Chinese Stocks Plunge, Asia At 4 Year Lows But PBOC Currency Intervention Pushes US Futures Higher

Once again, China was faced with the unpleasant task of deciding which asset class to intervene in: its plunging stock market, or its currency. It chose the latter, and as a result after a turbulent start the Shanghai Composite sank by 5.3% to close just above 3000 and down 15% in just the past 11 days, suggesting that the PBOC is increasingly seeing the CNY1.8 trillion (at least) spent to stabilize stocks as a sunk cost.

This also means that Chinese authorities are in a difficult situation as any rate cut to boost equities would intensify speculation on yuan depreciation, according to Mizuho Bank Asian FX strategist Ken Cheung. PBOC appears to be "stepping up its fire" on FX front, Cheung writes in note saying may have temporarily abandoned CNY fixing mechanism by setting currency stronger than previous close two days in row. He also noted that the aggressive intervention in offshore market may be the reason for the draining in CNH liquidity, which in turn also sent Hong Kong's HIBOR soaring by nearly 10% to a record 13.4% overnight.

Incidentally, this is how Bloomberg explained this unprecedented surge and the most dramatic event in the overnight session: Interbank yuan lending rates in Hong Kong climbed to records across the board and the exchange rate surged the most in four months after suspected intervention by China’s central bank last week mopped up supplies of the yuan in the offshore market.

The city’s benchmark rates for loans ranging from one day to a year all set new highs, with the overnight and one-week surging by the most since the Treasury Markets Association started compiling the fixings in June 2013. The overnight Hong Kong Interbank Offered Rate surged 939 basis points to 13.4 percent on Monday, while the one-week rate jumped 417 basis points to 11.23 percent. The previous highs were 9.45 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively.

 

“Yuan liquidity is extremely tight in Hong Kong,” said Becky Liu, senior rates strategist at Standard Chartered Plc in the city. “There was some suspected intervention by the People’s Bank of China last week, and the liquidity impact is starting to show today.”

 

The offshore yuan rebounded from a five-year low last week amid speculation the central bank bought the currency, an action that drains funds from the money market. Measures restricting overseas lenders’ access to onshore liquidity -- which make it more expensive to short the yuan in the city -- have also curbed supply.

So less stock market intervention, and more FX intervention to stabilize capital outflows... the only problem is that a structural liquidity shortage is now materializing, and any additional interventions by the PBOC may lead to "unexpected consequences" within the Hong Kong banking system which could quickly spread from there to the rest of the world. Who could have possibly anticipated that pervasive, global central planning leads to unwelcome aftereffects?

Initially both European stocks and US equity futures were grateful that China has picked at least one asset class to prop up overnight, and rose in an extremely illiquid market with European shares gaining for first time in 4 days, as S&P futures rise even as the MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index just fell to the lowest level in more than 4 years and oil extended its slide from 11-year low as both Morgan Stanley and Bank of America joined the "oil could drop to $20" club (more on that later).

However, as of moments ago the Stoxx 600 had faded all its earlier gains and was trading near the flatline, as an algo takes out all stops on the top and bottom once more, and looks set to move on to US futures shortly.

Here is where global markets stand currently:

  • S&P 500 futures up 0.5% to 1922
  • Stoxx 600 unchanged at 342
  • MSCI Asia Pacific down 1% to 123
  • US 10-yr yield up 3bps to 2.15%
  • Dollar Index up 0.02% to 98.56
  • WTI Crude futures down 1.5% to $32.65
  • Brent Futures down 1.4% to $33.07
  • Gold spot down 0.3% to $1,101
  • Silver spot up 0.4% to $13.99

Looking at regional markets, Asian stocks began the week lower following Friday's lacklustre close on Wall St., which saw S&P 500 and DJIA post their worst weekly start to the year on record, while a 46th consecutive monthly decline in Chinese PPI added to the negative tone and saw Chinese stock indices underperform. Weakness in the Shanghai Comp. (-5.2%) also followed comments from Chinese Premier Li who vowed no further strong stimulus to support demand, while losses in crude continued to prod 12-yr lows and saw the energy sector drag the Hang Seng (-2.4%) index lower. ASX 200 (-1.30%) was dampened by commodity related weakness, while markets in Japan were closed due to Coming of Age public holiday.

