Trump ‘not ready’ for China trade deal, dismisses recession fears

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump meets with China's President Xi Jinping at the start of their bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo/File Photo

By Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and top White House officials dismissed concerns that economic growth may be faltering, saying on Sunday they saw little risk of recession despite a volatile week on global bond markets, and insisting their trade war with China was doing no damage to the United States.

“We’re doing tremendously well, our consumers are rich, I gave a tremendous tax cut, and they’re loaded up with money,” Trump said on Sunday.

But he was less optimistic than his aides on striking a trade deal with China, saying that while he believed China was ready to come to an agreement, “I’m not ready to make a deal yet.”

He hinted that the White House would like to see Beijing resolve ongoing protests in Hong Kong first.

“I would like to see Hong Kong worked out in a very humanitarian fashion,” Trump said. “I think it would be very good for the trade deal.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said trade deputies from the two countries would speak within 10 days and “if those deputies’ meetings pan out… we are planning to have China come to the USA” to advance negotiations over ending a trade battle that has emerged as a potential risk to global economic growth.

Even with the talks stalled for now and the threat of greater tariffs and other trade restrictions hanging over the world economy, Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” the United States remained “in pretty good shape.”

“There is no recession in sight,” Kudlow said. “Consumers are working. Their wages are rising. They are spending and they are saving.”

Their comments follow a week in which concerns about a possible U.S. recession weighed on financial markets and seemed to put administration officials on edge about whether the economy would hold up through the 2020 presidential election campaign. Democrats on Sunday argued Trump’s trade policies were posing an acute, short-term risk.

U.S. stock markets tanked last week on recession fears with all three major U.S. indexes closing down about 3% on Wednesday, paring their losses by Friday due to expectations the European Central Bank might cut rates.

The U.S. Federal Reserve and 19 other central banks have already loosened monetary policy in what Fitch Ratings last week described as the largest shift since the 2009 recession.

Markets are expecting more cuts to come. For a brief time last week, bond investors demanded a higher interest rate on 2-year Treasury bonds than for 10-year Treasury bonds, a potential signal of lost faith in near-term economic growth.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Sunday dismissed the idea that last week’s market volatility was a warning sign, saying “good” economic dynamics were encouraging investors to move money to the United States.

“We have the strongest economy in the world and money is coming here for our stock market. It’s also coming here to chase yield in our bond markets,” Navarro told ABC’s “This Week.”

For bond markets, the sort of movement Navarro described is often driven by trouble – in this case the possibility that the trade battle with China is lasting far longer than expected and becoming disruptive to business investment and growth.

The U.S. economy does continue to grow and add jobs each month. Retail sales in July jumped a stronger-than-expected 0.7%, the government reported last week, and Kudlow said that number showed that the main prop of the U.S. economy was intact.

But manufacturing growth has slowed and lagging business investment has become a drag.

A slowdown would be bad news for Trump, who is building his 2020 bid for a second term around the economy’s performance. He told voters at a rally last week they had “no choice” but to vote for him to preserve their jobs and investments.

The president and his advisers have repeatedly accused the Fed of undermining the administration’s economic policies. On Sunday, Kudlow again pointed the finger at the central bank, describing rate hikes through 2017 and 2018 as “very severe monetary restraint.”

The Fed hiked rates seven times over those two years as part of a plan to restore normal monetary policy following emergency steps taken to battle the 2007-2009 global financial crisis and recession.

Even with those steps, the Fed’s target interest rate has remained well below historic norms, and policymakers have started cutting rates in response to growing global risks.

Democratic presidential candidates on Sunday joined the many economic analysts who have said the administration’s sometimes erratic policies on trade – at one point threatening tariffs on Mexico over immigration issues – are to blame for increased uncertainty, disappointing business investment and market volatility.

“I’m afraid that this president is driving the global economy and our economy into recession,” Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Speaking to CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg criticized the administration for failing to deliver a deal with China.

“There is clearly no strategy for dealing with the trade war in a way that will lead to results for American farmers, or American consumers,” he said.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Ginger Gibson; editing by Michelle Price, Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O’Brien)

Fed policymakers call for caution on further U.S. rate hikes

FILE PHOTO: A police officer keeps watch in front of the U.S. Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC, U.S. on October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Jonathan Spicer and Howard Schneider

RIVERWOODS, Ill./CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Reuters) – Another clutch of U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers said on Wednesday they would be cautious about raising interest rates without getting better a handle on how growing risks to an otherwise solid U.S. economic outlook could play out.

