QT Anyone? (or The Three Hawksketeers)

As summer recedes
JGB rates have collapsed
QT anyone?

As we approach the unofficial end of summer with the Labor Day holiday weekend, it seems the BOJ is finally responding to the fact that their yield curve control policy has been dismissed by the market for basically all of August. A brief history shows that ordinary QE had lost its ability to impact the Japanese economy by September 2016, by which time the BOJ owned about 40% of JGB’s outstanding and thus destroyed any sense of it being a true market. At that point, they introduced yield curve control in an attempt to insure that 10-year yields didn’t rise prematurely. Initially they set a range of +/-0.10% around zero, where if the 10-year traded outside the range they would step in and push it back. Last year they widened that range to +/-0.20%, and up until the beginning of this month, things were working smoothly.

Then the global bond rally gathered steam and JGB’s were not exempt with 10-year yields falling to -0.30% at one point earlier this week, well below the lower bound. Remarkably, the BOJ did nothing, calling into question their commitment to yield curve control. As it turns out, last night they finally acted, reducing the quantity of bonds to be purchased monthly going forward by a significant ¥50 trillion. JGB yields did rally 3bps initially, but closed the session only 1bp higher and still well below the lower bound. As I have been writing, this is simply further proof that the central banks have run out of effective monetary policy tools. As to the impact on the yen, overnight has seen a very modest strengthening of just 0.15%. For the month, however, the increase in risk aversion has seen the yen outperform every other currency in the world, rallying 2.1% against the dollar, and more against most others. While I continue to view the dollar in a positive light going forward, I also continue to see further gains for the yen against all comers.

The hawks at the ECB fear
That not only rate cuts are near
So this week they’ve shrieked
Though rates might be tweaked
That QE has no place this year

Meanwhile, from Europe we had the third of the Three Hawksketeers in the ECB on the tape overnight, Klaas Knot the President of the Dutch central bank. In line with his German colleagues Sabine Lautenschlager and Jens Weidmann, he said that while a cut in interest rates could make sense here, there is absolutely no cause for the reinitiation of QE at this time. That is to be used in dire emergencies (perhaps like a hard Brexit?). This sets up quite a battle for Signor Draghi at his penultimate meeting next month, where other ECB members, Finland’s Ollie Rehn notably, have already called for ‘impactful’ actions implying he wants to over deliver on market expectations.

The market response to the Knot comments was muted at best with Bunds and Dutch bonds seeing yields actually fall 0.5bps in today’s trade. However, that could also be a response to this morning’s Eurozone CPI data where the headline printed at 1.0%, as expected but still miles from their target of “just below 2.0%”. Of more concern though was the core number which surprisingly fell to 0.9%, adding to the case for further stimulus, at least in the ECB’s collective modeling minds. And the euro? Well it has continued its slow and steady decline this month, falling another 0.2% and now trading at its lowest level since May 2017. It continues to be very difficult to make a case for the euro to rebound significantly anytime soon. And despite the Three Hawksketeers, I am more and more convinced that QE starts up again next month. Look for further declines in the single currency.

On the trade front, everybody seems willing to take the over on a positive outcome which has supported stocks nicely. On Brexit, there have been three lawsuits filed against PM Johnson’s move to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, but the first ruling that came down this morning went in Boris’s favor. The pound is little changed on the day, even after marginally weaker than expected house price data, but for the month it is actually a touch higher, 0.2%, which just shows that the market really was focused on a hard Brexit last month. There have been several EU officials stating that prorogation should have no impact on negotiations, and some even see it my way as a strong lever to get a deal.

For all you hedgers, consider this: a 1-year ATMF option costs a bit more than 5 cents. While that is certainly higher than it was before Brexit occurred, I would contend that October will be a binary event, with a no-deal outcome driving a quite severe decline, likely to at least 1.10, while a deal should take us back to 1.30-1.35 quickly. In either case, 5 cents seems like a reasonable price to pay. And obviously, shorter term options will cost less with the same movement available.

