Mario’s Turn

Inflation was kind of a flop

As core prices didn’t much pop

Then Janet regaled

Investors but failed

To sell the idea stocks could drop

 

The Old Lady’s next to report

Excitement, though’s, sure to fall short

She’s clearly on hold

Til Brexit unfolds

While Carney just holds down the fort

 

Then lastly it’s Mario’s turn

Where euro bulls, to a man, yearn

For hints that QE

Will end more quickly

Else they’ll all wind up with heartburn!

 

Starting with the Fed yesterday afternoon, markets have been convulsed by central bank activities in both G10 and emerging markets. And the fun will continue until Signor Draghi finishes his press conference later this morning. So let’s recap what we have learned so far:

FOMC – raised rates 25bps, as expected, and continued to describe economic growth as moderate and risks as roughly balanced. The dot plot indicated median expectations for Fed Funds in 2020 rose to 3.25%, up from the previous reading of 2.875%, but there were two dissents on the vote compared to a unanimous decision in September. Net, it appears that when Jay Powell takes over, he will be following the same course for now, although certainly if the data starts to change, specifically the inflation data, we are likely to see an altered path.

PBOC – raised several rates by 0.05% overnight in an attempt to maintain the balance between their efforts to deleverage the economy further while still encouraging growth. They also added substantial liquidity to the market to prevent any squeeze in short term funding. It seems clear that the Chinese are going to continue to take their lead from the Fed as they navigate their own internal issues. There was virtually no impact on the currency.

SNB – the Swiss left rates unchanged as they continue to call the franc overvalued despite its 7% decline vs. the euro thus far this year. Inflation remains below target, although it is finally climbing slightly. There was no indication that they will be changing the policy rate until well after the ECB starts to raise rates, which, as of now, seems unlikely before 2019. The Swiss franc weakened slightly after the announcement as any hope of a rate change from the current -0.75% was dashed for a longer than expected period.

Norgesbank – while the Norwegians left rates on hold, as expected, they raised their forecast rates starting in Q4 2018 and beyond as they now foresee global growth continuing and driving up the global rate structure. This adjustment surprised the market and NOK has rallied by 1% this morning on the news, by far the biggest mover in the G10 bloc. This is especially in contrast to the Riksbank, who gave no indication that policy rates in Sweden would be moving any time soon.

Central Bank of Turkey – the Turks raised the Lending rate by just 50bps, half the 100bps expected by the market heading into the meeting. It seems that the Central bank is feeling the pressure from President Erdogan who has been calling for lower rates to tame rising Turkish inflation. The lira took the news poorly, tumbling 1.6% within minutes of the announcement and has remained at this new, lower level since then.

ECB – This is the last major central bank meeting of the year. Expectations are for no policy changes, with rates remaining on hold while QE continues, but there are high hopes by euro bulls that Signor Draghi will hint at QE ending completely next September, or that there might be a change in the timing of when rates start to rise. While the Eurozone economy has clearly improved significantly during the past year, the inflation conundrum there is even stronger than here in the US, with core inflation still below 1.0%, far lower than its target of ‘close to, but below 2.0%.’ As I wrote yesterday, inflation has become the key metric for virtually all central banks at this point, and until those readings start to pick up, I find it extremely difficult to believe that the ECB is going to change its stance.

Yesterday, the US core inflation data disappointed, printing at 0.1%, which served to keep alive the debate about why inflation doesn’t seem to respond to the robust employment data. Yellen had no answers at her press conference other than to say that they expect it will eventually occur. However, the soft inflation data yesterday did undermine the dollar, which was consistently weaker all session.

