Unease In Iraq

While yesterday, risk basked in glory
This morning risk-off is the story
Unease in Iraq
Had markets give back
The gains seen in each category

Well, this is probably not the way most of us anticipated the year to begin, with a retaliatory strike against Iran inside Iraq, but that’s what makes markets interesting. So yesterday’s bright beginning, where the PBOC reduced its reserve requirement ratio (RRR) by 0.50% to add further liquidity to the Chinese economy which led to broad based positive risk sentiment has been completely reversed this morning. Briefly recapping yesterday’s activity, equity markets around the world soared on the news of further central bank easy money, but interestingly, Treasury bonds rallied (yields declined) and gold rallied as did the dollar. This is a pretty unusual combination of market movements, as generally, at least one of that group would sell off in a given session. Perhaps it speaks to the amount of spare cash on the sidelines looking for investment opportunities to start the year.

However, that was soooo yesterday. At about 7:45 last night the news hit the tape that a senior Iranian general from the QUDS force had been killed by a US drone attack near Baghdad airport. When this was confirmed all of the positive sentiment that had been permeating markets disappeared in an instant. Equity prices went from a strong opening in Asia to closing with declines. The dollar and the yen both rallied sharply as did gold and oil. And not to be left out, Treasury yields have plummeted along with Bund and Gilt yields. In other words, today is a classic risk-off session.

So a quick look at markets as NY starts to walk in shows European equity markets under pressure (DAX -1.65%, CAC -0.5%, FTSE -0.5%) and US futures similarly falling (DJIA -1.2%, Nasdaq 1.5%, SPY -1.3%). In the bond market, Treasury yields are down 7.5bps to 1.80% while German Bunds are down 7bps to -0.30%. Gold prices have rallied a further 1.4% and are back to the highs touched in September at $1550/oz, a level which had not been seen since early 2013 prior to that. Oil prices have rocketed higher, up 3.9%, as fears of supply interruptions make the rounds. Of course, given that the US shale producers have essentially become the swing producers in the market, my sense is that we are not likely to see a permanently higher price level here. Remember, when Iran attacked Saudi oil facilities last September, the oil price spike was extremely short-lived, lasting just a couple of days before settling right back down.

And finally, the dollar has rallied sharply this morning against virtually all its counterparts except, naturally, the yen. During the last week of 2019, the dollar sold off broadly, losing about 2.0% against a wide range of currencies as investors and traders seemed to be preparing for a scenario of continued low US interest rates supporting stocks while undermining the dollar’s value. Of course, my view of ‘not QE’ having a significant impact on the dollar has not changed, and although the US economy continues to outperform its G10 peers and US interest rates remain higher than pretty much every other country in that bloc, the history of QE is that it will undermine the dollar this year.

But for right now, long-term structural issues are taking a back seat to the immediacy of growing concern over escalating tensions in Iraq and the Middle East. If a larger conflict erupts, then we are far more likely to see protracted USD and JPY strength alongside weaker equity markets, higher prices for gold and oil and lower Treasury yields. And the thing to remember right now is that traders were establishing short USD positions for the last several weeks, so this sudden reversal could well have further to run on position squaring alone. Markets remain less liquid than normal as most trading desks will not be fully staffed until Monday. So keep that in mind if some hedging needs to be executed today.

With that as an introduction, what else can we anticipate today? Well, we do get a bit of US data, ISM Manufacturing (exp 49.0) and ISM Prices Paid (47.8) as well as Construction Spending (0.4%) and then at 2:00 the FOMC Minutes from the December meeting will be released. Those have garnered a great deal of interest as even though Chairman Powell has essentially told us all that rates are on hold for a long time, all eyes will be searching for further discussion of the repo issue and how the Fed plans to handle it going forward. While they were able to prevent any untoward movement for the year-end turn, they are still buying $60 billion / month of T-bills and the balance sheet has grown more than $400 billion since October. Not coincidentally, equity prices have rallied sharply since October as well. The point is that the Fed remains on a path where they have promised to re-inflate the balance sheet until at least late Spring, and given the direct relationship between the Fed’s balance sheet and equity prices, as well as the demonstrated fear the Fed has shown with respect to doing anything that could be blamed for causing the stock market to decline, it seems awfully likely that ‘not QE’ is going to continue for a very long time. And that is going to weigh on the dollar going forward…just not today.

One more thing to look for this afternoon is a series of comments from a bevy of Fed doves (Brainard, Daly, Evans and Kaplan) who are attending a conference in San Diego. Do not be surprised to hear comments that continue to raise the bar for any possible rate hikes, but allow the idea of rate cuts to filter into the discussion. However, this too, is unlikely to undermine the dollar during a risk-off session. The theme here is that payables hedgers need to consider taking advantage of this short-term dollar strength.

