While cities worldwide keep on burning
The news for which markets are yearning
Revolves around trade
Is phase one delayed?
If so, that would be most concerning
This morning it seems that everything is right with the world, at least based on market behavior. After all, equity markets are rallying, Treasury yields are rising and haven currencies are falling, the perfect description of a risk-on day. And what has everyone so optimistic this morning? Why, for the umpteenth time, the White House has indicated that the US and China are close to signing that elusive phase one trade deal. By all accounts, this deal is basically a swap of Chinese promises to purchase more agricultural products from the US, allegedly upwards of $50 billion worth, while the US will roll back the tariffs most recently put in place and will not impose new ones come December 15th. And don’t get me wrong, that would be great if it helped relieve some uncertainty in both markets and business planning. But I would conservatively estimate that this is the tenth time that optimism on a trade deal has led to increased risk appetite in the past three months, and we still don’t have a deal in place. My point is we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends…no deal and the opportunity to see it yet again in another few weeks’ time. I challenge anyone to show me evidence that this time is different!
And yet, it continues to be effective insofar as these constant announcements have helped maintain optimism in the market. The biggest risk is that the next story describes a complete breakdown in the trade talks and the chance of a deal, even a phase one deal, being completed disappears. Risk assets would not take that lightly. But another risk is that the deal is signed, and it is as modest as it appears to be. While that would be good news initially, it would remove one of the key market supports, the prospect of that deal. I fear we would see a classic sell the news outcome in that event as well. Something to keep in mind.
Meanwhile, the world is literally burning; at least a great number of large cities are besieged by mass protests with fire a constant result. Perhaps the best known situation is in Hong Kong, where things have gone from bad to worse, the protesters’ demands are being studiously ignored and the threat of China intervening directly grows by the day. Hong Kong’s economy has been severely impacted, falling into a recession in Q3, and the official forecast for GDP growth next year is now -1.3% by the Hong Kong government.
But Hong Kong is hardly alone. Santiago, Chile has been the sight of major demonstrations, with estimates of more than one million people turning out recently. That is more than 5% of the population! In the past week, in the wake of the news that the government wanted to scrap the current constitution and write a new one, the currency collapsed 12% and the local equity market fell 6%, taking its losses since mid-October to 15%. But this morning things are looking up there as Congress has come to an agreement on how to go about this process, with the evidence leaning toward a constitutional convention that will include many voices. When the FX market opened this morning, the CLP rebounded 2.5%. Of all the protests ongoing around the world, this may be the first where a solution is being created.
These two are just the most well-known situations, but the gilets jaunes continue to protest in France more than a full year after they started. And a quick survey shows ongoing protests, a number of which are quite large and disruptive, in Peru, Indonesia, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Haiti and Israel. The point is there are a lot of very unhappy people in the world, and much of their collective angst seems to be driven by a sense of inherent unfairness in the way those (and most) countries’ are run. This is a background issue generally, but as can be seen on a daily basis in the US and the UK, these issues can have much broader impacts on economies as a whole. After all, one could argue that both the Brexit vote and the election of President Trump were protest votes as well. And certainly, the US-China trade war is a consequence of those outcomes. My point is that while most of these things may not have a daily impact, they are important to recognize as part of the fabric of the market background.
Turning to today’s markets, though, as I mentioned, rose-colored glasses are the order of the day. Equity markets are generally higher gains in Asia (Nikkei +0.7%, Australia +0.85% and South Korea +1.05%) although Shanghai actually fell 0.65% after the PBOC did not cut rates as many had hoped/expected in the wake of yesterday’s very weak data outturn. European indices are also generally doing well this morning (DAX +0.2%, CAC +0.4%) although the FTSE 100 in the UK is having a rough go, down 0.4%, because of a sharp decline in British Telecom which has fallen 2% after Jeremy Corbyn promised to nationalize the company and give everyone in the UK free broadband access. It is remarkable what politicians will say in an effort to get elected!
Bond markets have fared less well as risk has been acquired since havens are no longer needed. So Treasury yields have bounced 3bps with Bunds following suit. And in the FX market, haven currencies are also under pressure. Overall, the dollar is softer, as is the yen, which has fallen 0.3% and the Swiss franc, which has fallen 0.25%. On the positive side in G10 is NOK, which has rallied 0.65% after a stronger than expected Trade Balance helped burnish optimism that GDP growth would maintain its recent solid performance and the Norgesbank would not need to join most other central banks and ease policy. In the emerging markets, aside from CLP mentioned above, we have seen broad-based, but modest strength across most of the rest of the space, with no real stories to note.
Yesterday we heard from a whole bunch of Fed speakers and to a wo(man) they explained that the economy was in good shape (the star performer according to Powell) and that there was no need to adjust policy at this time. Data yesterday showed that Initial Claims jumped more than expected, to 225K, which is not concerning if it is a one-time situation, but needs to be carefully monitored as a precursor to a deterioration in the labor market.
This morning we see Empire Manufacturing (exp 6.0), Retail Sales (0.2%, ex autos 0.4%), IP (-0.4%) and Capacity Utilization (77.0%). All eyes will be on the Retail Sales data as last month’s surprising decline has some on edge that the US economy is starting to show some cracks. But assuming an in-line outcome, I expect the dollar to soften modestly through the rest of the day as risk is accumulated further.
Good luck and good weekend