Our central bank’s doves are in flight
As this week the Fed will rewrite
Their previous view
That one hike or two
Was needed to make things alright
Instead as growth everywhere slows
More policy ease they’ll propose
Perhaps not QE
But all will agree
The balance sheet’s size reached its lows
If you were to throw a dart at a map of the world, whichever country you hit would almost certainly be in the midst of easing monetary policy (assuming of course you didn’t hit the ocean.) It is virtually unanimous now that the next move in interest rates is going to be lower. In fact, there are only two nations that are poised to go the other way, Norway and Hong Kong. The former because growth there continues to motor along and, uniquely in the world, inflation is above their target range, most recently printing at 2.6%. The latter is actually under a different kind of pressure, draining liquidity from its economy as there has been a huge inflow of funds driving rates down and pressuring the HKD to the bottom of its band. But aside from those two, its easy money everywhere. Last week the ECB surprised the market by announcing the implementation of a new round of TLTRO’s, rather than just talking about the idea. That was a much faster move than the market had anticipated.
This week it is the Feds turn, where new forecasts and a new dot plot are due. It is widely assumed that economic forecasts will be marked lower given the slowing data picture that has emerged in the US, with the most notable data point being the 20K rise in NFP last month, well below the 180K expected. As such, and given the change in rhetoric since the last dot plot was revealed in December, it is now assumed that the median expectation for FOMC members will be either zero or one rate hikes this year, down from two to three. My money is on zero, with only a few of the hawks (Mester and George) likely to still see even one rate hike in the future.
To me, however, the market surprise will come with regard to the balance sheet reduction that has been ongoing for the past two years. What was “paint drying” in October, and “on autopilot” in December is going to end by June! Mark my words. It is already clear that the Fed wants to stop tightening policy, and despite the claims that the slow shrinkage of the balance sheet would have a limited impact, it is also clear that the impact of reducing reserves has been more than limited. In a similar vein to the ECB acting instead of talking about TLTRO’s last week, look for the Fed to stop the shrinkage by June. There is no right answer to the question, how large should the Fed’s balance sheet be? Instead, it is always seen as a range. However, given the current desire to stop the tightening, why would they wait any longer? If I’m wrong it is because they could simply stop at the end of this month and be done with it, but that might send a panicky message, so June probably fits the bill a bit better.
This is going to hit the market in a very predictable way; a weaker dollar, stronger stocks and stronger bonds. The stock story is easy, as less tightening will continue to be perceived as a boon to earnings and eventually to the economy. Funnily enough, the message to the bond market is likely to be quite different. With 10-year yields already below 2.60% (2.58% this morning), news that the Fed is more concerned about growth is likely to drive inflows, and maybe even help the curve invert. Remember, short end rates are already 2.50%, so it won’t take much to get to an inversion. As to the dollar, while everybody is in easing mode, the new information that the Fed is taking another step will be read as quite dovish and force more long dollar positions to be covered. In the end, I maintain that the situation in the Eurozone remains worse than that in the US, but the timing of announcements and perception of surprise is going to drive the short-term price activity.
Elsewhere in markets, while the China trade talks remain a background story for now, Brexit is edging ever closer. There is still no clear outcome there, although PM May is apparently going to try to get her deal through Parliament again this week. You have to admire her tenacity, if not her success. But here’s an interesting tidbit that hasn’t been widely reported: the vote last week by Parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit wasn’t binding! In other words, absent an agreed delay by the rest of the EU, Brexit is still going to happen at the end of the month, deal or no deal. Again, my point is that the probability of a no-deal Brexit remains distinctly non-zero, and the idea that the pound has reflected Brexit risk at its current level of 1.32 is laughable. If they can’t figure it out, the pound will go a LOT lower.
Of course, today, there is virtually nothing going on in the FX markets, with G10 currencies all within 0.1% of their closing levels on Friday. Even the EMG bloc has seen limited movement with the Indian rupee the only currency to have moved more than 0.5% all day. The rupee’s strength has been evident over the past three weeks as recent fiscal stimulus has attracted significant investment inflows. But beyond that, nothing.
Away from the Fed, this week is extremely quiet on the data front as well:
|Wednesday||FOMC Interest Rate||2.50%|
|Friday||Existing Home Sales||5.10M|
And that’s it. After the Fed meeting, there is only one speech scheduled, Raphael Bostic on Friday, but given that Powell will be all over the air on Wednesday, it is unlikely to matter much. So this week shapes up as a waiting game, nothing until the FOMC on Wednesday, and then react to whatever they do. Look for quiet FX markets until then.