Fear’s Stranglehold

All week the poor dollar’s been sold
As traders break fear’s stranglehold
How far can it fall?
The popular call
Is very, though ‘twill be controlled

Once again the dollar is under pressure this morning, although interestingly, we are not seeing equity market strength. Up til now, this week has proven decidedly risk-on with equity markets rallying, commodity prices performing well, and long dollar positions, established during the past months due to fears of impaired liquidity, getting reduced. After all, there is no need to hold a forex position if you can borrow dollars without paying a huge premium. But this morning, there is a bit of a conundrum in the markets as equity prices are falling around the world, but the dollar is continuing its decline.

The popular risk narrative focuses on increasing tensions between the US and China in the wake of China’s recent passage of a law increasing its control over Hong Kong. That simply adds to the general fears that the constant butting of heads between the two nations could escalate to a more significant confrontation. Certainly, this action by the Chinese is not a risk positive, but there is no evidence that funds are rapidly flowing out of Hong Kong because of the situation. This has been made clear by both the exchange rate, where HKD remains right at the top of its band with the dollar and the Hang Seng, which while down 18% YTD, remains well above the lows seen in the global crash in March, and hardly seems in danger of collapse.

Rather, given that it is month end, it appears far more likely that today’s price action in equities is being driven by portfolio rebalancing. After all, asset allocators are now longer equities relative to debt and so will be selling stocks to put themselves back to their target levels. As to the dollar, it too is likely to be feeling the impact of portfolio rebalancing as money continues to flow out of overweight US equity positions to other geographies.

After all, the rate structure has hardly changed at all this month, with yields having remained quite stable in general. For instance, 10-year Treasury yields had an 11 basis point range all month while the havens in Europe saw a similar lack of volatility. Only the PIGS saw their yields trade more dramatically, and for all of them, it was a straight line higher in prices, with yields falling accordingly, in the wake of the EU announcement of steps toward debt mutualization. With this in mind, one can hardly blame relative rate changes for the dollar’s month-long weakness.

On the economic front, the data has been very consistent around the world as well. It is uniformly awful, but it is also beginning its slow rebound from the nadir reached in late March/early April. As Covid-19 spread around the world, different countries have been impacted at different times, but the pattern everywhere is quite similar. In fact, this is the driving market narrative, that economic activity is set to rebound sharply and that as lockdowns around the world are lifted, all will be back to where it was prior to the spread of Covid. And perhaps this will, in fact, be the case. However, the destruction of economic activity combined with the forced changes in working conditions certainly raises the possibility that the rebound will not be nearly as robust as currently anticipated by markets. In other words, do not rule out another repricing of risk. But despite some lingering fears, the general mood in markets remains positive.

Turning to today’s session, as mentioned, we are seeing red across the board in the equity markets with Asia soft (Nikkei -0.2%), Hang Seng (-0.7%), Europe under pressure (DAX -1.0%, CAC -0.8%, FTSE 100 -0.9%) and US futures also declining (DJIA -0.4%, SPX and NASDAQ -0.3%). Also, given the overall lack of volatility seen all month in the bond market, it should be no surprise that Treasury yields are only modestly changed, down 2bps, with German, French and UK yields similarly lower. Meanwhile, oil prices, which have rallied more than 65% this month, are slightly softer today, down 3% and the price of gold, which has had a choppy month, is adding 0.5% to achieve its MTD gain of 1.5%. (As an aside, the gold story is one of great conviction on both sides as the bulls look at the amount of new money in the system without a corresponding increase in production, actually a significant decline there, and wonder how hard assets cannot increase in value. Meanwhile, the bears point to the absence of demand for goods, looking at things like crashing retail sales and rising savings rates, and see deflation on the horizon and no reason to hold anything other than fixed income in this environment.)

As to the dollar, it is almost uniformly lower this morning, with the entire G10 firmer led by Sweden’s krona, up 1.0%, after the country released a surprisingly positive Q1 GDP growth outcome of +0.1%, far better than the anticipated -0.3%, and helping to maintain positive Y/Y growth. That has clearly energized NOK (+0.7%) as well as EUR (+0.5%). But in reality, a great deal of this activity is dollar weakness, rather than specific country strength.

In the EMG bloc, the dollar is under pressure across the space with only the Turkish lira declining on the day, and that by just 0.2%. On the positive side, the CE4 are leading the way with CZK (+0.8%) and HUF (+0.7%) atop the leaderboard. The other noteworthy mover has been IDR (+0.7%) after comments from the central bank governor, Perry Warjiyo, indicated his belief that the rupiah was undervalued and could appreciate somewhat with no problems to the economy.

On the data front, yesterday saw the first decline in Continuing Claims data since the onset of Covid-19, with a surprisingly low print of 21.0M. Initial Claims continue to slide as well, rising ‘only’ 2.1M last week. GDP data were revised slightly lower, to -5.0% annualized for Q1, although there remains a contest to see whose depiction of Q2, with current forecasts between -20% and -50%, will be closest to the mark. This morning we see Personal Income (exp -6.0%), Personal Spending (-12.8%), Core PCE (1.1%), Chicago PMI (40.0) and Michigan Sentiment (74.0). The April income and spending data will be much worse than the previous print, as that encompasses the worst of the shutdown. But the May data is forecast to rebound from its worst levels, consistent with what we are seeing around the world.

As long as fear is in abeyance, I expect that dollar demand will remain more muted than we had seen during the past several months. The big picture story of a more unified Europe with mutual debt, and my ongoing expectations of negative real interest rates in the US points to further dollar weakness over time. This is not going to be a collapse, but rather a steady grind lower.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

A Line in the Sand

The news out of Europe is grand
A virus response is now planned
Except for the fact
It’s not widely backed
It might draw a line in the sand

As well, what the data has shown
Is hope for the future has grown
Most surveys explain
The worst of the pain
Is past, though there’s much to bemoan

Equity markets continue to power ahead in most nations as the ongoing belief remains the worst of the damage from the global shutdowns is past, and that activity will quickly return to pre-virus levels given the extraordinary support promulgated by governments and central banks around the world. For example, Italian Consumer Confidence fell only to 94.3, a far better result than the 90.0 expected. Similarly, Eurozone Economic Confidence edged higher, to 67.5 from April’s revised 64.9 reading, also offering the chance that the worst is behind us. In fact, we have seen this pattern repeatedly over the past several weeks, where May readings (Empire Mfg, Philly Fed, Michigan Sentiment) rebounded from the extraordinary levels seen in March and April, although they remain at levels associated with extremely deep recessions. And maybe, hopefully, that is exactly what this data means. The bottom is in and it is straight up from here. Of course, the slope of this recovery line remains highly uncertain.

This morning we have also learned a bit more detail about the last major economy to announce a support package, as the EU’s mooted €750 billion package will be combined with €1.1 trillion of additional spending by the EU from its own budget…over the next seven years. That’s right, the EU has determined that the best way to support its member nations in the midst of a crisis is to promise to spend some additional money for nearly the next decade. And when you do the math, this stimulus adds up to less than 1% of the EU’s annual GDP, by far the smallest effort made by any major government. Adding injury to this insulting package is the fact that it remains highly uncertain as to whether even this can get enacted.

