Mostly Mayhem

There once was a female PM
Whose task was the fallout, to stem,
From Brexit, alas
What then came to pass
Was discord and mostly mayhem

And so, because progress has lumbered
Theresa May’s days are now numbered
The market’s concern
Is Boris can’t learn
The problems with which he’s encumbered

In the battle for headline supremacy, at least in the FX market’s eyes, Brexit has once again topped the trade war today. The news from the UK is that PM May has now negotiated her own exit which will be shortly after the fourth vote on her much-despised Brexit bill in Parliament. The current timing is for the first week of June, although given how fluid everything seems to be there, as well as a politician’s preternatural attempts to retain power, it may take a little longer. However, there seems to be virtually no possibility that the legislation passes, and Theresa May’s tumultuous time as PM seems set to end shortly.

Of course, that begs the question, who’s next? And that is the market’s (along with the EU’s) great fear. It appears that erstwhile London Mayor, Boris Johnson, is a prime candidate to win the leadership election, and his views on Brexit remain very clear…get the UK out! In the lead up to the original March 31 deadline, you may recall I had been particularly skeptical of the growing sentiment at the time that a hard Brexit had been taken off the table. In the end, the law of the land is still for the UK to leave the EU, deal or no deal, now by October 31, 2019. It beggars belief that the EU will readily reopen negotiations with the UK, especially a PM Johnson, and so I think it is time to reassess the odds of the outcome. Here is one pundit’s view:

  May 16, 2019 May 17, 2019
Soft Brexit 50% 20%
Vote to Remain 30% 35%
Hard Brexit 20% 45%

Given this change in the landscape, it can be no surprise that the pound continues to fall. This morning sees the beleaguered currency lower by a further 0.3% taking the move this month to 3.2%. And the thing is, given the nature of this move, which has been very steady (lower in 9 of the past 10 sessions with the 10th unchanged), there is every reason to believe that this has further room to run. Very large single day moves tend to be reversed quickly, but this, my friends is what a market repricing future probability looks like. The most recent lows, near 1.25 in December look a likely target at this time.

Of course, the fact that the market seems more focused on Brexit than trade doesn’t mean the trade story has died. In fact, equity markets in Asia suffered, as have European ones, on the back of comments from the Chinese Commerce Ministry that no further talks are currently scheduled, and that the Chinese no longer believe the US is negotiating in good faith. As such, risk is clearly being reduced across the board this morning with not merely equity weakness, but haven strength. Treasury (2.37%) and Bund (-0.11%) yields continue to fall while the yen (+0.2%) rallies alongside the dollar.

In FX markets, the Chinese yuan has fallen again (-0.3%) and is now trading at 6.95, quite close to the supposed critical support (dollar resistance) level of 7.00. There continues to be a strong belief in the market, along with the analyst community, that the PBOC won’t allow the renminbi to weaken past that level. This stems from market activity in 2015, when the Chinese surprised everyone with a ‘mini-devaluation’ of 1.5% one evening in early August of that year. The ensuing rush for the exits by Chinese nationals trying to save their wealth cost the PBOC $1 trillion in FX reserves as they tried to moderate the renminbi’s decline. Finally, when it reached 6.98 in late December 2016, they changed the capital flow regulations and added significant verbal suasion to their message that they would not allow the currency to fall any further.

And for the most part, it worked for the next 15 months. However, clearly the situation has changed given the ongoing trade negotiations, and arguably given the deterioration in the relationship between the US and China. While the Chinese have pledged to avoid currency manipulation, it is not hard to argue that their current activities in maintaining yuan strength are just that, manipulation. Given the capital controls in place, meaning locals won’t be able to rush for the doors, it is entirely realistic to believe the PBOC could say something like, ‘we believe it is appropriate for the market to have a greater role in determining the value of the currency and are widening the band around the fix to accommodate those movements.’ A 5% band would certainly allow a much weaker renminbi while remaining within the broad context of their policy tools. In other words, I am not convinced that 7.00 is a magic line, perhaps more like a Maginot Line. If your hedging policy relies on 7.00 being sacrosanct, it is time to rethink your policy.

