Totally Thwarted

The data that China reported
Showed growth there somewhat less supported
Meanwhile in Hong Kong
The protesting throng
Has bullish views totally thwarted

Once again, risk is under pressure this morning as the litany of potential economic and financial problems continues to grow rather than recede. The latest concerns began last night when China reported slowing Investment (5.6%, below 6.1% expected) and IP (5.0%, weakest since 2002) data (although Retail Sales held up) which led to further concerns over the growth trajectory in the Middle Kingdom. PBOC Governor Yi Gang assures us that China has significant firepower left to address further weakness, but traders are a little less comforted. Adding to concerns are the ongoing protests in Hong Kong over potential new legislation which would allow extradition, to mainland China, of people accused of fomenting trouble in Hong Kong. That is a far cry from the separation that has been key in allowing Hong Kong’s financial markets and economy to flourish despite its close ties to Beijing.

The upshot is that stocks in Hong Kong (-0.65%) and Beijing (-1.0%) fell again, while interest rates in Hong Kong pushed even higher. This has resulted in a liquidity shortage in Hong Kong which is supporting the HKD (+0.2% this week and finally pushing away from the HKMA’s floor). The renminbi, meanwhile, has gone the other way, softening slightly since the protests began. Other signs of pressure were evident by the weakness in AUD and NZD, both of which rely heavily on the Chinese market as their primary export destinations.

Risk is also evident in the energy markets where there has been an escalation in the rhetoric between the US and Iran after the tanker attacks yesterday. This morning the US is claiming it has video proof that Iran was behind the attacks, although it has not been widely accepted as such. Oil prices, which rose sharply yesterday, have maintained those gains, although on the other side of the oil equation is the slowing economy sapping demand. In fact, the IEA is out with a report this morning that next year, production increases in the US, Canada and Brazil will significantly outweigh anemic increases in demand, further pressuring OPEC and likely oil prices overall. However, for the moment, the market concerns are focused on the increased tension in the Gulf with the possibility of a conflict there seeming to rise daily. Remember, risk assets tend to suffer greatly in situations like this.

Aside from the weaker Aussie (-0.25%) and Kiwi (-0.55%), we have also seen strength in the yen (+0.2%), a huge rally in Treasuries (10-year yield down 4.5bps), gold pushing higher (+1% and back to its highest level in three years) and the dollar, overall performing well. The latter is evidenced by the decline in the euro (-0.2%), the pound (-0.3%) and basically the rest of the G10 with similar declines.

This is the market backdrop as we await the last major piece of data before the FOMC meeting next week, this morning’s Retail Sales numbers. Current expectations are for a 0.6% increase, with the ex-autos number printing at 0.3%. But recall, last month economists were forecasting a significant gain and instead the headline number was negative. A similar result this morning would certainly add more pressure on Chairman Powell and friends next week. And that is really the big underlying story across all markets, just how soon are we likely to see the Fed or the ECB or the BOJ turn clearly dovish and ease policy.

It has become abundantly clear that inflation is the only data point that the big central banks are focusing on these days. And given their fixation on achieving a, far too precise, level of 2.0%, they are all failing by their own metrics. Wednesday’s US CPI data was softer than expected leading to reduced expectations for the PCE data coming at the end of the month. In the Eurozone, 5y/5y inflation swaps, one of the ECB’s key metrics for inflation sentiment, has fallen below 1.20% and is now at its lowest level since the contract began in 2003. And in Japan, CPI remains pegged just below 1.0%, nowhere near the target level. It is this set of circumstances, more than any questions on growth or employment, that will continue to drive monetary policy. With this in mind, one can only conclude that money is going to get easier going forward. I still don’t think the Fed moves next week, but I could easily see a 50bp cut in July. Regardless, markets are going to continue to pressure all central banks until policy rates are lowered, mark my words.

Regarding the impact of these actions on the dollar, it becomes a question of timing more than anything else. As I have consistently maintained, if the Fed starts to ease aggressively, you can be sure that the ECB and BOJ, as well as a host of other central banks, will be doing so as well. And in an environment of global weakness, I expect the dollar will remain the favored place to maintain assets.

As for today, a weak Retail Sales print is likely to see an initial sell-off in the dollar but look for it to reverse as traders focus on the impacts likely to be felt elsewhere.

Good luck and good weekend


Powell’s Fixation

The latest release on inflation
Revealed, despite Powell’s fixation,
That prices have yet
To pose a real threat
So, look for more accommodation

Much to the Fed’s chagrin, yesterday’s inflation data was disappointing, with CPI rising just 1.8% in May, below both expectations and their target. Of course, they don’t target CPI, but PCE instead, however, history has shown that PCE typically runs about 0.3%-0.4% below CPI. Regardless of the statistic they view, what is abundantly clear is that price pressures, at least as measured by the both the Labor and Commerce departments, remain well below the level the Fed believes is consistent with a healthy economy. And it is this outcome which continues to animate the investment community.

If we ignore the comments from the White House and simply focus on the economic data, it is pretty easy to see why expectations of a rate cut are growing rapidly. The employment situation seems to have peaked and started to reverse, price pressures remain quiescent and every Q2 GDP forecast is for a pretty significant slowdown relative to Q1’s 3.1% rate. Given what appears to be a weakening trajectory in the US economy (not even considering the possibility of bigger issues driven by a full-blown trade war) and given that the Fed has implicitly assumed the responsibility to manage economic growth, a rate cut might seem pretty tempting at this point. While next week’s meeting seems quite aggressive for this line of thought, July, where the market is pricing in nearly a 100% probability, makes sense barring a sudden upturn in the data.

One of the things that has been weighing on the inflation data has been the sharp decline in oil prices over the past two months. Even with today’s 3.5% rally on the news of two oil tanker attacks in the Persian Gulf, WTI is lower by more than 20% since the third week of April. And the oil data continues to point to softening demand and growing supplies. Slowing global growth is sapping that demand, but producers continue to drill as quickly as possible. So, the central bank logic continues to be; lower interest rates will help sustain economic growth which will push up demand for energy (read oil prices) and help inflation get back to their comfort zone. Alas, that has been shown to be a pretty tenuous path for central banks to achieve their desired results and there is limited reason to believe it will work this time. In the end, it is becoming abundantly clear that we are about to embark on the next round of monetary ease, even in those nations which never tightened from the last round.

The difference this time is that markets do not seem to be embracing that as a panacea for all their troubles. While equity markets are modestly higher this morning, that follows two lackluster sessions with small losses. We continue to hear pundits highlighting a Fed cut as an important driver, but slowing global growth, especially the continued weakness in China, means that earnings estimates continue to slide and with them, expected equity gains. Add to this mix the unraveling of a few stories (Tesla, government pressure on tech companies) and suddenly the future is not so bright. We have also seen continued concern registered via the Treasury market, where 10-year yields have edged lower again today, trading at 2.11% as I type. While this is a few bps higher than the recent lows, it remains more than 50bps below where we started 2019 and the trend remains firmly downward. And rightly so if inflation is going to continue to decline.

The FX market has weighed all this evidence and remains…confused. While the dollar remains stronger overall in 2019, it has given back some of its gains during the past several weeks, at least against most G10 currencies. Today is a perfect example of the mixed view we’ve seen lately with the euro and the pound within 0.05% of yesterday’s closing levels, albeit the euro is higher and the pound lower. We see Aussie down 0.3% but CHF up 0.3%. You get the picture, there is little in the way of a trend. And quite frankly, that is likely to remain the case until we actually see the Fed (or ECB or BOJ or BOE) actually change policy. Broadly, there is little evidence that global growth is going to improve in the short run, and so FX movement is going to be based on the relative rate of weakness we see in economic data and the corresponding interest rate assumptions that will follow.

Looking at this morning’s data, we really only see Initial Claims (exp 216K), which is generally not a market mover. However, given the heightened sensitivity to the employment situation based on last Friday’s weak NFP report, any uptick here (above, say 230K) might have an outsized impact. Arguably, tonight’s Chinese data in Retail Sales and IP is likely to have a much bigger impact. And that’s really the day. Once again it looks like limited activity and correspondingly, limited movement in markets.

Good luck


Markets Are Waiting

For right now most markets are waiting
To see if key risks are abating
Next week it’s the Fed
Then looking ahead
The G20 is captivating

The question is what we will learn
When Powell and friends next adjourn
The bond market’s sure
A cut has allure
To help them avoid a downturn

Markets this morning are pretty uninteresting as trader and investor focus turns to the two key upcoming events, next week’s FOMC meeting and the G20 meeting at the end of the month. At this point, it is fair to say that the market is pricing in renewed monetary ease throughout most of the world. While the Fed is in their quiet period, the last comments we heard were that they would act appropriately in the event economic growth weakened. Futures markets are pricing in a 50% chance of a cut next week, and a virtually 100% chance of a cut in July, with two more after that before the end of the year. While that seems aggressive to many economists, who don’t believe that the US economy is in danger of slowing too rapidly, the futures market’s track record is pretty good, and thus cannot be ignored.

But it’s not just the US where markets are pushing toward further rate cuts, we are seeing the same elsewhere. For example, last week Signor Draghi indicated that the ECB is ready to act if necessary, and if you recall, extended their rate guidance further into the future, assuring no rate changes until the middle of next year. Eurozone futures markets are pricing in a 10bp rate cut, to -0.50%, for next June. This morning we also heard from Banque de France President, and ECB Council member, Francois Villeroy that they have plenty of tools available to address slowing growth if necessary. A key pressure point in Europe is the 5year/5year inflation contract which is now pricing inflation at 1.18%, a record low, and far below the target of, “close to, but below, 2.0%”. In other words, inflation expectations seem to be declining in the Eurozone, something which has the ECB quite nervous.

Of course, adding to the picture was the news Monday night that the PBOC is loosening credit conditions further, targeting infrastructure spending. We also heard last week from PBOC Governor Yi Gang that the PBOC has plenty of tools available to fight slowing economic output. In fact, traveling around the world, it is easy to highlight dovishness at many central banks; Australia, Canada, Chile, India, Indonesia, New Zealand and Switzerland quickly come to mind as countries that have recently cut rates or discussed the possibility of doing so.

