Sh*t Out of Luck

Consensus remains that the buck
This year is just sh*t out of luck
Though lately it’s jumped
It soon will be dumped
Or so say the bears run amok

This will be a holiday-shortened note to match our holiday shortened session today.  The broad theme in markets this morning is one of risk avoidance, with most European equity markets lower (CAC -0.4%, FTSE 100 -0.3%, DAX 0.0%), following the Nikkei (-1.0%) although we did see strength in China with both the Hang Seng (+1.0%) and Shanghai (+0.8%) putting in solid sessions.  The Chinese market activity comes on the heels of their latest data which showed that GDP in 2020 grew 2.3%, slightly better than forecast and certainly the only major economy that will show positive growth for the year.  Interestingly, the other data released was not quite as robust with Retail Sales rising a less than forecast 4.6%, down from November and investment activity rising more slowly than anticipated, both Fixed Asset (2.9%) and Property (7.0%).  However, no matter how you slice it, the Chinese economy seems to have weathered the pandemic better than most.

One of the interesting things we have seen of late is the seeming breakdown in the correlation between stocks and bonds.  Whereas the risk meme had generally been stocks falling led to haven asset buying, so Treasuries and the big 3 European government bonds would rally, that is not today’s story.  While the Treasury market is closed today, looking across Europe, despite the weakness in stocks, we are seeing weakness in bonds, with Bund (+1.2bps), OAT (+1.8bps) and Gilt (+0.8bps) prices all sliding a bit on the day.  The news from the PIGS is worse, with yields rising between 1.9 and 2.8 basis points, although given those assets are more risk than haven, this is no real surprise.

There have been three main stories out of Europe this morning, the election of a new CDU party leader in Germany, Armin Laschet, who will replace the retiring Angela Merkel.  However, there is concern that he is a weak candidate for Chancellor and may face a challenge amid slumping popularity ratings.  A weak German Chancellor is not a Eurozone positive, keep that in mind.  The second story is the French dismissal of the unsolicited bid for Carrefour, the largest grocery chain in the country.  Once again, they have proven they have little interest in a free market and will name any company critical to the national interest to prevent the loss of control.  And finally, in Italy, it appears PM Giuseppe Conte is losing his grip on power after a key ally, Matteo Renzi, took his party out of the ruling coalition.  The broader concern there is that if an election is called, Matteo Salvini, the head of the League, a right-wing party with nationalist tendencies could win the election outright, and wreak significant havoc on the Continent with respect to issues like monetary and fiscal policy, immigration and even addressing Covid.

However, at this point, the bulk of that news is fairly noncommittal and almost certainly not having a real impact on the FX markets…yet.  Rather, the story that caught my eye was that Janet Yellen, whose vetting by the Senate for her role as Treasury Secretary takes place tomorrow, will reputedly say she believes the dollar’s value should be determined by the market and that the Treasury will neither speak to it, nor attempt to weaken it directly in any manner.  Of course, the disingenuous part of that statement is that her other policies, which when combined with the Fed’s activity, will almost certainly drive real yields to greater and greater depths of negativity, will undermine the dollar without her having to ever mention the currency once.

Ironically, for now, the dollar continues its rebound from its nadir on January 6th, just three days into the year.  In fact, in the G10, it is stronger against the entire bloc except JPY (+0.1%), with the commodity bloc leading the way lower (NO -0.45%, AUD -0.45%, CAD -0.4%).  You won’t be surprised to know commodities are pulling back a bit as well today (WTI -0.3%).  In the EMG space, the screen is largely red as well, led by RUB (-0.85%) and ZAR (-0.65%) with only BRL (+0.15%) showing any support on the day.  That support seems to be emanating from a survey of Brazilian economists who are calling for a return to growth in 2021 alongside rising interest rates, with the Selic rate (their overnight rate) forecast to rise 125 basis points this year and a further 150 basis points next year to get back to 4.75%.  If that is the case, BRL will certainly find significant support as expectations remain that dollar rates are not going to rise at all.

On the data front, it is a pretty light week, and remember, there are no Fed speakers either.

Thursday ECB meeting -0.5%
Initial Claims 923K
Continuing Claims 5250K
Philly Fed 11.3
Housing Starts 1560K
Building Permits 1603K
Friday Existing Home Sales 6.55M

Source: Bloomberg

While the Fed doesn’t meet until next week, we do hear from the Bank of Canada (exp no change), BOJ (no change) and the ECB (no change) this week, although as you can tell from the forecasts, there is no anticipated movement on policy at this time.  So, adding it all up, it feels to me like the dollar’s short-term momentum remains modestly firmer, although this has not changed my longer-term view that the Fed will be forced to cap nominal yields and as real yields decline, so will the dollar.  But that is more of a summer phenomenon I believe, late Spring at the earliest.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Truly Sublime

The Chairman said, now’s not the time
To offer a new paradigm
More debt we will buy
Til we certify
The data is truly sublime

Then later, with, kudos, widespread
The new president clearly said
He’d give out more dough
To soften the blow
We’ll suffer from lockdowns ahead

It appears that the question of whether or not the Fed will consider tapering bond purchases by the end of this year has been answered…No!  Yesterday, Fed Chair Powell made it crystal clear that it was way too early to consider the idea of reducing QE purchases, and that eventually, if such time arrives, the Fed would be signaling their actions well in advance of any changes.  This is broadly the message that we heard from vice-Chairman Clarida two days ago, as well as from Governor Brainerd and some of the more dovish regional presidents.  Thus, the comments of the four regional presidents from earlier this week, indicating that tapering could happen as soon as the end of 2021, are likely to seem diminished in the eyes of the market, and the idea of a much more rapid sell-off in Treasuries needs to be rethought.

Beyond that specific question, the Chairman waxed about the good job the Fed has been doing, all the tools they have available to address any future issues, and, remarkably, that the record high levels of debt in the non-financial sector are really no big deal at all given the current level of interest rates.  Low rates obviously allow more debt to be serviced easily.  The problem, of course, is that if rates do rise in the future, servicing that debt will not be so easy, and the ramifications for the economy would be quite negative.  This is the primary factor in the thought that the Fed may never raise rates again, because doing so would result in significant economic stress throughout the country, and truly, the world.

The market response to Powell’s comments was modest at best, with the dollar softening a bit, while equity and bond markets didn’t really react at all.  Then last night, President-elect Biden made his first policy speech promising a new approach to things.  But one thing that is clearly not set to change is the political view that spending more money is always the right action.  He thus unveiled a $1.9 trillion spending program designed to address the ongoing economic impacts of Covid and the concurrent lockdowns around the country.  As well, he talked about another $3 trillion program for longer term needs like infrastructure and environmental issues that need to be addressed.

Interestingly, the market appears a bit disappointed in this proposed spending bill, and not because it is going to increase the debt load.  Rather, it appears expectations were high for more immediate spending to help goose the economy and by extension, the profit profile of the market.  However, the combination of Fed confirmation only that they would not be tightening, rather than expanding programs, and the disappointing cash outlay in the Biden proposal has forced a bit of reconsideration about the future trajectory of the economy and equity markets.  After all, if the Fed is not adding to the size of its balance sheet, where is the money going to come from to support buying more stocks?  Of course, it could simply be that the Friday before a holiday weekend has encouraged a bit of profit-taking by traders, who will be back in force on Tuesday, but whatever the cause, this morning is opening with a clear risk-off tone.

