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JohnDFX

DFX Market Analyst
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  1. Is There an Effort to Keep Markets Uneasy in Trade Wars? How many times does something unusual have to occur before it is considered a planned? I have noted a number of times over the past month that some unexpected policy development was announced hours before the markets closed for the weekend. There is an unspoken commitment by central bankers and global leaders to prevent volatility in their respective financial markets. Volatility is the general definition of risk, and there is a clear connection between financial market and economy. In other words, no one wants to trigger speculative rout that could turn into tangible economic pain. And yet, that typical preservation of self-interest doesn’t seem to worry some of those in power looking to stir norms. Leaks are another increasingly common feature of the US political landscape which unexpectedly adds more uncertainty to an otherwise surprise-oriented policy approach. One of the more common culprits of this push against norms is US President Donald Trump and those in his administration. Announcements of new tariffs on Fridays are now commonplace. And this past week would not deviate from that new norm. Two people in the administration with knowledge of the plans said the President intended to push forward with the proposed $200 billion increase in tariffs on Chinese goods despite the effort to revive talks this past week. This is not exactly surprising given the United States negotiation approach of late. They seem to prefer discussing terms after exerting pressure on their counterparts in an effort to leverage a more favorable outcome. It is also the case in this instance that the remarks are not official – as in they do not come from the President himself. Typically, Trump prefers to announce such things himself to signal he retains final say over such matters. Leaks are another increasingly common feature of the US political landscape which unexpectedly adds more uncertainty to an otherwise surprise-oriented policy approach – but at least one where we know to focus for answers. Whether intentional or not, the major announcements in policy from the US and other major economies into the twilight hours of the week creates a resting state of increased uncertainty for financial markets. We do not need any more reason to question our already excessive exposure to risky assets between the dependency on excessive monetary stimulus which is starting to correct, exploding levels of debt, increased speculative leverage and obvious efforts by superpowers to promote local growth through policies that curb others’. A frequency of last minute and troubling headlines just before the markets close is yet another reason traders could naturally want to curb their exposure. Evaluating Fundamental Themes for Both Their Probability and Pace of Progress Trading fundamentals can be overwhelming for many. While there are many different motivations for market participants the world over to place or remove exposure, there are typically key reasons that draw many – if not the majority – to alter their views in tandem. If there were a first rule for trading using fundamentals, I would say it is to first establish what is most important to the market-at-large. Another functional application of this broad analysis technique (perhaps rule number 2) is to establish the nature of the theme or event itself. Is it complex or straightforward? Is there a distinct time frame for it to render its verdict or is the outcome something that can be debated through time? A significant step up in terms of fundamental complication are the ongoing NAFTA negotiations between the US and Canada. Depending on the circumstances surrounding these fundamental matters, we can determine what kind of contribution they can make towards our trading – or how effectively they can otherwise complicate the opportunities that may otherwise seem complete. We can use examples to illustrate. The Federal Reserve’s next rate decision is scheduled for September 26th. There is clear anticipation for yet another 25 basis point rate hike by the policy authority with swaps pricing in nearly 100 percent probability. That is clear time and outcomes (hike or not). Such simplicity can make for straightforward Dollar or risk trends – though it will also drain the market-moving potential of an outcome that meets deeply discounted scenario. There is still complication in the forecast for another hike around December, pace in 2019, concern over external factors and more; but those clearly are not the primary interest. A significant step up in terms of fundamental complication are the ongoing NAFTA negotiations between the US and Canada. While there have been a few dates of confidence thrown out by officials, there is no definitive end date. There is also substantial discrepancy in the outcome for these talks such that a compromise or dissolution of trade relations can render significant market moves. This is an even that is far more difficult to predict for timing and outcome, but it renders far more market movement. And, then there are those events that can continue without resolution for considerable time and the full impact cannot be readily be predicted until long after it is implemented. That is the situation with an event like the US-China trade wars. There are no milestones for furthering the tensions or reducing them and it can prove a systemic threat that directly leads to a global recession and/or financial crisis. Yet, without clear guidelines, the practicality of trading around it is exceedingly difficult. And Now, the Central Banks with Failing Credibility This past week, the European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of England (BoE) delivered their respective monetary policy decisions. These are important policy groups whose decisions carry far beyond their respective economies. The ECB marks one of the most aggressive dovish central banks amongst the majors and carries significant responsibility for sustaining the belief that market enthusiasm is borne out of the extraordinary support these groups are offering to the system. Perhaps recognizing the position they hold and uneven health of its member economies, it is struggling to decide its course. The BoE is one of the most hawkish major players with a course of inflation that is above target and could be used to evaluate the central banks’ commitment to the ‘rule of law’ for targeting price growth as a determinant for monetary policy. Of course, they are dealing with the uncertainty of Brexit which is a situation not uncommon across the world’s largest economies. So this group is acting as an unexpected template for how to deal with external pressures. These are important groups whose moves will be monitored and likely mirrored by other central banks. Interest rates in Japan have been kept near zero for decades, and the rise of QE programs was eagerly adopted by the group in an effort to stoke price growth. The upcoming two rate decisions this week will not be evaluated for the guidance they can offer others. Rather, they will instead be used as lesson on what to avoid. The Swiss National Bank (SNB) and Bank of Japan (BoJ) have failed to apply policy that renders the deserved effect for promoting growth and price stability – not to mention unstated goals of financial health. They are in fact both groups that have lost significant credibility in the markets, which makes their job all the more unmanageable. The SNB will no doubt keep its rates firmly in negative territory, yet the desired depreciation of the Swiss Franc is unlikely to follow years of unchanged policy. Given the dependency on exports of goods and services – and particularly to the EU – they are primarily concerned with the unfavorable level of the EURCHF exchange rate. This will not change materially until the ECB itself follows a course that allows for more appreciation of the Euro. While the BoJ has not done anything so dramatic as the SNB’s implementation and sudden removal of a floor on its key exchange rate, the central bank has clearly embarked on a policy course that has consistently fallen short of its mark. Interest rates in Japan have been kept near zero for decades, and the rise of QE programs was eagerly adopted by the group in an effort to stoke price growth. Despite a steady escalation of this downpour of funds, price pressures have not solidified and the markets have increasingly discounted their ability to even move the Japanese Yen for secondary favor. What we should worry about from these two is what the market response is when such groups are forced to capitulate or the recognition of how exposed the system is should another crisis arise where such groups have no hope of averting collapse.
