What we’re tracking on 15 August 2019
Screenshot this morning’s tldr: You are looking at what is perhaps the slowest news day Enterprise has ever encountered. Luckily — or rather unluckily, depending on which way you look at it — international events are giving us a lot to talk about.
We’re exactly one week away from the Central Bank of Egypt’s next Monetary Policy Committee meeting. Whether or not the MPC decides to move ahead with a rate cut remains unclear: Last month’s inflation readings could give the central bank some breathing room to cut rates, but macro conditions — including Argentina’s historic stock market crash earlier this week — could push the CBE to hold off on resuming its easing cycle until the storm has passed.
And if yesterday’s anything to go by, the CBE might be wise to hold fire: The bond markets sounded the alarm for an oncoming US recession yesterday as poor data out of Germany and China heightened fears of a global slowdown. Global financial markets closed in the red, as the dreaded inverted yield curve in US treasuries reared its ugly head. We cover yesterday’s events in detail in this morning’s Speed Round, below.
Concerned about the whole ‘negative yield’ situation everyone is talking about in the financial press? So is Neil Macdonald, writing in Canada’s CBC. Macdonald reacts — as everyone watching the markets rightly should — with incredulity to the increasing numbers of investors paying to hold sovereign and corporate debt. And he asks an unnerving question to which very few people at the commanding heights of the global economy seem to have an answer: what, exactly, is the plan for when the next global downturn fully unfolds? The world’s systemic central banks have very little room to cut interest rates while remaining in positive territory. And if a move towards widespread negative rates is indeed the plan, just how low can they go before people begin pulling money out of the banking system? “We are in unknown territory, out past the “here be monsters” sign. None of us has any idea how this will turn out, economists included,” he writes ominously.
Putting negative rates in perspective: The FT is out with a series of charts illustrating the current state of play with central bank policy rates.
Deflation in Abu Dhabi accelerates in July: The deflationary trend in Abu Dhabi entered its second month in July after consumer prices fell 1.4% y-o-y, Bloomberg says. This is the biggest drop for at least four years, and the sixth in the past seven months. Falling housing, water and electricity prices were primarily responsible. “In the foreseeable future, it is hard to see the housing sector bottoming out, given current market conditions,” Mohamed Bardastani, senior economist at Oxford Economics, told Bloomberg. “A mismatch in the supply and demand curve and weak employment numbers have weighed down on housing prices, and that is the case in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.”
Saudi Arabia will need to push for more substantial production cuts at the December Opec+ meeting amid a sustained slump in oil prices, David Sheppard writes in the FT. The stakes for the kingdom are high: prices need to exceed USD 60 a barrel if state oil giant Saudi Aramco is to come close to reaching USD 2 tn when its long-awaited IPO takes place. To do this another 1 mn barrels a day — approximately 1% of the global supply — will need to be removed from the market. And as 2020 is due to bring both a global oil surplus and a promise from Donald Trump to slash prices as part of his electoral campaign, the window for action is rapidly closing.
Silicon Valley VC meets traditional private equity: Japan’s SoftBank is preparing to host a meeting between its Vision Fund portfolio companies next month in the hopes of creating an “ecosystem” of tech companies, the FT says. The strategy — part Silicon Valley venture capital, part private equity — aims to increase collaboration between portfolio companies to boost growth and returns. The USD 100 bn Vision Fund, launched back in 2017, is comprised of various tech companies operating across seven different sectors.
Surprising to absolutely noone: Chinese tech giant Huawei is assisting African governments to spy on political rivals, a Wall Street Journal investigation has shown. The technology company, the most prominent in Africa, allegedly hacked into devices owned by political opponents of the Ugandan and Zambian governments, allowing them to intercept encrypted communications and track their movements. “The big question has been whether Chinese companies are just doing this for the money, or whether they’re pushing a specific kind of surveillance agenda,” digital surveillance expert Steven Feldstein said.
What are the chances of Huawei surveillance in Egypt? Egypt is one of the 13 African governments to purchase surveillance equipment from the company, in addition to hosting a Huawei office. Egypt also joins South Africa as the only two countries to be working with the company to install 5G infrastructure. Little is known about the extent of Chinese surveillance in the country, with the WSJ’s investigation shedding little light on countries outside Uganda and Zambia.
China ratchets up rhetoric on Hong Kong protests: Protests in Hong Kong have reached “near terrorism,” the Chinese government said yesterday after demonstrators attacked people they accused of being government sympathizers, Reuters reported. The US has warned travelers visiting the city after 10 weeks of violence have led to the country’s worst political crisis since 1997. A Chinese spokeswoman also accused US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of inciting further unrest, CNBC noted.
In international miscellany:
- Tunisia approves 26 candidates for September election: Tunisia’s electoral commission has whittled down a list of 71 applicants to stand in the 15 September presidential election to just 26, France24 reports. Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, former PM Mehdi Jomaa, and VP of Ennahda Abdel Fattah Mourou are among the approved candidates. The vote takes place after the death of the country’s first democratically-elected president Beji Caid Essebsi last month.
- Iran and the UK are close to resolving the tanker spat: Talks between Iran and the UK over the release of an Iranian tanker detained in Gibraltar last month are making progress, sources familiar with the talks told the Wall Street Journal. An agreement could pave the way for Iran to also release a UK tanker it seized in the Strait of Hormuz, and dial back tensions between the two countries.
- Kashmir crackdown: Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s brazen crackdown in Kashmir is symptomatic of an increasingly anarchic international system whose rules are now routinely flouted by the world’s most powerful countries, David Gardner writes for the Financial Times.