The week that just passed was a mess
With both bulls and bears under stress
As equities fell
Most bonds performed well
And dollars? A roaring success
Pundits have been searching for adjectives to describe the week that is ending today. Tumultuous strikes me as an accurate reflection, but then stormy, tempestuous and volatile all work as well. In the end though, the broad trends have not changed at all. Equities continue to retreat from their mid-summer highs, bonds continue to rally sharply while yield curves around the world flatten and the dollar continues to march higher.
So what is driving all this volatility? It seems the bulk of the blame is laid at the feet of President Trump as his flipping and flopping on trade policy have left investors and traders completely confused. After all, late last week he declared tariffs would be imposed on the rest of Chinese imports not already subject to them, then after market declines he decided that a portion of those tariffs would be delayed from September until December. But then the Chinese struck back saying they would retaliate and now the President has highlighted he will be speaking directly with President Xi quite soon. On the one hand, it is easy to see given the numerous changes in stance, why markets have been so volatile. However, it beggars belief that a complex negotiation like this could possibly be completed on any short timeline, and almost by definition will take many more months, if not years. There is certainly no indication that either side is ready to capitulate on any of the outstanding issues. So the real question is, why are markets responding to every single tweet or comment? To quote William Shakespeare, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Alas, there is every indication that this investor and trader behavior is going to continue for a while yet.
This morning we are back in happy mode, with the idea that the Presidents, Trump and Xi, are going to speak soon deemed a market positive. Equity markets around the world are higher (DAX +1.0%, CAC +1.0%, Nikkei +0.5%); bond markets have been a bit more mixed with Treasuries (+2bps) and Gilts (+4.5bps) selling off a bit but we continue to see Bunds (-1.5bps) rally. In fact we are at new all-time lows for Bund yields with the 10-year now yielding -0.73%!
As to the dollar, it is still in favor, with only the pound showing any real life in the G10 space, having rallied 0.65% this morning with the market continuing to be impressed with yesterday’s Retail Sales data there. In fact, if we look over the past week, the pound is the only G10 currency to outperform the dollar, having rallied more than 1.0%. On the flip side, the Skandies are this week’s biggest losers with both SEK and NOK down by 1.35% closely followed by the euro’s 1.1% decline, of which 0.3% has happened overnight.
The FX market continues to track the newest thoughts regarding relative central bank policy changes and that is clearly driving the euro. For example, yesterday, St Louis Fed President Bullard, likely the most dovish FOMC member (although Kashkari gives him a run), sounded almost reticent to continue cutting rates, and ruled out the idea that an intermeeting cut was necessary. While he supported the July cut, and will likely vote for September, he again ruled out 50bps and didn’t sound like more made sense. At the same time, Finnish central bank president Ollie Rehn, a key ECB member, explained that come September, the ECB would act very aggressively in order to get the most bang for the buck (euro?). The indication was not only will they cut rates, and possibly more than the 10bps expected, but QE would be restarted and expanded, and he did not rule out movement into other products (equities anyone?) as well. In the end, the market sees that the ECB is going to basically do everything else they can right away as they watch the Eurozone economy sink into recession. Meanwhile, most US data continues to point to a much more robust growth situation.
Let’s look at yesterday’s US data where Retail Sales were very strong (0.7%, 1.0% ex autos) and Productivity, Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed all beat expectations. Of course, confusingly, IP was a weaker than expected -0.2% and Capacity Utilization fell to 77.5%. Adding to the overall confusion is this morning’s Housing data where Starts fell to 1191K although Permits rose to 1336K. In the end, there is more data that is better than worse which helps explain the 2.1% growth trajectory in the US, which compares quite favorably with the 0.8% GDP trajectory on the continent. As long as this remains the case, look for the dollar to continue to outperform.
Oh and one more thing, given the problems in the Eurozone, do you really believe the EU will sit by and watch the UK exit without changing their tune? Me either!
Next week brings the Fed’s Jackson Hole symposium and key speeches, notably by Chairman Powell. As to today, there is no reason to expect the dollar to do anything but continue its gradual appreciation.
Good luck and good weekend