A Blank Check

While much of the nation’s a wreck
The good news is there’s still Big Tech
Whose prices ne’er fall
Thus, keeping in thrall
Investors who wrote a blank check

One cannot but be impressed with the performance of the tech sector in US equity markets.  It seems that no matter what else happens anywhere in the world, a small group of companies has unearthed the secret to infinite value, or at least a never-ending rally in their share prices. Yesterday’s price action was instructive in that a group of just seven companies, all tech titans, added nearly $300 billion in value, which was greater than the entire NASDAQ’s 2.5% gain. While we all are happy to see equity markets continue to rally, it certainly is beginning to appear as though some of these valuations are unsustainable, especially if the V-shaped recovery doesn’t materialize. One other thing to consider about the values of these companies is that if there is a change in the White House, it is almost certain to bring with it significantly higher corporate taxes (39.6% anyone?), which will almost certainly result in a repricing of the future stream of earnings available to shareholders. But for now, clearly nothing matters but the fact that these companies are market darlings and are set to continue to rally…until they stop.

In Europe, those twenty plus nations
(Ahead of their summer vacations)
Have finally agreed
To help those in need
With billions in brand new donations

However, arguably the biggest story in the markets today is that the EU finally did agree to a spending plan to help those nations most severely impacted by the Covid recession. It was inevitable that this would be the result as the political imperative was too great for four smaller nations to prevent its completion. To hear the frugal four, though, is quite amusing. They seem to believe that their “principled” stand, where they each get a larger rebate from the general pool of funds (each is a net payer into the EU budget), and their demands that this is a one-time solution to an extraordinary event means that in the future, debt mutualization will not expand. If there is one thing that we know about government programs, it is that they always expand, and they never die. There is no such thing as a one-time program. Debt mutualization is now the standard in the EU, and one should expect nothing less. Redistribution from the North to the South of the continent is now a permanent feature.

The market reaction to this news is mostly what one would have expected. European equity markets have rallied, with those in Italy (+2.2%) and Spain (+1.9%) leading the way higher, although the strength is broad-based. As well, European government bond markets are also performing appropriately, with the havens seeing a modest rise in yields while the risk bonds, like Italian and Greek debt, falling as investors have greater assurances that they will now be repaid. After all, with debt mutualization, Greek and German debt are basically the same!

Finally, looking at the FX markets, we find the euro slightly softer on the session, having briefly traded higher, but now falling victim to what appears to be a buy the rumor, sell the news type event. But the euro has been a stellar performer for the past two months, rising 4.5% in that period as the market narrative has turned back to some previously discredited themes. Notably, we continue to hear a great deal about the dollar’s twin deficit issue and how that will undermine the greenback. In addition, given the ongoing risk rally, the idea of needing a safe haven currency, has simply faded from existence. In fact, this morning there is now talk that the euro, with its new solidarity, is really a haven asset. PPP models continue to point to the euro being undervalued at current levels with forecasts creeping ever higher. In fact, one large bank is out calling for 1.30 in the euro by the end of next year.

Of course, there is a great irony in the discussion of a stronger euro, the fact it is the absolute last thing Madame Lagarde and her ECB compatriots want (or need). After all, one of the key reasons for them to cut interest rates below zero was to undermine the euro in order to both import inflation and help European exporters become more price competitive. You can be sure that if the euro does start to break higher, we will hear a great deal more about the inappropriate price action of a rising euro. For now, all eyes are on 1.1495, which was the spike high seen in March, and which is currently serving as a resistance point for the technicians. A break there is likely to see a test of the 1.17-1.18 level before the end of the summer.

As to the dollar overall, it continues its recent weakening trend, with only a handful of currencies modestly softer and some decent moves the other way. For instance, Aussie is the top pick in the G10 this morning, rising 0.85%, as a combination of risk appetite and a short squeeze is doing the job nicely. But we are also seeing strength in NOK (+0.6%) and CAD (+0.5%), both of which are benefitting from oil’s rally today (WTI +2.8%). In the EMG space, it should be no surprise that RUB and ZAR (both +0.8%) are the leaders as the oil and commodity price rallies are clear supports. In fact, the bulk of this bloc is firmer this morning with only a handful of currencies (RON, CNY, SGD) in the red, and there just by a few basis points. Overall, it is fair to say the dollar is on its back foot again today.

With no data due today, and none of note released overnight, the FX market seems set to take its cues from the equity space and the broad risk themes. And it is pretty clear that the broad risk theme today is…buy more risk!

Herbert Stein, a very well-respected economist in the 1960’s was quoted as saying, “that which cannot continue, will not continue.” His point was that while exuberance may manifest itself periodically, it always ends when reality intrudes. Right now, it feels like risk assets, especially that formidable group of tech names, is completely disconnected with the economic reality and best-case prospects. The implication is this cannot go on. But that doesn’t mean it won’t go further before it ends. The narrative is risk assets are the thing to own, and as long as that is the case, the dollar is likely to remain under pressure.

Good luck and stay safe
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They’ll See the Light

In China, a new rule applies
Which helped stocks close on session highs
The news was released
Insurers increased
The size of their equity buys

Meanwhile, Brussels has been the sight
Of quite a large policy fight
Four nations refuse
Their cash to misuse
But in the end, they’ll see the light

Once upon a time, government announcements were focused on things like international relations, broad economic policies and the occasional self-kudos to try to burnish their reputation with the electorate, or at least with the population.  But that ideal has essentially disappeared from today’s world.  Instead, as a result of the ongoing financialization of economies worldwide, there are only two types of government announcements these days; those designed to explain why the current government is the best possible choice, and those designed to prop up the nation’s stock market.  Policy comments are too hard for most people to understand, or at least to understand their potential ramifications, so they are no longer seen as useful.  But, do you know what is seen as useful?  Explaining that institutions should buy more stocks because a higher stock market is good for everyone!

Once again, China leads the way in this vein, with Friday night’s announcement that henceforth, Insurers should can allocate as much as 45% of their assets to equities, up from the previous cap of 30%.  Some quick math shows that this new regulation has just released an additional $325 billion of new buying power into the Chinese stock market, or roughly 4% of the total market capitalization in the country.  It cannot be a surprise that the Shanghai Exchange rallied 3.1% last night, which was, of course, exactly the idea behind the announcement.  In fact, lately, the Chinese have been really working to manipulate the stock market there, apparently seeking a steady move higher, probably something like 1% a day, but have been having trouble reining in the exuberance of the large speculative community there.  So, all of their little nudges higher result in 3%-5% gains, which they feel could be getting out of hand, and so they need to squash them occasionally.  But for now, they are back on the rally bandwagon, so look for some steady support this week.

Interestingly, however, this was clearly not seen as a global risk-on signal as equity activity elsewhere has been far more muted.  The rest of Asia was basically flat (Nikkei +0.1%, Hang Seng -0.1%) and Europe has seen a mixed session as well, with small gains by the DAX (+0.3%) and losses by the CAC (-0.3%).  In other words, investors realize this is simply Chinese activity.  PS, US futures are basically unchanged on the day as well.