And that’s really it for today. The dollar continues to largely grind higher vs. its EMG counterparts, and, quite frankly, its G10 counterparts as well. Equity markets remain in their trade euphoria clouds, and bond markets seem a bit more cautious. Yesterday saw US Q2 GDP revised down to 2.0%, as expected, but the consumer spending measurement was an even stronger than expected 4.7%. This morning the BEA releases Personal Income (exp 0.3%), Personal Spending (0.5%) and PCE (1.4%, 1.6% core) all at 8:30. We also see Chicago PMI (47.5) at 9:45 and Michigan Sentiment (92.3) at 10:00. The Fed is mercifully quiet going into the weekend so barring a shocking outcome in PCE or a White House tweet, the best bet is a continued slow grind higher in the dollar.

Good luck and good weekend
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The Optimists Reign

This morning the optimists reign
As China was keen to explain
They felt it unwise
That tariffs should rise
They’d rather start talking again

Equity bulls are on the rampage this morning as all the negative stories have been overwhelmed by positive sentiment from two areas, China and Italy. From China last night we heard that despite President Trumps’ latest decision to increase tariffs further on Chinese imports, the nation would not escalate the situation, and instead wanted to maintain the dialog and seek common ground. Spokesman Gao Feng said that while China is protesting, they are not responding. He also confirmed that ongoing communications would likely lead to another face-to-face meeting in Washington in September. We heard confirmation from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin that a meeting in Washington was to take place in September, although the final details have not yet been decided.

However, this was more than enough for the bulls to stampede as once again they seem willing to believe that a solution is close at hand. One need only look at the timeline of every other trade negotiation in history to recognize that these things take a very long time to come to agreement. And of course, as I have written before, there are fundamental issues that seem unlikely to ever be addressed to the satisfaction of both sides. For example, while a key issue for the US is the theft of IP by Chinese companies, the Chinese won’t even acknowledge that takes place and therefore cannot agree to stop something they don’t believe is happening. Recall, as well, the issue when talks broke down in late spring, that the issue was the US was seeking the agreement be enshrined in law, as is the case in the US and every Western nation, but the Chinese refused claiming that was an infringement of their sovereignty and that they would simply make rules that would be followed. These are very big canyons to cross and will take a long time to do so. While it is certainly good news that the Chinese are not escalating things, and in fact, are making efforts to reduce market tensions via their CNY fixing activities, we are still a long way from a deal.

The upshot of the China story is that Asian equity markets rebounded from their lows to close near unchanged while European markets are all higher on the order of 1.0%. Treasury yields have edged up slightly as have yields in most sovereign bond markets, and the two main haven currencies, yen and Swiss francs, have both weakened slightly.

The other story that has the bulls on the move is from Rome, where Italian President, Sergio Mattarella has given the nod to the coalition of 5-Star and the Democratic Party (known as the PD and which, contrary to yesterday’s comment, is actually a center left party) to try to form a government. The thing that makes this so surprising, and bodes ill for any government’s longevity, is that 5-Star came to power by constantly attacking the PD as corrupt and the major problem in the country. But their combined fear of an election, where the League is likely to win an outright majority at this time, has pushed these unlikely bedfellows together. The market, however, loves it with Italian equities higher by 1.9% and Italian BTP’s (their sovereign bonds) rallying nearly a full point driving the 10-year yield down to a new historic low of 0.96%. Think about that for a moment, Italian 10-year yields are more than 50bps lower than US yields!

All in all, it is clearly a risk-on type of day. Looking at the FX markets shows a mixed bag of results although the theme is really modest movement. For example, in the G10, the biggest mover has been NOK, which is lower by 0.25%, while the biggest gainer is AUD, up just 0.2%. The latter has been helped by the China story, while the former is suffering after weaker than expected GDP data showed Q2 growth at just 0.3% in the quarter, well below expectations of a 0.5% rebound from last quarter’s negative print.

It should be no surprise that EMG currencies have a slightly larger range, but still, the biggest mover is ZAR, which has gained 0.5% while the weakest currency is TRY, falling 0.4%. From South Africa we learned that price pressures are less acute than anticipated as PPI actually fell in July engendering hope that the SARB can encourage more growth by maintaining the rate structure rather than raising rates. Meanwhile, Turkey continues to see erosion in both the number of incoming tourists, a key industry and source of hard currency, and incoming investment, where foreigners were net sellers of both stocks and bonds last week.

