So Ended the Equity Slump

There once was a president, Trump
Who sought a great stock market jump
He reached out to Xi
Who seemed to agree
So ended the equity slump

The story of a single phone call between Presidents Trump and Xi was all it took to change global investor sentiment. Last evening it was reported that Trump and Xi spoke at length over the phone, discussing the trade situation and North Korea. According to the Trump, things went very well, so much so that he requested several cabinet departments to start putting together a draft trade agreement with the idea that something could be signed at the G20 meeting later this month in Buenos Aires. (As an aside, if something is agreed there it will be the first time something useful ever came out of a G20 meeting!) The market response was swift and sure; buy everything. Equity markets exploded in Asia, with Shanghai rallying 2.7% and the Hang Seng up over 4%. In Europe the rally is not quite as robust, but still a bit more than 1% on average across the board, and US futures are pointing higher as well, with both S&P and Dow futures higher by just under 1% as I type.

I guess this answers the question about what was driving the malaise in equity markets seen throughout October. Apparently it was all about trade. And yet, there are still many other things that might be of concern. For example, amid a slowdown in global growth, which has become more evident every day, we continue to see increases in debt outstanding. So more leverage driving less growth is a major long-term concern. In addition, the rise of populist leadership throughout the world is another concern as historically, populists don’t make the best long-term economic decisions, rather they are focused on the here and now. Just take a look at Venezuela if you want to get an idea of what the end game may look like. My point is that while a resolution of the US-China trade dispute would be an unalloyed positive, it is not the only thing that matters when it comes to the global economy and the value of currencies.

Speaking of currencies lets take a look at just how well they have performed vs. the dollar in the past twenty-four hours. Starting with the euro, since the market close on October 31, it has rallied 1.2% despite the fact that the data released in the interim has all been weaker than expected. Today’s Manufacturing PMI data showed that Germany and France both slowed more than expected while Italy actually contracted. And yet the euro is higher by 0.45% this morning. It strikes me that Signor Draghi will have an increasingly difficult time describing the risks to the Eurozone economy as “balanced” if the data continues to print like today’s PMI data. I would argue the risks are clearly to the downside. But none of that was enough to stop the euro bulls.

Meanwhile, the pound has rallied more than 2% over the same timeline, although here the story is quite clear. As hopes for a Brexit deal increase, the pound will continue to outperform its G10 brethren, and there was nothing today to offset those hopes.

Highlighting the breadth of the sentiment change, AUD is higher by more than 2.5% since the close on Halloween as a combination of rebounding base metal prices and the trade story have been more than sufficient to get the bulls running. If the US and China do bury the hatchet on trade, then Australia may well be the country set to benefit most. Reduced trade tensions should help the Chinese economy find its footing again and given Australia’s economy is so dependent on exports to China, it stands to reason that Australia will see a positive response as well.

But the story is far more than a G10 story, EMG currencies have exploded higher as well. CNY, for example is higher by 0.85% this morning and more than 1.6% in the new month. Certainly discussion of breeching 7.00 has been set to the back burner for now, although I continue to believe it will be the eventual outcome. We’ve also seen impressive response in Mexico, where the peso has rallied 1.2% overnight and more than 2% this month. And this is despite AMLO’s decision to cancel the biggest infrastructure project in the country, the new Mexico City airport.

Other big EMG winners overnight include INR (+1.3%), KRW (+1.1%), IDR (+1.1%), TRY (+0.8%) and ZAR (+0.5%). The point is that the dollar is under universal pressure this morning as we await today’s payroll report. Now arguably, this pressure is simply a partial retracement of what has been very steady dollar strength that we’ve seen over the past several months.

Turning to the data, here are current expectations for today:

Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
Private Payrolls 183K
Manufacturing Payrolls 15K
Unemployment Rate 3.7%
Average Hourly Earnings (AHE) 0.2% (3.1% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
Trade Balance -$53.6B
Factory Orders 0.5%

I continue to expect that the AHE number is the one that will gain the most scrutiny, as it will be seen as the best indicator of the ongoing inflation debate. A strong print there could easily derail the equity rally as traders increase expectations that the Fed will tighten even faster, or at least for a longer time. But absent that type of result, I expect that the market’s euphoria is pretty clear today, so further USD weakness will accompany equity strength and bond market declines.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

New Standard-Bearers

The largest of all Latin nations
This weekend confirmed its frustrations
Electing a man
Whose stated game plan
Is changing the country’s foundations

Meanwhile in a key German state
Frau Merkel and friends felt the weight
Of policy errors
So new standard-bearers
Like AfD now resonate

This weekend brought two key elections internationally, with Brazil voting in Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing firebrand and nationalist who has promised to clean up the corruption rampant in the country. Not unlike New Jersey and Illinois, Brazil has several former politicians imprisoned for corruption. Bolsonaro represented a change from the status quo of the past fifteen years, and in similar fashion to people throughout the Western world, Brazilians were willing to take a chance to see a change. Markets have been cheering Bolsonaro on, as he has a free-market oriented FinMin in mind, and both Brazilian equities and the real have rallied more than 10% during the past month. The early price action this morning has BRL rising by another 1.65%, continuing its recent rally, and that seems likely to continue until Bolsonaro changes tack to a more populist stance, something I imagine we will see within the first year of his presidency.