Interestingly, in the time I have been writing my note this morning, early further weakness in the dollar has largely abated, and except for the above mentioned central bank impacts on CHF, NOK and TRY, the dollar is virtually unchanged. This morning also brings some US data to add to the mix with Initial Claims (exp 236K) unlikely to move markets, although Retail Sales (exp 0.3%, 0.6% -ex autos) could have a bigger impact. My sense here is that stronger than expected data will be taken in stride by the markets with little impact, however weakness might be reflected in the dollar losing some additional ground. Of course, it all depends on what the ECB does. They release their policy statement at 7:45 EST and then Draghi faces the press at 8:30. I expect that until we hear from Draghi, markets will remain little changed, but then all bets are off. After all, he has been known to surprise us all.

With the last of the central bank decisions out of the way by day’s end, this will be the last poetry until January 3rd. In that spirit, and in the spirit of the season, may you all have a wonderful holiday and a happy and healthy New Year.

 

Until 2018…

Adf

Further Amends

First, CPI data’s released

Which ought to show prices increased

Then Janet and friends

Make further amends

With twenty-five bps at the least

 

Ugh! How many days in a row do I need to describe market activity as dull? Once again there has been minimal movement overnight across most markets, although at least today brings two events which might have some real impact. First thing this morning we see November CPI data released with expectations at 0.4% (2.2% Y/Y) for the headline number and 0.2% (1.8% Y/Y) for the ex food & energy print. While these numbers are lower than they were back in February, when there was much discussion of how the Fed may be forced to respond more forcefully to incipient inflation, looking back over the past two years, the trend higher remains quite clear and old concerns over deflation are a distant memory. Given yesterday’s higher than expected PPI print, I would argue that a small portion of the market is even looking for a high-side surprise.

One thing I do know is that the big picture narrative continues to downplay any significant inflationary pressures in the US, or at least assumes that the market has already priced those in. Investor surveys consistently show that higher inflation is a very low priority for most fund managers although it is likely one of the biggest risks that exists to the current ‘goldilocks’ scenario. Consider this, if measured US inflation starts to climb more rapidly than currently expected, Jay Powell may find himself pushed into a far more aggressive reduction of policy accommodation than currently forecast. Remember, too, that the futures market is currently pricing just 40bps of rate hikes next year. What if that number turns into 125bps or 150bps due to rising inflation? I assure you that will have a significant negative impact on financial asset prices! And while I am not trying to forecast an outlier event, neither is it is inconceivable.

This brings us to the other event today, the FOMC statement and following press conference. The market has fully priced in a 25bp rate hike for today and given the last rhetoric we had from any Fed speakers, that is in line with their thoughts as well. Certainly there has been no data released in the interim that would change that view. So all eyes will be on the new dot plot as a means to anticipating the Fed’s view of the future of interest rates. The current median forecast for Fed Funds at the end of 2020 is 2.875%, which as a terminal rate would be historically low. Given that after today’s move, Fed Funds will be at 1.50%, it means there is not very much movement left ahead. This is one of the reasons that forecasts are for the dollar to decline next year and beyond. After all, both the ECB and BOJ currently have much lower rates and therefore, theoretically, far more room to raise them. In fact, there is growing talk that the ECB, when they meet tomorrow, may signal a shorter timeline between the end of QE and the first rate hikes. My point is, as expectations gel around the idea that the Fed won’t be doing much more, relative monetary policy tightness would turn to favor other currencies.

But…all this presumes that the dot plot is an accurate representation of the future. What happens if measured inflation in the US begins to pick up more rapidly? It is very easy to envision that the dot plot will be adjusted higher quite quickly in the event that we see faster inflation. This is especially true if the Average Hourly Earnings data starts to climb at a quicker pace (wages, as per the Atlanta Fed are already rising at 3.4%). In the long history of Fed Funds, 2.875% is far closer to the lows than the highs. There is no reason that Fed Funds cannot move back toward 4% or 5% if inflation persists alongside GDP growth. All I’m saying is that it is quite shortsighted to consider Fed Funds at 3.0% as ‘high’. In fact it is quite low! So do not be fooled into thinking that the ECB or BOJ have more room to raise rates than does the Fed, it is simply not true. And that is a key underlying feature of the current narrative.