After months of tumult in the stock market, presidents of four of the 12 Fed regional banks said they wanted greater clarity on the state of the economy before extending the central bank’s rate hike campaign any further.

Three of the four, Charles Evans of Chicago, Eric Rosengren of Boston, and James Bullard of St. Louis, are voting members this year on the Federal Open Market Committee, the bank’s policy-setting panel.

Bullard has long been critical of the Fed’s rate increases, begun in December 2015, but the caution from Evans and Rosengren is new, even if they both believe growth will remain solid and rates will probably need to rise more.

The fourth president, Raphael Bostic of Atlanta, said there was no urgency to raise rates further at this juncture.

The remarks from the four come less than a week after Fed Chairman Jerome Powell eased market concerns that policy makers were ignoring signs of an economic slowdown. Powell said he was aware of the risks and would be patient and flexible in policy decisions this year.

Rosengren on Wednesday used those same two adjectives, while Evans said he would be “cautious.”

The new tone comes after the U.S. stock market dropped precipitously in the fourth quarter of 2018, suffering its worst December performance since the Great Depression. Other signs of tightening financial conditions surfaced as well, including a sharp slowdown in issuance of corporate bonds.

Short-term U.S. interest-rate futures are now pricing in less than a 2 percent chance of a rate hike this year, and traders see a one-in-four chance of a rate cut by next January.

That stands in stark contrast to forecasts from the Fed released after the central bank’s fourth 2018 rate hike in December. Those forecasts called for two more rate hikes this year.

Evans has been among the most vocal backers of gradually tightening U.S. monetary policy, and after a speech in Riverwoods, Illinois, on Wednesday told reporters he still believes the Fed will need to deliver three more rate hikes this year.

But, in his first public comments since November, he nodded to an array of “tough-to-read” factors highlighted by the recent market selloff, but penciled in a forecast for reasonably good U.S. growth and employment in 2019 and beyond.

Rosengren similarly said he expects solid growth this year and said he suspects financial markets are “unduly pessimistic.” But in a break from speeches last year, when he emphasized the risks of allowing unemployment to stay below sustainable levels for too long, Rosengren on Wednesday emphasized risks that could impinge on growth, and said he was taking on board the cautionary signals from falling stock markets.

“There should be no particular bias toward raising or lowering rates until the data more clearly indicate the path for domestic and international economic growth,” Rosengren told the Boston Economic Club. “I believe we can wait for greater clarity before adjusting policy.”

Bullard, meanwhile, told the Wall Street Journal that while the Fed had “a good level of the policy rate today,” there was no rush to push them higher.

Minutes from that meeting will be released later on Wednesday and could shed more light on how policy makers assessed the economy as they agreed to raise rates and, at that time, projected two more increases in 2019..

Overall, that marked the ninth increase of a quarter percentage point since December 2015, when the Fed began lifting interest rates from near zero, where they had been since the financial crisis in 2008.

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic, who earlier this week said the Fed was likely to need at most a single rate increase this year, on Wednesday elaborated on that view as driven by conversations with business executives, who say they have become more defensive in preparing for slower growth by paying down debt and holding off on new plans.

Those conversations “are not consistent with the business sector ramping up,” Bostic said in remarks prepared for delivery to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. Bostic, who backed all four rate hikes in 2018 as an FOMC voter, does not have a policy vote on the panel this year.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider in Chattanooga and Jonathan Spicer in Chicago; with reporting by Ann Saphir in San Francisco and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Writing by Dan Burns; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Fed interest rate hike expected next week, three hikes expected in 2018/poll

The Federal Reserve headquarters in Washington September 16 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Shrutee Sarkar

BENGALURU (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Reserve is almost certain to raise interest rates later this month, according to a Reuters poll of economists, a majority of whom now expect three more rate rises next year compared with two when surveyed just weeks ago.

The results, from a survey taken just before the U.S. Senate voted to pass tax cuts that are expected to add about $1.4 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, show economists were already becoming more convinced that rates will need to go even higher.

