US-China trade tensions show little sign of ending

Increasing tensions at the APEC summit between the US and China, which resulted in the failure to issue a joint communique (for the first time in APEC’s 29 year history) highlight the risks to any agreement at the G20 summit at the end of this month.   Consequently the chances of US tariffs on $250bn of Chinese goods rising from 10% to 25% in the new year remain  high as does the risks of tariffs on the remaining $267bn of goods exported to the US from China.  Contentious issues such as forced technology transfers remain a key stumbling block.

As the Trump-Xi meeting at the G20 leaders summit approaches, hopes of an agreement will grow, but as the APEC summit showed, there are still plenty of issues to negotiate.  US officials feel that China has not gone far enough to alleviate their concerns, especially on the topic of technology, with the hawks in the US administration likely to continue to maintain pressure on China to do more.  As it stands, prospects of a deal do not look good, suggesting that the trade war will intensify in the months ahead.

Despite all of this, the CNY CFETS trade weighted index has been remarkably stable and China’s focus on financial stability may continue as China avoids provoking the US and tries to limit the risks of intensifying capital outflows.  China may be wary of allowing a repeat of the drop in CNY that took place in June and July this year, for fear of fuelling an increase in domestic capital outflows.  However, if the USD strengthens further in broad terms, a break of USDCNY 7.00 is inevitable soon, even with a stable trade weighted currency.

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CNY appreciation speculation hits EUR

The USD index is trading close to a 15-month low and direction remains firmly downwards as risk appetite continues to improve and the USD’s status as a funding currency remains unaltered.   Whether it’s a weak USD driving stocks higher or vice-versa, US stocks are currently trading at 13-month highs, maintaining the negative correlation with the USD index. 

One currency that has failed to take advantage of the weak USD over recent days is EUR/USD and its failure to make a sustainable break above 1.50 highlights that momentum in the currency is fading.  EUR/USD looks vulnerable on the downside in the short term, with resistance seen around 1.5050.  Speculation that China will resume CNY appreciation has taken some of the steam out of the EUR given that it implies less recycling of intervention flows into the currency.  

The speculation that China will allow a stronger CNY follows a significant change by China’s central bank, the PBOC to its stated FX policy. The Bank removed the statement  that it will keep the CNY “basically stable” and noted instead that foreign exchange policy would take into account “capital flows and major currency movements”.   

Although this does not mean the CNY will immediately strengthen it will add to speculation that China will allow some appreciation next year following a long stretch in which the CNY has effectively been stuck in a very tight range against the USD.   The timing of the change in rhetoric should come as little surprise as it coincides with greater international calls for a stronger CNY to help rebalance the global economy as well as an improvement in economic data domestically.  

Any change in stance on the CNY could be a significant factor in determining the direction for the EUR given that it not only implies less flows into EUR from China but also from other central banks in Asia which may take China’s cue and allow greater strengthening of their currencies versus USD.  Given that central banks in Asia had been intervening to prevent local currency strength and then recycling this USD buying into other currencies, especially EURs, the change in stance could play negatively for the EUR. 

Currencies are also a focus of the APEC meeting of finance ministers, with the draft statement agreeing that flexible exchange rates and interest rates are critical in obtaining balanced and sustainable growth.  This has interesting implications given the FX intervention by Asian central banks to prevent their respective currencies from strengthening and attention will focus squarely on China’s CNY policy.

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