Well, we shall see later today how the next step progresses, but arguably, come March, the inflation story will be far better defined. In the meantime, the overnight markets have done virtually nothing, with only one currency moving more than 0.25%, the Brazilian real. The story there has been the setting of the date in January for the corruption trial of former President, Lula da Silva, which will likely prevent him for running for President again. He is seen as the least market friendly potential candidate, and so removing him from the equation was a distinct positive for the currency. This is doubly true as the economic story there continues to improve and they seem to be making some headway on their pension reforms. But away from that, both G10 and EMG currencies have traded in tight ranges with limited news.

Once the Fed is out of the way, we hear from the BOE and ECB tomorrow, with the latter offering an opportunity for some surprises, and then I would argue that there will be very little to discuss until the new year. As such, after tomorrow’s note, there will be no poetry until January 3, 2018, when the market is back closer to full strength.

 

Good luck

Adf

 

 

 

More Heed

Both Janet and Mario need

The market to pay them more heed

As prices inflate

They’re keen to frustrate

A chance of a market stampede

 

Dull continues to describe the FX market as volatility remains extremely low and traders have become inured to most of the political dramas ongoing around the world. Rather, the one thing that seems to excite the investing and trading community is inflation. While the overnight activity in FX has been very modest, the one exception is the Swedish krone, which has rallied 0.75%. The jump occurred immediately after the release of the November CPI data, which rose, surprisingly, to 1.9%. With inflation in Sweden clearly trending higher for the past two years and approaching their target while growth remains robust, it appears that the Riksbank will soon be sounding somewhat more hawkish. At least that is the FX market’s expectation based on today’s rally. In fact, I would argue that inflation has become the FX market’s key indicator at this point in time, and perhaps the key indicator for all markets.

This week we hear from the Fed, the ECB and the BOE, a rare occurrence when three of the four major central banks meet nearly synchronously. While expectations for all three are baked in, with the Fed almost certain to raise rates 25bps, while both the ECB and BOE remain on hold, all the attention will be focused on the statements that will accompany the meetings. In addition, this week we see CPI data from all three currency areas as well, so there will be one more data point on which they can hang their hat. And so the real question for the market is just how might the prevailing narrative change based on the newest data and any central bank comments.

The first data release, amongst these three, was today’s UK CPI which printed at 3.1%, slightly higher than expected and high enough to require Governor Mark Carney to write a letter of explanation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This quaint tradition is designed to insure that the BOE keeps its eye on the mandate, which is CPI inflation of 2.0%, + or – 1.0%. The thing is, inflation in the UK has been rising steadily ever since the Brexit vote last year and the subsequent sharp decline in the pound. Given the lag with which prices adjust, it is no surprise that we are seeing inflation peak so long after the fact. And keep in mind, since the pound bottomed in January, it has rallied more than 11%, thus removing some of the pressure from its initial decline. Virtually all forecasts are for CPI in the UK to start slipping back below the 3.0% level and eventually toward its target. Of course, that assumes the pound doesn’t fall sharply again. That remains a risk if the Brexit talks turn negative. Right now, given the impetus from the UK conceding every point regarding the exit process, there is hope that the trade talks will help bolster the UK economy and the pound. Given the history of trade talks, I would be a little bit wary of a happy ending on the timeline currently envisioned. However, I don’t believe anything is going to change the BOE policy picture in the short run and it will remain on hold through at least the end of next year. There is still far too much uncertainty in the process for the economy there to overheat.

