There once was a market decline
That seemed, at the time, to consign
Investors with shares
To turn into bears
An outcome quite far from benign
But that was a long time ago
As by afternoon all the flow
Was buying the dip
Thus, proving this blip
Was not a bull market deathblow
I wonder if stock prices declining for 18 hours now counts as a correction. What had appeared to be the beginnings of a more protracted fall in stocks turned into nothing more than a modest blip in the ongoing bull market. Some teeth were gnashed, and some positions lightened, but by 3:15pm, it was all over with a 1.3% rebound from that time to the close. Granted, the S&P 500 did decline 1.7% on the day, but given the substantial buying impulse seen at the end of the day, as well as the change in tone of the market narrative, it certainly feels this morning like the worst is behind us. While China Evergrande continues to be bankrupt, the new story is that despite its large size, it is not large enough to be a real catalyst for market destruction and, anyway, the PBOC would never let things get to a point where its bankruptcy would lead to contagion elsewhere in the Chinese markets/economy.
As to the last point, be careful with your assumptions. While this is not meant to be a prediction, consider that President Xi Jinping has spent the last year cracking down on successful firms in China as they have amassed both wealth and power, something that an autocrat of Xi’s nature cannot abide. So, a fair question to ask is, would Xi let the Chinese economy crash in order to consolidate his power even further? While I don’t believe he would purposely do that, I would not rule out him allowing things to unfold in a manner he sees as beneficial to his ultimate plans, thus financial distress in China could well be in our future. And if you are Xi Jinping, the idea that Western markets would react badly to an Evergrande collapse would only be a positive. My point is, I don’t think you can rule out other motives in this situation.
At any rate, this literally seems like ancient history at this time, with markets all in the green and the market narrative of ‘buy the dip’ proving itself once again to be the proper course of action. Pavlov himself could not have conditioned retail investors any better than the Fed and other central banks have done over the past decade.
So, with Evergrande in the rearview mirror, the market gets to (re)turn its focus to the FOMC meeting, which begins this morning and whose outcome will be announced at 2pm tomorrow. That means we are back to talking about tapering. Will they, or won’t they? And if they do, when will they start?
The market consensus is clearly that tapering is coming with about two-thirds of market economists forecasting the first reduction in asset purchases will occur in November. While there are some differing views on how they will taper, the consensus appears to be a reduction of $10 billion of Treasuries and $5 billion of mortgage-backed securities each month until they are done. So, eight months of reductions takes us to next June if we start in November. Of course, this assumes that there are no interruptions, and that the Fed leadership remains intact.
First, remember, Chairman Powell’s term is up in February, and while he remains the favorite to be reappointed, it seems the most progressive wing of the Democratic party wants to see someone else, with Lael Brainerd, a current Fed governor and past Treasury Undersecretary, seen as the leading alternative. Ms Brainerd has consistently been even more dovish than Powell, and if she were to be confirmed for the Chair, it would be easy to believe she halted any tapering at that point. After all, if one believes in MMT, (which by all accounts Ms Brainerd embraces), why would the Fed ever stop buying Treasuries? Again, this is not predictive, just something to keep in mind.
Second, the tapering narrative is based on the idea that economic growth coming out of the Covid recession is self-sustaining and no longer needs central bank support. But what if the recovery is more anemic than currently forecast. The one consistency we have seen over the course of the past months is that forecasts for economic growth in Q3 and Q4 have declined dramatically. For instance, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast model is pointing to 3.65% currently, down from 5.3% at the beginning of the month and 7.6% just two months ago. Shortages of certain things still abound and prices on staples like beef, pork, and poultry, continue to rise rapidly. In short, the situation in the economy is anything but clear.
In this case, the question really becomes, will the Fed turn its attention to inflation, or will it remain focused only on unemployment? If the inflation heat reaches too high a temperature, then it would be easy to believe tapering will occur far more rapidly. However, if growth remains the focus, then any reason to delay tapering will be sought. I remain in the camp that while they may initiate tapering, the Fed will be buying bonds long after June 2022. We shall see.
A quick turn to markets shows that all is right with the world! Stocks are almost universally higher as Asia (Hang Seng +0.5%, Shanghai +0.2%) led the beginning of the rebound although Japan (Nikkei -2.1%) was still coming to grips with yesterday’s narrative coming out of their holiday. Europe is strongly higher this morning (DAX +1.45%, CAC +1.4%, FTSE 100 +1.15%) as fear has rapidly dissipated. And after the worst US equity session in months, futures this morning are higher by about 0.8% across the board.
It should be no surprise that bonds are for sale this morning with yields mostly higher. Treasury yields, which fell 6bps yesterday, have bounced slightly, up 1.7bps this morning. European sovereigns, which saw a lesser rally yesterday have barely sold off with nothing rebounding even a full basis point. One noteworthy outlier is Greece, whose bonds are sharply higher with 10-year yields declining 4.6bps, after Greek central bank comments that the ECB would never stop buying Greek paper.
Commodity prices are generally firmer with oil (WTI +1.2%) leading although gold (+0.2%), copper (+0.95%) and aluminum (+1.0%) are all embracing the risk rebound.
And finally, the dollar, which had rallied so sharply yesterday morning, has given back all of those gains. NOK (+0.8%) leads the G10 charge higher with CAD (+0.5%) next in line as oil’s rebound supports both currencies. The rest of the bloc has seen less exuberance, generally between 0.1% and 0.25%, although JPY (-0.1%) has slipped as its haven status is no longer a benefit.
EMG currencies have seen a little less dramatic movement with the leading gainer CZK (+0.3%) followed by RUB (+0.25%) with the latter benefitting from oil while the former continues to find support based on views its central bank remains hawkish enough to raise rates. Otherwise, the gainers have been quite modest, 0.2% or less with two currencies falling on the day, ZAR (-0.2%) and PLN (-0.25%). In both cases, it appears the concerns lie with central bank policy prospects. However, given the modest size of the decline, it is hardly a key issue.
On the data front, this morning brings Housing Starts (exp 1550K) and Building Permits (1600K), although with the FOMC meeting in the background, neither is likely to move the needle. And that’s really it for the day as there are no speakers. As long as we don’t see a bombshell from Evergrande, which seems unlikely in our time zone, today feels like a quiet session with potential modest further dollar weakness. All eyes will continue to be on tomorrow’s FOMC announcement, and, more importantly, Chairman Powell’s comments at the press conference. Until then, slow going is likely.
Good luck and stay safe