Still No Solution

On Wednesday it suddenly seemed
That Brexiteers might be redeemed
The EU’d just hinted
A deal could be printed
Like nothing initially dreamed

But subsequent comments made clear
No breakthrough was actually near
There’s still no solution
(Just feared retribution)
On solving the Irish frontier

Yesterday saw the British pound rocket around 10:00am when EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, hinted that there was a chance for a deal with the UK that was different than EU deals with its other near neighbors. The market heard this as the first real attempt at a compromise on the EU side, and so within minutes, the pound was 1.2% higher and back above 1.30 for the first time in almost a month. Certainly, if this is true, it marks a serious breakthrough in the talks and is quite positive. Everything we have heard from the UK so far is that they are willing to adhere to EU rules regarding the trade in goods, but are looking for a different deal in services. Prior to the Barnier comments, the EU had been firm in their stance that it was an all or none decision. Suddenly, it seemed like a deal could occur. On that basis, the pound’s rally certainly makes sense, as the prospects for a no-deal Brexit had lately been clearly weighing on the pound. Alas, subsequent comments by the EU have poured cold water on this thought process as Barnier has reiterated there is no ability to cherry-pick the preferred parts of EU policy. Interestingly, the pound has barely given back any of the gains it managed in the wake of the first statement, as it is actually down less than 0.1% as I type.

Given the data released earlier this morning, which was not all that positive (Consumer Credit declined more than expected, Mortgage Lending declined much more than expected and Mortgage Approvals fell more than expected) it seems hard to justify the ongoing strength of the pound. Two possible explanations are 1) the market had built up significant short positions in the pound and while yesterday’s sharp rally forced covering, nobody has looked to reinstate them yet, or 2) investors and traders continue to believe that the UK will get a special deal and so further weakness in the pound is not warranted. Occam’s Razor would suggest that the first explanation is the correct one, as the second one would seem to require magical thinking. And while there is plenty of magical thinking going around, financial markets are one place where it is difficult to retain those thoughts and survive. My gut tells me that once the Labor Day holiday has passed, we will see the pound start to sell off once again.

The other noteworthy story this morning is that there is even more stress in those emerging market currencies that have been feeling stressed during the past month. Today it is Argentina’s turn to lead the way lower, with the peso falling an impressive 7.5% after President Macri announced that he had asked the IMF to speed up disbursements of the $50 billion credit line. The market saw that as desperation, which is probably correct despite strenuous denials by the Argentine government. Meanwhile, the Turkish lira is down by 3.5% because…well just because. After all, nothing has changed there and until the central bank starts to focus monetary policy on solving the nation’s problems, TRY will continue to fall. Overnight we saw INR fall to a new historic low, down 0.4% and now pushing to 71.00, albeit not quite there yet. ZAR is under pressure this morning, down nearly 2% as its current account deficit situation is seen as a significant weight. And despite the positive of completing NAFTA negotiations with the US, MXN has fallen 0.5%. So while the dollar is generally little changed vs. its G10 counterparts, the stress in the EMG bloc remains palpable. Ultimately, I expect the dollar to resume its uptrend, but not until next week, after the holiday.

As to this morning’s data, after yesterday’s upward revision of Q2 GDP, all eyes are on the PCE data this morning. Expectations run as follows: Initial Claims (214K); Personal Income (0.3%); Personal Spending (0.4%); PCE (0.1%, 2.2% Y/Y); and Core PCE (0.2%, 2.0% Y/Y). Again, the biggest market reaction is likely to be caused by an unexpected outturn in Core PCE, which is the number most Fed members seem to regard as the key. A high print should support the dollar, as the implication will be the Fed may be forced to tighten more aggressively, while a low print should undermine the buck as traders back off on their estimates of how quickly the Fed acts. Remember, many traders and investors took Powell’s Jackson Hole speech as dovish, although I’m not so sure that is an accurate take.

At any rate, that pretty much sums up the day. I will be on vacation starting tomorrow and thus there will be no poetry until September 5th.

Thanks and have a good holiday weekend

A Collective Bronx Cheer

Some currencies, so far, this year
Received a collective Bronx cheer
Now in the last week
They saw a small peak
But forecasts continue severe

Recent pressure on the dollar has manifested itself against not only the G10 currencies, but also against some of the hardest hit currencies this year. Argentine pesos, Turkish Lira, Brazilian Real and Indian rupee all had received a modest reprieve during the dollar’s recent weakening spell. But that price action has faded into history as all of those currencies have come under renewed pressure during the past two sessions as the dollar seems to have found its footing. Each one seems to have its own domestic reason for distress, but the overarching theme remains that tighter Fed policy and the ensuing reduction in the available USD liquidity in global markets has undermined domestic conditions in these nations and exacerbated weakness in these currencies.

