Uncommon Ineptitude

With uncommon ineptitude

Frau Merkel has failed to conclude

Her efforts to build

A new German guild

Thus Germany’s now largely screwed

 

An eloquent testimony to the current market malaise is this morning’s price action. Despite the news that Chancellor Merkel’s attempts to form a coalition government, after nearly two months of talks, have finally failed, the DAX is actually higher on the day by 0.3%. While it is true that the euro has edged lower by 0.1%, that seems a remarkably blasé reaction to what I believe is extremely important news. From Germany, it seems that the economically minded FDP wouldn’t agree to close every coal-fired power plant along with all the German nukes just to join the government. Given that Germans already pay the highest electricity prices in the developed world ($0.36/KwH compared with the average US price of $0.13/KwH), the FDP simply couldn’t countenance further hamstringing of German industry. Meanwhile, the Greens were also strongly advocating for loosening the immigration restrictions recently put in place, which was poison to the CSU portion of Merkel’s party. After all, the far-right AfD party now holds 12.6% of the Bundestag having campaigned largely on that issue alone. It strikes me that this effort was doomed from the start and so it cannot be a great surprise that it has failed. There are now two potential outcomes for Germany; either Merkel continues her rule with a minority government (a historical first in Germany), and one that will quite obviously be much weaker than in the past; or snap elections need to be held in the next several months. Since she was first named Chancellor twelve years ago, Merkel has never been so weak. This is a distinct negative not only for Germany, but also for the whole of the EU, and by extension the Eurozone. When the largest member of your community is weak, what does it say about the rest of the community?

And yet, the market continues to look at the recent growth story from Europe and remains convinced that the ECB is going to taper, and eventually end, QE on schedule next year, and that prospects in Europe remain solid overall. Once again, political imperatives don’t seem to be having much impact on market activities. Perhaps this is the biggest change that we have seen since the financial crisis in 2008-09 and the central bank response. Historically, when governments fell, or other political crises erupted, financial markets were thrown into disarray, at least temporarily. But the great QE experiment of the past decade has anesthetized investors so completely, that anything short of a nuclear war seems insignificant (and let’s hope we don’t find out that impact!) It is with this in mind that I once again am forced to ask, how can it be that QE can support markets but QT (quantitative tightening) will have no impact? I fear both central bankers and investors are deluding themselves with the idea that the Fed’s shrinking their balance sheet and the end of ECB QE will not matter. If it mattered on the way up, it is going to matter on the way down!

Which brings me to my other point this morning, the remarkable increase in the number of commentators who are concerned that a significant correction is not only long overdue, but likely to occur within the next twelve months. While I have been in this camp for a while, it is becoming a much more popular stance. Certainly the price action in some corners of the market (high-yield bonds anyone?) has started to look a little less euphoric. Similarly, a look at some less followed data shows that mortgage delinquencies are rising, as are those of credit cards and student loans. Despite a rip-roaring bull market in equities this year, and actually for the past eight years, under-funding for public pensions remains significant nationwide. The point is that even though the headline GDP data has perked up lately, there are numerous issues extant that can come back to haunt the market. Remember, this is a market that hasn’t seen a 3% correction in more than a year, a highly unusual circumstance due solely to the central banks’ ongoing monetary policy stance. As that stance changes, so will price action. Mark my words!

Which brings us to today’s markets. As Thanksgiving week opens in NY, the market is uninspired. The dollar is mixed, with both gainers and losers, however the only notable mover was CLP, which has opened this morning lower by 1% after weekend elections left the market’s favorite son, Sebastian Pinera, with a smaller than expected (hoped for?) lead ahead of the final round of voting next month. Otherwise, movements have been well within 50bps across both G10 and EMG blocs. The data story this week is similarly uninspiring with the following on the docket:

Today                                 Leading Indicators                                       0.7%

Tuesday                             Existing Home Sales                                    5.40M

Wednesday                        Initial Claims                                                240K

Durable Goods                                              0.4%

-ex transport                                                0.5%

Michigan Sentiment                                    98.0

FOMC Minutes

 

