Weaker China data and Delta Concerns

The same old discussion continues to afflict equity investors as lofty valuations balance against a wall of liquidity.  So far liquidity is winning out as US equity indices are trading around record highs despite a surprise 13.5% plunge in August US consumer confidence released last Friday, which marked one of the largest declines ever in the University of Michigan series. In fact confidence fell to a level even below the COVID low, likely due to Delta variant concerns. 

The confidence data fuelled a bull flattening in US Treasuries and USD sell off.  As reflected in the confidence data, the Delta variant is increasingly threatening recovery and evidence of sharply rising virus cases even in highly vaccinated countries sends a worrying sign of what to expect going forward. 

Geopolitics will be in focus after the Taliban effectively took over Afghanistan after marching into Kabul yesterday.  This will have major repercussions in South Asia and the rest of the region.  Separately, Canada’s PM Trudeau has called a snap election on Sep 20 while Malaysia’s PM Yassin has resigned today.  Geopolitics, weak US confidence data, China’s regulatory crackdown and ongoing Delta variant concerns, with Philippines and Thailand registering record virus cases in Asia led to a cautious start to the week for Asia. 

Further direction came from China’s July data slate released today.  The data revealed weaker than expected outcomes across the board, with industrial production and retail sales alongside other data revealing further softening.  The releases provided more evidence that Chinese consumer caution has intensified in the wake of targeted lockdown measures in several provinces while industrial activity is being hampered by supply constraints and weakening demand for exports.

The Chinese data will likely provide more support to expectations of further easing in liquidity from the central bank (PBOC) and even policy rate cuts. Separately, China’s regulatory crackdown has extended further, weighing on Chinese and regional assets, but there is little sign that officials are looking to step back.   More broadly, weaker Chinese data will likely contribute to a near term tone of risk aversion afflicting global market sentiment amidst worsening Delta variant concerns, rising growth worries and geopolitical risks.

Over the rest of the week Fed FOMC minutes (Wed), in particular views on the shape of quantitative easing tapering, as well as central bank decisions in New Zealand (Wed), Indonesia (Thu) and Norway (Thu) are in focus.  The RBNZ is likely to be the most eventful among these, with a 25bp hike in its policy rate (OCR) expected amid firming data and rising inflation pressures.  Key data this week includes US July retail sales (Tue), with falls in both the headline and control group readings likely as the boost to spending from stimulus and reopening fades. 

Lots Of Buyers On Dips

Last week’s bout of risk-aversion proved short-lived though more volatility likes lies ahead. The reflation trade looked like it was falling apart last week as reflected in the sharp decline in US Treasury bond yields and the shift out of value into big tech/growth stocks.  The markets appeared to have increasingly absorbed the Fed’s message that inflation increases will be transitory while a reversal of crowded market positioning in reflation trades exacerbated the moves.  The malaise in markets coincided with several indicators revealing peak growth has passed and the rapid spread of the Delta variant globally.

However, clearly that didn’t appear to be the case by the end of last week as equities rallied strongly and the US Treasury curve shifted higher.  The US dollar gave up some of its gains while oil and gold rallied.  While there are still concerns about peak growth passing and the rapid spread of the Delta variant, there are obviously still plenty of buyers willing to jump in on dips. 

China’s central bank, PBoC went ahead with a much anticipated reserve requirement ratio cut sooner than expected on Friday though this targeted liquidity easing is unlikely to change the fact that growth is losing momentum amid a weakening credit impulse.  This week, key events include China’s June trade data (Tue) for which outsized gains in exports and imports is likely.  China’s monetary and credit aggregates will also be out sometime over the week as well as Q2 GDP and the June data dump, with some further moderation likely to be revealed. 

Top US data includes June CPI inflation (Tue) and retail sales (Fri).  CPI is likely to record another sizeable 4.9% y/y increase though the Fed’s repeated message of transitory inflation, will limit any market concerns over inflation pressures.  Also given the gyrations in markets last week, there will be even more focus on Federal Reserve Chair Powell’s semi-annual testimony to Congress (Wed & Thu).  The start of the Q2 earnings season will also come under scrutiny, with expectations of a 63% surge forecast according to FactSet data.   

Monetary policy rate decisions in New Zealand, Canada, Turkey (all on Wed), Korea (Thu) and Japan (Fri) are on tap, with the former two likely to reveal upbeat views while the CBRT in Turkey will have limited room to ease given the recent spike in inflation.  BoK in Korea may dial back a little of its hawkish rhetoric giving increasing virus cases in the country, while BoJ in Japan is likely to revise higher its inflation forecasts but leave its economic outlook unchanged.  Australian and UK jobs data (Thu) will also garner attention. 

What Could Prompt Higher Volatility?

Equities were buoyed last week in the wake of US President Biden’s infrastructure deal and renewed reflation trade optimism amid mixed post Federal Reserve FOMC messages from Fed officials. This resulted in US stocks recording their biggest weekly gain since February.  The prospects of passing the infrastructure deal has improved in the wake of Biden’s decision not to tie it to a much larger spending package that is being pushed through by Democrats but is not supported by Republicans. 

Given heightened sensitivity over inflation, the slightly weaker than expected US Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) data on Friday, which increased 0.5% m/m in May, slightly below the 0.6% consensus, added further support to the reflation trade, helping the US Treasury curve to steepen.  Moreover, the University of Michigan 5-10y inflation expectations series came in lower in June compared to the previous month. Fed officials likely put much more emphasis on this long-term series and will view the 2.8% reading as consistent with their “largely transitory” take on the pickup in inflation.