At the same time, there is a critical story building out of Europe, the outcome of the EU Summit. This began with high hopes on Friday as most people expected the Frugal Four to quickly cave into the pressure to give more money away to the PIGS.  However, after three full days of talks, there is still no agreement.  Remember, their concern is that the EU plan to give away €500 billion in grants to countries most in need (read Italy, Spain and Greece), is simply delaying the inevitable as they will almost certainly waste these funds, just like they have each wasted funds for decades.  And the frugal four nations were not interested in throwing their money away.  But in the end, it was always clear that with support from Germany and France, a deal would get done in some form.  The latest is that “only” €390 billion will be given as grants, so a 22% reduction, but still a lot of free cash.

While no one has yet signed on the dotted line, you can be sure that by the end of the day, they will have announced a successful conclusion to the process.  The funny thing is that regardless of the outcome of the Summit, it seems to me that the entire package, listed at €750 billion, is actually pretty small.  After all, the CARES act here had a price tag of $3.2 trillion, four times as large, and the EU economy is going to suffer just as much as the US.  But that is not the way the market is looking at things.  Rather, they have collectively decided that this package is a huge euro positive and have been pushing the single currency higher steadily for pretty much the entire month of July (+2.5%), with it now sitting just pips below the spike high seen in March, and back to levels last seen, really, in January 2019.  How much further can it rise?  Personally, I am skeptical that it has that much more room to run, but I know the technicians are really getting excited about a big breakout here.

As to the rest of the FX market, activity has been fairly muted with the dollar slightly softer against most G10 and EMG counterparts.  On the G10 side, NOK and SEK lead the way higher, both up by 0.45%, as in a broad move, these higher beta currencies tend to have the best performance.  JPY is a touch softer on the day, and a number of currencies, CAD, NZD, CHF, are all within just basis points of Friday’s close.

We are seeing similar price action in the emerging markets, with one notable loser, IDR (-0.5%) as traders there continue to price in further policy ease by the central bank after last week’s 25bp rate cut. On the plus side, the CE4 are leading the way higher, with gains between 0.3% and 0.6%, simply tracking the euro with a bit more beta.  But really, there is not too much of note to discuss here.

On the data front, it is an extremely quiet week upcoming as follows:

Wednesday Existing Home Sales 4.80M
Thursday Initial Claims 1.293M
  Continuing Claims 16.9M
  Leading Indicators 2.1%
Friday PMI Manufacturing 52.0
  PMI Services 51.0
  New Home Sales 700K

Source: Bloomberg

In addition, there are no Fed speakers on the docket as it seems everybody has gone on holiday.  So, once again, Initial Claims seems to be the key data point this week, helping us to determine if things are actually getting better, or we have seen a temporary peak in activity.  With the ongoing spread of what appears to be a second wave of Covid, there is every chance that we start to see the rebound in data seen for the past two months start to fade.  If that is the case, it strikes me that we will see a bit more risk-off activity and the dollar benefit.  But that is a future situation.  Today, the dollar remains under modest pressure as traders respond to the perceived benefits of striking a deal at the EU.

Good luck and stay safe

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Second Wave

In Q2 we learned to behave
Like primitives stuck in a cave
In order to stem
The virus mayhem
And millions of lives, try to save

But Q3 has shown that we crave
More contact than lockdown, us, gave
Thus, it’s not surprising
Infections are rising
And now we’ve achieved second wave

If I were to describe market behavior of late, the word I would use is tentative. Investors and traders are caught between wanting to believe that the nonstop stimulus efforts on both fiscal, and especially, monetary fronts will be sufficient to help the economy through the current economic crisis (conveniently ignoring the extraordinary build up in debt), and concerns that there is too much permanent damage to too many businesses to allow for a swift recovery to a pre-Covid level of activity. Adding to the fear side of the equation is the resurgence in the number of infections worldwide, especially in places that had seemed to eradicate the virus. News from Hong Kong, Australia, China and India shows that the virus is making a resurgence, with several places recording more cases now than when things started five to six months ago. And of course, we have seen the same pattern in states that were first to reopen here at home.

Meanwhile, the medical community continues its extraordinary efforts to find a vaccine, with several promising candidates making their way through trials. Perhaps the best medical news is that it seems doctors on the front line have learned how to treat the disease more effectively, which has reduced the number of critical cases and helped drive down the fatality rate. Alas, an effective vaccine remains elusive. Ironically, the vaccine’s importance in many ways is symbolic. The idea that there is a way to avoid catching the bug is certainly appealing, but if the flu vaccine is any harbinger of the outcome, a minority of people will actually get vaccinated. So, the vaccine story is more about a chance for confidence to be restored than about people’s health. Perhaps this sums up the state of human affairs these days better than anything else.

And yet, while no politician anywhere will allow confirmation, it certainly appears that we are seeing a second wave of infections spread worldwide. From the market’s perspective, this has been a key concern for the past several months as a second wave of economy-wide shutdowns would end all hopes of that elusive V-shaped recovery. And the only way to justify the current levels of asset values is by assuming this crisis will pass quickly and things will return to a more normal framework. Hence the trader’s dilemma. Is the worst behind us? Or is a second wave going to expand and delay the recovery further? Perhaps the most telling feature of this market is the changed relationship between the S&P 500 and the VIX index. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, an equity rally of the type seen since late March would have seen the VIX index collapse toward 15, the level at which it traded for virtually all of 2019. But this time, 30 has become the new normal for the VIX, a strong indication that investors are paying for protection, despite the cost, as there remains an underlying fear of another sharp decline beyond the horizon. Hence, my description of things as tentative.

Looking at markets this morning, tentative is an excellent descriptor. In the equity space, Asian markets were mixed, with the Nikkei (-0.3%) on the weak side with the Hang Seng (+0.5%) was the strong side. But given the type of movement we have seen lately, neither really displayed anything new at the end of the week. European markets are also mixed with the DAX (+0.5%) the best performer while Spain’s IBEX (-0.5%) is the worst. Again, a mix of performances with no evident trend. US futures are currently pointing higher although only the NASDAQ (+1.0%) is showing any real strength.

Meanwhile, Treasury yields have slipped again, with the 10-year down to 0.60%, its lowest level since mid-April and just 4bps from its historic low. That is hardly a sign of economic confidence. In Europe, the picture is mixed but yields are essentially within 1bp of where they closed yesterday as traders are unwilling to take a view.

Finally, the dollar, too, is having a mixed session, although if I had to characterize it, I would say it is slightly softer overall. The euro is higher by 0.3% this morning as there is hope that the EU Summit, which began a few hours ago, will come to an agreement on their mooted €750 billion pandemic plan that includes joint borrowing. Of course, the frugal four still need to be bought off in some manner but given the political determination to be seen to be doing something, I would look for a watered-down version of the bill to be agreed. However, the best performer today is CHF (+0.5%) in what appears to be some profit taking on EURCHF positions after the cross’s strong rally this week.