Top Asian News:

  • Thermo Fisher Agrees to Acquire Affymetrix for $1.3b: $14-a- share price represents 52% premium to Friday’s close
  • Suncor Extends Canadian Oil Sands Bid as Investors Said to Block: Less than two-thirds of shareholders tendered shares
  • Yuan Loan Rates Soar in Hong Kong as PBOC Halts Currency’s Slide: Central bank currency fixing little changed for 2nd day
  • Illumina Starts Cancer Blood Test Firm With Bezos, Gates Backing: Startup aims for pan-cancer diagnostic on market by 2019
  • Sycamore Said to Approach Bon-Ton to Combine With Belk, WSJ Says: Cos. didn’t immediately respond to WSJ’s requests for comment
  • JPMorgan, HSBC Seen Among Banks Likely to Win Aramco IPO: Banks have presence in the kingdom that goes back decades
  • Kohl’s Said to Consider Taking Itself Private, WSJ Says: Discussions are preliminary; directors may opt not to explore such a strategy
  • Wall Street’s Big Ax Seen Reaping Best Yr-End Profit Since 2006: Analysts estimate 4Q costs lowest in 7 years
  • Arch Coal Files for Bankruptcy, Reaches $4.5 Billion Debt Deal: To continue operations, deliveries to customers
  • Yahoo Has Lost a Third of Its Employees in Last Year, NYT Says: Headcount at 11,000 as hiring offset some of departures
  • Performance Sports Ex-Chairman Says Takeover, Proxy Possible: Performance Sports Ex-Chairman Graeme Roustan sent letter to board asking co. to replace CEO Kevin Davis
  • Alcoa Gets $1.5b Supply Contract From GE Aviation Unit, WSJ Says: Parts to be made in 6 U.S. states, France and Canada
  • First Data SpendTrend Says Retail Holiday Sales Grew 3.3% in 2015: 20.2% of all holiday shopping now done online
  • Musk Sees Self-Driving Car From L.A. to New York in 2 Years: Introduces software for self-parking
  • Ford Said to Consider Separate Unit for Self-Driving Cars, WSJ Says: Unit will be dedicated to autonomous cars for use in ride-sharing and fleets
  • DiCaprio’s ‘Revenant’ Tops ‘Star Wars’ on First Wide Release: Fox’s frontier adventure brings in $14.4m domestically
  • Sean Penn Under Investigation for ‘El Chapo’ Interview, ABC Says: Actor under investigation for Rolling Stone magazine interview with drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman

In European,  equities have for now shrugged off the softness seen overnight in China to trade in positive territory after last week's rocky start to the year (Euro Stoxx: +0.6%). Today sees the financial sector lead the way higher, while Volkswagen are among the best performing stocks after reports that European sanctions against the company are unlikely to be as stringent as in the US. Separately Anglo American opened lower to reach an 80% fall on the year before paring their losses on the day to reside up 2.0%.

In line with the upside seen in equities, fixed incomes markets have seen modest softness so far today with Bund Mar'16 futures residing below the 159.50 level , with EGBs steady so far today ahead of up to EUR 23b1n of supply this week, not including syndications which could include possible lOy Belgian and Portuguese deals.

Top European News:

  • VW Chief Apologizes for Deception on Trip to ‘Core Market’ U.S.: CEO Mueller says co. is ’committed to making things right’
  • Electrolux CEO McLoughlin Retires After Collapse of GE Deal: CEO Replaced by Jonas Samuelson, EMEA major appliances head
  • UBS to Double China Staff as Ermotti Shrugs Off Volatile Markets: CEO plans bank’s biggest push in China

In FX, All the major moves in FX went through in Asia today, as China/stocks sent risk sentiment reeling once again. USD/JPY losses finally took out the key 117.00 level, basing out at 116.70, the lowest since August 24. However, after the initial carry trade unwind, the yen fell after climbing every day last week as an eight-day run of reductions to the yuan’s reference rate through Thursday sent shock waves through financial markets. The euro also declined Monday after China’s central bank kept the currency’s daily fixing stable for the second day in a row.

Alongside this, the AUD dropped to 0.6924 vs the USD, and a little under 81.00 vs JPY, but all higher since as London liquidity came to the rescue. Further losses in GBP, with few signs of this ending soon. Oil holding pre $32.0 lows last week (both WTI and Brent) but CAD lows stretched to 1.4187 from 1.4170 last week. In EM, ZAR gapped to 17.995 as EM took a fresh hit, but this has dropped right back into the mid 16.0's. New MXN low at 17.9905.