Good luck
Adf

 

Powell at the (Printing) Press

With apologies to Ernest Lawrence Thayer

The outlook isn’t brilliant for the dollar late this year
As Powell’s pushed his printing press into a higher gear
Just like we’ve seen each time the Fed has started up QE
The consequence is weakness in the greenback you will see

Despite the fact that growth at home is better than elsewhere
It seems Jay feels the need to do some more so just beware
The idea that with stocks at highs the Fed will further ease
Is crazy, but, this President, he feels he must appease

So with this as a start let’s take a look around our orb
And see which things we should ignore and which we need absorb
Our first stop is in Europe where the continent’s a mess
With interest rates still negative and banks under duress

The ECB’s new president, the elegant Lagarde
Will quickly find omnipotence was simply a canard
The toolkit there is empty, while unrest proceeds to build
And likely it is that her goals there cannot be fulfilled

So GDP most surely will remain near one percent
And prices, as they’re measured, will not make a real ascent
As to the euro which has slowly ebbed the past two years
Its time has come to rebound somewhat as QE appears

So come December next if you should gaze upon your screen
Don’t be surprised if what you see is One point Seventeen
North of the Channel is the Kingdom near a century old
Where Boris is Prime Minister and Brexit will unfold

The question now at hand is how that nation will perform
Will growth see sunny days or will there be a thunderstorm?
The Old Lady of Threadneedle now has a brand new boss
Who’ll quickly find his toolkit, too, is mostly filled with dross

And don’t forget that Boris promised by December next
A new trade deal with Europe will be written into text
But what if talks on trade devolve into a great morass?
A not unlikely outcome that could clearly come to pass

Then once again the pound will suffer greatly, like ‘Nineteen
When everybody feared the worst would come on Halloween
While that crisis was dodged, come New Year’s Eve some twelve month’s hence
The pound could once again be subject to some real suspense

But in the end QE is what will drive the dollar’s price
As Boris will not risk collapse of his new paradise
So Christmas next when thinking if, to London, you should go
Look for the pound to trade somewhere near One and point Four-Oh

In Asia two great nations vie to lead the world in trade
Both China and Japan, though, know the sting of Trump’s blockade
In China growth keeps slowing as their exports further sink
As well, the People’s Bank has seen supply of money shrink

And China finds itself with debt exploding nationwide
While bankruptcies are multiplying cross their countryside
The Phase One trade deal’s likely not enough to make a dent
And Xi will surely look for ways, the deal, to circumvent

While tariffs may not rise, much further cutting’s not the call
And even though the Chinese really need the Yuan to fall
The Fed’s QE will dominate the market dialogue
So look for Six point Sixty as investors, dollars, flog

Meanwhile the archipelago where Abe rules supreme
Is desperate to develop an inflationary scheme
QE on steroids hasn’t been enough to change the rate
Nor how people behave there while price levels won’t inflate

The population there is not just aging but reduced
And Abenomics hasn’t been enough, it for to boost
As well Japan continues, C/A surpluses, to run
Which history has shown leads yen to mime a rising sun

Combining this with Powell’s move, the balance sheet to build
A wish for weaker yen this year will just not be fulfilled
A year from now expect to see the yen climb to a peak
Of Ninety-five (or stronger) by the end of Christmas week.

North of our border, nervousness has much increased of late
As GDP is slowing and employment feels the weight
Of interest rates now higher even than in the US
While housing debt keeps growing, an old sign of new distress

The central bank has paused its modest path toward tighter rates
But not yet seen the light that everybody advocates
By late this year you can be sure the BOC will cut
Alas the Loonie will already have increased somewhat

Twixt QE here and tightness there the thing that I contrive
Is that come Boxing Day CAD will trade One point Twenty-Five
Next turn your gaze south of the border, to old Mexico
Where growth is nearly stagnant but inflation, too, is low

The central bank’s been cutting rates, though they remain quite high
And I would look for four more cuts ere we wave ‘Twenty bye
As well the prospects for investment there have just improved
As USMCA, in all its glory’s, been approved

Thus higher rates, investment flows and QE will all mix
To drive the peso higher, think Eighteen point Twenty-Six
Two other nations further south, Australia and Brazil
Bear watching, too, as many of you hedges need fulfill

Down Under growth continues, on the Chinese, to rely
As well as on the prices of the metals they supply
The RBA has only two more rate cuts to support
Their growth, which means that QE might just be their last resort

But they will wait till rates are nought ere buying Aussie debt
While Jay is wasting no time growing balance sheet assets
Despite their slowing growth, you ought not be too thunderstruck
When Aussie finishes the year Three Quarters of a buck