Looking at equity markets in Asia, the Nikkei (-0.6%) was the laggard, but Shanghai (0.0%) and the Hang Seng (+0.3%) hardly inspired.  Meanwhile, European screens are filled with red, led by the CAC (-0.95%) but seeing both the DAX and FTSE 100 falling -0.8%.  It is interesting to note that there was a bit of data this morning which arguably could have been construed as positive, yet clearly has not been seen that way.  UK November GDP fell only -2.6% M/M, a better than expected performance, especially given the ravages of Covid on that economy. While IP was a bit softer than forecast Services was clearly better, which for the UK economy will be crucial going forward.  The other data point showed French CPI at 0.0% in December, which remarkably, helps raise the Eurozone number!  But equity investors are having none of it today, and shedding positions into the weekend.  As to US futures markets, they are pointing lower as well, between -0.35% and -0.5% at this hour.

One cannot be surprised that Treasury prices are rallying given the risk stance, with the 10-year up ¼ of a point and yields lower by 2.7bps.  While I continue to believe that there is a near term cap in yields, at least at 1.1%, the idea of the bond offering safety makes a bit more sense than when the yield was 0.7% like most of the summer.  Remember, part of the safety of the bond is that it pays a steady income stream.  As to European markets, the big 3 are essentially unchanged at this hour, although all of them have rallied from early session lows where yields had climbed a bit.  This behavior is a bit unusual as I would have expected increased demand for these havens, but markets can be perverse on a regular basis.

Oil prices are under pressure this morning, with WTI lower by 1.3%, although that remains simply a consolidation of the large move higher we had seen over the past two plus months.  As to gold, it is little changed on the day, firmly in the middle of its recent trading range.

Finally, the dollar is definitely the beneficiary of today’s risk stance, rising against most currencies, with only the havens of JPY (+0.1%) and CHF (+0.05%) managing to eke out any gains.  However, the commodity bloc is weak; NOK (-0.6%), AUD (-0.6%) and CAD (-0.5%), and the euro (-0.3%) and pound (-0.45%) are under pressure as well.  There doesn’t need to be a more specific story than risk-off to explain these movements.

Emergers, too, are broadly under pressure led by the commodity linked currencies there.  ZAR (-0.9%), BRL (-0.8%) and CLP (-0.6%) are leading the charge lower, although pretty much every currency in the space has fallen except IDR (+0.3%).  The story here was that exports climbed a more than expected 14.6% leading to a larger trade surplus.  The indication that the economy could weather then Covid storm better than many peers has increased the attractiveness of the rupiah, especially given the yield there, which is amongst the highest in the world these days at 3.75%.

On the data front, yesterday saw much worse than expected Initial Claims data, a potential harbinger of weaker data to come.  This morning brings PPI (exp 0.8% Y/Y, 1.3% Y/Y -ex food & energy), Retail Sales (0.0%, -0.2% -ex autos), Capacity Utilization (73.6%), IP (0.5%), and Michigan Sentiment (79.5).  So, lots of things, but really Retail Sales is the one that matters most here, I think.  Certainly, yesterday’s Claims data has put the market on notice that things slowed down in Q4 and are likely starting Q1 in the same state.  However, do not be too surprised if a bad number is met with a rally as expectations grow that the Fed could, in fact, step up the pace of purchases.  We shall see.

Beyond that, Minneapolis Fed president Kashkari, the uber-dove, is the last Fed speaker before the quiet period begins ahead of the January 27 meeting.  But we already know he is going to say not enough is being done.

As long as risk remains on the back foot, the dollar can certainly maintain its modest bid here.  However, if things turn around, notably if equities climb into the green, look for the dollar to give up its gains.  At this point, the dollar’s strength does not seem to be built on a strong foundation.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Pending A-pocalypse

Inflation’s on everyone’s lips
As traders now need come to grips
With data still soft
But forecasts that oft
Point to pending a-pocalypse

Is inflation really coming soon?  Or perhaps the question should be, is measured inflation really coming soon?  I’m confident most of us have seen the rise in prices for things that we purchase on a regular basis, be it food, clothing, cable subscriptions or hard goods.  And of course, asset price inflation has been rampant for years, but apparently that doesn’t count at all.  However, the focus on this statistic has increased dramatically during the past several months which is a huge change from, not only the immediate post-pandemic economy, but in reality, the past thirty years of economic activity.  In fact, ever since Paul Volcker, as Fed Chair, slew the inflationary dragon that lived in the 1970’s, we have seen a secular move lower in measured consumer prices alongside a secular move lower in nominal interest rates.

But the pandemic has forced a lot of very smart people (present company excluded) to reconsider this trend, with many concluding that higher prices, even the measured kind, are in our future.  And this is not a discussion of a short-term blip higher due to pent up demand, but rather the long-term trend higher that will need to be addressed aggressively by the Fed lest it gets out of hand.

The argument for inflation centers on the difference between the post GFC financial response and the post Covid shock financial response.  Back in 2009, the Fed cut rates to zero and inaugurated their first balance sheet expansion of note with QE1.  Several more bouts of QE along with years of near zero rates had virtually no impact on CPI or PCE as the transmission mechanism, commercial banks, were not playing their part as expected.  Remember, QE simply replaces Treasuries with bank reserves on a commercial bank balance sheet.  It is up to the commercial bank to lend out that money in order for QE to support the economy.  But commercial banks were not finding the risk adjusted returns they needed, especially compared to the riskless returns they were receiving from the Fed from its IOER program.  So, the banking sector sold the Fed their bonds and held reserves where they got paid interest, while enabling them to have a riskless asset on their books.  In other words, only a limited amount of QE wound up in the public’s pocket.  The upshot was that spending power did not increase (remember, wages stagnated) and so pricing pressures did not materialize, hence no measured inflation.

But this time around, fiscal policy has been massive, with the CARES act of nearly $2 trillion including direct payments to the public as well as forgivable small business loans via the PPP program.  So, banks didn’t need to lend the money to get things moving, the government solved that part of the equation. Much of that money wound up directly in the economy (although certainly some found its way into RobinHood accounts and Bitcoin), thus amping up demand.  At the same time, the lockdowns around the world resulted in broken supply chains, meaning many goods were in short supply.  This resulted in the classic, more money chasing fewer goods situation, which leads to higher prices.  This helps explain the trajectory of inflation since the initial Covid impact, where prices collapsed at first, but have now been rising back sharply.  While they have not yet reached pre-Covid levels, it certainly appears that will be the case soon.

Which leads us back to the question of, what will prevail?  Will the rebound continue, or will the long-term trend reassert itself?  This matters for two reasons.  First, we will all be impacted by rising inflation in some manner if it really takes off.  But from a markets perspective, if US inflation is rising rapidly, it will put the Fed in a bind with respect to their promise to keep rates at zero until the end of 2023.  If the market starts to believe the Fed is going to raise rates sooner to fight inflation, that will likely have a very deleterious effect on equity and bond prices, but a very positive effect on the dollar.  The combination of risk-off and higher returns will make the dollar quite attractive to many, certainly enough to reverse the recent downtrend.

Lately, we are seeing the beginnings of this discussion, which is why the yield curve has steepened, why stock markets have stalled and why the dollar has stopped sliding.  Fedspeak this week has been cacophonous, but more importantly has shown there is a pretty large group of FOMC members who see the need for tapering policy, starting with reducing QE, but eventually moving toward higher rates.  Yesterday, uber-dove Governor Lael Brainerd pushed back on that story, but really, all eyes will be on Chairman Powell this afternoon when he speaks.  To date, he has not indicated a concern with inflation nor any idea he would like to taper purchases, so any change in that stance is likely to lead to a significant market response.  Pay attention at 12:30!

With that as backdrop, a quick tour of the markets shows that risk appetite is moderately positive this morning.  While the Nikkei (+0.85%) and Hang Seng (+0.9%) both did well, Shanghai suffered (-0.9%) despite data showing record export performance by China last year.  Europe is far less exciting with small gains (DAX +0.2%, CAC +0.1% and FTSE 100 +0.7%) following Germany’s release of 2020 GDP data showing a full-year decline of “just” -5.0%, slightly less bad than expected.  US futures are mixed at this hour, but the moves are all small and offer no real news.