“There was a lot of people rushing around putting new positions on last week, so maybe the initial reaction has been done,” said Jane Foley, a foreign-exchange strategist at Rabobank International in London. “The yen is still very firm compared to where it was and euro-dollar will find it hard to push much lower when there is still this risk aversion. We’ve got another volatile year ahead.”

Commodities saw LME copper for three month delivery continue its downward trend with prices declining to the lowest levels for six and a half years, while Dalian iron ore futures fell to 2-week lows as weak demand concerns and expectations of further reductions in steel production weighed . Nickel leads the declines in base metals with LME Nickel falling to USD 8,340, a decrease of over USD 150 on Fridays close. LME Lead was the cheapest since November at USD 1,604 and has also lost support as the ongoing tightness in spreads eased, its c-3s was a last at a contango of USD 5.00, with no backwardations on the forward curve.

WTI and Brent trade flat having fallen overnight amid a firmly risk off tone during the Asia-Pac session as China concerns remain at the forefront. Furthermore, the bearish sentiment in oil shows no signs in letting up, with analysts at Morgan Stanley now forecasting USD 20-25 per bbl Brent as a distinct possibility, citing USD strength.

It’s a relatively quiet start today with just the Euro area investor confidence reading in the European session and labour market conditions index print in the US. There’s plenty of Fedspeak for us to get through too with Lockhart and Kaplan both due to speak today while Lacker (Tuesday), Evans (Wednesday), Bullard (Thursday) and Dudley (Friday) will speak at various points also during the week. In case that wasn’t enough, Q4 earnings season has crept up on us with Alcoa unofficially kicking off today. We’ll also see JP Morgan and Intel report on Thursday along with Citigroup and Wells Fargo on Friday.

Bulletin Headline Summary from RanSquawk and Bloomberg

  • All the major moves in FX went through in Asia today, as China/stocks sent risk sentiment reeling once again with USD/JPY losses finally taking out the key 117.00 level, basing out at 116.70
  • Looking ahead, highlights include potential comments from Fed's Lockhart and Kaplan, while Alcoa kick off earnings season
  • Treasuries pare overnight declines as European stocks pare gains; rally last week that saw biggest decline in 2Y and 10Y yields since October.
  • China’s Cabinet has created a new department to coordinate financial and economic affairs, according to a person familiar with the matter, as the country’s leaders seek to restore investor confidence in the government’s regulation of markets
  • A deepening slowdown in China threatens to derail India’s economic growth, triggering financial market upheaval and a falling currency, Vishal Kampani, the nation’s top investment banker, said
  • As a new round of competitive devaluation looms, evidence is mounting that currency interventions are losing their potency
  • Mexico’s peso fell to a record as Cantor Fitzgerald criticized the nation’s efforts to strengthen the exchange rate as “mostly futile” while a study by Brazilian central bankers last week found “no evidence” that their intervention program was affecting currency volatility
  • Merkel’s open-door refugee policy has blown open with the revelation of the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults, feeding opposition to migrants and widening the risks the chancellor faces at the start of 2016
  • The number of women filing complaints has soared to more than 500 while an anti-immigration protest by Pegida was broken up by police
  • A.P. Moeller-Maersk, owner of the world’s biggest shipping line is being battered “by a toxic cocktail with challenges in both the oil and the container division,” Stig Frederiksen, an analyst at Nordea in Copenhagen, said by phone. But “it’s now become the oil price that’s the main driver for Maersk’s share”
  • Sovereign bond yields mostly higher. Asian stocks fall, European stocks mixed, equity-index futures higher. Crude oil and copper fall, gold little changed

US Event Calendar

  • Labor Market Conditions Index Change, Dec., est. 0 (prior 0.5)