Once again, this plays to my constant discussion of the relative nature of the FX market. If every country is dovish, it becomes harder to discern which is the most hawkish dove. In the end, it generally winds up being a case of which nation has the highest interest rates, even if they are falling. As of now, the US continues to hold that position, and thus the dollar is likely to continue to be supported.

While the Fed meeting is obvious as to its importance, the G20 has now become the focal point of the ongoing trade situation with optimists looking for a meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi to help cool off the recent inflammation, but thus far, no word that Xi is ready to meet. There are many domestic political calculations that are part of this process and I have read arguments as to why Xi either will or won’t meet. Quite frankly, it is outside the scope of this note to make that call. However, what I can highlight is that news that a meeting is scheduled will be seen as a significant positive step by markets with an ensuing risk-on reaction, meaning stronger equities and a sell-off in the bond market, the dollar and the yen. Equally, any indication that no meeting will take place is likely to see a strong risk-off reaction with the opposite impacts.

Looking at the overnight data, there have been few releases with the most notable, arguably, Chinese in nature. Vehicle Sales in China fell 16.4%, their 11th consecutive monthly decline, which when combined with slowing monthly loan growth paints a picture of an economy that is clearly feeling some pain. The only other data point was Spanish Inflation, which printed at 0.8%, clearly demonstrating the lack of inflationary impulse in the Eurozone, even in one of the economies that is growing fastest. Neither of these data points indicates a change in the easing bias of central banks.

In the US this morning we see CPI data which is expected to print at 1.9% with the ex food& energy print at 2.1%. Yesterday’s PPI data was on the soft side, so there is some concern that we might see a lower print, especially given how rapidly oil prices have fallen of late. In the end, it is shaping up as another quiet day. Equity markets around the world have been slightly softer, but that is following a weeklong run of gains, and US futures are pointing to 0.3% declines at this point. Treasury yields are off their lowest point but still just 2.12% and well below overnight rates. And the dollar is modestly higher this morning, although I don’t see a currency that has moved more than 0.2%, indicating just how quiet things have been. Look for more of the same until at least next Wednesday’s FOMC announcement.

Good luck

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


Oy Vey!

The jobs report was quite the dud
And traders began smelling blood
If Powell and friends
Would not make amends
Then stocks would be dragged through the mud

Then later, down Mexico’s way
The tariff dispute went away
At least for the moment
Though Trump could still foment
More problems by tweeting, oy vey!

This morning, despite the confusion
The outcome’s a foregone conclusion
Stock markets will rise
While bonds scrutinize
The data, and fight the illusion

I’m not even sure where to start this morning. Friday’s market activity was largely as I had forecast given the weak payrolls report, just a 75K rise in NFP along with weaker earnings numbers, leading to a massive increase in speculation that the Fed is going to cut, and cut soon. In fact, the probability for a June cut of 25bps is now about 50/50, with a full cut priced in for the July meeting and a total of 70bps of cuts priced in for the rest of 2019. Equity markets worldwide have rallied on the weak data as a new narrative has developed as follows: weaker US growth will force the Fed to ease policy sooner than previously forecast and every other central bank will be forced to follow suit and ease policy as well. And since the reaction function for equity markets has nothing to do with economic activity, being entirely dependent on central bank largesse, it should be no surprise that stock markets are higher everywhere. Adding to the euphoria was the announcement by the Trump administration that those potential Mexican tariffs have been suspended indefinitely after progress was made with respect to the ongoing immigration issues at the US southern border.

This combination of news and data was all that was needed to reverse the Treasury market rally from earlier in the week, with 10-year yields higher by 5bps this morning, and the dollar, which had fallen broadly on Friday, down about 0.6% across the board after the payroll report, has rebounded against most of its counterpart currencies. The one outlier here is the Mexican peso, which after the tariff threat had fallen by nearly 3%, has rebounded and is 2.0% higher vs. the dollar this morning.

To say that we live in a looking glass world where up is down and down is up may not quite capture the extent of the overall market confusion. One thing is certain though, and that is we are likely to continue to see market volatility increase going forward.

Let’s unpack the Fed portion of the story, as I believe it will be most helpful in trying to anticipate how things will play out going forward. President Trump’s threats against Mexico really shook up the market but had an even bigger impact on the Fed. Consider, we have not heard the word ‘patient’ from a Fed speaker since Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester used the word on May 3rd. When the FOMC minutes were released on May 22, the term was rampant, but the world had changed by then. In the interim, we had seen the US-China trade talks fall apart and an increase in tariffs by both sides, as well as threats of additional actions, notably the banning of Huawei products in the US and the restriction of rare earth metals sales by China. At this point, the trade situation is referred to as a war by both sides and most pundits. We have also seen weaker US economic activity, with Retail Sales and Housing data suffering, along with manufacturing and production. While no one is claiming we are in recession yet, the probabilities of one arriving are seen as much higher.

The result of all this weak data and trade angst was a pretty sharp sell-off in the equity markets, which as we all know, seems to be the only thing that causes the Fed to react. And it did so again, with the Fed speakers over the past two weeks highlighting the weakening data and lack of inflation and some even acknowledging that a rate cut would be appropriate (Bullard and Evans.) This drove full on speculation that the Fed was about to ease policy and futures markets have now gone all-in on the idea. It would actually be disconcerting if the Fed acted after a single poor data point, so June still seems only a remote possibility, but when they meet next week, look for a much more dovish statement and for Chairman Powell to be equally dovish in the press conference afterward.