Remember, the underlying problem in Europe remains that the frugal north has been unwilling to support the profligate south. In fact, the telling comment was from a Dutch diplomat where he said, “Negotiations will take time. It’s difficult to imagine this proposal will be the end-state of those negotiations.” So, the headline spin is Europe is finally getting around to putting up some economic aid directly to those nations in greatest need. But the reality remains far from that outcome. Markets, of course, are happy to believe the words until they are proven wrong, but history suggests that the promised €1.85 trillion in total aid will actually be far less than that in the end.

Will it matter if the money never comes? Perhaps not. Perhaps, the natural course of events will see growth start to pick up again and demands for government support will fade into the background. Of course, it seems equally likely that EU support will be delivered by flying pigs. But hey, you never know!

Turning to markets now, risk remains the place to be for investors as equity rallies continue unabated. After another standout performance in the US yesterday, Asia did well (Nikkei +2.3%, Australia +1.3%), except for Hong Kong, where the Hang Seng fell 0.7% after the Chinese National People’s Congress approved (by 2,878-1) the measure allowing China to crack down directly on Hong Kong’s citizens regarding subversion, secession and terrorism, if deemed to be necessary by Beijing. This has opened yet another front of disagreement between the US and China and simply served to elevate tensions further. As yet, the situation remains a war of words and financial actions (like tariffs), but the situation appears to be edging closer to a point where a more kinetic outcome is possible. If that were the case, you can be sure that Covid headlines would become page 6 news and markets would need to reevaluate their current bullish stance.

Meanwhile, European markets have responded positively to the promise of EU support with all markets there higher by between 0.5% (DAX) and 1.7% (Italy’s FTSE MIB). This makes perfect sense as Italy will certainly be the largest beneficiary of the EU program while Germany will simply be picking up the tab. And finally, as I type, US futures are mixed with the Dow higher by 0.5% while NASDAQ futures are lower by -.4%.

Interestingly, bond markets around the world have rallied alongside stocks with yields edging lower in the US, 10-year Treasury is down 1 basis point, but seeing much greater price gains (yield declines) throughout Europe where France (-5bps), Spain (-4bps) and Greece (-3.5bps) are leading the way. Even bunds have seen yields decline, down 2.5bps, on the back of ongoing weakness in German regional CPI readings.

And what of the dollar, you may ask. In truth, today is the very definition of a mixed session. In the G10, four currencies have edged lower by about 0.1% (CHF, NOK, CAD, AUD) while two have edged higher, SEK +0.2%, NZD +0.1%, and the rest are essentially unchanged. With movement this small, there is no specific story driving things.

The EMG bloc has seen a similar split with gainers and losers, but here there has been a bit more substance to the moves. The worst performer is Turkey, with the lira down 0.6% after data showed Central bank borrowing continued to increase as the country tries to stockpile hard-currency reserves. But we also saw KRW decline 0.45% after the BOK cut rates to 0.50%, a new record low, and promised to do even more if necessary, implying that QE is on the table next. On the plus side, CZK has been the biggest gainer, up 0.4% after their government financing auction drew a bid-to-cover ratio of 10.72, demonstrating real demand for the currency.

On the data front, we see a great deal here at home as follows: Initial Claims (exp 2.1M), Continuing Claims (25.7M), Durable Goods (-19.0%, -15.0% ex transport) and Q1 GDP (-4.8%) all at 8:30. With the market clearly looking forward, not back, despite what will certainly be horrific data, it seems unlikely that there will be much reaction unless there is a real outlier from these expectations. Remember, the working assumption is already that Q2 GDP is going to be record-breaking in its depths, so will any of these really change opinions? My guess is no.

Overall, the dollar has been under pressure for the past two weeks and as long as risk appetite remains robust, I think that situation will apply.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

More Than a Molehill

The House passed a stimulus bill
With price tag of more than three trill
Japan’s latest play
Three billion a day
Adds up to more than a molehill

But turning to Europe we find
Their efforts are quite ill-designed
Despite desperate needs
The trouble exceeds
The laws that their treaties enshrined

Apparently, it’s Stimulus Day today, a little-known holiday designed by politicians to announce new fiscal stimulus measures to great fanfare. At least, that’s what it seems like anyway. Last night, Japanese PM Abe announced Japan’s second extra stimulus package in just over a month, this one with a price tag of ¥117 trillion, or roughly $1.1 trillion at today’s exchange rate (which, if you do the math works out to just over $3 billion/day over the course of a year). For an economy with a total GDP of ~$4.9 trillion, that is a huge amount of extra money.

The BOJ has explained that they will not allow JGB yields to rise, which means that they are going to mop up all the issuance and the market (or what’s left of it) clearly believes them as 10-year JGB yields actually fell 1bp last night and are currently trading at -0.006%. It is certainly no imposition for the Japanese government to borrow money from the BOJ as it is essentially a free loan. The impact on the Nikkei was mildly positive, with the index rallying 0.7%, while the yen has edged lower by a mere 0.15% and remains firmly ensconced in its 106-108 range.

And one last thing, Japan lifted its state of emergency, as well, meaning lockdowns continue to dissipate around the world. Of course, the thing about stimulus during the Days of Covid is that it is not designed to boost growth so much as designed to replace activity that was prevented by government lockdowns. Unfortunately, none of the measures announced anywhere in the world will be able to fully offset the impact of all those closures, and so despite governments’ best efforts, the global economy is set to shrink in 2020.

But on this Stimulus Day, we cannot ignore what is likely a far more important piece of news emanating from Europe, the creation of a €750 billion (~$825 billion) fiscal stimulus package consisting of €500 billion of grants and the rest of loans. While the size of this package is dwarfed by the Japanese efforts, despite the fact that the EU represents an economy with GDP of more than €14.3 trillion, the importance stems from the fact that part of the funding will come from joint debt issuance. This, of course, has been the holy grail for the entirety of southern Europe as well as the French. Because this means that the Germans (and Dutch and Austrians) are going to pay for the rest of the continent’s problems. And since those three nations are the only ones that can afford to do so, it is certainly a big deal.

The timing of this cannot be ignored either as ECB President Lagarde, just this morning, informed the world that of the ECB’s GDP forecasts last month, the mild downturn scenario is now “out of date”, with a much greater likelihood that GDP will decline between 8% and 12% in 2020. The market response has been clear with the euro rallying 0.8% on the news and now higher by 0.3% on the day, and back above 1.10. Yields on the debt of the PIGS have also fallen nicely since the news hit the tape, with all four nations seeing a 5-6bp decline. And European equity markets, which seem to have anticipated the news, have climbed a bit further, and are now all higher by more than 1.25% with Spain’s IBEX leading the way, up 2.25%.

