Panic In Washington, US currency traders on the frontlines as Trump’s 2-year stock honeymoon ends with hunt for betrayer and govt shutdown


Panic In Washington – Treasury Secretary Calls Top Bankers To Check Liquidity, While On Vacation

 

  Jerome Powell Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Currency Traders on Front Line as Markets Stay Wary of U.S. Risk

The final week of 2018 could prove tumultuous for investors as holiday-thinned trading combines with a growing array of pressures on markets.

Traders in the $5.1 trillion-a-day currency market were among the first to respond to a partial U.S. government shutdown and a report that President Donald Trump has discussed firing Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. The dollar slipped against its Group-of-10 peers, while the yen, seen by many as a haven, gained for a seventh day.

Treasury futures climbed in early Asian hours before paring their advance. Cash bonds trading was shut in Asia due to a holiday in Japan, the first in a week that will see a number of closures across major markets.

Sentiment in global financial markets has already taken a beating with the S&P 500 Index just recording its worst week in seven years. Increased uncertainty over the leadership of the Fed could add to turmoil along with a partial shutdown of the U.S. government, although assurances from U.S. Treasury Steven Mnuchin about liquidity and the future of the central bank chief may ease some concerns.

The Treasuries yield curve last week moved closer than ever to its first post-crisis inversion and the rally in safer assets dragged the 10-year yield below 2.75 percent for the first time since April. However, given that much of the upheaval is emanating from the U.S., it is not entirely clear whether Treasuries, and also the U.S. dollar, will act as reliable havens should Powell’s leadership face a genuine threat.

Societe Generale SA’s head of U.S. rates strategy Subadra Rajappa said she thinks a change in Fed leadership is “extremely unlikely,” though she’s not ruling out the possibility of the president persuading Powell to “resign.”

“If it comes to that, given the backdrop of the recent government shutdown, investors might be less inclined to treat Treasuries as safe haven assets,” she said by email. “A change in Fed leadership will likely rattle the already-fragile financial markets and further tighten financial conditions.”

Market participants are generally of the view that Powell will not be fired, and senior administration officials say Trump recognizes he doesn’t have that authority. But even continued exploration of the possibility could make for a volatile week.

The market response to a material threat to the Fed’s independence would be complicated, according to Steve Englander, head of global G-10 FX research and North America macro strategy for Standard Chartered Bank. He said near-term uncertainty over the process and politics in a fluid situation would weigh on equity prices and bond yields. The dollar, he said, would likely face multiple opposing forces, but the “near-term response is likely negative on the risk that U.S. economic policy becomes more erratic.”

Kitchen Sink

The Bloomberg Dollar Index was up more than 4 percent in 2018 at the end of last week and is close to its highest level in a year and a half, while the Japanese yen surged around 2 percent last week versus the greenback.

Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York, is among the few eyeing the strained relations between the president and the Fed chair with equanimity.

The stock market “has discounted everything but the kitchen sink, including the loss of a Fed Chair who hasn’t been in office for even a year yet,” he said by email.

Given that the Fed is already close to the end of its hiking cycle, the markets won’t melt down if Powell leaves office, according to Rupkey. “They already did,” he said.

Those on the front lines of this week’s opening trade say markets are on a knife edge.

Mind the Machines

“If equity markets fall further, they’re going to set off machine-based selling,” said Saed Abukarsh, the co-founder of Dubai-based hedge fund Ark Capital Management. “The other risk is that experienced traders are on holiday, so the ones left will be trigger happy with every new headline.”

“I can’t see buyers stepping into this market to stem off any selling pressure until January,” said Abukarsh. “So if you need to adjust your books for the year-end with any meaningful size, you’re going to have to pay for it.”

Trump’s two-year stock honeymoon ends with hunt for betrayer

Nobody was happier to take credit for surging stocks than Donald Trump, who touted and tweeted each leg up. Now the bull is on life support and the search for its killer is on.

