Called Into Question

A key market gauge of recession,
The yield curve, has called into question
Growth’s pace up ahead
And whether the Fed
Will restart financial repression

While markets this morning have stopped falling, there is no question that investors are on heightened alert. Yesterday saw further declines in the major stock indices and a continuation of the dollar’s rally alongside demand for Treasuries and Bunds. Today’s pause is hardly enough to change the predominant current view which can best be summed up as, AAAAGGGHHHH!

In the Treasury market, 10-year yields reached their steepest inversion vs. 3-month yields, 14bps, since 2007. While many pundits and analysts focus on the 2-year vs. 10-year spread, which remains slightly positive, the Fed itself has published research showing the 3-month vs. 10-year spread is a better indicator of future recessions. So the combination of fears over a drawn out trade war between the US and China and ongoing uncertainty in Europe given the Brexit drama and the uptick in tensions between Italy and the European Commission regarding Italy’s mooted budget, have been enough to send many investors hunting for the safest assets they can find. In this classic risk-off scenario, the fact that the dollar and the yen remain the currencies of choice is no surprise.

But let’s unpack the stories to see if the fear is warranted. On the trade front, every indication of late is that both sides are preparing for a much longer conflict. Just this morning China halted all imports of US soybeans. The other chatter of note is the idea that the Chinese may soon halt shipments of rare-earth metals to US industry, an act that would have significant negative consequences for the US manufacturing capability in the technology and aerospace industries. Of course, the US ban on Huawei and its increased pressure to prevent any allies from buying their equipment strikes at the heart of China’s attempts to move up the value chain in manufacturing. All told, until the G20 meeting in about a month’s time, I cannot foresee any thaw in this battle, and so expect continued negative consequences for the market.

As to Brexit, given the timing is that there won’t be a new Prime Minister until September, it seems that very little will happen in this arena. After all, Boris Johnson is already the favorite and is on record as saying a hard Brexit suits him just fine. While my personal view is that the probability of that outcome is more than 30%, I am in the minority. In fact, I would argue the analyst community, although not yet the market, is coalescing around the idea that no Brexit at all has become the most likely outcome. We have heard more and more MP’s talk about a willingness to hold a second referendum and current polls show Remain well ahead in that event. Of course, the FX market has not embraced that view as evidenced by the fact the pound remains within spitting distance of its lowest levels in more than two years.

Finally, the resurrection of the Italy story is the newest addition to the market’s menu of pain, and this one seems like it has more legs. Remarkably, the European Commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, is demanding that Italy reduce its fiscal spending by 1.5% of GDP despite the fact that it is just emerging from a recession and growth this year is forecast to be only 0.3%. This is remarkable given the Keynesian bent of almost all global policymakers. Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League whose power is growing after his party had a very strong showing in last week’s EU elections, has categorically rejected that policy prescription.

But of more interest is the fact that the Italian Treasury is back to discussing the issuance of ‘minibots’ which are essentially short-term Italian notes used by the government to pay contractors, and which will be able to trade in the market as a parallel currency to the euro. While they will be completely domestic, they represent a grave threat to the sanctity of the single currency and will not be lightly tolerated by the ECB or any other Eurozone government. And yet, it is not clear what the rest of Europe can do to stop things. The threat of a fine is ludicrous, especially given that Italy’s budget deficit is forecast to be smaller than France’s, where no threats have been made. The thing is, introduction of a parallel currency is a step into the unknown, and one that, in the short-term, is likely to weigh on the euro significantly. However, longer term, if Italy, which is generally perceived as one of the weaker links in the Eurozone, were to leave, perhaps that would strengthen the remaining bloc on a macroeconomic basis and the euro with it.

With that as background, it is no surprise that investors have been shunning risk. While this morning markets are rebounding slightly, with equity indices higher by a few tenths of a percent and Treasury yields higher by 3bps, the trend remains firmly in the direction of less risk not more.

