Markets Struggle to Find Footing While News Stream Improves

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  • President Trump’s rhetoric on trade took a more constructive tone, while a divided administration leaves Syria in a bit of a limbo
  • Reports indicate that Trump instructed his top advisers to look into re-joining the TPP
  • Almost as if it were scripted, China had a trade surprise of its own today
  • The North American session does not feature much data
  • Moody’s upgraded Indonesia by a notch to Baa2 with a stable outlook.
  • MAS tightened policy by adjusting the slope of its S$NEER trading band “slightly”

The dollar is mostly weaker against the majors as an eventful week draws to a close. Sterling and Aussie are outperforming, while Stockie and yen are underperforming. EM currencies are mostly firmer. RUB and TRY are outperforming, while RON and TWD are underperforming. MSCI Asia Pacific was up 0.2%, with the Nikkei rising 0.6%. MSCI EM is down 0.2% on the day, with the Shanghai Composite falling 0.7%. Euro Stoxx 600 is up 0.3% near midday, while S&P futures are pointing to a higher open. The 10-year US yield is flat at 2.83%. Commodity prices are mostly higher, with oil up 0.5%, copper up 0.6%, and gold up 0.5%.

It had looked to many investors that world was headed for a trade war and an escalating risk war in Syria. But now it seems less clear. US President Trump’s rhetoric on trade took a more constructive tone, and a divided administration leaves Syria in a bit of a limbo.

US equities rallied yesterday, and Asia and European bourses are advancing today, but the conviction may not be particularly strong. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index rose 0.2% for a 1.3% weekly gain. Near midday in Europe, the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 is up 0.15% and 1.2% for the week, making it the third weekly advance. The German DAX and French CAC are at six-week highs.

The US dollar is mixed, with a slightly heavier bias. The Australian dollar and British pound are leading the advancing currencies. A glimmer of hope that trade tensions may de-escalate is helping lift the Australian dollar 0.5% to straddle the $0.7800 for the first time since mid-March. The weekly gain of 1.5% is the largest this year.

Sterling has been bolstered by ideas that the Bank of England is the next major central bank to lift rates (next month) and that Brexit may be less extreme. The record from the ECB meeting and the strong indication this week that Austria’s Nowotny’s rate hike talk was not representative of the Board has seen the euro fell below GBP0.8650 for the first time since May 2017.

Against the dollar, sterling moved toward $1.43, its highest level since late January. Sterling is rising for the sixth consecutive session and is up about 1.3% on the week. It is also the fifth week in six that sterling has appreciated.

What appears to be at least a temporary pullback from the proverbial edge has helped lift the dollar to nearly JPY107.70, a seven-week high. We have been monitoring a bottoming chart pattern that projects toward JPY110. Initial resistance now is seen near JPY108. It is the third consecutive weekly advance for the dollar against the yen. S&P upgraded Japan’s rating outlook to positive from stable.

The Swedish krona continues to trade heavier after yesterday’s somewhat softer than expected CPI. We suspect the market is exaggerating it, as price pressures rose but not as much as expected. The euro appears to be losing some momentum near SEK10.40.

Late yesterday, reports indicate that Trump instructed his top advisers to look into re-joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he pulled out of last year. He had kept the door open to join at some point, but there had been no follow-up, which makes this a bit different. Still, the remaining Pacific Rim members did sign an agreement last month. It is unclear if the members are ready to re-open negotiations or how serious Trump is, but the signal was timely and is helping to diffuse some tensions, at least for the moment.

Trump also indicated that the NAFTA talks are proceeding and he was optimistic about an agreement. He similarly toned down the rhetoric with China, suggesting that ultimately neither side may levy new tariffs. In some ways, the seeming reversal in the softer rhetoric is just as off-putting for many investors as was the harsher, more aggressive rhetoric.

Almost as if it were scripted, China had a surprise of its own today. It reported an unexpected trade deficit for March. The deficit of nearly $5 bln compares with expectations for a $27.5 bln surplus (median forecast in the Bloomberg survey). Exports fell 2.7% and imports rose 14.4%. The data is skewed by the distortions around the Lunar New Year, but the optics help in the current environment. One of our concerns is that even if China adopted all the right measures in a timely fashion, its sheer size would be disruptive to the world economy and would still come to loggerheads with other large countries, including the US.

Separately, China reported slower money supply growth. Aggregate lending was a little stronger than expected, but shadow banking activity slowed considerably. The dollar fell 0.4% against the yuan this week. It is the third decline in four weeks.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority intervened for the second day to prevent the Hong Kong dollar from moving through the weak end of its trading band. The HKMA has bought about HKD3.25 bln (~$145 mln) over the past two sessions. The Hong Kong Interbank Offered Rate (HIBOR) is edging higher. Senior HKMA official noted that the banking system has ample liquidity and can cope with capital outflows, adding that interest rates are likely to rise gradually.

The North American session does not feature much data. Canada reports March existing home sales and the US sees the University of Michigan consumer survey. It includes 5- to 10-year inflation forecast that in the past has been cited by the Fed. It has been stable at 2.4% to 2.6% range with few exceptions since the middle of 2016. Three Fed officials (Rosengren, Bullard, and Kaplan) speak ahead of the weekend, and a couple large US banks report earnings.

Moody’s upgraded Indonesia by a notch to Baa2 with a stable outlook. The agency cited an increasingly credible and effective policy framework as the major factor behind the move, as it will contribute to greater macroeconomic stability. This brings Moody’s in line with Fitch, which upgraded Indonesia back in December. Note that our own sovereign ratings model showed its implied rating rising a notch last quarter to BBB+/Baa1/BBB+. As such, actual ratings of BBB-/Baa2/BBB still enjoy some upgrade potential.

Monetary Authority of Singapore tightened policy by adjusting the slope of its S$NEER trading band “slightly” from zero previously. About 2/3 of analysts polled expected the move. It noted that the “measured adjustment” takes trade risks into account, but its cautiousness is justified. Singapore also reported advance Q1 GDP growth of 4.3% y/y, as expected. CPI rose 0.5% y/y in February. While the MAS does not have an explicit inflation target, we think low inflation and high global trade tensions warrants caution for now.