Said Xi, our support is “unwavering”
For stocks, which of late have been quavering
A rally ensued
The result, which imbued
A feeling the bulls have been savoring
Make no mistake about it, while President Xi Jinping is ‘president-for-life’ in China, and the most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping, it turns out that the stock market is more powerful still. Despite last night’s 4% rally by the Shanghai Index, the market remains 25% lower than the highs seen in January. On Friday, we heard from a number of Chinese financial officials, each of them explaining how the government would support the market, and saw quasi-official purchases by Chinese brokerage firms. Over the weekend, President Xi, in a speech, promised a cut in personal income taxes as well as “unwavering” support for state owned enterprises. In other words, the combination of the trade spat with the US and the government’s previous efforts to deflate the real estate bubble by tightening liquidity and cracking down on non-bank financing seems to have been too much for Xi to bear. The equity market there has become too important to Chinese consumer sentiment to be ignored by the government, and a nearly 30% decline during the past nine months has really increased the pressure on Xi and his comrades. Since a key underpinning of Xi’s power is continued strong economic growth, the market signals had become too great to ignore. Hence the weekend actions, which also included promises of further tax cuts in the VAT rate, and the all-out effort to not merely halt the equity market decline, but reverse it.
For the moment, it has worked, with global equity markets responding favorably to the Chinese lead and risk being more warmly embraced by traders, if not long-term investors. European equity markets are higher, Treasury prices are falling, except in Italy (a truly high risk asset these days) where yields on the 10-year BTP have fallen 17bps today. Meanwhile, the dollar is little changed, having been slightly softer earlier in the session but now showing signs of life. The renminbi is also little changed this morning, continuing to hover near 6.94, while the PBOC looks on nervously. It has become increasingly apparent that regardless of the trade situation, there is very limited appetite to allow USDCNY to trade to 7.00 or beyond right now, as the fear of an uptick in capital outflows remains palpable. Although, eventually, I think that is exactly what will happen, it appears that the PBOC is going to allow only a very slow movement in that direction.
Away from China, the other ‘good’ news of the day was from Italy, where Moody’s cut the sovereign debt rating one notch to Baa3, its lowest investment grade, and adjusted the outlook to stable. This downgrade had been widely expected, but fears had been growing that it could actually be a two notch downgrade, into junk status, which would have resulted in forced selling of Italian debt by funds with mandates to only invest in investment grade bonds. The confirmation of a stable outlook has resulted in widespread relief by the market, although Standard & Poors will release their newest report next week, also slated to be a downgrade, but also expected (hoped?) to be a single notch and to remain in investment grade territory. For now, the result has been a huge rally in Italian bonds, with yields falling 14bps to 3.44% and the spread over German bunds declining to 298bps, its first time below 300 in two weeks. The thing is, there has been no indication that the Italians are going to alter their budget to meet EU requirements, and that is what started this latest round of problems.
Elsewhere in Europe Brexit remains the biggest unknown, with a deal still far from concluded. The key issue is still the Ireland situation and the competing demands for no hard Irish/Northern Irish border vs. the willingness to allow Northern Ireland to have a completely different set of trading rules than the rest of the UK. Over the weekend, PM May seemed to signal some willingness to move toward an EU suggested solution, but that is likely to imperil her tenure as PM given the strong resistance by hard-line Brexiteers. The pound is the worst performing G10 currency this morning, down 0.3%, but my sense is that for a substantive move to occur we will need to get a clear signal one way or the other, and that does not look imminent.
Another issue, which is in the background right now, but will start to become more interesting as we head into 2019, is the funding status of Eurozone banks that took advantage of the TLTRO financing during the Eurozone bond crisis. That cheap funding is set to mature beginning next year, and given the ECB’s stated goals of ending QE and eventually returning interest rates back to a more normal level, it means that bank funding costs throughout Europe are set to rise, and rise sharply. This will impact regulatory issues enacted in the wake of the financial crisis, as once those loans have less than 1-year remaining in them, they no longer count as long term capital. The point is that while the Eurozone economy has been recovering, a sharp rise in bank financing costs could easily undermine recent strength and force the ECB to reconsider the trajectory of tighter policy. Easier than expected ECB monetary policy would definitely weaken the single currency. This is not an issue for today, but we need to keep an eye out for potential concerns going forward.
Turning to the data story, this week doesn’t have much, but it does include the first look of Q3 GDP growth in the US, which could be critical for both markets and the upcoming elections. We also see New Home Sales, the last of the housing data, which thus far, has been quite weak.
|Wednesday||New Home Sales||625K|
|Fed’s Beige Book|
|Goods Trade Balance||-$74.9B|
On top of the GDP we have six Fed speakers, but there seems to be a pretty uniform set of expectations that they are on the right path with gradual rate increases the correct policy for now. In other words, don’t look for any new information there.
That sets us up for a week dependent on any changes in several ongoing stories, notably the Brexit negotiations, the Italian budget situation and Chinese market intervention. For now the signs are that the Chinese will continue to support things while Brexit will go nowhere. In the end, Italy has the best chance to rock the boat further, although I doubt that will occur this week. So look for a fairly quiet FX market, with the dollar remaining in its trading range waiting the next catalyst of note.