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
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Mostly Mayhem

There once was a female PM
Whose task was the fallout, to stem,
From Brexit, alas
What then came to pass
Was discord and mostly mayhem

And so, because progress has lumbered
Theresa May’s days are now numbered
The market’s concern
Is Boris can’t learn
The problems with which he’s encumbered

In the battle for headline supremacy, at least in the FX market’s eyes, Brexit has once again topped the trade war today. The news from the UK is that PM May has now negotiated her own exit which will be shortly after the fourth vote on her much-despised Brexit bill in Parliament. The current timing is for the first week of June, although given how fluid everything seems to be there, as well as a politician’s preternatural attempts to retain power, it may take a little longer. However, there seems to be virtually no possibility that the legislation passes, and Theresa May’s tumultuous time as PM seems set to end shortly.

Of course, that begs the question, who’s next? And that is the market’s (along with the EU’s) great fear. It appears that erstwhile London Mayor, Boris Johnson, is a prime candidate to win the leadership election, and his views on Brexit remain very clear…get the UK out! In the lead up to the original March 31 deadline, you may recall I had been particularly skeptical of the growing sentiment at the time that a hard Brexit had been taken off the table. In the end, the law of the land is still for the UK to leave the EU, deal or no deal, now by October 31, 2019. It beggars belief that the EU will readily reopen negotiations with the UK, especially a PM Johnson, and so I think it is time to reassess the odds of the outcome. Here is one pundit’s view:

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

Given this change in the landscape, it can be no surprise that the pound continues to fall. This morning sees the beleaguered currency lower by a further 0.3% taking the move this month to 3.2%. And the thing is, given the nature of this move, which has been very steady (lower in 9 of the past 10 sessions with the 10th unchanged), there is every reason to believe that this has further room to run. Very large single day moves tend to be reversed quickly, but this, my friends is what a market repricing future probability looks like. The most recent lows, near 1.25 in December look a likely target at this time.

Of course, the fact that the market seems more focused on Brexit than trade doesn’t mean the trade story has died. In fact, equity markets in Asia suffered, as have European ones, on the back of comments from the Chinese Commerce Ministry that no further talks are currently scheduled, and that the Chinese no longer believe the US is negotiating in good faith. As such, risk is clearly being reduced across the board this morning with not merely equity weakness, but haven strength. Treasury (2.37%) and Bund (-0.11%) yields continue to fall while the yen (+0.2%) rallies alongside the dollar.

In FX markets, the Chinese yuan has fallen again (-0.3%) and is now trading at 6.95, quite close to the supposed critical support (dollar resistance) level of 7.00. There continues to be a strong belief in the market, along with the analyst community, that the PBOC won’t allow the renminbi to weaken past that level. This stems from market activity in 2015, when the Chinese surprised everyone with a ‘mini-devaluation’ of 1.5% one evening in early August of that year. The ensuing rush for the exits by Chinese nationals trying to save their wealth cost the PBOC $1 trillion in FX reserves as they tried to moderate the renminbi’s decline. Finally, when it reached 6.98 in late December 2016, they changed the capital flow regulations and added significant verbal suasion to their message that they would not allow the currency to fall any further.

And for the most part, it worked for the next 15 months. However, clearly the situation has changed given the ongoing trade negotiations, and arguably given the deterioration in the relationship between the US and China. While the Chinese have pledged to avoid currency manipulation, it is not hard to argue that their current activities in maintaining yuan strength are just that, manipulation. Given the capital controls in place, meaning locals won’t be able to rush for the doors, it is entirely realistic to believe the PBOC could say something like, ‘we believe it is appropriate for the market to have a greater role in determining the value of the currency and are widening the band around the fix to accommodate those movements.’ A 5% band would certainly allow a much weaker renminbi while remaining within the broad context of their policy tools. In other words, I am not convinced that 7.00 is a magic line, perhaps more like a Maginot Line. If your hedging policy relies on 7.00 being sacrosanct, it is time to rethink your policy.

