So Distorted

Said Draghi, if things get much worse
Then more money, I will disburse
And negative rates
Which everyone hates
Will never go into reverse!

This morning, the Germans reported
That IP there’s lately been thwarted
Now markets are waiting
For payrolls, debating
Why everything seems so distorted

India. Malaysia. New Zealand. Philippines. Australia. India (again). Federal Reserve (?). ECB (?).

These are the major nations that have cut policy rates in the past two months, as well as, of course, the current forecasts for the two biggest central banks. Tuesday and Wednesday we heard from a number of Fed speakers, notably Chairman Powell, that if the economy starts to weaken, a rate cut is available and the Fed won’t hesitate to act. At this point, the futures market has a 25% probability priced in for them to cut rates in two weeks’ time, with virtual certainty they will cut by the late July meeting.

Then yesterday, Signor Draghi guided us further out the calendar indicating that interest rates in the ECB will not change until at least the middle of 2020. Remember, when this forward guidance started it talked about “through the summer” of 2019, then was extended to the end of 2019, and now it has been pushed a further six months forward. But of even more interest to the markets was that at his press conference, he mentioned how further rate cuts were discussed at the meeting as well as restarting QE. Meanwhile, the newest batch of TLTRO’s will be available at rates from -0.3% to 0.10%, slightly lower than had previously been expected, but certainly within the range anticipated. And yet, despite this seeming dovishness, the market had been looking for even more. In the end, the euro rallied yesterday, and has essentially maintained its recent gains despite Draghi’s best efforts. After all, when comparing the policy room available to the Fed and the ECB, the Fed has the ability to be far more accommodative in the near term, and markets seem to be responding to that. In the wake of the ECB meeting, the euro rallied a solid 0.5%, and has only ceded 0.1% of that since. But despite all the angst, the euro has not even gained 1.0% this week, although with the payroll report due shortly, that is certainly subject to change.

Which takes us to the payroll report. Wednesday’s ADP data was terrible, just 27K although the median forecast was for 180K, which has a number of analysts quite nervous.

Nonfarm Payrolls 185K
Private Payrolls 175K
Manufacturing Payrolls 5K
Unemployment Rate 3.6%
Participation Rate 62.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5

Given the way this market is behaving, if NFP follows ADP, look for the dollar to fall sharply along with a big bond market rally, and arguably a stock market rally as well. This will all be based on the idea that the Fed will be forced to cut rates at the June meeting, something which they are unwilling to admit at this point. Interestingly, a strong print could well see stocks fall on the idea that the Fed will not cut rates further, at least in the near future, but it should help the dollar nicely.

Before I leave for the weekend, there are two other notable moves in the FX markets, CNY and ZAR. In China, an interview with PBoC Governor Yi Gang indicated that they have significant room to ease policy further if necessary, and that there is no red line when it comes to USDCNY trading through 7.00. Those comments were enough to weaken the renminbi by 0.3%, above 6.95, and back to its weakest level since November. Confirmation that 7.00 is not seen as a crucial level implies that we are going to see a weaker CNY going forward.

As to ZAR, it has fallen through 15.00 to the dollar, down 0.5% on the day and 3.4% on the week, as concerns grow over South Africa’s ability to manage their way through the current economic slump. Two key national companies, Eskom, the electric utility, and South African Airways are both struggling to stay afloat, with Eskom so large, the government probably can’t rescue them even if they want to. Slowing global growth is just adding fuel to the fire, and it appears there is further room for the rand to decline.

In sum, the global economic outlook continues to weaken (as evidenced by today’s German IP print at -1.9% and the Bundesbank’s reduction in GDP forecast for 2019 to just 0.6%) and so easier monetary policy appears the default projection. For now, that translates into a weaker dollar (more room to move than other countries) and stronger stocks (because, well lower rates are always good, regardless of the reason), while Treasuries and Bunds should continue to see significant inflows driving yields there lower.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Certainty’s Shrinking

The data from yesterday showed
That Services growth hadn’t slowed
But ADP’s number
Showed job growth aslumber
An outcome that doesn’t, well, bode

This morning it’s Mario’s turn
To placate the market’s concern
His toolkit keeps shrinking
And certainty’s sinking
That he can prevent a downturn

The glass is always half-full if you are an equity trader, that much is clear. Not only did they interpret Chairman Jay’s words on Tuesday as a rate cut was coming soon (although he said no such thing), but yesterday they managed to see the combination of strong ISM Non-Manufacturing data (56.9 vs exp 55.5) and weak ADP Employment data (27K vs exp 180K) as the perfect storm. I guess they see booming profits from Services companies alongside rate cuts from the Fed as job growth slows. At any rate, by the end of the day, equity markets had continued the rally that started Tuesday with any concerns over tariffs on Mexican imports relegated to the dustbin of last week.