I guess the question is will the US Senate join in the festivities (you recall the House already passed a $3 trillion package last week) and agree to at least discuss the idea, although they have made clear the House bill is a non-starter. The thing is, as has been evidenced by the recent stock market performance in the US, there are many that believe no further government stimulus is needed in the US. Optimism in the stock market has been driven by optimism that the gradual reopening of the economy in certain states will start to accelerate and that before too long, the lockdown period will end. Along those lines, Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, last night decided that small retail stores would be allowed to open today. Similarly, New York mayor Bill DiBlasio has now said that the first steps toward reopening could take place in the second week of June. The point is, if economic activity is going to start to rekindle on its own, why is further stimulus needed.

With this as background, we have seen a pretty substantial reversal in the FX market this morning, mostly since the EU stimulus announcement. While the yen has not moved, the G10 has seen currencies reverse course from a 0.3%-0.5% decline to similar sized gains. In other words, the market has seen this as further evidence that risk is to be acquired at all costs. Certainly, if the EU can figure out how to effectively fund its weakest members without causing a political uproar in the Teutonic trio, then one of the key negative fundamentals for the single currency will have been corrected. This works hand in hand with my view of increasingly negative real interest rates in the US as a driver of medium-term dollar weakness. While I don’t expect the euro to run away higher, this is certainly very positive news.

Meanwhile, those EMG currencies whose markets are open have all reversed course as well, with the CE4 higher by an average of 0.45%, having been lower by a similar amount before the announcement. APAC currencies, which had suffered a bit overnight, have not had a chance to react to the news as their local markets had closed before the report. I expect that, ceteris paribus, they will perform better tonight. The one currency, though, that is not performing well today is the Chinese renminbi, and more specifically CNH, the offshore version. It is lower by -.35%, having fallen early in last night’s session as tensions continue to increase between the US and China. As I have maintained for a very long period, the currency is an important outlet for Chinese economic imbalances and further weakness is a far more likely outcome than a reversal anytime soon.

Yesterday’s housing data in the US was surprisingly robust, with New Home Sales falling far less than expected. Today, the only real release will be the Fed’s Beige Book at 2:00, which might be interesting, but can be expected to paint a very dire picture of the regional economies. But none of that matters anymore. The future is clearly much brighter this morning as the combination of Japanese and EU stimulus along with additional easing of US restrictions has investors primed to use all that stimulus money and pump up asset prices even further. What could possibly go wrong?

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

‘Twas Nothing At All

Does anyone here still recall
When Covid had cast a great pall
On markets and life
While causing much strife?
Me neither, ‘twas nothing at all!

One can only marvel at the way the financial markets have been able to rally on the same story time and again during the past two years. First it was the trade talks. After an initial bout of concern that growing trade tensions between the US and China would derail the global economy led to a decline in global equity market indices, about every other day we heard from President Trump that talks were going very well, that a Phase One deal was imminent and that everything would be great. And despite virtually no movement on the subject for months, those comments were sufficient to drive stock prices higher every time they were made. Of course, we all know that a phase one deal was, in fact, reached and signed, but it occurred a scant week before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

What has been truly remarkable is that the market’s reaction to the virus has followed almost the exact same pattern. Once it became clear that Covid-19 was going to be a big deal, causing significant disruption throughout the world, stock prices tumbled in a series of extraordinary sessions in March and early April. But since then, we have seen a powerful rally back to within a few percent of the all-time highs set in February. And these days, every rally is based on the exact same story; to wit, some company [insert name here] is on the cusp of creating a successful Covid vaccine and things will be back to normal soon.

So, as almost all of us continue to work from home, shelter in place and maintain our social distance, investors (gamblers?) have discerned that everything is just fine, and that economic recovery is on the way. And maybe they are right. Maybe history is going to look back on this time and show it was an extremely large disruption, but an extremely short-term one that had almost no long-term impact. But, boy, that seems like a hard picture to paint if you simply look at the data and understand how economies work.

Every day we see data that describes how extraordinary the impact of government lockdown policies has been, with rampant unemployment, virtual halts in manufacturing, complete halts in group entertainment and bankruptcies of erstwhile venerable companies. And every day the global equity markets rally on the prospect of a new vaccine being discovered. I get that markets are forward looking, but they certainly seem blind to the extent of damage already inflicted and what that means for the future. Even if activities went back to exactly the way they were before the outbreak, the fact remains that many businesses are no longer in existence. They could not withstand the complete absence of revenues for an extended period of time, and so have been permanently shuttered. And while new businesses will rise to take their place, that is not an overnight process. It seems thin gruel to rally on the fact that Germany’s IFO Expectations Index rallied from its historically worst print (69.4) to its second worst print (80.1), but slightly higher than expected. Or that the GfK Consumer Confidence managed the same feat (-23.4 to -18.9). Both of these data points are correlated with extremely deep recessions.

And yet, that is the situation in which we find ourselves. The dichotomy between extremely weak economic activity and a strong belief that not only is the worst behind us, but that the damage inflicted has been modest, at best. Today is a perfect example of that situation with risk firmly in the ascendancy after the long holiday weekend.

Equity markets are on fire, rallying sharply in Asia (Nikkei +2.5%, Hang Seng +1.9%, Shanghai +1.0%) despite the fact that there is evidence that a second wave of infections is growing in China and may once again force the government there to shut down large swathes of the economy. Europe, too, is rocking with the FTSE 100 (+1.2%) leading the way although gains seen across the board (DAX +0.6%, CAC +1.1%). And US futures would not dare to be left out of this rally, with all three indices up around 2.0%. Meanwhile, Treasury yields are higher by 3.5 basis points with German bund yields higher by 6bps. Of course, Italy, Portugal and Greece have all seen their yields slide as those bond markets behave far more like risk assets than havens.

I would be remiss to ignore the commodity markets which have seen oil rally a further 2.25% this morning, back to $34/bbl and the highest point since the gap down at the beginning of this process back in early March. Gold, on the other hand, is a bit softer, down 0.3%, but remains firmly above $1700/oz as many investors continue to look at central bank activity and register concern over the future value of any fiat currency.

And then there is the dollar, which has fallen almost across the board overnight, and is substantially lower than where we left it Friday afternoon. In the G10 space, AUD (+1.3%) and NZD (+1.5%) are the leaders on the back of broadly positive risk sentiment helped by a better than expected Trade Surplus in New Zealand along with a larger than expected rebound in the ANZ Consumer Confidence Index, to its second lowest reading in history. But the pound is higher by 1.1% on prospects of an end to the nationwide lockdown in the UK. And in fact, other than the yen, which is unchanged, the rest of the bloc is firmer by 0.5% or more, largely on the positive risk sentiment.

In the emerging markets, the runaway winner is the Mexican peso, up 2.7% since Friday’s close as a combination of higher oil prices, a more hawkish Banxico than expected and growing belief that the US, its major export partner, is reopening has led to a huge short-squeeze in the FX markets. In the past week, the peso has recouped nearly 7% of its losses this year and is now down a mere 14.5% year-to-date. Helping the story is the just released GDP number for Q1, which showed a decline of only -1.2%, better than the initially reported -1.6%. But we are also seeing strength throughout the EMG bloc, with PLN (+1.8%), BRL (+1.6%) and ZAR (+1.2%) all putting in strong performances. Risk sentiment is clearly strong today.

