The Chair of the Federal Reserve
For months has displayed steady nerve(s)
He’s gradually lifted
Fed Funds as he’s sifted
The data Fed members observe
But Friday brought more iffy news
And many now look for some clues
That Powell may soon
Abandon his tune
And search for a more dovish muse
Meanwhile o’er in Frankfurt they claim
That QE will end all the same
Though growth there is fading
There is no persuading
The Germans they’ll soon take the blame
The dollar started the Asian session on its back foot as market participants have jumped on the idea that softer employment data on Friday is going to prevent the Fed from maintaining their aggressive stance on monetary policy. And in fairness, we have already heard the first cracks in that story, as a number of Fed speakers were quite willing to admit that if the data slowed, they would not be as aggressive. However, the Fed is now in their blackout period, which means that we will not hear anything from them until they release their statement a week from Wednesday. In this market, that is an eternity with the ability for so much to happen and markets to move extraordinary distances.
As far as selling the dollar is concerned, I certainly understand the impulse given the clearly weaker US data and mildly more dovish tone of the latest comments last week. But the key thing to remember in the FX market is that everything is relative. And while US data is not as robust as it was just a few months ago, the same is true of both Eurozone and Japanese data, as well as Chinese and most EMG data. In fact, while the majority of participants continue to believe that the ECB is going to end QE on December 31st, and confirm that stance this week, there is a very big question mark regarding future European growth, especially in the event of a hard Brexit. Will the ECB have the guts ability to restart QE when inflation data suddenly starts to slide while Q4 GDP disappoints? And so while policy ease may be the proper response, having just ended their program they will be desperate to retain any credibility that they have left. At the end of the day, while the US economy appears to be slowing, it remains significantly brighter than the rest of the world. And that, eventually, is going to underpin the dollar. However, apparently not today.
Arguably, the biggest story this morning is the European Court of Justice’s ruling that the UK can unilaterally withdraw their Section 50 letter (the one where they officially declared they were leaving the EU). The upshot is the Bremainers feel there is new life and they can prevent the disastrous outcome of a hard Brexit. The one thing that seems clear, however, is that the Brexit deal, as currently negotiated, is likely to go down to defeat in the House of Commons in any vote. While that vote had been scheduled to occur tomorrow evening, just moments ago PM May took it off the agenda, with no alternative time scheduled. At the same time, her government reiterated that the UK is going through with Brexit as that was the result requested by the nation during the referendum. The FX market response to the latest histrionics has been to sell the pound. As I type, Sterling is lower by -0.45%, although that is also partially due to the fact that UK data was quite weak as well. For example, Construction Orders fell -30.7% in Q3, its worst performance since the depths of the great recession in 2009. IP fell -0.8% and GDP continues to edge along at a mere 0.1% monthly rate, having grown just 1.5% in the past year. It is becoming ever more clear that Brexit uncertainty is having a negative impact on the UK and by extension on the pound.
Away from the pound’s decline, though, the dollar is generally under pressure in the G10. For example, the euro has rallied 0.3% after modestly positive German trade and Italian IP data, although quite frankly, it seems more of a dollar negative than euro positive story. Bearing out the dollar weakness theme are the commodity currencies, with all three (AUD, CAD and NZD) firmer this morning despite declines across the board in energy, metals and agricultural prices.
Turning to the Emerging markets, the story is a little less anti-dollar as INR has fallen -0.7% after local elections added pressure to PM Modi’s political standing and called into question his ability to be reelected next year. In a more normal reaction to weaker commodity prices, both ZAR (-0.55%) and IDR (-0.5%) are suffering. At the same time, ongoing tensions regarding the US-China trade situation continue to weigh on KRW (-0.7%) and, not surprisingly, CNY (-0.5%). But away from those stories, the broad EMG theme is actually one of modest currency strength. Overall, it has been a mixed picture in the FX space.
Looking ahead to the data this week, with the UK vote now pulled from the calendar and Fed speakers absent, the market will look toward inflation data and Retail Sales for the latest clues on the economy.
|Today||JOLT’s Jobs Report||6.995M|
|Tuesday||NFIB Small Biz Optimism||107.3|
|PPI||0.0% (2.5% Y/Y)|
|-ex food & energy||0.1% (2.6% Y/Y)|
|Wednesday||CPI||0.0% (2.2% Y/Y)|
|-ex food & energy||0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)|
While the inflation data is important, the one thing that seems abundantly clear from recent Fed commentary is that they are unconcerned over the potential for inflation to run much higher. Instead, my sense is that they are going to be very focused on the potential first harbingers of a slowdown in the employment situation, where Initial Claims have ended their decade long decline and actually have started to rise. This is often seen as an early sign of potential economic weakness. But in the end, with the Fed quiet this week, I expect that we are going to be subject to much more foreign influence, with the ongoing Brexit situation driving the pound, the potential for a surprise from the ECB (which meets Thursday) and of course, the ongoing trade melee. In addition, we cannot forget the influence of equity markets, which continue to decline this morning after an abysmal week last week. In other words, there is plenty to drive markets this week, even absent the Fed, and for now, the dollar seems to be under pressure.