A quick recap shows that in Turkey, significant concerns remain over the central banks unwillingness to address quickly rising inflation by the ordinary method of raising interest rates. That lack of action has resulted in TRY declining by 7.5% in the past two sessions. In Brazil, the real has fallen 2% in the past two sessions as renewed concerns over the upcoming presidential election have arisen, with traders worried about a sharp turn left and a much less favorable investment environment. In India, we have seen a 1.5% decline in the rupee, which has generally been a much less volatile currency of late, as inflation concerns continue to plague the RBI despite its recent action to raise interest rates by 25bps, its second consecutive move and taking rates back to late 2016 levels. Finally, the Argentine economy continues to slow into recession while inflation remains rampant despite 45% interest rates as confidence in the Macri administration becomes more fragile. So every nation has its own problems, but most of these problems are not that new. They have been laid bare, however, by the change in Fed policy. When the Fed allowed USD liquidity to slosh all around the world, it hid many sins that existed.

As to the G10 space, it seems that my sense of continued dollar weakness was misplaced. Rather, what we have seen is a halt to the dollar’s recent slide and consolidation of those moves. For example, after touching a more than one month high at 1.1733 yesterday, the euro has drifted back to 1.1665 as I type, despite a distinct lack of data. Price action resembles that of positions being unwound ahead of the holiday weekend more than anything else.

Actually, within this space, two currencies stand out for their weakness today, AUD and SEK. The former has reacted to the ongoing dichotomy between the RBA’s cash rate, which remains at historic lows of 1.50%, and news that Westpac, one of the big four Australian banks, raised mortgage rates by 14bps in response to the fact that their funding costs continue to rise due to Federal Reserve policy in the US. Once again, the Fed’s actions are having unexpected ramifications around the world.

Sweden, however, has a different issue, and that is domestic politics. It is the latest nation where the establishment political parties have lost significant support, and in the mold of much of Eastern Europe, Italy, the UK and even the US, Sweden has seen the rise of a nationalist focused group, the Sweden Democrats, that is set to become the largest party in Parliament at next week’s election. This has generated significant concern within the marketplace that Sweden’s recent robust economic performance will be negatively impacted and that the Riksbank will refrain from raising interest rates as previously expected. The upshot is that while today’s decline is just 0.3% vs. the dollar, the big move has been vs. the euro, where the krone has been falling steadily for the past two months, lopping 5% from its value.

This morning’s data showed that Q2 growth in the US was actually revised higher to 4.2% amid improvements in investment by businesses. However, the dollar has shown little reaction to the numbers, maintaining its overnight gains but not extending them. Treasury prices, however, have fallen in the wake of the print and are now showing 10-year yields higher by 3bps. For the rest of the day, there is little in the way of news expected that is likely to move markets, so my best guess is that we will continue to see the dollar consolidate.

Good luck


A deal Has Been Made

The story is once again trade
As news that a deal has been made
Twixt Mex and DC
Helped traders agree
The dollar would slowly degrade

Right now, there are two essential stories that the market is following; the Fed and US trade negotiations. While Friday’s news was all about the Fed (with a small dose of PBOC), yesterday we turned back to trade as the key market driver. The announcement that a tentative agreement had been reached between the US and Mexico regarding NAFTA negotiations was hailed in, most quarters, as a positive event. It is beyond the scope of this discussion to opine on the merits of the actual negotiation, only on its market impact. And that was unambiguous. Equity markets rallied everywhere while the dollar continued its recent decline. In fact, the dollar has now fallen for seven of the past eight sessions and is trading back at levels not seen in four weeks. So much for my thesis that continued tighter policy by the Fed would support the buck.

But I think it is worth examining why things are moving the way they are, and more importantly, if they are likely to continue the recent trend, or more likely to revert to the longer run story.

Earlier this year, as the narrative evolved from synchronous global growth to the US leading the way and policy divergence, buying dollars became a favored trade, especially in the hedge fund community. In fact, it grew to be so favored that positioning, at least based on CFTC figures, showed that it was near record levels. And while the dollar continued to rally right up until early last week, everybody carrying that position was happy. This was not only because their view was correct, but also because the current interest rate market paid them to maintain the position, a true win-win situation.

In the meantime, another situation was playing out at the same time; the increasingly bombastic trade rhetoric, notably between the US and China, but also between the US and Mexico, Canada and Europe. With the imposition of tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports by the US, and the reciprocal tariffs by China, the situation was seen as quite precarious. While there was a mild reprieve when the US delayed imposing tariffs on imported European autos last month, a key issue had continued to be the ongoing NAFTA renegotiations. These stories, when highlighted in the press, typically led to risk-off market reactions, one of which included further USD strength.

So between the two stories, higher US rates and increasing risk on the trade front, there were two good reasons to remain long dollars. However, one of the oft-mentioned consequences of the stronger dollar has been the pressure it applies to EMG economies that were heavy dollar borrowers over the past ten years. Suddenly, their prospects dimmed greatly because they felt the double whammy of less inward investment (as USD investments became more attractive due to higher US rates) and a weaker currency eating up a greater proportion of local currency revenues needed to repay dollar debt and its interest. This led to increasing angst over the Fed’s stated views that gradual rate hikes were appropriate regardless of the international repercussions. This also led to significant underperformance by EMG equity markets as well as their currencies, forced the hands of several EMG central banks to raise rates to protect their currencies, and completely decimated a few places, notably Argentina and Turkey.