Just prior to those results, the German elections in the state of Hesse, one of the wealthiest states in Germany and the home of Frankfurt and the financial industry, showed disdain for the ruling coalition of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats, with their combined share of the vote falling to just 39%, from well above 50% at the last election. The big winners were the far left Green Party and the far right AfD, both of whom saw significant gains in the state house there, and both of whom will make it difficult to find a ruling coalition. But more importantly, it is yet another sign that Frau Merkel may be on her last legs. This was confirmed this morning when Merkel announced she was stepping down as leader of her party, the CDU, but claimed she will serve out her term as Chancellor, which runs until 2021.

One other Eurozone story came out Friday afternoon as Standard & Poors released their updated ratings on Italy’s sovereign debt, leaving the rating intact but cutting the outlook to negative. This was slightly better than expected as there were many who worried that S&P would follow Moody’s and cut the rating as well. Italian debt markets rallied on the opening with 10-year yields falling 10bps and the spread with German Bunds narrowing accordingly. So net, there was a euro negative, with Merkel stepping down, and a euro positive, from S&P, and not surprisingly, the euro wound up little changed so far, although that reflects a rebound from the early price action. My concern is that the positive story was really the absence of a more negative story, and one that could well be simply a timing delay, rather than an endorsement of the current situation in Italy. The budget situation remains uncertain there, and if the government chooses to ignore the EU and implement their proposed budget, I expect there will be more pressure on the euro. After all, what good are rules if they are ignored by those required to follow them? None of this bodes well for the euro going forward.

Two other key stories have impacted markets, first from Mexico, the government canceled the construction of a new airport for Mexico City. This was part of the departing administration’s infrastructure program, but, not surprisingly, it has seen its cost explode over time and the incoming president has determined the money is better spent elsewhere. The upshot is that the peso has fallen a bit more than 1% on the news, and I would be wary going forward as we approach AMLO’s inauguration. By cutting the investment spending, not only will the country’s infrastructure remain substandard, but its growth potential will suffer as well. I think this is a very negative sign for the peso.

The other story comes from China, where early Q4 data continues to show the economy slowing further. The government there, ever willing to do anything necessary to achieve their growth target, has proposed a 50% cut in auto sales taxes in order to spur the market. Auto sales are on track for their first annual decline ever this year, as growth slows throughout the country. Interestingly, the market impact was seen by rallies in auto shares throughout Europe and the US, but Chinese equity markets continued to slide, with the Shanghai Index falling another 2.2% overnight. This also has put further pressure on the renminbi with CNY falling another 0.2% early in the session before recently paring some of those losses. USDCNY continues to hover just below 7.00, the level deemed critical by the PBOC as they struggle to prevent an increase in capital outflows. The last time the currency traded at this level, it cost China more than $1 trillion to staunch the outflow, so they are really working to prevent that from happening again.

And those are the big stories from the weekend. Overall, the dollar is actually little changed as you can see that there have been individual issues across specific currencies rather than a broad dollar theme today. Looking ahead to the US session, we get the first of a number of important data points this morning with the full list here:

Today Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.2% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
Tuesday Case-Shlller Home Prices 5.8%
Wednesday ADP Employment 189K
  Chicago PMI 60.0
Thursday Initial Claims 213K
  Nonfarm Productivity 2.2%
  Unit Labor Costs 1.1%
  ISM Manufacturing 59.0
  ISM Prices Paid 65.0
  Construction Spending 0.1%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
  Private Payrolls 184K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 15K
  Unemployment Rate 3.7%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.1% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Trade Balance -$53.6B
  Factory Orders 0.4%

So there is a ton of data upcoming, with this morning’s PCE and Friday’s Payrolls the key numbers. Last week’s GDP data had a better than expected headline print but the entire weekend press was a discussion as to why the harbingers of weaker future growth were evident. And one other thing we have seen is the equity market dismiss better than expected Q3 earnings data from many companies, selling those stocks after the release, as the benefits from the tax cut at the beginning of the year are starting to get priced out of the future.

The market structure is changing, that much is clear. The combination of central bank actions to reduce accommodation, and an expansion that is exceedingly long in the tooth, as well as increased political uncertainty throughout the world has made investors nervous. It is these investors who will continue to support US Treasuries, the dollar, the yen and perhaps, gold,; the traditional safe havens. At this point, there is nothing evident that will change that theme.

