Poison Pens

The headlines all weekend have shouted
The dollar is sure to be routed
If Covid-19
Remains on the scene
A rebound just cannot be touted

But ask yourself this my good friends
Have nations elsewhere changed their trends?
Infections are rising
Despite moralizing
By pundits who wield poison pens

Based on the weekend’s press, as well as the weekly analysis recaps, the future of the dollar is bleak. Not only is it about to collapse, but it will soon lose its status as the world’s reserve currency, although no one has yet figured out what will replace it in that role. This is evident in the sheer number of articles that claim the dollar is sure to decline (for those of you with a Twitter account, @pineconemacro had a great compilation of 28 recent headlines either describing the dollar’s decline or calling for a further fall), as well as the magnitude of the short dollar positions in the market, as measured by CFTC data. As of last week, there are record long EUR positions and near-record shorts in the DXY.

So, the question is, why does everybody hate the dollar so much? It seems there are two reasons mentioned most frequently; the impact of unbridled fiscal and monetary stimulus and the inability of the US to get Covid-19 under control. Let’s address them in order.

There is no question that the Fed and the Treasury, at the behest of Congress, have expended extraordinary amounts of money to respond to the Covid crisis. The Fed’s balance sheet has grown from $4.2 trillion to $7.0 trillion in the course of four months. And of course, the Fed has basically bought everything except your used Toyota in an effort to support market functionality. And it is important to recognize that what they continue to explain is that they are not supporting asset prices per se, rather they are simply insuring that financial markets work smoothly. (Of course, their definition of working smoothly is asset prices always go higher.) Nonetheless, the Fed has been, by far, the most active central bank in the world with respect to monetary support. At the same time, the US government has authorized about $3.5 trillion, so far, of fiscal support, although there is much anxiety now that the CARES act increase in unemployment benefits lapsed last Friday and there is still a wide divergence between the House and Senate with respect to what to do next.

But consider this; while the US is excoriated for borrowing too much and expanding both the budget deficit and the amount of debt issued, the EU was celebrated for coming to agreement on…borrowing €2 trillion to expand the budget deficit and support the economies of each nation in the bloc. Debt mutualization, we have been assured, is an unalloyed good and will help the EU’s overall economic prospects by allowing the transfer of wealth from the rich northern nations to the less well-off southern nations. And of course, given the collective strength of the EU, they will be able to borrow virtually infinite sums from the market. Perhaps it is just me, but the stories seem pretty similar despite the spin as to which is good, and which is bad.

The second issue for the dollar, and the one that is getting more press now, is the fact that the US has not been able to contain Covid infections and so we are seeing a second wave of economic shutdowns across numerous states. You know, states like; Victoria, Australia; Melbourne, Australia; Tokyo, Japan; the United Kingdom and other large areas. This does not even address the ongoing spread of the disease through the emerging markets where India and Brazil have risen to the top of the worldwide caseload over the past two months. Again, my point is that despite reinstituted lockdowns in many places throughout the world, it is the US which the narrative points out as the problem.

It is fair to describe the dollar’s reaction function as follows: it tends to strengthen when either the US economy is outperforming other G10 economies (a situation that prevailed pretty much the entire time since the GFC) or when there is unbridled fear that the world is coming to an end and USD assets are the most desirable in the world given its history of laws and fair treatment of investors. In contrast, when the US economy is underperforming, it is no surprise that the dollar would tend to weaken. Well the data from Q2 is in and what we saw was that despite the worst ever quarterly decline in the US, it was dwarfed by the major European economies. At this time, the story being told seems to be that in Q3, the rest of the world will rapidly outpace the US, and perhaps it will. But that is a pretty difficult case to make when, first, Covid inspired lockdowns are popping up all around the world and second, the consumer of last resort (the US population) has lost their appetite to consume, or if not lost, at least reduced.

Once again, I will highlight that the dollar, while definitely in a short-term weakening trend, is far from a collapse, and rather is essentially right in the middle of its long-term range. This is not to say that the dollar cannot fall further, it certainly can, but do not think that the dollar is soon to become the Venezuelan bolivar.

And with that rather long-winded defense of the dollar behind us, let’s take a look at markets today. Equity markets continue to enjoy central bank support and have had an overall strong session. Asia saw gains in the Nikkei (+2.25%) and Shanghai (+1.75%) although the Hang Seng (-0.55%) couldn’t keep up with the big dogs. Europe’s board is no completely green, led by the DAX (+2.05%) although the CAC, which was lower earlier, is now higher by 1.0%. And US futures, which had spent the evening in the red are now higher as well.

Bond markets are embracing the risk-on attitude as Treasury yields back up 2bps, although are still below 0.55% in the 10-year. In Europe, the picture is mixed, and a bit confusing, as bund yields are actually 1bp lower, while Italian BTP’s are higher by 2bps. That is exactly the opposite of what you would expect for a risk-on session. But then, the bond market has not agreed with the stock market since Covid broke out.

And finally, the dollar, is having a pretty strong session today, perhaps seeing a bit of a short squeeze, as I’m sure the narrative has not yet changed. In the G10, all currencies are softer vs. the greenback, led by CHF (-0.6%) and AUD (-0.55%), although the pound (-0.5%) which has been soaring lately, is taking a rest as well. What is interesting about this move is that the only data released overnight was the monthly PMI data and it was broadly speaking, slightly better than expected and pointed to a continuing rebound.

EMG currencies are also largely under pressure, led by ZAR (-1.15%) and then the CE4 (on average -0.7%) with almost the entire bloc softer. In fact, the outlier is RUB (+0.8%), which seems to be the beneficiary of a reduction in demand for dollars to pay dividends to international investors, and despite the fact that oil prices have declined this morning on fears that the OPEC+ production cuts are starting to be flouted.

It is, of course, a huge data week, culminating in the payroll report on Friday, but today brings only ISM Manufacturing (exp 53.6) with the New Orders (55.2) and Prices Paid (52.0) components all expected to show continued growth in the economy.

With the FOMC meeting now behind us, we can look forward, as well, to a non-stop gabfest from Fed members, with three today, Bullard, Barkin and Evans, all set to espouse their views. The thing is, we already know that the Fed is not going to touch rates for at least two years, and is discussing how to try to push inflation higher. On the latter point, I don’t think they will have to worry, as it will get there soon enough, but their models haven’t told them that yet. At any rate, the dollar has been under serious pressure for the past several months. Not only that, most of the selling seems to come in the US session, which leads me to believe that while the dollar is having a pretty good day so far, I imagine it will soften before we log out this evening.

Good luck and stay safe