The one other noteworthy move has been CNY, where the renminbi is firmer by 0.25% today after the PBOC very clearly indicated their interest in preventing a sharp decline. The fix overnight was significantly stronger than every forecast and that has helped squeeze the differential between the fix and the currency market back below 1.0%. It is worthwhile to keep an eye on this spread as it can be a harbinger of bigger problems to come if it expands. Remember, the current band is 2.0%, so actions to change that or allow a breech are clear policy statements.

This morning we finally get some useful data led by the second look at Q2 GDP (exp 2.0%) and Initial Claims (214K). Overnight we saw German state inflation data point to continued weakening growth with the national number due soon. We also heard from SF Fed president Daly yesterday who was clearly on board for another rate cut, while Richmond’s Patrick Harker was far less enthused. However, neither one is a voter, so they tend to be seen in a bit less important light.

There is no reason to think that the equity rally will fade, barring a tweet of some sort from the White House. As such, it seems the dollar will likely remain in its current holding pattern, with some gainers and some losers, until the next shoe drops.

Good luck
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The EU Will Succumb

Said Boris, the time has now come
To exit ‘neath Parliament’s thumb
I spoke to the Queen
She sees what I mean
And soon the EU will succumb

Prorogue: verb
1: defer, postpone
2: to terminate a session of (something, such as a British parliament) by royal prerogative

I thought it would be useful to offer a definition of this word as it will certainly be in the news for the next few weeks. In fact, every year there is a prorogation of parliament in September as MP’s, after returning from their summer holidays need time to prepare for and attend their party conferences. The idea is that parliament is officially closed, but it has not been dissolved, thus there is no requirement for a new election.

What makes things different this year, of course, is Brexit. Boris has asked the queen to prorogate parliament for one additional week, until October 14 when she is slated to give the Queen’s Speech, which traditionally opens the new session. If this request is granted, the result is that parliament will not be in session, and therefore unable to create legislation to block a no-deal Brexit, until just two weeks before the deadline. Naturally MP’s are up in arms over the decision as those seeking to block a no-deal Brexit suddenly find themselves with fewer options. Personally, however, I think it is a brilliant move to put more pressure on the EU. Undoubtedly the EU is counting on parliament to override Boris’s stated intention of leaving with no deal if one cannot be found by the current deadline. Suddenly, this avenue has been closed off and the EU is now that much closer to feeling significant pain for which they have not planned.

To highlight the situation, the German Institute for Economic Research, or DIW, has just put forth its latest forecast for Q3 GDP growth in Germany at -0.2%. If correct, and they have an excellent track record, that means the last four quarters of GDP in Germany will have been -0.1%, 0.0%, -0.1% -0.2%. I don’t know about you, but that looks like a recession to me. With that as the backdrop, a hard Brexit, where German autos would suddenly be subject to a 10% tariff in the UK thus resulting in reduced demand in Germany’s third largest market, will be very tough to swallow. While there are those who claim Boris would be irresponsible to allow the damage to the UK economy by leaving with no deal, it is just as easy to describe Chancellor Merkel as irresponsible to not drive forward a deal rather than subject Germany to further, unnecessary pain. As I said, I think it is a brilliant move on PM Johnson’s part.

Of course, FX traders being what they are, see only the trees, not the forest, and so the pound has sold off sharply this morning, at one point trading lower by 1.1% although as I type it is down 0.7% at 1.2200. Nothing has changed regarding the pound’s reliance on the Brexit outcome and a hard Brexit will almost certainly result in a sharp, short-term decline, likely toward 1.10, while a deal will result in a sharp rebound, possibly back to the 1.35 level. My money is on a last minute deal and a rebound.

