Til All Is Clear

There’s certainly no need to fear
A global pandemic is here
Cause central banks will
Continue to fill
Their balance sheets ‘til all is clear

Once again, investors and traders (and algorithms) have surveyed the landscape, read the government reports, and determined that there’s nothing to see in China and that any impact on economic output from the still spreading coronavirus is diminishing and unimportant in the long run. And who knows, maybe that is the correct attitude. Perhaps all the worrywarts are just that, hanging their hat on the latest potential problem while ignoring how fantastic things are right in front of them.

Or…maybe things are not quite as rosy as government officials would have you believe and the impact on economic output is going to be much more severe than anyone is willing to admit at this time. In fairness, ruling governments are pretty unlikely to release bad news to their constituents for obvious reasons. In fact, this is what causes cover-ups all the time, and why the fallout, when the truth eventually does reveal itself, is so devastating for that government. Added to this reality is that the veracity of information that emanates from China has been called into question for many years, so it is quite easy to believe that the official coronavirus figures are not accurate.

With that in mind, I urge everyone to read the attached link (https://www.epsilontheory.com/body-count/) as Dr. Ben Hunt does a very effective job (far more effective than I ever could) of explaining just how the numbers can be massaged to indicate a slowing rate of infection that ‘seems’ believable, but is in fact complete hogwash. However, as long as this is the official line, and it defines the data that is reported, then trading algorithms will utilize the data and trade accordingly. Right now, any slowdown in reported deaths is clearly seen as a sign that the worst is behind us and with all the monetary stimulus still sloshing around the system, risk needs to be acquired. And that is what we are seeing again today. Clearly, last Friday was an aberration, though when it comes to equities these days, caveat emptor!

Taking this into account, let’s take a tour of markets this morning to see how things are doing. Risk is clearly in favor as equity markets around the world continue to rally following yesterday’s record-setting session in the US. While Japan was closed for National Foundation Day, the rest of Asia rallied pretty nicely with the Hang Seng rising 1.25% and Shanghai + 0.4%. European markets have followed suit (DAX +0.85%, CAC +0.45%, FTSE100 +0.85%) and US futures are all pointing higher as well. Bond markets are on the soft side, although hardly collapsing as 10-year yields in the US are trading at 1.58% as I type, and the dollar is arguably a bit softer rather than firmer this morning. In fact the only two currencies weaker than the dollar this morning are the Swiss franc and Japanese yen, although each has declined by less than 0.10%.

The UK has been the source of the most new information as there was a significant data dump, almost all of which was seen as a positive for the UK, and by extension the pound. Q4 GDP printed at 0.0%, as expected, but the December number was a better than expected 0.3% and the Y/Y number did not fall as expected, but instead printed unchanged at 1.1%. Now, while these are hardly stellar numbers in the broad scheme of things, they are substantially better than the Eurozone story, and more importantly, better than expectations. Exports rose 4.1%, the Trade Balance ticked into a ₤845M surplus, which is actually the largest surplus in the series’ history dating back to 1955! While IP was a little softer than expected at +0.1%, the overall picture was of a UK that is prepared to weather Brexit quite well. And the pound is slightly higher on the day, but just 0.15%.

Rather, the two biggest gainers in the G10 today are NOK (+0.4%) and AUD (+0.3%). The former is benefitting from the rebound in oil on the back of the idea that the coronavirus problem has passed its peak, and the latter is benefitting on the same idea. In fact, all the currencies that have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus story, mostly commodity exporting countries like Australia, Brazil and South Africa, are higher this morning on this idea that things are going great in China. I sure hope that’s the case, but I remain a skeptic.

Today’s other noteworthy event will be the testimony by Chairman Powell to the House Financial Services Committee, starting at 10:00. I’m sure his prepared remarks will simply rehash that the economy is in a good place and that the Fed remains vigilant. He is also likely to mention that the virus is a potential risk to the economy, but one that they feel confident they can handle. (After all, cutting rates and printing money seems to be the cure for everything under the sun.) However, given the distinct lack of financial and economic nous that our duly elected Representatives have continuously shown they possess, I think the Q&A will be more interesting, although ultimately I imagine that Powell will simply have to explain his opening statement in more simplistic terms for them to understand.

We have already seen the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rise to 104.3, a better than expected outcome and certainly a positive fillip to the risk attitude. Right when Powell begins to speak we will see the JOLTs Jobs Report as well (exp 6.925M) which many see as an important indicator of labor market conditions. In addition to Powell, we will hear from SF Fed President Daly as well as Quarles, Bullard and Kashkari, amongst the most dovish of all Fed members, and so be prepared for more discussion of allowing inflation to run hot and the need for quick action in the event the currently reported Chinese data is not complete.

