Said President Trump, come next week
That he and Xi are set to speak
Meanwhile he complains
The euro remains
Too weak, and a boost there he’ll seek
But that was all yesterday’s news
Today Jay will offer his views
On whether the Fed
Is ready to shred
Its old plans and loosen the screws
ECB President Draghi once again proved his mettle yesterday by managing to surprise the market with an even more dovish set of comments when he spoke at the ECB gathering in Sintra, Portugal. Essentially, the market now believes he promised to cut interest rates further and restart QE soon, despite the fact that rates in the Eurozone remain negative and that the ECB has run up against their self-imposed limits regarding percentage of ownership of Eurozone government bonds. In other words, once again, Draghi will change the rules to allow him to go deeper down the rabbit hole otherwise, these days, known as monetary policy.
Markets were Europhoric, on the news, with equities on the Continent all rising 1.5% or so, while government bond yields fell to new lows. German Bund yields touched a new, all-time, low at -0.326%, but we also saw French OAT yields fall to a record low of 0.00% in the 10-year space. In fact, all Eurozone government bonds saw sharp declines in yields. For Draghi, I’m sure the most gratifying result was that the 5 year/5 year inflation swap contract rebounded from 1.18%, up to 1.23%, still massively below the target of “close to, but below, 2.0%”, but at least it stopped falling. In addition, the euro fell, closing the day lower by 0.2% and back below the 1.12 level, and we also saw gold add to its recent gains, as lower interest rates traditionally support precious metals prices.
US markets also had a big day yesterday with both equity and bond markets continuing the recent rally. Clearly, the idea that the ECB was ready to add further stimulus was a key driver of the move, but that news also whetted appetites for today’s FOMC meeting and what they will do and say. Adding fuel to the equity fire was President Trump’s announcement that he would be meeting with Chinese President Xi at the G20 next week, with plans for an “extended meeting” there. This has created the following idea for traders and investors; global monetary policy is set to get much easier while the trade war is soon coming to an end. The combination will remove both of the current drags on global economic growth, so buy risky assets. Of course, the flaw in this theory is that if Trump and Xi come to terms, then the trade war, which has universally been blamed for the world’s economic troubles, will no longer be weakening the economy and so easier monetary policy won’t be necessary. But those are just details relative to the main narrative. And the narrative is now, easy money is coming to a central bank near you, and that means stocks will rally!
Let’s analyze that narrative for a moment. There is a growing suspicion that this is a coordinated attempt by central bankers to rebuild confidence by all of them easing policy at the same time, thus allowing a broad-based economic benefit without specific currency impacts. After all, if the ECB eases, and so does the Fed, and the BOJ tonight, and even the BOE tomorrow, the relative benefits (read declines) to any major currency will be limited. The problem I have with the theory is that coordination is extremely difficult to achieve out in the open, let alone as a series of back room deals. However, it does seem pretty clear that the data set of late is looking much less robust than had been the case earlier this year, so central bank responses are not surprising.
And remember, too, that BOE Governor Carney keeps trying to insist that UK rates could rise in the event of a smooth Brexit, although this morning’s CPI data printed right on their target of 2.0%, with pipeline pressures looking quite subdued. This has resulted in futures markets pricing in rate cuts despite Carney’s threats. This has also helped undermine the pound’s performance, which continues to be a laggard, even with yesterday’s euro declines. The fact that markets are ignoring Carney sets a dangerous precedent for the central banking community as well, because if markets begin to ignore their words, they may soon find all their decisions marginalized.
So, all in all, the market is ready for a Fed easing party, although this morning’s price action has been very quiet ahead of the actual news at 2:00 this afternoon. Futures markets are currently pricing a 23% chance of a rate cut today and an 85% chance of one in July. One thing I don’t understand is why nobody is talking about ending QT this month, rather than waiting until September. After all, the balance sheet run-off has been blamed for undermining the economy just as much as the interest rate increases. An early stop there would be seen as quite dovish without needing to promise to change rates. Just a thought.
And really, these are the stories that matter today. If possible, this Fed meeting is even more important than usual, which means that the likelihood of large movement before the 2:00pm announcement is extremely small. There is no other data today, and overall, the dollar is ever so slightly softer going into the announcement. This is a reflection of the anticipated easing bias, but obviously, it all depends on what the Chairman says to anticipate the next move.