The final question to be asked is, how will the Fed respond to this widening array of economic issues? Arguably, they will continue to focus on the US story, which while slowing, remains the least problematic of the major economies. At least that has been the case thus far. But today we have the opportunity to change things. Data this morning includes the first revision of Q1 GDP (exp 3.1%) as well as Initial Claims (215K) and the Goods Trade Balance (-$72.0B) at 8:30. There are concerns that the Q1 data falls below 3.0% which would not only be politically inconvenient, but perhaps a harbinger of a faster slowdown in Q2. Then, throughout the next week we get a significant run of data culminating in the payroll report next Friday. So, for now, the Fed is going to be watching closely, as will all market participants.

The predominant view remains that growth around the world is slowing and that the next easing cycle is imminent (fed funds futures are pricing in 3 rate cuts by the end of 2020!) However, Fed commentary has not backed up that view as yet. We will need to see the data to have a better idea, but for now, with risk still being shunned, the dollar should remain bid overall.

Good luck
Adf

Will Powell React?

The Treasury curve is implying
That growth as we knew it is dying
Will Powell react?
Or just be attacked
For stasis while claiming he’s trying?

Scanning markets this morning shows everything is a mess. Scanning headlines this morning shows that fear clearly outpolls greed as the driving force behind trading activity. The question at hand is, ‘Have things gone too far or is this just the beginning?’

Treasury and Bund yields are the best place to start when discussing the relative merits of fear and greed, and this morning, fear is in command. Yields on 10-year Treasuries have fallen to 2.23% and 10-year Bunds are down to -0.17%, both probing levels not seen in nearly two years. The proximate causes are numerous. First there is the continued concern over the trade war between the US and China with no sign that talks are ongoing and the market now focusing on a mooted meeting between President’s Trump and Xi at the G20 in June. While there is no chance the two of them will agree a deal, as we saw in December, it is entirely possible they can get the talks restarted, something that would help mitigate the current market stress.

However, this is not only about trade. Economic data around the world continues to drift broadly lower with the latest surprise being this morning’s German Unemployment rate rising to 5.0% as 60,000 more Germans than expected found themselves out of work. We have also been ‘treated’ to the news that layoffs by US companies (Ford and GE among others) are starting to increase. The auto sector looks like it is getting hit particularly hard as inventories build on dealer lots despite what appears to be robust consumer confidence. This dichotomy is also evident in the US housing market where despite strong employment, rising wages and declining mortgage rates, home prices are stagnant to falling, depending on the sector, and home sales have been declining for the past fourteen months in a row.

The point is that the economic fundamentals are no longer the reliable support for markets they had been in the recent past. Remember, the US is looking at its longest economic expansion in history, but its vigor is clearly waning.

Then there are the political ructions ongoing. Brexit is a well-worn story, yet one that has no end in sight. The pound remains under pressure (-0.1%, -3.0% in May) and UK stocks are falling sharply (-1.3%, -3.3% in May). As the Tory leadership contest takes shape, Boris Johnson remains the frontrunner, but Parliament will not easily cede any power to allow a no-deal Brexit if that is what Johnson wants. And to add to the mess, Scotland is aiming to hold a second independence referendum as they are very keen to remain within the EU. (Just think, the opportunity for another border issue could be coming our way soon!)

Then there is the aftermath of the EU elections where all the parties that currently are in power in EU nations did poorly, yet the current national leadership is tasked with finding new EU-wide leaders, including an ECB President as well as European Commission and European Council presidents. So, there is a great deal of horse-trading ongoing, with competence for the role seen as a distant fifth requirement compared to nationality, regional location (north vs. south), home country size (large vs. small) and gender. Meanwhile, Italy has been put on notice that its current financial plans for fiscal stimulus are outside the Eurozone stability framework but are not taking the news sitting down. It actually makes no sense that an economy crawling out of recession like Italy should be asked to tighten fiscal policy by raising taxes and cutting spending, rather than encouraged to reinvigorate growth. But hey, the Teutonic view of the world is austerity is always and everywhere the best policy! One cannot be surprised that Italian stocks are falling (-1.3%, -8.0% this month).

