A Currency Pact

The market is focused on trade
And hoping that progress is made
There’s news China’s backed
A currency pact
If tariff boosts can be delayed

Activity overnight was considerably more volatile than usual as conflicting stories regarding the US-China trade talks hit the tape. Risk was quickly jettisoned after a story from the South China Morning Post indicated that the talks, starting this morning in Washington, would be cut short. Shortly thereafter, the White House denied that report encouraging traders to buy back their stocks and sell bonds. Then Fox Business reiterated the original report less than a half hour later and the sell-off happened all over again. Finally, two positive reports helped equity markets recoup all of their overnight losses and took the shine off bonds. The first of those was that the currency pact that had been agreed between the US and China back in May (when chances of a big deal seemed realistic) was being dusted off and likely would be part of a mini-deal with the US agreeing to delay the imposition of new tariffs next Tuesday. And finally, President Trump has allowed US firms to sell non-critical technology to Huawei again, which was seen as additional thawing of the trade situation.

Of course, all this means is that we are back where we started, the trade talks are due to begin this morning and the Chinese delegation is scheduled to leave tomorrow evening. Arguably, the story that both sides are willing to agree on a currency pact as part of this round, and the indications that there are low level things that can be agreed, bode well for the rest of the week. But make no mistake, the major issues; IP theft, forced technology transfer and state subsidies are nowhere near being solved, and quite frankly, given they are integral to China’s economic model, seem unlikely ever to be solved. But for equity bulls, at least, hope springs eternal.

The FX impact in the end has been for a much softer dollar pretty much across the board. The idea is that if risk is to be embraced again, the higher yields available in Emerging Markets, as well as developed markets on a swapped basis, are the place to be. While the biggest mover overnight has been SEK, that is actually due to a surprising CPI report, with the annual pace of price increases rising to 1.5%, above the 1.3% expectation and a boon for the Riksbank who has been trying to normalize monetary policy by raising rates back to, and above, zero again. This report has given the market reason to believe that at their next meeting, in two weeks, while they won’t hike, they will continue to give guidance that a hike is coming before the end of the year. As such, SEK has rallied a solid 1.4%, although arguably, the trend is still for a weaker krone.

But the rest of the G10 has performed as well, with AUD, NZD and NOK all higher by 0.6% and the euro, despite disappointing data from both Germany and France, higher by 0.5%. Even the pound is higher this morning, up 0.35%, as the market awaits word on the outcome of a lunch meeting between Boris and Irish PM Leo Varadkar as they try to find a compromise. It seems to make the most sense that Varadkar is representing the EU given Ireland will be the nation most negatively impacted by a hard Brexit. My sense is we should start to hear about the outcome of this lunch around the time that US CPI is released, although I would read a delay as quite positive. The longer it takes; it seems the more likely that they are making headway on a compromise which would be very bullish for the pound. But until we actually see the news, the broad dollar trend is all we have.

In the EMG bloc we have also seen broad based strength paced this morning by HUF’s 0.7% rally. While much of this move is simply on the back of the euro’s rise, Hungary did have a quite successful auction of 5yr-15yr bonds which encouraged additional forint buying. Otherwise, the rest of the CE4 have moved directly in line with the euro and gains throughout Asia were only on the order of 0.2%. Of course, those markets closed before all the trade news had been released, so assuming nothing changes on that front (a difficult assumption) APAC currencies are likely to perform well tonight.

Turning to today’s session, we see our most important data of the week with CPI (exp 1.8%, 2.4% ex food & energy) as well as the usual Initial Claims data (220K). Regarding the former, Tuesday’s PPI report was surprisingly soft, with the headline number printing at -0.3% on the month and dragging the annual number down to just 1.4%. While there have been no forecast shifts amongst economists, there is still some lingering concern (hope?) amongst market participants that we could see a soft number here as well. The issue is a soft number would seem to open the door for the Fed to be far more aggressive in their rate cutting. Remember, Chairman Powell has repeated several times lately that the committee is watching the data closely and will do what they need to do in order to maintain the expansion while achieving their twin goals of stable prices and maximum employment. Obviously, with the Unemployment Rate at 3.5%, there is not much concern there. But falling inflation will ring alarm bells.

One last thing, though, regarding employment. The Initial Claims data is often a very good leading indicator of the overall employment situation, starting to rise well before the nonfarm numbers start to decline. Since the financial crisis, Initial Claims have tumbled from a peak of 665K in March 2009 to the low 200’s that we have seen for the past year. But recently, it appears that the number is beginning to creep higher again, with the 210k-215k readings that we had been seeing regularly now edging toward 220K and beyond. And while I know that seems extremely subtle, I merely caution that Initial Claims is a measure of job cuts, so if they are actually growing, that bodes ill for the economy’s future performance.

As to today, unless and until we hear more from the Trade talks or Boris, don’t look for much movement. But certainly the bias is to add risk for the day meaning the dollar should remain under pressure.

Good luck
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