Overall, the dollar is firmer pretty much everywhere, with yesterday’s broad strength being modestly extended today. Yesterday’s US data was much better than expected as Housing starts grew 5.6% and Philly Fed printed at a higher than expected 16.6. Later this morning we see the last data of the week, Michigan Sentiment (exp 97.5). We also hear from two more Fed speakers, Clarida and Williams, although we have already heard from both of them earlier this week. Yesterday Governor Brainerd made an interesting series of comments regarding the Fed’s attempts to lift inflation, highlighting for the first time, that perhaps their models aren’t good descriptions of the economy any more. After a decade of inability to manage inflation risk, it’s about time they question something other than the market. While I am very happy to see them reflecting on their process, my fear is they will conclude that permanent easy money is the way of the future, a la Japan. If that is the direction in which the Fed is turning, it will have a grave impact on the FX markets, with the dollar likely to suffer the most as the US is, arguably, the furthest from that point right now. But that is a future concern, not one for today.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Another Bad Day

Consider Prime Minister May
Who’s having another bad day
Her party is seeking
Her ouster ere leaking
Support, and keep Corbyn at bay

The pound is now bearing the brunt
Of pressure as sellers all punt
On Brexit disaster
Occurring much faster
Thus moving back burner to front

While the rest of the world continues to focus on the US-China trade situation, or perhaps more accurately on the volatility of US trade policy, which has certainly increased lately, the UK continues to muddle along on its painfully slow path to a Brexit resolution of some sort. The latest news is that the Tory party is seeking to change their own parliamentary rules so they can bring another vote of no-confidence against PM May as a growing number in the party seek her resignation. Meanwhile, the odds of a deal with the Labour party continue to shrink given May’s unwillingness to accept a permanent membership in a customs union, a key demand for Labour. This is the current backdrop heading into the EU elections next week. The Brexit party, a new concoction of Nigel Farage, is leading the race in the UK according to recent polls, with their platform as, essentially, leave the EU now! And to top it all off, PM May is seeking to bring her much despised Brexit bill back to the floor for its fourth vote in early June. In other words, while it has probably been a month since Brexit was the hot topic, as the cracks begin to show in UK politics, it is coming back to the fore. The upshot is the pound has been under very steady pressure for the past two weeks, having fallen 2.7% during that time (0.2% overnight), and is now at its lowest point since mid-February.

When the delay was agreed by the EU and the UK, pushing the new date to October 31, the market basically assumed that either Labour would come on-board and a deal agreed, or that a second referendum would be held which is widely expected to point to Remain. (Of course, that was widely expected in the first referendum as well!) However, given that politics is such a messy endeavor, there is no clarity on the outcome. I think what we are observing is the market pricing in much higher odds of a hard Brexit, which remains the law of the land given there are no other alternatives at this time. Virtually every pundit believes that some deal will be struck preventing that outcome, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the FX market, at least, is far less certain of that outcome. For the FX market punditry, this has created a situation where not only trade politics are clouding the view, but local UK politics are doing the same.

Speaking of trade politics, while there is continued bluster on both sides of the US-China spat, the lines of communication clearly remain open as Treasury Secretary Mnuchin seems likely to head back to Beijing again soon for further discussions. At the same time, President Trump has delayed the decision on imposing 25% tariffs on imported autos from Europe and Japan while negotiations there continue, thus helping kindle a rebound in yesterday’s equity markets. As to the FX impact on this news, it was ever so mildly euro positive, with the single currency rebounding a total of 0.2% from its lows before the announcement. Of course, part of the euro’s rally could be pinned on the much weaker than expected US Retail Sales and IP data released yesterday, but given the modesty of movement, it really doesn’t matter the driver.

Stepping back a bit, the dollar’s longer-term trend remains higher. Versus the euro, it remains 5% higher than May 2018, while the broader based Dollar Index (DXY) has rallied 3.5% in that period. And the thing is, despite yesterday’s US data, the US situation appears to be far more supportive of growth than the situation virtually everywhere else in the world. Global activity measures continue to point to a slowing trend which is merely being exacerbated by the trade problems.

Turning to market specifics, Aussie is a touch lower this morning after weaker than expected employment data has helped cement the market’s view that the RBA is going to cut rates at least once this year with a decent probability of two cuts before December. While thus far Governor Lowe has been reluctant to lean in that direction, the collapse in housing prices is clearly starting to weigh elsewhere Down Under. I think Aussie has further to decline.