Into this voracious risk appetite, we will see a great deal of data this holiday-shortened week as follows:

Today Case Shiller Home Prices 3.40%
  New Home Sales 480K
  Consumer Confidence 87.0
Wednesday Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 2.1M
  Continuing Claims 25.75M
  Q1 GDP -4.8%
  Q1 Personal Consumption -7.5%
  Durable Goods -19.8%
  -ex transport -15.0%
Friday Personal Income -6.5%
  Personal Spending -12.8%
  Core PCE Deflator -0.3% (1.1% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 40.0
  Michigan Sentiment 74.0

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to the plethora of data, we hear from six different Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell on Friday morning. On this front, however, the entire FOMC has been consistent, explaining that they will continue to do what they deem necessary, that they have plenty of ammunition left, and that the immediate future of the economy will be awful, but things will improve over time.

In the end, risk is being snapped up like it is going out of style this morning, as both investors and traders continue to look across the abyss. I hope they are right…I fear they are not. But as long as they continue to behave in this manner, the dollar will remain under pressure. It rallied a lot this year, so there is ample room for it to decline further.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Playing Hardball

Last night China shocked one and all
With two policy shifts not too small
They’ve now become loath
To target their growth
And in Hong Kong they’re playing hardball

It seems President Xi Jinping was pining for the spotlight, at least based on last night’s news from the Middle Kingdom. On the economic front, China abandoned their GDP target for 2020, the first time this has been the case since they began targeting growth in 1994. It ought not be that surprising since trying to accurately assess the country’s growth prospects during the Covid-19 crisis is nigh on impossible. Uncertainty over the damage already done, as well as the future infection situation (remember, they have seen a renewed rise in cases lately) has rendered economists completely unable to model the situation. And recall, the Chinese track record has been remarkable when it comes to hitting their forecast, at least the published numbers have a nearly perfect record of meeting or beating their targets. The reality on the ground has been called into question many times in the past on this particular subject.

The global economic community, of course, will continue to forecast Chinese GDP and current estimates for 2020 GDP growth now hover in the 2.0% range, a far cry from the 6.1% last year and the more than 10% figures seen early in the century. Instead, the Chinese government has turned its focus to unemployment with the latest estimates showing more than 130 million people out of a job. In their own inimitable way, they manage not to count the rural unemployed, meaning the official count is just 26.1M, but that doesn’t mean those folks have jobs. At this time, President Xi is finding himself under much greater pressure than he imagined. 130 million unemployed is exactly the type of thing that leads to revolutions and Xi is well aware of the risks.

In fact, it is this issue that arguably led to the other piece of news from China last night, the newly mooted mainland legislation that will require Hong Kong to enact laws curbing acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion. In other words, a new law that will bring Hong Kong under more direct sway from Beijing and remove many of the freedoms that have set the island territory apart from the rest of the country. While Covid-19 has prevented the mass protests seen last year from continuing in Hong Kong, the sentiments behind those protests did not disappear. But Xi needs to distract his population from the onslaught of bad news regarding both the virus and the economy, and nothing succeeds in doing that better than igniting a nationalistic view on some subject.

While in the short term, this may work well for President Xi, if he destroys Hong Kong’s raison d’etre as a financial hub, the downside is likely to be much greater over time. Hong Kong remains the financial gateway to China’s economy largely because the legal system their remains far more British than Chinese. It is not clear how much investment will be looking for a home in a Hong Kong that no longer protects private property and can seize both people and assets on a whim.

It should be no surprise that financial markets in Asia, particularly in Hong Kong, suffered last night upon learning of China’s new direction. The Hang Seng fell 5.6%, its largest decline since July 2015. Even Shanghai fell, down 1.9%, which given China’s announcement of further stimulus measures despite the lack of a GDP target, were seen as positive. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, the Nikkei slipped a more modest 0.9% despite pledges by Kuroda-san that the BOJ would implement even more easing measures, this time taking a page from the Fed’s book and supporting small businesses by guaranteeing bank loans made in a new ¥75 trillion (~$700 billion) program. It is possible that markets are slowly becoming inured to even further policy stimulus measures, something that would be extremely difficult for the central banking community to handle going forward.

The story in Europe is a little less dire, although most equity markets there are lower (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 -1.0%). Overall, risk is clearly not in favor in most places around the world today which brings us to the FX markets and the dollar. Here, things are behaving exactly as one would expect when investors are fleeing from risky assets. The dollar is stronger vs. every currency except one, the yen.

Looking at the G10 bloc, NOK is the leading decliner, falling 1.1% as the price of oil has reversed some of its recent gains and is down 6% this morning. But other than the yen’s 0.1% gain, the rest of the bloc is feeling it as well, with the pound and euro both lower by 0.4% while the commodity focused currencies, CAD and AUD, are softer by 0.5%. The data releases overnight spotlight the UK, where Retail Sales declined a remarkable 18.1% in April. While this was a bit worse than expectations, I would attribute the pound’s weakness more to the general story than this particular data point.

In the EMG bloc, every market that was open saw their currency decline and there should be no surprise that the leading decliner was RUB, down 1.1% on the oil story. But we have also seen weakness across the board with the CE4 under pressure (CZK -1.0%, HUF -0.75%, PLN -0.5%, RON -0.5%) as well as weakness in ZAR (-0.7%) and MXN (-0.6%). All of these currencies had been performing reasonably well over the past several sessions when the news was more benign, but it should be no surprise that they are lower today. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that HKD was lower by just basis points, despite the fact that it has significant space to decline, even within its tight trading band.

As we head into the holiday weekend here in the US, there is no data scheduled to be released this morning. Yesterday saw Initial Claims decline to 2.44M, which takes the total since late March to over 38 million! Surveys show that 80% of those currently unemployed expect it to be temporary, but that still leaves more than 7.7M permanent job losses. Historically, it takes several years’ worth of economic growth to create that many jobs, so the blow to the economy is likely to be quite long-lasting. We also saw Existing Home Sales plummet to 4.33M from March’s 5.27M, another historic decline taking us back to levels last seen in 2012 and the recovery from the GFC.

Yesterday we also heard from Fed speakers Clarida and Williams, with both saying that things are clearly awful now, but that the Fed stood ready to do whatever is necessary to support the economy. This has been the consistent message and there is no reason to expect it to change anytime soon.

Adding it all up shows that investors seem to be looking at the holiday weekend as an excuse to reduce risk and try to reevaluate the situation as the unofficial beginning to summer approaches. Trading activity is likely to slow down around lunch time so if you need to do something, early in the morning is where you will find the most liquidity.

