Fiscal Deadlock/China data

This week kicked off with a heavy China’s Sep data slate and Q3 GDP today.  The data releases were positive, revealing yet more signs of strengthening recovery. Industrial production, retail sales, jobs and property investment all beat expectations while Q3 GDP fell short. The data supports the view that China will be one of the only major economies to record positive growth this year. This bodes well for China’s markets and will likely also filter into improving prospects for the rest of Asia.

In contrast US recovery continues to be at risk, with fiscal stimulus discussions remaining deadlocked; a 75-minute conversation between House Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin yielded no progress at the end of last week.  Pelosi has now given a 48-hour deadline to agree on stimulus while Senate majority leader McConnell has scheduled a Senate vote on a more targeted $500bn bill tomorrow. Talks are scheduled to continue today but there still seems to be little chance of a deal this side of elections. 

On the data front, US Sep retail sales data registered broad-based gains on Friday, with headline sales up 1.9% m/m (consensus 0.8%). In contrast, industrial production fell a sharp 0.6% m/m in Sep (consensus +0.5%).  Lastly, Michigan consumer sentiment rose in the preliminary Oct report to 81.2 from 80.4 in Sep (consensus 80.5).  The lack of a fiscal deal means that the prospects of a loss of momentum in the US economy has grown, something that will become more apparent in the weeks ahead. US data is limited this week and instead focus will remain on progress or lack thereof, on fiscal stimulus as well as the Presidential debate towards the end of the week. 

Another saga that is showing little progress is EU/UK Brexit transition talks.  The stakes have risen, with UK PM Johnson warning UK businesses to prepare for a hard exit while threatening to abandon talks completely.  On a more positive note UK officials are reportedly prepared to rewrite the contentious Internal Market Bill, which may appease the EU.  Credit ratings agencies are running out patience however, with Moody’s downgrading the UK ratings by one notch to Aa3. The pound seems to be taking all of this in it stride, clinging to the 1.30 level against the US dollar, suggesting that FX markets are not yet panicking about the prospects of a no deal transition.

Several emerging markets central banks are in focus this week including in China (Tue), Hungary (Tue), Turkey (Thu), and Russia (Fri).  Of these Turkey is expected to hike by 150 basis points, but the rest are likely to stand pat.  Most central banks are taking a wait and see approach, especially ahead of US elections. Reserve Bank of Australia meeting minutes tomorrow will garner attention too, with clues sought on a potential rate cut next month.  

China’s economy slows…what to watch this week

The week has started off with attention firmly fixed on Chinese data. In the event, second quarter (Q2) growth domestic product (GDP) came in at 6.2% year-on-year (y/y) following a 6.4% increase in the previous quarter, matching market expectations.  However, higher frequency Chinese data for June released at the same time looked far better, with industrial production up 6.3% y/y (market 5.2% y/y), retail sales up 9.8% y/y (market 8.5%) and fixed assets investment up 5.8% YTD y/y (market 5.5%).

Although growth in China has slowed to its weakest in many years, this was well flagged in advance and the GDP data is backward looking in any case.  The other data released today as well as increases in new loans and aggregate financing data released last week, suggest less urgency for fresh stimulus.  Overall, markets will be relieved by the fact that higher frequency data is holding up, but hopes of more aggressive stimulus in the near term may be dashed.

Attention elsewhere this week will focus on data and central banks.  After last week’s testimonies from Fed Chair Powell, during which he cemented expectations of a quarter percent from the Fed at the end of this month, attention in the US this well will be on June retail sales data where the consensus looks for a weaker 0.1% m/m increase in headline and ex-autos sales.   Further comments from Fed speakers will also garner attention, with Powell and New York Fed President Williams, likely to maintain market expectations of Fed easing.

Emerging Markets central banks will also be in focus, with monetary policy easing expected in South Africa, Indonesia and South Korea as central banks take the cue from the Fed.  Declining inflation pressure, weaker domestic growth, will also add support to further policy easing.  Stronger currencies in South Africa and Indonesia provide further impetus to cut rates.  I expect many emerging market central banks, especially in Asia, to ease policy in the weeks ahead, for similar reasons as above.