The largest nation in LATAM, Brazil, is working hard
To pass reforms in order, Socialism, to discard
Their growth has suffered lately and employment’s been a drag
Encouraging the central bank to cut rates, with a lag

But pundits everywhere believe with rates at record lows
No further cuts are coming lest a black swan moment shows
This leads me to believe that like most currencies around
The Real will get stronger as the dollar still heads down

So, Summer Solstice in Sao Paolo, next, don’t be dismayed
When Three point Six real you get for each greenback you trade
While that completes the currencies, I’d like to spend some time
On equities and bonds and gold, in this new paradigm

The Dow Jones, S&P and Nasdaq all seem overpriced
With stock buybacks supporting EPS and the zeitgeist
And with the Fed still adding cash to help expand reserves
Most pundits see a market rally and steeper yield curves

And while this seems quite reasoned for the first part of the year
Inflation moving higher will have consequence, I fear
As summer wanes, election nears, and chill invades the air
Don’t be surprised if equities have turned from bull to bear

The Dow begins the decade nearly, thousand, Twenty-nine
But I fear it is set for a nine thousand point decline
As well, the 10-year trades right now at One point Nine percent
But when inflation rises look for quite a sharp ascent

The Fed has shown they’ve lost control of money market rates
With repo volatility a cause of great debates
So as QE evolves to coupons from its T-bill start
Beware a steeper curve as bullish bets all fall apart

At Christmas do not be surprised if 10-year Treasuries
Are yielding Two point nine percent completing a short squeeze
And finally there’s gold which will see growth in its demand
As dollars are debased and stocks sink into a quicksand

Though modernists and technophiles all will say pooh-pooh
Our history has shown that even central banks accrue
The barbarous relic as part of assets that they hold
So at year end Two Thousand ought to be the price of gold

And so complete my current thoughts on how, will, markets trend
A weaker dollar, weaker stocks, is how I fear we’ll end
Regardless, though I want to say I do appreciate
Your readership throughout the year, to me, you all are great!

Good luck and have a very happy, healthy and successful 2020!
Adf

 

Wind At His Sails

In England and Scotland and Wales
Young Boris has wind at his sails
A thumping great win
To Labour’s chagrin
Has put Brexit back on the rails

As well, from the US, the news
Is bears need start singing the blues
The trade deal is done
At least for phase one
Thus more risk, investors did choose

An historic victory for PM Boris Johnson yesterday has heralded a new beginning for the UK. Historic in the sense that it is the largest majority in Parliament for either party since Margret Thatcher’s second term, and historic in the sense that the Labour party won the fewest seats since 1935. One can only conclude that Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of renationalization of industry and high taxes was not the direction in which the UK wants to head. Perhaps the only concern is the Scottish National Party winning 49 of the 58 seats available and will now be itching to rerun the Scottish independence referendum. But that is an issue for another day, and today is all about a huge relief rally in equities as the threat of a hard Brexit essentially disappears, while the pound has also benefitted tremendously, rising 1.7% from yesterday’s closing level and having traded almost a full percent higher than that in the early aftermath of the results. So here we are this morning at 1.3390, right at my forecast for the initial move in the event of a Johnson victory. The question of course, is where do we go from here?

Before I answer, I must also mention the other risk positive story, about which I’m sure you are already aware, the news that President Trump has signed off on terms of a phase one trade deal with China. The details thus far released indicate China has promised to buy $50 billion of agricultural products from the US, and will be more vigilant in protection of IP rights, while the US is set to reduce the tariff rates already imposed and delay, indefinitely, the tariffs that were due to come into effect this Sunday. Not surprisingly, equity markets around the world rallied sharply on this news as well while haven investments like Treasuries, Bunds and the yen (and the dollar) have all fallen.

So everyone is feeling good this morning and with good reason, as two of the major political uncertainties that have been hanging over the market have been resolved. With this in mind, we can now try to answer the question of what’s next in the FX markets.

History has shown that while macroeconomic factors have some impact on the relative value of currencies, that impact is driven by the corresponding interest rates in each nation. So a nation that has strong economic growth and relatively tighter monetary policy is likely to see a strong currency while the opposite is also true. Now this correlation is hardly perfect, and financial theory cannot be completely ignored regarding a country’s fiscal balances (current account, trade and budget), where deficits tend to lead to a weaker currency, at least in theory, and surpluses the opposite. Obviously, one need only look at the dollar these days to recognize that despite the US’s significant negative fiscal position, the dollar remains relatively quite strong.