Good luck, have a good holiday weekend and stay safe
Adf

 

Feeling the Heat

As tensions continue to flare
Twixt China and Uncle Sam’s heir
The positive feelings
In equity dealings
Could easily turn to a bear

Meanwhile down on Threadneedle Street
The Old Lady’s fairly downbeat
Thus negative rates
Are now on their plates
With bank stocks there feeling the heat

A yoyo may be the best metaphor for market price action thus far in May as we have seen a nearly equal number of up and down days with the pattern nearly perfect of gains followed by losses and vice versa. Today is no different as equity markets are on their back foot, after yesterday’s gains, in response to increasing tensions between Presidents Trump and Xi. Realistically, this is all political, and largely for each President’s domestic audience, but it has taken the form of a blame game, with each nation blaming the other for the instance and severity of the Covid-19 outbreak. What is a bit different this time is that President Trump, who had been quick to condemn China in the past, had also been scrupulous in maintaining that he and President Xi had an excellent working relationship. However, last night’s Twitter tirade included direct attacks on Mr Xi, a new tactic and one over which markets have now shown concern.

Thus, equity markets around the world are lower this morning with modest losses seen in Asia (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng and Shanghai -0.5%) and slightly larger losses throughout the Continent (DAX -1.6%, CAC -1.1%, FTSE 100 -1.0%). US futures are pointing in the same direction with all three indices currently down about 0.7%. Has anything really changed? Arguably not. After all, both broad economic data and corporate earnings numbers remain awful, yet equity market prices, despite today’s dour mood, remain within sight of all-time highs. And of course, the bond market continues to point to a very different future as 10-year Treasury yields (-1bp today) continue to trade near historically low levels. To reiterate, the conundrum between a bond market that is implying extremely slow economic activity for the next decade, with no concomitant inflation seems an odd companion to an equity market where the median P/E ratio has once again moved above 20, well above its long-term average. This dichotomy continues to be a key topic of conversation in the market, and one which history has shown cannot last forever. The trillion-dollar question is, which market adjusts most?

With the increasing dissent between the US and China as a background, we also learned of the specter of the next country to move toward a negative interest rate stance, the UK. When Mark Carney was governor there, he categorically ruled out negative interest rates as an effective tool to help support the economy. He got to closely observe the experiment throughout Europe and concluded the detriments to the banking community outweighed any potential economic positives. (This is something that is gaining more credence within the Eurozone as well although the ECB continues to insist NIRP has been good for the Eurozone.) However, Carney is no longer governor, Andrew Bailey now holds the chair. And he has just informed Parliament, “I have changed my position a bit,” on the subject, and is now willing to consider negative rates after all. This is in concert with other members of the MPC, which implies that NIRP is likely soon to be reality in the UK. It should be no surprise that UK banking stocks are suffering after these comments as banks are the second victims of the process. (Individual savers are the first victims as their savings no longer offer any income, and in extreme cases decline.)

The other natural victim of NIRP is the currency. As discussed earlier this week, there is a pretty solid correlation between negative real rates and a currency’s relative value. Now granted, if real rates are negative everywhere, then we are simply back to the relative amount of negativity that exists, but regardless, this potential policy shift is clearly new, and one would expect the pound to suffer accordingly. Surprisingly, it is little changed this morning, down less than 0.1% amid a modest trading range overnight. However, it certainly raises the question of the future path of the pound.

When the Eurozone first mooted negative interest rates, in 2014, the dollar was already in the midst of a strong rally based on the view that the Fed was getting set to start to raise interest rates at that time. Thus, separating the impact of NIRP from that of expected higher US rates on the EUR/USD exchange rate is no easy task. However, there is no question that the euro’s value has suffered from NIRP as there is limited incentive for fixed income investment by foreigners. It should therefore be expected that the pound will be weaker going forward as foreign investment interest will diminish in the UK. Whether negative rates will help encourage foreign direct investment is another story entirely, and one which we will not understand fully for many years to come. With all this in mind, though, the damage to the pound is not likely to be too great. After all, given the fact that negative real rates are widespread, and already the situation in the UK, a base-rate cut from 0.1% to -0.1% doesn’t seem like that big a deal overall. We shall see how the market behaves.

As to the session today, FX markets have been as quiet as we have seen in several months. In the G10 space, Aussie and Kiwi are the underperformers, but both are lower by a mere 0.35%, quite a small move relative to recent activity, and simply a modest unwind of yesterday’s much more powerful rally in both. But away from those two, the rest of the bloc is less than 0.2% different from the close with both gainers (EUR, DKK) and losers (GBP, JPY) equidistant from those levels.

On the EMG side, there is a bit more constructive performance with oil’s continued rally (+2%) helping RUB (+0.4%) while the CE4 are also modestly firmer simply following the euro higher. APAC currencies seem a bit worse for wear after the Twitter spat between Trump and China, but the losses are miniscule.

Data this morning showed the preliminary PMI data from Europe is still dire, but not quite as bad as last month’s showing. In the US today we see Initial Claims (exp 2.4M), Continuing Claims (24.25M) and Existing Home Sales (4.22M). But as I have been writing all month, at this point data is assumed to be dreadful and only policy decisions seem to have an impact on the market. Yesterday we saw the Minutes of the Fed’s April 29 meeting, where there was a great deal of discussion about the economy’s problems and how they can continue to support it. Ideas floated were firmer forward guidance, attaching rate moves to numeric economic targets, and yield curve control, where the Fed determines to keep the interest rate on a particular tenor of Treasury bonds at a specific level. Both Japan and Australia are currently executing this, and the Fed has done so in its history, keeping long-term yields at 2.50% during WWII. My money is on the 10-year being pegged at 0.25% for as long as necessary. But that is a discussion for another day. For today, the dollar seems more likely to rebound a bit rather than decline, but that, too, is one man’s view.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Patience is Needed

Mnuchin said patience is needed
While Powell said growth must be seeded
As both testified
And each justified
Their views, which both said must be heeded

Two months into the response to Covid-19, differences in policy views between the Fed and the Administration are starting to appear. In Senate testimony yesterday, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin indicated the belief that sufficient fiscal support has been authorized and its implementation is all that is needed, alongside the relaxation of lockdown rules around the country, for the economy to rebound sharply. The Administration’s base case remains a V-shaped recovery, with Q3 and Q4 showing substantial growth after what everyone agrees will be a devastatingly awful Q2 result.

Meanwhile, the Fed, via Chairman Powell, took the view that we remain in a critical period and that further stimulus may well be necessary to prevent permanent long-term damage to the economy. He continued to focus on the idea that until people feel safe with personal interactions, any rebound in the economy will be substandard. Of course, to date, of the $454 billion that Congress authorized for the Treasury to use as seed money underlying Fed lending schemes, less than $75 billion has been utilized. It seems that if Chairman Powell was truly that concerned, he would be ramping up the use of those funds more quickly. While part of the problem is the normal bureaucratic delays that come with implementing any new program, it is also true that the Fed is not well suited to support small businesses and individuals. Programs of that nature tend to require more fiscal than monetary support, at least as currently defined and implemented in today’s world. Remember, the Fed is not able to take losses according to its charter, which is why all the corporate bond buying and main street lending programs are already on shaky legal grounds.