At any rate, the euro also remains under pressure, falling yesterday by 0.3%, a further 0.1% this morning and a little more than 1% this month. One point made by many is that whoever follows Signor Draghi in the ECB President’s chair is likely to be more hawkish, by default, than Draghi himself. With that in mind, later this year, when a new ECB leader is named, if not yet installed, the euro has the chance to rally. This is especially so if the Fed has begun to cut rates by then, something the futures market already has in its price.

Other mayhem can be seen in South Africa, where the rand has broken below its six-month trading range, having fallen nearly 3% this week as President Ramaphosa has yet to name a new cabinet, sowing concern in the market as to whether he will be able to pull the country out of its deep economic malaise (GDP -2.0% in Q1). And a last piece of news comes from Venezuela, where the central bank surprised one and all by publishing economic statistics showing that GDP shrank 19.2% in the first nine months of 2018 while inflation ran at 130,060% last year. That is not a misprint, that is the very definition of hyperinflation.

Turning to today’s session, there is no US data of note nor are any Fed members scheduled to speak. Given the overnight price action, with risk clearly being cast aside, it certainly appears that markets will open that way. Equity futures are pointing to losses of 0.6% in the US, and right now it appears things are going to remain in risk-off mode. Barring a surprise positive story (or Presidential tweet), it feels like investors are going to continue to pare back risk positions for now. As such, the dollar is likely to maintain its current bid, although I don’t see much cause for it to extend its gains at this time.

Finally, to answer the question I posed at the beginning, there is room for equity markets to continue to fall while haven bonds rally so things have not yet gone too far.

Good luck
Adf

 

Support They Withdrew

Elections across the EU
Showed people there no longer view
The powers that be
As able to see
Their woes, so support they withdrew

The weekend saw the conclusion of the EU elections which resulted in a significant change in the political landscape there. No longer do the two centrist parties represent a majority but rather, huge gains were made by more extreme nationalist parties in almost every country. For example, in the UK, the Brexit party dominated, winning >30% of the vote, with both Tories and Labour losing significant share. In Germany, Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats saw their vote share decline dramatically, well below 30%, and in France, President Macron’s party lost out to the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. It appears that there is a great deal of anxiety afoot in the EU, which of course is only enflamed by the imminent (?) exit of the UK.

But getting trounced in EU elections is not nearly enough to stop those currently holding power in individual country governments from changing their ways, this much is clear. As evidence I point to the process for selecting the new leadership of the ECB, the European Commission and the European Council, which will continue to be managed according to the old rules of country size combined with the recentness of those nations holding one of the seats. The point is that while thus far there has been some lip service paid to the changes afoot, the entrenched political class are not about to give up their positions without a fight.

It is with this in mind that I continuously view the euro with such skepticism. Not only are individual countries riven, but the broad leadership seems unwilling to accept that the world is different than when the EU was formed. For now, markets continue to view the situation as tenable but weakening. And given the lack of fiscal policy initiatives across the bloc, (except for Italy which is on the road to getting penalized for them), currency values remain beholden to monetary policy efforts. With that in mind, all eyes will be on the ECB meeting next week when the latest economic forecasts are presented. Recent data has shown that surveys point to further weakness, but domestic consumption has held up well across most of the nations using the euro. However, given the clear slowdown being seen in both the US and China, it is difficult to believe that the ECB will sound remotely hawkish. I expect that the new TLTRO’s will have very favorable terms as Signor Draghi will do everything he can to goose the economy before he leaves in October. And despite the growing call for looser policy in the US, I expect the dollar to maintain its current strength.

In China a small bank went bust
And traders are losing their trust
The PBOC
Can preempt the spree
Of weakness that pundits discussed

The other interesting news over the weekend was that the PBOC assumed control of Baoshang Bank, a small lender that turned out to be highly overextended with off balance sheet transactions. This is the first time in more than 20 years this has been necessary, and the market impacts were mostly as one would expect. Shares in other small banks suffered, the PBOC injected ~$20 billion into the system to help offset some of the pressure and the yuan fell a further 0.25%. The one mild surprise was that the Shanghai Composite actually closed higher on the day, but that was in response to the new PBOC liquidity. Chinese data remains suspect and there is no evidence that anything regarding the US-China trade situation has improved since last week’s split. While the Chinese continue to claim they will maintain a stable currency, the pressure continues to build for the yuan to weaken further.

