At the Nonce

In Hanoi, the talks fell apart
In London, there’s cause to take heart
The market response
Sell stocks at the nonce
But Sterling looks good on the chart

The Trump-Kim denuclearization talks in Hanoi ended abruptly last evening as North Korea was apparently not willing to give up their program completely although they were seeking full sanctions relief. It appears that many investors were quite hopeful for a better outcome as equity markets across Asia fell as soon as the news hit the tape. Not surprisingly, South Korea was worst hit, with the KOSPI falling 1.5% while the won fell 0.5%. But the Nikkei in Japan fell 0.8% and Shanghai was down by 0.5% as well. In the currency market, the yen, benefitting from a little risk aversion, gained 0.2%, while the renminbi slipped slightly, down just 0.1%

Of course, the US-China trade talks are still ongoing and the big news there was that the US has, for the time being, removed the threat of increased tariffs. It appears that real progress has been made with respect to questions on technology transfer as well as verification of adherence to the new rules. It is surprising to me that this was not a bigger story for markets, although that may well be a sign that a deal is fully priced in already. In the meantime, Chinese data continues to disappoint with the Manufacturing PMI falling to 49.2, its third consecutive print below 50.0 and the weakest number in three years. It certainly appears as though President Xi is feeling real pressure to get a deal done. Of course, the Chinese equity market has had an even more impressive performance than that of the US so far this year, so it may be fair to say they, too, have priced in a deal. While things seem pretty good on this front right now, what is becoming apparent is that any hiccup in this process is likely to result in a pretty sharp equity market correction.

Turning to the UK, it appears that PM May’s game of chicken was really being played with the hard-liners in the Tory party who appeared perfectly willing to leave the EU with no deal. In yesterday’s debates, they were conspicuous by their silence on the subject and the growing belief is that May will be able to get support for her deal (with a side annex regarding the length of the Irish backstop) approved. While this will probably result in a three-month delay before it all happens, that will simply be to ensure that the proper legislation can be passed in Parliament. In another surprising market outcome, the pound has remained unchanged today despite the positive news. As I mentioned yesterday, the pound has rallied steadily for the past several weeks, and it appears that it may have run out of steam for the time being. While an approval vote will almost certainly result in a further rally, I’m skeptical that it has that much further to run. Unless, of course, there is a significantly more dovish turn from the Fed.

Speaking of the Fed, yesterday’s Powell testimony was just as dull as Tuesday’s. Arguably, the most interesting discussion was regarding the “Powell put” as one congressman harped on the concept for much of his allotted time. In the end, Powell explained that financial markets have an impact on the macroeconomy and that the Fed takes into account all those factors when making decisions. In other words, yes there is a put, but they want us to believe that the strike price is not simply based on the S&P 500, but on global markets in general. Given the importance of this comment, it was quite surprising that equity markets yesterday did not rally, but instead fell slightly. And futures are pointing lower this morning. At the same time, the dollar is generally under pressure with the euro rising 0.4% and now trading above 1.14 for the first time in three weeks. The single currency remains, however, right in the middle of its trading range for the past four months. In other words, this is hardly groundbreaking territory.

It is hard to ascribe the euro’s strength to any data this morning, although there has been plenty of that released, because generally it was in line with expectations. But even more importantly, it continues to show there is a lack of inflationary pressure throughout the Eurozone, which would undermine any thoughts the ECB will tighten earlier than now anticipated. Perhaps the one exception to that were comments from ECB member Francois Villeroy who explained that keeping rates negative for too long could have a detrimental impact on transmitting monetary policy properly. While that is certainly true, it has not been seen as a major concern to date.

Turning to this morning’s data story, Q4 GDP growth will finally be released (exp 2.4%) as well as Chicago PMI (57.8). In addition, we hear from six Fed speakers today starting with Vice-Chair Clarida at 8:00 this morning and finishing up with Chairman Powell at 7:00 this evening. However, given we just got two days of testimony from Powell, it is not clear what else they can say that will change views.

