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.