While Covid continues to spread
Chair Jay, for more stimulus pled
But President Trump
Said talks hit a bump
And ‘til the election they’re dead
The market was not so amused
With stock prices terribly bruised
So, as of today
Investors must weigh
The odds more Fed help is infused
Although nobody would characterize today as risk-on, the shock the market received yesterday afternoon does not seem to have had much follow through either. Of course, I’m referring to President Trump’s tweet that all stimulus negotiations are off until after the election. One need only look at the chart of the Dow Jones to know the exact timing of the comment, 2:48 yesterday afternoon. The ensuing twenty minutes saw that index fall more than 2%, with similar moves in both the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ. And this was hot on the heels of Chairman Powell pleading, once again, for more fiscal stimulus to help the economy and predicting dire consequences if none is forthcoming.
At this point, it is impossible to say how this scenario will play out largely because of the political calculations being made by both sides ahead of the presidential election next month. On the one hand, it seems hard to believe that a sitting politician would refuse the opportunity to spend more money ahead of an election. On the other hand, the particular politician in question is unlike any other seen in our lifetimes, and clearly walks to the beat of a different drummer. The one thing I will say is that despite the forecasts of impending doom without further stimulus, the US data continues to show a recovering economy. For instance, yesterday’s record trade deficit of -$67.2 billion was driven by an increase in imports, not something that typically occurs when the economy is slowing down. One thing we have learned throughout the Covid crisis is that the econometric models used by virtually every central bank have proven themselves to be out of sync with the real economy. As such, it is entirely possible that the central bank pleas for more stimulus are based on the idea that monetary policy has done all it can, and central bankers are terrified of being blamed for the economic problems extant.
Speaking of central bank activities and comments, the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street has been getting some press lately as the UK economy continues to deal with not merely Covid-19, but the impending exit from the EU. Last month, the BOE mentioned they were investigating negative interest rates, but comments since then seem to highlight that there are but two of the nine members of the MPC who believe there is a place for NIRP. That said, the Gilt market is pricing in negative interest rates from two to five years in maturity, so there is clearly a bigger community of believers. While UK economic activity has also rebounded from the depths of the Q2 collapse, there is a huge concern that a no-deal Brexit will add another layer of difficulty to the situation there and require significantly more government action. The BOE will almost certainly increase its QE, with a bump from the current £745 billion up to £1 trillion or more. But, unlike the US, the UK does not have the advantage of issuing debt in the world’s reserve currency, and at some point, the cost of further fiscal stimulus may prove too steep. As to the probability of a Brexit deal, it seems that much rides on French President Macron’s willingness to allow the French fishing fleet to
sink shrink and allow the UK to manage their own territorial waters.
With this as the backdrop, a look at markets this morning shows a mixed bag on the risk front. Asian equity markets saw the Nikkei (-0.05%) essentially unchanged although the Hang Seng (+1.1%) got along just fine. Shanghai remains closed for holidays. European bourses seem to be taking their cues from the Nikkei, as modest declines are the rule of the day. The DAX (-0.35%) and the CAC (-0.2%) are both edging lower, and although the FTSE 100 is unchanged, the rest of the continent is following the German lead. Interestingly, US futures are higher by between 0.3%-0.5%, not necessarily what one would expect.
Bond markets, once again, seem to be trading based on different market cues than either equities or FX, as this morning the 10-year Treasury yield has risen 4 basis points, and is trading back to the recent highs seen Monday. One would be hard-pressed to characterize today as a risk-on session, where one might typically see investors sell bonds as they rotate into equities, so clearly there is something else afoot. Yesterday’s 3-year Treasury auction seemed to be pretty well-received, so there is, as yet, no sign of fatigue in buying US debt. There is much discussion here about the possibility of a contested election, yet I would have thought that is a risk scenario that would drive Treasury buying. To my inexpert eyes, this appears to be driven by more inflation concerns. Next week we see CPI again, and based on the recent trend, as well as personal experience, there has been no abatement in price pressures. And unless the Fed starts buying the long end of the Treasury curve (something Cleveland’s Loretta Mester suggested yesterday), or announces yield curve control, there is ample room for the back end to sell off further with yields moving correspondingly higher, regardless of Fed activity. And that would bring a whole set of new problems for the US.
Finally, one would have to characterize the dollar as on its back foot this morning. While not universally lower, there are certainly more gainers than losers vs. the greenback. In the G10 space, NOK (+0.5%) and SEK (+0.4%) are leading the way, which given oil’s 2.5% decline certainly seems odd for the Nocky. As for the Stocky, there is no news nor data that would have encouraged buying, and so I attribute the movement to an extension of the currency’s recent modest strength which has seen the krona gain about 2% in the past two weeks. Meanwhile, JPY (-0.4%) continues to sell off, much to the delight of Kuroda-san and new PM Suga. Here, too, there is no news or data driving the story, but rather this feels like position adjustments. It was only a few weeks ago where there was a great deal of excitement about the possibility of the yen breaking out and heading toward par. That discussion has ended for now.
Emerging markets are generally better this morning as well, led by MXN (+0.85%) which is gaining despite oil’s decline and the landfall of Hurricane Delta, a category 3 storm. If anything, comments from Banxico’s Governor De Leon, calling for more stimulus and explaining that the recovery will be uneven because of the lack of fiscal action, as well as the IMF castigating AMLO for underspending on stimulus, would have seemed to undermine the currency. But apparently not. Elsewhere, the gains are less impressive with HUF (+0.5%) and ZAR (+0.35%) the next best performers with the former getting a little love based on increased expectations for tighter monetary policy before year end, while ZAR continues to benefit, on days when fear is in the background, from its still very high real interest rates.
The only data of note today is the FOMC Minutes this afternoon, but are they really going to tell us more than we have heard recently from virtually the entire FOMC? I don’t think so. Instead, today will be a tale of the vagaries of the politics of stimulus as the market will await the next move to see if/when something will be agreed. Just remember one thing; the Fed has already explained pretty much all the easing it is going to be implementing, but we have more to come from both the ECB and BOE. That divergence ought to weigh on both the euro and the pound going forward.
Good luck and stay safe