Overall, the dollar is firmer pretty much everywhere, with yesterday’s broad strength being modestly extended today. Yesterday’s US data was much better than expected as Housing starts grew 5.6% and Philly Fed printed at a higher than expected 16.6. Later this morning we see the last data of the week, Michigan Sentiment (exp 97.5). We also hear from two more Fed speakers, Clarida and Williams, although we have already heard from both of them earlier this week. Yesterday Governor Brainerd made an interesting series of comments regarding the Fed’s attempts to lift inflation, highlighting for the first time, that perhaps their models aren’t good descriptions of the economy any more. After a decade of inability to manage inflation risk, it’s about time they question something other than the market. While I am very happy to see them reflecting on their process, my fear is they will conclude that permanent easy money is the way of the future, a la Japan. If that is the direction in which the Fed is turning, it will have a grave impact on the FX markets, with the dollar likely to suffer the most as the US is, arguably, the furthest from that point right now. But that is a future concern, not one for today.

Good luck and good weekend
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Another Bad Day

Consider Prime Minister May
Who’s having another bad day
Her party is seeking
Her ouster ere leaking
Support, and keep Corbyn at bay

The pound is now bearing the brunt
Of pressure as sellers all punt
On Brexit disaster
Occurring much faster
Thus moving back burner to front

While the rest of the world continues to focus on the US-China trade situation, or perhaps more accurately on the volatility of US trade policy, which has certainly increased lately, the UK continues to muddle along on its painfully slow path to a Brexit resolution of some sort. The latest news is that the Tory party is seeking to change their own parliamentary rules so they can bring another vote of no-confidence against PM May as a growing number in the party seek her resignation. Meanwhile, the odds of a deal with the Labour party continue to shrink given May’s unwillingness to accept a permanent membership in a customs union, a key demand for Labour. This is the current backdrop heading into the EU elections next week. The Brexit party, a new concoction of Nigel Farage, is leading the race in the UK according to recent polls, with their platform as, essentially, leave the EU now! And to top it all off, PM May is seeking to bring her much despised Brexit bill back to the floor for its fourth vote in early June. In other words, while it has probably been a month since Brexit was the hot topic, as the cracks begin to show in UK politics, it is coming back to the fore. The upshot is the pound has been under very steady pressure for the past two weeks, having fallen 2.7% during that time (0.2% overnight), and is now at its lowest point since mid-February.

When the delay was agreed by the EU and the UK, pushing the new date to October 31, the market basically assumed that either Labour would come on-board and a deal agreed, or that a second referendum would be held which is widely expected to point to Remain. (Of course, that was widely expected in the first referendum as well!) However, given that politics is such a messy endeavor, there is no clarity on the outcome. I think what we are observing is the market pricing in much higher odds of a hard Brexit, which remains the law of the land given there are no other alternatives at this time. Virtually every pundit believes that some deal will be struck preventing that outcome, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the FX market, at least, is far less certain of that outcome. For the FX market punditry, this has created a situation where not only trade politics are clouding the view, but local UK politics are doing the same.

Speaking of trade politics, while there is continued bluster on both sides of the US-China spat, the lines of communication clearly remain open as Treasury Secretary Mnuchin seems likely to head back to Beijing again soon for further discussions. At the same time, President Trump has delayed the decision on imposing 25% tariffs on imported autos from Europe and Japan while negotiations there continue, thus helping kindle a rebound in yesterday’s equity markets. As to the FX impact on this news, it was ever so mildly euro positive, with the single currency rebounding a total of 0.2% from its lows before the announcement. Of course, part of the euro’s rally could be pinned on the much weaker than expected US Retail Sales and IP data released yesterday, but given the modesty of movement, it really doesn’t matter the driver.

Stepping back a bit, the dollar’s longer-term trend remains higher. Versus the euro, it remains 5% higher than May 2018, while the broader based Dollar Index (DXY) has rallied 3.5% in that period. And the thing is, despite yesterday’s US data, the US situation appears to be far more supportive of growth than the situation virtually everywhere else in the world. Global activity measures continue to point to a slowing trend which is merely being exacerbated by the trade problems.

