This morning the data we’ll see
Is highlighted by GDP
How far did it sink?
And is there a link
Twixt that and the FOMC?
Which later today will convene
And talk about Covid-19
What more can they do
To help us all through
The havoc that we all have seen
Market activity has been somewhat mixed amid light volumes as we await the next two important pieces of information to add to the puzzle. Starting us off this morning will be the first look at Q1 GDP in the US. Remember, the virus really didn’t have an impact on the US economy until the first week of March, although the speed of its impact, both on markets and the broad economy were unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I created a very rough model to forecast Q1 GDP and came up with a number of -13.6% +/- 2%. This was based on the idea that economic activity was cut in half for the last three weeks of the month and had been reduced by 25% during the first week. My model was extremely rough, did not take into account any specific factors and was entirely based on anecdotal evidence. After all, sheltering in home, it is exceedingly difficult to survey actual activity. As it turns out, my ‘forecast’ is much more bearish than the professional chattering classes which, according to the Bloomberg survey, shows the median expectation is for a reading of -4.0%, with forecasts ranging from 0.0% to -10.0%. Ultimately, a range of forecasts this wide tells us that nobody has any real idea what this number is going to look like.
Too, remember that while things have gotten worse throughout April, as much of the nation has been locked down, the latest headlines highlight how many places will be easing restrictions in the coming days and weeks. So, it appears that the worst of the impact will straddle March and April, an inconvenient time for quarterly reporting. In the end, the issue for markets is just how much devastation is already reflected in prices and perhaps more importantly, how quick of a recovery is now embedded in the price. It is this last point which gives me pause as to the current levels in equity markets, as well as the overall risk framework. The evidence points to a strong investor belief that the trillions of dollars of support by central banks and governments around the world is going to ensure that V-shaped rebound. If that does not materialize (and I, for one, am extremely skeptical it will), then a repricing of risk is sure to follow.
The other key feature today is the FOMC meeting, with the normal schedule of a 2:00 statement release and a 2:30 press conference. There are no updated forecasts due to be released, and the general consensus is that the Fed is unlikely to add any new programs to the remarkable array of programs already initiated. Arguably, the biggest question for today’s meeting is will they try to clarify their forward guidance regarding the future path of rates and policy or is it still too early to change the view that policy will remain accommodative until the economy weather’s the storm.
While hard money advocates bash the Fed and many complain that their array of actions has actually crossed into illegality, Chairman Powell and his crew are simply trying to alleviate the greatest disruption any economy has ever seen while staying within a loose interpretation of the previous guidelines. Powell did not create the virus, nor did he spend a decade as Fed chair allowing significant financial excesses to be built up. For all the grief he takes, he is simply trying to clean up a major mess that he inherited. But market pundits make their living on being ‘smarter’ than the officials about whom they write, so don’t expect the commentary to change any time soon.
With that as prelude, a survey of this morning’s activity shows that equity markets in Europe are generally slightly higher, although a few, France and Switzerland, are in the red. Interestingly, Italy’s FTSE MIB is higher by 0.4% despite the surprise move by Fitch to cut Italy’s credit rating to BBB-, the lowest investment grade rating and now the same as Moody’s rating. S&P seems to have succumbed to political pressure last week and left their rating one notch higher at BBB although with a negative outlook. Though Italian stocks are holding in, BTP’s (Italian government bonds) have fallen this morning with yields rising 4bps. In fact, a conundrum this morning is the fact that the bond market is clearly in risk-off mode, with Treasury and bund yields lower (2bp and 3bp respectively) while PIGS yields are all higher. Meanwhile, European equities are performing fairly well, US equity futures are all higher by between 0.5%-1.0%, and the dollar is softer virtually across the board. These latter signal a more risk-on scenario.
Speaking of the dollar, it is lower vs. all its G10 counterparts except the pound this morning although earlier gains of as much as 1.0% by AUD and NZD have been cut by more than half as NY walks in. This currency strength is despite weaker than expected Confidence data from the Eurozone, although with an ECB meeting tomorrow, market participants are beginning to bet on Madame Lagarde adding to the ECB’s PEPP. Meanwhile, CAD and NOK seem to be benefitting from a small rebound in the price of oil, although that seems tenuous at best given the fear of holding the front contract after last week’s dip into negative territory on the previous front contract.
EMG currencies are also uniformly stronger this morning, led by IDR (+1.0%) after a well-received government bond issuance increased confidence the country will be able to get through the worst of the virus’ impact. We are also seeing ZAR (+0.9%) firmer on the modestly increased risk appetite, and MXN (+0.7%) follow yesterday’s rally of nearly 1.7% as the worst fears over a collapse in LATAM activity dissipate. Yesterday also saw Brazil’s real rebound 2.75%, which is largely due to aggressive intervention by the central bank. The background story in the country continues to focus on the political situation with the resignation of Justice Minister Moro and yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling that an investigation into President Bolsonaro could continue regarding his firing of the police chief. However, BRL had fallen nearly 14% in the previous two weeks, so some rebound should not be surprising. In fact, on a technical basis, a move back to 5.40 seems quite viable. However, in the event the global risk appetite begins to wane again, look for BRL to once again underperform.
Overall, this mixed session seems to be more likely to evolve toward a bit of risk aversion than risk embrasure unless the Fed brings us something new and unexpected. Remember, any positive sign from the GDP data just means that Q2 will be that much worse, not that things are better overall.
Good luck and stay safe