Looking Ahead – Fresh Squeezed 2-5-2021

Looking Ahead – Fresh Squeezed

 

A week ago, when shares of GameStop and other heavily-shorted companies were still soaring and exacting a heavy toll on the hedge funds caught offside, analysts had their heads on a swivel looking around for the next target of the Reddit WallStreetBets short-squeeze mob. The crosshairs locked onto silver, spiking it nearly 15% last Friday morning but, after a half-session head fake, it settled back down, with the CME not waiting long to dial up margin requirements on transactions in the precious metal. Another reason a silver short-squeeze never caught on seemed to be that positioning was not heavily short in the first place, despite what a few posts on Reddit apparently claimed, spurring plenty of dissention in the ranks of fellow Redditors.

In scanning for other areas of heightened investor vulnerability to countertrend price action, plenty of analysts flagged another asset with heavily-concentrated downside positioning that had recently halted its precipitous slide and had been showing signs of incipient reversal. But this was no penny stock or nearly bankrupt retailer but rather an asset that would be particularly insusceptible to even the most concentrated retail speculative energies – the US dollar.

 

Currency markets are notorious for wrongfooting consensus trades and bearish positioning on the dollar has been as consensus as they come. A fiscal flood + determined Fed dovishness + risk on = dollar weakness, right?

Sentiment on the dollar was similarly dire at the beginning of 2018, but positioning was not even as extreme as it is now, and the dollar refused to break lower for a few choppy months and then surged higher, as US economic outperformance took hold. At the time, gold prices sank and oil prices climbed (a somewhat atypical divergence), while the dollar marched upward in an almost uninterrupted two-month, 7% ascent, while US equities ran higher in tandem.

 

A similarly dollar- and risk-positive scenario, with US growth diverging to the upside from the G-10, may be emerging this year to upend consensus bearishness on the greenback. After a run of dismal December data amid the seasonal and mutated Covid-19 resurgence, further backsliding in early 2021 seemed like the clear base case, particularly given that that second pandemic relief bill in 2020 was delayed until late in the year. But recent US economic figures have been surprisingly resilient, despite a slight downside miss on January jobs numbers, and even outright strong in the case of housing market metrics and survey-based gauges like purchasing managers’ indexes (PMIs). Meanwhile, the Biden administration has decided that bipartisanship plays a distant second to their intent and urgency to deploy a super-sized pandemic relief package, while vaccine distribution appears to be picking up momentum after a slow start, with 35 million doses now administered and a trend that hits 100 million by mid-April – plus, the vaccines are deemed to be effective against the current set of mutations. And with the Reddit short-squeeze army regrouping in their barracks for now, the abatement of volatility has allowed investors to refocus on the brightening growth outlook.

 

One key distinguishing factor between the current setup and early 2018 is Fed policy. In 2018, Chair Powell was guiding the policy rate steadily upward, continuing the trajectory of 2017. Now, the FOMC is nearly unanimous in trying to tamp down speculation that they will taper their asset purchase program anytime soon, while “not even thinking about thinking about raising interest rates.” But it seems that the markets are skeptical, as futures continue to reflect expectations for incrementally earlier rate hikes than the Fed is projecting. Economic and market conditions later this year certainly seem aligned to test the Fed’s commitment to their current ultra-dovish formulation in the face of higher inflation and strong growth, which may be pivotal moment for any ongoing dollar rally.

 

Looking ahead to next week, the focus will be on efforts to pass the American Rescue Act through the narrow straits of the slim Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. On the data front, US inflation figures will be in the spotlight as market-based gauges of inflation expectations advance to multi-year highs. The impeachment trial of former President Trump is also on the docket. Lastly, next week also features the last major concentration of fourth quarter earnings reports, with Twitter, GM, Coca-Cola, Disney, and Expedia among the most high-profile.

 

 

  • US Consumer Price Data
  • Global PMIs
  • Bank of England
  • Reserve Bank of Australia
  • US Initial Jobless Claims

 

 

 

Global Economic Calendar: Price check

 

Monday

The week begins with German Industrial Production. In November, IP rose 0.9% m/m, following an upwardly revised 3.4% increase in October and above market forecasts of 0.7%. Output increased for intermediate and capital goods, while production of consumer goods decreased 1.7%. It is the 7th consecutive month of rising industrial production although it still was 3.8% lower than in February, the month before the pandemic began.

 

The evening brings the National Australia Bank’s Index of Business Confidence, which dropped sharply to 4 in December from an upwardly revised 13 in November, reflecting the impact of the Sydney COVID-19 outbreak. Sentiment deteriorated in all industries, except mining, construction, and transport & utilities. Meanwhile, business conditions rose to 14, the highest since September 2018, from 7 in November, with all three sub-indices were above average for the first time since early 2019. Capacity utilization saw further gains and is now around its long-run average and pre-virus levels, while forward orders pulled back but remain in positive territory. “The rise in the employment index is very encouraging and is consistent with the big gains we’ve seen in the official jobs data,” said Alan Oster, NAB Group Chief Economist.

 

Tuesday

German Balance of Trade kicks off the day. The trade surplus narrowed slightly once again to EUR 17.2 billion in November from EUR 18.5 billion a year earlier. Exports decreased 1.3% to EUR 111.7 billion, the 9th straight annual decline and imports edged down 0.1% to EUR 94.6 billion. Sales to the EU declined 1.7% and those to the Eurozone were down 2.2%. Shipments to China increased 14.3% while those to the US fell 3.1%. Imports from the EU went up 2.6% and those from China 5.4%, while purchases from the US fell 1.5%.

 

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index fell to 95.6 in December, the lowest since May and compared to 101.4 in November. This month’s drop is one of the largest as the outlook of sales and business conditions in 2021 deteriorated sizably. Small businesses are concerned about new economic policy in the new administration and a further spread of COVID-19 that is causing renewed government-mandated business closures across the nation.

 

The Jobs and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), showed the number of job openings in the US declined by 105 thousand to 6.527 million in November, remaining below its pre-pandemic level of 7 million. Job openings decreased in durable goods manufacturing by 48K, information by 45K, and educational services by 21K. The number of job openings was little changed in all four regions. Meanwhile, the number of hires rose by 67K to 6.0 million, while total separations including quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations jumped by 271K to 5.4 million.

 

The Consumer Price Index in China closes out the day. In December the CPI rose by 0.2% y/y, after a 0.5% fall a month earlier and compared with market consensus of a 0.1% gain. Food prices increased 1.2%, reversing from a 2.0% fall in November, amid adverse weather and rising demand ahead of the Lunar New Year festival. Pork prices fell less after soaring last year due to the African Swine outbreak. Also, there were rises in cost of health, education, and other goods and services. At the same time, prices of household goods and services were flat for the second straight month, while cost fell for transport, rent, fuel, and utilities, and clothing. On a monthly basis, CPI increased by 0.7%, the most since February, after a 0.6% fall in November. For full 2020, consumer prices rose 2.5%.

 

Wednesday

Continuing the inflation data this week the day begins with the German consumer price index CPI. In January, the CPI increased 1% y/y, the first rise in seven months, preliminary estimates showed. The temporary reduction in the VAT rate aimed to revive the economy during the coronavirus crisis ended on December 31st. Higher CO2 prices and an increase in minimum wages from January also accounted for the CPI rise. On a monthly basis, inflation increased to 0.8% from 0.5%. The harmonized index went up 1.6% year-on-year and 1.4% month-over-month.

 

In the US, CPI increased 0.4% m/m in December, higher than 0.2% in November and in line with expectations, mainly driven by an 8.4% increase in the gasoline index, which accounted for more than 60% of the overall increase. The other components of the energy index were mixed, resulting in an increase of 4% for the month. The food index rose 0.4% in December, as both the food at home and the food away from home indexes increased 0.4%. Other increases were also seen for shelter, apparel, and new vehicles. Furthermore, Core CPI, which excludes volatile items such as food and energy, rose 0.1% m/m, following a 0.2% increase in November and matching market expectations.

 

Wholesale Inventories increased 0.1% m/m in December, following a flat reading in November. Nondurable goods inventories rebounded while durable ones stalled, following a 0.7% rise in October.

 

The day closes with the Westpac Consumer Confidence Index. Consumer Confidence in Australia decreased to 106.99 points in January from 112 points in December.

   

Thursday

The focus on a light data day will be US Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims. In the last week of January, 779K Americans filed for unemployment benefits, a significant decrease to from the previous week’s level of 812K, and also well below market expectations of 830K. It marks the third straight week of falls in claims and the lowest amount since the last week of November, however, still far above pre-pandemic levels of around 200K.

 

Friday

The UK Trade Deficit rose to GBP 5 billion in November from an upwardly revised GBP 2.3 billion in October. It was the largest monthly trade shortfall since April of 2019. Imports surged 8.9% to GBP 55.3 billion, as an 11.9% jump in purchases of goods more than offset a 1.1% decrease in acquisitions of services. Exports rose at a slower 3.9% to GBP 50.3 billion, as goods shipments increased 7.5% while services sales were down 0.3%.

 

UK Industrial Production edged down 0.1% m/m in November, compared to market forecasts of a 0.5% gain. It is the first decline in industrial output since a record 19.6% plunge in April, as the country was under another lockdown during the month of November to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The decline was led by falls in mining and quarrying, electricity and gas and water and waste. In contrast, factory output rose 0.7%, led by transport equipment. Production output was 4.7% below February of 2020, the previous month of “normal” trading conditions, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Year-on-year, industrial output sank 4.7%.

 

Eurozone Industrial Production rose 2.5% m/m in November 2020, a seventh consecutive month of growth and compared with market expectations of a 0.2% increase. Capital goods output jumped 7.0% and intermediate goods production advanced 1.5%. Meanwhile, output of durable consumer goods, such as televisions and washing machines, dropped 1.2%, after a 1.5% rise in the previous month. Production also fell for both energy and non-durable consumer goods.

 

The University of Michigan’s Preliminary Consumer Sentiment for February will close out the week. In January the index was revised lower to 79 from a preliminary of 79.2 and below 80.7 in December. There was a decrease in the assessment of current economic conditions, while the expectations component improved slightly. On the price front, both one-year inflation expectations and five-year were unchanged at 3% and 2.5%, respectively. “The overall level of the Sentiment Index has shown only relatively small variations since the pandemic started, averaging 81.5 in 2020, marginally above January’s 79.0. Needless to say, sentiment levels were well below the average of 97.0 from 2017 to 2019. Importantly, the level of key confidence indicators remained well above prior cyclical lows despite the sudden historic collapse in economic activity.”

