For How Long?

The US economy’s strong
Denial of this would be wrong
It’s not too surprising
That rates will be rising
The question is just, for how long?

Despite the Trump administration’s recent discussion of imposing 25% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports, rather than the 10% initially mooted, the Fed looked at the economic landscape and concluded that things continue apace. While they didn’t adjust rates yesterday, as was universally expected, the policy statement was quite positive, highlighting the strength in both economic growth and the labor market, while pointing out that inflation is at their objective of 2.0%. Market expectations for a September rate hike increased slightly, with futures traders now pricing in a nearly 90% probability. More interestingly, despite the increased trade rhetoric, those same traders have increased their expectations for a December hike as well, with that number now hovering near 70%. At this point, despite President Trump’s swipe at higher rates last week, it appears that the Fed is continuing to blaze its rate-hiking path undeterred.

The consequences of the Fed’s stance are starting to play out more clearly now, with the dollar once again benefitting from expectations of higher short term rates, and equity markets around the world, but especially in APAC, feeling the heat. The chain of events continues in the following manner. Higher US rates have led to a stronger US dollar, especially vs. many emerging market currencies. The companies in those countries impacted are those that borrowed heavily in USD over the past ten years when US rates were near zero. They now find themselves struggling to repay and refinance that debt. Repayment is impacted because their local revenues buy fewer dollars while refinancing is impacted by the fact that US rates are that much higher. With this cycle in mind, it should not be surprising that equity markets elsewhere in the world are struggling. And those struggles don’t even include the potential knock-on effects of further US tariff increases. Quite frankly, it appears that this trend has further to run.

Meanwhile, the week’s central bank meetings are coming to a close with this morning’s BOE decision, where they are widely touted to raise the Base rate by 25bps, up to 0.75%. It is actually quite amusing to read some of the UK headlines talking about the BOE raising rates to the ‘highest in a decade’, which while strictly true, seems to imply so much more than the reality of still exceptionally low interest rates. However, given the ongoing uncertainty due to the Brexit situation, I continue to believe that Governor Carney is extremely unlikely to raise rates again this year, and if we are headed to a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, which I believe is increasingly likely, UK rates will head back lower again. Early this morning the UK Construction PMI data printed at a better than expected 55.8, its highest since late 2016, but despite the strong data and rate expectations, the pound has fallen 0.35% on the day.

Other currency movement has been similar, with the euro down 0.35%, Aussie and Kiwi both falling more than 0.5% and every other G10 currency, save the yen declining. The yen has rallied slightly, 0.2%, as interest rates in Japan continue to respond to Tuesday’s BOJ policy tweaks. JGB’s seem to have quickly found a new home above the old 0.10% ceiling, and there is now a growing expectation that as the 10-year yield there approaches the new 0.2% cap, the longer end of the JGB curve will rise with it taking the 30-year JGB to 1.00%. While that may not seem like much to the naked eye, when considering the nature of international flows, it is potentially quite important. The reason stems from the fact that Japanese institutional investors tend to hedge the FX exposure that comes from foreign fixed income purchases thus reducing their net yield from the higher rates received overseas to something on the order of 1.0%. And if the Japanese 30-year reaches that 1.0% threshold (it is currently yielding 0.83%), there is a growing expectation that those same investors will sell Treasuries and other bonds and bring the money home. That will have two impacts. First, I would be far less concerned over an inverting yield curve in the US as yields across the back end of the US curve would rise on those sales, and second, the dollar would likely rally overall on higher rates, but decline further against the yen. These are the type of background flows that impact the FX market, but may not be obvious to most hedgers.

Turning to the emerging markets, the dollar is firmer against virtually all of these currencies as well. One of the biggest movers has been CNY, falling 0.5% and now trading at its weakest level since May 2017. The renminbi’s decline has been impressive since mid-April, clocking in at nearly 9%, and clearly offsetting some of the impact of the recent tariffs. But remember, the renminbi’s decline began well before any tariffs were in place, and has as much to do with a slowing Chinese economy forcing monetary policy ease in China as with the recent trade spat. At this point, capital outflows have not yet become a problem there, but if history is any guide, as we get closer to 7.00, we are likely to see more pressure on the system as both individuals and companies seek to get their money out of China and into a stronger currency. I expect that there are more fireworks in store here.

Aside from China, the usual suspects continue to fall, with TRY having blasted through 5.00 overnight and now down 1.5% on the day. But we have also seen significant weakness in ZAR (-1.75%), KRW (-1.15%), and MXN (-0.75%). Even INR is down 0.5% despite the RBI having raised rates 0.25% overnight to try to rein in rising inflation pressures there. So today’ story is clear, the dollar remains in the ascendancy on the back of optimism in the US vs. increasing pessimism elsewhere in the world.

A quick peek at today’s data shows that aside from the weekly Initial Claims (exp 220K) we see only Factory Orders (0.7%). Yesterday’s ADP Employment data was quite strong, rising 219K, while the ISM Manufacturing report fell to a still robust 58.1, albeit a larger fall than expected. However, given the Fed’s upbeat outlook, the market was able to shake off the news. At this point, however, I expect that eyes are turning toward tomorrow’s NFP report, which will be seen as taking a much more accurate reading on the economy. All in all, I see no reason for the dollar to give back its recent gains, and in fact, expect that modest further strength is in the cards.

Good luck