Watch me Guest Host on CNBC Asia tomorrow morning from 8-9am Singapore time where I will discuss these and other topics in more detail. 

Euro and Yen capitalise on weaker Dollar

Equities continued their bounce back overnight helped by a reiteration from Fed officials that US monetary policy will remain highly accommodative through late 2014. Risk assets overcame a weaker than expected report on US jobless claims, with a smaller than expected trade deficit in February ($46 billion) helping sentiment. The launch of a North Korean missile which apparently failed did little to dent sentiment. Nonetheless, Spanish concerns continue to weigh on its markets, bucking the trend of improvement elsewhere.

Today’s data slate has little in terms of first tier data on tap, with inflation releases in Europe and the US in focus. The bigger influence will be a slate of Chinese data including Q1 GDP. The market has already priced in a good number (around 9% YOY) and therefore there is a risk of disappointment, which could hit risk assets. Also watch out for earnings from US financials including JP Morgan and Wells Fargo. So far US earnings have been positive, although admittedly its early days yet.

Downward pressure on EUR/USD has lessened for the time being and any further decline will be limited in the short term. While it is evident that the boost to markets provided by the European Central Bank’s Long Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO) has faded, EUR bears have been dealt a blow from renewed prospects of securities market purchases.

Italy’s debt auction yesterday provided little help to the EUR but at least it was not cause of further selling pressure. Concerns about Spain continue but any further downside pressure on EUR/USD will be restricted to technical support around the 1.3004 level (March 15 low), with EUR/USD set to remain in a 1.30-1.32 range.

JPY has pulled back sharply against the USD over the past month as I repeatedly warned. But before I blow my own trumpet any further I would note that further downside risks to USD/JPY remain in place although the room is now more limited than in previous weeks. According to my quantitative model a drop to around 79.00 is likely to mark a low in USD/JPY.

Warnings by the Bank of Japan of more “powerful” monetary easing have helped to prevent further JPY strengthening over recent sessions. However, a renewed narrowing in the US 2-year bond yield advantage over Japan will likely limit any upside for USD/JPY as reflected in the extremely strong correlation between USD/JPY and yield differentials over the past 3-months.

Calm Returns

Returning from being out over the last couple of weeks it seems as though global markets look in a much worse state than when I left. Nonetheless, a semblance of calm returned to markets overnight helped in part by comments from European Central Bank council member Coeure that the ECB may restart its Securities Market Purchases (SMP) programme to support Spanish bonds while Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy denied any need for a Greek style bailout.

Consequently equity markets have firmed helped also by a solid start to the US earnings season from Alcoa. The lack of any fresh positive fundamental news suggests that any risk rally will be fragile. Renewed Spanish and Italian debt worries will not fade quickly while growth concerns have been reignited by last week’s weaker than expected US jobs report.

This leaves currencies in a state of limbo. After having dropped over the last couple of weeks the EUR has stabilised at a weaker level versus USD. In contrast as warned previously the risk of a pull back in the JPY was very high and subsequently it has strengthened sharply from its lows close to 84.00 against the USD. However, comments from the Bank of Japan’s Shirakawa that the BoJ will continue to pursue “powerful” monetary easing may help to limit the bounce in the JPY to technical support around 80.69.

AUD has been on a downward trajectory as the yield differential with the US has narrowed but the currency benefited from a strong March employment report in which the number of jobs added (+44k) was far more than forecast. As a result expectations of further rate cuts from the Reserve Bank of Australia have been pared back. Much will depend on the Q1 CPI release on April 24 to provide further clarity on the prospects of a May move. China’s GDP data tomorrow will provide further direction and will help to determine whether the bounce in AUD can be sustained.

An upcoming Italian bond auction today as well as US Q1 earnings will garner most attention in the absence of first tier data releases. The main event of the week will be tomorrow’s GDP release in China, however. It will require positive results for all of the above to maintain the rally in risk currencies and consequently downward pressure on the USD. However, it seems that markets are in corrective mode and fresh Eurozone and global worries will likely limit any risk rally, leaving the USD well supported.

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