Bond markets show Treasury yields higher by 2bps, while European bonds have all seen yields slip between 1.0 and 1.7bps, at least the havens there.  Italian BTP’s are selling off hard, with yields rising 5.7bps, and the rest of the PIGS have also been under pressure.  Oil prices are little changed this morning, still holding onto their gains since November.  Gold prices are slightly softer and appear to be biding their time until the next big piece of news hits.

Finally, the dollar is somewhat mixed this morning, with the G10 basically split between gainers and losers, although the gains have been a bit larger (AUD +0.4%, SEK +0.3%) than the losses (CHF -0.2%, JPY -0.1%).  But this looks like position adjustments and potential order flow rather than a narrative driven move.  EMG currencies are also split, but there are clearly more gainers than losers here, with the commodity bloc doing best (ZAR +0.85%, RUB +0.65%, BRL +0.6%) and losses more random led by KRW (-0.25%) and CZK (-0.2%).  If pressed, one needs look past oil and gold to see agricultural commodities and base metals still performing well and supporting those currencies.  KRW, on the other hand is a bit more confusing given the growth in China, it’s main exporting destination.  Again, position adjustments are quite viable given the won’s more than 11% gain since May.

This morning’s data slate includes only Initial Claims (exp 789K) and Continuing Claims (5.0M), which if far from expectations could wiggle markets, but seem unlikely to do so as everyone awaits Powell’s speech.  Until then, I expect that the dollar will continue to remain supported, but if Powell reiterates a very dovish stance, we could easily see the dollar head much lower.  Of course, if he gives credence to the taper view, look for some real market fireworks, with both bonds and stocks selling off and the dollar jumping sharply.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

What Will the Fed Do?

To taper, or not, is the new
Discussion.  What will the Fed do?
One group sees next winter
As when the Fed printer
Will slow down if forecasts come true

But yesterday doves answered back
It’s premature to take that tack
There’s no need to shrink
QE, the doves think
‘Til growth has absorbed all the slack

Remember just last month when the Fed tightened the wording in the FOMC statement to explain they would buy “at least $80 billion per month” of Treasuries and “at least $40 billion per month” of agency mortgage-backed securities “until substantial further progress has been made toward the Committee’s maximum employment and price stability goals.”  This was clearly more specific than their previous guidance of buying securities at “the current pace” to achieve the same ends.  It would be easy to read that December statement and conclude that reducing asset purchases was quite a long way off in the future, arguably years.  This is especially so when considering the fact that the US government cannot afford for interest rates to rise very far given the extraordinarily large amount of debt they have outstanding and need to service.  After all, it is much easier to service debt when interest rates are 0.25% than when they are 2.5%.

Granted, the first Covid vaccine had just been approved the weekend before that meeting, so the question of how it would be rolled out was still open, but it had to be clear that the vaccine was going to become widely available in the following months.  And yet, the statement seems to imply QE could increase going forward if there was to be any change at all.  Yet here we are just four weeks later, and we have heard a virtual chorus of Fed regional presidents explaining that tapering purchases may be appropriate before the end of the year.  In the past seven days, Chicago’s Evans, Philly’s Harker, Dallas’s Kaplan and Atlanta’s Bostic all said tapering purchases would be appropriate soon, with Harker explaining it could easily be this year.

That’s pretty powerful stuff, if the Fed is truly considering changing its stance on policy and the ramifications are huge.  Arguably, if the Fed truly announced they were going to be reducing purchases, the bond market would sell off much harder than recently, the stock market would sell off quite hard and the dollar would reverse course and rally sharply.  But of those three reactions, the only thing ongoing is the steepening of the yield curve, with stocks continuing their slow move higher and the dollar, while consolidating for the past week, hardly on a tear.

Naturally, there is a counterpoint which was reiterated by St Louis’s Bullard and Boston’s Rosengren yesterday, and earlier this week by Cleveland’s uber-hawk, Loretta Mester and Fed vice-Chair Richard Clarida, that there is no sign a taper is appropriate any time soon, and that the Fed will have the printing presses running at full tilt until the pandemic is behind us.

So, which is it?  Well, that is the question that will be debated in and by the markets for the foreseeable future, or at least until the Fed tells us.  This week, we will hear from nine more Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell, but then the quiet period starts and there will be no word until the FOMC meeting two weeks from today.  The list of speakers spans the spectrum from hawkish to dovish, but arguably, all eyes will be on Powell.  Many analysts have highlighted the 2013 Taper Tantrum, which resulted after then Fed Chair Bernanke mentioned that the Fed would not be buying bonds forever.  The market response then was to drive 10-year Treasury yields from 1.62% on May 1 2013 to 2.99% on September 15 2013!  I find it incredibly hard to believe that the current Fed will allow anything like that at all.  As I pointed out earlier, the US government simply cannot afford that outcome, and the Fed will prevent it from happening.  The implication is that at some point soon, the Fed is going to discuss yield curve control, likely as a method to help finance all the mooted infrastructure spending that is supposed to be coming from the new Administration and Congress.  Or something like that.  But they will not allow yields to rise that much more, they simply can’t.

How has this argument discussion played out in the markets today?  The picture has been mixed, at best, with perhaps a tendency to reduce risk becoming the theme.  Looking at equities, the Nikkei (+1.0%) was the outstanding performer overnight, while we saw marginal declines in the Hang Seng (-0.2%) and Shanghai (-0.3%).  European bourses, which had been slightly higher earlier in the session, have slipped back to either side of unchanged with the DAX (-0.15%) and FTSE 100 (-0.1%) a touch lower while the CAC (+0.1%) has edged higher.  The CAC has been supported by the news that Alimentation Couche-Tarde is bidding for Carrefours, the French grocery store chain, and a key member of the index.  In truth, this performance is a bit disappointing as well, given comments from ECB member Villeroy that they would be supporting the economy with easy money as long as necessary, and that they were carefully watching the exchange rate of the euro. (more on this later).  Finally, US futures, which had been slightly higher earlier in the session, are all slightly lower now, but less than 0.1% each.

As to the bond market, safety is clearly in demand, at least in Europe, where yields have fallen by between 1.8bps (Gilts) and 2.7bps (Bunds) with most other markets somewhere in between.  Treasuries, meanwhile, have edged higher by just a tick with the yield a scant 0.3bps lower at this time.  As I said, this is going to be the battle royal going forward.

In the commodity space, oil is basically unchanged this morning, holding on to recent gains, while gold is also unchanged, holding on to recent losses.

And finally, the dollar is somewhat higher this morning, seeming to take on its traditional role of haven asset.  It should be no surprise the euro (-0.3%) is under pressure, which is exactly what the ECB wants to see.  Remember, the other sure thing is that the ECB cannot afford for the euro to rally very far as it will negatively impact the Eurozone export community as well as import deflation, something they have been trying to fight for years.  Elsewhere in the G10, SEK (-0.95%) is the worst performer after the Riksbank announced they would be selling SEK 5 billion per month to buy foreign currency reserves, and coincidentally weaken their currency.  And they will be doing this until December 2023, which means they will be creating an additional SEK 180 billion in the market, a solid 13.5% of GDP.  Look for further relative weakness here.  But beyond SEK, the rest of the G10 has seen lesser moves, all of a piece with broad dollar strength.

In the emerging markets, CLP (-2.1%) is today’s big loser after announcing that they, too, would be selling CLP each day to increase their FX reserves to the tune of 5% of the Chilean economy.  Of course, liquidity in CLP is far worse than that in SEK, so a larger move is no surprise.  Regardless, we can expect continued pressure on this peso for a while.  But away from this story, the overnight session saw modest strength in most APAC currencies led by IDR (+0.5%) and KRW (+0.4%), while the morning session has seen CE4 currencies suffer alongside the euro, and LATAM currencies give up some ground as well.  BRL (-0.6%) seems to be responding to the extremely high inflation print seen yesterday, while HUF (-0.7%) is reacting to the news of an increase in QE there as the central bank expanded its corporate bond purchases to HUF 1.15 trillion from HUF 750 billion previously.

