The Dollar’s Fate (In the Coming Year)

With apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the dollar’s fate in the coming year
In the wake of a time that’s ne’er been seen
Since the Spanish Flu of Nineteen Eighteen
Perhaps Twenty-One will bring joy, not fear

Recapping Twenty shows that despite
A plague of biblical magnitude
The printing press revealed its might
As governments everywhere, debt, accrued
And flooded the markets with cash untold
(The better their citizens be controlled)
But all of that money was used, not for,
Increased production of goods onshore
Instead, for the purchase of stocks galore

Thus, equity markets at home rose higher
With Asia, too, on proverbial fire
Though Europe lagged, as the ECB
Was late to the party with more QE
Risk was embraced with a multiplier
Government bonds, though falling of late
Had seen yields tumble, year-to date
And lastly, the dollar, is now descending
As traders await this trend extending

Looking ahead, what can we expect?
Has Covid passed? Will ‘normal’ return?
Or are there surprises we’ve yet to learn?
Will stocks continue their flights of fancy?
Will bonds, inflation, at last detect?
Will dollars, everyone, start to spurn?
Will gold and bitcoin still seem chancy?

Regarding the virus, it’s not dead yet
Though hope springs eternal, and at last
The vaccines imply the worst has passed
But life, as we knew it, has been reset
Working from home (or living at work)
Is mainstream now, and not just a quirk
Office demand will certainly slide
And travel for business will lessen worldwide
Normal has changed, for boss and for clerk

Let us now speak of growth and inflation
Will growth improve on last year’s “success”?
Or will it instead fall flat and regress
Lockdown renewals bode ill for salvation
Policymakers constantly flail
As policy efforts constantly fail
Stimulus, fiscal, continues to flow
Interest rates are now forevermore low
Central banks tell us that this combination
Is perfect to counter a fearful stagnation
But in their efforts, good times to hail
The rising of prices will bypass their gaze
Leading to many more difficult days
GDP this year will struggle to One
Inflation, however, at Four, will not stun

How, then, will markets respond to this fate?
Equity prices at first will inflate
By spring, though, ‘twill be clear something’s amiss
Traders, their holdings, will start to truncate
While we shall not tumble into the abyss
Do not be shocked if the market does fall
Some twenty percent, at the least, is my call
What about bonds? How will they react?
Powell will ne’er let their prices contract
Yield Curve Control is the future we’ll see
Alongside the horror of pure MMT
Hence, ten-year bonds when December arrives
Will keep up their value, a cat with nine lives
One percent will be the height they attain
Implying the real yield most certainly dives
And so, the dollar will suffer great pain

Starting in Europe where Madame Lagarde
Is trying to keep up with Fed Chairman Jay
Sadly, what’s clear, at the end of the day
The ECB’s structure will make it too hard
While Fed and the Treasury work hand in hand
Pushing more money throughout all the land
Treaties in Europe have outcomes, unplanned
PEPP’s not enough for a rebound unscarred

Even though growth throughout Europe will sag
Even though prices will still be a drag
Nothing Lagarde can create will impact
The outcome, a euro that’s sure to move higher
Thus, if it’s something you need to acquire
At year-end, One-Thirty, you’ll need, that’s a fact

Tumultuous best describes last year’s UK
Twixt Covid and Brexit, the nation felt pain
Unhappily, this year, to Johnson’s dismay
Could worsen for every old bloke on the street
With growth in the toilet while prices show heat
It doesn’t seem much like Pound Sterling could gain

But real rates keep diving throughout the US
Offsetting those troubles, so if you need quid
Come Christmas, One-Fifty, if I had to guess
Is what they will cost as the dollar’s declined
Looking elsewhere, perhaps north of the border
Canada still seems a bit out of order
Oil’s rebounded but still seems confined
Meanwhile, housing there is quite well bid

However, again, it is Fed Chairman Jay
Who’s promised support for considerable time
Thus, when we get to our next Boxing Day
One-Fifteen for Loonies you’ll see on your screen
Eastward now, let’s turn our gaze as we glean
Whether the yen can continue its climb
Long-term, the dollar, its trend has been clear
Even before the debasement of late
Several percent, like a clock every year
Why would this year, something new, demonstrate?

Frankly, it won’t, as the Fed’s in control
Rather, the yen, will continue to roll
So, Winter Solstice this year will reveal
Dollar-Yen, Ninety-Six, where you can deal
Let us turn now to both future and past
Bitcoin and gold, which have both been amassed
Can both their prices continue to rise?
Certainly, as they’ve restricted supplies

For centuries, gold has defined what’s secure
Its glitter unblemished while paper’s debased
So, don’t be surprised if the relic’s embraced
As buyers pay Three Grand their wealth to insure
But youth has ideas which to many seem odd
And bitcoin is one such that’s been called a fraud
So, is it? Or is Bitcoin digital gold?
An updated version important to hold
As fiat debasement continues apace
This digital token gains further allure
And this year it seems Bitcoin’s making its case
As something that everyone needs to procure

It’s starting this year right around thirty grand
And hodlers believe that ‘tween here and the sky
Unless countries call for Bitcoin to be banned
A doubling or tripling’s the gain they’ll apply
One last thing I’ll highlight in digital space

The DCEP is now leading the race
This digital yuan, the first CBDC
Is coming soon courtesy of Mr Xi
It’s impact initially is quite unclear
But I guarantee that inside of a year
Nations worldwide will each roll out their own
And each will define a DC trading zone

While last year was filled with surprises galore
This year we’re likely to see many more
And finally, thank you, my readers and friends
For listening to all the twists and the bends
Now looking ahead to Twenty Twenty-One
Let’s all keep perspective and try to have fun.

Good luck, stay safe and have a wonderful new year
Adf

DCEP = Digital Currency / Electronic Payment
CBDC = Central Bank Digital Coin

Less Than Two Weeks

There once was a tow-haired PM
Who rallied supporters ‘gainst ‘them’
At first ‘them’ was Labour
But now it’s their neighbor,
The EU, they need to condemn

With less than two weeks to agree
A deal leaving much of trade free
It’s come down to fish
Which both sides do wish
Were subject to their own decree

Today will be the last poetry of 2020.  Come January 4, 2021, FXPoetry will return with prognostications for 2021.  As such, let me wish all my readers a happy and healthy New Year.

One of the biggest benefits of 2020 coming to an end is the fact that the Brexit story should finally be put to bed.  Whether or not a trade deal is agreed by December 31st, it is unambiguous that the UK will have a changed relationship with the EU going forward.  As such, there will be no more histrionics regarding negotiations and investors and traders will return to valuing UK assets and the pound based on more fundamental views.  But we are not there yet, and so the ongoing Brexit negotiations continue to have a significant impact on markets.  If you recall, just one week ago, rumors were flying that the talks were going to collapse, and the UK was going to walk away.  Of course, that didn’t happen, and now it appears that fishing rights are the last remaining issue to be agreed.