And that’s it. Arguably, the FOMC Minutes would be the most watched event, except for the fact that they are released at 2:00pm on the day before Thanksgiving, which means that most of the market will be gone for the holiday already. We also hear from Chair Yellen tomorrow, and then next week, Jerome Powell will be testifying at his confirmation hearings at the Senate. But the reality is that this week is shaping up to be extremely dull in the US. Equity futures are little changed this morning after a less than inspiring week last week. Treasuries remain in a tight range and oil has found a top around $56/BBL. It is hard to see something changing views this week short of a miraculously positive outcome from the tax reform debate in Congress. And I wouldn’t bet on that!

 

Good luck

Adf

 

 

 

Wage Gains Are Pending

While viewing his new crystal ball

Signor Draghi told one and all

More wage gains are pending

So go on, start spending

Lest growth heads back to a slow crawl

 

First a mea culpa: yesterday I wrote that the Da Vinci painting sold for the equivalent of 175 tons of gold. Well, early in the morning, apparently my math skills were somewhat impaired. A much better estimate is 12 tons of gold, still, an awful lot of money! My apologies for any confusion.

As the week comes to a close, a review of FX price action in the G10 shows a tale of two themes. On the plus side, the euro rallied more than 1% as economic data continues to perform well and confidence in the Eurozone economy’s growth improves despite the potential political pitfalls on the horizon. These pitfalls include the possible (likely?) failure of the German governing coalition talks leading to the need for an unprecedented second election, and the improving poll numbers of the Five Star Movement in Italy leading up to the general elections there due in March. But thus far, all economic signs continue to point to gathering strength in the economy as the employment situation there is rapidly improving. In fact, despite the highest labor force participation rate in two decades, the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since 2009. So more people are working than ever before, clearly a positive sign for the economy. Yet wage gains remain elusive continent-wide (as they do elsewhere in the developed world), and so Draghi was once again beating the drum as to why ECB policies have been successful and why wage gains are sure to follow. We also saw strength in the haven assets, JPY and CHF, albeit not quite to the extent of the euro, with weekly gains of 0.4% and 0.8% respectively.

Commodity currencies, on the other hand, have suffered greatly this week, with NZD leading the way lower, down more than 2.1%, AUD -1.5%, NOK -0.85% and CAD -0.5%. This is in keeping with weaker commodity prices overall. For example, despite a 2% rally this morning, WTI is still down almost 3% in the past week. We have seen similar price action in base metals and agriculturals as well. The only currency I’ve left out is the pound, which is essentially unchanged on the week as mixed data and the ever-changing Brexit debate conspire to confuse investors.

The weekly view in the emerging markets showed far more winners than losers, which contradicts the idea that risk was being jettisoned. The biggest mover of the week was ZAR, rallying 3% on the idea that its inclusion as a carry trade by Goldman Sachs as a ‘top ten trade for 2018’ will overshadow the ongoing political miasma that is impairing efforts at improving the economy there. The other large gainers were KRW, +1.8%, on the back of potentially reduced tension with North Korea after a high-level Chinese delegation visited for the first time in two years; and of course, the CE4 all performed well on the back of the euro’s strength. Notably absent from the move were LATAM currencies, none of which moved more than 0.25%, and the rest of APAC, where only the THB was able to muster gains greater than 0.5% after economic growth looked to be catching up to the rest of SE Asia led by a booming export sector.

To sum it up, it appears more like we are witnessing USD weakness rather than a risk-off move, with the commodity currencies the outlier on the back of weakening prices there. After all, despite all the gnashing of teeth earlier in the week, the S&P 500 is essentially unchanged this week, not demonstrating any major liquidation of assets.

