No Magical Date

March 1st is no magical date
Said Trump, while investors fixate
On whether a deal
On trade will be sealed
By then, or if tariffs can wait

After a day where there was mercifully little discussion of the ongoing trade negotiations, they have come back to the fore. Yesterday, President Trump indicated that the March 1st deadline for a deal was now far more flexible than had previously been indicated. Based on the reports that there has been substantial progress made so far, it seems a foregone conclusion that tariffs will not be rising on March 2nd. However, key issues remain open, notably the question of forced technology transfer and IP theft. Of course, as the Chinese maintain that neither one of those things currently occur, it is difficult for them to accept a resolution and change their methods. On the flip side, both Trump and Xi really need a deal to remove a major economic concern as well as to demonstrate their ability to help their respective nations.

One of the things that appears to be on the agenda is a Chinese pledge to maintain a stable yuan going forward, rather than allowing the market to determine its value. Looking back, it is ironic that the IMF allowed the yuan to join the SDR in 2016 to begin with, given that it continues to lack a key characteristic for inclusion in the basket; the ability to be “freely usable” to make payments for international transactions. And while the PBOC had been alleging that they were slowly allowing more market influence on the currency in their efforts to internationalize it, the results of the trade talks seem certain to halt whatever progress has been made and likely reverse some portion of it. It should be no surprise that the yuan strengthened on the back of these reports with the currency rallying 0.8% since yesterday morning. If currency control is part of the deal, then my previous views that the renminbi will weaken this year need to be changed. Given the continued presence of financial controls in China, if they choose to maintain a strong CNY, they will be able to do so, regardless of what happens in the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, away from the trade saga, the ongoing central bank activities remain the top story for markets. This has been made clear by comments from several central bankers in the past 24 hours. First, we heard from Cleveland Fed President Mester who, unlike the rest of the speakers lately, indicated that she expects rates to be higher by the end of the year. her view is that 3.00% is the neutral rate and that while waiting right now makes sense, the growth trajectory she expects will require still higher rates. However, while the FX market paid her some attention, it is not clear that the equity market did. Two things to note are that she is likely the most hawkish member of the Fed to begin with, and she is not a voting member this year, so will not be able to express her views directly.

Remember, too, that at 2:00 this afternoon, the FOMC Minutes of the January meeting will be released. Market participants and analysts are all very interested to see the nature of the conversation that led to the remarkable reversal from ‘further rate hikes are likely, to ‘patience is appropriate for now’ all while economic data remained largely unchanged. Until that release, most traders will be reluctant to add to any positions and movement is likely to be muted.

Across the pond, ECB Member Peter Praet continues to discuss the prospect of rolling over TLTRO’s which begin coming due in June of next year. Remember, one of the key issues for the Eurozone banks who availed themselves of this funding is that once the maturities fall below one year, it ceases to be considered long term funding and impacts bank capital ratios. Banks will then either have to call in loans that were made on the basis of this funding, or raise loan interest rates, or see their profits reduced as they pay more for their capital. None of these situations will help Eurozone growth. So, despite claims that banks must stand on their own, and TLTRO’s will only be rolled over if there is a monetary policy case to be made, the reality is that it is quite clear the ECB will roll these loans over. If they don’t, it will require the restarting of asset purchases or some other easing measure.

Once again, I will highlight that given the current growth and inflation trajectories in the Eurozone, there is a vanishingly small probability that the ECB will allow policy to get tighter than its current settings, and a pretty large probability that they will ease further. This will not help the euro regardless of the Fed’s actions. Yesterday saw the euro rally on the back of the updated trade story, but that has been stopped short as the market begins to accept the idea that the ECB is not going to tighten policy at all. Thus, this morning, the euro is unchanged.