This leads us to the US, where not only do we see the CPI data tomorrow morning, but the FOMC announces their policy decision and has a press conference tomorrow afternoon. The current forecast for CPI is 2.2% headline, 1.8% core, which if realized will help remove some of the mystery of low inflation. It means that the idiosyncratic features that have been mentioned, things like unlimited data plans for cell phones, will be ebbing out of the data while other things, like ongoing rises in housing and medical costs reassert themselves. There continues to be a dichotomy between goods and services, where goods prices have extraordinary difficulty being raised by merchants as the spread of on-line commerce pressures prices lower. This morning’s article in the WSJ about the Amazon effect was interesting, not so much for the article as much for the comments that accompanied it which focused on how much services, like eating out or going to the doctor have risen in price despite the fact that you can buy a screwdriver for less. While there is no question that the price of many goods, both durable and non-durable, have remained quite stable, there is also no question that we continue to see rising prices for services. And remember, services make up ~80% of the economy. I might argue that your personal CPI seems a bit higher than the measured version. At any rate, the question for markets is will there be a change of tone by Chair Yellen regarding the future trajectory of interest rates. And while the Fed follows PCE, which doesn’t get released until next week, I’m pretty sure that a surprise in CPI will not go unnoticed. But will it be enough to change the story? It will have to be quite large to do so.

Finally, the ECB meets Thursday with the Eurozone CPI measures officially released on Monday morning. However, I am quite certain that the ECB will have the data ahead of time and know the outcome when they meet. So this will really be the best opportunity for the narrative to change. The current expectation there is for a 1.5% headline print with core still hanging around below 1.0%. Given that these levels remain will below the ECB target of ‘close but below 2.0%’, it strikes me that the market is getting somewhat ahead of itself with the idea that the ECB will be taking a more aggressive tone at this meeting. I have read several articles where analysts are highlighting the ongoing positive growth story and pointing to Thursday’s meeting as a time when Signor Draghi is going to hint at an even faster reduction in QE, or a more definitive endpoint. Based on Mario’s history, I find it highly unlikely that he will do anything that will be seen as more hawkish here. And in fact, if the market responds to something he says in that manner, we will hear from at least three ECB members about how the market has misinterpreted the comments. My point is that there is no evidence that the ECB is ready to move faster than they have currently committed, and positioning for that outcome would be a mistake in my view.

Regarding inflation, however, there is one wildcard that is completely out of the hands of the central bankers, commodity prices. Prices in this segment of the economy have definitely lagged that of asset prices in the financial sector over the past several years, but seem to be picking up. When you consider the strengthening in the global economy, it should not be a real surprise that this happens. After all, more growth leads to greater demand for stuff. In the end, however, price pressures from this sector are not nearly sufficient to cause any of the central banks to act right away. And so while it may be a future concern, it seems unlikely to have any near term impact on markets.

In the end, I am strongly of the opinion that the status quo will be maintained, that the big three central banks will act exactly as expected and that there will be no changes to forecasts for 2018. In other words, as much as I believe a little volatility is actually a healthy thing for markets, I fear that neither Carney nor Yellen nor Draghi will add any to the mix this week.

While I was typing, US PPI was released at 0.4% with the ex food & energy reading at 0.3%. Both of these were 0.1% higher than expected and we have seen the dollar perk up a little in the aftermath. But we will need to see a much higher print from tomorrow’s CPI to get the Fed to change its tune. And to me, that seems pretty unlikely. In the end, the lack of volatility remains a hedger’s dream, so please don’t miss out!

 

Good luck

Adf

 

 

 

Rather Dreary

While FX remains rather dreary

The market for Bitcoin’s quite cheery

With futures now started

One can’t be fainthearted

When trading, though I’d still be leery

 

Undoubtedly the biggest news over the weekend was the inauguration of futures trading on Bitcoin by the CBOE. It has received all the press and all the hype although actual trading volumes have not been very large. It will be interesting to see how it progresses through the day, and of course, the CME begins trading in their own contract next Sunday. My one observation is that regardless of how one would value Bitcoin fundamentally, in a market environment the ability of the price of an asset to climb exponentially for any extended length of time is extremely limited. In other words, while it may eventually be worth much more than today’s value, my gut tells me that we are due for a very significant correction at some point, something on the order of 60% or more if history is any guide. Just beware if you own any.

