A Bad Dream

According to pundits’ new theme
December was just a bad dream
Though Europe’s a mess
And China feels stress
The fallout was way too extreme

The thing is, the data of late
Worldwide has not really been great
The only thing growing
Is debt which is sowing
The seeds of a troubled debate

The dollar has been edging higher over the past several sessions which actually seems a bit incongruous based on other market movements. Equity investors continue to see a glass not half full, but overflowing. Bond yields are edging higher in sync with those moves as risk is being acquired ‘before it’s too late’. But the dollar, despite the Fed’s virtual assurance that we have seen the last of the rate hikes, has been climbing against most counterparts for the past two sessions.

Some of this is clearly because we are getting consistently bad economic data from other countries. For example, last night saw Services PMI data from around the world. In France, the index fell to 47.8, its worst showing in five years. German data printed a slightly worse than expected 53.0, while the Eurozone as a whole remained unchanged at 51.2 It should be no surprise that Italy, which is currently in recession, saw its number fall below 50 as well, down to 49.7. Thus, while Brexit swirls on in the background, the Eurozone economy is showing every sign of sliding toward ever slower growth and inflation. As I have been repeating for months, the ECB will not be tightening policy further. And as the Brexit deadline approaches, you can be sure that the EU will begin to make more concessions given the growing domestic pressure that already exists due to the weakening economy. Net, the euro has decline 0.2% this morning, and is ebbing back to the level seen before the Fed capitulated.

Speaking of Brexit, the UK Services PMI data fell to 50.1, its worst showing in two- and one-half years, simply highlighting the issues extant there. PM May’s strategy continues to consist of trying to renegotiate based on Parliament’s direction, but the EU continues to insist it cannot be done. While very few seem to want a hard Brexit, there has been very little accomplished of late that seems likely to prevent it. And the pound? It has fallen a further 0.2% and is trading back just above 1.30, its lowest level in two weeks and indicative of the fact that the certainty about a deal getting done, or at the very least a delay in any decision, is starting to erode.

With the Lunar New Year continuing in Asia, there is no new news on the trade front, just the ongoing impact of the tariffs playing out in earnings releases and economic reports. But this story is likely to be static until the mooted meeting between the two presidents later this month. My observation is that the market has priced in a great deal of certainty that a deal will be agreed and that the tariff regime will end. Quite frankly, that seems very optimistic to me, and I think there is a very real chance that things deteriorate further, despite the incentives on both sides to solve the problem. The issue is that the US’s trade concerns strike at the very heart of the Chinese economic model, and those will not be easily changed.

Elsewhere, the yen has been falling modestly of late, which is not surprising given the recent risk-on sentiment in markets, but the Japanese economy has not shown any signs that the key concern over inflation, or lack thereof, has been addressed. During December’s equity meltdown, the yen rallied ~4.5%. Since then, it has rebound about half way, and in truth, since equity markets stabilized in the middle of January, the yen has been in a tight trading range. At this point, given the complete lack of ability by the BOJ to impact its value based on monetary policy settings, and given the strong belief that it represents a safe haven in times of trouble (which is certainly true for Japanese investors), the yen is completely beholden to the market risk narrative going forward. As long as risk is embraced, the yen is likely to edge lower. But on risk off days, look for it to rebound sharply.

And that’s really all we have for today. This evening’s State of the Union address by President Trump has the potential to move markets given the contentious nature of his current relationship with the House of Representatives. There is growing talk of another Federal government shutdown in two weeks’ time, although as far as the FX market was concerned, I would say the last one had little impact. Arguably, the dollar’s weakness during that period was directly a result of the change in Fed rhetoric, not a temporary interruption of government services.

At 10:00 this morning the ISM Non-Manufacturing data is released (exp 57.2), which while softer than last month remains considerably higher than its European and Chinese counterparts. Overall, as markets continue to reflect an optimistic attitude, I would expect that any further dollar strength is limited, but in the event that fear returns, the dollar should be in great demand. However, that doesn’t seem likely for today.

Good luck
Adf