Meanwhile the Treasury market continues to have a different spin on things with 10-year yields still plumbing multi-year depths (2.10%) while the 5yr-30yr spread blows out to its steepest (88bps) since late 2017. The interpretation here is that the bond market is essentially forecasting a number of Fed rate cuts as the economy heads into recession shortly. It isn’t often that markets have such diametrically opposed views of the future, but history has shown that, unfortunately in this case, the bond market has a better track record than the stock market. And there is one other little tidbit of market data worth sharing, the opposing moves of gold and oil. Last week was only the third time since at least the early 1980’s that gold prices rallied at least 5.2% while oil fell at least 8.7%, an odd outcome. The other two times? Right before the Tech Bubble burst and right before the Global Financial Crisis. Granted this is not a long track record, but boy, it’s an interesting outcome!

The point is, signs that economic growth is slowing in the US are increasing. One thing of which we can be sure is that while slowing growth elsewhere may not lead to a US recession, a US recession will absolutely lead to much slower growth everywhere else in the world. Remember, the IMF just this week reduced their GDP growth forecasts yet again for 2019, and their key concern, the deteriorating trade situation between the US and the rest of the world, is showing no signs of dissipating.

Into this mix steps Mario Draghi as the ECB meets today in Vilnius, Lithuania (part of their annual roadshow). At this point, it is clear the ECB will define the terms of the new TLTRO’s with most analysts’ views looking for very generous terms (borrowing at -0.4%) although the ECB has tried to insist that these will only last two years rather than the four years of the last program. There is also talk of the ECB investigating further rate cuts, with perhaps a tiered structure on which reserves will be subject to the new, lower rate. And there is even one bank analyst forecasting that the ECB will restart QE come January 2020. Futures markets are pricing in a rate cut by Q1 2020, which is certainly not the direction the ECB intended when they changed their forward guidance to ‘rates will remain where they are through at least the end of the year.’ At that time, they were thinking of rate hikes, but that seems highly unlikely now.

With all of this in mind, let us now consider how this might impact the FX market. As I consistently point out, FX is a relative game. This means that expectations for both currencies matter, not just for one. So, the idea that the Fed has turned dovish, ceteris paribus, would certainly imply the dollar has room to fall. But ceteris is never paribus in this world, and as we are likely to hear later today at Draghi’s press conference, the ECB is going to be seen as far more dovish than just recently supposed. (What if the TLTRO’s are for three years instead of two? That would be seen as quite dovish I think.) The point is that while the signs of a weaker US economy continue to grow, those same signs point to weakness elsewhere. In the end, while the dollar may still soften further, as expectations about the Fed race ahead of those about the ECB or elsewhere, that is a short-term result. As I wrote earlier this week, 2% or so further weakness seems quite viable, but not much more than that before it is clear the rest of the world is in the same boat and policy eases everywhere.

FX market activity overnight has shown the dollar to be under modest pressure, with the euro up 0.3% while the pound and most of the rest of the G10 are up lesser amounts (0.1%-0.2%). However, many EMG currencies remain under pressure with MXN -0.75% after Fitch downgraded its credit rating to BBB-, the lowest investment grade, and weakness in ZAR and TRY helping to support the broad dollar indices. But in the big picture, the dollar remains in a trading range as we will need to see real policy changes before there is significant movement.