Looking Ahead – The Dragon and the Ant 11-20-2020

Looking Ahead – The Dragon and the Ant

It has been an eventful few weeks, even by the standards of 2020, which has not lacked for consequential occurrences. As the post-election legal challenges wind down, this unprecedented US political season seems to be heading toward the likely resolution of a grudging (to put it mildly) transition from the Trump administration to the Biden White House, though the actual endgame of the electoral college and physical departure of the incumbent have yet to play out, leaving residual but disquieting tail risks. Meanwhile, initial polls for the Georgia Senate runoffs show that both races are essentially tied, for what that is worth, but we expect markets to grapple with that uncertainty closer to the day of the election. Our base case remains a split decision at best for the Democrats, allowing the GOP to retain control of the Senate, though we expect that the apparent tightness of the races, skepticism in the polls, and the unprecedented political backdrop will force investors to seriously contemplate the possibility that the Dems win back the Senate by running the table on January 5th.

In the meantime, market participants have been weighing the near term Covid-19 autumn/winter nightmare against the encouraging longer-term outlook for widespread distribution of a highly effective vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and probably AstraZeneca as well. A focus in financial markets on the heartening prospect of herd immunity being achieved at some point in 2021 predominated for much of last week but the immediacy of the unfolding public health disaster across the US and its economic consequences have dampened the investor mood for much of this week.

The rest of the world has not stood still during all of this, of course, and one of the most consequential recent developments has been the delay of the planned $34 billion Ant Financial IPO on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges earlier this month, which was set to eclipse the $29 Saudi Aramco offering as the largest in history. Initial reports citing some regulatory shortcomings did not seem to square with a process that would have surely been so involved and thorough, and with only a matter of days before the offering date of such a high-profile and historical stock market debut. Subsequent reports indicating that President Xi himself had ordered the IPO pulled cemented suspicions that this was no mere regulatory matter and that crossing a few more t’s and dotting a few more i’s on the compliance front would not provide a solution.

What could have been the motive? Clearly Ant Financial’s role in disintermediating the Chinese state-owned banking sector, by competing for deposits and loan business, was obviously one potential consideration. China’s state banks our more than just financial institutions, they are in effect the circulatory system of the state capitalist model and a major wellspring of power for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Many of the loans they make are well understood to be on non-commercial terms in the furtherance of policy goals and propagation of often sclerotic state-owned companies and local government funding structures. The fact that Ant Financial was offloading its balance sheet risks on to these lumbering giants while eating off their plate of potential deposits and quality lending opportunities surely had the attention of Beijing. Analysts are speculating that pulling the IPO is in part designed to hamper Ant Financial’s rise while allowing some of the state banks to potentially catch up, and the tighter regulatory standards being applied suggest a meaningful dent in Ant’s profitability advantage.

Meanwhile, Ant Financial’s dominance and sheer size is surely a factor as well. The CCP has always been sensitive to the potential for competing power structures in China, and President Xi’s tenure has featured pronounced assertiveness on this front. While Jack Ma is not Bo Xilai, some major Chinese conglomerates have been taken down in recent years when they fell afoul of the Chinese leadership, with Dalian Wanda and Anbang Insurance being the most prominent examples.

Lastly there is the issue of the digital renminbi. It was always assumed that this innovation, which is putting China out in front of its sovereign competitors in digitizing its currency, would necessarily be competing with WeChat and Alipay, but analysts were unsure the degree to which Beijing was intent on vigorously competing with these popular platforms. This may be a signal that the fight for share of digital payments in China is heating up, with the state looking to capture a meaningful slice, which would not be out of character.

From the US regulatory perspective, this is marvelous news. Beijing is helping make the case that so many policymakers in Washington have pressed recently that Chinese companies are subject to state directives, or even outright agents of Beijing in some cases, routinely fall short of western accounting and disclosure practices, and often feature malign ties to espionage activities. This example will certainly be cited as the new administration carries on the job of attempting to force a higher standard of compliance with accounting rules for Chinese companies listed in the US. This seemingly capricious delay of the Ant Financial IPO is an object lesson that even China’s private sector giants enjoy no enforceable legal protections or property rights in their domestic market, except at the pleasure of President Xi.

Looking ahead, next week’s calendar in the US is dominated by the Thanksgiving holiday, which will occur against the dangerous backdrop of the virulent autumn resurgence of Covid-19, but there will still be plenty of data for analysts to chew on. The preliminary readings of November’s global purchasing managers’ indexes (PMIs) are due, along with US income, spending, and inflation for October.

 

 

  • Preliminary Global PMIs for November
  • US Income & Spending
  • US Inflation
  • US Initial Jobless Claims
  • Q3 Corporate Profits

 

Global Economic Calendar: Thanks(giving) but no thanks(giving)

 

Monday

This week brings a heavy dose of global manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data, beginning with the IHS Markit/BME Germany Manufacturing PMI. The October PMI was revised higher to 58.2 from a preliminary of 58, pointing to the strongest expansion in factory activity since March of 2018. New orders rose at record pace amid stronger demand both domestically and abroad, with rising sales to Asia, specifically China, helping lift new export orders to the greatest extent since December of 2017. As a result, output growth was the third-fastest on record and reflected sharp increases in consumer, intermediate and investment goods. On the other hand, employment fell for the twentieth month. On the price front, average factory gate charges rose modestly and for the first time since May 2019, as stronger demand allowed some goods producers to pass on the burden of higher costs to clients. On the other hand, business confidence slowed slightly from a 32-month high in September, but companies remained positive in general.

 

Later in the morning the IHS Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI for November will be released. October was revised slightly higher to 54.8, from an initial estimate of 54.4 and compared with September’s final 53.7. The latest reading pointed to the steepest month of expansion in the manufacturing sector since July 2018, as output growth accelerated to an over two-and-a-half-year high and new orders rose by the most since the start of 2018.

 

Next is the IHS Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI. October was revised higher to 53.7, from a preliminary estimate of 53.3 and compared to September’s final reading of 54.1. The latest number pointed to solid expansion in the UK manufacturing sector, for five months running, with both output and new orders rising amid stronger demand from both domestic and overseas sources. Meanwhile, employment declined for the ninth successive month, and at a faster pace, due to redundancies, recruitment freezes, the non-replacement of leavers, cost reduction strategies and workforce restructuring. On the price front, input cost inflation was the highest since December 2018, while output charges also increased. Looking ahead, business optimism hit the highest level since January 2018 on hopes of economic recovery and a reduction in COVID-19 disruption.

 

Finally, the IHS Markit US Manufacturing PMI ends the PMI data dump. October was revised higher to 53.4, from a preliminary estimate of 53.3. The reading pointed to the 4th consecutive month of growth in factory activity and the strongest since January of 2019. Output growth was the sharpest since November of 2019, driven by stronger client demand and higher new order inflows. New order growth picked up due to more robust client demand, with some firms noting larger orders being placed. Although domestic demand ticked higher, new export orders fell for the first time since July due to reimposed coronavirus lockdown restrictions in Europe. Reflecting weaker pressure on capacity, firms increased their workforce numbers at a softer pace. Meanwhile, average cost burdens increased at the steepest rate since January of 2019. Business expectations remained positive, improving on September’s 4-month low, as firms foresee a rise in output over the coming year.

 

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index dropped to +0.27 in September 2020 from an upwardly revised +1.11. Three of the four broad categories of indicators used to construct the index decreased from August. Production-related indicators contributed -0.24 to the CFNAI in September, down from +0.31 in August; and the contribution of the sales, orders, and inventories category to the CFNAI edged down to +0.07 from +0.10. Also, employment-related indicators contributed +0.35 in September, down from +0.71 in August, while the contribution of the personal consumption and housing category to the CFNAI moved up to +0.09 from a neutral value in the previous month.

 

Tuesday

The day begins with the Final Estimate of German Third Quarter GDP. The previous estimate showed the German economy grew by a record 8.2% q/q, trying to recover from the historic 9.8% slump seen in the second quarter and beating market consensus of 7.3%. The expansion was supported by a rebound in household consumption, strong fixed investment in machinery and equipment and a sharp increase in exports. Year-on-year, the economy shrank by 4.3%, easing from a record contraction of 11.3% in the previous period. The economy was also 4.2% smaller when compared with Q4 2019, the quarter before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Meanwhile, Germany’s government has revised upwards its 2020 GDP forecast. It now expects the economy to shrink by 5.5%, compared to an initial estimate of 5.8% decline, before rebounding by 4.4% in 2021.

 

Also, in Germany the Ifo Business Climate indicator will be released. October Ifo dropped to 92.7, from a seven-month high of 93.2 in September. Companies were considerably more skeptical regarding developments over the coming months following the imposition of tougher restriction measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, firms assessed their current situation as better than in the previous month.

 

In the US, the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index will be the focus of the day. In October, the index declined slightly, after increasing sharply in September. The Index now stands at 100.9, down from 101.3 in September. The Present Situation Index, based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions, increased from 98.9 to 104.6. However, the Expectations Index, based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions, decreased from 102.9 in September to 98.4.

 

Wednesday

The day opens with the Second Estimate of US GDP. The first estimate showed the US economy expanded by an annualized 33.1% in Q3 2020, the biggest expansion ever, following a record 31.4% plunge in Q2. Personal spending surged and was the main driver of growth, helped by checks and weekly unemployment benefits from the federal CARES Act. Growth also reflects increases in private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment, and residential fixed investment that were partly offset by decreases in federal government spending, reflecting fewer fees paid to administer the Paycheck Protection Program loans.

 

The day also will digest US Durable Goods Orders. In September, new orders surged 1.9% m/m, well above a 0.4% rise in August. Orders rose for the 5th straight month, led by transport equipment, as the economy recovers from big plunges in March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic. Orders rebounded for transportation equipment, namely motor vehicles, and fabricated metal products, and continued to rise for capital goods, and computers and electronics. On the other hand, orders fell for machinery, and electrical equipment, appliances and components. Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, increased 1%, following an upwardly revised 2.1% rise in August.

