Of late from the Fed we have heard
That “gradual” is the watchword
Though headwinds exist
The Fed will persist
Their rate hikes just won’t be deferred
It appears there is a pattern developing amongst the world’s central bankers. Despite increasing evidence that economic activity is slowing down, every one of them is continuing to back the gradual increase of base interest rates. Last week, Signor Draghi was clear in his assessment that recent economic headwinds were likely temporary and would not deter the ECB from ending QE on schedule and starting to raise rates next year. This week, so far, we have been treated to Fed speakers Charles Evans and Richard Clarida both explaining that the gradual increase of interest rates was still the appropriate policy despite indications that economic activity in the US is slowing. While both acknowledged the recent softer data, both were clear that the current policy trajectory of gradual rate hikes remained appropriate. Later this morning we will hear from Chairman Powell, but his recent statements have been exactly in line with those of Evans and Clarida. And finally, the Swedish Riksbank remains on track to raise rates next month despite the fact that recent economic data shows slowing growth and declining consumer and business confidence.
Interestingly, the San Francisco Fed just released a research paper explaining that inflation was NOT likely to rise significantly and that the increases earlier this year, which have been ebbing lately, were the result of acyclical factors. The paper continued that as those factors revert to more normal, historical levels, inflation was likely to fall back below the Fed’s 2.0% target. But despite their own research, there is no indication that the Fed is going to change their tune. In fact, the conundrum I see is that Powell’s Fed has become extremely data focused, seemingly willing to respond to short term movement in the numbers despite the fact that monetary policy works with a lag at least on the order of 6-12 months. In other words, even though the Fed is completely aware that their actions don’t really impact the data for upwards of a year, they are moving in the direction of making policy based on the idiosyncrasies of monthly numbers.
All this sounds like a recipe for some policy mistakes going forward. However, as I wrote two weeks ago, current attempts to normalize policy are very likely simply addressing previous policy mistakes. After all, the fact that pretty much every central bank in the G20 is seeking to ‘normalize’ monetary policy despite recent growth hiccups is indicative of the fact that they all realize their policies are in the wrong place for the end of the economic cycle. Belatedly, it seems they are beginning to understand that they will have very limited ability to address the next economic downturn, which I fear will occur much sooner than most pundits currently predict.
The reason I focus on the central banks is because of their outsized impact on the currency markets. After all, as I have written many times, the cyclical factor of relative interest rates continues to be one of the main drivers of FX movements. So as long as central banks are telling us that they are on a mission to raise rates, the real question becomes the relative speed with which they are adjusting policy and how much of that adjustment is already priced into the market. The reason that yesterday’s comments from Evans and Clarida are so important is that the market had begun pricing out rate hikes for 2019, with not quite two currently expected. However, if the Fed maintains its hawkish tone that implies the dollar has further room to rise.
Speaking of the dollar, despite the risk-on sentiment that has been evident in equity markets the past two sessions, the dollar continues to perform well. That sentiment seems to be driven by the idea that the Trump-Xi meeting on Saturday will produce some type of compromise and restart the trade talks. I am unwilling to handicap that outcome as forecasting this president’s actions has proven to be extremely difficult. We shall see.
Pivoting to the market today, the dollar is actually little changed this morning, with the largest G10 movement being a modest 0.3% rally in the pound Sterling. There are numerous articles describing the ongoing machinations in Parliament in the UK regarding the upcoming Brexit vote, and today’s view seems to be that something will pass. However, away from the pound, the G10 is trading within 10bps of yesterday’s close, although yesterday did see the dollar rally some 0.4% across the board. Yesterday’s US data showed that consumer confidence was slipping from record highs and that house prices were rising less rapidly than forecast, although still at a 5.1% clip. This morning brings the second look at Q3 GDP (exp 3.5%) as well as New Home Sales (575K) and the Goods Trade Balance (-$76.7B). However, Chairman Powell speaks at noon, and that should garner the bulk of the market’s attention. Until then, I anticipate very little price action in the FX markets, and truthfully in any market.