Turning to this morning’s data, aside from the Draghi presser at 8:30, we also see Initial Claims (exp 215K), the Trade Balance (-$50.7B), Nonfarm Productivity (3.5%) and Unit Labor Costs (-0.8%). But the reality is that, especially after yesterday’s ADP number, all eyes will be on tomorrow’s NFP print. In the event that ADP was prescient, and we see a terrible number, watch for a huge bond market rally and a weaker dollar. But if it is more benign, around the 185K expected, then I don’t see any reason for markets to change their recent tune. Expectations of future Fed rate cuts as ‘insurance’ will help keep the dollar on its back foot while supporting equities round the world.

Good luck
Adf

Soon On the Way

While Powell did not actually say
That rate cuts were soon on the way
He hinted as much
So traders did clutch
The idea and quickly made hay

If there was ever any doubt as to what is driving the equity markets, it was put to rest yesterday morning. Chairman Powell, during his discussion of the economy and any potential challenges said the following, “We are closely monitoring the implications of these developments for the U.S. economic outlook and, as always, we will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.” Nowhere in that comment does he actually talk about cutting rates, but the market belief is that ‘appropriate action’ is just that. The result was a powerful equity market rally (DJIA and S&P +2.1%, NASDAQ +2.6%), a modest Treasury sell-off and further weakness in the dollar. At this point, Wall Street analysts are competing to define the terms of the Fed’s next easing cycle with most now looking for at least two rate cuts this year, but nobody expecting a move later this month. And don’t forget the futures market, where traders are pricing in 60bps of rate cuts before the end of the year, so two cuts and a 40% probability of a third.

All of this is ongoing in the face of continuing bombastic trade rhetoric by both the US and China, and with President Trump seemingly quite comfortable with the current situation. While it appears that he views these as negotiating tactics, it seems clear that the strategy is risky and could potentially spiral into a much more deeply entrenched trade war. However, with that in mind, the one thing we all should have learned in the past two plus years is that forecasting the actions of this President is a mug’s game.

Instead, let’s try to consider potential outcomes for various actions that might be taken.

Scenario 1: status quo, meaning tariffs remain in place but don’t grow on either side and trade talks don’t restart. If the current frosty relationship continues, then markets will become that much more reliant on Fed largesse in order to maintain YTD gains, let alone rally. Global growth is slowing, as is growth in trade (the IMF just reduced forecasts for 2019 again!), and earnings data is going to suffer. In this case, the market will be pining for ‘appropriate action’ and counting on the Fed to cut rates to support the economy. While rate cuts will initially support equities, there will need to be more concrete fiscal action to extend any gains. Treasuries are likely to continue to see yields grind lower with 2.00% for the 10-year quite viable, and the dollar is likely to continue to suffer in this context as expectations for US rate cuts will move ahead of those for the rest of the world. Certainly, a 2% decline in the dollar is viable to begin with. However, remember that if the economic situation in the US requires monetary ease, you can be sure that the same will be true elsewhere in the world, and when that starts to become the base case, the dollar should bottom.

Scenario 2: happy days, meaning both President’s Xi and Trump meet at the G20, agree that any deal is better than no deal and instruct their respective teams to get back to it. There will be fudging on both sides so neither loses face domestically, but the threat of an all-out trade war dissipates quickly. Markets respond enthusiastically as earnings estimates get raised, and while things won’t revert to the 2016 trade situation, tariffs will be removed, and optimism returns. In this case, without any ‘need’ for Fed rate cuts, the dollar will likely soar, as once again, the US economic situation will be seen as the most robust in the world, and any latent Fed dovishness is likely to be removed. Treasury prices are sure to fall as risk as quickly embraced and 2.50%-2.75% 10-year Treasuries seems reasonable. After all, the 10-year was at 2.50% just one month ago.

Scenario 3: apocalypse, the trade war escalates as both Presidents decide the domestic political benefits outweigh the potential economic costs and everything traded between the two nations is subject to significant tariffs. Earnings estimates throughout the world tumble, confidence ebbs quickly and equity markets globally suffer. While this will trigger another bout of central bank easing globally, the impact on equity markets will be delayed with fear running rampant and risk rejected. Treasury yields will fall sharply; 1.50% anyone? The dollar, however, will outperform along with the yen, as haven currencies will be aggressively sought.

Obviously, there are many subtle gradations of what can occur, but I feel like these three descriptions offer a good baseline from which to work. For now, the status quo is our best bet, with the chance of happy days coming soon pretty low, although apocalypse is even more remote. Just don’t rule it out.

