It seems that inflation here’s not
Exploding, nor running too hot
That news has inspired
Stocks getting acquired
The dollar, meanwhile, went to pot
Yesterday’s CPI reading was surprisingly mild, with the headline rate rising 2.7% and the core just 2.2%. Both those readings were 0.1% below expectations and the market reaction was swift. Equity futures rallied immediately, with those gains maintained, and actually increased, throughout the session. At the same time the euro jumped 0.6%, as the CPI data moderated expectations of an ever more aggressive Fed. In other words, Goldilocks is still alive and well.
The employment situation in the US remains remarkably robust (Initial Claims were just 204K, the lowest level since December 1969!), while inflation seems to be under control. If you recall Chairman Powell’s comments from Jackson Hole, he remains data dependent, and clearly does not feel beholden to any particular economic model that defines where interest rates ought to be based on historical constructs. Rather, he seems willing to be patient if patience is required. Certainly the market understands that to be his view, as this data has helped flatten the trajectory of rate hikes further out the curve. While there is no doubt that the Fed will move later this month, and the probability of a December move remains high, next year suddenly looks much less certain, at least right now. Given this new information, it is no surprise that the dollar remains under modest pressure. And if the data starts to point to a slowdown in US growth and continued moderation in inflation, then the dollar ought to continue to suffer. But one data point does not make a trend, so let’s be careful about extrapolating this too far.
Beyond the CPI data, we also heard from Signor Draghi at the ECB press conference. He was remarkably consistent despite the reduction in GDP growth forecasts made by his staff economists. QE will wind down as advertised, with €30 billion of purchases this month and then €15 billion for the rest of the year, ending in December. And rates will remain where they are “through summer” which has widely been interpreted to mean until September 2019. Consider that one year from now, US interest rates are very likely to be at least 75bps higher than the current 2.00% and possibly as much as 150bps higher, which means that the spread will be at least 315bps in favor of the dollar. I understand that markets are forward looking, but boy, that is a very wide spread to ignore, and I expect that the dollar will continue to benefit accordingly.
Last night we also saw important data from China, where Fixed Asset Investment rose at its slowest pace (5.3%) since the data series began in 1996. This is somewhat surprising given Beijing’s recent instructions to regional governments to increase infrastructure investment as President Xi attempts to address a slowing economy. From the Chinese perspective, this is also an unwelcome outcome for the ongoing trade dispute with the US as it may give the appearance that China is more motivated for a deal and encourage President Trump to press harder. But for our purposes, the risk is that a slowing Chinese economy results in a weaker renminbi and there is clearly concern in Beijing that if USDCNY trades to 7.00, it could well encourage a more significant capital flight from the country, something that the PBOC wants to avoid at all costs. Now, last night it fell just 0.2% on the news and has actually recouped those losses since then, but that fear remains a driving force in Chinese policy.
The other stories that continue are in Turkey, where it should be no surprise that President Erdogan was extremely disappointed in the central bank for its surprisingly large rate hike yesterday morning. While the lira has held on to the bulk of its early gains, given Erdogan’s unpredictability, it is easy to contemplate further changes in the central bank governance that would be seen as quite negative for TRY. In Italy, the budget battles continue with no outcome yet, but this morning’s spin being somewhat less positive than yesterday’s, with concerns FinMin Tria will not be able to prevent a breech of the EU’s 3.0% budget deficit limit. And finally, BOE Governor Carney, in a closed door briefing with the PM and her cabinet, indicated that one possible scenario if there is no Brexit deal would be for crashing house prices but rising interest rates, a true double whammy. And on that subject, there has been no indication that a deal is any closer at this time. But all of these have been secondary to the CPI story, which seemed to change the tone of the markets.
This morning brings a raft of US data as follows: Retail Sales (exp 0.4%, 0.5% ex autos); IP (0.3%); Capacity Utilization (78.3%); Business Inventories (0.6%); and Michigan Consumer Sentiment (96.7). Arguably, the Retail Sales data will be the most closely watched as investors try to get a better understanding of just how the US economy is performing, but quite frankly, that number would need to be quite strong to alter the impressions from yesterday. Finally, we hear from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, which could be interesting based on the CPI data’s change to impressions. In the end, though, I expect a relatively quiet session. It’s Friday and traders will want to reduce exposures.
Good luck and good weekend