In the emerging markets, IDR is the big underperformer today, falling 0.5% overnight as traders position for future rate cuts by the central bank. While they cut 25bps yesterday, they also came across as more dovish than expected implying they are not yet done with the rate hatchet. On the plus side, ZAR (+0.6%) is top of the charts as investors have been flocking to the front end of their yield curve after a much lower than expected inflation print. The view is that the SARB has further to cut which will drive front end yields down, hence the buying. (The dichotomy between the two currencies is fascinating as both are moving on rate cut assumptions, but in opposite directions. Hey, nobody ever said FX was rational!) But we are seeing more gainers than losers as the CE4 track the euro higher and several APAC currencies also moved modestly higher overnight. Remember, one of the emerging narratives has been the dollar’s imminent decline on the back of the twin deficits and lost prestige in the world community. So, every time we see a day where the dollar declines, you can be sure you will see stories on that topic. And while the twin deficit story is certainly valid from a theoretical basis, it has never been a good short-term indicator of movement in the currency markets.

On the data front, yesterday saw US Retail Sales print at a better than expected 7.5%, but Initial Claims fall less than expected, with still 1.3 million first time claims. As I have mentioned, that number continues to be the timeliest indicator of what is happening, and it is certainly not declining very rapidly anymore. Today brings Housing Starts (exp 1189K) and Building Permits (1293K) at 8:30 and then Michigan Sentiment (79.0) at 10:00. Neither of these seem likely to have a major market impact. Rather, as earnings season progresses, I expect the ongoing reports there to drive equity markets and overall risk appetite. For now, nobody is very hungry for risk, but a few good numbers could certainly change that view, pushing stocks higher and the dollar lower.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Quite Dramatic

The Chinese report ‘bout Q2
Showed growth has rebounded, it’s true
But things there remain
Subject to more pain
Til elsewhere bids Covid adieu

The market’s response was emphatic
With Shanghai’s decline quite dramatic
Thus, risk appetite
Today is quite slight
Which means bears are now just ecstatic

It is no surprise that the Chinese reported a rebound to positive GDP growth in Q2 as, after all, the nation was the epicenter of Covid-19 and they, both shut down and reopened their economy first. The numbers, however, were mixed at best, with the GDP number rebounding a more than expected 3.2% Y/Y, but their Retail Sales data failing to keep up, printing at -1.8% Y/Y, rather than the expected 0.5% gain. The lesson to be learned here is that while Chinese industry seems to be heading back to a pre-Covid pace, domestic consumption is not keeping up. This is a problem for China for two reasons; first, they have made an enormous effort to adjust the mix of their economy from entirely export oriented to a much greater proportion of consumption led growth. Thus, weak Retail Sales implies that those efforts are now likely to restrict the nation’s growth going forward. Secondly, the fact that the rest of the world is months behind China in this cycle, with many emerging markets still in the closing process, not nearly ready to reopen, implies that while industry in China may have retooled, their export markets are a long way from robust.

The other interesting thing that came out of China last night, that had a more direct impact on markets there, was yet another round of stories published about the evils of speculation and how Chinese financial institutions would be selling more stocks. You may recall last week, when the Chinese government had an article published singing the praises of a strong stock market, encouraging retail investors to drive a more than 6.0% gain in the Shanghai Composite. Just a few days later, they reversed course, decrying the evils of speculation with a corresponding sharp decline. Well, it seems that speculators are still evil, as last night’s message was unequivocally negative pushing Shanghai lower by 4.5% and finally removing all those initial speculative gains. It seems the PBOC and the government are both concerned about inflating bubbles as they well remember the pain of 2015, when they tried to deflate their last one.

But this activity set the tone for all Asian markets, with red numbers everywhere, albeit not quite to the extent seen on the mainland. For instance, the Nikkei slipped 0.75% and the Hang Seng, fell 2.0%.

Europe has its own set of issues this morning, although clearly the weakness in Asia has not helped their situation. Equity markets throughout the Continent are lower with the DAX (-0.5%) and CAC (-0.7%) representative of the losses everywhere. While traders there await the ECB meeting outcome, the focus seems to be on the UK announcement that they will be increasing their debt issuance by £110 billion in Q3 to help fund all the fiscal stimulus. This will take the debt/GDP ratio above 100%, ending any chance of retaining fiscal prudence.

It’s remarkable how things can change in a short period of time. During the Eurozone debt crisis, less than 10 years ago, when Greece was on the cusp of leaving the euro, they were constantly lambasted for having a debt/GDP ratio of 150% or more while Italy, who was puttering along at 125% was also regularly excoriated by the EU and the IMF. But these days, those entities are singing a different tune, where suddenly, government borrowing is seen as quite appropriate, regardless of the underlying fiscal concerns, with the supranational bodies calling for additional fiscal stimulus and the borrowing that goes along with it. At any rate, there is certainly no sign that the current mantra of issuing debt and spending massive amounts of money to support the economy is about to change. Fiscal prudence is now completely passé.

With that as a backdrop, it should be no surprise that risk is being pared back across all markets. Having already discussed equities, we can look at bond markets and see yields virtually everywhere lower today as investors seek out haven assets. Interestingly, despite the new issuance announced in the UK, Gilts lead the way with a 2.5bp decline, while Treasuries and Bunds have both seen yields decline a more modest 1bp. Oil prices have fallen again, which is weighing on both NOK (-0.65%) and RUB (-0.4%) the two currencies most closely linked to its price. But of course, lower oil prices are indicative of weaker overall sentiment.

As such, it is also no surprise that every one of the currencies in the G10 and major emerging markets is weaker vs. the dollar this morning. While the trendy view remains that the dollar is going to continue to decline, and that has been expressed with near record short dollar positions in futures markets, the greenback is not playing along today.

At this point, I think it is important to remind everyone that a key part of the weak dollar thesis is the ongoing expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet adding more liquidity to the system and thus easing dollar policy further. But for the past 5 weeks, the Fed’s balance sheet has actually shrunk by $250 billion, a not inconsiderable 3.5%, as repo transactions have matured and not been replaced. It appears that for now, the market is flush with cash. So, given the combination of major short dollar positions extant and short term fundamental monetary details pointing to dollar strength, do not be surprised if we see a short squeeze in the buck over the next week or two.

This morning brings the bulk of the week’s data, certainly its most important readings, and it all comes at 8:30. Retail Sales (exp 5.0%, 5.0% ex autos), Philly Fed (20.0), Initial Claims (1.25M) and Continuing Claims (17.5M) will hopefully give us a clearer picture of how the US economy is progressing. One of the problems with this data is that it is mostly backward looking (Philly Fed excepted) and so probably does not capture the apparent second wave of infections seen in Florida, Texas and California, three of the most populous states. So, even if we do see somewhat better than expected data, it could easily slip back next week/month. In fact, this is why the Claims data is so important, it is the timeliest of all the major economic releases, and given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the current economic situation, it is likely the most helpful. So, while the trend in Initial Claims has been lower, it remains at extremely problematic levels and is indicative of many more businesses retrenching and letting staff go. It has certainly been my go-to data point for the pulse of the economy.

