They’re Trying

The Kiwis have doubled QE
The Brits saw collapsed GDP
The Fed keeps on buying
More bonds as they’re trying
To preempt a debt jubilee

The RBNZ was the leading economic story overnight as at their meeting, though they left interest rates unchanged at 0.25%, they virtually doubled the amount of QE purchases they will be executing, taking it up to NZ$60 billion. Not only that, they promised to consider even lower interest rates if deemed necessary. Of course, with rates already near zero, that means we could be looking at the next nation to head through the interest rate looking glass. It should be no surprise that NZD fell on the release, and it is currently lower by 0.9%, the worst performing currency of the day.

Meanwhile, the UK released a raft of data early this morning, all of which was unequivocally awful. Before I highlight the numbers, remember that the UK was already suffering from its Brexit hangover, so looking at slow 2020 growth in any case. GDP data showed that the economy shrank 5.8% in March and 2.0% in Q1 overall. The frightening thing is that the UK didn’t really implement any lockdown measures until the last week of March. This bodes particularly ill for the April and Q2 data. IP fell 4.2% and Consumption fell 1.7%. Thus, what we know is that the UK economy is quite weak.

There is, however, a different way to view the data. Virtually every release was “better” than the median forecast. One of the truly consistent features of analysts’ forecasts about any economy is that they are far more volatile than the actual outcome. The pattern is generally one where analysts understate a large move because their models are not well equipped for exogenous events. Then, once an event occurs, those models extrapolate out at the initial rate of change, which typically overstates the negative news. For example, if you recall, the early prognostications for the US employment data in March called for a loss of 100K jobs, which ultimately printed at -713K. By last week’s release of the April data, the analyst community had gone completely the other way, anticipating more than 22M job losses, with the -20.5M number seeming better by comparison. So, we are now firmly in the overshooting phase of economic forecasts. The thing about the current situation though, is that there is so much uncertainty over the next steps by governments, that current forecasts still have enormous error bars. In other words, they are unlikely to be even remotely accurate on a consistent basis, regardless of who is forecasting. Keep that in mind when looking at the data.

In fact, the one truism is that on an absolute basis, the economic situation is currently horrendous. A payroll report of -20.5M instead of -22.0M is not a triumph of policymaking, it is a humanitarian disaster. And it is this consideration, that regardless of data outcomes vs. forecasts, the data is awful, that informs the view that equity markets are unrealistically priced. Thus, the battle continues between those who look at the economy and see significant concerns and those who look at the central bank support and see blue skies ahead. This author is in the former camp but would certainly love to be wrong. Regardless, please remember that data that beats a terrible forecast by being a little less terrible is not the solution to the current crisis. I fear it will be many months before we see actual positive data.

Turning to this morning’s session, the modest risk aversion seen in equity (DAX -1.5%, CAC -1.7%) and bond (Treasuries -1bp, Bunds -2bps) markets is less clear in the FX world. In fact, other than the NZD, the rest of the G10 is firmer this morning led by NOK (+0.7%) on the strength of the continuing rebound in the oil market. Saudi Arabia’s announcement that they will unilaterally cut output by a further 1 million bpd starting in June has helped support crude. In addition, another thesis is making the rounds, that mass transit will have lost its appeal for many people in the wake of Covid-19, thus those folks will be returning to their private vehicles and using more gasoline, not less. This should also bode well for the Big 3 auto manufacturers and their supply chains if it does describe the post-covid reality. It should be no surprise that in the G10, the second-best performer is CAD (+0.4%) nor that in the EMG bloc, it is MXN (+1.0%) and RUB (+0.5%) atop the leaderboard.

Other than the oil linked currencies, though, there has been very little movement overall, with more gainers than losers, but most movement less than 0.25%. the one exception to this is HUF, which has fallen 0.5%, after news that President Orban is changing the tax rules regarding city governments (which coincidentally are controlled by his opponents) and pushing tax revenues to the county level (which happen to be controlled by his own party). This nakedly political maneuvering is not seen as a positive for the forint. But other than that, there is little else to tell.

On the data front, this morning brings PPI data (exp -0.4%, 0.8% ex food & energy) but given we already saw CPI yesterday, and more importantly, inflation issues are not even on the Fed’s agenda right now, this is likely irrelevant. Of more importance will be the 9:00 comments from Chairman Powell as market participants will want to hear about his views on the economy and of likely future activity. Will there be more focused forward guidance? Are negative rates possible? What other assets might they consider buying? While all of these are critical questions, it does seem unlikely he will go there today. Instead, I would look for platitudes about the Fed doing everything they can, and that they have plenty of capacity, and willpower, to do more.