Away from those two stories, the wires have been relatively quiet. The dollar is firmer across the board this morning, rising about 0.2% uniformly, as risk continues to be reduced by investors around the world. Treasury yields have fallen back below 2.30% in the 10-year, while similar duration Bunds traded as low as -0.16% before edging back to their current -0.14% level. European equity markets are soft, albeit not collapsing, and US equity futures are pointing to a lower opening. The data to be released this week is relatively limited which means that markets are going to be looking for subtler clues from the central banking community for the next directional trends.

Today Case-Shiller Home Prices 2.6%
  Consumer Confidence 130.0
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Q2 GDP (2nd look) 3.1%
  Goods Trade Balance -$72.0B
Friday Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.2%
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 53.7
  Michigan Sentiment 101.5

We have a much less active Fed speaker calendar with just two, Clarida and Williams, but given the overall consistency of what we have heard lately, i.e. patience is the proper policy but the possibility of easing has not been ruled out, unless one of these two sounds highly dovish, I don’t expect much response. The week is setting up to focus on Thursday and Friday’s data, as well as waiting to hear about the next steps on Brexit or European leadership. It seems for now that the trade story has moved to the back burner. Given all this, it is hard to get excited about pending movement in the dollar, and I imagine that barring a self-induced market sell-off, there will be little of note ongoing this week with the dollar remaining in a fairly tight range.

Good luck
Adf

A New Race Begins

The die has now finally been cast
Prime Minister May’s time has past
A new race begins
With fears that who wins
Will push for a hard Brexit fast

June 7, 2019 is the day on which Theresa May will step down from her role as leader of the Conservative Party in the UK, and consequently Prime Minister. While she will remain in the chair as caretaker, she will no longer drive policy. Instead, we will get to hear about the ensuing political machinations of each of the MP’s who want to replace her. At this time, the leading candidate is Boris Johnson, who was Foreign Minister until he resigned about a year ago under protest of how May was conducting the Brexit negotiations. He is seen as quite committed to having the UK exit and is not afraid of a no-deal outcome. Also in the running is ex-Brexit Minister, Dominic Raab, who while clearly pushing for finality is not seen quite as hardline as Johnson.

The mechanics of the process are a bit arcane, especially for Americans unfamiliar with the Parliamentary process. Briefly, the PM is the leader of the party that wins the most seats in Parliament. The Conservative Party, while without a current majority, leads the government through a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. There are 120,000 members of the Conservative Party (active party members) who will vote to determine the new leader of the party. The current MP’s will have a series of polls to whittle potential successors down to just two candidates for that vote. The key to remember is that these 120K are the activist wing and are substantially more pro-Brexit than the party at large. As such, it is quite possible, if not likely, that the next PM makes an exit, deal or not, a requirement by the new deadline of October 31.

But politics is a funny thing, and as we have all learned over the past few years, what polls say and how people vote are not necessarily the same thing. At this time, the market has clearly been pricing in an increasing probability of a hard Brexit, although it is by no means fully priced. Last week I proffered a table showing my estimates of probabilities for each of three scenarios and will update it here:

  May 16, 2019 May 17, 2019 May 24, 2019
Soft Brexit 50% 20% 5%
Vote to Remain 30% 35% 40%
Hard Brexit 20% 45% 55%

It strikes me that the idea of a deal is going away. Given the EU’s position that they will not renegotiate, the choices have come down to stay or leave with no deal. Simply based on the fact that the pound has been falling for the past three weeks, my assumption is that preparations for a hard Brexit are moving apace. As it happens, this morning the pound has rallied slightly, +0.25%, but the trend remains quite clear and this was likely short-term profit taking into the long holiday weekend. The path of least resistance for the pound remains lower.

And actually, short-term profit taking seems to be the story of the day in the FX markets. The dollar is very modestly softer across the board after a week of steady strength. For instance, the euro, after a 0.4% jump on the back of weaker than expected New Home Sales yesterday morning has maintained that gain but been unable to rally further. We see AUD and NZD both having bounced (0.1% and 0.35% respectively) and CAD is firmer by 0.2%. Meanwhile, the yen, which has rallied 1% on its haven status during the past week, has edged down 0.1%.

