Last week was another difficult one for stocks, marked by a bruising mid-week selloff triggered by China’s surprise devaluation of its currency. For many investors, the move reinforced fears about the growth prospects of the world’s second-largest economy. Though U.S. equities remained resilient, other markets came under pressure. European equities in particular struggled as the fall in China’s currency and the appreciation of the euro hit exporters especially hard.
It also did not help that the news came on the back of another worrisome trend: an accelerating decline in U.S. inflation expectations. Too little inflation can be just as perilous as too much, as a decline in inflation expectations can indicate slower growth ahead.
That said, as I write in my new weekly commentary, “The Scene Is Set for Higher Volatility,” there is a big difference between slow growth and no growth, so it’s important to put last week’s events in context.
China’s surprise devaluation.
While I don’t believe China’s move has the dire repercussions some have suggested, it does fit within the broader narrative of a slowing global economy, with less support from emerging markets.
But it needs to be viewed in the context of the currency’s relative strength: The yuan was one of few currencies to have appreciated against the dollar over the past five years. In that light, the move can be viewed as part of a shift toward a market-determined exchange rate and broader financial liberalization. In addition, over the intermediate term, it should provide some modest stimulus to that economy.