Did somebody say “Decouple”?

Key News

Key Reports (WSJ):
8:30 a.m. Initial Jobless Claims For Apr 11 Week: Expected: +6K. Previous: -20K.
8:30 a.m. Mar Housing Starts: Expected: -7.4%. Previous: +22.2%.
10:00 a.m. Apr Philadelphia Fed Business Index: Expected: -32.3. Previous: -35.
10:00 a.m. DJ-BTMU Business Barometer For Apr 4: Previous: -0.4%.

Quotable

"Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing."

                              Robert Benchley

FX Trading – Did somebody say “Decouple”?
As the first headline above reveals, China grew at 6.1% in the first quarter. That number is slightly below expectations and it’s lower than Q4 2008 (6.8%). At first glance you’d think this would be a disappointment. But the perhaps the economic world isn’t yet ready to give up on China.

The mere six or so hours of coverage and commentary given to this data point has veered away from the GDP figure and gone mostly to pumping up the potential for recovery, citing Chinese government’s stimulus efforts as already prodding the country towards recovery.

Ok, I guess we can’t blame analyst for looking into the future – that’s what people want; we want to know what’s going to happen. But while all the talk sounds good, will things actually play out the way we’re told they might?

Briefly, stock markets in Asia did not fret. The benchmarks finished higher in today’s session. European stocks remained bid following the news on Chinese GDP. Perhaps US stocks will sing a different tune, but it’s looking like this news has been a huge hit to risk-appetite just yet.

That is, of course, if you don’t count the body slam delivered to major currencies overnight and this morning. The moves have not been monstrous, but they’ve been large enough to erase yesterday’s rally. This near-term dollar strength doesn’t exactly jive with persistent risk appetite.

The euro again finds itself fighting to stay above key daily support:

Are currencies leading the way for a sentiment shift? Or are they just overreacting to headlines?

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Guess it depends on whether you think China will stabilize and press higher from 6.1% Q1 GDP. Many seem to think so. And even with the crappy export picture now being considered by all parties (China bulls and bears alike), the initiatives taken by China’s government and the steps taken by the private sector are clung to as positive signs.

  • We learned that recently reported lending numbers showed a notable uptick.
  • We learned that industrial production increased.
  • We learned that vehicle sales rose sharply in March.

Beyond these most recent items, we also continue to be told that China is putting emphasis on its domestic economy, that they’re doing things to shore up confidence and create consumer demand. That’s all well and good because it reflects the fact that people are beginning to understand the reason for imbalances and why China, an economic juggernaut not long ago, has seen blistering growth reduced to the equivalent of a snail’s pace.

Sure, this recognition is somewhat reassuring. But if this optimism is actually only Chinese officials and spokesmen blowing smoke up our “you-know-whats”, then there should be cause for concern. Not long ago we were told 8% was the magic number; this is the level of growth to which China could comfortably slow without igniting cause for social unrest.  

The US and Europe aren’t exactly on the upswing just yet. That means all of China’s newly recognized efforts will need to compensate for their regrettable export situation until global demand returns (if it returns with any resemblance to the global demand circa 2005 and 2006). Shoring up consumer confidence is a daunting task – one to which China has become accustomed.

But if their hope and goal is to decouple with global demand (US et al), then they’re going to need to hold back the restless for a good while and make sure they don’t catch a whiff of what’s cooking in Thailand.

It’s crunch-time for the US dollar; a break from this narrowing range is likely to be meaningful when it finally happens.