Overall, the dollar remains under pressure, and while it rallied during yesterday’s session, it has reversed that move so far this morning. As I have consistently said, the market is highly focused on the Fed’s more dovish turn and so sees the dollar softening. However, as other central banks become more clearly dovish, and they will as slowing growth permeates around the world, the dollar should regain its footing. Probably not today though.

Good luck
Adf

Maybe Once More

Said Powell, by patient I mean
We won’t rush to raise in ‘Nineteen
Unless prices soar
Then maybe once more
Though not ‘til past next Halloween

To nobody’s surprise, Chairman Powell explained that while the economy in the US is in good shape, given all the other things happening around the world (Brexit, trade situation, slowing Chinese and European growth) it was prudent for the Fed to watch the data carefully before acting to change policy again. Arguably, the market heard this as a confirmation of the now growing dovish bias and so the dollar came under a bit of further pressure. Interestingly, the equity market did not hear the same cooing of doves as it struggled all day ending slightly softer.

When discussing the balance sheet, he indicated that it was a hot topic at the FOMC, and that they were carefully studying the timing of the eventual end of the current policy of QT. But by far, the single most gratifying thing he said was, “It is widely agreed that federal government debt is on an unsustainable path.” He later added, “The idea that deficits don’t matter for countries that can borrow in their own currencies is just wrong.” (my emphasis). This was a none too subtle rebuttal to any thoughts that MMT has any validity. The Senators did not really ask many interesting questions, but today he heads to the House, where a certain freshman representative from the Bronx, NY, is grasping at the idea that as long as the US borrows in dollars, we can always pay them back by printing whatever we need with no consequence. You can be certain that she will spend her entire allotment of time on that particular issue, although I suspect she will not come off looking like she either understands the issues nor will have convinced the Chairman.

At any rate, while the questions are likely to be more entertaining, they will almost certainly not be any more meaningful as today Representatives will get their moments of preening on camera. Certainly nothing has happened between yesterday and today that will have changed the Chairman’s views.

In Parliament there’s a new view
Postponement’s the right thing to do
Three months or one year?
No answer is clear
As both sides, the other, eschew

Turning to the other key market story, Brexit, the only thing that is clear is that it remains extremely confusing. As of this morning, it appears that PM May has changed her tune regarding a delay and is now willing to accept a short one of three months. Her problem is that she has lost so much influence from the continuing morass it is no longer clear she will get what she wants. There now appears to be a growing movement for a longer delay, on the order of nine months, which would give the Bremainers the chance to organize a new referendum. That, of course, is the last thing the hard-liners want, another vote, as it could reverse the outcome. At the same time, all of this is contingent upon the EU agreeing to a delay. Now, they have said they will do so if there is a clear path outlined for what the UK is trying to accomplish, but as is obvious from this discussion, that is not the case.

The market, however, is in the process of reinterpreting the outcome. It appears that the new worst case is seen as acceptance of the already negotiated deal with a small possibility of no Brexit at all. It seems the idea of a hard Brexit is receding from view. We can tell because the pound continues to rally this morning, up another 0.45% today which takes the move to +2.5% since Friday when this chain of events took form. This is the highest the pound has traded since last July, when it was on its way down from the previous bout of optimism. One telling sign of the potential outcome is that the hardest of hard-liners, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has backed down on his adamant demands of the removal of the Irish backstop, instead saying an annex addressing the situation could be acceptable. To me this indicates the hard-liners have lost. While I am no insider, it looks very much to me like there will be a three-month delay and acceptance of the current deal. As to the pound in that case, it will depend if Governor Carney can keep his word regarding concerns over inflation. My view there is that slowing global growth will prevent any further policy tightening, and the pound will quickly run out of Brexit steam.

Elsewhere, data from the Eurozone shows that the economy continues to slow, albeit at a less intimidating rate. A series of Eurozone sentiment and confidence indicators all printed lower than last month, but not quite as low as had been feared expected. But the euro has been the beneficiary of the current focus on Fed dovishness and has been trading higher for the past two weeks. Of course, the extent of that move has been just 1.2%, with the single currency unchanged this morning. So, while the headlines are accurate to say the dollar has been slumping, the reality is that the movement has been quite limited.

