Off to the Races

Though headlines describe the new cases
Of Covid, in so many places
The market’s real fear
Is later this year
The trade war is off to the races

Risk is under pressure today as, once again, concerns grow that increased trade tensions will derail the rebound from the Covid inspired global recession. You may recall yesterday’s fireworks in Asia after Peter Navarro seemed to describe the phase one trade deal as over. (Remember, too, President Trump quickly remedied that via Twitter.) This morning has seen a somewhat less dramatic market impact, although it has shown more staying power, after the Trump Administration explained that it was targeting $3.1 billion of European and UK goods for tariffs in a WTO sanctioned response to the EU’s illegal Airbus subsidies. Of course, the fact that they are sanctioned does not make them any less damaging to the economic rebound. Pretty much the last thing the global economy needs right now is something else to impede the flow of business. According to reports, the targeted goods will be luxury goods and high-end liquors, so the cost of that Hendricks and Tonic just might be going up soon. Naturally, the EU immediately responded that they would have to retaliate, although they have not released a list of their targets.

Needless to say, even the unbridled optimism over a central bank induced recovery was dented by these announcements as they are a direct attack on the idea that growth will rebound to previous levels quickly. Now, those tariffs are not yet in place, and the US has said they are interested in negotiating a better solution, but investors and traders (and most importantly, algorithms) are programmed to read tariffs as a negative and sell stocks. And so, what we have seen this morning is a solid decline across European bourses led by the DAX (-2.1%) and FTSE 100 (-2.3%) although the rest of the continent is looking at declines between of 1.25% and 1.75%. It is a bit surprising that the bond market has not seen things in quite the same light, with 10-year Treasury yields almost unchanged at this hour, as are German bund yields, and only Italian BTP’s seeing any real movement as yields there rise (prices fall) by 2bps. Of course, we recognize that BTP’s are more akin to stocks than bonds these days.

In the background, though, we continue to hear of a resurgence in Covid cases in many places throughout the world. In the US, newly reported infections are rising in many of the states that are going through a slow reopening process. There are also numerous reports of cases popping up in places that had seemed to have eliminated the virus, like Hong Kong, China and Japan. And then, there are areas, notably LATAM nations, that are seeing significant growth in the caseload and are clearly struggling to effectively mitigate the impact. The major market risk to this story is that economies around the world will be forced to stage a second shutdown with all the ensuing economic and financial problems that would entail. Remember, too, that if a second shutdown is in our future, governments, which have already spent $trillions they don’t have, will need to find $trillions more. At some point, that is also likely to become a major problem, with emerging market economies likely to be impacted more severely than developed nations.

So, with those unappetizing prospects in store, let us turn our attention to this morning’s markets. As I mentioned, risk is clearly under pressure and that has manifest itself in the foreign exchange markets as modest dollar strength. In the G10 space, NZD is the laggard, falling 0.9% after the RBNZ, while leaving policy on hold, promised to do more to support the economy (ease further via QE) if necessary. Apparently, the market believes it will be necessary, hence the kiwi’s weakness. But away from that, the dollar’s strength has been far more muted, with gains on the order of 0.2%-0.3% against the higher beta currencies (SEK, AUD and CAD) while the euro, yen and pound are virtually unchanged on the day.

In the EMG bloc, it has been a tale of two sessions with APAC currencies mostly gaining overnight led by KRW (+0.8%), which seemed to be responding to yesterday’s news of sunshine, lollipops and roses modestly improving economic data leading toward an end to the global recession. Alas, all those who bought KRW and its brethren APAC currencies will be feeling a bit less comfited now that the trade war appears to be heating up again. This is made evident by the fact that the CE4 currencies are all lower this morning, led by HUF (-0.6%) and CZK (-0.4%). In no uncertain terms, increased trade tensions between the US and Europe will be bad for that entire bloc of economies, so weaker currencies make a great deal of sense. As to LATAM, they too are under pressure, with MXN (-0.5%) the only one open right now, but all indications for further weakness amid the combination of the spreading virus and the trade tensions.

On the data front, we did see German IFO data print mildly better than expected, notably the Expectations number which rose to 91.4 from last month’s reading of 80.1. But for context, it is important to understand that prior to the onset of Covid-19, these readings were routinely between 105 and 110, so we are still a long way from ‘normal’. The euro has not responded to the data, although the trade story is likely far more important right now.

In the US we have no data of note today, and just two Fed speakers, Chicago’s Evans and St Louis’ Bullard. However, as I have pointed out in the recent past, every Fed speaker says the same thing; the current situation is unprecedented and awful but the future is likely to see a sharp rebound and in the meantime, the Fed will continue to expand their balance sheet and add monetary support to the economy.

And that’s really all there is today. US futures are pointing lower, on the order of 0.75% as I type, so it seems to be a question of watching and waiting. Retail equity investors continue to pile into the stock market driving it higher, so based on recent history, they will see the current decline as another opportunity to buy. I see no reason for the dollar to strengthen much further barring yet another trade announcement from the White House, and if my suspicions about the stock market rebounding are correct, a weaker dollar by the end of the day is likely in store.

Good luck and stay safe
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