Absent Demand

With Autumn’s arrival at hand
The virus has taken a stand
It won’t be defeated
Nor barely depleted
Thus, markets are absent demand

Risk is definitely on the back foot this morning as concerns grow over the increase in Covid-19 cases around the world.  Adding to the downward pressure on risk assets is the news that a number of major global banks are under increased scrutiny for their inability (unwillingness?) to stop aiding and abetting money laundering.  And, of course, in the background is the growing sense that monetary authorities around the world, notably the Fed, have run out of ammunition in their ongoing efforts to support economic growth in the wake of the government imposed shutdowns.  All in all, things look pretty dire this morning.

Starting with the virus, you may recall that one of the fears voiced early on was that, like the flu, it would fade somewhat in the summer and then reassert itself as the weather cooled.  Well, it appears that was a pretty accurate analysis as we have definitely seen the number of new cases rising in numerous countries around the world.  Europe finds itself in particularly difficult straits as the early self-congratulatory talk about how well they handled things vis-à-vis the US seems to be coming undone.  India has taken the lead with respect to the growth in cases, with more than 130,000 reported in the past two days.  The big concern is that government’s around the world are going to reimpose new lockdowns to try to stifle growth in the number of cases, but we all know how severely that can impact the economy.  So, the question with which the markets are grappling is, will the potential long-term benefit of a lockdown, which may reduce the overall caseload outweigh the short-term distress to the economy, profits and solvency?

At least for today, investors and traders are coming down on the side that the lockdowns are more destructive than the disease and so we have seen equity markets around the world come under pressure, with Europe really feeling the pain.  Last night saw the Hang Seng (-2.1%) and Shanghai (-0.6%) sell off pretty steadily.  (The Nikkei was closed for Autumnal Equinox Day.)  But the situation in Europe has been far more severe with the DAX (-3.2%), CAC (-3.1%) and FTSE 100 (-3.5%) all under severe pressure.  All three of those nations are stressing from an increase in Covid cases, but this is where we are seeing a second catalyst, the story about major banks and their money laundering habits.  A new report has been released that describes movement of more than $2 trillion in illicit funds by major (many European) banks, even after sanctions and fines have been imposed.  It can be no surprise that bank stocks throughout Europe are lower, nor that pre-market activity in the US is pointing in the same direction.  As such, US future markets showing declines of 1.5%-2.0% are right in line with reasonable expectations.

And finally, we cannot ignore Chairman Powell and the Fed.  The Chairman will be speaking before Congress three times this week, on both the need for more fiscal stimulus as well as the impact of Covid on the economy.  Now we already know that the Fed has implemented “powerful” new tools to help support the US, after all, Powell told us that about ten times last week in his press conference.  Unfortunately, the market is a bit less confident in the power of those tools.  At the same time, it seems the ECB has launched a review of its PEPP program, to try to determine if it has been effective and how much longer it should continue.  One other question they will address is whether the original QE program, APP, should be modified to be more like PEPP.  It is not hard to guess what the answers will be; PEPP has been a huge success, it should be expanded and extended because of its success, and more consideration will be given to changing APP to be like PEPP (no capital key).  After all, the ECB cannot sit by idly and watch the Fed ease policy more aggressively and allow the euro to appreciate in value, that would be truly catastrophic to their stated goal of raising the cost of living inflation on the Continent.

With all that in mind, a look at FX markets highlights that the traditional risk-off movement is the order of the day.  In other words, the dollar is broadly stronger vs. just about everything except the yen.  For instance, in the G10 space, NOK (-1.45%) is falling sharply as the combination of risk aversion and a sharply lower oil price (WTI -2.5%) has taken the wind out of the krone’s sails.  But the weakness here is across the board as SEK (-0.8%) and the big two, GBP (-0.5%) and EUR (-0.45%) are all under pressure.  It’s funny, it wasn’t that long ago when the entire world was convinced that the dollar was about to collapse.  Perhaps that attitude was a bit premature.  In fact, the euro bulls need to hope that 1.1765 (50-day moving average) holds because if the technicians jump in, we could see the single currency fall a lot more.

As to the emerging markets, the story is the same, the dollar is broadly higher with recent large gainers; ZAR (-2.0%) and MXN (-1.4%), leading the way lower.  But the weakness is broad-based as the CE4 are all under pressure (CZK -1.3%, HUF -1.1%, PLN -0.95%) and even CNY (-0.2%) which has been rallying steadily since its nadir at the end of May, has suffered.  In fact, the only positive was KRW (+0.2%) which benefitted from data showing that exports finally grew, rising above 0.0% for the first time since before Covid.

As to the data this week, it is quite light with just the following to watch:

Tuesday Existing Home Sales 6.01M
Wednesday PMI Manufacturing (Prelim) 53.3
Thursday Initial Claims 840K
Continuing Claims 12.45M
New Home Sales 890K
Friday Durable Goods 1.1%
-ex Transport 1.0%

Source: Bloomberg

The market will be far more interested in Powell’s statements, as well as his answers in the Q&A from both the House and Senate.  The thing is, we already know what he is going to say.  The Fed has plenty of ammunition, but with interest rates already at zero, monetary policy needs help from fiscal policy.  In addition to Powell, nine other Fed members speak a total of twelve times this week.  But with Powell as the headliner, it is unlikely they will have an impact.

The risk meme is today’s story.  If US equity markets play out as the futures indicate, and follow Europe lower, there is no reason to expect the dollar to do anything but continue to rally.  After all, while short dollar positions are not at record highs, they are within spitting distance of being so, which means there is plenty of ammunition for a dollar rally as shorts get covered.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Prices Keep Falling

Suga-san’s ascent
Has not altered the landscape
Prices keep falling

The distance between stated economic goals and actual economic outcomes remains wide as the economic impact of the many pandemic inspired government ordered lockdowns continues to be felt around the world.  The latest example comes from Japan, where August’s CPI readings fell, as expected, to 0.2% Y/Y at the headline level while the ex-fresh food measure (the one the BOJ prefers) fell to -0.4%.  Although pundits in the US have become fond of ridiculing the Fed’s efforts at raising inflation to 2.0%, especially given their inability to do so since defining that level as stable prices in 2012, to see real ineptitude, one must turn east and look at the BOJ’s track record on inflation.  In the land of the rising sun, the favored measure of CPI ex-fresh food has averaged 0.5% for the last 35 years!  The point is the Fed is not the first, nor only, central bank to fail in its mission to generate inflation via monetary policy.

(As an aside, it is an entirely different argument to discuss the merits of seeking to drive inflation higher to begin with, as there is a strong case to be made that limited inflation is a necessary condition for economic success at the national level.)  But 2.0% inflation has become the global central banking mantra. And though the favored inflation measure across nations often differs, the one key similarity is that every G10 nation, as well as many in the emerging markets, has been unable to achieve their goal.  The few exceptions are those nations like Venezuela, Argentina and Turkey that have the opposite problem, soaring inflation and no ability to control that.

But back to Japan, where decades of futility on the inflation front have put paid to the idea that printing money is all that is needed to generate rising prices.  The missing ingredient for all central banks is that they need to pump money into places that result in lending and spending, not simply asset purchases, or those excess funds will simply sit on bank balance sheets with no impact.