Speaking of havens, after a pretty awful week in the equity markets, this morning Europe is bouncing, and US futures are pointing higher. At the same time, Treasury yields, which traded as low as 2.29% yesterday (their lowest since October 2017) have rebounded slightly to 2.32%. Bunds also dipped to their lowest level (-0.117%) since October 2016 yesterday. In other words, risk appetite has clearly been under pressure lately.

However, this morning, there is a little relief, at least on the trading front, and that can be seen in the EMG bloc as well. The CE4, most of APAC and LATAM’s opening are all showing very modest strength. The only currency moving more aggressively has been INR, where PM Modi’s surprisingly strong showing in the election, where he clearly won a strong mandate to continue his policies, has been seen as a huge boon for the Indian economy and helped the rupee gain 1.4% this week.

Turning to the data today, we get Durable Goods (exp -2.0%, +0.2% ex-Transport) as the final piece of the puzzle before the holiday weekend. After a spate of Fed speakers, there is nothing scheduled on that front either. On this subject, Dallas Fed President Kaplan yesterday reiterated the party line of patience, explaining that there was no compelling evidence right now to drive his decision on the next policy move. There are currently 15 members of the FOMC (two governor roles remain empty), and my tally is there are 3-4 who would be quick to cut rates with the remaining group firmly in the do-nothing camp. If upcoming data next week starts to point to a weakening trend, I would expect to see that ratio swing more dovish, but for now, there is no reason to believe that anything here is going to change. In other words, there are still more reasons for the dollar to rally than fall.

Good luck and have a great holiday weekend
Adf

Completely Dissolved

The last time the FOMC
Sat down to discuss policy
The trade talks were purring
While folks were concurring
A hard Brexit never could be

But since then the world has evolved
And good will completely dissolved
So what they discussed
They now must adjust
If problems are e’er to be solved

It wasn’t too long ago that the Fed was the single most important topic in markets. Everything they said or did had immediate ramifications on stocks, bonds and currencies. In some circles, the Fed, and their brethren central banks, were seen as omnipotent, able to maintain growth by simply willing it higher. A natural consequence of that narrative was that the FOMC Minutes especially, but generally those of all the major central banks, were always seen as crucial in helping to better understand the policy stance, as well as its potential future. But that time has passed, at least for now. Yesterday’s FOMC Minutes were, at best, the third most important story of the day mostly because they opened the window on views that are decidedly out of date. Way back then, three weeks ago, the backdrop was of a slowly resolving trade dispute between the US and China with a deal seeming imminent, growing confidence that a no-deal Brexit was out of the picture, and an equity market that was trading at all-time highs. My how quickly things can change!

To summarize, the Minutes expressed strong belief amongst most members that patience remained the proper stance for now, although a few were concerned about too low inflation becoming more ingrained in the public mind. And then there was a technical discussion of how to manage the balance sheet regarding the tenors of Treasury securities to hold going forward, whether they should be focused in the front end, or spread across the curve. However, no decisions were close to being made. It should be no surprise that the release had limited impact on markets.

The thing is, over the past few sessions we have heard an evolution in some FOMC members’ stance on things, specifically with Bullard and Evans discussing the possibility of cutting rates, although as of now, they are the only two. However, we have heard even some of the more hawkish members willing to imply that rate cuts could be appropriate if the ‘temporary’ lull in the growth and inflation data proves more long-lasting. As has been said elsewhere, while the bar for cutting rates is high, the bar for raising rates is much, much higher. The next move is almost certainly lower.

And what has caused this evolution in thought since the last FOMC meeting? Well, the obvious answers are, first, the sharp escalation in the trade war, with the US raising tariffs on $200B of Chinese imports from 10% to 25% as well as threatening to impose that level of tariffs on the other $325B of Chinese imports. And second, the fact that the Brexit story has spiraled out of control, with further cabinet resignations (today Andrea Leadsom, erstwhile leader of the Tories in the House of Commons quit the Cabinet) adding to pressure on PM May to resign and opening up the potential for a hardline Boris Johnson to become the next PM and simply pull the UK out of the EU with no deal.