Cross-asset volatility has continued to decline, which bodes well for carry trades and risk assets.  For example, the VIX “fear gauge” index has dropped to pre-COVID level, something that has been echoed in other market volatility measures.  However, it’s hard to ignore the shift in tone from many central banks globally to a more hawkish one while risk asset momentum will likely wane as the strength of recovery slows, suggesting that low volatility may not persist.  It is notable that changes in global excess liquidity and China’s credit impulse have both weakened, implying a downdraft for risk assets and commodity prices and higher volatility. 

If there is anything that could prompt any increase in volatility this week, its the US June jobs report on Friday.  June likely saw another strong (consensus 700k) increase in nonfarm payrolls while the unemployment rate likely dropped to 5.7% from 5.8% previously.  Despite the likely strong gain in hiring, payrolls would still be close to 7 million lower compared to pre-COVID levels, suggesting a long way to go before the US jobs market normalises. The June US Institute for Supply Management (ISM) manufacturing index will also come under scrutiny though little change is expected from the May reading, with a 61.0 outcome likely from 61.2 in May. 

Other data and events of importance this week include the 100th year anniversary of China’s Communist Party (Thu), the release of purchasing managers indices (PMI) data globally including China’s official NBS PMI (Wed) for which a slight moderation is expected.  Eurozone June CPI inflation (Wed) which is likely to edge lower, Sweden’s Riksbank policy decision (Thu) where an unchanged outcome is likely and Bank of England (BoE) Governor Bailey’s Mansion House Speech (Thu), will be among the other key events in focus this week. 

When Bad Means Good

Bad meant good on Friday as weaker than expected US April jobs data helped to dampen concerns over inflation risks and higher rates. At a time when markets were becoming increasingly fearful of rising inflation risks the softer US jobs data will act as a balm on such fears. It also complicates matters ahead of bipartisan talks between President Biden and congressional leaders this week. Democrats will likely use the data to outline their case for more stimulus to boost growth, while Republicans will highlight that excessive unemployment benefits are holding back hiring.  

US Payrolls increased by 266,000 in April, well below the 1 million consensus and the unemployment rate rose to 6.1% from 6.0%, above the 5.8% consensus.  The data supports the view of most Fed officials that progress has not been “substantial” enough for them to start signaling tapering.  Unsurprisingly Markets pushed back the pricing of the first rate hike from early-2023 to May 2023 in the wake of the weaker US jobs data. The US dollar (USD) took a hit and looks likely to kick off the week on the back foot.  High yielding currencies will likely benefit the most.  

This week inflation releases will come under scrutiny, with CPI data in the US (Wed), China (Tue) and India (Wed) in focus, albeit for different reasons.  In the US, base effects will likely push inflation higher, with a sharp pick up in core CPI in particular likely.  A similar story is expected in China, but base effects will likely act in the opposite direction in India.  Other highlights this week include a likely modest decline in US retail sales (Fri), further easing in China’s credit aggregates (9-15 May) and a material improvement expected to be revealed in Australia’s Federal Budget (Tue).  Last but not least, central banks in Mexico and Philippines (both Thu) are expected to leave policy unchanged.

Separately, markets will digest the outcome of UK local elections, especially those in Scotland, which revealed that pro-independence parties (SNP and Scottish Greens) gained a majority in the Scottish parliament. A constitutional battle with the Conservative UK government looms though UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is showing no signs of acceding to demands for a new Scottish referendum.  There will also be focus on the aftermath of the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline in the US, which has already pushed energy prices higher.  And finally, the much anticipated (among Krypto traders) appearance of Elon Musk on SNL hit Dodgecoin, after he called it “a hustle”. 

India Risks, Highlights For The Week Ahead

It was a strong end to last week for US markets, with S&P 500 up over 1%, helped by stronger than expected new home sales and April US Markit purchasing managers indices (PMI) data. As risk assets rallied the US dollar and US Treasuries sold off.  There are plenty of event risks this week. Also, there will be deluge of US earnings releases this week including most tech heavyweights while markets will likely remain nervous over President Biden’s tax plans.  Geopolitical risks will also remain on the forefront. 

Even as the progress on the vaccination front continues the renewed increases in virus cases in many countries, particularly in India, where the situation has deteriorated markedly, threatens to delay recovery. The acceleration in virus cases has been dramatic, with Prime Minister Modi noting how it has “shaken the nation”. Virus cases hit 349,000 on Saturday and show no sign of receding. The toll on the health system in India has been massive, but the variants also holds risks to the rest of the world while it will also lead to a major disruption in India’s vaccine exports, threatening vaccination programs in several countries.  

Friday’s economic data round was broadly firm. Alongside the US releases noted above, Euro area April PMIs were generally better than expected, with G10 manufacturing PMIs pointing to strengthening momentum overall.  Separately, Russia’s central bank, the CBR surprised with a bigger than expected 50bp rate hike.  Today’s data releases include the April German IFO business confidence survey; consensus expectations forecast an increase to 97.8 from 96.6 previously. In the US, durable goods orders are forecast to rise in March by 2.5% m/m following a weather-related 1.2% m/m drop in February.

The focus over the rest of the week will turn to central bank decisions in Japan, Sweden and Hungary (all on Tue) and the Federal Reserve FOMC (Wed).  Although the Bank of Canada’s shift last week will prompt a little more nervousness about G10 central bank tapering the policy meetings are likely to be largely uneventful, this week. Nonetheless, the Fed tone is likely to be more positive than in March, while in contrast the Bank of Japan may sound more cautious amid a third state of emergency in Tokyo. 

A key event this week will be President Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress.  After the hit to markets in the wake of the news of a proposal to hike taxes, markets will look for any further details.  Key data releases this week include Australia Q1 CPI inflation (Wed), US Q1 advance GDP (Thu), China’s April purchasing managers indices data (Fri) and Euro area Q1 GDP (Fri).  

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