Away from Brexit, the other really big story is the more definitive instance of the 2yr-10yr yield curve inversion. Prior to yesterday’s session, that inversion had been, at most, 1bp and only for a few hours intraday. However, last night we closed at a 5bp inversion and we are watching overall yields fall sharply. This morning 30yr Treasury yields have reached new historic lows at 1.92%. Bunds are also seeing significant demand with the 10yr there seeing its yield fall to -0.72%, also a new historic low. Arguably, yesterday’s late equity market decline was a response to the steeper inversion and if the inversion goes further, I imagine equity markets will decline as well.

With risk being set aside across most markets, the dollar continues to be a main beneficiary. Looking at the dollar’s performance this month, only three currencies have outperformed the greenback, the yen (+1.5%), the Swiss franc (+1.0%) and the pound (+0.7%). The first two are clearly haven assets, while the pound happens to be slightly higher based on the fluctuations in thought around the Brexit outcome. Otherwise, the dollar reigns supreme against both G10 and EMG currencies. In fairness, though, the euro is essentially unchanged on the month as market participants are still trying to decide whether it exhibits haven characteristics and can be a substitute for the dollar, or whether it should be considered part of the masses. Given the interest rate structure in the Eurozone, my view remains weakness ahead, but certainly that is not a given.

An interesting aside has been the beginnings of a discussion by pundits and policymakers that the dollar’s strength is hurting other nations as well, and that a concerted effort to push it down may be appropriate. Consider that there are trillions of outstanding USD debt issued by countries and companies throughout the emerging markets and as the dollar rises, their ability to repay and refinance that debt is made increasingly difficult. Large scale debt defaults will not be a boon for global economic activity and so one solution is to drive the dollar lower and prevent those defaults from occurring. While it is still early days, listen closely as this idea gains credence, because if it does it will certainly help slow the dollar’s rise.

As to the rest of today’s session, there is no US data today, although tomorrow starts a run of important info. We do, however, hear from two Fed speakers, Daly and Barkin, the former being quite the dove while the latter is more middle-of-the-road. And we cannot forget about the Italian political negotiations as 5-Star and the Democratic Party (funnily enough it is a center right party in Italy) try to agree on the terms of a government to prevent new elections. Trade? Yeah, it’s still there but there is nothing new on that front to move things. In the end, I see no reason for the dollar to retreat yet.

Good luck
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No Solutions Are Near

There is a group that’s quite elite
And every six months they all meet
In France this weekend
They tried to pretend
That problems, worldwide, they could treat

Alas what was really quite clear
Is that no solutions are near
The trade war remains
The source of most pains
And Brexit just adds to the fear

It has been a pretty dull session overnight with the dollar somewhat softer, Treasuries rallying and equities mixed. With the G7 meeting now over, the takeaways are that the US remains at odds with most members over most issues, but that those members are still largely reliant on the US as their major trade counterparty and overall security umbrella. In the end, there has been no agreement on any issue of substance and so things remain just as they were.

And exactly how are things? Well, the US economy continues to motor along with all the indications still pointing to GDP growth of 2.0% annualized or thereabouts in Q3, continuing the Q2 pace. This contrasts greatly with the Eurozone, for example, where German GDP was confirmed at -0.1% in Q2 this morning as slowing global trade continues to weigh on the economy there. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank president, remains firm in his view that negative growth is no reason for easier monetary policy. While every other central bank in the world would be responsive to negative output, the Bundesbank truly does see things differently. As an aside, it is also interesting to see Weidmann revert to his old, uber-hawkish, self as opposed to the show of pragmatism he displayed when he was vying to become the next ECB President. You can be sure that Madame Lagarde will have a hard time convincing him that once the current mooted measures (cutting rates further and more QE) fail, extending policy to other asset purchases or other, as yet unconsidered, tools will be appropriate.

And the rest of Europe? Well, Italy continues to slide into recession as well while the country remains without a government. Ongoing talks between Five-Star and the center-left PD party remain stuck on all the things on which weird coalitions get stuck. But fear of another election, where League leader, Matteo Salvini, is almost certain to win a ruling majority will force them to find some compromise for a few months. None of this will help the economy there. Meanwhile, France is muddling along with an annualized growth rate below 1.0%, better than Germany and Italy, but still a problem. Despite the fact that the Fed has much more monetary leeway than the ECB, the problems extant in the Eurozone are such that buying the euro still seems quite a poor bet.