But ever since the financial crisis, there has been another part of monetary policy that has had a significant impact on the FX market, namely QE. As I’ve written before, when the US was implementing QE’s 1, 2 and 3, the dollar fell markedly each time, by 22%, 25% and 17% over a period of 9 months, 11 months and 22 months respectively. Clearly that pattern demonstrates the law of diminishing returns, where a particular action has a weaker and weaker effect the more frequently it is used. Of course, in each of these cases, the Fed funds rate was at 0.00%, so QE was the only tool in the toolbox. This brings us to the current situation; positive interest rates but the beginning of QE4. I know that none of us think 1.5% is a robust return on our savings, but remember, US interest rates are the highest in the G10, by a lot. In addition, the economy seems to be doing pretty well with GDP ticking over above 2.0%, Unemployment at 50 year lows and wage gains solidly at 3.0% or higher. Equity markets in the US make new highs on a regular basis and measured inflation is running right around 2.0%. And yet…the Fed is clearly looking at QE despite all their protestations. Buying $60 billion per month of T-bills with the newly stated option of extending those purchases to coupons is clearly expanding the balance sheet and driving risk accumulation further. And that is QE!

So with the knowledge that the Fed is engaged in QE4, and the history that shows the dollar has fallen pretty significantly during each previous QE policy, my view is that we are about to embark on a reasonable weakening of the US dollar for the next year or so. Now, clearly the initial conditions this time are different, with positive growth and interest rates, but while that will likely limit the dollar’s decline to some extent, it won’t prevent it. If pressed, I would say that we are likely to see the dollar fall by 10% or so over the next 12-18 months. And that is regardless of the outcome of the US elections next year. In the event that we were to see a President Warren or President Sanders, I think the dollar would suffer far more aggressively, but right now, removing the effect of the election still points to a slow decline in the buck. So for receivables hedgers, it is likely to be a situation where patience is a virtue.

Turning to the data story, last night we saw the Japanese Tankan report fall to 0, below expectations of 3 and down from its previous reading of 5. But the yen’s 0.35% decline overnight has more to do with risk appetite than that particular number. However, I’m sure PM Abe and BOJ Governor Kuroda are not thrilled with the implications for the economy. Otherwise, there has been precious little else of note released leaving us to ponder this morning’s Retail Sales data (exp 0.5%, 0.4% ex Autos) and wait to hear pearls of wisdom from NY Fed President Williams at 11:00. Of course, given the fact the Fed just finished meeting and there appears very little uncertainty over their immediate future course, my guess is the only thing he can try to defend is ‘not QE’ and how they are on top of the repo situation. But today is a risk on day, so while we may not extend these movements much further, I feel we are likely to maintain the gains vs. the dollar across the board.

In a final note, this will be the last poetry until January as I will be on vacation and then will return with my prognostications for 2020 to start things off.

Good luck, good weekend and happy holidays to all
Adf

 

Up, Up and Away

Said Powell, “We’re in a good place”
On growth, but we don’t like the pace
That prices are rising
And so we’re surmising
More QE’s what needs to take place

Today, then, we’ll hear from Christine
Who is now the ECB queen
This is her first chance
To proffer her stance
On policy and what’s foreseen

And finally, in the UK
The vote’s taking place through the day
If Boris does badly
Bears will sell pounds gladly
If not, it’s up, up and away

There is much to cover this morning, so let’s get right to it.

First the Fed. As universally expected they left rates on hold and expressed confidence that monetary policy was appropriate for the current conditions. They lauded themselves on the reduction in unemployment, but have clearly changed their views on just how low that number can go. Or perhaps, what they are recognizing is that the percentage of the eligible labor force that is actually at work, which forms the denominator in the unemployment rate, is too low, so that there is ample opportunity to encourage many who had left the workforce during the past decade to return thus increasing the amount of employment and likely helping the Unemployment Rate to edge even lower. While their forecasts continue to point to 3.5% as a bottom, private sector economists are now moving their view to the 3.0%-3.2% level as achievable.

On the inflation front, to say that they are unconcerned would greatly understate the case. They have made it abundantly clear that it will require a nearly unprecedented supply shock to have them consider raising rates anytime soon. However, they continue to kvetch about too low inflation and falling inflation expectations. They have moved toward a policy that will allow inflation to run higher than the “symmetric 2% target” for a while to make up for all the time spent below that level. And the implication is that if we see inflation start to trend lower at all, they will be quick to cut rates regardless of the economic growth and employment situation. Naturally, the fact that CPI printed a touch higher than expected (2.1%) was completely lost on them, but then given their ‘real-world blinders’ that is no real surprise. The dot plot indicated that they expect rates to remain on hold at the current level throughout all of 2020, which would be a first during a presidential election year.

And finally, regarding the ongoing concerns over the short term repo market and their current not-QE policy of buying $60 billion per month of Treasury bills, while Powell was unwilling to commit to a final solution, he did indicate that they could amend the policy to include purchases of longer term Treasury securities alongside the introduction of a standing repo facility. In other words, not-QE has the chance to look even more like QE than it currently does, regardless of what the Chairman says. Keep that in mind.

