Much Could Be Gained

Today’s jobs report is the theme
About which most traders will scheme
If strong, bulls will buy
Just like last July
If weak, you can bet they’ll all scream

But yesterday there was some news
About a Fed President’s views
Ms. Mester explained
That much could be gained
If price hikes the Fed could perfuse

Yes folks, it’s payrolls day so let’s get that out of the way quickly. Here are the current consensus estimates as per Bloomberg:

Nonfarm Payrolls 145K (whisper 125K)
Private Payrolls 130K
Manufacturing Payrolls 3K
Unemployment Rate 3.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.4
Participation Rate 63.2%
Trade Balance -$54.5B

Census hiring explains the relatively wide gap between nonfarm and private payrolls, and it is important to understand that these numbers represent a downtick from the trends we have seen during the past several years. But it is also important to remember that a nonfarm number greater than 100K is deemed sufficient to prevent the Unemployment Rate from rising as population growth in the US slows. Given how poor the data has been this week, while official forecasts at most institutions haven’t fallen much, the trading community is definitely looking for a weaker number.

In the event the data is weak, I expect the dollar to decline as the market starts to price in more than a 25bp cut for the end of this month (currently an 85% probability), but I think the initial reaction to equities could be a rally as the reflex of lower rates leading to higher stock prices kicks in. Alas, for stock bulls, I fear the situation is starting to turn to the data is getting weak enough to indicate an imminent recession which will not be good for equity markets. Of course, a strong print should see both the stock market and the dollar rally, while Treasuries sell off. As an aside, 10-year Treasury yields have fallen 37 basis points since September 13! That is a huge move and a very good indicator of just how quickly sentiment has shifted regarding the Fed’s activity later this month.

But there was something else yesterday that I think was not widely noticed, yet I believe is of significant importance. Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, one of the two most hawkish members of the FOMC (KC’s Esther George is the other) spoke yesterday and said she thought, “adopting a band for the Fed’s inflation objective makes sense for communications reasons, as it allows some scope to run inflation a bit higher in the band during good times while allowing the target for price gains to be lower during downturns when interest rates are near zero.” This is hugely significant because if a Fed hawk is now comfortable allowing inflation to run above target, something that hawks specifically fight, it means that the FOMC is much more dovish than previously assumed. And that means that we are likely to head toward ZIRP much sooner than many had thought.

This is clearly an impediment to further dollar strength, as one of the pillars of the strong dollar view has been the idea that the FOMC would maintain relatively tighter monetary policy than other central banks. Of course, as we have already seen, other central banks are not sitting around, waiting for Godot, but acting aggressively already. For example, after the RBA cut rates last week, last night the Reserve Bank of India cut rates by 25bps while lowering GDP forecasts. As inflation remains modest in India, you can bet that there will be further cuts to come. The FX impact was on a day when the dollar lost ground against virtually all EMG counterparts, INR actually weakened by 0.15%.

Away from these stories, Brexit is still Brexit with Boris flitting around Europe trying to close the loop. Though not yet able to get a deal agreed in Brussels, he seemingly is having success at home in getting enough of Parliament to back him to get his deal passed. And that is important for the EU, because given the previous failure of Teresa May to get her deal passed, the EU is wary that anything to which they agree will still be voted down. But if Boris can show his deal will get enacted in the UK, it would be a powerful argument for the EU to blink.

And that’s really it folks. The dollar is generally softer this morning against both G10 and EMG currencies with KRW the biggest gainer (+0.8%) on excitement over prospects for the Fed to cut rates which encouraged profit taking after a two-week 2+% decline. But it’s all about payrolls this morning. We do hear from three more Fed speakers today, with Chairman Jay on the hustings in Washington this afternoon. That will give the market plenty of time to have absorbed the data.

For my money, I fear a much worse NFP number, something on the order of 50K. The data has been too weak to expect something much better in my view.

Good luck and good weekend