Quickly Diminished

As Covid continues to spread
The hopes for a rebound ahead
Have quickly diminished
And though, not quite finished
The data needs to, higher, head

Today, for example, we learned
That Germany’s growth trend has turned
Instead of a V
The bears, filled with glee
Are certain the bulls will be burned

The seeds of doubt that were sown last week may have started to sprout green shoots.  Not only is it increasingly unlikely that any stimulus deal will be reached before the election in eight days, but we are starting to see the data reflect the much feared second wave in the number of Covid-19 cases.  The latest example of this is Germany’s IFO data this morning, which disappointed on the two most important readings, Business Climate and Expectations.  Both of these not only missed estimates, but they fell compared to September’s downwardly revised figures.  This is in concert with last week’s Flash PMI Services data, which disappointed throughout Europe, and can be directly attributed to the resurging virus.  Germany, Spain, Italy and France are all imposing further restrictions on movement and activity as the number of new cases throughout Europe continues to rise, climbing above 200K yesterday.  With this data as this morning’s backdrop, it cannot be surprising that risk is under pressure.

For investors, the landscape seems to have shifted, from a strong belief in a V-shaped recovery amid additional fiscal stimulus throughout the G10 along with a change at the White House, that for many would bring a sigh of relief, to a far less certain outcome.  The increase in government restrictions on activity is leading directly to more uncertainty over the economic future.  Meanwhile, a tightening in the polls has started to force those same investors to reevaluate their primary thesis; a blue wave leading to significant fiscal stimulus, a weaker dollar and a much steeper yield curve.  That has seemingly been the driver of 10-year and 30-year yields in the US, which last week traded to their highest levels since the position related spike in June.  In fact, positioning in the long bond future (-235K contracts) is at record short levels.

With this as backdrop, it is entirely realistic to expect some position unwinding, especially if the underlying theses are being called into question.  This morning, that seems like what we are watching.  Risk is decidedly off this morning, with equity markets around the world broadly lower, haven government bond yields falling and the dollar on the move higher.  Oil prices are under pressure, and the risk bulls’ rose-tinted glasses seem to be fogging up, at the very least.

Starting with equity markets, Asia had a mixed session, taking its lead from Friday’s US price action, as the Hang Seng (+0.5%) managed to rally a bit while both the Nikkei (-0.1%) and Shanghai (-0.8%) finished in the red.  Europe, meanwhile, is floating in a red tide with Germany’s DAX (-2.3%) the laggard, but the CAC (-0.6%) and FTSE 100 (-0.4%) starting to build momentum lower.  The DAX is suffering, not only from the IFO data, but also from the fact that SAP, one of the major components in the index, is lower by nearly 19% after dramatically cutting its revenue forecasts due to the virus’ impact on the economy.  It seems the question should be, how many other companies are going to have the same outcome?  And finally, US futures are all pointing lower by 0.8% or so, certainly not an encouraging sign.

Bond markets have shown quite a bit of volatility this morning, with 10-year Treasury prices climbing and yields down 3 basis points from Friday.  However, the European session is quite different.  The first thing to note is Italian BTP’s have rallied sharply, with yields there falling 5.5 basis points after S&P not only failed to downgrade the country’s credit rating, but actually took it off negative watch on the basis of the idea that ECB support plus a resumption in growth would allow the country to reduce its budget deficit and hence, the trend growth in its debt/GDP ratio.  German bunds, on the other hand, have sold off a bit and are higher by 1bp, but that appears to be the result of the unwinding of Bund-BTP spread wideners, as the market was definitely convinced a downgrade was coming.  The S&P news also has helped the rest of the PIGS, which have all seen yields decline about 2 basis points this morning.  Caution, though, is required, as an ongoing risk-off performance by equity markets will almost certainly result in Bunds finding significant bids.

As to the dollar, it is broadly stronger this morning, although not universally so.  In the G10, the euro (-0.3%) is under pressure as Germany suffers, and we are also seeing weakness in CAD (-0.4%) with oil prices making a strong move lower, and WTI now sitting well below $40/bbl.  On the plus side, the pound (+0.15%) seems to be benefitting from a bit of Brexit hope as talks between the two sides have resumed, while SEK (+0.15%) is the beneficiary of the fact that Sweden will not be locking down the country as the growth in Covid cases there remains miniscule, especially compared to the rest of Europe.

EMG currencies, though, are having a tougher time this morning with TRY (-1.25%) leading the way, but MXN (-0.8%) and ZAR (-0.6%) also significantly underperforming.  The latter two here are directly related to weakness in commodity prices across the board, while Turkey remains in its own private nightmare of an impotent central bank trying to overcome the threat of further economic sanctions driven by President Erdogan’s aggressive actions in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Meanwhile, the CE4 are all softer (CZK -0.6%, PLN -0.4%) as they feel the pain of further government restrictions on social activities amid a growing caseload of new covid infections.  In fact, there was really only one gainer of note in this bloc, KRW (+0.45%) which responded to growing expectations that South Korea’s economy would rebound more quickly than the G7 amid growing exports and the so-far absent second wave.

As it is the last week of the month, we have a bunch of data to which to look forward, including the first reading of Q3 GDP, and we also hear from the ECB on Thursday.

Today New Home Sales 1025K
Tuesday Durable Goods 0.5%
-ex Transport 0.4%
Case Shiller Home Prices 4.20%
Consumer Confidence 101.9
Thursday ECB Deposit Rate -0.50%
Initial Claims 780K
Continuing Claims 7.8M
Q3 GDP 31.8%
Friday Personal Income 0.3%
Personal Spending 1.0%
Core PCE Deflator 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
Chicago PMI 58.0
Michigan Sentiment 81.2

Source: Bloomberg

Now, the GDP number, which will almost certainly be the largest ever, is forecast to mirror the percentage gain of Q2’s percentage loss, but remember, the way the math works is that a 30% decline requires a 42% gain to make up the difference, so the economy is still well below the activity levels seen pre-covid.  As to the ECB, there are no expectations for policy changes, but most analysts are looking for strong indications of what will come in December.  To me, the risk is they act sooner rather than later, so perhaps a little more opportunity for the euro to decline on that.

As for today, unless we see positive stimulus bill headlines from the US, my sense is that the dollar will drift a bit lower from here as further position adjustments are the order of the day.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Naught Left to Wield

The PMI data revealed
The Continent’s yet to be healed
The second wave’s crest
Must still be addressed
And Christine has naught left to wield

It appears as though the market reaction function has returned to ‘bad news is good.’  This observation is based on the market response this morning, to what can only be described as disappointing PMI data from Europe and Japan, while we have seen equity markets higher around the world, bond yields generally declining and the dollar under pressure.  The working assumption amongst the investment community seems to be that as economic weakness, fostered by the much discussed second wave of Covid infections, spreads, it will be met with additional rounds of both fiscal and monetary stimulus.  And, this stimulus, while it may have only a marginal impact on economies, is almost certainly going to find its way into investment portfolios driving asset prices higher.

Unpacking the data shows that France is suffering the most, with Manufacturing PMI declining to 51.0 and Services PMI declining to 46.5, with both of those falling short of market expectations.  Germany, on the other hand, saw Manufacturing PMI rise sharply, to 58.0, on the back of increased exports to China, but saw its Services data decline more than expected to 48.9.  And finally, the Eurozone as a whole saw Manufacturing rise to 54.4 on the back of German strength, but Services fall to 46.2, as tourism numbers remain constrained, especially throughout southern Europe.

