Worsening China Economic News

There was more bad news on the data front from China.  Data released yesterday revealed a further slowing in the manufacturing sector. The Caixin purchasing managers index (PMI) dropped to 50.0 in September, its lowest reading since May 2017. This index which is far more weighted towards smaller companies is more sensitive to export concerns. Further pressure on sentiment is likely over coming months as tariffs bite, with prospects of another $267bn of US tariffs against China still very much alive.

The official China manufacturing PMI fell to 50.8, its lowest since February 2018, from 51.3 in August. Reflecting worsening trade tensions, the new export orders component of the index fell to 48, its fourth consecutive contraction and lowest reading since 2016. In contrast the non-manufacturing PMI strengthened to 54.9 from 51.2 in August reflecting firm service sector conditions. S

Separately China’s central bank, the PBoC stated on Saturday that it will maintain a prudent and neutral monetary policy stance while maintaining ample liquidity. This implies further targeted easing. The data may fuel further pressure for a weaker Chinese currency path in the weeks ahead though it is unlikely that China will revert to the fast pace of CNY depreciation registered over June.

 

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What now for the CNY?

News that China doubled its currency band (to 2% from 1% in relation to its daily mid point) will have reverberations across markets but the reality is that China has been building up to this for several weeks and now that it has happened there may be little incentive to push for more currency weakness.

The net result will probably be less volatility after an initial knee jerk reaction and some relief in markets that the China has actually gone ahead with the move after so much speculation. The reaction of the CNY is set to follow the same script as April 2012, with volatility set to ease once the initial reaction fades.

The weakness in the CNY had been engineered to incite more two way risk to a currency that for many months had been on a one way path of appreciation. China had been forcing the CNY weaker over recent weeks in order to deter speculators who had taken significant long positions in the currency playing for further currency strength.

CNY depreciation versus the USD (around 1.5%) since mid February may also have been a reflection of weaker economic data, with China releasing a series of data releases that had missed consensus forecasts, especially recent trade data.

Already both implied and realized USD/CNY volatility has been trading well in excess of past moves (as reflected in statistical significant readings in our Z-score analysis). Additionally risk reversal skews (3 month, 25 delta) have been flirting with its 2 standard deviation band indicative of the view that the options market holds an extreme view of CNY downside risks.

The main imponderable is what China does now. The band widening is clearly a further step along the road of freeing up the currency on the road to capital account convertibility. However, the reality is that the Peoples Bank of China (PBoC) still sets the daily fixing and the movement in the CNY will still largely depend on where this fixing is set.

Ultimately a move towards a more market based currency will need to allow the market to determine the level and movements in USD/CNY. This may still be a long way off. In the meantime it seems unlikely that the authorities will intervene as aggressively to weaken the CNY as they have done in recent weeks, with a breach of USD/CNY 6.15 likely prove short lived.

China’s still healthy external position and likely resumption of capital inflows will mean that appreciation pressure on the CNY will return and a move back to around 6.00 by end 2014 remains on the cards.

Equity outflows from Asia accelerate

A slate of better than expected US data releases including May durable goods orders, new home sales and June consumer confidence data (the latter two releases reaching their highest levels since 2008) helped to boost risk appetite, spurring equity markets higher and the VIX ‘fear gauge’ lower.

Firmer US data came alongside soothing comments from China’s central bank PBoC, about liquidity conditions in the banking sector, with an official noting that it will keep money market rates at “reasonable levels”. The European Central Bank’s Draghi added to the fray by noting that Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) was even more essential now, highlighting the ongoing backstop provided by potential ECB peripheral bond purchases.

Meanwhile the positive US data releases helped to push Treasury yields higher, with the 10 year yield breaching 2.6%. Commodities remained under pressure, with higher yields in particular weighing on gold prices.

The calendar is rather light today and will provide little market direction, with an Ecofin meeting in Europe, UK spending review and US Q1 GDP revision in tap. Expect some positive follow through from the firmer tone to European and US equities overnight which will support risk assets including EM currencies although concerns about tapering are from over.

The rout in equity markets over recent weeks has had a devastating impact on equity flows to Asia. The outflow of equity portfolio capital from Asia accelerated sharply over June. Month to data Asia has recorded $10.2 billion in outflows, a massive move out of the region given that total inflows year to data have now dropped to $8.7 billion. One more month at this pace of outflows would see Asia registering net outflows for the year.

Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan have been hit the most over June but no country has recorded net equity inflows. Year to date India has registered the strongest equity inflows of $14.7bn while South Korea has registered the biggest outflows of $7.3bn.

US dollar running rampant

A calmer tone looks like it will settle over markets today after recent sharp volatility. However, little relief to the pain inflicted on markets from tapering fears is likely this week. Weaker growth and funding concerns in China added another layer of uncertainty to the market psyche although comments from China’s central bank the PBoC about “fine tuning” may help to allay fears of a wider credit crunch.

Meanwhile across the pond Fed officials are probably quite frustrated by the market reaction to last week’s FOMC statement. There will be plenty of Fed speakers on tap this week to provide clarification, with markets looking for some soothing comments. Given the varying and diverse views among Fed officials such hopes may be dashed.

Data releases both in the US and Europe will be encouraging in terms of recovery expectations but will do little to ease the angst over tapering. In the US durable goods orders and new homes sales will record gains in May while June consumer sentiment indices will remain at relatively high levels.

In Europe, aside from the European council meeting this week the German IFO business confidence survey today and economic sentiment gauges later in the week are set to rise in June. In Japan the main CPI inflation gauge will stabilize in May although reaching the 2% inflation targets remains as difficult as ever while industrial production is set to decline in May due to still fragile foreign demand.