But away from the excitement there, FX remains in the doldrums. In the G10 space there have been two movers of note, NOK and NZD. The former fell 1.0% as CPI data released this morning was softer than expected and traders took the news as a sign that Norway will be lagging the global move toward higher rates. Inflation there continues at around 1.1%, nowhere near the targeted 2.0% and it seems that the Norges Bank has been having only limited success turning things around. On the opposite side of the spectrum, NZD rallied 1.0% as the RBNZ had a new governor named. Adrian Orr, previously the CEO of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, was a mild surprise and is seen as somewhat more hawkish than the outgoing governor, Grant Spencer. Year to date, kiwi has been the worst performing currency in the G10 and the only one to actually decline vs. the dollar. This has seen quite a buildup of short positions, and with the prospect of a more hawkish RBNZ, last night saw a great deal of short covering. It is not clear to me this will last, but another day or two of a squeeze doesn’t seem improbable.

But boy, away from those two, it is hard to get excited about anything. Perhaps the most interesting situation is that of the British pound, which continues to drift slowly lower despite the ‘breakthrough’ in the Brexit negotiations a week ago. If you recall, when the news was announced the pound jumped up as high as 1.3520. But here we are this morning, as more sober views have been incorporated, with the pound trading more than 1.2% lower and continuing to drift in that direction. As I have written repeatedly in the past, it is difficult to see a medium term positive framework for the pound.

Turning to the emerging markets, it has also been an extremely dull session. While there are more currency gainers than losers, the biggest winner has been BRL, which opened higher by just 0.35%. And if that is all you can get out of an EMG currency, it tells you that interest continues to be elsewhere rather than in FX markets.

Looking ahead to the rest of the week, we have some important data, notably CPI, but of even greater interest we hear from both the Fed on Wednesday and the ECB on Thursday. While I don’t anticipate any surprises on the rate front (Fed +25bps, ECB unchanged) all eyes will be on their respective forecasts for how 2018 will play out on the rate front. But ahead of that, here is the week’s data:

 

Today JOLTS Job Openings 6.1M
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Confidence 104.0
  PPI 0.3%
  -ex food & energy 0.2%
  Monthly Budget Statement -$134.5B
Wednesday CPI 0.4% (2.2% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2%
  FOMC Rate Decision 1.50% (+0.25%)
Thursday ECB Rate Decision -0.4% (unchanged)
  Initial Claims 239K
  Retail Sales 0.3%
  -ex autos 0.7%
Friday Empire Manufacturing 18.3
  IP 0.3%
  Capacity Utilization 77.2%

Certainly, an unexpected CPI print right before the FOMC announcement will lead to questions about how next year plays out, especially if it is stronger than expected. I would argue that market concerns are the Fed may move faster than their current rhetoric, and certainly faster than the market is pricing rather than slower. In the end, the dollar is going to find itself beholden to the changing trajectories of the FOMC and the ECB. It seems to me that the dollar’s weakness this year has been a result of the improvements in GDP growth elsewhere in the world and the idea that other central banks will be adjusting policy more rapidly than previously expected. This week’s meetings will help us all understand if that narrative remains appropriate, or if a new one is in the making.

 

Good luck

Adf

 

Crumbled Like Chalk

There once was a Minister Prime

Who found herself quite pressed for time

Without an accord

She’d be headed toward

The opposite of what’s sublime

 

So PM May crumbled like chalk

In order to break the deadlock

Hence now the UK

More cash will they pay

As backbenchers grumble and squawk

 

Undoubtedly, the biggest story overnight was the operation to remove British PM May’s spine the announcement that the UK and EU had agreed the framework for the settlement of the Brexit bill. At approximately 1:30 this morning, EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker announced the fact to the world and explained he would be sending the details to each of the remaining EU nations for approval. This opens the way for the beginning of talks about the trade deal that the UK is desperate to put together with the EU. In essence, the UK caved on all the issues, although the money seems like the least of the problems. From what I’ve read, it appears that she just sold out Northern Ireland by agreeing that there would be no hard border between the two nations on the island, and, critically, that unless other arrangements are made to avoid that hard border, “the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment” with EU rules needed to maintain economic and political cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland. In other words, Northern Ireland will not have left the EU despite Belfast’s stated desire to do so. Needless to say, there will be much more of this story going forward as the details of the deal are worked out and the trade agreement begins to take shape. The pro-Brexit crowd is already quite worked up over the issue and it wouldn’t surprise me if May loses control, and her position, during the next few months. In fact, I kind of expect another election in the UK before the end of 2018. PM Corbyn anyone?