Next, it’s on to the ECB, which is meeting as I type, and will release its statement at 7:45 this morning followed by Madame Lagarde meeting the press at 8:30. It is clear there will be no policy changes, with rates remaining at -0.5% while QE continues at €20 billion per month. Arguably there are two questions to be answered here; what is happening with the sweeping policy review? And how will Madame Lagarde handle the press conference? Given she has exactly zero experience as a central banker, I think it is reasonable to assume that her press conferences will be much more political in nature than those of Signor Draghi and his predecessors. My fear is that she will stray from the topic at hand, monetary policy, and conflate it with her other, nonmonetary goals, which will only add confusion to the situation. That said, this is a learning process and I’m sure she will get ample feedback both internally and externally and eventually gain command of the situation. In the end, though, there is precious little the ECB can do at this point other than beg the Germans to spend some money while trying to fend off the hawks on the committee and maintain policy as it currently stands.

Turning to the UK election, the pound had been performing quite well as the market was clearly of the opinion that the Tories were going to win and that the Brexit uncertainty would finally end next month. However, the latest polls showed the Tory lead shrinking, and given the fragmentation in the electorate and the UK’s first-past-the-post voting process, it is entirely possible that the result is another hung Parliament which would be a disaster for the pound. The polls close at 5:00pm NY time (10:00pm local) and so it will be early evening before we hear the first indications of how things turn out. The upshot is a Tory majority is likely to see a further 1%-1.5% rally in the pound before it runs out of momentum. A hung Parliament could easily see us trade back down to 1.22 or so as all that market uncertainty returns, and a Labour victory would likely see an even larger decline as the combination of Brexit uncertainty and a program of renationalization of private assets would result in capital fleeing the UK ASAP. When we walk in tomorrow, all will be clear!

Clearly, those are the top stories today but there is still life elsewhere in the markets. Ffor example, the Turkish central bank cut rates more than expected, down to 12.0%, but the TRY managed to rally 0.25% after the fact. Things are clearly calming down there. In Asia, Indian inflation printed higher than expected at 5.54%, although IP there fell less than expected (-3.8%) and the currency impact netted to nil. The biggest gainer in the Far East was KRW, rising 0.65% after a strong performance by the KOSPI (+1.5%) and an analyst call for the KOSPI to rise 12% next year. But other than the won, the rest of the space saw much less movement, albeit generally gaining slightly after the Fed’s dovish stance.

In the G10, the pound has actually slipped a bit this morning, -0.2%, but otherwise, movement has been even smaller than that. Yesterday, after the Fed meeting, the dollar fell pretty sharply, upwards of 0.5% and essentially, the market has maintained those dollar losses this morning.

Looking ahead to the data today we see Initial Claims (exp 214K) and PPI (1.3%, 1.7% core). However, neither of those will have much impact. With the Fed meeting behind us, we will start to hear from its members again, but mercifully, not today. So Fed dovishness has been enough to encourage risk takers, and it looks for all the world like a modest risk-on session is what we have in store.

Good luck
Adf

Inflation’s Not Bubbled

Ahead of the Fed’s tête-à-tête
The CPI reading we’ll get
Though Jay remains troubled
Inflation’s not bubbled
The rest of us know that’s bullshet

Yes, it is Fed day with the FOMC set to announce their policy stance at 2:00 this afternoon and Chairman Jay scheduled to meet the press at 2:30. At this point, he and his colleagues have done an excellent job of leading market expectations toward no change, with the futures market pricing in a 0.0% probability of a cut. Interestingly, there is the tiniest (just 5.8%) probability of a rate hike, although that is even less likely in my view. While there will be a great deal of interest in the dot plot, certainly there has not been enough data to change Powell’s oft-stated view that the economy and monetary policy are both in “a good place.”

What should be of greater concern to all of us, as individuals and consumers, is that there has been an increase in discussions about the Fed changing their inflation targeting regime to achieving an average inflation rate of 2.0% over time, meaning that for all the time inflation remains below target (the past 10 years), they will allow it to run above target to offset that outcome. Now, we all know that the Fed’s constant complaints about too-low inflation ring hollow in our ears every time we go to the supermarket, or even the mall (assuming anyone else still goes there) as prices for pretty much everything other than flat screen tv’s has consistently risen for years. But given the way the Fed measures such things; they continue to register concern over the lack of inflation. And remember, too, that the Fed uses PCE, Personal Consumption Expenditures, in their models, which reflects not what we pay, but the rate of change of prices at which merchants sell goods. It is a subtle difference, but the construct of PCE, with a much lower emphasis on housing, and inclusion of the costs that the government pays for things like healthcare (obviously at a lower rate than the rest of us) insures that PCE will always track lower over time. In fact, it is an open question as to whether the Fed can even achieve a higher inflation rate, however it is measured, as long as they maintain their financial repression.

