Consolidation in Capital Markets Conceals Coming Turbulence

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  • President Trump threatens government shutdown unless funds for the Wall are authorized.  Also threatens that he can still pull the US out of NAFTA.  
  • Eurozone flash PMI suggests robust economy is seeing momentum moderate
  • S&P 500 poised to pare yesterday’s gains after global equity bounce falters in Europe


The US dollar is mixed, but within the ranges seen in recent days.  The market lull can continue another couple of days.  Conditions are light and choppy.  The strong US equity gains yesterday helped lift Asia, but the move faltered in late Asia and in the Europe.  The Dow Jones Stoxx 600 is giving back a third of yesterday’s gains.  Such a decline could bring the S&P 500 toward 2440.  Bond yields mostly firmer, with Italian bonds continue to sell off.  The yield is up six basis points today after eight yesterday.  MSCI Emerging Market equity index is up slightly before the start of the Latam session.  The Mexican peso is under pressure before the opening of local markets.  The South Korean won continues to recover.  It has now recouped about half of what it lows since the end of July.

A mixed US dollar will greet the North American participants today. It is softer against the euro and yen, but firmer against the dollar-bloc currencies. Among the emerging market currencies, the eastern and central European currencies are moving higher in the euro’s draft. The US recognition that North Korea has not escalated the war of words even though it just announced new sanctions on 10 Russian and Chinese companies and half dozen individuals were aiding it; the Korean won posted its third consecutive advancing sessions.

Asian equities advanced with the MSCI Asia Pacific Index also posting small gains for each day this week and seven of the past eight days.  Some of the markets that are open late struggled and European equities are mostly lower.  The Dow Jones Stoxx 600 is off 0.2%.  Financials and materials are bucking the drag from the other sectors, led by consumer discretionary and utility sectors.  It is the fourth losing session in the past five.   Sovereign 10-year benchmark yields are mostly firmer, with Italy and Portugal seeing yields rise five-six basis points.

Although a key controversial adviser to President Trump was dismissed last week, the opportunity to re-start may be closing.  Last night, Trump made two unsettling remarks.  First, he suggested that he may be willing to accept a shut down of the government if that is what is necessary to get Congress to authorize funding for the controversial wall on the border with Mexico.  The spending authorization is needed by the end of September as the US begins a new fiscal year.  Government shutdowns are not unprecedented in the US, of course, and they typically are mildly disruptive.  They are not good for the investment climate.

Congress may seek to link the spending authorization bills with the debt ceiling.  The failure to renew the spending authorization leads to a government shutdown, but failure to lift the debt ceiling impairs the ability to service the debt.  While political maneuvering can lead to a shutdown, missing a debt payment is considerably more serious and one that in this game of brinkmanship largely within the Republican Party neither side seems to want to risk.

Secondly, Trump also threatened that he may still bring the US out of NAFTA.  The re-opening of negotiations just began last week.  There were much optimism and favorable spin in most of the media.  Although reports suggest that, contrary to the normal course where easy issues are resolved first, controversial issues were discussed.  Yes, they were discussed, but it seemed to turn into a simple restatement of each main issues.   Domestic content and the conflict resolution mechanism seems to be on what the negotiations will ultimately turn.    Between the new efforts to get funding for the wall and the threat to pull out of NAFTA, it is little wonder that the Mexican peso is the weakest of the emerging market currencies today (-0.7%) and rivaling the New Zealand dollar (-0.8%) as the weakest currency in the world today.

Japan and EMU have reported preliminary PMI readings for August.  Japan’s manufacturing PMI rose to 52.8 from 52.1 in July.   Last year it averaged 50.0. This year’s average is 52.7.  It is also the average for Q2. Similar to many other high income countries, the pressing challenge for Japan is not growth but prices.  Before the weekend Japan reports July CPI.  The core rate (excluding fresh food) stood at 0.4% in June and may have ticked up to 0.5% in July.

In Europe, the weakness in services was offset by the strength of manufacturing, leaving the composite virtually unchanged at 55.8 (vs. 55.7). The manufacturing reading rose to 57.4 from 56.6.  This matches the cyclical high seen in June.  The service reading, which covers a larger part of the economy slipped to 54.9 from 55.4.  The index peaked in April at 56.4.

There are three takeaways from the EMU PMI.  First, the economy continues to operate at a strong level, but the momentum has moderated.  Second, price components suggest that the pullback in inflation since February may be coming to an end.  Third, the euro’s appreciation has so far not undermined export orders,  where the sub-index rose to its best level in six years.

This, in turn, may have some bearing on how to understand the level of concern among the ECB regarding the euro’s strength.  We think the concern is still very mild.  It also may impact the bias going into Jackson Hole.  In his speech earlier today, Draghi defended the effectiveness of its asset purchase program.

The UK continues its release of position papers on the Brexit.  Today’s was on the judiciary.  Again the UK softens its initial position, but it does not appear that these papers have had much on the EU negotiators.  The position papers are more addressed to the domestic audience rather than as a negotiating tool.   There still seems to be a sense of bewilderment.  The UK, for example, still does not accept the EU’s negotiating sequence:  first the divorce and then the arranging new friendship with potential benefits.

In the US Markit reports its flash US PMIs and new home sales for July will be released.  Barring significant surprises, the data are unlikely to have much impact.  Trading remains choppy within a consolidative phase.  We expect the phase to end shortly.  The S&P 50 gapped higher yesterday and closed strongly.  It set to open about 0.2% lower, and before the gap (~2430.6-2433.7) is filled, the 2440 area may act as a swing level.