Significant Woe

The data continue to show
A tale of significant woe
Last night’s PMIs
Define the demise
Of growth; from Spain to Mexico

Another day, another set of data requiring negative superlatives. For instance, the final March PMI data was released early this morning and Italy’s Services number printed at 17.4! That is not merely the lowest number in Italy’s series since the data was first collected in 1998, it is the lowest number in any series, ever. A quick primer on the PMI construction will actually help show just how bad things are there.

As I’ve written in the past, the PMI data comes from a single, simple question; ‘are things better, the same or worse than last month?’ Each answer received is graded in the following manner:

Better =      1.0
Same =        0.5
Worse =      0.0

Then they simply multiply the number of respondents by each answer, normalize it and voila! Essentially, Italy’s result shows that 65.2% of the country’s services providers indicated that March was worse than February, with 34.8% indicating things were the same. We can probably assume that there was no company indicating things were better. This, my friends, is not the description of a recession; this is the description of a full-blown depression. IHS Markit, the company that performs the surveys and calculations, explained that according to their econometric models, GDP is declining at a greater than 10% annual rate right now across all of Europe (where the Eurozone Composite reading was 26.4). In Italy (Composite reading of 20.2) the damage is that much worse. And in truth, given that the spread of the virus continues almost unabated there, it is hard to forecast a time when things might improve.

It does not seem like a stretch to describe the situation across the Eurozone as existential. What we learned in 2012, during the Eurozone debt crisis, was that the project, and the single currency, are a purely political construct. That crisis highlighted the inherent design failure of creating a single monetary policy alongside 19 fiscal policies. But it also highlighted that the desire to keep the experiment going was enormous, hence Signor Draghi’s famous comment about “whatever it takes”. However, the continuing truth is that the split between northern and southern European nations has never even been addressed, let alone mended. Germany, the Netherlands and Austria continue to keep fiscal prudence as a cornerstone of their government policies, and the populations in those nations are completely in tune with that, broadly living relatively frugal lives. Meanwhile, the much more relaxed atmosphere further south continues to encourage both government and individual profligacy, leading to significant debt loads across both sectors.

The interesting twist today is that while Italy and Spain are the two hardest hit nations in Europe regarding Covid-19, Germany is in third place and climbing fast. In other words, fiscal prudence is no protection against the spread of the disease. And that has led to, perhaps, the most important casualty of Covid-19, German intransigence on debt and deficits. While all the focus this morning is on the proposed 10 million barrel/day cut in oil production, and there is a modest amount of focus on the Chinese reduction in the RRR for small banks and talk of an interest rate cut there, I have been most amazed at comments from Germany;s Heiko Maas, granted the Foreign Minister, but still a key member of the ruling coalition, when he said, regarding Italy’s situation, “We will help, we must help, [it is] also in our own interest. These days will remind us how important it is that we have the European Union and that we cannot solve the crisis acting unilaterally. I am absolutely certain that in coming days we’ll find a solution that everyone can support.” (my emphasis). The point is that it is starting to look like we are going to see some significant changes in Europe, namely the beginnings of a European fiscal policy and borrowing authority. Since the EU’s inception, this has been prevented by the Germans and their hard money allies in the north. But this may well be the catalyst to change that view. If this is the case, it is a strong vote of confidence for the euro and would have a very significant long-term impact on the single currency in a positive manner. However, if this does not come about, we could well see the true demise of the euro. As I said, I believe this is an existential moment in time.

With that in mind, it is interesting that the market has continued to drive the euro lower, with the single currency down 0.5% on the day and falling below 1.08 as I type. That makes 3.3% this week and has taken us back within sight of the lows reached two weeks ago. In the short term, it is awfully hard to be positive on the euro. We shall see how the long term plays out.

But the euro is hardly the only currency falling today. In fact, the dollar is firmer vs. all its G10 counterparts, with Aussie and Kiwi the biggest laggards, down 1.2% each. The pound, too, is under pressure (finally) this morning, down 1.0% as there seems to be some concern that the UK’s response to Covid-19 is falling short. But in the end, the dollar continues to perform its role of haven of last resort, even vs. both the Swiss franc (-0.35%) and Japanese yen (-0.6%).

EMG currencies are similarly under pressure with MXN once again the worst performer of the day, down 2.1%, although ZAR (-2.0%) is giving it a run for its money. The situation in Mexico is truly dire, as despite its link to oil prices, and the fact that oil prices have rallied more than 35% since Wednesday, it has continued to fall further. AMLO is demonstrating a distinct lack of ability when it comes to running the country, with virtually all his decisions being called into question. I have to say that the peso looks like it has much further to fall with a move to 30.00 or even further quite possible. Hedgers beware.

Risk overall is clearly under pressure this morning with equity markets throughout Europe falling and US futures pointing in the same direction. Treasury prices are slightly firmer, but the market has the feeling of being ready for the weekend to arrive so it can recharge. I know I have been exhausted working to keep up with the constant flow of information as well as price volatility and I am sure I’m not the only one in that situation.

With that in mind, we do get the payroll report shortly with the following expectations:

Nonfarm Payrolls -100K
Private Payrolls -132K
Manufacturing Payrolls -10K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.1
Participation Rate 63.3%
ISM Non- Manufacturing 43.0

Source: Bloomberg

But the question remains, given the backward-looking nature of the payroll report, does it matter? I would argue it doesn’t. Of far more importance is the ISM data at 10:00, which will allow us to compare the situation in the US with that in Europe and the rest of the world on a more real-time basis. But in the end, I don’t think it is going to matter too much regarding the value of the dollar. The buck is still the place to be, and I expect that it will continue to gradually strengthen vs. all comers for a while yet.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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