And remember, if the Fed is turning the page on ‘normalization’ there is essentially no chance that any other major central bank will be able to normalize policy either. In fact, what we have heard from both the ECB’s Draghi and BOJ’s Kuroda-san lately are defenses of the many tools they still have left to utilize in their efforts to raise inflation and inflationary expectations. But really, all they have are the same tools they’ve used already. So, look for interest rates to fall further, even where they are already negative, as well as more targeted loans and more QE. And the new versions of QE will include purchases that go far beyond government bonds. We will see much more central bank buying of equities and corporate bonds, and probably mortgages and municipals before it is all over.

Ultimately, the world has become addicted to central bank policy largesse, and I fear the only way this cycle will be broken is by a crisis, where really big changes are made (think debt jubilee), as more of the same is not going to get the job done. And that will be an environment where havens will remain in demand, so dollars, yen, Treasuries and Bunds, and probably gold will all do quite well. Maybe not immediately, but that is where we are headed.

Enough doom and gloom. Let’s pivot to the data story this week, which is actually pretty important:

Today JOLTs Jobs Report 7.479M
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz 102.3
  PPI 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
Wednesday CPI 0.1% (1.9% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.1% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 216K
Friday Retail Sales 0.7%
  -ex autos 0.3%
  IP 0.1%
  Capacity Utilization 78.7%
  Michigan Sentiment 98.1

Clearly CPI will be closely watched, with any weakness just fanning the flames for rate cuts sooner. Also, after the weak NFP report Friday, I expect closer scrutiny for the Initial Claims data. This has been quite steady at low levels for some time, but many pundits will be watching for an uptick here as confirmation that the jobs market is starting to soften. Finally, Retail Sales will also be seen as important, especially given the poor outcome last month, which surprised one and all.

Mercifully, the Fed is in its quiet period ahead of their meeting next week, so we won’t be hearing from them. Right now, however, the momentum for a rate cut continues to build and stories in the media are more about potential weakness in the economy than in the strength that we had seen several months ago. If the focus remains on US economic activity softening, the dollar should come under pressure, but once we see that spread to other areas, notably the UK and Europe, where they had soft data this morning, I expect those pressures to equalize. For today, though, I feel like the dollar is still vulnerable.

Good luck

So Distorted

Said Draghi, if things get much worse
Then more money, I will disburse
And negative rates
Which everyone hates
Will never go into reverse!

This morning, the Germans reported
That IP there’s lately been thwarted
Now markets are waiting
For payrolls, debating
Why everything seems so distorted

India. Malaysia. New Zealand. Philippines. Australia. India (again). Federal Reserve (?). ECB (?).

These are the major nations that have cut policy rates in the past two months, as well as, of course, the current forecasts for the two biggest central banks. Tuesday and Wednesday we heard from a number of Fed speakers, notably Chairman Powell, that if the economy starts to weaken, a rate cut is available and the Fed won’t hesitate to act. At this point, the futures market has a 25% probability priced in for them to cut rates in two weeks’ time, with virtual certainty they will cut by the late July meeting.

Then yesterday, Signor Draghi guided us further out the calendar indicating that interest rates in the ECB will not change until at least the middle of 2020. Remember, when this forward guidance started it talked about “through the summer” of 2019, then was extended to the end of 2019, and now it has been pushed a further six months forward. But of even more interest to the markets was that at his press conference, he mentioned how further rate cuts were discussed at the meeting as well as restarting QE. Meanwhile, the newest batch of TLTRO’s will be available at rates from -0.3% to 0.10%, slightly lower than had previously been expected, but certainly within the range anticipated. And yet, despite this seeming dovishness, the market had been looking for even more. In the end, the euro rallied yesterday, and has essentially maintained its recent gains despite Draghi’s best efforts. After all, when comparing the policy room available to the Fed and the ECB, the Fed has the ability to be far more accommodative in the near term, and markets seem to be responding to that. In the wake of the ECB meeting, the euro rallied a solid 0.5%, and has only ceded 0.1% of that since. But despite all the angst, the euro has not even gained 1.0% this week, although with the payroll report due shortly, that is certainly subject to change.

Which takes us to the payroll report. Wednesday’s ADP data was terrible, just 27K although the median forecast was for 180K, which has a number of analysts quite nervous.

Nonfarm Payrolls 185K
Private Payrolls 175K
Manufacturing Payrolls 5K
Unemployment Rate 3.6%
Participation Rate 62.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5

Given the way this market is behaving, if NFP follows ADP, look for the dollar to fall sharply along with a big bond market rally, and arguably a stock market rally as well. This will all be based on the idea that the Fed will be forced to cut rates at the June meeting, something which they are unwilling to admit at this point. Interestingly, a strong print could well see stocks fall on the idea that the Fed will not cut rates further, at least in the near future, but it should help the dollar nicely.

Before I leave for the weekend, there are two other notable moves in the FX markets, CNY and ZAR. In China, an interview with PBoC Governor Yi Gang indicated that they have significant room to ease policy further if necessary, and that there is no red line when it comes to USDCNY trading through 7.00. Those comments were enough to weaken the renminbi by 0.3%, above 6.95, and back to its weakest level since November. Confirmation that 7.00 is not seen as a crucial level implies that we are going to see a weaker CNY going forward.