In fact, while I have written consistently on both topics over the past several months, the Fed remained the top driver previously. But now, these events are clearly completely outside the control of monetary officials and markets are going to respond to them as they unfold. In other words, look for more volatility, not less going forward.

With that as a backdrop, it can be no surprise that risk is being jettisoned across the board this morning. Equity markets are down around the world (Shanghai -1.4%, Nikkei -0.6%, DAX -1.75%, FTSE -1.4%, DJIA futures -0.9%, Nasdaq futures -1.25%); Treasuries (2.35%) and Bunds (-0.11%) are both in demand with yields falling; and the dollar is back on top of the world, with the yen along for the ride. A quick survey of G10 currencies shows the euro -0.15% and back to its lowest level since May 2017, the pound -0.2% extending its losing streak to 13 consecutive down days, while Aussie and Canada are both lower by 0.25%.

In the emerging markets, despite the fact that the PBOC continues to fix the renminbi stronger than expected, and still below 6.90, the market will have none of it and CNY is lower by a further 0.2% this morning and back above 6.94. Despite higher oil prices RUB and MXN are both softer by 0.6% and 0.4% respectively. CE4 currencies are under pressure with HUF leading the way, -0.4%, but the rest down a solid 0.25%-0.3%. In other words, there is no place to hide.

The hardest thing for risk managers to deal with is that these events are completely unpredictable as they are now driven by emotions rather than logical economic considerations. As such, the next several months are likely to see a lot of sharp movement on each new headline until there is some resolution on one of these issues. Traders and investors will be quite relieved when that happens, alas I fear it will be mid-summer at the earliest before anything concrete is decided. Until then, rumors and stories will drive prices.

Turning to today’s session we see a bit of US data; Initial Claims (exp 215K) and New Home Sales (675K). Tuesday’s Existing Home Sales disappointed and represented the 14th consecutive month of year-on-year declines. Of more interest, we have four Fed speakers (Kaplan, Barkin, Bostic and Daly) at an event and given what I detect is the beginnings of a change in view, these words will be finely parsed. So, at this point the question is will the fear factor outweigh the possible beginning of a more dovish Fed narrative. Unless all four talk about the possibility of cutting rates as insurance, I think fear still reigns. That means the dollar’s recent climb has not ended.

Good luck
Adf

 

Some Other Soul

It seems like Prime Minister May
Is quickly approaching the day
When some other soul
Will try to control
The mess Brexit’s caused the UK

Once again, the pound is the lead story as the slow motion train wreck, also known as the Brexit process, continues to unfold. Yesterday, you may recall, PM May was promising to present her much reviled Brexit deal to Parliament for a fourth time, with new promises that if it was passed, the UK would hold a second referendum on the subject. However, not only did the opposition Labour party trash the idea, so did most of her own Conservative party, as well as the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, which is the group that has helped her maintain control for the past two years. At this point, her previous idea of having one more vote the first week of June and then stepping down seems to be dead. The latest news is the pressure from her own cabinet is mounting quickly enough to force her to step down as soon as this week. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, who was a key cheerleader for Brexit in the run-up to the initial vote and spent time as Foreign Minister in PM May’s government, is the favorite to move into Number 10 Downing Street. He has made it clear that he is quite willing to simply walk away from the EU with no deal.

With that as the political backdrop, it should be no surprise that the pound continues to suffer. This morning it is lower by 0.3% and is now trading less than a penny from its 2019 lows, which were established back on January 2nd. It is very difficult to create a scenario where the pound rebounds in the short term. Unless there is a massive shift in thinking in Parliament, or the EU decides that they will concede to UK demands regarding the Irish backstop (remember that?), the market is going to continue to price in the probability of a hard Brexit ever so slowly. The post-Brexit vote low of 1.1906, back in October 2016 is on the radar in my view. That said, it will take a while to reach it unless Boris becomes PM and summarily exits the EU. At that point, the pound will fall much faster.