 

Third Quarter US Corporate Profits come next. In Q2, corporate profits tumbled by 10.7% to an over four-year low of $1.59 tril. It was the sharpest decline in corporate profits since the last quarter of 2008, amid the coronavirus crisis. Undistributed profits slumped by 43.8% to $230 bil and net cash flow with inventory valuation adjustment, the internal funds available to corporations for investment, dropped by 9.5% to $2.10 tril. Also, net dividends were 1.1% lower at $1.36 tril.

 

Weekly Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims. The number of initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose by 742K in the week ending November 14th, surpassing market forecasts of 707K, and registered as the fifth consecutive week that claims remained in the 700K’s territory. The reading climbed by 31K from the prior report’s revised level of 711K and was the first rise in claims in over a month amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases and targeted lockdowns across the country. Continuing claims fell by 429K to 6.37 million in the week ending November 7th, slipping below market forecasts of 6.47 million, and marked the lowest total since the pandemic-induced turmoil in March. The increase in initial claims was most severe in Louisiana, where filings more than quadrupled to 42K. Massachusetts, Texas, and Virginia also saw notable increases, while Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, and Washington saw the greatest declines. Although total state claims have fallen, the number of Americans claiming extended non-state benefits is continuing to rise. For the week ending November 14th, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) reading rose by 320K. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which provides an additional 13 weeks of support, added 233K claims in the week ending October 31st, summing to nearly 4.4 million Americans receiving extended aid through the program. The total persons claiming unemployment benefits including non-state programs fell by 841K to 20.3 million ending the same period.

 

The Personal Income and Spending Report comes later in the morning. In September, personal income rose by 0.9% m/m, rebounding from a revised 2.5% slump in August. The monthly gain was boosted by increases in proprietors’ income, compensation of employees, and rental income of persons, which were partly offset by a decrease in government social benefits. Personal spending increased 1.4%m/m, following a 1% rise in August. Real spending went up by 1.2% or $159.2 bil, reflecting an increase of $109.9 bil in spending for goods and a $61.0 bil rise in spending for services. Within goods, clothing and footwear as well as motor vehicles and parts were the leading contributors to the gain. Within services, the largest contributors were spending for health care as well as recreation services, led by membership clubs, sports centers, parks, theaters, and museums.

 

The report also contains the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) Price Index. Headline PCE rose 0.2% m/m in September, following a 0.3% gain in August, boosted by an increase in services cost, while goods prices fell 0.1%, led by a 0.3% drop in nondurable goods. Core PCE, which excludes food and energy and which the Fed has a 2% target, rose 0.2%, in line with market expectations. Year-on-year, Headline PCE advanced 1.4% and Core increased 1.5%.

 

New Home Sales follows as sales dropped 3.5% m/m to a SAAR of 959K in September, from the previous month’s 14-year high of 994K. The level of home sales remained elevated as the housing market has been supported by record low interest rates and increasing demand from people moving away from big cities due to the coronavirus crisis. In September, new home sales declined 4.7% to 563K in the South, 4.1% to 93K in the Midwest and 28.9% to 32K in the Northeast but rose 0.7% to 284K in the West.

 

The day closes with Final Estimate of the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment. The preliminary estimate decreased to 77 in November from 81.8 in October and against market expectations of 82. It is the lowest reading since August as consumers judged future economic prospects less favorably, 71.3 vs 79.2 in October, while their assessments of current economic conditions remained largely unchanged. Meanwhile, inflation expectations for the year ahead increased to 2.8% from 2.6% and the 5-year outlook to 2.6% from 2.4%. The outcome of the presidential election as well as the resurgence in COVID-19 infections and deaths were responsible for the early November decline. Interviews conducted following the election recorded a substantial negative shift in Republicans’ expectations and no gain among Democrats.

 

Thursday

The focus of Thursday will be the GfK Consumer Climate Indicator in Germany. The index fell to -3.1 heading into November from a revised -1.7 in October. This was the weakest reading since July, amid fears over another lockdown following a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the country. The gauge for economic outlook tumbled 17 points to 7.1, the income expectations sub-index fell 6.3 points to 9.8, and the willingness to buy indicator dropped 1.4 points to 37. GfK consumer expert Rolf Buerkl said, “Consumers apparently assume that the much more active infection process in Germany will slow down the previously hoped for rapid recovery of the German economy.”

 

Friday

The week closes with the Eurozone Economic Sentiment Indicator for November. In October, the indicator was unchanged at 90.9but remaining well below pre-pandemic levels, as rising COVID-19 cases across the region forced many European governments to impose fresh restrictive measures. By sector, confidence deteriorated among service providers and consumers, while morale improved among manufacturers, retailers and constructors.

Looking Ahead – Is It Over Yet? 11-6-2020

Looking Ahead – Is It Over Yet?

The concept of Election Day was already antiquated when this year’s enormous preponderance of early and mail-in voting elongated the process into an election month, while the tightness of the presidential race, as well as other key contests, has dragged the nation through an excruciating ordeal of piecemeal and halting ballot tabulation this week (though this is in no way the fault of the great people who are doing the hard work of ballot monitoring and counting). And even though a win looks highly likely for Joe Biden at this point, the Trump campaign is insisting that the race is not over, and recounts and legal challenges are sure to drag on, alongside a litany of unsubstantiated charges of fraud from the President and some of his ardent supporters.  

Our base case had long been for narrow and disputed results in the presidential race and key Senate contests, with uncertainty dragging on beyond election day. And though this is how events played out this week, it is a great relief to us, and to financial markets, that the worst case scenario of a breakdown of our obviously creaky electoral system accompanied by major civic unrest has been avoided (thus far, at least). Whether or not the final state tallies will leave any feasible room for doubt, the Trump campaign will surely continue with an array of seemingly desperate legal challenges. The next few weeks will reveal the extent to which the process will remain orderly and legitimate amid massive partisan pressures.

Even if cooler heads continue to prevail in the political arena, as we hope and expect, salient policy questions remain. Most importantly, how does this charged political environment impact the prospects for a pandemic relief bill before year-end? In this bizarre interregnum, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has indicated that passing a stimulus bill is his number one post-election priority, but he is unlikely to take a magnanimous position given the continued uncertainty over control of the Senate. Meanwhile, House Speaker Pelosi has shifting incentives as she prepares to stave off internal challenges to her leadership and eyes the possibility of a better post-transition deal. Last but not least, an obviously distracted President Trump must sign off on the agreement at a time when chief dealmaker Secretary Mnuchin is likely focused on his post-Treasury trajectory.      

The other key uncertainty involves control of the Senate. The twin Georgia runoffs in January could be the deciding factor for control of the chamber, and in that case there will obviously be a flood of money and resources into those contests. Both GOP candidates will go in as favorites but with Georgia looking like it may tip for Biden, investors should prepare for uncertainty. So while a Blue Wave certainly did not materialize, the Democrats’ tide still might go high enough to secure control of both houses of Congress and the White House.

In short, this fraught election cycle is far from over, but at least we have made it to the weekend. Cheers!

Looking ahead, next week’s calendar is mercifully light and non-market moving most likely, with third quarter earnings season pretty much a wrap. 

 

  • US Price Data, Consumer Confidence & Initial Jobless Claims
  • German and Australian Economic Sentiment Gauges      
  • UK Q3 GDP
  • EU Industrial Production

 

Global Economic Calendar: Nada Mucho

 

Monday

The week begins with German Balance of Trade for September. In August, Germany’s trade surplus declined to €12.8 bill, from €16.4 bil last year, as the coronavirus pandemic hit global demand. Exports dropped 10.2% due to lower sales to the European Union and to third countries, in particular the UK, the US and China. Imports fell at a softer 7.9%, as purchases from the EU dropped 5.4% and those from third countries tumbled 10.5%. Among these, imports fell from the UK and the US, while imports from China were unchanged. On a seasonally adjusted basis, exports rose 2.4% from a month earlier, beating expectations of 1.4%, while imports were up 5.8%, compared to forecasts of a 1.4% gain.

 

The evening brings National Australia Bank’s Index of Business Confidence. September rose to -4 from -8 in August, pointing to the highest reading since June, amid improving business activity as the economy opens up. Confidence rose in all industries except finance, business & property services which was flat. Business conditions also strengthened to levels not seen since the COVID-19 pandemic brought a nationwide lockdown. All three sub-components rose, with trading and profitability in positive territory while the employment index remaining negative as businesses were not yet ready to add new positions. Alan Oster NAB Group chief economist added, “Meanwhile, forward orders improved while capacity utilization ticked higher to 76.9%. “While the improvement in conditions and confidence in the last few months has been promising, it is important to remember that in a levels sense, things are still weak.”

 

The day closes with China’s Annual Inflation Rate. September eased to 1.7% from 2.4% in August and slightly below market expectations of 1.8%. This was the lowest reading since February 2019, amid a marked slowdown in prices of food. Furthermore, cost of non-food products was flat, after a 0.1% gain in August. There were declines in cost of transport, rent, fuel, and utilities, household goods and services, and clothing. At the same time, prices increased for health, other goods and services, and education, culture & recreation. On a monthly basis, consumer prices edged up 0.2% in September, the lowest in three months, following a 0.4% gain in August.

 

Tuesday

The day begins with UK Claimant Count Change. In August, the number of people claiming for unemployment benefits in the UK rose by 28K to 2.7 mil, following a downwardly revised 39.5K increase in July and below market expectations of a 78.8K gain. This added to a rise of 120.3% since March, or 1.5 mil, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the labor market.

 

The ZEW Indicator of Economic Sentiment for Germany for November follows. October dropped by 21.3 to 56.1, from the previous month’s 20-year high and well below market expectations of 73. Investors voiced concerns about the recent sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal. The current situation in the run-up to the presidential election in the US further fuels uncertainty. By contrast, the assessment of the economic situation in Germany improved again, and currently stands at -59.5 points, 6.7 points higher than in September.