All of that is a prelude to today’s CPI release, where the market is anticipating a reading of 2.0% for the headline and 2.3% for the core. Arguably, this should be an important data point for the folks in the Mariner Eccles building today, but I forecast that they will only see weakness here as noteworthy, arguing for even more stimulus. However, whatever today’s print, it will simply be background noise in the end. It would take some remarkable news to change today’s outlook.

But inflation is important elsewhere in the world as well. For example, this morning Sweden’s CPI rose to 1.8%, a tick higher than expected and basically confirmed to the market that the Riksbank, who seem desperate to exit their negative rate policy, are likely to do so at their February meeting. (Expectations for movement next week remain quite muted.) Nonetheless, the Swedish krona has been a major beneficiary in the market, rallying 0.65% vs. the dollar (0.5% vs. the euro), and is today’s top performer.

Another place we are seeing prices rise more rapidly is in Asia, specifically in both China and India. In the former, CPI rose to 4.5% in November, higher than the expected 4.3% and the highest level since January 2012. This is a reflection of the skyrocketing price of pork there as African swine fever continues to decimate the hog population. (It is this problem that is likely to help lead to a phase one trade deal as President Xi knows he needs to be able to feed his people, and US pork is available and cheap!) In India, the October data jumped to 4.62% (what precision!) and November is forecast to rise to 5.3%. Here, too, food prices are taking a toll on the price index, and we need to be prepared for the November release due tomorrow. When the October print hit the tape, the rupee gapped lower (dollar higher) by nearly 1%, and although it has been slowly clawing back those losses, another surprise on the high side could easily see a repeat.

In contrast to those countries, the Eurozone remains an NPZ (no price zone), a place where price rises simply do not occur. Now, I grant that I have not been there in some time, so cannot determine if the European measurements are reflective of most people’s experience, but certainly on a measured basis, inflation remains extremely low, hovering around 1.0% per annum throughout most of the continent. Remember, tomorrow, Christine Lagarde leads her first ECB meeting and while she has spoken about how fiscal policy needs to pick up the pace and how the ECB needs to be more focused on issues like climate change, we have yet to hear her views on what she actually was hired to do, manage monetary policy. While there is no doubt that she is an exceptional politician, it remains to be seen what kind of central banking chops she possesses. Based solely on her commentary over the years, she appears firmly in the dovish camp, but given Signor Draghi’s parting gift of a rate cut and renewed QE, it seems most likely that she will simply stay the course and exhort governments to spend more money. One thing to keep in mind is that markets have a way of testing new central bank heads early in their terms with some kind of stress. That initial response is everything in determining if said central banker will be seen as strong or weak. We can only hope that Madame Lagarde measures up in that event.

The only other story is the UK election, certainly critical, but given it takes place tomorrow, we will look to discuss outcomes then. One interesting thing was that a Yougov poll released last evening showed PM Boris and the Tories would win 339 seats, still a comfortable majority, but a smaller one than the same poll from two weeks earlier. The pound fell sharply on the news, having traded as high as 1.3215 late yesterday afternoon it was actually just above 1.3100 when I left the office. This morning, it is right in the middle at 1.3150, which is apparently where it was at 5:00 last evening as the stated movement today is virtually nil. Barring a major faux pas by either candidate at this late stage, I think we will see choppiness in the pound until the results are released, early Friday morning. While a vic(Tory) by Boris will likely see a knee-jerk response higher in the pound, I remain of the view that any rally will be modest, perhaps 1%-2% at most, and should be seen as an opportunity to add hedges for receivables hedgers.

And that’s really it for today. I would look for modest movement overall, and don’t anticipate the FOMC meeting to generate much excitement.

Good luck
Adf

 

A New Paradigm

In Germany for the first time
In months, there’s a new paradigm
The pundits are cheering
A rebound that’s nearing
As data, released, was sublime

Perhaps sublime overstates the case a bit, but there is no doubt that this morning’s German ZEW data was substantially better than forecast, with the Expectations index rising to 10.7, its highest level since March 2018. This follows what seems to be some stabilization in the German manufacturing economy, which while still under significant pressure, may well have stopped declining. It is these little things that add up to create a narrative change from; Germany is in recession (which arguably was correct, albeit not technically so) to Germany has stabilized and is recovering on the back of solid domestic demand growth. On the one hand, this is good news for the global growth story, as Germany remains the fourth largest economy in the world, and if it is shrinking that bodes ill for the rest of the world. However, for all those who are desperate for German fiscal stimulus, this is actually a terrible number. If the German economy is recovering naturally, it beggars belief that they will spend any more money than currently planned.