As to ZAR, it has fallen through 15.00 to the dollar, down 0.5% on the day and 3.4% on the week, as concerns grow over South Africa’s ability to manage their way through the current economic slump. Two key national companies, Eskom, the electric utility, and South African Airways are both struggling to stay afloat, with Eskom so large, the government probably can’t rescue them even if they want to. Slowing global growth is just adding fuel to the fire, and it appears there is further room for the rand to decline.

In sum, the global economic outlook continues to weaken (as evidenced by today’s German IP print at -1.9% and the Bundesbank’s reduction in GDP forecast for 2019 to just 0.6%) and so easier monetary policy appears the default projection. For now, that translates into a weaker dollar (more room to move than other countries) and stronger stocks (because, well lower rates are always good, regardless of the reason), while Treasuries and Bunds should continue to see significant inflows driving yields there lower.

Good luck and good weekend

Certainty’s Shrinking

The data from yesterday showed
That Services growth hadn’t slowed
But ADP’s number
Showed job growth aslumber
An outcome that doesn’t, well, bode

This morning it’s Mario’s turn
To placate the market’s concern
His toolkit keeps shrinking
And certainty’s sinking
That he can prevent a downturn

The glass is always half-full if you are an equity trader, that much is clear. Not only did they interpret Chairman Jay’s words on Tuesday as a rate cut was coming soon (although he said no such thing), but yesterday they managed to see the combination of strong ISM Non-Manufacturing data (56.9 vs exp 55.5) and weak ADP Employment data (27K vs exp 180K) as the perfect storm. I guess they see booming profits from Services companies alongside rate cuts from the Fed as job growth slows. At any rate, by the end of the day, equity markets had continued the rally that started Tuesday with any concerns over tariffs on Mexican imports relegated to the dustbin of last week.

Meanwhile the Treasury market continues to have a different spin on things with 10-year yields still plumbing multi-year depths (2.10%) while the 5yr-30yr spread blows out to its steepest (88bps) since late 2017. The interpretation here is that the bond market is essentially forecasting a number of Fed rate cuts as the economy heads into recession shortly. It isn’t often that markets have such diametrically opposed views of the future, but history has shown that, unfortunately in this case, the bond market has a better track record than the stock market. And there is one other little tidbit of market data worth sharing, the opposing moves of gold and oil. Last week was only the third time since at least the early 1980’s that gold prices rallied at least 5.2% while oil fell at least 8.7%, an odd outcome. The other two times? Right before the Tech Bubble burst and right before the Global Financial Crisis. Granted this is not a long track record, but boy, it’s an interesting outcome!

The point is, signs that economic growth is slowing in the US are increasing. One thing of which we can be sure is that while slowing growth elsewhere may not lead to a US recession, a US recession will absolutely lead to much slower growth everywhere else in the world. Remember, the IMF just this week reduced their GDP growth forecasts yet again for 2019, and their key concern, the deteriorating trade situation between the US and the rest of the world, is showing no signs of dissipating.

Into this mix steps Mario Draghi as the ECB meets today in Vilnius, Lithuania (part of their annual roadshow). At this point, it is clear the ECB will define the terms of the new TLTRO’s with most analysts’ views looking for very generous terms (borrowing at -0.4%) although the ECB has tried to insist that these will only last two years rather than the four years of the last program. There is also talk of the ECB investigating further rate cuts, with perhaps a tiered structure on which reserves will be subject to the new, lower rate. And there is even one bank analyst forecasting that the ECB will restart QE come January 2020. Futures markets are pricing in a rate cut by Q1 2020, which is certainly not the direction the ECB intended when they changed their forward guidance to ‘rates will remain where they are through at least the end of the year.’ At that time, they were thinking of rate hikes, but that seems highly unlikely now.

With all of this in mind, let us now consider how this might impact the FX market. As I consistently point out, FX is a relative game. This means that expectations for both currencies matter, not just for one. So, the idea that the Fed has turned dovish, ceteris paribus, would certainly imply the dollar has room to fall. But ceteris is never paribus in this world, and as we are likely to hear later today at Draghi’s press conference, the ECB is going to be seen as far more dovish than just recently supposed. (What if the TLTRO’s are for three years instead of two? That would be seen as quite dovish I think.) The point is that while the signs of a weaker US economy continue to grow, those same signs point to weakness elsewhere. In the end, while the dollar may still soften further, as expectations about the Fed race ahead of those about the ECB or elsewhere, that is a short-term result. As I wrote earlier this week, 2% or so further weakness seems quite viable, but not much more than that before it is clear the rest of the world is in the same boat and policy eases everywhere.

FX market activity overnight has shown the dollar to be under modest pressure, with the euro up 0.3% while the pound and most of the rest of the G10 are up lesser amounts (0.1%-0.2%). However, many EMG currencies remain under pressure with MXN -0.75% after Fitch downgraded its credit rating to BBB-, the lowest investment grade, and weakness in ZAR and TRY helping to support the broad dollar indices. But in the big picture, the dollar remains in a trading range as we will need to see real policy changes before there is significant movement.