And while many on Wall Street share the president’s frustration with the man atop his markets enemies list, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, they say Trump himself risks making things worse with too much aggression when equities are one bad session away from a bear market.

“You would think that after coming off of the worst week for the markets since the financial crisis in 2008, he would look to create some stability,” said Chuck Cumello, CEO of Essex Financial Services. “Instead we get the opposite, with this headline and more self-induced uncertainty. This coming from a president who when the market goes up views it as a barometer of his success.”

U.S. stock futures whipsawed Monday and were little changed after swinging from a 0.9 percent gain to a loss of the same magnitude. The equity market closes at 1 p.m. in New York ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Click here to see all of Trump’s tweets on the economy and markets.

Attempts by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to reassure markets that Powell wouldn’t be ousted appeared to have largely removed that as an immediate concern for traders, but the secretary’s tweet Sunday that he called top executives from the six largest U.S. banks to check on their liquidity and lending infrastructure added to anxiety.

To be sure, equities remain solidly higher since Trump took office. Even with its 17 percent drop over the last three months, the S&P 500 has risen 18 percent since Election Day. The Nasdaq Composite Index is up 25 percent with dividends. True, volatility has jumped to a 10-month high, but market turbulence was significantly worse for three long stretches under Barack Obama.

The S&P 500 slumped 7.1 percent last week and the Nasdaq Composite Index spiraled into a bear market. As of 2:31 p.m. in Hong Kong, futures on the S&P 500 were up 0.6 percent while Nasdaq 100 contracts added 0.5 percent.

While Trump seems to have found his villain in Powell, blame is a dubious concept in financial markets, as anyone who has tried to explain the current rout can attest.

Along with the Fed chairman, everything from rising bond yields, trade tariffs, falling bond yields, Brexit, tech valuations and Italian finances have been implicated in the downdraft that has erased $5 trillion from American equity values in three months.

Whatever’s behind it, nothing has been able to stop it. And while many on Wall Street credit the president for helping jump-start the market after taking office, they say he should look in the mirror to see another person creating stress for it right now.

“Trump was gloating how much good he had done for the economy and the market. Now he’s blaming Powell for the decline instead of himself,” said Rick Bensignor, founder of Bensignor Group and a former strategist for Morgan Stanley. “Half his key staff has been fired or quit. The markets are off for a variety of reasons, but most of them have Trump behind them.”

If Trump is bent on getting rid of Powell, there may be ways of doing it that don’t risk kicking a volatile market into hysteria, said Walter “Bucky” Hellwig, a senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

“It doesn’t have to be firing, it could be someone else taking Powell’s job. That could be a net positive for the markets,” Hellwig said. “A friendly change in the head of the Fed may cause some turbulence short-term but it may be offset with the markets repricing the risk associated with two rate hikes in 2019.”

For now, the turmoil shows no signs of letting up. In the Nasdaq 100, home to tech giants like Apple Inc. and Amazon.com, there have been 17 sessions with losses greater than 1.5 percent this quarter, the most since 2009. Small caps are down 26 percent from a record, while the Nasdaq Biotech Index has dropped at least 1 percent on seven straight days, the longest streak since its inception in 1993.

It’s been a long time since anyone in the U.S. has lived through this protracted a decline. Including Trump.

”It’s impossible to tease out what the proximate causes are,” said Kevin Caron, a senior portfolio manager at Washington Crossing Advisors. “The normal ebb and flow of financial markets are all part of the mix. It’s impossible just to point to the chairman as the only input.”

Credit: Bloomberg

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Chinese economy expands 6.9% in 2015, slowest growth in 25 years


Video: http://t.cn/R4QD2R0China’s economy posted a 6.9 percent GDP growth in 2015, which is within people’s expectations. Faced with suspicions, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) emphasized that the figure – 6.9 percent – is real.