This disappointment has analysts reconfirming their views that the ECB is going to increase the PEPP by €500 billion come December, with many expecting Madame Lagarde to basically promise this at the ECB meeting next week.  The question is, will that really help very much?  The ECB has been hoovering up huge amounts of outstanding debt and there is no indication that interest rates on the Continent are going to rise one basis point for years to come.  In fact, Euribor rates fell even further, indicating literally negative concern about rates increasing.  And yet, none of that has helped the economy recover.  While the ECB will offer counterfactuals that things would be worse if they didn’t act as they have been, there is no proof that is the case.  Except for one thing, stock prices would be lower if they hadn’t acted, that much is true.  However, in their counterfactual world, they are focused on the economy, not risk assets.

The message to take away from this information is that the second wave of infections is clearly on the rise in Europe, (>217K new cases reported yesterday), and correspondingly as governments react by imposing tighter restrictions on activities, specifically social ones like dining and drinking, economic activity is going to slow.  At this point, estimates for Q4 GDP are already sliding back toward 0.0% for the Eurozone as a whole.

One last thing, the weakening growth and inflation impulses in Europe is a clear signal to…buy euros, which is arguably why the single currency is higher by 0.25% this morning.  Don’t even ask.

A quick look at the UK story shows PMI releases were also slightly worse than expected, but all well above the critical 50.0 level (Mfg 53.3, Services 52.3, Composite 52.9).  While these were softer than September’s numbers, they do still point to an economy that is ticking over on the right side of flat.  Retail Sales data from the UK was also better than expected in September, rising 1.6% in the month and are now up 6.4% Y/Y.  Despite all the angst over Brexit and the mishandling of the pandemic by Boris, the economy is still in better shape than on the Continent.  One other positive here is that the UK and Japan signed a trade deal last night, the UK’s first with a major country since Brexit.  So, it can be done.  Ironically, in keeping with the theme that bad news is good, the pound is the one G10 currency that has ceded ground to the dollar this morning, falling a modest 0.15%, despite what appear to be some pretty good headlines.

And that is pretty much the story this morning.  Last night’s debate, while more civil than the first one, likely did nothing to change any opinions.  Trump supporters thought he won.  Biden supporters thought he won.  Of more importance is the fact that the stimulus discussions between Pelosi and Mnuchin seem to be failing, which means there will be nothing coming before the election, and quite frankly, my guess is nothing coming until 2021 at the earliest.  If this is the case, the stock market will need to refocus on hopes for a vaccine, as hopes for stimulus will have faded.  But not to worry, there is always hope for something (trade deal anyone?) to foster buying.

So, let’s quickly tour markets.  Asian equities were generally on the plus side (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng +0.5%), but Shanghai didn’t get the memo and fell 1.0%.  European indices have been climbing steadily all morning, with the DAX (+1.2%), CAC (+1.55%) and FTSE 100 (+1.7%) all now at session highs.  Meanwhile, US futures, which had basically been unchanged earlier in the session, are now higher by 0.3% to 0.5%.

Bond markets are actually mixed at this time, with Treasury yields edging ever so slightly higher, less than 1bp, with similar increases in France and Germany.  The PIGS, however, are seeing demand with yields there lower by between 1bp and 3bps.  As an aside, S&P is due to release their latest ratings on Italian debt, which currently sits at the lowest investment grade of BBB-.  If they were to cut the rating, there could be significant forced selling as many funds that hold the debt are mandated to hold only IG rated paper.  But it seems that the market, in its constant hunt for yield, is likely to moderate any impact of the bad news.

As to the dollar, it is broadly, but not steeply, weaker this morning.  AUD (+0.35%) is the leading gainer in the G10 bloc as copper prices have been rising on the back of increased Chinese demand for the metal.  Otherwise, movement in the bloc remains modest, at best, although clearly, this week’s direction has been for a weaker dollar.

In the emerging markets, most currencies are stronger, but, here too, the gains are not substantial.  HUF and CZK (+0.35% each) are the leaders, following the euro, although there is no compelling story behind either move.  The rest of the bloc is generally higher although we have seen some weakness in TRY (-0.35%) and MYR (-0.3%).  The lira is still suffering the aftereffects of the central bank’s surprise policy hold as many expected them to raise rates.  Rationale for the ringgit’s decline is far harder to determine.  One last thing, there was a comment from the PBOC last night indicating they were quite comfortable with the renminbi’s recent strength.  This helped support further small gains in CNY (+0.2%) and seems to give free reign for investors to enter the carry trade here, with Chinese rates substantially higher than most others around the world.

On the data front here, yesterday saw the highest Existing Home Sales print since 2005, as record low mortgage rates encourage those who can afford it, to buy their homes.  This morning brings the US PMI data (exp 53.5 Mfg, 54.6 Services), but recall, that gets far less traction than the ISM data which is not released until Monday, November 2nd.  As to Fed speakers, we are mercifully entering the quiet period ahead of the next FOMC meeting.  But the message has been consistent, more fiscal stimulus is desperately needed.

As the weekend approaches, I would not be surprised to see the dollar’s recent losses moderated as short-term traders take risk off the table ahead of the weekend.  At this point, having broken through a key technical level in EURUSD, I expect an eventual test of 1.20, but once again, I see no reason for a break there, nor expect that if the dollar does fall to that level, it will be the first steps toward the end of its status as a reserve currency.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Concerns Within Europe

Concerns within Europe have grown
As surveys this morning have shown
Small businesses think
That many will sink
If Covid is not overthrown

The world seems a bit gloomier this morning as negative stories are gaining a foothold in investors’ minds.  Aside from the ongoing election and stimulus dramas in the US, and the ongoing Brexit drama in the UK/EU, concern was raised after a report was released by McKinsey this morning with results of a survey of SME’s in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK.  Those results were not promising at all, as more than half of the 2200 companies surveyed in August expected to file for bankruptcy in the next year if revenues don’t increase.  More than 80% of those companies described the economy as weak or very weak.  If this survey is representative of SME’s throughout Europe, this is a very big deal.  SME’s (defined here as companies with less than 250 employees) employ over 90 million people in the EU.  Losing a large portion of those companies would be a devastating blow to the EU economy.  In fact, the IMF, which in its past had been the high priest of austerity for troubled nations, is now urging European (really all) countries to continue to spend any amount necessary to prevent businesses from collapsing.

This report serves as a fresh reminder of the remarkable contrast between market behavior and economic activity worldwide.  Not only is the current business situation tenuous, but prospects for the immediate future remain terrible as well.  And yet, equity markets worldwide have been able to look past the current economic devastation and rally on expectations of; 1) a blue wave in the US which will prompt massive stimulus spending; and 2) the quick and successful completion of Covid vaccine trials which will restore confidence in people’s everyday activities.  After all, if you were no longer concerned about getting infected with a deadly disease by a stranger, going to a movie, or taking a train or any one of a thousand different normal behaviors could be resumed, and the economy would truly start to rebound in earnest.

The question, of course, is how realistic are these assumptions underlying the market behavior?  Anecdotally, I have seen too many things to disrupt the idea of a blue wave and would question the accuracy of many of the polls.  Again, in 2016, Hillary Clinton was given a 98.4% probability of winning the election the day before voting, and we know how that worked out.  My point is, this race is likely significantly tighter than many polls reflect, yet markets do not seem to be taking that into account.  Secondly, vaccines typically take between four and five years to be created and approved, so expecting that a safe and effective vaccine will be widely available in a twelve-month timeline seems quite the stretch as well.  I understand technology has improved dramatically, but this timeline is extremely aggressive.  And this doesn’t even answer the question of how many people will take the vaccine, if it becomes available.  Remember, the flu vaccine, which is widely available, generally safe and constantly advertised, is only taken by 43% of the population.

