Both Sides Will Lose

The trade story’s back in the news
With stock markets singing the blues
Two hundred bill more
Confirms the Trade War
Will happen, and both sides will lose

The Trump administration’s announcement last evening that they are targeting another $200 billion of Chinese imports for tariffs, this time 10% across the board, has interrupted the markets recent sense of calm. In fact, the immediate response was for equity markets around the world to fall sharply and the dollar to regain its footing. Investors had come to believe that the initial salvo of tariffs on $34 billion by each nation would be the extent of things, and that negotiations would soon begin. However, assuming things with this administration is a fraught activity as unpredictability has been Trump’s hallmark since his election.

It is interesting to consider the market ramifications of this growing trade war between the US and China. For instance, since March 22, the day the first tariffs were announced, the Shanghai Index is down more than 15% while the S&P 500 is higher by a bit more than 3.0%. While economists have ridiculed Trump’s statement that “trade wars are easy to win”, it certainly seems that the US has so far come out ahead, at least on this measure. At the same time, the Chinese renminbi has fallen ~5.6% over the same period, which could mean that investors are more confident that the US will come out ahead…or it could mean that the PBOC has simply forced guided the currency lower in an effort to offset the impact of the tariffs.

However, the one thing that I take away from this process is that neither side is going to back down anytime soon. As Trump is leading the charge, he is unlikely to back off without having won some major concessions from the Chinese. At the same time, Chinese President Xi, who has spent the past five years consolidating his power, cannot afford to look weak to the home crowd. So my advice is to prepare for higher prices on lots of things that you buy, because this is likely to drag on for a long time.

As an aside, while the politics may favor Xi, I think given the nature of the imbalance, where the Chinese not only have far more items that can be taxed, but that they remain a largely mercantilist economy depending on exports for growth, it means that China’s economic situation is likely to deteriorate far more than that of the US. However, it is not clear to me that I would call that ‘winning’!

At any rate, the one thing that seems almost certain is that the dollar is going to be a major beneficiary of this process. Not only are other currencies going to suffer as their nations’ exports are reduced and growth impaired, but the ensuing inflationary impact of tariffs on the US is going to encourage the Fed to be more aggressive. Given the dollar’s positive response to the tightening of Fed policy already, as well as the growing divergence between the US economy and the rest of the world, the brewing trade war has simply increased my dollar bullishness.

Pivoting to the overnight markets, the dollar has rallied for a second straight day, showing strength against all its G10 counterparts and most EMG currencies. There continues to be a dearth of data on which to base trading outcomes and it seems most likely that the dollar’s recent strength, while receiving a catalyst from the trade situation, is a continuation of its rebound from last week’s decline. In the end, the dollar is still largely range bound and has been so since its rally ended in mid May. I continue to believe we will need new data of note to encourage a breakout, with the next real opportunity tomorrow’s CPI print. A surprisingly high print will get tongues wagging over the Fed picking up the pace, and likely support the dollar. However, I don’t believe the opposite is true. A weaker than expected print will simply confirm that the Fed will stay on its current trajectory, which may not help the dollar much, but should not undermine it.

The other potential driver is going to be the general risk tone in markets. It is very clear that the dollar has regained its status as a safe haven, and with every escalation in the trade war, risk aversion will lead to further dollar strength. This is especially true given that the other potential havens, JPY and CHF, continue to offer negative interest rates and so are far less attractive to investors looking for a short-term home for their assets. To me, all the evidence still points to the dollar’s next leg being a move up potentially testing the levels seen back in the beginning of 2017 over time.

On the data front, this morning brings PPI (exp 0.2% for both headline and core) but all eyes will be on tomorrow’s CPI, not today’s number. We also hear from NY Fed President Williams late this afternoon. Given both the timing, some four weeks since the last FOMC meeting, and his elevated role, it is possible that he could create some volatility by adding new information to the mix. However, my read is that the data trajectory has remained quite steady, and although he will almost certainly mention the trade situation and its potential to upend the economy, I doubt there will be new information forthcoming. So in the end, I like the dollar to continue to grind higher as the day progresses.