Most asset markets will continue to track bonds, with equities, and commodities remaining under pressure and the USD supported by higher US yields. Notably 10 year Treasury yields spiked to over 2.5%, a sharp increase over the week. Consequently the USD’s firm tone was expressed across a broad swathe of currencies, with Scandinavian, Latam and commodity currencies among the worst performers.

Emerging market and commodity currencies are set to suffer from continued capital outflows while the USD runs rampant. However, many currencies look oversold and over the near term some stabilisation is likely as they benefit from a slightly better risk tone at the turn of the week. As indicated by the latest CTFC IMM data, the USD long positioning has been cut back, suggesting scope for further gains. EUR positioning has turned net long for the first time in four months implying no further room for short covering.

China Hikes Rates, More On the Cards

In an otherwise unexciting day China livened things up by raising its 1 year deposit and lending rates by 25 basis points. The hike, the third in the last four months, should not have come as a surprise, given the growing emphasis by China’s central bank PBoC, to dampen inflation pressures. Indeed, more hikes are on the cards, with at least another two more in prospect over H1. The other tool to combat inflation is CNY appreciation further gains in the currency over coming months should be expected to around 6.3 by year-end versus USD.

Global markets largely shrugged of China’s move, with generally positive market sentiment continuing. Even in the eurozone, where there was some disappointment at the surprise drop in German December industrial production, market sentiment continued to improve as Egypt and local debt worries eased further. EUR was particularly resilient despite calls from a Belgian think tank that Greece needs to restructure its debt to avoid a long and painful path ahead. Commodity currencies also showed impressive resilience to China’s rate hike, with both the AUD and NZD holding up well.

The overall positive risk background is supportive for Asian currencies and other risk trades. Currencies in Asia remain highly correlated with portfolio capital inflows and so far this year the weakness in the INR and THB has matched the strong equity outflows from India and Thailand. However, this appears to be reversing, especially in the case of India registering positive equity flows this month, helping the INR to reverse some of its losses.

In the absence of key data releases markets will turn their attention to the testimony by Fed Chairman Bernanke to the House budget committee where he will give comments on the economy, jobs and the budget. Dallas Fed’s Fisher stated overnight that whilst he expects the Fed to complete QE2 he would not support another round of quantitative easing. Fisher’s comments on QE were similar to Atlanta Fed’s Lockhart who notes there is a “high bar” for more QE. Bernanke is unlikely to deviate from this tone in his speech today whilst also maintaining his view that there should be a long term commitment to fiscal retrenchment.

Against the background of improving risk appetite the USD is likely to stay under mild pressure although it is difficult to see a break of recent ranges for most currency pairs. EUR/USD ought to find strong support around its 100-day moving average 1.3535 whilst USD/JPY will be supported around 81.10. Equity sentiment is being supported by US data which remains encouraging. On cue the NFIB Small Business Optimism index duly rose in January to 94.1 as sentiment in this sector continued its improving trend.

Taken together with firmer equities, encouraging data is taking its toll on US bond markets, resulting in a back up in yields. Bond market sentiment wasn’t helped by a relatively poor 3-year auction. For example, US 2-year bond yields have backed up by over 30bps since 28 January. Bad news for bond is good news for the USD however, as higher relative US bond yields will likely help prevent a deeper USD sell-off, with EUR/USD in particular most reactive to relative eurozone / US bond yield differentials.

Econometer.org has been nominated in FXstreet.com’s Forex Best Awards 2011 in the “Best Fundamental Analysis” category. The survey is available at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/fx_awards_2011

Is China about to revalue the Yuan?

Speculation has intensified that China will allow the CNY to resume appreciation. As well as a move in USD/CNY NDFs, implied options volatility has also risen. Speculation of CNY revaluation follows a significant change by China’s central bank, the PBOC to its stated FX policy in its quarterly monetary policy report last week.

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. China has so far resisted such calls but the time may now be right for China to play its part in the global rebalancing process.

Recall that China had allowed a close to 20% appreciation of the CNY between July 2005 and July 2008 but re-pegged to the USD as the financial crisis intensified. This policy proved to be the correct one during the crisis as a stable versus appreciating exchange rate not only helped exports but helped contribute to China’s economic resilience during the crisis.

Now however, this policy is no longer needed. The worst of the crisis is over and China’s economy is doing remarkably well. Keeping the CNY artificially undervalued may stoke potential inflationary problems and distort the recovery process, whilst limiting the shift to a more consumer based economy. Managing China’s massive $2 trillion + of exchange reserves is becoming a more complicated and difficult process too. Moreover, the undervalued CNY is proving to be a global problem and hindering the adjustment of global imbalances.

Will there be an imminent revaluation of the CNY? China is in no rush to see the CNY appreciate and is unlikely to act when US President Obama is visiting. If anything, the Chinese authorities will renew the CNY appreciation trend when there is less political pressure as the last thing they want to do is to appear to be bowing to US or international pressure.

Yes the CNY is undervalued and the Chinese know this well. What is different this time is that the rest of Asia wants China to move and this is sufficient for China to act eventually but not imminently. The Chinese authorities are concerned about hot money flows and do not want to give the impression that they are embarking on an aggressive revaluation path. Gradual is the way to go but there is still room for markets to price in more appreciation next year.

What will happen during Obama’s visit is that the Chinese delegation will push for the US not to implement policies that will undermine the value of the USD especially in relation to the US fiscal deficit and the burgeoning Fed balance sheet. In return the US will push China into allowing the CNY to strengthen.

China appears to be in a stronger bargaining position given that China remains the biggest buyer of US Treasuries and the US will do little to jeopardise these investment flows. Perhaps China has pre-empted the US calls for a stronger CNY by changing the language in its monetary policy statement and it was likely no coincidence that the change happened just ahead of the US visit.

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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