And that’s really it for what is starting as a quiet day. The dollar is under modest pressure but remains much closer to recent highs than recent lows. As long as investors continue to accept that the Fed and its central bank brethren are on top of the situation, I imagine that we can see further gains in equity markets and further weakness in the dollar. I just don’t think it can go on that much longer.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Make Hay

The Fed, today’s, finally set
To start to buy corporate debt
Meanwhile the UK
Did start to make hay
With its largest Gilt issue yet

While markets are fairly docile this morning, there are four interesting stories to note, all of which are likely to have bigger impacts down the road.

The first of these emanates from the Mariner Eccles Building in Washington, where the FOMC will begin to implement its Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF), purchasing its first investment grade bond ETF’s. Ironically, in their effort to stabilize corporate credit markets that are suffering a hangover of excess issuance prior to the Covid-19 crisis, the Fed is going to ramp up margin debt for the purchases. A little ‘hair of the dog’ it seems is the best idea they have. Consider, the process of these purchases is that the Treasury has deposited $37.5 billion into an SPV account which will serve as collateral for that SPV to purchase up to 10x that amount in securities. Talk about speculative! If the SPV purchases its full allotment, then the Fed will effectively be increasing the total amount of margin debt outstanding by nearly 80%. Granted, there is no concern about the Fed being able to pay for these securities in actuality, it’s just the legal questions that may arise if they fall in price by more than 10% and the Fed has actual losses on its balance sheet. Naturally, the idea is that with the Fed buying, there is almost no possibility that prices could fall. However, do not believe that for a moment, just as we have seen in the Treasury market, despite the Fed buying $ trillions worth, bond prices still decline all the time. And don’t forget what we saw in March, when yields rocketed higher for a period of time. Perhaps the most surprising aspect is that US equity futures have been trading either side of flat despite this new money entering the market.

The second interesting story comes from across the pond, where the UK issued gilts via a syndicate for the first time, offering a new 10-year bond and garnering £65 billion pounds of demand, a record amount of attraction. It seems that one of the things that got buyers excited was a comment by BOE Deputy Governor Broadbent hinting that negative rates are not out of the question as the Old Lady seeks to insure sufficient policy support for the economy.

While on the subject of negative rates, it is worth noting that two Fed regional presidents, Bostic and Evans, were both circumspect as to the need for the Fed to ever go down that road. That is certainly good news, but one cannot forget the language change made in September of last year when the Fed stopped referring to the “zero lower bound” and began calling it the “effective lower bound”. Observers far more prescient than this one have noted that the change clearly opens the door for negative rates in the future. There is certainly no indication that is on the cards right now, but it is not an impossibility. Keep that in mind.

From Austria, Herr PM Kurz
Admitted that fiscal transfers
Are what are required
Lest Rome is inspired
To exit, which no one prefers

Another interesting headline this morning comes from Vienna, where Austrian PM Sebastian Kurz explained that the only way Italy can survive is via debt mutualization by the EU, as there is no way they will ever be able to repay their debt. While it is refreshing to hear some truth, it is also disconcerting that in the very next comment, PM Kurz explained there was no way that Austria was comfortable with that course of action. While Austria stood ready to support Italy, they would not take on their obligations. Of course, this is the fatal flaw in the EU, the fact that the Teutonic trio of Germany, Austria and the Netherlands are the only nations that can truly help fund the crisis but are completely unwilling to do so. I once again point to the German Constitutional Court ruling last week as a sign that the euro is likely to remain under pressure for a time to come. While this morning it is now higher by 0.2%, it remains near the bottom of its recent range with ample opportunity to decline further. Beware the ides of August, by which time the ECB will have responded to the court.

And finally, it must be noted that it is raining in Norway. By this I mean that the Government Pension Fund of Norway, the world’s largest wealth fund, is going to be selling as much as $41 billion in assets in order to fund the Norwegian government and its response to the crisis. This is exactly what a rainy-day fund is meant for, so no qualms there. But it does mean that we are going to see some real selling pressure on financial assets as they liquidate that amount of holdings, many of which are in US stocks. NOK, however, has been the beneficiary, rallying 0.8% this morning on the news. Given the krone has been the worst performing G10 currency this year, it has plenty of room to rally further without having any negative economic impacts.

Those are the most interesting headlines of the day, and the ones most likely to have a market impact. However, today, for the first time in a while, there is not much market impact in any markets. Equity prices in Asia were modestly softer, while those in Europe are mixed but edging higher. Bond prices are within a tick or two of yesterday’s closing levels, and the dollar is having a mixed session, although I would estimate that on net it is slightly weaker.

