A Charade

The news there was movement on trade
Twixt China and us helped persuade
Investors to buy
Though prices are high
And it could well be a charade

We also learned wholesale inflation
Was lower across the whole nation
Thus fears that the Fed
Might still move ahead
Aggressively lost their foundation

The dollar is little changed overall this morning, although there are a few outlier moves to note. However, the big picture is that we remain range bound as traders and investors try to determine what the path forward is going to look like. Yesterday’s clues were twofold. First was the story that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has reached out to his Chinese counterpart, Liu He, and requested a ministerial level meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the trade situation more actively ahead of the potential imposition of tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports. This apparent thawing in the trade story was extremely well received by markets, pushing most equity prices higher around the world as well as sapping a portion of dollar strength in the FX markets. Remember, the cycle of higher tariffs leading to higher inflation and therefore higher US interest rates has been one of the factors underpinning the dollar’s broad strength.

But the other piece of news that seemed to impact the dollar was a bit more surprising, PPI. Generally, this is not a data point that FX traders care about, but given the overall focus on inflation and the fact that it printed lower than expected (-0.1%, 2.8% Y/Y for the headline number and -0.1%, 2.3% Y/Y for the core number) it encouraged traders to believe that this morning’s CPI data would be softer than expected and therefore reduce some of the Fed’s hawkishness. However, it is important to understand that PPI and CPI measure very different things in somewhat different manners and are actually not that tightly correlated. In fact, the BLS has an entire discussion about the differences on their website (https://www.bls.gov/ppi/ppicpippi.htm). The point is that PPI’s surprising decline is unlikely to be mirrored by CPI today. Nonetheless, upon the release, the dollar softened across the board.

This morning, however, the dollar has edged slightly higher, essentially unwinding yesterday’s weakness. As the market awaits news from three key central banks, ECB, BOE and Bank of Turkey, traders have played things pretty close to the vest. Expectations are that neither the BOE or the ECB will change policy in any manner, and in fact, the BOE doesn’t even have a press conference scheduled so there is likely to be very little there. As to Draghi’s presser at 8:30, assuming there is no new guidance as expected, questions will almost certainly focus on the fact that the ECB staff economists have reduced their GDP growth forecasts and how that is likely to impact policy going forward. It will be very interesting to hear Draghi dance around the idea that softer growth still requires tighter policy.

But certainly the most interesting meeting will be from Istanbul, where current economist forecasts are for a 325bp rate rise to 22.0% in order to stem the decline of the lira as well as try to address rampant inflation. The problem is that President Erdogan was out this morning lambasting higher interest rates as he was implementing new domestic rules on FX. In the past, many transactions in Turkey were denominated in either USD or EUR (things like building leases) as the financing was in those currencies, and so landlords were pushing the FX risk onto the tenants. But Erdogan decreed that transactions like that are now illegal, everything must be priced in lira, and that existing contracts need to be converted within 30 days at an agreed upon rate. All this means is that if the currency continues to weaken, the landlords will go bust, not the tenants. But it will still be a problem.

Elsewhere, momentum for a Brexit fudge deal seems to be building, although there is also talk of a rebellion in the Tory party amongst Brexit hardliners and an incipient vote of no confidence for PM May to be held next month. Certainly, if she is ousted it would throw the negotiations into turmoil and likely drive the pound significantly lower. But that is all speculation as of now, and the market is ascribing a relatively low probability to that outcome.

FLASH! In the meantime, the BOE left rates on hold, in, as expected, a unanimous vote, and the Bank of Turkey surprised one and all, raising rates 525bps to 24.0%, apparently willing to suffer the wrath of Erdogan. And TRY has rallied more than 5% on the news, and is now trading just around 6.00, its strongest level since late August. While it is early days, perhaps this will be enough to help stabilize the lira. However, history points to this as likely being a short reprieve unless other policies are enacted that will help stabilize the economy. And that seems a much more daunting task with Erdogan at the helm.

Elsewhere in the EMG bloc we have seen both RUB and ZAR continue their recent hot streaks with the former clearly rising on the back of rising oil prices while the latter is responding to a report from Moody’s that they are unlikely to cut South Africa to a junk rating, thus averting the prospect of wholesale debt liquidation by foreign investors.

As mentioned before, this morning brings us CPI (exp 0.3%, 2.8% Y/Y for headline, 0.2%, 2.4% Y/Y for core). Certainly, anything on the high side is likely to have a strong impact on markets, unwinding yesterday’s mild dollar weakness as well as equity market strength. This morning we hear from Fed governor Randy Quarles, but he is likely to focus on regulation not policy. Meanwhile, yesterday we heard from Lael Brainerd and she was quite clear that the Fed was on the correct path and that two more rate hikes this year were appropriate, as well as at least two more next year with the possibility of more than that. So Brainerd, who had been one of the most dovish members for a long time, has turned hawkish.

All in all, traders will be focused on two things at 8:30, CPI and Draghi, with both of them important enough to move markets if they surprise. However, the big picture remains one where the Fed is the central bank with the highest probability of tightening faster than anticipated, while the ECB, given the slowing data from Europe, seems like the one most likely to falter. All that adds up to continued dollar strength over time.

Good luck
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