The interesting thing about the dueling testimonies was just how little of an impact they had on market behavior yesterday. In fact, the late day equity market sell-off was almost certainly driven by the concern that yesterday’s media darling, the biotech firm Moderna, Inc., may not actually have a viable vaccine ready this year. Remember, it was the prospect that a vaccine was imminent and so lockdowns could be lifted that was critical in investor minds yesterday. If the vaccine story is no longer on track, it is much harder to justify paying over the top for equities. At any rate, that late day move set the tone for a much more subdued session in both Asia and Europe overnight.

Looking at markets, last night saw a mixed equity picture in Asia (Nikkei +0.8%, Shanghai -0.5%) and a very modest positive light in Europe (DAX +0.6%, CAC 0.0%, FTSE 100 +0.2%). More positively, US futures are pointing higher as I type, with all three indices looking at a 1% gain on the open if things hold. Bond markets are similarly uninspired this morning, with Treasury yields higher by less than 1bp while German bund yields are down by the same. In fact, looking across the European market, half are slightly higher, and half are slightly lower. Again, nothing of interest here.

Commodity markets show that oil continues to rebound sharply, up another 1% this morning and now above $32/bbl for WTI. Remember, it was less than a month ago that the May futures contract settled at -$37/bbl as storage was nowhere to be found. Certainly, any look at commodity markets would indicate that economic growth was making a return. But it sure doesn’t feel like that yet.

Finally, FX markets continue to see the dollar cede some recent gains as fears over USD funding by global counterparts continue to ebb on the back of Fed lending programs. In fact, this is exactly where the Fed can do the most good, helping to ensure that central banks around the world have the ability to access USD liquidity for their local markets.

A tour of the G10 shows that today’s biggest winner is NZD (+0.65%) followed by AUD and CHF, both higher by about 0.4%. The Kiwi dollar was supported by central bank comments about NIRP remaining a distant prospect, at best, with many hurdles to be jumped before it would make sense. Aussie seems to have benefitted from Japanese investment flows into their government bond markets, which are now relatively attractive vs. US Treasuries. Finally, after a short-lived decline yesterday afternoon, apparently driven by some options activity, the Swiss franc is simply returning to its previous levels. The other seven currencies are within a few bps of yesterday’s closing levels with only the background story of the Franco-German détente on EU economic support even getting press in the group.

In the EMG space, ZAR is today’s runaway leader, currently higher by 1.75% as a combination of continued strength in the price of gold and a major technical break have helped the rand. It must be remembered that the rand, even after today’s sharp rally, has been the third worst performing currency over the past three months having fallen more than 16%. This morning, the technicians are all agog as the spot rate traded back through its 50-day moving average, a strong technical signal to buy the currency. While economic prospects continue to be dim overall there and there is no evidence that the rate of infection is slowing, technical algorithms will continue to support the currency for the time being.

Otherwise, it is RUB (+1.1%) and MXN (+0.9%) that are trailing only the rand higher this morning, with both clearly benefitting from the ongoing rebound in oil and, more importantly, in the broad sentiment in the future for oil. Last month it appeared that oil was never going to matter again. That is not so much the case anymore. On the downside today, KRW (-0.4%) is the leading, and only, decliner in the space as the BOK creates a 10 trillion won (~$8 billion) SPV to inaugurate a QE program.

On the data front, yesterday’s housing data was pretty much as expected, with both Starts and Permits falling sharply. Today the only news of note comes at 2:00 when the FOMC Minutes are released. But given how much we have heard from Powell and the rest of the committee, will this really have that big an impact? I would be surprised.

The dollar continues under pressure for the time being and will stay that way as long as USD funding pressures overseas remain in check. While there are no obvious drivers in the near term, I continue to look at the pending change of heart in Europe regarding fiscal support and see an opportunity for a more structural case for dollar weakness over time.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Won’t Be Repaid

Said Merkel and French Prez Macron
This calls for a grant, not a loan
When speaking of aid
That won’t be repaid
By nations where Covid’s full-blown

The euro is firmer this morning, up a further 0.35% after yesterday’s 0.9% rally, as the market responds to the news that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron have agreed on a plan for EU-wide assistance to all members. This is the first time that there has been German support for a plan that includes grants to nations, not loans to be repaid, and that these grants are to be distributed to the membership, not based on the capital key, but rather based on where the money is needed most. The funding will come from debt issued by the European Commission and paid out of that entity’s budget. In sum, while this is not actually Eurozone bond issuance, it is a clear step in that direction.

Of course, nothing in the EU is easy, and this is no different. Immediately upon the announcement, Austrian Chancellor Kurz explained that there is no path forward for grants, and that Austria is happy to lend money to those countries in need. Too, the Dutch, Danes and Finns are none too happy about this outcome, but with Germany on board, it will be very difficult to fight. Even so, French FinMin LeMaire made it clear that it will take time to complete the procedure (and he is 100% behind the idea) with the first funds not likely available before early 2021.

However, the importance of this step cannot be underestimated. The tension within the Eurozone has always revolved around how much Germany and its frugal northern neighbors would be willing to pay to the more profligate south in order to maintain the euro as a functioning currency. When looking at which nations benefit most from the single currency, Germany tops the list as the euro is certainly weaker than the Deutschemark would have been in its stead, and thus Germany’s export industries, and by extension its economic performance, have benefitted significantly. It appears that Chancellor Merkel and her administration have now done the math and decided that spending some money to maintain that export advantage is a smart investment. While in the past I have been suspect of the euro’s longevity, this appears to be the first step toward a joint fiscal policy resulting in a far stronger basis for the euro. While there will no doubt be rough seas for this process ahead, if Germany and France are on board, they will ultimately drag everyone else along. This is arguably the most bullish long-term euro story since its creation two decades ago.

The other bullish news for markets yesterday was the announcement that a tiny biotech company in Massachusetts, Moderna Inc, with just 25 employees (although a $29 billion market cap) has seen extremely positive results from a Covid vaccine trial. Apparently, it not only does the job, but does so with limited side effects to boot. While it has yet to undergo larger phase 2 and phase 3 trials, it is certainly extremely bullish news.

The combination of these stories was extremely beneficial for risk assets yesterday, which explains the 3+% rallies in US equity indices, the sell-off in Treasuries (10-year yields rose 7bps) and the dollar’s overall weakness. That bullishness followed through overnight with Asian equity markets gaining nicely (Nikkei +1.5%, Hang Seng +1.9%, Shanghai +0.8%) and Europe starting in the green as well. However, those early gains in Europe have turned red now, with what appears to be profit taking after yesterday’s substantial gains. Clearly, European equity markets were the main beneficiaries of the Franco-German announcement on debt although Italian debt has not done too badly either, with yields on 10-year BTP’s falling 22bps since Friday’s close.