Good luck

A New Complication

Last Friday it seemed immigration
Had ceased as a cause of vexation
In Europe, but then
On Monday again
It suffered a new complication

The euro first rose, then declined
But now there’s a new deal designed
To finally forestall
For once and for all
The chance Merkel might have resigned

Remarkably, the immigration debate in Germany continues to dominate the news. Last night, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer agreed to a new deal regarding the immigration situation and withdrew his threatened resignation. This led to a major sigh of relief in the markets as the fear of Frau Merkel’s coalition falling apart has once again receded. While Merkel clearly remains in a weakened state, if this deal can be signed by all the parties involved (a big if), the market may be able to move on to its next concerns. It should be no surprise that the euro has rebounded on the news, after all it has tracked the announcements extremely closely, but the rebound this morning, just 0.1%, has been somewhat lackluster after yesterday’s rout. Perhaps that has as much to do with the release of Eurozone Retail Sales data, which disappointed by printing at 0.0% in May, less than expected and yet another indication that growth in the Eurozone is on a slowing trajectory.

As an aside, if I were Mario Draghi, I might be starting to get a little more nervous given that the Eurozone economy is almost certainly trending toward slower growth and the ECB has very little ammunition available to counter that trend. Rates remain negative and QE is set to run its course by the end of the year. It is not clear what else the ECB can do to combat a more severe slowdown in the economy there.

But away from the daily immigration saga in Germany, the dollar has had a mostly softer session. This is primarily due to the fact that it had a particularly strong rally yesterday and we are seeing short-term profit taking.

China remains a key theme of the market as well, with the renminbi having fallen for twelve of the past thirteen sessions with a total decline of nearly 5.0%. While it has rebounded somewhat this morning (+0.35%), that is small beer relative to its recent movement. Last night, PBOC Governor Yi Gang was on the tape explaining that the bank would “keep the yuan exchange rate basically stable at a reasonable and balanced level.” That was sufficient for traders to stop their recent selling spree and begin to take profits. While there are some pundits who believe that the Chinese will allow the renminbi to decline more sharply, I believe there is still too much fear that a sharper decline will lead to more severe capital outflows and potential economic destabilization at home. As such, I expect to see the CNY decline managed in a steady and unthreatening manner going forward. But I remain pretty sure that it will continue to decline.

Other than those two stories, here’s what’s happening today. SEK has been the biggest winner in the G10, rising 1.25% after the Riksbank, although leaving rates on hold at -0.5%, virtually promised they would begin raising them by the end of the year. That is a faster pace than expected and so the currency reaction should be no surprise. However, keep in mind that Sweden is highly dependent on trade, and as trade rhetoric increases, they could well be collateral damage in that conflict. Aussie is the next biggest winner, having risen 0.7% after the RBA also left rates on hold, as expected, but the statement was seen as having a mildly hawkish tinge to it. But remember, AUD had fallen more than 4.5% in the past month, so on a day when the dollar is under pressure, it can be no surprise that the rebound is relatively large.

In the EMG space, MXN is today’s big winner, rallying 1.3% as the new story is that there are now more areas between the US and Mexico where President Trump and President-elect Obrador will be able to find common ground. Certainly both presidents are of the populist stripe, and so perhaps this is true. But my gut tells me that once AMLO and his Congress are sworn in (it doesn’t happen until December 1!) the market will recognize that the investment environment in Mexico is set to deteriorate, and so the currency will follow.

On the data front, yesterday’s ISM data was quite strong at 60.2, well above expectations and a further indication that the economic divergence theme remains alive and well. This morning we await only Factory Orders (exp -0.1%) and Vehicle Sales (17.0M), with the latter likely to be more interesting to market players than the former. Of course, tomorrow is July 4th, and so trading desks are on skeleton staff already. That means that liquidity is probably a bit sparse, and that interest in taking positions is extremely limited. Look for a lackluster session with the dollar probably edging a bit lower, but things to wind up early as everybody makes their escape.

