Animal Spirits Were Stirred

All week from the Fed we have heard
That patience is their new watchword
The market’s reaction
Implied satisfaction
And animal spirits were stirred!

While it may be a new day, nothing has really changed. Yesterday we heard from both Chairman Powell and vice-Chairman Clarida and both said essentially the same thing: the Fed is watching both the economy and markets closely, and given where policy rates currently stand, they can afford to be patient before acting next. On the subject of the Fed’s balance sheet, neither indicated there was cause for a policy change, but Powell, when asked, remarked that if they thought the shrinking balance sheet was becoming a problem, they would not hesitate to adjust policy. The market interpretation was: the Fed is not going to raise rates anytime soon so we better buy stocks as quickly as we can. The result was yet another rally in equities with all three US market indices rising about 0.5% on the day. At this point, even the Fed must recognize that they have gotten their message across.

The next key story that remains ongoing is the trade situation between the US and China. There was no specific news on the subject and no comments from either side. The market view is that there was clearly some progress made during the initial discussions earlier this week and many people are optimistic that the next round of talks, which will include more senior representatives from both sides, can lead to a permanent resolution. As long as that remains the collective mindset, it is one less pressure point for global equity markets. However, it must be remembered that the US is seeking significant changes in the structure of the Chinese economy, and so a complete resolution will not be easy to achieve, especially in the accelerated timeline currently extant. I expect an extension of the timeline as the first concrete result.

The third key story has been Brexit, which continues to be a complete mess. Next week’s Parliamentary vote looks destined to fail, and now there is a growing movement for the deadline to be extended three months to the end of June. While that requires a unanimous vote to do so, comments from European members seem to be heading in that direction. The pound has benefitted from the discussion, as traders believe that the extra three months will help alleviate the risk of a no-deal Brexit and the forecast consequences on both the economy and the currency in that event. However, the Irish border remains unchanged and there has been no indication that the UK will accept an effective walling off of Northern Ireland for the sake of the deal. We shall see.

Two other stories are also gaining in their importance, the rebound in oil prices and further weakness in the Eurozone economy. As to the first, the OPEC agreement to cut production by 1.2 million barrels/day has served to remove fears of an oil glut and recent inventory figures have backed that up. As well, while WTI has traded back above $50/bbl, there is a growing belief that the US fracking community is not going to be able to produce as much oil as previously thought, especially if prices slip back below that $50 level. Oil prices have rallied for nine consecutive days but remain far below levels seen just last October. Historically, rising commodity prices have gone hand in hand with a declining dollar, and for right now, that correlation has been holding.

Finally, we continue to see weak economic data from the Eurozone, with this morning’s Italian IP data (-1.6% in Nov) the latest in a string that has shown Europe’s manufacturing sector is under increasing pressure. This story is the one that has received shortest shrift from the market overall. In fact, I would argue it has been completely ignored, certainly by FX traders. While everyone focuses intently on the Fed and the recent change of heart regarding future rate hikes, there has been almost no discussion with regard to the ECB and how, as economic growth continues to slow in the Eurozone, the idea that they will be tightening policy further come September is laughable. At some point, the market will realize that the Eurozone is in no position to normalize policy further, and that instead, the question will arise as to when they will seek to add more stimulus. My gut tells me that a change in forward guidance will be the first step as they extend the concept of rate hikes from; “not until the end of summer” to something along the lines of “when we deem appropriate based on the economic data”. In other words, the current negative rate regime will be indefinite, and if (when) the next recession arrives, look for a reintroduction of QE there. My point is that the euro has no business rallying in any substantive way.

With all of this as background, a quick tour of markets shows that while the dollar actually performed fairly well during the US session yesterday, it is giving back some of those gains this morning. For example, the euro, despite weak data, is higher by 0.3%. The pound, on the back of the renewed Brexit deal hope is higher by 0.5%. Firmer commodity prices have helped AUD (+0.6%), NZD (+0.9%) and CAD (+0.3%). But the biggest consistent winner of late has been CNY, which has rallied a further 0.65% overnight and is now up 1.6% this week. This is a far cry from the situation just a few weeks ago, when there were concerns the yuan might break through the 7.00 level. Two things come to mind here as to the cause. The first possibility is that there has been an increase in investment flows into the Chinese bond market, where yields remain higher than in much of the developed world, and the Chinese bond market is slowly being added to global bond indices requiring fund managers to add positions there. The second, slightly more conspiratorial idea is that the Chinese government is pushing the yuan higher during the trade negotiations with the US to insure that its value is not seen as an impediment to reaching any deal. Whatever you think of President Trump’s tactics, there is no question that the Chinese economy has come under increased pressure since the imposition of US tariffs on their exports. It is not hard to believe that the stronger yuan is a direct response to help reach an agreement as quickly as possible.

And that’s pretty much everything to watch today. This morning we get CPI data with expectations for headline to print at -0.1% (1.9% Y/Y) and ex food & energy to print at +0.2% (2.2% Y/Y). Thankfully there are no more Fed speakers, but I would say given the near unanimity of the message from the nine speakers this week, we have a pretty good idea of what they are thinking. Equity futures are pointing slightly lower following European markets, which are softer today. However, given that equity markets around the world have rallied steadily all week, it can be no real surprise that a little profit taking is happening on a Friday. As to the dollar, in the short term I think it remains under pressure, but over time, I continue to see more reasons to own it than to short it.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

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