It is important to remember that the Eurozone fiscal stimulus argument is predicated on two things: the fact that monetary policy is now impotent to help stimulate growth throughout the Eurozone; and the belief that if the German government spends more money domestically, it will magically flow through to those nations that really need help, like Italy, Portugal and Greece. Alas for poor Madame Lagarde, this morning’s data has likely lowered the probability of German fiscal stimulus even more than it was before. The euro, however, seems to like the data, edging higher by 0.15% this morning and working its way back to the levels seen just before the US payroll report turned the short-term crowd dollar bullish. There was other Eurozone data released, but none of it (French and Italian IP) was really that interesting, printing within a tick of forecasts. On the euro front, at this point all eyes are on the ECB to see what Lagarde tells us on Thursday. Remember, the last thing she wants is to come across as hawkish, in any manner, because the ECB really doesn’t need the added pressure of a strong euro weighing on already subpar inflation data.

With two days remaining before the UK election, the polls are still pointing to a strong Tory victory and a PM Boris Johnson commanding a majority of Parliament. At this point, the latest polls show the Tories with 44%, Labour with 32% and the LibDems with just 12%. The pound is higher by 0.2% on the back of this activity, despite a mildly disappointing GDP reading of 0.0% (exp 0.1%). A quick look back at recent GBP movement shows that since the election was called on October 30, the pound has rallied 1.8%. While that is a solid move, it isn’t even the largest mover during that period (NZD is higher by 2.45% since then). In fact, the pound really gained ground several weeks earlier after Boris and Irish PM Leo Varadkar had a lunch where they seemed to work out the final issues for Brexit. Prior to that, the pound had been hovering in the 1.22-1.24 area, but gained sharply in the run up to the previous Brexit deadline.

I guess the question is; just how much higher the pound can go if the polls are correct and Boris wins with a Tory majority. There are two opposing views, with some analysts calling for another solid leg higher, up toward 1.40, as the rest of the market shorts get squeezed out and euphoria for UK GDP growth starts to rebound. The other side of that argument is that the shorts have already been squeezed, hence the move from 1.22 to 1.32 in the past two months, and that though finalization of Brexit will be a positive, there are still numerous issues to address domestically that will prevent a sharp rebound in the UK economy. As I’m sure you are all aware, I fall into the second camp, but there is certainly at least a 25% probability that a larger move is in the cards. The one thing that seems clear, though, is that market implied volatility will fall sharply past the election if the Tories win as uncertainty over Brexit will recede quickly.

Turning south of the border, it seems that the USMCA is finally making its way through Congress and will be enacted shortly. The peso has been the quiet beneficiary of this news over the past week as it has rallied 2% in the past week in a very steady fashion, although so far, this morning, it is little changed. One other thing of note regarding the Mexican peso has been the move in the forward curve over the past three weeks. For example, since November 19, 1-month MXN forwards have fallen from 1030 to this morning’s 683. In the 1-year, the decline has been from 10875 to this morning’s 10075. The largest culprit here appears to be the very large long futures position, (>150K contracts) that need to be rolled over by the end of the week, but there is also a significant maturity of Mexican government bonds that will require MXN purchases. At any rate, added to the USMCA news, we have a confluence of events driving both spot and forward peso rates higher. It is not clear how much longer this will continue, so for balance sheet hedgers with short dated exposures, this is probably a great opportunity to reduce hedging costs.

Beyond these stories, there is far less of interest in the market. This morning’s US data consists of Nonfarm productivity (exp -0.1%) and Unit Labor Costs (3.4%) neither of which is likely to move the needle. This is especially so ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC meeting and Thursday’s ECB meeting and UK election. Equity markets are pointing lower this morning, but that feels more like profit taking than a change of heart, as bonds are little changed alongside oil and gold. In other words, look for more choppy markets with no direction ahead of tomorrow’s CPI data and FOMC meeting.

Good luck
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Hawks Would Then Shriek

Lagarde and Chair Powell both seek
Consensus, when later this week
Their brethren convene
While doves are still keen
To ease more, though hawks would then shriek

Markets are relatively quiet this morning as investors and traders await three key events as well as some important data. Interestingly, neither the Fed nor ECB meetings this week are likely to produce much in the way of fireworks. Chairman Powell and his minions have done an excellent job convincing market participants that the temporary cyclical adjustment is finished, that rates are appropriate, and that they are watching everything closely and prepared to act if necessary. Certainly Friday’s blowout NFP data did not hurt their case that no further easing is required. By now, I’m sure everyone is aware that we saw the highest headline print since January at 266K, which was supported by upward revisions of 41K to the previous two months’ data. And of course, the Unemployment Rate fell to 3.5%, which is back to a 50-year low. In fact, forecasts are now showing up that are calling for a 3.2% or 3.3% Unemployment Rate next November, which bodes well for the incumbent and would be the lowest Unemployment Rate since 1952!