In a nutshell, the EU want unfettered access to the UK’s fishing grounds, which are amongst the richest in the world, and which they have enjoyed for the past 47 years, ever since the UK joined the EU in 1973.  At the same time, the UK wants to control its sovereign waters, which was part of the entire rationale for Brexit in the first place, for the nation to regain its sovereignty.  It is also important to remember that from an economic perspective, fishing represents 0.1% of the UK economy and even less of the EU’s economy.  The point is, this is a symbolic issue, as opposed to a critical economic outcome.  Apparently, the UK has offered a 3-year transition period with no changes, and then want to review/renew licenses every 3 years thereafter.  The EU, meanwhile, wants no change in the current situation.  It seems to me, that of all the issues that have been addressed, this would be one of the easier ones to solve, and I remain confident it will be solved.  Perhaps 5 years or 7 years will be agreed, but some number will be agreed.

However, with both sides still full of bluster on the issue, threats of the talks breaking down are daily events, and today, it seems the market is in a more credulous mood.  As such, after a week where the pound, along with almost every other currency, rallied pretty sharply, we are seeing some profit-taking that has seen the pound retreat 0.45%, making it the worst performer in the G10.  None of this, however, has changed my view that a deal will be reached before the end of the year.

On a different note, the BOJ completed their last meeting of the year and surprised the market by explaining they were going to conduct yet another review of their policies, to be completed in March.  While leaving interest rates and asset purchase targets unchanged, they did extend their special pandemic related support programs by an additional six months.  But the news of the review is the talk of the market, with initial speculation that they may adjust their yield curve control policy to target a different tenor (currently they target 10-year yields at 0.00% +/- 0.20%) in their efforts to stoke inflation.  Alas, as demonstrated by last night’s data, they continue to fail miserably in this task.  CPI was released at -0.9% on both a headline and ex fresh food basis.  While a review may well be a good idea, it will only be useful if they actually define a policy that helps them achieve their goal of 2.0% inflation.  Unfortunately, for the past twenty-eight years, they have not really come close.  As to the yen, which has been strengthening this week along with most currencies, it too has softened overnight, down by 0.25%.

And those are really the stories of note this morning.  Risk sold off across Asia (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng -0.7%, Shanghai -0.3%) although European bourses are marginally higher at this time (DAX, CAC and FTSE 100 all +0.1%).  US futures, meanwhile, are essentially flat on the day, as traders prepare for triple witching day today, when stock options, stock index futures and stock index options all expire.  Historically, they have been known to see some large moves, but right now, that doesn’t seem the case.

Bond markets, despite the lackluster stock performance, are under pressure as well, with most European bonds seeing yields rise (Bunds and OAT’s +1bp, PIGS +2bps to+6bps), although with the concern over Brexit, Gilts have seen haven demand and yields have decline 2bps.  Treasuries, meanwhile, are essentially unchanged, and continue to hover just below the 1.0% yield level that so many expect to be breeched shortly.

Both oil and gold prices are little changed on the day while the dollar is benefitting from what is almost certainly profit-taking and position adjustment heading into the weekend.  As such, it is higher vs. most of the G10, albeit only marginally, and firmer vs. most of the EMG bloc.  The noteworthy moves in EMG are RUB (-1.1%), which fell ahead of the central bank meeting, where they left policy unchanged, and has not seen any recovery since, and HUF (-0.6%) which has seen selling interest after the budget deficit there topped expectations.

Data-wise, yesterday’s Initial Claims data was a bit worse than expected, which doesn’t bode well for Q4 GDP in the US, but Housing Starts and Building Permits remain strong.  Philly Fed also disappointed, another indication that growth here is moderating.  This morning’s only number is Leading Indicators (exp 0.5%), but that seems unlikely to have an impact.  Rather, consolidation is today’s theme, and while the trend remains firmly for a lower dollar, it would not be surprising if it finishes the week on a high note.

Until 2021…good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Infinite Easing

Until “further progress” is made
On joblessness, Jay won’t be swayed
From infinite easing
Which stocks should find pleasing
Explaining how he will get paid

As well, one more time he inferred
That Congress was being absurd
By not passing bills
With plenty of frills
So fiscal relief can be spurred

We’re going to keep policy highly accommodative until the expansion is well down the tracks.”  This statement from Chairman Powell in yesterday’s post-meeting press conference pretty much says it all with respect to the Fed’s current collective mindset.  While the Fed left the policy rate unchanged, as universally expected, they did hint at the idea that additional QE is still being considered with a subtle change in the language of their statement.  Rather than explaining they will increase their holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities “at least at the current pace”, they now promise to do so by “at least $80 billion per month” in Treasuries and “at least $40 billion per month” in mortgages.  And they will do this until the economy reaches some still unknown level of unemployment alongside their average 2% inflation target.

What is even more interesting is that the Fed’s official economic forecasts were raised, as GDP growth is now forecast at 4.2% for 2021 and 3.2% for 2022, each of these being raised by 0.2% from their September forecasts.  At the same time, Unemployment is expected to fall to 5.0% in 2021 and 4.2% in 2022, again substantially better than September’s outlook of 5.5% and 4.6% respectively.  As to PCE Inflation, the forecasts were raised slightly, by 0.1% for both years, but remain below their 2% target.

Put it all together and you come away with a picture of the Fed feeling better about the economy overall, albeit with some major risks still in the shadows, but also prepared to, as Mario Draghi declared in 2012, “do whatever it takes” to achieve their still hazy target of full employment and average inflation of 2%.  For the equity bulls out there, this is exactly what they want to hear, more growth without tighter policy.  For dollar bears, this is also what they want to hear, a steady supply increase of dollars that need to wash through the market, driving the value of the dollar lower.  For the reflatonistas out there, those who are looking for a steeper yield curve, they took heart that the Fed did not extend the duration of their purchases, and clearly feel better about the more upbeat growth forecasts, but the ongoing lack of inflation, at least according to the Fed, means that the rationale for higher bond yields is not quite as clear.

After all, high growth with low inflation would not drive yields higher, especially in the current world with all that liquidity currently available.  And one other thing argues against much higher Treasury yields, the fact that the government cannot afford them.  With the debt/GDP ratio rising to 127% this year, and set to go higher based on the ongoing deficit spending, higher yields would soak up an ever increasing share of government revenues, thus crowding out spending on other things like the entitlement programs or defense, as well as all discretionary spending.  With this in mind, you can be sure the Fed is going to prevent yields from going very high at all, for a very long time.

Summing up, the last FOMC meeting of the year reconfirmed what we already knew, the Fed is not going to tighten monetary policy for many years to come.  For their sake, and ours, I sure hope inflation remains as tame as they forecast, because in the event it were to rise more sharply, it could become very uncomfortable at the Mariner Eccles Building.

In the meantime, this morning brings the last BOE rate decision of the year, with market expectations universal that no changes will be forthcoming.  That makes perfect sense given the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, although this morning we heard from the EU’s top negotiator, Michel Barnier, that good progress has been made, with only the last stumbling blocks regarding fishing to be agreed.  However, in the event no trade deal is reached, the BOE will want to have as much ammunition as possible available to address what will almost certainly be some major market dislocations.  As I type, the pound is trading above 1.36 (+0.8% on the day) for the first time since April 2018 and shows no signs of breaking its recent trend.  I continue to believe that a successful Brexit negotiation is not fully priced in, so there is room for a jump if (when?) a deal is announced.