The bigger point is that the market narrative has been very clear but could well be based on fallacious assumptions.  And looking at market behavior yesterday and today, it seems as though some of those assumptions are finally being questioned.

For instance, equity markets, after falling in the US afternoon on the back of worries that the Pelosi/Mnuchin stimulus talks are stalling, fell in Asia (Nikkei -0.7%, Shanghai -0.4%) ) although early losses in Europe have since been pared back to essentially flat performance.  US futures are pointing slightly lower, but only on the order of 0.1%-0.2%.  Aside from the negative tone of the McKinsey survey discussed above, GfK Consumer Confidence in Germany fell to -3.1, a bit worse than expected, and French Business Confidence indices all turned out lower than expected.  Again, evidence of a strong recovery in Europe remains hidden.

Bond markets remain disconnected from the equity sphere, at least from traditional correlations when discussing risk appetite.  While today has more characteristics of a risk-off session, and in fairness, 10-year Treasury yields have fallen 1 basis point, European government bond markets are selling off, with yields rising across the board.  Once again, the PIGS lead the way as Greece has seen its 10-year yield rise 20bps in the past week.  For a little perspective on 10-year yields, which have become a very hot topic as they traded through 0.80% two days ago, looking at a 5-year chart, the range has been 3.237%, in November 2018, to 0.507% this past August.  It is hard to get overly excited that yields are rising rapidly given the virtual flat line that describes the trend of the post Covid activity world.

Finally, the dollar, which has been under pressure this week overall, is seeing a little love this morning, having rallied modestly against most of the G10 as well as the EMG bloc.  Starting with emerging markets, the CE4 have been key underperformers with PLN (-0.4%), HUF (-0.4%) and CZK (-0.3%) following the euro lower.  Remember, these currencies tend to track the single currency quite closely, if with a bit more beta.  CNY (-0.4%) has also come under pressure, but given its performance over the past five months, this blip appears mostly as profit taking.  The only EMG currency in the green today is ZAR (+0.2%) which is most likely driven by ongoing interest in South African bond yields.

In the G10, SEK (-0.4%) is the laggard, although both GBP (0.3%) and EUR (-0.3%) are not far behind.  Swedish krona price action looks to be purely position related, as it has been among the best performers in the past week, so a little profit-taking seems in order.  As to the euro, we have already discussed the weak data and survey results.  And finally, the pound remains beholden to the Brexit negotiations, which while heavily hyped yesterday, seem to have found a few more doubters this morning, with a positive outcome not nearly so clear.

On the data front, this morning brings weekly Initial Claims (exp 870K) and Continuing Claims (9.625M) as well as Leading Indicators (0.6%) and Existing Home Sales (6.30M).  Last week’s Initial Claims data was disappointingly high, so this week’s results should get extra scrutiny with respect to the pace of any economic recovery.  As to the Home Sales data, Starts and Permits earlier in the week were solid, and record low mortgage rates, thanks to the Fed’s QE, continue to support housing, as does the flight to the suburbs from so many major urban areas.

From the Fed, it can be no surprise that uber-dove Lael Brainerd virtually demanded more federal stimulus in her comments yesterday, but that has been the theme from the Chairman on down.  Today we hear from three speakers, and it is almost certain that all three will maintain the new Fed mantra of, we will do what we can, but stimulus is necessary.

And that’s really it for the day.  If I had to guess, I expect there to be some positive stimulus headlines, although I doubt a deal will actually be reached.  But all the market needs is headlines, at least that’s all the algos need, so look for the dollar to give up its early gains on some type of positive news like that.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Boris Has Gotten His Way

The EU will change what they say
To get a deal with the UK
They’ll now make believe
(The Brits, to deceive)
That Boris has gotten his way

The other thing that’s worth your note
Is guesstimates of next month’s vote
Investors are betting
A Blue Wave is heading
Our way, so bond prices they smote

This morning brings a little more clarity on one issue, and a little more hope on another, with both of these discussions driving market prices.

The hope stems from comments by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who finally admitted that both sides will need to make compromises in order for a deal to be reached in time to prevent a hard Brexit.  While that may seem obvious to an outsider, we don’t have the benefit of the conceit that forms the EU negotiating stance. Interestingly, it seems the new ‘secret sauce’ for the EU is to make believe that Boris is getting his way in the negotiations for his home audience, while not actually ceding any ground.  Of course, what’s a bit odd about this tactic is their willingness, nay eagerness, to publicize the concept.  After all, this seems better left unsaid, to help perpetuate the story.  If the British people read about this, they may question the value of any concessions and demand more.  Of course, I am no politician, so would never presume to claim I understand the political machinations required to achieve a deal this complex with so many different constituencies to satisfy.

Nonetheless, today’s price action clearly demonstrates that, despite already crowded long GBP positions in the trading and investor community, there is further appetite for pounds on the assumption that a Brexit deal will give the currency an immediate boost.  As such, cable is leading the G10 higher versus the dollar with a 0.8% rally and taking the pound back to its highest level in more than a month.  what is even more surprising about the cable move is the fact that yet another BOE member, Gertjan Vlieghe, was on the tape discussing the need for further stimulus and the fact that negative rates are very much on the table.  You may recall yesterday when the RBA made the same comments, the Aussie dollar fell.  But today, those comments are insignificant compared to the renewed hope for a Brexit deal.  My final thought here is for hedgers to beware this movement.  The pound’s rally ahead of any deal implies that a ‘sell the news’ event is increasingly likely.  Regardless of the Brexit outcome, I believe the next leg in cable is lower.

On to the clarity, which has seen the US yield curve, and in fairness most major curves, steepen further with 10-year Treasuries now yielding 0.80% and 30-year Treasuries up to 1.61%.  According to pretty much everyone, the new narrative is as follows: the polls show not merely a Biden victory in the presidential election, but that the Democrats will be retaking the Senate as well.  This means that not only will there be a much larger pandemic stimulus response, but that spending will be much higher across the board, with much larger budget deficits, significantly more Treasury issuance and inflationary expectations increasing accordingly.  The outcome will be a much steeper yield curve, as the Fed is able to maintain control of the front end, between QE and forward guidance but will have much more difficulty controlling the back end of the curve.  In fact, I have consistently read that curve steepeners are now the most crowded trade out there.  Of course, the most common market reaction to an overcrowded trade is to go the other way, at least in the short run, but given the assumptions, the logic behind the trade seems sound.

Of course, the key is that the assumptions are accurate.  Any outcome other than a Blue Wave will arguably not result in the same type of government spending, Treasury issuance and subsequent inflationary outcomes.  So, while there does not appear to be a clear idea of what will happen to the dollar given potential election outcomes, there is certainly a strong view as to what will occur in the bond market.  We should know more in two weeks’ time.

Meanwhile, today is difficult to characterize in terms of risk appetite.  Equity markets, bond markets and FX markets seem to each be dancing to their own tune, rather than listening to the same music.  For instance, Asian equity markets were modestly positive in general (Nikkei +0.3%, Hang Seng +0.75%, Shanghai -0.1%) but European bourses are all in the red (DAX -0.65%, CAC -0.8%, FTSE 100 -1.05%).  US futures have managed to unwind earlier losses but are generally unchanged on the day.  Yesterday’s deadline, as set by Speaker Pelosi, apparently was as hard as Boris’s Brexit negotiating deadline of last Thursday.  But in the end, I would say there is more risk aversion than risk accumulation here.

