Further To Go

The contrast could not be more clear
Twixt Powell and Christine this year
The Fed jumped in first
But now they’ve disbursed
As much aid as like to appear

Meanwhile Ms Lagarde in Berlin
Was clearly quite slow to begin
But Europe depends
On banks to extend
Its aid, so can still underpin

More growth by increasing the flow
Of cash, through TLTRO
Thus, traders now see
The buck vis-à-vis
The euro, has further to go

It was less than two months ago when the most prominent theme in the market was the imminent demise of the dollar, not merely in the short-term, but in the long run.  The idea that was being circulated was that because of the US’s excessive and growing twin deficits (Budget and Current Account), investors would soon decide that holding dollar’s would be too risky and thus demand a different unit of account and store of value.  During this period, we did see the dollar sell off, with the greenback falling nearly 6.5% vs. the euro during the month of July.  But that was basically that.  It was a great story, and probably a good trade for some early movers, but explaining short term market volatility by referring to ultra-long-term financial theory was always destined to fail.  And fail it has.  After all, since then, the dollar has actually appreciated (+2.2% vs. the euro) and yet, if anything, the US has seen its budget and current account deficits widen further.

Rather, short-term dollar movement tends to be driven by things like relative monetary policy and relative macroeconomic performance.  Looking back at that time, the prevailing sentiment was that the Fed, despite having already implemented an unfathomable amount of monetary ease already, was preparing to do even more.  Recall, leading up to, and through, the Jackson Hole symposium, market participants were sure that the Fed was going to not merely allow inflation to run hot, but help it do so.  Meanwhile, the ECB, in its typical plodding manner, was very quiet and the punditry saw little in the way of additional ease on the horizon.  In fact, there were complaints that the ECB was not doing nearly enough.

However, as seems to happen quite frequently, the punditry turns out to have gotten things backwards.  Last week, the Fed announced their new policy goals, counting on average inflation targeting to help them achieve significantly lower unemployment, although they still couldn’t didn’t explain how they were going to achieve said higher inflation.  And then earlier this week, Chairman Powell, in as much, admitted that the Fed has done all they can and that it was up to Congress to expand fiscal stimulus in order to give the economy the support it needed to cope with the Covid inspired recession.  In other words, the Fed is out of bullets.

One of the problems the Fed has is that transmission of monetary policy is effected by banks, that is the way the system is designed.  But the bulk of the Fed programs have only supported markets, by them buying Treasuries, Mortgage-backed securities, Corporates (IG and Junk) and Munis.  But for small companies who don’t access the capital markets directly, virtually none of the Fed’s activities have had an impact as the bank’s are reluctant to lend in this environment of economic uncertainty.  Europe, on the other hand, relies on banks for the majority of capital flow to its economy, as European corporate debt markets remain much smaller and more fragmented across countries.  So, when the ECB created the TLTRO, targeted lending facility, where they PAY banks 1.00% to lend money to companies, who also pay the banks interest, it turns out to be a more efficient way to prosecute monetary policy ease.  And this morning, the latest tranche of this program saw an additional €174.5 billion taken up.  This is on top of the €1.3 trillion that was taken up last time there was a tender, three months ago.

The point is, suddenly investors and traders are figuring out that the ECB has the ability to promulgate policy ease more effectively than the Fed, and just as importantly, are doing so.  Add it all up and you have ECB policy looking easier than Fed policy at the margin, a clear recipe for the euro’s decline.  This move in the euro is just beginning, and it would not be surprising to see the single currency head back toward 1.12 before the end of the year.  As I have written in the past, there was no way the ECB would sit back and allow the dollar to fall unhindered.  They simply cannot afford that outcome to occur.

Which brings us to today’s session, where risk is being jettisoned across equity markets globally, although several European markets are starting to turn things around.  Overnight, following a very weak US session, Asia was red across the board led by the Hang Seng (-1.8%), but with weakness in Shanghai (-1.7%) and the Nikkei (-1.1%). Europe, however, while starting lower in every market has now seen a little positivity as the DAX (+0.15%) and Italy’s FTSE MIB (+0.7%) are offsetting increasingly modest weakness in the CAC (-0.1%) and FTSE 100 (-0.4%).  Finally, US futures, which had also been lower by more than 0.5% earlier in the session, have rebounded to flat.

The bond market, however, remains enigmatic lately, with yields continuing to trade in extremely tight ranges regardless of the movement in risk assets.  At this time, Treasury yields are unchanged, after remaining essentially unchanged during yesterday’s US equity sell-off.  Bunds have seen yields edge lower by 1.5 basis points, while Gilt yields have edged higher by less than a basis point.  It seems that the bond markets, globally, are unwilling to follow every twist and turn of the recent stock market manias.

As to the dollar, it is firmer vs. most of its counterparts, but just like we are seeing in European equities, we are beginning to see a bit of a rebound in some currencies as well.  In the G10, the biggest story is NOK (-0.65%) where the Norgesbank disappointed one and all by seeming to be more dovish than anticipated.  Many had come to believe they would be putting a timeline on raising interest rates, but they did no such thing, thus the krone has continued its recent poor performance (-5.8% vs. the dollar in the past month).  But we are seeing weakness elsewhere with SEK (-0.8%) actually the worst performer, albeit absent any specific news, and both NZD (-0.5%) and AUD (-0.3%) suffering at this point.

In the EMG bloc, overnight saw weakness across the Asian currencies led by KRW (-0.7%) and THB, IDR and TWD (all -0.5%) as risk was shed across the board.  But with the recent turn in events, early losses by ZAR (+0.7%) and MXN (+0.3%) have turned to gains.  It is those two currencies, however, which remain the most volatile around, so be careful if hedging there.

On the data front, yesterday’s US PMI data was right on expectations and showed continued progress in the economy, a sharp contrast to the European situation.  This morning saw modestly weaker than expected German IFO data (Expectations 97.7), which is not helping the euro.  Later today we see Initial Claims (exp 840K), Continuing Claims (12.275M) and finally New Home Sales (890K) at 10:00.  Once again, the tapes will be painted with Fedspeak, led by Powell at 10:00 in front of the Senate Banking Committee, but also hearing from six more FOMC members. While I would not be surprised if Powell tried to walk back his comments about the Fed being done, it’s not clear he will be able to do so.

For now, the dollar’s trend remains pretty solid, and I expect that it will continue to grind higher until we get a substantive change in policies.

Good luck and stay safe