However, for our purposes the impact was pretty much as expected, the pound jumped sharply on the announcement, rising 0.5% and trading to 1.3520, its highest level since mid September. Interestingly, since the initial burst, the pound has actually given back all those gains and is now lower on the day, albeit by just 0.1%. I guess, in the end, the market was expecting a deal to occur. Going forward, this is certainly a benefit for the pound, but I expect there will be more than a few hiccups before everything is settled.

Aside from that news, a look at the dollar shows another day of broad-based but modest gains. The euro has traded down to three-week lows and feels as though there is further room for decline. Data from the Eurozone was mixed with French IP’s gains offset by weaker German trade data but I don’t get the feeling that is the issue. Of perhaps more importance is the ongoing stalemate in Germany regarding a new governing coalition with more talk of the creation of a minority government. Chancellor Merkel does not want that as it will result in a weaker administration, something that the rest of Europe is also loathe to see. However, younger members of her own party are clearly sharpening their knives and seem ready to push Merkel out if they can. I guess twelve years at the top has taken its toll on the next generation. At any rate, if Germany does wind up with a minority government, that is not likely going to help the euro. At the end of the day, though, political stories have had a limited impact on currencies lately, with the central bankers still the drivers. Next week we hear from both the Fed and the ECB, and it is their actions that remain the market’s key focus.

But before we get to the Fed next week, let’s look at today’s payroll data. Expectations are as follows:

 

Nonfarm Payrolls                 195K

Private Payrolls                    195K

Mfg. Payrolls                         15K

Unemployment Rate             4.1%

Average Hourly Earnings    0.3% (2.7% Y/Y)

Average Weekly Hours        34.4

Wholesale Inventories        -0.4%

Michigan Sentiment              99.0

 

Certainly if the data is close to expectations, there will be nothing to change the FOMC’s collective mind about raising rates next week. In fact, we would need to see a dramatic fall in NFP or a significant rise in the Unemployment rate for that to be the case, neither of which seems likely. In fact, what seems more possible would be an earnings uptick such that the ‘mystery’ of missing inflation starts to be answered. If we were to see more robust growth there then I think we might hear a bit more hawkishness from the FOMC next week. Remember, futures markets continue to price in just 40bps of tightening for all of 2018, a far cry from the 75bps the Fed is discussing. As we saw this year, the futures market and the Fed will converge at some point, with my continued belief being that the Fed is now on a path where they will raise rates every quarter for the next two years. In fact, the most interesting thing about next week’s FOMC is likely to be the forecasts and the dot plot. Strong data today combined with the ongoing positive global growth news could well result in higher terminal rate expectations. In other words, the Fed is likely to see a higher long-term equilibrium rate in the US, something that will certainly give the dollar a boost. So today’s data is quite important in the big picture. FWIW, my view is that we will see a headline number of 200K, but I am expecting to see the Earnings number higher. Anecdotal observation shows me that companies are paying lower wage workers more in order to get them and keep them, and that has to feed through to the data eventually.

With that, I expect the dollar’s recent modest uptrend to continue for now, as there is nothing obvious to derail it.