Top Global News

  • Thermo Fisher Agrees to Acquire Affymetrix for $1.3b: $14-a- share price represents 52% premium to Friday’s close
  • Suncor Extends Canadian Oil Sands Bid as Investors Said to Block: Less than two-thirds of shareholders tendered shares
  • Yuan Loan Rates Soar in Hong Kong as PBOC Halts Currency’s Slide: Central bank currency fixing little changed for 2nd day
  • Illumina Starts Cancer Blood Test Firm With Bezos, Gates Backing: Startup aims for pan-cancer diagnostic on market by 2019
  • Sycamore Said to Approach Bon-Ton to Combine With Belk, WSJ Says: Cos. didn’t immediately respond to WSJ’s requests for comment
  • JPMorgan, HSBC Seen Among Banks Likely to Win Aramco IPO: Banks have presence in the kingdom that goes back decades
  • Kohl’s Said to Consider Taking Itself Private, WSJ Says: Discussions are preliminary; directors may opt not to explore such a strategy
  • Wall Street’s Big Ax Seen Reaping Best Yr-End Profit Since 2006: Analysts estimate 4Q costs lowest in 7 years
  • Arch Coal Files for Bankruptcy, Reaches $4.5 Billion Debt Deal: To continue operations, deliveries to customers
  • Yahoo Has Lost a Third of Its Employees in Last Year, NYT Says: Headcount at 11,000 as hiring offset some of departures
  • Performance Sports Ex-Chairman Says Takeover, Proxy Possible: Performance Sports Ex-Chairman Graeme Roustan sent letter to board asking co. to replace CEO Kevin Davis
  • Alcoa Gets $1.5b Supply Contract From GE Aviation Unit, WSJ Says: Parts to be made in 6 U.S. states, France and Canada
  • First Data SpendTrend Says Retail Holiday Sales Grew 3.3% in 2015: 20.2% of all holiday shopping now done online
  • Musk Sees Self-Driving Car From L.A. to New York in 2 Years: Introduces software for self-parking
  • Ford Said to Consider Separate Unit for Self-Driving Cars, WSJ Says: Unit will be dedicated to autonomous cars for use in ride-sharing and fleets
  • DiCaprio’s ‘Revenant’ Tops ‘Star Wars’ on First Wide Release: Fox’s frontier adventure brings in $14.4m domestically
  • Sean Penn Under Investigation for ‘El Chapo’ Interview, ABC Says: Actor under investigation for Rolling Stone magazine interview with drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman

DB's Jim Reid completes the overnight recap

Markets went downhill a lot quicker and even more chaotically than I did last week with the media focusing on it being the worst starting week on record for many markets. Just for reference here's a selection of the moves seen last week. In China we saw the Shanghai Comp, CSI 300 and Shenzhen tumble -9.97%, -9.90% and -14.30% respectively. As a result, the S&P 500 (-5.96%) was not only down the most on record for a first week but also had its worst week overall since September 2011. European markets were down a bit more (Stoxx 600 -6.69%, DAX -8.32%) while the MSCI EM index fell -6.82%. Oil was also down sharply with WTI falling -10.48% to the lowest close since February 2004. Copper, Iron Ore and Lead fell -4.68%, -3.31% and -9.59% respectively while Gold (+4.06%) was an exception on safe haven flows. Credit was under pressure also with the CDX HY spread finishing +52bps wider (although less than the big move wider in mid-December). Interestingly US HY energy spreads finished ‘just’ +30bps wider although are still hovering near those all time wides. Given the sharp falls across risk assets, the moves in the core sovereign bond markets were probably less than one might have expected. 10y US Treasury yields ended 15bps lower, while 10y Bunds were 11bps lower in yield.

The disarray has obviously been largely caused by China's currency policy, their sinking equity markets and fragile economy, their perceived heavy-handed intervention policy and their limited market communication skills. No-one quite understands what their desired endgame is but 8 successive weaker CNY fixes (up to last Thursday), albeit totaling 'only' a 1.36% depreciation, has created much suspicion that a larger devaluation is a growing possibility. The reality is that constant small devaluations are probably counterproductive as they achieve little economically and cause a negative feedback loop through market turmoil. So it's a delicate game the Chinese are playing and one that we're not privy to their tactics.

As things stand another sharp downturn for bourses in Asia this morning is setting up markets for yet another tough day ahead. Despite the CNY fix being set +0.02% stronger for the second consecutive session, helping to support modest gains for both the onshore and offshore currencies, the Shanghai Comp (-2.76%), CSI 300 (-2.49%) and Shenzhen (-3.93%) are all around the session lows. Those moves have taken other Asian bourses lower with the Hang Seng (-2.37%), Kospi (-0.86%) and ASX (-1.17%) all in the red (Japan is closed for a public holiday). US equity futures are also pointing to a weak start while the volatility has seen the Hong Kong Interbank lending rate rise by the most on record, with the overnight rate surging over 900bps to 13.4%.