While about 80 percent of economists surveyed in October said such tax cuts were not necessary, the passage of the bill, President Donald Trump’s first major legislative success, means the forecast risks have shifted toward higher rates, and faster.

The poll’s newly raised expectations for three rate rises next year are now in line with the Fed’s own projections. But they come despite a split among U.S. policymakers on the outlook for inflation, which has remained persistently low.

That is a similar challenge faced by other major central banks, who are generally turning away from easy monetary policy put in place since the financial crisis, looking through still-weak wage inflation and overall price pressures for now.

The core personal consumption expenditures price index (PCE), which excludes food and energy and is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, has undershot the central bank’s 2 percent target for nearly 5-1/2 years.

The latest Reuters poll results suggest it is expected to average below 2 percent until 2019.

While the U.S. economy expanded in the third quarter at a 3.3 percent annualized rate, its fastest pace in three years, the latest Reuters poll – taken mostly before the release of that data – suggested that may be the best growth rate at least until the second half of 2019.

The most optimistic growth forecast at any point over the next year or so was 3.7 percent, well below the post-financial crisis peak of 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Still, all the 103 economists polled, including 19 large banks that deal directly with the Fed, said the federal funds rate will go up again in December by 25 basis points, to 1.25-1.50 percent.

“This is about just getting back to a neutral level where monetary policy is neither encouraging growth or pushing against growth,” said Brett Ryan, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, which recently shifted its view to four rate rises next year.

“The Fed is still accommodative at the moment and we are still some ways away from the neutral fed funds rate which would in the Fed’s view be closer to 2.75 percent. The Fed can hike without slowing the economy.”

Financial markets are also pricing in over a 90 percent chance of a 25 basis-point hike in December, largely based on the falling unemployment rate and reasonably strong economic growth this year.

Asked what is the primary driver behind the Fed’s wish to raise rates further, over 40 percent of respondents said it was to tap down future inflation.

However, almost a third of economists said it is to gather enough ammunition to combat the next recession.

“At some point we are going to have a downturn and they (the Fed) are going to need to react and it is harder to do that when rates are closer to zero,” said Sam Bullard, an economist at Wells Fargo.

The remaining roughly 30 percent had varied responses, including some who said higher rates were needed to avoid risks to financial stability.

Over 90 percent of the 66 economists who answered another question said that the coming changes at the Fed – a new Fed Chair along with several new Fed Board members – will also not alter the current expected course of rate hikes.

“Both the rate tightening outlook and balance sheet reduction program will remain in place as the Fed officials fill open seats. Easing of financial regulation is likely the area that has the most forthcoming changes,” Bullard said.

 

(Additional reporting and polling by Khushboo Mittal and Mumal Rathore; Editing by Ross Finley and Hugh Lawson)

 

Global Banks fearing North Korea hacking, prepare defenses

Binary code is seen on a screen against a North Korean flag in this illustration photo November 1, 2017.

By Jim Finkle and Alastair Sharp

WASHINGTON/TORONTO (Reuters) – Global banks are preparing to defend themselves against North Korea potentially intensifying a years-long hacking spree by seeking to cripple financial networks as Pyongyang weighs the threat of U.S. military action over its nuclear program, cyber security experts said.

North Korean hackers have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from banks during the past three years, including a heist in 2016 at Bangladesh Bank that yielded $81 million, according to Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer at cyber security firm CrowdStrike.

Alperovitch told the Reuters Cyber Security Summit on Tuesday that banks were concerned Pyongyang’s hackers may become more destructive by using the same type of “wiper” viruses they deployed across South Korea and at Sony Corp’s <6758.T> Hollywood studio.

The North Korean government has repeatedly denied accusations by security researchers and the U.S. government that it has carried out cyber attacks.

North Korean hackers could leverage knowledge about financial networks gathered during cyber heists to disrupt bank operations, according to Alperovitch, who said his firm has conducted “war game” exercises for several banks.

“The difference between theft and destruction is often a few keystrokes,” Alperovitch said.

Security teams at major U.S. banks have shared information on the North Korean cyber threat in recent months, said a second cyber security expert familiar with those talks.

“We know they attacked South Korean banks,” said the source, who added that fears have grown that banks in the United States will be targeted next.