Remember, GDP growth, in the long run, comes from a combination of population growth and productivity growth.  Japan has the misfortune, in this case, of being one of the few nations on earth where the population is actually shrinking.  It is also the oldest nation, meaning the average and median age is higher there than any other country on earth (except Monaco which really doesn’t matter in this context).  The point here is that as people age, they tend to consume less stuff, spending less money and therefore driving less growth in the economy.  It is these two factors that will prevent Japan from achieving a much higher rate of inflation until such time as the country’s demographics change.  A new Prime Minister will not solve this problem, regardless of what policies he supports and implements.

Keeping this in mind, the idea that Japan is far more likely to cope with ongoing deflation rather than rising inflation, if we turn our attention to how that impacts the Japanese yen, we quickly realize that the currency is likely to appreciate over time.  Dusting off your Finance 101 textbooks, you will see that inflation has the side effect of weakening a nation’s currency, which quickly feeds into driving further inflation.  Adding to this impact is if the nation runs a current account deficit, which is generally the case when inflation is high and rising.  Harking back to Argentina and Venezuela, this is exactly the behavior we see in those economies.  The flip side of that, though, is that deflation should lead to a nation’s currency appreciating.  This is especially so when that nation runs a current account surplus.  And of course, you cannot find a nation that fits that bill better than Japan (well maybe Switzerland).  The upshot of this is, further JPY appreciation seems to be an extremely likely outcome.  Therefore, as long as prices cease to rise in Japan, there will be upward pressure on the currency.  We have seen this for years, and there is no reason for it to stop now.

Of course, as I always remind everyone, FX is a relative game, so it matters a great deal what is happening in both nations on a relative basis.  And in this case, when comparing the US, where prices are rising and the current account has been in deficit for the past two decades, and Japan, where prices are falling and the current account has been in surplus for the past four decades, the outcome seems clear.  However, the market is already aware of that situation and so the current level of USDJPY reflects that information.  However, as we look ahead, either negative surprises in Japanese prices or positive surprises in the US are going to be important drivers in the FX market.  This is likely to be seen in interest rate spreads, which have narrowed significantly since March when the Fed cut rates aggressively but have stabilized lately.  If the Fed is, in fact, going to put forth the easiest monetary policy around, then a further narrowing of this spread is quite possible, if not likely, and further JPY appreciation will ultimately be the result.  This is what we have seen broadly since the middle of 2015, a steady trend lower in USDJPY, and there is no reason to believe that is going to change.

Whew!  That turned out to be more involved than I expected at the start.  So let me quickly survey the situation today.  Risk is under modest pressure generally, although there were several equity markets that put in a good performance overnight.  After a weak US session, Asia saw modest gains in most places (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng +0.5%) although Shanghai (+2.1%) was quite strong.  European markets are far less convinced of the positives with the DAX (+0.4%) and CAC (-0.1%) not showing much movement, and some of the fringe markets (Spain -1.3%) having a bit more difficulty.  US futures are mixed, although the top performer is the NASDAQ (+0.4%).

Bond markets continue to trade in a tight range, as central bank purchases offset ongoing issuance by governments, and we are going to need some new news or policies to change this story.  Something like an increase in the ECB’s PEPP program, or the BOE increasing its purchases will be necessary to change this, as the Fed is already purchasing a huge amount of paper each month.

And finally, the rest of the FX market shows that the dollar is broadly, but not universally under pressure.  G10 activity shows that NZD (+0.4%) is the leader, although JPY (+0.3%) is having another good day, while NOK (-0.25%) is the laggard.  But as can be seen by the modest movements, and given the fact it is Friday, this is likely position adjustments rather than data driven.

In the EMG space, KRW (+1.2%) was the biggest gainer overnight, which was hard to explain based on outside influences.  The KOSPI rose 0.25%, hardly a huge rally, and interest rates were unchanged.  The best estimate here is that ongoing strength in China is seen as a distinct positive for the won, as South Korea remains highly dependent on the mainland for economic activity.  Beyond the won, though, while there were more gainers than losers, the size of movement was not that significant.

On the data front, speaking of the current account, we see the Q2 reading this morning (exp -$160.0B), as well as Leading Indicators (1.3%) and Michigan Sentiment (75.0).  We also hear from three Fed speakers (Bullard, Bostic and Kashkari) but having just heard from Powell on Wednesday, it seems unlikely they will give us any new information. Rather, today appears to be a consolidation day, with marginal movements as weak positions get unwound into the weekend.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Risk is in Doubt

The chatter before the Fed met
Was Powell and friends were all set
To ease even more
Until they restore
Inflation to lessen the debt

And while Jay attempted just that
His efforts have seemed to fall flat
Now risk is in doubt
As traders clear out
Positions from stocks to Thai baht

Well, the Fed meeting is now history and in what cannot be very surprising, the Chairman found out that once you have established a stance of maximum policy ease, it is very difficult to sound even more dovish.  So, yes, the Fed promised to maintain current policy “…until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee’s assessments of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2 percent and is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time.”  And if you really parse those words compared to the previous statement’s “…maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals”, you could make the case it is more dovish.  But the one thing at which market participants are not very good is splitting hairs.  And I would argue that is what you are doing here.  Between the old statement and Powell’s Jackson Hole speech, everybody already knew the Fed was not going to raise rates for a very long time.  Yesterday was merely confirmation.

In fact, ironically, I think the fact that there were two dissents on the vote, Kaplan and Kashkari, made things worse.  The reason is that both of them sought even easier policy and so as dovish as one might believe the new statement sounds, clearly some members felt it could be even more dovish than that.  At the same time, the dot plot added virtually nothing to the discussion as the vast majority believe that through 2023 the policy rate will remain pegged between 0.00%-0.25% where it is now.  Also, while generating inflation remains the animating force of the committee, according to the Summary of Economic Projections released yesterday, even their own members don’t believe that core PCE will ever rise above 2.0% and not even touch that level until 2023.

Add it all up and it seems pretty clear that the Fed is out of bullets, at least as currently configured with respect to their Congressional mandate and restrictions.  It will require Congress to amend the Federal Reserve Act and allow them to purchase equities in order to truly change the playing field and there is no evidence that anything of that nature is in the cards.  A look at the history of the effectiveness of QE and either zero or negative interest rates shows that neither one does much for the economy, although both do support asset markets.  Given those are the only tools the Fed has, and they are both already in full use (and not just at the Fed, but everywhere in the G10), it is abundantly clear why central bankers worldwide are willing to sacrifice their independence in order to cajole governments to apply further fiscal stimulus.  Central banks seem to have reached the limit of their capabilities to address the real economy.  And if (when) things turn back down, they are going to shoulder as much blame as elected officials can give with respect to who is responsible for the bad news.

With that as background, let’s take a peek at how markets have responded to the news.  Net-net, it hasn’t been pretty.  Equity markets are in the red worldwide with losses overnight (Nikkei -0.7%, Hang Seng -1.6%, Shanghai -0.4%) and in Europe (DAX -0.7%, CAC -0.8%, FTSE 100 -1.0%).  US futures are pointing lower after equity markets in the US ceded all their gains after the FOMC and closed lower yesterday.  At this time, all three futures indices are lower by about 1.0%.

