Posts tagged China
Control This

My pre-holiday missive that FX volatility is making a comeback. Mr. Trump’s threat to slam tariffs on Chinese consumer goods earlier this month prompted the PBoC to step back and “allow” USDCNY to breach 7.0. This, in turn, drove the U.S. to label China as a currency manipulator. Markets now have to consider that the trade war are morphing into currency wars. This is significant for two reasons. First, it confirms what most punters already knew; the CNY is inclined to go lower if left alone by the PBoC. Secondly, it has brought us one step closer to the revelation of how far Mr. Trump is willing to go. The problem for the U.S. president is simple. He can bully his main trading partners with tariffs, “winning” the trade wars, but he is losing the currency wars in so far as goes as his desire for a weaker dollar. The veiled threat to print dollars and buy RMB assets, as part of the move to identify China as a manipulator, is a loose threat. Just to make it clear; it would involve the Fed printing dollars and buying Chinese government debt and/or stakes in SOEs, which would probably be politically contentious. Moreover, the PBoC could respond in kind; in fact, it probably would.

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Testing Time

The Q1 earnings numbers have kicked up a lot of dust across sectors and individual companies, which is good news for stock-pickers eager to prove their worth. For markets as a whole, though, I see little change in the underlying narrative relative to what I have been talking about recently. Equity investors remain focused on what policymakers are saying rather than what they’re doing, sticking with the idea that central banks, and perhaps even politicians at large, have their backs. Bond markets are nodding in agreement. Solid labour market data in the U.S., and a robust Q1 GDP print, have not dented market-implied expectations that the next move by the Fed will be a cut. And in the Eurozone, markets have priced out an adjustment in the deposit rate through 2021. Blackrock’s Rick Rieder summed it up neatly last week by referring to the asymmetric outlook for policy. I am paraphrasing, but the idea goes something like this: “If central banks raise rates, they will do so slowly and hesitantly. If they have to cut, due to tightening financial conditions and a slowing economy, they will do so fast and aggressively.” I would even wrap in fiscal policy here, though this admittedly tends to operate more slowly, and over a longer timeframe than monetary policy.

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Front-running Easy Money

In a nutshell, this is what my models are telling at the moment: the three-month stock-to-bond ratios in the U.S. and Europe have soared, indicating that equities should lose momentum in Q2 at the expense of a further decline in bond yields. That said, the three-month ratios currently are boosted by base effects from the plunge in equities at the end of last year. They’ll roll over almost no matter what happens next. Moreover, the six-month return ratios are still favourable for further outperformance of stocks relative to fixed income. Looking beyond relative returns, my equity valuation models indicate that the upside in U.S. and EM equities is now limited through Q2 and Q3, but they are teasing with the probability of outperformance in Europe. Finally, my fixed income models are emitting grave warnings for the long bond bulls, a message only counterbalanced by the fact that speculators remain net short across both 2y and 10y futures. This mixed message from my home-cooked asset allocation models is complemented by a mixed message from the economy. The majority of global growth indicators still warn of weaker momentum, but markets trade at the margin of these data, and the green shoots have been clear enough recently. Chinese money supply and PMIs showed tentative signs of a pick-up at the end of Q1, a boost reinforced by data last week revealing that total social financing jumped 10.7% y/y in March.

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