The Chinese report ‘bout Q2
Showed growth has rebounded, it’s true
But things there remain
Subject to more pain
Til elsewhere bids Covid adieu
The market’s response was emphatic
With Shanghai’s decline quite dramatic
Thus, risk appetite
Today is quite slight
Which means bears are now just ecstatic
It is no surprise that the Chinese reported a rebound to positive GDP growth in Q2 as, after all, the nation was the epicenter of Covid-19 and they, both shut down and reopened their economy first. The numbers, however, were mixed at best, with the GDP number rebounding a more than expected 3.2% Y/Y, but their Retail Sales data failing to keep up, printing at -1.8% Y/Y, rather than the expected 0.5% gain. The lesson to be learned here is that while Chinese industry seems to be heading back to a pre-Covid pace, domestic consumption is not keeping up. This is a problem for China for two reasons; first, they have made an enormous effort to adjust the mix of their economy from entirely export oriented to a much greater proportion of consumption led growth. Thus, weak Retail Sales implies that those efforts are now likely to restrict the nation’s growth going forward. Secondly, the fact that the rest of the world is months behind China in this cycle, with many emerging markets still in the closing process, not nearly ready to reopen, implies that while industry in China may have retooled, their export markets are a long way from robust.
The other interesting thing that came out of China last night, that had a more direct impact on markets there, was yet another round of stories published about the evils of speculation and how Chinese financial institutions would be selling more stocks. You may recall last week, when the Chinese government had an article published singing the praises of a strong stock market, encouraging retail investors to drive a more than 6.0% gain in the Shanghai Composite. Just a few days later, they reversed course, decrying the evils of speculation with a corresponding sharp decline. Well, it seems that speculators are still evil, as last night’s message was unequivocally negative pushing Shanghai lower by 4.5% and finally removing all those initial speculative gains. It seems the PBOC and the government are both concerned about inflating bubbles as they well remember the pain of 2015, when they tried to deflate their last one.
But this activity set the tone for all Asian markets, with red numbers everywhere, albeit not quite to the extent seen on the mainland. For instance, the Nikkei slipped 0.75% and the Hang Seng, fell 2.0%.
Europe has its own set of issues this morning, although clearly the weakness in Asia has not helped their situation. Equity markets throughout the Continent are lower with the DAX (-0.5%) and CAC (-0.7%) representative of the losses everywhere. While traders there await the ECB meeting outcome, the focus seems to be on the UK announcement that they will be increasing their debt issuance by £110 billion in Q3 to help fund all the fiscal stimulus. This will take the debt/GDP ratio above 100%, ending any chance of retaining fiscal prudence.
It’s remarkable how things can change in a short period of time. During the Eurozone debt crisis, less than 10 years ago, when Greece was on the cusp of leaving the euro, they were constantly lambasted for having a debt/GDP ratio of 150% or more while Italy, who was puttering along at 125% was also regularly excoriated by the EU and the IMF. But these days, those entities are singing a different tune, where suddenly, government borrowing is seen as quite appropriate, regardless of the underlying fiscal concerns, with the supranational bodies calling for additional fiscal stimulus and the borrowing that goes along with it. At any rate, there is certainly no sign that the current mantra of issuing debt and spending massive amounts of money to support the economy is about to change. Fiscal prudence is now completely passé.
With that as a backdrop, it should be no surprise that risk is being pared back across all markets. Having already discussed equities, we can look at bond markets and see yields virtually everywhere lower today as investors seek out haven assets. Interestingly, despite the new issuance announced in the UK, Gilts lead the way with a 2.5bp decline, while Treasuries and Bunds have both seen yields decline a more modest 1bp. Oil prices have fallen again, which is weighing on both NOK (-0.65%) and RUB (-0.4%) the two currencies most closely linked to its price. But of course, lower oil prices are indicative of weaker overall sentiment.
As such, it is also no surprise that every one of the currencies in the G10 and major emerging markets is weaker vs. the dollar this morning. While the trendy view remains that the dollar is going to continue to decline, and that has been expressed with near record short dollar positions in futures markets, the greenback is not playing along today.
At this point, I think it is important to remind everyone that a key part of the weak dollar thesis is the ongoing expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet adding more liquidity to the system and thus easing dollar policy further. But for the past 5 weeks, the Fed’s balance sheet has actually shrunk by $250 billion, a not inconsiderable 3.5%, as repo transactions have matured and not been replaced. It appears that for now, the market is flush with cash. So, given the combination of major short dollar positions extant and short term fundamental monetary details pointing to dollar strength, do not be surprised if we see a short squeeze in the buck over the next week or two.
This morning brings the bulk of the week’s data, certainly its most important readings, and it all comes at 8:30. Retail Sales (exp 5.0%, 5.0% ex autos), Philly Fed (20.0), Initial Claims (1.25M) and Continuing Claims (17.5M) will hopefully give us a clearer picture of how the US economy is progressing. One of the problems with this data is that it is mostly backward looking (Philly Fed excepted) and so probably does not capture the apparent second wave of infections seen in Florida, Texas and California, three of the most populous states. So, even if we do see somewhat better than expected data, it could easily slip back next week/month. In fact, this is why the Claims data is so important, it is the timeliest of all the major economic releases, and given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the current economic situation, it is likely the most helpful. So, while the trend in Initial Claims has been lower, it remains at extremely problematic levels and is indicative of many more businesses retrenching and letting staff go. It has certainly been my go-to data point for the pulse of the economy.
Recent data points have been better than forecast, but nobody doubts that things are still in dire shape. Unfortunately, it appears we are still a long way from recouping all the lost economic activity we have suffered over the past months. But FX remains a relative game, and arguably, so is everyone else.
Good luck and stay safe