On the data front, yesterday’s IP and Capacity Utilization data were both far more robust than expected and Philly Fed, although not quite achieving expectations, remains quite strong at 22.7, remaining within the top decile of its historical readings. This morning brings us Housing Starts (exp 1190K) and Building Permits (1250K) which if realized would continue the gradually improving trend in the housing sector. Of course the other big story in the US is the tax reform legislation saga, which yesterday passed a milestone as the House approved their version of the legislation. However, as it is quite different in some areas than the Senate version being discussed, we are not yet that close to a finished product and there remains ample opportunity for nothing to be accomplished. If pressed, I would anticipate that something will get passed along party lines, but the end result will not have nearly the positive impact that was hoped for at the time of President Trump’s election last year. However, as yesterday’s sharp rally in the stock market shows, investors clearly see the glass as half full!

The dollar is an afterthought in markets these days, with far more attention being paid to politics and its impact on equity prices. Even Fedspeak doesn’t seem to excite much, probably because the comments we have heard lately tend toward the technical rather than being policy focused. For example, when SF President Williams talked about changing the way the Fed communicates, (which I personally think is a good idea), traders don’t react. The interest rate debate remains on hold, with the Fed still talking three hikes next year and the market still pricing in just more than one. But until we start seeing the economic data unfold, there will be no way to determine who is right. As to today, with equity futures a touch softer and Treasury yields down 1bp, it is difficult to get excited about any potential large moves. Rather, I expect with the US going into holiday mode (can you believe Thanksgiving is next Thursday?), a quiet session with limited further movement is on the cards.

 

Good luck and good weekend

Adf

 

 

Assets’ Allure

There once was a painting obscure

With provenance largely unsure

But last night when sold

‘Twas worth tons of gold

As ZIRP adds to assets’ allure

 

On a day where there is precious little to discuss regarding the currency market, it seems the most noteworthy story was that of the sale of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi, painted around 1500, for a record $450.3 million (~175 tons of gold at today’s prices). Without entering into any discussion of whether the painting is actually a Da Vinci (there are claims both ways, but it was certified as such), it is certainly a testimony to what ZIRP and NIRP can do to asset prices. While nine of the G10 central banks fret over the lack of inflation (obviously the BOE is not in that camp), asset prices continue to rise with no end in sight. The price for this painting was more than double the previous record price for a painting, once again showing that there is too much money chasing too few goods. It’s just that right now, the goods in demand are financial and collectable assets, not everyday merchandise. In a similar vein, there was a story this morning decrying the 1.5% decline in stock prices over the past several sessions as wrong and unacceptable on the basis that earnings remain robust and there is no reason to sell stocks. I cannot help but look at these, admittedly anecdotal, stories and grow even queasier over the eventual resolution of the current bubble economy.

Speaking of inflation, yesterday’s US CPI data showed that even goods and services inflation is picking up. The core reading unexpectedly rose to 1.8%, certainly not a level of major concern, but also a surprise to almost all the economic pundits out there. Alongside a solid, if unspectacular Retail Sales report (+0.2% headline, +0.1% ex autos), it has simply added to the case for the Fed to raise rates by 25bps next month. Arguably, the big question is what will happen next year, as the Fed continues to have three rate hikes penciled in and the market continues to look for either one or two. Encouragingly, comments from a number of FOMC members have indicated a willingness to reevaluate the current definitions in the Fed’s mandate. Perhaps one of the outcomes of this analysis will be recognition that inflation is more than just the price of gasoline or milk, but also the price of financial assets. Clearly, had they been considered earlier, interest rates would be far higher now than their current level.

And what does this have to do with the dollar? Well, given that the overnight price action can only be described as mixed, it is a much longer-term discussion. But looking at the overnight price action, there is very little to discuss overall. The biggest mover overnight was KRW, rallying 1.0% and trading below 1100 for the first time since September of last year, as sentiment regarding the North Korean situation improves. The news that a high level Chinese delegation will be visiting Pyongyang is seen as a chance that the level of rhetoric will be ratcheted down more permanently. But it’s not just KRW that is performing well in the EMG bloc; we have also seen gains across a majority of these currencies, albeit not to the same extent. ZAR and BRL have both rallied more than 0.5% and RUB and MXN are not far behind. It seems that commodity prices have found a near-term floor after several sessions of weakness, and this group of commodity currencies is benefitting accordingly.