  2. Important European Central Bank Rate Decisions As we find distraction in trade wars and political risk, it is important to remember that we are still dealing with more traditional fundamental issues in the background. One of the most systemically important and extremely underpriced risks is the global market’s long-standing dependency on massive stimulus from the world’s largest central banks. That wave of easy money through massive rate cuts and largest stimulus programs has noticeably receded while recognition of more recent iterations of the collective effort have failed to earn the impact that it was pursued for: a return to steady inflation, faster economic activity and wage growth that outpaced the cost of goods. Instead, we are just left with the very effective but increasingly unwanted side effect of artificially inflated speculative assets. Currently, swaps are pricing in less than a 50 percent chance that the central bank will hike rates again before mid-2019. Eventually, this big-picture fundamental gap will be reconsidered by the investing masses; and if that occurs amid a financial unwind, it could readily turn mere risk aversion into full-scale panic. As we await the inevitable reckoning, we will take in two important monetary policy updates from major central banks on opposite ends of the spectrum: the Bank of England (BoE) and European Central Bank (ECB). The BoE’s policy meeting is not expected to deliver another rate hike, and anticipation for forecasting is likely rather restrained. Currently, swaps are pricing in less than a 50 percent chance that the central bank will hike rates again before mid-2019. Given that this is a group that has already hiked a few times and has inflation figures to justify further moves if Governor Carney and Co want a reason, this decision can help establish the outlook for global monetary policy as a baseline for economic expectations. Alternatively, evaluation of the ECB’s decision comes from the opposite perspective. The central bank is still employing its stimulus program but is expected to cut if off later this year. Following that, the expectation is for a rate hike to be triggered sometime mid-2019, but swaps currently put that outcome at a sparse 20 percent whereas a few months ago, it was supported by a more than 80 percent probability. Beyond just the rate decision and press conference, we are also expecting macroeconomic projections from the group. If one of the world’s most prolific (profligate?) policy groups deems the outlook does not deserve a steer away from crisis-level settings, what would that say about the health of the economy and financial system? Another Week in the Trade Wars Another week and another escalation in the ever-expanding global trade wars. From the heaviest front of the economic confrontation, the period for public feedback on the Trump administration’s proposed $200 billion increase in tariffs on key trade counterpart China came to a close. It is not clear how quickly this will be turned from theory into action, but the markets certainly aren’t simply discounting this marked intensification of the trade war between the two super powers as mere bluster. As remarkable as this threat is on its own, President Trump wasn’t content to leave the heavy threat to linger in the air. On Air Force One, the ‘leader of the free world’ said he was in fact considering a further increase in the United States’ pressure against its rival to the tune of $267 billion. That is $267 billion in addition to the as-yet realized $200 billion. A few months ago, the President – following on the initial warning of the $200 billion jump – said he was prepared to tax all Chinese tariffs. ...the Canadian Dollar is still significantly discounted and could generate a hefty rally in response to the good news. With these successive programs, he would be taxing more than the United States total imports of Chinese goods through 2017 – over $517 billion with the $50 billion and metals taxes already in place versus $506 billion actually purchased. If we only realize the first massive slug of additional taxes, the retaliation from China will further complicate this situation. It will not be able to do a like-for-like retaliation as it will soon eclipse the total imports the country consumes from the US. Resorting to other measures to approximate can easily be construed by this administration as not just response but escalation. Meanwhile, not content to keeping the fight on one shore, the US failed to find a compromise with Canada in its ongoing negotiations to shore up – or more likely replace – NAFTA. If a breakthrough is found next week, the Canadian Dollar is still significantly discounted and could generate a hefty rally in response to the good news. And yet, settling the dispute for the North American trade partners will not raise much enthusiasm for the rest of the world. In addition to Trump’s threats to raise the bill on China, he also made a very thinly veiled threat aimed at Japan who the US is currently engaging in trade discussions. A ‘good deal’ for the US is likely one for which Japanese officials will balk at even with the obvious risk of having to engage in a trade war. On the bright side, the US and EU have not furthered their war of words (autos tariffs, accusations of currency manipulation, threats to circumvent the other’s currency for causing systemic trouble) to one of action. Yet, considering much of this seems to move in cycles for who is targeted each week, give it time. Global Political Risk Always Simmering and A President That Lashes Out Under Pressure Political risks seemed to deflate in the US, UK and Euro-area this past week, but they certainly haven’t been resolved. Far from it. The coalition government in Italy is starting to run out of room for making commitments to both live up to campaign promises of increased government spending and checks on EU influence will simultaneously meeting obligations to control budget that will not send European officials and financial markets into a panic. From the UK, the Prime Minister Theresa May continues to find pressure from her government, cabinet and EU counterparts in navigating a Brexit negotiation that would somehow please all parties involved. This is ultimately impossible as the groups are in essence demanding outcomes that the antithesis of each other. In general, it is important to leave our own political beliefs out of our investing – and especially out of our trading (short-term). What we are left with when trading the Pound is a sentiment that seems to oscillate regularly but keeps landing back into the realm of firm warnings to prepare for a ‘no deal’ outcome. In the United States, President Trump is continually bombarded by the news media with scandals that are coming dangerously close to the leader himself. His penchant for retaliating on social media and in rallies is doing the opposite of quelling the storm. In general, it is important to leave our own political beliefs out of our investing – and especially out of our trading (short-term). There have been both economic booms and recessions under both Democrat and Republican administrations – and through various combinations of Executive and Legislative concerns. However, political risks can spill into more immediate financial and economic issues which in turn can charge the market. Trump has said recently that he has considered shutting the government down again if Congress does not curb the rebellion against his agenda. There is also suggestion of a second tax cut being floated and we are still awaiting word that the fiscal stimulus promised on the campaign trail will be revived. What is particularly unique to the US President is his tendency to react to personal pressure from the Mueller investigation and news media’s general criticism with aggressive policy on other fronts. Would he have made the $267 billion threat of escalation against China this past week if the scrutiny over his actions were not so intense? It is difficult to argue that he is too level-headed for that retaliation against the world as there are too many examples to suggest the opposite. USD price action ahead of ECB and BoE