As to the markets, the dollar has largely stabilized this morning after falling about 1% earlier in the week. Eurozone Services PMI data printed ever so slightly higher than expected but is still pointing to sluggish growth. The ECB is anticipated to announce the terms of the newest round of TLTRO’s tomorrow, with consensus moving toward low rates (-0.4% for banks to borrow) but terms of just two years rather than the previous package’s terms of four years. Given the complete lack of inflationary pulse in the Eurozone and the ongoing manufacturing malaise, it is still very hard for me to get excited about the euro rallying on its own.

This morning brings ADP Employment data (exp 185K) as well as ISM Non-Manufacturing (55.5) and then the Fed’s Beige Book is released at 2:00. We hear from three more Fed speakers, Clarida, Bostic and Bowman, so it will be interesting to see if there is more emphasis on the willingness to respond to weak markets activity. One thing to note, the word patience has not been uttered by a single Fed member in a number of days. Perhaps that is the telling signal that a rate cut is coming sooner than they previously thought.

Good luck
Adf

 

Retreated

Rate cuts “may be warranted soon”
Said James yesterday afternoon
The bond market soared
Though stocks ‘cross the board
Retreated the third day of June

Will someone please explain to me how the Fed expects to be preemptive on economic movements by looking in the rearview mirror? Given that data is almost always backwards looking, (only the ISM surveys really try to look ahead) it seems it would be a far better process to simply explain the reaction function will follow the economy. It is abundantly clear that they have completely lost the ability to lead the economy. So now, following a spate of softer data leading to comments from St Louis Fed President James Bullard about cutting rates soon, Treasury yields have plumbed new depths for the move, touching as low as 2.07% on Monday, and although they have rebounded slightly this morning, there is no indication this movement is going to stop. Weaker ISM data, slower housing growth and ongoing trade uncertainty have certainly stacked the deck against the Fed standing pat. Chairman Powell speaks this morning and markets will be anxiously awaiting his wisdom on the subject. (Spoiler alert, his only choice will be to sound dovish as any hawkish tone will immediately reflect in an equity sell-off.)

Similarly, we continue to see German bund yields pressing to new lows, -0.21% this morning, and the pressure on the ECB to respond is growing stronger. Just this weekend there was a story in Bloomberg describing Eurozone inflation as starting to trend higher. Alas, this morning’s data printed weaker than expected with headline CPI at 1.2% and core at 0.8%. While the euro has barely reacted, interest rate markets are starting to price in even more easing by the ECB and analyst’s comments are moving towards the need for Signor Draghi to do something to show that the ECB is in control. The problem for Draghi is he only has a few more months in the seat and all eyes are looking toward his potential replacement. While there is no strong consensus pick, the view is developing that whoever takes the role will be more hawkish than Draghi, by default. At least initially. However, if Eurozone growth continues to falter and inflation remains around 1.0%, instead of nearer its target of “close to but below 2.0%”, that hawkishness is likely to fade. And one last thing, Eurozone inflation expectations, as measured by five year forward five-year swaps have fallen to near record lows of 1.28%. In other words, nobody thinks inflation is making a comeback soon.

Adding to the interest rate gloom was Australia, last night, cutting its base rate to 1.25%, as widely expected. RBA Governor Lowe made it clear that given the slowing picture in China and the overall slowdown in global growth, the door is open for further rate cuts there. Markets are pricing in at least two more by the end of the year.

How about Switzerland? The nation with the world’s lowest interest rates, the cash rate is -0.75%, is being forecast to cut them further. Given the haven status of the Swiss franc and its recent appreciation vs. the euro, analysts are now looking for another rate cut there. So is the futures market, with a 50% probability of a 25bp cut priced in for March 2020., and SNB President Thomas Jordan has done nothing to dissuade these ideas. If anything, I would expect a cut before the end of the year.

My point is that despite the recent turn in US markets regarding interest rates, where virtually every analyst has come around to the idea that the next move in rates will be lower, and clearly there are Fed members in that camp, none of this happens in isolation. As the above discussion highlights, more dovish policy is quickly becoming the baseline forecast for virtually every country that matters.