Meanwhile, the CE4 is little changed on the day, as the euro has been unable to add to recent gains. In fact, it is down about 0.25% this morning. The most noteworthy story from the Eurozone, where CPI data was released exactly on point, is that the German coalition discussions continue to drag on and there appear to be at least three key sticking points preventing the parties from coming to an agreement. Certainly, if Germany winds up with a minority government, or even worse if there is the need for another election that will not be seen as a positive for the currency. Of course, the German economy continues to grow robustly, so in the end, it may not matter, but in the near term it can hurt sentiment. And otherwise, there is nothing of true importance to tell in FX today.

We see a bunch more data this morning starting with Initial Claims (exp 235K) and Philly Fed (24.6) at 8:30 the IP (0.5%) and Capacity Utilization (76.3%) forty-five minutes later.   The thing is, especially on a decidedly uninteresting day, none of these are likely to have any real impact on the conversation. We also have four Fed speakers (Mester, Kaplan, Brainard and Williams) today, so perhaps there will be an opportunity for a new twist on the policy debate. But as I wrote earlier, it seems highly unlikely that the debate is about December, rather it has moved on to 2018.

Equity markets seem to have also found a floor after the (gasp!) 1.5% decline we experienced in the past week, and so while risk never really felt like it was being reduced that much, it seems far more likely that in today’s world, it will be embraced heartily once again today. Look for Treasury yields to rally further (already up 4bps today) and perhaps a solid rebound in stocks. That should help the dollar these days.

 

Good luck

Adf

 

 

 

Timely Actions

The heads of the four central banks

Said really, we ought to give thanks

For their timely actions

Ignoring distractions

Like bubbles or voters’ great angst

 

Meanwhile in his recent oration

Charles Evans said this ‘bout inflation

Our target’s no ceiling

But it’s quite revealing

Investors expect vindication

 

As I mentioned yesterday, the heads of the four major central banks were speaking at an ECB forum and while we had not heard much when I wrote then, it would have been too much to ask to not hear anything at all. The essence of their commentary was that they saved the world with their policies and that their critics need to understand that without their actions, things would have been much worse. As there was no Q&A, there was no chance to ask about issues like the bond bubble or the rise in inequality globally leading to things like Brexit, the election of President Trump and the repudiation of the entire French party system along with the rise of Germany’s AfD party. Notably, all four of them are likely to be leaving their seats within two years, and I’m sure they will be keen to go. After all, when the next markets correction comes, especially if it is combined with the inevitable recession, these four don’t want to be in the spotlight at all.

The other notable comments yesterday came from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, who once again focused on the idea that the Fed’s target inflation rate of 2.0% was not a ceiling, but a symmetrical target. And more importantly, that he was concerned that the market was misinterpreting the Fed’s goals and thus mispricing assets. Once again I will ask the question, why is it that central bankers are so keen to see prices rise faster than 1.5%, or 1.0% or whatever the low inflation number is in a particular country. I am becoming of the opinion that their rationale is when inflation is high, they know how to respond to address things and nobody calls their actions into question. But when inflation is low, doing nothing is hard, because their very existence can be called into question. After all, if inflation is low and stable, why have a central bank at all? Clearly, that last comment is tongue-in-cheek, but may have more truth than you know. At any rate, Evans is a known dove and the fact that he is talking down prospects for rate hikes next year is hardly new news. Ultimately, I don’t imagine his comments are actual market movers given his known bias.

Meanwhile, risk is being called into question this morning as evidenced by the universal decline in global equity prices today following similar price action yesterday. Treasury yields are falling along with oil prices and gold is rising but the FX market is much less clear in its behavior. Under the heading of this makes sense, the yen is the best performing currency of the evening, rising 0.65% despite a slightly softer GDP outturn in Q3 than anticipated. In addition, the Swiss franc has performed reasonably well, rising 0.3%. As to the euro, it is up a further 0.4% this morning after a more than 1.1% rally yesterday. So far, so good. But NZD is the second best performer in the G10 today, rising 0.41% in what is counterintuitive to the general risk sentiment. It seems that yesterday’s sharp rally in the AUDNZD cross was unwound overnight, this time benefitting the NZD, after weaker than expected wage data was released from Australia. As to the rest of the G10, they are all falling with NOK down a substantial 0.75% on the combination of risk sentiment and declining oil prices.

