For traders, the month that just ended
Turned out to be really quite splendid
The stock market soared
As risks were ignored
Just like Chairman Powell intended
The problem is data last night
Showed growth’s in a terrible plight
Both Europe and China
Can lead to angina
If policymakers sit tight
Now that all is right with the world regarding the Fed, which has clearly capitulated in its efforts to normalize policy, the question is what will be the driving forces going forward. Will economic data matter again? Possibly, assuming it weakens further, as that could quickly prompt actual policy ease rather than simply remaining on hold. But reading between the lines of Powell’s comments, it appears that stronger than expected data will result in virtually zero impetus to consider reinstating policy tightening. We have seen the top in Fed funds for many years to come. Remember, you read it here first. So, we are now faced with an asymmetric reaction function: strong data = do nothing; weak data = ease.
Let’s, then, recap the most recent data. Last night the Caixin Manufacturing PMI data from China was released at a lower than expected 48.3, its lowest point in three years. That is simply further evidence that the Chinese economy remains under significant pressure and that President Xi is incented to agree to a trade deal with the US. Interestingly, the Chinee yuan fell 0.6% on the news, perhaps the first time in months that the currency responded in what would be considered an appropriate manner to the data. That said, the yuan remains nearly 2% stronger than it began the year. We also saw PMI data from Europe with Germany (49.7) and Italy (47.8) both underperforming expectations, as well as the 50.0 level deemed so crucial, while France (51.2) rebounded and Spain (52.4) continued to perform well. Overall, the Eurozone data slid to 50.5, down a full point and drifting dangerously close to contraction. And yet, Signor Draghi contends that this is all just temporary. He will soon be forced to change his tune, count on it. The euro, however, has held its own despite the data, edging higher by 0.2% so far this morning. Remember, though, with the Fed having changed its tune, for now, I expect the default movement in the dollar to be weakness.
In the UK, the PMI data fell to 52.8, well below expectations, as concerns over the Brexit situation continue to weigh on the economy there. The pound has fallen on the back of the news, down 0.3%, but remains within its recent trading range as there is far more attention being paid to each item of the Brexit saga than on the monthly data. Speaking of which, the latest story is that PM May is courting a number of Labour MP’s to see if they will break from the party direction and support the deal as written. It is quite clear that we have two more months of this process and stories, although I would estimate that the broad expectation is of a short delay in the process beyond March and then an acceptance of the deal. I think the Europeans are starting to realize that despite all their tough talk, they really don’t want a hard Brexit either, so look for some movement on the nature of the backstop before this is all done.
Finally, the trade talks wrapped up in Washington yesterday amid positive signs that progress was made, although no deal is imminent. Apparently, President’s Trump and Xi will be meeting sometime later this month to see if they can get to finality. However, it still seems the most likely outcome is a delay to raising tariffs as both sides continue the talks. The key issues of IP theft, forced technology transfer and ongoing state subsidies have been important pillars of Chinese growth over the past two decades and will not be easily changed. However, as long as there appears to be goodwill on both sides, then there are likely to be few negative market impacts.
Turning to this morning’s data, it is payroll day with the following expectations:
|Average Hourly Earnings||0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)|
|Average Weekly Hours||34.5|
Clearly, the payroll data will dominate, especially after last month’s huge upside surprise (312K). Many analysts are looking for a reversion to the mean with much lower calls around 100K. Also, yesterday’s Initial Claims data was a surprisingly high 253K, well above expectations, although given seasonalities and the potential impacts from the Federal government shutdown, it is hard to make too big a deal over it. But as I highlighted in the beginning, the new bias is for easier monetary policy regardless of the data, so strong data will simply underpin a stock market rally, while weak data will underpin a stock market rally on the basis of easier money coming back. In either case, the dollar will remain under pressure.
Good luck and good weekend