Covid’s wrought havoc
Like a tiny tsunami
Can Japan rebound?
In what is starting off as a fairly quiet summer morning, there are a few noteworthy items to discuss. It cannot be surprising that Japan’s economy suffered greatly in Q2, given the damage to economic activity seen worldwide due to Covid-19. Thus, although the -7.8% Q2 result was slightly worse than forecast, it merely served to confirm the depths of the decline. But perhaps the more telling statistic is that, given Japan was in recession before Covid hit, the economy there has regressed to its size in 2011, right after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami brought the nation to its knees.
Back then, the dollar had been trending lower vs. the yen for the best part of the previous four years, so the fact that it dropped sharply on the news of the earthquake was hardly surprising. In fact, it was eight more months before the dollar reached its nadir vs. the yen (75.35), which simply tells us that the trend was the driver and the singular event did not disrupt that trend. And to be clear, that trend was quite steep, averaging nearly 11% per year from its beginning in 2007. In comparison, the current trend in USDJPY, while lower, is much less dramatic. Since its recent peak in June 2015, the entire decline has been just 15.5% (~3.2% per annum). Granted, there have been a few spikes lower, most recently in March during the first days of the Covid panic, but neither the economic situation nor the price action really resembles those days immediately after Tohoku.
The point is, while the dollar is certainly on its back foot, and the yen retains haven status, the idea of a dollar collapse seems far-fetched. I’m confident that Japan’s Q3 data will show significant improvement compared to the Covid inspired depths just reported, but given the massive debt overhang, as well as the aging demographics and trend growth activity in the country, it is likely to be quite a few years before Japan’s economy is once again as large as it was just last year. Ironically, that probably means the yen will continue to trend slowly higher over time. But even getting to 100 will be a long road.
The other interesting story last night was from China, where the PBOC added substantially more liquidity to the markets than had been anticipated, RMB 700 billion in total via one-year injections. This more than made up for the RMB550 billion that is maturing over the next week and served as the catalyst for the Shanghai Exchange’s (+2.35%) outperformance overnight. This merely reinforces the idea that excess central bank liquidity injections serve a singular purpose,
goosing stock market returns supporting economic activity.
There is something of an irony involved in watching the central banks of communist nations like China and Russia behave as their actions are essentially identical to the actions of central banks in democratic nations. Is there really any difference between the PBOC injecting $100 billion or the Fed buying $100 billion of Treasuries? In the end, given the combination of uncertainty and global ill will, virtually all that money finds its way into equity markets, with the only question being which nation’s markets will be favored on any given day. It is completely disingenuous for the Fed, or any central bank, to explain that their activities are not expanding the current bubble in markets; they clearly are doing just that.
But the one thing of which we can be certain is that they are not going to stop of their own accord. Either they will be forced to do so after changes in political leadership (unlikely) or the investment community will become more fearful of their actions than any possible inaction on their parts. It is only at that point when this bubble will burst (and it will) at which time central banks will find themselves powerless and out of ammunition to address the ensuing financial distress. As to when that will occur, nobody knows, but you can be certain it will occur.
And with that pleasant thought now past, a recap of the overnight activity shows that aside from Shanghai, the equity picture was mixed in Asia (Nikkei -0.8%, Hang Seng +0.6%) while European bourses are similarly mixed (DAX +0.2%, CAC 0.0%, Spain’s IBEX -0.75%). US futures are modestly higher at this point, but all well less than 1%. Bond markets are starting to find a bid, with 10-year Treasuries now down 1.5 basis points, although still suffering indigestion from last week’s record Treasury auctions. And in fact, Wednesday there is another huge Treasury auction, $25 billion of 20-year bonds, so it would not be surprising to see yields move higher from here. European bond markets are all modestly firmer, with yields mostly edging lower by less than 1bp. Commodity markets show oil prices virtually unchanged on the day while gold (and silver) are rebounding from last week’s profit-taking bout, with the shiny stuff up 0.5% (AG +2.1%).
Finally, the dollar is arguably slightly softer overall, but there have really been no large movements overnight. In G10 world, the biggest loser has been NZD (-0.3%) as the market voted no to the announcement that New Zealand would be postponing its election by 4 weeks due to the recently re-imposed lockdown in Auckland. On the plus side, JPY leads the way (+0.25%, with CAD and AUD (both +0.2%) close by on metals price strength. Otherwise, this space is virtually unchanged.
Emerging markets have had a bit more spice to them with RUB (-1.25%) the outlier in what appears to be some position unwinding of what had been growing RUB long positions in the speculative community. But away from that, HUF (-0.6%) is the only other mover of note, as investors grow nervous over the expansion of the current account deficit there.
This week’s data releases seem likely to be less impactful as they focus mostly on housing:
|Existing Home Sales5.40M|
Of course, the FOMC Minutes will be greatly anticipated as analysts all seek to glean the Fed’s intentions regarding the policy overhaul that has been in progress for the past year. Away from the Minutes, though, there are only two Fed speakers, Bostic and Daly. And let’s face it, pretty much every FOMC member is now on board with the idea that raising
the cost of living inflation is imperative, and that if inflation runs hot for a while, there is no problem. Clearly, they don’t do their own food-shopping!
It is hard to get too excited about markets one way or the other today, but my broad view is that though the medium-term trend for the dollar may be lower, we continue to be in a consolidation phase for now.
Good luck and stay safe