Said Trump, 10%’s not enough
It’s time that we really get tough
So starting next week
A quarter we’ll seek
Believe me, this ain’t just a bluff
If there was any question as to whether or not markets had fully priced in a successful conclusion of the US-China trade talks, last night’s price action should have answered it in full. President Trump is clearly feeling his oats, as his approval rating rises alongside the stock market and the economy, and so he changed the landscape once again. With Chinese Vice-premier Liu He, the chief negotiator in the trade talks, scheduled to arrive in the US later this week to continue, and in the market’s view conclude, those discussions, the President, last night, threatened to increase tariffs on $200 billion of goods to 25% from the current 10%, and to impose 25% tariffs on another $325 billion of goods, which is essentially everything else the US imports from China. In a heartbeat, views changed from rainbows and unicorns to Armageddon. Equity markets around the world plunged, commodity prices tumbled and the dollar and yen both rallied. Interestingly, Treasury prices have not moved much yet, although with the UK and Japan on holiday, overseas Treasury markets are extremely thin, so it could be there just hasn’t been any trading. Of course, it also could be that Treasury prices had already incorporated a less rosy future than equity markets, and so have less need to adjust.
One of the most common themes espoused lately has been the remarkable decline in asset price volatility this year, with measures in equities, bonds and currencies all pushing to cyclical lows. While there is a contingent of analysts (present company included) who believes that this is the calm before the storm, it is also true that market activity has been unidirectional since January, with that direction higher.
With respect to volatility, nothing has yet changed regarding the view that volatility increases when prices fall in both equity and bond markets although the relationship between volatility and the dollar is far less structured. In fact, there has been a significant increase in the amount of short volatility bets being made in the market, similar to the situation we saw at the beginning of 2018. Of course, I’m sure we all remember the disintegration of the XIV ETF (really it was an ETN), when a spike in volatility reduced its value by more than 85% in two days. Well, currently, records show that there is an even larger short volatility position now than there was last February when things went pear-shaped. The point is it is worthwhile to be careful in the current environment.
As to the dollar, historically volatility has increased in both rising and declining dollar environments depending on the circumstances. Given the dollar’s overall strength lately has been accompanies by a decline in volatility, it seems a fair bet to assume that if the dollar were to reverse lower, it would do so in a volatile manner rather than as a steady adjustment. Remember, too, currencies tend to overshoot when large moves occur. However, at this point, I would expect that fear in other markets will continue to support the dollar, and hence keep volatility at bay.
A recap of price movement overnight shows that the Shanghai Composite fell 5.5% and the Hang Seng fell 2.9% (the Nikkei was closed). Europe is currently trading with both the DAX and CAC falling 2.0% (FTSE is also closed) and US futures are pointing to nearly 2.0% losses on the open as well.
Meanwhile, the dollar is broadly higher. It has rallied 0.5% vs. the pound, offsetting a large part of Friday’s GBP rally that was based on the rumor PM May and Labour leader Corbyn were soon going to announce agreement on a Brexit deal. While nothing has come of it yet, that does explain the pound’s sharp Friday movement. AUD and NZD are both lower by 0.5% as the market looks to this evening’s RBA meeting with a 50% probability of a rate cut priced and the belief that the RBNZ will need to match that tomorrow if it occurs. Aussie is back below 0.70, and my sense is it has further to fall, especially if the trade situation deteriorates. Elsewhere in the G10, the euro is little changed after slightly better than expected PMI data seems to have been enough to offset trade concerns. And finally, the yen, as would be expected of a haven asset, is higher by 0.25%.
Versus emerging market currencies, the dollar has had an even stronger performance. It should be no surprise that CNY has fallen sharply (-0.75%) especially since the PBOC cut the RRR for small and medium sized banks by another 1.0% in an effort to stabilize markets. Elsewhere in Asia both INR and KRW fell 0.65% with other currencies having a slightly less negative result. EEMEA has seen ZAR fall 1.0% and TRY -1.20% although the latter has more to do with the possibility that the recent election in Istanbul, where President Erdogan’s party lost, would be overturned and a new one held thus undermining the concept of democracy in Turkey even further. Finally, LATAM markets are waking up under modest pressure, but have not yet fallen sharply.
Turning to this week’s data, there is not much overall, but we do see CPI data Friday.
|Tuesday||JOLTs Job Openings||7.24M|
|PPI||0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)|
|-ex food & energy||0.2% (2.5% Y/Y)|
|Friday||CPI||0.4% (2.1% Y/Y)|
|-ex food & energy||0.2% (2.1% Y/Y)|
We also will hear a lot of Fed speaking, with eleven speeches from eight different FOMC members including Chairman Powell on Thursday. This week’s talks could well be market moving as last week’s press conference was not as smooth as it might have been. Look for lots of nuance as to what the Fed is looking at and why they think it is appropriate to be patient. As of now, it doesn’t seem that there is any leaning toward an “insurance” rate cut in the near term, but, especially if Friday’s CPI data is softer than expected, that theme could well change. As such, for now, I don’t see a good policy reason for the dollar to retreat, and if the trade situation deteriorates, it should help the buck, but given the mercurial dynamics of the President’s negotiating tactics, I wouldn’t rule out a complete reversal of things before long.