 

The day closes with the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank Consumer Sentiment Index for Australia. October increased 11.9% m/m to 105 points, following an 18% jump in September. This was the highest reading since July of 2018, amid the ongoing success across the nation in containing the COVID-19 outbreak and the response to the October Federal Budget. All components of the Index were higher in October, the most striking improvements were around the outlook for the economy, with the surge in the five-year outlook taken this sub-index to its highest level since August 2010. In addition, there was a stunning lift in confidence around job security, with the Index improving by 14.2% to be back around the levels of early 2019. Also, confidence in the housing market boomed, the ‘time to buy a dwelling’ index increased 10.6% to its highest level since September 2019.

 

Thursday

Thursday begins with the UK Balance of Trade for September. In August, the UK trade surplus shrank to £1.36 bil from an upwardly revised £1.69 bil in July and was the smallest monthly trade surplus in five months. Exports rose 1.5% to £51.83 bil, boosted by a 2.7% rise in services exports and a 0.4% increase in goods shipments. On the flip side, imports surged 2.2% to £50.46 bil driven by a 3.7% increase in purchases of goods, while services declined 1%.

 

At the same time, the Preliminary Third Quarter GDP Growth Rate will be released. In the second quarter the British economy shrank 19.8% q/q, slightly less than a preliminary estimate of a 20.4% drop. This remains the largest contraction ever and the second consecutive quarterly decline in GDP, officially entering a recession, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the government measures taken to reduce transmission of the virus. Gross fixed capital formation fell, while both household consumption and government spending shrunk precipitously. Private consumption accounted for more than three-quarters of the fall in GDP, reflecting the implementation of public health restrictions, the mandated closures of non-essential shops and forms of social distancing. Net external demand contributed positively as imports fell more than exports.

 

Later in the morning Eurozone Industrial Production (IP) will be released. In August, IP rose by 0.7% m/m, following an upwardly revised 5.0% growth in July. An increase in production of durable consumer goods, intermediate goods and energy was partially offset by declines in output for capital goods and non-durable consumer goods. On a yearly basis, IP shrank by 7.2%, compared to a 7.1% contraction in July.

 

In the US, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for October will be released. In September, Headline CPI increased 0.2% m/m, easing from a 0.4% advance in August and was the lowest reading in four months. Used cars and trucks cost jumped 6.7%, its largest monthly increase since February 1969, as people avoid public transportation. Energy prices went up 0.8%, boosted by a 4.2% climb in natural gas prices. At the same time, food cost was flat. Additional upward pressure came from shelter, new vehicles, and recreation, while declines were seen in prices for motor vehicle insurance, airline fares, and apparel. This put Headline CPI up 1.4% from 1.3% in August. Meanwhile, Core CPI, which excludes the more volatile items such as food and energy, rose 0.2% m/m after larger increases in July and August, pushing up the yearly rate from 1.3% to 1.4%.

 

Friday

Friday begins with the Second Estimate of Third Quarter Eurozone GDP. The preliminary estimate showed the Eurozone economy grew by 12.7% in third quarter, recovering from a record slump of 11.8% seen during the second quarter and easily beating market expectations of 9.4 percent. It was the steepest pace of expansion since comparable data started to being collected in 1995, boosted by a rebound in activity and global demand after European countries lifted lockdowns imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. All major economies in the region posted record increases in GDP.

 

At the same time Eurozone Balance of Trade will be released. In August, the Eurozone’s trade surplus widened to €14.7 bil from 14.4 bil in July. Imports fell 13.5% to €141.6 bil, due to lower purchases of mineral fuels, lubricants & related materials, machinery & transport equipment, miscellaneous manufactured articles, chemicals & related products, manufactured goods classified chiefly by material, crude materials, inedible, except fuels and food, drinks and tobacco. Export fell 12.2% to €156.3 billion, as sales went down for mineral fuels, lubricants & related materials, manufactured goods classified chiefly by material, machinery & transport equipment, miscellaneous manufactured articles and crude materials, inedible, except fuels.

 

In the US we will get the Producer Prices Index (PPI) for October. In September, Headline PPI increased 0.4% m/m, following a 0.3% rise in August. Cost of goods advanced 0.4%, after increasing 0.1% in August, led by a 14.7% rise in cost for iron and steel. Prices of services went up 0.4%, lower than 0.5% in August, led by a 3.9% advance in the index for traveler accommodation services. Year-on-year, Headline PPI went up 0.4%, after falling 0.2% in the prior month. Core PPI, which excludes food and energy, went up 0.4% m/m, the same as in August, while the annual rate increased to 1.2% from 0.6%.

 

At the same time Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims will be released. Last week 751K Americans filed for unemployment benefits, above consensus expectations of 732K but down from the previous week’s revised level of 758K. Initial claims are now at their lowest level since the pandemic began but part of the decline is due to expiration of eligibility. However, those people are still able to apply for help from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance scheme, which runs out of funds in December if Congress does not pass another relief bill. Close to 363K workers applied for PUP assistance, compared with 359K in the previous period. Furthermore, the number of continuing jobless claims fell to 7.29 mil in the week ended October 24th, compared with market expectations of 7.20 mil, also the lowest level since the pandemic began but also due to the same expiration issue. In total, there are 21.508 mil Americans on some sort of Federal assistance, down from 22.661 mil in the previous week.

 

The week closes with the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment for November. In October, sentiment was revised slightly higher to 81.8, reaching the highest since March. Still, the sentiment remains much below 101 reported in February. Improvements were seen in both expectations and current conditions. On the price front, one-year inflation expectations were revised lower to 2.6% from 2.7% and five-year expectations were unchanged at 2.4%. Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin added, “Consumer sentiment remained virtually unchanged from the first half of October (+0.6 points) and was insignificantly different from last month’s figure (+1.4 points). Fear and loathing produced this false sense of stability. Fears were generated by rising Covid infection and death rates, and loathing was generated by the hyper-partisanship that has driven the election to ideological extremes.”

Looking Ahead – Two Minute Drill 9-11-2020

Looking Ahead – Two Minute Drill

The NFL season began last evening with an entertaining if uneven Thursday Night Football game between the Texans and the Super Bowl champion Chiefs in a partly filled Arrowhead Stadium, which provided sports fans with another encouraging step toward a semblance of normalcy. It may not have been anything close to top form, with limited practices and no pre-season, but it was a pleasure to witness, and just getting the teams out on the field at this point seems like a victory in itself.

With the Washington Football Team tipped to win maybe five games this season, the DC denizens are probably more focused on this town’s other favorite contact sport – politics. And this was a bruising week, with Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s so-called “skinny” stimulus bill, weighing in at a featherweight $500 billion versus the Democrats’ hulking $3 trillion HEROES Act, getting sacked in a procedural vote before it ever made it to the Senate floor.

Now, Congress looks set to run out the clock until their pre-election recess with no points on the board for the latest round of pandemic stimulus. The only remaining play they have to run is punting the government funding issue until after the upcoming election with what is expected to be a clean Continuing Resolution (CR), in accordance with the commitment made by Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. Since the appetite to append spending measures to the CR appears to be low on both sides, pundits are increasingly despairing of any path to victory for a pandemic relief bill at least until polling is over and the presidential election is decided (hopefully not after months of recounts and lawsuits, but that is a distinct possibility). However, economists warn that the withdrawal of stimulus would be premature and damaging to the recovery, falling hardest on those least able to bear the added burden. Fed officials have been voluble and unanimous on the need for more fiscal support as well.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are understandably at odds over the bill, but by allowing the White House to take the lead in negotiations, until recently, Senate Leader McConnell implied that he would probably be able to get enough of his caucus to go along with whatever they negotiated. But the White House pivoted away from the more deal-friendly approach of prior negotiations spearheaded by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, inserting former Tea Partier and current White House Chief of Staff Meadows into the proceedings, which Capitol Hill insiders suggested was a signal of a much tougher line by the administration. And that is how the negotiation has played out, with each successive drive toward a deal bogging down, which ultimately brought the Senate Republicans back onto the field.

Now that the Senate Republicans’ skinny version has been batted down, the ball is firmly back in President Trump’s hands. But so far, the lack of action has left many questions as to his motivations with regard to this bill.

  • Did he really begin to worry about the deficit? Unlikely, we think, as his past record and statements show great comfort with taking on debt, particularly at low interest rates.

 

  • Does he think he needs to appeal to the fiscal conservative wing of the party to nail down their support in November? Doubtful, it seems – deficit reduction is not currently a big swing voter issue nor a prominent feature of his policy platform now or ever.

 

  • Is he concerned that agreeing to a large pandemic stimulus bill now will undermine his claim that Covid-19 is basically a thing of the past? Possibly, but President Trump has not often been constrained by a need for exact logical consistency in his policy choices.

 

  • Is he worried about appearing to cave to the Democrats? Probably, but is this genuinely a deal breaker? It would not be the first time he has done so, and in the other cases he has just spun it as a victory and moved on.

 

  • Could he be convinced that more pandemic relief is not economically necessary? Of course President Trump is going to laud the economic rebound as the greatest thing ever, but we assume that the White House is well aware of the fragile and tentative nature of the recovery, even if they are encouraged by progress so far.

In fact, most standard US economic readings for the past few months have looked pretty solid and consistent with ongoing recovery, but there is a significant degree of noise in the data, the pace of improvement seems to be softening, and now fiscal support is being withdrawn. Notably, the headline figures for the most recent labor market data series have been better than expected, but the underlying details have shown clear signs of backsliding. Meanwhile, Fed officials continue to fret that high-frequency economic data shows growth leveling off.

Weighing the considerations above, and looking at the waning time on the clock, it seems like the right call for the White House is to put its hurry-up offense on the field for this negotiation. Mnuchin would be back under center (and Meadows on the bench), wrangling with Congressional Democrats and dragging enough Senate Republicans along to get a not-quite $2 trillion stimulus package across the goal line in time for relief checks to be rolling out to Americans in need during the height of campaign season. And the crowd goes wild.

Or the Trump administration can just take a knee on this pandemic relief bill and head to the locker room, adding another one to the Loss column when they, and the country, can perhaps least afford it.

Looking ahead, next week’s calendar features a Fed meeting, as well as decisions from the Bank of England and Bank of Japan. Japan’s ruling party will also vote on the successor to outgoing Prime Minister Abe. US retail sales and industrial production data for August will be in the spotlight, alongside another weekly initial jobless claims tally, while China and the EU will also be issuing key industrial and consumer data for last month.
 