Overall, the dollar is under very modest pressure today, but it would be fair to call it unchanged in the broad scheme of things. Unless Powell makes a gaffe, something which seems less and less likely given his experience now, as long as risk is being acquired, I think EMG currencies are likely to perform well, but vs. the G10, the dollar may maintain its recent momentum.

Good luck
Adf

Sanguinity Reigns

Despite growth in Chinese infections
And turmoil in Irish elections
Sanguinity reigns
As Powell takes pains
To help prevent any corrections

Once upon a time, people used to describe the President of the United States as ‘the most powerful man in the world’, on the back of the idea that he oversaw the richest and most powerful nation in the world. But these days, it has become pretty clear that the most powerful man in the world is Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. After all, not only is he in command of the US economy, but he is tasked with shielding us all from the impacts of non-financial issues like the coronavirus and climate change. And many people believe, not only can he do that, but it is imperative that he stops both of those things in their tracks.

And yet, the coronavirus continues to spread as virologists and doctors learn more about it each day and seemingly continue to fall further behind the curve. For example, initially, it had been believed that the incubation period for the virus was 14 days, implying that was an appropriate amount of time for any quarantine of suspected cases. But now, the data is showing it may be as long as 24 days, which means that formerly quarantined individuals who were cleared, may actually be infected, and thus the spread of the disease accelerated. As of this morning, more than 40,000 cases have been documented with more than 900 deceased. The human toll continues to rise, and quite frankly, shows no signs of abating yet. Stories of complete lockdowns of cities in Hubei province, where people were literally welded shut inside their homes to enforce the quarantine, and videos showing large scale disinfectant spraying are remarkable, as well as horrifying. And none of this leads to greater trust in the official information that is published by the Chinese government. In other words, this situation is by no means coming to an end and the impacts on economies worldwide as well as financial markets are just beginning to be felt.

From an economic perspective, China has largely been shut for nearly three weeks now, since the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday in January, which means that all those companies that had built supply chains that run through China while implementing just-in-time delivery have found themselves with major problems. Hubei province is a key center for automotive, technology, pharmaceutical and chemical production. Major global firms, like Foxconn, PSA (Peugeot), Honda and others have all seen production elsewhere impacted as parts that come from the area are no longer being delivered. In fact, Hyundai Motors has closed its operations in South Korea for lack of parts supply. My point is, the economic impact is going to be very widespread and likely quite significant. While there is no way to accurately assess that impact at this time, simple math implies that the fact China will have essentially been closed for 25% of Q1, at least, means that GDP data will be severely impacted, arguably by at least a full percentage point. And what about highly leveraged companies? Interest is still due even if they are not selling products and earning revenue. Trust me; things will get worse before they get better.

And yet…financial markets remain remarkably nonplussed over the potential ultimate impact of this. Yes, equity markets slipped on Friday, but a 0.5% decline is hardly indicative of a significant amount of fear. And overnight, while the Nikkei (-0.6%) and Hang Seng (-0.6%) both fell, somehow the Shanghai Composite rose 0.6%. Yes, the PBOC injected more stimulus, but there is a remarkable amount of faith that the impact of this virus is going to be completely transitory. That seems like a big bet to me, and one with decidedly ordinary odds.

European markets are in the same space, with very modest declines (DAX -0.25%, CAC -0.3%, FTSE -0.15%) and US futures are now little changed to higher. Apparently, economic growth is no longer an important input into the valuation of equities.

And that is the crux of the matter. Since the financial crisis in 2008-09, central banks around the world have, in essence, monetized the entire global economy. If growth appears to be slowing they simply print more cash. If things are going well, they also simply print more cash, although perhaps not quite as much as in the case of a slowdown. And companies everywhere, at least large, listed ones, borrow as much as possible to restructure their balance sheets, retiring equity and increasing leverage. Alas, that does not foster economic activity, and ultimately, that is the gist of the disconnect between financial market strength and the ongoing growth of populist and nationalist political parties. Welcome to the 2020’s.

