Jobs report | Peterson race a 'toss up' | Dorian | MFP-2 payouts | Biofuel boost plan
In today's updates:
* Peterson moves to toss up in latest Cook Political Report rating of MN-07
Markets: China's currency, the renminbi/yuan, in August had the biggest monthly fall in more than 25 years.
— Peterson moves from “lean Democratic to toss up” in Cook Political Report rating by House editor David Wasserman. Despite sitting in a heavily Republican Minnesota seat in the seventh district, House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) escaped without serious GOP challengers in both 2016 and 2018. “But that won't be the case this cycle,” Wasserman writes in the weekly Cook Political Report. On Tuesday, former Republican Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach announced she would run against the 15-term incumbent in 2020, “and her entry moves MN-07 from Lean Democratic to Toss Up,” writes Wasserman, a respected House analyst.
“In an era defined by sky-high polarization and straight-ticket voting, Peterson is an extreme outlier,” Wasserman notes. “No one else in the House represents a seat where the opposite party's presidential candidate received more than 55% of the vote in 2016, but Peterson — first elected in 1990 — has managed to defy political gravity a sprawling, rural district that voted for President Trump by a landslide 61% to 31%.”
The reason? Wasserman explains that Peterson, 75, is serving his second stint as chair of the Ag Committee, “where his policy expertise is widely respected across the aisle and his farm bill-crafting clout is prized by farmers in his sugar beet and corn-rich district. Moreover, his personal style — including flying his own plane around the sprawling district and showing up to events unstaffed in jeans and cowboy boots — holds undeniable local appeal.”
“Even so, there are signs Peterson's grasp on the 7th CD has been gradually slipping,” Wasserman observes. As rural Minnesota has drifted towards the GOP, Peterson's margin of victory has shrunk in each of his past three elections.
“Peterson could be even more vulnerable in 2020 with Trump atop the ballot,” Wasserman writes. “Given past patterns, it's likely 50,000 to 80,000 additional voters beyond the 281,000 who cast ballots here in 2018 will show up to vote. And, these casual, less politically engaged voters are less likely to be aware of or value Peterson's clout as Ag chair and independence from national Democrats. They're more likely to cast straight tickets.”
Enter Fischbach, who launched her bid calling Peterson an enabler of "the socialist agenda of Nancy Pelosi, Ilhan Omar and the rest of the squad." Wasserman notes that Fischbach is married to the head of Minnesota's largest pro-life group and “will have access to a large fundraising network of social conservatives. And unlike Hughes, whom she must first get past in a primary, “she will have strong backing from the NRCC,” which sat out the past two cycles.
As for Fischbach, Wasserman provides this summary: She grew up in suburban St. Paul and holds a law degree, was first elected to the state Senate from the St. Cloud area in 1996, eventually rising to Senate president. In 2018, she briefly rose to lieutenant governor when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to the Senate, “creating awkward bedfellows.” She also ran on a ticket in 2018 with Tim Pawlenty, who lost his comeback bid for governor in the GOP primary.
Fischbach's 23-year tenure in St. Paul “could give Democrats an avenue to call her a Twin Cities 'career politician' and could rob Republicans of the line of attack that Peterson has been in office too long and it's time for change,” Wasserman reasons. “Peterson and Democrats could also highlight Fischbach's movement conservatism and Twin Cities roots to cast her as a poor fit for a farm belt seat with populist roots.”
Look for Democrats to reprise those same attacks against Fischbach, Wasserman predicts, noting she has “an extensive St. Paul paper trail to litigate.” Furthermore, he writes, “they will seek to tie Fischbach to Trump's tariffs and make the case that with family farmers in distress, Peterson's clout and presence as a check are more essential than ever. For her part, Fischbach has praised Trump for taking on China for 'sticking it to farmers for years.'”
The biggest question, Wasserman stresses, “is whether Peterson decides to run again in 2020.” While Peterson just regained his gavel and “leaving a powerful post so soon after winning the majority would be atypical. But on the other, Peterson must decide whether he wants to wage a multi-million-dollar campaign for what would likely be one final term, considering Minnesota is likely to lose a district after the 2020 Census.”
If Peterson does run again (Minnesota's filing deadline isn't until next June), Wasserman concludes he will have “powerful allies seeking to ease his workload.” American Crystal Sugar, a highly influential farmer-owned sugar cooperative based in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, has already created and funded a $300,000 SuperPAC, the Committee for Stronger Rural Committees, with the sole mission of reelecting Peterson.