Away from those stories, the FX market has seen relatively few events of note. INR is softer this morning by 0.5% after Pakistan’s air force allegedly shot down two Indian fighter jets in an escalation of tensions in the Kashmir region. That may well be weighing on global risk sentiment as well, but not in too great a manner. President Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-Un has not seemed to impact the KRW, although a positive outcome there would almost certainly help the won significantly. And past that, nada.

On the data front this morning we see Factory Orders (exp 0.5%) and then Chairman Powell sits down in front of the House. The current trend remains for the dollar to soften as the market’s focus continues to be on the Fed turning dovish. As time passes, we will see every central bank turn dovish, and at that time, the dollar is likely to find more support. But for now, a slowly ebbing dollar remains the most likely outcome.

Good luck
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The Clear Antidote

Said Corbyn, the clear antidote
To Brexit is hold a new vote
Meanwhile the EU
Said they would push through
Delay, while they secretly gloat

For traders the news was elating
With Sterling bulls now advocating
The lows have been seen
And Twenty-nineteen
Will see the pound appreciating

The pound has topped 1.3220 (+1.0%) this morning as a result of two key stories: first Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has agreed to back a second referendum. This increases the odds that one might be held, assuming there is a delay in the current process which dovetails nicely with the other story, that PM May is mooted to be about to announce a delay in the process. The EU has already essentially agreed that they will allow a delay with the question, as I discussed yesterday, really about the length of time to be agreed.

The two sides of this debate are either a short, three-month, delay, whereby PM May believes she can get the current deal approved or a long, twenty-one-month delay, which would allow enough time for a second referendum where the current belief is that the outcome will be different. Regarding the second referendum, while the press posits it is a slam-dunk the vote would be to remain, the latest polls show remain currently leads 53-47, hardly a landslide, and arguably well within the margin of error. If memory serves, that was the expectation leading up to the first vote! At any rate, I would contend the FX market is pricing in a very high probability of the UK ultimately remaining in the EU. What that says to me is that the upside for the pound is limited. Certainly, in that event, an initial boost is likely, but after that, I would argue a slow decline is the probable path.

As to the trade story, yesterday’s ecstasy seems to have abated somewhat as investors have not yet seen or heard anything new to encourage further expectations. The result has been that equity markets have slipped a bit, and now everybody is waiting for the next announcement or tweet to boost sentiment again. My gut tells me the market is far too sanguine about a successful conclusion to this process, but I am one voice in a million. However, for today, this doesn’t appear to be having a significant impact.

And finally, the third in our trio of key stories, the Fed, will get new impetus today when Chairman Powell sits down in front of the Senate Banking Committee this morning at about 9:45 to offer his semi-annual testimony on the state of the economy. Based on all we have heard lately, the Fed’s current stance appears to be that the economy remains solid, with some very positive aspects, notably the employment situation, and some softer concerns (housing and autos) with confusion over the consumption numbers after the latest Retail Sales data. There is clearly a camp in the Fed that believes further rate hikes are appropriate later this year, and a camp that would prefer to wait until inflation data is already running above target. It would be surprising if the opening comments were committal in either direction, but I expect that a number of Senators will try to dig into that very issue. However, given just how much we have heard from various Fed speakers over the past several weeks, it seems highly unlikely that we will learn much that is truly new.

One thing to watch for is any hint that there is a change in the stance on the balance sheet. As it stands right now, expectations are for a continued running down of assets for a little while longer this year before halting. However, and this is probably more a concern for tomorrow’s House testimony than today’s in the Senate, questions about MMT and the ability of the Fed to simply print funds and buy Treasuries without end may well cause a market reaction. Any indication that the Fed is considering anything of this nature would be truly groundbreaking and have some immediate market impacts, notably, significant dollar weakness, and likely immediate strength in both equities and bonds. Please understand I am not expecting anything like this but given the number of adherents that have gravitated to this concept, I do expect questions. Fortunately, thus far, there has not been any indication the Fed is considering anything like this.

