In a further escalation of US-China tensions, President Trump revoked Hong Kong’s (HK) “Special Status” as revealed in a speech on Friday. What does this mean? At this stage there is scant detail to go on. Trump also promised to implement sanctions against individuals in China and HK who he deems responsible for eroding HK’s autonomy, but no names were given. Markets reacted with relief, with US equities closing higher on Friday, perhaps in relief that that the measures outlined by Trump were not more severe, or that the lack of detail meant that there could be various exemptions.
On the face of it, removing Hong Kong’s “Special Status” would deal a heavy blow to Hong Kong’s economy and to US companies there, while hurting China’s economy too. However, while still an important financial centre, Hong Kong’s economy relative to China is far smaller than it was at the time of the handover in 1997, at around 3%. As such, removing Hong Kong’s “Special Status” could be less painful on China than it would have been in the past. This may explain why the US administration is focusing on other measures such as student visa restrictions, sanctioning individuals, restricting investment etc. Even so, tensions will continue to cast a shadow over markets for some time to come and will likely heat up ahead of US elections in November.
Data wise, the week began with the release of China’s May manufacturing and non-manufacturing purchasing manager’s indices (PMIs) today. The data revealed a slight softening in the manufacturing PMI to 50.6 in May from 50.8 in April, indicating that manufacturing activity continues to remain in expansion. However, the trade related components were weak, suggesting that China’s exports and imports outlook is likely to come under growing pressure, weighing on overall recovery. China’s currency, the renminbi, has been weakening lately against the US dollar and against its peers, though it rallied against the dollar on Friday. Further gradual weakness in the renminbi looks likely over coming weeks.
This week there will be attention on various data releases and events including US May jobs data, ISM manufacturing, European Central Bank (ECB) and Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) policy decisions and UK-EU Brexit discussions. Of course markets will remain tuned into Covid-19 developments as economies around the world continue to open up. While the US jobs and ISM data will likely remain very weak, the silver lining is that the extent of weakness is likely to lessen in the months ahead. Consensus forecasts predict a massive 8 million drop in US non-farm payrolls and the unemployment rate to increase to close to 20%. The RBA is likely to leave policy unchanged at 0.25% while the ECB is expected to step up its asset purchases. Meanwhile UK-EU Brexit discussions are likely to continue to be fraught with difficulty.