Markets react to trade talks: Investors are betting on a U.S.-Canada deal

Canada's stock market hit its highest point in more than a month on news of the U.S.-Mexico trade deal, and now the loonie is at its strongest against the U.S. dollar in more than two months, but are investors getting ahead of themselves?

The Canadian dollar is flying high on the prospect of a trade deal, but will it last?

Investors are betting on a trade deal materializing soon between Canada and the U.S. Analysts expect the Canadian market will follow its number one trading partner in moving higher, despite the hurdles facing a possible agreement. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

When the U.S. and Mexico reached a bilateral trade agreement without Canada on Monday, it was the end of NAFTA as we know it.

But stock markets rallied on the news, with Canadian stocks hitting their highest point in more than a month. Today, the loonie is at its strongest against the U.S. dollar in more than two months.

Investors are betting on a deal materializing soon between Canada and the U.S., according to analysts, who say the Canadian market will follow its number one trading partner higher, despite the hurdles facing an agreement.

'NAFTA is not the problem'

Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets, does not think investors are getting ahead of themselves by betting on a deal between the neighbouring countries.

"Canada made the wrong bet — hoping that negotiations would occur after the mid-terms [U.S. elections] — and now, they are at a competitive disadvantage," said Belski. "They underestimated President Trump and his overall negotiation strategy."

He thinks investors are also keeping in mind what happened in the Canadian market in the second quarter of this year, when it rose more than six percent despite the trade war fears, outperforming most other developed markets.

"What consensus is missing is that companies with a majority of revenues outside of Canada have been outperforming most of 2018 — NAFTA is not the problem," Belski said.

"Remember, the S&P/TSX in local Canadian dollar terms, significantly outperformed the U.S in the second quarter — and most investors missed it."

Focus on auto tariffs

As the majority Canadian stocks pared back gains on Tuesday, shares of the country's biggest auto suppliers Magna, Linamar and Martinrea continued higher, rising up to more than three percent, bucking the broader market trend.

Derek Holt, head of capital market economics at Scotiabank, said an apparent resolution of major U.S. demands on auto tariffs in its agreement with Mexico, addresses the most important sticking points in its negotiations with Canada.

"Canada should find it relatively simple to join the U.S.-Mexico consensus on automobiles," Holt said in a note.

"The main change — raising the North American regional value content for tariff-free trade in automobiles from 62.5 per cent to 75 per cent — would already be met by nine of 16 vehicle models currently produced in Canada." 

Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, added that the U.S.-Mexico agreement on autos was potentially positive for Canada, considering Mexico had been "securing the lion's share of recent new investments in the North American auto industry."

Market's 'end scenario' obsession 

However, not all analysts are convinced that investors are not getting ahead of themselves by pricing in a deal.

Bipan Rai, head of North American foreign exchange strategy at CIBC Capital Markets, said markets have already priced in a trilateral deal for valuing the Canadian dollar, but there is a significant chance the Trudeau government will decide that the U.S.-Mexico deal does not suit them.

"The market's obsession with what the end scenario looks like ignores the many permutations of how we'll get there," Rai said. 

In Canadian dollar terms, the Toronto Stock Exchange outperformed U.S. markets in the second quarter of 2018. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

"A knee-jerk reaction [to a negative outcome] could take the loonie lower by a cent most likely. Over time, we'd expect markets to take the Canadian dollar-U.S. dollar cross back to around 0.75 cents at the very least."

The Canadian dollar traded at an average of 0.7742 cents US on Tuesday, up from Monday's average of 0.7701 cents US. That's its highest level against the greenback since early June.

Sadiq Adatia, chief investment officer at Sun Life Global Investments, agrees there is still a lot of uncertainty in trade talks between Canada and the U.S.

"What is Canada willing to give up to get the deal done?," Adatia said. "Also, Canada could potentially say that we will wait until the mid-term elections and hope that the makeup of congress is different which helps the current NAFTA deal." 


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