 

Good luck

Adf

 

 

 

 

Two Nations’ Concerns

The tale of two nations’ concerns

Has taken surprising new turns

Frau Merkel can’t find

Enough folks aligned

With her, while some others she spurns

 

In England Prime Minister May

Keeps searching for ways to allay

The Irish up north

So she can go forth

And get EU members to play

 

The dollar is having another fine day in the markets as the political confusion elsewhere in the world seems to be outweighing the political confusion here at home. The story from Germany continues to be the inability of Chancellor Merkel to form a working coalition government after the September elections. Three months on, and in the wake of the unsurprising failure to bring the Green Party and Free Democrats together, she is now wooing the SPD. The center-left Social Democrats had vowed to remain in opposition immediately after losing badly in the election. They felt that their previous time spent as the junior partner in government resulted in a loss of identity. But now, Merkel’s options are limited. She has rejected outright, along with the rest of the parties, working with AfD, the far-right party that won nearly 12% of the vote. She has refused to create a minority government, as she believes it will be too unstable. And nobody really wants new elections as, first, polls show the results would be similar to September’s outcome and not advance the process; and second, a bigger concern that any new election would allow AfD to garner an even larger minority, something which is anathema to everyone who doesn’t actually support AfD. While she currently manages a caretaker government, the loss of German leadership in the Eurozone seems to be taking a toll. While the bloc’s data has remained generally quite good, the lack of initiative for the future seems to be an issue. Even though the euro is only lower by 0.1% this morning, this marks five consecutive sessions of decline totaling roughly 1.5%.

Next week both the Fed and ECB meet and expectations remain that the Fed will raise rates 25bps while the ECB will make no changes at all. I think the bigger questions are what updated forecasts will look like from both banks, including any tips to changes in policy trajectory. And there is one more thing to consider, market technicals are starting to point to a lower euro in the short term. Essentially, the short-term trend has reversed course from its recent upward trajectory and is now pointing to further losses in the currency. Keep an eye as we head into the ECB meeting next week.

Meanwhile, poor Ms. May finds herself at odds with nearly everybody else in the UK. Ostensibly, she will be presenting modified language to her Northern Irish allies shortly, in an effort to smooth over the Irish border issue I discussed yesterday. The thing is, the positions of Ireland and Northern Ireland seem irreconcilable. Ireland refuses to accept any type of border, which given the UK’s pending exit from the customs union will be impossible unless the North agrees to the same rules as the EU. At the same time Northern Ireland refuses to do just that, adamantly preferring to stay within the UK.   Keep in mind that these two sides have been at odds since the early 1600’s over myriad different issues. It cannot be a surprise that changing the status quo in what had been the most peaceful period in 400 years might rekindle age-old differences. While there is still a chance of some fudged agreement, I would estimate there is at least a 50% probability that this issue is never resolved and Brexit occurs with no trade deal and limited prospect of one in the near future. Once again, I will reiterate that the pound will suffer with this outcome and that current levels remain attractive for hedgers despite the pound’s nearly 2% decline from recent highs. The combination of uncertainty and creeping inflation will continue to undermine the currency.

But the dollar’s strength is broader today, with the biggest losers being the commodity bloc. It appears that oil prices may have topped for now, as the OPEC-Russia accord seems to be fully priced and recent data showed significant increases in product in storage. But we have also seen softness in the metals space and agricultural prices are under pressure. In other words, whatever stuff you mine, drill or grow, you’re getting less money for it today. With that as a backdrop, it can be no surprise that the leading G10 decliners are AUD and NZD while in the emerging markets, BRL, ZAR and MXN are leading the way lower. All of these would fit within the commodity sphere.

As to the data front, yesterday saw the ADP number exactly at the expected 190K, although Productivity and Labor Costs were both a touch soft. This morning we see Initial Claims (exp 240K) and then Consumer Credit ($17.0B) this afternoon. Neither of these will cause even a minor fluctuation. Tomorrow, however, we get the payroll report and that has the potential to be far more interesting. While the Fed’s move next week is baked in the cake, there is still ample opportunity for the market to price more movement for 2018, an area where Fed rhetoric remains well ahead of the futures market. As to the rest of today, I see no reason for the dollar to reverse its recent modest uptrend.

