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Powell’s 2-day Testimony Lifts USD Higher Overall

China’s MayKey Growth Data Disappointment Weighs on CNY

Contributed by Jeff Cheah, Strategic Sales Manager

Bias for Sporadic USD Upticks this Week | skip to SGD/CNY

Last week, we saw USD traded cautiously at the start of the week in anticipation of Fed's chair, Powell's, testimony. Post-Powell testimony, first on Wednesday, which he testified before the House Financial Services Committee, the USD traded softer, before rebounding on Day 2 of Powell’s testimony before the Senate Banking Committee.

Regarding the Fed's decision two weeks ago, Powell once again refuted the view that this was described as a "pause". "We didn't use that word, and I wouldn't use it here today. The SEP, released last week, included the prospect of two more rate hikes by the end of the year. This is a good guess (for policy) assuming the economy performs as expected."

Powell reiterated his determination to achieve the price target. “We remain committed to bringing inflation down to 2 percent and keeping long-term inflation expectations stable. Restoring price stability is critical to laying the groundwork for maximum employment and long-term stable prices.”

He added that inflation has cooled, but there is still more work to be done. "Inflation has moderated since the middle of last year, although pressures remain high and the process of bringing inflation down to 2 percent is a long way off."

After hitting a near 40-year high in July last year, U.S. inflation has begun to retreat. The latest data show that as the Fed's favorite price indicator, the core consumer expenditure price index PCE excluding food and energy fell to 4.4% y/y in April, the lowest in nearly two years.

Powell further talked about the main drivers of recent inflation. Housing supply and demand are getting back on track. As rent increases cool down, housing inflation is expected to decline significantly. But, the services sector has been much less responsive to rising interest rates and the cost of capital.

The Fed chair remained cautious about when to decide on the next rate hike. He said the Fed would evaluate the data it receives and make decisions meeting-by-meeting rather than along a pre-set route. It is still difficult to determine what interest rate level will help the Fed achieve the dual goals of full employment and price stability.

Powell said that although the US labor market remains tight, there are already signs that supply and demand conditions are loosening, such as increased labor force participation in the 25 to 54 age group and slower wage growth. However, the number of vacancies still far exceeds the available workforce. “We have been seeing the impact of policy tightening on demand in the most rate-sensitive parts of the economy. The full effects of monetary tightening will take time to materialize, especially on inflation.”

At this juncture, we opine that the risk for the USD is still swing to the upside. We flagged this risk in last week’s market insights. We believe investors should stay nimble for this week as a slew of US economic data releases like the Chicago Board (CB) Consumer Confidence, Unemployment Claims, Core PCE Price Index (m/m), Personal Spending (m/m) will provide further cues on the state of US economy. Sporadic upticks in the USD should not be a surprise.

Limited CNY Upside due to US-China Policy Divergence

Moving on to China, China's economy is currently facing three main pressures. To begin with, the first stage of post-COVID pandemic recovery has come to an end, and economic activities have peaked and started to decline. Aside from that, sluggish external demand persists, and lastly, lackluster domestic employment numbers, and local debt and other structural problems are prominent.

From now to the third quarter, the Chinese economy is likely to be at the bottoming stage. With the strengthening of counter-cyclical policies, the endogenous momentum of the economy may pick up again in the fourth quarter.

From January to May, China’s property investment fell by 7.2% y/y, an increase of 1.0 percentage points from January to April and expanded for three consecutive months. We believe that China’s property investment has always been in a downturn and can be attributed to two reasons. On the one hand, it is because the sales recovery is not strong enough. The virtuous cycle of "sales collection - land acquisition - construction - delivery - sales collection" is not smooth, and the balance sheets of real estate companies have not been fully repaired, while liquidity is still tight. To put it in layman terms, the sales collection rate refers to the ratio of the actual sales payment received by the enterprise to the total sales revenue. It is used to measure the operating ability of enterprises.

In the broader context of declining population growth and the Chinese government narrative that "houses are for living in, not for speculation", real estate companies are thereby cautious about their future expectations, weakening their willingness to acquire land.

On the other hand, from the perspective of land transaction data, geographical differentiation is obvious. Land transactions in Tier-1 cities are booming, but transactions in Tier 3-4 cities are still in the cold. Considering that lower tier cities account for a higher proportion of property investment, the decline in the growth rate of property investment is largely dragged down by lower tier cities, signifying the absence of broad-based recovery.

We also observed a decline in manufacturing investment. From January to May, manufacturing investment increased by 6.0% y/y, a drop of 0.4 percentage points from the previous four months, and the growth rate has continued to decline since October last year. Manufacturing companies are facing many challenges this year. On the one hand, the "scar effect" of the pandemic has led to a decline in the consumption of durable goods. In addition, the contraction in overseas demand has led to a decline in exports, and the source of corporate orders is insufficient. On the other hand, the capacity utilization rate of industrial enterprises is at a low level, and there is little need for enterprises to expand production and invest. In addition, weak corporate profitability affects corporate capital expenditures.

We believe that the demand-side factors that supported manufacturing investment in the early stage have gradually faded. The recovery of investment is expected to wait until at least the next year or two. The potential drivers are the recovery of global demand for manufactured goods, the recovery of profits of manufacturing companies, and policy drivers such as technological autonomy.

From January to May, infrastructure investment increased by 7.5% y/y, a decrease of 1.0 percentage points from the previous four months. Although the growth rate of infrastructure investment is still maintained at a relatively high level, it is worth noting that the growth rate has continued to decline since the beginning of the year.The high growth rate of infrastructure investment is mainly due to the rapid issuance of new special bonds. However, after the centralized issuance of special bonds in the first half of the year, if the income from land sales is still relatively weak in the third quarter and the issuance of special bonds comes to an end, funding for infrastructure may be under pressure.

Retail sales also slowed in May, increasing 12.7% y/y. Merchandise retail sales increased by 10.5% y/y, and the growth rate was 5.4 percentage points lower than that in April. Among major commodities, from January to May, the two fastest-growing categories of commodities were (1) gold and silver jewelry (2) clothing, shoes and hats, and knitted textiles, with y/y growth of 19.5% and 14.1% respectively. The lowest growth rate were (1) construction (2) decoration materials supplies, which decreased by 6.6% and 2.0% respectively compared with the previous year.

Currently, there is a phenomenon of "consumption stratification". On the one hand, the sales volume of luxury goods is outstanding, and on the other hand, low-priced and low-end consumption is popular. There seems to be a "gap" between the two. Compared with targeted stimulus in some fields such as automobiles, the top priority should be to consolidate the income base of low- and middle-income groups as soon as possible, so that they are not only willing to consume, but also more able to consume.

In the short term, in addition to the issuance of consumer coupons or subsidies to promote consumption, it is necessary to guide the real estate industry to achieve a soft landing as soon as possible, which can not only directly promote housing-related consumption, but also help boost residents' consumption confidence.

As we have opined in our previous market insights, the inversion of the China-U.S. interest rate spread (the difference between the 10-year China-U.S. bond yield) is likely drag on the RMB. For the RMB to show upside bias, other factors like prominent green shoots in economic data, the USD to fade further in strength, Fed to stop hawkish stance on rate hikes, and more apparent shifts in risk-on sentiments comes to play. Ongoing market sentiments towards China’s stimulus - like too late, too little, right solution to the wrong problem – are not aiding to recovery sentiments, if there is any. At the interim, we see the support of the SGD/CNY at 5.3184.

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