Turning to market specifics, Aussie is a touch lower this morning after weaker than expected employment data has helped cement the market’s view that the RBA is going to cut rates at least once this year with a decent probability of two cuts before December. While thus far Governor Lowe has been reluctant to lean in that direction, the collapse in housing prices is clearly starting to weigh elsewhere Down Under. I think Aussie has further to decline.

However, away from that news, there has been much less of interest to drive markets, and so, not surprisingly, markets remain extremely quiet. Something that gets a great deal of press lately has been the decline in volatility and how selling vol has turned into a new favorite trade. (As a career options trader, I would caution against selling when levels have reached a nadir like this. It is not that they can’t decline further, clearly they can, but in a reversal, the pain will be excruciating).
As to the data story, aside from the Australian employment situation, there has been nothing of note overnight. This morning brings Initial Claims (exp 220K) and Housing Starts (1.205M) and Building Permits (1.29M) along with Philly Fed (9.0) all at 8:30. I mentioned the weak Retail Sales and IP data above, but we also saw Empire Manufacturing which was shockingly high at 18.5, once again showing that there is no strong trend in the US data. While there are no Fed speakers today, yesterday we heard from Richmond President Barkin and not surprisingly, he said he thought that patience was the right stance for now. There is no doubt they are all singing from the same hymnal.

Arguably, as long as we continue to get mixed data, there is no reason to change the view. With that in mind, it is hard to get excited about the prospects of a large currency move until those views change. So, for the time being, I believe the longer-term trend of dollar strength remains in place, but it will be choppy and slow until further notice.

Good luck
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“Talks” Become “War”

At what point do “talks” become “war”?
And how long can traders ignore
The signs that a truce
Are, at best, abstruse?
It seems bulls don’t care any more

So, markets continue to shine
But something’s a bit out of line
If problems have past
Then why the forecast
By bonds of a further decline

I can’t help being struck this morning by the simultaneous rebound in equity markets alongside the strong rally in bond markets. They seem to be telling us conflicting stories or are perhaps simply focusing on different things.

After Monday’s equity market rout set nerves on edge, and not just among the investor set, but also in the White House, it was no surprise to hear a bit more conciliatory language from the President regarding the prospects of completing the trade negotiations successfully. That seemed to be enough to cool the bears’ collective ardor and brought bargain hunters dip buyers back into the market. (Are there any bargains left at these valuations?) This sequence of events led to a solid equity performance in Asia despite the fact that Chinese data released last night was, in a word, awful. Retail Sales there fell to 7.2%, the lowest in 16 years and well below forecasts of 8.6% growth. IP fell to 5.4%, significantly below the 6.5% forecast, let alone last month’s 8.5% outturn. And Fixed Asset Investment fell to 6.1%, another solid miss, with the result being that April’s economic performance in the Middle Kingdom was generally lousy. We have already seen a number of reductions in GDP forecasts for Q2 with new expectations centering on 6.2%.

But the market reaction was not as might have been expected as the Shanghai composite rose a solid 1.9%. It seems that China is moving into the ‘bad news is good’ scenario, where weak data drives expectations of further monetary stimulus thus supporting stock prices. The other interesting story has been the change in tone in the official Chinese media for domestic Chinese consumption, where they have become more stridently nationalist and are actively discussing a trade “war”, rather than trade “talks”. It seems the Chinese are girding for a more prolonged fight on the trade front and are marshaling all the resources they can. Of course, at the end of the day, they remain vulnerable to significant pain if the second set of tariffs proposed by the US is enacted.

One consequence of this process has been a weakening Chinese yuan, which has fallen 2.7% since its close on Friday May 3rd, and is now at its weakest point since mid-December. At 6.9150 it is also less than 2% from the 7.00 level that has been repeatedly touted by analysts as a no-go zone for the PBOC. This is due to concerns that the Chinese people would be far more active in their efforts to protect their capital by moving it offshore. This is also the reason there are such tight capital flow restrictions in China. It doesn’t help the trade talks that the yuan has been falling as that has been a favorite talking point of President Trump, China’s manipulation of their currency.

