An Economic Update on the Calendar and In the Public Eye
Concern over the course of the global economy was revived this past week with a few troubled indicators raising awareness, but the real interest was what arose in the market-based measures. With the recovery in capital market measures, the meaningful divergence in performance from growth-sensitive assets like copper and crude oil (with a 13-day consecutive drop and 13-month low respectively). In fact, the 60-day correlation – a three-month relationship – between WTI crude oil and my preferred baseline of speculation, the S&P 500, flipped negative for the first time since September 2018. Perhaps the most loaded of the growth indicators that is once again raising concern was the 10-year to 3-month US Treasury yield curve whose inversion (a higher yield on the shorter duration than the longer) recently became mainstream recession signal watching. It was this segment of the curve which dove into negative territory this past August that the market seized upon as search interest in ‘recession’ exploded globally. The yield comparison flipped briefly once again this past week to further draw starker contrast to the performance of more financially-oriented market benchmarks.
These market measures will be a prime feature in my analysis in the coming week and beyond. However, fundamental and data based charge is still the most potent motivation to elevate growth concerns into a dominant current for the financial system. In the week ahead, there are a few overt, big-picture 4Q GDP updates on tap. The UK’s previous quarter may have ushered in the ultimate course for a clean Brexit, but the cumulative pressure of fear around the Brexit impact was a vital feature of the backdrop. As the government attempts to strike trade deals with Europe and other countries in a very short time frame, the starting point set by the economic setback will feature prominently in Sterling traders’ view. Perhaps the most important government growth update on my list is the German 4Q figure. Not only is Germany the Eurozone’s largest member economy, it is particularly exposed to trade and manufacturing which have been negatively effected by global trade wars and the recession in factory activity. If this reading prints poorly, it could add a new troubling dimension to the world’s underlying health check.
Outside of the official quarterly government updates, there is a host of monthly data that can give a more timely read on the health of the broader economy. The Japanese Eco Watchers economic sentiment survey Monday, US small business confidence figure (a group responsible for approximately 70 percent of payrolls) on Tuesday, Eurozone industrial production Wednesday, Chinese vehicle sales on Thursday and US retail sales on Friday offer a constellation of data to navigate. If there is decisive enthusiasm or fear around the health of the global economy, these measures will act as fuel to the fire.
Monetary Policy Updates that Test the Limits of Confidence
The Fed, ECB and BOJ rate decisions are behind us. Those are the three largest central banks of the developed world whose collective influence is commensurate with the scale of their respective balance sheets (massive). Yet, the influence of monetary policy is not simply on pause until March when the next updates are due from these groups (the 18th, 12th and 19th respectively). There is plenty in the headlines to keep us off kilter and fluctuations in market performance – particularly a bearish swoon – tends to draw the focus on this crucial building block of the past decade.
High profile central bank updates in the week ahead will still come via the two largest central banks. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is due to testify before the House and Senate on monetary policy and growth in back-to-back testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday. Last month’s FOMC update left us with the wait-and-see intention that we had expected, but the markets went back into Fed-speak interpretation mode looking for the pain points for when the central bank would shift back into an active dovish or hawkish policy mode. Overview of local economic figures was fairly steadfast but the mention of external risks was repeated. That will likely be reiterated on the Hill after a mention of the coronavirus as a unpredictable risk late last week. Similarly, ECB President Lagarde is due to present her central bank’s annual report at the European Parliament. It would not be surprising to see references to growth concerns, trade pressures and unorthodox concerns (like the coronavirus mentioned last week) alongside her official remarks.
If you are looking for more direct – though less globally influential – updates on central bank activity, the Riksbank, Reserve Bank of New Zealand and Central Bank of Mexico are all on tap for official updates to their mix through the week. Given the Swedish group has its benchmark rate parked at zero and is closely linked to the actions of the ECB (which did not shift in the last update) no change is expected Wednesday morning. The same forecast for no change to the 1.00 percent baseline is set among economists plotting the RBNZ’s course. Yet, given this currency’s role as a ‘carry unit’ which depends more on the yield to be drawn rather the size of the New Zealand economy, the short-term and long-term influence of this bearing can prove a greater sensitivity to the nuance. The only bank in this trio expected to change rates is the Mexican policy authority. Both swaps and economists are forecasting a 25 basis point rate hike from 7.00 to 7.25%. For those that have followed the lack of follow through on a multi-year triangle breakout from USDMXN, perhaps this can urge the move along short of a clear risk-based move or overwhelming Dollar collapse.
A Focus on China’s Scheduled and Unscheduled Updates
In a financial world where complacency is a dominant feature of the landscape, it can particularly easy to simply write off the influence of China’s economic and financial updates. There is frequent – and in my opinion, well-deserved – debate over the accuracy of data that comes out of the country which could raise serious concern, but instead it has generated a very noticeable apathy. That said, the pressures continue to mount in headlines developments, the official growth readings continue to notch three decade lows and there are unmistakable financial steps being taken to push risk to the open market (such as a rising allowance for default on nonperforming loans). Given that China now represents over 15 percent of global GDP, the opacity of its data should raise greater concern among global growth watchers.
With the risks laid bare, there are two fronts for Chinese updates that I will be watching: scheduled and unscheduled updates. For the former group, the inflation figures on Monday don’t register a high threat level – though it can speak to problems further down the line. Much more prominent a concern are the January Chinese vehicle sales. For an industry (auto manufacturing) that is a global recession, this is one of the largest the largest markets in the world – not to mention, it can be a great discretionary spending and financial health reflection. The foreign direct investment (FDI) figure is another measure worth close review. How much the world is investing in the country speaks to not only confidence in its health but the level of optimism among global investors that have praised the exceptional clip of expansion.
Off the docket, the potential risks are much more profound. The headlines around the coronavirus have been particularly troubling for China – the originating country of the virus – with the numbers of infected and deaths rising. To stem the contagion, the government has gone to considerable lengths to shut down traffic through the major traffic centers which includes businesses which has a clear impact on economic growth. This has in turn lifted the demand for already-pressured liquidity levels across the Chinese financial system – a measure that is noticeably less stoic than what we see in economic measures. Furthermore, this abstract risk has pushed China to request flexibility from the US in the terms of the Phase One trade deal which adds additional burden to their economy. Yet, they know they can only ask for so much from a country that has very little tolerance for supporting other countries. China announced last week that it was cutting tariffs on $75 billion worth of US imports in half on February 14 which will appeal to the White House. Yet, whether that buys them leeway to redirect precious resources to stabilizing the local economy or not remains to be seen.