On the data front, today brings CPI (exp 0.4% M/M, 0.1% core) and the afternoon brings the Fed’s Beige Book.  With the inflation story gaining traction everywhere, all eyes will be on the data there.  If we see a higher than expected print, the pressure will increase on the Fed, but so far, they have been quite clear they are unconcerned with rising prices and are likely to stay that way for quite a while.  Ultimately, I fear that is one of the biggest risks out there, rising inflation.

Looking ahead, I believe the dollar’s consolidation of its losses will continue but would be surprised if it rallied much more at all.  Rather, a choppy day seems to be in store.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The UK’s Current Plight

In England, the doves are in flight
Explaining that NIRP is alright
But hawks keep maintaining
That zero’s restraining
Despite the UK’s current plight

What we’ve learned thus far in 2021 is that Monday is risk-off day, at least, so far.  Yesterday, for the second consecutive week, risk was under pressure as equity markets everywhere fell, while the dollar rallied sharply.  But just like last week, where risk was avidly sought once Monday passed, this morning has seen a rebound in many equity markets, as well as renewed pressure on the dollar.

But aside from a very early assessment of a potential pattern forming, this morning brings a dearth of market-moving news.  Perhaps the most interesting is the battle playing out inside the BOE, where Silvana Tenreyo, one of the more dovish MPC members, has been making the case that in the current situation, the UK should cut the base rate into negative territory.  Her analysis, as well as that of other central banks like the ECB, SNB and Danish central bank, have shown that there are many benefits to the policy and that it has been quite effective.  Of course, those are three of four central banks (the BOJ is the other) that currently maintain negative rates, so it would be pretty remarkable if those studies said NIRP was a failure.  The claim is that NIRP increases the amount of lending that banks extend, thus encouraging spending and investment as well as weakening the currency to help the export industries in the various countries.  And the studies go on to explain that all these factors help drive inflation higher, a key goal of each of those central banks.

Now, there is no question that those are the theoretical underpinnings of NIRP, alas, it is hard to find the data to support this.  Rather, these studies tend to give counterfactual analyses, that indicate if the central banks had not gone negative, things would have been worse.  For instance, let’s look at CPI in the Eurozone (-0.3%), Switzerland (-0.8%) and Denmark (+0.5%).  Not for nothing, but those hardly seem like data that indicate inflation has been supported.  In fact, in each of these countries, inflation was going nowhere fast before the pandemic, although I will grant that Covid has depressed the numbers further to date.  And how about the currency?  Well, one of the biggest stories of the past six months has been how the dollar has declined nearly 10% against these currencies.  Once again, the concept of a weaker currency seems misplaced.

The point here is that the discussion is heating up in the UK, with the independent MPC members pushing for a move below zero, while the BOE insiders are far more reluctant, explaining that the banking system would see serious harm.  (I think if one looks at the banking system in Europe, it is a fair statement that the banks there are not performing all that well, despite (because of?) 6 years of NIRP.  The BOE counterpoint was made this morning by Governor Bailey who explained there were still many issues to be addressed and implied NIRP was not likely to be implemented in the near future.  With all this as background, it should be no surprise that the pound has been the best performer in the G10 today, rising 0.6%, after Bailey’s comments squashed ideas NIRP was on its way soon.

But the dollar, overall, is softer today, not nearly reversing yesterday’s gains (except vs. the pound), but generally under pressure.  However, there is precious little that seems to be driving markets this morning, other than longer term stories regarding fiscal stimulus and Covid-19.

So, a quick tour of markets shows that Asian equity markets shook off the weakness in the US yesterday and rallied nicely.  The Nikkei (+0.1%) was the laggard, as the Hang Seng (+1.3%) and Shanghai (+2.1%) showed real strength.  Europe, on the other hand, is showing a much more mixed picture, wit the DAX (+0.1%) actually the best performer of the big 3, while the CAC (0.0%) and FTSE 100 (-0.6%) are searching for buying interests.  The FTSE is likely being negatively impacted by the pound’s strength, as there is a narrative that the large exporters in the index are helped by a weak pound and so there is a negative correlation between the pound and the FTSE.  The problem with that is when running the correlation analysis, over the past two years, the correlation is just 0.08% and the sign is positive, meaning they move together, not oppositely.  But it is a nice story!  And one more thing, US futures are green, up about 0.25% or so.

Bond markets are selling off this morning as yields continue to rise on expectations that the future is bright.  10-year Treasury yields are up to 1.16%, which is a new high for the move, having rallied a further 1.2bps this morning.  But we are seeing the same type of price action throughout Europe, with yields higher by between 1.7 bps (Bunds) and 4.0bps (Italian BTP’s), with Gilts (+2.3bps) and OATs (+2.0bps) firmly in between.  What I find interesting about this movement is the constant refrain that H1 2021 is going to be much worse than expected, with the Eurozone heading into a double dip recession and the US seeing much slower than previously expected growth as many analysts have downgraded their estimates to 1.0% from 4.0% before.  At the same time, the message from the Fed continues to be that tighter policy is outcome based, and there is no indication they are anywhere near thinking about raising rates.  With that as background, the best explanation I can give for higher yields is concerns over inflation.  Remember, CPI is released tomorrow morning, and since the summer, almost every release was higher than forecast.  As I have written before, the Fed is going to be tested as to their tolerance for above target inflation far sooner than they believe.

The inflation story is supported, as well, but this morning’s commodity price moves, with oil higher by 1.3% and gold higher by 0.8%.  In fact, I believe that inflation is going to become an increasingly bigger story as the year progresses, perhaps reaching front page news before the end of 2021.

Finally, as mentioned above, the dollar is under broad-based, but generally modest pressure this morning.  After the pound, AUD (+0.35%) and CAD (+0.25%) are the leading gainers, responding to the firmer commodity prices, although NOK (0.0%) is not seeing any benefit from oil’s rise.  In the EMG space, it is also the commodity linked currencies that are leading the way, with ZAR (+0.9%), RUB (+0.8%) and MXN (+0.5%) topping the list.  Also, of note is the CNY (+0.3%) which is back to levels last seen in June 2018, as the strengthening trend their continues.

On the data front, the NFIB Small Business Optimism index showed less optimism, falling to 95.9, well below expectations, again pointing to a slowing growth story in H1.  The only other data point from the US is JOLT’s Job Openings (exp 6.4M), which rarely has any impact.  I would like to highlight, in the inflation theme, that Brazilian inflation was released this morning at a higher than expected 4.52% in December, which is taking it back above target and to levels last seen in early 2019.  If this continues, BRL may become a high yielder again.

Finally, we hear from 6 different Fed speakers today, but again, unless they all start to indicate tighter policy, not just better economic outcomes, in H2, while the dollar may benefit slightly, it will not turn the current trend.  And that’s really the story, the medium-term trend in the dollar remains lower, but for now, absent a catalyst for the next leg (something like discussion of YCC or increased QE), I expect a bit of choppiness.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Compelled

Just last week the narrative spoke
And told us the world would soon choke
On dollars they held
Thus, would be compelled
To sell them, ere they all went broke

But funnily, this week it seems
The selling had reached its extremes
So, shorts are now squeezed
And traders displeased
As they now must look for new themes

It had been the number one conviction trade entering 2021, that the dollar would sell off sharply this year.  In fact, there were some who were calling for a second consecutive year of a 10% decline in the dollar versus its G10 counterparts, with even more gains in some emerging market currencies.  The market, collectively, entered the new year short near record amounts of dollars, riding the momentum they had seen in Q4 of last year and looking for another few percentage points of decline.  Alas, one week into the year and things suddenly seem quite different.

