Workers are Pissed

In Germany workers are pissed
As unions there try to insist
A six percent rise
In wages is wise
If not, strikes they may soon enlist

The market is watching and sees
This outcome, Herr Draghi should please
If it comes to pass
Inflation, at last,
Might rise hinting at no more ease

Meanwhile Janet’s reign is soon done
For stock markets it’s been great fun
Will Powell (called Jay)
Take the punch bowl away?
And if so, will the dollar then run?

The dollar is back under a bit of pressure this morning as equity markets in Europe try to shake off the past two days declines. Asian markets had no such luck, falling for a third consecutive session, but thus far Europe has held up on the strength of yet another disappointing inflation reading for the Eurozone, with CPI in January rising only 1.3%, down from December’s 1.4% reading. At the same time, the unemployment situation in Europe continues to improve, further feeding the conundrum of tightening labor markets and no ensuing inflation. The point is the lack of inflation encourages equity investors to believe that despite the narrative, ECB policy tightening is still a long way off. And this is why there is so much focus on the wage negotiations ongoing in Germany, where the biggest union, IG Metall, is seeking not only a 6% annual wage hike but also additional flexibility for part time workers. Thus far, progress in the negotiations has been slow and starting today there will be one-day strikes across all the regions of Germany by union members, impacting almost every industry. As it is in neither side’s interest for these to be prolonged, I expect a resolution to be agreed soon. And ultimately, it will mean higher wages for German workers. Of course, the key question is will that feed through to the general inflation figures and if so, how long will it take. The obvious connection to the FX market here is that the quicker inflation starts to rise, the quicker the ECB can end QE, which should help further underpin the euro. Certainly, the narrative assumes a direct and rapid response in the inflation data, but we shall see.

However, the euro is not the only currency that has rallied vs. the dollar, it is virtually every other currency that has shown strength this morning. And so, as we have seen for the past week, the driving story remains the dollar itself, not currency specific issues.

Pivoting in that direction shows several key drivers. First, we have seen pretty significant equity market weakness over the past two sessions, with the S&P down more than 2% since Friday. While in the grand scheme of things, that is not very substantial, compared to what we have been witnessing thus far this year (and truthfully all of last year) it is a virtual rout! At the same time Treasury yields have been rising rapidly, reaching their highest levels in nearly four years and showing no signs of stopping. Thus, the question must be asked: Is this the beginning of the end of the rally? It is certainly premature to make that call, but I will say that if we see equities fall further today (futures are currently pointing slightly higher so there is no assurance that will occur), it may be appropriate to label the move the beginning of a trend. How will the dollar behave in this case? My take is that it will initially fall alongside these markets on the belief that investment will flow elsewhere. But if the trend persists and we evolve into a more complete risk-off scenario, I like the dollar to find its footing.

Of course the other story of note today is the FOMC meeting, where the monetary policy statement will be released at 2:00 this afternoon. There is no press conference scheduled and expectations are for no change in policy. In fact, all eyes will be on the wording of the statement for clues as to whether the hawks remain in the ascendancy, or if the doves are regaining ground. If you recall, last meeting there were two dissents to raising rates, Kashkari and Evans, but neither of them is a voting member now as they have rotated away from that role with the changing calendar. This is also Yellen’s last meeting, as her term ends on Sunday and she will be stepping away from the Board completely. As to the wording, while a majority of economists surveyed expect virtually no change to the statement, it is worth watching the description economic activity (currently ‘solid’) and of risks to the economic outlook (currently noted as ‘roughly balanced’ with a chance to be upgraded to ‘balanced’). The inflation wording evokes disappointment but they continue to expect stabilization around 2% over the medium term. Any changes in the inflation outlook will almost certainly impact markets, especially Treasuries, but also stocks and the dollar. In the end, though, there is likely to be little real news from this meeting. March, however, is potentially a different story, with the market pricing in another rate hike and a new Fed chair at the helm.

Finally, we get some more important data today, leading with the ADP Employment report (exp 195K) and then Chicago PMI (64.0). Last month, ADP was quite strong, but the NFP number showed nowhere near the same type of strength. So this month, pundits seem a bit more wary as to its importance. My take is a strong number is likely to be ignored, but a weak one could well push the dollar lower. As to Chicago PMI, it would need to fall a great deal to have any impact. Remember, the market will quickly turn its focus to Friday’s payroll data as well, so this has to be powerful stuff to evoke change.

In the end, the dollar’s recent trend is likely to continue, meaning further modest weakness seems the best bet for now.

Good luck


Shorting of Bonds is in Store

This morning the currency war
Has faded as traders look for
The opportune place
More profits to chase
Seems shorting of bonds is in store

For the past five days, the dollar has been the primary topic of conversation among market participants as the reaction to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s comments about a weak dollar started a series of verbal fisticuffs over what is and isn’t appropriate for policymakers to discuss. Certainly, given the struggles both the BOJ and ECB have had regarding creating inflation, the last thing they wanted was strength in their currencies. Of course, one could rightfully say that the Fed is not keen on a strong dollar given their own desire to raise inflation. And in the end, despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the dollar has declined by about 1% during this kerfuffle, not nearly enough to change anything in a meaningful manner. And that includes this morning, where the dollar has softened a bit vs. most of its counterparts. For example, after GDP data showed that the Eurozone grew 2.6% Y/Y in Q4, faster than the US Y/Y rate of 2.3%, the euro has rallied about 0.4%. Similarly, strong Japanese employment and spending data, indicating that growth there continues to pick up, helped the yen to a 0.3% rally vs. the dollar. And while both of these currencies are edging back toward recent highs, in truth, neither one has made new ground today.