Turning to the UK, PM Johnson was quite the charmer at the G7, but with just over two months left before Brexit, there is still no indication a deal is in the offing. However, I remain convinced that given the dire straits in the Eurozone economic outlook, the willingness to allow a hard Brexit will fall to zero very quickly as the deadline approaches. A deal will be cut, whether a fudge or not is unclear, but it will change the tone completely. While the pound has edged higher this morning, +0.4%, it remains quite close to its post-vote lows at 1.2000 and there is ample room for a sharp rebound when the deal materializes. For hedgers, please keep that in mind.

The other story, of course, remains the trade war, where the PBOC is overseeing a steady deterioration in the renminbi while selectively looking for places to ease monetary policy and support the economy. Growth on the mainland has been slowing quite rapidly, and while I don’t expect reported data to surprise on the downside, indicators like commodity inventories and electricity usage point to a much weaker economy than one sporting a 6.0% growth handle. Of course, the G7 did produce a positive trade story, the in-principal agreement between the US and Japan on a new trade deal, but that just highlights the other pressure on the EU aside from Brexit, namely the need to make a deal with the US. Bloomberg pointed out the internal problem as to which constituency will be thrown under the bus; French farmers or German automakers. The US is seeking greater agricultural access, and appears willing to punish the auto companies if it is not achieved. (Once again, please explain to me how the EU can possibly allow a hard Brexit with this issue on the front burner).

And that is really today’s background news. The overnight session saw modest dollar weakness overall, and it would be easy to try to define sentiment as risk-off given the strength in the yen (+0.3%), gold (+0.2%) and Treasuries (-3bps). But equities are holding their own and there is no palpable sense in the market that fear has been elevated. Mostly, trading desks remain thinly staffed given the time of year, and I expect more meandering than trending in FX today. Of course, any tweet could change things quickly, but for now, yesterday’s modest dollar strength looks set to be replaced by today’s modest dollar weakness.

Good luck
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Badly Maligned

The Chinese, now, have it in mind
That they have been badly maligned
So tariffs they hiked
Which markets disliked
Though they have not yet been enshrined

Then Powell explained pretty well
That interest rates hadn’t yet fell
As far as they might
But if we sit tight
Most things ought to turn out just swell

And after the markets had closed
The President quickly imposed
More tariffs to thwart
The Chinese report
While showing he’s just as hard-nosed

It is truly difficult to keep abreast of the pace of change in market information these days. Like so many, I yearn for the good old days when a surprising data release would change trader views and result in a market move but comments and headlines typically had limited impact. These days, by far the most important newsfeed to watch is Twitter, given President Trump’s penchant for tweeting new policy initiatives. This weekend was a perfect example of just how uncertainty has grown in markets.

A quick recap of Friday shows that the Chinese decided to respond to numerous trade provocations and announced they would be raising tariffs further on $75 billion of US imports. Not surprisingly, risk assets responded negatively and we saw equity markets around the world decline while bonds, gold and the yen all rallied. Then we heard Chairman Powell’s long-awaited speech, where he explained that while the economy is in a pretty good place, given the ongoing global weakness and uncertainties engendered by the current trade war, the Fed stood ready to ease policy further. That was enough to encourage the risk-takers and we saw equity markets rebound and bonds give up most of their gains. But just as the market was getting set to close, the President tweeted that he would be raising tariffs further in response to the Chinese action, lamenting that he hadn’t acted more aggressively initially. This, of course, turned things back around and risk was quickly jettisoned into the close, resulting in equity markets ending down more than 2.4% in the US while bonds rebounded and the dollar fell. Whew!!