But that all started to change in earnest last Friday. While the dollar had been retracing some of its recent gains prior to the Jackson Hole meeting, when Chairman Powell hinted that he saw no reason that inflation would continue much beyond the Fed’s target level (although without the benefit of a rationale for that view), the market interpreted that as the Fed ‘s rate hiking trajectory would be shallower than previously thought, and that four rate hikes this year was no longer a given. In fact there are those who now believe that September may be the last rate hike for several quarters (I am not in the group!) Now adding to that the positive news regarding trade with Mexico, with the implication that there is an opportunity to avoid a truly damaging trade war, all of those long dollar positions are feeling far less confident and slowly unwinding. And my sense is that will continue for a bit longer, continuing to add pressure to the dollar. What is interesting to me is that the euro, for example, has retraced back above 1.17 so quickly (remember, it was trading at 1.13 just two weeks ago) and it is not clear that many positions have been cleared out. That implies that we could see further dollar weakness ahead as long as there is no other risk-off catalyst that arises.

The thing is, I don’t think this has changed the long run picture for the dollar, which I think will continue to outperform over time, as while the Fed may slow its trajectory, it is not stopping any time soon. And the reality is that the ECB is still well over a year away from raising rates, with Japan further behind than that. Meanwhile, the PBOC is actively easing as the Chinese economy continues to slow. In the end, the dollar remains the best bet in the medium term. But in the short run, I think the euro could well trade toward 1.19 before stalling, with other currencies moving a similar amount.

As to today’s session, there has been a decided lack of data from either Asia or Europe, and nothing really on the cards for the US. We remain in a lackluster holiday week, as US trading desks remain lightly staffed ahead of the Labor Day holiday next Monday. So to me, momentum is pointing to continued dollar weakness for now, and I expect that is what we will see for the rest of the week.

Good luck

And what has happened as that angst has grown, and fears of a repeat of the EMG crisis of 1998-9 were raised?


A Weakening Buck

Said Powell, we’ve had quite some luck
Inflation’s apparently stuck
Right at two percent
So I won’t lament
If we see a weakening buck

You likely noticed the dollar’s sharp decline on Friday, which actually began shortly before Chairman Powell spoke in Jackson Hole. For that, you can thank the PBOC who reinstated their Countercyclical Factor (CCF). The CCF was the fudge the PBOC created in January of last year to help them regain control of the USDCNY fixing each day. Prior to that, the goal had been to slowly allow the FX market establish the fixing rate in their efforts to internationalize the yuan. But then, market turmoil upset the apple cart and they were no longer pleased with the yuan’s direction. In fact, that was the last time USDCNY made a move toward 7.00. But once they instituted the CCF, which is claimed to include market parameters, they essentially resumed command of the currency and at that time, simply walked it higher over the course of the ensuing year. At that point, they felt things were under control, and early this year they abandoned the CCF as unnecessary. Until Friday, when after the yuan made yet another attempt at 7.00, they decided it was time to reestablish control of the currency. And so, Friday, the yuan rallied in excess of 1.5% and has now stabilized, at least temporarily, around 6.80. With the PBOC’s thumb on the scale, I expect that we are going to see a reduction in CNY volatility, and arguably, a very mild appreciation over time.

Which leads us to discuss the other catalyst for dollar weakness on Friday, Chairman Powell’s speech. In it, he basically said that although inflation has reached their 2.0% target, there is limited reason to expect it to continue to go higher. The market’s take on those comments was that the Fed was likely to slow the trajectory of rate hikes, thereby undermining the dollar. The broad dollar index fell about 0.6% during the speech and has retained those losses since. One of the interesting things is that nobody has accused Powell of succumbing to pressure from Trump with regard to changing his tone. But economists around the world are clearly happier.

Their joy stems from the following sequence of events. In the decade since the financial crisis, when interest rates were pushed to zero or below by developed country central banks, there was a huge expansion of US dollar debt taken on by EMG countries and companies within them. As long as rates were low, and the dollar remained on the soft side, those borrowers had limited issues when it came to rolling over the debt and paying the interest. But once the Fed started to tighten policy, both raising rates and shrinking the available number of dollars in the global system, the dollar rebounded. This was a double whammy for those EMG borrowers because refinancing became more expensive on a rate basis, and it took more local currency to pay the interest, hurting their local currency cash flows as well. This has been a key underlying issue for numerous EMG nations like Argentina, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia and India. It has exacerbated their currency weakness and expanded their current account deficits.

So now, if Powell and the Fed are going to slow down their efforts on the basis of the idea that inflation is not going to continue to rise, it will reduce the pressure on all of those nations and more. Hence the joy from economists. I guess the only thing that can derail this is if inflation doesn’t actually slow down. Remember, despite the fact that the Fed follows PCE, CPI has been rising sharply lately, and they cannot ignore that fact. If that trend continues, and there is a fair chance that it will, look for PCE to follow and for Powell to have to walk back those comments. I guess we shall see.