Turning to this morning’s data, aside from the Draghi presser at 8:30, we also see Initial Claims (exp 215K), the Trade Balance (-$50.7B), Nonfarm Productivity (3.5%) and Unit Labor Costs (-0.8%). But the reality is that, especially after yesterday’s ADP number, all eyes will be on tomorrow’s NFP print. In the event that ADP was prescient, and we see a terrible number, watch for a huge bond market rally and a weaker dollar. But if it is more benign, around the 185K expected, then I don’t see any reason for markets to change their recent tune. Expectations of future Fed rate cuts as ‘insurance’ will help keep the dollar on its back foot while supporting equities round the world.

Good luck

Soon On the Way

While Powell did not actually say
That rate cuts were soon on the way
He hinted as much
So traders did clutch
The idea and quickly made hay

If there was ever any doubt as to what is driving the equity markets, it was put to rest yesterday morning. Chairman Powell, during his discussion of the economy and any potential challenges said the following, “We are closely monitoring the implications of these developments for the U.S. economic outlook and, as always, we will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.” Nowhere in that comment does he actually talk about cutting rates, but the market belief is that ‘appropriate action’ is just that. The result was a powerful equity market rally (DJIA and S&P +2.1%, NASDAQ +2.6%), a modest Treasury sell-off and further weakness in the dollar. At this point, Wall Street analysts are competing to define the terms of the Fed’s next easing cycle with most now looking for at least two rate cuts this year, but nobody expecting a move later this month. And don’t forget the futures market, where traders are pricing in 60bps of rate cuts before the end of the year, so two cuts and a 40% probability of a third.

All of this is ongoing in the face of continuing bombastic trade rhetoric by both the US and China, and with President Trump seemingly quite comfortable with the current situation. While it appears that he views these as negotiating tactics, it seems clear that the strategy is risky and could potentially spiral into a much more deeply entrenched trade war. However, with that in mind, the one thing we all should have learned in the past two plus years is that forecasting the actions of this President is a mug’s game.

Instead, let’s try to consider potential outcomes for various actions that might be taken.

Scenario 1: status quo, meaning tariffs remain in place but don’t grow on either side and trade talks don’t restart. If the current frosty relationship continues, then markets will become that much more reliant on Fed largesse in order to maintain YTD gains, let alone rally. Global growth is slowing, as is growth in trade (the IMF just reduced forecasts for 2019 again!), and earnings data is going to suffer. In this case, the market will be pining for ‘appropriate action’ and counting on the Fed to cut rates to support the economy. While rate cuts will initially support equities, there will need to be more concrete fiscal action to extend any gains. Treasuries are likely to continue to see yields grind lower with 2.00% for the 10-year quite viable, and the dollar is likely to continue to suffer in this context as expectations for US rate cuts will move ahead of those for the rest of the world. Certainly, a 2% decline in the dollar is viable to begin with. However, remember that if the economic situation in the US requires monetary ease, you can be sure that the same will be true elsewhere in the world, and when that starts to become the base case, the dollar should bottom.

Scenario 2: happy days, meaning both President’s Xi and Trump meet at the G20, agree that any deal is better than no deal and instruct their respective teams to get back to it. There will be fudging on both sides so neither loses face domestically, but the threat of an all-out trade war dissipates quickly. Markets respond enthusiastically as earnings estimates get raised, and while things won’t revert to the 2016 trade situation, tariffs will be removed, and optimism returns. In this case, without any ‘need’ for Fed rate cuts, the dollar will likely soar, as once again, the US economic situation will be seen as the most robust in the world, and any latent Fed dovishness is likely to be removed. Treasury prices are sure to fall as risk as quickly embraced and 2.50%-2.75% 10-year Treasuries seems reasonable. After all, the 10-year was at 2.50% just one month ago.

Scenario 3: apocalypse, the trade war escalates as both Presidents decide the domestic political benefits outweigh the potential economic costs and everything traded between the two nations is subject to significant tariffs. Earnings estimates throughout the world tumble, confidence ebbs quickly and equity markets globally suffer. While this will trigger another bout of central bank easing globally, the impact on equity markets will be delayed with fear running rampant and risk rejected. Treasury yields will fall sharply; 1.50% anyone? The dollar, however, will outperform along with the yen, as haven currencies will be aggressively sought.

Obviously, there are many subtle gradations of what can occur, but I feel like these three descriptions offer a good baseline from which to work. For now, the status quo is our best bet, with the chance of happy days coming soon pretty low, although apocalypse is even more remote. Just don’t rule it out.

As to the markets, the dollar has largely stabilized this morning after falling about 1% earlier in the week. Eurozone Services PMI data printed ever so slightly higher than expected but is still pointing to sluggish growth. The ECB is anticipated to announce the terms of the newest round of TLTRO’s tomorrow, with consensus moving toward low rates (-0.4% for banks to borrow) but terms of just two years rather than the previous package’s terms of four years. Given the complete lack of inflationary pulse in the Eurozone and the ongoing manufacturing malaise, it is still very hard for me to get excited about the euro rallying on its own.

