Change Can Come Fast

There once was a market that soared
With tech stocks quite widely adored
The Fed, for eight years
Suppressed any fears
And made sure that rates were kept floored

But nothing, forever, can last
Now ZIRP and QE’s time has passed
Investors are frightened
‘Cause Powell has tightened
Beware because change can come fast!

Many of you will have noticed that equity markets sold off sharply in the past twenty-four hours, and that as of now, it appears there is more room to run in this correction. The question in situations like these is always, what was the catalyst? And while sometimes it is very clear (think Brexit or the Lehman bankruptcy) at other times movements of this nature are simply natural manifestations of a very complex system. In other words, sometimes, and this appears to be one of them, markets simply move because a confluence of seemingly minor events all occur at the same time. Trying to ascribe the movement to yesterday’s PPI reading, or comments from the IMF meetings, or any other specific piece of information is unlikely to be satisfying and so all I will say is that sometimes, markets move further than you expect.

Consider, though, that by many measures equity prices, especially in the US, are extremely richly valued. Things like the Shiller CAPE, or the Buffet idea of total market cap/GDP both show recent equity market levels at or near historic highs. And while the tax cuts passed into law for 2018 have clearly helped profitability this year, 2019 comparisons will simply be that much tougher to meet. There are other situations regarding the market that are also likely having an impact, like the increase in algorithmic trading, the dramatic increase in passive indexing and the advent of risk parity strategies. All of these tended to lead to buying interest in the same group of equities, notably the tech sector, which has been the leading driver of the stock market’s performance. If these strategies are forced to sell due to investor withdrawals, they will do so with abandon (after all, they tend to be managed by computer programs not people, and there is no emotion involved at all) and we could see a substantial further decline. Something to keep in mind.

But how, you may ask, is this impacting the FX markets? Interestingly, the dollar is not showing any of its risk-off tendencies through this move. In fact, it has fallen against almost all counterpart currencies. And while in some cases, there is a valid story that has nothing to do with the dollar per se, in many cases, it appears that this is simply dollar weakness. For example, the euro has rallied 0.5% this morning, after a 0.25% gain yesterday. Part of this has been driven by modestly higher than expected inflation data from several Eurozone countries (Spain and Ireland) while there is likely also a benefit from the story that the Brexit negotiations seem to be moving to a conclusion. However, despite the positive Brexit vibe, the pound has only managed a 0.15% rise this morning. The big winner in the G10 space has been Sweden, where the krone has rallied 1.5% after it also released higher than expected CPI data (2.5%) and the market has priced in further tightening by the Riksbank.

Looking at the EMG space, the dollar has fallen very consistently here, albeit not universally. We haven’t paid much attention to TRY lately, but it has rallied 1.4% today, and 5.5% in the past month. While yesterday they did claim to create some measures to help address the rising inflation there, they appear fairly toothless and I suspect the lira’s recent strength has more to do with the market correcting a massive decline than investor appetite for the currency. But all of the CE4 are rallying today, albeit in line with the euro’s 0.5% move, and there have been no stories of note from the region.

Looking to APAC, the movement has actually been far less pronounced with THB the best performer, rising 0.7% but the rest of the space largely trading within 0.2% of yesterday’s close. In other words, there is no evidence that, despite a significant decline in equity markets throughout the region, that risk-off sentiment has reached dramatic proportions. Now, if equity markets continue their sharp decline today, my best guess is that we will see a bit more activity in the currency markets, likely with the dollar the beneficiary.

Finally, LATAM currencies have had a mixed performance, with MXN rising 0.5% this morning, but BRL having fallen more than 1% on news that the mooted finance minister for Jair Bolsonaro (assuming he wins the second round election) is being investigated for corruption.

Turning to this morning’s session, the key data point of the week is released, with CPI expected to have declined to 2.4% in September (from 2.7%) and the core rate to have risen to 2.3%, up from August’s reading of 2.2%. With every comment from a Fed speaker focused on the idea of continuing to increase Fed Funds until they reach neutral, this data has the opportunity to have a real impact. If the release is firmer than expected, look for bonds to suffer, equities to suffer more and the dollar to find support. However, if this data is weak, then I would expect that the dollar could fall further, maybe back toward the bottom of its recent range, while the equity market finds some support as fears of an overly tight Fed dissipate.

So there is every opportunity for some more market fireworks today. As I believe that inflation remains likely to continue rising, especially based on the anecdotal evidence of rises in wages, I continue to see the dollar finding support. Of course, that doesn’t speak well of how the equity market is likely to perform if I am correct.

Good luck
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