Recent data points have been better than forecast, but nobody doubts that things are still in dire shape. Unfortunately, it appears we are still a long way from recouping all the lost economic activity we have suffered over the past months. But FX remains a relative game, and arguably, so is everyone else.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Buying is Brisk

Apparently, there is no fear
As it’s become patently clear
The shape we will see
Of growth is a ‘V’
As long as that vaccine is near

So, don’t talk to me about risk
Who cares ‘bout the federal fisc?
A hot war in Asia?
That’s bearish fantasia
Instead, retail buying is brisk!

If you are not adding to your risk positions this morning, you are clearly not paying attention. Virtually unbridled bullishness has gripped markets on word that a vaccine has had very promising results and is soon heading into Phase 3 trials. This news is more than sufficient to overwhelm pedantic issues like increasing tensions between the US and China playing out in Hong Kong; US bank results showing a massive increase in loan-loss reserves as expectations of defaults climb; or the complete lack of activity by the Senate regarding the potential extension of extraordinary unemployment benefits that are due to lapse on July 31.

Historically, issues like the US-China tension, or arguably more importantly, the signal from banks about the pending collapse of loan repayments, would have played out with more investor trepidation. While risk asset prices might not have collapsed, they certainly would not have shown the strength they have of late. But then, the central bank community has done their very best to rewrite history, or perhaps demonstrate that they have learned from history, by expanding their balance sheets dramatically and injecting trillions of dollars’ worth of liquidity into the global economy. It should be no surprise that those trillions have made their way into markets, rather than the real economy, given the trend of financialization that has played out over the past two decades.

Curmudgeons would argue that no central bank is supposed to care about markets per se, rather their role is to foster price stability primarily, with a number, including the Fed, having been tasked with insuring full employment. But nowhere is it written that supporting equity markets is part of the mandate. And yet, that is essentially where the situation now stands. Equity market displacements are met with increased central bank activity. In fact, this is so ingrained in investor attitudes that we now have equity rallies on bad news under the assumption that the relevant central bank will be forced to add more liquidity by buying more risk assets.

There is, however, one market that seems to be paying attention to the historic storyline; government bonds. Treasury yields continue to grind lower (10-year at 0.61%) as a certain class of investors seem to see a less rosy future. Of course, one could make the argument that bonds are rallying because the Fed is buying them, but the problem with that story right now is the Fed’s balance sheet has actually been slowly shrinking over the past several weeks, by something on the order of $300 billion. Instead, this appears to be a genuine concern over future risks, something that is completely absent from the equity space.

So, which market is correct? Are the equity bulls prescient, implying there is a V-shaped recovery in our future? Or are the fixed income buyers seeing more clearly, recognizing that the economy is rebounding, but the pace will be much slower than desired? If we look to an outside agency to help us, the FX market, for example, recent price action is aligned with adding to risk appetites. But then, the ultimate haven asset, gold, is also continuing to rally. Being a curmudgeon myself, I tend toward the view that the next several years are going to be much tougher than currently expected by the risk bulls. But for now, they remain in control!

With this in mind, it should be no surprise that the dollar is under pressure this morning. In the G10 space, NOK is the leader, up 1.0%, as a combination of broad-based dollar weakness and higher oil (WTI +1.4%) has seen demand increase. But all the high beta currencies (SEK, AUD, NZD) are higher as well, on the order of 0.6%. Even the yen is stronger into this mix, rising 0.3%, as distaste for the dollar spreads.

At this point, I cannot ignore the euro. While today’s movement is a modest 0.3% gain, it has been on a mission of late, rising 1.7% since Friday. There are many subplots here, with discussions about the relative stance of the ECB vs. the Fed, short-term risk-on knee-jerk reactions to buy euros, and perhaps most importantly, the questions over the long-term viability of the US government running enormous twin deficits (budget and current account) and how those are going to get financed. For now, the Fed has been the financier for the government, but debt monetization has never been the path to a stronger currency, rather just the opposite. What is interesting is that this longer-term discussion is being dusted off by analysts once again, with many newly revamped calls for the dollar to continue its decline for the rest of the year.

One thing that would definitely support this thesis would be if the EU actually moved forward on mutualization of debt. You will recall several weeks ago that Merkel and Macron announced they both agreed on a €500 billion EU support program that was to be funded by 30-year and 40-year EU bond issuance, jointly payable by the entire bloc. This has been held up by a minority of countries, the so-called frugal four, as they are uninterested in paying for Southern Europe’s profligate history. But word this morning from France indicated a belief that a deal was to be completed at this week’s EU Summit. If this is the case, that is an unambiguous euro positive. But if we know anything about the EU, it is that nothing proceeds smoothly, even when everyone there agrees. We shall see, but the story has definitely helped the single currency.

In the EMG bloc, ZAR is the runaway leader, rising 1.3% on the general story as well as higher gold and commodity prices. What is interesting is that this continues despite news that Eskom, the national utility, is going to reduce power production, certainly not a sign of economic strength. But we are seeing gains almost universally in this bloc as HUF (+0.9%), MXN (+0.8%) and the rest of the CE4 all perform quite well. In other words, there is no need for dollars to assuage fears. The one exception here is IDR (-1.0%), which suffered overnight as traders anticipate the central bank to cut rates more than 25bps tonight, while the pace of infection growth there increases, leading many to believe there will be another economic shutdown.

The strong risk positive attitude has also manifested itself across equity markets (Nikkei +1.6%, DAX +1.6%, CAC +1.9%), with US futures pointing sharply higher as well (Dow and S&P e-minis both higher by 1.3%). And finally, while the trend in Treasury yields is certainly lower, today has seen a modest back up across all bond markets (Bunds +1bp, Gilts +2.5bps, Treasuries +2bps).

Turning to the morning’s session, we have only modest data releases; Empire Manufacturing (exp 10.0), IP (4.3%) and Capacity Utilization (67.8%). Then at 2:00 comes the Fed’s Beige Book, which should be an interesting look at the progress of the reopening of the economy. There is only one Fed Speaker, Philly Fed President Harker, but what has been interesting lately is the dissent in views between various FOMC members regarding the pace of the recovery. And that is why the data is still important.