  3. A Habit of Cutting Down Progress Towards Ending Trade Wars This past week, optimism was dangled in front of the markets and violently snatched away before it became too established. We have been dealing with the escalation of explicit competition in trade policies for the since March, and each hint of progress in turning the major players back from economic stalemate has been consummately dashed. This past week, there were two fronts on which it seemed we were heading for an important breakthrough. The first upswing would come from the NAFTA negotiations. After US and Mexican officials seemed to come to an understanding on bilateral conditions, it was reported that Canada was coming back to the table to see if it could hash out its own understanding with the United States. With a soft ‘deadline’ presented for this past Friday it seemed there was the will and momentum to secure a trilateral agreement that could provide stability in the relationships between these major economies. Instead, Canada’s Foreign Minister announced they had not come to an agreement. In a now-familiar style of reaction, President Trump said the US was ready to go without Canada and said Congress should not interfere in the negotiation. The US President would also dash building confidence that the US and EU would head off a more threatening economic standoff between the two largest economies in the world. EU Trade Minister Malmstrom made remarks earlier in the week saying the Union could cut tariffs on US auto imports to zero if the US would do the same for European cars coming into their country. That was seemingly what the President was looking for in previous remarks, but rather than voice pleasure that talks had taken a favorable turn, Trump stated it was ‘not enough’. These developed world trade threats are ominous for global growth and the healthy flow of capital across the world’s financial centers. However, they are not as yet as intense as the impasse between the US and China. There was no material sign of improvement from which we could garner a fresh sense of disappointment this past week. The previous restart of talks between the two superpowers notably led to little traction according to US leaders. There has been little in the way of encouraging rhetoric from either side in the meantime. Furthermore, there are reports that President Trump is intent on pushing through the next, more onerous round of tariffs on the largest foreign holder of its sovereign debt. The open period for the public to weigh in on a proposed additional $200 billion in taxes on Chinese imports was original set for August 30, but was supposedly pushed back to September 5. Either way, the ultimate decision by the administration is likely soon – with some administrators believing news could come as soon as next week. This begs the question: at what level of total taxes or number of active trade war participants will global investors turn their fear over ill effects into action? What to Watch for as We Turn to Fall Trading Summer in the Northern Hemisphere doesn’t officially end until September 22; but for most intents and purposes, it came to a close this past Friday. Historically, August is the last month of the doldrums and the week preceding the US Labor Day holiday weekend is the final true week of passive drift. There is not a definitive flick of the switch from Friday August 31st to Tuesday September 4th where markets turn from listless chop back into full-fledged trend. That said, same seasonal factors the market abided by to overlook pressing issues such as trade wars, growing political risks and central bank commitment to normalize monetary policy will transition into active trade for a month that historically averages the only loss in the calendar year for the benchmark S&P 500 and is one of the top standings for volatility according to the VIX. It is possible that anticipation has been building up to this cyclical pivot and the weight of all of the aforementioned risks will come crashing down on the complacent market. More likely, we will see the ill-effects of eroding fundamentals slowly wear away at the speculative resolve that has promoted a situation where the S&P 500 is at record highs while the Vanguard’s World Index ex US fund (VEU) and Emerging Market ETF (EEM) are carving out multi-month bear trends. Important with monitoring the balance of the markets moving forward are the measures of general speculative activity and the relationship across favorite risk assets. Volume is almost certainly to increase over the coming month, and there is a long-standing correlation between turnover and volatility. For those keeping count, volatility has an inverse relationship with risk-leaning assets such as equities and carry trade. Open interest – essentially participation – will also be important to monitor. Are bulls significantly adding to the S&P 500 via cumulative shares, the SPY and eminis as it traverses new records or is stagnating (perhaps even declining)? As markets deepen and volatility increases, the discrepancy between risky assets (and typical havens) will demand reconciliation. If a broad appetite behind speculative benchmarks does not return, the incongruity will draw increasing unwanted attention from those looking to honestly evaluate the risks of their portfolios. Who is Devaluing their Currency and Why Not long ago, President Trump lobbed accusations against Chinese and European authorities for devaluing their respective currencies to afford unfair trade advantages. This was likely a means to add further justification for pursuing aggressive confrontational trade policies against these major economies that draw painful retaliations against American consumers and businesses in the process. It could also be the pretext for the US exacting its own FX policies that would categorically touch off a financial crisis as the market re-assesses pricing, reserves and economic relations wholesale (something we’ve discussed before). With big questions ahead of us, it is worth assessing who is utilizing policy currently that can fit classification of currency manipulation or may have in the recent past. The most frequently accused world player is China. And, there is obvious policy adopted just recently that qualifies it for the label. One of the country’s primary FX administrators (the People’s Bank of China or PBoC) announced a change to its pricing method that was clearly aimed at reducing volatility – and not so subtly meant to prevent the continued decline in the offshore Reminibi. That was a move that was likely taken in part to take the wind out of Trump’s manipulation claims sails as well as to head off concerns that there was a building wave of capital flight. These are moves that can be labeled efforts to curb political stress and prevent a financial crisis, but they are most definitely manipulation. And, distortions imposed long enough eventually lead to crises. As for the allegation directed at the Euro, the 2014 monetary policy connection the ECB made to EURUSD at 1.4000 was rather egregious. However, the application of rate cuts to zero and expansion of its balance sheet afterwards didn’t deviate far from many other large central banks – they were just late to the game and thereby less effective. Keeping up the argument recently finds much less weight as the Euro rallied in 2017 despite the Fed’s persistent hike pace while the European bank itself has signaled it plans to normalize in the foreseeable future. If the British Pound has purposefully been devalued to afford it trade advantage in this world of plateauing growth, using Brexit to afford this advantage would have to be the worst possible route. Japan has a long history of outright intervention on behalf of its currency owing to its dependence on trade, but both the Finance Ministry’s direct Yen selling and the Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) indirect monetary policy effort have seen their effectiveness fade after so many successive rounds. Both the RBA and RBNZ have attempted to ‘jawbone’ (talk down) their currencies, but that is something nearly every major central bank has done and it is just as ineffective for all. We could label the groups’ passive monetary policies as moving them out of favor as carry currencies, but that would be a poor plan as well as they will not attract foreign capital to help establish financial stability. The SNB clearly enacted a program meant to devalue its currency with negative rates and a hard EURCHF floor, but that effort failed spectacularly and the central bank now has to deal with the fallout from a lack of credibility. And, then there is the US Dollar. Was the Fed’s piloting the QE program after the financial crisis evidence of an effort to gain trade advantage? Perhaps expanding to a QE 2 and QE 3 even though the economy and financial system was no longer in crisis was the evidence? Or perhaps the Trump administration’s efforts to play down the long-held ‘Strong Dollar’ policy or the President’s ruminations over Fed policy and accusations against other trade partners? In some way, everyone is engaged.