The first thing to highlight is that while a few percent doesn’t seem like much of a move, certainly compared to equities or bitcoin, the institutional trading community, consisting of hedge funds and CTA’s, lever up their positions dramatically.  In fact, 10x capital is quite common, with some going even further.  So, that 2% move on a 10x leverage position results in a 20% gain, certainly very respectable.  The second thing to highlight is that if a short-term trading reversal is able to cause this much angst in the trading community, conviction in the trade must not have been that high after all.

But let us consider what has changed to see if we can get a better understanding of the market dynamics.  Clearly, the biggest change was the run-off election in Georgia, which had been expected to result in at least one seat remaining in Republican hands, and thus a Republican majority in the Senate.  This outcome of a split government was seen to be a general positive for risk, as it would prevent excessive increases in debt financed stimulus, thus force the Fed to maintain low US interest rates.  And of course, we all know, that low rates should undermine the currency.

But when the Democrats won both seats, and the Senate effectively flipped, the new narrative was that there would be massive stimulus forthcoming, encouraging the reflation trade.  The thing is, the reflation trade is part and parcel of the steepening yield curve trade based on the significant amount of new Treasury debt that would need to be absorbed by the market, with the result being declining prices and higher Treasury yields.  (One thing that I never understood about the weak dollar trade in this narrative was the idea that a steeper yield curve would lead to a weaker dollar, when historically it was always the other way around; steep curve => strong dollar.)

Last week, of course, we saw Treasury yields back up 20 basis points in the back end of the curve, exactly what you would expect in a reflation trade.  And so, it cannot be surprising that the dollar has found a bottom, at least in the short-term, as higher yields are attracting investors.  But what does this say about the future prospects for the dollar?

My thesis this year has been the dollar will decline on the back of declining real yields in the US, which will be driven by rising inflation and further Fed support.  Neither the US, nor any G10 country for that matter, can afford for interest rates to rise as they continue to issue massive amounts of debt, since higher rates would ultimately bankrupt the nation.  However, inflation appears to be making a comeback, and not just in the US, but in many places around the world, specifically China.  Thus, the combination of higher inflation and capped yields will result in larger negative real rates, and thus a decline in the dollar.  Last week saw real yields rise 15 basis points, so the dollar’s rally makes perfect sense.  But once the Fed makes it clear they are going to prevent the back end of the curve from rising, the dollar will come under renewed pressure.  However, that may not be until March, unless we see a hiccup in the equity market between now and then.  For now, though, as long as US yields rise, look for the dollar to go along for the ride.

Of course, higher US yields and a stronger dollar do not encourage increased risk appetite, so a look around markets today shows redder screens than that to which we have become accustomed.  The exception to the sell-off rule was Tokyo, where the Nikkei (+2.35%) rallied sharply as the yen continues to weaken.  Remember, given the export orientation of the Japanese economy, a weaker yen is generally quite positive for stocks there.  The Hang Seng (+0.1%) managed a small gain, but Shanghai (-1.1%), fell after inflation data from China showed a much larger rebound than expected with CPI jumping from -0.5% to +0.2%.  Obviously, that is not high inflation, but the size and direction of the move is a concern.

European markets, however, are all underwater this morning, with the DAX, CAC and FTSE 100 all lower by 0.5%.  US futures are pointing down as well, between 0.4%-0.6% to complete the sweep.  Bond markets are modestly firmer this morning, with Treasury yields slipping 1.5 bps, while Bunds, OATS and Gilts have all seen yields fall just 0.5bps.  Do not be surprised that yields for the PIGS are rising, however, as they remain risk assets, not havens.

In the commodity space, oil is under modest pressure, -0.65%, while gold is essentially unchanged, although I cannot ignore Friday’s 2.5% decline, and would point out it fell another 1.5% early in today’s session before rebounding.  Since I had highlighted Bitcoin’s remarkable post-Christmas rally, I feel I must point out it is down 17% since Friday, with some now questioning if the bubble is popping.

Finally, the dollar continues its grind higher, with commodity currencies suffering most in the G10 (NOK -1.1%, NZD -0.7%, AUD -0.6%) as well as the pound (-0.6%) which is feeling the pain of Covid-19 restrictions sapping the economy.  In the EMG space, we are also seeing universal weakness, with the commodity focused currencies under the most pressure here as well.  So, ZAR (-1.0%), MXN (-0.85%) and BRL (-0.8%) are leading the pack lower, although there were some solid declines out of APAC (IDR -0.75%, KRW -0.7%) and CE4 (PLN -0.75%, HUF -0.7%).

On the data front, this week brings less info than last week, with CPI and Retail Sales the highlights:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz 100.3
JOLTs Job Openings 6.5M
Wednesday CPI 0.4% (1.3% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.1% (1.6% Y/Y)
Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 785K
Continuing Claims 5.0M
Friday Retail Sales 0.0%
-ex autos -0.2%
PPI 0.3% (0.7% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.1% (1.3%)
Empire Manufacturing 5.5
IP 0.4%
Capacity Utilization 73.5%
Business Inventories 0.5%
Michigan Sentiment 80.0

Source: Bloomberg

Aside from that, we also will hear a great deal from the Fed, with a dozen speakers this week, including Powell’s participation in an economics webinar on Thursday.  Last week, you may recall that Philadelphia’s Patrick Harker indicated he could see a tapering in support by the end of the year, but the market largely ignored that.  However, if we hear that elsewhere, beware as the low rates forever theme is likely to be questioned, and the dollar could well find a lot more support.  The thing is, I don’t see that at all, as ultimately, the Fed will do all they can to prevent higher yields.  For now, the dollar has further room to climb, but over time, I do believe it will reverse and follow real yields lower.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Perfect Right Here

Said Harker, by end of this year
A taper could be drawing near
But Mester explained
No cash would be drained
As policy’s perfect right here

Ahead of this morning’s payroll report, I believe it worthwhile to recap what we have been hearing from the FOMC members who have been speaking lately.  After all, the Fed continues to be the major force in the market, so maintaining a clear understanding of their thought process can only be a benefit.

The most surprising thing we heard was from Philadelphia Fed president Harker, who intimated that while he saw no reason to change things right now, he could see the Fed beginning to taper their asset purchases by the end of 2021 or early 2022.  Granted, that still implies an additional $1 trillion plus of purchases, but is actually quite hawkish in the current environment where expectations are for rates to remain near zero for at least the next three years.  Given what will almost certainly be a significant increase in Treasury issuance this year, if the Fed were to step back from the market, we could see significantly higher rates in the back end of the curve.  And, of course, it has become quite clear that will not be allowed as the government simply cannot afford to pay higher rates on its debt.   As well, Dallas Fed President Kaplan also explained his view that if the yield curve steepened because of an improved growth situation in the US, that would be natural, and he would not want to stop it.

But not to worry, the market basically ignored those comments as evidenced by the fact that the equity market, which will clearly not take kindly to higher interest rates in any form, rallied further yesterday to yet more new all-time highs.

At the same time, three other Fed speakers, one of whom has consistently been the most hawkish voice on the committee, explained they saw no reason at all to adjust policy anytime soon.  Regional Fed presidents from Cleveland (Loretta Mester), Chicago (Charles Evans) and St Louis (James Bullard) were all quite clear that it was premature to consider adjusting policy as a response to the Georgia election results and the assumed increases in fiscal stimulus that are mooted to be on the way.

