In Germany, growth was subdued
In England, inflation’s now food
For thought rates will fall
As hawks are in thrall
To feelings of disquietude
This morning is a perfect lesson in just how little short-term movement is dependent on long-term factors like economic data. German GDP data was released this morning showing that for 2019 the largest economy in the Eurozone grew just 0.6%, which while expected was still the slowest rate in six years. And what’s more, forecasts for 2020 peg German GDP to grow at 0.7%, hardly enticing. Yet as I type, the euro is the best performer in the G10 space, having risen 0.2%. How can it be that weak data preceded this little pop in the currency? Well, here is where the short-term concept comes in; it appears there was a commercial order going through the market that triggered a series of stop-loss orders at 1.1140, and lo and behold, the euro jumped another 0.15%. My point is that any given day’s movement is only marginally related to the big picture and highly reliant on the short term flows and activities of traders and investors. So forecasts, like mine, that call for the euro to rally during this year are looking at much longer term issues, which will infiltrate trading views over time, not a prescription to act on intraday activity!
Meanwhile, the pound has come under modestly renewed pressure after CPI in the UK surprisingly fell to 1.3% with the core reading just 1.4%. This data, along with further comments by the most dovish BOE member, Michael Saunders, has pushed the probability of a UK rate cut at the end of the month, as measured by futures prices, up to 65%. Remember, yesterday this number was 47% and Friday just 25%. At this point, market participants are homing in on the flash PMI data to be released January 24 as the next crucial piece of data. The rationale for this is that the weakness that we have seen recently from UK numbers has all been backward-looking and this PMI reading will be the first truly forward looking number in the wake of the election in December. FYI, current expectations are for a reading of 47.6 in Manufacturing and 49.4 in Services, but those are quite preliminary. I expect that they will adjust as we get closer. In the meantime, look for the pound to remain under pressure as we get further confirmation of a dovish bias entering the BOE discussion. As to Brexit, it will happen two weeks from Friday and the world will not end!
Finally, the last G10 currency of interest today is the Swiss franc, which is vying with the euro for top performer, also higher by 0.2% this morning, as concern has grown over its ability to continue its intervention strategy in the wake of the US adding Switzerland back to the list of potential currency manipulators. Now, the SNB has been intervening for the past decade as they fight back against the franc’s historic role as a safe haven. The problem with that role is the nation’s manufacturing sector has been extraordinarily pressured by the strength of the franc, thus reducing both GDP and inflation. It seems a bit disingenuous to ask Switzerland to adjust their macroeconomic policies, as the US is alleged to have done, in order to moderate CHF strength given they already have the lowest negative interest rates in the world and run a large C/A surplus. But maybe that’s the idea, the current administration wants the Swiss to be more American and spend money they don’t have. Alas for President Trump, that seems highly unlikely. A bigger problem for the Swiss will be the fact that the dollar is likely to slide all year as QE continues, which will just exacerbate the Swiss problem.
Turning to the emerging market bloc, today’s biggest mover is BRL, where the real is opening lower by 0.5% after weaker than expected Retail Sales data (0.6%, exp 1.2%) point to ongoing weakness in the economy and increase the odds that the central bank will cut rates further, to a new record low of just 4.25%. While this still qualifies as a high-yielder in today’s rate environment, ongoing weakness in the Brazilian economy offer limited prospects for a reversal in the near-term. Do not be surprised to see BRL trade up to its recent highs of 4.25 before the bigger macro trend of USD weakness sets in.
And that’s been today’s currency story. I have neglected the signing of the phase one trade deal because that story has been so over reported there is exactly zero I can add to the discussion. In addition, the outcome has to be entirely priced into the market at this point. Equity markets have had difficulty trading higher during the past two sessions, but they certainly haven’t declined in any serious manner. As earnings season gets underway, investors seem to have turned their attention to more micro issues rather than the economy. Treasury yields have been edging lower, interestingly, despite the general good feelings about the economy and risk, but trying to determine if the stock or bond market is “correct” has become a tired meme.
On the data front, this morning brings PPI (exp 1.3%, 1.3% core) but given that we saw CPI yesterday, this data is likely to be completely ignored. We do get Empire Manufacturing (3.6) and then at 2:00 the Fed releases its Beige Book. We also hear from three Fed speakers, Harker, Daly and Kaplan, but at this point, the Fed has remained quite consistent that they have little interest in doing anything unless there is a significant change in the economic narrative. And that seems unlikely at this time.
And so, this morning the dollar is under modest pressure, largely unwinding yesterday’s modest strength. It seems unlikely that we will learn anything new today to change the current market status of limited activity overall.