  4. Add Political Risks to Our Long List of Market Concerns It isn’t like we are lacking for fundamental motivation for the global financial markets. If anything, there is a surplus of critical themes that could – if properly induced – could single-handedly turn the universal tide. Nevertheless, it seems we will have to add another principal concern to our list alongside trade wars and the transition away from emergency monetary policy: political risk. This is not an unfamiliar market concern. Concern over governments’ and their influence on economy and financial health are fairly regular occurrence throughout the world and history. However, the tension seems to be rising quickly as of late. While there are still clear concerns over stability in the UK (constant discord between PM May, her Cabinet and Parliament), the Euro-area (Italy’s aggressive stance of budget and immigration) and Australian (having replaced its Prime Minister last week); the issues in the United States register more readily as a situation for global spillover. We have seen headlines related to various investigations into certain Trump administration officials dating back to before the election, and last year’s more reserved headlines seemed to earn far more distinct response from price action – such as the drop back on August 17, 2017 when fears arose that cabinet members could part ways with the President following the lead of business leaders on his economic council. Over the past weeks, concerns have turned more directly onto the President himself with a jury finding his former campaign manager guilty on 8 charges, his personal lawyer pleading guilty to charges including campaign violations and the Trump Organization’s CFO being granted immunity for testifying in the Cohen trial. These may be for matters that do not implicate the President directly, but markets do not tend to act aloof to high impact potential risks. Perhaps feeling the pressure, in an interview President Trump warned that if impeachment proceedings were started against him, he believed the market would crash and “everybody would be very poor”. That would not likely happen. For a financial market, who is President does not matter. Potential for returns and the course of the economy is primary. Markets didn’t immediately fall apart with the start of the Clinton or Nixon impeachments. However, when there are other concerns that the markets previously discount for favor of higher returns amid complacency, adding another source of uncertainty is a build-up of cumulative ‘risk’. Just as subprime housing tipped the scales in 2018, tech shares in 2000 and an emerging Asian markets in 1997; history shows the rolling over of markets owing to complex and deep fundamental issues often start with a single, smaller catalyst. A Theme of Sentiment and a Market Prone to It In the seasonal-dampened market conditions for the week ahead, we have a list of important, discrete event risk; but there is little that we could point to as systemically important and capable of single-handedly shifting direction or altering momentum for the entire market. That has more to do with a sense of complacency, appetite to hold to seasonal lulls and distraction from ‘themes’ that are not readily resolved with a single update (trade wars, political risks, Brexit, etc). However, the data should be registered nonetheless. It is the fundamental equivalent of keeping your eye on altitude in a hot air balloon as the risk of it popping grows. While the key listings ahead will touch on important topics – the US PCE for Fed tempo, an emergency Brexit meeting for the House of Lords – there is a particular theme that will offer greater weight due to its prevalence across the globe: sentiment. There are a number of countries that will offer updates on confidence from consumers, businesses, on economies, etc all while the world deals with greater threats to passivity. The Eurozone and Italy will release current sentiment readings for various aspects of the group and individual country’s economies. With concern over the unity of the Economic and Monetary Unions growing, these will be critical reads for local and global investors. Clearly dealing with concern over an escalating probability of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, the UK’s business and consumer confidence reports Thursday evening will be crucial. Perhaps the most important reading on outlook will come from the US consumer via the Conference Board’s update Tuesday. Not only are there the standard uncertainties for employment and financial security; but we have seen political stability and a U-turn on North Korea starting to position as external risks. Expectations are important as fear translates into reduced plans to buy goods, invest in factors, lend to entrepreneurs and other means to seed economy and markets – just as speculation of future events leads to speculators’ lifting or throttling a market before events truly come to pass. T’was the Week Before a Seasonal Liquidity Shift The week ahead is the final week of August. That is clear, but what is less obvious for the uninitiated trader, this also happens to reference a crucial period for transition for the financial markets. The ‘summer lull’ is a familiar axiom for speculators and it is sustained as much by self-fulfilling prophecy as it is by any tangible changes to the markets themselves. Historically, August represents the ‘quietest’ calendar month of the year – qualified by the S&P 500’s volume going back to 1980. Yet, this is a probability, not a certainty. There are always exceptions in open markets where the winds of economic and financial crisis don’t necessarily abide the same assumptions. For instance, global risk assets were sliding sharply in August in both 2015 and 2011. And, we have more than enough unresolved fundamental uncertainty in the wings of our markets to spur a speculative avalanche for expensive markets. However, the period encompassing the UK Bank Holiday and US Labor Day Holiday represents a period that historically carries a statistically high probability of quiet. That said, just as remarkable As August and this week is for restraint, the month of September is renowned for its volatility (VIX peaking in September and October) and a sense of risk aversion (historically the only month for the S&P 500 that averages a loss). We may find market participants are less restrained when making decisions with their portfolio amid economic uncertainty in a few weeks’ time, but that doesn’t mean we should simply check out in the meantime. If markets are to offer up a surprise level of activity in the week ahead, what would it likely follow: a sudden sense of unexpected enthusiasm or fear amid an unseen crisis? Fear typically arises from the blue and prompts action more readily than greed. This is not a high probability occurrence, but it would lead to a remarkable amount of financial pain (probability vs potential). Hedges are still very cheap as evidenced by implied volatility. It is also the case that there is no risk when we are out of the markets, only the self-flagellation some suffer when they feel they are ‘missing out’. But if markets are genuinely quiet as assumed, there should be little to miss out on by closing now and reopening when liquidity tops off again...