And that’s really it for the day, which has seen a continuation of the risk-on meme overall.  Looking at equity markets, Asia saw strength across the board (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng +0.8%, Shanghai +1.1%), although Europe has not been quite as universally positive (DAX +0.8%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 0.0%).  US futures markets are pointing higher again, with all three indices looking at 0.5%ish gains at this time.

The bond market is showing more of a mixed session with Treasuries off 2 ticks and the yield rising 0.7bps, while European bond markets have all rallied slightly, with yields declining across the board between 1 and 2 basis points. Again, if inflation is not coming to the US, and the Fed clearly believes that to be the case, the rationale for higher Treasury yields remains absent.

Commodity markets are feeling good this morning with gold continuing its recent run, +0.7%, while oil prices have edged up by 0.3%.  And finally, the dollar is on its heels vs. essentially all its counterparts this morning, in both G10 and EMG blocs.  Starting with the G10, NOK (+1.0%) is the leader, although AUD and NZD (+0.8% each) are benefitting from their commodity focus along with the dollar’s overall weakness.  In fact, the euro (+0.3%) is the laggard here, while even JPY (+0.4%) is rising despite the risk-on theme.  This simply shows you how strong dollar bearishness is, if it overcomes the typical yen weakness attendant to risk appetite.

In the emerging markets, it is also the commodity focused currencies that are leading the way, with ZAR (+0.9%) and CLP (+0.75%) on top of the leaderboard, but strong gains in RUB (+0.7%), BRL (+0.6%) and MXN (+0.5%) as well.  The CE4, have been a bit less buoyant, although all are stronger on the day.  But this is all of a piece, stronger commodity prices leading to a weaker dollar.

On the data front, I think we are in an asymmetric reaction function, where strong data will be ignored while weak data will become the rationale for further risk appetite.  This morning we see Initial Claims (exp 815K), Continuing Claims (5.7M), Housing Starts (1535K), Building Permits (1560K), and Philly Fed (20.0).  Yesterday saw a much weaker than expected Retail Sales outcome (-1.1%, -0.9% ex autos) although the PMI data was a bit better than expected.  But now that the Fed has essentially said they are on a course regardless of the data, with the only possible variation to be additional easing, data is secondary.  The dollar downtrend is firmly entrenched at this time, and while we will see reversals periodically, and the trend is not a collapse, there is no reason to believe it is going to end anytime soon.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Much Bluer Skies

Ahead of the Fed, PMI’s
From Europe were quite a surprise
It seems that despite
The lockdowns in sight
The future has much bluer skies

Preliminary PMI data from around the world this morning is the market’s key focus, at least until 2:00 this afternoon when we hear from the Fed.  But, in the meantime, the much better than expected readings surprised the market and are driving yet another increase in risk appetite.  (One wonders if that appetite will ever be sated!)

Starting in Asia, Australian data was considerably stronger than last month, with the Composite figure printing at 57.0, its second highest print in the (short) history of the series.  On the other hand, Japanese data was the sole disappointment, with the Composite slipping 0.1 to 48.0, still pointing to a contracting economy.  The European numbers, however, were all much better than expected with Germany printing 2 points higher than expected at 52.5 on the Composite while France (49.6 Composite) actually beat expectations by 6.6 points.  As such, the Eurozone Composite PMI printed at 49.8, significantly better than expectations of a 45.7 print.  The point here is that while the Eurozone economy is hardly booming (other than German manufacturing), there is a clear sense that the worst may be behind it.

Of course, what makes this so surprising is that the German government has shuttered non-essential businesses until January 10th, with hints that could be extended, after the largest single day fatality count was recorded yesterday.  We are also hearing from other European countries, (France and Italy), that further lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings are being considered as the second (third?) wave of Covid-19 sweeps across the continent.  Yet, not only markets, but businesses have clearly grabbed hold of the idea that the vaccine is going to lead to a swift end to the government intervention in virtually every economy and allow economic activity to resume as it was before.

The spanner in the works, as it were, is that governments are loathe to cede power and control once it is obtained.  If this holds true again, then businesses need to be prepared to have far more rules and restrictions imposed on their operations, something which is typically not associated with an economic boom.  However, for now, it appears that the prospect of the tightest restrictions being lifted outweighs the potential longer-term negative impacts of intrusive government.  So, as Timbuk 3 explained back in 1986, “The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades).

With that in mind, a quick turn to the FOMC meeting today shows us that the market consensus is for no policy changes in scope or size, but rather, more clarity on what is required for the Fed to consider tighter policy in the future.  Expectations continue to center on achieving a specific Unemployment Rate or Inflation Rate or, probably, both in combination.  Perhaps Chairman Powell will resurrect the Misery Index (not the current show on TBS, but the original one defined by Ronald Reagan, when he was running for president in 1980, as the sum of inflation and unemployment.)  For instance, a target of 3.5% Unemployment and 2.0% Inflation would seem to be right where policymakers would be thrilled.  Alas, today we are looking at a reading of 7.9%, with a poor mixture to boot (Unemployment 6.7%, CPI 1.2%).  However, as long as Congress fails to pass a new fiscal stimulus bill, do not be too surprised if the Fed does change the program, with my bet being on Operation Twist redux, where they extend the maturities of their current purchases.  We will find out at 2.

Turning to the markets, all that hunger for risk has shown up in all markets today, with equities and commodities broadly firmer while bonds and the dollar are broadly weaker.  Last night, following the strong equity performance in the US yesterday, we saw less impressive, but still positive price action in Asia with the Nikkei (+0.3%) and Hang Seng (+1.0%) both rallying although Shanghai was flat on the day.  Europe, however, has embraced the PMI data, as well as word that a Brexit deal is approaching (told ya so!) and markets there are all much firmer; DAX (+1.6%), CAC (+0.7%), FTSE 100 (+1.0%).  Finally, US futures are actually the laggards this morning, with all three in the green but the magnitude of those gains more muted than one might have expected, in the 0.2%-0.3% range.

Bond markets have come under pressure as there is certainly no case to own a low yielding haven asset when one can be gorging on risk, but the price declines are far larger in Europe (Bunds and OATs +3.7bps, Gilts +2.7bps) than in the US (Treasuries +1.0bp).  Interestingly, even the PIGS bonds are selling off as it appears Portugal is not quite so interesting a place to hold your cash when the yield there is -0.04% on 10-year paper!

Commodities are firmer, with gold having a second strong performance in a row, up 0.4% this morning, and oil prices are also drifting higher, albeit barely so at this hour.  And finally, the dollar is under significant pressure this morning after breaking through several key technical levels, with only CAD (-0.4%) underperforming in the G10.  And in truth, I cannot find a good reason for the decline as there don’t appear to be either technical or fundamental reasons evident.  On the other side, though, NOK (+0.45%) and GBP (+0.4%) are the leading gainers, although the rest of the space is higher by about 0.3%.  Aside from the Brexit hopes, this is all really about the dollar and the ever-growing conviction that it has much further to fall as 2021 approaches and unfolds.

As to the emerging markets, the CE4, taking their cues from the euro, are leading the way with CZK (+0.75%) and PLN (+0.6%) at the head of the pack.  Beyond those, the gains are less impressive, on the order of 0.2%-0.3%, with APAC currencies little changed overnight and LATAM currencies opening with less oomph than we are seeing in Europe.

