“One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by” – Jeanette Walls, American author and journalist
“The best of us must sometimes eat our words.” – J. K. Rowling
“Increasingly, the Chinese will own a lot more of the world because they will be converting their dollar reserves and U.S. government bonds into real assets.” – George Soros
We have a mixed bag here for you this week folks with commentary on:
- The strength in the US dollar
- China’s response to Trump’s latest threats to escalate the trade war
- Germany’s energy needs placing it between a rock and a hard place
Continued strength in the US dollar
A number of you have messaged us about the recent strength in the US dollar and our take on it. For the benefit of all readers, we briefly wanted to touch upon where we stand after the latest move higher by the greenback.
Back in March – Currency Markets: “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube” – we wrote:
The major central banks of the world are now in a competitive game. While markets may enter an interim phase where the Fed’s hawkish posturing leads to a strengthening dollar, this phase, in our opinion, is likely to be short-lived.
The line in the sand beyond which we would consider our view to be invalidated is a sustained move above 96 on the US dollar index.
At the time we wrote the above, we were unaware of how or why the 96 level was going to prove to be a significant level for the US dollar. However, we felt that psychologically it was a critical level for market participants. The dramatic plunge in the Turkish lira today, the sentiment being displayed across key media outlets and the general tone on Twitter all seem to validate that around 96 on the DXY is indeed an important level.
For now all we would add is that we are in wait and see mode. If the US dollar continues to move higher or remains above the 96 for a prolonged period (6 to 8 weeks), we would have to accept that our bearish view on the US dollar was wrong. If, however, the greenback fails to sustain above 96 we would likely look to put on carry trades in emerging market currencies and go long the euro and Japanese yen.
Until we have more clarity we will remain on the side lines.
China’s Line in the Sand
Last week, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) imposed a reserve requirement of 20 per cent on some trading of foreign-exchange forward contracts, effectively increasing the cost of shorting the Chinese yuan. The move has offset some of the pressure from President Trump’s threats to further escalate the trade war and has brought stability to the currency.
Official statements indicate that the PBoC made the move to reduce both “macro financial risks” and the volatility in foreign exchange markets. To us the move by the PBoC, however, suggests that China is not yet ready to trigger a sharp devaluation of its currency in the trade war with the US.
What is more confounding, however, is figuring out what China can do to respond to the threats of further escalation of the trade war by the Trump Administration. Initially China tried to appease Mr Trump by:
- Lavishly hosting him in China;
- Offering to increase imports from the US to reduce its trade surplus;
- Proposing to gradually opening its local markets to US corporations; and even
- Engaging in commercial dealings in favours of Mr Trump’s family;
Failing at that, China has tried to respond by:
- Proportionally matching the tariffs imposed on it by the US;
- Blocking Broadcom’s acquisition of NXP Semiconductors;
- Causing supply chain delays for US goods entering China; and
- Publicly criticising Apple through its state-controlled news agencies;
However, China’s retaliatory efforts have not swayed Mr Trump either.
The problem, as we described in Trade Wars: Lessons from History, is one of creed:
President Trump and his band of trade warriors are hell-bent on stopping the Chinese from moving up the manufacturing value chain.
Alexander Hamilton understood that America’s long-term stability hinged upon its transition from an agrarian to industrial society, the Chinese leadership deeply appreciates the need to transition its economy from being the toll manufacturer of global industry to playing a leading role in the high-tech industries of tomorrow.
The only way we see the Trump Administration relenting in its push to corner the Chinese is if Trump the “dealmaker” takes control of proceedings. That is, in his desire to make a deal and claim victory, President Trump tells his band of trade warriors and security hawks to take a backseat and instead strikes a deal with China that involves a combination of China buying more from the US and opening up its markets to more foreign ownership (something we suspect China wants to do any way, but on its own terms).
Germany: Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place
President Trump began his visit to the annual summit of NATO allies in June this year by breaking from diplomatic protocol and verbally attacking Germany:
“We’re supposed to protect you from Russia, but Germany is making pipeline deals with Russia. You tell me if that’s appropriate. Explain that.”
In May 2011 Germany decided to abandon nuclear power in favour of greener sources of energy such as wind and solar. Nuclear power accounted for almost a fifth of Germany’s national electricity supply at the time Chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans to mothball the country’s 17 nuclear power stations by 2022 following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.
Germany, however, failed in its attempt at adequately fulfilling a greater proportion of its energy needs through alternative sources of renewable energy. And the direct consequence of Chancellor Merkel’s decision to drop nuclear power has been that Germany has become increasingly dependent on Russia’s plentiful natural gas supplies.
Germany has a difficult decision to make. Does it choose to maintain its geopolitical alliance with the US and abstain from Russian gas or does it choose cheap gas and re-align itself geopolitically?
“Yes, in future we Europeans will have to look out for ourselves more. We’re working on it. The European Union has to finally get itself ready for a common foreign policy. The principle of unanimity in line with which the European Union makes its foreign policy decisions renders us incapable of taking action on many issues. We’re in the process of transforming the European Union into a genuine security and defence union. We remain convinced that we need more and not less Europe at this time.”
Russia is under US sanctions. China is under pressure from the US. And now Germany – in no small part due to its massive trade surplus with the US – finds itself in the cross-hairs.
What if Russia, China and Germany were to form an economic, and dare we ask political, alliance? Something that would have seemed far-fetched less than a year ago, does not seem to sound so crazy anymore.
This post should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation to purchase any particular security, strategy or investment product. References to specific securities and issuers are not intended to be, and should not be interpreted as, recommendations to purchase or sell such securities. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.