A Victimless Crime

Investors are biding their time
Til GDP data sublime
But what if it’s weak?
Will havoc it wreak?
Or is that a victimless crime?

In general, nothing has really happened in markets overnight. Perhaps the only exception is the continued weakness in the Shanghai Composite, which fell another 1.2%, taking the week’s decline beyond 5%. But otherwise, most equity markets are little changed, currencies have done little, and bond yields are within 1 bp of yesterday’s closes as well. The blame for this inactivity is being laid at the feet of this morning’s US GDP data, where we get our first look at Q1. What is truly interesting about this morning’s number is the remarkably wide range of expectations according to economist surveys. They range from 1.0% to 3.2% and depending on your source, I have seen median expectations of 2.0% (Tradingeconomics.com), 2.2% (Bloomberg) and 2.5% (WSJ). The problem with such a wide range is it will be increasingly difficult to determine what is perceived as strong or weak when it prints. However, my view is that we are in the middle of a market narrative which dictates that a strong print (>2.5%) will see equity and dollar strength on the back of confidence in the US economy continuing its world leading growth, while a weak number (<2.0%) will lead to equity strength but dollar weakness as traders will assume that given the Fed’s recent dovish turn, expectations for rate cuts will grow and stocks will benefit accordingly while the dollar suffers. We’ll know more pretty soon.

Returning to the China story, there are actually two separate threads of discussion regarding the Chinese markets and economy. The first, which has been undermining equities there this week, is that the PBOC is backing off on its recent easing trajectory, slowing the injection of short-term funds into the market. The massive equity market rally that we have seen there so far this year has been fueled by significant margin buying, however, if easy money is ending then so will the rally. While I am certain the PBOC will do all it can to prevent a major correction in stock prices, the tone of discussion there is that the PBOC is no longer supporting a further rise.

The second part of the story was a speech last night by President Xi regarding the Belt and Road Initiative. In it, he basically acceded to the US demands for honoring IP, ending forced technology transfer and maintaining a stable currency. Adding to that was the PBOC’s fix at a stronger than expected rate of 6.7307, reinforcing the idea that they would not seek advantage by weakening their currency. Given that the renminbi has been weakening steadily for the past seven sessions and reached its weakest point in more than two months, the PBOC’s actions have served to reinforce their desire to maintain control of the currency.

But arguably, the more important part of the speech was that it cleared the way, at the highest levels, for the Chinese to agree to numerous US demands on trade, and thus successfully conclude the trade talks. Those talks get going again next week when Mnuchin and Lighthizer travel back to Beijing. Look for very positive vibes when they meet the press.

Given that one of the key constraints in the global economy lately has been trade concerns, led by the US-China spat, a resolution will be seen as a harbinger to deals elsewhere and the removal of at least one black cloud. Will central banks then return to their tightening efforts? I sincerely doubt that we will see anything of the sort in the near term. At this point, I expect the reaction function for the central banking community is something along the lines of, ‘we will raise rates after we see inflation print at high levels for several consecutive months, not in anticipation that higher inflation is coming because of growth in another variable.’

So despite my earlier concerns that the market had already priced in a successful conclusion of the trade deal, and that when it was signed, equity markets would retreat, it now seems more likely that we have further to run on the upside. Central banks are nowhere near done blowing all their bubbles.

And those are the big stories for the day. As well as the GDP data at 8:30 we get Michigan Sentiment at 10:00 (exp 97.0), although that seems unlikely to have any impact after GDP. The dollar has had a hell of a week, rallying steadily as we continue to see weak data elsewhere (Japanese IP -4.6% last night!), and some emerging markets, notably ARS and TRY have come under significant new pressure. It wouldn’t surprise if there was some profit taking after the data, whether strong or weak, so I kind of expect the dollar to fade a little as we head into the weekend.

Good luck and good weekend