On the data front, ahead of the FOMC this afternoon, we see Retail Sales (exp -0.3%, +0.1% ex autos) and then the preliminary PMI data as well (55.8 Manufacturing, 55.9 Services).  My sense is stronger than expected data would have only a limited impact on the dollar, but if the data is weak, another wave lower seems quite possible.

And that is really what we have today.  For now, the dollar is under pressure and likely to remain so.  At 2:00, there is potential for an additional leg lower, if the Fed opts to increase QE or extend maturities, but I cannot make a case for the dollar to benefit from their announcement.  In fact, for now, the only thing that can help the dollar is the fact that it has already moved a long way, and it could be due for a simple trading correction.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Not Whether but When

The question’s not whether but when
The Fed adds more money again
With Congress unable
To reach cross the table
It’s up to Jay and his (wo)men

For the first time in months, the top stories today are simply a rehash of the top stories yesterday.  In other words, there is nothing new under the sun, at least with respect to market activities.  There has been nothing new regarding Brexit (talks continue but no word on an outcome); nothing new regarding US fiscal stimulus (talks continue but no word on an outcome);  and nothing new regarding Covid-19 (vaccines have begun to be administered, but lockdowns continue to be the primary tool to fight the spread of the infection).

True, we received some data from China overnight describing an economy that continues to recover, but one whose pace of recovery is barely accelerating and certainly not exceeding expectations.  We saw some data from the UK that described the employment situation as less dire than forecast, but still a mess.  And we saw some inflation data from both Italy and France describing the complete lack of an inflationary impulse on the Continent.  The point is, none of this could be called new information, and so investor response has been extremely muted.

Rather, the story that is developing traction seems to be the question of what the FOMC is going to do when they meet tomorrow.  There seem to be two questions of note; first, will they leave everything just as it is, reiterating their current forward guidance to continue to support the economy until it is deemed capable of recovering on its own, or will they start to attach some metrics to their views; and second, will they leave their current asset purchase program unchanged, or will they alter either the size or tenor?

The bigger picture on this issue needs to consider what we have heard from various Fed speakers prior to the quiet period.  To a (wo)man, they all explained that more fiscal stimulus was critical in helping the economy to recover, and so the fact that none has been forthcoming must be weighing on their views of the future.  This would seem to bias a call for action, not inaction.

Regarding the first question, if we learned anything from the FOMC Minutes three weeks’ ago, it was that there seemed to be movement in the direction of applying metrics to their hitherto vague statements regarding when they will act.  The concern with this approach is that in the wake of the financial crisis, they did just this, explaining that rates would remain near zero until the Unemployment Rate reached their then-current view of full employment, which initially was pegged at 5.0%.  That target was changed several times until it was finally abandoned, as it turned out their models weren’t all that accurate.  Which begs the question, do they want to put themselves in the same position of defining a position and subsequently finding out their initial assumptions were wrong, so they need to change that position?  Remember, credibility is one of a central bank’s most crucial assets and moving targets on policy because of model or forecast errors does not enhance credibility.  In the end, it seems more likely they will not apply hard numbers to their targets, rather much softer views like, full employment rather than a specific unemployment rate; or trend inflation rather than a specific average inflation rate with a timeline attached.

As to the second question, based on positioning indicators, current expectations are pretty evenly distributed as to a change (either more purchases or a Twist) or standing pat.  Again, based on the commentary that fiscal stimulus is crucial and its failure to be agreed, I would lean toward the side of more stimulus to be announced now, perhaps stoking the Christmas rally in equities.  (After all, half the time it seems stoking equity rallies is their entire focus.)

But away from that conversation, there is precious little else to discuss today.  A quick tour of markets shows that after yesterday afternoon’s US equity selloff, Asian equities followed suit with modest declines across the board (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng -0.7%, Shanghai -0.1%).  European bourses, which had been modestly higher earlier, are starting to fade a bit, although the DAX (+0.6%) and CAC (+0.3%) remain in the green.  However, the FTSE 100 (-0.3%) has turned lower as the pound has recently started to edge higher.  US futures are all pointing higher, though, with gains of around 0.6% across the board.

Bond prices are mixed, with Treasuries very slightly softer and yields there higher by less than 1 basis point, but European markets starting to find a bid with yields declining modestly across the board.  The outperformers right now are the PIGS, with yield declines of between 1.5 and 4 basis points, while the rest of Europe’s markets are looking at smaller price gains.

Commodities are reversing yesterday’s price action with oil virtually unchanged while gold has rallied 1.0% this morning.  And finally, the best way to describe the dollar is modestly, but not universally, softer.  In the G10, as I write, GBP (+0.4%) has rallied in the past hour although there has been nothing on the tape that would seem to account for the price action.  But most of the bloc is modestly firmer, between 0.1% and 0.2%, with only two laggards, AUD and NZD (both lower by -0.1%) which have responded to China’s announcement they would be banning shipments of coal from Australia going forward.

EMG currencies are also somewhat firmer in general, led by LATAM (BRL, MXN and CLP all +0.50%) with two others showing similar strength (ZAR and RUB).  As to the rest of the bloc, gains and losses are less than 0.2%, which is another way of saying there is no new information there either.  Broadly speaking, this bloc is going to take its cues from the G10 space, and while the consensus for 2021 remains a much weaker dollar, today that is not taking shape.

On the data front, we see Empire Manufacturing (exp 6.3), IP (0.3%) and Capacity Utilization (73.0%) this morning, although none of these seem likely to change any views.  As such, at this point, it seems the best bet is the FX market will follow the broad risk theme, assuming one develops, or will respond to news, perhaps a fiscal stimulus breakthrough will come today, which is likely to lead to further dollar weakness.  But we will have to wait for that.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Unrequited

It cannot be very surprising
That Boris and friends keep devising
More reasons to talk
Yet both sides still balk
At genuinely compromising

For now, though, the market’s delighted
With risk appetite reignited
Pound Sterling has soared
With stocks ‘cross the board
Though bond love has been unrequited

Aahh, sweet temptation.  I’m sure most of us know, firsthand, how difficult it can be to impose self-control when it comes to something we really want, but know we shouldn’t have, like that extra cookie after dinner.  Or perhaps, it is the situation of something we really don’t want, but know we need, like that trip to the dentist.  In either case, getting ourselves to do the right thing can be an extraordinary struggle.  That is the best analogy I can find for the countless Brexit trade talk deadlines that have been made and passed since the actual Brexit agreement was signed on January 31, 2020.

You may recall last Thursday’s dinner date between Boris and Ursula, where the outcome was a declaration that if a deal could not be reached by the weekend’s close (yesterday), none would ever come.  The thing about Brexit deadlines, however, is that they only exist in the mind of the individual setting them.  It appears to be a tool designed to impose self-control on the speaker.  However, like so many of us, when we claim we will eat only one cookie, we find the temptation to eat another too great to ignore.  This appears to be the same situation when it comes to establishing Brexit talk deadlines, both sides really want a deal, and hope that a deadline will be the ticket to finding one that can be agreed.  But in the end, the only true deadline is the one inscribed in the Brexit agreement, which is December 31, 2020.  And with that as prelude, it is quite clear that the latest deadline has been ignored, and both sides have explained that a deal is within reach and they will continue talking, right up until New Year’s Eve if necessary.