  5. Positioning Extremes Grow More Extreme There are a few undisputable and universal forces when it comes to the financial markets. One of those all-powerful winds is the concept of risk trends which is referred to by many names such as ‘risk on, risk off’ or referenced unknowingly when we blindly attribute market wide movement to animal spirits through technical cues, smart versus dumb money, panic to greed. Another of these truisms is the allocation of capital. While total wealth does grow and contract, it is apportioned to some market whether that is emerging market equities to US Treasuries to home mattresses. In a global market, there is also distribution to different regions according to what country or collective economy presents the best opportunities. And, from this parsing of investment preference; we can learn a lot about the market; but one of the most elemental solutions is the global market’s general bearing for sentiment (the risk trends referenced before). There are no easy, definitive measures for allocations across such a wide universe of markets, but there are various measures for specific areas and key ports for which to apply measure such that we come to a good understanding of the markets’ health. One of the most basic measures of preference on a regional basis is exchange rates. We have seen the USDCNH surge the past few months showing capital leave China and enter the US. That is likely a bi-product of trade wars and can signal deeper problems for China if they risk signaling to the world that there is capital flight that can disrupt their efforts to promote stability between economy and market. Given that there is certain control that Chinese authorities have over their systems, we could get more complicated in the evaluations by comparing the USDCNH to the USDHKD, look to derivatives or wait for the lagging economic data like the TICs from the US. Another good equivalence is the performance of ETFs. These derivatives are quickly becoming favorite products for global investors due to their supposed risk reduction through diversification (we heard the same thing with AAA rated subprime housing MBS 11 years ago) and the wide range of coverage they offer. There are measures of capital flowing into and out of specific, liquid ETFs (ie SPY, TLT, FXI) as well as general groups (all equity versus all bond). Another measure of positioning is the use of leverage. We may not know what people are doing with their cash in many instances, but the use of borrowed funds is often better tracked as the ‘investors’ (or lenders) want to know their exposure. As it happens, in the US, there is record use of leverage by investors, consumers, corporations and the government. Further measures of positioning are the sample readings like that on the DailyFX Sentiment page which shows retail traders (who have a very short time frame and primarily fight existing trends) and the CFTC’s COT report of speculative futures. From the latter, this past week has shown a dramatic swing in Dollar interest from the biggest short in 5 years to the heaviest long in nearly 2 (all in a few months), Treasury net short has hit a dramatic record low, and gold flipping to net short for the first time since 2002 among other surprises. There is a lot to learn once you know what to look for and how to put it into context. A Lesson from the 2013 Taper Tantrum Applied to a Global Scale Back on June 19, 2013, then-Fed Governor Ben Bernanke announced that the US central bank would begin to ‘taper’ its theoretically open-ended bond buying stimulus program (known as QE3). By the time he stated their intention, the market had already suspected this was going to take place owing to the language of the group and the performance of data coming out of the economy. However, the announcement had a significant impact nonetheless. What resulted was termed the ‘taper tantrum’. In response to this news, US Treasury yields shot higher as the markets largest sovereign debt buyer at the time announced their intention to reduce purchases moving forward. And that had a material economic effect as the cost of US Dollar-based loans – particularly for foreign buyers who had exchange rate risks – started to shoot higher. It therefore comes as little surprise that emerging market corporations that borrowed funds in Dollars shuddered at the news, and the EEM Emerging Market ETF showed the discontent. However, after some months of fear, conditions stabilized and borrowers and investors acclimated to the notion of higher costs. Even if they were exiting the active rate-depression game, they would still be low for a long period of time. What’s more other central banks like the ECB, BoJ and others were still at or near record lows with some pursuing equally massive stimulus programs. As such, complacency returned for some years after. Yet, where are we today? We still have that telltale complacency – as mentioned above – but the foundation of confidence has continued to erode as global central banks have reached the end of the road. Either they are willfully plotting their own exit from their extraordinary accommodative states (like the ECB, BoE, BoC) or they are floundering as the market realizes they have essentially reached the extent of their influence (BoJ, SNB, RBNZ). Financial markets from equities to real estate have performed remarkably well in the interim, but economic activity and inflation plateaued long ago. That has produced an elevated risk exposure without the economics to fund the exposure. So, with exceptional risk, moderate economic potential, external pressures increasing (trade wars) and central banks either easing back or losing tractions; it is worth evaluating that 2013 ‘taper tantrum’ and consider what the possible implications would be if we raised the stakes from one country to the world. Jackson Hole Symposium and US-China Trade Top Event Risk The coming week carries one of the most deflated expectations for seasonal activity for the financial markets. The Labor Day holiday for the US (September 3 this year) traditional signals a change in ‘Summer Lull’ activity to a more active and liquid Fall trading. These activity levels are as much self-fulfilling prophecy as actual liquidity phenomena, but it occurs nevertheless. However, a footnote here before we analyze further. There are some dramatic examples in our recent past where volatility as exploded in August despite the conventions. The 2015 market-wide tumble triggered by Chinese exposure fears began in August and the same month in 2011 led to global losses for shares and other risk assets as the Eurozone debt crisis unfolded. We should never rely on market parables when we are employing our capital – especially when so many global risks are so plain, such as a possible Chinese crisis arising from the US-China trade war or Italy threatening Euro-area stability to register as echoes of history. This said, the standard global economic docket is particularly thin over the next five days of active trade. It would be fitting to assume the markets are just going to drift down a lazy river if we did not appreciate the broader context. While the biggest risks to our immediate future are likely unknown fundamental waves, there are two themes that are scheduled and we can follow as they unfold. The first is the US-China trade war. The US Trade Representative’s office is expected to hold a public but off-camera hearing on Chinese tariffs throughout the week. It is worth reminding that the Treasury has left public feedback open until early September until they decide on whether or not to proceed with the $200 billion in new tariffs President Trump threated some weeks ago. More promising, US and Chinese officials are due to restart trade talks on Thursday and Friday. It was reported that this meeting will start to build a map that can take the countries back to more favorable terms such that the countries’ two Presidents can agree at the highest level when they meet in November. The other high-level event to watch over the coming week is the Jackson Hole Symposium. The annual meeting of central bankers, business leaders and key financial lawmakers hosted by the Fed can cover crucial developments in global markets and the economy. The official theme of this conference is ‘Changing Market Structure and Implications for Monetary Policy’, but expect the conversation to touch many of the key themes mentioned above: global retreat from extreme easing, the failing effectiveness of stimulus, global pressures via trade wars and the extremely inflated levels of global capital markets.