Wasserman sums up the race as follows: “It's an astonishing political feat that Peterson has survived this long in such a red seat, and if he were to forgo reelection, the 7th CD would almost certainly fall to Republicans. But for now, it's shaping up to be a highly competitive fight.”
— U.S./China trade policy update:
- Most observers see no major breakthroughs in coming U.S./China talks... “Neither China nor the U.S. want to be blamed by the rest of world for escalating the trade war and damaging the world economy,” said Zhou Xiaoming, a former commerce ministry official and diplomat. “But the talks don’t mean the two sides will inch closer or that their stances soften.” A New York Times article (link) says, “The coming weeks could result in more of the same, analysts say: tough words when the president wants to rally his base and a temporary cooling off when it seems to be hurting an economy that is one of his main arguments for re-election.”
- … but some China watchers say there could be some important developments break soon. Possible: some sort of agreement for the U.S. to drop some of the tariffs scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1 and for China to finally make an agricultural purchase to satisfy President Trump. But other analysts note that China is preparing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding on Oct. 1, and say Beijing would be unlikely to make concessions at such a politically delicate moment.
- China cuts banks' reserve requirements to boost economy amid trade war. China's central bank announced today that it will cut the required reserve ratio for all commercial banks, freeing up long-term funding of around 900 billion yuan (US$126 billion) that banks can use to increase lending and support government efforts to shore up the real economy.
- This week, two Republican senators travelled to Beijing for talks with senior Chinese officials, including China's chief negotiator, Liu He. “President Trump and President Xi [Jinping] have developed a special relationship, and we are hopeful their renewed negotiations proceed to a productive conclusion,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a cousin of USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue, adding that Trump “deserves high marks for standing up for American workers, farmers, and manufacturers.”
- China trade war: Everything has changed. A report by Blu Putnam, Chief Economist, CME Group, notes that (1) Equities hit hardest by trade war as tariffs cut into companies’ profit margins; (2) Companies have lost pricing power, absorbing tariffs to maintain market share; (3) Did market forces weaken the Chinese yuan or was it a managed depreciation? and (4) A major breakthrough in the drawn-out dispute seems improbable at the moment. Link to report.
- U.S. warns China to halt buying Iranian oil, offering $15 million for info on sanctions-busting. The Trump administration has stepped up its sanctions on Iran and is offering a $15 million reward for information on its embargo-busting. The Trump administration sent a special message to China, warning it not to aid Iran by buying its oil. “We will sanction any sanctionable activity,” Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, said. “We've already done that once with China. So that is our policy. We have demonstrated that many times since we left the deal.” China reportedly reached a decision this week to invest $280 billion in Iran’s oil industry in defiance of the sanctions that Trump’s team hopes will force Iran to agree to new curbs on its nuclear program and regional aggression. The pledge came as the Trump administration unveiled sanctions on a major Iranian “oil-for-terror” network that generates funding for the elite Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in part from customers in China. Chinese oil trader Zhuhai Zhenrong and its chief executive were recently sanctioned for importing Iranian fuel.
- EU trade commissioner takes parting shot at Trump. Cecilia Malmström, the EU trade commissioner, gave a speech at the Bruegel think-tank annual meetings this week. Sources say she took some slightly veiled hits at President Donald Trump. One of the biggest misconceptions about trade, she said, “is that tariffs target foreign businesses” rather than domestic consumers. Another big mistake was “to misread exports to mean profits and imports to mean losses.” Meanwhile, it is murky as to who will be taking over Malmström’s portfolio, but some European contacts signal Phil Hogan of Ireland is one of the contenders.
- Canada appoints ex-McKinsey chief as new China ambassador. Dominic Barton, the former global managing partner of consultancy firm McKinsey, has been appointed Canada’s new ambassador to China, following the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer last year. Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei and daughter of the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei, was apprehended in Vancouver last year following a U.S. extradition request over allegations the company had violated sanctions against Iran. Huawei has denied the accusations.
- China’s overall average tariff applied to U.S. exports increased from its prior level of 20.7% to 21.8% on Sept. 1, will go to 25.9% on Dec. 15 (see chart below from Peterson Institute for International Economics/PIIE). This is a sharp increase from the 8.0% average tariff that faced U.S. exporters to access the Chinese market before the trade war started in January 2018. China has also cut its tariffs toward non-US exporters considerably over this same period, to a current level of 6.7%. (Link to PIIE report.)