This past Friday, there were rumors rampant that the whole situation would fall apart, and that risk would be jettisoned as soon as markets opened in Asia last night.  Expectations were for a huge Treasury rally, with sharp declines in stock markets.  But for now, that situation remains on hold, and the good news has inspired further risk acquisition, with most equity markets solidly higher along with oil while bonds are selling off along with the dollar.

As I have maintained for the past several months, despite all the rhetoric on both sides, the most likely outcome remains a successful conclusion to the talks.  It is unambiguously in both sides’ interest to agree a deal, and everything that we have seen has been for each sides’ domestic constituents as proof they fought to the last possible second and got the best deal possible.  In fact, part of me believes a deal has already been agreed, it just hasn’t yet been revealed as the timing is not propitious for both sides.  Whatever the situation, though, for now, the market has been satisfied that there is nothing imminent that is going to stop the risk rally.

And that pretty much sums up the session, there is nothing imminent that is going to stop the risk rally.  Looking ahead for the week, Retail Sales on Wednesday morning is arguably the most important data point, but of more importance is the FOMC meeting that same day, with the afternoon statement and press conference.  We will focus on that tomorrow and Wednesday, but as of now, there is no change expected in either the interest rate structure or quantity of QE, but there is some discussion of a change in tenor of QE purchases.

With all that in mind, then, let us look at markets overnight.  As discussed, risk appetite is growing as a combination of the positive Brexit story and the first rollouts of the Covid vaccine encourage the outlook that the timeline for reigniting economic growth is nearing.  Adding to this story is the news that a US fiscal stimulus bill may be close to being agreed, and, naturally, we know that every central bank will continue to add liquidity to the markets for as long as they deem fit, which currently seems to be indefinitely.  Interestingly, this is all occurring despite Germany imposing renewed harsh lockdowns through January, and word that we are going to see the same in Italy, Spain and the UK.

But here’s what we have seen.  Asian equity markets were generally positive (Nikkei +0.3%, Shanghai +0.7%) although the Hang Seng (-0.4%) lagged.  European markets are all higher, with some pretty good gains (DAX +1.25%, CAC +1.1%) although the FTSE 100 (+0.4%) is lagging on the strength of the pound, which negatively impacts so many companies in the index.  And finally, US futures are all green with gains between 0.6% and 0.9%.

Bond markets are selling off, which should be no surprise, with Treasury yields higher by 2.5 bps, although most of Europe has seen more moderate price declines, with yields higher by less than 2 basis points across the board.  With one exception, UK gilts have seen yields rise 6.7 basis points, as hopes for a Brexit deal have led to a lot of unwinding of Friday’s rally.

Meanwhile, oil prices are firmer (WTI +1.1%) but gold is actually softer (-0.7%) despite the dollar’s broad weakness.  In the G10 space, GBP (+1.5%) is the leader by far, as renewed hope has forced some short covering.  But the entire bloc is firmer with NOK (+1.1%) benefitting from oil’s rise, while the rest of the group has gained on a more general risk appetite with gains between 0.2% (CAD) and 0.6% (SEK).  The surprise here is JPY (+0.3%) which given the risk attitude, would have been expected to decline as well.

EMG currencies are mostly firmer, but the move seems to have ignored peripheral APAC currencies, where a group have seen very modest declines of 0.1% or so.  On the plus side, however, ZAR (+1.0%) leads the way, despite weaker gold prices, as Consumer Confidence data was released at a strong gain compared to Q3.  Elsewhere, BRL (+0.7%) and PLN (+0.7%) are the next best performers, with broad dollar sentiment the clear driver.  In fact, the entire CE4 is strong, as they demonstrate their ongoing high beta performance compared to the euro (+0.35%).

Data this week is really concentrated on Wednesday, but is as follows:

Tuesday Empire Manufacturing 6.9
IP 0.3%
Capacity Utilization 70.3%
Wednesday Retail Sales -0.3%
-ex autos 0.1%
FOMC Rate Decision 0.00% – 0.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 823K
Continuing Claims 5.7M
Philly Fed 20.0
Housing Starts 1533K
Building Permits 1558K
Friday Leading Indicators 0.4%

Source: Bloomberg

So, really, all eyes will be turned toward Washington and Chairman Powell as we await any indication that the Fed is going to change policy further.  Expectations are growing around new forward guidance, for explicit economic targets to be achieved before adjusting rates, but in any case, there is no expectation for rates to rise before the end of 2023.  Perhaps new forecasts and the new dot plot will add some new information, but I doubt it.

For now, risk remains in vogue, and as long as that remains the case, the dollar will remain under pressure.  But don’t expect a collapse, instead a modest decline, at least vs. the G10.  Certainly, there are some emerging currencies, notably BRL, which I think have room to run a bit more.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Grovel and Kneel

Said Boris, prepare for the worst
Despite all our efforts, the first
Of Jan may result
In quite a tumult
If Europe’s stance isn’t reversed

Said Ursula, we want a deal
But England must grovel and kneel
If French boats can’t fish
Wherever they wish
This rift will have no chance to heal

Brexit remains the top story in the markets as we have heard from both sides that preparations for a no-deal outcome are necessary.  From what I can glean, it appears the fishing rights issue is the final sticking point.  And, in fairness, it is pretty easy to see both sides’ point of view.  From the UK’s perspective, these are their territorial waters, and if Brexit was about nothing else, it was about regaining complete sovereignty over itself, including its canon of laws, and the disposition of its territory.  I’m pretty confident that had the roles been reversed, and British fishing boats were making their living in French waters, the French would be equally adamant about controlling access.  On the flip side, given the UK has been a member of the EU since 1973, there are two generations of French fishermen who have only known unfettered access to UK waters, and assumed it was their birthright.  Losing that access will obviously be a devastating blow to their livelihoods, and one in which they played no part of the decision.  Of course, with that in mind, it still seems like a periodic review of access would be able to satisfy both sides.  Alas, that has not yet been agreed.

The upshot of this change in tone is that the market has begun to price in a more serious probability of a no-deal outcome.  This is obviously evident in the pound, which has fallen a further 0.8% this morning and is now back to levels last seen a month ago.  In fact, versus the euro, the pound is at its weakest since mid-September, although still several percent below the pandemic lows, and more than 6% from its all-time lows seen in the wake of the GFC.  But we are seeing this change in the interest rate markets as well, where UK debt yields are tumbling across the curve. For instance, 10-year Gilt yields have fallen 4.5 basis points today and now sit at 0.15%, just a few ticks above their all-time lows seen in August.  And all shorter maturities have turned negative, with 7-year breaking below 0.0% this morning.  As to the short end, the market is now pricing a base rate cut to 0.0% by the February meeting latest, and a further cut, into negative territory by next summer.

This Brexit gloom also seems to be seeping into other markets as we are seeing a pretty widespread risk-off move today, with European equity markets all pretty substantially lower and US futures pointing in the same direction. Perhaps part of this gloom is the fact that the ECB arguably disappointed markets yesterday.  While Madame Lagarde lived up to her word regarding recalibrating the ECB programs, there was no shock or awe, something markets learned to anticipate under the previous regime.  The PEPP was increased, but by exactly the amount expected.  It was also extended in time, but all that was offset by the comment that it may not need to be fully utilized.  But there was no addition to the asset mix, no junk bonds or equities, anything to demonstrate that the ECB was going to continue to support the markets aggressively.  And with that missing, and growing concern over Brexit, it appears investors are deciding to hunker down a bit going into the weekend.

