The Doldrums

In summer, the doldrums at sea
Describe lack of activity
The same can be said
As markets stop dead
Awaiting some new policy

Markets remain generally dull this morning as despite what appear to be a number of catalysts to drive things, (tension in the Persian Gulf, increased tension in HK, debt ceiling concerns in the US, etc.) all eyes remain focused on the FOMC meeting next week, and to a somewhat lesser extent, the ECB meeting this Thursday. The Fed is now in their quiet period, meaning we won’t hear anything from any FOMC members until they release the statement on July 31. And remember, the last thing we heard was NY Fed President John Williams explaining that when rates are already low (like they are now) that history shows it is better if a central bank acts preemptively and aggressively when cutting rates. Yes, it’s true that the NY Fed issued a statement afterward explaining that was an academic speech and had nothing to do with current monetary policy discussion, but that doesn’t really matter. The market reaction last week was to ramp up expectations for a 50bp cut next week, and the disclaimer only had a marginal impact.

Meanwhile, virtually every analyst believes that the ECB is merely going to set the table for cutting rates in September, with a number looking for confirmation that they are going to restart QE next January. It seems to me that if they already know they are going to cut rates in September, and they know that the incoming ECB president, Madame Lagarde, is going to be in favor of the move, that there is a pretty good chance they cut rates this week. Markets are not priced for that outcome which means that it would likely have a pretty significant impact on the euro, pushing it lower right away. And consider the situation if the Fed only cuts 25bps, which I continue to believe is the most likely outcome, whereby you would have a more dovish than expected ECB and more hawkish than expected Fed. That will not help the euro, trust me. In addition, on Wednesday, we will see the Flash PMI data from Europe and Thursday, just before the ECB meeting ends, German Ifo data as well. Weakness there could easily be used as a justification for an earlier rate cut. All I’m saying is that the idea that the Fed is starting out on an easing path does not necessarily imply the dollar is going to tumble, despite the President’s wishes.

However, ahead of those meetings, traders are reluctant to maintain large positions, and we have seen trading activity ebb. At least in the FX markets. Looking at current levels, the euro, which is down a marginal 0.10% this morning, is back within pips of the lows seen just before Chairman Powell, in June, explained that the Fed would be cutting rates again soon. So, if the ECB does cut, that could easily help take the euro down to levels last seen in mid 2017. Meanwhile, the pound is today’s worst performing G10 currency, falling a further 1/3 of 1% as the market awaits tomorrow’s announcement as to the results of the Tory leadership contest, the winner of which will become the next UK PM. All signs still point to Boris Johnson, and the market interpretation of that is a greater likelihood of a hard Brexit. Remember, too, that despite all the machinations in Parliament there, Brexit remains the law of the land in the UK, so the efforts to prevent or mollify it actually have an uphill battle.

Away from those two currencies, the dollar is marginally stronger, but the performance is somewhat mixed. For instance, the yen is weaker by 0.2%, but Aussie is stronger by 0.1%, and perhaps that is the message. While there is no broad theme, movement has been limited overall. The same situation exists within the EMG bloc, where there are both gainers and decliners, but none of them have moved very far, certainly not enough to describe a trend.

Looking ahead to the data this week, we see the following:

Tuesday Existing Home Sales 5.33M
Wednesday New Home Sales 660K
Thursday ECB Meeting -0.40%
  Initial Claims 219K
  Durable Goods 0.7%
  -ex transport 0.2%
Friday Q2 GDP 1.8%

Arguably, after the ECB meeting, where a surprise cannot be ruled out, Friday’s first look at Q2 GDP is going to be the most interesting thing we see. There is a pretty wide range of expectations for this number, as there are more and more analysts falling into one of two camps, either recession is coming, or everything is full steam ahead. But more importantly, if the GDP data is weak, look for expectations of a 50bp rate cut next week to be cemented in, while a strong print is likely to see just the opposite; stocks decline, the dollar rise and expectations of a 25bp rate cut only. But until then, the housing data is likely not that interesting, after all that has been a consistently weak sector of the economy, and Durable Goods will be superseded by GDP. So with no speakers on the docket, it should be a pretty dull week until we get to Thursday.

One caveat is that if Jeremy Hunt surprises and wins the Tory contest in the UK, look for the pound to rally a few cents initially. However, there is still little to recommend a sharp rally unless Brexit is canceled, and he has promised to leave as well.

Good luck