The ECB meeting today
Is forcing its members to weigh
The costs if they wait
To cut the base rate
Vs. benefits if they delay
Their problem is as things now stand
Recovery should be at hand
But thus far they’ve failed
As growth’s been curtailed
From Sicily to the Rhineland
Today brings the first of three major central bank meetings in the next six days as the ECB is currently meeting and the market awaits the outcome. Next week we will hear from both the BOJ and then the Fed, but for now all eyes are turned toward Frankfurt.
Expectations, as measured by the futures market, have moved to a 48% probability of a 10bp rate cut by the ECB this morning, although most of the punditry believe that Signor Draghi will simply lay the groundwork for a cut in September at the next meeting. The arguments for waiting are as follows: given the expectations of a Fed rate cut, with some still holding out hope for 50bps, the market benefits of cutting today would be quickly offset, and one of the few arrows the ECB still has left in its quiver would be wasted. The key benefit they are seeking is a weaker euro, and the concern is that any weakness will be short-lived, especially in the event of a 50bp cut by Powell. Of course, one need only look at the chart to see that the euro has been trending steadily lower for the past year, falling nearly 5% since last July, although as we await the meeting outcome it remains unchanged on the day. It’s not clear to me why else they would wait. After all, the data continues to point to ongoing Eurozone weakness every day. This morning’s example was the German Ifo Business Climate Index, which fell to 95.7, its lowest point since April 2013. It is becoming abundantly clear that Germany is heading into a recession and given Germany’s status as the largest economy in the Eurozone, representing nearly one-third of the total, that bodes ill for the entire bloc.
I maintain that it makes no sense to wait if they know that they will cut next month. They are far better off cutting now, maybe even by 20bps, and using September to restart QE, which is also a foregone conclusion. The funny thing about appointing Madame Lagarde, the uber dove, as the next ECB president, is that she won’t have anything to do once she sits down given the fact that all the easing tools will have been used already. Well, perhaps that is not strictly correct. Lagarde will be able to expand QE to cover, first, bank bonds and then, eventually equities.
(As an aside, for all you capitalists out there, the practice of central banks buying equities should cause great discomfort. After all, they can print as much money as they need to effectively buy ownership in all the public companies in an economy. And isn’t the definition of Socialism merely when the government owns the means of production? It seems to me that central bank equity purchases are a great leap down that slippery slope!)
At any rate, FX markets have largely been holding their breath awaiting the ECB outcome this morning. The same cannot be said of equity markets, where we continue to see records in the US, and markets in both Asia and Europe continue to rally on the idea that lower rates will continue to support stocks. At the same time, bond markets are also still on the march, with Bunds trading to yet another new low, touching -0.46% yesterday, and currently at -0.41%. Treasuries, too, remain bid, with the 10-year yield ticking slightly lower to 2.03%. And in the commodity space, oil prices are firmer after both a surprisingly large inventory draw and the ongoing issues in the Persian Gulf as the UK and Iran duke it out over captured tankers.
With the Brexit story now waiting for its next headlines, which will likely take at least a few days to arrive, and the US-China trade story awaiting next week’s meetings in Beijing, it is central banks all the way as the key market drivers for now. This morning’s Initial Claims (exp 219K) and Durable Goods (0.7%, 0.2% -ex transport) seem unlikely to be key movers.
So Mario, it’s all up to you today. How dovish Draghi sounds will be the key event for today, and likely the impetus behind movement until next Wednesday when Chairman Powell takes the spotlight. Personally, I think he will be far more dovish than the market is currently pricing and we will see the dollar rally further.