Gone Terribly Wrong

Said Powell, the ‘conomy’s strong
And hence we’ll keep moving along
Our rate-raising path
Until the bond math
Proves that we’ve gone terribly wrong

The dollar responded by soaring
In markets no one would call boring
The question, of course
Is will the Fed force
The rest of the world to trade-warring?

The dollar is much stronger this morning after a combination of things helped underpin the current theme of the US economy leading global growth. Yesterday Chairman Powell was certainly upbeat, calling the US economy quite strong and indicating that the Fed, while not on autopilot, believes that their current path of gradual rate increases is the correct one. When pressed on how the current trade issues would impact the Fed’s actions, Powell demurred indicating that it was still too early to know what would occur. He did, however, highlight that historically nations that were open to trade fared better economically than those that chose a different, more protectionist path. After his testimony, the dollar turned in a solid performance rising 0.5% vs. the euro, 1.0% vs. the pound and 0.3% vs. the yen. The greenback’s strength was also evident in the emerging market space with USDCNY rising 0.3% by the end of the day. But that was yesterday and we are more interested in what is happening today.

The economic news of note this morning comes from the UK, where CPI failed to rise as expected and printed at 2.4%. The market’s immediate response was to sell the pound off further, another 0.7%, as futures markets reduced the probability that the BOE will raise rates next month. While that probability is still a touch over 70%; that is down 10 points from yesterday’s estimates. Obviously, despite the extremely low levels of interest rates in the UK (the base rate is 0.75%) and despite a continued robust employment picture, inflation in both wages and goods remains quiescent. In other words, the case for the August rate hike remains somewhat suspect, and that is before the discussion of the impact of Brexit. Speaking of Brexit, the Parliamentary maneuvers are apparently becoming quite rough as PM May is fighting to hold onto power. Apparently, though she won several key votes today, the tactics used resulted in some very hard feelings amongst MP’s on both sides of the aisle and could well result in less ability for the PM to continue in power going forward. In the end, given the recent data releases and the potential for Brexit to lead to a full-blown political crisis in the UK, it is still difficult for me to believe that the BOE moves next month. I feel like the combination of reaffirmation by the Fed and the disintegrating case in the UK means the pound is soon going to breach 1.30 and start to trade at much lower levels.

But it was not just the UK where inflation data disappointed, the EU also saw final CPI data for June released and the core number was revised downward to 0.9%, although the headline number of 2.0% was reaffirmed. While one data point will not be enough to change views, there is no question that Signor Draghi will have an increasingly difficult time remaining confident that inflation will be converging on the ECB’s target of ‘close to but below 2.0%.’ And remember, oil prices, which have been supporting the headline number, are now falling sharply, so it would not be surprising to see Eurozone CPI data print still lower next month. In the end, I continue to look for the euro to break its recent trading range to the downside. This morning has helped my cause with the euro declining a further 0.4% on top of yesterday’s fall.

But the story is similar everywhere in the world. Disappointing Chinese data has helped to twist the PBOC into tighter knots as they seek to reduce excess leverage in the economy while supporting growth. As I have highlighted time and again, the renminbi is going to be the relief valve for this process and is almost certain to head to 7.00. Of course, another key risk here is that President Xi decides that the only way to combat the mooted $200 billion of US tariffs is to actively weaken the currency, which would result in a much larger move, and likely one that was far less smooth. All I’m saying is that for those with CNY exposure, care must be taken. Paying the points to hedge here is, I believe, a very prudent step at this time.

Looking at today’s session, in addition to the second leg of Chairman Powell’s testimony, this time to the House Financial Services Committee, we see Housing Starts (exp 1.32M) and Building Permits (1.30M) at 8:30. However, all eyes will be on Powell to see if he has anything else to add to yesterday’s bullish sentiment. The data story continues to underpin my view that the dollar has further to run against all its counterparts. Today should not prove any different than yesterday.

Good luck