  6. It is Not Wise to Start Financial Fires in a Market so Parched for Value The financial markets find themselves in between two storm fronts. On the one hand, there is the seasonal liquidity drain that is associated with Summer trade. More historical norm than actual exchange closures, the ‘Summer Doldrums’ present a consistent curb on volume, open interest, volatility and productive trend year after year. However, the restraint is not guaranteed. Though not as common as those Fall (for the Northern Hemisphere) triggered crises and deep bear trends, there are certainly bouts of panic that originate in these quiet months. And that is why we should pay closer attention to the other storm front that has consistently stood at the border of our collective consciousness. We have watched as growth forecasts have cooled, the limitations of monetary policy to offer temporary support have entered mainstream discourse and protectionism has emerged to threaten one of the most consistent sources of stability in globalization. These are not new risks, but they have been regularly brushed to the side in favor of short speculative opportunities to be pursue distractedly. Yet, draining liquidity in these questionable conditions has acted to call greater attention to the risks at hand. And, now with the tension applied by the United States on peers and counterparts alike, we are seeing the growth of clear conflict threatening to force the issue of more candid evaluations of value. Trade wars had – and still has – the capacity to trigger a full scale deleveraging of excess risk, but the temporary stay in the spread of kind-for-kind retaliations among developed world giants soothed imminent fears. This front is likely to erupt once again in the not-to-distant future under more pressing circumstances. In the meantime, a sister action in the form of US sanctions placed on less-friendly countries may take up the reins on global sentient. The Trump administration reversed its participation in the nuclear deal with Iran (27th largest economy) and restored sanctions on the country much to the condemnation of the other participants of the deal. The US has also moved to apply new penalties on Russia (12th largest economy) in response to its supposed use of nerve agent on a former spy. The USDRUB soared to a two year high this past week. And, showing the most severe short-term impact of all was the quickly escalating sanctions that the US is placing on Turkey (17th largest economy) for ostensibly the country’s refusal to release a US pastor swept up during the failed coup. The country’s currency has dropped over 55% versus the Dollar (through Monday’s open), and this time the financial exposure for major economies (particularly European) was quickly seized upon. Let’s see if this fire can be contained. Is the US Placing Pressure on Major Counterparts Like the EU Through Proxy? The Trump Administration has likely started to recognize that there are rumblings of coordination from those countries that are already under the influence of the United States’ sanctions or feel they soon will be. That is likely a key reason the President struck a conciliatory tone with EU President Juncker when a few weeks ago he agreed not to pursue further tariffs – particularly on autos – so long as the two economic superpowers were negotiating. That said, it is clear that the strategy being employed on the US side depends on applying enough pressure that counterparts are willing to sacrifice more in order to win a compromise to find relief. That brings in the proxy pressures that the US has seemingly favored over the past weeks in the stead of outright trade wars. As mentioned above, the US has announced sanctions against Iran, Russia and Turkey in short order. These moves would certainly draw less criticism from Americans dubious of the government’s foreign policy moves as each is considered more adversary than ally. Yet, there may be more to these pursuits than simply following a moral compass with global relations. Other countries have supported efforts to promote relationships with these countries over the past years which has entailed exceptional investment alongside diplomatic capital. On two fronts in particular, this particular application of pressure has had enormous side effects for the Europe. With Iran, the EU is still trying to hold together the agreement made between the OPEC member and the other participants of the original nuclear agreement, taking a lead to promote stability. When President Trump stated in a tweet that those that county to do business with Iran could have their business with the US halted, some business leaders took it seriously and looked to curb trade. Yet, the EU responded saying any European companies that complied with the United States’ demands on Iran – and thus jeopardized the effort to hold the agreement together – would face penalties from European authorities. With Turkey, there is no slow build up. The rapid tumble in the country’s currency (Lira) has risked the stability of assets foreign interests have pursued. European banks are particularly exposed and that led the ECB to voice concern over their connection should instability grow. While this rapidly escalating proxy pressure on Europe by the United States’ actions maybe unintentional, the nature of how it is playing out suggests otherwise. Dollar Rally a Result of Policy and Justification to Devalue? On July 20, President Trump lashed out (via Tweet as his want) at the Euro and Chinese Yuan claiming the currencies were being manipulated to render an unfair competitive advantage to their respective economies. Such claims are dubious at best. With the Yuan, history shows the country has a penchant for exerting influence over the activity level and direction of its ‘Renminbi’ to help promote economic, financial and social stability at home. However, their ability to keep all these efforts leveled out on the horizon is increasingly troubled. What’s more, a steady charge higher for USDCNH is exactly what would be expected if the United States’ tariffs on China were having their intend effects. As to the criticism of the Euro, there is little evidence to support that view. Four years ago, the anger would have been justified when the ECB said it would applied monetary policy in order to prevent the EURUSD exchange rate from passing 1.4000 – there must have been an agreement behind closed doors to allow this given how blatant the effort. This claim now, however, finds little support in action or event threat. Again, this is likely evidence of a strategy with questionable execution. Making a claim that multiple major currencies are being unfairly devalued – one others may agree to out of historical assumption and the other more dubious – can be used as pretext for enacting a policy aimed at counteracting the stated inequity. If there is indeed interest for US officials to abandon the ‘strong Dollar’ policy as has been hinted at multiple times over the past months and actually introduce policy to sink the currency, that appetite will be significantly bolstered this past week with the surge for the USD versus both the ‘majors’ and emerging market currencies. Arguably the result of the Trump Administration’s own policies, it may nonetheless serve as the foundation for a new course of global financial conflict.