This process has also renewed pundit talk of the Chinese selling all their Treasury holdings, some $1.1 trillion, as retaliation to US tariffs. The last idea makes no sense whatsoever, as I have mentioned in the past, if only because the question of what they will do with $1.1 trillion in cash has yet to be answered. They will still need to own something and replacing Treasuries with other USD assets doesn’t achieve anything. Selling dollars to buy other currencies will simply weaken the dollar, which is the opposite of the idea they are trying to manipulate their currency to their advantage, so also makes no sense. And finally, given the huge bid for Treasuries, with yields on the 10-year below 2.40%, it seems there is plenty of demand elsewhere.

Speaking of the Treasury bid, it seems bond investors are looking ahead for weaker overall growth, hence the declining yields. But how does that square with equity investors bidding stocks back up on expectations that a trade solution will help boost the economy. This is a conundrum that will only be resolved when there is more clarity on the trade outcome.

(Here’s a conspiracy theory for you: what if President Trump is purposely sabotaging the talks for now, seeking a sharp enough equity market decline to force the Fed to ease policy further. At that point, he can turn around and agree a deal which would result in a monster rally, something for which we can be sure he would take credit. I’m not saying it’s true, just not out of the question!)

At any rate, nothing in the past several sessions has changed the view that the trade situation is going to continue to be one of the key drivers for market activity across all markets for the foreseeable future.

After that prolonged diatribe, let’s look at the other overnight data and developments. German GDP rose 0.4%, as expected, in Q1. This was a significant uptick from the second half of last year but appears to be the beneficiary of some one-off issues, with slower growth still forecast for the rest of the year. Given expectations were built in, the fact that the euro has softened a bit further, down 0.1% and back below 1.12, ought not be too surprising. Meanwhile, the pound is little changed on the day, but has drifted down to 1.2900 quietly over the past two sessions. Despite solid employment data yesterday, it seems that traders remain unconvinced that a viable solution will be found for Brexit. This morning the word is that PM May is going to bring her thrice-defeated Brexit deal to Parliament yet again in June. One can only imagine how well that will go.

Elsewhere in the G10 we have the what looks like a risk-off session. The dollar is modestly stronger against pretty much all of that bloc except for the yen (+0.2%) and the Swiss franc (+0.1%), the classic haven assets. So, bonds (Bund yields are -0.10%, their lowest since 2016) and currencies are shunning risk, while equity traders continue to lap it up. As I said, there is a conundrum.

This morning we finally get some US data led by Retail Sales (exp 0.2%, 0.7% ex autos) as well as Empire Manufacturing (8.5), IP (0.0%) and Capacity Utilization (78.7%) all at 8:30. Business Inventories (0.0%) are released at 10:00 and we also hear from two more Fed speakers, Governor Quarles and Richmond Fed President Barkin. However, it seems unlikely that, given the consistency of message we have heard from every Fed speaker since their last meeting, with Williams and George yesterday reinforcing the idea that there is no urgency for the Fed to change policy in the near term and politics is irrelevant to the decision process, that we will hear anything new from these two.

In the end, it feels like yesterday’s equity rebound was more dead-cat than a start of something new. Risks still abound and slowing economic growth remains the number one issue. As long as US data continues to outperform, the case for dollar weakness remains missing. For now, the path of least resistance is for a mildly firmer buck.

Good luck
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Here To Stay

Fed speakers are starting to say
That lower rates are here to stay
It’s not about trade
Instead they’re dismayed
Inflation just won’t go their way

Since the FOMC meeting two weeks ago, we have heard a steady stream of Fed speakers with one main theme, current interest rate policy is appropriate for the economy right now. While the market continues to price in another rate cut for later this year, and economists and analysts are starting to lean in that direction as well, the Fed remains resolute in their conviction that they don’t need to do anything. When asked about the trade situation, they mouth platitudes about how free trade helps everyone. When asked about political pressures, they insist they are immune to any such thing. These responses cannot be any surprise and are what every FOMC member would have said any time during the past century. However, there is one theme that is starting to coalesce that is different; the idea that interest rates are going to be permanently lower in the future than they have been in the past.