Good luck

Not So Benign

The worries in China have spread
From stocks to renminbi instead
Its recent decline
Seems not so benign
And could drive more market bloodshed

Well, if President Xi’s goal is to make China the most talked about nation in financial markets, he is clearly on the right track. Of course, he may not like the tone of the conversation!

Once again, Chinese markets are dominating the global discussion with continued declines overnight in equity markets there (Shanghai -1.1%, Shenzhen -1.3%) alongside the recent weakness in the renminbi. This morning, CNY has fallen a further 0.4%, with the dollar now trading above 6.60 for the first time since last December. It is becoming abundantly clear that the PBOC is quite willing to allow further weakness in what appears to be a reaction to the ongoing trade dispute with the US. In the past two weeks, USDCNY has risen every day with the total movement clocking in at more than 3%, and quite frankly, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it to stop. Last night the PBOC was seen intervening heavily in the market in an effort to moderate the decline, but it seems highly unlikely that the government there wants to stop it completely. As I mentioned yesterday, their key concern is that a more rapid decline in the yuan will result in significant capital outflows, or at the very least a sharp drop in capital inflows, and that has the potential to destabilize markets in China, and eventually, elsewhere in the world. And for a country that has been trying to burnish its image as a responsible global financial citizen, causing global market destabilization is clearly not the desired outcome. At any rate, given the ongoing standoff regarding the US-China trade situation, it seems highly unlikely that CNY will stop falling soon. Look for a gradual decline with a year-end target of 7.00 still quite viable in my mind.

Away from China, however, FX market activity has been less exciting. While the dollar continues its broad trend higher, the pace remains muted. For example, this morning, amongst the G10 currencies only NZD has moved more than 0.2%, with kiwi falling 0.6% as the market prepares for the RBNZ meeting this afternoon. Expectations are for no change in policy, but the suspicion is that the bank is becoming more dovish due to escalating trade rhetoric between the US and China.

Important economic data from the G10 is more notable by its absence than by what it is telling us about the economy. Last night brought us UK Home Price data, showing the slowest rate of price increases in five years, with prices in London actually falling by 1.9%. Combining this with testimony by Jonathan Haskel, who will take his seat on the MPC come September 1st, which showed him to be somewhat more dovish than Ian McCafferty, the member he is replacing, has clearly weighed on the pound. Otherwise, we saw a bit of mixed confidence data from Italy, soft confidence data from France and weak Irish Retail sales. None of this was very inspiring as evidenced by the euro’s 0.2% decline.

Meanwhile, the emerging market space remains under pressure as concerns over trade weigh heavily on the sector. It is important to remember that virtually every EMG country is dependent on its export sector for economic growth, and as the global free-trade framework that has existed for the past 70 years starts to come undone, these economies are going to suffer. The only potential exception right now is for the oil producers as President Trump’s recent call for a complete boycott of Iranian crude products has helped drive oil prices up by nearly 4% this week. So RUB, MXN and MYR have been able to outperform their EMG peers, although this morning all three are down vs. the dollar. In fact, the dollar has demonstrated strength throughout the market today, just as it has been doing for the past several months.

As to this morning, we see Durable Goods data (exp -1.0%, +0.5% ex transport) and we hear from two Fed speakers, Randy Quarles and Eric Rosengren. However, it seems unlikely that any of this will have a major market impact. Rather, I expect that the broad equity weakness that has been evident of late will continue (currently futures are pointing to a -0.5% opening in the US) and the risk-off tone that has engendered will help the dollar to remain underpinned. And of course, there is the ever present risk of some new commentary from President Trump that has the chance to upset markets. So volatility remains a good bet, as does modest continued dollar strength. This story is not even close to ending.

Good luck