As to the overnight session, the dollar is little changed from Friday’s closes as we begin the week leading up to the Labor Day holiday in the US. We actually saw our first substantive data release in more than a week overnight, with the German IFO index rising for the first time in nine months to a much better than expected 103.8. But the euro has been unable to take advantage of the news and is essentially unchanged on the day, along with everything else. As to the US data calendar, it remains on the quiet side, although we do see the latest reading of the aforementioned PCE data.

Tuesday Case-Shiller Home Prices 6.5%
  Goods Trade Balance -$68.6B
Wednesday Q2 GDP 2nd Est 4.0%
Thursday Initial Claims 214K
  Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.2% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.2% (2.0% Y/Y)
Friday Chicago PMI 63.0
  Michigan Sentiment 95.5

I expect that unless something remarkable happens to the GDP data on Wednesday, that all eyes will be on the Income and Spending data on Thursday. But in the end, there is a new tone to the market, one which is decidedly less dollar bullish, and given the number of dollar long positions that remain in place, I expect that we may see the dollar nursing its wounds for quite a while. This is a plus for receivables hedgers, as it does appear the dollar has stopped rallying for now. Just don’t get greedy!

Good luck

No Progress Was Made

In Washington, talks about trade
Twixt us and the Chinese decayed
Both sides pitched their views
But couldn’t enthuse
The other. No progress was made

Today, though, the Fed Chairman Jay
Will speak and might seek to convey
How high rates may rise
Or how he’ll devise
A plan to keep prices at bay

Two key themes dominate the FX markets this morning, yesterday’s failure of low-level trade talks between the US and China to make any progress and the beginning of the Kansas City Fed’s Jackson Hole conference.

Starting with trade, last evening, the talks ended with no progress of note. Both sides explained that they had expressed their views, but there was no indication that there was movement on either side toward a compromise. Obviously, politics will play a huge role in this process, and so it becomes extremely difficult to forecast how things will evolve. However, as the day progressed yesterday, it seemed increasingly likely that nothing beneficial would occur, and so the dollar regained its footing. In fact, it had its best day (+0.6%) since it reached its recent peak early last week and reversed course lower. Interestingly, this morning the dollar has given back some of that ground, but net remains higher than when I wrote yesterday morning. It has become clearer to me that the market presumption is more trade angst will lead to a firmer dollar, which is simply an additional catalyst for dollar strength in the near and medium term. But we will need to watch the trade situation carefully, as any indication that progress is being made is likely to result in a dollar retreat.

But that was yesterday’s story, and at this point is virtually ancient history. Today is all about the Fed symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, specifically about Chairman Powell’s speech at 10:00am EDT. Analysts and traders are waiting to hear his latest thoughts on monetary policy and how he sees it evolving. Yesterday we heard from two regional Fed presidents, Dallas’s Richard Kaplan and KC’s Esther George, both of whom said that the committee was entirely focused on its Congressional mandates of price stability and maximum employment, and that they would not be swayed by comments from the President. And incidentally, both said they see at least four more rate hikes between now and the end of next year. In fact Ms George is in the camp leaning toward six more over that time frame. Of course, this is all dependent on the evolution of the US economy. As long as it continues to grow in the current manner, it seems there will be no dissuading the Fed from removing accommodation. That said, Mr. Powell’s speech this morning is seen as critical in helping define exactly how much tightening is on the way. The funny thing about those expectations is that Powell is probably the last person who is likely to set expectations in that manner. He is all about pragmatism and reacting to the data as it evolves. Certainly, if the US economy continues to grow quickly, he will be leading the charge for higher rates. But if cracks start to show, or the trade situation causes deterioration in the economic data, I expect he will be perfectly happy to pause.

Speaking of cracks in the data, yesterday brought us New Home Sales, which disappointed by rising only 627K in July, down 1.7% from June’s level and back to the lowest since last October. This followed softer than expected Existing Home Sales data on Wednesday and seems to indicate that the housing market may have peaked for now. Given its importance to the overall economy, that is a somewhat worrying sign, especially given the state of employment here. If the best employment data in decades cannot help perk up housing, it may well be ripe for a more substantial correction. Following that line of reasoning further, it is an open question as to whether we have seen the peak in US growth and just how rapidly the situation here might change. Food for thought, but it is still early days for this idea.

A quick survey of FX market movement overnight shows that the dollar’s decline is pretty uniform. The G10 leader higher is AUD (+0.8%), which has shown a positive reaction to the changing of PM’s there, with Malcolm Turnbull out and Scott Morrison, the previous Treasurer, now the PM. But the euro and pound are both firmer by about 0.4% despite lackluster UK mortgage data and Eurozone data that merely met expectations. As I said, today’s dollar weakness appears more a response to the trade story than data.