The bond market, as discussed above, is under more pressure this morning, with today’s 1.7 basis point rise in yields taking the week’s movement to a 6.0 basis point gain since Monday morning.  Europe is seeing generally higher yields as well, although German bunds are little changed.  UK gilts have seen yields rise 2.5bps and Italy (+2.5bps) and Greece (+6.5bps) especially, are seeing movement.  But the point is, bonds selling off are more consistent with risk-on than risk-off.  So, as stocks and bonds are both selling off today, I wonder what people are buying!

As to the dollar, it is broadly lower, with the pound in the lead, but strong gains by NOK (+0.75%), NZD (+0.75%) and JPY (+0.6%).  One might assume that oil is rallying given the move in NOK, but that is not the case, as WTI is lower by 1.7% this morning.  Once again, there is no obvious catalyst for this movement as there have been neither data nor comments regarding the krone.  One thing to keep in mind is that NOK has been the worst performing G10 currency vs. the dollar this year, so unwinding of medium-term positions, especially if there are concerns over a dollar “collapse” is certainly realistic.  As to kiwi, it is possible that modestly higher bond yields there has encouraged some buying, but the movement appears to largely be an unwinding of yesterday’s sharp decline.  Finally, the yen’s strength is in keeping with equity market activity, but at odds with bonds.  Comments from BOJ member Sakurai indicated no rush to add additional monetary stimulus in response to the resurgence in Covid infections, so perhaps that is helping underpin the currency.

Interestingly, EMG currencies have seen less movement than their G10 counterparts, with the biggest gainer KRW (+0.7%) and the rest of the bloc generally rising in the 0.3% range.  Here, at least, there is a cogent explanation, as early export data showed a 5.9% rise in October compared to a 9.8% decline in September.  While the Y/Y data were still weak (-5.8%) that was more a function of the number of days in the period than actual performance.

On the data front, the only thing released in the US today is the Fed’s Beige Book at 2:00pm.  But, six more Fed speakers are on tap for the day, starting with Cleveland’s Loretta Mester at 10:00 this morning.  A broad summary of recent comments would indicate that virtually every FOMC member is willing to implement further monetary stimulus, but all are begging for a fiscal package to really help the economy.  Who knows, maybe today is the day that Mnuchin and Pelosi agree to one.

As the dollar has broken some key technical levels, there is room for a bit more of a decline.  But I wouldn’t be looking for a collapse.  Hedgers, take advantage of these levels.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Hope Springs Eternal

The White House and Congress have talked
‘Bout stimulus but both sides balked
Still, hope springs eternal
That both sides infernal
Intransigence will get unblocked

Throughout 2019, it seemed every other day was a discussion of the trade deal with China, which morphed into the Phase one trade deal, which was, eventually, signed early this year.  But each day, the headlines were the market drivers, with stories about constructive talks leading to stock rallies and risk accumulation, while the periodic breakdowns in talks would result in pretty sharp selloffs.  I’m certain we all remember those days.  I only bring them up because the stimulus talks are the markets’ latest version of those trade talks.  When headlines seem positive that a deal will get done, stock markets rally in the US, and by extension, elsewhere in the world.  But, when there is concern that the stimulus talks will break down, investors head for the exits.  Or at least algorithms head for the exits, its not clear if investors are following yet.

Yesterday was one of those breakdown days, where despite reports of ongoing discussions between Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and House Speaker Pelosi, the vibes were negative with growing concern that no deal would be reached ahead of the election.  Of course, adding to the problem is the fact that Senate Majority Leader McConnell has already said that the numbers being discussed by the House and Congress are far too large to pass the Senate.  Handicapping the probability of a deal being reached is extremely difficult, but I would weigh in on the side of no action.  This seems far more like political posturing ahead of the election than an attempt to address some of the current economic concerns in the country.

Yet, despite yesterday’s negativity, and the ostensible deadline of today imposed by Speaker Pelosi (we all know how little deadlines mean in politics, just ask Boris), this morning has seen a return of hope that a deal will, in fact get done, and that the impact will be a huge boost to the economy, and by extension to the stock market.  So generally, today is a risk-on session, at least so far, with most Asian markets performing nicely and most of Europe in the green, despite rapidly rising infection counts in Europe’s second wave.  Remember, though, when markets become beholden to a political narrative like this, it is extremely difficult to anticipate short-term movements.

Down Under, the RBA said
We’re thinking, while looking ahead
A negative rate
Is still on the plate
So traders, their Aussie, did shed

While the politics is clearly the top story, given the risk-on nature of markets today, and the corresponding general weakness in the dollar, it was necessary to highlight the outliers, in this case, AUD (-0.4%) and NZD (-0.5%), which are clearly ignoring the bigger narrative.  However, there is a solid explanation here.  Last night, between the RBA’s Minutes and comments from Deputy Governor Kent, the market learned that the RBA is now considering negative interest rates.  Previously, the RBA had been clear that the current overnight rate level of 0.25% was the lower bound, and that negative rates did not make sense in Australia (in fairness, they don’t make sense anywhere.)  But given the sluggish state of the recovery from the initial Covid driven recession, the RBA has decided that negative rates may well be just the ticket to goose growth once covid lockdowns are lifted.  It is no surprise that Aussie fell, and traders extended the idea to New Zealand as well, assuming that if Australia goes negative, New Zealand would have no choice but to do so as well.  Hence the decline in both currencies overnight.

But really, those are the only stories of note this morning, in an otherwise dull session.  As I mentioned, risk is ‘on’ but not aggressively so.  While the Nikkei (-0.4%) did slip, we saw modest gains in Shanghai (+0.5%) and Hong Kong (+0.1%).  Europe, too, is somewhat higher, but not excessively so.  Spain’s IBEX (+0.85%) is the leader on the continent, although we are seeing gains in the CAC (+0.4%) and the FTSE 100 (+0.3%) as well.  The DAX (-0.3%), however, is unloved today as Covid cases rise back to early April levels and lockdowns are being considered throughout the country.  Finally, the rose-tinted glasses have been put back on by US equity futures traders with all three indices higher by a bit more than 0.5% at this hour.

Bond markets, however, are following the risk narrative a bit more closely and have sold off mildly across the board.  Well mildly except for the PIGS, who have seen another day with average rises in yield of around 3 basis points.  But for havens, yields have risen just 1 basis point in the US, Germany and the UK.

Commodity prices are little changed on the session, seemingly caught between hopes for a stimulus deal and fears over increased covid cases.

And lastly, the dollar is arguably a bit softer overall, but not by that much.  Aside from Aussie and Kiwi mentioned above, only the yen (-0.15%) is lower vs. the dollar, which is classic risk-on behavior.  On the plus side, SEK and NOK (both +0.5%) are leading the way higher, although the euro has been grinding higher all session and is now up 0.4% compared to yesterday’s close.  There has been no news of note from either Sweden or Norway to drive the gains, thus the most likely situation is that both currencies are simply benefitting from their relatively high betas and the general trend of the day.  As to the euro, the technicians are in command today, calling for a move higher due to an expected (hoped for?) break of a symmetrical triangle position.  Away from these three, though, gains are extremely modest.

In the emerging markets, CZK (+0.7%) is the outlier on the high side, although there is no obvious driver as there have been neither comments by officials nor new data released.  In fact, given that Covid infections seem to be growing disproportionally rapidly there, one might have thought the Koruna would have fallen instead.  But the rest of the CE4 are also firmer, simply tracking the euro this morning as they are up by between 0.3%-0.4%.  There have been some modest losers in the space as well, with THB (-0.25%) leading the charge in that direction.  The Thai story is a combination over concerns about further stimulus there not materializing and anxiety over the political unrest and student protests gaining strength throughout the nation.