So, with all that said, risk is modestly off this morning, but by no means universally so. Yes, Treasury yields are lower, down another basis point to 1.57%, but that does not speak to unmitigated fear. And in the currency market, the impact of the overnight story has been largely muted. In fact, the biggest mover today has been Norwegian krone, which has rallied 0.75% after its inflation data surprised on the high side (CPI +1.8% Y/Y in January) which has helped convince traders that Norway may be inclined to tighten policy going forward. While I don’t see that outcome, it likely takes any rate cuts off the table for the immediate future. But elsewhere in the G10, the pound’s modest 0.3% rally is the next largest move, and that has all the earmarks of a simple trading rebound after a 2.5% decline last week. Otherwise, this space has been dull, and looks set to remain so. In the EMG bloc, the picture is mixed as well, with CLP weakening furthest, -0.55% on the open, as traders bet on policy ease by the central bank, while we have seen a series of currencies, notably CNY, rally a modest 0.3%, as fears abate over a worsening outcome from the virus.

This week’s upcoming highlight is likely to be Fed Chair Powell’s testimony to the House and Senate, but we do see both CPI and Retail Sales data late in the week as well.

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 103.3
JOLTS Job Openings 6.85M
Powell House Testimony
Wednesday Powell Senate Testimony
Thursday CPI 0.2% (2.4% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)
Initial Claims 211K
Friday Retail Sales 0.3%
-ex autos 0.3%
IP -0.2%
Capacity Utilization 76.8%
Michigan Sentiment 99.3

Source: Bloomberg

Aside from Powell’s two days in the spotlight, there will be eight other Fed speakers as well, with my guess being that all the interest will be regarding the impact of the virus. So far, there is no indication that the Fed is ready to react, but it also seems abundantly clear that they will not hesitate to cut rates again in the event that things rapidly deteriorate on that front. Ultimately, the dollar remains extremely well bid as the bid for Treasuries continues to drive flows, but nothing has changed my medium term view that the dollar will eventually weaken on the back of Not QE4.

Good luck
Adf

Coming Up Short

All week what the market has said
Is fears in re China are dead
But last night it seems
The latest of memes
Showed fear is still somewhat widespread

This morning the payroll report
If strong, ought, the dollar, support
The US this week
Has been on a streak
While Europe keeps coming up short

After a week where early fears about the spread of the coronavirus morphed into a belief that any issues would be contained and have only a short term impact on the global economy, it seems that some investors and traders are having second thoughts. For the first time since last Friday, equity markets around the world have fallen, albeit not very far, and risk is starting to be unloaded. Certainly, this could well be short-term profit taking. After all, since Friday’s close on the S&P 500, the index was higher by nearly 4% as of last night, and pretty much in a straight line. The remarkable thing about the equity rally, which was truly global in nature, was that it very studiously ignored the ongoing growth of the epidemic and its economic impacts.

Last night, however, it seems the announcements by Toyota and Honda that they would extend their mainland Chinese factory shutdowns by another week, as well as the force majeure declarations by Chinese energy and copper companies have served to highlight just how severely economic activity in China is slowing. Alas, the human impact continues its steady climb higher, with more than 600 deaths now attributed to the virus and more than 31,000 cases confirmed. It certainly appears as the situation has not yet reached anything near a peak, which implies that more market impacts are still to come.

One of the things we are beginning to see is a more significant reduction in expectations for Chinese economic activity this year. Last night, several more analysts reduced their expectations for Q1 GDP growth there by more than 2%. Given the fact that China has quarantined some 90 million people at this point, which is a remarkable 6.5% of the population, I expect that before all is said and done, Q1 GDP growth in China is going to be much lower, probably on the order of 2% annualized. In fact, I would not be surprised if the Chinese don’t release a Q1 number at all. There is precedent for this as just last night, the customs administration there announced that there would be no January trade data release, and that the numbers would be merged with February’s data to smooth out the impact of the Lunar New Year. Assuming the virus situation is under control by the end of Q1, it would be well within the Chinese prerogative to do the same with that data, hopefully masking just how bad things were.

In the end, there was nothing positive to be learned from Asia last night, which was confirmed by weakness in both equity markets throughout the region as well as the FX markets, where every currency in the APAC group fell. And all of this movement is directly attributable to the virus story.

Moving westward to Europe, things are looking no better there this morning, with equity markets lower across the board and their currencies also under pressure. NOK is the worst performer, down 0.6% as fears over further weakness in the oil market are weighing on the currency. But, the euro is feeling more heat today as well; down 0.25% after IP data from everywhere in the Eurozone was markedly disappointing. Germany (-3.5%), France (-2.8%), Spain (-1.4%) and the Netherlands (-1.7%) demonstrated that a risk of a recession remains quite real on the continent. In fact, you may recall how Germany barely dodged that recession status in Q4, when GDP rose 0.1% in a bit of a surprise. Well, right now, Q1 looks like it is going to be negative again. It seems to me that if a country has three negative GDP prints in six quarters, with the other three quarters printing around +0.1%, that could easily be defined as a recession. But regardless of how it is described in print, the reality is that Germany has not come out of its funk yet, and it may be dragging the rest of Europe down with it.