On the data front today we see December Housing Starts (exp 1.25M) and Building Permits (1.29M) as well as the Case-Shiller House Price Index (4.5%) and finally, the only current data of note, February Consumer Confidence (124.7). Much of the data this week is out of date due to the government shutdown last month. But in the end, the morning will be driven by PM May and her Parliamentary speech, and the rest of the session will be devoted to the Fed and Chairman Powell. The dollar has been modestly offered for the past week, trading to the low end of its trading range, but we will need something new to force a breakout. As of now, it is not clear what that will be, so I anticipate another session of modest movement, perhaps this time edging toward strength in the greenback.

Good luck
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Tariffs Can Wait

Said Trump, for now tariffs can wait
Since talks with the Chinese are great
When this news emerged
The stock market surged
While dollars and bonds did deflate

In what cannot be a very great surprise, last evening President Trump announced that there has been substantial progress in the trade negotiations with China and that the mooted tariff increases on March 2nd are going to be delayed indefinitely while the talks continue. It was pretty clear that neither side really wanted to see tariffs rise again, but if the reports are accurate, there has been some real movement in terms of the negotiations. Given the focus by all markets on this story, the reactions cannot be a great surprise. That said, the fact that Shanghai closed higher by 5.6% and other global markets are higher by just 0.2%-0.4% hints at just how much more important this issue is for China than for the US.

But in fairness, there was another driver for Chinese stocks, the ‘official’ end of the deleveraging campaign of the past two years. Despite the fact that Chinese debt levels have barely slowed their growth, the fact that the economy has clearly been under pressure from slowing global growth, and the fact that the trade situation has clearly hampered recovery attempts has led to a decision to open the credit spigots again. Two years ago, the Chinese recognized that their financial structure was wobbling due to significant growth in off balance sheet leverage. After a two-year effort to reduce those risks, the imperative of supporting the broad economy is now far more important than worrying about some arcane financial statistics. In the end, every government, whether liberal or totalitarian, can only address structural issues for short periods of time before the pressure grows too great to support growth in any way they can. As to the renminbi, it has strengthened a bit further, rising 0.3% and now trading at its strongest levels since last July. If, as has been reported, the trade deal includes a currency portion, it seems appropriate to look for the renminbi to trade back toward the 6.20 level, another 5%-7% stronger, over time.

Though wily, Prime Minister May
Might soon find she’s nothing to say
‘bout any new terms
As Parliament firms
Support for a Brexit delay

Of the other two stories that have been market drivers, let’s discuss Brexit first. PM May met with other EU leaders in Egypt over the weekend and there are now two competing theories as to what might happen. May has postponed the vote on her deal until March 12, basically daring Parliament to vote no and cause a no-deal Brexit. At the same time, while talk in Parliament has been about voting for a three-month extension, the EU has now discussed a 21-month extension as the only alternative under the theory that three months is not enough time to get anything done. Of course, for the pro-Brexit forces, 21 months is unpalatable as well since that would give enough time to hold a second referendum, which based on all the recent polling, would result in a remain vote. The pound has drifted higher by 0.2% this morning, back to the high end of its recent trading range, but until there is more clarity on the outcome, it will remain locked in a fairly narrow range. For the past seven months, the pound has traded in a range of 1.25-1.32. It seems unlikely to break out until a more definitive outcome is clear with Brexit.

Finally, regarding the third major market driver, the Fed, there were several stories in the WSJ over the weekend about how the Fed is now reevaluating its inflation target. It seems that they have become increasingly unhappy with their inability to achieve the 2.0% target, as measured by PCE. The prevailing view is that because they have been so successful at moderating inflation, people’s inflation expectations have now fallen so much that inflation cannot rise. That feels a little self-serving to me, especially since the ‘feel’ of inflation appears much higher than what is measured. At least in my world. Ask yourself if it feels like inflation is running at 1.8%, as you consider things like education, the cost of health insurance and property taxes. The point, however, is that they seem to be laying the ground to maintain easier monetary policy for a much longer period. If they are not constrained by inflation rising above their target, then rates can stay lower for longer. Frighteningly, this seems to be the Fed’s attempt to embrace MMT. In the end, if the Fed modifies their policy targets in this manner, it will be a decided dollar negative. In fact, I will need to reevaluate the premises underlying my market views. Unless, of course, all the other major central banks do the same thing, which is a fair bet.

