Fed’s Powell & China trade data in focus

US jobs data released at the end of last week will diminish hopes of more aggressive policy rate cuts from the Fed FOMC at its policy meeting at the end of the month. Non-farm payrolls rose by 224,000 last month, beating market forecasts, a sharp improvement from the disappointing 72,000 increase in the previous month.

Despite the stronger than expected reading in June, the Fed is still likely to cut interest rates by 25 basis points amid concerns about a loss of growth momentum, trade tensions against the background of low inflation.  Soft US June CPI releases on Thursday this week will likely confirm the subdued inflationary backdrop.

Markets will be able to garner more clues during Fed Chair Powell’s testimony to Congress on Wednesday and Thursday while Fed FOMC minutes from the last meeting will also provide greater detail on Fed thinking.  Both are likely to help confirm expectations of a 25 basis point cut in rates at the next FOMC meeting.

The USD has recovered some if recent losses, helped at the end of last week but the US jobs report.  Further gains are likely to be limited (with the USD index likely to struggle to break 98.0) though much will depend on Powell’s testimony this week.

Also in focus this week will be China’s June trade data.  This data will be scrutinised in particular, for the trade surplus with the US and whether there are any signs of this surplus beginning to narrow.  The data will also give some indications of the health of China’s economy, with another weak print for imports, likely to show further softening in China’s growth momentum. Similarly weaker exports will highlight the softening in demand from key trading partners such as Korea.

Further evidence on the outlook for China’s economy will be seen in the release of monetary aggregates including new loan growth and aggregate financing. Meanwhile, China’s currency continues to remain stable amid the trade truce with the US.



US-China Trade Truce Boosts Sentiment

Weekend developments will help set up the markets for a risk on day.  However, any improvement in sentiment will likely be capped. The good news was that the US and China agreed to a trade truce at the G20 summit, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met at the demilitarised zone while separately the EU and Mercosur agreed upon a trade deal in a strong retort against the rising trend of protectionism.

Presidents Trump and Xi agreed to delay the implementation of new tariffs (on the remaining $300bn of Chinese exports to the US) while agreeing to restart trade talks, albeit with no time table scheduled as yet.  The delay in tariffs escalation and restart of trade talks was in line with expectations but concessions on Huawei were not.   Trump stated that US companies can sell equipment to Huawei without giving details on what can be sold while China also agreed to buy more US agricultural goods.

The chances of a US-China trade deal have risen, but it could still take several months before various remaining structural issues (forced technology transfers, state subsidies, discrimination against foreign companies, regulations on intellectual property etc)
are ironed out. The lack of time frame on US-China trade talks, ongoing structural issues, lack of details on what equipment US suppliers can sell to Huawei and a host of data releases, will limit the improvement in sentiment and reduce the likelihood of any near term deal.

Looking ahead, sentiment may be clouded somewhat by the disappointing China purchasing managers’ index (PMI) yesterday, with the manufacturing PMI coming in at 49.4 in June, the same as in May, with manufacturing continuing to contract.  However, markets may be willing to overlook this as trade tensions were likely a prime reason for the continued weakness in manufacturing confidence.   As such, China’s currency CNY and asset markets will likely react positively overall.

The events over the weekend will likely reduce the chances of a 50bps rate by the Fed at their next meeting, but much will depend on upcoming data.   This includes the June US ISM survey today and employment report on Friday.  Markets expect a 160k bounce back in payrolls in June after the surprisingly weak 75k increase in the previous month.  Assuming the data is line with expectations it seems unlikely that the Fed will feel the need to ease policy by more than 25bp when they meet at the end of the month.

Chinese data casts a shadow over markets

The better than expected reading for January US jobs growth (175k versus 149k consensus) helped to buoy asset markets at the end of the week, with major US equity indices posting gains. The uptick in the US unemployment rate to 6.7% was also not perceived badly as it will put less pressure on the Fed to change its forward guidance. The jobs data helped to overcome concerns over ongoing tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine.

Consequently the USD strengthened as US yields rose, with the 10 year Treasury yield almost touching 2.82%. The most sensitive currency pair to higher US yields is USD/JPY and further upside traction is likely. The main exception to the USD rebound was the EUR, which continued to benefit from the ECB’s lack of policy easing or dovish commentary at its policy meeting last week.

Chinese data released over the weekend will prove to be less constructive for asset markets at the turn of this week, however, with a surprise trade deficit registered over February and slowing inflation to a 13 month low. Exports dropped by whopping 18.1% in February while imports rose more strongly than expected at 10.1% yielding a trade deficit of USD 22.99 billion.

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A more constructive start to the week

Following a period of heightened volatility markets ended last week on a more positive note. Despite another soft reading for US non farm payrolls in January which revealed jobs growth of 142k following a gain of 74k in the previous month, markets took some comfort from a drop in the unemployment rate to 6.6% which for a change was not related to a drop in the participation rate. The participation rate rose to 63.0% in January.

Against this backdrop Fed Chairman Yellen will be giving her first testimony to Congress this week and while there is likely to be little change to the Fed’s policy outlook there will need to be some reassessment of the Fed’s forward guidance, especially given the surprisingly quick drop in the unemployment rate. The USD index slipped last week but we expect a slightly firmer tone to ensue over coming days in line with higher US yields.

Markets will kick off the week much as they left off last week, with a calmer and more constructive tone likely. Aside from Yellen’s speeches, US data will be soft on the whole, with January retail sales likely to post a small decline, while industrial production will record a gain and Michigan sentiment will fall, with consumer confidence weighed down by weaker equity markets.