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have been building after a series of nuclear and missile tests by North Korea and bellicose verbal exchanges between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

John Carlin, a former U.S. assistant attorney general, told the Reuters summit that other firms, among them defense contractors, retailers and social media companies, were also concerned.

“They are thinking ‘Are we going to see an escalation in attacks from North Korea?'” said Carlin, chair of Morrison & Foerster international law firm’s global risk and crisis management team.

Jim Lewis, a cyber expert with Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it is unlikely that North Korea would launch destructive attacks on American banks because of concerns about U.S. retaliation.

Representatives of the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the top U.S. banking regulators, declined to comment. Both have ramped up cyber security oversight in recent years.

 

 

(Reporting by Jim Finkle in Washington and Alastair Sharp in Toronto; additional reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington; editing by Grant McCool)

 

Rookies and robots brace for first UK rate rise since 2007

Office lights are on at dusk in the Canary Wharf financial district, London, Britain,

By Fanny Potkin and Polina Ivanova

LONDON (Reuters) – Financial markets braced this week for what could be the Bank of England’s first rate rise in a decade – a step into the unknown for a generation of young traders who started work after 2007 but also for the state-of-the-art technology they use.

After a decade that included a global financial crash, numerous investigations into market collusion and relentless automation, trading floors at banks in London have been transformed in ways not obvious at first glance.

The newest kid on the block is not necessarily the rookie trader with a PhD in physics but the latest computer model or algorithm. How these models will perform under the almost novel circumstances of tightening monetary policy is as much a question as how the human neophytes will react.

Using past market data, assessments of demand, valuation models and even measures of how upbeat news headlines are, computers crunch the numbers, game the scenarios and buy or sell in the blink of an eye.

But shocks such as Brexit have shown that computer-driven trading can end in stampedes, or so-called flash crashes.

“You’ve got to weigh up the strength of the traders and the strength of the algorithms that have been developed and whether they can manage this kind of a process when the rate hike does come in,” said Benjamin Quinlan, CEO of financial services strategy consultancy Quinlan & Associates.

At Citibank’s expansive trading floor in London, the dealing room doesn’t look much different from a decade ago with traders hunched in front of banks of screens, the odd national flag perched on top, and television screens on mute.

But beneath the outward appearance, foreign exchange trading has undergone a seismic shift: more than 90 percent of cash transactions and a growing proportion of derivatives trades in the global $5 trillion a day FX market are done electronically.

So-called smart algos, or fully automated algorithmic trading programs that react to market movements with no human involvement, were virtually non-existent in 2007. Now, almost a third of foreign exchange trades are driven solely by algorithms, according to research firm Aite Group.

“Most of these algorithms haven’t really been tested in a rising interest rate scenario so the next few months will be crucial,” said a portfolio manager at a hedge fund in London.

To be sure, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s first rate rise in a decade in 2015 provided a dry run for this week’s UK decision – but the two economies are in very different positions and the knock-on effects on the wider financial markets of a Bank of England move are hard to predict.

 

ROOKIES AND ROBOTS

Much has changed since the Bank of England raised rates by 0.25 percent on July 5, 2007 to 5.75 percent. The first iPhone had yet to reach British shores, the country’s TVs ran on analogue signals and Northern Rock bank was alive and well.

Where once lightning decision-making and a calm head in a crisis were at a premium, the bulk of trading today is done by machines and the job of a foreign exchange sales trader is often little more than minding software and fielding client queries.

Itay Tuchman, head of global FX trading at Citi and a 20-year market veteran, said while the bank employs roughly the same number of people in currency trading as over the last few years, fewer are dedicated to business over the phone.

“We have an extensive electronic trading business, powered by our algorithmic market making platform, which is staffed by many people that have maths and science PhDs from various backgrounds,” said Tuchman, who heads trading for Citi’s global developed and emerging currency businesses.

London is the epicenter of those changes with the average daily turnover of foreign exchange trades executed directly over the phone down by a fifth to $566 billion in just three years to 2016, according to the Bank of England.

At Dutch bank ING’s London trading room, Obbe Kok, head of UK financial markets, said the floor now has about 165 people but the bank wants to make it 210 by the end of the year – searching mainly for traders attuned to technological innovations and keen on artificial intelligence.