But that is all old news now as the weekend’s G7 meeting in Biarritz, France, resulted in more surprises all around. The first surprise was that the US and Japan have announced they have reached a trade deal “in principal” which should open Japanese markets to US agricultural imports and prevent the imposition of further tariffs on Japanese autos. Clearly a positive. But that was not enough to turn markets around and Asian sessions started off quite negatively, following the US close and understanding that the US-China trade war was getting hotter. However, an early morning Trump tweet announced that China had called the US and asked to get back to the negotiating table, something that was neither confirmed nor denied by the Chinese, but enough information to reverse markets again. So while Asian equity markets all suffered badly (Nikkei -2.2%, Hang Seng -1.9%) Europe went from down 1% to up 0.5% pretty much across the board (UK markets are closed for a holiday, the late-August banking holiday). We also saw US futures reverse course, from -1.4% to +0.5%, and Treasuries, which had traded to new low yields for the move at 1.44%, reversed course and are now back up (prices lower) to 1.52%. However, that is still lower than Friday’s close. As well, while early on there was a brief 1bp 2yr-10-yr inversion; that has now reversed to a 1bp positive slope.

And what about the dollar through all this? Well, G10 currencies are broadly softer vs. the dollar this morning, with losses ranging from -0.2% for EUR, GBP and CAD all the way to -0.8% for SEK. Even the yen is weaker, -0.45% on the day having reversed some early session (pre-tweet) gains to levels not seen since November 2016.

Of more interest, though, is the fact that CNH has fallen to new historic lows since its creation in August 2010, touching 7.1925 before bouncing slightly, and still down nearly 1% on the day. The Chinese are potentially playing with fire as stories of capital flight increase amid the renminbi’s recent declines. Obviously, 7.00 is no longer an issue, but the key unknown is at what level will money start to leak more fiercely, something nobody knows. I must admit, I did not expect to see this type of movement so quickly, but at this point, one cannot rule out even more aggressive weakness here. Certainly the options markets are telling us that is the case with implied vols rising sharply overnight (1mo +0.6 vol) and heading back toward levels seen after the 2015 ‘mini devaluation’. In fact, not surprisingly, implied volatility is higher pretty much across the board this morning as late summer illiquidity adds to the remarkable uncertainty in markets. There’s probably a bit more boost available in implied vols, at least until the next tweet changes the situation again.

Turning to this week’s calendar, there is a fair amount of data to absorb as follows:

Today Durable Goods 1.2%
  -ex transport 0.0%
Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 2.30%
  Consumer Confidence 129.0
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Q2 GDP 2.0% (2.1% prior)
Friday Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.5%
  PCE 0.2% (1.4% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 47.7
  Michigan Sentiment 92.3

Clearly, all eyes will be on Friday’s PCE data as that is the number the Fed watches most carefully. Remember, we have seen two successive surprising upticks in CPI inflation, so a high surprise here could have consequences regarding the future path of interest rates. At least that’s the way things used to be, these days I’m not so sure. Wednesday we hear from two Fed speakers, Barkin and Daly, but it seems unlikely either of them will swerve far from Powell’s comments as neither is particularly hawkish. Speaking of data, we did see one piece this morning, Germany’s IFO Indices with all three pieces falling much further than expected, underscoring just how weak the economy is there. My money is on a stimulus package before Brexit, but also on a hard Brexit being averted.

Recapping, barring any further twitter activity, markets are set to open optimistically, but unless we hear confirmation from the Chinese that talks are, indeed, back on, I would not be surprised to see risk ebb lower as the day progresses. This means a stronger yen, and right now, a softer dollar, at least against the G10. Versus the EMG bloc, the dollar has further room to run.

Good luck
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Lest Bubbles They Stoke

There is a fine fellow named Jay
Who not too much later today
Will take to the stage
And help us to gauge
How quickly Fed funds will decay

This week several Fed members spoke
And all of them sought to invoke
That growth is still fine
Thus they’ve drawn the line
On more cuts, lest bubbles they stoke

It is quite remarkable that despite ongoing unrest in Hong Kong, with the temperature there rising each week, as well as the countdown to Brexit getting shorter and shorter, the only thing that matters right now is Jay Powell’s speech this morning from Jackson Hole. It is the defining theme of today’s market activity.