This morning brings ADP Employment data (exp 185K) as well as ISM Non-Manufacturing (55.5) and then the Fed’s Beige Book is released at 2:00. We hear from three more Fed speakers, Clarida, Bostic and Bowman, so it will be interesting to see if there is more emphasis on the willingness to respond to weak markets activity. One thing to note, the word patience has not been uttered by a single Fed member in a number of days. Perhaps that is the telling signal that a rate cut is coming sooner than they previously thought.

Good luck



Rate cuts “may be warranted soon”
Said James yesterday afternoon
The bond market soared
Though stocks ‘cross the board
Retreated the third day of June

Will someone please explain to me how the Fed expects to be preemptive on economic movements by looking in the rearview mirror? Given that data is almost always backwards looking, (only the ISM surveys really try to look ahead) it seems it would be a far better process to simply explain the reaction function will follow the economy. It is abundantly clear that they have completely lost the ability to lead the economy. So now, following a spate of softer data leading to comments from St Louis Fed President James Bullard about cutting rates soon, Treasury yields have plumbed new depths for the move, touching as low as 2.07% on Monday, and although they have rebounded slightly this morning, there is no indication this movement is going to stop. Weaker ISM data, slower housing growth and ongoing trade uncertainty have certainly stacked the deck against the Fed standing pat. Chairman Powell speaks this morning and markets will be anxiously awaiting his wisdom on the subject. (Spoiler alert, his only choice will be to sound dovish as any hawkish tone will immediately reflect in an equity sell-off.)

Similarly, we continue to see German bund yields pressing to new lows, -0.21% this morning, and the pressure on the ECB to respond is growing stronger. Just this weekend there was a story in Bloomberg describing Eurozone inflation as starting to trend higher. Alas, this morning’s data printed weaker than expected with headline CPI at 1.2% and core at 0.8%. While the euro has barely reacted, interest rate markets are starting to price in even more easing by the ECB and analyst’s comments are moving towards the need for Signor Draghi to do something to show that the ECB is in control. The problem for Draghi is he only has a few more months in the seat and all eyes are looking toward his potential replacement. While there is no strong consensus pick, the view is developing that whoever takes the role will be more hawkish than Draghi, by default. At least initially. However, if Eurozone growth continues to falter and inflation remains around 1.0%, instead of nearer its target of “close to but below 2.0%”, that hawkishness is likely to fade. And one last thing, Eurozone inflation expectations, as measured by five year forward five-year swaps have fallen to near record lows of 1.28%. In other words, nobody thinks inflation is making a comeback soon.

Adding to the interest rate gloom was Australia, last night, cutting its base rate to 1.25%, as widely expected. RBA Governor Lowe made it clear that given the slowing picture in China and the overall slowdown in global growth, the door is open for further rate cuts there. Markets are pricing in at least two more by the end of the year.

How about Switzerland? The nation with the world’s lowest interest rates, the cash rate is -0.75%, is being forecast to cut them further. Given the haven status of the Swiss franc and its recent appreciation vs. the euro, analysts are now looking for another rate cut there. So is the futures market, with a 50% probability of a 25bp cut priced in for March 2020., and SNB President Thomas Jordan has done nothing to dissuade these ideas. If anything, I would expect a cut before the end of the year.

My point is that despite the recent turn in US markets regarding interest rates, where virtually every analyst has come around to the idea that the next move in rates will be lower, and clearly there are Fed members in that camp, none of this happens in isolation. As the above discussion highlights, more dovish policy is quickly becoming the baseline forecast for virtually every country that matters.

So, what does that do for the dollar? Yesterday’s price action showed the dollar’s worst performance since mid-March, when Chairman Powell surprised the market with an uber-dovish policy statement and press conference. Bullard’s comments were enough to turn views toward a rate cut happening much sooner than previously anticipated. And so, if the Fed has truly turned around their thought process, then it will be no surprise for the dollar to have a weak period. Of course, this will only last until we hear Draghi talk about the room for further easing and the need to maintain price stability near the ECB’s target. Once it is clear that the ECB is also going to ease further, the dollar will likely find a bottom. Remember, the ECB meets tomorrow and Thursday, with Draghi’s press conference at 8:30 Thursday morning. Given the recent data, and the overall trade situation, it is not impossible that the ECB turns far more dovish this week. However, my sense is they will focus on the terms of the new TLTRO’s and not on restarting QE. So, the dollar probably has a few weeks of underperformance ahead of it, but it is only a matter of time before the ECB (and correspondingly the BOJ, BOE and BOC) jump on the dovish bandwagon.

As an aside, I keep reading that the only way for the Fed to create a dovish surprise later this month is to cut immediately (the market is pricing in a 25bp cut at the July meeting) but I disagree. All they have to do is cut by more than 25bps when they cut. There is no rule that says 25bps is the proper amount to move rates. If the consensus view is turning to a sharper slowdown, it would be better to get ahead of the problem than to be seen as offering policy prescriptions that are ‘too little, too late.’ It appears to me that President Trump will get his way regarding the Fed, with easier money to come sooner rather than later. Alas, I fear that the stock market may not respond in the manner desired. At this point, cutting rates speaks to panic at the Fed that things are much worse than they have been describing. If that is the perception, equity markets have only one way to go…down.