But there is something else ongoing in the euro which is likely to have been a significant part of the currency’s recent weakness. Recall that LVMH has agreed to buy Tiffany’s for ~$16.5 billion. Well, LVMH issued both EUR (7.5 billion) and GBP (1.5 billion) bonds this week to pay for the purchase, which means that there was a massive conversion in both currencies that is a one-way flow. And as large as these markets are, a significant dollar purchase like that is going to have a major impact. As I wrote earlier this week, the euro is leaning heavily on support at 1.0950, and if it manages to break through, there is nothing technically in the way until 1.0850. If you are a payables hedger, this could be an excellent opportunity.

Turning to the US, this morning is payrolls day. After Wednesday’s blowout 291K number for ADP Employment, expectations are running high that things are going to be quite good. The current median forecasts are as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 165K
Private Payrolls 155K
Manufacturing Payrolls -2K
Unemployment Rate 3.5%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.3
Participation Rate 63.2%

Source: Bloomberg

A quick look at the revisions in NFP estimates since the ADP number shows that the average is now 180K. As I said, expectations are running high. And given the strength of US data we have seen all week, if we do get a strong number, I expect to see the dollar break higher, likely taking out technical resistance in a number of currencies.

To recap, we have a risk-off session leading up to a key economic indicator. It will be interesting to see if strong US data can offset the growing fear of further negative news from china, but ironically, I think that the dollar is likely to be in demand regardless of the outcome. A weak number implies a potential negative impact from the virus, and risk-off which helps the dollar. A strong number means that the US remains above the fray, and that US investments are poised to continue to lead the world, thus drawing in more dollar buyers. Either way, the dollar seems primed to rally further today.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Truly Surreal

Said Lagarde, now are options are few
To complete what you’ve asked us to do
Though growth is “resilient”
It’s clearly not brilliant
And we’ve no more tools in the queue

Meanwhile tales from China reveal
The pain they’re beginning to feel
As tariffs they cut
And more ports are shut
Life there now is truly surreal

Poor Christine Lagarde. Amidst great pomp and circumstance she is named President of the ECB, clearly a step up from Managing Director of the IMF, but finds when she finally sits down that there is precious little to do in the job. Signor Draghi created and used all the tools the institution had in his effort to carry out its mission of achieving an inflation rate of “close to, but below 2.0%”. And he failed dismally in reaching that goal. In fairness, he did save the euro from collapse in 2012 with his famous “whatever it takes” remark, and arguably that saved the ECB from complete irrelevance. (After all, if the euro broke up, what would have been the purpose of maintaining a Eurozone central bank?) But in the end, the Eurozone continues to muddle through with desultory growth and almost no inflation impulse whatsoever. And Madame Lagarde is reduced to giving speeches exhorting governments to spend more money, while an army of economics PhD’s tries to come up with some other way to make the ECB relevant.

This morning this problem was on full display as she explained, yet again, to the European Parliament that the ECB has limited scope to act given the current policy stance. Yet it seems that despite the easiest monetary policy in its history, the positive impact is still missing. This was made clear when Germany reported that Factory Orders for December fell 2.1%, taking the annual decline to -8.7%, its lowest level since the financial crisis in 2009. Fortunately for European equity investors, things like economic growth no longer matter to equity markets, but for the poor folks of Germany, the future continues to look pretty grim. The euro, which had initially edged up by 0.15% ahead of the data release on this broader optimism, has since turned tail and given up those modest gains to sit right on the 1.10 level, unchanged on the day.

The thing is, in the short run, the economic fundamentals seem to point to the dollar continuing its recent strength, although longer term, as long as the Fed continues with QE, I expect the dollar to decline. But the market technicians are looking hard at this 1.0950-1.1000 level as critical support for the single currency, with a break of 1.0950 likely to open the door to a move to, and through, October’s lows of 1.0865.

But while things in Europe may not be looking that great, fortunately the rest of the world has decided that the coronavirus is no longer a relevant issue for investors and equity markets, and thus risk appetite, worldwide continue to make new highs. Yes, the number of confirmed deaths has risen to 562 and the number of infections has grown past 28,000, but the narrative is now incorporating a possible breakthrough in a treatment and vaccine to stop this infection in its tracks. And that would be extraordinary given the usual amount of time it takes to find, and test a cure for some disease.