The final story of note is, of course, Brexit, where the most recent word is that PM May is seeking to get a subtle change in the EU stance on the backstop plan thus allowing a new vote, this time with a chance of passing. The pro-Brexit concern is that the current form of the backstop will force the UK to be permanently attached to the EU’s trade regime with no say in the matter, exactly the opposite of what they voted for. May is meeting with EU President Juncker today, and it is quite possible that the EU is starting to feel the pressure of the ramifications of a no-deal Brexit and getting concerned. The Brexit outcome remains highly uncertain, but the FX implications remain the same; a Brexit deal will help the pound rally initially, while a no-deal Brexit will see a sharp decline in Sterling. Yesterday there was hope for the deal and the pound rallied. This morning, not so much as the pound has given back half the gain and is down 0.2% on the day.

Elsewhere, the dollar has been mixed with gainers and losers in both the G10 and the EMG blocs as everybody awaits the Minutes, which is the only data for the day. It is hard to believe there will be much movement ahead of them, and afterwards, it will depend on what they say.

Good luck
Adf

Quite Sublime

The markets are biding their time
Awaiting a new paradigm
On trade and on growth
While hoping that both
Instill attitudes quite sublime

The dollar has rebounded this morning as most of the news from elsewhere in the world continues to point to worsening economic activity. For example, the German ZEW survey printed at -13.4, which while marginally better than the expected -13.6, remains some 35 points below its long-term average of +22. So, while things could always be worse, there is limited indication that the German economy is rebounding from its stagnation in H2 2018. Meanwhile, Italian Industrial Orders fell to -1.8%, well below the +0.5% expectation, and highlighting the overall slowing tenor of growth in the Eurozone. As I have mentioned over the past several days, we continue to hear a stream of ECB members talking about adding stimulus as they slowly recognize that their previous views of growth had been overestimated. With all this in mind, it should be no surprise the euro is lower by 0.25% this morning, giving back all of yesterday’s gains.

At the same time, Swedish inflation data showed a clear decrease in the headline rate, from 2.2%, down to the Riksbank’s 2.0% target. This is a blow to the Riksbank as they had been laying the groundwork to raise rates later this year in an effort to end ZIRP. Alas, slowing growth and inflation have put paid to that idea for now, and the currency suffered accordingly with the krone falling 1.5% on the release, and remaining there since then. Despite very real intentions by European central bankers to normalize policy, all the indications are that the economy there is not yet ready to cooperate by demonstrating solid growth.

The last data point of note overnight was UK employment, where the Unemployment rate remained at a 40 year low of 4.0% and the number of workers grew by 167K, a better than expected outcome. In addition, average earnings continue to climb at a 3.4% pace, which remains the highest pace since 2008. Absent the Brexit debate, and based on previous comments, it is clear that the BOE would feel the need to raise rates in this situation. But the Brexit debate is ongoing and uncertainty reigns which means there will be no rate hikes anytime soon. The latest news is that Honda is closing a factory in Swindon, although they say the driving impulse is not Brexit per se, but weaker overall demand. Nonetheless, the 4500 jobs lost will be a blow to that city and to the UK overall. Meanwhile, the internal politics remain just as jumbled as ever, and the political infighting on both sides of the aisle there may just result in the hard Brexit that nobody seems to want. Basically, every MP is far more concerned about their own political future than about the good of the nation. And that short-sightedness is exactly how mistakes are made. As it happens, the strong UK data has supported the pound relative to other currencies, although it is unchanged vs. the dollar this morning.

Pivoting to the EMG bloc, the dollar is generally, but not universally higher. Part of that is because much of the dollar’s strength has been in the wake of European data well after Asian markets were closed. And part of that is because today’s stories are not really dollar focused, but rather currency specific. Where the dollar has outperformed, the movement has been modest (INR +0.2%, KRW +0.2%, ZAR +0.4%), but it has fallen against others as well (BRL -0.2%, PHP -0.2%). In the end, there is little of note ongoing here.