At this point, both sides in the Brexit talks claim Sunday is the final deadline, so perhaps we will see something this weekend to move markets on Monday.  But right now, there is a palpable air of despair in the markets.

Touring all markets this morning shows that Asian equities were mostly lower (Nikkei -0.4%, Shanghai -0.8%) although the Hang Seng (+0.35%) managed a gain.  However, that is really the only green number on the boards this morning as every European exchange is lower, led by the DAX (-2.0%) and followed by the CAC (-1.3%) and FTSE 100 (-1.1%).  The idea that the FTSE 100 will benefit from a no-deal Brexit seems sketchy, at best, given whatever benefit may come from a weaker pound Sterling, it would seem to be offset by the larger economic hit to the UK economy as well as the thought that many of those companies may find their export markets crimped without a deal, and therefore their profits negatively impacted.  As to the US, futures markets have been trending lower all evening and are now pointing down about 0.8% across the board.

Bond markets are on the same page, with rallies everywhere as yields decline.  Treasury yields are lower by 2 basis points, and all of Europe has seen yield declines of between 1 and 4 basis points, with the PIGS the laggards here.  You may notice I never discuss JGB’s but that is only because the BOJ has effectively closed that market, now owning nearly 50% of outstanding securities, and thus yields there never really move as almost no volume transacts on any given day.

Commodity markets are showing very minor declines with both oil and gold looking at dips of just 0.2% or so.  In other words, this is more about financial issues than economic ones.

And finally, the dollar is definitely stronger this morning, with only the yen (+0.15%) outperforming in the G10 space.  While the pound is the leading decliner, NOK (-0.8%) is right there with it.  This is a bit surprising, as not only has oil not really moved today, but Brent crude rose back above $50/bbl yesterday for the first time since the initial Covid panic in March and remains there this morning.  Given growing expectations that next year is going to bring a lot of growth, it would seem that NOK has a lot of positives on its side.  As to the rest of the bloc, the losses are more moderate, ranging from AUD (-0.15%) to SEK (-0.35%), and all simply following the risk story.

Emerging market currencies are also largely weaker, led by BRL (-0.95%) which really appears to be a reaction to yesterday’s remarkable 3.0% rally.  With spot approaching 5.00, there seems to be a lot of two-way activity in the currency.  But the other laggards are all commodity based, which fits with the overall risk-off theme.  So, ZAR (-0.8%) and MXN (-0.65%) are leading the pack while the bulk of the bloc has declined a more manageable 0.2%-0.3%.  On the flip side TWD (+0.7%) is the biggest gainer despite modest foreign equity outflows.  This is especially odd given the ongoing decline in TWD bond yields.  But whatever the driver, demand for TWD remains robust.

Yesterday’s CPI data was a tick higher than expected, which has become the norm for the second half of the year.  This morning we get PPI (exp 0.7%, 1.5% ex food & energy) although given CPI has already been released, it will largely be ignored.  Perhaps the 10:00 preliminary Michigan Confidence (76.0) reading will garner more interest.  but in the end, neither seems likely to move the needle.  Rather, with risk appetite waning, and concerns over Brexit growing, it does feel like the dollar has further room to run today.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Death Knell

Though dinner was not quite a bust
And everything key was discussed
No deal was secured
And now we’re assured
Past Sunday all hope will combust

The pound, not surprisingly, fell
As traders have heard its death knell
Now eyes have all turned
To Frankfurt, concerned
Christine, Europe’s problems, won’t quell

One need only look at the pound’s performance this morning (GBP -0.8%) to understand that last night’s much touted dinner meeting between Boris and Ursula did not come to any conclusions.  While there appeared to be great comradery all around, and both parties were quick to say they understand how the other side feels, neither was willing to give ground.  The upshot is that the newest deadline appears to be this Sunday coming, when if a deal is not reached, there is a consensus that no deal will be reached in time.  While I continue to believe that this remains political theater, even if Sunday is simply another false deadline, the real deadline is now exactly 3 weeks away, so something needs to happen soon if a no-deal Brexit is to be prevented.  History has shown that deals of this nature, especially in Europe, always come down to the last possible moment.  We shall see if Sunday is that moment.  As to the potential impact on the pound, no-deal could easily take us to 1.25, while a successful conclusion is probably good for 1.40.

On to the day’s other major event, the ECB meeting, where Madame Lagarde is presiding over her fractious team once again as they seek to explain to us exactly what recalibration means.  You may recall that at the October meeting, Lagarde promised that the ECB would “recalibrate” its tools by this meeting.  This has come to be code for increased monetary policy easing of the following nature: €500 billion of additional PEPP purchases and a minimum 6-month extension of both the emergency pandemic program as well as the original QE, the APP (Asset Purchase Program) to run through the end of 2021.  In addition, the TLTRO III program is expected to be extended and expanded.  Expectations are growing that there may be two more tranches of these loans, that the loan tenors may be extended beyond 3 years, and that the interest rate, currently -1.0%, could be cut further.  One of the problems with the TLTRO, though, is that the two biggest users, Italy and Spain, have almost run out of capacity to use more of these loans, so any benefit on this front, even with expansion, is likely limited.

And truthfully, those are really the two key stories of the session so far.  Interestingly, yesterday’s news about an agreement regarding the EU’s pandemic budget seems to have had virtually no impact on the markets as yet.  You may recall that when this was first mooted, back in the summer, and the idea that the EU would issue joint bonds was agreed, many thought this was Europe’s Hamiltonian moment, finally bringing Europe’s fiscal house under one roof, and preparing for great things going forward.  So far, this has not been the case.  But the lack of market response to key steps forward must be a little disheartening for those involved.  Of course, it remains to be seen if this budget is truly the beginning of something new, or simply a response to the Covid pandemic, where Germany and its frugal neighbors felt they had no choice but to accept the outcome.  Certainly, if this is the true way forward, it removes one of the biggest structural impediments to the single currency and opens the way for a secular appreciation.  We shall see.

As to markets today, yesterday’s late day sell-off in the US was followed with modest Asian weakness (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng -0.35%, Shanghai 0.0%) although European bourses have held onto modest gains.  Right now, the FTSE 100 (+0.7%) is leading the way (remember, a weaker pound typically helps the FTSE), with the CAC (+0.3%) and DAX (+0.1%) showing much less promise.  As to US futures, they are very little changed at this hour with no real information from their movement of a few points in either direction.

Bond markets, however, are a little more consistent, generally rallying slightly with yields edging lower.  The biggest mover are UK Gilts, with 10-year yields lower by 5.7 basis points as investors and traders are betting on a weaker UK economy with a no-deal outcome.  After that, the PIGS are doing well, with yields lower between 2-4 bps, as visions of further ECB purchases dance in investors’ heads.  Treasuries are moving in the same direction, but the 1 basis point decline in yield is hardly game-changing.

