Next week, though it’s certainly clear
The Fed will price money more dear
The dollar’s incurred
Some selling and spurred
More weakness than seen since last year
The dollar remains under pressure this morning with a number of stories having a separate, but a cumulative impact on the buck. For example, overnight we learned that New Zealand’s GDP grew 1.0% in Q2, higher than the expected 0.7% outcome, and sufficient to get investors and traders to consider that the RBNZ, which just last month promised to maintain record low interest rates until at least 2020, may wind up raising rates sooner than that. A surprise of this nature usually leads to currency strength and so it is this morning with NZD higher by 0.8%.
Or consider the UK, where Retail Sales data surprised one and all by rising 0.3% in August (3.3% Y/Y), a much better performance than expected. This was enough to overcome the ongoing Brexit malaise and drive the pound higher by 0.7% and back to its highest level in two months. In truth, this is somewhat surprising given the quite disappointing outcome from the EU meeting Wednesday night in Brussels. Rather than more positive remarks about the viability of a deal being completed, we heard more of the hard-core negativity from the French and Irish, basically saying if the UK doesn’t cave, then there will be no deal. This is certainly not a welcome outcome, especially since there are only 190 days until Brexit will occur, deal or no. Meanwhile, PM May continues to fight a rearguard action against the avid pro-Brexiters in her party in order to retain her position.
Logically, I look at the situation and believe there is no real chance of a satisfactory deal being agreed on time. Frankly, the Irish border issue is intractable in my view. But given that this is entirely about politics, and the Europeans and British are both famous for kicking the can down the road, I suspect that something along the lines of a pure fudge, with neither side agreeing anything, will be achieved in order to prevent a complete disaster. However, there is a very real probability that the UK will simply leave the EU with no deal of any sort, and if that is the case, the initial market reaction will be for a sharp sell-off in the pound.
Interestingly, despite the fact that the little Eurozone data released was on the soft side, the euro has managed to continue its recent rally and is higher by 0.4% as I type. This seems more of a piece with the general dollar weakness that we have witnessed the past two sessions than anything else.
Another potential conundrum is US interest rates, where 10-year Treasury yields jumped to 3.08% yesterday, their highest level since early May, and now gathering momentum for the breakout that many pundits have been expecting for a while. Remember, short Treasury futures are one of the largest positions in the market. This thought process has been led by two concurrent features; the Fed continues to raise short term rates while the Treasury, due to increased fiscal policy stimulus and a growing budget deficit, will be forced to increase the amount of debt issued. When this is wrapped up with the fact that the Fed is reducing the size of its balance sheet, thus removing the one true price-insensitive bid from the market, it seemed a recipe for much higher 10-year yields. The fact that we remain at 3.08% nine months into the year is quite surprising, at least to me. But it is entirely possible that we see a much more aggressive sell-off in Treasuries going forward, especially if the Fed tweaks their message next week to one that is more hawkish.
In this context, let me give a concrete example of just how important the central bank message really is. This morning, Norgesbank raised interest rates in Norway by 25bps, as was universally expected. This was the first time in 7 years they raised rates, and are doing so because the economy there is expanding rapidly while inflation moves closer to their target. But in their policy discussion, they reduced the forecast pace of future interest rate hikes, surprising everyone, and the result was a sharp decline in NOK. Versus the euro it fell more than 1%, which translated into a 0.7% decline vs. the dollar. The point is the market is highly focused on the policy statements as well as the actual moves.
This is equally true, if not more so, with regard to the Fed. Current expectations are that the Fed will raise rates 25bps next week and another 25bps in December. Where things get cloudier is what next year will look like, and how fast they will continue to tighten policy. It is for this reason that next week’s meeting is so widely anticipated, because the Fed will release its updated dot plot, the effective forecasts of each Fed member as to where Fed funds will be at various points in the future. If the dot plot implies higher rates than the last iteration in June, you can expect the dollar to benefit from the outcome. Any implication of a slower pace of rate hikes will certainly undermine the dollar.
In the end, the mixture of new information has been sufficient to push the dollar lower by 0.3% when looking at the broad dollar index. Interestingly, despite its recent weakness, it remains within the trading range that has defined its movement since it stopped appreciating in April. Frankly, I expect this range trading to continue unless the Fed significantly changes its tune.
This morning brings a bit more data with Initial Claims (exp 210K) and Philly Fed (17.0) due at 8:30 while Existing Home Sales (5.35M) are released at 10:00. Yesterday’s housing data was mixed with New Home Sales rising more than expected, but Building Permits plunging. And remember that both of those data points tend to have a great deal of volatility. With that in mind, looking at the longer term trend shows that while Housing Starts seem to be rebounding from a bad spot, the trend in Permits is clearly downward, which doesn’t speak well for the housing market in the medium term.
In the end, as I wrote yesterday, continued modest dollar weakness seems the most likely outcome for now, but I suspect that we are coming to the end of this soft patch, and that the dollar will find its legs soon. I remain confused as to why there is so much bullishness attached to the Eurozone economy given the data continues to underperform. And there is no indication that the ECB is going to suddenly turn truly hawkish. Current levels strike me as attractive for dollar buyers.