Turning to the news cycle, US-China trade talks are resuming in Washington this week, but the unbridled optimism that seemed to surround them last week has dissipated somewhat. This can be seen in equity markets which are flat to lower today, with US futures pointing to a -0.2% decline on the opening while European stocks are weaker by between -0.4% and -0.6% at this point in the morning. On top of that, Treasury yields are creeping down, with the 10-year now at 2.66% and 10-year Bunds at 0.10%, as there is the feeling of a modest risk-off sentiment developing.

At this point, the key market drivers seem to be on hold, and until we receive new information, I expect limited activity. So, tomorrow’s FOMC Minutes and Thursday’s ECB Minutes will both be parsed carefully to try to determine the level of concern regarding growth in the US and Europe. And of course, any news on either trade or Brexit will have an impact, although neither seems very likely today. With all that in mind, today is shaping up to be a dull affair in the FX markets, with limited reason for the dollar to extend its early morning gains, nor to give them back. There is no US data and just one speaker, Cleveland’s Loretta Mester, who while generally hawkish has backed off her aggressive stance from late last year. Given that she speaks at 9:00 this morning, it may be the highlight of the session.

Good luck
Adf

 

The Hawks Will Oppose

As growth there continually slows
The ECB already knows
More policy ease
Will certainly please
The doves, though the hawks will oppose

If you manage to get past Brexit and the US-China trade talks, there are two other themes that are clearly dominating recent economic discussions. The first is the slowing of global growth based on what has been an increasingly long run of disappointing data around the world. Granted part of this is attributed to the ongoing uncertainty over the Brexit outcome, and part of this is attributed to the ongoing uncertainty over the trade talks. But there seems to be a growing likelihood that slowing growth is organic. By that I mean that even without either Brexit or the questions over trade, growth would be slowing. Virtually every day we either see weaker than expected data, or we hear from central bankers that they are closely watching the data to insure their policies are appropriate.

The recent change has been the plethora of those central bankers who are highlighting the weak data and the need to reevaluate what had been tightening impulses. In the past several days we have heard that message from SF Fed President Daly, ECB member Coeuré and ECB member Villeroy, all of whom have pointed out that raising rates no longer seems appropriate. What has been more surprising is that the more hawkish central bankers (Mester and George in the US, Weidmann and Nowotny at the ECB) have not pushed back at all, and instead have subtly nodded their heads in agreement. At this point, my gut tells me that the probability of another rate hike this year by any major central bank is near zero.

This observation leads to the other story which continues to gain ground, with yet another WSJ story on the subject this morning, MMT. Modern Monetary Theory, you may recall, is the post-hoc rationalization that limiting government spending because of silly things like debt and deficits is not merely unnecessary, but actually ‘immoral’ if that spending could be used for benefits like free college tuition or free healthcare for all or a minimum basic wage. It seems that MMT is set to overturn 250 years of economic analysis and upend simple things like supply and demand. The frightening thing about this discussion is that it is being taken very seriously at the highest political levels on both sides of the aisle, which implies to me that we are going to see some changes in the law within the next few years. After all, what politician doesn’t love the idea that they can spend on every harebrained idea and not have to worry about funding it through tax revenues. The guns and butter approach is every elected official’s dream. Borrowing ceilings? Bah, why bother. Deficits growing to 10% or more of GDP? No big deal! The Fed can simply print the money to pay for things and there is no consequence!

Granted, I don’t have 250 years of experience myself, but I do have over 35 years of market experience, and I disagree that there will be no consequences. This time is never different, only the rationales for bad actions change. Ultimately, the question of importance from an FX perspective is, how will currency markets be impacted by these policies? The answer is it will depend on the sequence of timing as different countries adopt them, but I would expect things to go something like this for every country:

Explicit MMT adoption will lead to currency strength as expectations of faster growth will lead to investment inflows. Currency strength will have two results, first MMT proponents will initially claim that the old way of thinking about the economy has been all wrong given that increased supply will lead to a higher priced currency. But the second outcome, which will take a little longer to become evident, will be an increase in inflation and destruction of corporate earnings, both of which will lead to a decided outflow of investment and a much weaker currency. At that point, the available options will be to raise interest rates (leading to recession) or raise taxes (leading to recession). Transitioning from massive fiscal and monetary stimulus, to neither will have a devastating impact on an economy. I only hope that the proponents of this lunacy are held to account during those dark days, but I doubt that will happen.

