Phase one of the trade deal’s been signed
And though many pundits maligned
The outcome, it’s clear
That in the, term, near
Its impact on trading’s been kind
Amid a great deal of hoopla yesterday morning, President Trump signed the long-awaited phase one trade deal with China. The upshot is that the US has promised to roll back the tariffs imposed last September by 50%, as well as delay the mooted December tariffs indefinitely while the Chinese have promised to purchase upwards of $95 billion in US agricultural products over the next two years as well as agreeing to crack down on IP theft. In addition, the Chinese have committed to preventing excess weakness in the renminbi, and in fact CNY has been strengthening steadily for the past month as the negotiations came to an end. For example, this morning CNY is firmer by 0.15% and since mid-December it has rallied nearly 2.0%. Clearly there are larger trade issues outstanding between the two nations, notably forced technology transfer as well as numerous non-tariff barriers, but something is better than nothing.
Taking a step back, though, the bilateral nature of the deal is what has many pundits and economists unhappy. Certainly the economic theories I was taught, and that have been prevalent since David Ricardo first developed the theory of comparative advantage in 1817, indicate that multilateral trade is a better outcome for all concerned. Alas, the current political backdrop, where populism has exploded in response to the unequal outcomes from the globalization phenomenon of the past sixty years, has tarred multilateralism with a very bad reputation. And while it is far outside the purview of this commentary to dissect the issues, it is important to understand they exist and how they may impact markets. Given that the relative value of a nation’s currency is an important driver of trade outcomes, we cannot ignore it completely. Ultimately, as things currently stand, the market has seen this deal as a positive outcome, and risk appetite remains strong. As such, haven assets like the yen, dollar and Swiss franc are likely to remain on the back foot for the time being.
Beside the trade story, there has been scant new information on which to base trading decisions. Important data remains limited with the only notable print being German CPI at 1.5%, exactly as expected, although EU Car registrations bucked the trend and rose sharply, 21.7%, perhaps indicating we have seen a bottom on the Continent. But in reality, the market is now looking for the next big thing, and quite frankly, nobody really knows what that is. After all, the Fed has promised it is on hold, as are the ECB and BOJ, at least for the time being. Perhaps it is the BOE’s meeting in two weeks’ time, where the market continues to price in a growing probability of a rate cut. Of course, if the market is pricing it in, it is not likely to be that big a surprise, is it?
So in an uninspiring market, let’s look at what is coming up in today’s session. On the data front we see Initial Claims (exp 218K) and then Retail Sales (0.3%, 0.5% ex autos) as well as Philly Fed (3.8). Arguably, of just as much importance for the global economic outlook is tonight’s Chinese data where we will see; GDP (6.0%), Fixed Asset Investment (5.2%), Retail Sales (7.9%) and IP (5.9%). Remember, 6.0% growth has been President Xi’s target, and given the recent trajectory lower, any weaker than expected data is likely to be a risk-off sign, although it is likely to see a PBOC response in short order as well. Meanwhile, the US consumer continues to play its supporting role in the global economy, so any downside in this morning’s data is also likely to be a stock market negative.
On the speaker front, there are no Fed speakers today, although Philly’s Patrick Harker will regale us tomorrow. Later this afternoon ECB President Lagarde will be on the tape, and given she is still learning how much impact her words have on markets, there is always a chance of some unintentional excitement. Finally, yesterday, for the first time, we heard a Fed speaker explain that even though not-QE is not QE, the market may still consider it to be QE and the resulting rise in the price of risk assets may well be excessive. Dallas Fed President Kaplan is the first Fed member to publically admit that they may need to address this issue going forward. Certainly, the fact that the short-term repo program continues to be extended, and is now expected to run through April, rather than the original February completion, is an indication that the Fed still does not have control over the money markets. It is this last point which holds the potential to drive more significant market moves in the event of a communication or policy error. Just not today.
The dollar is mildly softer overall this morning, while we are seeing a very modest bias higher in equity markets around the world. Treasury yields are unchanged, just below 1.78%, and the previous narratives regarding recession probabilities and curve inversions as well as ongoing QE activities have just faded into the background. It all adds up to what is likely to be another quiet day in the FX markets, with no compelling story to drive movement.