Apparently, there is no fear
As it’s become patently clear
The shape we will see
Of growth is a ‘V’
As long as that vaccine is near
So, don’t talk to me about risk
Who cares ‘bout the federal fisc?
A hot war in Asia?
That’s bearish fantasia
Instead, retail buying is brisk!
If you are not adding to your risk positions this morning, you are clearly not paying attention. Virtually unbridled bullishness has gripped markets on word that a vaccine has had very promising results and is soon heading into Phase 3 trials. This news is more than sufficient to overwhelm pedantic issues like increasing tensions between the US and China playing out in Hong Kong; US bank results showing a massive increase in loan-loss reserves as expectations of defaults climb; or the complete lack of activity by the Senate regarding the potential extension of extraordinary unemployment benefits that are due to lapse on July 31.
Historically, issues like the US-China tension, or arguably more importantly, the signal from banks about the pending collapse of loan repayments, would have played out with more investor trepidation. While risk asset prices might not have collapsed, they certainly would not have shown the strength they have of late. But then, the central bank community has done their very best to rewrite history, or perhaps demonstrate that they have learned from history, by expanding their balance sheets dramatically and injecting trillions of dollars’ worth of liquidity into the global economy. It should be no surprise that those trillions have made their way into markets, rather than the real economy, given the trend of financialization that has played out over the past two decades.
Curmudgeons would argue that no central bank is supposed to care about markets per se, rather their role is to foster price stability primarily, with a number, including the Fed, having been tasked with insuring full employment. But nowhere is it written that supporting equity markets is part of the mandate. And yet, that is essentially where the situation now stands. Equity market displacements are met with increased central bank activity. In fact, this is so ingrained in investor attitudes that we now have equity rallies on bad news under the assumption that the relevant central bank will be forced to add more liquidity by buying more risk assets.
There is, however, one market that seems to be paying attention to the historic storyline; government bonds. Treasury yields continue to grind lower (10-year at 0.61%) as a certain class of investors seem to see a less rosy future. Of course, one could make the argument that bonds are rallying because the Fed is buying them, but the problem with that story right now is the Fed’s balance sheet has actually been slowly shrinking over the past several weeks, by something on the order of $300 billion. Instead, this appears to be a genuine concern over future risks, something that is completely absent from the equity space.
So, which market is correct? Are the equity bulls prescient, implying there is a V-shaped recovery in our future? Or are the fixed income buyers seeing more clearly, recognizing that the economy is rebounding, but the pace will be much slower than desired? If we look to an outside agency to help us, the FX market, for example, recent price action is aligned with adding to risk appetites. But then, the ultimate haven asset, gold, is also continuing to rally. Being a curmudgeon myself, I tend toward the view that the next several years are going to be much tougher than currently expected by the risk bulls. But for now, they remain in control!
With this in mind, it should be no surprise that the dollar is under pressure this morning. In the G10 space, NOK is the leader, up 1.0%, as a combination of broad-based dollar weakness and higher oil (WTI +1.4%) has seen demand increase. But all the high beta currencies (SEK, AUD, NZD) are higher as well, on the order of 0.6%. Even the yen is stronger into this mix, rising 0.3%, as distaste for the dollar spreads.
At this point, I cannot ignore the euro. While today’s movement is a modest 0.3% gain, it has been on a mission of late, rising 1.7% since Friday. There are many subplots here, with discussions about the relative stance of the ECB vs. the Fed, short-term risk-on knee-jerk reactions to buy euros, and perhaps most importantly, the questions over the long-term viability of the US government running enormous twin deficits (budget and current account) and how those are going to get financed. For now, the Fed has been the financier for the government, but debt monetization has never been the path to a stronger currency, rather just the opposite. What is interesting is that this longer-term discussion is being dusted off by analysts once again, with many newly revamped calls for the dollar to continue its decline for the rest of the year.
One thing that would definitely support this thesis would be if the EU actually moved forward on mutualization of debt. You will recall several weeks ago that Merkel and Macron announced they both agreed on a €500 billion EU support program that was to be funded by 30-year and 40-year EU bond issuance, jointly payable by the entire bloc. This has been held up by a minority of countries, the so-called frugal four, as they are uninterested in paying for Southern Europe’s profligate history. But word this morning from France indicated a belief that a deal was to be completed at this week’s EU Summit. If this is the case, that is an unambiguous euro positive. But if we know anything about the EU, it is that nothing proceeds smoothly, even when everyone there agrees. We shall see, but the story has definitely helped the single currency.
In the EMG bloc, ZAR is the runaway leader, rising 1.3% on the general story as well as higher gold and commodity prices. What is interesting is that this continues despite news that Eskom, the national utility, is going to reduce power production, certainly not a sign of economic strength. But we are seeing gains almost universally in this bloc as HUF (+0.9%), MXN (+0.8%) and the rest of the CE4 all perform quite well. In other words, there is no need for dollars to assuage fears. The one exception here is IDR (-1.0%), which suffered overnight as traders anticipate the central bank to cut rates more than 25bps tonight, while the pace of infection growth there increases, leading many to believe there will be another economic shutdown.
The strong risk positive attitude has also manifested itself across equity markets (Nikkei +1.6%, DAX +1.6%, CAC +1.9%), with US futures pointing sharply higher as well (Dow and S&P e-minis both higher by 1.3%). And finally, while the trend in Treasury yields is certainly lower, today has seen a modest back up across all bond markets (Bunds +1bp, Gilts +2.5bps, Treasuries +2bps).
Turning to the morning’s session, we have only modest data releases; Empire Manufacturing (exp 10.0), IP (4.3%) and Capacity Utilization (67.8%). Then at 2:00 comes the Fed’s Beige Book, which should be an interesting look at the progress of the reopening of the economy. There is only one Fed Speaker, Philly Fed President Harker, but what has been interesting lately is the dissent in views between various FOMC members regarding the pace of the recovery. And that is why the data is still important.
But for now, the risk bulls are running the show, so do not be surprised if the dollar weakness trend continues.
Good luck and stay safe