  • Federal Reserve Meeting
  • Bank of England
  • Bank of Japan
  • US Retail Sales, Industrial Production, & Initial Jobless Claims
  • Chinese Data for August
  • EU Data for August

 

Global Economic Calendar: Back to school  

Monday
The week begins Monday with Japan’s Industrial Production Final Estimate and Capacity Utilization for July. Industrial production in Japan rose by 8% month-on-month (m/m) in July, compared with market consensus of a 5.8% advance and after a 1.9% gain in June, a preliminary estimate showed. This was the strongest monthly rise on record in industrial output, largely contributed by motor vehicles. On a yearly basis (y/y), industrial output shrank by 16.1% in July, after a 18.2% plunge in June. Capacity Utilization in Japan increased to 75 points in June from the 10-year low of 70.60 points in May.

On Monday in Europe we’ll get the Euro Area Industrial Production for July. Industrial Production in the Euro Area increased 9.1% m/m in June, still a decrease of 12.30% y/y, missing market expectations for a second consecutive month and easing from a revised 12.3% m/m jump in May. Output increased for all segments: durable consumer goods (20.2% vs 53.7% in May); capital goods (14.2% vs 26.0%); intermediate goods (6.7% vs 9.7%); non-durable consumer goods (4.8% vs 3.3%); and energy (2.6% vs 3.0%).

Monday wraps with a Chinese focus, specifically, China’s Fixed Asset Investment, Industrial Production, Retail Sales, and Unemployment changes in the month of August. China’s fixed-asset investment dropped 1.6% y/y to CNY 32.92 trillion in the first seven months of, compared to a 3.1% fall in January-June and in line with market consensus, after the economy began to open up and authorities loosened coronavirus-related restriction measures. Private investment decreased 5.7% (vs -7.3% in January-June) while public investment rose at a faster 3.8% (vs 2.1%). Next, China’s Industrial Production Growth stood at 4.8% y/y in July, short of market expectations of 5.1%. Manufacturing and utilities output continued to increase, while mining fell back into contraction territory. For the first seven months of the year, output shrank 0.4%. China’s Retail Trade declined by 1.1% y/y, missing market expectations of a 0.1% rise. This was the seventh straight month of contraction in retail trade, with people continuing to avoid crowded places, including shops, restaurants, and cinemas amid the COVID-19 crisis. From the January to July period, retail trade tumbled 9.9%. Finally, the Unemployment Rate in China remained unchanged at 5.70% in July.

Looking Ahead 7-17-2020

Looking Ahead – Do You Like Surprises?

This year has featured a jarring array of unexpected events, most of them decidedly unpleasant, and market participants are bracing for more to come. To borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s now-famous formulation, “unknown unknowns” are, by definition, impossible to predict, though nobody seems to be ruling anything out at this point given what 2020 has already thrown at us. Meanwhile, the “known unknowns” are certainly still capable of producing significant shocks.

Corporate reporting for the second quarter was almost certain to produce surprises both the upside and downside given the dearth of management guidance due to impenetrable Covid-19 uncertainties. Although earnings season is still in its early stages, surprises have indeed been the norm, as US megabanks blew estimates out of the water on the trading and investment bank side, but also exceeded the expected levels of credit provisioning, highlighting downside risks to the economic outlook. This wide dispersion around estimates is expected to continue with next week’s dense calendar of earnings announcements.

Questions still surround the two high-profile fiscal packages that are in the process of being negotiated in the US and EU, with both generally expected to be finalized by the rapidly approaching month-end. The wrangling is expected to be intense on both of these pandemic relief bills, but the expectation is for eventual compromise and agreement on a significant figure for each that is capable of providing real support to both economies. The predominant risk in the EU negotiation is for disappointment if the so-called Frugal Four countries (Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Austria) refuse to compromise. In the US, there is upside and downside potential for the bill given the propensity for recent budget negotiations to expand the pie rather than make tough decisions, but there is certainly a meaningful risk of disappointment as well as the House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and Trump administration are finding less common ground than in the case of the CARES Act.

The Federal Reserve is working hard not to surprise the markets, with a veritable barrage of communications on a seemingly daily basis, but investor nonetheless remain wary of anticipated details of what seems to be an impending policy pivot. The constant din of fed speakers is not entirely unanimous but appears to be pointing broadly toward a shift in favor of enhanced forward guidance, predicated upon their traditional inflation target of 2%. It does seem unlikely, particularly ahead of an election when major monetary policy making tends to be inauspicious, that the Fed would make any sudden moves to startle investors, such as unexpectedly instituting yield curve control or taking interest rates into negative territory.

Last year featured a steady diet of nasty surprises on the US-China front, but ultimately with the Phase One trade deal being signed early this year, expectations for a tense equilibrium have settled in. Recent Trump administration actions to counter China on the tech and investment fronts, as well as retaliation for Beijing’s posture toward Hong Kong and repression in western China, have increased the degree of uncertainty among market participants regarding this key relationship. Speculation over a major White House policy escalation against China tend to be linked to the belief that President Trump may have to pull a spectacular October surprise in order to close the polling gap between himself and Joe Biden.

Polling data has been likened to intellectual junk food – quick and easy to digest, sometimes quite tasty, but ultimately unsatisfying and genuinely bad for you if you consume too much. Skepticism over the validity of political polls has increases significantly due to its notoriously spotty track record in recent years, with high-profile misfires over Brexit and the US election in 2016. On its face, President Trump’s current deficit to Joe Biden looks substantial enough to subsume any statistical oddities, but market participants are well aware that polls in swing states, which will decide the outcome, look meaningfully closer. They also note that Trump voters are thought to be quite shy with pollsters about their intentions, and that races traditionally tighten into the actual election day, which is still an eternity away in from a political standpoint. In short, this race is far from over.

Still, an October surprise by President Trump is seen as highly likely and the most common areas of speculation tend to be, as mentioned above, some kind of anti-China policy barrage, with some even floating the potential for outright geostrategic confrontation. More likely, we believe, is that Trump’s major moves in the fall designed to tip the political scales will be more targeted at Joe Biden in terms of alleged dirt or announced investigations. Unlike an offensive against China, this sort of approach has less likelihood of major market blowback.

Looking ahead to next week, the economic calendar is relatively light, with global PMIs for July featuring prominently, as Q2 earnings reporting season rolls on.

 

  • Corporate Earnings Reports
  • Global Purchasing Managers’ Indexes
  • China Central Bank
  • US Initial Jobless Claims & Housing Data

 

US Second Quarter Corporate Earnings:

 

Next week is dominated by ongoing US corporate earnings reporting, with the calendar featuring results from IBM, Halliburton, Coca-Cola, Lockheed Martin, Snap, Capital One, KeyCorp, Northern Trust, CSX, Tesla, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, AT&T, Twitter, American Airlines, Honeywell, Verizon, Schlumberger, Royal Caribbean, and Intel.

 

Global Economic Calendar: Summer lull

 

Sunday

This upcoming weekend starts the weekend with the Loan Prime Rate Decision in China. The People’s Bank of China held its benchmark interest rates steady for the second straight month at its June fixing after the central bank maintained borrowing costs on medium-term loans last week, as policymakers adopted a wait-and-see approach amid tentative signs of economic recovery. The one-year loan prime rate was left unchanged at 3.85% from the previous monthly fixing while the five-year remained at 4.65%.

Monday

The focus on Monday will be Japanese Inflation Rate for June, which comes out after markets close that day. Japan’s consumer price inflation stood at a three-year low of 0.1% year-on-year (y/y) (flat, month-on-month (m/m)) in May, in line with market estimates, as the pandemic continued to hamper consumption. Prices fell further for transport & communication (-1.7% versus -1.2% in April), amid slumping oil prices. In contrast, inflation edged up for housing (0.8% vs 0.7%) while it remained unchanged for medical care (at 0.5%); clothing & footwear (at 1.4%) and food (at 2.1%). Core consumer prices, which exclude food and energy, dropped 0.2% y/y (the same pace as in April) and compared with market consensus of a 0.1% drop.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning, the focus will be on the Chicago Fed National Activity Index for June. The index rose to a record high of 2.61 in May from a downwardly revised record low of -17.89 in April as some lockdown restrictions caused by COVID-19 epidemic were lifted. All four sub-indexes made positive contributions in May with production and employment-related indicators leading the gains.

 In the evening, Japanese manufacturing for this month will be the focus. The AU Jibun Bank Japan Manufacturing PMI was revised higher to 40.1 in June from a flash reading of 37.8, amid the prolonged impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on activity. The latest reading signaled a 14th consecutive month of contraction as new orders, output, employment and purchasing activity continued to fall at sharp rates. On the price front, selling prices dropped as businesses strived to stimulate sales, while input cost rose following a decline in May. On the other hand, sentiment jumped back into positive territory for the first time since February. Meanwhile, the Services PMI was revised higher to 45.0 compared to May’s 26.5. It was the highest reading since February as restrictions lifted.

Wednesday

The priority Wednesday will be the number of US Existing Home Sales last month. Sales of previously owned houses in the US dropped 9.7% m/m (26.6% y/y) from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.91 million units in May, below market expectations of 4.12 million. It is the lowest reading since 2010 and the steepest annual drop in nearly forty years. Declines were seen in all regions, although the Northeast experienced the greatest drop. The median existing-home price for all housing types in May was $284,600, up 2.3% from May 2019 ($278,200).

 Thursday

Early Thursday morning we’ll get a look at consumer confidence in Germany. The GfK Consumer Sentiment indicator for Germany rose to -9.6 heading into July from an upwardly revised -18.6 in the previous month and compared with market consensus -12.0. Both economic and income expectations improved, as well as propensity to buy, following the gradual lifting of restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus. The gauge for business cycle expectations jumped 18.9 points to 8.5, the highest reading since January 2019 and far above its long-term average of zero.

 Just before markets open, Initial Jobless Claims will be released. The number of Americans filling for unemployment benefits stood at 1.30 million in the week ended July 11th, little-changed from a revised 1.31 million claims in the prior week and above market expectations of 1.25 million. This was the smallest week-on-week decline since claims started to fall after peaking in March. The latest number lifted the total reported since March 21st to 51.3 million.

