In Europe, that grouping of states
Now find themselves in dire straits
The PMI data
Described a schemata
Of weakness and endless low rates
In the past, economists and analysts would build big econometric models with multiple variables and then, as new data was released, those models would spit out new estimates of economic activity. All of these models were based on calculating the historic relationships between specific variables and broader growth outcomes. Generally speaking, they were pretty lousy. Some would seem to work for a time, but the evolution of the economy was far faster than the changes made in the models, so they would fall out of synch. And that was before Covid-19 pushed the pace of economic change to an entirely new level. So now, higher frequency data does a far better job of giving indications as to the economic situation around the world. This is why the Initial Claims data (due this morning and currently expected at 4.5M) has gained in the eyes of both investors and economists compared to the previous champ, Nonfarm Payrolls. The latter is simply old news by the time it is released.
There is, however, another type of data that is seen as quite timely, the survey data. Specifically, PMI data is seen as an excellent harbinger of future activity, with a much stronger track record of successfully describing inflection points in the economy. And that’s what makes this morning’s report so disheartening. Remember, the PMI question simply asks each respondent whether activity is better, the same or worse than the previous month. They then subtract the percentage of worse from the percentage of better and, voila, PMI. With that in mind, this morning’s PMI results were spectacularly awful.
In each case, the data set new historic lows, and given the service-oriented nature of developed economies, it cannot be that surprising that the Services number fell to levels far lower than manufacturing. After all, social distancing is essentially about stopping the provision of individual services. But still, if you do the math, in France 94.8% of Service businesses said that things were worse in April than in March. That’s a staggering number, and across the entire continent, even worse than the dire predictions that had been made ahead of the release.
With this in mind, two things make more sense. First, the euro is under pressure this morning, falling 0.6% as I type and heading back toward the lows seen last month. Despite all the discussion of how the Fed’s much more significant policy ease will ultimately undermine the dollar, the short-term reality continues to be, the euro has much bigger fundamental problems and so is far less attractive. The other thing is the ECB’s announcement last evening that they were following the Fed’s example and would now be accepting junk bonds as collateral, as long as those bonds were investment grade as of April 7. This is an attempt to prevent Italian debt, currently rated BBB with a negative outlook, from being removed from the acceptable collateral list
when if Standard & Poor’s downgrades them to junk tomorrow. Italian yields currently trade at a 242bp premium to German yields in the 10-year bucket, and if they rise much further, it will simply call into question the best efforts of PM Conte to try to support the Italian economy. After all, unlike the US, Italy cannot print unlimited euros to fund themselves.
Keeping all that happy news in mind, market performance this morning is actually a lot better than you might expect. Equities in Asian markets were mixed with the Nikkei up nicely, +1.5%, but Shanghai slipping a bit, -0.2%. Another problem in Asia is Singapore, where early accolades about preventing the spread of Covid-19 have fallen by the wayside as the infection rate there spikes and previous efforts to reopen the economy are halted or reversed. Interestingly, the Asian PMI data was relatively much better than Europe, with Japanese Services data at 22.8. Turning to Europe, the picture remains mixed with the DAX (-0.3%) and FTSE 100 (-0.3%) slipping while the CAC (+0.1%) has managed to keep its head above water. The best performer on the Continent is Italy (+1.0%) as the ECB decision is seen as a win for all Italian markets. US futures markets are modestly negative at this time, but just 0.2% or so, thus it is hard to get a sense of the opening.
Bond markets are also having a mixed day, with the weakest links in Europe, the PIGS, all rallying smartly with yields lower by between 5bps (Italy) and 19bps (Greece). Treasury yields, however, have actually edged higher by a basis point, though still yield just 0.63%. And finally, the dollar, too, is having a mixed session. In the G10 bloc, the euro and Swiss franc are at the bottom of the list today, with Switzerland inextricably tied to the Eurozone and its foibles. On the plus side, NOK has jumped 1.0% as oil prices, after their early week collapse, are actually rebounding nicely this morning with WTI higher by 12.4% ($1.70/bbl), although still at just $15.50/bbl. Aussie (+0.6%) and Kiwi (+0.75%) are also in the green, as both have seen sharp recent declines moderate.
EMG currencies also present a mixed picture, with the ruble on top of the charts, +1.4%, on the strength of the oil market rebound. India’s rupee has also performed well overnight, rising 0.8%, as the market anticipates further monetary support from the Reserve bank there. While there are other gainers, none of the movement is significant. On the other side of the ledger, the CE4 are all under pressure, tracking the euro’s decline with the lot of them down between 0.3% and 0.5%. I must mention BRL as well, which while it hasn’t opened yet today, fell 2.6% yesterday as the market responded to BCB President Campos Neto indicating that further rate cuts were coming and that QE in the future is entirely realistic. The BRL carry trade has been devastated with the short-term Selic rate now sitting at 3.75%, and clearly with room to fall.
Aside from this morning’s Initial Claims data, we see Continuing Claims (exp 16.74M), which run at a one week lag, and then we get US PMI data (Mfg 35.0, Services 30.0) at 9:45. Finally at 10:00 comes New Home Sales, which are forecast to have declined by 16% in March to 644K.
The big picture remains that economic activity is still slowing down around the world with the reopening of economies still highly uncertain in terms of timing. Equity markets have been remarkable in their ability to ignore what have been historically awful economic outcomes, but at some point, I fear that the next leg lower will be coming. As to the dollar, it remains the haven of choice, and so is likely to remain well bid overall for the foreseeable future.
Good luck and stay safe