For almost two days it appeared
That havens were to be revered
But with rates so low
Investors still know
That selling risk is what’s most feared
By yesterday afternoon it had become clear that market participants were no longer concerned over any immediate retaliation by Iran. While there have been a number of comments and threats, the current belief set is that anything that occurs is far more likely to be executed via Iranian proxies, like Hezbollah, rather than any direct attack on the US. And so as the probability of a hot war quickly receded in the minds of the global investment community, all eyes turned back toward what is truly important…central bank largesse!
As I briefly mentioned yesterday, there was a large gathering of economists, including many central bankers past and present, this past weekend in San Diego. The issue that seemed to generate the most interest was the idea of negative interest rates and whether their implementation had been successful, and more importantly, whether they ever might appear as part of the Fed’s policy toolkit.
Chairman Powell has made clear a number of times that there is no place for negative rates in the US. This sentiment has been echoed by most of the current FOMC membership, even the most dovish members like Kashkari and Bullard. And since the US economy is continuing to grow, albeit pretty slowly, it seems unlikely that this will be more than an academic exercise anytime soon. However, a paper presented by some San Francisco Fed economists described how negative rates would have been quite effective during the throes of the financial crisis in 2008-2009, and that stopping at zero likely elongated the pain. Ironically, former Fed chair Bernanke also presented a paper saying negative rates should definitely be part of the toolkit going forward. This is ironic given he was the one in charge when the Fed went to zero and had the opportunity to go negative at what has now been deemed the appropriate time. (Something I have observed of late is that former Fed chairs are quite adept at describing things that should be done by the Fed, but were not enacted when they were in the chair. It seems that the actuality of making decisions, rather than sniping from the peanut gallery, is a lot harder than they make out.)
At any rate, as investors and analysts turn their focus away from a potential war to more mundane issues like growth and earnings, the current situation remains one of positive momentum. The one thing that is abundantly clear is that the central bank community is not about to start tightening policy anytime soon. In fact, arguably the question is when the next bout of policy ease is implemented. The PBOC has already cut the RRR, effective yesterday, and analysts everywhere anticipate further policy ease from China going forward as the government tries to reignite higher growth. While Chairman Powell has indicated the Fed is on hold all year, the reality is that they are continuing to regrow the balance sheet to the tune of $60 billion / month of outright purchases as well as the ongoing repo extravaganza, where yesterday more than $76 billion was taken up. And although this is more of a stealth easing than a process of cutting interest rates, it is liquidity addition nonetheless. Once again, it is this process, which shows no signs of abating, which leads me to believe that the dollar will underperform all year.
Turning to today’s session we have seen equity markets climb around the world following the US markets’ turn higher yesterday afternoon. Bond prices are little changed overall, with 10-year Treasury yields right at 1.80%, and both oil and gold have edged a bit lower on the day. Certainly, to the extent that there was fear of a quick reprisal from Iran, the oil market has discounted that activity dramatically.
Meanwhile, the dollar is actually having a pretty good session today, rallying against the entire G10 space despite some solid data from the Eurozone, and performing well against the bulk of the EMG bloc. The dollar’s largest gains overnight have come vs. the Australian dollar, which is down nearly 1.0% this morning after weak employment data (ANZ Job Adverts -6.7%) reignited fears that the RBA was going to be forced to cut rates further in Q1. But the greenback has outperformed the entire G10 space. The other noteworthy data were Eurozone Retail Sales (+1.0%) and CPI (+1.3% headline and core) with the former beating expectations but the latter merely meeting expectations and the core data showing no impetus toward the ECB’s ‘just below 2.0%’ target. Alas, the euro is lower by 0.15% this morning, dragging its tightly linked EEMEA buddies down by at least that much, and in some cases more. Finally, the pound has dipped 0.3%, but given the dearth of data, that seems more like a simple reaction to its inexplicable two-day rally.
In the EMG space, APAC currencies were the clear winners, with CNY rallying 0.5% as investment flows picked up with one of this year’s growing themes being that China is going to rebound sharply, especially with the trade situation seeming to settle down. It can be no surprise that both KRW and IDR, both countries that rely on stronger Chinese growth for their own growth, have rallied by similar amounts this morning. Meanwhile, EEMEA currencies have been under pressure, as mentioned above, despite the little data released (Hungarian and Romanian Retail Sales) being quite robust.
As to this morning’s session we get our first data of the week with the Trade Balance (exp -$43.6B), ISM Non-Manufacturing (54.5) and Factory Orders (-0.8%). Mercifully, there are no Fed speakers scheduled, so my sense is the market will be focused on the ISM data as well as the equity market. As things currently stand, it is all systems go for a stock market rally and assuming the ISM data simply meets expectations, the narrative is likely to shift toward stabilizing US growth. Of course, with the Fed pumping money into the economy in the background, that should be the worst case no matter what. FWIW it seems the dollar’s rally is a touch overdone here. My sense is that we are going to see it give back some of this morning’s gains as the session progresses.