Appetite’s Whet

Both Powell and Kaplan agreed
That lower rates are what we need
The table’s now set
And appetite’s whet
For more cuts to soon be decreed

If there was any uncertainty, prior to yesterday, about a rate cut by the Fed at the end of this month, it should be completely eliminated now. Not only did Chairman Jay reiterate that the Fed was “carefully monitoring” the situation (shouldn’t that always be the case?) and that the Fed would use all its available tools to maintain the expansion, but we heard from Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan that he was turning in favor of a ‘risk management’ cut in order to be sure that things don’t start to turn down soon. Given the integration in the global economy over the past years and given the fact that the US still represents 24% of global GDP, it should be no surprise that things occurring elsewhere in the world have an impact on the US and vice versa. As such, it is not unreasonable for the Fed to try to take the global economic situation into account when determining US monetary policy. And one thing that is clear is that global GDP growth is falling. So folks, we have seen the top in interest rates around the world and the only question is just how quickly they will fall in different jurisdictions.

In a nutshell, that is the FX story. Historically, relative monetary policy has been one of the prime drivers of FX rates, with currencies attached to tight policy appreciating vs. those attached to loose policy. This has been the basis of the carry trade, and arguably, nothing about this process has changed. It’s just that for the first time in memory, pretty much every nation is driving policy in the same direction, in this case looser. This leads to a probable outcome where currency values remain largely stable. After all, if everybody cuts by 25bps, aren’t we all still in the same place?

The irony is that, as discussed by RBA Governor Lowe several weeks ago, if every central bank is cutting rates at the same time, the effectiveness of those rate cuts will be severely diminished. Remember, one of the key transmission mechanisms of rate cuts is to reduce the currency’s value in order to help support trade, and eventually growth. But if everybody cuts, that mechanism will be severely impaired, and so the central banks will be forced to find new tools. And while they are actively looking for new ways to ease policy, in the end, monetary policy is simply some combination of interest rates and money supply. Until now, central banks have focused on managing interest rates. But this is why MMT, or something like it, is a growing possibility. When thoughts turn to money supply as the only other thing to adjust, and as ‘new’ thinking permeates the political class, MMT is going to become increasingly attractive. I’m not sure which nation will be the first to publicly embrace the idea of debt monetization (my money’s on Japan though), but you can be sure that whichever it is will see its currency depreciate sharply, at least until other nations follow their lead. Only time will tell, but that is not a positive future.

With that as a somewhat depressing backdrop, let’s look at market activity. Generally speaking, the dollar has done little this morning after yesterday’s rally. Or perhaps yesterday’s rally was more a function of other currency weakness. Remember, the pound’s decline was all about Brexit, not the US. The euro’s decline was all about weakening economic sentiment in the Eurozone and the idea that the ECB would be acting sooner rather than later. Yesterday also saw the Mexican peso fall sharply, more than 1%, after President Trump tweeted about reimposing tariffs on China. It seems that traders are still nervous over more tariffs, and with the ongoing border situation between the US and Mexico, see any tariff threats as potentially applying to Mexico as well.

But this morning, the biggest movers are RUB and TRY, both recouping about 0.4% of yesterday’s losses. The G10 currencies are within 0.10% of yesterday’s levels and show no sign of breaking out in the near term. Of course, that is subject to another Brexit announcement or comments from central bankers, however, nothing is scheduled on those fronts. Equity markets, too, have had little direction as investors await the next shoe to drop. Interest rate markets remain fully priced for a 25bp rate cut by the Fed in two weeks, while there remains some uncertainty as to just what Signor Draghi will announce next week. I will say that if he did announce a 10bp rate cut, it would have a pretty big impact on the single currency, and not in a positive manner.

As to bonds, both Treasuries and Bunds remain 10-15bps from their recent lows but show no signs of selling off further (higher yields). Rather, those markets are demonstrating all the behavior of a consolidation after a large unwinding move. Given the strong trend lower in central bank policy rates, it seems highly unlikely that yields in the government space, and by extension elsewhere, have anywhere to go but down.

Turning to today’s data, we see Housing Starts (exp 1.261M), Building Permits (1.3M) and then at 2:00 the Fed releases its Beige Book. But we have no more Fed speakers and it seems highly unlikely that any of that will be enough to change any views. One other thing happening this afternoon is the G7 FinMins are meeting in France, but those talks are highly focused on taxation of tech companies with monetary policy a sidelight. After all, everybody is already cutting rates, so what else can they say?

Alas, it appears to be another day with limited cause for FX movement, which for hedgers is great, but for traders, not so much.

Good luck