Meanwhile, as more and more countries restrict travel to and from China, President Xi Jinping gets angrier and angrier that they are fomenting panic. Arguably, they are trying to prevent said panic, but I’m sure that is cold comfort for the Chinese. Of more importance economically is the fact that CNOOC, one of China’s major oil companies, declared force majeure to break a contract to take in a LNG cargo. It seems that the virus has led to a situation where there aren’t enough people available to work the LNG terminals, so there is nothing they can do with the gas. Again, my view is the market is taking this outbreak less seriously than it should, but of course, my view incorporates the idea that central banks cannot prop things up forever.

But for the time being, my view remains in the minority. Equity markets around the world continue to rally sharply, especially after China announced they would be cutting tariffs in half on $75 billion worth of imports as they attempt to live up to the phase one deal. Asian markets led the way overnight (Nikkei +2.4%, Hang Seng +2.6%, Shanghai +1.7%) and European markets didn’t want to miss out with both the CAC and DAX higher by 0.7% this morning while the UK’s FTSE 100 is up 0.4%. And US futures are pointing in the same direction, each up between 0.3% and 0.4%. In fairness, we did see much better than expected data yesterday here in NY, with ADP Employment blowing out at 291K while ISM Non-Manufacturing printed a better than expected 55.5.

All this has led to a growing risk appetite in the FX markets as well as equities. Last night’s best performer was KRW, rallying 1.0% as traders and investors have taken to heart the worst of the coronavirus fears are behind us and Chinese growth should rebound and help South Korea accordingly. Away from the won, however, there has been less movement in the EMG space, with an interesting mix of gainers and losers. It appears THB is suffering from yesterday’s rate cut today, having fallen 0.4%, but despite oil’s continued rebound, the RUB is weaker today by 0.3%. On the plus side, it seems commodity exporters BRL and IDR are the other big winners, rallying 0.5% and 0.4% respectively.

In the G10, the pound is the only currency that has moved more than 0.1% today, falling 0.25%, as talk about the difficulties of the UK-EU trade negotiations continue to garner attention. Otherwise, nada.

This morning’s data brings Initial Claims (exp 215K), Nonfarm Productivity (1.6%) and Unit Labor Costs (1.3%) none of which are likely to excite, especially with tomorrow’s payroll data on the horizon. Instead, FX remains beholden to the broad risk sentiment, which implies higher yield currencies should continue to do well, while those with low rates are likely to suffer.

Good luck
Adf

 

Strength in Their Ranks

Around the world, all central banks
Are to whom we need to give thanks
By dint of their easing
All shorts they are squeezing
Who knew they’d such strength in their ranks?

Every day that passes it becomes clearer and clearer that central banks truly are omnipotent. Not only do they possess the ability to support economies (or at least stock markets), but apparently, easing monetary policy cures the coronavirus infection. Who knew they had such wide-ranging powers? At least that is certainly the way things seem if you look through a market focused lens.

Let’s recap:

Date # cases / # deceased S&P 500 Close 10-Year Treasury EURUSD USDJPY
31 Dec 1 / 0 3230 1.917% 1.1213 108.61
6 Jan 60 / 0 3246 1.809% 1.1197 108.37
10 Jan 41 / 1 3265 1.82% 1.1121 109.95
20 Jan 219 / 3 3320 1.774% 1.1095 110.18
22 Jan 500 / 17 3321 1.769% 1.1093 109.84
24 Jan 1320 / 41 3295 1.684% 1.1025 108.90
28 Jan 4515 / 107 3276 1.656% 1.1022 109.15
30 Jan 7783 / 170 3283 1.586% 1.1032 108.96
3 Feb 17,386 / 362 3248 1.527% 1.1060 108.69
4 Feb 24,257 / 492 3297 1.599% 1.1044 109.59

Sources: https://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/news/coronavirus-a-timeline-of-how-the-deadly-outbreak-evolved/and Bloomberg

Now obviously, they are not actually creating a medical cure for this latest human affliction (I think), but once it became clear that the coronavirus was going to have a significant impact on the Chinese, and by extension, global economies, they jumped into action. While it was no surprise that the PBOC immediately eased policy to head off an even larger stock market rout upon the (delayed) return from the Lunar New Year holidays, I think there was a larger impact from Chairman Powell, who at the Fed press conference last week, made it clear that the Fed stood ready to react (read cut rates) if the coronavirus impact expanded. And then, just like that, the coronavirus was relegated to the agate type of newspapers.