So, what does that do for the dollar? Yesterday’s price action showed the dollar’s worst performance since mid-March, when Chairman Powell surprised the market with an uber-dovish policy statement and press conference. Bullard’s comments were enough to turn views toward a rate cut happening much sooner than previously anticipated. And so, if the Fed has truly turned around their thought process, then it will be no surprise for the dollar to have a weak period. Of course, this will only last until we hear Draghi talk about the room for further easing and the need to maintain price stability near the ECB’s target. Once it is clear that the ECB is also going to ease further, the dollar will likely find a bottom. Remember, the ECB meets tomorrow and Thursday, with Draghi’s press conference at 8:30 Thursday morning. Given the recent data, and the overall trade situation, it is not impossible that the ECB turns far more dovish this week. However, my sense is they will focus on the terms of the new TLTRO’s and not on restarting QE. So, the dollar probably has a few weeks of underperformance ahead of it, but it is only a matter of time before the ECB (and correspondingly the BOJ, BOE and BOC) jump on the dovish bandwagon.

As an aside, I keep reading that the only way for the Fed to create a dovish surprise later this month is to cut immediately (the market is pricing in a 25bp cut at the July meeting) but I disagree. All they have to do is cut by more than 25bps when they cut. There is no rule that says 25bps is the proper amount to move rates. If the consensus view is turning to a sharper slowdown, it would be better to get ahead of the problem than to be seen as offering policy prescriptions that are ‘too little, too late.’ It appears to me that President Trump will get his way regarding the Fed, with easier money to come sooner rather than later. Alas, I fear that the stock market may not respond in the manner desired. At this point, cutting rates speaks to panic at the Fed that things are much worse than they have been describing. If that is the perception, equity markets have only one way to go…down.

On the data front, yesterday saw the weakest ISM print since October 2016, which is completely in line with what we are seeing around the world, slowing manufacturing growth. This morning, the only hard data is Factory Orders (exp -0.9%) but both Powell and NY Fed President Williams speak. The default expectation for them both is turning more dovish, and if they live up to that billing, the dollar is likely to continue its recent decline. But, if somehow they sound hawkish, look for the dollar to reverse higher quickly. Remember, FX is still a relative game and its recent weakness is predicated on a more dovish Fed. Changing that changes the market’s perception.

Good luck
Adf

 

Stopped at the Border

On Friday the President tweeted
Unless immigration, unneeded,
Is stopped at the border
I will give the order
To raise tariffs til it’s defeated

Friday’s big market news was President Trump’s threat of new tariffs, this time on Mexico, if they don’t address the illegal immigration issue domestically. This is a novel approach to a non-economic problem, but given the President’s embrace of the tariff process, perhaps it is not that surprising. The impact across markets, however, was substantial, with equities suffering while haven assets, notably Treasuries and Bunds, both rallied sharply. In fact, those moves have continued through the overnight session and we now see the 10-year US Treasury yielding just 2.10%, its lowest since September 2017, while 10-year Bunds are yielding a record low -0.21%! In other words, fear is rife that the future is going to be less amenable to investors than the recent past.

Meanwhile, equity markets have also suffered with Friday’s global sell-off continuing this morning in Europe after a mostly negative day in Asia. As to the dollar, it has been a bit more mixed, falling sharply against the yen (JPY +1.1% Friday, flat today), rising sharply against emerging market currencies (MXN -2.5% Friday, -0.3% today), but actually sliding slightly vs. its other G10 counterparts.

It is instructive to consider why the dollar is not maintaining its full status as a haven. Ultimately, the reason is that expectations for aggressive rate cuts by the Fed are becoming the default market expectation. This compares to a much less aggressive adjustment by other central banks, and so the relative forecasts point to a narrowing interest rate differential. Consider that the futures market has now priced in three rate cuts by Q1 2020 in Fed funds. Six months ago, they were pricing in three rate hikes! That is a huge sentiment change, and yet the dollar is actually stronger today than it was at the beginning of the year by about 2%. The point is that while recent economic estimates in the US continue to be downgraded, estimates for the rest of the world are being downgraded equally. In fact, there is substantially greater concern that China’s GDP growth could slow far more than that of the US adding to knock-on effects elsewhere in the world.