Caution continues

The cautious tone in risk assets was maintained at the turn of this week as equity markets slipped further overnight in the US and recorded mixed performances in Asia. While the rise in risk aversion is unlikely to reflect a major change in market sentiment, it does highlight that risk assets will not repeat the one sided moves recorded in Q4 last year over coming months. US equity valuations for example look far richer compared to historical valuations while earnings expectations are softer, suggesting that equity momentum may not be as robust.

Ahead of the key data and events this week including European Central Bank and Bank of England policy decisions and the US employment report, caution is likely to prevail. Highlights today include flash December Eurozone CPI inflation data, which is likely to show inflation pressures remaining subdued, German December employment data and the US November trade balance.

Disappointing US non manufacturing confidence data released yesterday (53.0 for the ISM non manufacturing survey against expectations of 54.7) has taken the wind out of the USD’s sails although most major currencies look set to gyrate in relatively tight ranges over the near term. JPY will find some support from a generally softer risk tone that has filtered through markets and may struggle to retake the 105 level.

Meanwhile EUR/USD has failed to hold onto recent gains, with sentiment turning less positive as indicated by the latest CFTC IMM data on speculative positioning. Likely soft Eurozone inflation data to be released today will likely undermine the currency further. However, given that it is unlikely that the ECB will sound any more dovish at this Thursday’s policy meeting the downside for the EUR is set to be limited, with technical support around 1.3525.

Consolidating ahead of payrolls

Ahead of the belated release of the US September jobs report markets are set to remain range bound, with most assets consolidating recent moves. For instance, the VIX “fear gauge” edged higher following steep declines while US Treasury yields gained a few basis points helping the USD index to push slightly higher. Equity investors will have one eye on earnings reports hoping that the recent run of positive Q3 US earnings surprises continues.

The consensus for US September non farm payrolls is 180k, with a low of 100k and high of 256k according to Bloomberg and unemployment rate likely to remain 7.3%. The data will have important implications for Fed tapering expectations, with the outcome likely to help support expectations that the Fed will not begin tapering until early next year.

Like other asset classes little movement is expected in FX markets ahead of the release of the US jobs report. A payrolls outcome around the consensus will have little market impact but it appears that the consensus is skewed towards a weaker outcome, suggesting a bigger FX reaction should there be an above consensus outcome (around 200k+).

Both the EUR and JPY are struggling to make further headway against the USD. There is nothing of note on the data front from the Eurozone or Japan today suggesting that attention will be mainly centred on US data. Stabilisation in US bond yields leaves the USD in better form against both currencies and given that a lot of bad news is now priced into the USD its downside looks more limited although much will depend on today’s jobs data.

The AUD is the outright winner in terms of gains versus the USD so far this month alongside other commodity currencies, NOK and NZD. AUD has benefitted from receding expectations of interest rate cuts, and firmer Chinese data alongside improving risk appetite. While I have been far more bullish than the consensus on AUD, it may be worth taking profits on recent gains versus USD as consolidation is likely in the short term. I see more scope for gains in AUD versus NZD over coming weeks, however.

US dollar buoyed by higher yields, Asian currencies hit

Efforts by the European Central Bank and Bank of England to disassociate themselves from Fed policy actions were overwhelmed by the US June jobs report which revealed a bigger than consensus 195k increase in payrolls and upward revisions to previous months. The data reinforced expectations that the Federal Reserve would begin tapering in September while the data also pushed US yields sharply higher (close to 23 basis points increase in US 10 year yields following the data) and fuelling further USD strength.

In fairness attempts by the ECB and BoE to introduce ‘forward guidance” may eventually garner some success but US yields will continue to dictate market direction, at least until the markets successfully transition to the reality of Fed tapering, which could take several weeks. During the interim expect transitional volatility to continue, with risk assets globally remaining under pressure.

Further detail on Fed policy will be looked for from within the minutes of the June FOMC meeting to be released on Wednesday although it is unlikely that there will be any real divergence from the message delivered by Fed Chairman Bernanke and a host of other Fed officials over recent weeks. Consequently the USD is likely to retain a broadly firm tone as it reacts to the sharp move higher in US yields at the end of last week.

The Bank of Japan will likely be emboldened in its ultra easy monetary policy stance following last week’s ECB and BoE announcements although no further policy action is likely at this week’s meeting as attention shifts to Japan’s Upper House elections on 21 July. The JPY in particular will remain susceptible to USD strength and widening yield differentials, with potential to test USD/JPY resistance around 102.45 this week.

European attention will centre on Greece and Portugal as the former will be the focus of discussions at the Eurogroup / Ecofin meetings today and tomorrow, with officials set to deliberate Greece’s bailout. Attempts in Portugal to resolve political differences between the main coalition parties appears to have garnered some success in a deal which could stave off fresh elections. None of this will help the EUR which is set to remain under pressure as it edges towards support levels at 1.2744 versus USD.

USD strength will also continue to be exhibited versus Asian currencies this week. Equity fund outflows continue to damage regional currencies lower. Since the end of May Asia has recorded around USD 15.4 billion in equity outflows. Total inflows this year have dropped to only around USD 3.6 billion. A renewed fall in the JPY will added pressure to more JPY sensitive currencies such as TWD and KRW but the overwhelming influence is higher US yields and capital outflows which will continue to have particularly negative impact on currencies with external funding needs, especially the INR and IDR.

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