NY Fed President John Williams has highlighted the fact that recent research indicates r* (the theoretical neutral rate of interest) for the five main economies (US, UK, Japan, Eurozone and Canada) has fallen to just 0.5% from something more like 2.5% prior to the financial crisis. The implication is that there is no reason for interest rates to rise much further, if at all, from current levels as that would result in tightening monetary policy with a corresponding slowing of economic activity. If this is correct, it bodes ill for central banks abilities to help moderate future economic downturns. After all, if rates are near zero when an economy slows down, interest rate cuts are unlikely to have a material impact on the situation. Of course, this is what led to unconventional policies like QE and forward guidance, and we can only assume that every central bank is trying to think up new unconventional policies as those lose their efficacy. Do not be surprised if legislation appears that allows the Fed to purchase any assets it deems appropriate (stocks, real estate, etc.) in its efforts to address the next downturn. This is also why MMT has gained favor in so many places (although not the Fed) as it removes virtually all restrictions on spending and fiscal policy and reduces the role of monetary policy.

One other thing that seems incongruous is the precision with which the Fed believes is should be able to manage inflation. Inflation is a broad reading of price pressures over millions of items ranging from houses to pencils. Its measurement remains controversial and imperfect, at best. Pricing decisions continue to be made by the sellers of products, not by government fiat, and so the idea that the Fed can use a blunt tool like the general level of interest rates, to fine-tune price changes is, on the face of it, absurd. Is there really a difference between 1.6% and 2.0% inflation? I understand the implications regarding compounding, and of course the biggest issue is that cost of living adjustments in programs like Social Security and Medicare have enormous fiscal consequences and are entirely dependent on these measurements. But really, precision is a mistake in this case. It would be far more sensible, and achievable, for the Fed to target an inflation range like 1.5%-2.5% and be happy to focus on that rather than aiming for a target and miss it consistently in the seven years since it was defined.

Now back to markets. While Asian equity markets continued the US sell-off, it seems that the course has been run for now elsewhere. European shares are higher by between 0.5% and 1.0% this morning, while US futures are pointing to a 0.75% or so rebound at the open. At this point, all the tariff news seems to be in the market, and there continues to be a strong belief that a deal will get done, most likely in June when President’s Xi and Trump meet on the sidelines of the G20 meetings in Japan. The dollar continues to hold its own, although it has not been able to make any general headway higher lately.

In the currency market, this morning shows that risk is being tentatively reacquired as the yen falls (-0.35%) while EMG currencies edge higher (MXN +0.25%, INR +0.3%). The G10 beyond the yen is little changed, although most of those currencies suffered during yesterday’s equity rout. One thing that appears to be ongoing lately is that central banks have been slowly reducing the dollar portion of their holdings, taking advantage of the dollar’s recent strength to diversify their portfolios. That would certainly be a valid explanation for the dollar’s inability to make any substantive gains lately.

On the data front, overnight saw a disappointing German ZEW Index reading of -2.1 (exp +5.0), which implies that the hoped for rebound in Germany may still be a bit further away than the ECB is counting on. At the same time, UK labor markets continue to show robust strength with another 99K jobs created and average earnings continuing to grow at a solid 3.3% pace. However, neither of these data points had any impact on the FX market. In the US, the NFIB Business Index rose to 103.5, slightly better than forecast and demonstrating a resiliency in the small business psyche in this country. However, we don’t see any further data here today, and so if pressed, I would expect the FX market to be uninspiring. If equity markets manage to maintain their rebound, then I would expect a modicum of dollar weakness as investors rush back into the EMG bloc, but I think it far more likely that there is little movement overall.

Good luck
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Caused by the Other

With tariffs now firmly in place
The market’s been keen to embrace
The idea that Xi
And Trump will agree
To terms when they meet face-to-face

But rhetoric lately has shown
That both Trump and Xi will condone
A slowdown in trade
That both men portrayed
As caused by the other, alone

Risk is, once again, in tatters as the fallout from the US increase in tariffs starts to feed through the market. As of midnight last Thursday, US tariffs on $200 billion of goods rose to 25%. This morning, a list of the other $325 billion of goods that may be subject to tariffs will be published with a target date of 30-days before imposition. Meanwhile, China continues to try to figure out how best to respond. Their problem, in this scenario, is they don’t import that much stuff from the US, and so trying to determine what is an ‘equal’ offset is complicated. However, I am confident that within the next day or two, they will publish their response. Markets around the world have felt the fallout, with equity prices everywhere under pressure, EMG currencies, especially, feeling the heat, and Treasury bonds and German bunds remaining in vogue.