Shortly after, we will get a look at Consumer Confidence in the Eurozone. The consumer confidence indicator in the Eurozone was confirmed at -14.7 in June, compared with May’s -18.8, on the back of households’ much improved expectations in respect of their financial situation, their intentions to make major purchases and, particularly, the general economic situation. Same as in May, households’ assessments of their past financial situation deteriorated, but on a much smaller scale.

 Friday

Friday starts with several Markit PMI datapoints, beginning with the Eurozone. The IHS Markit Eurozone Composite PMI was revised higher to 48.5 in June from a preliminary estimate of 47.5 and compared to 31.9 in May. The reading pointed to the softer contraction in private sector activity in four months, as restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic eased. Both manufacturing output (PMI at 47.4 vs 39.4 in May) and services activities (48.3 vs 30.5 in May) shrank at the weakest pace in four months. Though the Manufacturing PMI was revised higher to a four-month high, the latest survey suggested the Eurozone manufacturing sector remained in contraction territory for the past 17 months. Output and new orders declined at a softer pace as more businesses restarted operations following weeks of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. Backlogs of work outstanding fell for a twenty-second successive month and employment dropped for a fourteenth month in a row. Purchasing activity also remained depressed. On the price front, both input costs and output charges continued to decline. Finally, confidence about production in the year ahead returned to positive territory and services optimism hit a four-month high during June.

Not long after the Eurozone, we will get Markit PMI for the United Kingdom. The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Composite PMI came in at 47.7 in June, little-changed from a preliminary estimate of 47.6 and compared to the previous month’s 30.0. Manufacturing production rebounded 9.4 points to 50.1 and service activity contracted at a softer pace, 47.1 compared to the previous month’s 29.0, in June as the economy reopened following months of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Manufacturing production rose slightly for the first time in four months, while new order intakes and employment fell at softer rates. On the price front, input costs rose the most in a year, although at mild pace, while output charges also increased. Looking ahead, business sentiment rose to a 21-month high in June due to clients reopening, an expected further loosening of COVID-19 restrictions and hopes that markets would revive at home and overseas to help recover growth lost during the pandemic.

Coming back to an American focus, lastly, we’ll get US Markit PMI. The IHS Markit US Composite PMI was revised higher to 47.9 in June from a preliminary estimate of 46.8 and compared to the previous month’s 37.0. Much softer rates of contraction were reported across the manufacturing and service sectors as the economy began to reopen following the coronavirus-related restrictions. New order inflows stabilized, and employment fell at softer pace, while excess capacity remained as backlogs of work continued to decline. On the price front, cost burdens were up for the first time since February, with private sector firms partly passing on higher costs to clients. Finally, companies expressed optimism towards the outlook for output over the coming year for the first time since March.

Next week, our interest concludes with New Home Sales in the United States. Sales of new single-family homes in the United States jumped 16.6% m/m (12.7% y/y) to an annualized rate of 676 thousand in May, beating forecasts of a 2.9% rise. However, data for April was revised sharply lower to 580 thousand from 623 thousand. Still, May’s figure is the highest in three months. There were 318,000 new homes on the market, down 2.2% from April. At May’s sales pace it would take 5.6 months to clear the supply of houses on the market. The median new house price rose $5,200 from a year ago to $317,900.

Morning Market Brief 6-22-2020

Summary and Price Action Rundown

Global risk assets are mixed this morning amid ongoing concerns that the Covid-19 resurgence will impede reopening plans, while analysts are noting various China-related headlines. S&P 500 futures point to a choppy open after the index struggled for direction last week and closed Friday on a downbeat note to take its year-to-date loss to 4.1%. Equities in the EU and Asia were mixed overnight in muted trading, with the Hong Kong index underperforming on news regarding China’s impending security law for the territory (more below). The dollar is slightly lower, while longer-dated Treasury yields are flat, with the 10-year yield at 0.69%. Crude oil prices are hovering near three-month highs after last week’s OPEC compliance review reaffirmed the cartel’s commitment to supply curbs.

Coronavirus Concerns Keep Investors on Edge

A steady drumbeat of worrisome figures suggests that coronavirus resurgences could impede reopening plans. US equities surrendered early gains on Friday and then dipped into negative territory after Apple announced that it would be temporarily re-closing some of its stores in developing Covid-19 hotspots like Florida and Arizona. That ended a week of generally positive developments on a sour note, and global risk assets remain choppy this morning after the weekend brought more concerning news on the pandemic. The infection data continues to worsen in some areas, with seven states registering new record high cases, though the previous epicenter of the US outbreak, New York City, is showing low and stable transmission rates that have allowed the Phase 2 of reopening to commence this week. Oklahoma is among the burgeoning hotspots, which had raised concerns about President Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa over the weekend that was held in an indoor arena. Also, shares of cruise lines slid on Friday as operators disclosed that they would voluntarily cease all voyages from US ports until September 15. Thus far, however, no mass lockdowns have been re-imposed in the US. Overseas, cases are continuing to rise in Germany after the EU’s largest country escaped the worst of the initial wave, while reports of another outbreak in Rome are also being noted by analysts, and Australia’s state of Victoria extended its state of emergency for another four weeks. On a more positive note, reports from China indicate that the recent outbreak that resulted in re-imposed restrictions in some areas of Beijing is slowing.

Investors Note China Headlines

Though market reactions have been modest, China-related developments are providing little cheer to investors this morning. Over the weekend, the People’s Bank of China retained its interest rates as expected and provided no indication that it is set to deviate from its current wait-and-see approach. Analysts have noted the steady climb in Chinese bond yields since their springtime low, which is in sharp contrast with most developed market sovereigns. For context, the US 10-year Treasury yield is languishing barely 15 basis points above record lows at 0.69%, whereas China’s 10-year yield is 2.92% after having risen 44 basis points since April. Meanwhile, on the US-China relations front, analysts are noting headlines that China has banned chicken imports from a particular Tyson’s plant that suffered a coronavirus outbreak, with this coming just a week after China reportedly reaffirmed its US farm good purchase commitments under the Phase One trade deal. Also, the US has rejected Beijing’s proposal on increased flight routes for Chinese carriers unless some reciprocal changes are made. Neither of these developments are considered a serious escalation of US-China tensions but keep attention on the frayed relationship. Lastly, Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng stock index underperformed overnight as China confirmed that the new security law it is imposing on the territory explicitly allows Hong Kong laws to be overridden in some cases. The Hang Seng slipped 0.5% to extend its year-to-date (ytd) underperformance against regional peers to -13.1%, with the Nikkei down 8.3% ytd and the Shanghai Composite only 2.8% lower by comparison.

Additional Themes

Bank of England Policy Pivot – After meeting market expectations for additional quantitative easing but keeping interest rates on hold at last week’s BoE meeting, Governor Bailey indicated in an op-ed today that he would focus on shrinking the central bank’s balance sheet before commencing with rate hikes. Gilts and the pound are rallying on this dovish shift.

Geopolitical Tensions Remain a Backburner Issue for Markets – Concerning developments in Libya over the weekend, as Egypt threatened to intervene in that civil conflict, are having scant apparent impact on oil prices this morning. Meanwhile, investors continue to monitor the situation on the Korean peninsula after a week of bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang, which prompted South Korea to vow retribution for continued provocation. The Korean won fell another 0.5% overnight, though disappointing export figures were another headwind, as the currency has lost 2.0% versus the dollar since North/South tensions flared.

Looking Ahead – A Lack of Discipline 5-8-2020

Looking Ahead – A Lack of Discipline

Take it from us, Wall Street is not the only place where complacency can set in during a big rally in the S&P 500. US equities can seem to policymakers like a tick-by-tick opinion poll, particularly at a time like this when the fiscal and monetary might of the government is playing such a central role in driving risk asset prices. Plus, the Trump administration has more expressly tethered their fortunes to the stock market than any other in recent memory and under that formulation, buoyant equity prices can easily be taken as a validation of whatever policy prescriptions are currently being administered.

In short, policymakers can easily read too much into a stock market rally, as equities are a fickle friend. Though the S&P 500 might appear to “like” accelerated efforts to reopen segments of the US economy, that does not mean that it would not turn on a dime and head southward again if infection rates shoot up, threatening a re-imposition of lockdowns. The staunchest defender of the efficient market hypothesis still cannot claim that stocks are a crystal ball.

Even if policymakers take price action with the appropriate grain of salt, it remains the case that rising US stocks inevitably drain some of the urgency out of the proceedings in Washington DC. Market price action, particularly high profile, headline grabbing, 401K bashing stock market declines, can be very effective at focusing the minds of Congress, the Federal Reserve, and the administration on attempting to address the problems at hand. When a warning siren is blaring on Wall Street with equities in freefall, officials scurry around trying to figure how to silence it. Now, the S&P 500 is not even down 10% year-to-date and the Nasdaq is already back in positive territory for the year, so if stocks are telling everyone the coast is clear, why do we need another $1 trillion plus stimulus package?

A former Treasury official once recounted a story – during one of the later repetitions of the tedious debt ceiling showdowns, Wall Street had completely tuned out and stocks were rallying steadily even as Tea Party rabble rousers threatened a sovereign US default. A concerned member of Congress asked why stocks were so upbeat in the face of this significant threat, and the Treasury official explained that investors had seen this movie before a few times and figured they knew how it would end. The response was “don’t investors know that the less they worry about a debt ceiling accident, the more likely it becomes?” In other words, without the market performing a disciplinary function, policymakers are more apt to misbehave.

There seems to be a similar dynamic developing with regard to the next version of a pandemic relief bill (the latest CARES Act sequel). One of the key pillars of the turnaround in market sentiment is the massive fiscal response from Congress, but the very existence of the rally makes additional follow-through on the fiscal response less likely. Without conspicuous stock market losses to hold Congress’ collective feet to the fire, the less likely anything further gets done. The partisan armistice that was achieved during the torrid weeks of March and April looks like it may not hold as the House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and Trump administration officials head back to their entrenched positions and prepare for battle over policy turf while unemployment is at Depression levels. Earlier today, National Economic Council Director Kudlow said that negotiations are officially on pause for this month.

For policymakers looking for a more accurate market-based gauge of economic expectations, we would suggest focusing on the prescient Treasury market, which is signaling deep and persistent US economic doldrums, rather than on flighty and emotional equities, which are notorious for overshooting at inopportune times.