It appears there are other things on traders’ minds now. In fact, the subject with the most ink spilled today has been the Treasury market, where yesterday’s sharp decline in prices pushed the 10-year yield above 2.70% for the first time since April. This has elevated the question of whether we are entering a bear market in bonds to a new level. You may have seen a number of comments recently from big name bond gurus (Jeffrey Gundlach and Bill Gross to name two) about how the bond market is about to embark on a major sell-off as growth in the US expands and inflation is sure to follow. Adding to their view is the Fed’s process of reducing the balance sheet, which is further removing demand from the Treasury market just as the Treasury will need to borrow more (aka issue more bonds) to fund the increasing budget deficit. So, reduced demand by the key, price-insensitive buyer and increased supply certainly point in that direction. And I strongly agree with this thesis as, if you recall, I forecast 4.0% 10-year yields by year-end. The question here is how will this impact the dollar?

Traditionally, the dollar has benefitted when the spread between US and foreign interest rates widened, and that is clearly what we are seeing. For example, during the past year, the spread between 2-year Treasury notes and 2-year German Bunds has widened by 75bps and is now sitting at 270bps (German 2-year yields remain in negative territory, currently yielding -0.55%). But despite this interest rate move in favor of dollars, the dollar has been under pressure the entire time falling ~14%. And that has been one of the mysteries of the markets in this cycle. Historical patterns do not seem to offer meaningful information on current trading outcomes. Which means there are other drivers.

Clearly, the narrative has been at odds with the current interest rate differential as it continues to focus on expectations for how this spread will narrow over time. The problem I have with that is the narrative timeline that is in focus seems far longer than practical. Are investors really willing to leave 250+bps on the table on the basis of the idea that at some point Eurozone or Japanese interest rates are going to rise faster than US rates? That would be a hard argument to support to an investment committee. But in the short run, it appears to be the situation. There is no question that momentum in the market remains for the dollar to fall further. It also seems highly likely that the interest rate differential is going to continue to widen in the US favor over the rest of this year so this conundrum may not be resolved soon.

One thing that has remained true throughout the various economic cycles in history is that when a country has a combination of tight monetary and loose fiscal policy it’s currency has strengthened while the opposite is also true, loose monetary and tight fiscal policy have tended to undermine that currency. (The data on combinations of tight and tight or loose and loose are less conclusive). Well, I don’t know about you, but it certainly looks to my eye like the US is running relatively tight monetary policy (Fed raising rates and reducing its balance sheet) and loose fiscal policy (huge tax cuts and increased deficit spending) and that continues to point to a rebound in the dollar. And despite the mildly disappointing Core PCE data yesterday (unchanged at 1.5% instead of the tick higher to 1.6% anticipated), I continue to look for the Fed to feel pressure to tighten policy faster than markets are currently pricing which will only exacerbate the current rate dynamics in the dollar’s favor, just not today.

As we look forward to today’s session, the only data of note is the Consumer Confidence Index (exp 123.4) although that generally has little impact on FX markets. Tomorrow is when we start to see more critical things with both ADP employment and the FOMC statement. As such, a quick scan of other markets shows that yesterday’s red numbers across equity markets here have continued overnight with Asia selling off sharply and Europe, despite solid data, also under water. US equity futures are pointing to a lower opening as well. Are we beginning to see a risk-off scenario develop? It will take more than a one-day decline in stocks for that to be the case, but if that story develops some momentum, perhaps the long awaited correction will come. However, until then, despite my long term views on the dollar regaining its footing, it appears that it will remain under pressure for now.

Good luck

According to Knot

In Europe, according to Knot
QE has done all that it ought
So lets end it soon
While it’s opportune
Ere data is worse than we thought

Klaas Knot is the President of the Dutch Central Bank and a member of the ECB Governing Council. His is a name that doesn’t get much press, but he is certainly well known amongst the finance community. And he is also one of the dyed-in-the-wool monetary hawks on the ECB. On Saturday in a television interview he was quoted as saying about QE “The program has done what could realistically be expected of it. The program is fixed until September, [and] we don’t have to communicate yet that it will be over after September, but I think that’s where we’re headed.” It strikes me that Signor Draghi has a bigger messaging problem in his own house than he does with the comments last week from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. Arguably, what is more surprising is that the euro, after an early bump up in Asia has actually given back some more ground and is now down 0.25% this morning.

But let’s step back for a moment and try to look at a bigger picture for the dollar. Much has been made over the fact that last year the dollar fell about 11% on a trade-weighted basis and more than 14% vs. the euro. But is the dollar actually ‘weak’? Let’s consider a couple of statistics: the euro initiated trading in 1999 at 1.1715 or so. It has ranged between 0.86 and 1.60 during its life, and clearly those extremes are just that, significant over and undervaluation of the dollar respectively. But 1.24 hardly seems like the end of the world. And while much is made of the fact that the dollar is at its weakest point in the past three years, that conveniently ignores the fact that for the three years prior, it averaged ~1.39. All I’m saying is that 1.24 is hardly the end of the world when it comes to the dollar’s valuation, and the hysteria that has accompanied the recent movement seems a bit overdone.

