London — A dive in the dollar catapulted the euro higher and flattened stocks on Thursday, as the first US-China trade talks since July and a report accusing the European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi of going rogue, jostled for attention.
Markets were bombarded from all sides by denials and counter-denials on both the US-China trade talks and the countdown to Brexit, by Turkey’s military push into Syria, and by a blizzard of weak data stretching from Japan to France.
Asia had enjoyed a broadly positive finish but European stocks then spent their opening spell dithering as the more serious action took place in the currency markets, where the euro suddenly popped to a two-week high above $1.10 against the dollar.
The dollar was weaker across the board — partly due to market chatter about a currency pact with China to stop devaluation — but there was plenty of other things, too.
The Financial Times reported that the ECB restarted its bond-buying programme last month, despite objections of its own officials, a further sign of how the move has re-opened divisions within the institution.
“The view on the currency story could be swinging here,” said Saxo Bank’s head of European currency strategy, John Hardy, “And the market is sensing that euro-dollar is the pressure point.”
Perhaps the main mover overnight was a rally in China’s offshore yuan, which strengthened to its best levels in more than two weeks after a Bloomberg report that said US and Chinese officials were reviving a currency pact first mooted earlier this year that stops further tariff hikes in return for commitments to hold the yuan stable.
As well as the ECB resistance to Draghi’s latest moves, Hardy said that could also have a read-across for the euro, with the US expected to lay out sanctions next week in retaliation for Europe’s past aid for plane maker Airbus.
US S&P 500 mini futures traded down 0.1%, with a large part of early losses cut after the New York Times reported that Washington would soon issue licences allowing some US firms to supply non-sensitive goods to China’s Huawei Technologies.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan gained 0.1% while Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.45%. Shanghai shares also rose 0.8%.
‘Dire’ trade situation
Top US and Chinese negotiators are scheduled to meet in Washington on Thursday and Friday to try to end a bruising 15-month-old trade war. Without significant progress, US President Donald Trump is set to hike the tariff rate on $250bn worth of Chinese goods to 30% from 25% on Tuesday October 15.
“Barring any surprise today, it looks like their talks are breaking down. The tariff [rate] will be hiked. The situation looks dire,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
China is unlikely to be willing to make an easy compromise with a US president who seems increasingly vulnerable to domestic political pressure as opposition Democrats seek to impeach him, analysts also said.
US Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden called for the impeachment of Trump for the first time in a deepening partisan fight over a congressional investigation of the Republican president.
“Mr Trump’s recent impeachment risk has turned the timetable against him,” Chi Lo, senior economist at BNP Paribas Asset in Hong Kong, wrote in a report to clients. “While China is not eager to reach a trade deal, Mr Trump is, however, under pressure to get at least a temporary deal done to help his re-election bid before his impeachment risk rises and the US economy weakens further.”
US treasuries yield slipped back after having risen to 1.594% on Wednesday, pressured partly by this week’s heavy bond supply. The 10-year treasuries yield dipped to one basis point to 1.577% although the ECB chatter helped push eurozone yields slightly higher.
The price of front-end Fed funds rate futures has been gained on increasing bets on more rate cuts by the US Federal Reserve. The November contract is almost fully pricing in a 0.25 percentage point cut on October 30.
In commodities, oil prices also dipped on wariness over US-China talks. Brent crude futures fell 0.15% to $58.23 a barrel while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude lost 0.11% to $52.53 a barrel.
Copper rose as much as 1.1% to $5,749 a tonne, however, after falling 0.3%. It looked set to be its best day in a month.