At any rate, with the trade discussion today’s biggest story, risk appetite has returned, and we are seeing higher equity markets along with a weaker dollar and falling bonds. That said, the dollar’s decline is not substantial, on the order of 0.2% overall, although it has fallen against most of its counterparts. Turning to the data story, this week brings a fair amount of information, as well as Congressional Testimony by Chairman Powell and a number of other Fed speakers:

Tuesday Housing Starts 1.25M
  Building Permits 1.29M
  Case-Shiller Home Prices 4.5%
  Consumer Confidence 124.7
Wednesday Factory Orders 0.5%
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Q4 GDP 2.3%
  Chicago PMI 57.0
Friday Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending -0.2%
  PCE 0.0% (1.7% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.9% Y/Y)
  ISM Manufacturing 55.5
  Michigan Sentiment 95.7

In addition to Powell’s testimony, he speaks again Thursday morning, and is joined by five other Fed speakers throughout the week. Unless the data is extraordinarily strong, it is clear that there will be no discussion of further rate hikes. In fact, given this new focus on the inflation target, I expect that will be the topic of note amongst the group of them. And as all signs point to this being yet another way to justify easy money, look for a consensus to quickly build. If I am correct about the Fed’s turn regarding how they view inflation, the dollar will suffer going forward. This will force me to change my longer term views, so this week will be quite important to my mind. For today, however, it seems evident that risk appetite will help push the dollar somewhat lower from here.

Good luck
Adf

A Lack of Pizzazz

This week, central banks, numb’ring three
Released information that we
Interpreted as
A lack of pizzazz
So, don’t look for tight policy

Yesterday’s release of the ECB Minutes from their January meeting didn’t garner nearly as much press as the FOMC Minutes on Wednesday. However, they are still important. The topic du jour was the analysis necessary to help them determine if rolling over the TLTRO’s was the appropriate policy going forward. Not surprisingly, the hawks on the committee, like Austria’s Ewald Nowotny, said there is no hurry and a decision doesn’t need to be taken until June when the first of these loans fall below twelve months in their remaining term. I am pretty sure that he is against adding any more stimulus at all. At the same time, given the recession in Italy and slowing growth picture throughout Germany and France, and given that Italian and French banks had been the first and third most active users of the financing, in the end, the ECB cannot afford to let them lapse. I remain 100% convinced that these loans will be rolled over in an effort to ‘avoid tightening financial conditions’, not in order to ease them further. However, the market impact of the Minutes was muted at best, as has been this morning’s data releases; one confirming that German GDP was flat in Q4, and more importantly, the decline in the Ifo Business Climate indicator to 98.5, its lowest level in four years. Meanwhile, Eurozone inflation remains absent from the discussion with January’s data confirmed to have declined to a 1.4% Y/Y rise. Nothing in this data indicates the ECB will tighten policy in 2019, and quite frankly, I would be shocked to see them move in 2020 as well.

The other central bank information of note was the Bank of Canada, where Governor Poloz spoke in Montreal and explained that while the current policy setting (base rates are 1.75%) remain below their range of estimates of the neutral rate (2.5%-3.5%), current conditions dictate that there is no hurry to tighten further, especially with the ongoing uncertainty emanating from the US and the overall global trade situation. So here is another central bank that had been talking up the tightening process and has now backed away.