However, the question we try to address here is how it will behave going forward. There is no question that the current momentum is for the dollar to continue to decline. The narrative continues to focus on the idea that traders have already priced in further Fed tightening while we are just getting started at the ECB and BOJ and that activity from those central banks is going to change the dynamic. In that scenario, the Mnuchin comments certainly added fuel to the fire, but the dollar had been falling long before he opened his mouth. And last week, we heard from both Kuroda and Draghi, with both sticking to their script that they were not going to change anything, and in both cases, the market refusing to believe them. But this is a new week with both a critical data point this morning (Core PCE is released at 8:30 and expected to print at 1.6%) and then the FOMC meeting on Wednesday, and we have payrolls on Friday as well! The narrative also dictates that the Fed will do nothing at this meeting; likely not even change the language of the statement. But I disagree with the narrative, and will feel even more confident if the PCE data continues its recent ascent.

I believe it is a mistake to assume the Fed is going to do nothing here, and I expect to see a more hawkish bias from the statement. I continue to look for measured inflation to rise more rapidly than the mainstream forecast, for the Fed to be more aggressive than currently priced by markets and for the dollar to ultimately gain traction. One noteworthy feature this morning is that 10-year Treasury yields have jumped up to 2.72%, their highest level since the taper tantrum in 2013, and appear set to continue to 3.0% and beyond. That too, will ultimately support the dollar. But it will take time for the narrative to be broken. Given the strength of its signal, we will need to see a lot of contrary evidence to change trader and investor opinions. So for now, though I continue to expect the dollar to strengthen eventually, it will be tough sledding.

And that is really the entire FX story, as it is entirely dominated by the dollar, with every other currency along for the ride. I’m sure that at some point soon we will be looking at individual currency issues again, but for now, it doesn’t seem relevant.

So here is this week’s data rundown:

Today Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.5%
  Core PCE 1.6%
Tuesday Consumer Confidence 123.4
Wednesday ADP Employment 195K
  Chicago PMI 64.0
  FOMC Announcement 1.25%-1.50% (unchanged)
Thursday Initial Claims 235K
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.1%
  Unit Labor Costs 0.9%
  ISM Manufacturing 58.7
  Construction Spending 0.5%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 176K
  Private Payrolls 172K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 18K
  Unemployment Rate 4.1%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3%
  Michigan Sentiment 95.0

At this point, I feel this morning’s data could be quite significant. A stronger than expected Core PCE print should be dollar positive, should pressure Treasuries further and may well undermine equities slightly. But the narrative will not be changed easily. We will need to see a series of convincing data over the next several months to get it to move. For now, let’s see what prints this morning but the market will give the benefit of the doubt to data that weakens the outlook, not strengthens it.

Good luck

I Don’t Give a F*ck

Said President Trump ‘bout the buck
Though Stevie said weakness don’t suck
In truth I believe
That what you perceive
Is really I don’t give a f*ck

Who said volatility is dead? Yesterday’s price action in the FX markets was as volatile as we have seen since, arguably, the GBP flash crash in October 2016. The market was still trying to come to grips with an apparent change of policy by the US, where the decades old mantra of ‘a strong dollar is good for the US’ had been unquestioned by both traders and every Administration and has now been called into question by the current Administration. Or at least that seemed to be the case for about twenty-four hours before President Trump, in a CNBC interview, pledged fealty to the strong dollar idea saying,“…the dollar is going to get stronger and stronger, and ultimately I want to see a strong dollar.” It should be no surprise that the dollar rallied after those comments and regained the bulk of the Mnuchin inspired losses.

But that wasn’t the only thing that happened yesterday. If you recall, the ECB met and we heard from Signor Draghi afterwards. To start, the ECB statement was identical with the December statement, so for the euro bulls, that was a bit disappointing. There was no change to the language regarding the end of QE nor when interest rates might start to rise. But during the press conference, aside from Draghi calling out Mnuchin’s comments as impolitic, he did nothing to dissuade the euro bulls from their view that QE is going to end in September and that at the March meeting Draghi will be discussing changes to their strategy. And so despite all the sturm und drang, the euro’s rally continues apace with the single currency rallying 0.55% from yesterday’s closing levels.

Meanwhile, market technicians are becoming extremely excited by the movement as the dollar has fallen below several key technical levels and, according to that group, is set to extend its losses more aggressively. And maybe they’re right, but remember this, none of this activity occurs in a vacuum. The US economy continues to show substantial strength, and we need only see slightly higher than expected inflation readings to force the Fed’s hand into more aggressive tightening than currently forecast. And if there’s one thing about which I am confident, it is that if the Fed starts to get more aggressive, the dollar will find its footing. Interest rate markets continue to price just less than two Fed rate hikes in at this time. The Fed itself expects three and an increase in inflation readings could easily push that to four or five. Remember, it is not a requirement that the Fed only adjusts rates at a meeting with a press conference; they can do so at any time, even with no scheduled meeting if they deem it appropriate. Higher and rising inflation will be the one issue that takes them out of their comfort zone, and I continue to believe that is a very realistic outcome. After all, as I ask frequently, do you feel like your personal inflation rate is 1.5%? I know mine isn’t!

And that was really the story yesterday and overnight. Today brings President Trump’s speech at Davos, scheduled for 8:00 EST and then some important data, notably the first look at Q4 GDP (exp 2.9%) and Durable Goods (exp 0.6%, -ex transport 0.6%). Strength in these data points will only serve to underpin the Fed’s current trajectory. My sense is that Monday’s PCE data will also be very important, given the Fed’s focus on that data as the inflation measure that fits their models. So any uptick relative to expectations there could have much more significant market ramifications.

In the end, my sense is the Goldilocks story for markets is nearing its end. One of its defining characteristics has been the remarkable lack of volatility across all markets, but now we are beginning to see that change. Clearly, yesterday’s FX volatility was driven by exogenous sources, but in many ways, that doesn’t really matter. If volatility turns higher in a more lasting manner, be prepared for it to extend to all markets. And remember this, volatility in equity markets has become a euphemism for falling stock prices, so higher volatility is likely to matter to us all.

