Bumpy Ride Ahead

Just as it looked as though there was some hope of stabilisation in global economic conditions, the September US ISM (Institute of Supply Management) Index released on Monday was not only weak but it was a lot worse than expected at 47.8 (below 50 means contraction).  Markets clearly took fright, with the sell off in stocks intensifying yesterday in the wake of the US ADP jobs report for September, which recorded an increase of 135k jobs by private sector employers, its weakest reading in three months.

This all sets up for a nervous wait ahead of tomorrow’s September jobs report in which markets will be on the look out for any slowing in nonfarm payrolls and/or increase in the unemployment rate.  The consensus expectation is for a 148k increase in payrolls in September and for the unemployment rate to remain at 3.7%, but risks of a weaker outcome have grown.  The US dollar has also come under pressure as US economic risks increase.

Rising geopolitical risks are adding to the market malaise, with the impeachment enquiry into President Trump intensifying and risks of a hard Brexit in the UK remaining elevated.  On the latte front UK Prime Minister Johnson published his plans for a Brexit strategy yesterday replacing Theresa May’s “backstop” plan with two new borders for Northern Ireland.

If the proposal isn’t agreed with the EU, there is a strong chance that Johnson will be forced to seek another extension to Article 50 from the end of October, prolonging the three and a half years of uncertainty that the UK has gone through.  GBP didn’t react much to the new plan, and surprisingly did not fall despite the sharp sell off in UK equities yesterday, with the FTSE falling by over 3%.

The fact that the US has now been given the green light to impose tariffs on EU goods after the EU lost a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling adds a further dimension to the trade war engulfing economies globally.  The US administration will now move ahead to impose 25% tariffs on a range of imports from the EU, with the tariffs implementation likely to compound global growth fears.  If the EU wins a similar case early next year, expect to see an onslaught of EU tariffs on EU imports of US goods.

This is taking place just as hopes of progress in trade talks between the US and China in talks scheduled for next week have grown.  But even these talks are unlikely to be smooth given the array of structural issues that remain unresolved including technology transfers, Chinese state subsidies, accusations of IP theft, etc.  Additionally, the fact that the US administration has reportedly discussed adding financial restrictions on Chinese access to US capital suggests another front in the trade way may be about to open up.

The bottom line is that there is a host of factors weighing on markets at present and adding to global uncertainty, none of which are likely to go away soon.  Now that fears about the US economy are also intensifying suggests that there is nowhere to hide in the current malaise, implying that risk assets are in for a bumpy ride in the weeks ahead while market volatility is likely to increase.

 

 

 

 

Will The Risk Rally Endure?

There has been a definitive turnaround in risk sentiment this week, with equities rallying and bonds falling.  Whether it can be sustained is another question. I think it will be short-lived.

Markets are pinning their hopes on trade talks which have been agreed be US and Chinese officials to take place in October.  These would be the first official talks since July and follow an intensification of tariffs over recent weeks.  However, talks previously broke up due to a lack of progress on various structural issues and there is no guarantee that anything would be different this time around.  Nonetheless, such hopes may be sufficient to keep market sentiment buoyed in the short term.

Data overnight was bullish for risk sentiment, with the US August ADP employment report revealing private sector gains of +195k, which was higher than expected.  The US ISM non-manufacturing index was also stronger than expected, rising to 56.4 in August from 53.7 previously.  This contrasted with the slide in the manufacturing PMI, which slipped in contraction below 50, reported earlier this week.  The data sets up for a positive outcome for the US August jobs report to be released later today, where the consensus (Bloomberg) is for a 160k increase in payrolls and for the unemployment rate to remain at 3.7%.

As risk appetite has improved the US dollar has come under pressure, falling from its recent highs.  Nonetheless, the dollar remains at over two year highs despite speculation that the US authorities are on the verge of embarking on intervention to weaken the currency.  While I think such intervention is still very unlikely given that it would do little to change the factors driving the dollar higher, chatter about potential intervention may still keep dollar bulls wary.  While intervention is a risk, I don’t think this stop the USD from moving even higher in the weeks ahead.

Conversely China’s currency, the renminbi has reversed some of its recent losses, but this looks like a temporary retracement rather than a change in trend.  China’s economy continues to weaken as reflected in a series of weaker data releases and a weaker currency is still an effective way to alleviate some of the pressure on Chinese exporters. As long as the pace of decline is not too rapid and does incite a sharp increase in capital outflows, I expect the renminbi to continue to weaken.

Tariffs Implemented, Talks Awaited

US and China went ahead with their tariffs implementation over the weekend, with the US adding 15% tariffs on around $110bn of Chinese imports, mainly aimed at consumer goods. Another $160bn of goods will be hit by 15% tariffs on December 15, with the implementation delayed to avoid a big impact on holiday spending.

China retaliated by implementing $75bn of tariffs on US goods on Sunday, much of which was aimed at agricultural goods including 10% on various meat, an additional 5% on top of the existing 25% on soybeans and a further 10% on sorghum and cotton and 5% on crude oil.  Chinese tariffs on US autos will resume in December.  China’s currency is likely to continue to weaken further given the tariffs intensification.