However, despite my fears that this will occur much sooner than anyone currently expects, it will not be policy this year. Alas, leading up to the 2020 presidential elections, it may look like a good call for Mr. Trump next year.

Let’s move back to today’s markets. After another strong session on Friday, the dollar has given back some of those gains this morning. Friday’s move was on the back of the Coeuré statements that the ECB will be considering rolling over the TLTRO’s, something that I mentioned several weeks ago as a given. But that more dovish rhetoric from the ECB was enough to drive it lower. This morning’s rebound (EUR, GBP and AUD +0.35% each) looks more like profit taking given there has been exactly zero new information in the markets. In fact, all eyes are on the central bank Minutes that will be released later this week as traders are looking for more clarity on just how dovish the central banks are turning. At this point, it feels like there is a pretty consistent view that rate hikes are over everywhere.

What about data this week? In truth, there is very little, with the FOMC Minutes the clear highlight:

Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 229K
  Philly Fed 14.0
  Durable Goods 1.5%
  -ex transport 0.2%
  Existing Home Sales 5.00M

However, we do have six Fed speeches this week from five different FOMC members (Williams speaks twice). Based on all we have heard, there is no reason to believe that the message will be anything other than a continuation of the recent dovishness. In fact, as most of the speeches are Friday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the dovishness ramped up if Thursday’s data is softer than forecast. That is clearly the direction for now. We also hear from four more ECB speakers, including Signor Draghi on Friday. These, too, are likely to reflect the new dovish tone that is breaking out all over.

In the end, the dollar remains hostage to the Fed first, then other central banks. Right now, the narrative has changed quickly from Fed tightening to a Fed that is willing to wait much longer before getting concerned over potential inflation. Unless other central bankers are really dovish, I expect the market will see the current dialog as a dollar negative. Right up until the point where the ECB flinches and says further ease is necessary. But for today, modest further dollar depreciation seems to be about right.

Good luck
Adf

Two Countries that Fought

There once were two countries that fought
‘bout trade as each one of them thought
The other was cheating
Preventing competing
By champions both of them sought

They sat down to seek a solution
So both could avoid retribution
But talks have been tough
And not yet enough
To get a deal for execution

The US-China trade talks continued overnight, and though progress in some areas has been made, clearly it has not yet been enough to bring in the leadership. The good news is that the talks are set to continue next week back in Washington. The bad news is that the information coming out shows that two of the key issues President Trump has highlighted, forced technology transfer and subsidies for SOE’s, are nowhere near agreement. The problem continues to be that those are pillars of the Chinese economic model, and they are going to be loath to cede them. As of this morning, increased tariffs are still on the docket for midnight, March 2, but perhaps next week enough progress will be made to support a delay.

Equity markets around the world seemed to notice that a deal wasn’t a slam dunk, and have sold off, starting with a dull session in the US yesterday, followed by weakness throughout Asia (Nikkei -1.1%, Shanghai -1.4%). Interestingly, the European markets have taken a different view of things this morning, apparently attaching their hopes to the fact that talks will continue next week, and equity markets there are quite strong (DAX +1/0%, FTSE +0.4%). And the dollar? Modestly higher at this time, but overall movement has been muted.

Asian markets also felt the impact of Chinese inflation data showing CPI fell to 1.7% last month, below expectations and another indication that growth is slowing there. However, the loan data from China showed that the PBOC is certainly making every effort to add liquidity to the economy, although it has not yet had the desired impact. As to the renminbi, it really hasn’t done anything for the past month, and it appears that traders are biding their time as they wait for some resolution on the trade situation. One would expect that a trade deal could lead to modest CNY strength, but if the talks fall apart, and tariffs are raised further, look for CNY to fall pretty aggressively.