Commodity markets continue their confusing ways, this time with oil rallying slightly, (WTI
+1.5%) while gold is declining, -0.3%.  And finally, the dollar is having, what can only be described, as a mixed session.  In the G10, the pound has actually extended its early losses and is now down -1.0%.  As well, JPY (-0.3%) is also weaker despite (because of?) what seemed to be pretty reasonable manufacturing data overnight.  The rest of the bloc, however, is firmer vs. the dollar led by AUD (+0.6%) on the back of rising iron ore prices, although the gains fall away to much more modest outcomes beyond that.  CAD (+0.3%) seems to be benefitting from the rise in oil prices but nothing else is even noteworthy.

Emerging market currencies are also mixed, with the gainers led by BRL (+0.8% on the open) after the central bank left rates on hold last night, as universally expected, but also explained that the pledge to keep rates at that level may be coming to an end as inflation starts to rise in the country.  This was taken as quite hawkish, so I would look for further BRL appreciation going forward.  Elsewhere on the plus side is RUB (+0.45%) clearly benefitting from oil’s rise, and HUF (+0.35%) which continues to benefit from the EU budget deal.  On the downside, ignoring TRY, ZAR (-0.4%) is the worst performer, seeming to suffer from a surge in Covid cases, with KRW (-0.3%) seeming to feel the pressure of yesterday’s tech stock sell-off in the US.

We finally get some data of note this morning led by the weekly Initial Claims (exp 725K) and Continuing Claims (5.21M) data.  But we also see the latest reading on headline CPI (0.1%, 1.1% Y/Y) and core (0.1%, 1.5% Y/Y).  The great inflation/deflation debate continues amongst the economic community with the deflationists continuing to point to the data as their trump card, but the inflationists continuing to point to real life.  My money is on inflation, probably as soon as next year, that is far higher than the Fed currently anticipates.

And that’s really it for the day.  All eyes will be on the tape at 7:45 when the ECB releases their statement, and then Madame Lagarde will be on camera starting at 8:30am.  Barring a breakthrough on Brexit today (which seems highly unlikely) the pound seems to have room to fall further.  As to the euro, that is in Lagarde’s hands.  And the dollar in general?  The recent slow trend lower remains intact, and I wouldn’t start that fight quite yet.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Table is Set

In Brussels, the table is set
As Boris and Ursula bet
That dinner together
Will be the bellwether
To ending the hard Brexit threat

So, appetite for risk is whet
With central banks sure to abet
More equity buying
As they keep on trying
To buy every last piece of debt

There hasn’t been this much interest in a meal in Europe since the one painted by DaVinci some 530 years ago.  Clearly, the big story is this evening’s dinner date between UK PM Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, where they will make what appears to be the final attempt to get some political agreement on the last issues outstanding in order to complete the Brexit trade deal.  With just over three weeks before the UK exits the EU, time is clearly of the essence at this stage.  I remain confident that an agreement will be reached as it is in both sides’ collective interest to do so.  Rather, the current political theater is seen as necessary, again for both sides, in order to demonstrate they did everything they could to achieve the best possible outcome.  After all, Boris is going to have to cede some portion of UK sovereignty, and the EU is going to have to cede some adherence to their extraordinarily large canon of laws.

The FX market seems to share my opinion as the pound has rallied more than 1% since I wrote yesterday and is currently firmer by 0.7% since yesterday’s close.  As I wrote last week, I remain convinced that the market has not actually priced in a successful completion of a deal, rather that the pound’s performance over the past several months, a nearly 10% rise since July 1st, has simply been reflective of the broad dollar decline and not a bet on a positive Brexit outcome.  As such, I believe there is a good amount of upside potential for the pound in the event of a positive result, perhaps as much as 3% right away, and 5%-6% over time.  Similarly, if a deal is not reached, a 5% decline is in the cards.  But, for now, all we can do is wait to hear the outcome.  Dinner is at 8pm in Brussels, so likely there will be little news before 4pm this afternoon.

Away from the Brexit story, however, the market discussion continues to revolve around prospects for a quick implementation of the Covid-19 vaccine and the resumption of pre-pandemic economic activity.  One of the conundrums in this regard is that despite what appears to be a growing belief that the vaccine will solve the covid crisis, thus enabling a return to economic growth, the central banking community will continue to inject unfathomable sums of liquidity into banks, (and by extension markets and maybe even the economy), to support economic growth.  It seems a bit duplicative to me, but then I’m just an FX salesman sans PhD.  After all, if the vaccine will allow people to revert to their former selves, what need is there for central banks to keep buying bonds?  (And in some cases, equities.  As an aside, yesterday the BOJ reached a milestone as the largest equity holder in Japan, outstripping the government pension fund, GPIF, and now in possession of nearly 8% of the entire market there.)

The thing is, there is no prospect that this behavior is going to change.  For instance, tomorrow the ECB’s final meeting of the year will conclude, and they are expected to expand the PEPP by at least €500 billion and extend the tenor of the program between six months and a year.  In addition, they are expected to expand the TLTRO III program (targeted long-term refinancing operations) by another year, and there were even some hints at a rate cut there.  The latter would be extraordinary as the current rate is -1.0%.  This means that European banks that borrow funds in this program pay -1.0% (receive 1.0% pa) as long as they lend these funds on to corporate and business clients, with no restrictions on what they can charge.  Balances in this program have fallen from €1.3 trillion to just €180 billion since the summer, so it is believable that the rate will change.  The ECB particularly likes this program as they believe it really encourages business loans.

Something else to watch in tomorrow’s meeting is whether either the statement, or Madame Lagarde in her press conference opening, discusses the exchange rate.  Since the euro first traded above 1.20 back in September, which brought an immediate response from the ECB via some jawboning, the single currency had really done very little, until November, when the latest move higher began.  Now, after a 4% rally, it would not be surprising for the ECB to once again mention the importance of a “competitive” (read: weak) euro.  With inflation in the Eurozone remaining negative, Lagarde and company simply cannot afford for the euro to rise much further.  And none of this discussion includes what may well come from the FOMC next week!

But on to today’s activity.  Risk appetite continues to be strong where equity markets in Asia (Nikkei +1.3%, Hang Seng +0.75%) and Europe (DAX +0.8%, CAC +0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.4%) are all continuing yesterday’s modest gains.  The one exception here is Shanghai (-1.3%) which seemed to respond to inflation data overnight (CPI -0.5%).  The cause here seems to be declining pork prices (remember last year the Asian Swine Flu resulted in the culling of Chinese herds and dramatic price rises) but also the expectation that the PBOC is not going to change course with respect to forcing the deleveraging of the real estate sector and concomitant bubble there.

Bond markets are behaving as one would expect in a risk-on scenario, with Treasury yields reversing yesterday’s 2bp decline, while Bunds and OATs have both seen yields edge higher by 1 basis point.  Oil prices have rallied 1.5%, partly on risk attitude and partly on the story of an attack on Iraqi oil assets disrupting supply.  Finally, gold, which has really been rebounding since the end of last month, has given up 0.65% this morning.

Lastly, the dollar is generally softer today, against most G10 and EMG currencies.  AUD (+0.9%) is the leader this morning after the Westpac Consumer Confidence Survey printed at a much higher than expected 112.0.  For reference, that was the highest print since October 2010!  But as mentioned, the pound is firmer, as is virtually the entire bloc, albeit with less impressive moves.