But for now, the risk bulls are running the show, so do not be surprised if the dollar weakness trend continues.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Prepare For Impact

The second wave nears
A swell? Or a tsunami?
Prepare for impact

The cacophony of concern is rising as the infection count appears to be growing almost everywhere in the world lately. Certainly, here in the US, the breathless headlines about increased cases in Texas, Florida and Arizona have dominated the news cycle, although it turns out some other states are having issues as well. For instance:

In Cali the growth of new cases
Has forced them to rethink the basis
Of easing restrictions
Across jurisdictions
So now they have shut down more places

In fact, it appears that this was the story yesterday afternoon that turned markets around from yet another day of record gains, into losses in the S&P and a very sharp decline in the NASDAQ. And it was this price action that sailed across the Pacific last night as APAC markets all suffered losses of approximately 1.0%. These losses resulted even though Chinese trade data was better than expected for both imports (+2.7% Y/Y) and exports (+0.5% Y/Y) seemingly indicating that the recovery was growing apace there. And, given the euphoria we have seen in Chinese stock markets specifically, it was an even more surprising outcome. Perhaps it is a result of the increased tensions between the US and China across several fronts (Chinese territorial claims, defense sales to Taiwan, sanctions by each country on individuals in the other), but recent history has shown that investors are unconcerned with such things. A more likely explanation is that given the sharp gains that have been seen throughout equity markets in the region lately, a correction was due, and any of these issues could have been a viable catalyst to get it started. After all, a 1% decline is hardly fear inducing.

The problem is not just in the US, though, as we are seeing all of Europe extend border closures for another two weeks. The issue here is that even though infections seem to be trending lower across the Continent, the fact that they will not allow tourists from elsewhere to come continues to devastate those economies which can least afford the situation like Italy, Spain and Greece. The result is that we are likely to continue to see a lagging growth response and continued, and perhaps increased, ECB largesse. Remember all the hoopla regarding the announcement that the EU was going to borrow huge sums of money and issue grants to those countries most in need? Well, at this point, that still seems more aspirational than realistic and the idea that there would be mutualized debt issuance remains just that, an idea, rather than a reality. While the situation in the US remains dire, it is hard to point to Europe and describe the situation as fantastic. One of the biggest speculative positions around these days, aside from owning US tech stocks, is being short the dollar, with futures in both EUR and DXY approaching record levels. While the dollar has clearly underperformed for the past several weeks, it has shown no indication of a collapse, and quite frankly, a short squeeze feels like it is just one catalyst away. Be careful.

Meanwhile, ‘cross the pond, the UK
Saw GDP that did display
A slower rebound
And thus, they have found
Most people won’t come out and play

As we approach the final Brexit outcome at the end of this year, investors are beginning to truly separate the UK from the EU in terms of economic performance.  Alas, for the pound, the latest data from the UK was uninspiring, to say the least.  Monthly GDP in May, the anticipated beginning of the recovery, rose only 1.8%, with the 3M/3M result showing a -19.1% outcome.  IP, Construction and Services all registered worse than expected results, although the trade data showed a surplus as imports collapsed.  The UK is continuing to try to reopen most of the economy, but as we have seen elsewhere throughout the world, there are localized areas where the infection rate is climbing again, and a second lockdown has been put in place.  The market impact here has been exactly what one would have expected with the FTSE 100 (-0.4%) and the pound (-0.3%) both lagging.

To sum things up, the global economy appears to be reopening in fits and starts, and it appears that we are going to continue to see a mixed data picture until Covid-19 has very clearly retreated around the world.

A quick look at markets shows that the Asian equity flu has been passed to Europe with all the indices there lower, most by well over 1.0%, although US futures are currently pointing higher as investors optimistically await Q2 earnings data from the major US banks starting today.  I’m not sure what they are optimistic about, as loan impairments are substantial, but then, I don’t understand the idea that stocks can never go down either.

The dollar, overall, is mixed today, with almost an equal number of gainers and losers in both the G10 and EMG blocs.  The biggest winner in the G10 is SEK (+0.6%), where the krona has outperformed after CPI data showed a higher than expected rate of 0.7% Y/Y.  While this remains far below the Riksbank’s 2.0% target, it certainly alleviates some of the (misguided) fears about a deflationary outcome.  But aside from that, most of the block is +/- 0.2% or less with no real stories to discuss.

On the EMG side, we see a similar distribution of outcomes, although the gains and losses are a bit larger.  MXN (+0.65%) is the leader today, as it seems to be taking its cues from the positive Chinese data with traders looking for a more positive outcome there.  Truthfully, a quick look at the peso shows that it seems to have found a temporary home either side of 22.50, obviously much weaker than its pre-Covid levels, but no longer falling on a daily basis.  Rather, the technical situation implies that by the end of the month we should see a signal as to whether this has merely been a pause ahead of much further weakness, or if the worst is behind us, and a slow grind back to 20.00 or below is on the cards.

Elsewhere in the space we see the CE4 all performing well, as they follow the euro’s modest gains higher this morning, but most Asian currencies felt the sting of the risk-off sentiment overnight to show modest declines.

On the data front, this week brings the following information:

Today CPI 0.5% (0.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.1% (1.1% Y/Y)
Wednesday Empire Manufacturing 10.0
  IP 4.4%
  Capacity Utilization 67.8%
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 1.25M
  Continuing Claims 17.5M
  Retail Sales 5.0%
  -ex auto 5.0%
  Philly Fed 20.0
  Business Inventories -2.3%
Friday Housing Starts 1180K
  Building Permits 1290K
  Michigan Sentiment 79.0

Source: Bloomberg

So, plenty of data for the week, and arguably a real chance to see how the recovery started off.  It is still concerning that the Claims data is so high, as that implies jobs are not coming back nearly as quickly as a V-shaped recovery would imply.  Also, remember that at the end of the month, the $600/week of additional unemployment benefits is going to disappear, unless Congress acts.  Funnily enough, that could be the catalyst to get the employment data to start to improve significantly, if they let those benefits lapse.  But that is a question far above my pay grade.

The dollar feels stretched to the downside here, and any sense of an equity market correction could easily result in a rush to havens, including the greenback.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Out of Hand

The Chinese are starting to learn
The things for which all people yearn
A chance to succeed
Their families to feed
As well, stocks to never, down, turn

But sometimes things get out of hand
Despite how they’re carefully planned
So last night we heard
Officialdom’s word
The rally is now to be banned!

It seems like it was only yesterday that the Chinese state-run media were exhorting the population to buy stocks in order to create economic growth.  New equity accounts were being opened in record numbers and the retail investors felt invincible.  Well… it was just this past Monday, so I guess that’s why it feels that way.  Of course, that’s what makes it so surprising that last night, the Chinese government directed its key pension funds to sell stocks in order to cool off the rally!  For anyone who still thought that equity market movement was the result of millions of individual buying and selling decisions helping to determine the value of a company’s business, I hope this disabuses you of that notion once and for all.  That is a quaint philosophy that certainly did exist back in antediluvian times, you know, before 1987.  But ever since then, government’s around the world have realized that a rising stock market is an important measuring stick of their success as a government.  This is true even in countries where elections are foregone conclusions, like Russia, or don’t exist, like China.  Human greed is universal, regardless of the political system ruling a country.