As to Europe, the biggest news from the continent was political, not economic, as Spain’s PM was forced to call a snap election after he lost support of the Catalan separatists. This will be the nation’s third vote in the past four years, and there is no obvious coalition, based on the current polls, that would be able to form. In other words, Spain, which has been one of the brighter lights in the Eurozone economically, may see some political, and by extension, economic ructions coming up.

Something else to consider on this issue is how it will impact the Brexit negotiations, which have made no headway at all. PM May lost yet another Parliamentary vote to get the right to go back and try to renegotiate terms, so is weakened further. The EU does not want a hard Brexit but feels they cannot even respond to the UK as the UK has not put forth any new ideas. At this point, I would argue the market is expecting a delay in the process and an eventual deal of some sort. But a delay requires the assent of all 27 members that are remaining in the bloc. With Spain now in political flux, and the subject of the future of Gibraltar a political opportunity for domestic politics, perhaps a delay will not be so easy to obtain. All I know is that I continue to see a non-zero probability for a policy blunder on one or both sides, and a hard Brexit.

A quick look at the currency markets here shows the euro slipping 0.2% while the pound has edged higher by 0.1% this morning. Arguably, despite the Brexit mess, the pound has been the beneficiary of much stronger than expected Retail Sales data (+1.0% vs. exp +0.2%), but in the end, the pound is still all about Brexit. The sum total of the new economic information received in the past 24 hours reaffirms that global growth is slowing. Not only are inflation pressures easing in China, but US Retail Sales data was shockingly awful, with December numbers falling -1.2%. This is certainly at odds with the tune most retail companies have been singing in their earnings reports, and given the data was delayed by the shutdown, many are wondering if the data is mistaken. But for the doves on the Fed, it is simply another point in their favor to maintain the status quo.

Recapping, we see trade talks dragging on with marginal progress, political pressure growing in Spain, mixed economic data, but more bad news than good news, and most importantly, a slow shift in the narrative to a story of slowing growth will beget the end of monetary tightening and could well presage monetary ease in the not too distant future. After all, markets are pricing in rate cuts by the Fed this year and no rate movement in the ECB (as opposed to Draghi’s mooted rate hikes later this year) until at least 2020. The obvious response to this is…add risk!

A quick look at today’s data shows Empire State Manufacturing (exp 7.0), IP (0.1%), Capacity Utilization (78.7%) and Michigan Sentiment (94.5). We also have one last Fed speaker, Raphael Bostic from Atlanta. Virtually all the recent Fed talk has been about when to stop the balance sheet runoff, with Brainerd and Mester the latest to discuss the idea that it should stop soon. And my guess is it will do just that. I would be surprised if they continue running down the balance sheet come summer. The changes going forward will be to the composition, less mortgages and more Treasuries, but not the size. And while some might suggest that will remove a dollar support, I assure you, if the Fed has stopped tightening, no other nation is going to continue. Ironically, this is not going to be a dollar negative, either today or going forward.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

The Market’s Malaise

Said Trump we might wait sixty days
Before, Chinese tariffs, we raise
Since talks have gone well
There’s no need to sell
Thus ended the market’s malaise

The US-China trade talks continue to dominate the news cycle with the latest news being President Trump’s comments that a sixty-day delay before imposing further tariffs is being considered. While this had been mooted by many analysts, including me, it still was sufficient to help boost the equity market in the US yesterday afternoon. Interestingly, it also seemed to boost the dollar, which rallied throughout yesterday’s session. Clearly, if the Chinese trade situation gets settled, which I continue to believe is quite difficult, it is a net positive for the global economy. But don’t forget that the President is also looking at tariffs on the European auto sector, as well as is maintaining tariffs on imported aluminum and steel, so all is not clear yet. But certainly, the China story has received top billing of late.