On the data front, this morning brings Housing Starts (exp 1465K) and Building Permits (1520K), as well as four more Fed speakers.  Yesterday, Chairman Powell was not focused on monetary policy per se, but rather on the concept of digital currencies, and specifically, central bank digital currencies.  This is something that is clearly coming our way, but the timing remains unclear.  One thing to keep in mind is that when they arrive, interest rates will be negative, at least in the front end, forever.  But that is a story for another day.

Today, we are beholden to the stimulus talks.  Positive news should see further risk accumulation, while a breakdown will see stocks fall and the dollar rebound.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Willing to Meet

The latest from 10 Downing Street
Is Boris is willing to meet
Midway twixt the stance
Of England and France
In order, the talks, to complete

Meanwhile, from the Far East we heard
That growth was strong in, quarter, third
They’re now set to be
The only country
Where year on year growth has occurred

The weekend has brought a few stories of note, all of them with bullish overtones, and so it should be no surprise that the week is starting with a risk-on tone.  The first place to look is in China, which released its Q3 GDP data last night at a slightly worse than expected 4.9% Y/Y.  While the market was looking for 5.5%, given that China is the first nation to achieve positive year over year growth, it was still seen as a market plus.  At least to the broad market. Interestingly, the Shanghai stock market fell 0.7%.  But, between the GDP data, Retail Sales rising 3.3% Y/Y and the Surveyed Jobless Rate falling a bit more than expected to 5.4%, the Chinese are painting a picture of a solid recovery.  And while this is well below the levels seen prior to the pandemic, it is still well ahead of the rest of the world.

Next up is the UK, where optimism has grown that a Brexit deal will, in fact, be reached. Boris, playing to both his constituents and the Europeans, has said that the UK is preparing for a no-deal outcome, but is happy to continue to talk if the Europeans would consider some compromises.  As well, in the House of Lords, word is they are prepared to remove the offending language from the UK government’s proposed Internal Market Bill, the one that caused all the concern since it was published in July.  In this bill, the UK sets out the relationship between the four nations in the UK; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  However, it was written in such a way as to render part of the Withdrawal Agreement moot, essentially overturning international law unilaterally.  Hence the issue.  In fact, the EU has sued the UK in the ICJ to prevent the law from being enacted.  This has been a major sticking point for the EU and has undermined a great deal of trust between the two sides.  Hence, the removal of that language is seen as a clear positive.  Certainly, FX traders saw it that way as the pound has rallied 0.75% since the news first was reported and is now back to 1.30.  While I believe the probability of a deal being completed remains above 50% (neither side wants a no-deal outcome), I also believe that the pound will fall after a deal is reached.  Sell the news remains the most likely situation in my view.

Adding to these two positive stories, the never-ending US stimulus talks continue to garner headlines despite a distinct lack of progress.  Yet, optimism on a stimulus bill seems to be a key driver in US equity markets, and in fact, in global ones as they are all, save Shanghai, propelled higher.  Given the proximity to the election, it seems unlikely that either side will allow the other to have a political victory, and so I remain skeptical a deal will be reached soon.  Of course, that merely means we can have a whole bunch of rallies on optimism that one will be reached!

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the markets this morning.  Aside from Shanghai’s negative outcome in Asia, we saw strength with the Nikkei (+1.1%) and Hang Seng (+0.65%) both rallying nicely.  Europe as seen modest strength with the CAC (+0.6%) leading the way although the rest of the continent has seen far less love with the DAX (+0.1%), for instance, barely positive.  In fact, as I write, the FTSE 100 is actually slightly lower, down -0.15%.  US futures, though, have taken the stimulus story to heart and are much higher, between 0.8% (DOW) and 1.1% (NASDAQ).

Bond markets are feeling the risk-on mood as well, as they have fallen across the board with yields rising in every developed market.  Treasury yields are higher by 3.2 basis points, while bunds have seen a more modest 1.2 basis point rise.  Interestingly, the PIGS are seeing their bonds tossed overboard with an average rise of 4.5 basis points in their 10-year yields.

Oil prices (WTI -0.35%) are little changed, surprisingly, as one would expect commodities to rally on a positive risk day, while gold (+0.7%) and silver (+2.6%) are both quite strong, again somewhat surprising given higher yields and positive risk.  There are still many market relationships which have broken down compared to long-term trends.

Finally, the dollar is under pressure across the board this morning, with every G10 currency higher led by NOK (+0.95%) despite oil’s decline.  One of the drivers appears to be the unwinding of some large short positions in commodity currencies, a view that had been gaining credence amongst the leveraged community set.  This has helped SEK (+0.6%) and NZD (+0.55%) today as well.  The rest of the bloc, while higher, has been far less interesting.

On the EMG front, ZAR (+0.65%) is the leader with KRW (+0.5%) next in line.  After that, the gains are far less significant.  Korea’s won clearly benefitted from the Chinese GDP news, as China remains South Korea’s largest export destination.  Meanwhile, any gain in gold is likely to help support the rand given the gold mining industry’s importance to the economy there.  And as you consider the fact that the dollar is weak against virtually every currency, it is far more understandable that gold and silver have rallied as well.

On the data front, this week is not terribly interesting with only a handful of releases:

Tuesday Housing Starts 1455K
Building Permits 1506K
Wednesday Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 865K
Continuing Claims 9.85M
Leading Indicators 0.7%
Existing Home Sales 6.30M
Friday Manufacturing PMI 53.5
Services PMI 54.6

Source: Bloomberg

However, despite a lack of data, there is no lack of Fedspeak this week, with six speeches just today, led by Chairman Powell at 8:00 on an IMF panel.  One of the themes of this week seems to be the discussion of central bank digital currencies, an idea that seems to be gaining traction around the world.  The other central bank tidbit comes from Madame Lagarde, who, not surprisingly, said she thought it made sense the PEPP (Pandemic EMERGENCY Purchase Program) be made a permanent vehicle.  This is perfectly in keeping with central bank actions where policies implemented to address an emergency morph into permanent policy tools as central bank mandates expand.  Once again, I will point out that the idea that other G10 central banks will allow the Fed to expand their balance sheet and undermine the dollar’s value without a response is categorically wrong. Every central bank will respond to additional Fed ease with their own package, thus this argument for a weaker dollar is extremely short-sighted.

But with all that said, there is no reason to believe the positive risk attitude will change today, unless there is a categorical denial by one of the parties discussing the stimulus bill.  As such, look for the dollar to continue to slide on the session.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Deeper Downturn

There once was a virus that spread
Worldwide, leaving too many dead
Its summer vacation
Has led to frustration
That governments, people, misled

Now lockdowns have made a return
From London to Paris to Bern
And ECB voices
All highlight the choices
More QE or deeper downturn

As another week draws to a close, market activity has been relatively muted.  It seems that participants are biding their time waiting for an outcome on at least one of the big current stories.  Will Brexit talks continue and be successful or will Boris decide there is no chance and simply prepare for a no-deal outcome?  Will the second wave of Covid infections running rampant in Europe slow down, or will this wave be even larger than the first with a bigger negative impact on the economy?  And finally, what is going to happen in the US presidential election?

And let’s face it, those are three really big questions with no clear answers at this time.  But let’s quickly try to address them in order and see if we can discern potential market responses.