In virtually every case, the central banks continue to hang their hats on the employment market’s strength, and the idea that a tight jobs market will lead to higher wages, and thus higher inflation. The thing is, this Phillips Curve model has two flaws; first it only relates lower unemployment to higher wages, not higher general inflation; and second, it is based on an analysis of the UK from 1861-1957, which may not actually be a relevant timeline compared to the global economy in 2019. And one other thing to remember is that employment is a lagging indicator with respect to economic signals. This means that it is backward looking and has been demonstrated to have limited predictive power. My point is that despite a clearly strong employment situation, it is still entirely possible that global growth can slow much further and much more quickly than policymakers would have you believe.

Back to the currency markets, the upshot of all the new information was that traders have essentially left both the euro and the Loonie unchanged for the past two days. In fact, they have left most currencies that way. This morning’s largest G10 mover is the pound, which just recently has extended its losses to -0.40% after it became clear that the EU was NOT going to make any concessions regarding the backstop issue as had been believed just yesterday. The latest story is that the UK is going to ask for a three-month extension, which is likely to be granted. The thing is, the problem is not going to get any easier to solve in three months’ time than it is now. This will simply extend the time of uncertainty.

Of course, the other story is the trade talks and the positive spin that we continue to hear despite the information that there remain wide differences on key issues like enforcement of any deals as well as the speed with which the Chinese are willing to open up their markets. It is all well and good for the Chinese to say they will buy more corn, or more soybeans or more oil, but while nice, those pledges don’t address the question of IP protection and state subsidies. I remain concerned that any deal, if it is brokered, will be much less impactful than is claimed. And it is quite possible that the US will not remove any of the current tariffs until they have validation that the Chinese have upheld their side of any deal. I feel like the market is far too optimistic on this subject, but then again, I am a cynic.

While FX markets have been slow to respond to these stories, we continue to see equity markets wholeheartedly embrace the idea that a deal is coming soon and there is no reason to worry. Last night, Chinese equity markets rallied sharply (Shanghai +1.9%), although the Nikkei actually slipped -0.2%. European markets this morning are higher by around 0.4%-0.5%, as they, too, seem bullish on the trade picture. Certainly, it is not based on the economic picture in the Eurozone.

But as we have seen for the past several weeks, central banks, Brexit and trade are the only stories that matter. Right now, investors and traders are giving mixed signals, with the equity markets feeling positive, but currency and bond markets much less so. My money is on the bond market vs. the stock market as having correctly analyzed the situation.

Good luck and good weekend
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Carefully Looking Ahead

The Minutes explained that the Fed
Was carefully looking ahead
But so far it seems
The hawks’ fondest dreams
Of hiking again might be dead

As well, when it comes to the size
Of the Fed’s balance sheet, in their eyes
It’s likely to stay
Quite large like today
Not shrink while they, debt, monetize

Markets are little changed this morning after a lackluster session yesterday when the Fed released their Minutes from the January meeting. Overall, the tone of the Minutes seemed to be slightly less dovish than the tone of the Powell press conference that followed the meeting, as well as much of the commentary we have heard since then. Apparently, Cleveland’s Loretta Mester is not the only one who believes rates will need to be raised further this year, as the Minutes spoke of “several’ members with the same opinion. Of course, that was offset by “several” members who had the opposite view and felt that there was no urgency at all to consider raising rates further this year. Patience continues to be the watchword at the Mariner Eccles building, and I expect that as long as the economic data does not differ dramatically from forecasts, the Fed will be quite happy to leave rates on hold. They specifically mentioned the potential problems that could derail things like slowing global growth, a poor outcome in the US-China trade talks or a disruptive Brexit. But for now, it appears they are comfortable with the rate setting.

The balance sheet story was of even more interest to many market participants as the gradual running off of maturing securities has seemingly started to take a bite out of available liquidity in markets. And in fact, this seems to be where the Fed minutes indicated a more dovish stance in my eyes. While there is still a thought that rates might be raised later this year, it was virtually unanimous that shrinking the balance sheet will end this year, leaving the Fed with a much larger balance sheet (~$3.5-$4.0 trillion) than many had expected. Recall, prior to the financial crisis the Fed’s balance sheet was roughly $900 billion in size. To many, this is effectively a permanent injection of money into the economy and so should support both growth and inflation going forward. However, the risk is that when the next downturn arrives (and make no mistake, it Will arrive), the Fed will have less room to act to support the economy at that time. This is especially true since even with another one or two rate hikes, Fed Funds will have topped out at a much lower level than it has historically, and therefore there will be less rate cutting available as a policy tool.

Adding it up, it seems rate guidance was mildly hawkish and balance sheet guidance was mildly dovish thus leaving things largely as expected. It is no surprise market activity was muted.

This morning, as the market awaits the ECB Minutes, we see the dollar little changed overall, although there have been some individual currency movements. For example, AUD has fallen 0.7% (and dragged NZD down -0.5%) after a well-respected local economist changed his rate view to two RBA rate cuts later this year due to the rapidly weakening housing market. Prior to this, the market had anticipated no rate movement for at least another 18 months, so this served as quite a change. And all this came despite strong Australian employment data with the Unemployment rate remaining at 5.0% and job growth jumping by 39K.

Meanwhile, mixed data from Europe has leaned slightly bullish as surprisingly strong French Composite PMI data (49.9 vs 49.0 expected) offset surprisingly weak German Manufacturing PMI data (47.6 vs 49.7 expected). I guess the market already knows that Germany is slowing more rapidly than other nations in the Eurozone (except for Italy) due to the ongoing trade friction between the US and China. But despite the ongoing Gilets Jaune protests, the French economy managed to find some strength. At any rate, the euro has edged higher by 0.15% after the reports. At the same time, the pound has also rallied 0.15% after releasing the largest budget surplus on record (since 1993), and perhaps more importantly, on some apparent movement by the EU on Brexit. PM May is hinting that she may be able to get a legally binding way to end the backstop in a codicil to the Brexit negotiations, which if she can, may allow cover for the more euro skeptical members of her party to support the deal. There is no question the pound remains completely beholden to the Brexit story and will continue to do so for at least another month.

Pivoting to the trade talks, there are several stories this morning about how negotiators are preparing a number of memos on separate issues with the idea they will be brought together at the Trump-Xi meeting to be held in the next several weeks. There is no question that the market continues to view the probability of a deal as to be quite high, but I keep looking at the key issues at stake, specifically with regards to IP and the coercion alleged by US companies, and I remain skeptical that China will back away from that tactic. The Chinese do not view the world through the same eyes as the US, or the Western World at large. As per an article in the WSJ this morning, “We must never follow the Western path of constitutionalism, separation of powers and judicial independence,” Mr. Xi said in an August speech. That comment does not strike me as a basis for compromise nor enforcement of any deal that relies on those issues. But for now, the market continues to believe.

And that’s pretty much the stuff that matters today. We do get most of our data for the week this morning with Initial Claims (exp 229K), Durable Goods (1.5%, 0.3% ex transport), Philly Fed (14.0) and Existing Home Sales (5.00M). While individually, none of them have a huge impact, the suite of information if consistently strong or weak, could well lead to some movement given the broad sweep of the economy covered. There are no Fed speakers on the docket today, and so it doesn’t appear that there is much reason to expect real movement today. Equity markets around the world have seen limited movement and US futures are flat to slightly lower. Treasury yields are slightly firmer but remain at the bottom end of their recent trading range. Overall, it seems like a dull day ahead.

Good luck
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No Magical Date

March 1st is no magical date
Said Trump, while investors fixate
On whether a deal
On trade will be sealed
By then, or if tariffs can wait

After a day where there was mercifully little discussion of the ongoing trade negotiations, they have come back to the fore. Yesterday, President Trump indicated that the March 1st deadline for a deal was now far more flexible than had previously been indicated. Based on the reports that there has been substantial progress made so far, it seems a foregone conclusion that tariffs will not be rising on March 2nd. However, key issues remain open, notably the question of forced technology transfer and IP theft. Of course, as the Chinese maintain that neither one of those things currently occur, it is difficult for them to accept a resolution and change their methods. On the flip side, both Trump and Xi really need a deal to remove a major economic concern as well as to demonstrate their ability to help their respective nations.

