QE We’ll Bestow

The data continue to show
That growth is unhealthily slow
The pressure’s on Jay
To cut rates and say
No sweat, more QE we’ll bestow

The market narrative right now is about slowing growth everywhere around the world. Tuesday’s ISM data really spooked equity markets and then that was followed with yesterday’s weaker than expected ADP employment data (135K + a revision of -38K to last month) and pretty awful auto sales in the US which added to the equity gloom. This morning, Eurozone PMI data was putrid, with Germany’s Services and Composite data (51.4 and 48.5 respectively) both missing forecasts by a point, while French data was almost as bad and the Eurozone Composite reading falling to stagnation at 50.1. In other words, the data continues to point to a European recession on the immediate horizon.

The interesting thing about this is that the euro is holding up remarkably well. For example, yesterday in the NY session it actually rallied 0.45% as the market began to evaluate the situation and price in more FOMC rate cutting. Certainly it was not a response to positive news! And this morning, despite gloomy data as well as negative comments from ECB Vice-President Luis de Guindos (“level of economic activity in the euro area remains disappointingly low”), the euro has maintained yesterday’s gains and is unchanged on the session. At this point, the only thing supporting the euro is the threat (hope?) that the Fed will cut rates more aggressively going forward than had recently been priced into the market. Speaking of those probabilities, this morning there is a 75% probability of a Fed cut at the end of this month. That is up from 60% on Tuesday and just 40% on Monday, hence the euro’s modest strength.

Looking elsewhere, the pound has also been holding its own after yesterday’s 0.5% rally in the NY session. While I think the bulk of this movement must be attributed to the rate story, the ongoing Brexit situation seems to be coming to a head. In fact, I am surprised the pound is not higher this morning given the EU’s reasonably positive response to Boris’s proposal. Not only did the EU not dismiss the proposal out of hand, but they see it as a viable starting point for further negotiations. One need only look at the EU growth story to recognize that a hard Brexit will cause a significant downward shock to the EU economy and realize that Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker have painted themselves into a corner. Nothing has changed my view that the EU will blink, that a fudged deal will be announced and that the pound will rebound sharply, up towards 1.35.

Beyond those stories, the penumbra of economic gloom has cast its shadow on everything else as well. Government bond yields continue to decline with Treasury, Bund and JGB yields all having fallen 3bps overnight. In the equity markets, the Nikkei followed the US lead last night and closed lower by 2.0%. But in Europe, after two weak sessions, markets have taken a breather and are actually higher at the margin. It seems that this is a trade story as follows: the WTO ruled in the US favor regarding a long-standing suit that the EU gave $7.5 billion in illegal subsidies to Airbus and that the US could impose that amount of tariffs on EU goods. But the White House, quite surprisingly, opted to impose less than that so a number of European companies that were expected to be hit (luxury goods and spirits exporters) find themselves in a slightly better position this morning. However, with the ISM Non-Manufacturing data on tap this morning, there has to be concern that the overall global growth story could be even weaker than currently expected.

A quick survey of the rest of the FX market shows the only outlier movement coming from the South African rand, which is higher this morning by 0.9%. The story seems to be that after three consecutive weeks of declines, with the rand falling more than 6% in that run, there is a seed of hope that the government may actually implement some positive economic policies to help shore up growth in the economy. That was all that was needed to get short positions to cover, and here we are. But away from that story, nothing else moved more than 0.3%. One thing that has been consistent lately has been weakness in the Swiss franc as the market continues to price in yet more policy ease after their inflation data was so dismal. I think this story may have further legs and it would not surprise me to see the franc continue to decline vs. both the dollar and the euro for a while yet.

On the data front, this morning we see Initial Claims (exp 215K) and then the ISM Non-Manufacturing data (55.0) followed by Factory Orders (-0.2%) at 10:00. The ISM data will get all the press, and rightly so. Given how weak the European and UK data was, all eyes will be straining to see if the US continues to hold up, or if it, too, is starting to roll over.

From the Fed we hear from five more FOMC members (Evans, Quarles, Mester, Kaplan and Clarida), adding to the cacophony from earlier this week. We already know Mester is a hawk, so if she starts to hedge her hawkishness, look for bonds to rally further and the dollar to suffer. As to the rest of the crew, Evans spoke earlier this week and explained he had an open mind regarding whether or not another rate cut made sense. He also said that he saw the US avoiding a recession. And ultimately, that’s the big issue. If the US looks like a recession is imminent, you can be sure the Fed will become much more aggressive, but until then, I imagine few FOMC members will want to tip their hand. (Bullard and Kashkari already have.)

Until the data prints, I expect limited activity, but once it is released, look for a normal reaction, strong data = strong dollar and vice versa.

Good luck
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