Let me set the stage to begin: interest rate markets are pricing in a rate cut in September, another in October and then a chance of one in December with “certainty” of that third cut by March 2020. Given that GDP growth in the US is running at 2.1% annually, Retail Sales have consistently beaten expectations and are up more than 4% in the past year and the Unemployment Rate, at 3.7%, is a tick away from its post-WWII lows, three cuts seem like a lot of monetary stimulus. After all, despite the fact that the Fed watches the PCE Deflator as their inflation gauge of choice, we all know that inflation is running higher than its current reading of 1.4%. The government’s own evidence is from CPI readings which most recently showed prices rising at a 1.8% level, with the core reading there at 2.1%. And ask yourself if even that conveys the feel of inflation. My guess is: Not. Even. Close.

At any rate, that’s what the market is pricing. As NY walks in this morning, equity markets around the world have shown modest gains (US futures included), bonds are falling with 10-year Treasury yields back up to 1.64% and the dollar is stronger almost across the board. Arguably, expectations are for Powell to confirm that July was not a ‘one and done’ rate cut but rather the beginning of several insurance cuts. The fly in that ointment comes from the comments we heard yesterday from a series of regional Fed Presidents, all of whom said that they saw little reason to cut rates further at this time. Effectively their argument was that growth is solid, unemployment low and inflation pretty close to target. While all paid heed to the fact that the Fed funds rate was above the 10-year yield, they were unwilling to buy into the idea that the curve inversion was presaging a recession at this time. There is just not enough evidence to them.

With the Fed’s hawks in full flight, it will certainly be tricky for Powell to describe anything about the FOMC as coordinated. Remember, the Minutes showed us members who didn’t want to cut at all as well as members wanting to cut by 50bps. That’s a pretty wide dispersion of thought. All told, he has a pretty tough job today if he doesn’t want to spook the markets.

As I have no idea what he will say, let’s game out two different views; first he manages to surprise dovishly and second, more likely in my opinion, he disappoints and sounds more hawkish than the market (and President) wants.

Dovish Surprise – If he confirms the markets current pricing and, for example, doubles down saying QE is an effective tool and they will use it again, look for a sharp equity rally to begin with, as well as a bond rally and dollar weakness. Certainly that would be the initial price action. However, it is not clear how long that would last. After all, if the current claim is growth is solid, what is the reason for all the ‘insurance’? At some point, market participants will ask that very question, as well as, what does the Fed know that we don’t? The result would be a reversal of equity gains, although bonds would likely still rally. And the dollar? I think a rebound would be in order as well as strength in the yen and Swiss franc. However, even if he does manage to sound dovish, I don’t see the dollar falling more than 2%-3% before finding a floor. At this point, I cannot paint a scenario where the dollar enters a longer term downtrend. Overall, my unscientific odds on this outcome are less than 25%.

Hawkish Disappointment – This seems far more likely to be the outcome, if only because to my eyes, the market has really gotten ahead of itself with regard to rate cuts. Essentially, if Powell doesn’t confirm that July’s cut was the beginning of a new rate-cutting cycle, the market is going to be disappointed. If he pushes back at all, sounding more like Esther George or Eric Rosengren, the two dissenters, than James Bullard or Neel Kashkari, the 50bp advocates, the market will be REALLY disappointed.

In the first case, I expect we will see equity markets fall a percent or a bit more today, with Europe giving up its early gains and the US quite weak. Bonds are a tougher call here, although I expect that the initial price action would be for further weakness. Remember, despite the fact that yields are 15bps from the low point seen two weeks ago, they are still down 37bps this month. There is plenty of room to fall. As to the dollar, that will rally further against everything, the yen included. I would expect the euro to finally test, and break, 1.10, and we could easily see 1% weakness and more throughout the emerging markets.

If he pushes back, well today may be remembered in market history as PB (Powell’s black) Friday. Equity markets would see significant losses as all the bets on further easy policy would be shed immediately. Bonds, too, would fall sharply as the idea that the Fed would no longer need to cut rates would change the entire sentiment there. And finally, the dollar would explode higher. Any ideas that the Fed has further room to cut rates than virtually all its counterparties, a key dollar bearish thesis, would be swept away and the dollar would really appreciate sharply. Think about EUR at 1.08; GBP at 1.20 (and that’s without the Brexit story); and the yen back to 108.00. However, given the risk of this type of market disruption, I do not believe this is at all likely either. In the end, a mild disappointment seems the most likely outcome, so look for stocks to close the week on a low note and the dollar on a high note.