— Uncertainty over trade policy is likely to reduce U.S. economic output by more than 1% through early 2020, new research from Federal Reserve economists signals (link). Economists charted uncertainty with text analyses of newspaper articles and corporate-earnings calls. Higher uncertainty could lead firms to delay their investment and reduce their hiring, lower consumer confidence and spending, and ultimately curtail economic activity around the world. “The rise in [trade policy uncertainty] in 2018 and 2019 has gone hand in hand with a slowdown in world industrial production and global grade,” said the research report. The researchers found that an initial increase in trade-policy uncertainty in the first half of 2018 shaved around 0.8% from U.S. and global economic output in the first half of 2019. They further calculated that more recent increases in uncertainty will now reduce U.S. output by more than 1% in the first half of 2020.
— USDA has paid $2.46 billion to farmers and ranchers since MFP-2 disbursements began on Aug. 21 to mitigate the effects of the China/U.S. trade war, USDA detailed. Up to $7.25 billion is available this fall from the $14.5 billion earmarked for aid. Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, and Indiana are the top states for payments. USDA had processed 175,173 applications as of Tuesday. Enrollment opened on July 29 and runs through Dec. 6. USDA officials say additional tranches of payments will be made in November and January if market and trade conditions warrant, but sources say those payments will be made.
USDA also said it paid $8.6 billion on 1.03 million applications for losses on 2018 crops. USDA is expected to provide more details on the latest disaster package on Sept. 9 or Sept. 10.
— Trump trade team readies tariffs on EU products, including food items. Over 400 imported products from the EU including foods like cheeses, olives, coffees, fruits, pastas pork, wines, liquors, jams, seafood and fish, olive oil and yogurt are being considered by the U.S. Trade Representative for tariffs up to 100% to resolve a U.S./EU dispute over aircraft subsidies.
— Boris Johnson’s plans to diverge from EU rules after Brexit will reduce the bloc’s willingness to strike an ambitious trade deal with the U.K., officials and diplomats in Brussels have warned, the Financial Times reports (link). Johnson’s team this week told their EU counterparts they want to abandon prior commitments made by Theresa May to maintain a “level playing field” in areas including environment and social standards in exchange for a free-trade area for goods. EU trade deals require approval from the EU parliament and the Council, which represents national governments. Any pact with Britain is also likely to require ratification in national parliaments. In the EU-Canada deal, which the FT says is seen by many Brexiters as a model, both sides committed not to loosening their labor laws or environmental standards to gain an unfair advantage. The agreement also allows each side to seek an official ruling from an expert panel if they think the other is not living up to its obligations. But no sanctions are foreseen for breaches of the pact.
— Trump's biofuel use boost plan reportedly includes a 5% boost to U.S. RFS blending quotas in 2020, as President Trump seeks to temper farm-state criticism he has undermined U.S. mandates compelling the use of corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel.
Trump and his advisors are seeking to boost 2020 renewable fuel quotas by 1 billion gallons over the proposed 20.04-billion-gallon target outlined earlier this year, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg. Conventional renewable fuel target for 2020 would see a 500-million-gallon increase under the plan. The advanced biofuel requirement would get a 500-million-gallon boost.
USDA also is reportedly advocating EPA increase the 2021 biomass-based diesel requirement by 250 million gallons.
Sources say the coming package will also include funding for retailer fueling infrastructure to more rapidly and widely distribute and sell E15.
Meanwhile, today's Wall Street Journal carries another in the newspaper's long history of attacking the RFS, in particular corn-based ethanol (link). “Some refiners have been spending as much on compliance — buying credits known as “renewable identification numbers,” or RINs — as they shell out on payroll,” the commentary notes. “The corn lobby says exemptions have destroyed demand for ethanol, though this is overwrought. Ethanol consumption for the first five months of the year was 5.9 billion gallons, up from 5.82 in 2018, according to the Energy Information Administration... A tumble in ethanol prices is the result of a confluence of events, including bad weather and overproduction.” It adds that, “Ethanol groups want the Administration to force other refiners to blend more gallons to make up for the waivers. But increasing costs for refiners who followed the law could mean more hardship waiver applications in the future. The lobby also wants higher requirements on biodiesel fuels. Irony alert: U.S. biodiesel is insufficient to meet the mandates, so more will be imported from abroad. Does Mr. Trump want to add to the U.S. trade deficit? Then again, all of this is about the politics, not the merits.” The commentary concludes: “President Trump seems to think he can atone for his tariff mistakes with billions of dollars in farm handouts, but only a trade truce will start to mend the damage. At minimum he shouldn’t be fooled by another round of rent-seeking from one of the country’s most shameless farm interests.”