Brexit – we have already passed the deadline Boris had originally issued for a deal, although he has since recanted and said if the EU demonstrates they are interested in “intensifying” the talks, the UK will work even harder to reach a deal.  Unfortunately, the indications from the EU are less promising as French President Macron remains adamant that French fishing vessels have unfettered access to UK waters in any deal.  While there are signs the rest of Europe are annoyed with Macron over this stance, his unwillingness to compromise, as of yet, means there has been no movement.  The other sticking point, the level of UK state aid to its companies, seems much more tractable to solve. However, right now, no deal is in sight.

Trying to game out the market impact of this binary outcome is dependent on an estimate of what is currently priced into the market.  Several indicators, including CFTC positioning and some proprietary bank positioning indicators, show that the market remains net long Sterling.  As the pound appears overvalued at current levels, it seems the likelihood of a large rally in the event of a positive outcome is quite limited.  Rather, the future for the pound is likely lower.  In the event of a no-deal Brexit, a move toward 1.20 is quite realistic by year end.  Whereas, a positive outcome is more likely to see just a moderate, ‘sell the news’ response, perhaps back toward 1.25-1.28.

The second wave of infections is clearly a growing problem.  More localized lockdowns are being imposed in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain with talk of more coming in Italy and throughout Eastern Europe.  This is in addition to the curfew in Paris which is equally problematic.  Not surprisingly, ECB members have been vocal about the need and ability of the central bank to do even more, implying that the PEPP is going to get quite a boost by December.  Once again, I will highlight that the Fed has made it quite clear they have limited ability to do anything else, although they will certainly try, which means that on a relative basis, other countries are going to ease their monetary policy further.  In this case, that bodes ill for the future direction of the euro, which I think has every possibility of drifting back to 1.15 in the short run and 1.10 over time, ceteris paribus.

But the big ceteris is the US presidential election.  The polls point to a Biden victory, although I’m sure nobody has forgotten that the same polls pointed to a Clinton victory four years ago.  Betting markets are also leaning that way, although with far less confidence.  As to the market, based on my readings, it appears that a large majority of market participants agree with the polls and have positioned accordingly.  Remember, too, that control of Congress is a crucial point in anticipating any potential market movement.  So here goes:

Blue wave – Biden wins and Democrats retake Senate:  given the platform of much higher capital gains and corporate taxes and massive spending, equity markets seem likely to fall sharply this year as investors take profits at current tax rates, and the dollar to fall alongside them.  I would want to own gold in this scenario.

Biden win with Republican Senate:  much less impact as divided government gets less done.  Arguably, we will fund the budget on continuing resolutions for four years, rather than any big new programs getting enacted.  The market response here is likely to be far more benign, with range trading rather than steep trends.

Trump win with Democratic House:  No change to current situation means further efforts at tax cuts and deregulation, but unlikely to see tax hikes.  The US has the chance to be the cleanest shirt in the dirty laundry basket and draw in more investment and prop up dollar strength.

Trump win and Republican House (admittedly low probability):  dollar strength as US continues to focus on as much economic growth as possible, with more stimulus and more tax cuts.

At this point, all these questions remain open, but by New Year’s Eve, we will have answered at least two of the three for sure.

As to markets today, there is really very little to tell.  Equities in Asia were mixed (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng +0.9%) but are performing well in Europe (DAX +1.1%, CAC +1.8%) as the ECB comments seem to have investors believing more stimulus is on its way.  US futures have edged higher in the past hour, but are still only pointing to gains of 0.2% or so.

Interestingly, bond markets are rallying with yields continuing their recent downtrend.  Treasury yields are lower by 1bp after having backed up a few yesterday afternoon.  European markets are seeing roughly 2 basis point declines across the board.  In fact, bunds are back at their lowest level (-0.635%) since the panic of late March when Covid first struck Europe.  Bonds there are certainly pricing in a slowing economy in the Eurozone.

Finally, the dollar is mixed.  Against its G10 counterparts, it is +/-0.2% with the Brexit story by far the most impactful.  GBP (-0.2% as I write) was higher by 0.3% just minutes ago, as it wiggles on each headline.  But the bloc is generally uninteresting.  As to emerging markets, it is largely the same story, with a pretty even mix of gainers and losers.  Here, though, the movement has been a bit larger with ZAR (+0.5%) the best performer, perhaps on strength in the metals markets, followed by CNY (+0.4%) where everyone is looking for strong GDP numbers on Monday.  On the downside, KRW (-0.4%) is bottom of the barrel today after a higher than expected Unemployment rate was reported.

Data this morning brings Retail Sales (exp 0.8%, 0.4% ex autos), IP (0.5%), Capacity Utilization (71.8%) and Michigan Sentiment (80.5).  Yesterday’s Initial Claims data was quite disappointingly high and bodes ill for the growth story here.  But in the end, the ongoing uncertainty and confusion over the three issues raised above imply a lack of direction in the near term, although choppiness could well be on the menu.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Covid Comebacking

Investors are lately concerned
That risk is what needs to be spurned
With stimulus lacking
And Covid comebacking
The bulls are afraid they’ll get burned

Risk is starting to get a bad name for itself lately as we are heading into our third consecutive day of equity market selling and haven asset buying.  The twin stories of the resurgence in coronavirus cases throughout the world and the terminal diagnosis for additional US fiscal stimulus has many people rethinking the bullish case.  Perhaps the recovery won’t be V-shaped after all.

On the Covid front, as an example of new measures taken, the French government has set a 9:00pm – 6:00am curfew in Paris while the UK is imposing a ban on families from one household mixing with those from another as both nations try to cope with the increase in Covid cases.  (Yesterday, both countries reported 20,000 or more new cases).  And it’s not just those two nations, but the increase in numbers throughout the world is substantial.  India (68K), the US (60K), Brazil (27K) and Russia (14K) are all seeing higher reported infections with most of the rest of Europe also seeing increase in the 5K-10K region.  The data is certainly beginning to look like we are in the midst of a second wave of the disease.  Of course, the one truly noteworthy exception is Sweden, which never went through the lockdown phase, and has not reported any new cases in weeks.

Nonetheless, the fact that the virus is on the march again means that less economic activity will be taking place going forward, and that bodes ill for investors.  Adding to the Covid concerns are the recent announcements by several pharma companies that they are halting trials of their Covid vaccines as recipients got sick from various things. Overall, the Covid story is starting to weigh on investors’ (as well as politicians’) minds and that is undermining some of the previous bullishness on risk assets.

As to fresh fiscal stimulus from the US, it ain’t happening, at least not before the election.  Despite (because of?) all the rhetoric we continue to receive from the central banking and supranational communities about how crucial it is for more US stimulus aid to be injected into the economy, the politics at this point are quite clear.  Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want to allow the other side to have a victory ahead of the election for fear it might help the other side in the election.  This is why the bills proposed by both the House and the Senate were so far apart; they were simply pandering to their respective political bases.  At the same time, the central bankers have essentially admitted that they have done all they can, and any further action on their part will help only at the very margins of the economy.  Although, further central bank stimulus would likely find its way into equity markets, it wouldn’t help Main Street in any way.

With these as the evolving narratives, it should be no surprise that risk is being shed.  It should also be no surprise that these losses are starting to gain some momentum.  For instance, European equities, as measured by the Eurostoxx 600, fell 0.6% on Tuesday, 0.25% yesterday, but are down a hefty 2.65% today.  And that pattern has been repeated across equity markets around the world.  In fact, Europe bourses today are all lower by between 2.0% and 3.0%.  US futures are also pointing to the same phenomenon, after seeing declines of between 0.6% and 0.8% yesterday, they are currently trading at levels between -1.0% (Dow) and -1.5% (NASDAQ).