On the data front, it has been extremely quiet overnight with a few Sentiment indicators in France and Japan, as well as the NFIB here in the US, all printing terrible numbers, but none quite as terrible as the median forecasts. My observation is that analysts are now expanding their view of just how bad things are and beginning to overstate the case. As for this morning, we have CPI on the docket, with expectations of a 0.4% headline print and 1.7% core print. While inflation may well be in our future given the combination of monetary and fiscal policy response, it is not in the near future.

Barring some other news story, markets seem pretty happy to consolidate for a change, and I expect that is what we will see today. However, nothing has changed my view that a substantial repricing of risk is still in our future, and with it, a stronger dollar. While we don’t know what the catalyst will be, I have my eye on the ECB response to the German Constitutional Court ruling.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Undeterred

Said Christine, we are “undeterred”
By Germany’s court that inferred
QE is lawbreaking
As there’s no mistaking
Our power, from Brussels’, conferred

Thus, QE is here til we say
The ‘conomy’s finally okay
More bonds we will buy
And don’t even try
To hint there might be a delay!

Last week, when the German Constitutional Court ruled that the ECB’s original QE program, PSPP, broke EU laws about monetary financing of EU governments, there was a flurry of interest, but no clear understanding of the eventual ramifications of the ruling. This morning, those ramifications are beginning to become clear. Not surprisingly the ruling ruffled many feathers within the EU framework, as it contradicted the European Court of Justice, which is the EU’s highest court. This is akin to a State Supreme Court contradicting the US Supreme Court on a particular issue. At least, that’s what the legal difference is. But in one way, this is much more dangerous. There is no serious opportunity for any US state to leave the union, but what we have learned over the course of the past several years is that while the German people, on the whole, want to remain in the Eurozone and EU, they also don’t want to pay for everybody else’s problems. So, the question that is now being raised is, will Frau Merkel and her government be able to contain the damage?

In the end, this will most likely result in no changes of any sort by the ECB. There will be much harrumphing about what is allowed, and a great deal of technical jargon will be discussed about the framework of the EU. But despite Merkel’s weakened political state, she will likely manage to prevent a blow-up.

The thing is, this is the likely outcome, but it is certainly not the guaranteed outcome. The EU’s biggest problem right now is that Italy, and to a slightly lesser degree Spain, the third and fourth largest economies in the EU, have run are running out of fiscal space. As evidenced by the spreads on their debt vs. that of Germany, there remains considerable concern over either country’s ability to continue to provide fiscal support during the Covid-19 crisis. The ECB has been the only purchaser of their bonds, at least other than as short-term trading vehicles, and the entire premise of this ruling is that the ECB cannot simply purchase whatever bonds they want, but instead, must adhere to the capital key.

The threat is that if the ECB does not respond adequately, at least according to the German Court, then the Bundesbank would be prevented from participating in any further QE activities. Since they are the largest participant, it would essentially gut the program and correspondingly, the ECB’s current monetary support for the Eurozone economies. As always, it comes down to money, in this case, who is ultimately going to pay for the current multi-trillion euros of largesse. The Germans see the writing on the wall and want to avoid becoming the Eurozone’s ATM. Will they be willing to destroy a structure that has been so beneficial for them in order to not pick up the tab? That is the existential question, and the one on which hangs the future value of the euro.

Since the ruling was announced, the euro has slumped a bit more than 1.25% including this morning’s 0.2% fall. This is hardly a rout, and one could easily point to the continued awful data like this morning’s Italian March IP release (-28.4%) as a rationale. The thing about the data argument is that it no longer seems clear that the market cares much about data. As evidenced by equity markets’ collective ability to rally despite evidence of substantial economic destruction, it seems that no matter how awful a given number, traders’ attitudes have evolved into no data matters in the near-term, and in the longer-term, all the stimulus will solve the problem. With this as background, it appears that the euro’s existential questions are now a more important driver than the economy.

But it’s not just the euro that has fallen today, in fact the dollar is stronger across the board. In the G10 space, Aussie (-0.7%) and Kiwi (-0.8%) are the leading decliners, after a story hit the tapes that China may impose duties on Australia’s barley exports to the mainland. This appears to be in response to Australia’s insistence on seeking a deeper investigation into the source of the covid virus. But the pound (-0.65%), too, is softer this morning as PM Johnson has begun lifting lockdown orders in an effort to get the country back up and running. However, he is getting pushback from labor unions who are concerned for the safety of their members, something we are likely to see worldwide.

Interestingly, the yen is weaker this morning, down 0.6%, in what started as a risk-on environment in Asia. However, we have since seen equity markets turn around, with most of Europe now lower between 0.3% and 1.3%, while US futures have turned negative as well. The yen, however, has not caught a bid and remains lower at this point. I would look for the yen to gain favor if equity markets start to add to their current losses.

