Not Making Hay

In China, despite what they say
The ‘conomy’s not making hay
Their exports are lagging
With industry gagging
On stuff manufactured each day

The upshot’s the PBOC
Released billions of renminbi
Reserve rates are shrinking
And everyone’s thinking
They’ll shrink further ere ought twenty

Long before trading started last evening, Chinese trade data set the tone for the markets as exports there shrank by 1.0% in USD terms, a clear indication that the trade war is starting to bite. Imports fell further (5.6%), but overall, the trade surplus was significantly smaller than expected. In the current market environment, it cannot be a surprise that the response was for a rally in Asian equity markets as the weak data presages further policy ease by the Chinese. In fact, there are numerous articles discussing just what options they have. Friday afternoon they cut the reserve ratio by a full percentage point, and analysts all over are expecting at least one more cut before the end of the year. As to direct interest rate cuts, that is far less clear given the still problematic bubble tendencies in the Chinese real estate market. The PBOC is quite concerned over allowing that bubble to blow up further, so any reductions in the benchmark rate are likely to be modest…at least until the renminbi starts to strengthen again.

Speaking of the currency, while it has remained quite stable overall, -0.2% this morning, +0.65% in the past week, it remains one of the easiest tools for the PBOC to utilize. The government there has also sought to stimulate via fiscal policy, with significant tax cuts proposed and some implemented, but thus far, those have not been effective in supporting economic growth. While I am confident that when the next GDP number prints in mid-October it will be above 6.0%, there are an increasing number of independent reports showing that growth there is much slower than that, with some estimates more in line with the US at 3.0%. At any rate, equity markets continue to believe that a trade deal will happen sooner rather than later, and as long as talks continue, look for a more positive risk attitude across markets.

The other big news this morning is from the UK, where British PM Boris Johnson met with his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, to discuss how to overcome the Irish backstop conundrum. It is interesting to see the two attitudes; Boris quite positive, Leo just the opposite, but in the end, nothing was agreed. In this instance, Ireland is at far more risk than the UK as its much smaller economy is far more dependent on free access to the UK than vice versa. But thus far, Varadkar is holding his ground. Another Tory cabinet member, Amber Rudd, quit Saturday night, but Boris is unmoved. There was an interesting article over the weekend describing a possible way for Boris to get his election; he can call for a no-confidence vote in his government, arguably losing, and paving the way for the election before the Brexit deadline. Certainly it seems this would put parliament in an untenable position, support him to prevent the election, but that would imply they support his program, or defeat him and have the election he wants.

Of course, while all this is ongoing, the currency market is looking at the pound and trying to decide the ultimate outcome. For the past two weeks, it is clear that a belief is growing there will be no Brexit at all as the pound continues to rally. This morning it is higher by 0.6% and back to its highest level in over a month. Part of that, no doubt, was the UK GDP data, which surprised one and all by showing a 0.3% gain in July, which virtually insures there will be no technical recession yet. But the pound is a solid 3.5% from its lows seen earlier this month. I continue to believe that the EU will blink and a deal will be cobbled together with the pound rebounding much further.

Elsewhere, the dollar is softer in most cases. The continuation of last week’s risk rally has reduced the desire to hold dollars and we continue to see yields edge higher as well. Beyond the pound’s rally, which is the largest in the G10 space, AUD and NZD have pushed back up by about 0.3% on the China stimulus story, but the rest of G10 is quite dull. In the EMG bloc, ZAR is today’s big winner, +0.8%, as hopes for more global stimulus increase the relative attractiveness of high yielding ZAR denominated bonds. But otherwise, here too, things are uninteresting.

Looking to the data this week, it is an Inflation and Retail Sales week with no Fed speak as they are now in their quiet period ahead of next week’s meeting.

Today Consumer Credit $16.0B
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 103.5
  JOLT’s Job Openings 7.311M
Wednesday PPI 0.0% (1.7% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial claims 215K
  CPI 0.1% (1.8% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
Friday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.1%
  Michigan Sentiment 90.5

Aside from this, we hear from both the ECB and BOJ this Thursday with expectations for a rate cut and potentially more QE by Signor Draghi, while there are some thoughts that Kuroda-san will be cutting rates in Japan as well. Ultimately, nothing has changed the broad sweep of central bank policy ease. As long as everybody is easing, the relative impact of monetary policy on the currency market will be diminished. And that means that funds will continue to flow to the best performing economies with the best prospects. Despite everything ongoing, the US remains the choice, and the dollar should remain supported overall.

Good luck
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