In ‘Nineteen the story was trade
As Presidents Trump and Xi played
A dangerous game
While seeking to blame
The other for why growth decayed
But ‘Twenty has seen both adjust
Their attitudes and learn to trust
That working together,
Like birds of a feather,
Results in an outcome, robust
In a very quiet market, the bulk of the discussion overnight has been about the upcoming signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House tomorrow, where the US and China will agree the phase one piece of a trade deal. Despite the fact that this has been widely expected for a while, it seems to be having a further positive impact on risk assets. Today’s wrinkle in the saga has been the US’ removal of China from the Treasury list of currency manipulators. Back in August, in a bit of a surprise, the US added China to that list formally, rather than merely indicating the Chinese were on notice, as President Trump sought to apply maximum pressure during the trade negotiations. Now that the deal is set to be signed, apparently the Chinese have made “enforceable commitments” not to devalue the yuan going forward, which satisfied the President and led to the change in status. The upshot is that the ongoing positive risk framework remains in place thus supporting equity markets while undermining haven assets. In other words, just another day where the politicians seek to anesthetize market behavior, and have been successful doing so.
Chinese trade data released last night was quite interesting on two fronts; first that the Chinese trade surplus with the US shrank 11%, exactly what the President was seeking, and second, that the Chinese found many substitute markets in which to sell their wares as their overall trade surplus rose to $425 billion from 2018’s $351 billion. And another positive for the global growth watch was that both exports (+7.6%) and imports (+17.7%) grew nicely, implying that economic growth in the Middle Kingdom seems to be stabilizing. As to the yuan, it has been on a tear lately, rising 1.4% this year and nearly 4.5% since early September right after the US labeled China a currency manipulator. So, here too, President Trump seems to have gotten his way with the Chinese currency having regained almost all its losses since the November 2016 election. Quite frankly, it seems likely that the yuan has further to climb as prospects for Chinese growth brightened modestly and investors continue to hunt for yield and growth opportunities.
But away from the trade story there is precious little else to discuss. The pound remains under pressure (and under 1.30) as the idea of a BOE rate cut at the end of the month gains credence. Currently the market is pricing in a 47% probability of a rate cut, which is up from 23% on Friday. After yesterday’s weak GDP data, all eyes are focused on tomorrow’s UK CPI data as well as Friday’s Retail Sales where any weakness in either one is likely to see the market push those probabilities up even further.
As haven assets are shed, the Japanese yen has finally breached the 110 level for the first time since May and quite frankly there doesn’t appear to be any reason for the yen to stop declining, albeit slowly. Barring some type of major risk-off event, which is always possible, the near term portents are for further weakness. However, as the year progresses, ongoing Fed QE should serve to reverse this movement.
Even the Emerging markets have been dull overnight, with no currency moving more than 0.3%, which in some cases is nearly the bid-ask spread. For now, most market participants have become quite comfortable that no disasters are looming and that, with the US-China trade deal about to be completed, there is less likelihood of any near-term angst on that front. While a phase two deal has been mooted, given the issues that the US has indicated are important (forced technology transfer, state subsidies), and the fact that they are essentially non-starters in China, it seems highly improbable that there will be any progress on that issue this year.
On the data front, this morning brings the first US data of the week, where NFIB Small Business Optimism actually disappointed at 102.7 and the market is now awaiting December CPI data (exp 2.4%, 2.3% ex food & energy) at 8:30. The headline forecast represents a pretty big uptick from November, but that is directly related to oil’s price rally last month. The core, however, remains unchanged and well above the 2.0% Fed target. Of course that target is based on PCE, something that is designed to print lower, and there has been abundant evidence that the Fed’s idea of the target is to miss it convincingly on the high side. In other words, don’t look for the Fed to even consider a tighter policy stance unless CPI has a 3 handle.
And that’s really it for the session. Equity futures are pointing slightly higher as European equity indices are edging in that direction as well. Treasury yields are hovering just above 1.80%, little changed on the day and showing no directional bias for the past several weeks. If anything, the dollar is slightly higher this morning, but I would be surprised if this move extends much further at all.