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JohnDFX

DFX Market Analyst
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  1. Just When You Think Trade Wars Can’t Grow More Extreme… The last we left global trade wars heading into the close Friday July 13th (the week before last), the situation was already firmly planted in worrying escalation with little sign of relief in the sidelines of diplomacy and political cheerleading. The United States was still applying its metals tariffs against competitors and colleagues alike, the $34 billion intellectual property oriented tariffs were in place against China (not to mention China’s retaliation upon the US), and threats of a massive escalation by the Trump administration to the tune of $200 billion in import duties on China and a 20 percent tax on all imported European autos was still hanging in the air. It would seem near-impossible to inflame the situation further than that. And yet, they have found a way. Looking to truly turn the screws in the face of retaliatory threats by China and WTO complaints, the US President warned Friday (and his Treasury Secretary echoed Saturday at the G20 meeting) that they could introduce tax on all of China’s imports – amounting to more than $500 billion. Normally, we would assume these are mere threats meant to prompt compromise out of shock, but this has been a threat issued and executed upon too frequently. While this just seems a self-defeating game of chicken where all participants suffer economically, there is certainly a strategy to this effort. There are hints of Eco Adviser Kudlow and National Security Adviser Bolton in this effort; but it should be said that regardless of what their intent may be, the outcome is likely to hasten an inevitable turn in the global economy and financial markets – whether they relent last minute or not. Ahead, there are two important meetings scheduled for trade talks: President Trump is due to meet the EU’s Juncker and Malmstrom Wednesday while the US Trade Representative is set to talk trade with the Mexican Economy Minister on Thursday. Good luck to us all. Watch my weekend Trade Video to see more in this topic. Is President Trump’s Dollar, Euro and Yuan Comments Pretense to a Currency War? This past Thursday, President Trump sent the Dollar reeling after he weighed in on the path of higher rates and the level of the Dollar. With a background in real estate (and thereby debt financing), he lamented the Fed’s gradual pace of monetary policy tightening amid the trade wars his administration had pressed and the growing debt financing the country was facing – again increased with the recent tax cuts. He said the rates and currency rise that followed made other efforts the government was pursuing more difficult and ultimately made the US uncompetitive. The White House later moved to clarify that the President was not questioning the Fed’s independence or competence, but he would take to Twitter to double down on his remarks Friday. A perception that the Dollar is low and claims that the Yuan and Euro are being lowered by their respective policy authorities looks suspiciously like pretext for starting a currency war. When it comes to the Chinese currency, there is little doubt that policy officials have a hand in its performance; but that is more and more likely a measure to dampen volatility rather than wholesale steer. Officials pointed to the rapid drop in the Yuan these past few months as evidence, but wouldn’t such a move arise if the trade war were having the intended effect? In fact China has shown over the past few years that too sharp a decline in the local currency was reason enough to step in and bid the CNH so as to curb fear of a capital flight. As for the Euro, there is little ground in their claims of manipulation now as monetary policy efforts have disconnected from exchange rate movement – though had they made this accusation back in 2014, I would have agreed. Whether this claim is just rising out of the blue or indicates a strategy, it should truly concern us. Currency wars do not end well for anyone, they are more likely to trigger a fast-tracked financial crisis and it can be yet another systemic risk that sees the Dollar permanently lose status as the world’s dominant currency long term. Evaluating How the ECB Rate Decision and US GDP Will Hit the Markets It is clear that the week ahead will find its market winds determined by themes (trade wars, currency wars and perhaps even systemic risk trends). However, there are high profile events scheduled that will certainly carry important fundamental weight for the big picture evaluation – even if they don’t trigger the same definitive direction and short-term volatility that have in the past. That said, fundamentals must be evaluated as a hierarchy: the most pressing theme to the largest swath of the market will more decisively define the market’s bearings (whether higher, lower or sideways). This in mind, two particular events should be watched closely whether they overcome the gravity of trade wars or not. Thursday’s ECB rate decision is very important. Over the previous meetings, there has been heavy speculation that the central bank is heading into an eventual and inevitable turn from its extremely dovish policy path with rhetoric clearly setting the stage. Speculation around this eventual hike has led to remarkable lift for the Euro even when the anticipation for the first move was 12 to 18 months ahead (as was the case throughout 2017). Yet, recent developments will make this policy gathering even more important. Will the central bank take into consideration the accusations by President Trump that it is fostering exchange rate manipulation? Will concern over trade wars’ curbing economic and financial health show through? As for the US GDP reading on Friday, we will see the general health of the world’s largest economy as trade wars started to go into effect and the tax cuts hit full stride. A weak showing here could add considerable fear to the already existing concern that retaliations to tariffs could tip the US economy into correction and reinforce reports that the tax cuts had little effect on US consumption through the middle and lower class American households. Context will definitely paint these events, but that doesn’t diminish their relevance at all.
  2. 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.John Kicklighter
  3. JohnDFX

