Doves There Held Sway

It seems that a day cannot pass
When one country ‘steps on the gas’
Twas China today
Where doves there held sway
With funding for projects en masse

If I didn’t know better, I would suspect the world’s central banks of a secret accord, where each week one of them is designated as the ‘dove du jour’ and makes some statement or announcement that will serve to goose stock prices higher. Whether it is Fed speakers turning from patience to insurance, the ECB promising more of ‘whatever it takes’ or actual rate cuts a la the RBA, the central banks have apparently realized that the only place they continue to hold sway is in global stock markets. And so, they are going to keep on pushing them for as long as they can.

This week’s champion is the PBOC, which last night eased restrictions further on infrastructure investment by local governments, allowing more issuance of ‘special bonds’ and encouraging banks to lend more for these projects. At the same time, the CNY fix was its strongest in a month, back below the 6.90 level, as the PBOC makes clear that for the time being, it is not going to allow the yuan to display any unruly behavior. True to form, Chinese equity markets roared higher led by construction and cement companies, and once again we see global equity markets in the green.

While in the short run, investors remain happy, the problem is that in the medium and longer term, it is unclear that the central banking community has sufficient ammunition left to really help economic activity. After all, how much lower is the ECB going to cut rates from their current -0.4% level? And will that really help the economy? How many more JGB’s can the BOJ buy given they already own about 50% of the market? In truth, the Fed and the PBOC are the only two banks with any real leeway to ease policy enough to have a real economic impact, rather than just a financial markets impact. And for a world that has grown completely reliant on central bank activity to maintain economic growth, that is a real problem.

Adding to these woes is the ongoing trade war situation which seems to change daily. The latest news on this front is that if President Xi won’t sit down with President Trump at the G20 meeting in Japan later this month, then the US will impose tariffs on all Chinese imports. However, it seems the market is becoming inured to statements like these as there has been precious little discussion on the subject, and the PBOC’s actions were clearly far more impactful.

The question is, how long can markets continue to ignore what is a clearly deteriorating global economic picture before responding? And the answer is, apparently, quite a long time. Or perhaps that question is aimed only at equity markets because bond markets clearly see a less rosy future. At some point, we are going to see a central bank announcement result in no positive impact, or perhaps even a negative one, and when that occurs, be prepared for a rockier ride.

Turning to the FX markets this morning, the dollar has had a mixed session, although is arguably a touch softer overall. So far this month, the euro, which is basically unchanged this morning, has rallied 1.4%, while the pound, which is a modest 0.15% higher this morning after better than expected wage data, is higher by just 0.5%. My point is that despite some recent angst in the analyst community that the dollar was due to come under significant pressure, the overall movements have been quite small.

In the EMG bloc, there has also been relatively little movement this month (and this morning) as epitomized by the Mexican peso, which fell nearly 3% last week after the threat of tariffs being imposed unless immigration changes were made by Mexico, and which has recouped essentially all of those losses now that the tariffs have been averted. China is another example of a bit of angst but no substantial movement. This morning, after the PBOC drove the dollar fix lower, the renminbi is within pips of where it began the month. Again, FX markets continue to fluctuate in relatively narrow ranges as other markets have seen far more activity.

Repeating what I have highlighted many times, FX is a relative market, and the value of one currency is always in comparison to another. So, if monetary policies are changing in the same direction around the world, then the relative impact on any currency is likely to be muted. It is why, despite the fact that the US has more room to ease policy than most other nations, I expect the dollar to quickly find its footing in the event the Fed gets more aggressive. Because we know that if the Fed is getting aggressive, so will every other central bank.

Data this morning has seen the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rise to 105.0, indicating that things in the US are, perhaps, not yet so dire. This is certainly not the feeling one gets from the analyst community or the bond market, but it is important to note. We do see PPI as well this morning (exp 2.0%, 2.3% core) but this is always secondary to tomorrow’s CPI report. The Fed remains in its quiet period so there will be no speakers, and the stock market is already mildly euphoric over the perceived policy ease from China last night. Quite frankly, it is hard to get excited about much movement at all in the dollar today, barring any new commentary from the White House.

Good luck