On the one hand, with an increasing number of “struggling” companies, the economic downturn has become a heated subject of public opinion. On the other hand, other fields, for instance, tourism, railways and online shopping, are seeing robust growth. So, taken together with the affirmation by the NBS, we can have confidence in the accuracy of the figure.

It is safe to say that people still have much confidence in the economy. Despite an economic downturn, people’s willingness to spend is witnessing an upward trend. Consumption is contributing more to GDP growth. Compared with some pessimistic comments, an increase in consumption can better reflect public confidence. In addition, citizens’ plans for their families and their futures are positive as a whole. Admittedly, the loss of confidence in the stock market has exerted negative effects. Society has varying degrees of confidence in the economy.

The 6.9-percent increase in GDP will not strike a blow to the confidence of Chinese society. Even if the figure were slightly lower, there is still a lot to sustain people’s confidence. In fact, different from Western society, politics carries some weight in how confident Chinese people feel.

There are a number of factors contributing to the public’s confidence in the economy. First of all, people believe in the government. As long as the government’s determination and confidence to develop the economy can be seen, the public will be reassured. The government has made many commitments regarding economic development and people’s living standards. It is becoming increasingly honest about the difficulties as well. The government’s backbone is not weakening. Yet, there is increasing dissatisfaction with the laziness of some officials. This new phenomenon is worth paying attention to.

The Chinese people are confident about the country’s market potentials. They know that the country lags behind in many aspects and that great efforts are needed. People tend to believe that it will be an arduous task to narrow the gap of people’s livelihood between China and developed countries. Despite the long road ahead, few people believe the process will break down.

Since the Communist Party of China launched the anti-graft drive and pushed forward reforms, many people expected the country to make greater achievements. But China is in a full-fledged transitional period. Its 1.4 billion population is to China’s advantage.

Complaints can be heard in China, and many concerns are well grounded. Some people try to seek a sense of security by applying for a foreign green card and transferring their assets overseas. But China’s status as the world’s biggest emerging market and potential for opportunities is as significant as ever.

China has plenty of tasks. Many cities still lag behind in basic infrastructure. Many roads need to be rebuilt. The key for change is economic growth. In addition, medical care cannot meet public demand. Many parents have sent their children abroad due to the low quality of education. The Chinese people’s concept of consumption is changing fundamentally and people long for improved living standards. These will all serve as a robust foundation for sustainable economic growth.

There should not be any fear that the 6.9 percent growth will upset Chinese society. The Chinese people will remain confident. The government needs to achieve concrete results and need not rush to adjust its policies. Many problems will be solved as long as China is on the right path. – Global Times

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Is the weakening Malysian ringgit a similar to 1997/98 crisis?


asian-financial-crisis-1997-98

Economic troubles ahead but most don’t think it will be as bad as back then

We don’t see a crisis brewing in emerging Asia. But that is not to say there aren’t risks. We believe those risks are going to be mitigated and managed. Despite some portfolio outflows, we believe there is still sufficient liquidity in the market for some trading ideas

The weakening ringgit has caused anxiety. But is the economy in a similar situation to Malaysia’s worst ever crisis 16 years ago?

MANY Malaysians will still remember the Asian financial crisis of 1997/98. Nearly 20 years ago, the then crisis was responsible for the greatest capital market crash in the country and forced many structural changes we see today in the financial markets.

It was a time of great turmoil, with people losing their investments on a scale never seen since. Companies for years bankrolled on easy credit were leveraged to the hilt and crumbled under the weight of their debts as business evaporated and the cost of credit soared.

Shares traded on the stock exchange mirrored the scale of the troubles. The benchmark stock market index plunged from a high of 1,271 points in February 1997 to 262 on Sept 1, 1998. Words such as tailspin and panic were common in the financial section of newspapers and the chatter among market players as people scrambled to take action.

“More people are talking about it with the fall in the ringgit,” says a fund manager who experienced the difficult times in the late 1990s.

