Rate Hikes to Condone

Today’s UK data has shown
The pace of price rises has grown
Surprising most folks
And likely to coax
Mark Carney, rate hikes to condone

The British pound is outperforming today, currently up 0.35%, as the market responds to a higher than expected inflation reading released this morning. CPI printed at 2.7%, well above the 2.4% consensus view and perhaps signaling that UK inflation, after a summer reprieve, is set to return to its post-Brexit peak of 3.1%. This has traders increasing their estimates of rate activity by the BOE, starting to price in tighter policy despite the ongoing uncertainty created by Brexit. As such, it should not be too surprising that the pound is firmer.

But the pound is by no means alone in its performance characteristics this morning, with the dollar weaker against virtually all comers. In fact, only two of the G10 bloc has suffered today, CHF (-0.45%) and JPY (-0.1%), the two haven currencies. The implication is that risk-taking is back. Certainly equity markets have been holding up their end of that bargain, with US markets strong performance yesterday feeding into strength throughout most of APAC last night led by Shanghai’s 1.1% gains and the Nikkei’s 1.0% rally. European shares, however, have seen a less positive reaction, as they are up at the margin, but only a few basis points, with some markets, notably Italy, actually suffering. (Italy, however, is feeling the effects of the imminent budget deadline with no cogent plan in place and significant differences between the government’s election promises and the fiscal restraint imposed by the EU.) But the other haven asset of note, US Treasuries, has also sold off, with the 10-year yield now trading at 3.05%, its highest level since late May. All told, despite the ongoing trade tensions, it seems that market participants are increasingly comfortable adding to their risk profiles.

More proof of this concept comes from the huge leveraged debt financing completed yesterday by Blackstone Group, where they borrowed $13.5 billion to purchase 55% of a Thompson-Reuters data company called Refinitiv (who comes up with these names?) At any rate, despite ratings of B- by S&P and Caa2 by Moody’s, and a leverage ratio of between 7x and 8x of EBITDA, the deal was massively oversubscribed with yields printing at, for example, 8.25% for 8-year unsecured notes, down from an initial expectation of 9.00%. High leverage, covenant lite debt is all the rage again. What could possibly go wrong?

But I digress. Back in the currency world, the dollar’s weakness has manifested itself in the EMG bloc as well as G10. For example, despite a softer than expected inflation reading from South Africa, where the headline fell to 4.9% while core fell to 4.2%, the rand is firmer by 1.8% this morning. The story here is confusing as some pundits believe that the central bank may be forced to raise rates in order to help protect the rand, which despite today’s rally is still lower by 10% this year. We have seen this type of behavior from Russia, India and Indonesia, three nations where domestic concerns have been outweighed by their currency’s weakness. However, there is a large contingent that believe the SARB will stay on the sidelines as they seek to encourage growth ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for the middle of next year.

It is not just the rand, however, that is showing strength today, but a broad spectrum of EMG currencies. These include MXN (+0.35%), INR (+0.45%), TRY (+1.5%), RUB (+0.5%) and HUF (+0.25%); as wide a cross-section as we are likely to see. In other words, this has much more to do with broad trends than specific data or stories. And with that in mind, it is hard to fight the tape.

It has become increasingly clear that most markets have made peace with the idea that the trade situation is not going to improve in the short run. Next week the US will impose 10% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports and the administration is already preparing its list for an additional $267 billion of goods to be taxed. No economist believes that this will enhance the pace of growth; rather the universal assumption is that global growth will slow amid this process. And yet investors and traders have simply decided to ignore this outcome, with a large contingent explicitly declaring that they believe these are simply negotiating tactics and that there will be no long-term impact. While I hope they are correct, I fear this is not the case, and that instead, we are going to see this process carry on for an extended period of time, driving up prices and inflation and forcing the Fed to tighten policy more than currently priced by markets. If I am correct, then the likelihood of a significant repricing of risk is quite large. But again, that is only if I am correct.

As to today’s session, we see our first real data of the week with Housing Starts (exp 1.23M) and Building Permits (1.31M) as well as the reading on the Current Account (-$103.5B). But with risk-on today’s theme, these data would have to be drastically weak, sub 1.0M, to have an impact. Instead, it appears that the dollar will remain under pressure today, and perhaps through the rest of the week into next as the market awaits the Fed rate hike next week, and more importantly the statement describing their future views. Until then, this seems to be the theme.

Good luck
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