Looking ahead to next week, market participants will attempt to look past more horrendous economic data amid an overriding focus on the prospects for recovery.

 

  • US Retail Sales, Industrial Production & Consumer Confidence
  • US Initial Jobless Claims
  • China’s April Economic Readings
  • UK Q1 GDP

 

 

Global Economic Calendar

 

Monday

The week begins in Australia with the National Australia Bank’s Business Confidence Index. In March the index crashed to a record low of -66 from -4 in February. The index of business conditions plummeted to -21 from 0 the prior month, dragged down by sharp declines in sales, profits and employment. April is expected to be -70.

 

Tuesday

Tuesday’s focus will be on the Consumer Price Index for April. In March Headline CPI fell 0.4% m/m to 1.5% y/y. This is the lowest level since February 2019 and the largest monthly drop since January 2015, driven by a 10.2% slump in gasoline and a 1.6% drop in apparel prices. Core CPI, which excludes the more volatile food and energy components, fell 0,1% m/m putting it up 2.1% y/y but below market consensus of a 2.3% advance. March marked the first monthly drop in Core CPI’s since January 2010.

In Australia on Tuesday the focus will be on the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank Consumer Sentiment Index. In April the index fell 17.7% to 75.6, the biggest monthly fall in survey history, taking the index to its lowest level since February 1991. Outlook on Economic conditions for the next 12 months dropped 31% to 53.7 points, the lowest since the Financial Crisis, and conditions for the next 5 years fell 3.8% to 87. In addition, time to buy a major household item tumbled 31.6 % to the lowest on record of 76.2.

 

Wednesday

Wednesday brings the first estimate of First Quarter GDP in Great Britain. 4Q19 GDP was flat as household consumption was unchanged, marking the first period that it has not increased since the 4Q15, while gross fixed capital formation dropped the most in nearly two years, led by a contraction in business investment. Meanwhile, government consumption rebounded firmly, driven by education and health, and net trade contributed positively to the GDP as exports rose more than imports. On the production side, services activity grew at a softer pace, while production output fell due to declines in manufacturing, and mining and quarrying. In addition, construction output dropped into contraction territory. Expectations are for a 2% contraction in the first quarter as the UK implemented a lockdown to battle the virus.

In the US we will see Producer Price Index (PPI) for April. In March PPI fell 0.2% m/m but increased 0.7% y/y, after declining 0.6% m/m but increasing 1.3% y/y in February. March PPI was the lowest level since September 2016. Cost of goods fell 1%, mainly due to a 6.7% drop in energy costs. In contrast, prices of services increased 0.2%, mainly due to an 8.1% rise in margins for apparel, jewelry, footwear, and accessories retailing. Core PPI came in 0.2% m/m higher, after falling 0.3% in February, and above forecasts of a flat reading.

Wednesday also features the Australian Employment Report for April. In March the Australian economy added 5,900 jobs to 13,017,600, following a 25,600 gain in the previous month and easily beating market forecasts of a 40,000 fall. Australia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged up to 5.2% in March from 5.1% in February but less than market expectations of 5.5%. The number of unemployed people rose by 20,300 to 718,600. By the end of this quarter, the Employment Change in Australia is expected to be a loss of 65,000 persons and the Unemployment Rate in Australia is expected to be 9.00%.

 

Thursday

Thursday brings a host of data on the Chinese economy starting with Industrial Production for April. March production dropped by 1.1% y/y, after a 13.5% plunge in January-February, but far less dire than market expectations of a 7.3% fall. Output fell at a softer pace for both manufacturing and utilities, while a rebound was seen in mining.

We also will see Retail Sales for April. March sales declined 15.8% y/y in March, following a 20.5% slump in January-February, worse than market expectations of a 10% fall. Sales continued to decline for most categories, while sales rebounded for personal care, office supplies, and telecoms.

On Thursday in the US the focus will be on Initial Jobless Claims. Last week 3.169 mil Americans filled for initial unemployment benefits, compared to 3.846 mil in the prior week and above market expectations of 3.0 mil. Last week’s filings lifted the total reported since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis to 33.5 mil, equivalent to a 22% unemployment rate. The largest increases were seen in California, Texas, Georgia, and New York, while continuing jobless claims hit a new record of 22.647 mil. Tomorrow the BLS will release the April Employment Report where consensus expectations are for a loss of 22 mil jobs and a 20% unemployment rate.

 

Friday

Friday’s focus will be on US Retail Sales for April. March sales plunged 8.4% m/m and 5.8% y/y and was the largest monthly decline on record and the largest decline in trade since 2009. Excluding autos, retail sales fell 4.2% m/m. The biggest decreases were seen in clothing, furniture, restaurants & bars, motor vehicles & parts, sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument & books, and electronics & appliances. Receipts at gasoline stations also fell sharply as consumers cut back spending on fuel and as oil prices plunged. On the other hand, sales of food & beverages and health & personal care products rose.

We will also see Industrial Production for April. March production slumped 5.4% m/m and 5.5% y/y, the largest monthly drop since January 1946, and worse than market expectations of a 4% dive. Manufacturing output fell 6.3%, the most since February 1946. The declines were led by a 28.0% tumble in motor vehicles and parts output.

Finally, the week ends with the Michigan Consumer Expectations Index for May. In April the index fell to 71.8, the lowest reading since 2011. Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin stated that “In the weeks ahead, as several states reopen their economies, more information will reach consumers about how reopening could cause a resurgence in coronavirus infections. The necessity to reimpose restrictions could cause a deeper and more lasting pessimism across all consumers, even those in states that did not relax their restrictions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Ahead – Twelfth of Never 4-9-2020

Looking Ahead – Twelfth of Never

This week featured some brightening glimmers of hope from the frontlines of the battle against the coronavirus pandemic – flattening infection curves and encouraging declines in mortality rates in a few key Covid-19 hotspots, as well as some (cautious) indications from respected public health officials that while the worst may not yet be behind us, the trends are showing the way to real improvement over the coming weeks and months. Some of the grimmest estimates for the human toll of the virus are being revised lower and the race for a vaccine is supplying a dose of hope that the world will be back to the status quo ex ante soon enough.

The narrative of a quick return to normal is understandably harder to believe for individuals that are over 50, are immunocompromised, or have family members under the same roof that fall into those vulnerable categories – for these many millions of Americans, the light at the end of the tunnel is far more distant. Even for the young and healthy, much care must still be taken in resuming normal activities lest secondary infection spikes occur. This dispiriting second wave of Covid-19 has hit Singapore, for instance, despite robust testing data, contact tracing, symptom tracking, etc. all of which is still a work in progress here in the US.

There is broad criticism that not enough was done in the US to prepare for a pandemic of this magnitude and policymakers cannot afford to compound the problem by failing to plan for the possibility of a “long tail” of the virus fighting effort, as we discussed in last week’s Looking Ahead. Fed liquidity provisions may be unlimited but they cannot solve a private sector and household solvency crisis. Muscular fiscal expenditures can provide an offset but, for example, with only a relatively small percentage of US small businesses able to access the PPP loans, and an average loan size of $150k, it is easy to see how more long-range planning will be needed if the economy is only able to recovery gradually and fitfully, as overseas evidence suggests.

The White House and Congressional leaders have already flagged infrastructure spending as a potential part of the pandemic relief packages, but more immediate needs, like topping up the small business lending facility, have pushed it down the list of priorities thus far. We believe infrastructure will not fall off the agenda this time and should be a feature in CARES 2.0 – but in what form?

“Infrastructure week” has been a laugh line in DC for the past few years, as anyone with an appreciation of the impaired political incentives, lengthy timelines, technical challenges, and myriad of other difficulties knows just how impossible a major federal infrastructure program has seemed, beyond another run-of-the-mill highway bill. We too believed that a major federal infrastructure push would not happen until the twelfth of never, but that is what time it is now.

Wrangling over allocation of trillions of dollars among specific projects is a bridge too far (pardon the pun) and giving money to the states directly for infrastructure outlays would understandably see that cash spent to fill short-term budgetary gaps. The Treasury should instead seek relatively more modest funding to establish a federal infrastructure bank as part of the CARES 2.0 package, find some office space for it at 1500 Pennsylvania and start staffing it up, doing planning, identifying projects, seeking approvals, etc. This is less splashy than a big dollar amount but more effective over the medium-term. Anyway, the projects themselves are too long-range to be part of any short-term relief but would come in very handy if the US economic restart needs some additional impetus six months to a year from now.

Critics say that it is impossible to start infrastructure projects in the middle of a pandemic, and they are right – the long timelines involved in these massive undertakings ensure that the infection peak will be behind us before anything really gets going on the ground (nothing is shovel-ready, as the Obama administration discovered). And what better time to fix public transportation when far fewer people are taking it or bridges and roads when there is less traffic? The same goes for our parks and recreation areas. Anyone who has tried to do a video conference for work while their children are engaged in remote-learning on their iPads knows connectivity is a big issue. The list of needs is long, as everyone knows.

In short, planning for adverse medium-term economic outcomes is not defeatist – it is prudent. There is an unacceptably high risk that the massive job losses we are experiencing will extend into a more chronic condition. Infrastructure can be part of the solution, but the groundwork needs to be started as quickly as possible. And if not now, then truly never.

Looking ahead to next week, US and China economic data is in focus. Stay safe and well!

 

  • US Economic Data
  • Bank of Canada
  • China Economic Data

 

US Economic Data: Brace for impact

The Covid-19 shutdown has made certain datapoints more important than in the past, MBA Mortgage Applications, being a perfect example, which will be released on Wednesday. In the week ended April 3rd applications declined 17.9%, following a 15.3% rise in the previous week. Refinance applications dropped 19.4% and applications to purchase a home fell 12.2%, the lowest since 2015.

Later in the morning Retail Sales for March will be the focus of the market. February sales dropped 0.5% month-on-month (m/m), following an upwardly revised 0.6% increase in January and missing market expectations of 0.2%. This was the largest decline in trade since December 2018, as consumers cut back spending on a range of products, including motor vehicles & parts, furniture, electronics & appliances, building materials and clothing. Receipts also declined at gasoline stations and restaurants & bars. Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales were unchanged after increasing by 0.4% in January.

