Analysis | Christmas comes early for markets as key risks get taken out

It started last Friday, with a blowout U.S. jobs report that beat all expectations. Then in quick succession late Thursday investors got news that the guns will be holstered in the U.S.-China trade war, and that Britain is lifting itself out of the quagmire of a hung parliament.

Suddenly, all the worries about a global recession, yet another wave of tariff hikes between the world’s two largest economies and a messy U.K. breakup with the European Union are fading from view.

In a reassuring sign for global markets, U.S. President Donald Trump signed off on a phase-one deal with China that averts the December 15 introduction of another wave of U.S. tariffs.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson cruised to a big majority, an election result that should guarantee passage of his Brexit deal with the EU.

“The good news just seems to keep coming for markets,” said Kerry Craig, a Melbourne-based global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. “Investors will be delighted to check their stockings and realize they won’t be receiving the lump of coal” they got last year, when global equities tumbled in the fourth quarter.

The ground is shifting for others, too. As recently as a month back, the Bank of Japan was seen by some as needing to head deeper into negative territory with its policy rate. But now, with the yen weakening past 109 per dollar and Japan’s government embracing a fiscal-stimulus package, things look different.

“We’re perhaps seeing the start of a strong yen decline – Trump’s tweet, the Brexit results have flipped the yen on its head,” said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics & strategy at Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore. “We could see haven demand wane into 2020. There might be even a last hurrah before the year-end as risk bulls get their way, and push the yen lower from here.”

How long the Christmas-time cheer will last remains a question. On three of the key risks, doubts remain. Brave is the analyst that predicts smooth sailing in the U.S.-China relationship ahead; no American presidential candidate is running on the “be nice to China” ticket. Johnson’s looming majority may guarantee the U.K. leaves the EU in January, but the two will still need to negotiate a trade deal, meaning the “hard Brexit” scenario could yet be on the horizon.

As for global recession risks, while the consensus is that growth will pick up in 2020 thanks to this year’s monetary easing and moves in a number of countries to embrace fiscal stimulus, that view isn’t universal. In Australia, an economy closely tied to demand for important inputs including coal and iron, asset managers even see the central bank adopting quantitative easing next year.

“I wish we had kept some of the good news for 2020,” Mark Matthews, head of research Asia at Bank Julius Baer & Co., said on Bloomberg TV. “What this is going to do is cause a really powerful rally into the year end, so what’s going to be left over to get priced in to 2020?”

For emerging markets, a newly solid Chinese yuan and a retreat in the dollar to the weakest since July offers encouragement. A weakening yuan that dragged developing nations’ currencies down with it had made dollar debt more expensive to service. The yuan Friday traded past the 7-per-dollar line that had briefly spooked markets earlier this year.

“It feels like all the bricks in the wall of worry are falling at once,” said Peter Atwater, president of Financial Insyghts. MDT/Bloomberg

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