The German economy’s stalling
In Q1, as Covid comes calling
But still there’s belief
That fiscal relief
Will stop it from further snowballing
Consensus is hard to find this morning as we are seeing both gains and losses in the various asset classes with no consistent theme. Perhaps the only significant piece of news was the German IFO data, which disappointed across the board, not merely missing estimates but actually declining compared with December’s data. This is clearly a response to the renewed lockdowns in Germany and the fact that they have been extended through the middle of February. The item of most concern, is that the manufacturing sector, which up until now had been the brightest spot, by far, is also seeing softness. Now part of this problem has to do with the fact that shipping has been badly disrupted with insufficient containers available to ship products. This has resulted in higher shipping costs and reduced volumes, hence reduced sales. But part of this issue is also the fact that since virtually all of Europe is in lockdown, economic activity on the continent is simply slowing down. It is the latter point that informs my view of the ECB’s future activities, namely non-stop monetary ease for as far as the eye can see.
When combining that view, the ECB will continue to aggressively ease policy, with the fact that the Fed is also going to continue to ease policy, it becomes much more difficult to estimate which currency is going to underperform. Heading into 2021, the strongest conviction trade across markets was that the dollar was going to decline sharply, continuing the descent from its March 2020 highs. And that’s exactly what we saw…for the first week of the year. However, since then, the dollar has reversed those losses and currently sits higher on the year vs. most currencies. My point is, and has consistently been, that in the FX market, the dollar is a relative game, and the policies of both nations are critical in establishing its value. Thus, if every nation is aggressively easing policy, both monetary and fiscal, then the magnitude of those policy efforts are critical. Perhaps, the fact that Congress has yet to pass an additional stimulus bill, especially given the strong belief that the Blue Wave would quickly achieve that, has been sufficient to change some views of the dollar’s future strength (weakness?). Regardless, the one thing that is clear is that the year has just begun and there is plenty of time for more policy action as well as more surprises. In the end, I do believe that as inflation starts to climb in the US, and real interest rates fall to further negative levels, the dollar will ultimately fall. But that is a Q2-Q3 outcome, not really a January story.
And remarkably, that is basically the biggest piece of news from overnight. At this point, traders and investors are turning their attention to the FOMC meeting on Wednesday, although there are no expectations for policy shifts yet. However, the statement, and Chairman Powell’s press conference, will be parsed six ways to Sunday in order to try to glean the future. Based on what we heard from a majority of Fed speakers before the quiet period began, there is no current concern over the backup in Treasury yields, and there is limited sentiment for the Fed to even consider tapering their policy of asset purchases, with just four of the seventeen members giving it any credence. One other thing to remember is that the annual rotation of voting regional presidents has turned more dovish, with Cleveland’s Loretta Mester, one of the two most hawkish members, being replaced by Chicago’s Charles Evans, a consistent dove. The other changes are basically like for like, with Daly for Kashkari (two extreme doves) and Barkin and Bostic replacing Harker and Kaplan. These four are the minority who discussed the idea that tapering purchases could be appropriate by the end of the year, so, again, no change in voting views.
With this in mind, we can see the lack of consistent message from overnight activity. Asian equity markets were all firmer, led by the Hang Seng (+2.4%), with the Nikkei (+0.7%) and Shanghai (+0.5%) trailing but in the green. However, Europe has fared less well after the soft IFO data with all three major markets (DAX, CAC and FTSE 100) lower by -0.6%. As to US futures, they are the perfect embodiment of a mixed session with NASDAQ futures higher by 0.8% while DOW futures are lower by 0.2%,
Bond markets, though, have shown some consistency, with yields falling in Treasuries (-1.0bp) and Europe (Bunds -1.7bps, OATs -1.5bps, Gilts -2.2bps). The biggest winner, though, are Italian BTPs, which have rallied more than half a point and seen yields decline 5.3 basis points. It seems that concerns over the government falling have abated. Either that or the 0.70% yield available is seen as just too good to pass up.
On the commodity front, oil prices have edged up by the slightest amount, just 0.1%, as the consolidation of the past three months’ gains continues. Gold has risen 0.4%, but there is a great deal of discussion that, technically, it has begun a downtrend and has further to fall. Again, consistent with my view that real interest rates are likely to decline sharply in Q2, when inflation really starts to pick up, we could easily see gold slide until then, before a more emphatic recovery.
And lastly, the dollar, where both G10 and EMG blocs show a virtual even split of gainers and losers. Starting with the G10, NZD (+0.3%) is today’s “big” winner, with SEK (+0.25%) next in line. Market talk is about the reduction of restrictions in Australia’s New South Wales state as a reason for optimism in AUD (+0.15%) and NZD. As for SEK, this is simply a trading move, with no obvious catalysts present. On the flip side, the euro (-0.1%) is the worst performer, arguably suffering from that German IFO data, with other currencies showing little movement in either direction.
The EMG bloc is led by TRY (+0.4%), as it seems discussions between Turkey and Greece to resolve their competing claims over maritime boundaries is seen as a positive. After the lira, though, no currency has gained more than 0.2%, which implies there is nothing of note to describe. On the downside, ZAR (-0.4%) is the worst performer, which appears to be a positioning move as long rand positions are cut amid concerns over the spread of Covid and the lack of effective government response thus far.
On the data front, the week is backloaded with Wednesday’s FOMC clearly the highlight.
|Tuesday||Case Shiller Home Prices||8.65%|
|FOMC Meeting||0.00%-0.25% (unchanged)|
|New Home Sales||860K|
So, plenty of stuff at the end of the week, and then Friday, two Fed speakers hit the tape. One thing we know is that the housing market continues to burn hot, meaning data there is assumed to be strong, so all eyes will be on the PCE data on Friday. After all, that is the Fed’s measuring stick. The other thing that we have consistently seen during the past six months is that inflationary pressures have been stronger than anticipated by most analysts. And it is here, where the Fed remains firmly of the belief that they are in control, where the biggest problems are likely to surface going forward. But that is a story for another day. Today, the dollar is wandering. However, if the equity market in the US can pick up its pace, don’t be surprised to see the dollar come under a little pressure.
Good luck and stay safe