Goldilocks Ain’t Dead Yet

The Chairman said, no need to fret
Our low unemployment’s no threat
To driving up prices
And so my advice is
Relax, Goldilocks ain’t dead yet

Chairman Powell’s message yesterday was that things were pretty much as good as anyone could possibly hope. The current situation of unemployment remaining below every estimate of NAIRU while inflation remains contained is a terrific outcome. Not only that, there are virtually no forecasts for inflation to rise meaningfully beyond the 2.0% target, despite the fact that historically, unemployment levels this low have always led to sharper rises in inflation. In essence, he nearly dislocated his shoulder while patting himself on the back.

But as things stand now, he is not incorrect. Measured inflationary pressures remain muted despite consistently strong employment data. Perhaps that will change on Friday, when the September employment report is released, but consensus forecasts call for the recent trend to be maintained. Last evening’s news that Amazon was raising its minimum wage to $15/hour will almost certainly have an impact at the margin given the size of its workforce (>575,000), but the impact will be muted unless other companies feel compelled to match them, and then raise prices to cover the cost. It will take some time for that process to play out, so I imagine we won’t really know the impact until December at the earliest. In the meantime, the Goldilocks economy of modest inflation and strong growth continues apace. And with it, the Fed’s trajectory of rate hikes remains on track. The impact on the dollar should also remain on track, with the US economy clearly still outpacing those of most others around the world, and with the Fed remaining in the vanguard of tightening policy, there is no good reason for the dollar to suffer, at least in the short run.

However, that does not mean it won’t fall periodically, and today is one of those days. After a weeklong rally, the dollar appears to be consolidating those gains. The euro has been one of today’s beneficiaries as news that the Italian government is backing off its threats of destroying EU budget rules has been seen as a great relief. You may recall yesterday’s euro weakness was driven by news that the Italians would present a budget that forecast a 2.4% deficit, well above the previously agreed 1.9% target. The new government needs to spend a lot of money to cut taxes and increase benefits simultaneously. But this morning, after feeling a great deal of pressure, it seems they have backed off those deficit forecasts for 2020 and 2021, reducing those and looking to receive approval. In addition, Claudio Borghi, the man who yesterday said Italy would be better off without the euro, backed away from those comments. The upshot is that despite continued weakening PMI data (this time services data printed modestly weaker than expected across most of the Eurozone) the euro managed to rally 0.35% early on. Although in the past few minutes, it has given up those gains and is now flat on the day.

Elsewhere the picture is mixed, with the pound edging lower as ongoing Brexit concerns continue to weigh on the currency. The Tory party conference has made no headway and time is slipping away for a deal. Both Aussie and Kiwi are softer this morning as traders continue to focus on the interest rate story. Both nations have essentially promised to maintain their current interest rate regimes for at least the next year and so as the Fed continues raising rates, that interest rate differential keeps moving in the USD’s favor. It is easy to see these two currencies continuing their decline going forward.

In the emerging markets, Turkish inflation data was released at a horrific 24.5% in September, much higher than even the most bearish forecast, and TRY has fallen another 1.2% on the back of the news. Away from that, the only other currency with a significant decline is INR, which has fallen 0.65% after a large non-bank lender, IL&FS, had its entire board and management team replaced by the government as it struggles to manage its >$12 billion of debt. But away from those two, there has been only modest movement seen in the currency space.

One of the interesting things that is ongoing right now is the fact that crude oil prices have been rallying alongside the dollar’s rebound. Historically, this is an inverse relationship and given the pressure that so many emerging market economies have felt from the rising dollar already, for those that are energy importers, this pain is now being doubled. If this process continues, look for even more anxiety in some sectors and further pressure on a series of EMG currencies, particularly EEMEA, where they are net oil importers.

Keeping all this in mind, it appears that today is shaping up to be a day of consolidation, where without some significant new news, the dollar will remain in its recent trading range as we all wait for Friday’s NFP data. Speaking of data, this morning brings ADP Employment (exp 185K) and ISM Non-Manufacturing (58.0), along with speeches by Fed members Lael Brainerd, Loretta Mester and Chairman Powell again. However, there is no evidence that the Fed is prepared to change its tune. Overall, it doesn’t appear that US news is likely to move markets. So unless something changes with either Brexit or Italy, I expect a pretty dull day.