The confusion really stems, though, from the emerging market bloc, where almost all currencies have rallied vs. the dollar. This is most certainly not risk-off behavior. If we go down the list, KRW rallied 0.5% allegedly on optimism that President Trump is going to try using carrots rather than sticks with the North Koreans, thus reducing tensions. RON has rallied more than 0.6% on comments of a lower budget deficit and expectations of future rate hikes being accelerated. MYR rallied on a better than expected GDP print, while INR seemed to benefit from a theme of broad dollar weakness. And that is the conundrum. If risk is being jettisoned, which certainly seems to be the case in the equity and commodity markets, and government bond yields are falling, how is it that this bloc of currencies is rallying? My gut tells me that if today’s US equity markets indicate a more significant risk-off stance in markets, then tomorrow, these currencies will reverse all of last night’s gains and then some.

Turning to the economic data, yesterday’s PPI print surprised on the high side, with the Y/Y number at 2.8%. Of course, very few traders or investors pay attention to that number. However, this morning brings CPI (exp 2.4%, 2.2% -ex food & energy), which if it follows suit and prints higher will arguably bring a much greater reaction by markets. In fact, it would effectively repudiate Evans’ concerns expressed above. We also see Retail Sales (exp 0.0%, 0.2% -ex autos), which in my mind will not have nearly the impact of the inflation data today.

Generally speaking, the dollar is under pressure today, which remains at odds with the performance in both equities and Treasuries. If this is truly the start of the long awaited equity correction, I expect that the dollar will regain some adherents quickly. So to me, all eyes are on the Dow today in order to determine what will happen to the dollar.

 

Good luck

Adf

 

 

 

 

Despite All His Schemes

In Europe the growth story seems

In line with what Mario dreams

Alas prices still

Have yet to fulfill

His targets despite all his schemes

 

If pressed, I would say the dollar is under mild pressure today, although the session has seen mixed price action across both G10 and EMG currencies. The standout performer this morning is clearly the euro, rallying nearly 0.7% after a run of strong macroeconomic data was released. GDP growth in Germany surprised on the high side, jumping 0.8% in Q3, far better than the expected 0.6% outturn and pushing the past four quarters growth rate to 2.8%. Similarly, Italian GDP growth improved, albeit not quite as much, with the past four quarters ticking over at 1.8% after a 0.5% reading in Q3. Interestingly, this improving growth trajectory has not yet impacted prices as they continue to underperform the ECB’s target of just below 2.0%. For example, German CPI is running at 1.6% while in Italy, it is just 1.1%. In other words, the disconnect between growth and inflation continues apace on the Continent as well as here in the US. Of course, as I have written many times, that view ignores the spectacular increase in asset prices we have seen during the grand monetary experiment known as QE. But for the market’s purposes today, what we have is continuing strong growth increasing the prospects that the ECB will continue along its painfully slow path of removing accommodation. Hence the euro’s solid performance.

On the flip side, there have been two G10 losers this morning, with SEK the biggest underperformer, falling 0.5%. CPI in Sweden was released at a less than expected -0.1% in October, which has both pundits and traders now looking for further QE rather than a mooted reduction going forward. Given the juxtaposition of this idea with the current mindset in both Washington and Frankfurt, it is no surprise the SEK has fallen. The other laggard this morning has been NZD, which seems to have borne the brunt of a rally in the AUDNZD cross. There was positive data out of Australia, and nothing from New Zealand, but in this instance, the cross move was driven by NZD selling. As I have written frequently before, sometimes FX markets are simply perverse in their movements.