Bond markets, which many believe have far better predictive capacity than equity markets with respect to the economy, are in a complete risk-off stance.  10-year Treasury yields, which just Friday appeared to be heading above 0.80%, are back down to 0.70%, having fallen 2.5 basis points overnight.  But it is even clearer in the European markets where the PIGS have each seen their bonds sold today with yields rising between 1 and 4 basis points, while Bunds (-3.8bps), Oats (-2.5bps) and Gilts (-4.1bps) are all seeing significant haven demand.  As I have written before, the reality is that government bonds issued by the PIGS are risk assets, not havens.  After all, do you think any of those four nations will ever be able to repay their debt?

Turning to the dollar, in true risk off fashion, it is the leading light in the currency market today.  In the G10 space, the best performers are CHF and JPY, both of which are essentially unchanged, while we are seeing NOK (-1.1%), AUD (-1.1%) and NZD (-0.75%) lead the way lower.  You will not be surprised to know that oil prices are lower this morning, with WTI and Brent both down by 1.6%, hence NOK’s troubles.  Too, other commodity prices, including the precious metals, are lower, which is clearly undermining the latter two.

One of the interesting things is the recent behavior of Aussie.  Historically, AUD has been almost a proxy on the Chinese economy, given the strong reliance on China for Australia’s economic growth.  Essentially, all the commodities Australia produced were ship north to the mainland.  But lately, there is a great deal of tension between the two nations as the Australians have called out the Chinese on issues like human rights and Hong Kong, and the Chinese have responded by imposing quotas on Australian goods and preventing state-owned companies from purchasing there.  Thus, despite the more positive economic data from China (last night saw CPI rise a less than expected 1.7% and expectations for Monday’s Q3 GDP data have risen to 5.5%), AUD has not been able to benefit. Adding to the Aussie’s woes were comments from the RBA regarding extending the tenor of QE purchases to the 10-year bucket and driving rates lower there.  Naturally, the market did the RBA’s work for it, and yields there fell 7.5 basis points.

Meanwhile, the euro and pound are both under pressure as well, just not as much, as investors continue to reduce exposures to both areas.

As to the EMG bloc, in a bit of a surprise, PLN (-1.1%) is the worst performer of the day, which seems to be on the back of a story about no additional Covid fiscal stimulus (and you thought that was a uniquely US phenomenon).  But ZAR (-1.0%) and MXN (-0.7%) are next in line, with both obviously feeling the pain of weaker commodity prices as well as increases in their Covid case count.  The rest of the bloc is also under pressure, just not quite to the same extent.  And as long as fear reigns, it will be difficult for these currencies to regain a bid.

On the data front, this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 825K), Continuing Claims (10.55M), Empire Manufacturing (14.0) and Philly Fed (14.8).  The Initial Claims data, while obviously well off the worst (highest) levels, has really started to plateau at much higher levels than the economy has ever seen before, which suggests that any rebound remains uneven and modest at best.  But while economic activity is clearly under pressure in the US, and we will see that spelled out in Q3 earnings data which has just started coming in, investor risk appetites, or lack thereof, will be the key driver for now, and that points to further gains in the dollar.  Maybe not huge, but that is the direction most likely.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Story of Boris

Today it’s the story of Boris
A man who commands a thesaurus
When speaking of foes
To prove that he knows
More things than the Press’s Greek chorus

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before…a politician makes a bold promise to achieve something by a specific date.  As the date approaches, and it is clear that promise will not be fulfilled, he changes his tune blaming others for the problems.

I’m certain you recognize this situation, and of course, today it is the story of Boris.  Back on September 7, Johnson was adamant that if a deal was not completed by October 15, the day an EU summit was scheduled to begin, that there would be no deal at all.  It appears that he believed he had the upper hand in the negotiations and wanted to get things done.  As well, the EU had indicated that if a deal was not agreed by the middle of October, it would be nearly impossible for all of the 27 member nations to approve the deal in their respective parliaments.

Alas for Boris, things have not worked out as well as he might have hoped.  Instead, two major issues remain; EU access to fishing in UK waters and the limits on UK state aid for companies, and neither one seems on the verge of a breakthrough.  Yet the calendar pages keep turning and here we are, one day before the ‘deadline’ and nothing has been agreed.  In fact, as the EU prepares for its summit starting tomorrow, this is the statement that has been released, “progress on the key issues of interest to the union is still not sufficient for an agreement to be reached.”

Though Boris’s deadline grows near
It seems that he might not adhere
As now the UK
Will not walk away
From Brexit discussions this year

With this as a backdrop, one would not be surprised to see the pound start to lose some of its recent luster.  Clearly, that was a major part of yesterday’s price action, where the pound declined 1.0% and the rest of the G10 saw an average decline of only 0.4%.  In other words, while the dollar was strong against virtually all comers yesterday, the pound was at the bottom of the barrel.  Apparently, some investors are beginning to get cold feet with respect to their view that despite all the bluster, a Brexit deal will be reached.  It is also not surprising that comments from Number 10 Downing Street this morning indicate the UK will not walk away from Brexit talks immediately.  So, the EU effectively called Johnson’s bluff, and Boris backed down.  It is also important to note that while the EU would like to get a deal agreed as soon as possible, they see no hard deadline with respect to when things need to be completed before the end of the year.

The overnight session saw a follow on from yesterday, with the pound falling another 0.55% before the comments about continuing the discussions hit the tape.  The ensuing rebound now has the pound higher by 0.25% on the session, and actually the best performer in the G10 today.  The bigger point is that the Brexit saga is not nearly done, and there is still plenty of opportunity for more volatility in the pound.  I read one bank claimed the probability of a no-deal Brexit has fallen to 20%.  Whether that is accurate or not, a no-deal Brexit is likely to see the pound fall sharply, with a move to 1.20 entirely realistic.  Hedgers take note.

As to the rest of the market/world, yesterday’s risk reducing session seems to have ended, although risk is not being readily embraced either.  Overnight saw equity markets either little changed (Nikkei and Hang Seng +0.1%) or lower (Shanghai -0.55%).  Chinese Money Supply and lending data showed that the PBOC continues to push funds into the economy to support things, and the renminbi’s price action shows that there continue to be inflows to the country.  CNY (+0.2%) has consistently been a strong performer, even after the PBOC relaxed short selling restrictions at the beginning of the week.

European markets have also proven to be mixed, with the CAC, DAX and FTSE 100 all lower by -0.2%, but Spain and Italy both higher by 0.3%.  Earlier in the session, all markets were higher, so perhaps some concerns are growing, although there have been no comments on the tape of note.  US futures have also given up earlier gains and currently sit essentially unchanged.

Bond markets had a strong performance yesterday, with 10-year Treasury yields declining 5 basis points and a further 1.5 basis points this morning.  We have seen the same type of price action across European government bond markets, with virtually all of them rallying and yields declining by 2-3 bps.

Finally, as we turn to the dollar, yesterday’s broad strength is largely continuing in the EMG bloc, save CNY’s performance, but against its G10 counterparts, it is, arguably, consolidating.  Aside from the pound, the rest of the G10 is +/- 0.15%, with only slightly weaker than expected Eurozone IP data as a guide.  As to the EMG bloc, there is weakness in RUB (-0.6%), HUF (-0.5%) as well as the two highest beta currencies, MXN and SAR (-0.3%).  Russia has the dubious distinction of the highest number of new cases of Covid today, more than 14K, (wait a minute, don’t they have a vaccine?) and Hungary, with nearly 1000 is also feeling the crunch based on population size.  It appears that investors are concerned over economic prospects as both nations see the impending second wave and are considering lockdowns to help stem the outbreak.  As to MXN and SAR, they are simply the most popular vehicles for investors to play emerging markets generally, and as risk seems to be falling out of favor, their decline is no surprise.

