Said Trump, it’s not me it’s the Fed
Preventing us moving ahead
While China and Xi
Are dying to see
A deal where all tariffs are dead
It should be no surprise that President Trump was at the center of the action yesterday, that is the place he most covets. In a speech at the Economic Club of New York, he discussed pretty much what we all expected; the economy is doing great (low unemployment, low inflation and solid growth); the Fed is holding the economy back from doing even better (give us negative rates like Europe and Japan, we deserve it) and the Chinese are dying to do a deal but the US is not going to cave in and remove tariffs without ironclad assurances that the Chinese will stop their bad behavior. After all, this has been the essence of his economically focused comments for the past year. Why would they change now? But a funny thing happened yesterday, the market did not embrace all this is good news, and we started to see a little bit of risk aversion seeping into equity prices and filter down to the bond and currency markets.
For example, although the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed yesterday just 0.3% from the all-time high set last Thursday, there has been no follow-through in markets elsewhere in the world, and, in fact, US futures are pointing lower. Now arguably, this is not entirely a result of Trump’s comments, after all there are plenty of problems elsewhere in the world. But global markets have proven to be quite vulnerable to the perception of bad news on the US-China trade negotiations front, and the fact that there is no deal clearly set to be signed is weighing on investors’ collective minds. So last night, we saw Asian markets suffer (Nikkei -0.85%, Hang Seng -1.8%, KOSPI -0.85%, Shanghai -0.35%) and this morning European markets are also under pressure (DAX -0.75%, CAC -0.45%, FTSE -0.55%, Spain’s IBEX -1.65%, Italy’s MIB -1.3%). In other words, things look pretty bad worldwide, at least from a risk perspective.
Now some of this is idiosyncratic, like Hong Kong, where the protests are becoming more violent and more entrenched and have demonstrably had a negative impact on the local economy. Of even more concern is the growing possibility that China decides to intervene directly to quell the situation, something that would likely have significant negative consequences for global markets. Too, Germany is sliding into recession (we will get confirmation with tomorrow’s Q3 GDP release) and so the engine of Europe is slowing growth throughout the EU, and the Eurozone in particular. And we cannot forget Spain, where the fourth election in four years did nothing to bring people together, and where the Socialist Party is desperately trying to cobble together a coalition to get back in power, but cannot find enough partners, even though they have begun to climb down from initial comments about certain other parties, namely Podemos, and consider them. The point is, President Trump is not the only reason that investors have become a bit skeptical about the future.
In global bond markets, we are also seeing risk aversion manifest itself, notably this morning with 10-year Treasury yields falling more than 6bps, and other havens like Bunds (-4bps) and Gilts (-5bps) following suit. There has been a great deal of ink spilled over the recent bond market price action with two factions completely at odds. There continue to be a large number of pundits and investors who see the long-term trend of interest rates still heading lower and see the recent pullback in bond prices as a great opportunity to add to their long bond positions. Similarly, there is a growing contingent who believe that we have seen the lows in yields, that inflation is beginning to percolate higher and that 10-year yields above 3.00% are going to be the reality over the course of the next year. This tension is evident when one looks at the price action where since early September, we have seen a 40bp yield rally followed by a 35bp decline in the span of five weeks. Since then, we have recouped all the losses, and then some, although we continue to see weeks where there are 15bp movements, something that is historically quite unusual. Remember, bonds have historically been a dull trading vehicle, with very limited price activity and interest generated solely for their interest-bearing qualities. These days, they are more volatile than stocks! And today, there is significant demand, indicating risk aversion is high.
Finally, the dollar continues to benefit against most of its counterparts in both the G10 and EMG blocs, at least since I last wrote on Friday. In fact, there are four G10 currencies that have performed well since then, each with a very valid reason. First, given risk aversion, it should be no surprise that both the yen and Swiss franc have strengthened in this period. Looking further, the pound got a major fillip yesterday when Nigel Farage said that his Brexit party would not contest any of the 317 seats the Tories held going into the election, thus seeming to give a boost to Boris Johnson’s electoral plans, and therefore a boost toward the end of the Brexit saga with a deal in hand. Finally, last night the RBNZ surprised almost the entire market by leaving rates on hold at 1.0%, rather than cutting 25bps as had been widely expected. The reaction was immediate with kiwi jumping 1.0% and yields in New Zealand rallying between 10 and 15 bps across the curve.
Turning to the Emerging markets, the big mover has been, of course, the Chilean peso, the erstwhile star of LATAM which has fallen more than 5.0% since Friday in the wake of the government’s decision to change the constitution in an effort to address the ongoing social unrest. But this has dragged the rest of the currencies in the region down as well, with Colombia (-2%) and Mexico (-1.7%) also feeling the effects of this action. The removal of Peruvian president, Evo Morales, has further undermined the concept of democracy in the region, and investors are turning tail pretty quickly. Meanwhile, APAC currencies have also broadly suffered, with India’s rupee the worst performer in the bunch, down 1.1% since Friday, as concerns about slowing growth there are combining with higher than expected inflation to form a terrible mix. But most of the region is under pressure due to the ongoing growth and trade concerns, with KRW (-0.9%) and PHP (-0.7%) also feeling strains on the trade story. The story is no different in EEMEA, with the bulk of the bloc lower by between 0.5% and 0.85% during the timeframe in question.
Turning to this morning, we see our first important data of the week, CPI (exp 0.3%, 0.2% core) for the month and (1.7%, 2.4% core) on an annual basis. But perhaps more importantly Chairman Powell speaks to Congress today, and everybody is trying to figure out what it is he is going to say. Most pundits believe he is going to try to maintain the message from the FOMC meeting, and one that has been reinforced constantly by his minions on the committee, namely that the economy is in a good place, that rates are appropriately set and that they will respond if they deem it necessary. And really, what else can he say?
However, overall, risk remains on the back foot today, and unless Powell is suddenly very dovish, I expect that to remain the case. As such, look for the dollar to continue to edge higher in the short term, as well as the yen, the Swiss franc and Treasuries.