Recapping the comments, it is clear that there is no intention to adjust policy, meaning either the Fed Funds rate or the size of QE purchases, anytime soon, certainly not before Q4.  And if you consider Kaplan’s comments more fully, he did not indicate a preference to reduce support, just that higher long-term rates ought to be expected in a well-performing economy.  Vice-Chairman Clarida speaks this morning, but it remains difficult to believe that he will indicate any changes either.  As I continue to maintain, the government’s ability to withstand higher interest rates on a growing amount of debt is limited, at best, and the only way to prevent that is by the Fed capping yields.  Remember, while the Fed has adjusted its view on inflation, now targeting an average inflation rate, they said nothing about allowing yields to rise alongside that increased inflation.  Again, the dollar’s performance this year will be closely tied to real (nominal – inflation) yields, and as inflation rises in a market with capped yields, the dollar will decline.

Turning to this morning’s payroll release, remember, Wednesday saw the ADP Employment number significantly disappoint, printing at -123K, nearly 200K below expectations.  As of now, the current median forecasts are as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 50K
Private Payrolls 13K
Manufacturing Payrolls 16K
Unemployment Rate 6.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (4.5% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Participation Rate 61.5%
Consumer Credit $9.0B

Source: Bloomberg

These numbers are hardly representative of a robustly recovering economy, which given the cresting second wave of Covid infections and the lockdowns that have been imposed in response, ought not be that surprising.  The question remains, will administration of the vaccine be sufficient to change the trajectory?  While much has been written about pent up demand for things like travel and movies, and that is likely the case, there has been no indication that governments are going to roll back the current rules on things like social distancing and wearing masks.  One needs to consider whether those rules will continue to discourage those very activities, and thus, crimp the expected recovery.  Tying it together, a slower than expected recovery implies ongoing stimulus

But you don’t need me to explain that permanent stimulus remains the basic premise, just look at market behavior.  After yesterday’s US equity rally, we have seen a continuation around the world with Japan’s Nikkei (+2.35%) leading the way in Asia, but strength in the Hang Seng (+1.2%) and Australia (+0.7%), although Shanghai (-0.2%) didn’t really participate.  Europe, too, is all green, albeit in more measured tones, with the DAX (+0.8%) leading the way but gains in the CAC (+0.5%) and FTSE 100 (+0.2%) as well as throughout the rest of the continent.  And finally, US futures are all pointing higher at this hour, with all three indices up by 0.25%-0.35%.

The Treasury market, which has sold off sharply in the past few sessions, is unchanged this morning, with the yield on the 10-year sitting at 1.08%.  In Europe, haven assets like bunds, OATs and gilts are little changed this morning, but the yields on the PIGS are all lower, between 1.6bps (Spain) and 3.9bps (Italy).  Again, those bonds behave more like equities than debt, at least in the broad narrative.

In the commodity space, oil continues to rally, up another 1.3% this morning, and we continue to see strength in base metals and ags, but gold is under the gun, down 1.1%, and clearly in disfavor in this new narrative of significant new stimulus and growth.  Interestingly, bitcoin, which many believe as a substitute for gold has continued to rally, vaulting through $41k this morning.

And lastly, the dollar, which everyone hates for this year, is ending the week on a mixed note.  In the G10, NOK (+0.3%) is the best performer, as both oil’s rise and much better than expected IP data have investors expecting continued strength there.  But after that, the rest of the bloc is +/- 0.2% or less, implying there is no driving force here, rather that we are seeing position adjustments and, perhaps, real flows as the drivers.

In the emerging markets, ZAR (+1.2%) and BRL (+0.6%) are the leading gainers, while IDR (-0.8%) and CLP (-0.6%) are the laggards.  In fact, other than those, the bloc is also split, like the G10, with winners and losers of very minor magnitude.  Looking first at the rand, today’s gains appear to be position related as ZAR has been under pressure all week, declining more than 5.6% prior to today’s session.  BRL, too, is having a similar, albeit more modest, correction to a week where it has declined more than 5% ahead of today’s opening.  Both those currencies are feeling strain from weakening domestic activity, so today’s gains seem likely to be short-lived.  On the downside, IDR seems to be suffering from rising US yields, as the attractiveness of its own debt starts to wane on a relative basis.  As to Chile, rising inflation seems to be weighing on the currency as there is no expectation for yields to rise in concert, thus real yields there are under pressure.

And that’s really it for the day.  We have seen some significant movement this week, as well as significant new news with the outcome of the Georgia election, so the narrative has had to adjust slightly.  But in the end, it is still reflation leads to higher equities and a lower dollar.  Plus ça change, plus ça meme chose!

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Chaos Prevailed

In Washington, chaos prevailed
As Congress’s job was derailed
Investors, though, thought
‘Twas nothing, and bought
More stocks with the 10-year was assailed

One of the more remarkable aspects of the chaotic events in Washington, DC yesterday was the fact that the market reaction was completely benign.  On the one hand, given the working assumption that the theatrics would not affect the ultimate outcome, it is understandable.  On the other hand, the fact that there continues to be this amount of discord in the nation in the wake of a highly contentious election bodes ill for the ability of things to quickly return to normal.  In the end, though, market activity indicates the investment community firmly believes there will be lots more fiscal stimulus as the new Biden administration tries to address the ongoing pandemic driven economic issues.  Hence, the idea behind the reflation trade remains the current narrative, with more stimulus leading to faster economic growth, while increased Treasury supply to fund that stimulus leads to higher long end yields and a steeper yield curve.

However, now that the formalities of the electoral vote counting have concluded, focus has turned back to the narrative on a full-time basis, with the ongoing argument over whether inflation or deflation is in our future, as well as the question of whether assets, generally, are fairly valued or bubblicious.  The thing is, away from the politics, nothing has really changed very much lately.

Covid-19 continues to spread and the resultant lockdowns around the world continue to be expanded and extended.  Just last night, for instance, Japan declared a limited state of emergency in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures in an effort to stem the spread of Covid.  That nation has been dealing with its highest caseload since April, and the Suga government was responding to requests for help from the local governments.  Meanwhile, in Germany, on Tuesday lockdowns were extended through the end of January and restrictions tightened to prevent travel of more than 15km from one’s home.  And yet, this type of news clearly does not dissuade investors as last night saw the Nikkei rally 1.6% while the DAX, this morning, is higher by 0.4% after a 1.75% rally yesterday.  In the end, the narrative continues to highlight the idea that the worse the Covid situation, the greater the probability of further fiscal and monetary stimulus, and therefore the bigger the boost to growth.

At the same time, the reflation piece of the narrative continues apace with Treasury yields continuing to climb, edging higher by one more basis point so far this morning after an eight basis point rise yesterday.  Something that has received remarkably little attention overall is the fact that oil prices have been rallying so steadily of late, having climbed more than 40% since the day before the Presidential election, and given the pending supply reductions, showing no signs of backing off.  This, along with the ongoing rallies in most commodities, is part and parcel of the reflation trade, as well as deemed a key piece of the ultimate dollar weakness story.

Regarding this last observation, there is, indeed, a pretty strong negative correlation between the dollar’s value and the price of oil.  Of course, the question to be answered is the direction of causality.  Do rising oil prices lead to a weaker dollar?  Or is it the other way round?  If it is the former, then the dollar’s future is likely to be one of weakness as the supply reductions in US shale production alongside the Saudi cuts can easily lead to further gains of $10-$15/bbl.  However, the dollar is impacted by many things, notably Fed policy, and if the dollar is the driver of oil movement, the future of the black, sticky stuff is going to be far less certain.  If, for example, inflation rises more rapidly than currently anticipated, and forces the market to consider that the Fed may react by reducing policy ease, the dollar could easily find support, especially given the massive short positions currently outstanding.  Would oil continue to rise into that circumstance?  The point is, correlations are fine to recognize, but as a planning tool, they leave something to be desired.  Understanding the fundamentals underlying price action remains critical to plan effectively.