And so, we have observed increasing interference in equity markets by governments ever since Black Monday, October 19, 1987.  While one can understand how the Western world would be drawn to this process, as government’s regularly must “sing for their supper”, it is far more surprising that ostensibly communist nations behave in exactly the same manner.  Clearly, part of every government’s legitimacy (well, Venezuela excluded) is the economic welfare of the population.  Essentially, the stock market today has become analogous to the Roman’s concept of bread and circuses.  Distract the people with something they like, growing account balances, while enacting legislation to enhance the government’s power, and by extension, politicians own wealth.

But one thing the Chinese have as a culture is a long memory.  And while most traders in the Western world can no longer remember what markets were like in January, the Chinese government is keenly aware of what happened five years ago, when their last equity bubble popped, they were forced to devalue the renminbi, and a tidal wave capital flowed out of the country.  And they do not want to repeat that scenario.  So contrary to the protestations of Western central bankers, that identifying a bubble is impossible and so they cannot be held responsible if one inflates and then pops, the Chinese recognized what was happening (after all, they were driving it) and decided that things were moving too far too fast.  Hence, not merely did Chinese pension funds sell stocks, they announced exactly what they were going to do ahead of time, to make certain that the army of individual speculators got the message.

And so, it should be no surprise that equity markets around the world have been under pressure all evening as risk is set aside heading into the weekend.  The results in Asia showed the Nikkei fall 1.1%, the Hang Seng fall 1.8% and Shanghai fall 2.0%.  European markets have not suffered in quite the same way but are essentially flat to higher by just 0.1% and US futures are pointing lower by roughly 0.5% at this early hour (6:30am).

Interestingly, perhaps a better indicator of the risk mood is the bond market, which has rallied steadily all week, with 10-year Treasuries now yielding just 0.58%, 10bps lower than Monday’s yields and within 4bps of the historic lows seen in March.  Clearly, my impression that central banks have removed the signaling power of bond markets needs to be revisited.  It seems that the incipient second wave of Covid infections in the US is starting to weigh on some investor’s sentiment regarding the V-shaped recovery.  So perhaps, the signal strength is reduced, but not gone completely.  European bond markets are showing similar behavior with the haven bonds all seeing lower yields while PIGS bonds are being sold off and yields are moving higher.

And finally, turning to the FX markets, the dollar is broadly, albeit mildly, firmer this morning although the biggest gainer is the yen, which has seen significant flows and is up by 0.4% today taking the movement this week up to a 1.0% gain.  Despite certain equity markets continuing to perform well (I’m talking to you NASDAQ), fear is percolating beneath the surface for a lot of people.  Confirmation of this is the ongoing rally in gold, which is higher by another 0.25% this morning and is now firmly above $1800/oz.

Looking more closely at specific currency activity shows that the commodity currencies, both G10 and EMG, are under pressure as oil prices retreat by more than 2% and fall back below $40/bbl.  MXN (-0.6%), RUB (-0.3%) and NOK (-0.2%) are all moving in the direction you would expect.  But we are also seeing weakness in ZAR (-0.5%) and AUD (-0.1%), completing a broad sweep of those currencies linked to commodity markets.  It appears that the fear over a second wave, and the negative economic impact this will have, has been a key driver for all risk assets, and these currencies are direct casualties.  But it’s not just those currencies under pressure, other second order impacts are being felt.  For example, KRW (-0.75%) was the worst performer of all overnight, as traders grow concerned over reports of increased infections in South Korea, as well as Japan and China, which is forcing secondary closures of parts of those economies.  In fact, the EMG space writ large is behaving in exactly the same manner, just some currencies are feeling the brunt a bit more than others.

Ultimately, markets continue to be guided by broad-based risk sentiment, and as concerns rise about a second wave of Covid infections spreading, investors are quick to retreat to the safety of havens like Treasuries, bunds, the dollar and the yen.

Turning to the data story, yesterday saw both Initial (1.314M) and Continuing (18.062M) Claims print at lower than expected numbers.  While that was good news, there still has to be significant concern that the pace of decline remains so slow.  After all, a V-shaped recovery would argue for a much quicker return to more ‘normal’ numbers in this series.  Today brings only PPI (exp -0.2% Y/Y, +0.4% Y/Y ex food & energy), but the inflation story remains secondary in central bank views these days, so I don’t anticipate any market reaction, regardless of the outcome.

There are no Fed speakers, but then, they have been saying the same thing for the past three months, so it is not clear to me what additional value they bring at this point.  I see no reason for this modest risk-off approach to end, especially as heading into the weekend, most traders will be happy to square up positions.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

 

Shareholders’ Dreams

The contrast is hard to ignore
Twixt growth, which is still on the floor
And market extremes
Where shareholders’ dreams
Of gains help them come back for more

“There’s no way I can lose.  Right now, I’m feeling invincible.”

This quote from a Bloomberg article about the massive rally in the Chinese stock markets could just as easily come from a US investor as well.  It is a perfect encapsulation of the view that the current situation is one where government support of both the economy and the markets is going to be with us for quite a while yet, and so, stock prices can only go higher.  So far, of course, that view has been spot on, at least since March 23rd, when the US markets bottomed.

The question this idea raises, though, is how long can this situation endure?  There is no denying the argument that ongoing monetary support for economies is flowing into asset markets.  One need only look at the correlation between the gain in the value of global equity markets since things bottomed, and the amount of monetary stimulus that has been implemented.  It is no coincidence that both numbers are on the order of $15 trillion.  But as we watch bankruptcy after bankruptcy get announced, Brooks Brothers was yesterday’s big-name event, it becomes harder and harder to see how market valuations can maintain their current levels without central bank support.  Thus, if equity market values are important to central banks, and I would argue they are, actually, their leading indicator, it leads to the idea that central banks will continue to add liquidity to the economy forever.  In other words, MMT has arrived.

Magical Money Tree Modern Monetary Theory is the controversial idea that, as long as governments print their own money, like the US does with dollars, as opposed to how euros are created by an “independent” authority, there is nothing to stop governments from spending whatever they want, budgets be damned.  After all, they can either issue debt, and print the money needed to repay it, or skip the issuance step and simply print what they need when they need it.  The proponents explain that the only hitch is inflation, which they claim would be the moderator on overprinting.  Thus, if inflation starts to rise, they can slow down the presses.

Originally, this was deemed a left leaning strategy as their idea was to print more money to pay for social programs.  But like every good (?) idea, it has been co-opted by the political opposition in a slightly different form.  Thus, printing money to buy financial assets (which is exactly what the Fed has been doing since 2009’s first bout of QE, is the right leaning application of this view.  To date, the Fed has only purchased bonds, but you can see the evolution toward stocks is underway. At first it was only Treasuries and then mortgage-backed bonds, which was designed to aid the collapsing housing market.  But now we are on to Munis (at least they are government entities) and investment grade corporate ETF’s, then extending to junk bond ETF’s and then individual corporate bonds.  It is not hard to see that the next step will be SPYders and DIAmonds and finally individual stocks.

