Regulatory Crackdown

How much can global markets withstand the combined US and Chinese regulatory onslaught on Chinese tech stocks and Chinese companies listed in the US? Notably Chinese regulators have called for talks with the US Securities and Exchange Commission over the decision to halt US IPOs of Chinese companies. Given that regulators on both sides do not seem to be letting up, the risks are skewed towards increased contagion though Chinese stocks have already fallen sharply over recent weeks, with the CSI 300 down around 15% since its high in February.

Unfortunately Chinese stocks and investors in these stocks are the casualties of a regulatory crackdown on consumer internet stocks and more recently Chinese private education companies. While the idea is not to provoke market volatility, regulators in China are unlikely to back off quickly even as the tone of the crackdown is likely to be less aggressive in the weeks ahead.

Stocks ended last week and began this week softer amid such concerns while the softer than expected US Q2 GDP print last week didn’t help matters.  More evidence that peak US growth has passed was delivered yesterday, with the US ISM manufacturing index surprising to the downside in July, declining to 59.5 — its lowest level since January but still at a relatively high level. US economic surprises (according to the Citi index) are negative and at their lowest in over a year.

The below consensus outcome for China’s manufacturing purchasing manager’s index which slipped closer towards contraction is unlikely to be helpful for markets either as the data adds to signs of moderating economic growth in China.  China’s softer July PMI releases have left a sour taste for Asian markets given more evidence of moderation in activity while the spread of the Delta variant amid low vaccination rates, still points to underperformance of regional markets. 

US dollar sentiment has continued to improve as reflected in speculative futures data (CFTC IMM data on non-commercial futures) which shows that the market holds the biggest net aggregate USD long position since March 2020.  Nonetheless, it still seems difficult to see dollar upside momentum increase given very low US real yields.  Moreover, the fact that the market is now long USD according to the IMM data, means scope for any short covering rally has dissipated.

Key data and events this week include the Bank of England (Thu) and Reserve Bank of India (Fri) policy decisions and US jobs July report (Fri).  No rate changes are likely from any of these as was the case with today’s decision by the Reserve Bank of Australia. As for US payrolls, the consensus expectation looks for a strong 900,000 increase in July and for the unemployment rate to fall to 5.7%.  

Unloved US Dollar

The USD index is now at its lowest level since May 3 and is showing little sign of turning around. The bulk of USD index weakness overnight came via the EUR and GBP, both of which rose sharply against the USD, with EUR/USD breaching its 90 day moving, hitting a high of 1.2955 and GBP/USD on its way to testing its 200 day moving average, reaching a high of 1.5472. Commodity currencies fared far less positively, perhaps feeling the after effects of the weaker Chinese data this week, with the NZD also dented by weaker than expected inflation data in Q2.

The USD was once again hit by US growth worries. To recap, the US data slate revealed a soft reading for PPI, whilst the July Empire manufacturing index dropped 14.5 points, a far bigger drop than forecast. The Philly Fed index also dropped further in July despite expectations of a small gain. In contrast, June industrial production edged higher, but manufacturing output actually fell. There was a bit of good news in the fact that weekly jobless claims fell more than forecast.

The releases extended the run of weak US data, keeping double-dip fears very much alive. The data have acted to validate the Fed’s cautious growth outlook expressed in the latest FOMC minutes but a double-dip is unlikely. Today’s releases include June CPI, May TIC securities flows, and July Michigan confidence. Another benign inflation report is expected. Consumer confidence is set to slip further against the background of soft data and volatility in equity markets whilst TICS data is forecast to reveal that long term securities flows declined in May compared to the $83 billion inflows registered in April.

The move in the EUR is a making a mockery out of forecasts including my own that had expected renewed downside. The relatively successful Spanish bond auction yesterday helped to ease eurozone sovereign debt concerns further, with a likely strong element of Asian participation. I have still not given up on my EUR negative view given the likelihood of a deteriorating economic outlook in the eurozone and outperfomance of the US economy, but over the short-term the EUR short squeeze may have further to go, with EUR/USD resistance seen at 1.3077.

Equity markets were saved from too much of a beating following the release of better than expected earnings from JP Morgan, a $550mn agreement between Goldman Sachs and the SEC to settle a regulatory case, and news from BP that it has temporarily stemmed the flow of oil from the leak from its Gulf well. Agreement on the US financial reform bill, passed by the Senate yesterday and likely to be signed into law by US President Obama next week, likely helped too.

The tone of the market is likely to be mixed today, with US growth concerns casting a shadow on risk trades. Earnings remain in focus and the big name releases today include BoA, GE and Citigroup but early direction could be negative following news after the US close that Google Inc. profits came in below analysts’ expectations. Data in the US today is unlikely to help sentiment given expectations of more weak outcomes, leaving the USD vulnerable to further selling pressure.

German Action Backfires

Just as it appeared that a semblance of calm was returning to markets over the last day or so, markets went into a tailspin in reaction to the announcement that the German regulators will temporarily ban naked short-selling of shares in 10 financial institutions, EUR government bonds and credit-default swaps based on these bonds. “Exceptional volatility”, “massive” short-selling and excessive price movements were cited as reasons for the ban. The action was reminiscent of a similar move by the US SEC in September 2008.