Meanwhile, bond markets, which if you recall have not been tracking the equity market risk sentiment very closely over the past several weeks, are edging higher, at least in those markets truly seen as havens.  So, Treasury yields are lower by 2bps, while German bunds and French OATS are both seeing yields edge lower, but by less than one basis point.  However, the rest of the European government bond market is under modest pressure, with the PIGS seeing their bonds sell off and yields rising between one and two basis points.  Of course, as long as the ECB continues to buy bonds via the PEPP, none of these are likely to fall that far in price, thus yields there are certainly capped for the time being.  I mean even Greek 10-year yields are 1.06%!  This from a country that has defaulted six times in the modern era, the most recent being less than ten years ago.

Finally, if we look to the FX markets, it can be no surprise to see the dollar has begun to reverse some of its recent losses.  Remember, the meme here has been that the Fed would be the easiest of all central banks with respect to monetary policy and so the dollar had much further to fall.  Combine that with the long-term theme of macroeconomic concerns over the US twin deficits (budget and current account) and short dollars was the most popular position in the market for the past three to four months.  Thus, yesterday’s FOMC outcome, where it has become increasingly clear that the Fed has little else to do in the way of policy ease, means that other nations now have an opportunity to ease further at the margin, changing the relationship and ultimately watching their currency weaken versus the dollar.  Remember, too, that essentially no country is comfortable with a strong currency at this point, as stoking inflation and driving export growth are the top two goals around the world.  The dollar’s rebound has only just begun.

Specifically, in the G10, we see NOK (-0.5%) as the laggard this morning, as it responds not just to the dollar’s strength today, but also to the stalling oil prices, whose recent rally has been cut short.  As to the rest of the bloc, losses are generally between 0.15%-0.25% with no specific stories to drive anything.  The exception is JPY (+0.2%) which is performing its role as a haven asset today.  While this is a slow start, do not be surprised to see the dollar start to gain momentum as technical indicators give way.

Emerging market currencies are also under pressure this morning led by MXN (-0.7%) and ZAR (-0.6%).  If you recall, these have been two of the best performing currencies over the past month, with significant long positions in each driving gains of 5.3% and 7.1% respectively.  As such, it can be no surprise that they are the first positions being unwound in this process.  But throughout this bloc, we are seeing weakness across the board with average declines on the order of 0.3%-0.4%.  Again, given the overall risk framework, there is no need for specific stories to drive things.

On the data front, yesterday’s Retail Sales data was a bit softer than expected, although was generally overlooked ahead of the FOMC.  This morning saw Eurozone CPI print at -0.2%, 0.4% core, both still miles below their target, and highlighting that we can expect further action from the ECB.  At home, we are awaiting Initial Claims (exp 850K), Continuing Claims (13.0M), Housing Starts (1483K), Building Permits (1512K) and the Philly Fed index (15.0).

Back on the policy front, the BOE announced no change in policy at all, leaving the base rate at 0.10% and not expanding their asset purchase program.  However, in their effort to ease further they did two things, explicitly said they won’t tighten until there is significant progress on the inflation goal, but more importantly, said that they will “engage with regulators on how to implement negative rates.”  This is a huge change, and, not surprisingly the market sees it as another central bank easing further than the Fed.  The pound has fallen sharply on the news, down 0.6% and likely has further to go.  Last night the BOJ left policy on hold, as they too are out of ammunition.  The fear animating that group is that risk appetite wanes and haven demand drives the yen much higher, something which they can ill afford and yet something which they are essentially powerless to prevent.  But not today.  Today, look for a modest continuation of the dollar’s gains as more positions get unwound.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Whom He Must Obey

The question is, what can he say?
You know, course, I’m talkin’ ‘bout Jay
Can he still, more, ease?
In order to please
The markets whom he must obey

Fed day has arrived, and all eyes are on the virtual Marriner Eccles Building in Washington, where the FOMC used to meet, prior to the current pandemic.  In the wake of Chairman Powell’s speech at the end of August, during the virtual Jackson Hole symposium, where he outlined the new Fed framework; analysts, economists and market participants have been trying to guess when there will be more details forthcoming regarding how the Fed plans to achieve their new goals.  Recall, stable prices have been redefined as ‘an average inflation rate of 2.0% over time’.  However, Powell gave no indication as to what timeline was considered, whether it was fixed or variable, and how wide a dispersion around their target they are willing to countenance.  So generally, we don’t know anything about this policy tweak other than the fact that, by definition, inflation above 2.0% will not be considered a sufficient reason to tighten monetary policy.  There are as many theories of what they are going to do as there are analysts propagating them, which is why this meeting is seen as so important.

As it is a quarterly meeting, we will also see new Fed economic forecasts and the dot plot will be extended to include the FOMC membership’s views of rates through 2023.  As to the latter, the working assumption is that virtually the entire committee expects rates to remain at current levels throughout the period.  Reinforcing this view is the futures market, where Fed Funds futures are essentially flat at current levels through the last listed contract in August 2023.  Eurodollar futures show the first full rise in rates priced for June 2024.  In other words, market participants are not looking for any policy tightening anytime soon.

Which begs the question, exactly what can Jay say that could be considered dovish at this point?  Certainly, he could explain that they are going to increase QE, but that is already defined as whatever is deemed necessary to smooth the functioning of markets.  Perhaps if he defines it as more than that, meaning it is supposed to help support economic activity, that would be interpreted as more dovish.  But isn’t infinite QE already as much as they can do?

It seems highly unlikely that the committee will give a fixed date as to when policy may eventually tighten.  But it is possible, though I think highly unlikely as well, that they define what level of inflation may require a change in policy.  The problem with that theory is there are too many potential paths down which inflation can wander.  For instance, if core PCE increased to 2.5% (a BIG if) and remained stable there for six months, would that be enough to force an adjustment to policy?  Would one year be the right amount?  Five years?  After all, core PCE has averaged 1.6% for the past ten years.  For the past twenty, the average has been 1.72%.  In fact, you have to go back over the past 32 years in order to calculate the average core PCE at 2.0%.  And of course, this is the problem with the Fed’s new framework, it doesn’t really tell us much about the future of policy other than, it is going to be ultra-easy for a long, long time.

It is with this in mind that the market has embraced the idea that the dollar must naturally fall as a consequence.  And that is a fair point.  If the Fed continues to out-ease all other central banks, then the dollar is quite likely to continue to soften.  But as we have seen already from numerous ECB speakers, and are likely to see from the BOE tomorrow, the Fed is not acting in a vacuum.  FX continues to be a relative game, as the differential in policies between currencies is the driving factor.  And while Madame Lagarde did say she was not concerned about the euro’s strength, you may recall that she also indicated, once upon a time, that it was not the ECB’s job to worry about Italian government bond yields.  That was her position for at least a day before the ECB figured out that was their entire job and created the PEPP.  My point is, if Jay comes across as more dovish somehow, you can be certain that every other central bank will double down on their own policy ease.  No country wants to be the one with the strong currency these days.