The proportion of people employed in trading with degrees in mathematics and statistics has increased by a 58 percent over the last 10 years, Emolument, a salary benchmarking site, said.

“What banks have started to do is trade experience for technological skill and with electronic platforms growing, the average age on the floor is a bit younger,” said Adrian Ezra, CEO of financial services recruitment agency Execuzen.

 

TAPER TANTRUM

The increasing use of technology means traders can gauge the depth of market liquidity at the click of a button or quickly price an option based on volatility – a major change from a few years ago when they had to scour the market discreetly for fear of disclosing their interest to rivals.

Ala’A Saeed, global head of institutional electronic sales and one of the brains behind Citi’s trading platform FX Velocity, said its electronic programs process thousands of trades per minute.

Most of the currency trading models used by banks incorporate variables such as trading ranges, valuation metrics including trade-weighted indexes and trends in demand based on internal client orders to get a sense of which way markets are moving – and the potential impact of a new trade.

Nowadays, the models also incorporate sentiment analysis around news headlines and economic data surprises.

These electronic trading platforms also have years of financial data plugged into them with various kinds of scenario analyses, but one thing they have sometimes appeared unprepared for is a sudden change in policy direction.

Witness the market mayhem exacerbated by trend-following algorithms when Switzerland’s central bank scrapped its currency peg in 2015, or the taper tantrum in 2013 when the U.S. Federal Reserve said it would stop buying bonds.

Or Britain’s vote last year to leave the European Union.

Indeed, the biggest risk for financial markets cited by money managers in a Bank of America Merrill Lynch poll in October was a policy misstep from a major central bank.

 

EASY CREDIT, LOW VOLATILITY

One concern is that the rise in automation has coincided with a prolonged decline in market volatility as central banks from the United States to Japan have kept interest rates close to zero and spent trillions of dollars dragging long-term borrowing costs lower to try to reboot depressed economies.

While central banks have been careful to get their messages across as they end the years of stimulus, there are concerns about whether quantitative trading models can capture all the qualitative policy shifts.

For example, a growing number of investors expect the Bank of England to raise its benchmark interest rate to 0.5 percent on Nov. 2, and then leave it at that for the foreseeable future.

But futures markets are expecting another rate rise within six to nine months, injecting a new level of risk around interest rate moves and potentially boosting volatility.

Neale Jackson, a portfolio manager at 36 South Capital Advisors, a $750 million volatility hedge fund in London, said young traders have never seen an environment other than central banks supporting markets, and that has fueled risk-taking underpinned by the belief that “big brother has got our backs”.

“The problem these days is that there’s a whole generation of traders who have never seen interest rates, let alone interest rates hikes,” said Kevin Rodgers, a veteran FX trader and the author of “Why Aren’t They Shouting?”, a book about the computer revolution within financial markets.

 

(Additional reporting by Maiya Keidan and Simon Jessop; writing by Saikat Chatterjee; editing by Mike Dolan and David Clarke)

 

Man arrested in plot to bomb Oklahoma bank

Jerry Drake Varnell, is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters August 14, 2017. Oklahoma Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – An Oklahoma man was arrested after what he thought was an attempt over the weekend to bomb an Oklahoma City bank building as part of an anti-government plot, U.S. prosecutors said on Monday.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Jerry Drake Varnell, 23, on Saturday after an undercover agent posed as a co-conspirator and agreed to help him build what he believed was a 1,000-pound (454 kg) explosive.

Varnell had initially planned to bomb the U.S. Federal Reserve in Washington in a manner similar to the 1995 explosion at a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people, according to a complaint.

FBI agents arrested Varnell after he went as far as making a call early on Saturday morning to a mobile phone he believed would detonate a device in a van parked next to a BancFirst Corp building in downtown Oklahoma City, the complaint said.

“This arrest is the culmination of a long-term domestic terrorism investigation involving an undercover operation, during which Varnell had been monitored closely for months as the alleged bomb plot developed,” federal prosecutors said in a statement. “The device was actually inert, and the public was not in danger.”

Varnell, of Sayre, Oklahoma, was charged with malicious attempted destruction of a building in interstate commerce. He is expected to make his first court appearance in federal court in Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon.

 

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)