In the EMG bloc, ZAR is firmer by 1.1% as traders decided that comments by President Trump regarding South African land reform were actually not that relevant and would not impact policy. But we have also seen CNY rocket higher by nearly 1.0%, (post trade talk reaction?), RUB jump 1.0% on the back of higher oil prices and even TRY has found its footing, at least temporarily, rising 0.4%.

But in the end, it would be surprising to see much market movement between now and Powell’s speech. Rather, I expect that the market will absorb the Durable Goods data (exp -0.5%, +0.5% ex Transport) with aplomb and be right here when he starts. After that it is dependent on what he says. If pressed, I expect that he will subtly reaffirm the Fed’s independence, talk up the economy, and indicate monetary policy is on the right trajectory for now, in other words, US rates have plenty further to rise this year and next, at least. And as rates rise, so goes the dollar.

Good luck


Wanton Cries

The Minutes served to reinforce
The Fed is remaining on course
Next month rates will rise
Amid wanton cries
By doves, though the hawks will endorse

One of the reasons that I have become a fan of Jerome Powell is that he is willing to speak truth to power. And even though he sits in one of the most powerful chairs in the world, I would contend that he faces a much greater power every day; a legacy of Fed Chairs who carefully cultivated the impression that they alone could turn the dials and knobs of policy properly and with precision. Reality has shown that despite excellent PR work on behalf of Fed Chairs, they were no better at forecasting the economy’s future than anyone else, and in fact, were considerably worse than numerous Wall Street analysts. This difference in approach by Powell vs. his predecessors is made crystal clear in this quote from the Minutes released yesterday afternoon: “A number of participants emphasized the considerable uncertainty in estimates of the neutral rate of interest, stemming from sources such as fiscal policy and large-scale asset purchase programs. Against this background, continuing to provide an explicit assessment of the federal funds rate relative to its neutral level could convey a false sense of precision.” [My emphasis.] It is little things like this that give me hope Chairman Powell will maintain the humility necessary to be effective in his role.

At any rate, the upshot of the Minutes was that growth was continuing apace, the trade situation, while not yet causing significant problems, has the potential to do so in the future and impact policy decisions, but raising rates in September is baked in the cake. There was some discussion of weakness in emerging markets, but this was also seen as insufficient to change the trajectory of US growth, and therefore the current policy settings. In other words, the Minutes simply reiterated what we already knew, until potential problems become real ones, Fed Funds are going higher.

It can be no surprise that the dollar gained in the wake of the release, but also no surprise that the movement has been muted. Although peak to trough, the euro fell some 0.5%, it rebounded and is now only modestly softer than yesterday’s post-Minutes closing level. As I have maintained all along, all eyes are on tomorrow’s speech by Chairman Powell, as it will give us a chance to learn something new, rather than rehash what we gleaned three weeks ago.

Surveying markets this morning, the broad dollar index is a touch higher, +0.1%, but that is a mixture of a wide array of movements by individual currencies. For example, the euro has fallen back below 1.16 this morning, also down 0.1%, despite (because of?) seemingly positive Flash PMI data, which showed the Eurozone Composite PMI rising to a less than expected 54.4. Growth estimates for Q3 remain at 0.4%, but of course annualized that number becomes just 1.6%, unimpressive when compared to the US current growth trajectory. The pound is tracking the euro as a lack of supportive news and ongoing concerns over Brexit continue to weigh on the currency. The largest G10 mover was AUD, falling 0.7% despite a lack of obvious catalysts. No data was released and no comments of substance made, although local politics has put PM Turnbull on the defensive despite continued strong performance in the Australian economy. Perhaps, Aussie’s decline is related to that.

Turning to the emerging markets, the picture is one of mostly weaker currencies with the notable exception of the Russian ruble, which gained 0.4% on the back of modest strength in oil prices. Otherwise, we have seen broad-based dollar strength here with CNY having fallen 0.4% as tariffs on an additional $16 billion of goods went into effect at midnight last night. Other EMG decliners include KRW (-0.9%); ZAR (-0.6%) and INR (-0.4%). In fact, the odd thing is that the dollar index isn’t higher than it is given the uniformity of movement.

As to this morning’s data releases, Initial Claims (exp 215K) and New Home Sales (645K) are on the docket. Yesterday’s Existing Home Sales disappointed slightly, printing at 5.34M, a 0.7% decline from last month and softer than the 5.4M expected. Not only did the number of homes sold disappoint, but also the median price fell, perhaps indicating that the housing market may well have peaked. Another data point to monitor on the economy, and more importantly as to future Fed actions.

It appears that excess long dollar positions may have finally been wrung from the market after six consecutive days of a falling dollar. With all eyes turning toward Jackson Hole tomorrow and Chairman Powell’s speech, I expect that today will continue to see consolidation, likely with modest further USD strength. But until Powell speaks, it is hard to know just how hawkish or dovish he is feeling right now. My advice is to use a day like today, when markets are quiet, to manage risks ahead of tomorrow, where the opportunity for larger movement is clear.