But for now, the market is still of the opinion that the Fed is out in the lead, and so the dollar continues to drift lower.  This morning, we see the dollar weaker against the entire G10 bloc with NOK (+0.6%) the leader on the back of oil’s 2.5% rally, although GBP (+0.5%) is also firmer after UK inflation data showed smaller declines than forecast, perhaps alleviating some of the pressure on the BOE to ease further.  At least that’s the thought right now.  But even the euro, after ultimately slipping yesterday, has rallied a modest 0.15% although it remains below 1.19 as I type.

Emerging market currencies are behaving in a similar manner, as the entire bloc is firmer vs. the greenback.  Once again ZAR (+0.95%) leads the pack on the combination of firmer commodity prices (gold +0.5%), the highest real yields around and faith that the Fed will continue to ease further.  But we are seeing MXN (+0.5%) gaining on oil’s rally and CNY (+0.35%) following up yesterday’s gains with a further boost as expectations grow that China’s economy is truly going to be back to pre-Covid levels before the end of the year.  Overall, it is a day of dollar weakness.

Other markets have shown less exuberance as Asian equity markets were essentially flat (Nikkei +0.1%, Hang Seng 0.0%, Shanghai -0.3%) and European bourses are also either side of flat (DAX -0.1%, CAC +0.1%, FTSE 100 -0.1%).  US futures, naturally, continue to rally, with all three indices looking at gains of 0.4%-0.6% at this time.

Government bond markets remain dull, with another large US auction easily absorbed yesterday and 10-year yields less than a basis point different than yesterday’s levels.  In Europe, actually, most bond yields have edged a bit lower, but only one to two basis points’ worth, so hardly a sign of panic.

As to the data story, yesterday saw a much better than forecast Empire Manufacturing number (+17.0) boding well for the recovery.  This morning brings Retail Sales (exp 1.0% headline, 1.0% ex autos) at 8:30, and then the long wait until the FOMC statement is released at 2:00pm.  Chairman Powell will hold his press conference at 2:30, and if he manages to sound dovish, perhaps we see further dollar declines and equity rallies.  But I sense the opportunity for some disappointment and perhaps a short-term reversal if he doesn’t invent a new dovish theme.  In that case, look for the dollar to recoup today’s losses at least.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Fear Has Diminished

From Asia, last night, what we learned
Was China, the corner, has turned
The lockdowns are finished
And fear has diminished
Thus spending, in spades, has returned

The major news overnight comes from China, where the monthly release of data on IP, investment and Retail Sales showed that the Chinese economy is clearly regaining strength.  Arguably, the most noteworthy number was Retail Sales, which while still lower by -8.6% YTD, has rebounded to be 0.5% higher than August of last year.  Anecdotally, movie theaters there have seen attendance return to ~90% of pre-Covid levels, obviously far above anything seen here or in most of Europe.  In addition to the Retail Sales data, IP there rose 5.6% Y/Y and Property Investment rose a greater than forecast 4.6% on a YTD basis.  Overall, while these numbers are still well below the data China had been reporting pre-Covid, they point to Q3 GDP growth in excess of 3.0%, with some analysts now expecting GDP to grow as much as 6% in the third quarter.

With this unalloyed good economic news, it should be no surprise that the renminbi has performed well, and in fact, CNY is one of the top performers today, rising 0.5% and trading to levels not seen since May of last year.  While there are still numerous concerns regarding different aspects of China’s economy, notably that its banking sector is insolvent amid massively underreported bad loans, on the surface, things look better than almost anywhere else in the world.  Perhaps what is more surprising is that the equity market in Shanghai, which rose 0.5% overnight, did not have a better day.

Down Under, the RBA noted
That Aussie, though not really bloated
Would be better off
In more of a trough
Thus, helping growth there be promoted

Meanwhile, the Minutes of the most recent RBA meeting showed that while they couldn’t complain that the Aussie dollar was overvalued, especially given the recent rebound in commodity prices, they sure would like to see it lower to help the export sector of the economy.  However, despite reaffirming they would continue to support the economy, and that yield curve control wasn’t going anywhere, they gave no indication they were about to increase their support.  As such, AUD (+0.6%) is the top G10 performer of the session, and it is now pushing back to the 2-year highs seen earlier this month.

Turning to Europe, the two stories of note come from the UK and the ECB.  In Parliament, PM Johnson had the first reading of his bill that is set to unilaterally rewrite the Brexit deal with the EU, and it passed handily.  It appears that Boris believes he needs even more leverage to force the EU to accede to whatever demands remain in the negotiations, and he is comfortable playing hardball to achieve his ends.  The Europeans, however, continue to believe they have the upper hand and claim they are prepared to have the UK leave with no deal.  Politics being what it is, I imagine we won’t know the outcome until the last possible date, which is ostensibly next month at the EU Summit.

In the meantime, the market is starting to get concerned that a hard Brexit is back on the table and that the pound has much more to fall if that is the outcome.  While the market is not at record long GBP position levels, it is still quite long pounds.  The options market has been pricing more aggressively, with implied volatility around 12% for year-end (compared to 3-month historic volatility of just 9%) and risk reversals 2.5 points for the GBP puts.  While the pound has fallen a bit more than 4% since its peak on September 1st, it is still well above levels seen when fears of a hard Brexit were more prevalent.  As this new bill makes its way through Parliament, I suspect the pound will have further to decline.

As to the ECB, we have had yet more verbal intervention, this time from Italian Executive Board member, Fabio Panetta, who repeated that the ECB needs to remain vigilant and that though they have done a great job so far, they still may need to do more (i.e. ease further) in order to achieve their inflation goals.  The euro, however, continues to drift higher, up another 0.25% this morning, as the market appears to be preparing for a more aggressive FOMC statement and implicit further easing by the Fed.  While I believe it is too early for the Fed to more clearly outline their explicit plans on how to achieve average inflation of 2.0%, clearly there are many market participants who believe the Fed will be the most aggressive central bank going forward and that the dollar will suffer accordingly.  We shall see, but as I have repeatedly indicated, and Signor Panetta helped reiterate, the ECB will not stand idly by and allow the euro to rally unabated.

And those are really today’s stories.  Risk appetite continues to be fed by perceptions of further easy money from all central banks and we have seen equity markets continue their rebound from the short correction at the beginning of the month.  While Asia was mixed, Europe is in the green and US futures are pointing higher as well.  Treasuries are a touch lower, with yields up about 1 basis point, but the reality here is that yields have been in a very tight range for the past month.  In fact, the idea that the Fed needs to introduce yield control is laughable as it appears to already be in place.

As to the rest of the FX market, the dollar is under pressure everywhere, although Aussie and cable are the two leaders in the G10 space.  Elsewhere, there appears to be less conviction, or at least less rationale to buy the currency aggressively.  In the EMG bloc, ZAR is the leader, rising 1.2% this morning, continuing its strengthening trend that began back in August and has seen a nearly 7% appreciation in the interim.  Otherwise, there has been less excitement, with more modest gains on the back of generic USD weakness.