Perspective: Biofuel proponents are widely expected to say the coming biofuel package is not enough. White House officials know that biofuel advocates want a reallocation of the 4.2 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent waives announced during the Trump administration. It appears USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue is still confronting an apparent EPA pushback on boosting biodiesel use to the degree Perdue and others prefer.
— If we all ate enough fruits and vegetables, there'd be big shortages. A new study published in The Lancet Planetary Health (link) reports that if everyone around the globe began to eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, there wouldn't be enough to go around. Only about 55% of people around the globe live in countries with adequate availability of fruits and vegetables — enough to meet the World Health Organization's minimum target of 400 grams per person, per day according to NPR (link). The report's authors argue that several actions are needed to meet the challenges: increased investments in fruit and vegetable production; increased efforts to educate people about the importance of healthy diets; and — given that about one-third of food produced globally is wasted — new technologies and practices to reduce food waste.
— USMCA update.
- Corn growers: USMCA must be at the top of fall congressional agenda. Congress returns to Washington next week and passage of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) should be at the top of their agenda, said the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA). Farmers have taken the opportunity to share this message with lawmakers at local events during the August break, it said, “and are eager to see the working group process bear fruit so the agreement can move forward for consideration.” The group detailed that USMCA will “solidify a $4.56 billion export market and provide some certainty for farmers weathering a perfect storm of challenges. Ratifying USMCA will also instill confidence in other nations that the U.S. is a reliable partner and supplier, ensuring U.S. agriculture remains competitive for generations to come.”
- Zoellick on USMCA. In an op-ed earlier this week penned for the Wall Street Journal, Robert Zoellick, former USTR and Deputy U.S. Secretary of State, wrote: “The USMCA is a mixed bag at best. It weakens protections for investors in Mexico at a time when that nation’s government is making investors nervous. The deal enfeebles pledges by governments to allow foreign companies to bid for procurement contracts, thus raising costs for government purchases. The new NAFTA even has an expiration date and is subject to review every six years—a recipe for uncertainty. The heart of the renegotiation is a maze of new requirements for how companies should build autos. It will make the North American industry less competitive globally. Ironically, the agreement’s useful modernizations are drawn from the TPP, which Mr. Trump trashed. But the USMCA may never become law; Democrats in Congress want changes and time for action is running out."
— U.S. farmers hope Trump delivers on trade deal with Japan. “American farmers have not only endured retaliatory tariffs from China and other nations, they’ve watched as most of their top foreign competitors used free trade agreements to make inroads into Japan, a historically protectionist market with nearly 127 million consumers,” the Associated Press noted in an article (link).
Top foreign competitors to American farmers get a pricing advantage after taking into account the 38.5% import tax that is applied to American beef, the 20% tariff applied to American ground pork and the 40% duty applied to some cheeses. The changes have contributed to a new trade landscape that saw U.S. farm exports to Japan drop 2% to $6.5 billion in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to USDA.
“We’ve taken a temporary step backward because our competitors have had better access than us,” said Nick Giordano, a vice president at the National Pork Producers Council, told the AP. He is hopeful that dynamic will change soon.
Kent Bacus of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said a drought in Australia is limiting that nation’s ability to export more beef. Still, he said the tariff paid for Australian beef, now at 26.6% versus 38.5% for U.S. beef, is going to encourage Japanese importers to look at other sources, including Canada, New Zealand and Mexico. “Essentially, we’re living on borrowed time,” Bacus said.
— Other items of note:
Election countdowns: 60 days until Election Day 2019. 150 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 424 days until Election Day 2020. Days until the NC-03 and NC-09 general elections: 4. Days until the Louisiana gubernatorial primary election: 36. Days until the Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia general elections: 60.
Two more Republican congressmen announced plans to retire on Wednesday. There currently are 14 GOP open seats and 4 Dem open seats. Republicans are retiring from Congress at a faster pace than the 40 Republicans who called it quits before the 2018 midterm elections. This round of retirements includes two of the 13 Republican women in the House and the only African-American Republican. Nearly a quarter of Texas' GOP House delegation has opted against running. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who has served in Congress for 40 years and is the second-most senior House member, and Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) announced their retirements on Wednesday. They both represent safe Republican districts, but observers note their exits underline the pessimism many in the GOP share about winning back the House majority in 2020. As noted, just four House Democrats are retiring so far, including Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), who also announced her plans earlier this week. She’s represented her district since 2001.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) pledged to end the Senate’s filibuster if needed in order to pass a “Green New Deal.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) scoffed at a question about Trump’s decision to roll back regulations on lightbulbs: “She said the fossil fuel industry wants to distract from the greater climate conversation by talking about ‘lightbulbs, straws and cheeseburgers’ instead of carbon emissions.”