Away from those three currencies, the rest of the G10 has done little, with both gainers and losers and all the price action contained in narrow ranges. That said, I would be remiss not to mention the pound where CPI printed at a slightly lower than expected 3.0%. This was key because governor Carney is spared the effort of writing to the Chancellor as to why inflation has strayed more than 1.0% from the 2.0% target. This is also key because virtually all forecasts going forward have this level as the peak inflation, with the impact of the pound’s post-Brexit weakness starting to come out of the data. Hence, for UK consumers, perhaps the worst of the inflation squeeze is over, which means that for now, we could see a little relief in the rhetoric on negative real-wage growth in the UK. Of course, with Brexit still on the horizon, and no apparent movement on the negotiations, I continue to look for the pound to decline going forward.

Pivoting to the EMG bloc, the dollar is under more consistent pressure here. It should be no surprise that the CE4 have all rallied alongside the euro, especially as growth in the Eurozone should lead directly to improved prospects in those currencies. Perhaps more surprising is the rally in the ZAR, up 0.7% this morning, after Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, spoke and indicated he was trying to convince the budget chief to remain in his post, thus reducing the turmoil in the Finance department there. In other words, political machinations continue to be the key drivers in this currency, and I see no future where that changes at all. At this point, investors have lost confidence in the Zuma administration and its ability to manage the South African economy effectively. As I wrote yesterday, further downgrades to the credit rating seem likely and eventually a weaker rand alongside it. But not today. In fact, the only EMG currency that is weak this morning is RUB, which seems to be responding to the recent weakness in the price of oil, which after an extended run higher has fallen steadily for the past week. It remains difficult for me to envision oil prices greatly exceeding their current levels without some type of disruptive event, like the hurricanes in the Gulf back in September. However, there is no question that oil prices have momentum higher right now, and so I certainly don’t see a sharp decline in the near future either. For the petrocurrencies (RUB, MXN, NOK, CAD) I expect that we will see a choppy environment until it becomes clear if there is another leg higher on the way, or whether the fracking community will add enough supply to prevent future price hikes.

On the data front, the NFIB Small Business survey improved to 103.8, albeit a couple of tenths short of expectations, but still a very strong number. At 8:30 we will get PPI (exp 0.1%, 0.2% ex food & energy), but generally speaking, the FX market is far more interested in tomorrow’s CPI data than today’s PPI. We also hear from a bunch of Fed speakers, including Chair Yellen, but also Chicago’s Evans, St Louis’ Bullard and Atlanta’s Bostic. Yellen is on an ECB panel with Draghi, Kuroda and Carney that started earlier this morning but I have yet to see any commentary released. And while I am certain that those four are painfully aware of what happens when they make a comment deemed surprising by the market and so will work hard to avoid that occurring, sometimes it just happens anyway. Keep your eyes on the tape for any surprises.

But that’s really the day, with the euro continuing to be the best performer and likely to stay so for now.

 

Good luck

Adf

 

More Woe

In Parliament forty MP’s

Have questioned Ms May’s expertise

At running the show

Thus adding more woe

To Sterling which trades like feces

 

The pound is this morning’s key story in the FX markets as it has ceded more than a penny in the London session. The driver appears to be news that forty MP’s have signed a letter indicating a lack of confidence in PM May’s ability to manage the Brexit talks. At the same time, the Labour Party has added to pressure on May by publishing their own letter indicating that they will support transition period legislation even though many Tories may not. The upshot is that May looks weaker than ever and concerns are growing that there may be yet another leadership election in the offing. And we cannot ignore the letter from two of May’s cabinet members, Brexit hawks Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, that is pushing for a clean break from the EU with no payments. All of this intrigue has weighed on the pound and will continue to do so. Arguably, if the UK does not develop a clearer idea of what they are willing to offer in this negotiation during the next month then the odds of a hard Brexit are going to increase substantially. Remember, too, that the UK economy is already the laggard in Europe. They can ill afford a process that adds to future uncertainty and thus reduces growth further.  I have maintained that the pound has further to fall as the Brexit process develops and this morning’s news merely cements that view. Even though the pound is down today, I continue to be an advocate of hedging future receivables. The forward points remain favorable and it is very easy for me to foresee the pound back near 1.20 in twelve month’s time.