    Trade wars, brexit and the Fed - DFX key themes

    Thanks all for the feedback. I am actually based in Chicago, but you're right; usually don't start doing updates until towards the dying hours of London trade. However, this I usually write over the weekend and get out before the Asian markets start to trade. I have done these mainly for internal purposes; but James said they'd be useful here as well, so will drop them in the community blogs regularly as well. Good luck trading all!
  4. This blog post is to update everyone of the themes that DailyFX expects to focus on in the week ahead. Given the focus of previous weeks, the backdrop market conditions and the event risk ahead; the three topics below will be particularly important in our coverage. Risk trends amid trade wars If you somehow were in doubt that trade wars were already underway, the enactment of reciprocal $34 billion tariffs by the United States and China on each other this past week should banish that disbelief. For much of the world, the score is one whereby the US has triggered an opening import tax on the world’s second largest economy for what it perceives as intellectual property theft, and China has retaliated in kind. From the Trump administration’s perspective, the actions are a long overdue move to balance decades of unfair trade practices. Both feel they are reacting rather than instigating which gives both sides a sense of righteousness that can sustain escalating reprisals. Yet, as discussed previously, this is not the first move in the economic engagement. The United States’ metals tariffs was the first outright move that came without the pretense of operating through WTO channels. And, in a speculative market where the future is factored into current market price; the unilateral and extraordinary threats should be considered the actual start. The anticipation of a curb on global growth and capital flow very likely was a contributing factor to the stalled speculative reach and increased volatility over the past three months. Yet, markets have not collapsed under the fear of an economic stall with values pushing unreasonable heights. Perhaps this market simply needs to see the actual evidence of fallout before it starts moving to protect itself. This past week, the midnight cue for the tariffs notably didn’t send capital markets stumbling. In fact, the major US indices all advanced through Friday’s session. Blissful ignorance can last for ‘a little longer’, but blatant disregard for overt risks on a further reach for yield is hoping for too much. A Brexit breakthrough…to the next obstacle Heading into a full cabinet meeting this past Friday, headlines leveraged serious worries that UK Prime Minister Theresa May would find herself moving further into a corner on a split Brexit view from which she would no longer be able to escape a confidence vote checkmate. Yet, the reported rebel ministers that were pushing for a more stringent position on trade and market access in the divorce procedures seemingly relented. May was free to pursue a ‘free trade area for goods’ with close customs ties (though bank access would be restricted somewhat). From the market’s perspective, this is a tangible improvement in the general situation as it removes at least one level of ambiguity in a very complicated web. The foundation of ‘risk’ – as I’m fond to reiterate – is the uncertainty of future returns. If your investment is 95% likely to yield a given return, there is little risk involved. On the other hand, if that return is only 10% (regardless of how large it may be) there is a high risk associated. The same evaluation of this amorphous event applies. With the UK government on the same page in its return to the negotiation table, there is measurably less uncertainty. That said, this was only an agreement from one side of the discussion; and the EU has little incentive to give particularly favorable terms which would encourage other members to start their own withdrawal procedures. Furthermore, there is still a considerable range of issues for which the government and parliament are still at odds. If you are interested in the Pound, consider what is feasible for any bullish exposure with the cloud cover of uncertainty edging down from 100% to 90%. Fed monetary policy can only disappoint from here We don’t have a FOMC meeting scheduled for this coming week; but in some ways, what is on the docket may have greater sway over monetary policy speculation. The US central bank has maintained a policy of extreme transparency, going so far as to nourish speculation for rate hikes through their own forecasts and falling just short of pre-committing. They cannot pre-commit to a definitive path for policy because they must maintain the ability to respond to sudden changes in the economic and financial backdrop. And, making a sudden change from a vowed move will trigger the exact volatility the policy authority is committed to avoiding. Yet, how significant is the difference between an explicit vow on future monetary policy and a very heavy allusion in an effort at ‘transparency’. The markets adapt to the availability of evidence for our course and fill in with whatever gaps there are with speculation. This level of openness by the Fed sets a dangerous level of certainty in the markets. With that said, what is the course that we could feasibly take from here? Is it probable that the rate forecast continues to rise from here – further broadening the gap between the Fed and other central banks? That is what is likely necessary to earn the Dollar or US equities greater relative value given its current favorable standing isn’t earning further gains. More likely, the outlook for the Fed will cool whether that be due to the US closing in on its perceived neutral rate, economic conditions cooling amid trade wars or the increasing volatility of the financial markets jeopardizing onerous yields. Where the Dollar may have underperformed given the Fed’s policy drive in 2017, it still carries a premium which can deflate as their outlook fades. This puts the upcoming June US CPI reading and the Fed’s monetary policy update for Congress in a different light. All of this said, this is not the only fundamental theme at play when it comes to the Dollar. There is trade wars, reserve diversification and general risk trends. Interestingly enough, all of those carry the same skew when it comes to the potential for impact. Any questions, just ask. John Kicklighter
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