Finally, Back To The Economy

The election of President Elect Biden marks a new dawn for the US and the world.  The world had held its breath since Tuesday’s US election, wondering whether there would be four more years of the same or change.  A new Democratic President elect together with a split Congress, is arguably one of the best outcomes that markets could have hoped for, notwithstanding the fact that President Trump refuses to accept defeat. 

While the Senate is still up for grabs it seems more likely than not to stay in Republican hands; the Georgia run offs on 5 January could result in 50-50 in the Senate and effective Democrat control via Vice President elect Harris, but the probability of this is small.  As such, there seems little prospect that a Republican led Senate -– will be pliable to President elect Biden’s biding. 

Why is this good for markets?  It means that policies and members of Biden’s cabinet will likely veer towards more centrist as opposed to leftish aims.  It will for example, be difficult for Biden to hike taxes, which will take out some of the sting from a likely smaller fiscal package than Democrats had hoped for. And limited fiscal spending may keep the onus on the Fed to provide liquidity, underpinning markets further.  

Now that the Presidency has been decided, attention will turn at least in part, back to Covid and the economy.  Neither look encouraging.  Covid cases in the US have reached record levels.  US October jobs data released at the end of last week revealed an above consensus 638,000 increase in non- farm payrolls though the level of payrolls is still down a sizable 10.1mn from the level in February and the fading CARES Act spending alongside surge in Covid cases indicates risks to any further improvement going forward.

Top tier data is limited this week in the US, with inflation (CPI) as the main release on tap (Thurday).  Nonetheless, risk assets/equities are likely to continue to take on a positive tone in the wake of the election outcome. The USD is likely to remain under pressure as risk assets rally. 

A Biden presidency, split Congress bodes well for Asia.  The US stance on China would likely be more nuanced and US stance on trade would likely be more supportive.  As revealed in China’s October trade data over the weekend, exports are holding up particularly well even ahead of a Biden presidency; exports rose by a very healthy 11.4% y/y in October.  

The USD is likely to depreciate in the months ahead in the wake of a Biden win/split Congress, while US rates are likely to remain suppressed, which all point to Asian FX strength.  Fundamentals also point positively for Asia. Much of the region is recovering well from Covid related weakness, led by China, which now appears to be firing on all cylinders.

Wait And See

It’s difficult to be too conclusive in my blog post today given that markets are in waiting mode for a number of events to pass. First and foremost is the US May jobs report. The consensus forecast is for a gain of 536k in nonfarm payrolls and a slight drop in the unemployment rate to 9.8%. Payrolls estimates range from a high of 750k to a low of 220k, the wide margin likely reflecting the uncertainty of the amount of census hiring.

On the face of it a 500k+ gain in payrolls looks strong, but the bulk of this, probably about three-quarters, will made up of census hiring which by its nature is transitory. Therefore, only about 100k in payrolls will be due to private sector jobs growth, which is still not bad. Most of the clues leading up to the jobs data are consistent with the consensus, including the 55k increase in the May ADP.

The second event is the change in Prime Minister in Japan. Naoto Kan, the previous Finance Minister is set to take over the helm. His job is going to tough, with all eyes on how and when the government begins to get to grips with Japan’s burgeoning debt burden which is approaching 200% of GDP. Most of this, around 96% is held by domestic investors, so Japan is less exposed to foreign investor sentiment.

Nonetheless, even domestic investors including many large life insurance companies are increasing their overseas investments at the expense of Japanese debt. Kan is also a supporter of weaker JPY so at the least the rhetoric from Japanese officials to weaken the JPY will step up, especially given the very painful move in EUR/JPY over recent months.

Finally, the G20 meeting beginning today in South Korea will garner attention. Topics will include bank regulation and capital requirements, the European debt crisis, and policy tools such as the recent suggestion by South Korea to make permanent the currency swap agreements between central banks. Aside from a commitment to keep policy supportive, and likely talking up the efforts to combat the crisis in Europe, it is difficult to see anything particularly market moving emerge from the meeting.

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