Put it all together and we have a very positive backdrop for the near-term. While data continues to be dreadful, with today’s poster child being the 856K jump in Jobless Claims in the UK last month, we already know the market is looking through the bad news toward the recovery. Of much more importance to market sentiment is the prospect for the reopening of economies around the world. This is where the vaccine story supports everything, because undoubtedly, if there was a widely available vaccine, the stories of devastation would diminish and confidence would quickly return. And while there will certainly be changes in the way people behave going forward, they are not likely to be as dramatic as once imagined. After all, if people are confident they are immune to Covid-19 after a vaccination, they will likely return to their previous lifestyle as quickly as they can.

So, with that overall bullish framework, we cannot be surprised that the other key haven assets, the dollar and the yen, are under pressure this morning. Yesterday’s dollar weakness has extended this morning virtually across the board. In the G10 space, it is the high beta currencies, NZD (+0.85%) and SEK (+0.6%) leading the way, but even the pound, after that terrible employment data, is higher by 0.5%. Only the yen (-0.2%) has ceded ground to the dollar this morning in what is clearly a straight risk-on session.

The EMG bloc is much the same, with every currency on the board firmer vs. the dollar this morning led by HUF (+1.4%) and CZK (+1.2%) as clear beneficiaries of the mooted EU financing program. Remember, this €500 billion can be spent anywhere desired by the Commission. But we are also seeing commodity currencies benefit as MXN (+1.0%) and ZAR (+0.8%) continue to perform well. In fact, over the past two sessions, one is hard-pressed to find a currency that has not appreciated vs. the dollar.

On the data front, beyond the awful UK data, we did see a much better than expected German ZEW Expectations outcome, printing at 51.0, although the current conditions index remains horrendous at -93.5. But the future is much brighter this morning, adding to the euro’s strength. At home, we see Housing Starts (exp 900K) and Building Permits (1000K), neither of which is likely to have a big impact, although stronger than expected data would surely add to the overall positive risk feeling this morning.

As well, Chairman Powell will be testifying to the Senate Banking Committee, but after Sunday night’s performance it is not clear what they will ask that he has not already answered. The Fed is all-in to do everything possible to support the economy. Arguably, the bigger question is will they be able to stop once things have evidently turned better. History shows that once government programs get going, they are virtually indestructible. In this instance, that implies ongoing Fed largesse far past when it is needed, thus much lower interest rates than are appropriate. Combine negative real rates in the US with a bullish structural story in the EU and we have the recipe for a much weaker dollar over time. This week could well be the beginning of a new trend.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Our Fears

Said Powell, it may take two years
Ere Covid’s impact finally clears
All central banks pleaded
More spending is needed
But really, it’s down to our fears

Fed Chairman Powell continues to be the face of the global response to the Covid-19 economic disruption. Last night, in a 60 Minutes interview broadcast nationwide, he said, “Assuming there’s not a second wave of the coronavirus, I think you’ll see the economy recover steadily through the second half of this year. For the economy to fully recover, people will have to be fully confident, and that may have to await the arrival of a vaccine.” He also explained that the Fed still has plenty of ammunition to continue supporting the economy, although he was clear that fiscal policy had a hugely important role to play and would welcome further efforts by the government on that score. Tomorrow, he will be testifying before the Senate Banking Committee where the Republican leadership has indicated they would prefer to wait and watch to see how the CARES act has fared before opting to double down.

In the meantime, it does appear that the spread of the virus has slowed more substantially. In addition, we continue to see more state governors reopening parts of their local economies on an ad hoc basis. And globally, restrictions are being lifted throughout Europe and parts of Asia as the infection curve truly seems to be in decline. It is this latter aspect that seems to be the current theory as to why there will be a V-shaped recovery which is supporting equity markets globally.

But when considering the prospects of a V, it is critical to remember this important feature of the math behind investing. A 10% decline requires an 11.1% recovery just to return to the previous level. And as the decline grows in size, the size of the recovery needs to be that much larger. For instance, the Atlanta Fed’s latest GDPNow forecast is calling for a, very precise, 42.81% contraction in Q2. If that were to come to pass, it means that a recovery to the previous level will require a 74.8% rebound! While the down leg of this economic contraction is clearly shaped like the left-hand side of a V, it seems highly unlikely that the speed of the recovery will approach the same pace. The final math lesson is that if Q3 were to rebound 42.81%, it would still leave the economy at just under 82% of its previous level. In other words, still in depression.

However, math is clearly not the strong suit of the investment community these days, as once again this morning, we continue to see a strong equity market performance. In fact, we have seen a strong performance in equities, bonds, gold, oil, and virtually everything else that can be bought. One explanation for this behavior would be that investors are concerned that the current QE Infinity programs across nations are going to debase currencies everywhere and so the best solution is to own assets with a chance for appreciation. While historically, the flaw in that theory would be the bond market, which should be selling off dramatically on this sentiment, it seems that the knowledge that central banks are going to continue to mop up all the excess issuance is seen as reason enough to continue to hold fixed income. With that in mind, I would have to characterize today’s session is a risk grab-a-thon.

The Brits and the EU have met
With no progress really made yet
The British are striving
To just keep trade thriving
The EU’s a different mindset

Meanwhile, remember Brexit? With all the focus on Covid, it is not surprising that this issue had moved to the back of the market’s collective consciousness. It has not, however, disappeared. If you recall, the terms of the UK exit were that a deal needs to be reached by the end of this year and that if there is to be another extension, that must be agreed by the end of June. Well, it seems that Boris is sticking to his guns that he will not countenance an extension and has instructed his negotiators to focus on a trade deal only. The EU, however, apparently still doesn’t accept that Brexit occurred and is seeking a deal that essentially requires the UK to remain beholden to the European Court of Justice as well as to adhere to all EU conditions on issues like the environment and diversity. The result is that the negotiations have become a game of chicken with a very real, and growing, probability that we will still have the feared hard Brexit come December. In a funny way, Covid could be a blessing for PM Johnson’s Brexit strategy, because given the negative impact already in play, at the margin, Brexit is not likely to make a significant difference. Arguably, it is the growing realization that a hard Brexit is back on the table that has undermined the pound’s performance lately. Despite a marginal 0.1% gain this morning, the pound is the worst performing G10 currency this month, down about 4.0%. At this time, I see no reason for the pound to reverse these losses barring a change in the tone of the negotiations.

As to this morning’s session, the overall bullish tone to most markets has left the dollar on the sidelines. It is firmer against some currencies, weaker vs. others with no clear patterns, and in truth, most movement has been limited. The biggest gainer today has been RUB, which has rallied 1.0% on the strength of oil’s 8% rally. In fact, oil is back over $30/bbl for the first time in two months. Not surprisingly we are seeing strength in MXN (+0.75%) and ZAR (+0.65%) as well on the same commodity rally story. On the flipside, APAC currencies were the main losers with MYR (-0.5%) and INR (-0.45%) the worst of the bunch as Covid infections are making a comeback in the area. In the G10 bloc, NOK (+0.75%) and AUD (+0.7%) are the leaders as they, too, benefit most from commodity strength.

