This weekend the data released
From China showed growth had increased
The market’s reaction
Was pure satisfaction
With short sellers all getting fleeced
Remember all those concerns over slowing growth around the world as manufacturing data kept slipping to recession-like numbers? Just kidding! Everything in the world is just peachy. At least that seems to be the take from equity markets this morning after Chinese PMI data this weekend surprised one and all by showing a significant rebound. The ‘official’ Manufacturing PMI printed at 50.5, up from 49.2 in February and well above the consensus forecast of 49.5. More importantly, it was on the expansion side of the 50.0 boom/bust line. The non-manufacturing number printed at 54.8, also higher than February (54.3) and consensus expectations of 54.1. Then last night, the Caixin data was released and it, too, showed a much better reading at 50.8, up from 49.9 and above consensus expectations of 50.1. And that’s all it took to confirm the bullish case for equity markets with the Nikkei rising 1.4% and Shanghai up 2.6%. In fairness, we also heard soothing words from Chinese Vice-premier Liu He, China’s top trade negotiator, that he was optimistic a deal would soon be reached, perhaps when he is back in Washington later this week.
What makes this so interesting is that European markets are all rallying as well, albeit not quite as robustly (DAX +1.1%, CAC +0.5%) despite weaker than forecast PMI data there. In fact, German Manufacturing PMI fell to 44.1, its lowest level since July 2012 during the European bond crisis, while the French also missed the mark at 49.7. However, it is becoming evident that we are fast approaching the bad news is good phenomenon we had seen several years ago. You may recall that this is the theory that weak economic data is actually good for equity prices because the central banks will ease policy further, thus
increasing inequality and making the rich richer helping to support equity market valuations by adding further liquidity to the system.
It cannot be surprising that in this risk-on festival, the dollar has suffered overnight, falling between 0.2% and 0.5% vs. its G10 counterparts and by similar numbers vs. most of the EMG bloc. In fact, the two notable decliners beyond the dollar have been; TRY, currently down 0.6% (although that is well off its worst levels of -2.0%) after local elections over the weekend showed President Erdogan’s support in the major cities in Turkey has fallen substantially; and the yen, which given the risk-on mindset is behaving exactly as expected. In addition, 10-year Treasury yields have backed up to 2.44% and are no longer inverted vs. the 3-month T-bill, after spending all of last week in that situation.
What should we make of this situation? Is everything in the economy turning better and Q4 simply an aberration? Or is this simply the lash hurrah before the coming apocalypse?
On the positive side is the fact that last year’s efforts by central banks around the world to ‘normalize’ monetary policy is clearly over. ZIRP is the new normal, and quite frankly, it looks like the Fed is going to start heading back in that direction soon. Certainly, the market believes so. And as long as free money exists in the current low inflation environment, equity markets are going to be the main beneficiaries.
On the negative side, the number of red flags raised in the economy continues to increase, and it seems hard to believe that economic growth can continue unabated overall. For example, auto manufacturing has been declining rapidly and the housing market continues to slow sharply. These are two of the largest and most important industries in the US economy, and contraction in either will reduce growth. We are looking at contraction in both, despite interest rates still much closer to historic lows than highs. Remember, both these businesses are credit intensive as almost everyone borrows money to buy a car or a house. As an example of the concerns, auto loan delinquencies are at record levels currently with more than 6.5% overdue by more than 90 days.
Obviously, this is a small sample of the economy, albeit an important one with significant knock-on effects, but at the end of the day, investors continue to take the bullish view. Free money trumps all the potential travails of any particular industry.
It’s funny, because this attitude is what has been increasing the hype for the sexiest new economic views of MMT. After all, isn’t this what we have been seeing for the past decade? Fiscal stimulus paid for by central bank monetization of debt with no consequence. At least no consequences yet. Japan is leading the way in this process and despite a debt/GDP ratio of something like 240%, everybody sees the yen as a safe haven with negative 10-year yields. And arguably, last year’s tax and spending bill in the US alongside the end of policy tightening here, and almost certain future easing, is exactly the same story. Ironically, the Eurozone experiment is going to find itself on the wrong side of this process since member countries ceded their seignorage when they accepted the euro for their own currencies. And who knows, maybe MMT is a more correct description of the world and printing money without end has no negative consequences. I remain skeptical that 10 years of experimental monetary policy in the developed world is sufficient to overturn 300 years of economic history, but I am, by nature, a skeptic. At any rate, right now, the market is embracing the idea which means that equity markets ought to continue to gain, and government bond yields are not destined to rise alongside them.
As we start Q2, we are treated to a bunch of data as well as some more Fedspeak:
|Average Hourly Earnings||0.3% (3.4% Y/Y)|
|Average Weekly Hours||34.5|
So, on top of Retail Sales and Payroll data, both seen as critical information, we hear from four more Fed speakers during the second half of the week. The thing is, we already know what the Fed’s view is, no rate hikes anytime soon, but it is too soon to consider rate cuts. That is where the data comes in. Any hint of weakness in the data especially Friday’s payroll report, and you can be sure the calls for a rate cut will increase.
Right now, the market feels like the Fed is going to be the initiator of the next set of rate cuts, and so I expect the dollar will be pressured by that view. But remember, if the Fed is cutting, you can be sure every other central bank will be going down that road shortly thereafter.