Weakness They’d Block

The PBOC’s taken stock
Of how their maneuvers did rock
Most markets worldwide
Which helped them decide
More currency weakness they’d block

The Chinese renminbi remains the number one story and concern in all financial markets as investors and traders try to decipher the meaning of yesterday’s move to allow a much weaker currency, but more importantly how those actions will help drive future activities.

As always, there are two sides to every coin, in this case both figuratively and literally. From the perspective of China’s manufacturing and production capabilities it is very clear that a weaker renminbi is a benefit for its exporters. Chinese goods are that much cheaper this morning than they were Friday afternoon. This, of course, is why there is so much concern over any nation weakening their currency purposely in order to gain an advantage in trade. This is the ‘beggar thy neighbor’ policy that is decried in both textbooks and political circles. It is this idea that animates President Trump’s complaints about a too strong dollar hindering US manufacturing exports, and it is true, as far as it goes.

But it is not the whole story by a long shot. There are two potentially significant negative consequences to having a weaker currency, both of which can have significant political as well as economic impacts. The first, and most widely considered is rising inflation. Remember, if a nation’s currency weakens then all its imports are, relatively speaking, more expensive for its citizens. While small fluctuations in price may be absorbed by businesses, ultimately a steadily weakening currency will result in rising prices and increases in measured inflation. This is one of the key things that BOE Governor Carney worries about in the event of a hard Brexit, and the only reason he tries to make the case that interest rates may need to rise after Brexit. (p.s., they won’t!)

However, the other issue is generally less considered but often far more destructive to a nation. This is the problem of repayment of foreign currency debt. Remember, the US capital markets are far and away the largest, deepest and most liquid in the world, and thus companies and countries around the world all raise funding in USD. Even though US rates are high relative to the rest of the G10, that available liquidity is something that is not replicable anywhere else in the world and offers real value for borrowers. And of course, compared to many emerging markets, US rates are lower to begin with, making borrowing in dollars that much more attractive. But when another country’s currency weakens, that puts additional pressure on all the businesses that have borrowed in USD to fund themselves (and the country itself if it has borrowed in USD).

For example, according to the BIS, Chinese companies had outstanding USD debt totaling more than $1 trillion as of the end of 2018, and that number has only grown. As the renminbi weakens, that means it takes that much more local currency to repay those dollars. China has already seen a significant uptick in local bankruptcies this year, with CNY bond defaults totaling nearly $6 billion equivalent and the pace increasing. And that is in the local currency. When it comes to repaying USD debt, a weaker CNY will just exacerbate the situation. The PBOC is well aware of this problem. In fact, this issue is what will prevent the PBOC from allowing the renminbi to simply fall and find a new market clearing price. Instead, they will continue to carefully manage any further devaluation to the best of their ability. The problem they have is that despite their seemingly tight control of the market, they have created an offshore version, the quickly growing CNH market, which is far more costly to manage. In other words, there is a real opportunity for leakage of funds from China and an uncontrolled decline in the currency, or at least a much larger decline than planned. We are only beginning to see the impact of this move by the PBOC and do not be surprise if things get more volatile going forward.

But this morning, the PBOC remains in control. They fixed the onshore CNY at 6.9683, stronger than expected and in the FX market CNY has regained about 0.3% of yesterday’s losses. This stabilization has allowed a respite in yesterday’s panic and the result was that Asian equity markets rebounded in the afternoon sessions, still closing lower but well off session lows. And in Europe, the main markets are all marginally higher as I type. It should be no surprise that US futures are pointing to a modest uptick on the opening as well.

In the bond markets, Treasury prices have fallen slightly, with yields backing up 2bps. The same movement has been seen in Japan, with JGB’s 2bps higher, but actually, in Germany, yields continue to decline, down a further 3bps to yet another new record low of -0.54% as German data continues to exhibit weakness implying the Eurozone is going to fall into a recession sooner rather than later.

Finally, in the rest of the FX market, we are seeing a modest reversal of some of yesterday’s significant moves. For example, USDMXN is softer by 0.2% this morning after the peso fell nearly 2.0% yesterday. We are seeing similar activity in USDBRL, and USDKRW. These examples are just that, indications that an uncontrolled collapse is not in the cards, but that this process has not yet played itself out. In the G10 space, the RBA left rates on hold at 1.00% last night, as universally expected, and Aussie has rallied 0.4% this morning. Interestingly, one of the reasons they felt able to pause was the fact that the AUD had fallen more than 3% in the past month, easing financial conditions slightly and helping in their quest to push inflation back to their target. The other reversal this morning has been USDJPY which is higher by 0.4% after having traded to its lowest level (strongest JPY) yesterday since March 2018. As yen remains a key haven asset, it remains an excellent proxy for risk appetite, which today is recovering.