It is also not hard to discern the impact on equity prices as we go forward in this scenario, much higher.  But ask yourself this; is this a good long-term outcome?  Consider the classic definition of Socialism:

      noun:   a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the state.

Would it not be the case that if the central bank owns equities, they are taking ownership of the means of production?  Would the Fed not be voting their shareholder rights?  And wouldn’t they be deciding winners and losers based on political issues, not economic ones?  Is this really where we want to go?

The EU is already on the way, with a new plan to take equity stakes in SME’s, the economic sector that has been least aided by PEPP and the ECB versions of QE.  And already the discussion there is of which companies to help; only those that meet current ‘proper’ criteria, such as climate neutrality and social cohesion.  The point is that the future is shaping up to turn out quite differently than the recent past, at least when it comes to the financial/economic models that drive political decisions.  Stay alert to these changes as they are almost certainly on their way.

Once again, I drifted into a non-market discussion because the market discussion is so incredibly boring.  Equity markets continue their climb, based on ongoing financial largesse by central banks.  Bond markets remain mired in tight ranges and the dollar continues to consolidate after a massive rally in March led to a more gradual unwinding of haven asset positions.  But lately, the story is just not that interesting.

Arguably, the dollar’s recent trend lower is still intact, it has just flattened out a great deal.  So we continue to see very gradual weakness in the greenback, just not necessarily every day.  For example, in the past three weeks, the euro has climbed 1.25%, but had an equal number of up and down days during this span.  In other words, if you look hard enough, you can discern a trend, it is just not a steep one.  In fact, as I type, it has turned modest overnight gains into modest losses, but is certainly not showing signs of a breakout in either direction.  And this is a pretty fair description of the entire G10 bloc, modest movement in both directions over the course of a few weeks, but net slightly firmer vs. the dollar.

Today, the pound is the big winner, although it has only gained 0.25%, coming on the back of the government’s announcement of an additional £30 billion of fiscal support for the UK economy focused on wages, job retention and small businesses.  As to the rest of the G10, SEK is firmer by 0.2%, although there are no stories that would seem to support the movement, while the other eight currencies are less than 0.1% changed from yesterday.

In the emerging markets, the story is somewhat similar with just two outliers, RUB (+0.6% as oil is higher) and ZAR (+0.5% as gold is higher).  In fact, the currency that has truly performed best of all this year is gold, which is higher by nearly 20% YTD, and shows no signs of slowing down.  Arguably, the rand should continue to find support from this situation.

Once again, data is scarce, with today’s Initial and Continuing Claims data the highlights (exp 1.375M and 18.75M respectively).  At this stage, these are probably the most important coincident indicators we have, as any signs of increased layoffs will result in a lot more anxiety, both in markets and the White House.  Of course, if those numbers decline, look for the V-shaped recovery story to gain further traction and stronger equity markets alongside a (slightly) weaker dollar.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

 

No Reprieve

Said Boris to Angela, Hon
When this year is over and done
There’ll be no reprieve
The UK will leave
The EU and start a great run

Will somebody please explain to me why every nation seems to believe that if they do not have a trade deal signed with another nation that they must impose tariffs.  After all, the WTO agreement merely defines the maximum tariffs allowable to signatories.  There is no requirement that tariffs are imposed.  And yet, to listen to the discussion about trade one would think that tariffs are mandatory if trade deals are not in place.

Consider the situation of the major aircraft manufacturer in Europe, a huge employer and key industrial company throughout the EU.  As it happens, they source their wings from the UK, which, while the UK was a member of the EU, meant there were no tariff questions.  Of course, Brexit interrupted that idea and now their wing source is subject to a tariff.  BUT WHY?  The EU could easily create legislation or a regulation that exempts airplane wings from being taxed upon importation.  After all, there’s only one buyer of wings.  This would prevent any further disruption to the manufacturer’s supply chain and seem to be a winning strategy, insuring that the airplanes manufactured remain cost competitive.  But apparently, that is not the direction that the EU is going to take.  Rather, in a classic example of cutting off one’s nose to spite their face, the EU is going to complain because the UK is not willing to cut a deal to the EU’s liking while imposing a tariff on this critical part for one of their key industrial companies.  And this is just one of thousands of situations that work both ways between the UK and the EU.  I never understand why the discussion is framed in terms of tariffs are required, rather than the reality that they are voluntarily imposed by the importing country for political reasons.

This was brought to mind when reading about the meeting between British PM Johnson and German Chancellor Merkel, where ostensibly Boris explained that he would like a deal but the EU will need to compromise on key areas like fishing rights and the influence, or lack thereof, of EU courts in UK laws, or the UK is prepared to walk with no deal.  Negotiations continue but the clock is well and truly ticking as the deadline for an extension to be agreed has long passed.

It cannot be surprising that this relatively negative news has resulted in the pound giving up some of its recent gains, although at this point of the session it is only lower by 0.2% compared to yesterday’s closing levels, a modest rebound from its earlier session lows.  The euro, on the other hand is essentially unchanged at this hour as traders look over the landscape and determine that there is very little to drive excitement for the day.

dol·drums

/ˈdōldrəmz,ˈdäldrəmz/

noun

  1. a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or depression.

In the late 1700’s, sailors would get stuck crossing the Atlantic at the equator during the summer as the climactic conditions were of high heat and almost no wind.  This time became known as the summer doldrums, a word that came into use as a combination of dull and tantrums, or, essentially, unpredictable periods of dullness.

Well, the doldrums have arrived.  And, as the summer progresses, it certainly appears that, despite the ongoing Covid-19 emergency, the FX market is heading into a period of even greater quiet.  This is somewhat ironic as one of the favored analyst calls for the second half of the year is increasing volatility across markets.  And while that may well come to pass in Q4, right now it seems extremely unlikely.

Let’s analyze this idea for a moment.  First off, there is one market that is very unlikely to see increased volatility, Treasury notes and bonds.  For the past month, the range on 10-year yields has been 10 basis points, hardly a situation of increased volatility.  And given the Fed’s ever-increasing presence in the market, there is no reason to believe that range will widen anytime soon.  Daily movement is pretty much capped at 3 basis points these days.

Equity markets have shown a bit more life, but then they have always been more volatile than bonds historically.  Even so, in the past month, the S&P has seen a range of about 7% from top to bottom and historic volatility while higher than this time last year, at 25% is well below (and trending lower) levels seen earlier this year.  After the dislocations seen in March and April, it will take some time before volatility levels decline to their old lows, but the trend is clear.

Meanwhile, FX markets have quickly moved on from the excitement of March and April and are already back in the lowest quartile of volatility levels.  Again, looking at the past month, the range in EURUSD has been just over 2 big figures, and currently we are smack in the middle.  Implied volatility, while still above the historic lows seen just before the Covid crisis broke out, are trending back lower and have fallen in a straight line for the past month.  And this pattern has played out even in the most volatile emerging market currencies, like MXN, which while still robustly in the mid-teens, have been trending lower steadily for the past three months.

