MacroScope

Does less QE from the Fed necessarily mean a stronger dollar?

Based on the latest U.S. Treasury flows data, it may be time to ditch the textbook theory that says less monetary stimulus means a stronger currency – at least for now.

The problem may just be that the theory doesn’t fully account for the situation when your largest creditors – and they are very large – are trying to beat you to the market.

The Federal Reserve first hinted in May it would start reducing its bond purchase programme because the U.S. economy is recovering and so is the job market.

Predictably, that news sent Treasury yields higher, with the dollar in tow. And analysts began pencilling in more gains for the greenback when the central bank actually begins scaling back.

But that move also spooked China and Japan – the largest foreign holders of U.S. debt.

China’s new economy needs fresh, reliable indicator on consumers

China’s transition into a domestic demand driven economy has kicked off with the government announcing long-awaited reforms, but it is missing a key element — an indicator to measure the success of the plan.

Long considered the ‘factory of the world’, China has a vast population that works in factories that produce everything from consumer and electronic goods to clothes, technology equipment and trinkets of everyday value.

Accordingly, its achievements are measured by economic indicators like exports, industrial production, gross domestic product and trade surplus, among others.

Is Europe past the worst?

The PMI surveys take top billing today. China’s report showed a further slowdown in manufacturing activity with the index following to an 11-month low and well into contractionary territory.

Flash readings for the euro zone, Germany and France are due later. Whisper it, but it could just be that Europe’s economy is past the worst.

Beijing’s travails will obviously have knock-on effects for Europe, particularly Germany for which China is such a huge market. A Chinese “hard landing” – still not the central scenario – would be the last thing the world economy needs just as it shows signs of life.

Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water…

A worrying weekend for the euro zone.

Greece’s coalition government – the guarantor of the country’s bailout deal with its EU and IMF lenders – is down to a wafer-thin, three-seat majority in parliament after the Democratic Left walked out in protest at the shutdown of state broadcaster ERT.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras insists his New Democracy can govern more effectively with just one partner – socialist PASOK – but the numbers look dicey, although it’s possible some independent lawmakers and even the Democratic Left could lend support on an ad hoc basis.

Samaras has ruled out early elections and says the bailout – without which default looms – will stay on track. If the government fell and elections were forced, the likely beneficiaries would include the anti-bailout leftist Syriza party which, if it got into government or formed part of one, really would upset the applecart.

Yield is king in China’s ‘dim sum’ offshore yuan bond markets

 

A return to China’s offshore yuan bond markets, or “dim sum” as they are colorfully known in Hong Kong, may be sweet for Gemdale, a mainland property developer. But not all fund managers are smiling. The company raised five-year money at 5.63% amounting to 2 billion yuan. Not bad, considering that last July, it raised a lesser sum for a shorter tenor while coughing up nearly double of what it paid this time around. Add the fact that it did so by keeping to the same weak bond covenant and Gemdale seems to have pulled off a stunner.

But Gemdale doesn’t seem to be the only one. In recent days, issuers with weak bond covenants have discovered a ready market for their debt and at much cheaper rates. In theory, bond covenants can be divided into two halves: affirmative and negative ones. The former promises to pay bond holders on time while the latter forbids it from exceeding certain financial ratios such as interest paid/EBITDA, debt to equity, etc. And of course, they are secured by the company’s assets or backed by bank guarantees or letters of credit

But when theory meets reality (read: offshore hunger for yield meets hungry onshore Chinese issuers), financial “creativity” is the outcome. So mainland companies set up complicated structures to ensure they are able to keep regulators and ratings agencies happy while getting access to cheap capital quickly without having to negotiate labyrinthine approvals processes.

Trade entrails

An exercise in divination using the entrails of last week’s U.S. international trade report shows signs of a move with larger implications than just the gaping deficit that caught analysts wrong-footed: the possibility of a persistent burden on the American economy caused by Japanese and German imports, like in the 80s.

