% probability, but I think that will ebb over the next few weeks.
One thing that is not surprising is that the pound has fallen below 1.30, down a further 0.6% this morning (and 2.0% on the week) and is now trading at its lowest level since last September. While it no longer appears that PM May is going to be ousted, it does seem as though the odds of the UK leaving the EU with no deal in place are growing shorter. I continue to look for the pound to fall further.
Away from those two stories, yesterday brought the second day of Chairman Powell’s Congressional testimony, this time to the House Financial Services Committee. The comment getting the most press has been “[the rate setting committee] believes that, for now, the best way forward is to keep gradually raising” rates. The idea is that the highlighted words are a strong indication that the Fed remains policy dependent, and so will carefully evaluate the situation at each meeting. That said, expectations remain that they will raise rates in September and December, and that data would need to be significantly worse, or the trade dispute clearly become a bigger problem, to change that view.
In the end, those Fed expectations should continue to support the dollar. In fact, the dollar has rallied pretty sharply across the board this morning, with the Dollar Index up 0.5%. That breadth of strength is indicative of the fact that the market continues to expect divergent monetary policies between the US and the rest of the world for now. We will need to see much weaker US data to change that view, and the dollar’s trajectory.
This morning brings the last data of the week, with Initial Claims (exp 220K), Philly Fed (21.5) and Leading Indicators (0.4%). We also hear from Fed Governor Randall Quarles, although given that we just got two days of Powell, it is hard to believe that he will be saying something different. While yesterday’s Housing data was disappointing, it was not enough to change any views on the US economy, especially given that Housing Starts is a known volatile series, and so easily dismissed. It is hard to view the current market and economic situation without concluding that the dollar’s rally has further to go. Hedgers keep that in mind, especially as you begin to look at your 2019 exposures.