So Much Risk, Status Quo is an Improvement
In individual trading sessions or entire weeks where there is an overwhelming amount of important, scheduled event risk; we often find the market frozen with concern of imminent volatility. Even as a remarkable surprise prints on the docket early in the week, the impact it generates is often truncated by the concern that the subsequent release can generate just as much shock value but in the opposite direction. Many opportunities have been spoiled by such situations.
Yet, what happens if we face the same situation on a grander scale? What if the threats are thematic, global and frequently lacking a specific time frame? We are facing just such a scenario now. The most troublesome subject is the unpredictable winds from the global trade wars. For influence, this is a systemic threat as the economic pain will inevitably come to a head. If we had an end date to work with, there would be a more decisive risk aversion, but it is the uncertainty of pacing that leaves the markets to drift with anxiety. Most critical updates in this ‘war’ have come out of the blue in the form of a tweet from US President Donald Trump.
Add to this fully capable theme conflicting – though less capricious – matters, and there is just enough sense of opportunity in short-term efforts to keep bulls clinging to hope. Monetary policy, new and failing economic relationships, corporate earnings and more can fill in between shocks of new tariff threats. Though, if we came to a scenario of a universal dovish shift in central banks (or any other theme for that matter), would it be enough to offset the blight to global growth from trade wars? Not likely.
Any Whiff of Fed Worry and a Dollar with Everything to Lose
I weighed out my theory last week that Fed policy can only disappoint moving forward. That is not to say it can maintain a sense of status quo – it certainly can. However, the genuine opportunities for this central bank to ‘surprise in favor of the bulls’ is so improbable as to be impractical. It has already established a pace remarkably aggressive relative to counterparts. If conditions continue to support growth and optimism, it would lead other central banks onto a path to close the gap with the Fed. If economic and financial health floundered, the Fed would in turn have to ease its pace.
This past week, the CPI data gave quantitative support for the status quo – though not any material Dollar lift. The Fed’s monetary policy update to Congress on the other hand laced its confidence on the economic outlook with modest concern over the fallout from trade wars while a separate report suggested the tax cuts would have less positive effect on the economy than previously anticipated. You can bet Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will have to address questions on both fronts when he testifies before the Senate Wednesday in the semi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins testimony. There are many Congressmen and –women from both parties who have called out the President’s aggressive position on trade as self-defeating.
Powell will want to avoid triggering market fears (avoiding volatility is a third, unspoken mandate of the central bank), but the lawmakers will push the topic whether to illustrate the damage they fear or to earn political points. If he admits growth is at risk from the advance of trade wars, it would signal to the market that the pacing already baked in is less stable than what is presumed, and the passive premium behind the dollar may start to bleed off.
China Data Run and Data Questions
China is in a very difficult position. It is attempting to transition itself from methods of growth that are impossible to maintain over the long term without inadvertently causing disastrous instability. To successfully make this ‘evolution’ to an economy primarily supported by domestic consumption, stable capital markets and a wealthier population (rather than leveraged financing and questionable export policies), the government requires a remarkable amount of stability.
The healthy risk appetite and moderate growth registered for the global economy over the past five years was the perfect environment upon which to pursue this effort. That is especially true because the Chinese data that already draws a fair amount of skepticism from the rest of the world would look like an unlikely idyllic steering for the economy – a pace that could be dubiously attributed to the general environment. Now, however, that gentle landing has been disrupted by the aggression from the United States. The drive to escalate trade wars threatens not just the important trade between to two countries, it risks pushing disbelief over China’s statistics to the breaking point. Though they would not likely show serious pressure in any area of the economy or financial system that they control, markets have grown adept at reading between the official lines when it comes to China.
Spurring fears of a ‘hard landing’ for the world’s second largest economy could spur capital flight as foreign investors look to repatriate and nationals attempt to slip through controls to diversify their exposure. It should be said that if there is a crisis in China, it will spread to the rest of the world; but some may be happy if China were permanently put off the path to securing its position as the antipodean super power to the US. It is this big picture landscape that we must keep in mind as the important data of the coming week – China 2Q GDP, fixed investment, surveyed jobless rate, retail sales and foreign direct investment – crosses the wires with unsurprisingly little impact on the controlled USDCNH exchange rate.
Any questions, just ask.