The ECB stepped to the plate
Effectively cutting the rate
At which it will lend
To help countries spend
As well, to help prices inflate
But last night some earnings reports
Put traders a bit out of sorts
And too, from Down Under
It’s really no wonder
The data inspired some shorts
With many markets globally closed today for the May Day holiday, one would have expected fairly limited price action overall. One would have been wrong. In fact, despite the best efforts of the ECB yesterday to demonstrate further support for the European economies, it turns out that disappointing data has suddenly been recognized. This data story started last evening with key Tech earnings reports from two of the FAANG stocks, both disappointing on the profit side and calling into question the ability of even these companies to be able to withstand the remarkable demand shrinkage caused by Covid-19.
Then, though most of Asia was closed for the holiday, Australia (Manufacturing Index) and New Zealand (Consumer Confidence) both reported weaker than expected economic data. Suddenly, it seems that data was an important issue for markets, a change of recent heart. And there is one more thing to remember, the calendar turned the page. The calendar matters because, especially given the remarkable price action in April, there was a significant amount of month-end rebalancing in institutional portfolios. Remember, we saw a sharp rally in stocks, so it should be no surprise that they were sold off in order for portfolios to get back to desired asset allocations.
Taking it all together resulted in some serious equity market declines in the few markets open overnight, with the Nikkei (-2.85%) and Australia’s ASX 200 (-5.0%) putting in truly awful performances. Meanwhile, in Europe, only the FTSE 100 is trading today, and it is lower by 2.1%. US futures are following suit, currently down around 2.0% across the board.
So, what of the ECB’s actions? Well, they effectively cut interest rates by lowering the rate at which TLTRO funds are borrowed by 0.25%, to -0.25%. That means that Eurozone banks which lend new money to companies can earn to fund themselves. A pretty sweet deal if they charge a positive rate on the loans. In addition, they created yet another loan program, the PELTRO, which has even lower rates, as low as -1.0% funding costs for banks lending under this criterion. Of course, the problem remains that while many companies may borrow in order to try to get through the current ceasing of activity, future growth opportunities will simply be further hindered by the additional debt on corporate balance sheets. Two other things of note from the ECB are that they did not increase their QE programs as there remains considerable concern that the German Constitutional Court may rule next week that QE is illegal, essentially funding governments throughout the Eurozone, and that will call into question everything they have done. The second was the dire forecast from Madame Lagarde that Eurozone growth could see GDP shrink 12% in 2020, which if you consider yesterday’s Q1 data (-3.8% Q/Q) implies a modest rebound by year end.
Turning to the FX markets, it can be no surprise that both AUD (-1.0%) and NZD (-0.8%) are the worst performing currencies in the G10 space. Not only did both report lousy data, but both (AUD +17%, NZD +13%) have been rallying pretty steadily since their nadir on March 19. Thus, if the paradigm is changing back to the future is not as bright, I would look for both these currencies to give up much of last month’s rally. Meanwhile, the oil proxies, CAD (-0.6%) and NOK (-0.7%) are both suffering from oil’s modest declines this morning, with WTI ceding about 2.0% of its recent spectacular gains. After all, even ignoring the odd dip into negative territory two weeks ago, oil has rallied more than 200% since that fateful day, based on the June WTI contract. On the plus side, we see JPY (+0.35%) on what appears to be a modest risk-off trade, leading the way higher, with the rest of the bloc +/- 0.2% and lacking any new information.
EMG currencies have been largely spared movement overnight as the APAC bloc was closed for the holiday although CNH has managed to fall 0.6% in the absence of a domestic market. The three main deliverable EMG currencies, MXN (-1.4%), ZAR (-1.4%) and TRY (-0.7%) have a decidedly risk-off tone to their price action, with the peso being truly impressive. Since Tuesday, we have seen MXN first rally 5.0% then decline 4.1% from its peak. Net it is stronger, but the current trend seems to point to further weakness. Again, if the risk appetite from April begins to wane further, these currencies have the opportunity to fall significantly.
On the data front, this morning brings Construction Spending (exp -3.5%) and ISM Manufacturing (36.0) with the Prices Paid (33.0) and New Orders (30.0) indices looking equally dire. Yesterday we learned that Personal Income fell sharply, and Personal Spending fell even more sharply, a record-breaking 7.5% decline. Initial Claims data was a touch weaker than the median forecast at 3.84M with Continuing Claims (which lag the Initial claims data by a week) not rising quite as much as expected, to ‘just’ 18.0M.
Ultimately, the history of Covid-19’s impact will be written as the most extraordinary destruction of demand in history. The US (and global) economy had evolved from a manufacturing base a century ago, to a service-based economy par excellence. Nobody considered what shelter-in-place and social distancing would do to that construct. It is becoming increasingly clear that the answer to that is those restrictions will cause extreme economic damage that is likely to take several years to recoup. Alas, we are not done with this disease, and the restrictions will continue to wreak havoc on the global economy, and asset values, for a while yet. We have not seen the last of risk-off, nor the last of the dollar’s strength.
Good luck, good weekend and stay safe