For today, we see Empire Manufacturing (exp 6.9) this morning as well as IP (1.0%) and Capacity Utilization (71.4%).  Alas, with the Fed meeting tomorrow and all eyes pointed to Washington, it seems unlikely that the market will respond to any of this data.  Instead, with the market clearly comfortable selling dollars right now, I see no reason for the buck to do anything but drift lower on the day.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Nations Regress

When two weeks ago I last wrote
The narrative was to promote
A dollar decline
Which did intertwine
With hatred for Trump ere the vote

But since then the dollar’s rebounded
While experts galore are confounded
Poor Europe’s a mess
While nations regress
On Covid, where hope had been founded

I told you so?  Before my mandatory leave began, the market narrative was that the dollar was not merely falling, but “collapsing” as everything about the US was deemed negative.  The background story continued to be about US politics and how global investors were steadily exiting the US, ostensibly because of the current administration.  Adding to that was Chairman Powell’s speech at the virtual Jackson Hole symposium outlining average inflation targeting, which implied that the Fed was not going to respond to incipient inflation by raising rates until measured inflation was significantly higher and remained there sufficiently long to offset the past decade’s period of undershooting inflation.  In other words, if (when) inflation rises, US interest rates will remain pegged to the floor, thus offering no support for the dollar.  While there were a few voices in the wilderness arguing the point, this outcome seemed assured.

And the dollar did decline with the euro finally breeching the 1.20 level, ever so briefly, back on September 1st.  But as I argued before leaving, there was no way the ECB was going to sit by idly and watch the euro continue to rally without a policy response.  ECB Chief economist Philip Lane was the first to start verbal intervention, which was sufficient to take the wind out of the euro’s sails right after it touched 1.20.  Since then, the ECB meeting last week was noteworthy for not discussing the euro at all, with market participants, once again, quickly accepting that the ECB would allow the single currency to rally further.  But this weekend saw the second volley of verbal intervention, this time by Madame Lagarde, VP Guindos, Ollie Rehn and Mr Lane, yet again.  Expect this pattern to be repeated regularly, every euro rally will be met with more verbal intervention.

Of course, over time, verbal intervention will not be enough to do the job, which implies that at some point in the future, we will see a more intensive effort by the ECB to help pump up inflation.  In order of appearance look for a significant increase in QE via the PEPP program, stronger forward guidance regarding the timing of any incipient rate hikes (never!), a further cut to interest rates and finally, actual intervention.  In the end, there is absolutely no way that the ECB is going to allow the euro to rally very much further than it already has.  After all, CPI in the Eurozone is sitting at -0.2% (core +0.4%), so far below target that they must do more.  And a stronger euro is not going to help the cause.

Speaking of inflation, I think it is worth mentioning the US situation, where for the second straight month, CPI data was much higher than expected.  While many analysts are convinced that the Fed’s rampant asset purchases and expansion of the money supply are unlikely to drive inflation going forward, I beg to differ.  The lesson we learned from the GFC and the Fed’s first gargantuan expansion of money supply and their balance sheet was that if all that money sits in excess reserves on commercial bank balance sheets, velocity of money declines and inflation is absent.  This time, however, the new funds are not simply sitting on the banks’ collective balance sheets but are rather being spent by the recipients of Federal government largesse.  This is driving velocity higher, and with it, inflation.  Now, whatever one may think of Chairman Powell and his Fed brethren, they are not stupid.  The Jackson Hole speech, I believe, served two purposes.  First, it was to help investors understand the Fed’s reaction function going forward, i.e. higher inflation does not mean higher interest rates.  But second, and something that has seen a lot less press, is that the Fed has just moved the goalposts ahead of what they see as a rising tide of inflation.  Now, if (when) inflation runs hot over the next 12-24 months, the Fed will have already explained that they do not need to respond as the average inflation rate has not yet achieved 2.0%.  It is this outcome that will eventually undermine the dollar’s value, higher inflation with no monetary response, but we are still many months away from that outcome.

Turning to today’s activity, after two weeks of broad dollar strength, as well as some equity market pyrotechnics, we are seeing a bit of a dollar sell-off today.  It would be hard to characterize the markets as risk-on given the fact that European bourses are essentially flat on the day (DAX -0.1%, CAC +0.1%) while Asian equity markets showed only modest strength at best (Nikkei, Hang Seng and Shanghai all +0.6%).  Yes, US futures are pointing higher by 1.0%, but that seems more to do with the two large M&A deals announced than anything else.

In the meantime, bond markets have shown no indication of risk being on, with 10-year Treasury yields essentially unchanged since Friday at 0.67%, and effectively unchanged since I last wrote on August 28!  The same is largely true across European government bond markets, with, if anything, a bias for risk-off as most of those have seen yields slide one to two basis points.

And finally, the dollar’s specifics show GBP (+0.6%) to be the top G10 performer, which given its recent performance, down more than 4% since I last wrote, seems to be a bit of a breather rather than anything positive per se.  In the UK, today sees the beginning of the Parliamentary debate regarding PM Johnson’s proposed rewrite of aspects of Brexit legislation, which many think, if passed, will insure a hard Brexit.  As to the rest of the bloc, gains are mostly in the 0.25% range, with the most common theme the uptick in economists’ collective forecasts for economic prospects compared with last month.

Interestingly, in the EMG bloc, movement is less pronounced, with MXN (+0.4%) the biggest gainer, while RUB (-0.4%) is the laggard.  Clearly, as both are oil related, oil is not the driver.  However, when EMG currencies move less than 0.5%, it is hard to get too excited overall.

On the data front this week, the big story is, of course, the FOMC meeting on Wednesday, but we have a bunch of things to absorb.

Tuesday Empire Manufacturing 6.0
IP 1.0%
Capacity Utilization 71.4%
Wednesday Retail Sales 1.0%
-ex autos 1.0%
Business Inventories 0.2%
FOMC Rate Decision 0.00%-0.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 850K
Continuing Claims 13.0M
Housing Starts 1480K
Building Permits 1520K
Friday Leading Indicators 1.3%
Michigan Sentiment 75.0

Source: Bloomberg

What we have seen lately is the lagging indicators showing that the bounce after the reopening of the economy was stronger than expected, but there is growing concern that it may not be sustainable.  At the same time, the only thing interesting about the FOMC meeting will be the new forecasts as well as the dot plot.  After all, Jay just told us what they are going to do for the foreseeable future (nothing) two weeks ago.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Casting a Pall

The Chairman explained to us all
Deflation is casting a pall
On future advances
While NIRP’s what enhances
Our prospects throughout the long haul

The bond market listened to Jay
And hammered the long end all day
The dollar was sold
While buyers of gold
Returned, with aplomb, to the fray

An announcement to begin the day; I will be taking my mandatory two-week leave starting on Monday, so the next poetry will be in your inbox on September 14th.

Ultimately, the market was completely correct to focus all their attention on Chairman Powell’s speech yesterday because he established a new set of ground rules as to how the Fed will behave going forward.  By now, most of you are aware that the Fed will be targeting average inflation over time, meaning that they are happy to accept periods of higher than 2.0% inflation in order to make up for the last eight years of lower than 2.0% inflation.

In Mr. Powell’s own words, “…our new statement indicates that we will seek to achieve inflation that averages 2 percent over time. Therefore, following periods when inflation has been running below 2 percent, appropriate monetary policy will likely aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time.”