Ironically, the economic data from the UK continues to show an economy that, while having some difficulty, is outperforming many other areas. This morning’s CPI data showed inflation at 2.1%, a tick below expectations and essentially right at the BOE’s target. I am constantly amused by Governor Carney’s comments that he will need to raise rates due to a potential inflation shock. At this point, that seems like an extremely low risk. Granted, given the openness of the UK economy, if the pound were to collapse in the wake of a hard Brexit, inflation would almost certainly rise initially. The question, I think, is whether that would be seen as a temporary shock, or the beginning of a trend. Arguably, the former would be more likely.

Away from the UK, the FX market has been reevaluating its views on EMG currencies and thus far, the verdict is…they suck! While I have highlighted the weakness seen in the Chinese yuan while the trade war brews, I have been less focused on other currencies which have been collateral damage to that war. But there has been significant damage in all three EMG areas. For example, even excluding the Argentine peso, which has all kind of domestic issues unrelated to trade and has fallen nearly 6% this month and more than 26% this year, LATAM currencies have suffered significantly this month. For example, USDBRL is trading back above 4.00 for the first time since last October and is down by 3.0% in May. We have seen similar weakness in both the Colombian and Chilean pesos, down 5% and 4% respectively. In fact, the Mexican peso is the region’s top performer, down just 0.5% this month although it had been weaker earlier in May. It seems that the trade war is acting as a benefit on the assumption that supply chains are going to find their way from China to Mexico in order to supply the US.

It ought not be surprising that many APAC currencies have also performed quite poorly this month led by KRW’s 4% decline and IDR’s 3.2% fall. Even the Taiwan dollar, historically one of the least volatile currencies is feeling the pressure, especially since the Huawei sanctions, and has fallen more than 1.2% in the past week, and for the month overall. Granted, these moves may not seem as large as the LATAM currencies, but historically, APAC currencies are more tightly controlled and thus less volatile. And there is one exception to this, the Indian rupee, which is basically unchanged on the month. This relative strength has a twofold explanation; first India is poised to benefit as a supplier to the US in the wake of the trade war, and second, the surprisingly strong showing of PM Narendra Modi in the recent election was taken as a positive given his pro-business platform.

Finally, a look at EEMEA shows weakness across the board here as well, albeit not quite as drastically. For example, TRY has fallen 4.5% this month, although the cause seems self-inflicted rather than from outside events. The ongoing political turmoil and inability of the central bank to tighten policy given President Erdogan’s clear opposition to that has encouraged foreign investors to flee. But we have also seen HUF fall 2.5%, and weakness in the Scandies with both NOK and SEK down more than 2.0% this month.

All in all, you can see that the dollar has been ascendant this month as a combination of slowing global growth, trade concerns and the relative outperformance of the US economy continues to draw inflows.

Looking at the data picture, the only US release is the FOMC Minutes at 2:00 this afternoon. Analysts are going to be parsing the comments to see if they can determine if there is building sentiment regarding an ‘insurance’ rate cut. Certainly, some members are willing to go down that road as we heard from St Louis Fed President Bullard yesterday saying just that. There are a number of other speakers today, and in truth, it does seem as though there is an evolution in the FOMC’s thinking. Remember, the market is pricing a cut before the end of the year, and if we continue to see mixed economic data and inflation’s dip proves more than ‘transitory’, I think we will see a consensus build in that direction. While in the very short run, a decision like that could be a dollar negative, my sense is that if the Fed starts to cut, we will see the rest of the world’s central banks ease further thus offsetting the negative impact.

Good luck
Adf

 

Truly Displeasing

Down Under the story’s that rates
May soon fall, which just demonstrates
That growth there is easing
Thus truly displeasing
The central bank head and his mates

The RBA Minutes were released last evening and the central bank in the lucky country is not feeling very good. Governor Lowe and his team painted two, arguably similar, scenarios under which the RBA would need to cut rates; a worsening of the employment situation or a continued lack of inflation (driven by a worsening of the employment situation). We have been hearing this tune from Lowe for the past several months and the market is already pricing in more than one full 25bp cut before the end of 2019. However, as is often the case, when these theories are confirmed the market adjusts further. And so, it should be no surprise that AUD is lower again this morning, falling 0.35% and now trading back to the lows last seen in January 2016. For a bit more perspective, the last time Aussie was trading below these levels was during the financial crisis in Q1 2009 amidst a full-on risk blowout. But the combination of slowing Chinese growth, and generic dollar strength is taking a toll on the Aussie dollar. The trend here is lower and appears to have further room to run. Hedgers take note!