Triggering the crisis back then was the fall in the regional currencies, starting with the Thai baht. Speculators then zeroed in on other countries in Asia and Russia as the waves of attack on the currencies back then saw many central banks spending vast amount of foreign exchange reserves to defend their currencies.

Exhausting their reserves, those central banks requested for credit help from the International Monetary Fund to replenish their coffers.

Attacks on the ringgit and many other currencies in Asia sent the ringgit into freefall as the currency capitulated from a previously overvalued zone against the US dollar.

The ringgit dived into uncharted territory to around RM4.20 to the dollar before capital controls were imposed and the ringgit was pegged at RM3.80 to the dollar. The ensuing troubles were seen from the capital market to the property sector. Corporate Malaysia was swimming in red ink and huge drops in profit.

The shock from that period was different than what the country had seen in previous recessions. The last economic recession prior to that was caused by a collapse in global commodity prices and during that pre-industrialisation period before factories mushroomed throughout the major centres of the country, unemployment soared. Unemployment was not a major issue in 1997/98 like it was in the prior recession but the crunch on company earnings meant wage cuts and employment freezes.

With the drop in crude oil and now with the resurgence of the US economy, the flight of money from the capital market has began.

Deja vu?

Most would argue that no two shocks or crisis are the same. There is always a trigger that is different from before. From the Asian financial crisis, the world has seen the collapse of the dotcom boom which crushed demand for IT products and services. Then there was the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis and the global financial crisis in 2008/09. There were periods of intermittent volatility in between those periods but there was nothing in Malaysia to suggest trouble ahead.

Shades of 1998 though have emerged in this latest wave of turmoil but the situation now is not the same as it was back then.

“We don’t see a crisis brewing in emerging Asia. But that is not to say there aren’t risks. We believe those risks are going to be mitigated and managed,” says World Bank country director for South-East Asia, Ulrich Zachau.

The fall in crude oil prices, which has been the trigger for Malaysia, has sent the currencies of oil-producing countries lower, affecting their revenues and budgets. In South-East Asia, pressure has been telling on the ringgit and the Indonesian rupiah.

Reminiscent of the gloom and doom of 1997/98, the Indonesian rupiah tanked against the dollar to levels last seen during that period.

Intervention by the Indonesian central bank addressed the decline, but the situation is also different today then it was back nearly two decades ago.

“Bank Negara is still mopping up liquidity today,” says another fund manager who started work in Malaysia in the early 1990s.

Although liquidity is plentiful in Malaysia, money has been coming out of the stock market. Foreign selling has been pronounced this year and the wave of selling has seen more money flow out of the stock market this year than what was put in to buy stocks last year.

Equities is just an aspect of it as the bigger worry is in Government bonds where foreigners hold more than 40% of issued government debt.

“The fear is capital flight and people are looking to lock in their gains,” says the fund manager.

“The worry will start when people get irrational.”

Times are different

While the selling that is taking place in the capital markets is a concern, Malaysia of today is vastly different than it was during the 1997/98 period.

For one, corporates in Malaysia are not as leveraged as they were back then. Corporate debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio is below 100% but it was above 130% in 1998. Furthermore, corporate profits are still steady although general expectations have been missed in the last earnings season.

Secondly, fund managers point out that the banking system is in far better health today, better capitalised and seeing the average loan-to-deposit ratio below 100%. That loan-to-deposit ratio was much higher than 100% during the 1997/98 period and and as loans turned bad, the banks got into trouble.

“Fundamentally, we are much stronger now. That was not the case back then,” says a corporate lawyer.

“The worry though is on perception and denials that there is no trouble.”

The one big worry, though, is household debt. That ratio to GDP is crawling towards the 90% level while it was not even an issue back in 1997/98.

Sensitivity analysis by Bank Negara which looks at several adverse scenarios, such as a 40% decline in the stock market and bad loans from corporates and households shooting up, indicate that the banking system can withstand a major shock.