You may have noticed that Powell adds no specificity to this new policy, with absolutely no definition of ‘some time’ nor what ‘moderately above’ means.  But there was more for us, which many may have missed because it was a) subtle, and b) not directly about inflation.

“In addition, our revised statement says that our policy decision will be informed by our “assessments of the shortfalls of employment from its maximum level” rather than by “deviations from its maximum level” as in our previous statement.”

This is the rationale for their new willingness to let inflation run hot, the fact that the benefits of full employment outweigh those of stable prices.  The lesson they learned from the aftermath of the GFC in 2008-9 was that declining unemployment did not lead to higher general inflation.  Of course, they, along with many mainstream economists, attribute that to the breakdown of the Phillips curve relationship.  But the Phillips curve was not about general inflation, rather it was about wage inflation.  Phillips noted the relationship between falling unemployment and rising wages in the UK for the century from 1861-1957.  In fact, Phillips never claimed there was a causality, that was done by Paul Samuelson later and Samuelson extended the idea from wage to general inflation.  Eventually Milton Friedman created a theoretical underpinning for the claim unemployment and general inflation were inversely related.

Arguably, the question must be asked whether the labor market situation in the UK a century ago was really a valid model for the current US economy.  As it turns out, the time of Downton Abbey may not be a viable analogy.  Who would’ve thought that?

Regardless, Powell made it clear that with this new framework, the Fed has more flexibility to address what they perceive as any problems in the economy, and they will use that flexibility as they see fit.  In the end, the market response was only to be expected.

Starting with the bond market, apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought that owning a fixed income instrument yielding just 1.4% for 30 years when the Fed has explicitly stated they are going to seek to drive inflation above 2.0% for some time was a bad idea.  The Treasury curve steepened sharply yesterday with the 10-year falling one point (yield higher by 6.5bps) while the 30-year fell more than three points and the yield jumped by more than 10 basis points.  My sense is we will continue to see the back end of the Treasury curve sell off, arguably until the 30-year yields at least 2.0% and probably more.  This morning the steepening is continuing, albeit at a bit slower pace.

As to the dollar, it took a while for traders to figure out what they should do.  As soon as Powell started speaking, the euro jumped 0.75%, but about 5 minutes into the speech, it plummeted nearly 1.2% as traders were uncertain how to proceed.  In the end, the euro recouped its losses slowly during the rest of the day, and has risen smartly overnight, up 0.7% as I type.  In fact, this is a solid representation of the entire FX market.  Essentially, FX traders and investors have parsed the Chairman’s words and decided that US monetary policy is going to remain uber easy for as far in the future as they can imagine.  And if that is true, a weaker dollar is a natural response.  So, today’s broad-based dollar decline should be no surprise.  In fact, it makes no sense to try to explain specific currency movements as the dollar story is the clear driver.

However, that does not mean there is not another important story, this time in Japan.

Abe has ulcers
Who can blame him with Japan’s
Second wave rising?

PM Shinzo Abe has announced that he has ulcerative colitis and will be stepping down as PM after a record long run in the role.  Initially, there was a great deal of excitement about his Abe-nomics plan to reflate the Japanese economy, but essentially, the only thing it accomplished was a weakening of the yen from 85.00 to 105.00 during the past eight years.  Otherwise, inflation remains MIA and the economy remains highly regulated.  The market reaction to the announcement was to buy yen, and it is higher by 1.15% this morning, although much of that is in response to the Fed.  However, it does appear that one of the frontrunners for his replacement (former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba) has populist tendencies, which may result in risk aversion and a stronger yen.

As to the equity market, the Nikkei (-1.4%) did not appreciate the Abe news, but Shanghai (+1.6%) seemed to feel that a more dovish Fed was a net benefit, especially for all those Chinese companies with USD debt.  Europe has been a little less positive (DAX -0.3%, CAC -0.1%) as there is now a growing concern that the euro will have much further to run.  Remember, most Eurozone economies are far more reliant on exports than the US, and a strong euro will have definite repercussions across the continent.  My forecast is that Madame Lagarde will be announcing the ECB’s policy framework review in the near future, perhaps as soon as their September meeting, and there will be an extremely dovish tone.  As I have written before, the absolute last thing the ECB wants or needs is a strong euro.  If they perceive that the Fed has just insured further dollar weakness, they will respond in kind.

Turning to the data, we see a plethora of numbers this morning.  Personal Income (exp -0.2%), Personal Spending (1.6%) and Core PCE (1.2%) lead us off at 8:30.  Then later, we see Chicago PMI (52.6) and Michigan Sentiment (72.8).  The thing is, none of these matters for now.  In fact, arguably, the only number that matters going forward is Core PCE.  If it remains mired near its current levels, the dollar will continue to suffer as not only will there be no tightening, but it seems possible the Fed will look to do more to drive it higher.  On the other hand, if it starts to climb, until it is over 2.0%, the Fed will be standing pat.  And as we have seen, getting Core PCE above 2.0% is not something at which the Fed has had much success.  For now, the dollar is likely to follow its recent path and soften further.  At least until the ECB has its say!

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Waiting for Jay

Investors are waiting for Jay
Their fears, about rates, to allay
They want it made clear
That rates will be here
From now ‘til we reach judgement day

From the market’s perspective, the world has essentially stopped spinning, at least until we finally hear the words of wisdom due from Chairman Powell beginning at 9:10 this morning.  Trading volumes across products are currently running at 50%-70% of recent average activity, highlighting just how little is ongoing.  And remember, too, as it is the last week of August, summer holidays are in full swing with most trading desks, on both the buy and sell sides, more lightly staffed than usual.  In other words, liquidity is clearly impaired right now, although by 10:00 this morning I expect that things will be back closer to normal.

As discussed yesterday, the working assumption of most analysts and investors is that Jay is going to explain the benefits of targeting average inflation over time.  The implication being that the Fed’s new policy framework, when officially announced later this year, is going to include that as a KPI.  Of course, the big question about this policy is the average over exactly which period.

Consider, it has been 102 months since then-Chairman Bernanke established the target for core PCE at 2.0%.  During that time, core PCE has been between 1.9% and 2.1% just 12 times with 89 of the other 90 readings below 1.9% and a single print above 2.1%, which happens to have been the first print after the announcement.  Meanwhile, this past April’s reading of 0.931% is the lowest reading.  The average of the two extremes is 1.53%.  Is the Fed going to be happy if core PCE jumps to 2.47% and stays there for a while?  The average of all periods since January 2012 is 1.633%, does that mean we can expect the Fed to target 2.367% core PCE readings for the next eight plus years? The point is, without some specificity on what average inflation means, it is very difficult to understand how to incorporate the idea into investment and trading decisions.

But what if Chairman Powell does not bring clarity to the discussion, merely saying that average inflation over time seems like a good future benchmark.  How might different markets react to such a lack of specificity?

Starting with equity markets, certainly those in the US will rally because…well that’s all they do these days.  Good news, bad news, no news, none of that matters.  The rationale will be stocks are a good inflation hedge if inflation goes higher (they’re not) or stocks will benefit from ongoing low interest rates if inflation remains below target.  Parabolic markets are frightening, but there is no indication that Powell’s comments are going to change that situation.  We need a different catalyst here.

