In Europe, the dominant nation
Is starting to feel more frustration
As data implies
They’ll soon demonize
Chinese US for their degradation
The story in Europe continues to be one of diminishing growth across the board. Early this morning, German Factory Order data was released showing orders unexpectedly fell -1.6% in December after a downwardly revised -0.2% decline in November. Weakness was seen in every sector as both domestic and foreign demand shrank. There is no way to paint this as anything other than a sign of ongoing economic malaise. Once again, I will point out that there is a vanishingly small probability that the ECB will consider raising interest rates later this year, with a far more likely scenario being that further policy ease is on the way. The immediate impact of this data was to see the euro continue its recent decline, having fallen a further 0.2% this morning and now trading back below the 1.14 level.
Speaking of potential further easing of ECB monetary policy, the discussion regarding TLTRO’s is starting to heat up. These (Targeted Long-Term Refinancing Operations) were one of the several ways the ECB expanded their balance sheet during the Eurobond crisis several years ago. The idea was that the ECB made cheap (or even negative rate) liquidity available to Eurozone banks that wanted to fund an increase in their loan books. If the loans qualified (based on the recipients) banks actually got paid to borrow the money from the ECB. So, it was a pretty sweet deal for them, getting paid on both sides of the transaction. Because these loans had initial terms of four and five years, they also counted toward banks’ capital ratios and thus helped reduce their overall cost of funding.
But starting in June, the first of these loans will fall under twelve months until repayment is due, and thus will no longer be able to be counted as long-term capital. As I have written before, there are two possible scenarios: this financing rolls off and banks are forced to fund their outstanding loans in the markets at a much higher price. The result of this will be either slimmer profit margins for the banks, undermining their balance sheets, or they will be forced to raise rates or call in those outstanding loans, neither of which will help the growth story in Europe. The other, far more likely, choice is for the ECB to roll the TLTRO’s over, allowing the banks to maintain their interest rate margins and insuring that there is no tightening of monetary policy in the Eurozone. Given the ongoing weakness in data, which do you think is going to happen? Exactly, they will be rolled over, despite the fact that the ECB is unwilling to commit to that right now. It would be shocking if that is not the outcome!
But the euro is not the only currency to decline this morning, in fact, dollar strength has been pretty widespread. For example, AUD has fallen -1.45% after RBA Governor Lowe explained that the balance of risks for the Australian economy had tilted lower. The market has understood that as a ‘promise’ that future rate hikes have been delayed indefinitely. Aussie’s fall helped drag Kiwi lower as well, with NZD down -0.65%. Meanwhile, the ongoing decline in oil prices, most recently on the back of rising US inventories, has undermined CAD (-0.6%), NOK (-0.4%), MXN (-0.5%) and RUB (-0.4%). Interestingly, the pound, which had been lower earlier, is the one G10 currency that has held its own this morning. Of course, it has been declining steadily for more than two weeks, ever since the last big Parliamentary vote. What appears to be happening is that traders grew to believe that with Parliament taking charge of the negotiations, a deal would be reached, and the risk of a hard Brexit diminished. But funnily enough, Parliament is learning that despite their distaste for the Irish border solution proposed by PM May, there is no obvious better way to address that intractable problem. Traders are starting to lose their confidence that the outcome will be a deal, as despite a universal claim that a hard Brexit should not and cannot happen, it just might happen.
Turning to emerging markets, we have seen weakness across the board there as well. One of the big changes that the Fed has wrought by changing its stance from ongoing hawkishness to apparent dovishness is that many APAC central banks, that had been raising rates steadily alongside the Fed last year, are now backing away from those policies. Last night Bank of Thailand left rates on hold and later this week we will hear from both the Philippines (no change expected) and India (possible 25bp rate cut). Both mark a change from recent policy direction. So, while the dollar suffered in the wake of the Fed’s change, as that sentiment propagates around the world, I expect that the dollar will find its footing. After all, if every central bank is easing policy, the forces driving the FX market will need to be non-monetary. And for now, the US remains the best economy around, despite recent signs of slowing here.
One other story I need to mention is an article in Bloomberg (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-06/imf-staff-floats-dual-money-to-allow-much-deeper-negative-rates?srnd=markets-vp) that talks about a paper written at the IMF suggesting the creation of e-money to be issued alongside current cash. E-money would have negative interest rates and an exchange rate with cash which would drive the value of cash lower over time (effectively creating a negative interest rate for holding cash). Given my current role as Chief Strategist at 9th Gear Technologies, I have a particular interest in the concept of e-money, as I do believe cash will become scarcer and scarcer over time. I have also been vocal in my concerns that e-money will result in permanent negative interest rates, and that was before the IMF weighed in with that exact view.
Turning to this morning’s data releases, US Trade data is due (exp -$54.0B) at 8:30, and then we hear from the Fed’s Randall Quarles this afternoon. However, his focus continues to be on regulation, so I don’t anticipate any new monetary policy information. If the news from Asia is the new trend, then expect to see talk of easier money from all around the world, with the Fed, once again becoming the tightest policy around, thus supporting the dollar. I don’t imagine it will happen all at once, as there are still those harping on the Fed’s U-turn, but eventually, the news will be other banks easing while the Fed stands pat.