The action appears to have backfired, fuelling uncertainty over its impact, potential replication by other European countries, how and to whom it would apply as well as how it will be enforced. Once again a single eurozone country has enforced a unilateral measure in an uncoordinated fashion. It is unclear whether other eurozone countries will follow Germany’s actions but it is clear that the measure has led to a further bailout from European asset markets.

Aside from a reversal in equity markets, risk currencies will remain under pressure, with EUR/USD dropping to a low of 1.2163 following a tentative rally earlier. Options barriers on the way down could prevent a more rapid sell-off, with 1.2033 seen as the next support level. Pressure is likely to continue today and will likely spread through Asian markets and currencies. Clearly confidence is extremely low and unfortunately such measures are doing very little to change the growing negative sentiment towards Europe.

Even at current levels the risk of intervention on EUR/USD remains low. The pace of the move in EUR/USD and its volatility may be more important than even the level of the currency. In any case, at current levels EUR/USD is trading around “fair value” and a weaker EUR will be a boon to the European economy. Implied EUR/USD volatility is also not at a particularly high level, suggesting little concern by European officials about the level of the EUR.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

GOOD: Positive earnings. The biggest earnings news of the day was from Goldman Sachs reporting that profits almost doubled in Q1. Apple also beat estimates and its shares surged. 82% of US earnings have beaten expectation so far. There is still a long way to go in the earnings season but the growth/earnings story is helping to maintain the positive bias to risk trades. There will be plenty of attention on earnings, including AT&T, eBay, Morgan Stanley, Starbucks, Boeing and Wells Fargo.

Data releases remain upbeat, with the April German ZEW investor confidence survey beating consensus, whilst central banks delivered hawkish messages across the board including the Reserve Bank of Australia policy meeting minutes, which pointed to another interest rate hike in May. However, the biggest impact came from the Bank of Canada which unsurprisingly left rates at 0.25%, but removed the conditional commitment to keep policy on hold until the end of Q2, leaving a rate hike on June 1 very likely.

The CAD jumped on the back of the outcome, with USD/CAD dropping below parity. I continue to like CAD alongside the AUD and NZD and believe they will be the star performers over the coming months despite lofty valuations.    Near term targets for CAD, AUD and NZD vs USD are 0.9953, 0.9407, and 0.7195, respectively. 

BAD: Talks between Greek officials and the IMF, ECB and EU on the conditions for a EUR 45 billion bailout loan will also be of interest although completion of talks could take weeks and in the meantime the situation is unlikely to improve, with Greece needing around EUR 10 billion to cover obligations by end May. Greek bond yields jumped to fresh record highs around 7.84% yesterday whilst the spread over German bunds also widened. Moreover, although Greece’s sale of EUR 1.95 billion in 13-week paper yesterday was heavily oversubscribed the, the yield was high at 3.65% which was far higher than the 1.67% yield at a similar sale in January.

In contrast to the likes of the CAD, AUD and NZD, the EUR is set to continue to suffer and as reflected in the widening in Greek bond spreads and high funding costs, Greek woes will keep plenty of pressure on the currency, with EUR/USD set to fall to support around 1.3300 in the short-term.

UGLY: UK regulator FSA will conduct a formal investigation of Goldman Sachs. The FSA will work closely with the US Securities and Exchange Commission SEC, which has accused the bank of Fraud though this has vehemently denied by Goldman Sachs. Although the negative market impact of the fraud case has been outweighed by good earnings and data the fallout is spreading. Some European politicians have even called for governments to stop working with the bank.

Shaking Off The Bad News

Markets managed to shake off the initial shock of the SEC’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs following news that the charge was not approved unanimously, but with a 3-2 vote. This was interpreted by some to imply that there was more of a political rather than economic bias behind the charge, with two Democrats voting for and two Republicans voting against and SEC Chairman Schapiro siding with the Democrats.

Stronger than forecast earnings from Citigroup and a bigger than expected 1.4% jump in US March leading indicators also helped to calm market nerves, with US equities closing higher and the VIX volatility index reversing some of its spike higher. Attention is still firmly fixed on earnings and with 121 S&P 500 companies due to release earnings this week including Apple, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson and Yahoo today.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to see sentiment improve too much against the background of ongoing worries about Greece as reflected in the renewed widening in Greek debt spreads yesterday. Moreover, the negative economic impact of the spread of volcanic ash from Iceland, and potential for more lawsuits related to CDOs from regulators as well as investors, against banks, will continue to act as a drag on market risk appetite.

Earnings have been positive so far into the season and as seen overnight, this is helping to counter market negatives, giving risk appetite some support. In turn, this will give risk currencies some relief but given the gyrations between positive and negative news it is difficult to see most currencies breaking out of recent ranges.

My overall bias is for positive earnings and data to overcome the negatives this week, leaving the likes of the AUD, NZD and CAD as well Asian currencies firmer. The EUR and GBP are likely to remain the weakest links, with both currencies set to retrace lower and EUR/USD finding plenty of sellers above 1.3500.

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