What is really amazing is how the narrative has been altered from, ‘oh my gosh, we are on the cusp of a global pandemic so sell all risky assets’ to ‘the flu is actually a much bigger problem globally and this coronavirus is small potatoes and will be quickly forgotten, so buy those risky assets back’.

The point here is that market players lead very sheltered lives and really see the world as a binary function, is risk on or is risk off? And as long as the central banks continue to assure traders and investors that they will do whatever it takes to prevent stock markets from declining, at least for any length of time, those central banks will continue to control the narrative.

So, with that as preamble, what is new overnight? In a modest surprise, at least on the timing, the Bank of Thailand cut rates by 25bps to a record low 1.00%. The stated reason was as a prophylactic to prevent economic weakness as the coronavirus spreads. Too, the MAS explained that they have plenty of room to ease policy further (which for them means weakening the SGD) if they deem the potential coronavirus impacts to call for such action. It should be no surprise that SGD is today’s weakest link, having fallen 0.75% but we also saw immediate weakness in THB overnight, with the baht falling nearly 1.0% before a late day recovery on the back of flows into the Thai stock exchange. As to the rest of the EMG space, PHP is also modestly weaker after the central bank there indicated that they would cut rates as needed, but we have seen more strength across the space in general. RUB is leading the pack, up 0.8% on the back of a strong rebound in oil prices (WTI +2.3%), but we are also seeing strength throughout LATAM as CLP (+0.7%), BRL (+0.55%) and MXN (+0.4%) all rebound on renewed risk appetite. ZAR has also had a banner day, rising 0.7% on the positive commodity tone to markets.

In the G10 space, things are a bit less interesting. It should be no surprise that AUD is the top performer, rising 0.4%, as it has the strongest beta relationship to China and risk. NOK is also gaining, +0.25%, with oil’s recovery. On the other side of the blotter, CHF (-0.3%) and JPY -0.15%, but -1.0% since yesterday morning) are taking their lumps as haven assets no longer hold appeal to the investment community. This idea has been reinforced by the 10-year Treasury, which has seen its yield rise from 1.507% on Friday to 1.63% this morning.

And don’t worry, your 401K’s are all green again today with equity markets around the world back on the elevator to the penthouse.

Turning to today’s US session, we start to get some more serious data with ADP Employment (exp 157K), the Trade Balance (-$48.2B) and ISM Non-Manufacturing (55.1). Earlier this morning we saw Services PMI data from both Europe and the UK. Eurozone PMI data was mixed (France weak and Italy strong), while the UK saw a strong rebound. We also saw Eurozone Retail Sales, which were quite disappointing, falling 1.6% in December, and seemingly being the catalyst for the euro’s tepid performance today, -0.2%. Remember, Monday’s US ISM data was much better than expected, and there is no question that the market is willing to believe that today’s data will follow suit.

In sum, continued strong performance by the US economy, at least relative to its peers, as well as the working assumption that should the data start to falter, the Fed will be slashing rates immediately, will continue to support risk assets. At this point, that seems to be taking the form of buying high yield currencies (MXN, ZAR, INR) while buying the dollar to increase positions in the S&P500 (or maybe just in Tesla ). As such, I look for the dollar to hold its own vs. the bulk of the G10, but soften vs. much of the EMG bloc.

Good luck
Adf

Investors Remain Unconcerned

There once was a time in the past
When market bears quickly amassed
Positions quite short
While they would exhort
Investors, their holdings, to cast

But these days the story has turned
So bears that go short now get burned
A global pandemic?
It’s just academic
Investors remain unconcerned

One has to be impressed with the current frame of mind of global investors as they clearly feel bulletproof. Or perhaps, one has to be impressed with the job that central bankers around the world have done to allow those feelings to exist.

The coronavirus is quickly becoming back page news, where there will be a tally of cases and deaths daily, morphing into weekly, as the investment community turns its attention to much more important things, like how many new streaming customers each of the streaming services picked up in Q4. It seems the fact that China’s economy is going to feel some extreme pain in Q1 is being completely dismissed. At least from the market’s perspective. And this is where the central banks get to take a bow. It turns out that overwhelming liquidity support is all one needs to make people forget about everything else. It is truly the opioid of the market masses.

