Throw Her a Bone

Next week at the ECB meeting
We’re sure to hear Christine entreating
The whole Eurozone
To throw her a bone
And spend more, lest growth start retreating

In England, though, it’s now too late
As recent releases all state
The ‘conomy’s slowing
And Carney is knowing
Come month end he’ll cut the base rate

The dollar is finishing the week on a high note as it rallies, albeit modestly, against virtually the entire G10 space. This is actually an interesting outcome given the ongoing risk-on sentiment observed worldwide. For instance, equity markets in the US all closed at record highs yesterday, and this morning, European equities are also trading at record levels. Asia, not wanting to be left out, continues to rally, although most markets in APAC have not been able to reach the levels seen during the late 1990’s prior to the Asian crisis and tech bubble. At the same time, we continue to see Treasury and Bund yields edging higher as yield curves steepen, another sign of a healthy risk appetite. Granted, commodity prices are not uniformly higher, but there are plenty that are, notably iron ore and steel rebar, both crucial signals of economic growth.

Usually, in this type of market condition, the dollar tends to decline. This is especially so given the lack of volatility we have observed encourages growth in carry trades, with investors flocking to high yield currencies like MXN, IDR, BRL and ZAR. However, it appears that at this juncture, the carry trade has not yet come back into favor, as that bloc of currencies has shown only modest strength, if any, hardly the signal that investor demand has increased.

This leaves us with an unusual situation where the dollar is reasonably well-bid despite the better risk appetite. Perhaps investors are buying dollars to jump on board the US equity train, but I suspect there is more to the movement than this. Investigations continue.

Narrowing our focus a bit more, it is worthwhile to consider the key events upcoming, notably next week’s ECB and BOJ meetings and the following week’s FOMC and BOE meetings. Interestingly, based on current expectations, the Fed meeting is likely to be far less impactful than either the ECB or BOE.

First up is the BOJ, where there is virtually no expectation of any policy changes, and in fact, that is true for the entire year. With the policy rate stuck at -0.10%, futures markets are actually pricing in a 5bp tightening by the end of the year. Certainly, Japan has gone down the road of increased fiscal stimulus, and if you recall last month’s outcome, the BOJ essentially admitted that they would not be able to achieve their 2.0% inflation target during any forecastable timeline. With that is the recent history, and given that inflation remains either side of 1.0%, the BOJ is simply out of bullets, and so will not be doing anything.

The ECB, however, could well be more interesting as the market awaits their latest thoughts on the policy review. Madame Lagarde has made a big deal about how they are going to review procedures and policy initiatives to see if they are designed to meet their goals. Some of the things that have been mooted are a change in the inflation target from “close to but below 2.0%” to either a more precise target or a target range, like 1.5% – 2.5%. Of even more interest is the fact that they have begun to figure out that their current inflation measures are inadequate, as they significantly underweight housing expense, one of the biggest expenses for almost every household. Currently, housing represents just 4% of the index. As a contrast, in the US calculation, housing represents about 41% of the index! And the anecdotes are legion as to how much housing costs have risen throughout European cities while the ECB continues to pump liquidity into markets because they think inflation is missing. Arguably, that has the potential to change things dramatically, because a revamped CPI calculation could well inform that the ECB has been far too easy in policy and cause a fairly quick reversal. And that, my friends, would result in a much higher euro. Today however, the single currency has fallen prey to the dollar’s overall strength and is lower by 0.25%.

As I mentioned, I don’t think the FOMC meeting will be very interesting at all, as there is a vanishingly small chance they change policy given the economy keeps chugging along and inflation has been fairly steady, if not rising to their own 2.0% target. The BOE meeting, however, has the chance to be much more interesting. This morning’s UK Retail Sales data was massively disappointing, with December numbers printing at -0.8%, -0.6% excluding fuel. This was hugely below the expected outcomes of +0.8% and +0.6% respectively. Apparently, Boris’s electoral victory did not convince the good people of England to open their wallets. And remember, this was during Christmas season, arguably the busiest retail time of the year. It can be no surprise that the futures market is now pricing a 75% chance of a rate cut and remember, earlier this week we heard from three different BOE members that cutting rates was on the table. The pound, which has been rallying for the entire week has turned around and is lower by 0.2% this morning with every chance that this slide continues for the next week or two until the meeting crystalizes the outcome.

The other noteworthy news was Chinese data released last night, which showed that GDP, as expected, grew at 6.0%, Retail Sales also met expectations at 8.0%, while IP (+6.9%) and Fixed Asset Investment (+5.4%) were both a bit better than forecast. The market sees this data as proof that the economy there is stabilizing, especially with the positive vibe of the just signed phase one trade deal. The renminbi has benefitted, rallying a further 0.3% on the session, and has now gained 4.6% since its weakest point in early September 2019. This trend has further to go, of that I am confident.

On the data front this morning, we have Housing Starts (exp 1380K), Building Permits (1460K), IP (-0.2%), Capacity Utilization (77.0%), Michigan Sentiment (99.3) and JOLT’s Job Openings (7.25M). So plenty of news, but it is not clear it is important enough to change opinions in the FX market. As such, I expect that today’s dollar strength is likely to continue, but certainly not in a major way.

Good luck and good weekend