Good luck

What Lies Ahead

This afternoon, word from the Fed
Might tell us ‘bout what lies ahead
How high might rates rise?
Or did they revise
Their balance sheet forecasts instead?

As the market awaits the release of the FOMC minutes this afternoon, the dollar is extending its recent losses. While there have been many potential catalysts, as usual I would suggest that none of them are long term in nature. Consider that during the past three months, we have seen significant long dollar positions build up in the speculative community as the dollar rallied sharply amid tighter Fed monetary policy. In fact, the CFTC report has shown that short currency positions have grown toward record levels. However, a combination of events including; mixed US data, recovering foreign data, concerns over potential yield curve inversion by Fed presidents and Trump’s complaints about higher interest rates, have served to cool the ardor of the dollar bulls more recently. As such, in the past week we have seen the dollar retrace a bit more than 2.5% of the 8.6% rally that started in April. Many pundits continue to point to the President’s comments as the driving factor, although I put less stock in that. History is replete with instances of Presidents complaining about the Fed, and arguably the only reason this seems to be an issue is that during the Obama administration, as rates remained at zero for virtually the entire time, he had nothing to complain about.

So as we survey the landscape, what can we surmise about the FX markets right now? While there has been a lull in important data lately, this morning did bring news that wage growth in the Eurozone rose to 2.2% annually, well ahead of previous figures and a sign that inflation may begin to percolate there. But beyond that, there has been virtually nothing of substance since last week’s UK Employment and Inflation data showed that growth there was still solid despite Brexit uncertainties. Regarding the trade situation, there has been precious little news lately as both the US and China prepare for some mid-level meetings this week, but expectations are limited for any breakthroughs. Additionally, many pundits are pointing to recent political troubles for President Trump as a catalyst to sell dollars, and that may have been a driving force, but if there is one thing I have observed about the current administration, it excels at changing the subject and withstanding attacks. In other words, I see nothing that, by itself, would be reason for alarm over the dollar’s future course.

Do not mistake this for a change in the underlying macroeconomic conditions, which still point to structural dollar weakness. I am, of course, referring to the massive budget and current account deficits. But as of now, there is no evidence that the structural has overtaken the cyclical with regard to trading decisions. As long as the US continues to have the strongest economy, especially with an upward trajectory, and the Fed remains the central bank leading the way toward tighter monetary policy, the dollar should retain its strength.

Regarding the FOMC Minutes today, it seems that the key questions to be answered are; has there been more discussion on the eventual size of the balance sheet; what constitutes r* (the neutral interest rate); and how to respond if the long end of the curve refuses to follow short rates higher and the curve inverts. However, given that we are going to hear directly from Chairman Powell first thing Friday morning, I would suggest that today’s Minutes are going to be somewhat stale, and would be surprised if there is anything truly newsworthy in the release.

Scanning the markets this morning, while the dollar is generally weaker, it is not universally so. The euro is leading the way higher (+0.35%) in the G10 space, seemingly on the aforementioned wage data as well as simple short covering. However, AUD is a touch softer (-0.15%) after comments by RBA deputy governor DeBelle indicated that policy rates Down Under were appropriate and unlikely to change for quite a while to come as they try to encourage inflation back to its targeted level of 2.5%.

In the emerging markets, yesterday was notable for the 2% decline in BRL, which traded back through 4.00 for the first time since early 2016. The catalyst appears to have been stepped up concerns over the upcoming presidential election, where one of the favorites, Lula da Silva, remains in prison and ineligible to run. As there has been virtually no data released in the past week, we can only ascribe the movement to politics. This morning also sees the ruble falling 1.25% as talk of increased sanctions on Russia, including by the Eurozone economies, makes the rounds. And while movements in the Turkish lira have settled to less dramatic levels, it continues to slowly drift lower, falling another 1% this morning. In the end, while the G10 is faring well, EMG currencies are having a much less positive day.

Before the FOMC Minutes are released, we see our first data of the week in the form of Existing Home Sales (exp 5.4M), although I would be shocked if it impacted the FX markets in any way of note. Rather, look for a quiet morning as traders await the Minutes, and then a quiet afternoon once they realize that nothing new was learned. This week is all about Friday’s Powell speech. Further consolidation in the dollar ahead of that seems the most likely outcome in my view.

Good luck


The Tempo of Growth

The President keeps on complaining
That higher Fed rates are constraining
The tempo of growth
But Powell is loath
To change things til prices are waning

Over the weekend, the President registered his dismay over recent Fed policy moves, apparently calling out Chairman Powell for raising rates too swiftly. His complaints centered on the fact that the Fed’s gradual removal of policy accommodation is helping to support the dollar and has been responsible for its recent strength. Recall that since the middle of April the dollar had rallied more than 8% before its recent modest pullback. So even with a 2% decline in the past week, the dollar remains far stronger than earlier this year. And that is what has the President upset. He sees the dollar’s strength through the lens of his trade policy and it is effectively undermining the tariff process.

