No Panacea

Fiscal stimulus
Is no panacea, but
Welcome nonetheless

At least by markets
And politicians as well
If it buys them votes!

Perhaps the MMTer’s are right, fiscal rectitude is passé and governments that are not borrowing and spending massive amounts of money are needlessly harming their own countries. After all, what other lesson can we take from the fact that Japan, the nation with the largest debt/GDP ratio (currently 236%) has just announced they are going to borrow an additional ¥26 trillion ($239 billion) to spend in support of the economy, and the market response was a stock market rally and a miniscule rise in JGB yields of just 1bp. Meanwhile, the yen is essentially unchanged.

Granted, despite the fact that this equates to nearly 5% of the current GDP, given JGB interest rates are essentially 0.0% (actually slightly negative) it won’t cost very much on an ongoing basis. However, at some point the question needs to be answered as to how they will ever repay all that debt. It seems the most likely outcome will be some type of explicit debt monetization, where the BOJ simply tears up maturing bonds and leaves the cash in the economy, thus reducing the debt and maintaining monetary stimulus. However, macroeconomic theory explains following that path will result in significant inflation. And of course, that’s the crux of the MMT philosophy, print money aggressively until inflation picks up.

The thing is, every time this process has been followed in the past, it basically destroyed the guilty country. Consider Weimar Germany, Zimbabwe and even Venezuela today as three of the most famous examples. And while inflation in Japan is virtually non-existent right now, that does not mean it cannot rise quite rapidly in the future. The point is that, currently, the yen is seen as a safe haven currency due to its strong current account surplus and the fact that its net debt position is not terribly large. But the further down this path Japan travels, the more likely those features are to change and that will be a distinct negative for the currency. Of course, this process will take years to play out, and perhaps something else will come along to change the trajectory of these long term processes, but the idea that the yen will remain a haven forever needs to be constantly re-evaluated. Just not today!

In the meantime, markets remain in a buoyant mood as additional comments from the Chinese that both sides remain in “close contact”, implying a deal is near, has the bulls ascendant. So Tuesday’s fears are long forgotten and equity markets are rallying while government bond yields edge higher. As to the dollar, it is generally on its back foot this morning as well, keeping with the theme that risk is ‘on’.

Looking at specific stories, there are several of note today. Overnight, Australia released weaker than expected GDP figures which has reignited the conversation about the RBA cutting rates in Q1 and helped to weaken Aussie by 0.3% despite the USD’s overall weakness. Elsewhere in the G10, British pound traders continue to close out short positions as the polls, with just one week left before the election, continue to point to a Tory victory and with it, finality on the Brexit issue. My view continues to be that the market is buying pounds in anticipation of this outcome, and that once the election results are final, there will be a correction. It is still hard for me to see the pound much above 1.34. However, there are a number of analysts who are calling for 1.45 in the event of a strong Tory majority, so be aware of the differing viewpoints.

On the Continent, German Factory Order data disappointed, yet again, falling 0.4% rather than rising by a similar amount as expected. This takes the Y/Y decline to 5.5% and hardly bodes well for a rebound in Germany. However, the euro has edged higher this morning, up 0.15% and hovering just below 1.11, as we have seen a number of stories rehashing the comments of numerous ECB members regarding the idea that negative interest rates have reached their inflection point where further cuts would do more harm than good. With the ECB meeting next Thursday, expectations for further rate cuts have basically evaporated for the next year, despite the official guidance that more is coming. In other words, the market no longer believes the ECB can will ease policy further, and the euro is likely edging higher as that idea makes its way through the market. Nonetheless, I see no reason for the euro to trade much higher at all, especially as the US economy continues to outperform the Eurozone.

In the emerging markets, the RBI surprised the entire market and left interest rates on hold, rather than cutting by 25bps as universally expected. The rupee rallied 0.35% on the news as the accompanying comments implied that the recent rise in inflation was of more concern to the bank than the fact that GDP growth was slowing more rapidly than previously expected. In a similar vein, PHP is stronger by 0.5% this morning after CPI printed a bit higher than expected (1.3%) and the market assumed there is now less reason for the central bank to continue its rate cutting cycle thus maintaining a more attractive carry destination. On the other side of the ledger, ZAR is under pressure this morning, falling 0.5% after data releases showed the current account deficit growing more rapidly than expected while Electricity production (a proxy for IP) fell sharply. It seems that in some countries, fiscal rectitude still matters!

On the data front this morning, we see Initial Claims (exp 215K), Trade Balance (-$48.5B), Factory Orders (0.3%) and Durable Goods (0.6%, 0.6% ex transport). Yesterday we saw weaker than expected US data (ADP Employment rose just 67K and ISM Non-Manufacturing fell to 53.9) which has to be somewhat disconcerting for Chairman Powell and friends. If today’s slate of data is weak, and tomorrow’s NFP report underwhelms, I think that can be a situation where the dollar comes under more concerted pressure as expectations of further Fed rate cuts will build. But for now, I am still in the camp that the Fed is on hold, the data will be mixed and the dollar will hold its own, although is unlikely to rally much from here for the time being.

Good luck