One of the things I have consistently maintained is that a slowdown in the US will not happen in isolation, and if the US is slowing, so will be the rest of the world. This means there is virtually no probability that the Fed will cut rates without essentially every other country easing policy as well, and that all important (at least for FX traders) interest rate differential is not likely to shrink nearly as much as reflected by simply looking at the Fed’s activities. A perfect example is Australia, where tomorrow’s RBA meeting is expected to see a 25bp rate cut, with the market pricing between two and three more during the next several quarters. Aussie has been suffering lately and is likely to continue to do so going forward, especially as pressure remains on China’s economy.

The Fed’s done a year-long review
Of policies they might turn to
They’re hoping to find
A new frame of mind
In order to reach a breakthrough

The other story about which you will hear a great deal this week is the gathering at the Chicago Fed of the FOMC and academics as they try to find a better way to effect policy. The positive aspect of this process is that they recognize they are not really doing a very good job. The negative aspect is that they continue to believe inflation remains too low and are extremely frustrated by their impotence to change the situation. We have already heard a number of the ideas; ranging from choosing a higher inflation target to allowing inflation to run hot (if it ever gets there based on their measurements). Alas, there seems little chance that the fundamental issue, the fact that their models are no longer reasonable representations of the real world, will be addressed. To a (wo)man, they all continue to strongly believe in a Keynesian world where more stimulus equals more economic activity. I would contend that, not dissimilar to the differences between Newtonian physics and particle physics, interest rates at the zero bound (and below) no longer have the same impact as they do at higher levels. And it is this failure by all central bankers to recognize the non-linearity of results which will prevent a viable solution from being found until a crisis materializes. And even then I’m not optimistic.

Turning to this weeks’ data dump, there is a ton of stuff coming, culminating in Friday’s NFP report:

Today ISM Manufacturing 53.0
  ISM Prices Paid 52.0
  Construction Spending 0.4%
Tuesday Factory Orders -0.9%
Wednesday ADP Employment 185K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 55.5
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Trade Balance -$50.7B
  Nonfarm Productivity 3.5%
  Unit Labor Costs -0.8%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 183K
  Private Payrolls 175K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 4k
  Unemployment Rate 3.6%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5

There are also eleven Fed speakers including Chairman Powell on Tuesday morning as well as the aforementioned Fed conclave regarding new policy tools. In other words, there is plenty available to move markets this week. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the ongoing trade situation, where fears are extremely high, but both China and Mexico have said they want to sit down and discuss things again.

At this point, given how much new information will be added to the mix, it is impossible to say how markets will perform. However, with that in mind, we will need to see some extraordinarily weak US data to change the idea that the US is still the ‘cleanest dirty shirt in the laundry’, to use a terrible metaphor. As well, do not be surprised to see Mexico, at least, agree to implement new policies to address the immigration issue and reduce pressure on the peso. In the end, I continue to look for the dollar to maintain its overall strength, but a modest drift lower against G10 counterparts is well within reason.

Good luck
Adf

Called Into Question

A key market gauge of recession,
The yield curve, has called into question
Growth’s pace up ahead
And whether the Fed
Will restart financial repression

While markets this morning have stopped falling, there is no question that investors are on heightened alert. Yesterday saw further declines in the major stock indices and a continuation of the dollar’s rally alongside demand for Treasuries and Bunds. Today’s pause is hardly enough to change the predominant current view which can best be summed up as, AAAAGGGHHHH!

In the Treasury market, 10-year yields reached their steepest inversion vs. 3-month yields, 14bps, since 2007. While many pundits and analysts focus on the 2-year vs. 10-year spread, which remains slightly positive, the Fed itself has published research showing the 3-month vs. 10-year spread is a better indicator of future recessions. So the combination of fears over a drawn out trade war between the US and China and ongoing uncertainty in Europe given the Brexit drama and the uptick in tensions between Italy and the European Commission regarding Italy’s mooted budget, have been enough to send many investors hunting for the safest assets they can find. In this classic risk-off scenario, the fact that the dollar and the yen remain the currencies of choice is no surprise.