In England, meanwhile, it appears
The outcome that everyone fears
A no-deal decision
Might soon be the vision
And Sterling might weaken for years

Turning to the UK, the odds of a hard Brexit seem to be increasing by the day. As the EU elections, scheduled for later this week, approach, the hardline Tories are in the ascendancy. Nigel Farage, one of the most vocal anti-EU voices, is leading his new Brexit party into the elections and they are set to do quite well. At the same time, Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Minister in PM May’s government, as well as former Mayor of London, and also a strong anti-EU voice, is now the leading candidate to replace May in the ongoing leadership struggle. The PM is still trying to push water uphill find support for her thrice defeated bill, but it should be no surprise that, so far, that support has yet to materialize. After all, it was hated three times already and not a single word in the bill has changed. At this point, her only hope is that the increasingly real threat of a PM Johnson, who has stated he will simply exit the EU quickly, may be enough to get those wavering to come to her side. Based on the FX market price action over the past three weeks, however, it is becoming clearer that her bill is going to fail yet again.

Since the beginning of the month, the pound has fallen 3.6% (-0.25% today) and is trading at levels last seen in early January. As this trend progresses, it looks increasingly likely that the market will test the post-Brexit lows of 1.1906. And, of course, if Johnson is the next PM and he does pull out of the EU without a deal, an initial move to 1.10 seems quite viable. Once again, hedgers beware. As an aside, do not think for a moment that the euro will go unscathed in a hard Brexit. It would be quite easy to see a 2%-3% decline immediately, although I suspect that would moderate far more quickly than the damage to the pound.

Turning our eyes eastward, we see that the ongoing trade war (it has clearly escalated past a spat) between the US and China continues to have ramifications in the FX markets. Not only is the yuan continuing to weaken (-0.2% today) but other currencies are starting to feel the brunt. The most obvious loser has been the Korean won (-0.15% overnight) which has fallen 5.4% in the past month. While the central bank there is clearly concerned, given the cause of the movement and the strong trend, there is very little they can do to halt the slide other than raising interest rates aggressively. However, that would be devastating for the South Korean economy, so it appears that there is further room for this to decline as well. All eyes are on the 1200 level, which last traded in the major dollar rally in the beginning of 2017.

Do you see the trend yet? The dollar is continuing its strengthening tendencies across the board this morning. Other news adding fuel to the fire was the latest revision of OECD growth forecasts, where the US data was upgraded to 2.6% for 2019 while virtually every other area (UK, China, Eurozone, Japan, etc.) was downgraded by 0.1%-0.2%. It should be no surprise that the dollar remains well-bid in this environment.

Turning to the data this week, it is quite sparse as follows:

Today Existing Home Sales 5.35M
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  New Home Sales 675K
Friday Durable Goods -2.0%
  -ex transport 0.2%

Obviously, all eyes will be on the Minutes tomorrow, but the data set is not very enticing. That said, we do hear from eight more Fed speakers across a total of ten speeches (Atlanta’s Rafael Bostic is up three times this week). Yesterday, Chairman Powell explained that while corporate debt levels are high, this is no repeat of the mortgage crisis from 2008. Of course, Chairman Bernanke was quite clear, at the time, that the mortgage situation was “contained” just before the bottom fell out. I’m not implying the end is nigh, simply that the track record of Fed Chairs regarding forecasting market and economic dislocations is pretty dismal. At this time, there is no evidence that the Fed is going to do anything on the interest rate front although the futures market continues to price for nearly 50bps of rate cuts this year. And when it comes to forecasting, the futures market has a much better track record. Just sayin’.

All told, at this point there is no reason to think the dollar is going to reverse any of its recent strength, and in fact, seems likely to add to it going forward.

Good luck
Adf