Before he speaks at 10:00 this morning, we do see New Home Sales (exp 647K), but quite frankly, nobody cares about that today. It is all Powell, all the time.

Good luck and good weekend
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Not a Clue

The thing that we learned from the Fed
Was they’ve not a clue what’s ahead
A few wanted fifty
But others more thrifty
Suggested a quarter instead

The thing that has Powell perplexed
Is what to do when they meet next
That’s why when he speaks
Near Jackson Hole’s peaks
Investors all fear some subtext

Once again the market has wandered aimlessly ahead of tomorrow’s Jackson Hole speech by Chairman Powell. Equity markets have generally edged lower (Hang Seng -0.85%, DAX -0.1%, FTSE -0.6%) although a few managed to scrape out a gain (Nikkei +0.05%, Shanghai +0.1%). Bond markets have also been mixed with most Asian markets rallying while Europe has seen small losses. I guess it’s only fitting that 10-year Treasuries are essentially unchanged on the day. Meanwhile, the dollar continues its broad winning ways with mostly modest gains against both G10 and EMG currencies.

At this point, all eyes are on tomorrow’s Powell speech to discern the Fed’s next move. Yesterday afternoon’s FOMC Minutes painted a picture of a group with significant differences in views. We know of the two dissenters, who didn’t want to cut rates at all, and it turns out that a “couple of participants” were looking for a fifty basis point cut. In the end, it is no surprise that twenty-five was the result, although the rationale, given their stated views that downside risks to the economy had diminished, seem shaky. The market response to the Minutes was, therefore, largely nonexistent, with almost no movement subsequent to their release in any market, which, given the proximity of the new information coming from Powell ought not be that surprising. In fact, it seems unlikely that today will bring too much activity either given that the important data has already been released (European PMI’s) and Initial Claims (exp 216K) and Leading Indicators (0.3%) are unlikely to change any opinions.

A quick look at those Eurozone PMI’s shows that they were marginally better than expected although continue to paint a picture of a weakening economy with no inflationary impulse. The biggest concern was that the new orders survey in Germany fell even further, a sign that there is no recovery in sight. At their release, the euro managed to rally about 0.35%, however it has given all of those gains back in the past four hours and seems more likely to wander aimlessly than take on a direction. The release of the ECB’s Minutes did nothing to change any views, merely confirming that they are preparing further easing for next month, with a growing chance of both an interest rate cut and the restarting of Large Scale Asset Purchases, better known as QE.

Other news of note comes from Djakarta, where Bank Indonesia (BI) surprised one and all and cut 25bps last night. However, the rupiah managed to eke out a small gain on the session as investors and traders seem more focused on the positive growth story, a true rarity these days, than on the interest rate situation. Most analysts are convinced that BI is done cutting unless the global economy really tanks, rather than merely continues its recent slowdown. In China we saw the renminbi soften some 0.3% and fall to levels not seen since 2008 in the onshore market. However, there has been no obvious further deterioration of the trade situation so I don’t anticipate a significant extension unless the PBOC acts more aggressively to ease policy. And arguing in favor of less movement is the fact that the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic is coming up on October 1st. Historically, the PBOC will go out of their way to insure financial markets are stable during that celebration and frequently they start the process several months beforehand.

Brexit is the final story that seems to be having an impact as PM Johnson is visiting Paris today after meetings in Berlin yesterday. At this point the EU continues to talk tough, but nothing has changed regarding the desperate need for the EU to prevent a shock to a weakening economy. In fact, the pound is bucking today’s dollar trend, currently trading higher by 0.15%, as traders are beginning to read between the lines and realize that a deal is more likely than currently priced. I maintain that we will see something in October that will avoid a no-deal outcome and the pound will rally sharply as that becomes a reality.

And that’s really all for today. Bloomberg will be interviewing several FOMC members in Jackson Hole, so that should offer some background color, but at this point, it is all about Chairman Powell tomorrow. Until then, tight ranges are the most likely outcome.

Good luck
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