But while the pound has been the worst performer overnight, the dollar has rallied against eight of its G10 brethren with only the two haven currencies, CHF and JPY, showing strength. To my eyes, the evidence is slowly building that risk is falling into disfavor. Last week was the first since September that equity markets faltered, albeit slightly. Stories from the US continue to question exactly what will be in the tax reform legislation, which has clearly been an important support for the equity market. The yield curve continues to flatten as the Fed remains on track to raise rates in December, and arguably at least two more times next year. High yield securities continue to tumble with concerns over rising US rates and the historically low spread over investment grade securities beginning to frighten off investors. It just seems to me that when you add it all up, a long-overdue correction may well be in the offing. Lately I have been writing that the euro has become a safe haven in lieu of the dollar, at least relative to other G10 currencies, but perhaps the reality is a bit more nuanced. While the euro is likely to hold its own against the dollar, I still believe that the commodity and Scandinavian currencies will suffer more significantly. And EMG currencies will all falter on a risk-off move.

Speaking of EMG currencies, it should be no surprise that the local political scene has once again undermined the South African rand, leading it to a 1.1% decline thus far this morning. Pulling a page from the Bernie Sanders platform, President Zuma is apparently set to announce free higher education for all in what will be another blow to an already fragile fiscal situation. It seems to me that if Zuma continues on course, he will be able to push South Africa’s debt ratings to B- before he’s done. And the investor community will continue to sell ZAR denominated equities and bonds, along with the ZAR. Be careful in this one. But away from the rand’s demise, while most EMG currencies are softer, the movements have been well within normal trading ranges and don’t appear to point to significant changes in sentiment. However, if the risk-off meme starts to gain traction this week, look for this entire bloc to come under significantly increased pressure.

There is much more data this week on which to focus as well as a plethora of Fed speakers to hear, so while I think December is a done deal for the Fed, perhaps we can learn more about their views for 2018.

 

Today:

Monthly Budget Statement                              -$58.0B

 

Tuesday:

NFIB Small Business Optimism                      104.0

PPI                                                                        0.1%

-ex food & energy                                              0.2%

 

Wednesday:

CPI                                                                        0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)

-ex food & energy                                              0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)

Empire Manufacturing                                    25.0

Retail Sales                                                          0.0%

-ex autos                                                              0.2%

-control group                                                    0.3%

Business Inventories                                        0.0%

 

Thursday:

Initial Claims                                                      235K

Philly Fed                                                            24.1

IP                                                                          0.5%

Capacity Utilization                                          76.3%

 

Friday:

Housing Starts                                                   1190K

Building Permits                                               1250K

Leading Indicators                                           0.5%

 

On top of all that we have nine Fed speakers on the slate for this week, some of them several times, and it includes Ms Yellen (along with Draghi, Carney and Kuroda at an ECB event) on Tuesday evening. So by the end of the week, we should have an even better understanding of the economy along with Fed views on the next steps. While the market has finally accepted the December move by the Fed, it remains skeptical of next year’s activity. I have a feeling that new Fed Chair, Jerome Powell, is going to be a bit more hawkish than the market currently expects and that over time we will see further upward pressure on US rates, a flatter if not inverted US yield curve, and a stronger dollar on a broad basis. But today, I imagine we have seen the bulk of the movement already, and anticipate a relatively quiet session. The one caveat here is if the equity market starts to show further cracks, we could see a bit more risk-off dollar buying.

 

Good luck

Adf

 

 

Less Than Forthright

From China the news overnight

Was foreigners may have the right

To start to invest

In banks, but when pressed

The timing was less than forthright

 

FX markets continue in the doldrums with limited price action overnight. Despite concerns that risk is generally coming under pressure (just look at equity prices yesterday and today), movement in this market remains lackluster at best. In fact, within the G10 space, the biggest mover overnight was the pound, which has rallied just 0.3% on the strength of a surprisingly good IP report (+0.7%, exp +0.3%). Otherwise, the rest of the activity can be measured in scant pips of movement.