But let’s unpack the stories to see if the fear is warranted. On the trade front, every indication of late is that both sides are preparing for a much longer conflict. Just this morning China halted all imports of US soybeans. The other chatter of note is the idea that the Chinese may soon halt shipments of rare-earth metals to US industry, an act that would have significant negative consequences for the US manufacturing capability in the technology and aerospace industries. Of course, the US ban on Huawei and its increased pressure to prevent any allies from buying their equipment strikes at the heart of China’s attempts to move up the value chain in manufacturing. All told, until the G20 meeting in about a month’s time, I cannot foresee any thaw in this battle, and so expect continued negative consequences for the market.

As to Brexit, given the timing is that there won’t be a new Prime Minister until September, it seems that very little will happen in this arena. After all, Boris Johnson is already the favorite and is on record as saying a hard Brexit suits him just fine. While my personal view is that the probability of that outcome is more than 30%, I am in the minority. In fact, I would argue the analyst community, although not yet the market, is coalescing around the idea that no Brexit at all has become the most likely outcome. We have heard more and more MP’s talk about a willingness to hold a second referendum and current polls show Remain well ahead in that event. Of course, the FX market has not embraced that view as evidenced by the fact the pound remains within spitting distance of its lowest levels in more than two years.

Finally, the resurrection of the Italy story is the newest addition to the market’s menu of pain, and this one seems like it has more legs. Remarkably, the European Commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, is demanding that Italy reduce its fiscal spending by 1.5% of GDP despite the fact that it is just emerging from a recession and growth this year is forecast to be only 0.3%. This is remarkable given the Keynesian bent of almost all global policymakers. Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League whose power is growing after his party had a very strong showing in last week’s EU elections, has categorically rejected that policy prescription.

But of more interest is the fact that the Italian Treasury is back to discussing the issuance of ‘minibots’ which are essentially short-term Italian notes used by the government to pay contractors, and which will be able to trade in the market as a parallel currency to the euro. While they will be completely domestic, they represent a grave threat to the sanctity of the single currency and will not be lightly tolerated by the ECB or any other Eurozone government. And yet, it is not clear what the rest of Europe can do to stop things. The threat of a fine is ludicrous, especially given that Italy’s budget deficit is forecast to be smaller than France’s, where no threats have been made. The thing is, introduction of a parallel currency is a step into the unknown, and one that, in the short-term, is likely to weigh on the euro significantly. However, longer term, if Italy, which is generally perceived as one of the weaker links in the Eurozone, were to leave, perhaps that would strengthen the remaining bloc on a macroeconomic basis and the euro with it.

With that as background, it is no surprise that investors have been shunning risk. While this morning markets are rebounding slightly, with equity indices higher by a few tenths of a percent and Treasury yields higher by 3bps, the trend remains firmly in the direction of less risk not more.

The final question to be asked is, how will the Fed respond to this widening array of economic issues? Arguably, they will continue to focus on the US story, which while slowing, remains the least problematic of the major economies. At least that has been the case thus far. But today we have the opportunity to change things. Data this morning includes the first revision of Q1 GDP (exp 3.1%) as well as Initial Claims (215K) and the Goods Trade Balance (-$72.0B) at 8:30. There are concerns that the Q1 data falls below 3.0% which would not only be politically inconvenient, but perhaps a harbinger of a faster slowdown in Q2. Then, throughout the next week we get a significant run of data culminating in the payroll report next Friday. So, for now, the Fed is going to be watching closely, as will all market participants.

The predominant view remains that growth around the world is slowing and that the next easing cycle is imminent (fed funds futures are pricing in 3 rate cuts by the end of 2020!) However, Fed commentary has not backed up that view as yet. We will need to see the data to have a better idea, but for now, with risk still being shunned, the dollar should remain bid overall.

Good luck
Adf

Will Powell React?

The Treasury curve is implying
That growth as we knew it is dying
Will Powell react?
Or just be attacked
For stasis while claiming he’s trying?

Scanning markets this morning shows everything is a mess. Scanning headlines this morning shows that fear clearly outpolls greed as the driving force behind trading activity. The question at hand is, ‘Have things gone too far or is this just the beginning?’