Good luck
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Southeast of France

The nation that’s southeast of France
Seems willing to leap at the chance
Of increasing spending
While also descending
Into a black hole of finance

Today’s markets have been dominated by a renewed fear that Italy may become Quitaly, quitting the euro in an effort to regain control of their finances. This view came about when Claudio Borghi, the chairman of the lower house budget committee (analogous to the House finance committee in the US), said that the euro was “not sufficient” to solve Italy’s fiscal issues. That was seen as an allusion to the idea that if Italy ditched the euro and returned to the lire, they would have more flexibility to implement the fiscal policies they wanted. In this case, flexibility can be understood to mean that Italy would be able to print and spend more money domestically, while allowing the lire to depreciate. The problem with the euro, as Italy sees it, is since they don’t control its creation, they cannot devalue it by themselves. There can be no surprise that the euro declined, falling 0.6% after a 0.3% decline yesterday. Of course, Italian stock and bond markets have also suffered, and there has been a more general feeling of risk aversion across all markets.

In the meantime, the latest Brexit news covers a new plan to allegedly solve the Irish border issue. It seems that PM May is going to offer up the idea that the UK remains in the customs union while allowing new checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland. The problem with this idea, at least on the surface, is that it will require the EU to compromise, and that is not something that we have seen much willingness to embrace on their part. Remember, French President Macron has explicitly said that he wants the UK to suffer greatly in order to serve as a warning to any other members from leaving the bloc. (Funnily enough, I don’t think that either Matteo Renzi or Luigi Di Maio, the leaders of the League and Five-Star Movement respectively in Italy, really care about that.)

For now, the market will continue to whipsaw around these events as hopes ebb and flow for a successful Brexit resolution. While it certainly doesn’t seem like anything is going to be agreed at this stage, my suspicion remains that some fudge will be found. The one caveat here is if PM May is ousted at the Conservative Party conference that begins later this week. PM Boris Johnson, for instance, will tell the Europeans to ‘bugger off’ and then no deal will be found. In that case, the pound will fall much further, but that seems a low probability event for right now. With all of that in mind, the pound has fallen 0.6% this morning and is back below 1.30 for the first time in three weeks.

In fact, the dollar is higher virtually across the board this morning, with AUD also lower by 0.6% after the RBA left rates unchanged at 1.50% while describing potential weakening scenarios, including a slowdown in China. Even CAD is lower, albeit only by 0.15%, despite the resolution of the NAFTA replacement talks yesterday.

Emerging markets have fared no better with, for example, IDR having fallen nearly 1.0% through 15,000 for the first time in twenty years, despite the central bank’s efforts to protect the rupiyah through rate hikes and intervention. We have also seen weakness in INR (-0.6%), ZAR (-1.3%), MXN (-0.6%), TRY (-1.9%) and RUB (-0.7%). Stock markets throughout the emerging markets have also been under pressure and government bond yields there are rising. In other words, this is a classic risk-off day.

Yesterday’s ISM data was mildly disappointing (59.8 vs. 60.1 expected) but continues to point to strong US economic growth. Since there are no hard data points released today (although we do see auto sales data) my sense is the market will turn its focus on Chairman Powell at 12:45, when he speaks at the National Association of Business Economics Meeting in Boston. His speech is titled, The Outlook for Employment and Inflation, obviously the exact issues the market cares about. However, keeping in mind the fact that Powell has been consistently bullish on the economy, it seems highly unlikely that he will say anything that could derail the current trend of tighter US monetary policy. Combining this with the renewed concerns over Europe and the UK, and it seems the dollar’s rally may be about to reignite.

