The planet that’s third from the sun
Is learning expansion is done
At least with respect
To growth that’s subject
To what politicians have done
It ought not be much of a surprise that the dollar is regaining its footing this morning and has been doing so for the past several sessions. This is due to the fact that the economic data continue to point to the US as the last bastion of hope for global growth. Yesterday’s data showed that there is still life in the US economy as both Non-Manufacturing ISM (59.7) and New Home Sales (621K) handily beat expectations. At the same time, the data elsewhere around the world continues to show slowing growth.
For example, Australian GDP growth in Q4 printed at a lower than expected 0.2%, with the annual number falling to 2.3%. While RBA Governor Lowe continues to cling to the idea that falling unemployment (a lagging indicator) is going to save the day, the fact remains that the housing bubble there is deflating and the slowdown in China’s economy is having a direct negative impact on Australian growth. In the wake of the report, analysts throughout Asia adjusted their interest rate forecasts to two rate cuts this year even though the RBA has tried to maintain a neutral policy with an eventual expectation to raise rates. Aussie fell sharply, down 0.75% this morning and >2.5% in the past week. It is once again approaching the 0.70 level which has thus far proven to be formidable support, and below which it has not traded in three years. Look for it to crack this time.
But it is not just problems Down Under. In fact, the much bigger issues are in Europe, where the OECD has just released its latest forecasts for GDP growth with much lower numbers on the table. Germany is forecast to grow just 0.7% this year, the UK just 0.8% and of course, Italy which is currently suffering through a recession, is slated to grow just 0.2% this year! Tomorrow Signor Draghi and his ECB colleagues meet again and there is a growing belief that a decision on rolling over the TLTRO bank financing will be made. I have been pounding the table on this for several months and there has certainly been nothing lately to change my view. At this point, the market is now pricing in the possibility of the first ECB rate hike only in mid 2020 and my view is it will be later than that, if ever. The combination of slowing growth throughout the Eurozone, slowing growth in China and still absent inflation will prevent any rate hikes for a very long time to come. In fact, Europe is beginning to resemble Japan in this vein, where slowing growth and an aging population are the prerequisites for NIRP forever. Plus, the longer growth remains subpar, the more call for fiscal policy ease which will require additional borrowing at the government level. As government debt continues to grow, and it is growing all around the world, the ability of central banks to guide rates higher will be increasingly throttled. When you consider these issues it become very difficult to be bullish on the euro, especially in the long-term. But even in the short run, the euro is likely to feel pressure. While the euro has barely edged lower this morning, that is after a 0.35% decline yesterday which means it is down just over 1.0% in the past week.
In the UK, meanwhile, the Brexit debate continues but hope is fading that the PM will get her bill through Parliament this time. Thus far, the EU has been unwilling to make any concessions on the language of the Irish backstop, and despite a herculean effort by May, it is not clear she can find the votes. The vote is scheduled for next Tuesday, after which, if it fails, Parliament will look to pass some bills preventing a no-deal Brexit and seeking a delay. However, even those don’t look certain to pass. Just this morning, Governor Carney said that a no-deal Brexit would not, in fact, be the catastrophe that had been earlier forecast as many companies have made appropriate plans to handle it. While the underlying thesis in the market continues to be that there will be a deal of some sort, it feels like the probability of a hard Brexit is growing somewhat. Certainly, the pound’s recent performance would indicate that is the case. This morning it is down a further 0.3% which takes the move to -1.75% in the past week.
One last central bank story is that of Canada, where the economy is also slowing much more rapidly than the central bank had believed just a few weeks ago. Last week we learned that inflation is lower than expected, just 1.4%, and that GDP grew only 0.1% in Q4, actually falling -0.1% in December. This is not a data set that inspires optimism for the central bank to continue raising rates. Rather, it should become clear that the BOC will remain on hold, and more importantly likely change its hawkish slant to neutral at least, if not actually dovish. As to the Loonie, it is lower by 0.3% this morning and 2.0% since the GDP release on Friday.
Add it all up and you have a story that explains global growth is slowing down further. It is quite possible that monetary policy has been pushed to its effective limit with any marginal additional ease likely to have a very limited impact on the economy. If this is the case, it portends far more difficulty in markets ahead, with one of the most likely outcomes a significant increase in volatility. If the global economy is now immune to the effects of monetary policy anesthesia, be prepared for a few more fireworks. It remains to be seen if this is the case, but there are certainly some indications things are playing out that way. And if central banks do lose control, I would not want to have a significant equity market position as markets around the world are certain to suffer. Food for thought.
This morning we get one piece of data, Trade Balance (exp -$57.9B) and we hear from two more Fed speakers, Williams and Mester. Then at 2:00 the Fed’s Beige Book is released. It seems unlikely that either speaker will lean hawkish, even Mester who is perhaps the most hawkish on the FOMC. Comments earlier this week from other speakers, Rosengren and Kaplan, highlighted the idea of patience in their policy judgements as well as potential concern over things like the extraordinary expansion of corporate debt in this cycle, and how in the event the economy slows, many more companies are likely to be vulnerable. While fear is not rampant, equity markets have been unable to rally the past several sessions which, perhaps, indicates that fear is beginning to grow. And when fear is in vogue, the dollar (and the yen) are the currencies to hold.