 

Good luck

Adf

 

Forsaken

As many’ve already observed

The market’s becoming unnerved

While risk is forsaken

More gains will be taken

So overall wealth is preserved

 

The dollar is broadly higher this morning as market participants are starting to become a little nervous. Three consecutive lower closes in the equity markets have led to a risk-off scenario. My observation is that there may have been an actual change in sentiment lately based on the following idea: throughout the raging bull market in equities, even on days when prices opened lower, by the end of the day we consistently saw traders ‘buy the dip’ thus preventing the market from closing lower. Every decline in the market was seen as a buying opportunity. But during this short run, and I grant it is short, just three days so far, early gains have melted into late losses. To me this implies that one of the great supports for the bull market may be losing its potency. As I’ve written before, markets don’t always need an obvious catalyst to change their direction or sentiment. Oftentimes, it is only clear long after a move as to what was the cause.   A fourth consecutive lower close in the equity markets (and futures are lower as I type) just might signal a trend change. If the narrative to date has been: risk remains in vogue because of the so-called goldilocks scenario (solid growth with low inflation allows for continued low interest rates and ever higher equity prices), then every signal that something there is changing, most likely low interest rates, could well force a change in that narrative. And that, my friends, offers the opportunity for a much more significant risk-off move. I’m not saying it is happening, just that we need to watch it very carefully.

Once again, the pound is leading the way lower, down 0.6%, as PM May’s lunch yesterday clearly gave the market indigestion. The Northern Irish are not willing to compromise their views and neither are the Dubliners. All the hope that was seen last week regarding the next steps in Brexit are fading quickly, and from what I’ve read this morning, it seems hard to believe that a solution will be found by the end of the week. Another delay in opening the trade negotiations will certainly weigh further on the pound, and as I have been writing all along, support a move back down toward 1.30 as a start. In fact, it seems increasingly likely that PM May will lose her support and perhaps force yet another election in the near term, further reducing chances for a satisfactory outcome. This will not help overall market risk sentiment, I assure you.

But the fading risk sentiment is manifesting itself in Japan as well, where the yen has rallied 0.4% after another down day by the Nikkei, its third of the past four sessions during which it has fallen nearly 4%. We are seeing similar price action in Europe, with lower equity prices and the euro declining for the past four sessions and this despite substantially better than expected German Factory Order data (+0.5% vs. -0.2% expected). I’m sensing a trend! Remember, as we approach year-end with equity markets having shown gains globally, it would not be surprising to see some profits taken, removing risk from portfolios. Historically, the dollar has benefitted in these times.

Turning to the emerging markets, the story is similar, with the dollar broadly higher and movement a little more pronounced than we have witnessed lately. South African rand is the leader on the downside, falling 0.9%, in what has clearly been a straight risk-off move. But KRW is lower by 0.7% after another weak close in the KOSPI has encouraged further unwinding of risk. And while the losses haven’t been quite as large elsewhere, all of EEMEA and most of APAC are under pressure. Here’s the thing, remember how much momentum helped risk appetite on the way up? I assure you it can hurt that much, and more, on the way down. Again, I am not saying this is the turn, but at this point, you cannot rule it out either.

To the extent that data matters, which I don’t feel is the case right now, there are three releases this morning: ADP Employment (exp 190K); Nonfarm Productivity (3.3%); and Unit Labor Costs (0.2%). We also hear from the Bank of Canada today at 10:00, but there is no expectation of a policy move there.

As I survey the markets, the story today is going to be whether or not we have a fourth consecutive lower close in equities. Breaking the current streak will likely result in further benign activity across equities and FX, but if the streak continues then I would look for it to begin to accelerate somewhat, bringing further risk-off sentiment and dollar gains.

Remember, markets can be very perverse, rising and falling significantly without any obvious catalyst. But once momentum starts to take over, then very little can stop those moves. We have observed upward momentum in asset prices for a long time. If it turns, we can expect downward momentum to last for a while as well. For hedgers, that should help inform your decision-making process. In markets that are moving, price taking is the only way to insure execution. And that is very different than what we have experienced for the past eight years!

 

Good luck

Adf