So as you sit down this morning you will see that equity markets around the world are on a tear higher, with every market that has been open today in the green, most by well more than 1%. And don’t worry; US futures are all more than 1% higher as well. Everything is clearly fantastic!

Last night, the PBOC fixed the renminbi more than 0.5% stronger than the market would have indicated, thus demonstrating they would not let things get out of hand. Then after a weak opening, where equity indices there fell more than 2%, the government stepped in along with official buyers and turned the tide higher. Once this occurred, equity markets elsewhere in Asia took their cues and everything rallied. Risk was no longer anathema and we have seen that across all assets as havens come under pressure and other risk assets, notably oil has rebounded. The lifecycle of a negative event has grown increasingly shorter as central banks continue to demonstrate their willingness to do ‘whatever it takes’ to prevent a sell-off of any magnitude in any equity market.

This is not just a US phenomenon, but a global one. To me the question is: Is this peak financialization of the global economy? By that I mean are we now in a period where the real economy, the one where cars and other stuff are manufactured and food is grown, has become completely secondary to the idea that companies that do those things need to be entirely focused on their capital structure to be sure that they are appropriately overleveraged? While I recognize that I am old-fashioned in my thoughts, I cannot help but believe that we are going to see a pretty significant repricing of assets at some point in the not too distant future. In truth, despite the market’s insouciance with regard to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, it is entirely possible that it continues to expand for several more months and that China, the second largest economy in the world and one representing 16% of total global economic activity, does not grow at all in Q1 while supply chains are closed and manufacturing around the world grinds to a much slower pace. Many recessions have been born of less than that. Just remember, trees don’t grow all the way to the sky, and neither do economies!

So let’s turn back to the other things ongoing in this morning’s session. Broadly speaking, the dollar is under modest pressure along with Treasury bonds and the Japanese yen. After all, safe havens do not boost your returns when Tesla is rallying 20% a day! There has been limited data today (Italian CPI +0.5% Y/Y) so FX markets are watching equities. Yesterday saw a big surprise in the US ISM data, which printed above 50 for the first time since July and has a number of analysts reconsidering their forecasts for slowing growth. The dollar definitely responded to this yesterday, rallying across the board as Fed funds futures backed off taking the probability of a rate cut by the Fed in July down to 85%. Remember, Friday that was at 100%.

Yesterday also saw the pound suffer significantly as the initial saber rattling by both the UK and the EU continued, which helped push the pound back to its key support level of 1.2950-1.3000. But as I said yesterday, this is simply both sides trying to get an advantage in the negotiation. While anything is possible, I continue to believe that a deal will be reached, or at the very least that a delay agreed on a timely basis. Boris is not going to jeopardize his power on this principle, remember he’s a politician first, and principles for them are fluid.

In the EMG bloc, pretty much every currency has rallied today as investors have quickly returned to those currencies with either higher yields (ZAR +0.6%, MXN +0.5%) or the best prospects assuming the coronavirus situation quickly dissipates (KRW +0.6%, CLP +0.6%, THB +0.5%). And in truth, I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.

In the US this morning we see December Factory Orders (exp 1.2%), generally not a major data point. There are no Fed speakers scheduled today which means that FX is going to be a secondary story. All eyes will be on equity markets and I expect that as risk assets are acquired, the dollar (and yen and Swiss franc) will continue to soften slowly.

Good luck
Adf

Despite Cash

In China the stock market sank
Despite cash from its central bank
But elsewhere it seems
The narrative deems
Investors, the Kool-Aid, have drank

So, it can be no surprise that after a one and a half week hiatus, the Chinese equity markets sold off dramatically (Shanghai -7.8%) when they reopened last night. After all, equity markets elsewhere in the world had all been under pressure for the entire time as the novel coronavirus spread seemed to accelerate. Of course, since Chinese markets closed for the Lunar New Year holiday, major global markets in the west had fallen only between 3.5% and 4.0%. But given China is the country whose economy will be most impacted, the ratio doesn’t seem wrong.

What we learned over the weekend, though, is that the acceleration has not yet begun to slow down. The latest data shows over 17,000 infected and over 300 deaths are now attributable to this illness. Most epidemiological models indicate that we have not reached the peak, and that it would not be surprising to see upwards of a quarter of a million cases within the next month or two. Remember too, this assumes that the information coming from China is accurate, which given the global reaction to the situation, may be a big ask. After all, I’m pretty sure President Xi Jinping does not want to be remembered as the leader of China when it unleashed a global pandemic. You can be sure that there will be a lot of finger-pointing in China for the rest of 2020, as some heads will need to roll in order to placate the masses, or at least to placate Xi.

