The Fed followed through on their pledge
To cut rates, as they try to hedge
‘Gainst weakness worldwide
But Jay clarified
It’s not a trend as some allege
The market response was quite swift
With equities given short shrift
While bonds did excel
In FX, the buck got a lift
Something has really begun to bother me lately, and that is the remarkable inconsistency over the benefits/detriments of a currency’s value. For example, the dollar has been relatively strong lately, and as you are all aware, I believe will continue on that path overall. The key rationales for the dollar’s strength lie in two factors; first, despite yesterday’s cut, US interest rates remain much higher than every other G10 country, in most cases by more than 100bps, and so the relative benefit of holding dollars vs. other currencies continues. The second reason is that the US economy is the strongest, by far, of the G10, as recent GDP data demonstrated, and while there are certain sectors of weakness, notably housing and autos, things look reasonably good. This compares quite favorably to Europe, Japan and Oceania, where growth is slowing to the point that recession is a likely outcome. The thing is, article after article by varying analysts points to the dollar’s strength as a major problem. While President Trump rightly points out that a strong dollar can hinder US exports, and as a secondary effect corporate earnings, remember that trade represents a small portion of the US economy, just 12% as of the latest data.
Contrast this widespread and significant concern over a strong currency with the angst over the British pound’s recent performance as it continues to decline. Sterling is falling not only because the dollar is strong, but also because the market is repricing its estimates of the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. Ever since the Brexit vote the pound has been under pressure. Remember that the evening of the vote, when the first returns pointed to a Remain win, the pound touched 1.50. However, once the final results were in, the pound sold off sharply, losing as much as 20% of its value within four months of the vote. However, since then, during the negotiation phase, the pound actually rallied back as high as 1.4340 when it looked like a deal would get done and agreed. Alas, that never occurred and now that no-deal is not only back on the table, but growing as a probability, the pound is back near its lows. And this is decried as a terrible outcome! So, can someone please explain why a strong currency is bad but a weak currency is also bad? You can’t have it both ways. Arguably, every complaint over the pound’s weakness is a political statement clothed in an economic argument. And the same is true as to the dollar’s strength, with the difference there being that the President makes no bones about the politics.
In the end, the beauty of a floating currency regime is that the market adjusts based on actual and expected flows, not on political whims. If there is concern over a currency’s value, that implies that broader policy adjustments need to be considered. In fact, one of the most frightening things we have heard of late is the idea that the US may intervene directly to weaken the dollar. Intervention has a long and troubled history of failure, especially when undertaken solo rather than as part of a globally integrated plan a la the Plaza Accord in the 1980’s. An unsolicited piece of advice to the President would be as follows: if you want the strongest economy in the world, be prepared for a strong currency to accompany that situation. It is only natural.
With that out of the way, there is no real point in rehashing the FOMC yesterday as there are myriad stories already available. In brief, they cut 25bps, but explained it as an insurance cut because of global uncertainties. Weak sauce if you ask me. The telling thing is that during the press conference, when Powell explained that this was not the beginning of a new cycle and the stock market sold off sharply, he quickly backtracked and said more cuts could come as soon as he heard about the selloff. It gets harder and harder to believe that the Fed sees their mandate as anything other than boosting the stock market.
This morning brings the final central bank meeting of the week with the BOE on the docket at 7:00am. At this point, with rates still near historic lows and Brexit on the horizon, the BOE is firmly in the wait and see camp. Concerns have to be building as more economic indicators point to a slump, with today’s PMI data (48.0) posting its third consecutive month below the 50.0 level. I think it is clear that a hard Brexit will have a short-term negative impact on the UK economy, likely making things worse before they get better, but I also believe that the market has already priced in a great deal of that weakness. And in the end, I continue to believe that the EU will blink as they cannot afford to drive Europe into a recession just to spite the UK. So there will be no policy change here.
One interesting outcome since the Fed action yesterday was how many other central banks quickly cut interest rates as well. Brazil cut the Selic rate by 50bps, to a record low 6.00% as they had room from the Fed move and then highlighted the fact that a key pension reform bill seemed to have overwhelming support and was due to become law. This would greatly alleviate government spending pressures and allow for even more policy ease. As well, the Middle East saw rate cuts by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain all cut rates by 25bps as well. In fact, the only bank that does not seem likely to respond is the PBOC, where they have been trying to use other tools, rather than interest rate policy, to help bolster the economy there.
This morning sees the dollar broadly higher with both the euro and pound down by ~0.40%, and similar weakness in a number of EMG currencies like MXN and INR. Even the yen has weakened this morning by 0.2%, implying this is not so much a risk-off event as a dollar strength event. Data today brings Initial Claims (exp 212K) and ISM Manufacturing (52.0). Regarding the ISM data, yesterday saw an extremely weak Chicago PMI print of just 44.4, its lowest since December 2015. Given how poor the European and Chinese PMI data were overnight and this morning, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a weak outcome there. However, I don’t think that will be enough to weaken the dollar much as the Fed just gave the market its marching orders. We will need to see a very weak payroll report tomorrow to change any opinions, but for today, the dollar remains in the ascendancy.