With that as the economic backdrop in the US, it is hard for the doves on the Fed to make the case that further easing is necessary, but undoubtedly they will try. In the meantime, ECB President Lagarde will preside over her first ECB meeting where there are also no expectations for policy changes. Here, however, the situation is a bit tenser as the dramatic split between the hawks (Germany, the Netherlands and Austria) and the doves (Spain, Portugal and Italy) implies there will be no further action anytime soon. Madame Lagarde has initiated a policy review to try to find a consensus on how they should proceed, although given the very different states of the relevant economies, it is hard to believe they will agree on anything.

Arguably, the major weakness in the entire Eurozone construct is that the lack of an overarching continent-wide fiscal authority means that there is no easy way to transfer funds from those areas with surpluses to those with deficits. In the US, this happens via tax collection and fiscal stimulus agreed through tradeoffs in Congress. But that mechanism doesn’t exist in Europe, so as of now, Germany is simply owed an extraordinary amount of money (~€870 billion) by the rest of Europe, mostly Italy and Spain (€810 billion between them). The thing is, unlike in the US, those funds will need to be repaid at some point, although the prospects of that occurring before the ECB bails everyone out seem remote. Say what you will about the US running an unsustainable current account deficit, at least structurally, the US is not going to split up, whereas in Europe, that is an outcome that cannot be ruled out. In the end, it is structural issues like this that lead to long term bearishness on the single currency.

However, Friday’s euro weakness (it fell 0.45% on the day) was entirely a reaction to the payroll data. This morning’s 0.15% rally is simply a reactionary move as there was no data to help the story. And quite frankly, despite the UK election and pending additional US tariffs on China, this morning is starting as a pretty risk neutral session.

Speaking of the UK, that nation heads to the polls on Thursday, where the Tories continue to poll at a 10 point lead over Labour, and appear set to elect Boris as PM with a working majority in Parliament. If that is the outcome, Brexit on January 31 is a given. As to the pound, it has risen 0.2% this morning, which has essentially regained the ground it lost after the payroll report on Friday. At 1.3165, its highest point since May 2019, the pound feels to me like it has already priced in most of the benefit of ending the Brexit drama. While I don’t doubt there is another penny or two possible, especially if Boris wins a large majority, I maintain the medium term outlook is not nearly as robust. Receivables hedgers should be taking advantage of these levels.

On the downside this morning, Aussie and Kiwi have suffered (each -0.2%) after much weaker than expected Chinese trade data was released over the weekend. Their overall data showed a 1.1% decline in exports, much worse than expected, which was caused by a 23% decline in exports to the US. It is pretty clear that the trade war is having an increasing impact on China, which is clearly why they are willing to overlook the US actions on Hong Kong and the Uighers in order to get the deal done. Not only do they have rampant food inflation caused by the African swine fever epidemic wiping out at least half the Chinese hog herd, but now they are seeing their bread and butter industries suffer as well. The market is growing increasingly confident that a phase one trade deal will be agreed before the onset of more tariffs on Sunday, and I must admit, I agree with that stance.

Not only did Aussie and Kiwi fall, but we also saw weakness in the renminbi (-0.15%), INR (-0.2%) and IDR (-0.2%) as all are feeling the pain from slowing trade growth. On the plus side in the EMG bloc, the Chilean peso continues to stage a rebound from its worst levels, well above 800, seen two weeks ago. This morning it has risen another 0.85%, which takes the gain this month to 4.8%. But other than that story, which is really about ebbing concern after the government responded quickly and positively to the unrest in the country, the rest of the EMG bloc is little changed on the day.

Turning to the data this week, we have the following:

Tuesday NFIB Small Business Optimism 103.0
  Nonfarm Productivity -0.1%
  Unit Labor Costs 3.4%
Wednesday CPI 0.2% (2.0% Y/Y)
  -ex Food & Energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
  FOMC Rate Decision 1.75%
Thursday ECB Rate Decision -0.5%
  PPI 0.2% (1.2%)
  -ex Food & Energy 0.2% (1.7%)
  Initial Claims 215K
Friday Retail Sales 0.4%
  -ex autos 0.4%

Source: Bloomberg

While there is nothing today, clearly Wednesday and Thursday are going to have opportunities for increased volatility. And the UK election results will start trickling in at the end of the day on Thursday, so if there is an upset brewing, that will be when things are first going to be known.

All this leads me to believe that today is likely to be uneventful as traders prepare for the back half of the week. Remember, liquidity in every market is beginning to suffer simply because we are approaching year-end. This will be more pronounced next week, but will start to take hold now.

Good luck
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