Good luck
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Compromising

It cannot be very surprising
That Canada is compromising
Their views about trade
Thus now they have made
A deal markets find stabilizing

This morning, as the fourth quarter begins, arguably the biggest story is that Canada and the US have agreed terms to the trade pact designed to replace NAFTA. Canada held out to the last possible moment, but in the end, it was always clear that they are far too reliant on trade with the US to actually allow NAFTA to disintegrate without a replacement. The upshot is that there will be a new pact, awkwardly named the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) which is expected to be ratified by both Canada and Mexico quite easily, but must still run the gauntlet of the US Congress. In the end, it would be shocking if the US did not ratify this treaty, and I expect it will be completed with current estimates that it will be signed early next year. The market impact is entirely predictable and consistent with the obvious benefits that will accrue to both Canada and Mexico; namely both of those currencies have rallied sharply this morning with each higher by approximately 0.9%. I expect that both of these currencies will maintain a stronger tone vs. the dollar than others as the ending of trade concerns here will be a definite positive.

There is another trade related story this morning, although it does not entail a new trade pact. Rather, Chinese PMI data was released over the weekend with both the official number (50.8) and the Caixin small business number (50.0) falling far more sharply than expected. The implication is that the trade situation is beginning to have a real impact on the Chinese economy. This puts the Chinese government and the PBOC (no hint of independent central banking here) in a difficult position.

Much of China’s recent growth has been fueled by significant increases in leverage. Last year, the PBOC unveiled a campaign to seek to reduce this leverage, changing regulations and even beginning to tighten monetary policy. But now they are caught between a desire to add stability to the system by reducing leverage further (needing to tighten monetary policy); and a desire to address a slowing domestic economy starting to feel the pinch of the trade war with the US (needing to loosen monetary policy). It is abundantly clear that they will loosen policy further as the political imperative is to insure that GDP growth does not slow too rapidly during President Xi’s reign. The problem with this choice is that it will build up further instabilities in the economy with almost certain future problems in store. Of course, there is no way to know when these problems will manifest themselves, and so they will likely not receive much attention until such time as they explode. A perfect analogy would be the sub-prime mortgage crisis here ten years ago, where leading up to the collapse; every official described the potential problem as too small to matter. We all know how that worked out! At any rate, while the CNY has barely moved this morning, and in fact has remained remarkably stable since the PBOC stepped in six weeks ago to halt its weakening trend, it only makes sense that they will allow it to fall further as a pressure release valve for the economy.

Away from those two stories though, the FX market has been fairly dull. PMI data throughout the Eurozone was softer than expected, but not hugely so, and even though there are ongoing questions about the Italian budget situation, the euro is essentially unchanged this morning. In the past week, the single currency is down just under 2%, but my feeling is we will need to see something new to push us away from the 1.16 level, either a break in the Italy story or some new data or comments to alter views. The next big data print is Friday’s payroll report, but I expect we might learn a few things before then.

In the UK, while the Brexit deadline swiftly approaches, all eyes are now focused on the Tory party conference this week to see if there is a leadership challenge to PM May. Given that the PM’s ‘Chequers’ proposal has been dismissed by both the EU and half the Tory party, it seems they will need to find another way to move forward. While the best guess remains there will be some sort of fudge agreed to before the date, I am growing more concerned that the UK is going to exit with no deal in place. If that is what happens, the pound will be much lower in six-months’ time. But for today, UK Manufacturing PMI data was actually a surprising positive, rising to 53.8, and so the signals from the UK economy continue to be that it is not yet collapsing.

Away from those stories, though, I am hard pressed to find new and exciting news. As this is the first week of the month, there is a raft of data coming our way.

Today ISM Manufacturing 60.1
  ISM Prices Paid 71.0
  Construction Spending 0.4%
Wednesday ADP Employment 185K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 58.0
Thursday Initial Claims 213K
  Factory Orders 2.0%
Friday Nonfarm Payroll 185K
  Private Payroll 183K
  Manufacturing Payroll 11K
  Unemployment Rate 3.8%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (2.8% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Trade Balance -$53.5B

On top of the payroll data, we hear from eight Fed speakers this week, including more comments from Chairman Powell tomorrow. At this point, however, there is no reason to believe that anything is going to change. The Fed remains in tightening mode and will raise rates again in December. The rest of the world continues to lag the US with respect to growth, and trade issues are likely to remain top of mind. While the USMCA is definitely a positive, its benefits will only accrue to Mexico and Canada as far as the currency markets are concerned. We will need to see some significant changes in the data stream or the commentary in order to alter the dollar’s trend. Until then, the dollar should maintain an underlying strong tone.

Good luck
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