However, away from that news, there has been much less of interest to drive markets, and so, not surprisingly, markets remain extremely quiet. Something that gets a great deal of press lately has been the decline in volatility and how selling vol has turned into a new favorite trade. (As a career options trader, I would caution against selling when levels have reached a nadir like this. It is not that they can’t decline further, clearly they can, but in a reversal, the pain will be excruciating).
As to the data story, aside from the Australian employment situation, there has been nothing of note overnight. This morning brings Initial Claims (exp 220K) and Housing Starts (1.205M) and Building Permits (1.29M) along with Philly Fed (9.0) all at 8:30. I mentioned the weak Retail Sales and IP data above, but we also saw Empire Manufacturing which was shockingly high at 18.5, once again showing that there is no strong trend in the US data. While there are no Fed speakers today, yesterday we heard from Richmond President Barkin and not surprisingly, he said he thought that patience was the right stance for now. There is no doubt they are all singing from the same hymnal.

Arguably, as long as we continue to get mixed data, there is no reason to change the view. With that in mind, it is hard to get excited about the prospects of a large currency move until those views change. So, for the time being, I believe the longer-term trend of dollar strength remains in place, but it will be choppy and slow until further notice.

Good luck
Adf

 

“Talks” Become “War”

At what point do “talks” become “war”?
And how long can traders ignore
The signs that a truce
Are, at best, abstruse?
It seems bulls don’t care any more

So, markets continue to shine
But something’s a bit out of line
If problems have past
Then why the forecast
By bonds of a further decline

I can’t help being struck this morning by the simultaneous rebound in equity markets alongside the strong rally in bond markets. They seem to be telling us conflicting stories or are perhaps simply focusing on different things.

After Monday’s equity market rout set nerves on edge, and not just among the investor set, but also in the White House, it was no surprise to hear a bit more conciliatory language from the President regarding the prospects of completing the trade negotiations successfully. That seemed to be enough to cool the bears’ collective ardor and brought bargain hunters dip buyers back into the market. (Are there any bargains left at these valuations?) This sequence of events led to a solid equity performance in Asia despite the fact that Chinese data released last night was, in a word, awful. Retail Sales there fell to 7.2%, the lowest in 16 years and well below forecasts of 8.6% growth. IP fell to 5.4%, significantly below the 6.5% forecast, let alone last month’s 8.5% outturn. And Fixed Asset Investment fell to 6.1%, another solid miss, with the result being that April’s economic performance in the Middle Kingdom was generally lousy. We have already seen a number of reductions in GDP forecasts for Q2 with new expectations centering on 6.2%.

But the market reaction was not as might have been expected as the Shanghai composite rose a solid 1.9%. It seems that China is moving into the ‘bad news is good’ scenario, where weak data drives expectations of further monetary stimulus thus supporting stock prices. The other interesting story has been the change in tone in the official Chinese media for domestic Chinese consumption, where they have become more stridently nationalist and are actively discussing a trade “war”, rather than trade “talks”. It seems the Chinese are girding for a more prolonged fight on the trade front and are marshaling all the resources they can. Of course, at the end of the day, they remain vulnerable to significant pain if the second set of tariffs proposed by the US is enacted.

One consequence of this process has been a weakening Chinese yuan, which has fallen 2.7% since its close on Friday May 3rd, and is now at its weakest point since mid-December. At 6.9150 it is also less than 2% from the 7.00 level that has been repeatedly touted by analysts as a no-go zone for the PBOC. This is due to concerns that the Chinese people would be far more active in their efforts to protect their capital by moving it offshore. This is also the reason there are such tight capital flow restrictions in China. It doesn’t help the trade talks that the yuan has been falling as that has been a favorite talking point of President Trump, China’s manipulation of their currency.

This process has also renewed pundit talk of the Chinese selling all their Treasury holdings, some $1.1 trillion, as retaliation to US tariffs. The last idea makes no sense whatsoever, as I have mentioned in the past, if only because the question of what they will do with $1.1 trillion in cash has yet to be answered. They will still need to own something and replacing Treasuries with other USD assets doesn’t achieve anything. Selling dollars to buy other currencies will simply weaken the dollar, which is the opposite of the idea they are trying to manipulate their currency to their advantage, so also makes no sense. And finally, given the huge bid for Treasuries, with yields on the 10-year below 2.40%, it seems there is plenty of demand elsewhere.