Industrial Production for March follows. IP in February increased by 0.6% m/m, recovering from a revised 0.5% in January. Manufacturing activity edged up 0.1%, boosted by a large gain for motor vehicles and parts, while production of civilian aircraft fell sharply. In addition, utilities output jumped 7.1%, as temperatures returned to more typical levels following an unseasonably warm January.

Wednesday also includes the NAHB Housing Market Index for April. March fell to 72 from 74 in February. The current single-family sub-index declined to 79 from 81; the sub-index for home sales for the next six months dropped to 75 from 79 and prospective buyers also went down to 56 from 57. It is important to note that half of the builder responses were collected prior to March 4, so the recent stock market declines and the rising economic impact of the coronavirus will be reflected more in this report.

Thursday brings the now all-important Initial Jobless Claims. In the week ended April 4th, the number of 6.6 mil Americans filed for unemployment benefits, compared to the previous week’s record high of 6.87 mil, well above expectations of 5.25 mil. The latest increase brought the total reported in the last three weeks to close to 17 mil, as the coronavirus crisis deepened. Continuing jobless claims hit 7.46 mil in the week ended March 28th, also the highest on record. The last week’s number may be underestimated as many states are struggling to process high volumes of claims.

Bank of Canada: Rates gone south in the great white north

Wednesday brings the Bank of Canada (BoC) Interest Rate Decision. On March 27th the BoC slashed its benchmark interest rate by 50bps to 0.25% in an emergency meeting. The move follows a similar margin cut on March 13th and brings borrowing costs to its effective lower bound aiming to support the economy and the financial system amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Committee also launched a Commercial Paper Purchase Program to help to restore a key source of short-term funding for businesses and said that will begin acquiring government securities in the secondary market until the economy recovers. Policymakers added that they are closely monitoring economic and financial conditions, in coordination with other G7 central banks and fiscal authorities and will take further action if necessary.

Chinese Economic Data: GDP = growth destroying pandemic 

On Monday we will begin with China Balance of Trade and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) data for March. February unexpectedly showed a trade deficit of $7.09 bil in January-February 2020, missing market expectations of a surplus of $24.6 bil. This was the first trade gap since March 2018, reflecting the severe impact of the rapid spread of COVID-19 outbreak to the country’s economy. Year-on-year, exports slumped 17.2% to $292.5 bil, while imports shrank 4% to $299.54 bil. China’s trade surplus with the US for the first two months of the year stood at $25.37 billion, much lower than a surplus of $42.16 billion in the corresponding period a year earlier. Meanwhile, FDI tumbled 8.6% y/y $19.26 bil, in the first two months of 2020 due to Covid-19 outbreak and the Lunar New Year holiday. For February, FDI plunged 25.6%.

Thursday’s focus will be on First Quarter 2020 Chinese GDP. In the fourth quarter 2019 the Chinese economy grew 6.0% y/y, the same as in the previous quarter. This remained the weakest growth rate since the first quarter of 1992, amid trade pressure from the US and sluggish demand from home and abroad. For the full year 2019, the economy grew by 6.1%, the slowest pace in 29 years, but still within the government’s target of 6 to 6.5%. Consensus expectations are for growth to remain at 6%.

Looking Ahead – Political Economics of a Pandemic 3-6-2020

The coronavirus outbreak may not yet fit the scientific definition of a pandemic but it is clearly heading in that direction, according to some leading public health officials. Global financial markets are certainly not waiting for the official notification. Price action this week in Treasury markets is consistent with an exceedingly grim economic outlook and acute risk aversion, while the previously resilient S&P 500 is under increasing pressure.

Policymakers are not standing idly by. This week has seen a raft of rate cuts from global central banks, including an emergency 50 basis point reduction from the Fed on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is deploying an $8 billion spending package, which the President signed this morning after its swift trip to approval in Congress, and National Economic Council Director Kudlow is indicating that more fiscal measures are in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, US politics played out as a side-plot to the main narrative of the unfolding outbreak and the official responses being marshaled against it. There was plenty of debate among market participants over the extent to which US politics played a role in last week’s selloff, as Senator Sanders gained momentum in the Democratic field, and this week’s twin rallies on Monday and Wednesday, of 4.6% and 4.2%, respectively, which bookended a storming Super Tuesday comeback for Joe Biden, who is back as the presumptive frontrunner.

Many market contacts opined that Wednesday’s surge in the S&P 500 was specifically driven by Biden’s big win, and we certainly agree that healthcare stocks in particular received a boost given Biden’s opposition to Medicare-for-all. Shares of UnitedHealth and Anthem, two managed care giants, are up 9.2% and 6.8% this week despite all the chop in broader indexes. The degree of Joe-mentum in broader indexes and financial markets, however, is debatable.

Whether Medicare-for-all and other more radical healthcare reform proposals really are going to disappear with the Sanders campaign is also not so clear. Analysts are noting that a true pandemic has the power to shape societal norms and ideas, supporting (as one put it) “collectivist notions.” Calls from even Republican quarters that coronavirus patients should receive free treatment even if not insured may be just politicking, or it may represent a real shift. Bailouts for the service sector are unworkable, so perhaps direct payments to service sector workers (aka “helicopter money”) might be considered. It is certainly the time for policymakers to try to think creatively about responses to the epidemic, some of which might be difficult to entirely reverse when the coronavirus mercifully abates.

Looking ahead to next week, the European Central Bank is set to ease and global economic data will be scrutinized for any impact from the coronavirus epidemic.

  • US Economic Data
  • European Central Bank
  • EU Economic Data
  • China Economic Data

US Economic Data: Focus on consumer sentiment for virus impact  

Wednesday’s focus will be on the US Consumer Price Index (CPI) for February. January Headline CPI rose 0.1% m/m, coming in below forecasts of 0.2%. Shelter accounted for the largest increase, with cost of food and medical care services also rising. These increases offset a 1.6% decrease in the gasoline index. On a year-over-year basis CPI climbed to 2.5% from 2.3% in December and is the highest rate since October of 2018, mainly boosted by a 12.8% jump in gasoline cost. Core CPI, which excludes volatile items such as food and energy, increased 0.2% m/m, following a 0.1% gain in December and matching market expectations. Core CPI has risen 2.3% y/y, the same as in December.

The Producer Prices Index (PPI) for February will be released on Thursday. In January the PPI jumped 0.5% m/m, coming is well above market expectations of 0.1% rise. This was the largest monthly gain since October 2018, as services prices rose 0.7% and boosted by apparel, jewelry, footwear, and accessories retailing. On the other side, goods cost only advanced 0.1%. Year-on-year, the PPI rose 2.1%, the largest advance since May 2019. Core PPI also rose 0.5%, also well above the 0.1% forecasted.

On Friday the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index for March will be released and will provide one of the first readings on how the coronavirus is affecting the consumer. February was revised slightly higher to 101 from a preliminary 100.9 and is the highest reading since March of 2018. The gauge for current conditions was higher than expected, while expectations rose less. One-year inflation expectations were 2.4%, while the five-year outlook was 2.3%. The coronavirus was mentioned by 8% of all consumers in February although on the last days of the February survey, 20% mentioned the coronavirus due to the steep drop in equity prices, as well as the CDC warnings about the potential domestic threat of the virus. While too few cases were conducted to attach any statistical significance to the findings, it is nonetheless true that the domestic spread of the virus could have a significant impact on consumer spending.

European Central Bank: No time to waste 

On Thursday the ECB will hold their Interest Rate Decision. At its January meeting the ECB left the key interest rate on the main refinancing operations steady at 0%, which was widely expected. The marginal lending facility was also kept at 0.25% and the deposit facility at -0.50%. During the press conference, ECB President Lagarde failed to provide any new information on the monetary policy, economic outlook and strategic review. Lagarde added that incoming data is in line with the ECB baseline scenario and there are some signs of moderate increase in underlying inflation. She added that the governing council stands ready to adjust the instruments if needed. At a subsequent speech in February, Lagarde called for fiscal stimulus measures in the Eurozone, warning that monetary policy isn’t “the only game in town” and the longer the accommodative measures remain in place, the greater the risk that side effects will become more pronounced.

EU Economic Data: Feeling contractions 

Thursday begins with Eurozone Industrial Production (IP) for January. December IP plunged 4.1% y/y, following a 1.7% contraction and compared to market forecasts of a 2.3% decline. The latest figure matched the December 2018 drop, which was the biggest since November 2009. Capital goods output led the fall, followed by intermediate goods, energy and durable consumer goods. Among the bloc’s largest economies, there was a contraction in Germany, Italy and France, while Spain’s output was little changed. For full year 2019, IP shrank 1.7%, the steepest contraction since 2012.

Chinese Economic Data: Price check  

The week begins with China’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) for February. January CPI jumped to 5.4% y/y from 4.5% in December and above market consensus of 4.9%. This is the highest inflation rate since October 2011 due to rising pork prices, stronger demand during the Lunar New Year holiday and the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Food prices went up 20.6% y/y, the most since April 2008, with pork prices rising for the 11th month in a row and at a steeper rate. Pork prices have been rising during the last year amid a prolonged African swine fever epidemic and in January 2020, several lockdowns and transport restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak weighed on the pork cost even more.

Friday begins with Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for February. In January FDI into China rose 4% y/y to CNY 87.57 bil, or 2.2% to $12.68 bil. In yuan terms, foreign investment in high-tech industries went up 27.9 percent and accounted for 35.8 percent of the total FDI, with investment in high-tech service increasing 45.5 percent. Among the main sources of investment, FDI into China rose mainly from Singapore (40.6 percent), South Korea (157.1 percent), and Japan (50.2 percent); while FDI from the countries along the “Belt and Road” and ASEAN advanced by 31.3 percent and 44.8 percent, respectively.

Looking Ahead – Increase the Dosage

With the outbreak widening in the US and our lives facing an increasing degree of disruption, the obvious priority is the public health response, and of course any meaningful improvement on slowing the spread of cases or widening the diagnostic net (let alone finding more effective treatments or a vaccine) would induce a chain reaction of positive developments…

Looking ahead to next week, the Fed will be in the white hot spotlight, while the Chinese central bank is also likely to ease and some economic data is due. Stay safe and well!

  • Federal Reserve
  • US Economic Data
  • China Central Bank
  • EU Economic Data