This weekend the Chinese reported
That PMI growth has been thwarted
This likely implies
They’ll increase the size
Of stimulus, when all is sorted
Meanwhile, as the week doth progress
Investors will need to assess
If Jay Powell’s story
Inflation means more joblessness
The conventional five-day work week clearly does not apply to China. On a regular basis, economic data is released outside of traditional working hours as was the case this past weekend when both sets of PMI data, official and Caixin (targeting small companies), were reported. And, as it happens, the picture was not very pretty. In fact, it becomes easier to understand why the PBOC reduced the reserve requirement for banks several weeks ago as growth on the mainland is quite evidently slowing. The damage can be seen not only in the headline manufacturing numbers (PMI 50.4, Caixin 50.3) but also in the underlying pieces which showed, for example, new export orders fell to 47.7, well below the expansion/contraction line.
While it is one of Xi’s key goals to wean China from the dominance of exports as an economic driver, the reality is that goal has come nowhere near being met. China remains a mercantilist, export focused economy, where growth is defined by its export sector. The fact that manufacturing is slowing and export orders shrinking does not bode well for China’s economy in the second half of the year. To the extent that the delta variant of Covid is responsible for slowing growth elsewhere in the world, apparently, China has not escaped the impact as they claim.
However, in today’s upside-down world, weakening Chinese growth is seen as a positive for risk assets. The ongoing ‘bad news is good’ meme continues to drive markets and this weaker Chinese data was no exception. Clearly, investors believe that the Chinese are going to add more stimulus, whether fiscal or monetary being irrelevant, and have responded by snapping up risk assets. The result was higher equity prices in Asia (Nikkei +1.8%, Hang Seng +1.1%, Shanghai +2.0%) as well as throughout Europe (CAC +0.8%, FTSE 100 +0.95%, DAX +0.1%) with the DAX having the most trouble this morning. And don’t worry, US futures are all higher by around 0.5% as I type.
But it was not just Chinese equities that benefitted last night, investors snapped up Chinese 10-year bonds as well, driving yields lower by 5bps as expectations of further policy ease are widespread in the investment community there. That performance is juxtaposed versus what we are witnessing in developed market bonds, where yields are actually slightly firmer, although by less than 1 basis point, as the risk-on attitude encourages investors to shift from fixed income to equity weightings.
Of course, all this price action continues to reflect the fact that the Fed, last week, was not nearly as hawkish as many had expected with the tapering question remaining wide open, and no timetable whatsoever with regard to rate movement. And that brings us to the month’s most important data point, Non-farm Payrolls, which will be released this Friday. At this early point in the week, the median forecast, according to Bloomberg, is 900K with the Unemployment Rate falling to 5.7%.
Given we appear to be at an inflection point in some FOMC members’ thinking, I believe Friday’s number may have more importance than an August release would ordinarily demand. Recall, the recent trend of US data has been good, but below expectations. Another below expectations outcome here would almost certainly result in a strong equity and bond rally as investors would conclude that the tapering story was fading. After all, the Fed seems highly unlikely to begin tapering into a softening economy. Last week’s GDP data (6.5%, exp 8.5%) and core PCE (3.5%, exp 3.7%) are just the two latest examples of a slowing growth impulse in the US. That is not the time when the Fed would historically tighten policy, and I don’t believe this time will be different.
There is, however, a lot of time between now and Friday, with the opportunity for many new things to occur. Granted, it is the beginning of August, a time when most of Europe goes on vacation along with a good portion of the Wall Street crowd and investment community as a whole, so the odds of very little happening are high. But recall that market liquidity tends to be much less robust during August as well, so any new information could well lead to an outsized impact. And finally, historically, August is one of the worst month for US equities, with an average decline of 0.12% over the past 50 years.
Keeping this in mind, what else has occurred overnight? While bad news may be good for stock prices, as it implies lower rates for even longer, slowing growth is not an energy positive as evidenced by WTI’s (-1.8%) sharp decline. Interestingly, gold (-0.25%) is not benefitting either, as arguably the reduced inflation story implies less negative real yields. More surprisingly, copper (+0.7%) and Aluminum (+0.6%) are both firmer this morning, which is a bit incongruous on a weaker growth story.
As to the dollar, it is broadly weaker, albeit not by much, with G10 moves all less than 0.2% although we have seen some much larger gains in the EMG space. On top of that list sits ZAR (+1.15%) and TRY (+1.1). The former is quite surprising given the PMI data fell by a record amount to 43.5, 14 points below last month’s reading as rioting in the wake of the Zuma arrest had a huge negative impact on business sentiment and expectations. Turkey, on the other hand, showed a solid gain in PMI data, which bodes well for the economy amid slowing growth in many other places. After those two, the gains were far more modest with HUF (+0.5%) and RUB (+0.35%) the next best performers with both the forint and the ruble benefitting from more hawkish central bank comments.
Obviously, it is a big data week as follows:
|ISM Prices Paid||88.0|
|Average Hourly Earnings||0.3% (3.9% Y/Y)|
|Average Weekly Hours||34.7|
Beyond the data, surprisingly, we only hear from three Fed speakers as many must be on holiday. But at this point, the market is pretty sure that it is only a matter of time before the Fed starts to taper, so unless they want to really change that message, which I don’t believe is the case, they can sit on the sidelines for now. of course, that doesn’t mean they are going to taper, just that the market expects it.
While the dollar is opening the week on its back foot, I don’t expect much follow through weakness, although neither do I expect much strength. I suspect many participants will be biding their time ahead of Friday’s report unless there is some exogenous signal received.
Good luck and stay safe