More pressure has lately been felt
In China, despite Road and Belt
As growth there is slowing
And Xi Jinping’s knowing
He must change the cards he’s been dealt
So last night, the news that we learned
Was both sides have grown more concerned
Thus trade talks would start
While traders took heart
And short-sellers of yuan got burned
While the Turkey situation has not disappeared completely, the central bank there appears to be regaining some control over the lira through surreptitious rate hikes. Cagily, they have stopped offering one-week liquidity, which theoretically could be had for ‘just’ 17.75% and instead are forcing banks to fund at the more expensive overnight window. This amounts to an effective 300bp rate rise and has been a key reason, along with yesterday’s announced moves regarding short positions, as to why the Turkish lira has rebounded so sharply from its worst levels. This hasn’t changed the macroeconomic picture, nor can it address the ongoing political row between the US and Turkey, but it has been effective in cooling the ardor of traders to short the lira. We will continue to monitor the situation, but it appears, that for now, TRY will no longer be the primary topic in FX markets.
Which allows us to turn our attention to China, where last night it was announced that low level trade talks between the US and China would start later this month in Washington. That is clearly the best news we have heard on the trade front in months, and although the process for further tariffs continues apace in the US, and it seems highly likely that next weeks imposition of tariffs on $16 billion of Chinese goods would go ahead, traders took the news very positively. The FX response was to reverse the renminbi’s recent decline, which prior to the news had seen it trade above 6.95 and perilously close to the 7.00 level many analysts have targeted as critical in PBOC deliberations. But this morning, USDCNY has fallen 0.75%, quite a large move for the currency pair, as fears of further escalation in the trade war seem to have abated slightly. There is certainly no guarantee that these talks will amount to anything or bring about further discussions, let alone a solution, but for now, they have been extremely well received by markets. Not only did the yuan rally, but also the Shanghai Composite reversed its early weakness, having fallen 1.8% at the open, and closed lower by only 0.65%. Hong Kong shares, too, rebounded from early weakness to close only marginally lower. It is important to remember that one of the drivers of the Shanghai market had been much weaker than expected earnings from Tencent, the Chinese internet firm that owns WeChat, China’s answer to Facebook. But there is no question that the news about trade talks was a critical factor in the rebound.
With these two stories as the lead, it is not surprising that the dollar has ceded some of its recent gains and is a touch softer overall this morning. Other EMG currencies that had seen significant pressure like ZAR (+0.1%), MXN (+0.5%), and RUB (+0.3%) have at least stabilized, if not reversed course. Fear of contagion remains rampant amongst emerging market investors and I expect that they will only return to markets slowly. And of course, it is entirely possible that the measures taken by the various authorities will turn out to be insufficient to address what in many cases are structural problems, and the currency rout will resume. But for now, it feels like a modicum of calm has been restored.
Meanwhile, G10 currencies are also mildly firmer this morning, although the dollar remains near its recent highs. For example, while the euro is higher by 0.3%, it is still trading with a 1.13 handle. There has been very little Eurozone data to drive markets, but there have been several articles discussing the ongoing trauma in Italy and how concerns over the new government’s fiscal policies may still turn disastrous.
Looking toward the UK, Retail Sales data there was quite strong, rising 0.7% in July, well above expectations for a 0.2% rise. However, the benefit to the pound has been minimal, with it rising just 0.1% on the news. Brexit remains a huge cloud over the currency (and the economy) and every day there is no positive news means that there is that much less time to create a solution. You all know I foresee a hard Brexit, not so much on principle as much as because I fear the May government simply cannot decide how to proceed and is not strong enough to impose a decision.
The last noteworthy piece of news in this space comes from Oslo, where the Norgesbank left rates on hold, as expected, but also essentially cemented the idea that they will be raising rates in September, joining the growing list of countries that are beginning to remove the excess accommodation put in place as a response to the financial crisis. After all, the tenth anniversary of the Lehman bankruptcy, the time many hold as the starting point to the crisis, is coming up in less than a month!
This morning’s US data brings Housing Starts (exp 1.2M), Building Permits (1.28M), Initial Claims (217K) and Philly Fed (22). Yesterday’s data was pretty strong, with the Empire Mfg print higher than expected and productivity growth showing its highest outcome since Q1 2015. In all, there is nothing in the data that suggests the Fed is going to change its tune, and if the trade situation eases, it is even more likely the Fed remains steady. All in all, despite modest softness this morning, the dollar remains the best bet going forward.