In emerging markets, HUF (+0.8%) is the leading gainer, followed by PLN (+0.7%) and CZK (+.4%), all of which are far outperforming the euro (+0.1%).  It seems that the EU Stimulus deal, which was being held up by Hungary and Poland over language regarding the rule of law, has finally been agreed by all parties, with those three nations set to receive a significant boost when it is finally implemented next year.  On the flip side, TWD (-0.4%) was the worst performer as a late session sell-off wiped out early gains.  At this point, there is no obvious catalyst for the move, which looks very much like a large order going through an illiquid market onshore.

There is no data of note this morning and no speakers either.  Risk appetite remains the driver, with not only vaccine euphoria, but also hopes for a US stimulus bill rising as well.  In other words, everything is fantastic!  What could possibly go wrong?

As long as equities continue to rally, the dollar is likely to remain under pressure, but with the ECB on tap for tomorrow, I don’t expect a breakout, unless something really positive (or negative) comes out of dinner in Brussels.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A New Paradigm

Awaiting a new paradigm
The market is biding its time
Will Brexit be hard?
Or will Ms. Lagarde
Do something that’s truly sublime?

And what of next week and the Fed?
Are traders now looking ahead?
Will Jay make a change?
And thus rearrange
The views that are now so widespread

Come with me now, on a trip down memory lane.  Back to a time when hope (for a vaccine) sprung eternal, the blue wave was cresting, and investors were sidling up to the all-you-can-eat risk buffet with a bottomless appetite.  You remember, November.  Reflation was on the menu, along with a massive fiscal stimulus bill; progress was concrete with respect to Brexit negotiations; and the prospect of another wave of government shutdowns, worldwide, was just a gleam in petty tyrants’ politicians’ eyes.  Well, it turns out that those expectations were somewhat misplaced.  While we did, indeed, get that vaccine announcement, with the milestone first injection made today in the UK, many of those views turned out differently than expected.  As we are all aware, there was no blue wave in the US election.  Regarding Brexit, it appears that the time has finally come for the leaders of both sides to sit down and hash things out.  This morning brought news that Boris and Ursula will be meeting tomorrow to see if they can agree on what each side is willing to accept as their top negotiators have clearly reached their limits.

As to risk appetite, certainly November was beyond impressive, with massive risk rallies in equities around the world while haven assets, notably Treasuries and gold, suffered significant losses.  Since then, however, the euphoria has been far less prevalent, with some sessions even winding up in the red.  Lockdowns?  Alas, those have returned in spades, with seemingly new orders each and every day by various governmental authorities around the world.

The upshot of this mixture of news is that the market is now searching for the next big thing.  Don’t misunderstand, the 2021 conviction trades remain on the table.  Thus, expectations for a much weaker dollar, huge returns in emerging markets, both bonds and stocks, and continued strength in the US market are rife.  Just not right now.  The short-term view is more muddled which is why the price action we are currently experiencing is so mixed and until that new view develops, choppy markets with no net directional movement is the most likely outcome.  For instance, let’s look at today’s activity, which is a perfect example of the situation.

Equity markets around the world are softer, but not aggressively so.  Asian markets sold off modestly last night (Nikkei -0.3%, Hang Seng -0.75%, Shanghai -0.3%), but look simply to be consolidating what have been impressive gains since the beginning of November.  European markets are also a bit softer this morning, led by the CAC (-0.65%) although the DAX (-0.3%) and FTSE 100 (-0.4%) are drifting lower as well.  We did see some data from Europe, with ZEW readings from Germany turning out bi-polar (Expectations were strong at 55.0, Current Situation was weak at -66.5), thus showing how financial markets continue to focus on the post-covid economy while ignoring the current situation.  Meanwhile, US futures are all pointing a bit lower, between 0.4%-0.5%, after a mixed performance yesterday.  In other words, all that risk appetite from last month appears to have been satisfied for now, although we are, by no means, seeing serious risk reduction.

In the bond market, surprisingly, 10-year Treasury yields have actually edged higher by 0.7bps this morning, despite the modest risk-off theme, whereas in Europe, we see marginal yield declines across Germany, France and the UK. Bonds from the PIGS, however, are definitely feeling a little stress as they are trading with yields nearly 2bps higher than yesterday.  And that is a bit surprising given that Thursday, the ECB is going to announce their latest expansion of monetary policy, thus guaranteeing to buy yet more debt from these nations.  (We will cover the ECB tomorrow).

Commodities?  Well, gold has been rocking since its nadir on November 30, having rebounded more than 6% since then, and while unchanged on the day, remains in a short-term uptrend.  Oil, meanwhile, is ever so slightly softer this morning, just 0.5%, but also remains in its powerful uptrend, which has seen it rally more than 33% since its nadir on November 2nd.  In fact, metals and energy overall remain well bid and in strong uptrends.  Clearly, they are looking ahead to stronger growth (or possibly higher inflation) once the pandemic finally fades.

And lastly, the dollar, which can best be described as mixed today, remains the linchpin for many market expectations in 2021.  Remember this; given the dollar’s place in the world economy, as the financing vehicle of choice, a too strong dollar is generally associated with broad economic underperformance.  As debt loads worldwide have exploded, even at remarkably low interest rates, the need for foreign issuers, whether private or government, to acquire dollars to service that debt is perpetual.  When the dollar is strong, it crimps the ability of those foreign debtors to both invest and repay the outstanding debt, with investment suffering.  So, while a strong dollar may signal growth in the US economy, given that the US economy now represents only about 20% of the global economy, well down from its previous levels, and that trade continues to represent such a small portion of the US economy, just 12%, these days, a strong dollar simply hurts foreign economies without the previous benefits of knock-on global growth.  This is the key link between the views of a weaker USD and strong EMG performance next year, the two are tightly linked on a fundamental basis.

But as for today, the proper description of the dollar would be mixed.  In the G10, SEK (-0.45%) and GBP (-0.45%) are the leading decliners, with the latter clearly under pressure from the ongoing concerns over Brexit while the former seems to be feeling the sting of hints from the Riksbank that ZIRP will remain longer than previously expected.  On the plus side, the gains are less impressive, with CHF (+0.2%) the leader, while the euro has edged higher by 0.1%.  However, trying to explain a movement that small is a waste of time.

EMG currencies, on the other hand, are showing a little life, led by ZAR (+0.55%) and RUB (+0.5%) as commodity prices continue to hold the bulk of their gains.  INR (+0.5%) also had a good evening after the FinMin there explained that there would be no reduction in fiscal support for the economy for the foreseeable future, and that the government would continue to work with the RBI to insure a return to sustainable growth.  On the downside, KRW (-0.3%) is the laggard after the president there urged people to cancel holiday plans and stay home.

On the data front, NFIB Small Business Optimism fell to 101.4, a bit weaker than expected, but given the stories of closures around the nation, this cannot be that surprising.  A little later we get Nonfarm Productivity (exp 4.9%) and Unit Labor Costs (-8.9%), although neither is likely to excite the market.  There are no speakers on the docket, so the dollar will be taking its cues from the equity markets in all likelihood.  Right now, with futures pointing lower, that implies the dollar may have a bit of a rebound coming.  However, until that new narrative forms, I don’t anticipate too much movement.

Good luck and stay safe
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