On the data front, last night saw Japanese GDP print at -3.4% annualized, confirming the technical recession that has begun there. (Remember, Q4 was a disaster, -7.3%, because of the imposition of the national sales tax increase.) Otherwise, there were no hard data points from Europe at all. Looking ahead to this week, it is a muted schedule focused on housing.

Tuesday Housing Starts 923K
  Building Permits 1000K
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 2.425M
  Continuing Claims 23.5M
  Philly Fed -40.0
  Leading Indicators -5.7%
  Existing Home Sales 4.30M

Source: Bloomberg

In truth, with the market still reacting to Powell’s recent comments, and his testimony on Tuesday, as well as comments from another six Fed members, I would argue that this week is all about them. For now, the V-shaped rebound narrative continues to be the driver. If the Fed speakers start to sound a bit less optimistic, that could bode ill for the bulls, but likely bode well for the dollar. If not, I imagine the dollar will remain under a bit of pressure for now.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Terribly Slow

From Germany data did show
That Q1 was terribly slow
As well, for Q2
Recession’s in view
Their hope remains Q3 will grow

Meanwhile last night China revealed
‘twill be a long time ere its healed
Despite what they’ve said
‘bout moving ahead
Consumers, their checkbooks, won’t wield

While the market has not yet truly begun to respond to data releases, they are nonetheless important to help us understand the longer-term trajectory of each nation’s economy as well as the overall global situation. So, despite very modest movement in markets overnight, we did learn a great deal about how Q1 truly fared in Europe. Remember, Covid-19’s impact really only began in the second half of March, just a small slice of the Q1 calendar. And yet, Q1 GDP was released early this morning from Germany, with growth falling at a 2.2% quarterly rate, which annualized comes in somewhere near -9.0%. In addition, Q4 data was revised lower to -0.1%, so Germany’s technical recession has already begun. Remember, prior to the outbreak, Germany’s economy was already in the doldrums, having printed negative quarterly GDP data in three of the previous six quarters. Of course, those numbers were much less dramatic, but the point is the engine of Europe was sputtering before the recent calamity. Forecasts for Q2 are even worse, with a quarterly decline on the order of 6.5% penciled in there despite the fact that Germany seems to be leading the way in reopening their economy.

For the Eurozone as a whole, GDP in Q1 fell 3.8% in Q1 as Germany’s performance was actually far better than most. Remember, Italy, Spain and France all posted numbers on the order of -5.0%. The employment situation was equally grim, as despite massive efforts by governments to pay companies to keep employees on the payroll, employment fell 0.2%, the first decline in that reading since the Eurozone crisis in 2012-13. One other highlight (lowlight?) was Italian Industrial Activity, which saw both orders and sales fall more than 25% in March. Q2 is destined to be far worse than Q1, and the current hope is that there is no second wave of infections and that Q3 sees a substantial rebound. At least, that’s the current narrative.

The problem with the rebound narrative was made clear, though, by the Chinese last night when they released their monthly statistics. Retail Sales there have fallen 16.2% YTD, a worse outcome than forecast and strong evidence that despite the “reopening” of the Chinese economy, things are nowhere near back to normal. Fixed Asset Investment printed at -10.3% with Property Investment continuing to decline as well, -3.3%. Only IP showed any improvement, rising 3.9% in April, but the problem there is that inventories are starting to build rapidly as consumers are just not spending. Again, the point is that shutting things down took mere days or weeks to accomplish. Starting things back up will clearly take months and likely years to get back close to where things were before the outbreak.

However, as I mentioned at the top, market reactions to data points have been virtually nonexistent for the past two months. At this point, investors are well aware of the troubles, and so data confirming that knowledge is just not that interesting. Rather, the information that matters now is the policy response that is in store.

The one thing we have learned over the past decade is that the stigma of excessive debt has been removed. Japan is the poster child for this as JGB’s outstanding represent more than 240% of Japan’s GDP, and yet the yield on 10-year JGB’s this morning is -0.01%. Obviously, this is solely because the BOJ continues to buy up all the issuance these days, but in the end, the lesson for every other nation is that you can issue as much debt and spend as much money as you like with few, if any consequences. Central bank reaction functions have been to support the economy via market actions like QE whenever there is a hint of a downturn in either the economy or the stock market. Both the Fed and ECB have learned this lesson well, and look set to continue with extraordinary support for the foreseeable future.

But the consequence of this in the one market that is not directly supported (at least in the case of the G10), the FX market, is what we need to consider. And as I observe central bank activity and try to discern its economic impacts, I have become persuaded that the medium-term outlook for the dollar is actually much lower.

Consider that the Fed is clearly going to continue its QE programs across as many assets as they deem necessary. Not merely Treasuries and Agencies, but Corporates, Munis and Junk bonds as well. And as is almost always the case, these ‘emergency’ measures will evolve into ordinary policy, meaning they will be doing this forever. The implication of this policy is that yields on overall USD debt are going to decline from a combination of continued reductions in Treasury yields and compression of credit spreads. After all, don’t fight the Fed remain a key investment philosophy. Thus, nominal yields are almost certain to continue declining.

But what about real yields? Well, that is where we get to the crux of the story and why my dollar view has evolved. CPI was just released on Tuesday and fell to 0.3% Y/Y. Thus, strictly speaking, 10-year Treasuries show a +0.31% real yield this morning (nominal of 0.61% – CPI of 0.3%). The thing is, while current inflation readings are quite low, and may well fall for another few months, the supply shock we have felt in the economy is very likely to raise prices considerably over time. Inflation is not really on the market’s radar right now, nor on that of the Fed. If anything, the concern is over deflation. But that is exactly why inflation remains a far more dangerous concern, because higher prices will not only crimp consumer spending, it will create a policy conundrum for the Fed of epic proportions. After all, Paul Volcker taught us all that raising interest rates was how to fight inflation, but that is directly at odds with QE. The point is, if (when) inflation does begin to rise, the Fed is certain to ignore the evidence for as long as possible. And that means we are going to see increasingly negative real rates in the US. History has shown that when US real rates turn negative; the dollar suffers accordingly. Hence the evolution in my medium- and long-term views of the dollar.

A quick look at this morning’s markets shows that yesterday’s late day equity rally in the US has largely been followed through Asia and Europe. Bonds are also in demand as yields throughout the government sector are mostly lower. And the dollar this morning is actually little changed overall, with a smattering of winners and losers across both G10 and EMG blocs, and no truly noteworthy stories.

We do see a decent amount of US data this morning led by Retail Sales (exp -12.0%, -8.5% ex autos). We also see Empire Manufacturing (-60.0), IP (-12.0%), Capacity Utilization (63.8%), JOLTs Job Openings (5.8M) and finally Michigan Sentiment (68.0). Only the Empire number is truly current, but to imply that a rise from -78.2 to -60.0 is progress really overstates the case. As I’ve pointed out, the data has not been a driver. Markets are exhausted after a long period of significant volatility. My expectation is for the dollar to do very little today, and actually until we see a new narrative evolve. So modest movement should be the watchword.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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