“The scenario-based solvency stress test for the period 2014 to 2016 incorporated simultaneous shocks on revenue, funding, credit, market and insurance risk exposures, taking into account a series of tail-risk events and downside risks to the global economic outlook.

“The simulated spillovers on the domestic economy were used to assess the compounding year-on-year impact on income and operating expenses, balance sheet growth and capitalisation of financial institutions, disregarding any loss mitigation responses by financial institutions or policy intervention by the authorities,” says Bank Negara in its Financial Stability and Payment Systems Report.

“Even under the adverse scenario, the post-shock aggregate TCR (total capital ratio) and CET1 (common equity tier 1) capital ratio of the banking system were sustained at 10% and 7% respectively, remaining above the minimum regulatory requirement under Basel III based on the phase-in arrangements which are consistent with the global timeline,” it says in the report.

Government finances and the current account

The line in the sand for Government finances seems to be at the US$60 per barrel level for crude oil prices. A number of economists feel the Government will miss its fiscal target of a 3% deficit next year should the price of crude oil drop below that level.

With oil and gas being such a big component of the economy than what it was in 1997/98, the drop in the price of crude oil could also spell trouble for the current account and cause a deficit in the trade account.

Those concerns have been highlighted by local economists and yesterday, Fitch Ratings echoed that worry.

“Cheaper oil is positive for the terms of trade of most major Asian economies. But for Malaysia, which is the only net oil exporter among Fitch-rated emerging Asian sovereigns, the fall increases the risk of missing fiscal targets.

“The risk of a twin fiscal and external deficit, which could spark greater volatility in capital flows, has increased. Malaysia’s deep local capital markets have a downside in that they leave the country exposed to shifts in investor risk appetite. Malaysia’s foreign reserves dropped 6.8% between end-2013 and end-November 2014, the biggest decline in Fitch-rated emerging Asia,” it says in a statement yesterday.

Despite the softness in the property market and corporates getting worried about their profits, the general feeling is that Malaysia will not see a repeat of 1997/98. The drop in the ringgit and revenue for crude oil will mean a period of adjustment but the cheaper ringgit will make exports more competitive.

The difference between then and now

The ringgit vs the dollar …The ringgit’s steep decline against the dollar has made it one of the worst performing currencies of late. That decline, although steep and having caught the attention of the central bank, is more down to the link with the decline in crude oil than structural issues to be worried about.

Capital ratios of banks …Banks today are far better capitalised then they were during the 1997/98 crisis, which forced the local banking industry to consolidate for their own good. Stress tests by the central bank suggests then even under adverse conditions, banks in Malaysia wil be able to withstand the shock associated with it.

Loans-to-deposit ratio …The ratio of loans against the deposit of banks have been rising but it is no where at the level before the Asian financial crisis in 1997/98. Banks too are aware of making sure it does not cross 100% and the development of the bond market means leverage risk has been diversified from the banking sector.

Businesses not as leveraged …One of the reasons corporate Malaysia was in trouble in 1997/98 was down to its leverage, or debt levels. Today. corporates are not as geared as they were back then and although that level is rising, their financial position and better cash balances and generation means they are able to better withstand a shock to the economy.

Household debt to GDP …

This is the biggest worry. As households are leveraged despite the financial assets backing it, that means any economic weakness or shock will affect the ability to service loans taken to buy those assets. As consumer demand has been a big driver to the economy, any changes the affects the ability of consumers to continue spending will impact on
economy growth and have an impact on non-performing loans in the banking sector.

Dropping current account surplus …

The decline in the current account surplus means that the domestic economy has been growing strongly. There were concerns earlier and the prioritisation of projects was able to smoothen imports to ensure a positive balance of trade. The drop in crude oil prices could mean a deficit in the current account in the first quarter of next year but the weaker ringgit should translate to better exports and a better current account balance thereafter.

By JAGDEV SINGH SIDHU Starbizweek

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