The U.S. trade deficit widened 16 percent in November to $48.7 billion, the Commerce Department said on Friday, above the $41.3 billion expected. The negative surprise prompted economists to cut hastily their U.S. gross domestic product estimates for the last quarter to a negligible rate. The stock market took a hit.

The disappointment was limited, however, as analysts attributed the bulky import bill behind the deficit increase to a resumption of merchandise flows into the U.S. after Hurricane Sandy paralyzed port activity in the East Coast the previous month. Some economists still on yuletide mode are, apparently, missing the big picture.

China no longer tops list of global economic concerns

There are still plenty of macro factors to worry about around the world, but China seems to have dropped down the charts. Conversations with delegates at TradeTech Asia, the annual trading heads’ conference held in Singapore, revealed that the U.S. fiscal cliff, food inflation, geopolitical risks in the Middle-East and Europe all trumped China as the major risks out there for financial markets.

Last time this year China was public enemy #1 for investors. But according to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global fund managers’ survey confidence in the outlook for China’s economy has surged to a three-year high – a big turnaround from a year ago when the fear was that shrinking company profits, rising bad loans and weak global demand at a time of stubbornly high inflation would all add up to a “hard-landing” for the world’s second largest economy. The consensus opinion among economists now is that the worst is over and growth bottomed in the third quarter that ended in September.

Money has come back to the market too. Nine straight weeks of inflows have seen $3.2 billion pumped into China equity funds, according to EPFR, in the lead up to the 18th Party Congress where China’s new leadership was unveiled.  Hong Kong, still the main gateway for foreign investors into China, has seen optimism over China combined with the U.S. Fed’s third round of asset purchases lead to strong capital flows into the market. The territory’s monetary authority was forced to repeatedly intervene to defend the HK$’s peg against the US$ last month while the Chinese yuan is hitting fresh record highs.

The risk from China’s shadow banks

Many blame America’s shadow banking system, where dangers lurked away from the scrutiny of complacent regulators, for the massive financial crisis of 2008-2009. Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said in a speech on Thursday that he is now worried about the risks to China from its own version of the shadow banks.

During the recent credit boom fueled by the 4-trillion-yuan fiscal stimulus, off-balance-sheet lending by banks and private loans by nonbanks exploded. This shadow-banking lending activity accounted for an estimated 20 percent of China’s total loans in 2011. With the cooling of the real estate market and with slower economic growth likely in the near term, a large share of these loans could turn bad. And because these loans took place outside the view of regulators, the effect of a sudden disruption in repayment is virtually impossible to predict.

Fisher was highlighting this concern to suggest that, while China’s efforts to reform its currency system are welcome, the authorities must be careful not to open the country up to volatile capital flows at a time when the world financial system is already very fragile:

Manifest currency? U.S. dollar’s global dominance not set in stone

Incumbency, it is often said, confers many advantages.

Sitting U.S. presidents certainly have reaped its benefits – in the past 80 years, only three have been unseated.

Most economists believe the same benefits apply to reserve currencies. Yes, the U.S. dollar may one day be supplanted as the leading international currency, the thinking goes, but that day is many decades away.

Then again, maybe not.

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that looks more closely at the dollar’s own rise to the top in the 20th century suggests, among other things, that “the advantages of incumbency are not all they are cracked up to be.”

Is U.S. economic patriotism hurting?

Any Americans believing that their country is being bought up by the Chinese might want to pay heed to a new report from the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment. It says that China is a minimal player in terms of foreign direct investment in the United States and that Washington should in fact be doing a lot  more to get it to gear up its buying.

To start with, look at the magic number.  In 2010, the last year for which numbers are available, only 0.25 percent of FDI into the Untied States came from China.  Switzerland, Britain,  Japan, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands,  Canada were all far bigger. In the U.S. Department of Commerce’s report on the year, China, numbers were so small they were lumped into a category simply called  ”others”.

This is not enough, the Vale Columbia report says. Given China’s burgeoning economic role across the globe, America can benefit from a lot: