Progress Was Made

The Presidents, Trump and Xi, met
Attempting, trade talks, to reset
Some progress was made
Though China downplayed
Reductions in tariffs as yet

Risk is back! At least it is for today, with the news that there has been a truce, if not an end, to the trade war between the US and China seen as a huge positive for risky assets. And rightly so, given that the trade contretemps has been one of the key drivers of recent investor anxiety. In addition, the G20 managed to release a statement endorsed by all parties, albeit one that was a shadow of its former self. There remain significant disagreements on the value of the G20 with the Trump administration still convinced that these gatherings seek to institutionalize rules and regulations that are contra to the US best interests.

At any rate, equity markets around the world have rallied sharply with Shanghai jumping 2.5%, the Nikkei up 1.25% and the South Korean KOSPI rising by 1.75%. In Europe, the FTSE is higher by 1.75%, the DAX by 2.2% and the CAC, despite ongoing riots in Paris and throughout France, higher by 1.0%. Ahead of the opening here, futures are pointing to an opening on the order of 2.0% higher as well. It should be no surprise that Treasury bonds have fallen somewhat, although the 2bp rise in 10-year yields is dwarfed relative to the equity movements. And finally, the dollar is lower, not quite across the board, but against many of its counterparts. Today, EMG currencies are leading the way, with CNY rising 0.9%, MXN rising 1.7% and RUB up 0.75% indicative of the type of price movement we have seen.

However, the trade story is not the only market driver today, with news in the oil market impacting currencies as well. The story that OPEC and Russia have agreed to extend production cuts into 2019, as well as the news that Alberta’s Premier has ordered a reduction of production, and finally, the news that Qatar is leaving OPEC all combining to help oil jump by more than 3% this morning. The FX impact from oil, however, was mixed. While the RUB and MXN both rallied sharply, as did CAD (+0.9%) and BRL (+0.9%), those nations that are major energy importers, notably India (INR -1.1%), have seen their currencies suffer. I would be remiss not to mention the fact that the euro, which is a large energy importer, has actually moved very little as the two main stories, trade war truce and oil price rise, have offsetting impacts in FX terms on the Continent.

But through it all, there is one currency that is universally underperforming, the British pound, which has fallen 0.3% vs. the dollar and much further against most others. Brexit continues to cast a long shadow over the pound with today’s story that the DUP, the small Northern Irish party that has been key for PM May’s ability to run a coalition government, is very unhappy with the Brexit deal and prepared to not only vote against it in Parliament next week, but to agree a vote of no confidence against PM May as well. This news was far too much for the pound, overwhelming even much better than expected Manufacturing PMI data from the UK (53.1 vs. exp 51.5). So the poor pound is likely to remain under pressure until that vote has been recorded next Tuesday. As of now, it continues to appear that the Brexit deal will fail in its current form, and that the UK will be leaving the EU with no framework for the future in place. This has been the market’s collective fear since the beginning of this process, and the pound will almost certainly suffer further in the event Parliament votes down the deal.

While all this has been fun, the week ahead brings us much more news and
information, as it is Payrolls week in the US.

Today ISM Manufacturing 57.6
  ISM Prices Paid 70.0
  Construction Spending 0.4%
Wednesday ADP Employment 197K
  Nonfarm Productivity 2.3%
  Unit Labor Costs 1.2%
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 59.2
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Trade Balance -$54.9B
  Factory Orders -2.0%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 200K
  Private Payrolls 200K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 19K
  Unemployment Rate 3.7%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.1% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Michigan Sentiment 97.0

So a lot of data, and even more Fed speakers, with a total of 11 speeches, including congressional testimony by Chairman Powell on Wednesday, from six different Fed Governors and Presidents. Now we have heard an awful lot from the Fed lately and it has been interpreted as being somewhat less hawkish than the commentary from September and October. In fact, Minneapolis President Kashkari was out on Friday calling for an end to rate hikes, although he is arguably the most dovish member of the FOMC. Interestingly, the trade truce is likely to lead to one less problem the Fed has highlighted as an economic headwind, and may result in some more hawkish commentary, but my guess is that the current mindset at the Eccles Building is one of moderation. I continue to believe that a December hike is a done deal, but I challenge anyone who claims they have a good idea for what 2019 will bring. The arguments on both sides are viable, and the proponents are fierce in their defense. While the Fed continues to be a key driver of FX activity, my sense is that longer term FX views are much less certain these days, and will continue down to be that way as the Fed strives to remove Forward Guidance from the tool kit. Or at least put it away for a while. I still like the dollar, but I will admit my conviction is a bit less robust than before.

Good luck
Adf

Problem’s Aplenty

Two stories have traders’ attention
The first showed the Fed’s apprehension
That their preferred path
Was earning the wrath
Of markets, thus causing dissention

The other is that the G20
(According to the cognoscenti)
May let Xi explain
A trade war’s insane
Since both men have problems aplenty

Once again the market has narrowed its focus on two things only, in this case the Minutes from the November FOMC meeting and the upcoming dinner between Presidents Trump and Xi at the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires. It seems that traders in virtually every market are taking their cues from these stories.

Starting with the Minutes, it is clear that the Fed finds itself at an inflection point in their policymaking with the easy part now behind them. Up until September, it was evident that policy was extremely accommodative, and the Fed’s goal of gradually reducing that accommodation was easy to achieve, hence the steady pace of a 25bp rate hike every other meeting. However, despite the fact that nobody actually knows where the neutral rate of interest (also known as r*) is, it is apparent that the current Fed funds rate is much closer to that mythical rate than it used to be. Hence the dilemma. How much further should the Fed raise rates, and at what pace? The last thing they want is to raise rates sufficiently to slow the economy into a recession. But they also remain quite wary of policy settings that are too easy, since that could lead to financial instability (read bubbles) and higher inflation. This is why they get paid the big bucks!

Signals from the US economy lately have been mixed, with the housing market slowing along with auto sales, but general consumer confidence and spending remaining at very high levels. Underpinning the latter is the ongoing strength in the labor market, where the Unemployment rate remains near 50 year lows of 3.7%. There is a caveat with the labor market though, and that is the Initial Claims data, which had been trending lower consistently for the past nine years, but has suddenly started to tick higher over the past month. While this could simply be a temporary fluctuation based on changes in seasonal adjustments, it could also be the proverbial canary in the coalmine. We will have a better sense next Friday, when the November NFP report is released, but based on the recent Initial Claims data, a soft employment report is entirely within reason.

The upshot is that the Fed is no longer certain of its near term rate path which means that many of the investing memes of the past ten years, notably buy-the-dip, may no longer make sense. Instead, the volatility that we have seen lately across all markets is likely to be with us going forward. But remember, too, that volatility is a market’s natural habitat. It has been the extreme monetary policies of central banks that have moderated those natural movements. And as central banks back away from excessive monetary ease, we should all expect increased volatility.

The second story is the upcoming meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi tomorrow night. Signals from Trump going into the meeting have been mixed (aren’t all his signals mixed?) but my take is that sentiment is leaning toward at least a pause in any escalation of the trade war, with the true optimists expecting that concrete progress will be made toward ending the tariffs completely. Color me skeptical on the last part, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a temporary truce is called and negotiations restarted as both men are under increasing domestic pressure (China’s PMI just fell to 50.0 last night indicating the economy there is slowing even more rapidly than before) and so a deal here would play well both on a political level, as well as to markets in each country. And when the needs of both parties are aligned, that is when deals are made. I don’t think this will end the tension, but a reduction in the inflammatory rhetoric would be a welcome result in itself.

Recapping the impact of the two stories, the fact that the Fed is no longer inexorably marching interest rates higher has been seen as quite the positive for equities, and not surprisingly a modest negative for the dollar. Meanwhile, optimism that something positive will come from the Trump-Xi dinner tomorrow has equity bulls licking their collective chops to jump back into the market, while FX traders see that as a dollar negative. In other words, both of the key stories are pointing in the same direction. That implies that prices already reflect those views, and that any disappointment will have a more significant impact than confirmation of beliefs.

As it happens, the dollar is actually a bit firmer this morning, rallying vs. most of its G10 counterparts, but only on the order of 0.2%. The pound remains under pressure as traders continue to try to handicap the outcome of the Parliamentary vote on Brexit on December 11, and the signs don’t look great. Meanwhile, the euro has softened after weaker than expected CPI data (headline 2.0%, core 1.0%) and continued weak growth data are making Signor Draghi’s plans to end QE next month seem that much more out of touch.

This morning brings a single data point, Chicago PMI (exp 58.0) as well as a speech from NY Fed President John Williams. However, at this point, given we have heard from both the Chairman and vice-Chairman already this week, it seems unlikely that Williams will surprise us with any new views. Remember, too, that Powell testifies to Congress next week, so we will get to hear an even more detailed discussion on his thinking on Tuesday. Until then, it seems that the dollar will continue its recent range trading. The one caveat is if there truly is a breakthrough tomorrow night in Buenos Aires, we can expect the dollar to respond at the opening in Asia Sunday night. But for today, it doesn’t feel like much is on the cards.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Yikes!

Said Powell, we’re now “just below”
The neutral rate, thus we’ll forego
Too many more hikes
The market said yikes!
And saw all key price metrics grow

If you wonder why I focus on the Fed as much as I do, it is because the Fed continues to be the single most important player in global financial markets. This was reinforced yesterday when Chairman Powell indicated that the current Fed Funds rate, rather than being “…a long way from neutral at this point,” as he described things on October 3rd, are in fact, “…just below” the neutral rate of interest. The implication is that the Fed is much closer to the end of their rate hiking cycle than had previously been anticipated by most market participants. And the market response was immediate and significant. US equity markets exploded higher, with all three major indices rising more than 2.3%; Treasury yields continued their recent decline, with the 10-year yield falling 4.5bps to levels not seen since mid-September; and the dollar fell sharply across the board, with the euro jumping 1% at one point, although it has since given back about 0.3% of that move. But it wasn’t just the euro that rallied, overnight we saw IDR and INR, two of the worst performing EMG currencies, each rally more than 1.0% as a more dovish Fed will clearly bring relief to what has ailed economies throughout the emerging markets.

It is abundantly clear that a more dovish Fed will have significant consequences for markets around the world. In this event we can expect the recent equity market correction to come to an end, we can expect the dollar to give back some portion of its recent gains, and we can expect Treasury yields to level off, especially in the front end, with fears over a yield curve inversion dissipating rapidly. However, is the Fed really changing its tune? Or is yesterday’s market reaction significantly overdone? Unfortunately, it is far too soon to judge. In fact, this will add further significance to the FOMC Minutes from the October meeting, which will be released at 2:00pm today. Remember, that meeting was held nearly four weeks after Powell’s ‘long way from neutral’ comments, so would reflect much more updated thinking.

Something else to keep in mind regarding the potential future path of interest rates is that we continue to see evidence that key sectors of the US economy are slowing down. Yesterday’s New Home Sales data reinforced the idea that higher mortgage rates, a direct consequence of Fed actions during the past two years, continue to take a toll on the housing sector as the print was just 544K, well below expectations and indicative of a market that is flatlining, not growing. We have also seen the trade data deteriorate further despite the president’s strenuous efforts at reversing that trend. In other words, for a data dependent Fed, there is a growing segment of data showing that rates need not go higher. While Powell was clear that there is no preset path of interest rates, the market is now pricing in just two more hikes, one in December and one in March, and then nothing. If that turns out to be the case, the dollar may well come under pressure.

Of course, FX is really about interest rate differentials, not merely interest rates. And while changes in Fed expectations are crucial, so are changes in other central bank actions. For example, early this morning we saw that Eurozone Consumer Confidence fell for the 11th straight month; we saw that Swiss GDP shrank -0.2% unexpectedly in Q3; and we saw that Swedish GDP shrank -0.2% unexpectedly in Q3. The point is that the slowing growth scenario is not simply afflicting the US, but is actually widespread. If Eurozone growth has peaked and is slipping, it will be increasingly difficult for Signor Draghi and the ECB to begin to tighten policy, even if they do end QE next month. The Swedes, who are tipped to raise rates next month are likely to give that view another thought, and the Swiss are certain to maintain their ultra-easy policy. In other words, the interest rate differentials are not going to suddenly change in favor of other currencies, although they don’t seem likely to continue growing in the dollar’s favor. Perhaps we are soon to reach an equilibrium state. (LOL).

On Threadneedle Street there’s a bank
That raised interest rates to outflank
Rising inflation
But now fears stagnation
If they walk the Brexit gangplank

The only currency that has not benefitted from the Powell dovish tone has been the British pound, which has fallen 0.5% this morning back toward the bottom of its recent trading range. The Brexit debate continues apace there and despite analyses by both the government and the BOE regarding the potential negative consequences of a no-deal Brexit (worst case is GDP could be 10% smaller than it otherwise would be with the currently negotiated deal) it seems that PM May is having limited success in convincing a majority of MP’s that her deal is acceptable. Interestingly, the BOE forecast that in their worst-case scenario the pound could fall below parity with the dollar, although every other pundit (myself included) thinks that number is quite excessive. However, as I have maintained consistently for the past two years, a move toward 1.10-1.15 seems quite viable, and given the current political machinations ongoing, potentially quite realistic. All told, the pound remains completely beholden to the Brexit debate, and until the Parliamentary vote on December 11, will be subject to every comment, both positive and negative, that is released. However, the trend remains lower, and unless there is a sudden reversal of sentiment amongst the politicians there, it is feeling more and more like a hard Brexit is in our future. Hedgers beware!

Quickly, this morning’s data brings Initial Claims (exp 221K), Personal Income (0.4%), Personal Spending (0.4%), and the PCE data (Headline 2.0%, Core 1.9%) as well as the FOMC Minutes at 2:00. Unless the PCE data surprises sharply, I expect that markets will remain quiet until the Minutes. But if we see softer PCE prints, look for equities to rally and the dollar to suffer.

Good luck
Adf

 

Headwinds Exist

Of late from the Fed we have heard
That “gradual” is the watchword
Though headwinds exist
The Fed will persist
Their rate hikes just won’t be deferred

It appears there is a pattern developing amongst the world’s central bankers. Despite increasing evidence that economic activity is slowing down, every one of them is continuing to back the gradual increase of base interest rates. Last week, Signor Draghi was clear in his assessment that recent economic headwinds were likely temporary and would not deter the ECB from ending QE on schedule and starting to raise rates next year. This week, so far, we have been treated to Fed speakers Charles Evans and Richard Clarida both explaining that the gradual increase of interest rates was still the appropriate policy despite indications that economic activity in the US is slowing. While both acknowledged the recent softer data, both were clear that the current policy trajectory of gradual rate hikes remained appropriate. Later this morning we will hear from Chairman Powell, but his recent statements have been exactly in line with those of Evans and Clarida. And finally, the Swedish Riksbank remains on track to raise rates next month despite the fact that recent economic data shows slowing growth and declining consumer and business confidence.

Interestingly, the San Francisco Fed just released a research paper explaining that inflation was NOT likely to rise significantly and that the increases earlier this year, which have been ebbing lately, were the result of acyclical factors. The paper continued that as those factors revert to more normal, historical levels, inflation was likely to fall back below the Fed’s 2.0% target. But despite their own research, there is no indication that the Fed is going to change their tune. In fact, the conundrum I see is that Powell’s Fed has become extremely data focused, seemingly willing to respond to short term movement in the numbers despite the fact that monetary policy works with a lag at least on the order of 6-12 months. In other words, even though the Fed is completely aware that their actions don’t really impact the data for upwards of a year, they are moving in the direction of making policy based on the idiosyncrasies of monthly numbers.

All this sounds like a recipe for some policy mistakes going forward. However, as I wrote two weeks ago, current attempts to normalize policy are very likely simply addressing previous policy mistakes. After all, the fact that pretty much every central bank in the G20 is seeking to ‘normalize’ monetary policy despite recent growth hiccups is indicative of the fact that they all realize their policies are in the wrong place for the end of the economic cycle. Belatedly, it seems they are beginning to understand that they will have very limited ability to address the next economic downturn, which I fear will occur much sooner than most pundits currently predict.

The reason I focus on the central banks is because of their outsized impact on the currency markets. After all, as I have written many times, the cyclical factor of relative interest rates continues to be one of the main drivers of FX movements. So as long as central banks are telling us that they are on a mission to raise rates, the real question becomes the relative speed with which they are adjusting policy and how much of that adjustment is already priced into the market. The reason that yesterday’s comments from Evans and Clarida are so important is that the market had begun pricing out rate hikes for 2019, with not quite two currently expected. However, if the Fed maintains its hawkish tone that implies the dollar has further room to rise.

Speaking of the dollar, despite the risk-on sentiment that has been evident in equity markets the past two sessions, the dollar continues to perform well. That sentiment seems to be driven by the idea that the Trump-Xi meeting on Saturday will produce some type of compromise and restart the trade talks. I am unwilling to handicap that outcome as forecasting this president’s actions has proven to be extremely difficult. We shall see.

Pivoting to the market today, the dollar is actually little changed this morning, with the largest G10 movement being a modest 0.3% rally in the pound Sterling. There are numerous articles describing the ongoing machinations in Parliament in the UK regarding the upcoming Brexit vote, and today’s view seems to be that something will pass. However, away from the pound, the G10 is trading within 10bps of yesterday’s close, although yesterday did see the dollar rally some 0.4% across the board. Yesterday’s US data showed that consumer confidence was slipping from record highs and that house prices were rising less rapidly than forecast, although still at a 5.1% clip. This morning brings the second look at Q3 GDP (exp 3.5%) as well as New Home Sales (575K) and the Goods Trade Balance (-$76.7B). However, Chairman Powell speaks at noon, and that should garner the bulk of the market’s attention. Until then, I anticipate very little price action in the FX markets, and truthfully in any market.

Good luck
Adf

 

Twixt Trade Adversaries

A fortnight from now we will know
How Brexit is going to go
Can Minister May
Still carry the day?
Or will the vote, chaos, bestow?

Meanwhile, this week, in Buenos Aires
A meeting twixt trade adversaries
Has hopes running high
We’ll soon wave goodbye
To tariffs and their corollaries

The first thing you notice this morning in the FX markets is that the pound is under more pressure. As I type, it is lower by 0.7% as the flow of news from London is that the Brexit deal is destined to fail in Parliament. Perhaps the most damning words were from the DUP (the small Northern Irish party helping support PM May’s government), which indicated that they would not support the deal as constructed under any circumstances. At the same time, numerous Tories have been saying the same thing, and the general feeling is that there is only a small chance that PM May will be able to prevail. We have discussed the market reaction in the event of no deal, and nothing has changed in my view. In other words, if the Brexit deal is defeated in parliament in two weeks’ time, look for the pound to fall much further. In fact, it is reasonable to consider a move toward 1.20 in the very short term. Between now and the vote, I expect that the pound will be subject to every headline which discusses the potential vote outcome, but unless some of those headlines start to point to a yes vote, the pound is going to remain under pressure consistently.

Beyond Brexit, there are two other things that have the markets’ collective attention, Fed Chairman Powell’s speech tomorrow, and the meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi on Friday in Buenos Aires at the G20 gathering.

As to the first, the market narrative has evolved to the point where expectations for the Fed to raise rates at their December meeting remain quite high, but there are now many questions about the 2019 rate path. If you recall, after the September FOMC meeting, the consensus was moving toward four rate hikes next year. However, since then, the data has been somewhat less robust, with both production and inflation numbers moderating. Notably, the housing market has been faltering despite the lowest unemployment rate in more than 40 years. Ignoring the President’s periodic complaints about the Fed raising rates, the data story has clearly started to plateau, at least, if not roll over, and the Fed is quite aware of this fact. (Anecdotally, the fact that GM is shuttering 5 plants and laying off 15,000 workers is also not going to help the Fed’s view on the economy.) This is why all eyes will be on Powell tomorrow, to see if he softens his stance on the Fed’s expectations. Already the futures market has priced out one full rate hike for next year, and given there is still more than two weeks before the Fed meets again, Powell’s comments tomorrow, along with vice chairman Clarida today and NY Fed President Williams on Friday are going to be seen as quite critical in gauging the current Fed outlook. Any more dovishness will almost certainly be followed by a weakening dollar and rising equity markets. But if the tone comes across as hawkish, look for the current broad trends of equity weakness and dollar strength to continue.

And finally, we must give a nod to the other elephant in the room, the meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi at this weekend’s G20 meeting. Hopes are running high that the two of them will be able to agree to enough common ground to allow more formal trade talks to move ahead while delaying any further tariff implementation. The problem is that the latest comments from Trump have indicated he is going to be raising the tariff rate to 25% come January, as well as seek to implement tariffs on the rest of Chinese imports to the US. It seems that the President believes the Chinese are feeling greater pressure as their economy continues to slow, and they will be forced to concede to US demands sooner rather than later. And there is no question the Chinese economy is slowing, but it is not clear to me that Xi will risk losing face in order to prevent any further economic disorder. I think it is extremely difficult to handicap this particular meeting and the potential outcomes given the personalities involved. However, I expect that sometime in the next year this trade dispute will be resolved, as Trump will want to show that his tactics resulted in a better deal for the US as part of his reelection campaign.

And those are the big stories today. There are two data points this morning, Case-Shiller House Prices (exp 5.3%) and Consumer Confidence (135.9), but neither seems likely to have an impact on the FX market. However, as mentioned above, Fed vice-chairman Richard Clarida speaks first thing this morning, and his tone will be watched carefully for clues about how the Fed will behave going forward. My take here is that we are likely to hear a much more moderate viewpoint from the Fed given the recent data flow, and that is likely to keep modest pressure on the dollar.

Good luck
Adf

 

There Is No Plan B

Said Europe, “there is no Plan B”
This deal is the best that you’ll see
Opponents keep saying
The deal is dismaying
Because it cedes full sovereignty

It turns out last week was quite a difficult one in markets, with equity prices around the world under significant pressure as concerns continue to grow regarding growth prospects everywhere. In fact, for the first time we heard Fed Chair Jay Powell moderate his description of the US economy’s growth trajectory. It seems that the clear slowing in the housing sector combined with less positive IP and Durable Goods data has been enough to alert the Fed to the possibility that all may not be right with the world. While there is no indication that the Fed will delay its December rate hike, questions about 2019’s rate path have certainly been debated more aggressively with the consensus now believing that we can see a pause before just two more rate hikes next year. With the Powell Fed indicating that they are truly data dependent (as opposed to the Yellen Fed which liked the term, but not the reality), if we continue to see slowing US growth, then it is quite reasonable to expect a shallower trajectory of rate hikes in the US.

But that was last week’s news and as the new week begins, the biggest story is that the EU has agreed the terms of the Brexit negotiations that were just completed two weeks ago. The entire process now moves on to the next stage, where all 28 parliaments need to approve the deal. Given the terms of the deal, which has the opportunity to lock the UK into the EU’s customs union with no say in its evolution, it would be surprising if any of the other 27 members reject the deal. However, it remains unclear that the deal will be accepted by the UK parliament, where PM May does not hold a majority and rules because of a deal with the Northern Irish DUP. Of course the irony here is that Northern Ireland is the area of greatest contention in the deal, given the competing desires of, on the one hand, no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and on the other hand, the desire to be able to separate the two entities for tariff and immigration purposes.

At this stage, it seems there is at best a fifty-fifty chance that the deal makes it through the UK parliament, as the opposition Labour Party has lambasted the deal (albeit for different reasons) in the same manner as the hard-line Brexiteers. But political outcomes rarely follow sound logic, and so at this point, all we can do is wait until the vote, which is expected to be on December 12. What we do know is that the FX market is not sold on the deal’s prospects as despite the announcement by the EU, the pound has managed to rally just 0.25% today and remains, at 1.2850, much closer to the bottom of its recent trading range than the top. I continue to believe that a no vote will be tantamount to a hard Brexit and that the pound will suffer further from here in that event. However, if parliament accepts the deal, I would expect the pound to rally to around1.35 initially, although its future beyond that move is likely to be lower anyway.

Last week’s risk-off behavior led to broad-based dollar strength, with the greenback rallying on the order of 1.0% against both its G10 and major EMG counterparts. While that movement pales in comparison to the rout in equity markets seen last week, it was a consistent one nonetheless. This morning, though, the dollar is under a modicum of pressure as the fear evident last week has abated.

For example, despite softer than expected German IFO data (102.0 vs. exp 102.3), the euro has rallied 0.25% alongside the pound. A big part of this story seems to be that the Italians have made several comments about a willingness to work with a slightly smaller budget deficit in 2019 than the 2.4% first estimated. While the euro has clearly benefitted from this sentiment, the real winner has been Italian debt (where 10-year BTP’s are 17bps lower) and Italian stocks, where the MIB is higher by 2.7%. In fact, that equity sentiment has spread throughout the continent as virtually every European market is higher by 1% or more. We also saw strength in APAC equity markets (Nikkei +0.75%, Hang Seng +1.75%) although Shanghai didn’t join in the fun, slipping a modest 0.15%. The point is that market sentiment this morning is clearly far better than what was seen last week.

Looking ahead to the data this week, the latest PCE data is due as well as the FOMC Minutes, and we have a number of Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell on Wednesday.

Tuesday Case-Shiller Home Prices 5.3%
  Consumer Confidence 135.5
Wednesday Q3 GDP 3.5%
  New Home Sales 578K
Thursday Initial Claims 219K
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.2% (2.1% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.9% Y/Y)
Friday Chicago PMI 58.3

In addition to Powell, we hear from NY Fed President Williams as well as Vice-Chairman Richard Clarida, both of whom will be closely watched. Given the recent change in tone to both the US data (slightly softer) and the comments from Fed speakers (slightly less hawkish), I think the key this week will be the Minutes and the speeches. Investors will be extremely focused on how the evolution in the Fed’s thinking is progressing. But it is not just the Fed. Remember, the ECB has promised to end QE come December despite the fact that recent data has shown slowing growth in the Eurozone.

The greatest fear central bankers currently have is that their economy rolls into a recession while interest rates are already at “emergency” levels and monetary policy remains extremely loose. After all, if rates are negative, what can they do to stimulate growth? This has been one of the forces driving central bankers to hew to a more hawkish line lately as they are all keen to get ahead of the curve. The problem they face collectively is that the data is already beginning to show the first indications of slowing down more broadly despite the continuation of ultra easy monetary policy. In the event that the global economy slows more rapidly than currently forecast, there is likely to be a significant increase in market volatility across equities, bonds and currencies. In this case, I am not using the term volatility as a euphemism for declines, rather I mean look for much more intraday movement and much more uncertainty in expectations. It is this scenario that fosters the need for hedgers to maintain their hedge programs at all times. Having been in the markets for quite a long time, I assure you things can get much worse before they get better.

But for today, there is no reason to believe that will be the case, rather the dollar seems likely to drift slightly lower as traders position for the important stuff later this week.

Good luck
Adf

That Might Be Obtuse

For those who are hoping next week
The meeting where Trump and Xi speak
Will end with a truce
That might be obtuse
As progress this weekend was bleak

The holiday week opens with a mixed picture in the currency markets and limited movement in both equity and bond markets. This past weekend saw an APEC meeting end with no communiqué, adding to the recent trend of a lack of ability for current trading partners to find common ground amongst themselves. In this case, it seems that the Chinese were unwilling to accept a particular sentence in the final draft as follows: “We agreed to fight protectionism including all unfair trade practices.” It is not clear if the problem was the term protectionism, or the reference to unfair trade, but the twenty members aside from China, including the US, were all comfortable with the phrase. What is clear, however, is that there has been very little movement toward consensus on how trade issues should be handled and what actually constitutes free and fair trade.