It is this lack of activity that has led market participants to focus on the announced changes in Chinese policy regarding foreign investment in financial firms. Historically, there have been strict limits on the percentage of control any foreign person or entity could have over a Chinese bank or securities firm. Certainly, there was no ability to be a majority owner, and in practice, ownership had been constrained below 25%. In fact, in the wake of the financial crisis, the largest investment stakes by American banks had been liquidated as Citi, BAML and Goldman all sought to reclaim capital to address their own domestic issues. Of course, since then, Chinese banks have expanded significantly and now find themselves hugely leveraged and heavily reliant on Wealth Management Products for financing which leaves them subject to significant funding risk. Non-performing loans also continue to climb, and the government continues to direct the largest banks to lend where the government deems appropriate.

With that as a background, President Xi addressed the Asia-Pacific Forum regarding his vision of the future, which included multi-lateral agreements and much investment into China. Subsequently, the government announced a loosening of restrictions on investment in financial companies, claiming they will allow majority ownership by foreign entities within three years. Alas, it is easy to look at China’s history of foreign investment strictures and remain skeptical of the potential benefits available to any foreigner. Remember, just a year ago, when the renminbi was under pressure and capital was flowing out of China like a river, they were quick to establish capital controls and prohibit ‘non-strategic’ foreign investment by Chinese companies. And this despite their recent inclusion into the SDR where they claimed a freely convertible currency!

My point is, the Chinese do nothing that is not directly beneficial to their own country, which is completely fine, but which also means they want something specific from this action. My gut tells me that they are simply looking for foreign capital to help clean up the mess that is the Chinese banking system, and once they have it, there will be no compunction in changing the rules again. How, you may ask, will this impact the CNY? In the short run, I expect that it will have limited impact, although as we go forward, I would look for the renminbi to continue its gradual strengthening. Ultimately, I continue to believe that the PBOC will need to allow the currency to weaken as a relief valve for the strictures on the economy, but that is a politically fraught decision there, and so the timing of any future weakness remains extremely cloudy. Quite frankly, were I in a payables position in China, I would be actively hedging here, taking advantage of the positive forwards and what I believe will be ongoing mild appreciation of the yuan. And for those of you who pay USD to your Chinese suppliers, consider asking to pay in CNY, it may be far more advantageous over time.

Away from the China story, the only EMG currency to move significantly overnight was ZAR, which has fallen 1.0% after comments by the central bank Governor, Lesetja Kganyago, that despite rising inflation, the central bank would be able to continue to support the economy. In other words, don’t look for policy to tighten very much to fight that rising inflation. It should be no surprise that the rand has fallen on those comments. But away from that, EMG remains dull as well.

This morning’s only data is Michigan Sentiment (exp 100.9), which has been in a steady climb since bottoming back in the middle of 2011 at 55.8. There are no Fed speakers on the calendar until Monday, and so once again, the FX market will be looking elsewhere for its direction. If we continue to see equity prices under pressure, that could well lead to a fuller risk-off session, but the past several years have shown that the ‘buy the dip’ mentality remains extremely robust, and so despite futures pointing lower this morning, I expect those losses to be reversed before the session ends. If they are not, however, beware. Anything that occurs opposite to the narrative is going to have significant repercussions. Risk appetite has been artificially inflated by the Fed’s QE program since its inception, which means that equity positions are far larger, and more leveraged, than they would otherwise be in a more ‘normal’ monetary environment. These things can unwind quite rapidly, as evidenced in 2008-9, so caution is needed. Once again I will say that if there is mild risk aversion, the dollar will likely suffer, but if things begin to really unravel, my money is on the dollar to regain its position as safest haven of all. This is not today’s story, but one, I fear, for the not too distant future.

 

Good luck and good weekend

Adf