The other big story, Brexit, has had less press lately (at least outside the UK) as the ongoing machinations of the British Parliamentary process remain obscure to almost everyone else. The current argument seems to be that a bloc of EU skeptics wants to ensure that the option of a no-deal Brexit remains on the table as a negotiating tactic. You can’t really blame the EU for getting frustrated as the UK has not yet provided a united front as to their demands. But with that said, ultimately it will come down to the Irish backstop and how that can be tweaked to get enough support by the UK. It’s still a game of chicken. Elsewhere in the UK, MPC member Gertjan Vlieghe, one of the more dovish by reputation, commented that a hard Brexit was unlikely to require higher rates as Governor Carney had mentioned previously. That has been my stance all along, and I continue to see the UK leaning toward cutting rates as growth continues to ebb there.

Speaking of ebbing growth, German GDP in Q4 printed at 0.0%, no growth at all. If you recall, Q3 growth there was -0.2%, so they barely avoided a technical recession. While many analysts continue to point to a series of one-off circumstances that drove the poor performance, it remains pretty clear that the underlying growth impulse is under downward pressure. We saw this when the IMF and the European Commission both significantly reduced their forecasts for 2019 GDP growth in Germany, as well as throughout the Eurozone. Today’s data did nothing to change any views on that issue. Regarding the impact on the euro, while it is unchanged today, that is after a 0.5% decline yesterday and a more than 2% decline this month. In the end, the relative situation continues to favor the dollar over the euro in my view.

Japan released GDP data last night as well, with Q4 growth rebounding to a 1.4% annual rate after a sharp decline in Q3. Here, too, Q3 was blamed on idiosyncratic features, but the underlying features of this report show slowing consumption and softening external demand. The yen has been moving in lock-step with the euro, having fallen pretty steadily all month and is down a bit more than 2.0% as well. The difference between the euro and the yen, however is that the yen retains its haven status, and if the deterioration of economic growth continues and we start pushing toward recession, I see the yen outperforming going forward.

Stepping back and looking at the broad picture of the dollar this morning, it is modestly higher, with gains against some EMG currencies (INR, RUB, BRL), but weakness against both Aussie and Kiwi. In the end, the major currencies have done little although it seems the dollar continues to have legs, even in the short term.

On the data front, yesterday’s CPI data came in just a touch firmer than expected, with the core number unchanged at 2.2% rather than the expected 0.1% decline. This morning brings PPI, which nobody is really going to care about given we already got CPI, and Retail Sales, which have been delayed by the shutdown. Expectations there are for a 0.2% rise with a 0.1% rise ex autos. Yesterday we also heard from three Fed speakers, all of whom expressed confidence the economy was solid, and today we hear from one more. As I have recently written, the Fed message has been very consistent lately, growth is solid, inflation pressures remain tame and there is no reason to raise rates further. As long as that remains the case, it will support asset markets, and likely the dollar.

Good luck
Adf

 

Great Apprehensions

In England the rate of inflation
Has fallen despite expectation
By Carney and friends
That recent price trends
Would offer rate hike validation

But markets have turned their attentions
To news of two likely extensions
The deadline on trade
And Brexit charade
Have tempered some great apprehensions

Two key data points lead the morning news with UK inflation falling below the BOE’s 2.0% target for the first time since the Brexit vote while Eurozone IP fell far more sharply than expected. Headline CPI in the UK declined to 1.8% while core remained at 1.9%, with both printing lower than market expectations. Given the slowing economic picture in the UK (remember the slowest growth in six years was reported for Q4 and 2018 as a whole), this cannot be that much of a surprise. Except, perhaps, to Governor Carney and his BOE brethren. Carney continues to insist that the BOE may need to raise rates in the event of a hard Brexit given the possibility of an inflation spike. Certainly, there is no indication that is likely at the present time, but I guess anything is possible. Granted he has explained that nothing would be done until the “fog of Brexit” has lifted but given the overall global growth trajectory (lower) and the potential for disruption, it seems far more likely that the next BOE move is down, not up. The pound originally sold off on the news but has since reversed course and is higher by 0.3% as I type. Overriding the data seems to be a growing belief that both sides will blink in the Brexit negotiations resulting in a tentative agreement of a slightly modified deal with a few extra months made available to ratify everything. That’s probably not a bad bet, but it is by no means certain.