Now, this is not the first time that the President has complained about the strong dollar (that occurred shortly after his election in 2016), but for some reason, the market has become far more concerned this time that it may impact the Fed’s actions. Perhaps adding to that sentiment was a speech yesterday by Atlanta Fed President, Rafael Bostic, where he explicitly stated that he would not knowingly vote for rate hike that would invert the yield curve. He is now the fourth Fed President to discuss that issue, although he is the only member of that group with voting privileges this year. The point is that there has been an increase in the discussion of whether the Fed will continue on its current rate hiking path which still seems slated for a hike in both September and December of this year and three more next year. Interestingly, though the dollar responded to the discussion, Fed funds futures remain unmoved and are still pricing in the same probabilities as last week, 90% for September and 60% for December.

So the question has become, will Powell ignore the President and act as he sees fit, or will he bow to political pressure? My money, at this point, remains on Powell. There has been no indication, as yet, that the US economy is doing anything but expanding at a solid clip. And more importantly, when looking at the Fed’s dual mandate, the current issue is clearly on the stable prices side rather than the unemployment side. While the Fed has decreed PCE is the key policy data point, there can be no mistake that Powell, an experienced pragmatist, is abundantly aware that CPI is running at its hottest level in more than a decade. The point is that inflation pressures continue to build and the Fed is not likely to ignore that situation. In fact, that is why Powell’s speech on Friday in Jackson Hole is arguably the most important news for the week. Everyone is waiting to hear if he has changed his tone, let alone his tune, about the economy and the proper Fed policy going forward.

Until then, though we will have to make do with tomorrow’s FOMC Minutes, where analysts will be looking for how much the trade story impacted their deliberations, and housing data tomorrow and Thursday.

Turning to the overnight session, the dollar has continued yesterday’s weakness and is lower by a further 0.35% this morning. The movement has been fairly uniform through the G10, with all of those currencies rallying between 0.2%-0.5%. And this has been a dollar story as there has been virtually no data of note from any one of those nations. In truth, the only G10 news of any sort came from Australia, where the Minutes from the last RBA meeting highlighted that increasing trade tensions could have a negative impact on the economy and currency, and that interest rates Down Under were unlikely to move at all during the next year.

Turning to the EMG bloc, we also see generic dollar weakness with just a few outliers. The Turkish lira continues to suffer, falling just under 1% this morning despite the dollar’s overall weakness, and we saw the Korean won slide 0.5% as well. But the rule has been a softer dollar today.

Given there is no US data to be released this morning, and there are no scheduled Fed speakers, it seems that the day is likely to follow the overnight pattern of mild further dollar weakness. Of course, given the apparent catalyst for this move, and the President’s penchant for doubling down, it would not be surprising to hear more from him if he felt it could push the dollar lower. However, history has shown that political wishes are just that, and the market will respond to policy changes, not talk. So even though further commentary by President Trump could lead to modest extra dollar weakness, as long as Chairman Powell maintains his current stance, this dollar move should be faded. Hedgers, take advantage of the opportunity to add to hedges at current levels, as my sense is that nothing at the Mariner Eccles building has changed. Higher US rates are on the way.

Good luck


There is a small nation called Greece
Which eight years ago had to cease
Expending their cash
Which led to a crash
And caused GDP to decrease

Today is important due to
The fact that austerity’s through
The bailout is finished
Though Greece is diminished
While people there barely make do

Even though all eyes are on emerging markets these days, and rightly so in many cases, I thought it was worthwhile to note that the Greek sovereign debt crisis is ‘officially’ over as of today. While the situation in Greece doesn’t seem to have improved that much overall, today is the day that the bailouts officially end and Greece returns to the group of nations that are fully independent-ish. In fact, the Troika still controls much of what Greece is allowed to do with respect to spending priorities and budget discipline, and the nation remains a basket case in most ways. But reality on the ground could never dissuade the Troika from touting that their programs were a huge success and that everybody will live happily ever after. At any rate, it is probably a good thing that this chapter in Europe’s history has finally closed, but I would wager that if you surveyed the Greek people, not many would find good things to say about the future, let alone the past. In the end, though, Greece remains a tiny nation within the Eurozone, and what happens there impacts markets through sentiment changes, not through financial ones.

At the same time, there is a much bigger problem brewing in Italy, with many of the same issues surfacing there as occurred in Greece, and fears that the recently elected, anti-establishment government may make decisions inconsistent with the EU’s wishes. But Italy is not a small country. It is the third largest in the Eurozone and carries the largest amount of debt, €2.3 trillion worth. The one thing of which I am confident is that we have not seen the last problems to emanate from the Eurozone, and correspondingly, with the euro itself.

Reverting to emerging markets, while everyone recognizes the wreck that is Venezuela, on Friday night they made some major adjustments to their currency regime, devaluing the official bolivar by 95% (now approaching the black market rate) and redenominating the currency by removing 5 zeroes from its value. But in the end, the currency is just a symptom of their problems, not the cause, and it will remain the basket case that it has become over the past twenty years until there is a new government in place.

