In Europe, the largest of nations
Has made clear its new aspirations
As Covid now peaks
In less than three weeks
Some schools can return from vacations
Despite less than stellar results from other countries that have started to reopen their economies (Japan, Singapore, South Korea) after the worst of the virus seemed to have passed, Germany has announced that by May 4, they expect to begin reopening secondary schools as well as small retail shops, those less than 800 square meters in size. This is a perfect example of the competing pressures on national leaders between potential health outcomes and worsening economic conditions.
The economic damage to the global economy has clearly been extraordinary, and we are just beginning to see the data that is proving this out. For instance, yesterday’s US Retail Sales data fell 8.7%, a record decline, while the Empire Manufacturing result was a staggering -78.2. To better understand just what this means, the construction of the number is as follows: % of surveyed companies reporting improving conditions (6.8%) less % of surveyed companies reporting worsening conditions (85%). That result was far and away the worst in the history of the series and more than double the previous nadir during the GFC. We also saw IP and Capacity Utilization in the US decline sharply, although they did not achieve record lows…yet.
Interestingly, we have not yet seen most of the March data from other countries as they take a bit longer to compile the information, but if the US is any indication, and arguably it will be, look for record declines in activity around the world. In fact, the IMF is now forecasting an actual shrinkage of global GDP in 2020, not merely a reduction in the pace of growth. In and of itself, that is a remarkable outcome.
And yet, the question with which each national leader must grapple is, what will be the increased loss of life if we get back to business too soon? Once again, I will remind everyone that there is no ‘right’ answer here, and that these life and death tradeoffs are strictly the purview of government leadership. I don’t envy them their predicament. In the meantime, markets continue to try to determine the most likely path of action and the ultimate outcome. Unfortunately for the market set, the unprecedented nature of this government activity renders virtually all forecasting based on historical information and data irrelevant.
This should remind all corporate risk managers that the purpose of a hedging program is to mitigate the changes in results, not to eliminate them. It is also a cogent lesson in the need to have a robust hedging program in place. After all, hedge ineffectiveness is not likely to be a major part of earnings compared to the extraordinary disruption currently underway. Yet a robust hedging program has always been a hallmark of strong financial risk management.
In the meantime, as we survey markets this morning, here is what is happening. After yesterday’s weak US equity performance, Asia was under pressure, albeit not aggressively so with the Nikkei (-1.3%) and Hang Seng (-0.6%) falling while Shanghai (+0.3%) actually managed a small gain. European bourses are mostly positive this morning, but the moves are modest compared to recent activity with the DAX (+1.0%), CAC (+0.6%) and FTSE 100 (+0.4%) all green. And US futures are pointing higher, although all three indices are looking at gains well less than 1.0%.
Bond markets have been similarly uninteresting, with 10-year Treasury yields virtually unchanged this morning, although this was after a near 12bp decline yesterday. German bunds, too are little changed, with yields higher by 1bp, but the standout mover today has been Italy, where 10-year BTP’s have seen yields decline 14bps as hope permeates the market after the lowest number of new Covid infections in more than a month were reported yesterday, a still high 2.667.
Turning to the FX market, despite what appears to be a generally more positive framework in markets, the dollar continues to be the place to be. In the G10 space, only SEK is stronger this morning, having rallied 0.25% on literally no news, but the rest of the bloc is softer by between 0.15% and 0.3%. So, granted, the movement is not large, but the direction remains the same. Ultimately, the global dollar liquidity shortage, while somewhat mitigated by Federal Reserve actions, remains a key feature of every market.
Meanwhile, in the EMG bloc, we have seen two noteworthy gainers, RUB (+1.0%) and ZAR (+0.5%). The former is responding to oil’s modest bounce this morning, with prices there up about 2.0%, while the latter is the beneficiary of international investor inflows in the hunt for yield. After all, South African 10-year bonds yield 10.5% these days, a whole lot more than most other places! But, for the rest of the bloc, it is business as usual, which these days means declines vs. the dollar. Remarkably, despite oil’s rebound, the Mexican peso remains under pressure, down 0.6% this morning. But it is KRW (-0.95%) and MYR (-0.85%) that have been the worst performers today. The won appears to have suffered on the back of yesterday’s weak US equity market/risk-off sentiment, with the market there closing before things started to turn, while Malaysia was responding to yesterday’s weakness in oil prices. Arguably, we can look for both of these currencies to recoup some of last night’s losses tonight.
On the data front, this morning brings the latest Initial Claims number (exp 5.5M) as well as Housing Starts (1300K), Building Permits (1300K) and Philly Fed (-32.0). I don’t think housing data is of much interest these days, but the claims data will be closely scrutinized to see if the dramatic changes are ebbing or are still going full force. I fear the latter. Meanwhile, after yesterday’s Empire number, I expect the Philly number to be equally awful.
As much as we all want this to be over, we are not yet out of the woods, not even close. And over the next month, we are going to see increasingly worse data reports, as well as corporate earnings numbers that are likely to be abysmal as well. The point is, the market is aware of these things, so inflection in the trajectory of data is going to be critical, not so much the raw number. For now, the trend remains weaker data and a stronger dollar. Hopefully, sooner, rather than later, we will see that change.
Good luck and stay safe