Said Madame Lagarde to the press
In Frankfurt, we won’t acquiesce
To prices not rising
So, it’s not surprising
That average inflation we’ll stress
Raise your hand if you had, ‘the ECB will copy the Fed’s average inflation framework’ when announcing their own policy initiatives. That’s right folks, I’m sure you are all shocked to learn that the ECB is now considering (read has already decided) to follow in the Fed’s footsteps and target an average inflation rate over an indeterminate time in their own policy review. As Lagarde pointed out, “If credible, such a strategy can strengthen the capacity of monetary policy to stabilize the economy when faced with the lower bound.” Perhaps the key words to this statement are the first two, if credible. After all, given the ECB’s demonstrated futility at achieving their targeted inflation rate since its creation in 1997, why would it be credible that the ECB is going to generate inflation now that will run above target. In fact, over the entire history of ECB policymaking, there was a single stretch of 15 months (October 2001 – December 2002) where their favorite measure, Core CPI, rose above 2.0%. Otherwise, during the other 270 months, they have seen inflation below their target, oftentimes well below. The average inflation rate since the ECB’s founding has been 1.4%. But now we are supposed to believe that because they claim they will allow inflation to run hot, suddenly that makes policy easier. Personally, I don’t find their claim credible.
But from the market perspective, the importance of her comments, as well as agreement by other ECB members on the subject, is that the Fed has ceased to be the central bank with the easiest money around. With the ECB and the Fed now both following the same path on inflation targeting, there is not much to choose between the two. This is especially so given that neither one has been able to approach their current target, let alone exceed it in more than a decade. But for dollar bears, this is bad news because a key part of the bearish thesis was the idea that the Fed was the easiest money around. Average inflation targeting meant interest rates would remain near zero for at least three more years. Well I have news for you, ECB rates will remain negative far longer than that. Just as a man with a hammer sees every problem as a nail, a central bank with a single policy tool (QE) sees every problem solvable by more bond purchases.
Adding to the euro’s medium-term woes is the situation in Italy, where despite more than €209 billion euros of EU aid, the debt/GDP ratio is destined to head ever higher, rising to 158% this year. That cements its current third place worldwide status (Japan 234%, Greece 182%) and starts to bring Greece’s number two slot into sight. With a history of slow growth and a rapidly aging population, it becomes ever harder to envision a solution to Italy’s macroeconomic woes that doesn’t include either debt relief or debt monetization. And I assure you, that is not a currency positive for the euro. The point here is that the many negatives that underlie the euro’s construction are likely to become a greater topic of market conversation going forward, and it appears the odds of a significant rally from current levels has greatly diminished, regardless of your views of US policies.
Speaking of US policies, I will admit that I could only tolerate a few minutes of last night’s presidential debate, as the name-calling and interruptions became far too annoying. Equity futures declined, seemingly on the view that Biden cemented his lead, at least so that’s what the punditry is explaining this morning. Perhaps equity futures declined as investors decided that no outcome is positive for the US. But while clearly the presidential campaign will have some market impact over the next five weeks, at this point, it seems unlikely the polls will change much, nor the betting markets. And yet, we cannot forget that in 2016, the polls and betting markets were pointing to the exact same outcome and turned out to be spectacularly wrong. In the end, regardless of who wins the election, the Fed is going to continue their current policy mix and more fiscal stimulus is destined to arrive. As such, I am hard-pressed to say it will impact the dollar.
One other thing of note overnight was Chinese PMI data (Mfg 51.5, Services 55.9), which showed that growth on the mainland continued to expand moderately on the strength of increases across both manufacturing and services sectors. Even the Caixin PMI (53.0), which focuses on small companies, put in a solid performance. Interestingly, neither the Shanghai Composite (-0.2%) nor the renminbi (unchanged) reflected any positivity in the outcome. And neither was that news sufficient to generate any risk taking elsewhere in the world, at least on any sustained basis.
Looking at the rest of the equity markets, we see the Nikkei (-1.5%) fell sharply although the Hang Seng (+0.8%) managed to show the only rise amongst major equity indices. European bourses are all in the red (DAX -0.5%, CAC -0.6%, FTSE 100 -0.3%) and US futures continue to point lower, with all three indices down about -0.6% at this hour. Bond market movement continues to largely be absent as 10-year Treasury yields are still 0.65%, unchanged, and both Bunds and Gilts are less than 1 basis point different than yesterday’s levels. Even Italian BTP’s are unchanged despite the increasing concerns over their fiscal situation. In other words, the central banks have done an excellent job in controlling yield curves and thus preventing the bond market from offering any economic signals.
As to the dollar, it is broadly, albeit mildly, stronger this morning against its G10 counterparts. NOK and SEK (both -0.5%) are the leading decliners with Norway suffering from oil’s slide back below $40/bbl, while SEK is simply demonstrating its higher beta to broad movements. But the whole space is feeling it today, with the exception of CAD, which is essentially unchanged. Clearly, the Lagarde comments have served to soften the euro (-0.3%) at the margin.
As to the emerging market bloc, things are a bit more mixed. The notable movers include RUB (+0.9%) and TRY (+0.5%) on what appears to be the first attempts by both nations to de-escalate the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. As well, we see MXN (+0.8%) and ZAR (+0.7%) on the positive side, which is more difficult to justify given the lack of risk appetite, but is likely related to the calendar, as investors rebalance positions into month-end, and so are reducing shorts in those currencies. On the negative side sits the CE4, following the euro’s decline with their usual ability to outpace the single currency. Interestingly, APAC currencies have done little overnight, with most movement less than 10 basis points.
On the data front this morning we get ADP Employment (exp 649K), Q2 GDP’s final revision (-31.7%) and Chicago PMI (52.0). Arguably, the market will be more concerned with the ADP data than anything else as investors try to get a picture of the employment situation. We also have three more Fed speakers, Kashkari, Bowman and Bullard, but based on yesterday’s outcome, where the message is that the Fed is moderately optimistic that growth will continue but that more fiscal support would be useful, it seems unlikely that these comments will interest many people.
Overall, the big story remains the indication that the ECB is going to match the Fed every step of the way going forward, as will, eventually, every other key central bank, and so the dollar’s value will need to be determined by other means. But for now, it points to a bit more dollar strength as short positions start to get unwound.
Good luck and stay safe