Uncertainty Reigns

Concerns over trade still remain,
For bullish investors, a bane
They want to believe
That Trump will achieve
His goals, so investments can gain

But right now uncertainty reigns
Resulting in stock market pains
When risk is reduced
Then bonds get a boost
While euros and pounds feel the strains

The one thing we know for sure is that the trade situation continues to be a major topic on investor minds, whether those investors are of the equity or fixed income persuasion. Despite the ostensible good news that Chinese vice-premier Liu He would still be coming to Washington later this week to continue the trade talks with Mnuchin and Lighthizer, it seems the market has become a bit less convinced that a deal is coming soon. As I have written several times over the past few weeks, it seems clear the market had fully priced in a successful completion of the trade talks and an (eventual) end to tariffs. But the President’s tweets on Sunday has caused a serious reconsideration of that pricing. Arguably, the 2% decline we have seen in US equity indices over the past two sessions is not nearly enough to offset the full risk, but it is a start. Ironically, I think the constant reiteration by financial heavyweights like Christine Lagarde and Mario Draghi, of how important it is to avoid a trade war, has set up a situation where in the event no deal is reached, the market reaction will be worse than if they had never piped up in the first place.

At any rate, the increased tensions have certainly reduced risk appetites across the board. Not only have equity markets suffered (Nikkei -1.5%, Shanghai -1.1% after yesterday’s US declines) but Treasury yields continue to fall. This morning 10-year Treasury yields have fallen to 2.43%, their lowest since late March and essentially flat to the 3-month T-Bill. Expect to hear more discussion about an inverted yield curve and the omens of a recession in the near future.

Away from the trade situation, it seems most other market stories are treading water. For example, the Brexit situation has been back page news for the past two weeks. PM May continues to negotiate with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, but there is no consistency to the reports of progress. Labour wants to join the customs union which is something the pro-Brexiteers are fiercely against. Depending on the source of the article you read, a deal is either imminent or increasingly unlikely, which tells me that nobody really knows anything. The pound, which had seen some strength last week, especially on Friday when rumors of a deal were rife, has fallen a further 0.45% this morning and is back near the 1.30 level. It seems increasingly likely to me there will be no solution before the EU elections, and that there will be no solution before the October 31 deadline. Parliament remains riven and leadership there has been completely absent. I expect this to be exhibit A in the long tradition of muddling through by European nations.

Elsewhere in the FX markets, the RBNZ did cut rates last night by 25bps, unlike their Australian brethren who stayed on hold. Kiwi is softer by 0.25% this morning on the back of the news and has helped drag the Aussie with it. Of course, part of the malaise in these currencies is the ongoing uncertainty over the trade talks, as well as the suspect Chinese data.

Speaking of that data, last night China released much worse than expected trade results with exports falling 2.7% and imports rising just 4.0% resulting in a trade surplus of ‘just’ $13.8B, well below expectations. It seems that the tariffs are starting to have a real impact now that inventories need to be replenished. Aside from the impact on the Shanghai exchange noted above, the renminbi also drifted modestly lower, -0.1%, and continues to push toward levels last seen in January. One thing of which I am confident is that if the trade talks fall apart completely, CNY will weaken sharply and test the 7.00 level in short order. Part of the recent stability in the currency has been due to a general malaise in the FX market as evidenced by the extremely low volatility across the board. But part of it, no doubt, is the result of the PBOC managing the currency and absorbing any significant selling in order to demonstrate they are not manipulating the currency lower to enhance their trade. But that will surely end if the talks end unsuccessfully.

Away from those stories it is much more about a modest risk-off scenario today with both JPY and CHF stronger by 0.2%, while EMG currencies are suffering (MXN -0.4%, TRY -0.5%). However, the overall market tone is, not unlike the Fed, one of patience for the next catalyst to arrive. Given the dearth of important data until Friday’s CPI, that should be no real surprise.

In fact, this morning there are no data releases in the US although we do hear from Fed Governor Lael Brainerd at 8:30. Yesterday’s comments from Governor Clarida were generally unenlightening, toeing the line that waiting was the best idea for now and that there were no preconceived notions as to the next rate move. As such, I expect Brainerd to be on the same page, and the FX market to continue to tread water at least until Friday’s CPI.

Good luck
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