Good luck and good weekend


Interest Rates Climbing

The dollar continues to reel
As traders collectively feel
That central bank timing
On interest rates climbing
Outside the US has appeal

Once again the dollar is under pressure as yesterday’s comments by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin continue to be main source of market discussion and questions arise as to whether the US is going to start using the dollar’s value as another policy tool. Given the efforts by the Administration to walk back the importance of Mnuchin’s comments and reiterate that they believe in a market-determined value for the dollar, I doubt that is the case. However, traders will be very alert to any further commentary regarding the dollar. Remember, President Trump has been very focused on the US trade imbalance and has mentioned the benefits of a weak dollar in that context. The funny thing is, the dollar has been falling for upwards of a year now without any Administration commentary, and so it seems unlikely that it is a focus for the US government. In fact, the story continues to be that although the Fed has been tightening policy for more than a year and is set to continue to do so, the big change has been the idea that other nations are starting to catch up and are beginning their own journey toward tighter monetary policy. In this reading, the FX market is simply anticipating the eventual higher rates we will be seeing from both Europe and Japan and buying those currencies now.

We have the potential to learn more about how this will play out in a short while as the ECB meeting concludes. While there is no expectation for any policy changes, thus the deposit rate will remain at -0.4% and the Asset Purchase Program will continue at €30 billion per month through September, all eyes will be on the language in the statement released and then even more keenly focused on Signor Draghi at the press conference following the meeting to see if he comes clean about what discussions are actually taking place. Some believe that the statement will remove the possibility that QE will be extended beyond the September date, which would be seen as another bullish euro cue. However, one thing to keep in mind is the old adage; buy the rumor, sell the news. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that the euro’s recent run-up already reflects this expectation and that if the statement is indeed changed, traders will take profits and drive the euro lower. Remember, that prior to the BOJ meeting earlier this week, expectations were growing for a change in the statement there as well, and although there were some subtle ones, clearly they did not satisfy the trading community who have only grown more anxious to see the beginning of the end of QE in Japan. As such, the rumor is still the driver with no news yet released.

I read an interesting take on markets yesterday that I think is worth sharing. This may get a bit arcane so bear with me. The idea is that the 30-year swap spread may be a harbinger of future market and economic activity and the fact that it is rapidly moving back toward positive territory is important. To begin with, the 30-year swap spread is the interest rate differential to exchange the payments between a fixed rate payment in a simple interest rate swap and a Treasury bond with the same maturity. The idea is that since there is no credit risk to hold Treasuries, one would need to receive a higher rate to accept the credit risk associated with a swap counterparty, which is typically a large bank. However, since the financial crisis, these spreads have been negative, meaning that accepting the credit risk of the bank resulted in a lower interest rate than owning Treasury bonds. On the surface, that doesn’t make much sense, but it was a reaction to the changes that occurred due to the crisis. As Kevin Muir, a well regarded trader and pundit explains, “Swap spreads dove because the supply of bank balance sheet was dramatically curtailed. Basically, banks, faced with more regulations and increased capital requirements, withdrew their participation in the swap market. The demand for swaps fell but not as quickly as the supply. The end result was that this mismatch of demand-supply meant that the previously unthinkable occurred, and swap spreads went negative. What would have usually been arbitraged away by proprietary trading desks at banks and other financial institutions was left to persist for years.”

So it is key to understand that this is a historically unusual situation, although it has been with us for the past nine years. It is important because it was an indication of how banks were managing their total balance sheets, meaning that they were husbanding capital and private credit was tight despite the fact that interest rates were low. The lack of private credit creation (aka bank loans) has been one of the features (bugs?) of the recovery from the financial crisis and has also been directly related to the decline in the velocity of money. That combination has arguably been behind the lack of measured inflation despite QE; the slow pace of economic growth; and the previous strength of the dollar. Well the reason I bring it up is because those spreads are racing back toward positive, which implies that private credit creation is making a comeback. Alongside that process we are likely to see inflation move higher as the supply of dollars that the Fed has created start to move around. The other likely outcome is that interest rates are going to go higher. Not only will this activity keep the Fed in active tightening mode, but the growth in demand for credit will push rates higher.

What does this have to do with the dollar? Well, there are two potential dollar drivers here. First, as the velocity of money increases, it will effectively create a significant increase in supply of dollars and therefore likely put further downward pressure on the buck. But at the same time, as interest rates rise, the appeal of the dollar for investors will increase. Currently the market is pricing in less Fed tightening than the Fed itself has penciled in. The narrative continues to be that quiescent inflation will prevent the Fed from having to raise rates aggressively. However, I would argue that inflation will not remain quiescent, that the Fed will find itself behind the curve before very long and they be forced to be more aggressive than they have currently planned, let alone what the market is pricing. Ultimately, if (when) the Fed becomes more aggressive tightening policy this year, look for the dollar to rebound.

As to today, aside from the ECB press conference, we see Initial Claims (exp 240K) and New Home Sales (680K), neither of which is likely to move markets. Meanwhile, the ECB statement was unchanged, so no hints about the future purchase plan that some had hoped for. However, the euro was little changed in the aftermath as all eyes are on Draghi at 8:30. My sense is that for now, the dollar will remain under pressure, with tomorrow’s GDP data, or more likely Monday’s PCE data the next chance for the narrative to come under pressure.