Now let’s look at the bond market and what might happen there.  Specificity on how much higher the Fed is going to target inflation is going to be a pretty distinct negative.  If you own 10-year Treasuries that are yielding 0.68% (today -1bp), and the Fed explains that they are going to push inflation above 2.0%, there is going to be a pretty spectacular decline in the price of your bond should they achieve their goal.  Will investors be willing to hold paper through that type of decline?  It would not be a surprise to see a pretty sharp sell-off in Treasuries on that type of news.  Remember, too, that Treasury yields have backed up nearly 20 basis points in the past three weeks, perhaps in anticipation of today’s comments.  If Powell delivers, there is likely far more room to run.  If he doesn’t, and there is no clarity, bond investors will be back to reading the economic tea leaves, which continues to be remarkably difficult at this time.

How about the gold market?  Well, here I think the case is quite straight forward.  Clarity as to the Fed’s efforts to drive inflation higher will result in anticipation of lower real yields, and that will be an unalloyed benefit (pun intended).  A lack of clarity and gold will likely continue to consolidate its recent gains.

And finally, what about the dollar?  How will it respond to the Chairman’s speech?  Consider that despite the dollar’s recent rebound, short dollar positions remain at near record levels against both the euro and the DXY futures.  The market scuttlebutt is that the hedge fund community, which was instrumental in the dollar’s recent modest strength as they pared short dollar positions, is ready and raring to buy euros on the idea that higher US inflation will lead to a weaker dollar à la economic theory.  Certainly, if Treasuries sell off, the dollar will see some downward pressure, but one of the things that does not get as much press in the FX market is the equity market impact.  Namely, as long as US equity indices continue to set records, international investors are going to continue to buy them, which will underpin the dollar.

But what if the speech is a dud?  If there is no clarity forthcoming, then the dollar story will revert to its recent past. The bear case continues to be that the Fed’s largesse will dwarf all other nations’ policy easing and so the dollar should resume its decline.  The bull case is that the US economy, at least by recent data, appears to continue to be outperforming its major counterparts, and thus inward investment flows will continue.  That current account deficit is only a problem if international investors don’t want to fund it, and with US equity markets amongst the best performing asset classes globally, that funding is easy to find.  I know I’m not a technician, but recent price action certainly appears to have created a top at the highs from last week, and a further pullback toward 1.1650 seems quite viable.

It is difficult to draw many conclusions from today’s market activity, which is why I have largely ignored it.  Equity markets are leaning a bit lower, although the movement is not large, less than 1%, and the dollar is mixed against both the G10 and EMG blocs.

Arguably, the biggest market risk is that Powell doesn’t tip his hand at all, and that we are no wiser at 10:10 than we are now.  If that is the case, I think the dollar’s consolidation will continue, and by the end of the day, I imagine stock prices will have recouped their early losses.

But for today, it is all about Jay.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Chairman Regales

Tomorrow the Chairman regales
Us all with the latest details
Of ways that the Fed,
When looking ahead,
Might ever consider bond sales

The one thing of which we are sure
Is ZIRP, for some years, will endure
The worry is Jay
Has nothing to say
On what he’ll do when there’s a cure

Markets have been biding their time overnight and seem likely to do so for the rest of today’s session as investors and traders await the wisdom of Chairman Powell.  Tomorrow morning’s speech is expected to define the basics of the new Fed operating framework.  In other words, it will describe their latest views on how to achieve their Congressional mandate of achieving “…maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long-term interest rates.”

It was in 2012 when the FOMC decided that 2.0% inflation was the definition of stable prices and formalized that number as their target. (Interestingly, the history of the 2.0% inflation target starts back in New Zealand in the late 1980’s, when inflation there was consistently between 15%-20%.  Donald Brash was appointed RBNZ governor and in one of his first actions decided that 2.0% inflation represented a good compromise between rampant inflation and price stability.  There was neither academic literature nor empirical data that supported this view, it was simply his feeling.  But it has since become the watchword in central banking with respect to price stability.  Remember, at 2.0% annual inflation, the real value of things halves every 20 years. Many argue that does not define price stability.)  Fortunately for us all, the Fed has been largely unable to reach their target, with measured inflation averaging 1.6% since then.  Of course, there are issues with the way inflation is measured as well, especially the Fed’s preferred gauge of Core PCE.

But regardless of any issues with the measurement of inflation, that process is not due for adjustment.  Rather, this is all about how the Fed is going to approach the problem of achieving something they have not been able to do consistently since they began the process.

The consensus view is that the Fed is now going to target the average inflation rate over time, although over what time period seems to be left unsaid.  The rationale seems to be that with the Philips Curve relationship now assumed dead (the Phillips curve is the model that explains as unemployment falls, inflation rises), and given the current dire economic situation with unemployment in double digits, the Fed wants to assure everyone that they are not going to do anything to prevent an economic recovery from not only taking off, but extending well into the future.  Thus, the idea is that even when the recovery starts to pick up steam, and presumably inflation rises alongside that recovery, the Fed will happily allow higher prices in order to help to continue to drive unemployment lower.  In other words, the famous dictum of ‘removing the punch bowl just as the party gets started’ is to be assigned to the trash heap of history.

The reason this matters to us all is that future path of inflation, and just as importantly expectations about that path, are what drive interest rates in the market, especially at the long end of the curve.  While the Fed can exert significant control over interest rates out to 2 years, and arguably out to 5 years, once you get past that, it becomes far more difficult for them to do so.  And given the fact that ZIRP and NIRP reign supreme throughout G10 economies, the long end of the curve is the only place where any yield is available.

The problem for investors is that with 30-year Treasuries yielding 1.4%, if the Fed is successful at getting inflation back above 2.0%, the real return on those bonds will be negative, and significantly so.  The alternative, of course, is for investors to sell their current holdings of those bonds, driving down prices and correspondingly raising yields to levels that are assumed to take into account the mooted higher rate of inflation.  The problem there is that the US government, who has been issuing bonds at record rates to fund the spending for Covid programs as well as to make up for lost tax revenue from the economic slowdown, will have to pay a lot more for their money.  That, too, is something that the Fed will want to prevent.  In other words, there are no really good solutions here.

However, what we have begun to see in markets is that investors are expressing concern over a rise in inflation, and so Treasury yields, as well as bond yields elsewhere, are beginning to rise.  Now, nobody would ever call 0.7% on the 10-year a high yield, but that is 0.2% higher than where it was just three weeks ago.  The same is true in the 30-year space, with similar moves seen throughout the rest of the G10 bond markets.  While deflation concerns remain the primary focus of central bankers everywhere, bond markets are beginning to look the other way.  And that, my friends, will be felt in every market around the world; equities, commodities and FX.

So, a quick look at markets this morning shows us that equities in Asia had a mixed to weaker session (Nikkei +0.0%, Hang Seng +0.0%, Shanghai -1.3%) while European bourses are mostly very modestly higher (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 -0.2%).  US futures are mixed as well, although NASDAQ (+0.5%) futures continue to power ahead, the Dow and S&P are essentially unchanged.

Bond markets continue to slowly sell off as they are seeming to price in the idea that if the Fed is willing to accept higher inflation going forward, so will every other central bank.  Thus, another 3bp rise this morning in 10-year Treasuries, Bunds and Gilts has been seen.  Meanwhile, as interest rates go higher, gold is losing some of its luster, having fallen another 0.6% today which takes it nearly 8% below its recent historic peak.

