As Covid continues to spread
In Europe, it’s come to a head
Relief has been stalled
‘Cause most are appalled
That Hungary, old norms, has shred
It seems like only yesterday when the market was talking about the shape of future monetary support by the ECB and how that would fit with the EU’s fiscal package and help the continent recover from the Covid induced recession. While current lockdowns throughout Europe are painful, with a vaccine on the horizon and the historic agreement on joint liability, the future of Europe seemed bright and adding to risk profiles was seen as appropriate. And perhaps that is because it was only yesterday when that was the market’s theme. At least yesterday morning’s theme. But as Dinah Washington first sang to us in 1959, “What a difference a day makes!” This morning, the optimists have lost the spring in their step as risk appetite has waned. It seems that the news that Hungary and Poland are digging in their heels with respect to the EU rescue package has suddenly been recognized as a problem.
For those of you who thought that the only place where there was political discord was in the US, that has never been the case. The EU has also seen the type of political division seen here; it just takes a different form in Europe. Rather than red and blue states, Europe has red and blue countries, with Hungary and Poland being the reddest of them all, at least in US terminology. The governments of both these nations have objected to much of the EU agenda since 2015 and the flood of refugees entering the continent from the Middle East and Northern Africa in the wake of several civil wars ongoing then (and still). It seems the folks in Brussels wanted to dictate how many refugees each nation in the EU needed to absorb, and given both these country’s geographic location, amongst the first countries any refugee from the Levant would enter, they were instructed to take a disproportionate number. At least, disproportionate in their eyes. And that didn’t sit well with the citizenship in both countries, who then elected nationalist/populist leadership. Since that time, both nations have sought to roll back numerous EU edicts regarding various issues like the judiciary and immigration. This has caused serious griping in Brussels as well as in Budapest and Warsaw.
Fast forward to the current situation, where the EU is seeking to pass their €1.8 trillion Covid relief package (their version of our CARES package from March). The problem is that EU law states support must be unanimous, and these two nations are fighting back against a provision in the text about recipients of aid following the “rule of law”. That innocuous sounding statement is code for the EU leadership’s insistence that laws restricting immigration, or an independent judiciary are verboten. The upshot is the relief package is written so that any nation that does not follow the “rule of law” will not be entitled to any funding. Naturally, Hungary and Poland want the money, but they, as yet, have been unwilling to give ground on the issue, hence the stalemate. Now, like most political stand-offs, this one had seemed likely to be resolved before it got too heated. However, as of this morning, it seems market participants are beginning to question if a package will get approved. And there is another issue in the background as well, Brexit. By that, I mean with the UK just about gone from the EU, if two other nations were to opt out of the bloc, what would that do to the EU as a whole, as well as to confidence in the political leadership across the continent. This is not to say that either Hungary or Poland is on the way out. It is merely a recognition that the post Brexit EU will not be all sunshine and rainbows.
And apparently, that has been enough for investors to decide that profit-taking is a prudent move. Which leads us to this morning’s risk-off session. Despite more forceful comments from Madame Lagarde, and news that there is now a third vaccine that has proven effective, it seems that fear is creeping back into the picture. We saw it late in the US session yesterday, with all three major indices closing about 1% lower and on session lows. It was followed in Asia by the Nikkei (-0.35%) falling for a third consecutive session and the Hang Seng (-0.7%). Shanghai (+0.5%), however, broke the mold as the Chinese government’s ability to issue euro-denominated debt at negative yields in the 5-year added to recent enthusiasm that China’s growth story remains unimpinged by Covid.
Turning to Europe, which is, after all, the epicenter of today’s angst, it is no surprise that all markets are in the red, with the DAX, CAC and FTSE 100 all lower by roughly 1.0%. As to the US futures complex, larger losses earlier have been pared, but we are still looking at declines on the order of 0.25%-0.4%.
Bond yields are generally lower, as expected, with Treasuries down by 1.5bps, a similar move to both Bunds and French OATS. In fact, the only European bond market in the red is Greece, where yields have backed up by 4bps. In the meantime, oil (WTI -1.0%) and gold (-0.5%) are leading the entire commodity bloc lower.
In the FX markets, the dollar reigns supreme this morning, higher against all its G10 counterparts. That said, the magnitude of movement has been modest with AUD (-0.4%), NZD (-0.4%) and SEK (-0.3%) the leading decliners. Clearly, pressure on commodities is undermining the former two, while SEK tends to move in the same direction as the bloc, just in larger increments. (As an aside, USDSEK option volatility has consistently traded at a 2.5% premium to EURUSD volatility for the past eight months.)
In the emerging markets, a space that has received a lot of positive press of late, only one currency has rallied vs. the dollar this morning, TRY (+1.4%) after the Turkish central bank raised short-term interest rates by 4.75% to help support the currency as well as fight inflation, which is running at nearly 12% there. But the rest of the bloc is weaker, led by KRW (-1.0%) and IDR (-0.6%), with even CNY (-0.4%) suffering on the day. The won sold off after FinMin Hong Nam-ki said that they could step in to stabilize (read sell won) the market at “any time”. A clear threat to speculators, and one well-heeded, at least today. The rupiah fell after the central bank there cut rates by 25 basis points in a surprise move, as the country continues to try to cope with rising infections and thus is willing to add further support. As to CNY, given the spectacular run it has had lately, a modest pullback needs no explanation.
Data has been sparse overnight, with only Australian job growth a bit higher than expected after the Victoria lockdown was eased. This morning brings a few key readings here starting with Initial Claims (exp 700K) and Continuing Claims (6.4M). Also, at 8:30 we see Philly Fed (23.0) then Leading Indicators (+0.7%) and Existing Home Sales (6.47M) at 10:00am. While the Initial Claims numbers remain paramount, recall that Empire Manufacturing on Monday was much weaker than expected, so we may see clues as to just how Q4 is turning out. For what it’s worth, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast is currently sitting at 5.6% for Q4, so still a pretty positive outlook.
Two more Fed speakers today are likely to continue to tell us that we need more fiscal stimulus but that they have plenty of ammo left. And that’s really it. The early fear seems to be abating somewhat as I finish just past 7am. As such, it wouldn’t be that surprising to see a late day equity rally and the dollar cede its gains. But absent some other piece of news, large movement seems unlikely.
Good luck and stay safe