Good luck



In Davos, Mnuchin explained
A weak dollar wasn’t harebrained
It helps to upgrade
Both exports and trade
Thus for the US much is gained

The dollar is on the outs this morning with one key story the driver. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has basically moved away from the strong dollar mantra that had been official US policy for at least two decades by telling reporters the following, “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities, but again, I think longer term the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the US economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency.” Given the evolution of policies around the world lately, and the fact that President Trump has been consistent in his mercantilist philosophy of trade, the only surprise is the clarity with which he stated his case. After all, almost every major country seems to be seeking to weaken their currency in order to help their own trade situation, and these days as a way to import some inflation. However, comments have usually been about ‘excessive strength’ in a currency needing to be addressed, rather than a specific endorsement for a weaker currency. It appears ‘Beggar Thy Neighbor’ policies are coming back into the light.

This clearly changes a great deal in terms of short and medium term expectations, but do not be surprised if we see an increase in rhetoric about the strength of other currencies by other central banks and governments in the near future. However, for now, the dollar certainly has room to decline further after having made new three-year lows this morning.

In fairness, there was some pretty good data elsewhere as well, which helped underpin other currencies. For example, UK employment data showed a much larger than expected increase in the 3M/3M jobs numbers (exp -12K, actual +102K) and an uptick in average weekly earnings. The upshot is the pound has traded back to 1.4100, its highest point since the day before the Brexit vote in June 2016. While I continue to believe the BOE will be very reluctant to raise rates before the end of the Brexit process when the UK leaves the EU, my view is clearly in the minority with the market pricing in a 77% probability of another 25bp hike before the end of this year.

Turning to the Eurozone, PMI data was released showing modest underperformance in manufacturing but strength in services and in the composite numbers. In fact, we are looking at the strongest composite data here since the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis and ensuing recession, when the global economy was rebounding from a very low base. But for sustained growth, this is the best data for more than a decade. This has merely served to further support for the idea that the ECB is going to be ending QE this year. All eyes are turned to the ECB meeting tomorrow, although it would be quite surprising if Signor Draghi succumbed to the growing pressure to describe changes so soon. All told, however, the euro has rallied to its strongest point in more than three years and the trend remains for further strength.

Meanwhile, USDJPY has traded back below 110 for the first time since September despite Japanese trade data showing a less than expected increase to $3.2B in December. Given the importance of trade to the Japanese economy, currency strength is a much more critical issue, but also given the current US stance on its own trade deficits, I expect the Japanese will be loathe to raise too big a fuss.

The rest of the G10 has also benefitted, as have commodity prices and EMG currencies. In fact, there is nary a currency out there that has weakened vs. the dollar this morning. Ultimately, the question becomes how long can this go on in the face of increasingly tighter US monetary policy. As I have written before, it is clear the FX market believes that other central banks will be more aggressive than current interest rate futures are pricing while the Fed will be less aggressive. Despite the fact that US Treasury yields continue to edge higher, it has not been enough to stop the dollar’s decline. And at this point, it remains to be seen if anything will be able to do that. The next important data points in the US are Q4 GDP on Friday and then the PCE data on Monday, both leading into next Wednesday’s FOMC meeting. Remember, the Fed is entirely focused on Core PCE, which last printed at 1.5% and is forecast to tick up to 1.6%. If that data point is firmer than expected (something which I believe is quite possible) then it may serve to slow the dollar’s decline while pushing US rates higher. However, if it is benign, or softer than expected, look for the pressure on the dollar to continue.

This morning brings only Existing Home Sales data (exp 5.70M), which seems highly unlikely to impact the FX markets. There are no Fed speakers due, but beware of further comments from Davos, where Mnuchin will find himself with more microphones in front of him. Remember, too, President Trump will be speaking there on Friday and there can be no doubt he will discuss trade, and if the currency is mentioned, it will be in a weaker light. So for now, the dollar will remain under pressure with its only hope a Fed that feels forced to respond to faster than expected inflation. But until we see that type of inflation data, the dollar is unlikely to find much support.

Good luck


Not This Time

It’s not surprising
The BOJ did nothing
At least, not this time

And though Kuroda
Claimed policy won’t soon change
Traders disagreed

The BOJ meeting last night resulted in no policy changes, as universally expected, but the press conference that followed found Kuroda-san disagreeing with the current market narrative. As a reminder, that narrative has the BOJ soon getting set to slow down their QE program and begin to follow the Fed toward somewhat tighter monetary policy. However, Kuroda was quite clear that he saw no reason to change things now as per the following comment,
“Given there is still a distance to the
achievement of the 2 percent price
stability target, I don’t think that we are
at a stage where we consider the timing
for a so-called exit or how to deal with
it. The Bank of Japan thinks it’s necessary
to continue tenaciously with the current powerful easing for the sake of the economy.” [My emphasis] And yet, despite a session where the dollar is broadly higher, the yen has rallied by nearly 0.5%. You would almost think that FX traders don’t believe what Kuroda-san is saying.

Certainly, inflation in Japan remains far below target. The BOJ’s bellwether is CPI ex fresh food and energy, which is currently running at 0.3%, an awfully long way from their 2.0% price target. It is hard to believe that the BOJ would tighten policy until that reading is at least 1.0% or arguably even higher than that. After all, how could they justify tighter policy if inflation is still essentially zero? Kuroda did address the reduction in JGB buying though, pointing out that they are trying to manage the yield on 10-year JGB’s, not buy a certain amount of them. And given that they own nearly half the outstanding paper, it can be no surprise that they now need to buy less to have a given level of control. As a price check, 10-year JGB’s yield just 0.068%, well within their control band. Clearly, buying less has not diminished their ability to achieve that end. When will their policy actually change? My gut tells me they are in no hurry to slow down QE and that the market is well ahead of itself in this regard. It could easily be another four or five years before the BOJ actually raises rates, although the current narrative clearly disagrees. Ironically, given how critical trade is to the Japanese economy, any yen strength is quickly passed on to the inflation data, driving it still lower and delaying the tightening further. At some point, it will become clear to the market that the BOJ is not going to adjust anything anytime soon, but for now, traders continue to have visions of USDJPY trading at par. Maybe not today, but sometime soon.

Looking elsewhere for inspiration, the pickings are sparse. The only data from Europe was the German ZEW data, which printed slightly better than expected, but not enough to change any opinions. And in truth, otherwise there has been little of note in the G10. Perhaps I can give a shout out to Sweden, where home prices have started to fall a bit more sharply, down 10% in the past quarter. While I don’t expect a global crisis on the back of this story, it may well be a harbinger of other bubbles getting set to burst. And given that virtually every asset is in a bubble state, that could be more concerning. But not yet.

In the EMG space, Mexico wears today’s crown for the largest decline, falling 0.8% on the back of the tariffs the US has imposed on solar panels and washing machines. This move, which the President promised, is seen as yet another blow to global trade, and in Mexico’s case, likely added further concern over the NAFTA situation. It certainly doesn’t bode well for NAFTA if the US is willing to impose tariffs on goods that come from Mexico. The point is, if the US does go down the road of more trade restrictions, and NAFTA should crumble, the peso will have much further to decline. In fact, a quick trip back to 20.00 and beyond is easily viable. Otherwise, nipping at the peso’s heels in the race for biggest decliner, ZAR has fallen a similar amount as concerns have arisen about the timing of President Zuma’s departure. Recall, the recent rally has been predicated on Ramaphosa starting soon. Any delay will inevitably be felt by the currency.

But the dollar is broadly higher this morning against the entire space, with those two currencies merely the laggards. I guess it is possible that the dollar has responded to the end of the US government shut-down, but it wasn’t clear to me that its decline was caused by the shut-down, so that seems a little strange. Of course, the equity market rallied on the news that the shut-down ended despite not falling over the threat of imposition of the shut-down, so I guess it is possible. As I have often said, markets are perverse.

Looking ahead to today’s session, there are no obvious catalysts on the horizon to drive movement. There is no data of note and no Fedspeak until Chicago’s Evans makes some remarks this evening. Commodity prices are mixed, with energy slightly higher but metals and ags a touch softer, so no real clear signal there. Equity prices, as seemingly always, are higher with US futures pointing in that direction as well, and Treasuries are little changed, with the 10-year hanging around just above that breakout level of 2.627%. In other words, it has all the markings of a quiet session at this time.

Good luck



With government here being shuttered
The question that’s lately been muttered
Is will the impact
Leave growth here intact?
Or will the shutdown soon have sputtered?

As we begin a new week, political events are dominating the market. Of course, Friday’s US government shutdown is the big, ongoing news story and one which doesn’t seem set to end quite yet. The most disheartening thing that I read was that every week the government is closed results in a reduction in US GDP of between 0.1% and 0.2% for that quarter. It is disheartening to me because it demonstrates just how large the Federal government has become, a situation that is fraught with economic risks going forward, for example, when it ceases to work like now. Interestingly, the equity market certainly didn’t concern itself with the issue, continuing its rally on Friday, although this morning’s futures markets are essentially unchanged. Treasury bond prices have, however, continued their recent decline and the yield on the 10-year note has now firmly traded through the 2.627% level that was seen as a key point. I continue to look for Treasury yields to climb and expect 3.0% in the near future. The dollar, on the other hand, seems to be the one thing that has suffered from the shutdown, having fallen against all its G10 and most of its EMG counterparts in the session today. However, it remains to be seen if this is specifically due to the shutdown or if there are other issues involved.

The other political story with some traction is from Germany, where the center-left SPD has voted to enter negotiations with Chancellor Merkel’s center-right CDU/CDS to once again form a grand coalition government. This is the pairing that had been in charge prior to the election, and despite the fact that both parties lost a significant number of votes to more extreme voices, I will wager they will come to some agreement. The aphrodisiac of power is far too strong for those who have tasted it to concede it willingly! Arguably, this has helped underpin the euro to some extent this morning as any reduction in uncertainty over the leadership in Germany, and by extension the entire Eurozone, will be seen as a positive.

In fairness, there is one other political story that has had a direct impact on the relevant currency, and that has been in South Africa. It seems that President Jacob Zuma is closer to being removed from office by his ANC party and likely to be replaced by Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, a successful businessman there. Given the problems within the economy there as well as the recent attempts by Zuma to change rules in order to entrench his own status as president, the idea that he will be removed shortly has been warmly greeted by the market. This morning, the rand has rallied a further 1.25%, taking the appreciation since the middle of November, when Ramaphosa was first mooted to take over, to more than 17.5%.

On a different tack, I want to highlight something that I have observed during the first few weeks of 2018. It seems that almost everyone with a forecast has said that while a recession is clearly going to occur at some point, and an equity market correction along with it, 2018 will not be the year for this to occur. The combination of growth momentum and the recently passed tax legislation will serve to insure yet another year of banner results. My concern is that markets are funny things, often perverse in their behavior relative to broad expectations. In this context, that implies to me that with virtually every expectation that the ‘overdue’ recession/correction is not coming this year, I fear that is exactly what will happen. Markets have a habit of reacting far more quickly than economists, so my antennae are definitely tingling.

Away from the politics, and into a week with relatively limited economic data (which may be delayed due to the shutdown), we do have two key central bank meetings. Tonight the BOJ meets although expectations are for no policy adjustments. Of course, we just saw a subtle change in their JGB buying last week, which had a significant impact on markets. Given inflation in Japan remains well below the 2.0% target, it seems highly unlikely they will do anything here. But market chatter continues to focus on a growing concern by some BOJ members that QE is beginning to have negative consequences on the economy leading to excess leverage and potential future problems.

Then on Thursday the ECB meets and there the situation is more nuanced. While there is no expectation for any actual policy changes, the question of how forward guidance will evolve has come to the fore recently. This is due to the fact that at the December press conference, when asked about discussions on QE changes, Signor Draghi emphatically explained that there were no discussions on the topic. However, the recently released Minutes showed that there were, in fact, numerous discussions on the topic. So you can be sure that the press conference on Thursday will be quite spirited. The one thing that is clear is that the hawks on the ECB remain in the ascendancy, and that will continue to help underpin the euro. Remember, my stronger dollar thesis remains based on the idea that the Fed will be forced to tighten policy more aggressively as inflation in the US accelerates, while the ECB will wind up doing a bit less as inflation there continues to lag. But right now, the narrative remains the other way round and the euro continues to rise accordingly.

Here is a quick look at the planned releases for this week:


Wednesday Existing Home Sales 5.70M
Thursday Initial Claims 235K
  New Home Sales 675K
  Leading Indicators 0.5%
Friday Q4 GDP 3.0%
  GDP Price Index 2.3%
  Durable Goods 0.9%
  -ex Transport 0.6%

So the key data is due Friday, but if the government shutdown persists, it may well be delayed. My take is that is indeed what will occur, and therefore markets will be focused on the non-US stories, most notably the ECB on Thursday. For now, the dollar remains under pressure and I don’t see a catalyst to change that on the horizon.

Good luck

Funding is Lacking

The government in the US
Has lately been under some stress
Considering backing
For funding is lacking
This could turn into quite a mess

While I don’t necessarily agree that it is a crucial issue for the FX market, the fact that there is a threat of another government shutdown in the US has certainly been the most discussed topic in the press this morning. But I question whether the trading community is in accord. Ostensibly, the dollar’s recent weakness can be partially attributed to the fact that there is a broad loss of confidence in the US due to the current administration’s combination of policies and internal discord, and so investors are seeking other homes for their funds. But that doesn’t make sense to me given that the US economy continues to lead the G10 in the economic cycle, has shown no sign of slowing down yet, and has had continued substantive gains in its equity markets. Those are hardly reasons to shun a market. Rather, I believe the dollar’s recent weakness is a product of the ongoing narrative that the recent uptick in growth elsewhere in the world is going to cause other G10 central banks to tighten policy more quickly than the Fed on a relative basis. Or perhaps more accurately, FX traders are betting that the Fed will tighten less than current market pricing anticipates while the ECB, BOJ and other G10 central banks will tighten more. That would certainly explain the dollar’s weakness, but I think it is a mistake. If anything, I believe that the exact opposite will be the outcome in 2018 and that the dollar will be higher when all is said and done. We shall see.

But weaker the dollar is this morning, albeit not dramatically so. In the G10, the yen has been the best performer, rising a further 0.3% as the discussion in Tokyo continues to be about the timing of any change in policy there. There seems to be a growing belief that Kuroda-san will begin hinting at the end of QE in next week’s meeting despite the fact that inflation in Japan remains at 0.9%, well below the target of 2.0%. This is especially troubling because services inflation is running at just 0.1% and wage pressures have not yet made themselves felt. So though oil prices are higher and goods prices are beginning to rise, based on current central bank groupthink, it is not yet time to get aggressive. In fact, we could be having virtually the identical discussion about the ECB here, where the market has become quite keen on the idea that the end of QE is nigh, or at the very least the announcement of that timing is at hand despite the fact that the inflation story in the Eurozone remains equally stagnant. My money is on both Kuroda and Draghi to remain dovish in their statements next week.

One interesting thing about the yen this morning is the fact that it is stronger despite the fact that the UST-JGB spread has expanded to its widest level since 2010, and is more than 250bps. This is due to the fact that the 10-year Treasury continues to climb in yield. Historically, a yield spread of this magnitude has been a signal for Japanese investors to switch into Treasuries from JGB’s and the dollar has been the beneficiary. But thus far, we have not seen that play out.

The one other newsworthy item from the G10 was the weaker than expected December Retail Sales print from the UK (exp -1.0%, actual -1.6%) which has weighed on the pound helping it to fall 0.2% despite broad-based USD weakness.

In the EMG space, alongside Japanese strength we have seen the rest of APAC outperforming the greenback today with much of the space up nearly 0.5%. It has become increasingly clear that investors are quite enamored of APAC again. This is evidenced by the equity market performance there (Nikkei, Hang Seng and Shanghai indices are all up more than 7% so far this year) and the ongoing search for yield which leads many to these countries where yields dwarf G10 yields. While this story is in full swing currently, I wonder how well things will hold up as US policy tightens further. If you recall, I highlighted the 10-year Treasury yield of 2.627% as a key technical point for traders. That was the highest yield we saw back in March during the reflation trade craze. Well, this morning, we are higher, breeching 2.63% and, in my view, set to head toward 3.00% in the near term. As the US Treasury market sells off and yields rise, look for many of the current assumptions underlying asset prices to be called into question. As to the rest of the EMG space, interestingly, despite strength in the euro, EEMEA is actually under pressure today. TRY is the worst performer, down 0.75%, on the back of discussions of Syrian attacks by Turkish forces and an increase in chaos in the region. Meanwhile ZAR is lower by 0.5% in what seems like some profit-taking after an extended run of strength. The CE4 are all slightly softer, although there don’t seem to be any significant news items there.

While yesterday’s housing data showed Starts falling in a surprise and Permits holding up, the only data point this morning is Michigan Sentiment (exp 97.0). We will hear from Atlanta’s Raphael Bostic shortly, although it would be shocking to hear anything new at this time. While the Fed doesn’t meet until the 31st, next week brings both the BOJ and ECB meetings, which will be watched closely for any hints of tighter policy. Essentially, the market is pricing in movement in that direction, but I don’t believe we will see it. As for today, if the 10-year yield continues to climb, and I believe it will, I think the dollar will find its footing. Look for a modest USD rebound into the weekend.

Good luck and good weekend

How Much is Real?

From China, the print on the screen
Showed GDP growth unforeseen
But how much is real?
And how much the zeal
Of regions where lying’s routine?

The dollar has retreated almost universally this morning after a pretty solid two-day run. Despite very strong US data yesterday (IP +0.9%, exp +0.5%; Capacity Utilization 77.9%, exp 77.4%) and continued positive results from the Fed’s Beige Book, traders have turned their focus elsewhere. In fact, yesterday’s themes have been largely forgotten. With all the discussion about whether or not we had seen the top in equity markets, it felt as though broad sentiment was beginning to change. But that was so yesterday! The powerful rally on Wall Street has been repeated in Asia and Europe and Tuesday’s late day hiccup largely forgotten.

With that in mind, the story with the most traction today is China, where last night they reported 2017 full-year GDP growth at a better than expected 6.9%. This comes despite the ongoing admissions by different regions within China that they have been overstating their growth rates for the past several years in order to meet central government quotas. This also comes despite the fact that some of the underlying data, notably Retail Sales, IP and Fixed Asset Investments are clearly trending lower. There is a large group of market watchers and investors, myself amongst them, which have maintained a certain level of skepticism about Chinese data. After all, given the draconian methods that the Chinese government has historically used with regard to punishment for any crimes, what regional administrator is going to willingly say that he has not achieved the government’s goals? But, it is the only data we have, and given what has very clearly become a global upswing, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that China is growing rapidly as well. The renminbi has responded by extending its recent rally, rising 0.2% overnight, which makes a total of 1.3% in the past week. In fact, we are pushing to levels not seen since December 2015. I have to admit, that the momentum in this market certainly points to further CNY strength although I am not convinced it remains intact.

Pivoting to the G10 space, CHF is the leading gainer today, up 0.7%, although the euro has gained a solid 0.5% and is making an effort to regain its early morning highs from yesterday. And all this is occurring despite the fact that 10-year yields in the US are back above 2.60%. If you recall, one of the background stories has been the recent rise in 10-year yields here on the back of ongoing economic strength. Market technicians are focused on a yield of 2.627%, the highest level achieved last March amid the then popular reflation narrative. If yields trade above there, which could well happen today with another burst of strong US data, expectations are that we may see a fairly sharp continuation rally in those yields. That would have an interesting impact on the prevailing narrative as it would help reduce the chance of a yield curve inversion, point to a market that is expecting accelerating US growth and allow the Fed more room to tighten policy more aggressively. As I have written consistently, the Fed’s actions relative to expectations are the real market driver, and I continue to look for tighter than expected policy. Corroborating my thesis were comments from two Fed Presidents yesterday, Cleveland’s Loretta Mester and Dallas’ Richard Kaplan, both highlighting concerns that growth would outpace current forecasts and that Unemployment could well fall much lower leading to higher inflation. In other words, they are both ready to hike rates to keep ahead of the inflation curve. At the same time, Charles Evans, President of the Chicago Fed and one of the more dovish members on the FOMC, called for less policy tightening in 2018 than currently penciled in by the FOMC itself.

(Perhaps the most enjoyable story on Bloomberg this morning was the one discussing how certain cities in the west are experiencing much higher inflation than the nation as a whole, with Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles all sporting local inflation rates above 3.0%. This has been a theme I have discussed repeatedly in the past year. Knowing that Chair Yellen will be returning to her home in San Francisco, perhaps she will be confronted with the fact that her national data may not be indicative of much of the nation’s reality. At the very least, she will know what the rest of us are living with!)

However, this is a conundrum for me. If US yields break out higher, I think the impact on the dollar will be quite positive. And so it is surprising to me that the dollar remains under pressure as we approach levels in the Treasury market that may define that breakout. Consider, too, that the Bank of Canada raised rates 25bps yesterday, as widely expected, but highlighting the turn in broad central bank policies. In the end, my thesis remains that the Fed is more aggressive than currently expected by markets, and that the dollar benefits accordingly.

This morning brings us new data including Initial Claims (exp 249K); Philly Fed (25.0); Housing Starts (1275K); and Building Permits (1295K). Further strength in this data set, especially the housing data, should continue to lay the groundwork for a more aggressive Fed. It’s funny, when there is a discussion of equity markets, a common theme is ‘don’t fight the Fed’. But in the FX markets, I would argue that is exactly what we have seen for the past year. I still like the dollar higher over time, but unless today’s data is extraordinary, we probably have a little more weakness in the immediate future.

Good luck