On the data front, yesterday saw the weakest ISM print since October 2016, which is completely in line with what we are seeing around the world, slowing manufacturing growth. This morning, the only hard data is Factory Orders (exp -0.9%) but both Powell and NY Fed President Williams speak. The default expectation for them both is turning more dovish, and if they live up to that billing, the dollar is likely to continue its recent decline. But, if somehow they sound hawkish, look for the dollar to reverse higher quickly. Remember, FX is still a relative game and its recent weakness is predicated on a more dovish Fed. Changing that changes the market’s perception.

Good luck


Stopped at the Border

On Friday the President tweeted
Unless immigration, unneeded,
Is stopped at the border
I will give the order
To raise tariffs til it’s defeated

Friday’s big market news was President Trump’s threat of new tariffs, this time on Mexico, if they don’t address the illegal immigration issue domestically. This is a novel approach to a non-economic problem, but given the President’s embrace of the tariff process, perhaps it is not that surprising. The impact across markets, however, was substantial, with equities suffering while haven assets, notably Treasuries and Bunds, both rallied sharply. In fact, those moves have continued through the overnight session and we now see the 10-year US Treasury yielding just 2.10%, its lowest since September 2017, while 10-year Bunds are yielding a record low -0.21%! In other words, fear is rife that the future is going to be less amenable to investors than the recent past.

Meanwhile, equity markets have also suffered with Friday’s global sell-off continuing this morning in Europe after a mostly negative day in Asia. As to the dollar, it has been a bit more mixed, falling sharply against the yen (JPY +1.1% Friday, flat today), rising sharply against emerging market currencies (MXN -2.5% Friday, -0.3% today), but actually sliding slightly vs. its other G10 counterparts.

It is instructive to consider why the dollar is not maintaining its full status as a haven. Ultimately, the reason is that expectations for aggressive rate cuts by the Fed are becoming the default market expectation. This compares to a much less aggressive adjustment by other central banks, and so the relative forecasts point to a narrowing interest rate differential. Consider that the futures market has now priced in three rate cuts by Q1 2020 in Fed funds. Six months ago, they were pricing in three rate hikes! That is a huge sentiment change, and yet the dollar is actually stronger today than it was at the beginning of the year by about 2%. The point is that while recent economic estimates in the US continue to be downgraded, estimates for the rest of the world are being downgraded equally. In fact, there is substantially greater concern that China’s GDP growth could slow far more than that of the US adding to knock-on effects elsewhere in the world.

One of the things I have consistently maintained is that a slowdown in the US will not happen in isolation, and if the US is slowing, so will be the rest of the world. This means there is virtually no probability that the Fed will cut rates without essentially every other country easing policy as well, and that all important (at least for FX traders) interest rate differential is not likely to shrink nearly as much as reflected by simply looking at the Fed’s activities. A perfect example is Australia, where tomorrow’s RBA meeting is expected to see a 25bp rate cut, with the market pricing between two and three more during the next several quarters. Aussie has been suffering lately and is likely to continue to do so going forward, especially as pressure remains on China’s economy.

The Fed’s done a year-long review
Of policies they might turn to
They’re hoping to find
A new frame of mind
In order to reach a breakthrough

The other story about which you will hear a great deal this week is the gathering at the Chicago Fed of the FOMC and academics as they try to find a better way to effect policy. The positive aspect of this process is that they recognize they are not really doing a very good job. The negative aspect is that they continue to believe inflation remains too low and are extremely frustrated by their impotence to change the situation. We have already heard a number of the ideas; ranging from choosing a higher inflation target to allowing inflation to run hot (if it ever gets there based on their measurements). Alas, there seems little chance that the fundamental issue, the fact that their models are no longer reasonable representations of the real world, will be addressed. To a (wo)man, they all continue to strongly believe in a Keynesian world where more stimulus equals more economic activity. I would contend that, not dissimilar to the differences between Newtonian physics and particle physics, interest rates at the zero bound (and below) no longer have the same impact as they do at higher levels. And it is this failure by all central bankers to recognize the non-linearity of results which will prevent a viable solution from being found until a crisis materializes. And even then I’m not optimistic.

Turning to this weeks’ data dump, there is a ton of stuff coming, culminating in Friday’s NFP report:

Today ISM Manufacturing 53.0
  ISM Prices Paid 52.0
  Construction Spending 0.4%
Tuesday Factory Orders -0.9%
Wednesday ADP Employment 185K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 55.5
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Trade Balance -$50.7B
  Nonfarm Productivity 3.5%
  Unit Labor Costs -0.8%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 183K
  Private Payrolls 175K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 4k
  Unemployment Rate 3.6%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5

There are also eleven Fed speakers including Chairman Powell on Tuesday morning as well as the aforementioned Fed conclave regarding new policy tools. In other words, there is plenty available to move markets this week. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the ongoing trade situation, where fears are extremely high, but both China and Mexico have said they want to sit down and discuss things again.

At this point, given how much new information will be added to the mix, it is impossible to say how markets will perform. However, with that in mind, we will need to see some extraordinarily weak US data to change the idea that the US is still the ‘cleanest dirty shirt in the laundry’, to use a terrible metaphor. As well, do not be surprised to see Mexico, at least, agree to implement new policies to address the immigration issue and reduce pressure on the peso. In the end, I continue to look for the dollar to maintain its overall strength, but a modest drift lower against G10 counterparts is well within reason.

Good luck