Good luck
Adf

Compromising

It cannot be very surprising
That Canada is compromising
Their views about trade
Thus now they have made
A deal markets find stabilizing

This morning, as the fourth quarter begins, arguably the biggest story is that Canada and the US have agreed terms to the trade pact designed to replace NAFTA. Canada held out to the last possible moment, but in the end, it was always clear that they are far too reliant on trade with the US to actually allow NAFTA to disintegrate without a replacement. The upshot is that there will be a new pact, awkwardly named the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) which is expected to be ratified by both Canada and Mexico quite easily, but must still run the gauntlet of the US Congress. In the end, it would be shocking if the US did not ratify this treaty, and I expect it will be completed with current estimates that it will be signed early next year. The market impact is entirely predictable and consistent with the obvious benefits that will accrue to both Canada and Mexico; namely both of those currencies have rallied sharply this morning with each higher by approximately 0.9%. I expect that both of these currencies will maintain a stronger tone vs. the dollar than others as the ending of trade concerns here will be a definite positive.

There is another trade related story this morning, although it does not entail a new trade pact. Rather, Chinese PMI data was released over the weekend with both the official number (50.8) and the Caixin small business number (50.0) falling far more sharply than expected. The implication is that the trade situation is beginning to have a real impact on the Chinese economy. This puts the Chinese government and the PBOC (no hint of independent central banking here) in a difficult position.

Much of China’s recent growth has been fueled by significant increases in leverage. Last year, the PBOC unveiled a campaign to seek to reduce this leverage, changing regulations and even beginning to tighten monetary policy. But now they are caught between a desire to add stability to the system by reducing leverage further (needing to tighten monetary policy); and a desire to address a slowing domestic economy starting to feel the pinch of the trade war with the US (needing to loosen monetary policy). It is abundantly clear that they will loosen policy further as the political imperative is to insure that GDP growth does not slow too rapidly during President Xi’s reign. The problem with this choice is that it will build up further instabilities in the economy with almost certain future problems in store. Of course, there is no way to know when these problems will manifest themselves, and so they will likely not receive much attention until such time as they explode. A perfect analogy would be the sub-prime mortgage crisis here ten years ago, where leading up to the collapse; every official described the potential problem as too small to matter. We all know how that worked out! At any rate, while the CNY has barely moved this morning, and in fact has remained remarkably stable since the PBOC stepped in six weeks ago to halt its weakening trend, it only makes sense that they will allow it to fall further as a pressure release valve for the economy.

Away from those two stories though, the FX market has been fairly dull. PMI data throughout the Eurozone was softer than expected, but not hugely so, and even though there are ongoing questions about the Italian budget situation, the euro is essentially unchanged this morning. In the past week, the single currency is down just under 2%, but my feeling is we will need to see something new to push us away from the 1.16 level, either a break in the Italy story or some new data or comments to alter views. The next big data print is Friday’s payroll report, but I expect we might learn a few things before then.

In the UK, while the Brexit deadline swiftly approaches, all eyes are now focused on the Tory party conference this week to see if there is a leadership challenge to PM May. Given that the PM’s ‘Chequers’ proposal has been dismissed by both the EU and half the Tory party, it seems they will need to find another way to move forward. While the best guess remains there will be some sort of fudge agreed to before the date, I am growing more concerned that the UK is going to exit with no deal in place. If that is what happens, the pound will be much lower in six-months’ time. But for today, UK Manufacturing PMI data was actually a surprising positive, rising to 53.8, and so the signals from the UK economy continue to be that it is not yet collapsing.

Away from those stories, though, I am hard pressed to find new and exciting news. As this is the first week of the month, there is a raft of data coming our way.

Today ISM Manufacturing 60.1
  ISM Prices Paid 71.0
  Construction Spending 0.4%
Wednesday ADP Employment 185K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 58.0
Thursday Initial Claims 213K
  Factory Orders 2.0%
Friday Nonfarm Payroll 185K
  Private Payroll 183K
  Manufacturing Payroll 11K
  Unemployment Rate 3.8%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (2.8% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Trade Balance -$53.5B

On top of the payroll data, we hear from eight Fed speakers this week, including more comments from Chairman Powell tomorrow. At this point, however, there is no reason to believe that anything is going to change. The Fed remains in tightening mode and will raise rates again in December. The rest of the world continues to lag the US with respect to growth, and trade issues are likely to remain top of mind. While the USMCA is definitely a positive, its benefits will only accrue to Mexico and Canada as far as the currency markets are concerned. We will need to see some significant changes in the data stream or the commentary in order to alter the dollar’s trend. Until then, the dollar should maintain an underlying strong tone.

Good luck
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