And finally, the dollar is having what can only be described as a mixed session.  Versus the G10, it has gained slightly against the Euro, Danish krone and Swiss franc, and edged lower vs NZD.  Those movements are on the order of just 0.2%-0.3%, with the rest of the bloc +/- 0.1% and offering no information.  Emerging market currencies have seen similar price action, albeit with a bit more oomph, as HUF (-0.8%) and CZK (-0.6%) demonstrate their higher beta characteristics compared to the euro, while ZAR (+0.5%) continues to find buyers for their still highest yielding debt available.

As I said at the top, markets appear to be biding their time for the Chairman’s speech tomorrow morning at 9:15 NY time.  On the data front, this morning only brings Durable Goods (exp 4.8%, 2.0% ex Transport), which while generally important, will unlikely be enough to shake up the trading or investment community.  For now, the dollar’s medium-term trend lower has been halted.  Its future direction will depend largely on Mr Powell and what he has to tell us tomorrow.  Until then, don’t look for very much movement at all.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Amid Hyperbole

When Two Thousand Twenty began
The narrative with which we ran
Explained Trump and Xi
Were ‘bout to agree
On terms for a new trade game plan

The deal was agreed and then signed
But Covid infected mankind
Economies tanked
The market got spanked
And trade thoughts were soon left behind

So please tell me how it can be
That trade is now, quite suddenly
The reason that bulls
Are grabbing handfuls
Of risk amid hyperbole

As if to prove there is nothing new under the sun, the recent equity/risk rally is ostensibly based on the fact that the US-China phase 1 agreement, you remember the one signed back on January 15th of this year, is being enforced and followed by both sides.  It seems that good vaccine news is suffering from the law of diminishing returns, so a new story was needed to support the bull case.  Hence, news that there was a video conference between Messrs. Lighthizer, Mnuchin and He was quickly trotted out to show that all the benefits of the trade deal are still set to accrue to the US.  (It is coincidences like this one that encourage the conspiracy theorists in the world.)  At any rate, ostensibly, the result of the conversation was that both sides are fully committed to adhering to the deal, which basically means that China will be purchasing huge amounts of agricultural products from the US for the rest of the year.  Now, given that China is facing serious food shortages with food prices rising rapidly throughout the country, this shouldn’t be all that surprising.  And yet, this is the alleged impetus to go out and buy the FANGMAN group of stocks, none of whom sell as much as a single ear of corn.  Go figure!

Perhaps, however, I am being too hasty in describing the trade story as the driver of risk.  After all, it could be that German GDP ‘only’ fell -9.7% in Q2, not the -10.1% initially estimated.  Or perhaps it was the good news from Norway, where GDP was a surprisingly robust -6.3% in Q2.  If that doesn’t fit the bill, we should look to the UK, where the CBI Retailing Sales report fell back to -6, rather than rising to +6 as forecast.  I mean, isn’t this the type of news that quickens investors’ hearts?

Obviously, the point remains that the dichotomy of ongoing asset market rallies alongside ongoing economic distress has yet to change.  And while there is no question that markets are forward looking constructs, their recent ability to ignore significantly distressing economic situations and assume that economies will be returning to pre-pandemic levels of activity sooner, rather than later, is truly impressive.  Perhaps that will be the case, but as I highlighted yesterday, it may well be the most severe case of ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ in the history of markets when that occurs.  Remember, if economies are ticking over nicely again, what rationale is there for central banks to continue to add liquidity to markets?  Why would interest rates remain pegged at 0.0% worldwide amid economic growth?  These are questions which will be much more difficult for the bulls to answer in the future, but for now, there is no need to do so.

And so, risk is rising again this morning.  We saw it in Asia, where the Nikkei (+1.35%) performed quite well, although both the Hang Seng (-0.25%) and Shanghai (-0.35%) couldn’t really get going.  European bourses, on the other hand, are uniformly green this morning, with both the DAX and CAC higher by 0.75% as I type.  And US futures have been steadily climbing all evening and are now pointing to gains of ~0.5% on the opening.

Perhaps the better risk gauge, though, is the bond market, where Treasury yields have backed up a further 3.7 basis points this morning and are pushing toward 0.70%.  Similarly, we are seeing significant selling pressure across all European government bond markets, with Bunds (+5.4bps) and Gilts (+3.7bps) having trouble finding buyers. Perhaps what is even more interesting is that Italian BTP’s (+7.1bps) are performing worst of all.  But more than simply risk-on is at work here.  In addition, we are seeing an uptick in the supply of bonds throughout the continent, and despite the ECB’s ongoing purchases, subscription rates for the new paper is falling to lower than expected levels with coverage ratios below 2.0.  I think Madame Lagarde will need to rev up the ECB’s purchases even more, which will, coincidentally, help prevent the euro from rallying too far as well.

Speaking of the euro, it has managed to trade higher by 0.3% amid broad-based dollar weakness today.  Given the news out of the Eurozone has been anything but bullish, the single currency’s strength is likely to be attributed to the dollar’s decline.  For instance, the pound has rallied 0.55% despite, arguably, worse economic data.  While NOK (+0.7%) has been leading the way in the G10 space.  Perhaps that GDP data was seen as a positive!  Confirming the idea that today is a risk-based session, the yen is the only currency weaker than the dollar, and substantially so, having fallen 0.5% thus far.  As there was no data or news overnight, the risk framework is the most likely explanation for the move.

EMG currencies have also benefitted from the risk framework today, although aside from ZAR (+1.0%) the movement has been less significant, with most currencies rising on the order of 0.25%-0.35%.  The ZAR story continues to be driven by the highest real yields available these days, and in times of limited risk concern, that is extremely attractive.

As I didn’t cover the upcoming data yesterday, let’s see what is on tap for the rest of the week:

Today Case Shiller Home Prices 3.60%
Consumer Confidence 93.0
New Home Sales 790K
Wednesday Durable Goods 4.5%
-ex Transport 1.9%
Thursday Initial Claims 1.0M
Continuing Claims 14.4M
Q2 GDP -32.5%
Friday Personal Income -0.3%
Personal Spending 1.5%
Core PCE Deflator 1.2%
Chicago PMI 52.5
Michigan Sentiment 72.8

Source: Bloomberg

Of course, despite some important data, notably the ongoing Initial Claims story, in truth, all eyes will be on Chairman Powell who speaks Thursday morning at 9:15am NY at the virtual Jackson Hole gathering.  Expectations are high that he will be explaining the Fed’s newly developed views on how they are going to manage monetary policy, and more importantly, on how they are going to view their inflation target going forward.  The consensus view is we will be moving to an average inflation target of 2.0%, meaning if inflation runs hot for a while after it has run cold for a while, they will not feel compelled to act to try to moderate it.  Given that inflation has run cold for the past decade, at least based on the way they measure it, get ready for much higher inflation in your everyday lives going forward.

And that’s really it for the day.  It strikes me that the risk-on narrative is weak this morning, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the dollar claw back its early losses before we end the day.

Good luck and stay safe
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