In Asia three central banks met
And all three explained that the threat
Of trade tensions rising
Their pathway, demand, more, to whet
The RBNZ cut rates 50bps last night, surprising markets and analysts, all of whom were expecting a 25bp rate cut. The rationale was weakening global growth and increased uncertainty over the escalation of the trade fight between the US and China were sufficient cause to attempt to get ahead of the problem. They seem to be following NY Fed President Williams’ dictum that when rates are low, cutting rates aggressively is the best central bank policy. It should be no surprise that the NZD fell sharply on the news, and this morning it is lower by 1.4% and back to levels not seen since the beginning of 2016.
The Bank of Thailand cut rates 25bps last night, surprising markets and analysts, none of whom were expecting any rate cut at all. The rationale was … (see bold type above). The initial FX move was for a 0.9% decline in THB, although it has since recouped two-thirds of those losses and currently sits just 0.3% lower than yesterday’s close. THB has been the best performing currency in Asia this year as the Thai economy has done a remarkable job of skating past many of the trade related problems affecting other nations there. However, the central bank indicated it would respond as necessary going forward, implying more rate cuts could come if deemed appropriate.
The RBI cut rates 35bps last night, surprising markets and analysts, most of whom were expecting a 25bp rate cut. The rationale was… (see bold type above). The accompanying policy statement was clearly dovish and indicted that future rate cuts are on the table if the economic path does not improve. However, this morning INR is actually stronger by 0.3% as there was a whiff of ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ attached to this move. The rupee had already weakened 3% this week, so clearly market anticipation, if not analysts’ views, was for an even more dovish outcome.
These are not the last interest rate moves we are going to see, and we are going to see them from a widening group of central banks. You can be sure, given last night’s activity, that the Philippine central bank is going to be cutting rates when they meet this evening and now the question is, will they cut only the 25bps analysts are currently expecting, or will they take their cues from last night’s activity and cut 50bps to get ahead of the curve? Last night the peso fell 0.4% and is down 2.5% in the past week. It feels to me like the market is pricing in a bigger cut than 25bps. We shall see.
This central bank activity seems contra to the fact that equity markets are stabilizing quickly from Monday’s sell-off. The idea that because the PBOC didn’t allow another sharp move lower last night in the renminbi is an indication that there is no prospect for further weakness in the currency is ridiculous. (After all, CNY did fall 0.4% overnight). The global rate cutting cycle is starting to pick up steam, and as more central banks respond, it will force the others to do the same. The market has now priced in a 100% probability of a 25bp Fed cut at the September meeting. Comments from Fed members Daly and Bullard were explicit that the increased trade tensions have thrown a spanner into their models and that some preemption may be warranted.
A quick survey of government bond yields shows that Treasuries are down 4bps to 1.66%, new lows for the move; Bunds are down 5.5bps to -0.59% and a new historic low; while JGB’s are down 3bps to -0.21%, below the BOJ’s target of -0.2% / +0.2% for the first time since they instituted their yield curve control process. Bond investors and stock investors seem to have very different views of the world right now, but there are more markets aligning with bonds than stocks.
For instance, gold prices are up another 1% overnight, to $1500/oz, their highest in six years and show no sign of slowing down. Oil prices are down just 0.2% overnight, but more than 8% in the past week, as demand indicators decline more than offsetting production declines.
And of course, economic data continues to demonstrate the ongoing economic malaise globally. Early this morning, June German IP fell 1.5%, much worse than expected and from a downwardly revised May number, indicating even further weakness. It is becoming abundantly clear that the Eurozone is heading into a recession and that the ECB is going to be forced into aggressive action next month. Not only do I expect a 20bp rate cut, down to -0.60%, but I expect that QE is going to be restarted right away and expanded to include a larger portion of corporate bonds. And don’t rule out equities!
So, for now we are seeing simultaneous risk-on (equity rally) and risk-off (bond, gold, yen rallies) on our screens. The equity investor belief in the benefits of lower interest rates is quite strong, although I believe we are reaching a point where lower rates are not the solution to the problem. The problem is economic uncertainty due to changes in international trade relations, it is not a lack of access to capital. But lowering rates is all the central banks can do.
Overall, the dollar is stronger this morning as only a handful of currencies, notably the yen as a haven and INR as described above, have managed to gain ground. I expect that this will continue to be the pattern unless the Fed does something truly surprising like a 50bp cut in September or even more unlikely, a surprise inter-meeting cut. They have done that before, but it doesn’t seem to be in Chairman Powell’s wheelhouse.
The only data today is Consumer Credit this afternoon (exp $16.0B) and we hear from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, a known dove later today. But equity futures are pointing higher and for now, the idea that Monday’s sharp decline was an opportunity rather than a harbinger of the future remains front and center. However, despite the equity market, I have a feeling the dollar is likely to maintain its overnight gains and perhaps extend them as well.