But in what has been a classic case of ‘sell the rumor, buy the news’, equity markets in the rest of the world seem to have gotten over their collective fears as we see modest strength throughout Europe (DAX +0.2%, CAC +0.2% FTSE +0.4%) and US futures are all pointing higher as well. So at this point in time, it appears that the market’s modest correction last week is seen as sufficient to adjust for what will certainly be weaker growth globally, at least in Q1 2020. Something tells me that there is further repricing to be seen, but for now, the default belief is that the Fed and other central banks will do “whatever it takes” as Signor Draghi once said, to prevent an equity market collapse. And that means that selling risk would be a mistake.

With that as prelude, let’s turn our attention to what is happening away from the virus. The biggest FX mover overnight has been the pound, which has fallen 1.1% after tough talk from both PM Boris Johnson and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. The market’s concern seems to be that there will be no agreement reached and thus come December, we will have a Brexit redux. I am strongly in the camp that this is just posturing and that come June, when the decision for an extension must be made, it will be done under the guise of technical aspects, and that a deal will be reached. Neither side can afford to not reach a deal. In fact, one of the key discussion points in Europe this morning is the fact that the EU now has a €6 billion hole in its budget and there is nobody able to fill the gap.

On the data front, Eurozone Manufacturing PMI data was modestly better than forecast, with the bloc-wide number at 47.9, still contractionary, but Italy, France and Germany all edging higher by a tenth or two. However, despite the modestly better data and the modest uptick in equity markets, the single currency is under some pressure this morning, down 0.25%, as the market adjusts its outlook for Fed activity. It remains pretty clear that the ECB is already doing everything it can, so the question becomes will the Fed ease more aggressively as we go forward, especially if we start to see weaker data on the back of the coronavirus situation. Friday’s market activity saw futures traders reprice their expectations for Fed rate cuts, with the first cut now priced for July and a second for December. And that rate change was what undermined the dollar during Friday’s session, as it suddenly appeared that the US would be stepping on the monetary accelerator. In fairness, if the quarantine in China continues through the end of Q1, a quick Fed rate cut seems pretty likely. We shall see how things evolve. However, this morning sees a bit less fear all over, and so less need for Fed action.

The other main mover in the G10 was NOK (-0.7%), which given how much oil prices have suffered, seems quite reasonable. There is a story that Chinese oil demand has fallen 20% since the outbreak, as the combination of factory closures and quarantines reducing vehicle traffic has taken its toll. In fact, OPEC is openly discussing a significant production cut to try to rebalance markets, although other than the Saudis, it seems unlikely other producers will join in. But away from those currencies, the G10 space is in observation mode.

In the emerging markets, it should be no surprise that CNY is much weaker, falling 1.1% on-shore (catching up to the offshore CNH) and trading below (dollar above) 7.00. Again, that seems pretty appropriate given the situation, and its future will depend on just how big a hit the economy there takes. Surprisingly, the big winner today is ZAR, which has rebounded 1.0% after Friday’s sharp decline which took the currency through the 15.0 level for the first time since October. In truth, this feels more like a simple reaction to Friday’s movement than to something new. If anything, this morning’s PMI data from South Africa was much worse than expected at 45.2, which would have seemingly undermined the currency, not bolstered it.

On the data front, this week will be quite active as we see the latest payroll data on Friday, and a significant amount of new data between now and then.

Today ISM Manufacturing 48.5
  ISM Prices Paid 51.5
  Construction Spending 0.5%
Tuesday Factory Orders 1.2%
Wednesday ADP Employment 158K
  Trade Balance -$48.2B
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 55.1
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Unit Labor Costs 1.2%
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.6%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 160K
  Private Payrolls 150K
  Manufacturing Payrolls -4K
  Unemployment Rate 3.5%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.3
  Participation Rate 63.2%
  Consumer Credit $15.0B

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, all eyes will be on the payrolls on Friday, although the ISM data will garner a great deal of attention as well. Last Friday’s core PCE data was right on the screws, so the Friday rate movement was all about coronavirus. With the FOMC meeting behind us, we get back to a number of Fed speakers, although this week only brings four. Something tells me there will be a lot of discussion regarding how they will respond to scenarios regarding China and the virus.

In the end, short term price action is going to be all about the virus and its perceived impact on the global economy. Any indication that the outbreak is slowing down will result in an immediate risk grab-a-thon. If it gets worse, look for havens to get bid up quickly.

Good luck
Adf