Speaking of the Treasury bid, it seems bond investors are looking ahead for weaker overall growth, hence the declining yields. But how does that square with equity investors bidding stocks back up on expectations that a trade solution will help boost the economy. This is a conundrum that will only be resolved when there is more clarity on the trade outcome.

(Here’s a conspiracy theory for you: what if President Trump is purposely sabotaging the talks for now, seeking a sharp enough equity market decline to force the Fed to ease policy further. At that point, he can turn around and agree a deal which would result in a monster rally, something for which we can be sure he would take credit. I’m not saying it’s true, just not out of the question!)

At any rate, nothing in the past several sessions has changed the view that the trade situation is going to continue to be one of the key drivers for market activity across all markets for the foreseeable future.

After that prolonged diatribe, let’s look at the other overnight data and developments. German GDP rose 0.4%, as expected, in Q1. This was a significant uptick from the second half of last year but appears to be the beneficiary of some one-off issues, with slower growth still forecast for the rest of the year. Given expectations were built in, the fact that the euro has softened a bit further, down 0.1% and back below 1.12, ought not be too surprising. Meanwhile, the pound is little changed on the day, but has drifted down to 1.2900 quietly over the past two sessions. Despite solid employment data yesterday, it seems that traders remain unconvinced that a viable solution will be found for Brexit. This morning the word is that PM May is going to bring her thrice-defeated Brexit deal to Parliament yet again in June. One can only imagine how well that will go.

Elsewhere in the G10 we have the what looks like a risk-off session. The dollar is modestly stronger against pretty much all of that bloc except for the yen (+0.2%) and the Swiss franc (+0.1%), the classic haven assets. So, bonds (Bund yields are -0.10%, their lowest since 2016) and currencies are shunning risk, while equity traders continue to lap it up. As I said, there is a conundrum.

This morning we finally get some US data led by Retail Sales (exp 0.2%, 0.7% ex autos) as well as Empire Manufacturing (8.5), IP (0.0%) and Capacity Utilization (78.7%) all at 8:30. Business Inventories (0.0%) are released at 10:00 and we also hear from two more Fed speakers, Governor Quarles and Richmond Fed President Barkin. However, it seems unlikely that, given the consistency of message we have heard from every Fed speaker since their last meeting, with Williams and George yesterday reinforcing the idea that there is no urgency for the Fed to change policy in the near term and politics is irrelevant to the decision process, that we will hear anything new from these two.

In the end, it feels like yesterday’s equity rebound was more dead-cat than a start of something new. Risks still abound and slowing economic growth remains the number one issue. As long as US data continues to outperform, the case for dollar weakness remains missing. For now, the path of least resistance is for a mildly firmer buck.

Good luck
Adf

Here To Stay

Fed speakers are starting to say
That lower rates are here to stay
It’s not about trade
Instead they’re dismayed
Inflation just won’t go their way

Since the FOMC meeting two weeks ago, we have heard a steady stream of Fed speakers with one main theme, current interest rate policy is appropriate for the economy right now. While the market continues to price in another rate cut for later this year, and economists and analysts are starting to lean in that direction as well, the Fed remains resolute in their conviction that they don’t need to do anything. When asked about the trade situation, they mouth platitudes about how free trade helps everyone. When asked about political pressures, they insist they are immune to any such thing. These responses cannot be any surprise and are what every FOMC member would have said any time during the past century. However, there is one theme that is starting to coalesce that is different; the idea that interest rates are going to be permanently lower in the future than they have been in the past.

NY Fed President John Williams has highlighted the fact that recent research indicates r* (the theoretical neutral rate of interest) for the five main economies (US, UK, Japan, Eurozone and Canada) has fallen to just 0.5% from something more like 2.5% prior to the financial crisis. The implication is that there is no reason for interest rates to rise much further, if at all, from current levels as that would result in tightening monetary policy with a corresponding slowing of economic activity. If this is correct, it bodes ill for central banks abilities to help moderate future economic downturns. After all, if rates are near zero when an economy slows down, interest rate cuts are unlikely to have a material impact on the situation. Of course, this is what led to unconventional policies like QE and forward guidance, and we can only assume that every central bank is trying to think up new unconventional policies as those lose their efficacy. Do not be surprised if legislation appears that allows the Fed to purchase any assets it deems appropriate (stocks, real estate, etc.) in its efforts to address the next downturn. This is also why MMT has gained favor in so many places (although not the Fed) as it removes virtually all restrictions on spending and fiscal policy and reduces the role of monetary policy.