In the EMG space, the bulk of the group is softer today led by CZK (-1.1%) and MXN (-1.0%), although the other losses are far less impressive. On the plus side, many SE Asian currencies showed marginal gains overnight while the overall risk mood was more constructive. If today does turn more risk averse, you can look for those currencies to give back last night’s gains. A quick look at CZK shows comments from the central bank that they are preparing for unconventional stimulus (read QE) if the policy rate reaches 0%, which given they are currently at 0.25% as of last Thursday, seems quite likely. Meanwhile, the peso seems to be preparing for yet another rate cut by Banxico this week, with the only question being the size. 0.50% is being mooted, but there is clearly scope for more.

On the data front, to the extent this still matters, this week brings a modicum of important news:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 85.0
  CPI -0.8% (0.4% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy -0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
Wednesday PPI -0.5% (-0.3% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.0% (0.9% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 2.5M
  Continuing Claims 24.8M
Friday Retail Sales -11.7%
  -ex autos -6.0%
  IP -12.0%
  Capacity Utilization 64.0%
  Empire Manufacturing -60.0
  Michigan Sentiment 68.0

Source: Bloomberg

But, as I said above, it is not clear how much data matters right now. Certainly, one cannot look at these forecasts and conclude anything other than the US is in a deep recession. The trillion-dollar questions are how deep it will go and how long will this recession last. Barring a second wave of infections following the reopening of segments of the economy, it still seems like it will be a very long time before we are back to any sense of normalcy. The stock market continues to take the over, but the disconnect between stock prices and the economy seems unlikely to continue growing. As to the dollar, it remains the ultimate safe haven, at least for now.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Trade is the Word

Remember last year when Phase One
Was all that was needed to run
The stock market higher,
Light bears’ hair on fire
And help all the bulls to have fun?

Well, once again trade is the word
Investors are claiming has spurred
Their risk appetite
Both morning and night
While earnings and growth are deferred

Another day, another rally in equity markets as the bulls now point to revamped conversations between the US and China regarding trade as the critical feature to return the economy to a growth stance. Covid-19 was extremely effective at disrupting the phase one trade deal on two fronts. First, given a key part of the deal was the promise of substantial agricultural purchases by China, the closure of their economy in February and corresponding inability to import virtually anything, put paid to that part of the deal. Then there was the entire issue about the origin of Covid-19, and President Trump’s insistence on ascribing blame to the Chinese for its spread. Certainly, that did not help relations.

But yesterday, the White House described renewed discussions between senior officials to help ensure that the trade deal remains on track. Apparently, there was a phone conversation including Chinese Premier, Liu He, and both Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Trade Rep Lighthizer last night. And this is the story on the lips of every buyer in the market. The thesis here is quite simple, US economic output will be goosed by a ramp up by the Chinese in buying products. Recall, they allegedly promised to purchase in excess of $50 billion worth of agricultural goods, as well as focus on the prevention of IP theft and open their economy further. Covid slowed their purchases significantly, so now, in order to meet their obligations, they need to dramatically increase their buying pace, thus supporting US growth. It’s almost as though last year’s news is driving this year’s market.

Nonetheless, that is the situation and yesterday’s US performance has carried over through Asia (Nikkei +2.6%, Hang Seng +1.0%, Shanghai + 0.8%) and on into Europe (DAX +0.9%, CAC + 0.8%). Not to worry, US futures are right in line, with all three indices currently higher by just over 1.0%.

Bond markets are rallying today as well, which after yesterday’s rally and the broader risk sentiment seems a bit out of place. But 10-year Treasury yields are down 10bps in the past two sessions, with this morning’s price action worth 3bps. Bunds have seen a similar, albeit not quite as large, move, with yields falling 5bps since Wednesday and down 1.5bps today. In the European market, though, today’s big story is Italy, where Moody’s is due to release its latest credit ratings update this afternoon. Moody’s currently has Italy rated Baa3, the lowest investment grade rating, and there is a risk that they cut Italy to junk status. However, we are seeing broad optimism in markets this morning. In fact, Italian BTP yields have fallen (bonds rallied) 8bps this morning and 14bps in the past two sessions. In other words, it doesn’t appear that there is great concern of a downgrade, at least not right now. Of course, that means any surprise by Moody’s will have that much larger of a negative impact.

Put it all together and you have the makings of yet another positive risk day. Not surprisingly, the dollar is under pressure during this move, with most G10 and EMG currencies in the black ahead of the payroll data this morning. And pretty much, the story for all the gainers is the positive vibe delivered by the trade news. That has helped oil prices to continue their recent rally and correspondingly supported CAD, RUB, MXN and NOK. And the story has helped renew hopes for a return to a pickup in international trade, which has fallen sharply during the past several months.

The data this morning is sure
To set records that will endure
For decades to come
As depths it will plumb
And question if hope’s premature

Here are the most recent median expectations according to Bloomberg:

Nonfarm Payrolls -22.0M
Private Payrolls -21.855M
Manufacturing Payrolls -2.5M
Unemployment Rate 16.0%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.5% (3.3% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 33.5
Participation Rate 61.0%
Canadian Change in Employment -4.0M
Canadian Unemployment Rate 18.1%

Obviously, these are staggeringly large numbers in both the US and Canada. In fact, given the US economy is more than 12x the size of Canada, the situation north of the border looks more dire than here at home. Of course, the market has likely become somewhat inured to these numbers as we have seen Initial Claims numbers grow 30M in the past six weeks. But that does not detract from the absolute carnage that Covid-19 has caused to the economy. The question at hand, though, is whether the confirmation of economic destruction is enough to derail the idea that a V-shaped recovery is in the cards.

Once again, I look at the dichotomy of price action between the equity markets and the Treasury market in an effort to find an answer. The anticipated data this morning is unequivocal evidence of destruction of huge swathes of the US economy. We are looking at a decade’s worth of job growth disappearing in one month. In addition, it does appear likely that a significant proportion of these jobs will simply not return as they were. Instead, we are likely to see major transformations in the way business is carried out in the future. How long will it be before people are comfortable in large crowds? How long before they want to jostle each other in a bar to watch a football game? Or just go out on a Thursday night? The point is, equity markets don’t see the glass half full, they see it overflowing. However, 10-year Treasury yields at 0.60% are hardly an indication of strong economic demand. In fact, they are the opposite, an indication that future growth is going to be extremely subdued when it returns, and the fact that the entire term structure of rates is so low tells me that return is likely to take a long time. Much longer than a few quarters. To complete the analogy, the bond market sees that same glass as virtually emplty. So, stocks continue to point to a V and bonds to an L. Alas, history has shown the bond market tends to get these things right more often than the stock market.

The point is that the current robust risk appetite seems unlikely to have staying power, and that means that the current dollar weakness is likely to be fleeting. The bigger picture remains that the dollar, for the time being, will remain the ultimate haven currency. Look for its bid to return.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Somewhat More Bold

The Old Lady left rates on hold
But Norway was somewhat more bold
They cut rates to nil
And won’t move them til
The virus is fin’lly controlled

Once again, central banks are sharing the headlines with Covid-19 as they attempt to address the havoc the virus is causing throughout the world. The latest moves come from the Bank of England, which while leaving policy unchanged, hinted at further stimulus to come next month, and the Norgesbank.

The base rate in the UK is currently at a record low level of 0.10%, and they have been adamant that there is no place for negative rates in the island nation. This means that QE is the only other serious tool available, and while they did not increase the amount of purchases at this meeting, it seems the current guidance, to reach a total of £465 billion, will be exhausted in July. Hence, two MPC members voted to increase QE today with the rest indicating that is a more appropriate step next month. In sum, expectations are now for a £100 billion increase at the June meeting. The other noteworthy thing from the meeting was the BOE’s economic forecast, which forecast a 14% decline in GDP in 2020 before a sharp rebound in 2021. This is by far the most dire forecast we have seen for the UK. Through it all, though, the pound has held its own, and is actually modestly higher this morning, although it remains lower by nearly 2% this month.

Meanwhile, the Norgesbank surprised almost every analyst by cutting its Deposit rate to 0.0%, a new record low for the country. With oil prices having rebounded so sharply over the past two weeks, one might have thought that prospects in Norway were improving. However, the commentary accompanying the cut indicated that the council members are trying to ensure that there will be no liquidity constraints when the economy starts to reopen post-virus, and so sought to stay ahead of the curve. They also indicated that there was virtually no chance that interest rates would move into negative territory, although we have heard that song before. The market is now expecting the Deposit Rate to remain at 0.0% for another two years. As to the krone, it is actually the strongest currency in the G10 (and the world) this morning, having risen by 1.6% vs. the dollar as I type, although it was even stronger prior to the Norgesbank action.

Today’s news simply reinforces that central banks remain the first line of defense for nearly every nation with regard to economic support during this period. As much as fiscal stimulus is critical for helping support any rebound going forward, central banks are still best positioned to adjust policies as necessary on a timely basis. Just remember how long and hard the process was for the US congress to write, debate, vote on and implement the CARES act. The same is true throughout the developed world, where legislative bodies don’t move at the speed of either the virus or markets. And so, for the foreseeable future, central banks will remain the primary tool for virtually every nation in seeking to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.

The biggest problem with this circumstance is that most central banks, and certainly the major ones, have nearly exhausted their ammunition in this fight. In the G10, the highest overnight rate currently is 0.25%, with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all at that level. While QE was clearly a powerful tool when first widely introduced in 2010, it has lost some of its strength. At least with respect to aiding Main Street as opposed to Wall Street. That is why QE has evolved from government bond purchases to central bank purchases of pretty much any asset available. And yet, despite their collective efforts, monetary policy remains an extremely inefficient instrument with which to fight a viral outbreak. However, you can be sure that there will be many distortions to the economy for years to come as a result of all this activity. And that has much longer-term implications, likely slowing the pace of any recovery and future growth significantly.

Meanwhile, markets this morning are in fairly fine fettle, with equity indices in Europe all higher by something under 1%. And this is despite some pretty awful data releases showing French IP fell 16.2% in March and 17.3% Y/Y. Germany’s data, while better than that, was still awful (IP -9.2% in March and -11.6% Y/Y) and Italy regaled us with collapsing Retail Sales data (-21.3% in March). But no matter, investors are now looking into 2021 and the prospects of a strong recovery for their investment thesis. The only problem with this theory is that the potential for a non-V-shaped recovery is quite high. If this is the case, I would look for markets to reprice valuations at some point. Earlier, APAC equity markets were mixed, with the Nikkei edging higher by 0.3%, but Hang Seng (-0.6%) and Shanghai (-0.2%) both a bit softer. Finally, US futures are looking pretty good at this hour, higher by nearly 1.5% across the board.

Bond prices have edged a bit lower this morning, but movement has been modest to say the least. Yesterday saw Treasury yields rise from 10-years on out as the Treasury announced a surprisingly large 20-year auction of $20 billion. It seems that we are about to see more significant Treasury issuance going forward, and if the Fed does not continue to expand its balance sheet, we are likely to see the back end continue to sell off with correspondingly higher interest rates and a steeper yield curve. But that is a story for another day.

Elsewhere in the FX markets, Aussie (+0.9%) and Kiwi (+0.7%) have been the next best performers after NOK, as both are benefitting from the current narrative of reopening economies leading to the bottom of the economic peril. On the flip side, the yen (-0.4%) has given back some of its recent gains as risk appetite grows.

In the EMG space, the major loser is TRY, which has fallen 1.0% this morning, to a new historic low, after the central bank enacted rules to try to prevent further speculation against the currency. Alas, as long as it is freely traded, those rules will have a tough time stopping the rout. On the plus side, the three main movers have been RUB (+0.9%), ZAR (+0.8%) and MXN (+0.65%), all of which are benefitting from this morning’s positive risk attitude. One other thing to note is BRL, which while not yet open, fell another 2.5% yesterday and is back pushing its historic low levels vs. the dollar. The story there continues to be political in nature, with increasing pressure on President Bolsonaro as his most popular cabinet members exit and markets lose confidence in his presidency. My take is 6.00 is coming soon to a screen near you.

On the data front, yesterday’s ADP print of -20.236M was pretty much on the money and didn’t seem to have much impact. This morning we see Initial Claims (exp 3.0M), Continuing Claims (19.8M), Nonfarm Productivity (-5.5%) and Unit Labor Costs (4.5%). At this stage, we will have to see much worse than expected data to have a market impact, something which seems a bit unlikely, and beyond that, given tomorrow is the NFP report, I expect far more attention will be focused there than on this morning’s releases.

Overall, risk is in the ascendancy and so I would look for the dollar to generally remain under pressure for today, but I would not be surprised to see it recoup some of its early losses before the session ends.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Overkill

The talk in the market is still
‘Bout German high court overkill
While pundits debate
The bond program’s fate
The euro is heading downhill

Amid ongoing dreadful economic data, the top story continues to be the German Constitutional Court’s ruling on (rebuke of?) the ECB’s Public Sector Purchase Program, better known as QE. The issue that drew the court’s attention was whether the ECB’s actions to help support the Eurozone overall are eroding the sovereignty of its member states. Consider, if any of the bonds that are bought by the central banks default, it is the individual nations that will need to pay the cost out of their respective budgets. That means that the unelected officials at the ECB are making potential claims on sovereign nations’ finances, a place more rightly accorded to national legislatures. This is a serious issue, and a very valid point. (The same point has been made about Fed programs). However, despite the magnitude of the issues raised, the court gave the ECB just three months to respond, and if they are not satisfied with that response, they will bar the Bundesbank from participating in any further QE programs. And that, my friends, would be the end. The end of the euro, the end of the Eurozone, and quite possibly the end of the EU.

Remember, unlike the Fed, which actually executes its monetary policy decisions directly in the market, the ECB relies on each member nation’s central bank to enter the market and purchase the appropriate assets. So, the ECB’s balance sheet is really just a compilation of the balance sheets of all the national central banks. If the Bundesbank is prevented from implementing ECB policy on this score, given Germany’s status as the largest nation, and thus largest buyer in the program, the effectiveness of any further ECB programs would immediately be called into question, as would the legitimacy of the entire institution. This is the very definition of an existential threat to the single currency, and one that the market is now starting to consider more carefully. It is clearly the driving force behind the euro’s further decline this morning, down another 0.5% which makes 1.5% thus far in May. In fact, while we saw broad dollar weakness in April, as equity markets rallied and risk was embraced, the euro has now ceded all of those gains. And I assure you, if there is any doubt that the ECB will be able to answer the questions posed by the court, the euro will decline much further.

The euro is not the only instrument under pressure from this ruling, the entire European government bond market is falling today. Now, granted, the declines are not that sharp, but they are universal, with every member of the Eurozone seeing bond prices fall and yields tick higher. This certainly makes sense overall, as the ECB has been the buyer of (first and) last resort in government bond markets, and the idea that they may be prevented from acting in the future is a serious concern. Simply consider how much more debt all Eurozone nations are going to need to issue in order to pay for their fiscal programs. Across the entire Eurozone, forecasts now point to in excess of €1 trillion of new bonds this year, already larger than the ECB’s PEPP. And if there is a second wave of the virus, forcing a reclosing of economies with a longer period of lockdown, that number is only going to increase further. Without the ECB to absorb the bulk of that debt, yields in Eurozone debt will have much further to climb. The point is that this issue, which was initially seen as minor and technical, may actually be far more important than anything else. And while the odds are still with the ECB to continue with business as usual, the probability of a disruption is clearly non-zero.

Away from the technicalities of the German Constitutional Court, there is far less of interest in the markets overall. Equity markets are mixed, with gainers and losers in both the Asian session as well as Europe. US futures, at this time, are pointing higher, with all three indices looking toward 1% gains at the open. And the dollar is broadly, though not universally, higher.

Aside from the euro’s decline, we have also seen weakness in the pound (-0.4%) after the Construction PMI (the least impactful of the PMI measures) collapsed to a reading of 8.2, from last month’s dreadful 39.2. This merely reinforces what type of hit the UK economy is going to take. On the plus side, the yen is higher by 0.3%, seemingly on the back of position adjustments as given the other risk signals, I would not characterize today as a risk-off session.

In the EMG space, there are far more losers than gainers today, led by the Turkish lira (-1.0%) and the Russian ruble (-0.8%). The lira is under pressure after new economic projections point to a larger economic contraction this year of as much as 3.4%. This currency weakness is despite the central bank’s boosting of FX swaps in an effort to prevent a further decline. Meanwhile, despite oil’s ongoing rebound (WTI +3.6%) the ruble seems to be reacting to recent gains and feeling some technical selling pressure. Elsewhere in the space, we have seen losses on the order of 0.3%-0.5% across most APAC and CE4 currencies. The one exception to the rule is KRW, which rallied 0.6% overnight as expectations grow that South Korea is going to be able to reopen the bulk of its economy soon. One other positive there is that demand for USD loans (via Fed swap lines) has diminished so much the BOK is stopping the auctions for now. That is a clear indication that financial stress in the nation has fallen.

On the data front, this morning brings the ADP Employment number (exp -21.0M), which will be the latest hint regarding Friday’s payroll data. Clearly, a month of huge Initial Claims data will have taken its toll. Yesterday’s Fed speakers didn’t tell us very much new, but merely highlighted the fact that each member has their own view of how things may evolve and none of them are confident in those views. Uncertainty remains the word of the day.

For now, the narratives of the past several weeks don’t seem to have quite the strength that they did, and I would say that the focus is on the process of economies reopening. While that is very good news, the concern lies after they have reopened, and the carnage becomes clearer. Just how many jobs have been permanently erased because of the changes that are coming to our world in the wake of Covid-19? It is that feature, as well as the nature of economic activity afterwards, that will drive the long-term outcome, and as of now, no clear path is in sight. The opportunity for further market dislocations remains quite high, and hedgers need to maintain their programs, especially during these times.

Good luck and stay safe
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To Aid and Abet

The treaties that built the EU
Explain what each nation should do
The German high court
Ruled that to comport
A challenge was in their purview

But politics trumps all the laws
And so Lagarde won’t even pause
In buying up debt
To aid and abet
The PIGS for a much greater cause

Arguably, the biggest story overnight was just not that big. The German Constitutional Court (GCC) ruled that the Bundesbank was wrong not to challenge the implementation of the first QE program in 2015 on the basis that the Asset Purchase Program (APP) was a form of monetary support explicitly prohibited. Back when the euro first came into existence, Germany’s biggest fear was that the ECB would finance profligate governments and that the Germans would ultimately have to pay the bill. In fact, this remains their biggest fear. While technically, QE is not actually debt monetization, that is only true if central banks allow their balance sheets to shrink back to pre-QE sizes. However, what we have learned since the GFC in 2008-09 is that central bank balance sheets are permanently larger, thus those emergency purchases of government debt now form an integral part of the ECB structure. In other words, that debt has effectively been monetized. The essence of this ruling is that the German government should have challenged QE from the start, as it is an explicit breach of the rules preventing the ECB from financing governments.

The funny thing is, while the court ruled in this manner, it is not clear to me what the outcome will be. At this point, it is very clear that the ECB is not going to be changing their programs, either APP or PEPP, and so no remedy is obvious. Arguably, the biggest risk in the ruling is that the GCC will have issued a binding opinion that will essentially be ignored, thus diminishing the power of their future rulings. Undoubtedly, there will be some comments within the three-month timeline laid out by the GCC, but there will be no effective changes to ECB policy. In other words, like every other central bank, the ECB has found themselves officially above the law.

While the actuality of the story may not have much impact on ECB activities, the FX market did respond by selling the euro. This morning it is lower by 0.5%, which takes its decline this month to 1.2% and earns it the crown, currently, of worst performing G10 currency. The thought process seems to be that there is nothing to stop the ECB in its efforts to debase the euro, so the path of least resistance remains lower.

Beyond the GCC story though, there is little new in the way of news. Equity markets have a better tone on the strength of oil’s continuing rebound, up nearly 10% this morning as I type, as production cuts begin to take hold, as well as, I would contend, the GCC ruling. In essence, despite numerous claims that central banks have overstepped their bounds, it is quite clear that nobody can stop them from buying up an ever larger group of financial assets and supporting markets. So, yesterday’s late day US rally led to a constructive tone overnight (Hang Seng +1.1%, Australia +1.6%, China and Japan are both closed for holidays) which has been extended through the European session (both DAX and CAC +1.8%, FTSE 100 +1.4%) with US futures pointing higher as well.

In the government bond market, Treasury yields are 3.5bps higher, but the real story seems to be in Europe. Bund yields have also rallied a bit, 2bps, but that can easily be attributed to the risk-on mentality that is permeating the market this morning. However, I would have expected Italian and Spanish yields to have fallen on the ruling. After all, they have become risk assets, not havens, and yet both have seen price declines of note with Italian yields higher by 10bps and Spanish (and Portuguese) higher by 5bps. Once again, we see the equity and bond markets looking at the same news in very different lights.

As to the FX market, it is a mixed picture this morning. While the Swiss franc is tracking the euro lower, also down by 0.5% this morning, we are seeing NOK (+0.4%) and CAD (+0.2%) seeming to benefit from the oil price rally. Aussie, too, is in better shape this morning, up 0.2% on the broad risk-on appetite and news that more countries are trying to reopen after their Covid inspired shutdowns.

The EMG space is similarly mixed with ZAR (+1.25%), RUB (+1.0%) and MXN (+0.6%) the leading gainers. While the ruble’s support is obviously oil, ZAR has benefitted from the overall risk appetite. This morning, the South African government issued ZAR 4.5 billion of bonds in three maturities and received bid-to-cover ratios of 6.8x on average. With yields there still so much higher than elsewhere (>8.0%), investors are willing to take the risk despite the recent credit rating downgrade. Finally, the peso is clearly benefitting from the oil price as well as the broad risk-on movement. The peso remains remarkably volatile these days, having gained and lost upwards of 5% several times in the past month, often seeing daily ranges of more than 3%. Today simply happens to be a plus day.

On the downside, the damage is far less severe with CE4 currencies all down around the same 0.5% as the euro. When there are no specific stories, those currencies tend to track the euro pretty tightly. As to the rest of APAC, there were very modest gains to be seen, but nothing of consequence.

On the data front, yesterday’s Factory Orders data was even worse than expected at -10.3% but did not have much impact. This morning brings the Trade Balance (exp -$44.2B) as well as ISM Non-Manufacturing (37.9). At this point, everybody knows that the data is going to look awful compared to historical releases, so it appears that bad numbers have lost their shock value. At least that is likely to be true until the payroll data later this week. The RBA left rates unchanged last night, as expected, although they have reduced the pace of QE according to their read of what is necessary to keep markets functioning well there. And finally, we will hear from three Fed speakers today, Evans, Bostic and Bullard, but again, it seems hard to believe they will say anything really new.

Overall, risk appetite has grown a bit overnight, but for the dollar, it is not clear to me that it has a short-term direction. Choppiness until the next key piece of news seems the most likely outcome. Let’s see how things behave come Friday.

Good luck and stay safe
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