Renewed Threat of Trade War Makes Investors Angry

In response to the resignation of one of the few “globalist”
advisers in the US Administration, the resignation Cohn has sent ripples
through the capital markets. 
Stocks have been marked down across the
world. The prospects of a trade war are also not good for growth and it may be
adding to the pressure on yields.  

Cohn’s resignation has two immediate consequences.  As Cohn goes
so does the last-ditch effort of forces within the Administration seeking to
deter the tariffs.  Treasury Secretary Mnuchin seems more supportive,
though probably would have preferred a more targeted approach.  The
industry summit Cohn was trying to arrange has been canceled.  That means
that Congress is the next potential check on the unilateral trade power of the
executive, which has largely been transferred from the legislative

Second, and we suspect that investors are also responding to the
implications for future trade policy.  It means that the Ross and Navarro
wing will set the tone. 
This signals a more confrontational and
aggressive trade policy The US reports the January trade balance today and it
provides grist for their mill.  The US is expected to report a $55 bln
trade shortfall.  The January 2017 deficit was $48.7 bln and in 2016 is
was $43.4 bln.  This illustrates the broad deterioration, even though we
know that there has been dramatic improvement in the energy trade
balance.   Floating exchange rates and free-trade, they argue, should
not result in the US have a significant and chronic trade deficit, unless 1)
exchange rates are not really floating and/or 2) trade is not fair.  

However, the response to the US actions arguably are the key to whether
it turns into tit-for-tat spiral. 
This is surely one scenario, but is
the most likely?  First, we think about precedent. What was the response
to Bush’s 30% tariff on steel.  There were more exemptions then, including
Canada and Mexico, and there was some protective action so that the sales were
not simply deflected to a third party (e.g., Europe), and there were some
symbolic gestures, and ultimately WTO challenges. 

Second, we think through the strategic values. By some measures, many
high income and developing countries manage their trade and economies more than
the US.  However, there is a general acceptance of the multilateral
free-trading system, and nearly all countries are members of the WTO.  If
the multilateral system is being challenged, it is incumbent on the other
members to reinforce it.  In this case, it means there may be some
symbolic action, like on whiskey from Kentucky, but the best course is to
challenge at the WTO.   Some fear that if the case were to be decided
against the US (may not for a year or more), the current administration would
leave the WTO.  It is possible, but unlikely.  It would likely
require Congressional approval, which would not be forthcoming. 

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index fell almost 0.6%, while the Dow Jones Stoxx
600 is off only 0.2% in Europe.
  The S&P 500 is off a little more
than 0.5%.  The yield on ten-year benchmark yields are off mostly 2-4
bp.  Of note, despite jitters at the start of the week, and not much more
insight into what the next government will look like, Italian assets are not
underperforming.  The 10-year yield is off three basis points today and is
now slightly lower since the election.  The FTSE/Milan is flat today and
is the only major European bourse still higher on the year.  

There have been two economic reports to note today.  Australia’s
Q4 growth a little slower than expected and China reported a drop in its
reserves.  Recent data warned that softer capex and weaker net exports was
a drag on Australia’s growth at the end of last year.  Today’s Australia
reported quarterly growth of 0.4% after a revised 0.7% pace in Q3 (initially
0.6%). The year-over-year pace slowed to 2.4% from 2.9%.  The Reserve Bank
of Australia is expected to be on hold for most of the year, if not into the

China reported a larger than expected $27 bln draw down in the value of
its reserves in February.
The last time China’s reserves fell was in
January 2017.  We suspect that while there were likely private capital
outflows, the main drivers are innocuous, like distortions, including in trade,
of the Lunar New Year, and there may have been some impact from valuation. 
The euro, likely the second largest currency in the PBOC reserves fell
1.8%.  If 20% of China’s reserves are in euro-denominated assets, the
euro’s decline alone would explain an $11 bln fall in China’s reserves. 
Of course, China’s reserves are held in some financial instruments. 
Yields rose in February. Lower bond prices could also impact

Today’s North American session features the Bank of Canada meeting. 
The Bank of Canada is widely expected stand fast after hiking rates at the
start of the year.  The probability of a rate cut has been trimmed but it
is near 40% for April and more than 50% by May.   Although Canada’s
largest trading partner is enjoying above trend growth, and is providing
additional fiscal support, the positive impulses are offset by the
protectionist actions, steel, aluminum, and risks that NAFTA dissolves. The
Canadian dollar has depreciated by nearly 5.5% on a trade-weighted basis since
the end of January.   Earlier in the week, we recommended looking
Canada to soon outperform Mexico.  A potentially important upside reversal
(for Canada) appears to have taken place yesterday.  

In addition to trade figures, the ADP private sector jobs estimate will
be published. 
The market expects around a 200k increase after 234k in
January.  The Beige Book is out late in the session as is January consumer
credit.  Neither is typically a market-mover.  The Fed’s Bostic and
Dudley speak early in the session.   

There is a large $1.7 bln option struck at JPY105.50 that expires in NY
Between $1.3875 and $1.3900, there are about GBP800 mln in
options that will also be cut today.  There is also a large option in the
New Zealand dollar (NZD760 mln) struck at $0.7300 that expires.  The euro,
yen, and Swiss franc are firm.  Large external surpluses in Sweden and
Norway have not protected the Scandis, which are the weakest majors after the
Canadian dollar. 


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