One other thing that seems incongruous is the precision with which the Fed believes is should be able to manage inflation. Inflation is a broad reading of price pressures over millions of items ranging from houses to pencils. Its measurement remains controversial and imperfect, at best. Pricing decisions continue to be made by the sellers of products, not by government fiat, and so the idea that the Fed can use a blunt tool like the general level of interest rates, to fine-tune price changes is, on the face of it, absurd. Is there really a difference between 1.6% and 2.0% inflation? I understand the implications regarding compounding, and of course the biggest issue is that cost of living adjustments in programs like Social Security and Medicare have enormous fiscal consequences and are entirely dependent on these measurements. But really, precision is a mistake in this case. It would be far more sensible, and achievable, for the Fed to target an inflation range like 1.5%-2.5% and be happy to focus on that rather than aiming for a target and miss it consistently in the seven years since it was defined.

Now back to markets. While Asian equity markets continued the US sell-off, it seems that the course has been run for now elsewhere. European shares are higher by between 0.5% and 1.0% this morning, while US futures are pointing to a 0.75% or so rebound at the open. At this point, all the tariff news seems to be in the market, and there continues to be a strong belief that a deal will get done, most likely in June when President’s Xi and Trump meet on the sidelines of the G20 meetings in Japan. The dollar continues to hold its own, although it has not been able to make any general headway higher lately.

In the currency market, this morning shows that risk is being tentatively reacquired as the yen falls (-0.35%) while EMG currencies edge higher (MXN +0.25%, INR +0.3%). The G10 beyond the yen is little changed, although most of those currencies suffered during yesterday’s equity rout. One thing that appears to be ongoing lately is that central banks have been slowly reducing the dollar portion of their holdings, taking advantage of the dollar’s recent strength to diversify their portfolios. That would certainly be a valid explanation for the dollar’s inability to make any substantive gains lately.

On the data front, overnight saw a disappointing German ZEW Index reading of -2.1 (exp +5.0), which implies that the hoped for rebound in Germany may still be a bit further away than the ECB is counting on. At the same time, UK labor markets continue to show robust strength with another 99K jobs created and average earnings continuing to grow at a solid 3.3% pace. However, neither of these data points had any impact on the FX market. In the US, the NFIB Business Index rose to 103.5, slightly better than forecast and demonstrating a resiliency in the small business psyche in this country. However, we don’t see any further data here today, and so if pressed, I would expect the FX market to be uninspiring. If equity markets manage to maintain their rebound, then I would expect a modicum of dollar weakness as investors rush back into the EMG bloc, but I think it far more likely that there is little movement overall.

Good luck
Adf

 

Caused by the Other

With tariffs now firmly in place
The market’s been keen to embrace
The idea that Xi
And Trump will agree
To terms when they meet face-to-face

But rhetoric lately has shown
That both Trump and Xi will condone
A slowdown in trade
That both men portrayed
As caused by the other, alone

Risk is, once again, in tatters as the fallout from the US increase in tariffs starts to feed through the market. As of midnight last Thursday, US tariffs on $200 billion of goods rose to 25%. This morning, a list of the other $325 billion of goods that may be subject to tariffs will be published with a target date of 30-days before imposition. Meanwhile, China continues to try to figure out how best to respond. Their problem, in this scenario, is they don’t import that much stuff from the US, and so trying to determine what is an ‘equal’ offset is complicated. However, I am confident that within the next day or two, they will publish their response. Markets around the world have felt the fallout, with equity prices everywhere under pressure, EMG currencies, especially, feeling the heat, and Treasury bonds and German bunds remaining in vogue.

As of now, it appears the situation is unlikely to improve in the short-term. The US remains miffed that the Chinese seemingly reneged on previously agreed terms. Meanwhile, the Chinese are adamant that they will not kowtow to the US and be forced to legislate the agreed changes, instead insisting that administrative guidance is all that is needed to insure compliance with any terms. They deem this desire for a legislated outcome as impinging on their sovereignty. Once again, the issue falls back to the idea that while the US consistently accused the Chinese of IP theft and forced technology transfer, the Chinese don’t see it that way, and as such, don’t believe they need to change laws that don’t exist. Whatever the merits of either sides views, the end result is that it seems far less clear that a trade deal between the two is going to be signed anytime soon.

The markets question is just how much of this year’s global equity market rally has been driven by the assumption that trade issues would disappear and how much was based on a response to easier central bank policies. The risk for markets is not only that growth is negatively impacted, but that inflation starts to rise due to the tariffs. This would put the central banks in a tough spot, trying to determine which problem to address first. Famously, in 1979, when Paul Volcker was appointed Fed Chairman, he immediately took on inflation, raising short term interest rates significantly to slay that demon, but taking the US (and global) economy into recession as a result. It strikes me that today’s crop of central bank heads does not have the wherewithal to attack that problem in the same manner as Volcker. Rather, the much easier, and politically expedient, response will be to try to revive the economy while allowing inflation to run hot. This is especially the case since we continue to see serious discussions as to whether inflation is ‘dead’. FWIW, inflation is not dead!

At any rate, for now, the trade story is going to be the key story in every market, and the upshot is that the odds of any central bank turning more hawkish have diminished even further.

Looking at overnight activity, there was virtually no data to absorb with just Norwegian GDP growth printing slightly softer than expected, although not enough to change views that the Norgesbank is going to be raising rates next month. Broadly speaking, the dollar is quite firm, with the biggest loser being the Chinese yuan, down 0.9%, and that movement dragging down AUD (-0.45%) as a G10 proxy. But while other G10 currencies have seen more limited movement, the EMG bloc is really under pressure. For instance, MXN has fallen 0.6%, INR 0.75%, RUB, 0.5% and KRW 1.2%. All of this is trade related and is likely just the beginning of the fallout. Once China publishes its list of retaliatory efforts, I would expect further weakness in this space.

Equity markets are suffering everywhere, with Shanghai (-1.2%) and the Nikkei (-0.7%) starting the process, the DAX (-0.8%) and CAC (-0.6%) following in their footsteps and US futures pointing lower as well (both Dow and S&P futures -1.3%). Treasury yields have fallen to 2.43% and are now flat with 3-month Treasury bill rates, reigniting concerns over future US growth, and commodity prices are feeling the strain as well on overall growth concerns.

Turning to the data this week, there is a modicum of news, with Retail Sales likely to be seen as the most important:

Tuesday NFIB Business Optimism 102.3
Wednesday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.7%
  Capacity Utilization 78.7%
  IP 0.1%
  Empire State Mfg 8.5
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Housing Starts 1.205M
  Building Permits 1.29M
  Philly Fed 9.0
Friday Michigan Sentiment 97.5

We also see the housing story and hear from another five Fed speakers across seven speeches this week. However, as we learned last week, pretty much the entire Fed is comfortable with their patient stance in the belief that growth is solid and inflation will eventually head to their target of 2.0%.

Add it all up and there is no reason to believe that the trends from last week will change, namely further pressure on equity markets and commodities, with the dollar and Treasuries the beneficiaries.

Good luck
Adf

Things Changed

The reason the stock market fell-a
Is Goldi (locks) turned to Cinderella
At Midnight things changed
as tariffs arranged
By Trump, forced stock owners to sell-a

Please forgive my poetic license, but it is, after all, just a poem!

Waiting to See

At midnight the US imposed
The tariffs that Trump had disclosed
We’re waiting to see
How President Xi
Responds, or if China’s now hosed

It’s all about the tariffs this morning as the US increased the tariff rate on $200 billion of Chinese imports to 25% as of midnight last night. China has promised to retaliate but has not yet announced what they will do. One of the problems they have is they don’t import that much stuff from the US, so they cannot match it exactly. There was an unintentionally humorous article in Bloomberg this morning that tried to outline the ‘powerful’ tools China has to respond; namely selling US Treasuries, allowing the CNY to weaken further, or stop buying US soybeans. The humor stemmed from the fact that they basically destroyed their own arguments on the first two, leaving just the soybean restriction as potentially viable and even that is problematic.