On the Continent, the data story was also lackluster, with Eurozone IP falling a much worse than expected -0.9% in December and -4.2% Y/Y. It is abundantly clear that Germany’s problems are not unique and that the probability of a Eurozone recession in 2019 is growing. After all, Italy is already there, and France has seen its survey data plummet in the wake of the ongoing Gilets Jaunes protests. However, despite this data, the euro has held onto yesterday’s modest gains and is little changed on the day. The thing is, I still cannot figure out a scenario where the ECB actually raises rates given the economic situation. Even ECB President Draghi has recognized that the risks are to the downside for the bloc’s economy, and yet he is fiercely holding onto the idea that the next move will be higher rates. It won’t be higher rates. The next move is to roll over the TLTRO’s and interest rates will remain negative for as far as the eye can see. There is a growing belief in the market that because the Fed has halted its policy tightening, the dollar will fall. But since every other central bank is in the same boat, the relative impact still seems to favor the US.

Away from those stories, the market continues to believe that a US-China trade deal is almost done. At least, that’s the way equity markets are trading. President Trump’s comment that he would consider extending the March 1 tariff deadline if there was sufficient progress and it looked like a deal was in the offing certainly helped sentiment. But as with the Brexit issue, where the Irish border situation does not offer a simple compromise, the US requests for ending forced technology transfer and IP theft as well as the reduction of non-tariff barriers strike at the heart of the Chinese economic model and will not be easily overcome. It seems that the most likely outcome will be a delay of some sort and then a deal that will have limited long-term impact but will get played up by both sides as win-win. In the meantime, the PBOC will continue to add stimulus to the economy, as will the fiscal authorities, as they seek to slow the rate of decline. And you can be sure that no matter how the economy actually performs, the GDP data will be firmly above expectations.

And those are the big stories. The dollar has had a mixed performance overnight with two currencies making substantial gains, NZD +1.25% and SEK +0.6%, both of which responded to surprises by their respective central banks. The RBNZ left rates on hold, as universally expected, but instead of offering signs of further rate cuts, simply explained that rates would remain on hold for two years before likely rising. This was taken as hawkish and the currency responded accordingly. Similarly, the Riksbank in Stockholm explained that they still see the need for rates to rise later this year despite the current slowing growth patterns throughout Europe. As I had written yesterday, expectations were growing that they would back away from any policy tightening, so the krone’s rally should be no real surprise. But beyond those two stories, movement has been much less substantial in both the G10 and EMG blocs.

This morning’s data brings CPI (exp 1.5% headline, 2.1% core) which will be closely watched by all markets. Any further weakness will likely see another leg higher in equity markets as it will cement the case for the Fed having reached the end of the tightening cycle. A surprise on the high side ought to have the opposite impact, as concerns the Fed might not yet be done will resurface. There are also three Fed speakers, but for now, that message of Fed on hold seems pretty unanimous across the FOMC.

Absent a surprise, my money is on a directionless day today. The dollar’s recent rally has stalled and without a new catalyst will have a hard time restarting. However, there is no good reason to think things have gotten worse for the buck either.

Good luck
Adf

 

Progress Is Real

In Beijing, talks focused on trade
Continue as both sides conveyed
That progress is real
With hopes for a deal
Increasing, or so it’s portrayed

Once again, the market is embracing the idea that a trade deal is coming and coming soon. Talks in Beijing have restarted and while yesterday President Trump indicated he would not be meeting Chinese President Xi by month’s end, as had been suggested last week, this morning, Mr Trump expressed a desire to meet with him “very soon”. Investors have taken this to mean that while a deal may not be completed by the initial March 1st deadline, there will be an extension of the truce and no tariff increases at that time. It should be no surprise that the equity market has taken this news well, with Asian stocks generally rallying (Nikkei +2.6%, Shanghai +0.7%), European stocks following suit (DAX + 1.3%, CAC + 1.1%) and US equity futures pointing higher (DJIA + 0.8%, S&P + 0.7%). Adding to the bullishness has been the news that there is a tentative deal in Congress to avoid a second government shutdown. So, all the stars have aligned for the bulls today.

