Calm’s Been Restored

Remarkably, though oil soared
Responding to Yemen, who roared
Most markets of note
Have taken a vote
And seen to it calm’s been restored

Of course the big news over the weekend was the attack on Saudi oil production by a number of unmanned drones on Saturday. It was quite successful, at least in terms of the attackers (Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility) seeming goals, as it shut down half of Saudi production for an unspecified period. That means that 5% of the world’s oil production is off-line, although between reserves stored around the globe and the ability of US producers to ramp up production, the impact seems to be less substantial on world markets. Naturally oil prices are higher, with WTI currently +8.25%, although that is well off the initial highs which showed a 15% jump. And Treasury prices are higher as well, with the 10-year higher by half a point and yields falling 6.5bps. Gold is up 1.0%, and equity markets are softer, but not that much with only Italy’s market down even 1.0% and the rest of Europe lower by somewhere on the order of 0.6%. APAC stocks were also modestly softer, and US futures are pointing to a softer opening, but none of this speaks to any panic.

Finally, the dollar can only be described as mixed, at least at this point in the session. Granted, APAC currencies were mostly softer, led by INR’s 0.85% decline, which is directly attributed to the jump in oil prices (India imports virtually all their oil.) But that is actually the largest move on the day. Remember, in the wake of the ECB meeting last week, the euro rallied more than 1.0%! The point is, the FX market is not hugely concerned about this situation and seems unlikely to become so unless there are more attacks and the supply situation changes far more dramatically and permanently.

The only conclusion I can draw from this price action is that the market is still entirely focused on central bank activity with this week the culmination of a series of meetings. By Thursday, we will have heard from the Fed, the BOJ, the BOE, Bank Indonesia and the Norgesbank regarding any new policy actions. Expectations are as follows:

Wednesday FOMC Cut 0.25%
Thursday BOJ No rate change
  Bank Indonesia Cut 0.25%
  Norgesbank No rate change
  BOE No rate change

But in reality, the only one that matters is the Fed, which is driving the entire global conversation. If you recall, it was only a few weeks ago when expectations were rampant that they would cut 50bps. Treasury yields had fallen to 1.45% and there was a growing belief that recession was on its way. But then the US employment data was decent, Retail Sales were strong and CPI came in higher than expected for the third consecutive month. It became much harder with that economic backdrop for the doves to be squawking about adding stimulus aggressively. And remember, in July, there were already two dissensions, so the concept of unanimity has long been missing. At this point, the question is more about Chairman Powell’s press conference and whether or not he puts forth a dovish message. (Arguably, anything that is not outright dovish will be seen as hawkish by the market.)

While the Fed and ECB are clearly in different places, it is also important to remember that as much as the market is focused on the Fed, the same was true of the ECB right up until last week, when it became clear the ECB had run out of ammunition. It is every central banker’s greatest fear to find themselves with no ability to impact the market and push it in the direction they choose. My sense is that day is coming soon for many major central banks. Other than the ECB, it has not yet arrived, but trust me; it is coming sooner than you might think.

With all that in mind, the narrative has quickly moved beyond oil and is now back to discussing the FOMC meeting. Other than that, we have a bit of data, and after the meeting a number of Fed speakers.

Today Empire Manufacturing 4.0
Tuesday IP 0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 77.6%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1250K
  Building Permits 1300K
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.00% (-0.25%)
Thursday Initial Claims 213K
  Philly Fed 10.0
  Leading Indicators 0.1%
  Existing Home Sales 5.37M

So all in all, not too exciting. I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight that Chinese data overnight was uniformly awful, with the big three indicators; Retail Sales (7.5%), IP (4.4%), and Fixed Asset Investment (5.5%) all falling short of estimates and all reaching levels not seen since records began to be kept. And this was data from August, before the latest round of tariffs kicked in. Growth in China is slowing rapidly and the PBOC has not been able to adjust policy sufficiently to offset it. The renminbi weakened a bit, but in line with today’s general lack of movement, the 0.25% decline is hardly significant.

And that’s really all there is. The modest risk-off scenario seems likely to remain in place, but it is hard to see a significant extension of the overnight moves absent another catalyst. And right now, there is none on the horizon. Look for a dull day, with limited movement from the opening levels.

Good luck