Moving on to more frequently discussed EMG currencies, like TRY (-2.2%), INR (+0.3%) and RUB (-0.2%), things are far less interesting. Remarkably, a 2% decline in the Turkish lira seems like a good day after recent gyrations, and the rest of the FX world seems to be on vacation, with very little substantive movement overnight. As we are coming to the end of August, it should be no real surprise that markets are getting quiet as there are more and more traders on holiday, and unless there is a specific story on which to trade, those that are manning the desks seem likely to play things close to the vest.

Meanwhile, there was virtually no data of note released overnight, and no commentary from any officials. The US-China trade situation seems like it might be moving toward a better place, with ongoing negotiations designed to arrive at an outcome in November, but there is still a long time to go before anything truly positive arrives. And in the meantime, Thursday we are due to see new tariffs imposed on $16 billion more of Chinese goods. Otherwise, there’s just not that much happening.

And the calendar this week is underwhelming as well, although the KC Fed’s Jackson Hole Symposium does kick off on Friday with Chairman Powell starting the festivities Friday morning.

Wednesday Existing Home Sales 5.4M
  FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  New Home Sales 645K
Friday Durable Goods -0.5%
  -ex Transport 0.5%

So the reality is that Wednesday’s FOMC Minutes will be carefully scrutinized for any sign that there is growing concern over the trade issue, and then Friday’s Powell speech is the next thing that will really matter. My sense is that we are looking forward to a very quiet week, with modest gyrations in the dollar, but no trend extension likely.

Good luck

Decidedly Bleak

The view turned decidedly bleak
For EMG nations this week
Though Turkey was worst
Some others were cursed
As well, since more funding they seek

The Argies are feeling put out
The rand had an actual rout
In LATAM they all
Enjoyed (?) quite a fall
But China, more weakness, did flout!

In truth, this morning things are rather dull in the FX markets, although I’m pretty sure that most traders are relieved. It has been an extremely difficult week for emerging market currencies and volatility remains pretty high. As an example, this week saw the South African rand fall nearly 6%, with 1% coming overnight. In LATAM, while the Argentine peso fell nearly 6% that was not the only casualty. Brazil felt the sting with the real falling 2.75%; Chile saw its peso down 3.5% while the Colombian version fell 2.7%. In fact, the best performing peso was Mexico’s, falling only 1% this week.

Of course, given that the Turkish lira was where all this started; we cannot ignore its movement. If you recall, last week it collapsed, falling nearly 40% at its weakest. Then, in response to several moves by the central bank restricting liquidity and stealthily hiking interest rates, it recouped nearly half that loss. However, this morning, the lira is once again falling, down about 5% as I type. The only thing we know for sure is that this volatility is unlikely to end soon as the market will continue to test the central bank, as well as President Erdogan’s ability to continue his policies of folly.

Finally, a quick look at APAC currencies shows INR as the only one with significant movement, falling 2% and breeching the 70.00 level for the first time ever. But the rest of this space, though it definitely saw volatility, wound up little changed on the week. And despite a great deal of anxiety about the renminbi, it is essentially exactly where it started on Monday.

The message that can be gleaned from this movement is that there are a great many countries which have fiscal imbalances, and whose prospects for future growth are being impacted by a combination of two US policies. First, as the Fed continues to raise rates and withdraw liquidity from markets via shrinking its balance sheet, those nations that relied on cheap dollar funding for their recent growth are finding themselves under pressure. And, of course, the second US policy impacting these nations is the reintroduction of tariffs on trade. Most emerging markets are heavily reliant on exports, with the US as a major destination. Slowing trade growth is also going to negatively impact these economies, and force a re-evaluation of the level of their currencies. As long as these two policies continue, and there is absolutely no sign they are going to change any time soon, every emerging market currency will be living under its own Sword of Damocles.

Meanwhile, in the G10 space, things are decidedly less interesting. While the euro did manage to trade to new lows for the move earlier this week, it has been able to reverse those losses and is now essentially flat since last Friday. The same can be said for most of the space, with the early week panic having dissipated, and very little information to drive currency movement otherwise. The weekly data was very much as expected, showing that the Eurozone and the UK are both rebounding from a very weak Q1, but hardly exploding higher. Rather, both continue to lag US growth numbers, and while the BOE did hike rates two weeks ago, and the ECB continues to slowly wind down QE, neither seems likely to increase the pace of their policy tightening, and so change the near term outlook for their respective currencies. And remember that Brexit continues to hang over the pound (its very own Sword of Damocles), with a distinct lack of movement on that front, other than the calendar which now shows just over seven months to come to a deal.

As to the US, data this week was somewhat mixed with some quite positive results (Retail Sales and Productivity) and some weaker data (Housing Starts and Philly Fed). All told, the weakness was not nearly enough to change the Fed’s trajectory, of that I am certain. And so, in the end, there is no reason to change any views with regard to the dollar; as the Fed continues to tighten policy, the dollar will continue to rise, albeit slowly.

Good luck