  7. US-China Trade War Moving Beyond Boundaries As expected, the relief from trade wars didn’t last long. Not a week after US President Trump and EU President Juncker announced an armistice on tariffs between the two dominant economies, the former revived pressure on its favorite target: China. Trump had issued threats of escalating tariffs against its trade-dependent counterpart over previous weeks, but the impact of the warning seemed to come with shorter half-lives than what we had experienced through previous iterations. With a strategy that seems to center upon keeping steady pressure on China, the administration seems to have adopted two new means of pushing its efforts. The first drive follows the familiar policy approach of escalating the stakes, just at a faster pace. This past week, the President advised his trade officials to explore raising the tax rate on the previously threatened $200 billion in tariffs against China from the initially stated 10 percent to a far more onerous 25 percent. Following its vow to match the United States’ efforts in kind, China said it was looking into a further $60 billion tariff on US goods. This is notably smaller, which reflects the reality that the country is reaching the limits of this ‘conventional’ economic ordinance as China only imported $130 billion in US goods the previous year. That said, the escalation is unlikely to stop there. The targets and methods will evolve - and the US may have be ushering in the next stage of the trade war engagements. Late last week, the President’s Chief Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow essentially took to trash talking the Chinese economy and financial system. In remarks he suggested data is suggesting the Chinese economy was slowing and suggested the slide in the Yuan may be evidence that capital was fleeing its financial system. Though seemingly modest compared to the political Molotov cocktails tossed so frequently nowadays, attempting to incite panic among a competitor’s investors is dangerous and diplomatically belligerent. Above all else, China is concerned with stability: economically, financially and socially. Threatening this calm is likely to provoke a more aggressive – and now unconventional – way. And, lest we forget how connected the world is today, if a crisis erupts for either economy, it will spread to the other – and the rest of the world. The Next Major Leg of a Broader Dollar Trend? There has been a notable increase in forecasts projecting the forthcoming next leg of a larger dollar bull trend. That is certainly possible, but given the larger themes guiding the benchmark currency, it is far less probable than ensuing slide. I approach evaluating any currency or market with the belief that it can ultimately rise or fall. To assume certainty in a directional view is to delude yourself and make you less capable of adapting on the fly – cutting losses or taking advantage of the unexpected – when circumstances don’t go to plan. For the Greenback, I can certainly think of conditions that would foster further advance. That said, they are less likely to occur, less capable of sustaining influence or more likely to be overpowered by more commanding influences. The most favorable alignment would come through the combination of the Fed maintaining its hawkish bearing, risk trends holding buoyant (favoring its yield forecast), major counterpart currencies torpedoed by their own troubles and trade wars somehow encouraging capital to flow into the economy. That said, these are broadly unlikely conditions. Growth forecasts are starting to fade and volatility is materializing in the financial system more frequently. That undermines conviction in the ‘risk on’ bearing and the Fed’s divergent monetary policy bearing is likely to capsize in turbulent market conditions. Trade wars render no winners whether initiator or target, and the United States’ indiscriminate pressure on so many major trade patterns dramatically increases the risk of painful blow-back. The most promising fundamental spark moving forward would the broad collapse of the Dollar’s major counterparts. That is possible in systemic risk aversion where the market takes time to evaluate the eroded capacity of central banks to fight fires through diminished monetary policy. However, fleeing to the US for safety amid trade wars is a particularly thin fundamental scenario. Yes, it is possible that the DXY overtakes 96 and EURUSD slips 1.1500 to reconstitute the reversal in April and May. However probabilities don’t favor that outcome. Apple Passes $1 Trillion Valuation and Calls Attention to Where Value is Being Assigned Investor sentiment has proven impervious to various fundamental and speculative hits over the past years. This strength has been formed through a mix of genuine economic recovery, exceptional monetary policy and raw speculative appetite. Yet, over time – and speculative reach – we have seen some of these pillars of support fall away. Economic growth has leveled out and is now at risk owing to populist pressures and extreme accommodation at central banks has plateaued. This leaves investor appetite itself an anchor of enthusiasm. And so, the focus turns to the correlation between assets along the lines of investor sentiment with leading exemplars of speculation carrying much of the market’s weight. As far as ideals for risk trends, there are few more concentrated reflections than the FAANG group. Registering out-performance across liquid, global asset classes; US equities have registered one of the strongest runs since 2008. Within US stocks, the tech sector has proven a leader. And, further at the core of that sector are the market cap dominant members comprising the FANG. The previous week we notched the split between relative impressive reports by Google and Amazon compared to the objective pain suffered by Facebook and Netflix. That left the unofficial ‘A’ (Apple) to break the tie. And, break the tie it would with a robust earnings that catapulted shares to a record high and beyond the historic milestone that marked this firm as the first publicly-traded company to surpass a $1 trillion valuation marker. This is a significant milestone in financial history, however, it will not alter the course of our immediate future. There was a time in past market cycles where surpassing a major ‘psychological’ level – like 10,000 for the Dow Jones Industrial Average – was treated as a turning point whereby markets would seemingly never sink below the same baselines ever again. Of course, looking back, that seems ludicrous to suggest; but it is easy for market participants to be swept up in the mania just as completely as it does with panic. Beyond the headlines, Apple’s performance was impressive but it didn’t produce a particularly extreme charge to reach this new milestone. Further, its ability to carry broader sentiment to a further bull trend has already proven lacking. Ultimately, Apple’s performance serves to remind us how extraordinarily rich markets currently are and the shift in dependency from traditional (‘tangible’) value to more speculative means. I asked in a poll this past week what would be worse: if Apple earnings missed and its shares sank or if they beat and markets sank anyways. Clearly AAPL and markets at large advanced, but if it were to turn lower this coming week, it would carry the same sentiment as the latter scenario. And that scenario is the one I am more worried about.
  8. It certainly can be argued that the BoE shouldn't have hiked rates owing to the subpar showing on the standard mix of fundamentals they look for when they deliberate such actions. That said, I think the circumstances for policy currently are such that they cannot follow standard procedure. Though their mandate is to target inflation, there are many long-term factors that go into a steady bearing of medium-term (their term for roughly 2 years forward) price stability and there are is an underlying interest to promote economic activity and maintain financial stability. A rate hike of 25 basis point from practically zero is not going to carry a material effect one way or the other - cause significant economic trouble nor alleviate it. Further, Brexit presents considerable uncertainty in terms of growth, but it can also stoke inflation through financial costs and for more expensive imported goods among other factors. Then there is the environment for which monetary policy is being employed globally. The Fed is unique in that it is hiking well beyond the tempo of any other authority, but there is a move to normalize globally. If they were to hold at the extremes while others have normalized, it would incur problems for fighting future financial/economic troubles as they arose. As it stands, Japan is likely to find itself in an untenable situation should global conditions take an unfavorable tack. I think some of the more market savvy participants of the MPC are worried about this strategic risk.
