Firm China data boosts sentiment

It is turning into a solid start to the week for global equity markets and risk assets in general.  Growth concerns are easing and central banks globally have shelved plans to tighten policy.  Comments over the weekend that finance chiefs and central bank stand ready to “act promptly” to support growth, may also reassure markets. Meanwhile, it appears that the US and China are closing in on a trade deal, with US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin stating that enforcement mechanisms could work “in both directions”, potentially easing disagreement on of the contentious issues between the two countries.

In terms of data and events, US Q1 earnings, US March retail sales and industrial production, will be in focus this week alongside more Chinese growth data, elections in Indonesia and the second phase of elections in India.  In Europe, flash purchasing managers’ indices (PMI) for April will give some indication of whether there is any turnaround in growth prospects.  The news will not be particularly good on this front, but the surveys may at least show signs of stabilisation, albeit at weak levels.

China data at the end of last week was particularly supportive, with March aggregate financing, money supply and new yuan loans all beating expectations.  The data add to other evidence of a bounce back in activity in March, with the official manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) moving back into expansion territory.   The data comes off a low base after weakness in January and February, but suggests that Chinese monetary and fiscal stimulus is taking effect, with the economy steering towards a soft landing.

Chinese markets clearly like what they see, with equities maintain their strong year to date rally (The CSI Index is up over 34% year to date) and CNY remaining firm (CNY has been the strongest performing Asian currency versus USD so far this year) though China’s bond market will react less well to signs of growth stabilisation.  Chinese data this week including Q1 GDP, March retail sales and industrial production are set to add further evidence of growth stabilisation, helping to keep the positive market momentum alive.

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Positive Start To The Week for Emerging Markets

Emerging Markets have started the week on a positive footing helped by some firm data releases.  Equity markets in Asia had a strong day while EM currencies except TRY strengthened.

Sentiment was helped by China’s official manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI). This was released yesterday and came in at 50.5 in March (consensus 49.6) from 49.2 in February, while the non-manufacturing PMI also came in above expectations at 54.8 (consensus 54.4) from 54.3 in February.  An above 50 reading implies manufacturing expansion. This was followed by the Caixin PMI this morning, which came in at 50.8 in March (consensus 50.0).  The data suggests that China’s economy may finally be benefiting from official stimulus measures as well as hopes of a trade deal.

Aside from China’s index, PMIs across the region generally firmed, providing some relief to regional policy makers and markets.  A key event this week in the region is India’s Reserve Bank (RBI) meeting to decide monetary policy on Thursday, where a 25bp policy rate cut is likely.  Separately, attention will remain on US- China trade talks, with China’s top economic official Liu He due in Washington to continue discussions with US officials.  Both sides appear to suggest a deal is moving closer to fruition although sticky points on structural issues remain in place.

Turkey hasn’t quite embraced the risk on tone following local elections there. President Erdogan’s AKP appears to have lost control of the capital Ankara to the main opposition CHP, while opposition parties are also likely to take control of several coastal cities. In Istanbul, the gap between the AKP and opposition is extremely close, with less than 0.1% between the two.  Overall, the AKP led alliance has garnered about 51.7% of the national vote, while the opposition led by CHP, has 37.5%, with 98.9% of the votes counted, according to the state-run Anadolu agency. This was sufficient for the Erdogan to declare that the ruling party “emerged as the winner” though it is clear that AKP’s coalition party MHP played a large role.   Further developments are awaited, with Turkish markets in limbo.

 

FX ‘Flash Crash’

Happy New Year! What a start its been so far.  Weak Chinese data kicked off the year yesterday, with a manufacturing sentiment gauge, the Caixin purchasing manager’s index (PMI), falling into contraction territory for the first time in 19 months, another sign of slowing growth in China’s economy.  This was echoed by other manufacturing PMIs, especially those of trade orientated countries in Asia.   Taking a look at global emerging market PMIs reveals a picture of broadly slowing growth.

Lack of progress on the trade front despite positive noises from both the US and China, and no sign of an ending of the US government shut down are similarly weighing on sentiment as are concerns about slowing US economic growth and of course Fed rate hikes.  The latest contributor to market angst is the lowering of Apple’s revenue outlook, with the company now expecting sales of around $84bn in the quarter ending Dec 29 from earlier estimates of $89bn to $93bn.

All of this and thin liquidity, with a Japanese holiday today and many market participants not back from holidays, contributed to very sharp moves in FX markets.  The biggest mover was the JPY, which surged, leading to an appreciation of around 7.7% versus the AUD at one point and strong gains against other currencies.  Some have attributed algorithmic platform pricing to the sharp FX moves today, but whatever the reason, it shows that markets are on edge.

Although US equity markets closed in positive territory yesterday (barely), the above factors suggest another day in the red for equity markets and risk assets today.  While the JPY has retraced some its sharp gains, it and other safe haven assets such as CHF and US Treasuries are likely to find firm demand in the current environment.   Although I would not suggest extrapolating early year trading too far into the future, the volatility in the first two trading days of the year will be concerning for investors after a painful 2018. More pain in the weeks ahead should not be ruled out.

 

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.

 

High degree of investor caution

Although risk aversion has declined from recently elevated levels there is still a high degree of caution from investors who are unwilling to take long term bets. The causes of market angst have remained unchanged over recent weeks namely Ukraine tensions, weaker growth in China and US data that has performed below expectations.

It is therefore unsurprising that in the wake of a weaker than forecast reading for Chinese manufacturing confidence yesterday and talk of more sanctions against Russia, European and US equity markets fell overnight and Asian equities have began the day on softer footing.

The Markit US manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) edged lower, but unlike the Chinese PMI, which remained below the 50 boom/bust level, the US reading was healthy at 55.5 in March. The Eurozone equivalent edged lower but continued to show that recovery was still in shape, with the March reading at 53.

The reverberations from Fed Chairman Yellen’s comments last week also inflicting some damage, with gold prices in particular succumbing to pressure and verging on a test of the 200 day moving average around 1296.83. A heavy slate of data today includes the German March IFO survey, UK CPI inflation, US March consumer confidence and February new home sales.

Risk assets to slip ahead of ECB and US payrolls

Although Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke did not categorically state that a third round of quantitative easing or QE3 is on the cards his stoic defence of past QE while playing down of the risks emanating from such actions, highlight that the prospects are more likely than not for more Fed balance sheet expansion.

Markets clearly liked what they heard, with risk assets finishing off the week on a positive note. Notably commodities continue to outperform and the prospects of more currency debasing by the Fed and European Central Bank suggest that gold in particular, will continue to look attractive. However, the weaker than expected Chinese manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) in August, with the index dropping below the 50 boom/bust level, will put a dampener on markets.

The main impediment to QE3 would be a major improvement in job market conditions and in this respect markets will have the August jobs report to digest at the end of this week. Preliminary estimates of an 125k increase in payrolls and an unemployment rate stuck at 8.3% suggests that it should be no hindrance to more QE.

The other key event of the week is the European Central Bank meeting although markets will eye events in Greece ahead of this, with the Troika set to revisit the country mid week. The ECB continues to play its game of brinkmanship with governments, and while they Bank will likely commit to a bond buying programme it is unlikely to announce the onset of a new round of bond purchases until governments in particular Spain formally request aid from the EFSF / ESM bailout funds. Although there is some scope for disappointment expectations of major ECB action have already been pared back.

Other central banks in the frame include the Reserve Bank of Australia and Bank of Canada but unlike the ECB policy easing is unlikely from either of these central banks. Overall, risk assets to trade with a heavy tone and the USD will recoup some of its losses over coming days, especially against the EUR.

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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