Consider the Treasury sales first. As the Chinese own ~$1.1 trillion, if they sold a significant chunk, they would almost certainly drive US yields higher as Treasury prices fell. But two problems with this are; they would undermine the value of whatever bonds they retained and more problematically, what else would they do with the dollars? After all, the Treasury market is pretty much the only one that is large enough to handle that type of volume on a low risk basis. I guess they could convert the dollars to euros and buy Italian BTP’s (there are a lot of those outstanding) but their risk profile would get significantly worse. And of course, selling all those dollars would certainly weaken the dollar, which would not help the Chinese economy one bit.

On the flip side, allowing the renminbi to weaken sharply presents an entirely different problem, the fact that the Chinese are terrified that they would lose control of the capital flow situation if it weakened too far. Remember in 2015, when the Chinese created a mini-devaluation of just 1.5%, it triggered a massive outflow as USDCNY approached 7.00. The Chinese people have no interest in holding their assets in a sharply depreciating currency, and so were quick to sell as much as they could. The resultant capital flows cost China $1 trillion in FX reserves to prevent further weakness in the currency. Given we are only 2% below that level in the dollar right now, it seems to me the Chinese will either need to accept massive outflows and a destabilizing weakening in the renminbi, or more likely, look for another response.

The final thought was to further restrict soybean imports from the US. While the Chinese can certainly stop that trade instantly, the problems here are twofold. First, they need to find replacement supplies, as they need the soybeans regardless of where they are sourced, and second, given the Swine virus that has decimated the pig herds in China, they need to find more sources of protein for their people, not fewer. So, no pork and less soybeans is not a winning combination for Xi. The point is, while US consumers will likely feel the pressure from increased tariff rates via higher prices, the Chinese don’t have many easy responses.

And let’s talk about US prices for a moment. Shouldn’t the Fed be ecstatic to see something driving prices higher? After all, they have been castigating themselves for ‘too low’ inflation for the past seven years. They should be cheering on the President at this stage! But seriously, yesterday’s PPI data was released softer than expected (2.2%, 2.4% core) and as much as both Fed speakers and analysts try to convince us that recently declining measured inflation is transitory, the market continues to price rate cuts into the futures curve. This morning brings the CPI data (exp 2.1%, 2.1% core) but based on data we have seen consistently from around the world, aside from the oil price rally, there is scant evidence that inflation is rising. The only true exceptions are Norway, where the oil driven economy is benefitting greatly from higher oil prices, and the disasters of Argentina and Turkey, both of which have tipped into classic demand-pull inflation, where too much money is chasing too few goods.

Turning to market performance, last night saw the Shanghai Composite rally 3.1% after the imposition of tariffs, which is an odd response until you understand that the government aggressively bought stocks to prevent a further decline. The rest of Asia was mixed with the Nikkei lower by a bit and the KOSPI higher by a bit. European shares are modestly higher this morning, on average about 0.5%, in what appears to be a ‘bad news is good’ scenario. After all, French IP fell more than expected (-0.9%) and Italian IP fell more than expected (-1.4%). Yes, German Trade data was solid, but there is still scant evidence that the Eurozone is pulling out of its recent malaise so weaker data encourages traders to believe further policy ease is coming.

In the FX market, there has been relatively little movement in any currency. The euro continues to trade either side of 1.12, the pound either side of 1.30 and the yen either side of 110.00. It is very difficult to get excited about the FX market given there is every indication that the big central banks are well ensconced in their current policy mix with no changes on the horizon. That means that both the Fed and the ECB are on hold (although we will be finding out about those TLTRO’s soon) while both the BOJ and PBOC continue to ease policy. In the end, it turns out the increased tariffs were not that much of a shock to the system, although if the US imposes tariffs on the rest of Chinese imports, I expect that would be a different story.

This morning we hear from Brainerd, Bostic and Williams, although at this point, patience in policy remains the story. The inflation data mentioned above is the only data we get (although Canadian employment data is released for those of you with exposures there), and while US equity futures are tilted slightly lower at this time, it feels like the market is going to remain in the doldrums through the weekend. That is, of course, unless there is a shocking outturn from the CPI data. Or a trade deal, but that seems pretty remote right now.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf