Hawks Now Despair

The imminent news of the day
Is President Joe will convey
His choice for Fed chair
As hawks now despair
Lael Brainerd will soon lead the way

Her bona fides highlight her views
More policy ease she would choose
Inflation? No worry
But she’s in a hurry
For banks to put under the screws

The word from Washington is that President Biden will be announcing his selection for Fed chair imminently.  The very fact that the news was released using that phraseology implies to some (this author included) that we will have a new Fed Chair going forward, Lael Brainerd.  It is widely known that the President interviewed both Brainerd and Powell last week and ostensibly, Ms Brainerd accorded herself quite well.  It is also widely known that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which continues to gain sway over policy decisions, hates Chairman Powell and believes that not only would a Chairwoman Brainerd maintain policies to pay for their wish list, but that she would also be much tougher on the banking industry on a regulatory basis.

Of course, the key question is, can Brainerd win approval from a split Senate?  However, it is not clear that Powell could win approval either.  In Brainerd’s case, the vote would almost certainly be a straight party-line vote with Vice-president Harris casting the tiebreaker if necessary, although, it is quite possible that one or two of the very centrist Republican senators vote yea for her.  Powell, on the other hand, has enemies on both sides of the aisle, as there is a contingent of Republicans who believe he is to blame for the current inflation, while we also know there is a contingent of Democrats, led by Senator Warren, who despise him.  In other words, it doesn’t appear either is a slam dunk despite the fact both are currently on the Fed board and have been approved in the past.

Given we already know how markets have responded to the Powell Chairmanship, let us consider how a Chair Brainerd might be viewed.  Whether it is true or not, the current narrative is that Ms Brainerd would be more dovish than Powell, far less likely to complete the current tapering initiative and potentially seek reasons to further expand the Fed’s balance sheet.  If that were to be the case, one would have to be bullish financial assets with both stocks and bonds benefitting from that policy mix.  In addition, given the current inflationary impulse, and the likelihood that a Chair Brainerd continues to believe in the transitory theory, commodity prices are likely to continue their climb higher.  As to the dollar, based on this thesis, the dollar’s recent rise would likely come to an end, as the ongoing decline in real rates would undermine its value proposition.  You may wonder why bond prices would perform well despite rising inflation and the answer is simple, the ongoing QE purchases would support them, and a change in view regarding the timing of any tightening would likely see the short end of the curve rally, driving rates there much lower as well.

Of course, this is speculation regarding speculation of a particular outcome.  However, based on the market’s previous responses to these types of policy stimuli, I would contend they are reasonable.  Regardless, this all depends on any announcement.

One thing to note is that the case for a dollar decline is relatively strong in the event the market perception changes regarding further Fed policy tightness.  The dollar has been benefitting from the perception that the Fed is leading the way among the major central banks, with respect to removing policy ease.  If that perception were to change, so will the trajectory of the greenback.

Turning to the markets this morning, after a lackluster day in the US yesterday, where the major indices barely moved, we saw a mixed performance in Asia (Nikkei +0.1%, Hang Seng +1.3%, Shanghai -0.3%) as China continues to feel downward pressure from the real estate sector there.  Europe, on the other hand, is having a better day (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 +0.2%) despite growing concerns over NatGas supplies due to some delays in NordStream 2 approvals.  It seems that a combination of ongoing dovish comments from Madame Lagarde and a new analysis by Capital Economics indicating interest rates in Europe will not rise before 2025, have inspired more risk-taking.  Meanwhile, US futures, which had been lower earlier in the session, have now edged back to essentially unchanged on the day.

In the bond market, yesterday saw some very aggressive selling with Treasury yields rising 5 basis points and pretty much dragging the entire space with them.  This morning, however, things have reversed with Treasury yields (-1.9bps) down along with Bunds (-1.9bps), OATS (-2.0bps) and Gilts (-2.0bps).  As long as there is belief in the QE process, bonds will retain a bid.  As an aside, there was an interesting article yesterday from MNI reporting on the fact that Italy and the other PIGS are seeking a permanent change in EU lending rules to insure that they get more money with less strings, as has been occurring during the Covid inspired emergency.  This has all the signs of a new policy that will be enacted, permanently increasing the amount of support that Southern Europe receives from the EU, and likely, over time to build tensions.  I would look for PIGS spreads vs. Bunds to narrow on this conversation, but it will not help the euro.

As to commodities, this morning most are in the green led by oil (+0.4%) which is continuing yesterday’s late day rally although prices are still much lower on the week.  NatGas (+2.8%) is clearly rising in concert with the European story on Nordstream 2 while gold (+0.6%) and silver (+0.85%) continue to confound by rising sharply alongside the dollar.  Ags are a little softer as are base metals (Al -1.6%, Zn -0.9%), so the message from this market is just not clear.

Turning to the dollar, it is broadly stronger this morning with SEK (-0.3%) and CHF (-0.3%) the laggards in the G10 although GBP (+0.25%) and NOK (+0.2%) are both firmer.  Going backwards, NOK is clearly being supported by oil prices while the pound is benefitting from modestly positive employment news amid a spate of releases there.  As to the losers, there is really no news in either currency which implies the general dollar bullish framework continues to be the key driver.  In the emerging markets, TRY (-1.4%) is today’s worst performer as investors fear further rate cuts despite rapidly rising inflation.  Interestingly, RUB (-0.5%) is also under pressure despite oil’s rebound as concerns over rising inflation in Russia are also impacting investment decisions.  CLP (-0.5%) is the other laggard here as a combination of broad dollar strength and concerns over inflation seem to be undermining the peso.

On the data front, we see Retail Sales (exp 1.5%, 1.0% ex autos) as well as IP (0.9%) and Capacity Utilization (75.9%) this morning.  We get the Fed train rolling with five speakers this morning ranging from the most hawkish (George) to the most dovish (Daly).  However, I believe all eyes will be on the Chairmanship story, not comments from underlings.

The dollar broadly continues to rally with the euro having traded to its lowest level since July 2020 and there is nothing that indicates this trend is going to change soon.  While there are good reasons to expect the dollar to eventually decline, right now, higher is the direction of travel so keep that in mind for your hedging.  However, for those with a longer-term view, looking into 2023 and 2024, current levels may well look attractive if payables are the exposure.

Good luck and stay safe
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