And yet, the data continues to be lackluster with limited prospect to improve in the short run. A random sampling of recent releases shows that UK growth (as mentioned yesterday) was the weakest in six years and shows no signs of picking up ahead of Brexit. But also, Norwegian inflation is sinking along with Mexican IP and the Australian housing market. South African Unemployment remains near a record 27.5% and even the NFIB Survey here at home has fallen to its lowest level since November 2016 (Trump’s election), although it remains much closer to its historic highs than its lows. The point is that despite soothing words from central bank officials that recent weaker data is temporary, it is looking nothing of the sort. I’m not sure when temporary morphs into long-term, but we are now pushing into our fifth consecutive month of slowing global data and the trend shows no signs of abating.

So, what is an investor or a hedger to conclude from all this? Is the trade deal more important? Or is it the ongoing data story? While both of those may have short-term impacts, the reality remains that it is still the central banks that exert the most influence on markets. The Fed’s complete conversion from hawk to dove in six weeks has been THE dominant force in markets since December. Not only has that conversion helped the US markets, but it has dramatically reduced pressure on other nations to maintain their own hawkishness. This can be seen in the BOE, where earlier talk of needing to hike rates in the event of Brexit has abated. It can be seen in the ECB where the conversation has changed from raising rates in the autumn to what other measures of stimulus can they provide given the current negative rates and bloated balance sheet. (TLTRO’s will absolutely be rolled over.) In Scandinavia, both Norway and Sweden have seen inflation data decline and are now seen as far more likely to leave rates on hold rather than raising them as had been expected just a few months ago. And not to be outdone, the PBOC, which had been in the midst of a two-year program to reduce excess leverage in China, has handily turned far more dovish, injecting significant liquidity and ‘encouraging’ banks to make loans to SME’s there. So, in the end, while the trade story may garner headlines for a few more weeks, it remains a central bank controlled world.

As to today, the dollar is dipping slightly after a continued solid rally during yesterday’s session. This has been more evident in the EMG space than in G10. For example, MXN (+0.4%) and BRL (+0.95%) are leading the way in LATAM while INR (+0.7%) and CNY (+0.3%) have benefitted from the dollar’s lackluster performance. And of course, the dovish turn by the Fed has had an especially beneficial impact on EMG currencies since so many companies located there borrow in dollars. The idea that US rates have stopped rising has been one of the biggest changes we have seen.

However, it is important to remember that on a relative basis, US policy remains tighter than that anywhere else in the world, and as it becomes clearer that other central banks will turn more dovish, the dollar should retain its footing.

We have already seen the NFIB data print weaker than expected, and the only other data point today is the JOLT’s Jobs report (exp 6.90M), however, we do hear from Chairman Powell at 12:45 this afternoon, so all eyes will be on him. The thing is, given the data we have seen since the Fed changed course has continue to be weak, I would argue the only surprise can be dovish. In other words, comments hinting that the Fed will end the balance sheet roll-off, or a reevaluation of the neutral rate lower would be the type of thing to start a big rally. In the event that something like that were to occur, look for equities to rocket and the dollar to fall. But given the sudden increase in stories about prices rising in consumer products (yesterday’s WSJ talking about cat litter and detergent, today’s about Whole Foods raising prices), it seems hard to believe that a more dovish tone is likely.

In the end, the dollar has had a good run over the past two weeks. If that is ending, it is entirely reasonable, but don’t look for a collapse.

Good luck
Adf