As to today’s session, the risk picture has turned somewhat mixed.  As mentioned above, Asian equity prices had a pretty good day, with Shanghai (+0.7%) rising alongside the Nikkei, although the Hang Seng (-0.5%) struggled.  European bourses are mixed, with the DAX (0.4%) leading and the CAC (+0.1%) slightly higher although the FTSE 100 (-0.5%) is under pressure.  There is one outlier here, Sweden, where the OMX has rallied 2.1% this morning, although there is no general news driving the movement.  In fact, PMI Services data was released at its weakest level since the summer, which hardly heralds future strength.

We’ve already discussed Treasury weakness but the picture in Europe is more mixed, with bunds (-1bps) and OATs (-0.5bps) rallying slightly while Gilts (+1.7bps) are under pressure alongside Treasuries.

And finally, the dollar is showing some solid gains this morning, higher against all its G10 counterparts and most of the EMG bloc.  Despite ongoing strength in the commodity space, AUD (-0.75%) leads the way lower with NZD (-0.6%) next in line.  Clearly, the market did not embrace the Japanese news on the lockdown, as the yen has declined 0.6% as well.  As to the single currency, it has fallen 0.5%, with a very strong resistance level building at 1.2350.  It will take quite an effort to get through that level in the short run.

Emerging markets declines are led by CLP (-1.85%) and ZAR (-1.0%), although the weakness is nearly universal.  Interestingly, the Chile story is not about copper, which continues to perform well, but rather seems to be a situation where the currency is being used as a funding currency for carry trades in the EMG bloc.  ZAR, on the other hand, is suffering alongside gold, which got hammered yesterday and is continuing to soften.

On the data front, today brings Initial Claims (exp 800K), Continuing Claims (5.2M), the Trade Balance (-$67.3B) and ISM Services (54.5).  Remember, tomorrow is payrolls day, so there may be less attention paid to these numbers this morning.  One cautionary tale comes from the Challenger Job Cuts number, which is released monthly but given limited press.  Today, it jumped 134.5% from one year ago, a significant jump on the month, and a bad omen for the employment picture going forward.  With this in mind, it seems highly unlikely the Fed will do anything but ease policy further in the near term.  One other thing, yesterday the December FOMC Minutes were released but had no market impact.  Recall, the December meeting occurred prior to the stimulus bill or the Georgia run-off election, so was missing much new information.  But in them, the FOMC made clear that the bias was for a dovish stance for a long time to come.  Based on what we heard from Chicago’s Evans on Tuesday, it doesn’t seem that anything has changed since then.

Given the significant short dollar positions that are outstanding in the investment and speculative communities, the idea that the dollar could rally in the near term is quite valid.  While nothing has changed my longer-term view of rising inflation and deeper negative real yields undermining the dollar, that doesn’t mean we can’t jump in the near term.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Blue Wave at Last

Psephologists have now decided
The run-off election provided
A blue wave at last
So laws can be passed
Republicans view as misguided

The market responded by sellin’
The 10-year, with traders foretellin’
Inflation to come
As Powell stays mum
While financing Treasury’s Yellen

While the election results from Georgia are not yet final, the indications at this time are that the Democratic party won one of the seats with the second one still too close to call.  However, the market has already made its decision, that both seats flipped to the Democrats and that the Senate will now be split 50:50, which means that the Vice President will be able to cast the deciding vote.  The clear implication is that, while hardly a mandate, the Democrats will control both the executive and legislative branches and be able to implement a great deal of their agenda.  In other words, the blue wave high tide has finally crested.

The initial reaction to this news has been seen in the sell-off of the 10-year Treasury, where the yield has risen to 1.02% as I type, its first foray above 1.00% since March 19th, during the first days of the Covid-19 market panic.  The reflation trade is back in vogue, with expectations now that the new administration will be aggressively adding fiscal stimulus, thus increasing Treasury issuance significantly and ultimately steepening the yield curve as demand for long-dated Treasuries will not be able to keep pace with the new supply.  However, given the already record levels of debt outstanding, the government simply cannot afford for interest rates to rise too far, as if they do, interest payments will soak up an ever-increasing proportion of available revenues.  It is for this reason that I continue to believe the Fed will increase their current activity, and whether tacitly, by expanding QE and extending the maturity of purchases, or explicitly, by setting a yield target, implement Yield Curve Control (YCC).

At the same time, the Fed has made it abundantly clear that higher inflation is of no concern to the committee.  The latest proof comes from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, who explained to us yesterday, “Frankly, if we got 3% inflation, that would not be so bad.  It is very difficult to imagine out of control inflation, even with the large debt that fiscal authorities have been running up.”   Perhaps, as a Regional Fed President, he simply lacks imagination.  After all, just yesterday, almost at the same time he was recounting his views, the ISM Prices Paid index printed at 77.6, well above expectations and at a level seen only twice, briefly, in the past decade.  There is a strong correlation between this index and PPI, so the idea that inflation pressures are building is hardly unimaginable.

Which brings us back to the prospects for the dollar, as well as other markets.  While yields have climbed today, the prospect of inflation rising more rapidly and real rates falling further into negative territory still informs my view that the dollar has further to decline.  This will become more obvious when the Fed steps in to prevent the rise in nominal yields, which I am confident will occur sooner rather than later.  Again, while I don’t anticipate a dollar collapse, as other central banks will fight to prevent such an outcome, further dollar weakness is in the cards.

Speaking of other central banks fighting the dollar’s weakness, last night the PBOC started to do just that by establishing the CNY fix at a weaker renminbi rate than anticipated.  Since August 1st, CNY has appreciated by nearly 8% vs. the dollar, which for an economy that remains heavily reliant on exporting for GDP growth, is a growing problem.  As the PBOC makes no bones about directing the value of the currency, you can expect that they will be actively managing the renminbi’s value going forward in an effort to prevent too much further strength.  But, as long as both nominal and real yields remain positive in China, that will attract significant capital flows and continue to pressure the renminbi higher.

So, what has all this news done to other markets?  Well, most of Europe is ecstatic at the election outcome, at least that seems to be the case based on the rallies seen in equity markets there.  The FTSE 100 (+2.3%) is leading the way, but we are seeing strong gains in the DAX (+0.9%) and CAC (+0.8%) as well, despite the fact that the PMI Services data disappointed across the board.  The story in Asia was more mixed with the Nikkei (-0.4%) and Australia (-1.1%) underwhelmed by the outcome, although the Hang Seng (+0.2%) and Shanghai (+0.6%) both wound up in the green.  As to US futures, as I type, they are a mixed bag, with DOW futures higher by 0.2%, SPU’s lower by 0.4% while NASDAQ futures are down 2.0%.  The latter’s decline are a response to the election results as concerns grow that Big Tech will now be in the crosshairs of Congress for more regulation if not outright dismemberment.

While we have already discussed the Treasury market, European government bonds are mostly softer today as well, with yields rising as much as 4bps in the UK, although German bunds are unchanged on the session.

Another inflationary impulse comes from oil, where yesterday the Saudis surprised the market by unilaterally cutting production by 1 million barrels/day helping to take WTI above $50/bbl for the first time since late February.  If this rally continues, look for gasoline prices to creep higher, one of the key sentiment indicators regarding the perception of inflation.

And finally, the dollar remains broadly under pressure this morning, with NOK (+0.75%) the leading gainer in the G10 on the back of the oil rally, although both AUD (+0.6%) and NZD (+0.65%) are also having a good day as both commodity prices gain and they serve as a proxy for Asian growth.  Meanwhile, the euro (+0.35%) is trading at new highs for the move and back to levels not seen since April 2018.

Emerging market currencies are universally higher this morning, led by PLN (+0.85%), MXN (+0.8%) and HUF (+0.8%).  Those stories are easy to see, with oil helping the peso, while the CE4 currencies are tracking the euro’s strength.  Asian currencies, while all firmer, did not show nearly the enthusiasm, with gains between 0.1% and 0.2%, but of course, the election results were not fully known during their session.