Against this background markets will closely monitor comments from both China and the US on the potential for trade talks over coming weeks, with President Trump stating that face to face talks are “still on”.  Meanwhile Chinese economic data continues to worsen, with China’s official August manufacturing PMI released on Saturday dropping to 49.5 in August from 49.7 in July, indicating ongoing contraction in China’s manufacturing sector.

There are plenty of events and data on tap this week including the August US ISM manufacturing survey, August non-farm payrolls and a slew of Fed speakers including Fed Chairman Powell.   The ISM index is forecast to remain steady around 51.2, reflecting the pressure on US manufacturers, although the index is still likely to remain in expansion.  Meanwhile consensus forecasts look for a 158k increase in August payrolls and for the unemployment rate to remain at 3.7%.

Events in the UK will also garner plenty of interest as parliament returns from their summer break, albeit only for a few days as Parliament will be prorogued in the following week.  The opposition Labour Party will aim to present legislation to prevent the country from crashing out of the EU without a deal against the background of protests against the decision to suspend parliament.  The potential for fresh elections is also in prospect.  GBP will remain volatile against this background.

Calmer market tone ahead of key events

Markets have taken on somewhat of a calmer tone in part due to hopes that discussions between the US and Russia will find some form of solution to the recent escalation of tensions in Ukraine. The nearing of European Central Bank and Bank of England policy decisions today and the US jobs report on Friday have also led to inaction and range trading in markets. Consequently US equities ended flat overnight while risk appetite improved.

Meanwhile, investors are continuing to ignore poor US data attributing it to the weather, with a weaker than forecast February ADP private sector jobs report (139k versus 155k consensus) and February ISM non manufacturing survey (51.6 versus 53.5 consensus), registered overnight. Notably the Fed’s Beige Book repeatedly highlighted the weather impact on US data. Clearly weaker data is not being seen as changing the path of Fed tapering over coming months.

US dollar soft ahead of retail sales

The USD has lost a fair bit of ground in February failing to benefit from a renewed rise in US Treasury yields. A more positive risk environment recently has undermined some of the demand for USDs while some negative data surprises such as the ISM manufacturing survey and non farm payrolls have also weighed on demand for the USD.

The release of January retail sales data today will give another opportunity to gauge the path of consumption at the turn of the year but unfortunately for the USD a relatively flat outcome for sales will provide little rationale to buy the currency. The consensus expectation is for headline retail sales to post a 0% monthly reading, while sales ex autis is likely to rise by a measly 0.1%.

In the near term this implies little potential for a USD rebound but over but over coming weeks I expect the USD to rally in line with higher US yields. USD index (DXY) is likely to flatline around the 80 level in the coming sessions before rallying over coming weeks.

A further blow to risk appetite

Amid a market that is already very nervous the much weaker than expected US ISM manufacturing confidence index (51.3 versus 56.0 consensus) taken together with the weaker Chinese non manufacturing purchasing managers index (53.4 versus 54.6 prior) dealt another blow to risk appetite.

Consequently the VIX fear gauge has spiked to its highest level since the end of 2012 and our risk barometer has moved swiftly into risk hating territory. US Treasury yields have continued to drop, with the 10 year yield having slid by around 45 basis points so far this year.

Suffice to say investors should steer clear of risk assets over the short term as the turmoil does not look like it will be over anytime soon. A combination of tapering, a confluence of country specific emerging market country concerns and weaker growth in China provide the backdrop for a volatile few weeks if not longer, ahead.

The main event today is the Reserve Bank of Australia meeting where we look for no change in policy. However, the key events of the week are yet to come, with the European Central Bank and Bank of England policy decisions and US January jobs report all on tap over coming days. In brief, no change in policy is expected from either central bank and payrolls are expected to come in around 200k.

USD finding support, AUD slipping

US bond yields look relatively well supported and in turn this is providing a degree of support for the USD. In this respect the firmer than consensus reading in a gauge of service sector activity, the February US ISM non-manufacturing survey (57.3 versus 56.8 in January) which contrasted with relatively weak service sector purchasing managers’ indices (PMI) in Europe, helped to maintain the healthy yield differential between the US and German bunds.

Combined with the generally ‘risk off’ sentiment pervading markets, in part due to the weaker PMI data, the USD looks to be in good form early in the week. The next market mover will be Wednesday’s ADP jobs report (a measure of jobs growth in the services sector), which will provide clues to Friday’s February non-farm payrolls outcome. In the meantime the fact that the speculative market (IMM) is positioned short USD (for the first time since September 2011) suggests that the room for further USD selling looks limited, with the USD index looking well supported above 79.00.

AUD and other high beta currencies lost more ground in the wake of the drop in the Chinese non-manufacturing PMI in February. AUD remains highly reactive to Chinese data releases given the high and growing exposure of Australia’s economy to China. Given the likelihood of a soft landing in China this year, the medium term damage to the AUD will be limited and I stil look for AUD/USD to reach 1.10 by year-end.

Over the near term however, there is scope for more AUD downside but much will depend on the outcome of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) policy meeting. Expectations of rate cuts have diminished following recently better data and a less dovish statement at the last RBA meeting. A relatively benign statement will offer the AUD little support, leaving AUD exposed to a drop to technical support to just under 1.06 versus the USD.

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