Treasury and Bund yields are the best place to start when discussing the relative merits of fear and greed, and this morning, fear is in command. Yields on 10-year Treasuries have fallen to 2.23% and 10-year Bunds are down to -0.17%, both probing levels not seen in nearly two years. The proximate causes are numerous. First there is the continued concern over the trade war between the US and China with no sign that talks are ongoing and the market now focusing on a mooted meeting between President’s Trump and Xi at the G20 in June. While there is no chance the two of them will agree a deal, as we saw in December, it is entirely possible they can get the talks restarted, something that would help mitigate the current market stress.

However, this is not only about trade. Economic data around the world continues to drift broadly lower with the latest surprise being this morning’s German Unemployment rate rising to 5.0% as 60,000 more Germans than expected found themselves out of work. We have also been ‘treated’ to the news that layoffs by US companies (Ford and GE among others) are starting to increase. The auto sector looks like it is getting hit particularly hard as inventories build on dealer lots despite what appears to be robust consumer confidence. This dichotomy is also evident in the US housing market where despite strong employment, rising wages and declining mortgage rates, home prices are stagnant to falling, depending on the sector, and home sales have been declining for the past fourteen months in a row.

The point is that the economic fundamentals are no longer the reliable support for markets they had been in the recent past. Remember, the US is looking at its longest economic expansion in history, but its vigor is clearly waning.

Then there are the political ructions ongoing. Brexit is a well-worn story, yet one that has no end in sight. The pound remains under pressure (-0.1%, -3.0% in May) and UK stocks are falling sharply (-1.3%, -3.3% in May). As the Tory leadership contest takes shape, Boris Johnson remains the frontrunner, but Parliament will not easily cede any power to allow a no-deal Brexit if that is what Johnson wants. And to add to the mess, Scotland is aiming to hold a second independence referendum as they are very keen to remain within the EU. (Just think, the opportunity for another border issue could be coming our way soon!)

Then there is the aftermath of the EU elections where all the parties that currently are in power in EU nations did poorly, yet the current national leadership is tasked with finding new EU-wide leaders, including an ECB President as well as European Commission and European Council presidents. So, there is a great deal of horse-trading ongoing, with competence for the role seen as a distant fifth requirement compared to nationality, regional location (north vs. south), home country size (large vs. small) and gender. Meanwhile, Italy has been put on notice that its current financial plans for fiscal stimulus are outside the Eurozone stability framework but are not taking the news sitting down. It actually makes no sense that an economy crawling out of recession like Italy should be asked to tighten fiscal policy by raising taxes and cutting spending, rather than encouraged to reinvigorate growth. But hey, the Teutonic view of the world is austerity is always and everywhere the best policy! One cannot be surprised that Italian stocks are falling (-1.3%, -8.0% this month).

At any rate, the euro also remains under pressure, falling yesterday by 0.3%, a further 0.1% this morning and a little more than 1% this month. One point made by many is that whoever follows Signor Draghi in the ECB President’s chair is likely to be more hawkish, by default, than Draghi himself. With that in mind, later this year, when a new ECB leader is named, if not yet installed, the euro has the chance to rally. This is especially so if the Fed has begun to cut rates by then, something the futures market already has in its price.

Other mayhem can be seen in South Africa, where the rand has broken below its six-month trading range, having fallen nearly 3% this week as President Ramaphosa has yet to name a new cabinet, sowing concern in the market as to whether he will be able to pull the country out of its deep economic malaise (GDP -2.0% in Q1). And a last piece of news comes from Venezuela, where the central bank surprised one and all by publishing economic statistics showing that GDP shrank 19.2% in the first nine months of 2018 while inflation ran at 130,060% last year. That is not a misprint, that is the very definition of hyperinflation.

Turning to today’s session, there is no US data of note nor are any Fed members scheduled to speak. Given the overnight price action, with risk clearly being cast aside, it certainly appears that markets will open that way. Equity futures are pointing to losses of 0.6% in the US, and right now it appears things are going to remain in risk-off mode. Barring a surprise positive story (or Presidential tweet), it feels like investors are going to continue to pare back risk positions for now. As such, the dollar is likely to maintain its current bid, although I don’t see much cause for it to extend its gains at this time.

Finally, to answer the question I posed at the beginning, there is room for equity markets to continue to fall while haven bonds rally so things have not yet gone too far.

Good luck
Adf