Around the world, government’s fret
Is it safe to reopen yet?
As growth worldwide slows
Each government knows
Elections are now the real threat
The common theme in markets today, the one that is driving asset prices higher, is that we are beginning to see a number of countries, and in the US, states, schedule the easing of restrictions on activity. Notably, in Italy, the European epicenter of the virus, PM Conte is trying to reschedule the return to some sense of normality with the first relief to occur one week from today in the manufacturing and construction industries, followed by retailers two weeks later. Personal services and restaurants, alas, must wait until June 1 at the earliest. While that hardly seems like an aggressive schedule, the forces arrayed on both sides of the argument grow louder with each passing day, neither of which has been able to convince the other side. (This sounds like the Democrats and Republicans in Congress.) But the reality is, there is no true playbook as to the “right” way to do this as we still know remarkably little about the disease, and its true infectiousness. Of course, collapsing the global economy in fear is likely to result in just as many, if not more, victims.
But it’s not just Italy that is starting. In the US, Georgia is under close scrutiny as it begins easing restrictions as of today. New York’s Governor Cuomo is now talking about a phased in reopening of certain areas, mostly upstate NY, beginning on May 15. And the truth is that many states in the US are preparing to reopen sections of their respective economies. The same is true throughout Europe and Asia, as the rolling lockdowns globally have essentially inflicted as much pain as governments can tolerate.
Of course, the real question is, what exactly does it mean to reopen the economy? I think it is fair to say that the immediate future will not at all resemble the pre-virus situation. Even assuming that most personal financial situations were not completely disrupted (and they truly were), how many people are going to rush out to sit in a movie theater with 200 strangers? How many people are going to jump on an enclosed metal tube with recirculated air for a quick weekend getaway? In fact, how many are going to be willing to go out to their favorite restaurant, assuming it reopens? After all, you cannot eat dinner while wearing an N95 mask!
My point is, the upcoming recovery of this extraordinary economic disruption is likely to be very slow. In fact, history has shown that traumatic events of this nature (think the Depression in the 1930’s) result in significant behavioral changes, especially regarding personal financial habits. The virus has highlighted the fragility of many job situations. It has exposed just how many people worldwide live close to the edge with almost no ability to handle a situation that interrupts their employment cashflow. And these lessons are the type that stick. They will almost certainly result in reduced consumption and increased personal savings. And that is almost the exact opposite of what built the global economy since the end of WWII.
With this in mind, it strikes me that the dichotomy we continue to see in markets, where equity investors are remarkably bullish, while bond and commodity investors seem to be planning for a very long period of slow/negative growth, is going to ultimately be resolved in favor of the bond market. No matter how I consider the next several months, no scenario results in that fabled V-shaped recovery.
But perhaps I am just a doom monger who only sees the negatives. After all, a quick look at markets today shows that the bulls are ascendant. Equity markets around the world are firmer this morning as the combination of prospective reopening of economies and additional central bank stimulus have convinced investors that the worst is behind us. Last night, the BOJ, as widely expected, promised unlimited JGB buying going forward. In addition, they increased their corporate bond buying to ¥20 trillion, essentially following in the Fed’s footsteps from two weeks ago. If their goal was to prop up the stock market, then it worked as the Nikkei closed higher by 2.7% helping the rest of Asia (Hang Seng +1.9%, Australia +1.5%) as well. Europe took the baton, and with more policy ease expected from the ECB on Thursday, has seen markets rise between 1.4% (FTSE 100) and 2.4% (DAX). Meanwhile, the euphoria continues to seep westward as US futures are all higher by roughly 1% this morning.
Bond markets, too, are feeling a bit better with Treasuries and bunds both seeing yields edge higher, 2bp and 1bp respectively, while the risky bonds from the PIGS, all see yields fall sharply. Interestingly, commodity markets don’t seem to get the joke, as oil (-15.8%) is under significant pressure. Finally, the dollar is under pressure across the board, falling against all its G10 counterparts with AUD (+1.4%) leading the way on a combination of today’s positivity and some short-term positive technicals. Even NOK (+0.75%) is firmer today despite oil’s sharp decline, showing just how much the big picture is overwhelming market idiosyncrasies.
In EMG space, pretty much the entire bloc is firmer vs. the dollar with ZAR (+1.15%) and HUF (+0.85%) on top of the list. The rand seems to be the beneficiary of the idea that South Africa is set to receive $5 billion from the IMF and World Bank to help them cope with Covid-19 related disruptions. Meanwhile, the forint is seeing demand driven by expectations of the country easing its lockdown restrictions this week. One quick word about BRL, which has not opened as yet. Last week saw some spectacular movement with the real having fallen nearly 10% at its worst point early Friday afternoon as President Bolsonaro’s most important ally, Justice Minister Moro, resigned amid allegations that Bolsonaro was interfering with a corruption investigation into his own son. The central bank stepped in to stem the tide, and successfully pushed the real higher by nearly 3%, but the situation remains tenuous and as Bolsonaro’s popularity wanes, it seems like there is a lot of room for further declines.
On the data front this week, the first look at Q1 GDP will be closely scrutinized, as well as the FOMC meeting on Wednesday and Thursday’s Claims data.
|Tuesday||Case Shiller Home Prices||3.13%|
|FOMC Rate Decision||0.00% – 0.25%|
|Core PCE||-0.1% (1.6% Y/Y)|
|ISM Prices Paid||28.9|
Obviously, the data will be nothing like any of us have ever seen before, but the real question is just how much negativity is priced into the market. In addition, while the Fed is not expected to change any more policies, you cannot rule out something new to goose things further.
In the end, there is no economic evidence yet that the situation is improving anywhere in the world. And while measured cases of Covid-19 infections may be dropping in places, human behaviors are likely permanently altered. This crisis is not close to over, regardless of what the stock markets are trying to indicate. My money is on the bond market view that things are going to be very slow for a long time to come. And that implies the dollar is going to retain its bid as well.
Good luck and stay safe