Monday, December 10, 2007
"Slow down. You move too fast."
- Simon and Garfunkel, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
Friday was the quietest payroll day that Macro Man can remember. Perhaps it was the lack of weakness in the figure, perhaps it was the looming decision from the Federal Reserve, perhaps it was the need to get on with Christmas shopping, or perhaps it was the hangovers. Whatever the cause, the market just didn't seem to care, as action was pretty lackluster in all markets last Friday.
This environment, of course, lends itself to contemplation of longer-term issues and/or specific themes. So, too, seems to be the case in Beijing, where the economic mandarins appear to be catching up on all the 60's Western music that was verboten during the Cultural Revolution. In particular, the folk stylings of Simon and Garfunkel appear to have caught on, with the 59th Street Bridge Song currently topping the charts.
Last week, the Central Economic Work Conference announced that it intends to shift the monetary policy setting to "tight" in an effort to rein in economic overheating and inflation. That presumably means that they don't believe that the rise in CPI inflation is merely down to temporary microeconomic factors, after all.
In any event, the first shot of the tightening campaign was fired over the weekend, when PBOC raised the reserve requirement ratio by a full 1% to 14.5% This was the first 100 bp rise in the RRR since 2004, the last period of intentional policy tightening in China. The move is probably not as bold as it appears; December traditionally sees a disproportionate amount of fiscal spending from central and local governments, which draws down their central bank deposit balances and puts liquidity into the system.
Nevertheless, it is probably still worthwhile paying attention to the authorities' preferences. The clampdown on new lending in Q4 has apparently been severe, and the authorities did manage to slow growth the last time they tried to, in 2004.
If we step into the "way-back machine", we can see that China's policy clampdown did appear to have significant market consequences. The most obvious starting point is base metals, given that China accounts for 40-50% of world demand for metals like copper and zinc. Looking at the Journal of Commerce industrial metals index, we can see that it basically went nowhere for more than one and a half years after the last policy tightening. One could argue that we've been in a range for the last nine months; nevertheless, if history were to repeat itself, we have another few quarters in store of sideways trade in metals .
To a degree, however, that's already in the price. Copper has fallen precipitously since early October, and at this point it looks like a poor place to layer fresh shorts. Perhaps it is worth selling, however, in the 330-340 region, which would represent a reasonable retracment of the peak-to-trough move.