Oil markets have tumbled over 2% too while EM currencies are leading the losses in FX with the moves seemingly a continuation of what we saw last week. In terms of data, there was inflation data out of China over the weekend. CPI for the month of December nudged up one-tenth to 1.6% yoy which was in line with market expectations, driven by rising food prices while non-food prices held steady. There was, however, more disappointment in the PPI print which stayed at -5.9% yoy (vs. -5.8% expected) to mark the 48th consecutive negative reading for prices at the factory gate.

Also of note from the weekend is the latest update from Spain with the news of the formation of a government in Catalonia. In an emergency session late last night and following the decision of former incumbent Artur Mas to stand aside, Carles Puigdemont (of Junts pel Si) was elected as the new President. Speaking after his appointment and in relation to the region’s quest for independence, Puigdemont said ‘though the candidate that presents it isn’t the same, the program is’. According to the WSJ, Puigdemont is said to be committed to achieving independence for Catalonia within 18 months. This of course raises the question of what the situation and reaction in Madrid will be, with much of the commentary suggesting that the formation of the government in Catalonia could help an acceleration of negotiations in Madrid and so the formation of a new national government. Clearly this will highlight the need for a uniformed coalition however.

The other main development from the last two days is closer to home in the UK where, in a BBC interview, PM Cameron said that he is hopefully of reaching a deal with his European counterparts and leaders next month on UK membership in the EU, raising the possibility of a summer referendum vote. Cameron highlighted that his personal preference for the UK is ‘staying in a reformed European Union’. Expect more and more headlines around this to emerge in the coming weeks and months.

Moving on. A better day for Chinese bourses on Friday with the rest of Asia also having a somewhat more calm session, initially lifted markets in Europe. A bumper payrolls number (292k vs. 200k expected; +50k of upward revision to prior two months) lifted markets further but the relief was very short lived as risk assets quickly turned on a dime in the afternoon session and continued to trade lower into the close. The end result was a -1.08% loss for the S&P 500, while the Dow and Nasdaq finished -1.02% and -0.98% respectively. The Stoxx 600 closed -1.49% lower also having traded as high as +0.9% in the minutes post the payrolls data. Credit markets followed suit as Crossover ended over 10bps wider while in the US CDX IG finished 2.5bps wider but was actually as much as 6bps wider off the early session tights. Oil markets were actually a little better behaved but WTI still managed to finish with a -0.33% loss to mark a lower closing price for each day last week.

While the strong payrolls print caught most by surprise, there was a bit more disappointment in the latest wage data after average hourly earnings (0.0% mom vs. +0.2% expected) missed to the downside last month, although favourable base effects lifted the YoY reading to +2.5%. The unemployment rate held steady at 5.0% as expected while the labour force participation rate crept up one-tenth to 62.6% (vs. 62.5% expected). Interestingly the odds of a March hike actually fell from just over 41% on Thursday to 40% by the close of Friday’s session. 10y Treasury yields touched 2.211% but then moved south in a hurry to close at 2.116% by the close of play and down 3bps on the day.

The rest of the data was a little disappointing on Friday. The November data for both wholesale inventories (-0.3% mom vs. -0.1% expected) and trade sales (-1.0% mom vs. 0.0% expected) missed to the downside and so much so that we saw the Atlanta Fed reduce their Q4 GDP forecast to 0.8% (from 1.0%). Later in the evening we then saw the latest consumer credit data rise at the slowest pace in ten months after printing at $14.0bn (vs. $18.0bn expected). European dataflow was generally focused on Germany where industrial production (-0.3% mom vs. +0.5% expected) came in softer than expected while export growth (+0.4% mom vs. +0.5% expected) was also a bit lower than hoped. Our German economics team highlighted that the data poses downside risks to their German Q4 GDP call of +0.3% qoq after the data added to weak hard indicators of late. Industrial production data was also soft in France on Friday (-0.9% mom vs. -0.3% expected), although the manufacturing production reading was a little better than expected (+0.4% mom vs. +0.1% expected).

Away from this there was some chatter from San Francisco Fed President Williams who suggested that the four rate hikes implied by the Fed dots for 2016 are not ‘baked in the cake’. That didn’t however stop Williams from playing up the latest employment data as well as the citing confidence around being on ‘the right track in terms of inflation’.