House to vote on stopgap funding bill week of Sept. 16. The House is slated to vote on a short-term measure to fund the government and prevent a shutdown in mid-September, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced Thursday. In a "Dear Colleague" letter, Hoyer said that he expects the House to take up a "clean" stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), during the week of Sept. 16. House Democrats passed 10 of 12 annual appropriations bills over the summer for the next fiscal year, but the Senate has yet to even approve any of its versions out of committee. While a prior budget deal establishes spending levels and suspends the debt limit into 2021, government funding runs out on Sept. 30.
Treasury unveils plan to release Fannie, Freddie from government control. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as expected on Thursday unveiled a plan to overhaul the housing market that would release Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from government control. "The Trump Administration is committed to promoting much needed reforms to the housing finance system that will protect taxpayers and help Americans who want to buy a home," he said. Fannie Mae, which stands for the Federal National Mortgage Association, and Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, were put into government conservatorship during the 2008 financial crisis, which started in the housing market. The Treasury Department proposal suggests reforms to protect the mortgage giants from another housing crash, shrink their market shares and create new competitors. Details such as how they'll raise capital to offset future crises remain to be negotiated.
Barley has a drought-resistant gene, study shows. Researchers said the findings could help cereal grains — including barley, wheat, maize and rice — cope with the effects of climate change. Link to study.
Agribusiness consultancy expects Brazil’s planted soy area to expand 1.1% to 36.3 million hectares, below the average annual growth of 5.2% over the 13 years as a global trade war and swine fever in China cloud the outlook for farmers, according to analysts at AgRural. That is well below the average annual growth of 5.2% over the past decade.
Kroger Co. is jumping into the meatless business. The largest U.S. supermarket chain said Thursday that it will roll out plant-based burger patties, grinds and other products, seeking to capitalize on consumer interest in new meat replacements that have recently been added to menus at big fast-food chains and other restaurants. Link to Wall Street Journal article.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) drank water from a toilet fountain at a migrant detention center and said it was “actually pretty good.” “I smacked my lips,’ [he told constituents]. That’s because it wasn’t actually toilet water.” King said some detention center cells have an unusual setup where a sink doubling as a water fountain is attached to a toilet.
— Markets. The Dow on Thursday rose 372.68 points, 1.41%, at 26,728.15. The Nasdaq moved up 139.95 points, 1.75%, at 8,116.83. The S&P 500 gained 38.22 points, 1.30%, at 2,976.00 and is within striking distance — less than 2% — of its high of 3,025.86, reached on July 26. Yields on two-year notes jumped as much as 14 basis points (bps) and 10-year notes were nine bps higher.
A U.S. earnings recession has sprouted. Profits at U.S. blue-chips have fallen 0.3% on a per-share basis, according to FactSet data. Following a first-quarter contraction of 0.2%, analysts note that means companies are officially in an “earnings recession”: defined as two consecutive quarters of shrinking profits.
Jobs report for August will be released this morning. Here are consensus estimates for the report, according to data compiled by Bloomberg:
- Nonfarm payrolls added: 160,000 expected, 164,000 added in July. Over the first seven months of the year, employers added an average 165,000 jobs a month, a slowdown from an average 223,000 in 2018. U.S. jobs data may be inflated by Census Bureau hiring for the 2020 count, and economists say the underlying numbers may show that job gains are slowing.
- Unemployment rate: 3.7% expected, 3.7% in July.
- Hours worked: Analysts are on the lookout for any decline in employees’ hours, a sign of increasing business caution. Faced with uncertainty or flagging demand, companies usually cut hours before they lay off employees.
- Average hourly earnings MoM: 0.3% expected, 0.3% in July.
- Average hourly earnings YoY: 3.0% expected, 3.2% in July. Reasons for the downturn include lackluster productivity growth and the retirement of highly paid baby boomers.
Job growth in the U.S. private sector was better than economists’ expectations in August, according to A new report from ADP Research Institute and Moody’s on Thursday. The U.S. private sector added 195,000 positions in August, higher than the 148,000 positions Wall Street was predicting. July’s figure was revised down to 142,000, from the 156,000 positions that was initially reported.
Fitch downgrades Hong Kong following months of protests as the agency is the first to lower rating as violent clashes pile on uncertainty. Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said today that Beijing supported Hong Kong government efforts to end the violence which has engulfed the city for months.