On the data front, this morning brings ADP Employment (exp 75K) as well as Factory Orders (0.7%) and the PMI Services index (55.2).  Then, this afternoon, we see the FOMC Minutes of the December meeting, one where they disappointed many folks by not easing further. The first thing to note is that after yesterday’s ISM data, the ADP forecast increased from 50K.  Clearly, the manufacturing sector remains in better shape than expected.  At the same time, the Minutes ought to be interesting as perhaps we will learn more about attitudes regarding any prospects for what could change policy.  Of course, given the world was a different place then, and as Evans explained, inflation is of no concern, the real question from the Minutes will be what will the Fed do next to ease further.

As to the dollar, it is hard to see a short-term path in any direction other than lower, but I continue to expect the decline to be slow and orderly.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

No Antidote

In Georgia, today’s runoff vote
For Senate is no antidote
To nationwide fears
The quartet of years
To come, more unease, will promote

Investors expressed their dismay
By selling stocks all yesterday
As well, though, they sold
The buck and bought gold
Uncertainty’s with us to stay

Markets certainly got off to an inauspicious start yesterday as a number of concerns regarding upcoming events, as well as the possibility that some markets are overextended, combined to induce a bit of risk reduction.  Clearly, the top story is today’s runoff election in Georgia, where both US Senate seats are up for grabs.  The Republicans currently hold a 50-48 majority, but if both seats are won by the Democratic candidates, the resulting 50-50 tie will effectively give the Democrats control of the Senate as any tie votes will be broken by the Vice-President.  In that event, the Democrats should be able to institute their platform which, ostensibly, includes infrastructure spending, the Green New Deal, or parts thereof, and more substantial stimulus to address the impact of the coronavirus.

This blue wave redux has been a key topic in markets of late.  You may recall that heading into the election in November, when the polls were calling for the original blue wave, the market anticipated a huge amount of fiscal stimulus driving significantly larger Federal budget deficits.  The ensuing Treasury bond issuance required to fund all this spending was expected to result in a much steeper yield curve, a continuing rally in the stock market as the economy recovered (and this was before the vaccine) and a declining dollar.  As the runoff election approached, markets started to replay that scenario which has, until yesterday, led to successive new all-time high closes in equity indices as well as a steeper Treasury yield curve.  As well, the dollar has remained under pressure, as that remains one of the strongest conviction trades of 2021.

But yesterday, and so far this morning, we are seeing a potential change of heart, or perhaps just a note of caution.  Because if the Republicans retain one of the two seats, that will put paid to the entire blue wave hypothesis.

Of course, there is another possibility that is driving investor caution, and that is the idea that markets, especially equity markets, remain extremely frothy at current levels.  Certainly, on a historical basis, valuation indicators like P/E or Shiller’s CAPE, or Price/Book or even Total Market Cap/GDP are at historically high extremes.  Is it possible that the market has already priced in every conceivable positive event to come?  There are those who would make that argument, and if they are correct, then the required catalyst for a correction of some sorts is likely not that large.  For instance, if the Republicans win even one seat, the entire stimulus bandwagon may never get going, let alone any of the more widescale projects.  And that could well be enough to force a rethinking of the endless stimulus theory with a resultant revaluation of investment risks.

One of the things that always bothered me about the blue wave hypothesis was the idea that the Treasury yield curve would steepen, and the dollar would decline.  Historically, a steeper yield curve has indicated a strengthening US economy which has drawn investment and strengthened the dollar.  I don’t believe that relationship will change, however, a weaker dollar does make sense if you consider how the Fed is likely to respond to rising Treasury yields; namely with Yield Curve Control (YCC).  The US government cannot afford for interest rates to rise substantially, especially as the amount of debt issued continues to grow rapidly.  In fact, the only way it can continue to pay interest on the growing pile of debt is to make sure that interest rates remain at historically low levels.  The implication is that if the Treasury continues to flood the market with issuance, the Fed will be required to buy all of it, and then some, in order to prevent yields from rising.  And whether it is explicit, or implicit, that YCC is going to result in increasingly negative real yields in the US (as inflation is almost certainly going higher).  Now, if you wanted a catalyst to drive the dollar lower, increasing negative real yields is a perfect solution.  While that may not be such a benefit for investors and savers, it will help the Fed retain the upper hand in the global policy ease race, and with it, help undermine the value of the dollar.  It is, in fact, the basis for my views this year.  All that from the Georgia run-off elections!  Who would have thunk?

As to markets this morning, yesterday’s weakness remains fairly widespread in the equity space, as all European bourses are lower (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.5%, FTSE 100 -0.1%) after a mixed Asian session (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng +0.6%, Shanghai +0.7%).  In fact, Shanghai reached its highest level since August 2015, the previous bubble we saw there.  US futures, meanwhile, are little changed at this hour as traders await the first indications from the Georgia elections.

Bond markets are broadly lower this morning, with Treasury yields higher by 1.3bps and most European bonds showing similar rises in their yields.  On the one hand this is unusual, as bonds generally benefit from a risk off mood.  On the other hand, if I am correct about the move toward negative real yields, bonds will not be a favored investment either and could well underperform going forward, at least until the central banks increase their purchases.

Another beneficiary of negative real yields in the US is gold, which rallied sharply yesterday, more than 2%, and is up a further 0.3% this morning, back at $1950/oz.  Oil, meanwhile, is starting to move higher as well, up 1.8%, as some optimism over the outcome of the OPEC+ meeting is adding to the broad commodity rally.

And finally, the dollar is generally weaker this morning, down against all its G10 counterparts and many of its EMG counterparts as well.  In the G10, SEK (+0.6%) is the leader, which appears to simply be an example of its higher beta relative to the euro or pound vs. the dollar. But we are also seeing the commodity bloc perform well (AUD +0.5%, CAD +0.3%, NOK +0.3%) alongside their main exports.  However, this is clearly a dollar weakness story as the yen (+0.25%) is rallying alongside the rest of the bloc.

Interestingly, in the EMG group, ZAR (-1.35%) is the worst performer, followed by RUB (-0.6%), neither of which makes sense based on the G10 performance as well as that of commodities.  However, it is important to remember that short dollar is one of the most overindulged positions in markets, and the carry trade has been a favorite with both these currencies benefitting from that view.  This looks like a bit of position unwinding more than anything else.  On the positive side in this bloc, the CE4 remain solid and are leading the way, while LATAM currencies are little changed on the open.

On the data front, this week brings a lot of new information culminating in the payroll report on Friday.

Today ISM Manufacturing 56.7
ISM Prices Paid 65.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 50K
Factory Orders 0.7%
FOMC Minutes
Thursday Initial Claims 803K
Continuing Claims 5.1M
Trade Balance -$67.3B
ISM Services 54.5
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 50K
Private Payrolls 50K
Manufacturing Payrolls 16K
Unemployment Rate 6.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (4.5% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Participation Rate 61.5%
Consumer Credit $9.0B

Source: Bloomberg

Last Thursday saw a stronger than expected Chicago PMI and yesterday’s PMI data was strong as well, so the economy remains a bit enigmatic, with manufacturing still robust, but services in the dumps.  The payroll expectations are hardly inspiring, and with lockdowns growing in the States, as well as worldwide, it doesn’t bode well for Q1 at least, in terms of GDP growth.  We also hear from seven Fed speakers this week, which could well be interesting if anyone is set to change their tune regarding how long easy money will remain the norm.  However, I doubt that will happen.

The dollar remains on its back foot here, and I see no reason for it to rebound in the short run absent a change in the underlying framework.  By that I mean, something that will imply real yields in the US are set to rise.  Alas, I don’t see that happening in the near future.

Good luck and stay safe
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