As of now, it appears the situation is unlikely to improve in the short-term. The US remains miffed that the Chinese seemingly reneged on previously agreed terms. Meanwhile, the Chinese are adamant that they will not kowtow to the US and be forced to legislate the agreed changes, instead insisting that administrative guidance is all that is needed to insure compliance with any terms. They deem this desire for a legislated outcome as impinging on their sovereignty. Once again, the issue falls back to the idea that while the US consistently accused the Chinese of IP theft and forced technology transfer, the Chinese don’t see it that way, and as such, don’t believe they need to change laws that don’t exist. Whatever the merits of either sides views, the end result is that it seems far less clear that a trade deal between the two is going to be signed anytime soon.

The markets question is just how much of this year’s global equity market rally has been driven by the assumption that trade issues would disappear and how much was based on a response to easier central bank policies. The risk for markets is not only that growth is negatively impacted, but that inflation starts to rise due to the tariffs. This would put the central banks in a tough spot, trying to determine which problem to address first. Famously, in 1979, when Paul Volcker was appointed Fed Chairman, he immediately took on inflation, raising short term interest rates significantly to slay that demon, but taking the US (and global) economy into recession as a result. It strikes me that today’s crop of central bank heads does not have the wherewithal to attack that problem in the same manner as Volcker. Rather, the much easier, and politically expedient, response will be to try to revive the economy while allowing inflation to run hot. This is especially the case since we continue to see serious discussions as to whether inflation is ‘dead’. FWIW, inflation is not dead!

At any rate, for now, the trade story is going to be the key story in every market, and the upshot is that the odds of any central bank turning more hawkish have diminished even further.

Looking at overnight activity, there was virtually no data to absorb with just Norwegian GDP growth printing slightly softer than expected, although not enough to change views that the Norgesbank is going to be raising rates next month. Broadly speaking, the dollar is quite firm, with the biggest loser being the Chinese yuan, down 0.9%, and that movement dragging down AUD (-0.45%) as a G10 proxy. But while other G10 currencies have seen more limited movement, the EMG bloc is really under pressure. For instance, MXN has fallen 0.6%, INR 0.75%, RUB, 0.5% and KRW 1.2%. All of this is trade related and is likely just the beginning of the fallout. Once China publishes its list of retaliatory efforts, I would expect further weakness in this space.

Equity markets are suffering everywhere, with Shanghai (-1.2%) and the Nikkei (-0.7%) starting the process, the DAX (-0.8%) and CAC (-0.6%) following in their footsteps and US futures pointing lower as well (both Dow and S&P futures -1.3%). Treasury yields have fallen to 2.43% and are now flat with 3-month Treasury bill rates, reigniting concerns over future US growth, and commodity prices are feeling the strain as well on overall growth concerns.

Turning to the data this week, there is a modicum of news, with Retail Sales likely to be seen as the most important:

Tuesday NFIB Business Optimism 102.3
Wednesday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.7%
  Capacity Utilization 78.7%
  IP 0.1%
  Empire State Mfg 8.5
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Housing Starts 1.205M
  Building Permits 1.29M
  Philly Fed 9.0
Friday Michigan Sentiment 97.5

We also see the housing story and hear from another five Fed speakers across seven speeches this week. However, as we learned last week, pretty much the entire Fed is comfortable with their patient stance in the belief that growth is solid and inflation will eventually head to their target of 2.0%.

Add it all up and there is no reason to believe that the trends from last week will change, namely further pressure on equity markets and commodities, with the dollar and Treasuries the beneficiaries.

Good luck
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Things Changed

The reason the stock market fell-a
Is Goldi (locks) turned to Cinderella
At Midnight things changed
as tariffs arranged
By Trump, forced stock owners to sell-a

Please forgive my poetic license, but it is, after all, just a poem!