  9. Trade War Relief, But How Much? Finally, some trade war respite. Or at least, what looks like relief. Following week after week of steadily escalating threats and a few decisive actions (and retaliations) along the way, there was finally a joint statement of agreement between key global leaders. Following their meeting in Washington DC, US President Donald Trump and European Union President Jean Claude-Juncker issued a statement of success this past Wednesday. Any pause in this quickly ballooning threat to the global economic and financial order is welcome, but that doesn’t mean we should accept the event at face value. Did this summit result in a legitimate course correction for the growing destructive force was the press conference a political event designed to allow both leaders to claim a victory for their constituents? To evaluate that, we need to consider the terms. There was a commitment made by the EU to purchase more US-produced soybeans and natural gas. That seems encouraging at first blush, but pressing individual members to increase consumption is not reasonable. Vows to continue working towards solutions to the metals tariffs and avoiding tax on autos along with the suggestion that they would work together towards ‘zero tariffs’ is likely more enthusiasm than a plan of action. Not everything was a means to score political point. The agreement not to introduce new tariffs so long as they were negotiating is material as it curbs fear of an impending 20 percent tariff on European autos by the US and the $300 billion retaliation threatened by the EU. This glad-handing may be lacking for tangible action, but it can help curb fears of imminent escalation. That said, general capital market benchmarks – such as US equity indices – seemed little perturbed by actual progress in the economic fight these past few months. Let’s hope that aloofness and the fresh optimism holds moving forward, because this theme has not likely hit its crest. The largest threats have been made by the US against China. The Trump administration is likely putting tension on other fronts besides China as a means to amplify the leverage on this economic powerhouse. When the US eases back against developed world counterparts like EU, perhaps they expect those countries to ingratiate themselves to the US and head off critique for their handling of relationships with China. Don’t expect trade wars to truly be on the decline – much less resolved – with last week’s developments. Fed, BoE and BoJ Rate Decisions for Individual and Collective Influence The ECB rate decision this past week didn’t earn the Euro much in the way of productive volatility. Compare that to the speculation it drove – much to the central bank’s chagrin – throughout 2017. For many traders, that makes it an event to disregard. However, market participants would be wise to keep tabs on these fundamental themes for both their longer term influence on the target currency over the coming weeks and months; but it is arguably even more important to account for such events collective sway over more systemic matters like the inextricable link between global monetary policy and risk trends. It would be wise to consider these larger concerns through the week ahead as we wade into a run of central bank decisions. On tap, we have five large central bank rate decision, but only three of them are ‘majors’. The greatest weight will be hefted by the Federal Reserve. In monetary policy terms, everything about this meeting will be well fleshed out by speculators. Through exceptionally transparent forward guidance, we know the group expects to hike four times this year and that they have operated ‘on the quarters’. This meeting is out of sync for that trend. The real interest is the language used to either maintain path to a September rate hike or to start pulling back from it. Furthermore, there will be some degree of interest to see if the Fed replies to the President’s critique of policy and the currency – though that may be more appropriate for individual members’ reflections. Meanwhile, the Bank of England’s (BoE) Super Thursday meeting is expected to deliver a hike (77% chance according to swaps) and the Quarterly Inflation report. This is the most action-oriented event, but it will compete with Brexit for Sterling momentum and scaling up to global risk trends is not something this group’s policies have been capable of in this cycle. Finally, the Bank of Japan will no doubt keep its rates in place and the size of its stimulus program untouched. However, last week, reports surfaced that the group was discussing changing its stimulus approach to make it more ‘sustainable’. It is unclear exactly what that would entail, but given they are already at an extreme, it was read as a ‘hawkish’ shift. While these events can generate movement in their own currencies and local capital markets, do not underestimate the malleability of global risk trends under monetary policy. Years of excessive (extended well beyond the needs to stabilize growth and past the point of proving it would not readily translate into desired inflation) monetary policy has inflated market levels. It won’t be the wholesale withdrawal of stimulus across the board that will prompt sentiment rebalance but rather the anticipation normally associated to risk trends. FANG Has Set Up Apple as a More Important Capital Market Driver Earnings season has been mixed in the US thus far, but more important than the report of corporate numbers each trading session is the shift in bias surrounding these updates. There is considerable amount of ‘fudge’ room in reporting quarterly figures due to the dubious accounting allowances in GAAP (I obviously am not a fan). Yet, the details in questionable figures can be played up or played down depending on what the audience is willing to tolerate – or is actively seeking. With benchmark US indices struggling to regain the remarkably progress of 2017, sentiment has notably shifted towards earnings. No longer are the impressive elements of comprehensive reports amplified and the disappointing downplayed. The shortcomings are starting to be interpreted more readily in the general shortcomings that are more apparent in other areas of the economy. It is against this backdrop that we have had a troubled quarter from the concentrated speculative leader in the FANG. For those not familiar, it is an acronym of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google – some of the largest and fasting growing market cap stocks in the world. The fact that they are also tech, which is the sector that has outperformed in US markets; and US equities which have outpaced most other liquid ‘risk’ benchmarks speaks to the concentration. As important as this group is, there support is starting to turn to borderline burden. Where Google and Amazon’s figures were positive (though they came with very clear caveats in fines and income), the Netflix and Facebook reporting were outright pained. The former dropped while the latter collapsed from record high to official bear market in a day. Given what the FANG represents, the market has paid closer attention to the state of earnings and perhaps the bias that has been applied here so consistently. How to settle a 50/50 split in the FANG updates and the plateau established in the group’s price indexing? Add an ‘A’. Due Tuesday after the bell, Apple’s earnings will tap into key US tech firms and it has its own innate amplitude as the world’s largest market cap stock. It will be important whether it beats or misses, but even more crucial is how the market treats a better or worse outcome than expected. This event can carry far more weight than just the immediate reaction for AAPL shares.
  10. 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.
  11. 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
  12. 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!
  13. 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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