A True Blue Pangloss

Right now there’s a group of old men
(Though Europe has proffered a hen)
Who feel it’s their right
To hog the limelight
When talking pounds, dollars or yen

Here’s a thought for the conspiracy theorists amongst you. Do you think that the cabal of central bankers get annoyed when something other than their actions and words are responsible for moving markets? And so yesterday they determined it was Carney’s turn to make comments that would dominate the financial wires. I mean, war in the Middle East is completely out of the central bankers’ control, which means they have to be reactive in the event that market moves start to become uncomfortable (i.e. stock prices fall). When you are the leader of a G10 central bank, a key part of your role is to make sure that traders and investors jump at your every word (or so it seems) so if the investment community is worrying about something like war, the central bankers are just not very relevant. And they HATE that! While, of course, this is somewhat tongue in cheek, it is remarkable how quickly we hear from a major central banker after market activity that has been focused on non-monetary issues.

Mark Carney, the Old Lady’s boss
Explained, like a true blue Pangloss
That under the rules
They’d plenty of tools
To ease two percent at a toss

At any rate, arguably, as the relief rally continues, the biggest news overnight was a speech by BOE Governor Carney indicating that despite the fact that the base rate is currently set at 0.75%, the BOE has the capability, if necessary, to ease policy by an effective 250bps through rate cuts, more QE and forward guidance. Interestingly, if you read the speech, he doesn’t say that is what they are going to do, although two MPC members have voted for a rate cut already, he is merely responding to the critics who claim the central banks have no ammunition left to fight an eventual downturn in economic activity. Cable traders, however, must have heard the following: we are going to ease policy immediately, at least based on the fact that the pound is today’s worst performing currency, having fallen 0.65% as I type, and taking its decline thus far in 2020 to nearly 2.0%.

At the same time, the central bank cabal should be pleased because equity markets around the world are rallying aggressively, mostly on the idea that a war between the US and Iran is not imminent, and tangentially on the idea that the central banks remain adamant that they have plenty of ammunition left to keep easing monetary policy ad infinitum.

And that’s really the story, isn’t it? Markets remain almost completely beholden to central bank activity and central bank comments. As long as the prevailing view is that any decline in equity markets is an aberration and will be addressed immediately, we are going to see global equity markets rise. You cannot really fight that story. However, when it comes to the FX markets, there is slightly more opportunity for diversion amongst countries as each nation is likely to add differing amounts of stimulus, thus the relative value of one currency vs. another can react to those differences.

After all, looking at the UK, for example, the combination of the imminent Brexit deal and reduction in policy uncertainty as well as Carney’s comments that the BOE has plenty of room to ease has been more than sufficient to support the FTSE 100, which is higher by 0.6% this morning. And of course, part and parcel of that movement is the pound’s weakness. In fact, I believe this year is going to be all about relative policy ease, at least in the G10 space, with the Fed on track to ease more than any other nation via their not QE and repo programs. And that is why, as the year progresses, I continue to expect the dollar to decline. But so far this year, that has not been the narrative.

With this in mind, a look at the overnight price action shows that equity markets around the world have looked great (Nikkei +2.3%, Shanghai +0.9%, DAX +1.3%, CAC +0.45%) and haven assets have suffered (JPY -0.3%, -0.9% since Tuesday; gold -0.6%; and Treasuries +5bps since yesterday morning). A diminished chance of war and talk of easier policy have worked wonders for risk appetites. Can all this continue? As long as central banks keep playing the same tune they have for the past decade, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it to stop.

Meanwhile, the dollar has generally been going gangbusters this year, up against all its G10 counterparts, although having a more mixed performance in the EMG space. In truth, US data so far has generally been beating expectations with yesterday’s ADP print of 202K (with a big revision higher for the previous month) the latest proof of that theory. Obviously, Friday’s payroll report will be carefully watched to see if job growth remains abundant, and perhaps more importantly, to see if wages continue to rise. So for the time being, it seems that the FX market is focused on the economic data, and the US data has generally been the best of the bunch, hence the dollar’s strength.

This morning, the only piece of data is Initial Claims (exp 220K) which during payroll week is generally ignored. This means that the dollar’s ongoing short term strength is likely to continue to manifest itself until we get a bad number, or we hear, more clearly, that the Fed is going to ease. I continue to believe that payables hedgers should be taking advantage of what, I believe, will be short term dollar strength. But there is a long way to go this year.

Good luck
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