When Tax Cuts Arrive

The euro has taken a dive
As Italy tries to revive
Its still quite weak growth
By managing both
More spending when tax cuts arrive

It was just earlier this week that pundits were sounding the death knell for the dollar, as they explained the market has already fully priced in Fed rate hikes while other markets, both developed and emerging, were just beginning their turn towards tighter policy. In fact, the convergence trade was becoming all the rage; the idea that as the dollar started to slide, emerging market economies would see reduced pressure on their fundamentals (it would become easier to repay dollar debt) while commodity prices could rebound (most emerging markets are commodity exporters) and so both stock and bond prices in those markets would benefit. At the same time, other developed markets would see a similar, albeit lesser, impact and so market sentiment would get markedly better. Or not.

Yesterday, the market learned that the Italian budget question, something that had been set aside as not really impactful, has become impactful. The announcement by the ruling coalition that they would be targeting a 2.4% budget deficit next year, well above earlier estimates of 1.8% but still below the EU’s 3.0% target, has raised numerous red flags for investors. First, the new budget will do nothing to address Italy’s debt/GDP ratio, which at 131% is second only to Greece within the EU. One of the reasons that the EU wanted that lower target was to help address that situation. The potential consequence of that issue, a larger debt/GDP ratio, is that the ratings agencies may lower their country credit ratings for Italy, which currently stand at Baa2 by Moody’s and BBB by S&P. And given that those ratings are just two notches above junk, it could put the country in a precarious position of having a much more difficult time funding its deficit. It should be no surprise that Italian government bond yields jumped, with 2-year yields spiking 46bps and 10-year yields up 31bps. It should also be no surprise that the Italian stock markets fell sharply, with the FTSE-MIB down 4.1% as I type. And finally, it should be no surprise that the euro is lower, having fallen more than 1.5% since this news first trickled into the market yesterday morning NY time. While this could still play out where the coalition government backs off its demands and markets revert, what is clear is that dismissing Italian budget risk as insignificant is no longer a viable option.

But it’s not just the euro that is under pressure; the dollar is generally stronger against most of its counterparts. For example, the pound is down 0.3% this morning and 1% since yesterday morning after UK data showed weakening confidence and slowing business investment. Both of these seem to be directly related to growing Brexit concerns. And on that subject, there has been no movement with regard to the latest stance by either the UK or the EU. Politicians being what they are, I still feel like they will have something signed when the time comes, but it will be short on specifics and not actually address the issues. But every day that passes increases the odds that the UK just leaves with no deal, and that will be, at least in the short term, a huge pound Sterling negative.

Meanwhile, the yen has fallen to its lowest level vs. the dollar this year, trading through 113.60 before consolidating, after the BOJ once again tweaked its concept of how to manage QE there. Surprisingly (to me at least) the movement away from buying 30-year bonds was seen as a currency negative, despite the fact that it drove yields higher at the back of the curve. If anything, I would have expected that move to encourage Japanese investors to repatriate funds and invest locally, but that is not the market reaction. What I will say is that the yen’s trend is clearly downward and there is every indication that it will continue.

Looking at the data story, yesterday we saw US GDP for Q2 confirmed at 4.2%, while Durable Goods soared at a 4.5% pace in August on the back of strong aircraft orders. For this morning, we are looking for Personal Income (exp 0.4%); Personal Spending (0.3%); PCE (0.2%, 2.3% Y/Y); Core PCE (0.1%, 2.0% Y/Y); and Michigan Sentiment (100.8). All eyes should be on the Core PCE data given it is the number the Fed puts into their models. In addition, we hear from two Fed speakers, Barkin and Williams, although at this stage they are likely to just reiterate Wednesday’s message. Speaking of which, yesterday Chairman Powell spoke and when asked about the flattening yield curve explained that it was something they watched, but it was not seen as a game changer.

In the end, barring much weaker PCE data, there is no reason to believe that the Fed is going to slow down, and if anything, it appears they could fall behind the curve, especially if the tariff situation starts to impact prices more quickly than currently assumed. There is still a tug of war between the structural issues, which undoubtedly remain dollar negative, and the cyclical issues, which are undoubtedly dollar positive, but for now, it appears the cyclicals are winning.

Good luck and good weekend
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