On the data front, PPI (exp 0.2%, core 0.2%) is today’s event, but given yesterday’s CPI release was spot on, this will largely be ignored.  The inflation/deflation discussion continues but will need to wait another month for the next installment as yesterday taught us little.

One of the positives of the virtual society is that things like the World Bank / IMF meetings, which had been such big to-dos in Washington in past years, are now held virtually.  As such, they don’t generate nearly the buzz as in the past.  However, it should be no surprise that there is a single thesis that is making the rounds in this virtual event; governments need to spend more money on fiscal stimulus and not worry about increased debt.  Now, while this has been the central bank mantra for the past six months, ever since central banks realized they had run out of ammunition, it is still remarkable coming from two organizations that had made their names hectoring countries about having too much debt.  Yet that is THE approved message of the day, governments should borrow more ‘free’ money and spend it.  And it should be no surprise that is the message from the chorus of Fed speakers as well.  Alas, in the US, at least, the politics of the situation is far more important to the players than the potential benefits of passing a bill.  Don’t look for anything until after the election in my view.

As to the session, I see no reason for the dollar to do much at all.  The dollar bears have been chastened and lightened their positions, while the dollar bulls no longer like the entry point.  It feels like a choppy day with no direction is on the cards.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Macron’s Pet Peeve

Each day from the UK we learn
The data implies a downturn
Infections keep rising
Yet what’s so surprising
Is Sterling, no trader will spurn

Investors, it seems, all believe
That fishing rights, Macron’s pet peeve
Will soon be agreed
And both sides proceed
Towards Brexit come this New Year’s Eve

Since the last day of September, the pound has been a top performer in the G10 space, rallying 2.0% despite the fact that, literally, every piece of economic data has fallen short of expectations.  Whether it was GDP, PMI, IP or Employment, the entire slate has been disappointing.  At the same time, stories about Brexit negotiations continue to focus on the vast gap between both sides on fishing rights for the French fleet as well as state aid limits for UK companies.  And yet the pound continues to grind higher, trading back to its highest levels in a month.  Granted this morning it has ceded a marginal -0.2%, but that is nothing compared to this steady climb higher.

It seems apparent that traders are not focusing on the macro data right now, but instead are looking toward a successful conclusion of the Brexit negotiations.  Granted, Europe’s history in negotiations is to have both (or all) sides agree at the eleventh hour or later, but agree, nonetheless.  So, perhaps the investor community is correct, there will be no hard Brexit and thus the UK economy will not suffer even more egregiously than it has due to Covid.  But even if a deal is agreed, does it make sense that the pound remains at these levels?

At this stage, the economic prospects for the UK seem pretty awful.  This morning’s employment report showed the 3M/3M Employment change (a key measure in the UK) falling 153K.  While that is not the worst reading ever, which actually came during the financial crisis in June 2009, it is one of the five worst in history and was substantially worse than market expectations.  Of greater concern was that the pace of job cuts rose to the most on record, with 114K redundancies reported in the June-August period.  Adding it all up leaves a pretty poor outlook for the UK economy, especially as further lockdowns are contemplated and enacted to slow the resurgence in Covid infections seen throughout various parts of the country.  And yet the pound continues to perform well.

Perhaps the rally is based on monetary policy expectations.  Alas, the last we heard from the Old Lady was that they were discussing how banks would handle negative interest rates, something which last year Governor Carney explained didn’t make any sense, but now, under new leadership, seems to have gained more adherents.  If history is any guide, the fact that the BOE is talking to banks about NIRP is a VERY strong signal that NIRP is coming to the UK in the next few months.  Again, it strikes me that this is not a positive for the currency.

In sum, all the information I see points to the pound having more downside than upside, and yet upside is what we have seen for the past several weeks.  As a hedger, I would be cautious regarding expectations that the pound has much further to rally.

Turning to the rest of the market, trading has been somewhat mixed, with no clear direction on risk assets seen.  Equity markets in Asia saw gains in the Hang Seng (+2.2%) although the Nikkei (+0.2%) and Shanghai (0.0%) were far less enthusiastic.  Interestingly, the HKMA was forced to intervene in the FX market last night, selling HKD6.27 billion to defend the strong side of the peg.  Clearly, funds are flowing in that direction, arguably directly into the stock market there, which after plummeting 27.5% from January to March on the back of Covid concerns, has only recouped about 42% of those losses, and so potentially offers opportunity.  Perhaps more interestingly, last night China reported some very solid trade data, with imports rising far more than expected (+13.2% Y/Y) and the Trade Balance falling to ‘just’ $37.0B.  Export growth was a bit softer than expected, but it seems clear the Chinese economy is moving forward.

European bourses, however, are all in the red with the DAX (-0.4%) and CAC (-0.3%) representative of the general tone of the market.  Aside from the weak UK employment data, we also saw a much weaker than expected German ZEW reading (56.1 vs. 72.0 expected), indicating that concerns are growing regarding the near-term future of the German economy.

In keeping with the mixed tone to today’s markets, Treasuries have rallied with yields falling 2 basis points after yesterday’s holiday.  Perhaps that is merely catching up to yesterday’s European government bond markets, as this morning, there is no rhyme or reason to movement in this segment.  In fact, the only movement of note here is Greece, which has seen 10-year yields decline by 3bps and which are now sitting almost exactly atop 10-year Treasuries.

As to the dollar, mixed is a good description here as well.  In the G10 space, given the German data, it is no surprise that the euro has edged lower by 0.2% nor that the pound has crept lower as well.  AUD (-0.24%) is actually the worst performer, which looks a response to softness in the commodity space.  SEK (+0.3%) is the best performer after CPI data turned positive across the board, albeit not rising as much as had been forecast.  You may recall the Swedes are the only country that had moved to NIRP and then raised rates back to 0.0%, declaring negative rates to be a bad thing.  The previous few CPI readings, which were negative, had several analysts calling for Swedish rates to head back below zero, but this seems to support the Riksbank’s view that no further rate cuts are needed.

Emerging market currencies are under a bit more pressure, with the CE4 leading the way lower (CZK -0.8%, PLN -0.7%, HUF -0.65%) but the rest of the bloc has seen far less movement, generally +/- 0.2%.  Regarding Eastern Europe, it seems there are growing concerns over a second wave of Covid wreaking further havoc on those nations inspiring more rate cuts by the respective central banks.  Yesterday’s Czech CPI data, showing inflation falling into negative territory was merely a reminder of the potential for lower rates.

Speaking of CPI, that is this morning’s lead data point, with expectations for a 0.2% M/M gain both headline and ex food and energy, which leads to 1.4% headline and 1.7% core on a Y/Y basis.  Remember, these numbers have been running higher than expectations all summer, and while the Fed maintains that inflation is MIA, we all know better.  I see no reason for this streak of higher than expected prints to be broken.  In addition, we hear from two Fed speakers, Barkin and Daly, but we already know what they are likely going to say; we are supporting the economy, but Congress needs to enact a fiscal support package, or the world will end (and it won’t be their fault.)

US equity futures are a perfect metaphor for the day, with DOW futures down 0.4% and NASDAQ futures higher by 0.9%.  In other words, it is a mixed picture with no clear direction.  My fear is the dollar starts to gain more traction, but my sense is that is not in the cards for today.

Good luck and stay safe
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