The immediate impact was that APAC currencies, including AUD and NZD, were broadly weaker on the day, with Kiwi actually falling the furthest, -0.8%. It seems that all the nations in the region are going to continue to have to tiptoe around the trade situation between the US and China, which given that every one of them has built their economy based on trade with China and security from the US military, has become a very difficult balancing act. Until the US-China trade issues are resolved, it seems likely that these currencies will underperform their peers.

The other impact from this situation is that it now seems increasingly unlikely that the meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi, scheduled for next week at the G20 conference in Buenos Aires, will be able to find enough common ground between the two to prevent a further escalation in the trade war. If you recall, President Trump has indicated that tariffs on Chinese exports would be increased to 25% in January from the current 10% level, and that the administration would open comments on attaching tariffs to the other $257 billion of Chinese imports not already affected. Both businesses and market participants have been counting on the fact that Trump and Xi would halt this negative spiral, but after this weekend, it seems somewhat less likely that will be the result. Of course, anything is possible, especially in the case of political negotiations, so all is not lost yet.

Otherwise, things have been pretty dull. In the UK, both Brexiteers and Bremainers have been trying to muster their troops for the upcoming internal battle. The Europeans have said that the deal on the table is the best that is coming and there will be no further changes. However, M. Barnier also tried to spin things by indicating that the deal, as it stands, does not mean the UK would be beholden to EU rules forever. Meanwhile, the machinations in the UK parliament are ongoing, where allegedly 42 MP’s have written letters seeking a no confidence vote in PM May, just six less than the 48 required to call such a vote. In the event a vote is called and PM May loses, it is not clear how things will play out. A new PM could be elected, or there might be an entirely new national vote. However, in either case, it would delay the UK process and that is a big problem given that there are now just over four months remaining before Brexit is official. While I had always assumed that some fudge deal would be completed, I have to say that the odds of that are perhaps no better than 50:50 now. In the end, traders who had been somewhat optimistic at the end of last week are less so this morning with the pound having fallen 0.25%. Absent a big change in sentiment, it appears that the pound has further to fall.

And really, those are the only two stories of note this morning. The Italian budget opera remains ongoing, but has not garnered any headlines lately as we are in the midst of reviews, although it seems certain that the EU will take the next step and propose sanctions. Aside from the APEC trade story, there is nothing else specific from China, and as this is a holiday week, there is limited data due. One thing that may be changing, however, is that the Fed may be softening its stance as recent data in certain segments of the economy, notably housing, has been less robust. While a rate hike next month seems certain, the trajectory for 2019 seems less clear than it did back in September. If that is the case, my dollar bullishness is likely to be tempered.

Here is the data for the abbreviated week:

Tuesday Housing Starts 1.23M
  Building Permits 1.27M
Wednesday Initial Claims 214K
  Durable Goods -1.2%
  -ex transport 0.3%
  Michigan Sentiment 98.3
  Existing Home Sales 5.2M

While each data point represents further information for the FOMC, it is not clear that any one of these will stand out on its own. As to Fed speakers, there is only one this week, NY Fed President Williams speaks this morning, but after that it appears the FOMC is taking the Thanksgiving week off.

It seems unlikely that either today’s session, or the rest of the week will be too exciting. The one exception would be if there is a ‘no-confidence’ vote in the UK, where the outcome would have a direct impact on the pound. If PM May holds on, I would look for the pound to rally sharply as that implies that she will have sufficient support to push through the Brexit deal, however if she loses, it will be very cheap to go to London for Christmas!

Taking my cue from the Fed, I will not be writing a letter until next Monday, November 26th.

Until then, good luck and have a wonderful holiday
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