One of the things that appears to be on the agenda is a Chinese pledge to maintain a stable yuan going forward, rather than allowing the market to determine its value. Looking back, it is ironic that the IMF allowed the yuan to join the SDR in 2016 to begin with, given that it continues to lack a key characteristic for inclusion in the basket; the ability to be “freely usable” to make payments for international transactions. And while the PBOC had been alleging that they were slowly allowing more market influence on the currency in their efforts to internationalize it, the results of the trade talks seem certain to halt whatever progress has been made and likely reverse some portion of it. It should be no surprise that the yuan strengthened on the back of these reports with the currency rallying 0.8% since yesterday morning. If currency control is part of the deal, then my previous views that the renminbi will weaken this year need to be changed. Given the continued presence of financial controls in China, if they choose to maintain a strong CNY, they will be able to do so, regardless of what happens in the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, away from the trade saga, the ongoing central bank activities remain the top story for markets. This has been made clear by comments from several central bankers in the past 24 hours. First, we heard from Cleveland Fed President Mester who, unlike the rest of the speakers lately, indicated that she expects rates to be higher by the end of the year. her view is that 3.00% is the neutral rate and that while waiting right now makes sense, the growth trajectory she expects will require still higher rates. However, while the FX market paid her some attention, it is not clear that the equity market did. Two things to note are that she is likely the most hawkish member of the Fed to begin with, and she is not a voting member this year, so will not be able to express her views directly.

Remember, too, that at 2:00 this afternoon, the FOMC Minutes of the January meeting will be released. Market participants and analysts are all very interested to see the nature of the conversation that led to the remarkable reversal from ‘further rate hikes are likely, to ‘patience is appropriate for now’ all while economic data remained largely unchanged. Until that release, most traders will be reluctant to add to any positions and movement is likely to be muted.

Across the pond, ECB Member Peter Praet continues to discuss the prospect of rolling over TLTRO’s which begin coming due in June of next year. Remember, one of the key issues for the Eurozone banks who availed themselves of this funding is that once the maturities fall below one year, it ceases to be considered long term funding and impacts bank capital ratios. Banks will then either have to call in loans that were made on the basis of this funding, or raise loan interest rates, or see their profits reduced as they pay more for their capital. None of these situations will help Eurozone growth. So, despite claims that banks must stand on their own, and TLTRO’s will only be rolled over if there is a monetary policy case to be made, the reality is that it is quite clear the ECB will roll these loans over. If they don’t, it will require the restarting of asset purchases or some other easing measure.

Once again, I will highlight that given the current growth and inflation trajectories in the Eurozone, there is a vanishingly small probability that the ECB will allow policy to get tighter than its current settings, and a pretty large probability that they will ease further. This will not help the euro regardless of the Fed’s actions. Yesterday saw the euro rally on the back of the updated trade story, but that has been stopped short as the market begins to accept the idea that the ECB is not going to tighten policy at all. Thus, this morning, the euro is unchanged.

The final story of note is, of course, Brexit, where the most recent word is that PM May is seeking to get a subtle change in the EU stance on the backstop plan thus allowing a new vote, this time with a chance of passing. The pro-Brexit concern is that the current form of the backstop will force the UK to be permanently attached to the EU’s trade regime with no say in the matter, exactly the opposite of what they voted for. May is meeting with EU President Juncker today, and it is quite possible that the EU is starting to feel the pressure of the ramifications of a no-deal Brexit and getting concerned. The Brexit outcome remains highly uncertain, but the FX implications remain the same; a Brexit deal will help the pound rally initially, while a no-deal Brexit will see a sharp decline in Sterling. Yesterday there was hope for the deal and the pound rallied. This morning, not so much as the pound has given back half the gain and is down 0.2% on the day.

Elsewhere, the dollar has been mixed with gainers and losers in both the G10 and the EMG blocs as everybody awaits the Minutes, which is the only data for the day. It is hard to believe there will be much movement ahead of them, and afterwards, it will depend on what they say.

Good luck
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