With US stocks headed for their worst week of the year, the last thing traders (both human and machine) wanted to see Friday morning was another story about how Chinese negotiators are getting cold feet about further trade negotiations. As the NYT reported last night, wariness about the possibility that President Trump might reject a carefully worked out deal at the last minute - as he did late last summer when he scrapped a round of talks planned by Steve Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow - has reportedly made them hesitant to keep negotiating, as most of the major concessions have come from the US side.
But that's exactly what they got.
This time, it was the FT confirming the narrative: The UK's financial paper of record reported that the date of a possible Mar-a-Lago summit has been pushed back, from late this month to some unknown later date, as the Chinese push for guarantees that the deal will effectively be finished before the two leaders meet.
A summit between US president Donald Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping has been pushed back from the end of March, as both sides try to pin down details and avoid an embarrassing failure. While the dates were not yet finalised, the two sides had been discussing a meeting at Mar-a-Lago on March 27 or March 28, immediately following Mr Xi’s planned trip to Europe. Those dates are now off. In an interview with American media on Friday, US ambassador to China Terry Branstad said that there are no dates for the summit, but the two sides are still negotiating.
Interestingly enough, sources familiar with Beijing's thinking said the Chinese had been "spooked" by President Trump's decision to walk out of the Hanoi summit with Kim Jong Un.
Mr Trump’s decision to walk out on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without an agreement at last month’s summit in Vietnam "just totally spooked" the Chinese side, said Jake Parker, of the US-China Business Council in Beijing. "They want a signing ceremony, they don’t want a negotiation." "Both sides would like it to happen," he added.
Given this, we can't help but wonder: Was the president set up to fail by the North Koreans as a ploy to give Beijing more leverage over the trade talks?
In any case, pressure is mounting on Beijing, as another batch of disappointing economic data (last night's exports collapse) followed a massive credit injection.
But as we pointed out, this doesn't bode well for the US, either.
And with futures deep in the red Friday morning, it's only a matter of time before President Trump fires off a few tweets proclaiming how "everything is awesome" between the US and Beijing. But depending on whether Friday's February jobs number lives up to the hype from January, the market ructions may or may not be resolved on their own.