In other words, market participants are setting aside their fears of another major dislocation in the belief that the combination of fiscal and monetary stimulus so far implemented, as well as the promise of more if deemed ‘necessary’ will be sufficient to anesthetize the market.  And perhaps they are correct, that is exactly what will happen, and market activity will revert to pre-Covid norms.  But risk management is all about being prepared for the unlikely event, which is why hedging remains of critical importance to all asset managers, whether those assets are financial or real.  Do not let the lack of current activity lull you into the belief that you can reduce your hedging activities.

If you haven’t already figured this out, the reason I waxed so long on this issue is that the market is doing exactly nothing at this point.  Overnight movement was mixed and inconclusive in equities, although I continue to scratch my head over Hong Kong’s robust performance, while bond markets remain with one or two basis points of yesterday’s levels.  And the dollar is also having a mixed session with both gainers and losers, none of which have even reached 0.5%.  In fact, the only true trend that I see these days is in gold, which as breeched the $1800/oz level this morning and has been steadily climbing higher since the middle of 2018 with a three-week interruption during March of this year.  I know that the prognosis is for deflation in our future, but I would be wary of relying on those forecasts.  Certainly, my personal experience shows that prices have only gone higher since the crisis began, at least for everything except gasoline, and of course, working from home, I have basically stopped using that.

Not only has there been no market movement, there is essentially no data today either, anywhere in the world.  The point is that market activity today will rely on flows and headlines, with fundamentals shunted to the sidelines.  While that is always unpredictable, it also means that another very quiet day is the most likely outcome.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

 

A Wake of Debris

Investors are pining to see
A rebound that’s shaped like a “V”
But data of late
Could well extirpate
Those views midst a wake of debris

For everyone who remains convinced that a V-shaped recovery is the most likely outcome, recent data must be somewhat disconcerting. There is no question that June data will look better than May’s, which was substantially better than April’s, but if one takes a few steps back to gain perspective, the current situation remains dire. One of the features of most economic statistical series is that they tend to measure both monthly and annual changes. The idea is that the monthly data offer’s a picture of the latest activity while the annual data gives a view of the longer-term trend. The problem for the bulls to overcome right now is that while June’s monthly data is showing record-breaking monthly gains, the annual numbers remain horrific. This morning’s German IP data is a perfect example of the situation. While this was actually data from May, it is the latest reading. During the month, Industrial Production rose 7.8%, the largest monthly gain on record, and arguably good news. Alas, expectations were for an even greater 11.1% rebound, and more importantly, the annual data showed a still terrible 19.3% decline from 2019’s levels. So, while there is no question that May’s numbers were an improvement over April’s, it is hardly sounding an all-clear signal.

This has been the pattern we have seen consistently for the past two months and is likely to continue to be the case for quite a while. Ergo, it is fair to state that the economy is rebounding from its worst levels, but to imply that things are even approaching the pre-Covid economy is completely erroneous. This is especially so in the survey data, which, if you recall, simply asks if this month was better than last. We saw some incredible PMI data at the nadir, with readings in the low teens and even single digits in a few countries, indicating that more than 80% of respondents saw things decline from the previous month. As such, it is no surprise that things got better from there, but does a rebound to a reading above 50 on a monthly series, with no annual analog, actually mean the same thing today as it did in January? I contend it is not a reasonable comparison and to imply that the economy is doing anything but slowly climbing back from a historic decline is just plain wrong.

The European Commission clearly understands this issue as they reduced their outlook for the EU’s economic growth in 2020 by a full percentage point to -8.7%, with most member nations seeing a substantial downgrade. A key reason for this downgrade has been the recent uptick in infections and the sporadic second closures of areas within the economies. The second wave of infections is dreaded for exactly this reason, it is preventing economies around the world from gaining growth momentum, something that comes as confidence builds that things will get better. Every interruption just extends the timeline for a full recovery, a prospect that none of us welcome. Alas, it appears that the most likely outcome right now is a very slow, drawn out recovery with a continued high rate of unemployment and ongoing fiscal and monetary support abetting every economy on the planet while simultaneously preventing markets from clearing and thus insuring slower growth ahead when it finally returns.

With that as preamble, a look at today’s markets shows essentially a full reversal from yesterday’s price action. Yesterday was always a bit odd as there was no clear rationale for the risk rally, yet there it was, around the world. However, this morning, the data continues to demonstrate just how far things are from the pre-Covid world, and it seems the risk bulls are having a tougher time. Starting in Asia, we saw weakness in Japan (-0.45%) and Hong Kong (-1.4% and long overdue given what is happening there) although Shanghai (+0.4%) has managed to keep the positive momentum going for yet another day. While there were no articles exhorting share ownership in the papers there last night, it remains a key feature of the Chinese government’s strategy, encourage individuals to buy stocks to support both markets and confidence. We shall see how long it can continue. European bourses have reversed much of yesterday’s gains as well, down a bit more than 1.0% on average and US futures are trading at similar levels, -1.0%. Bond markets continue to prove to be irrelevant at this stage, no longer seen as haven assets given the fact that there is no yield available but unwilling to be sold by traders as central banks have promised to buy them all if they deem it necessary. So, for the time being, it is extremely difficult to gain any credible price signals from these markets.

Commodity markets are under a bit of pressure, with oil prices lower by 1.5% and gold falling 0.5%, while the dollar is today’s big winner. Yesterday it fell against all its G10 counterparts and most EMG ones as well. This morning, it is just the opposite, with only the pound, essentially unchanged on the day, not declining while AUD and NOK lead the way lower with 0.55% and 0.45% declines respectively. The data situation continues to show that the early signs of a rebound are leveling off, so investing based on a brighter outlook is not in the cards.

In the EMG space, MXN is today’s big loser, down 1.25%, but here, too, it is nearly universal as only IDR (+0.35%) has managed to eke out a gain, ostensibly on the back of views that the central bank’s debt monetization plan will draw inward investment. We shall see.

On the data front, yesterday’s ISM Non-Manufacturing number was a much better than expected 57.1, but as I discuss above, I don’t believe that is indicative of growth so much as a rebound from the worst conditions in the series history. This morning we only see the JOLTS Job Openings data, (exp 4.5M), but this is a delayed number as it represents May openings. Remember, too, this is down from more than 7.5M in early 2019 and 7.0M earlier this year.

Yesterday we heard from Atlanta Fed President Bostic who sounded a warning that the second wave, if it expands, would have a significantly detrimental impact on the US economy, and thus he was quite concerned with the future trajectory of growth. Remember, it is the Atlanta Fed that calculates the widely watched GDPNow number, which is currently reading an extremely precise -35.18% decline for Q2. It is no surprise he is worried.

Overall, risk is on the back foot today and appears set to continue this move. Barring some overly upbeat commentary from the White House, something that is always possible on a down day, I expect the dollar to drift slightly higher from here.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf