No More Are Afraid

On Friday the story was trade
That caused folks to be so dismayed
But Monday’s returns
Allayed those concerns
Thus buyers, no more, are afraid

But what of the data released
From Europe, that showed growth decreased
That story remains
Their ‘conomy’s gains
Are fragile at the very least

Wow! What more can one say regarding the breathtaking rally in the equity markets yesterday, which has essentially extended around the world this morning. Does this mean that all our problems are behind us? I kind of doubt it, but you would never know that from the way things have traded in the past twenty-four hours. Ultimately, my sense is that we are going to continue to see market volatility increase and that it is going to seem worse than it actually is because of the extended period, right up until the end of January 2018, where market volatility had been unnaturally suppressed by central bank actions. Given the human tendency toward recency bias, many investors are watching the past few weeks of more historically normal price volatility and thinking that the world has come unglued. However, volatility is barely back to its long run average and arguably we can see it go much higher. In fact, if central banks actually continue to remove the excess liquidity they have been injecting into markets for the past ten years, it is very likely to do so. In other words, this is the new ‘new’ normal.

But this isn’t a note about equities, rather one about FX, and that story continues to unfold as well. This morning, the dollar has recouped some of yesterday’s losses after Eurozone economic data disappointed yet again. First up was Spanish inflation printing at a softer than expected 1.3% and showing no signs of heading back toward the ECB’s target of “just below 2.0%.” Then came the Eurozone sentiment indicators with Business Confidence falling to 1.34 (exp 1.39) and Economic Sentiment falling more than expected to 112.6 from last month’s 114.2 reading. While it is important to remember that these numbers are still strong historically, the recent trend indicates that the Eurozone economy likely peaked in Q4 2017. If this trend continues it is going to be much more difficult for Signor Draghi to completely kill QE at the end of September. Rather, it is more likely that he will wind up extending it, at a lower rate of perhaps €10 billion or €15 billion per month at least through the end of the year. This will also have the effect of delaying any movement on the interest rate front, maybe even until 2020. My point is that expectations that the ECB is going to tighten policy sooner rather than later seem to be misplaced, and any strength the euro has shown on that basis should be unwound. In fact, this morning we heard from Erkki Liikanen, the Finish representative on the ECB, who explained that ongoing low price pressures mean there is no hurry to tighten policy.

But it’s not just the euro under pressure this morning; the dollar is performing well across the board. The pound is down more than a penny on what largely seems to be a correction to the past two days impressive rally. Given the dearth of news regarding the UK this morning, this is likely to have been driven by a large order, especially as the pound was trading near its highest levels since the Brexit vote in 2016. The market continues to price in a high probability that the BOE is going to raise rates in May, and that has underpinned a great deal of the bullishness on the currency. The thing is, UK data, too, has started to miss the mark. And while the economy has definitely performed far better than had been forecast two years ago in the event of a Brexit vote, the numbers still show slow growth, something on the order of 1.5%, with inflation well above their 2.0% target (most recently at 2.7%). I continue to believe the hawkish case is overstated, but clearly much will depend on how the Brexit negotiations evolve.

As to the rest of the G10, the dollar is pretty consistently firmer on the order of 0.2%-0.3%, which is clearly all about the dollar rather than any currency per se. EMG currencies are also generally under some pressure this morning, although here, too, the movements have not been that large. I have not seen any significant stories other than the news that the US and South Korea have agreed details of a revised trade pact which has helped the won rally about 1.5% in the past two sessions. In LATAM, while MXN is little changed this morning, it has been strutting its stuff all year having rallied nearly 6.0% and is the best performing currency against the dollar this year. As we continue to hear of positive results from the NAFTA talks, it seems clear that the peso will gain further. The biggest risk here is in this summer’s election, where Antonio Manuel Lopez Obrador (better known as AMLO) continues to lead the polls and could well be the next president. The thing is he makes Bernie Sanders seem conservative, and markets are quite fearful of some major shifts in policy if he is elected. But right now, that is not on traders’ collective minds.

This morning brings two minor pieces of data, Case Shiller House Prices (exp 6.2%) and Consumer Confidence (131.0), neither of which seems likely to impact markets. Atlanta Fed President Bostic speaks this morning as well, although based on the complete lack of coverage of the three Fed speakers yesterday; it seems unlikely that he will break new ground in the narrative. In other words, the FX market will continue to look elsewhere for catalysts, with the equity market the most likely driver. Futures there are pointing to further gains as I type, which based on recent correlations are probably a dollar negative. However, this year, given the increase in equity market volatility, I am reluctant to say that a higher opening will lead to a higher close. If anything, yesterday’s rally seemed a bit overdone, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a modest decline in stocks by the end of the day alongside a little bit more USD strength.

Good luck