JPMorgan says US-China tariffs to go all out

TOKYO • With little prospect of a restart for US-China trade talks, JPMorgan Chase & Co now expects an escalation in tensions that will see higher American tariffs on all Chinese imports, sending the yuan sliding to its weakest against the dollar in more than a decade.

“JPMorgan has adopted a new baseline that assumes a US-China endgame involving 25% US tariffs on all Chinese goods in 2019,” JPMorgan strategists including John Normand wrote in a note.

While growth forecasts for both the US and China aren’t much affected, thanks in part to Chinese stimulus measures, “a weaker yuan becomes part of the new equilibrium”, they wrote.

The People’s Bank of China will probably pursue a looser monetary policy to shore up growth in face of the threats to trade, and likely won’t intervene much to counter resultant downward pressure on the yuan, according to the JPMorgan analysis.

The bank now expects the yuan to drop to 7.01 per dollar by the end of December and 7.19 by September 2019, after previously projecting it at 7.02 in 12 months’ time. China’s currency closed at 6.8725 per dollar in onshore trading last week.

The median forecast of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg is for the currency to strengthen to 6.70 by the end of next year. Deutsche Bank AG is among the yuan bears, seeing it depreciating to 7.4 next year.

“Looser Chinese monetary policy ensures that the US dollar will become an ever-higher yielder versus the yuan for the rest of the cycle,” the JPMorgan strategists wrote, using another term for China’s currency.

The yield gap will favour the dollar thanks to further US Federal Reserve tightening, in the team’s outlook.

A cheaper yuan will drag emerging Asian nations’ currencies lower with it, with depreciation magnitudes likely to exceed forward rates for all except the Indian rupee and Indonesian rupiah, the bank said. As for cross-asset investment strategy, the Asian currency declines “are possible constraints on regional equities”, Normand and his colleagues wrote.

Base metals prices should still gain into 2019 thanks to reduced inventories, however.

The new baseline on the trade war also “raises medium-term questions for the world’s most-expensive equity market (the US) and one of its cheapest (China)”, they wrote.

US earnings estimates will be under pressure due to higher costs thanks to tariff hikes. “Full tariffs could trigger first earnings downgrades of the (US President Donald) Trump era.”

For Chinese stocks, which have entered a bear market even as US benchmarks climbed to record highs, the outlook depends on the country’s success in stoking consumption and sectors including technology and e-commerce, JPMorgan strategists said.

If that rotation doesn’t keep going, “China assets could retain a risk premium for some time”, they said. — Bloomberg