There were actually a few Fed speakers yesterday with both SF President Daly and Governor Brainerd expressing a wait and see attitude as to the impact of the escalation of trade tensions, although a clear bias in both cases to cut rates. Meanwhile, the futures market is pricing in a 100% chance of a 25bp cut in September and a 40% chance of a 50bp cut. It seems like the Fed has a lot of work to do in order to clarify their message.

With no data of note today, the FX market is likely to continue to consolidate yesterday’s moves, and awaits comments from James Bullard, St Louis Fed President and noted dove. In the end, my sense is that the Fed has lost control of the situation and that we are going to see more rate cuts than they had anticipated going forward. The question is more the timing than the actuality. In the meantime, the dollar is likely to be dichotomous, continuing to rise vs. the EMG bloc, but faring less well vs. much of the G10.

Good luck
Adf

So Distorted

Said Draghi, if things get much worse
Then more money, I will disburse
And negative rates
Which everyone hates
Will never go into reverse!

This morning, the Germans reported
That IP there’s lately been thwarted
Now markets are waiting
For payrolls, debating
Why everything seems so distorted

India. Malaysia. New Zealand. Philippines. Australia. India (again). Federal Reserve (?). ECB (?).

These are the major nations that have cut policy rates in the past two months, as well as, of course, the current forecasts for the two biggest central banks. Tuesday and Wednesday we heard from a number of Fed speakers, notably Chairman Powell, that if the economy starts to weaken, a rate cut is available and the Fed won’t hesitate to act. At this point, the futures market has a 25% probability priced in for them to cut rates in two weeks’ time, with virtual certainty they will cut by the late July meeting.

Then yesterday, Signor Draghi guided us further out the calendar indicating that interest rates in the ECB will not change until at least the middle of 2020. Remember, when this forward guidance started it talked about “through the summer” of 2019, then was extended to the end of 2019, and now it has been pushed a further six months forward. But of even more interest to the markets was that at his press conference, he mentioned how further rate cuts were discussed at the meeting as well as restarting QE. Meanwhile, the newest batch of TLTRO’s will be available at rates from -0.3% to 0.10%, slightly lower than had previously been expected, but certainly within the range anticipated. And yet, despite this seeming dovishness, the market had been looking for even more. In the end, the euro rallied yesterday, and has essentially maintained its recent gains despite Draghi’s best efforts. After all, when comparing the policy room available to the Fed and the ECB, the Fed has the ability to be far more accommodative in the near term, and markets seem to be responding to that. In the wake of the ECB meeting, the euro rallied a solid 0.5%, and has only ceded 0.1% of that since. But despite all the angst, the euro has not even gained 1.0% this week, although with the payroll report due shortly, that is certainly subject to change.

Which takes us to the payroll report. Wednesday’s ADP data was terrible, just 27K although the median forecast was for 180K, which has a number of analysts quite nervous.

Nonfarm Payrolls 185K
Private Payrolls 175K
Manufacturing Payrolls 5K
Unemployment Rate 3.6%
Participation Rate 62.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5

Given the way this market is behaving, if NFP follows ADP, look for the dollar to fall sharply along with a big bond market rally, and arguably a stock market rally as well. This will all be based on the idea that the Fed will be forced to cut rates at the June meeting, something which they are unwilling to admit at this point. Interestingly, a strong print could well see stocks fall on the idea that the Fed will not cut rates further, at least in the near future, but it should help the dollar nicely.

Before I leave for the weekend, there are two other notable moves in the FX markets, CNY and ZAR. In China, an interview with PBoC Governor Yi Gang indicated that they have significant room to ease policy further if necessary, and that there is no red line when it comes to USDCNY trading through 7.00. Those comments were enough to weaken the renminbi by 0.3%, above 6.95, and back to its weakest level since November. Confirmation that 7.00 is not seen as a crucial level implies that we are going to see a weaker CNY going forward.

As to ZAR, it has fallen through 15.00 to the dollar, down 0.5% on the day and 3.4% on the week, as concerns grow over South Africa’s ability to manage their way through the current economic slump. Two key national companies, Eskom, the electric utility, and South African Airways are both struggling to stay afloat, with Eskom so large, the government probably can’t rescue them even if they want to. Slowing global growth is just adding fuel to the fire, and it appears there is further room for the rand to decline.

In sum, the global economic outlook continues to weaken (as evidenced by today’s German IP print at -1.9% and the Bundesbank’s reduction in GDP forecast for 2019 to just 0.6%) and so easier monetary policy appears the default projection. For now, that translates into a weaker dollar (more room to move than other countries) and stronger stocks (because, well lower rates are always good, regardless of the reason), while Treasuries and Bunds should continue to see significant inflows driving yields there lower.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf