Yields Are Appalling

Though prices for oil keep falling
And Treasury yields are appalling
The stock market’s view
Is skies will be blue
If Covid’s spread’s finally stalling

The ongoing dichotomy between equity market performance, traditionally a harbinger of future economic activity, and commodity market performance, also a harbinger of future economic activity, remains glaring. The commodity markets are clearly signaling significant demand destruction amid the economic devastation that has followed the spread of Covid-19. At the same time, equity markets around the world continue to recover from the lows seen in March, telling a completely different tale; that the future is bright.

When two key leading indicators offer such different portents, we need to look elsewhere to build our case of likely future outcomes. Clearly, government bond markets are the next best indicator, but their signal has been clouded by the more than $15 trillion that central banks around the world have spent buying those bonds since the financial crisis in 2008-09. Absent those purchases, would 10-year Treasury yields really be 0.65% like they are this morning? Would 10-year German bund yields really be at -0.44%, their 356th consecutive day yielding less than zero? Consider how much new debt has been issued and how that debt would have been absorbed absent central bank intervention. My point is that perhaps, using bond yields now as a proxy for future economic activity may no longer be quite as useful.

Which leaves us with the FX markets as our last signal for future activity. What does the dollar’s value tell us about expectations for the future? The problem with the dollar as an indicator is, its track record is extremely unclear. Throughout history, the US economy has been strong with both a strong dollar and a weak dollar. If anything, the dollar is a far better coincident indicator than anything else. After all, what is the risk-off/risk-on characteristic other than a signal of investors’ current views of the market. Thus, when fear is rampant, which was evident last month, the dollar performed extremely well. A quick look at currency returns during the month of March showed the dollar rising against 9 of its G10 Brethren, from 0.2% vs. the Swiss franc, to 10.7% vs. the oil-linked Norwegian krone. Only the yen, which managed a 0.75% rise, was able to outperform the dollar.

Not surprisingly, the EMG space saw some much more significant declines led by the Mexican peso (-18.1%) and Russian ruble (-15.3%). The broad theme in this bloc was that the best performers, those that fell the least, were APAC currencies with closer links to China, while LATAM and EEMEA were generally devastated. But, again, this was a real-time response to coincident activities, not a harbinger of the future.

The lesson to learn from this brief look at recent history is that there is no consensus view as to how things are going to evolve from here. Both sides make their respective cases strongly, and both sides can point to a substantial amount of data that supports their argument. However, the only universal truth is that economic disruptions that have been caused by the response to Covid-19 are unprecedented in both size and speed, and econometric models built for a different environment are unlikely to be very effective. Modeling of complex systems, whether the economy, the climate or the spread of a pathogen is an extremely fraught undertaking. More often than not, models will produce useless results. Their benefits generally come from the need to define conditions and factors, thus helping to better think and understand a particular situation, not from spurious calculations that produce a result. And this is why hedging is an important part of risk management, because regardless of what certain harbingers indicate, the reality is nobody knows what the future will bring.

But back to today’s activity. As we have seen for the past several sessions, the prospect of the reopening of economies is being seen by the equity markets as a clear positive. Despite abysmal earnings results across most industries, once again equity markets are firmer this morning, with most of Europe higher by 1.5%-2.0% and US futures pointing to gains of more than 1.0% on the open. Countries throughout Europe are starting to announce their plans to reopen with May 11 seeming to be the date where things will really start. And of course, the same process is ongoing in the US, with Georgia dipping its toe into the water yesterday, and other states lining up to do the same. Of course, the end of the lockdown does not mean that that things will return to the pre-virus situation. Incalculable damage has been done to every nation’s economy as regardless of government attempts, thousands upon thousands of small businesses will never return. Arguably, the one thing we know about the future is that it is going to be different than what was envisioned on January 1st.

Bond markets are behaving consistently with a modest risk-on view as Treasury and bund yields edge higher, while yields for the PIGS continue to slide. And finally, the dollar remains under pressure this morning, sliding against most of its counterparts as short-term fears abate. The best performers today in the G10 bloc are SEK and NOK, with the former rallying on what was perceived as a more hawkish than expected message from the Riksbank, when they didn’t cut rates back below zero at today’s meeting, and merely promised to continue to buy more bonds. NOK is a bit more difficult to explain given that oil prices (WTI -7.7%) continue to suffer from either significant excess supply or a complete lack of demand, depending on your point of view. However, given that NOK has been the worst performing G10 currency this year, it is probably due for some recovery given the positive sentiment seen today.

EMG currencies are also generally firmer, with MXN (+1.5%) atop the charts, as it, too, is ignoring the declining price of oil and instead finding demand after a precipitous fall this year. but we are also seeing strength in ZAR (+1.2%) and most EEMEA currencies, as some of last month’s excesses seem to be unwinding as we approach the end of April.

On the data front this morning are two minor releases, Case Shiller Home Prices (exp 3.19%) and Consumer Confidence (87.0). Rather, with the FOMC’s two-day meeting beginning this morning at 9:00, discussions will continue to focus on expectations for the Fed tomorrow, as well as the first look at Q1 GDP. But for today, I expect that we will continue to see this mildly positive risk attitude and the dollar to remain under modest pressure. My view remains that there are still significant issues ahead and the market is not pricing in the length of how bad things are going to be, but clearly for now, I am in the minority.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Gone Astray

There once was a banker named Jay
Who, for a few weeks, had his way
Stock markets rose nicely
But that led precisely
To things that have now gone astray

Protagonists now can’t discern
What’s safe or what assets to spurn
Their hunt for more yield
Has finally revealed
That risk is attached to return

Apparently, when the Fed cuts rates, it is not a guarantee that stock prices will rally. That seems to be yesterday morning’s lesson in the wake of the Fed’s “surprise” 50bp rate cut. After a brief rally, which lasted about 15 minutes, the bottom fell out again as investors and traders decided that things were actually much worse than they feared. In addition, Chairman Jay did himself no favors by opening the kimono a bit and admitting that there was nothing the Fed could do to directly address the current issues.

This is a real problem for the global central bank community because the Fed was the player with the most ammunition left, and they just used one-third of their bullets with a disastrous outcome. Ask yourself what more the ECB can do, with rates already negative and QE ongoing. They have no more bullets left, just the whispering of sweet nothings from Madame Lagarde to Eurozone FinMins to spend more money. If the data turns further south in Europe, which seems almost guaranteed, I would look for a suspension of the Eurozone rules on financing and deficits. After all, Covid-19 was not part of the bargain, and this is clearly an emergency…just ask Jay. Japan? They are already printing yen as fast as they can to buy more assets, and will not stop, but are unable to achieve their goals.

Arguably, the only central bank left that matters, and that has room to move is the PBOC, which has already been active adding liquidity and trying to steer it to SME’s. But if the pressure continues on both the Chinese economy and its markets, they will do more regardless of the long-term debt problems they may exacerbate. We have clearly reached a point where every central bank is all-in to try to stop the current stock market declines. And you thought all they cared about was money supply!

So, what about a fiscal response by the major economies? After all, to a man, every central bank has explained that monetary policy is not the appropriate tool to address the current economic and market concerns. As Chairman Jay explained in his press conference, “A rate cut will not reduce the rate of infection. It won’t fix a broken supply chain. We get that, but we do believe that our action will provide a meaningful boost to the economy.” A cynic might conclude that central banks were trying to force the fiscal authorities’ collective hands, but in reality, I think the issue is simply that, at least in the G7, fiscal issues are political questions that by their very nature take longer to answer. Getting agreement on spending money, especially in the current fractious political environment, is extremely difficult short of a major crisis like the financial market meltdown in 2008. And for now, despite all the press, and some really bad data releases, Covid-19 has not achieved that level of concern.

Is that likely to change soon? My impression based on what we have seen and heard so far is that unless there is another significant uptick in the number of infections, and especially in the mortality rate, we are likely to see relatively small sums of money allocated to this issue. Of course, if economic activity is impeded by travel restrictions and supply chains cannot get back in business by the end of March, we are likely to have a change of heart by these governments, but for now, its central banks or bust.

So, this morning, after yesterday’s rout in US markets, things seem to have stabilized somewhat with most Asian equity markets flat to slightly higher, European markets ahead by about 1% and US futures currently sitting ~2% stronger. Part of the US showing is undoubtedly due to yesterday’s Super Tuesday primaries which showed former VP Joe Biden build on his recently recovered momentum to actually take a slight delegate lead. There is certainly some truth to the idea that part of the US markets’ recent malaise was due to a concern that Senator Sanders was poised to become the Democratic nominee, and that his policy platforms have been extremely antagonistic to private capital.

But despite the equity market activity, which on the whole looks good, there is no shortage of demand for Treasuries, which implies that there is still a great deal of haven demand. Yesterday, the 10-year yield breached 1.00% for the first time in its 150-year history, trading as low as 0.90% before rebounding ahead of the close. But here we are this morning with the yield down a further 5bps, back to 0.95%, and quite frankly there is nothing to indicate this move is over. In fact, futures markets are pricing in another Fed rate cut at their meeting 2 weeks from today, and another three cuts in total by the end of 2020! While German bunds have not seen the same demand, the rest of the European government bond market has rallied with yields everywhere falling between 1bp and 8bps. And don’t forget JGB’s, which have also seen yields decline 2bps, heading further into negative territory despite the BOJ’s efforts to steepen their yield curve. Certainly, a look at the bond market does not inspire confidence that the all clear has been sounded.

And finally, in the FX markets, the dollar remains under general pressure as the market continues to price in further Fed activity which is much greater than anywhere else. Yesterday’s cut took US rates to their narrowest spread vs. Eurozone rates since 2016, when the Fed was in the process of raising rates. It is no coincidence that the euro has recovered to levels seen back then as well. The thing about the dollar’s current weakness, though, is that it seems to be running its course. After all, if the interest rate market is pricing for US rates to fall back to the zero-bound, and there is no indication that the US will ever go negative, how much more room does the euro have to rally? While yesterday’s peak at just above 1.12 may not be the absolute top, I think we are much nearer than further from that point.

A quick look at the EMG bloc shows that today’s winners have largely centered in Asia as those currencies respond belatedly to yesterday’s Fed actions, although we have also seen commodity focused currencies like ZAR (+0.8%), MXN (+0.7%) and RUB (+0.5%) perform well on the rebound in oil and metals prices. I expect that CLP, BRL and COP will also open well on the same thesis.

While yesterday was barren in the US on the data front, this morning we see ADP Employment (exp 170K) and ISM Non-Manufacturing (54.9) as well as the Fed’s Beige Book at 2:00pm. Monday’s ISM Manufacturing data was a touch weak, but it is getting very difficult to read with the Covid-19 situation around. Was this weakness evident prior to the outbreak? I think that’s what most investors want to understand. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Chinese auto sales plunged 80% in February and the Caixin PMI data was also disastrous, printing at 27.5.

For now, uncertainty continues to reign and with that comes increased volatility. We have seen that with a substantial rebound in the equity market VIX, and we have seen that with solid rebounds in FX option volatility, which had been trading at historically low levels but are now, in G7 currencies, back to levels not seen since December 2018, when equity markets were correcting and fear was rampant. My take there is that implied vols have further to rally as there is little chance we have seen the end of the current crisis-like situation. Hedgers beware!

Good luck
Adf

 

Decidedly On

While risk is decidedly on
Investors have kept being drawn
To dollars, so they
Can still overpay
For stocks, and sometimes, a junk bond

With the trade story still titillating markets, or at least distracting them, a funny thing has happened to the broad picture; the dollar has continued to rally despite the market’s embrasure of risk. Touching on the trade story, we continue to get dueling headlines from both sides as to how things are progressing, but the key is that both sides say things are progressing. The latest is confirmation that any phase one deal will, in fact, include a rollback of some portion of the existing tariffs, and there has been absolutely no discussion regarding the mooted tariffs to be imposed on December 15th. In addition, this morning, EU President Jean-Claude Juncker announced that he was certain there would be no US tariffs on European automobiles going forward, at least no additional ones.

This has been more than sufficient to encourage the equity bulls to continue to drive indices to new highs, at least in the US, but to generally rally around the world. At the same time, this week has seen a massive selloff in haven assets, specifically in US Treasuries and German bunds. For instance, last Friday, the 10-year closed at a yield of 1.712%. This morning it is trading at 1.924%. We have seen a similar, albeit not quite as large, move in the bund market, where the yield has risen from -0.386% to -0.247%. Still a 14bp move, given the low absolute level of yields, is nothing to dismiss.

Other favorite havens are the Japanese yen and the Swiss franc, both having fallen -1.1% this week. Gold? It too is lower by 3.45%, with Silver (-7.3%) and Platinum (-5.8%) faring even worse. And yet, despite this strong risk-on market sentiment, the dollar continues to perform well against all comers. In fact it is firmer against every G10 currency (SEK and NZD have been the worst performers, each down 1.4% this week), and it is firmer vs. most of its EMG brethren, with the South African rand (+1.6%) the major outlier based on the news earlier this week that it would not lose its last investment grade rating and so bond investors would not be forced to liquidate their positions.

But it begs the question, why is the dollar remaining so strong? Typically when risk is acquired, investors are seeking the highest yielding assets they can find, which includes EMG government bonds, junk bonds and equities. Usually, the carry trade makes a big comeback, where those who view FX as an asset class simply sell dollars and earn the points. But this time around, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, one might point to the fact that US yields are the highest G10 yields, and higher than many EMG yields (e.g. South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and the Czech Republic) and so on a risk adjusted basis, it appears that investors are far more willing to buy Treasuries and clip that coupon. At any rate, the dollar remains well bid across the board, and barring a sudden negative trade headline, I see no reason for this trend to change in the near term. This is especially true if US data continues to surprise to the high side, like we saw last week with the payroll numbers.

The upshot is hedgers need to beware of the current situation. While the dollar hasn’t had any days where it exploded higher, it continues to grind higher literally every day. Hedgers, at least receivables hedgers, need to be actively managing their risks.

One other thing supporting the dollar has been the change in market tone regarding the Fed’s future activities. It wasn’t that long ago, September, when the futures market was pricing in one more 25bp rate cut for December and one in March of next year. But now, looking out a full year shows there is not even one more rate full cut priced into the market. So the Fed’s dovishness has been effectively dissipated as made evident yesterday by Atlanta Fed President Rafael Bostic’s comments that if he were a voter, he would have dissented from cutting rates last week.

Looking ahead to this morning’s session, the only data we see is Michigan Sentiment (exp 95.5) at 10:00, although at 8:30 Canada releases their employment report. Yesterday’s Initial Claims data was mildly better than expected, just 211K, which indicates that the US jobs situation is not deteriorating in any real way. Perhaps a bit more surprising was the sharp decline in Consumer Credit yesterday, falling to just $9.5 billion, its lowest increase in more than a year, and a data point you can be sure will be highlighted by those pining for a recession. We also hear from three more Fed speakers, Daly, Williams and Governor Lael Brainerd, although both Daly and Brainerd are speaking at a climate change conference, which seems a less likely venue to discuss monetary policy.

Overall, the dollar remains bid and while it may stall as it runs into some profit-taking this afternoon, there is no reason to believe it is going to reverse course anytime soon.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Though Bond Prices Tumbled

There once was a time when the buck
Reacted when bonds came unstuck
If fear was seen rising
It wasn’t surprising
If traders would back up the truck

But lately though bond prices tumbled
The dollar just hasn’t been humbled
Instead of declining
Investors are pining
For dollars as other cash crumbled

First, a moment of silence to remember the horrific events of 18 years ago this morning…

As the market awaits tomorrow’s ECB meeting, it is not surprising that FX markets have remained pretty benign. In fact, looking across both G10 and EMG currencies, the largest mover overnight was the Hungarian forint, which has fallen 0.4%, a moderately exaggerated move relative to the shallow rally in the dollar. Arguably, yesterday’s modestly lower than expected CPI print has reduced some of the pressure on the central bank there to keep policy firm, hence the selloff. But otherwise, there are really no stories of direct currency interest today and no data of note overnight.

As such, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at government bond yields and their gyrations lately. It was just eight days ago when 10-year Treasury yields were trading at 1.45% as expectations for further coordinated policy ease by the major central banks became the meme du jour. Economic data appeared to be rolling over (ISM at 49.1, German GDP -0.1%, Eurozone CPI 0.9%, etc.) which inspired thoughts of massive policy ease by the big 3 central banks. The market narrative evolved into the ECB cutting rates by 0.20% and restarting QE to the tune of €35 billion / month while the Fed cut 0.50% and the BOJ cut rates by 0.10% and pumped up QE further. It seemed as though analysts were simply trying to outdo one another’s forecasts so they could be heard above the din. And after all, we had seen central banks all around the world cutting rates during the previous two months (Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, India et al.) so it seemed natural to expect the biggest would be acting soon.

During this time, the FX market responded as might be expected during a pretty clear risk-off scenario, the dollar and the yen rallied while other currencies suffered. In fact, we have seen several currencies trade near historic lows lately (CLP, COP, BRL, INR, PHP to name a few). Equity markets were caught between fear and the idea that central bank ease would support stock prices, and while there were certainly wobbles, in the end greed won out.

But then a funny thing happened to the narrative; a combination of data and commentary started to turn the tide (sorry for the mixed metaphor). We heard from a variety of central bank speakers, notably from the ECB, who were clearly pushing back on the narrative. Weidmann, Lautenschlager, Knot and Villeroy were all adamant that there was no reason for the ECB to consider restarting QE. At the same time, just before the quiet period we heard from a number of Fed members (Rosengren, George, Kaplan, Barkin) who were quite clear they didn’t see the need for an aggressive rate cutting stance, and then Chairman Powell, in the last words before the quiet period, basically stuck to the party line of the current stance being a modest mid-cycle adjustment as they closely monitored the data.

It cannot be a surprise that the market has adjusted its views ahead of the first of the three central bank meetings tomorrow. But boy, what an adjustment. 10-year Treasury yields have rallied 27bps, 10-year Bunds are higher by 19bps and 10-year JGB yields are up 8.5bps (there’s a lot less activity there as the BOJ already owns so many bonds there is very little ability to trade.) However, this is not a risk-on move despite the movement in yields. This has been a massive position unwinding. A couple of things highlight the lack of risk appetite. First, the dollar continues to move higher overall. While individual currencies may have good days periodically, nothing has changed the long-term trend of dollar strength. And history shows that when risk is sought, dollars are sold. Equity markets have also been underwhelming lately, with very choppy price action but no direction. Granted, stocks are not falling, but they are certainly not rallying like risk is being ignored. And finally, gold, which had been performing admirably during the fear period, has ceded some of its recent gains as positions there are also unwound.

The point is that in the current market environment, it is very difficult to draw lessons from the price movement. Market moves lately have been all about position adjustments and very little about either market fundamentals (data) or monetary policy. While this is not the first time markets have behaved in this manner, in the past these periods have tended to be pretty short. The ECB meeting tomorrow will allow views to crystalize regarding future monetary policy there, and my sense is that we will go back to the previous market driver of the policy narrative. In fact, it is arguably quite healthy that we have seen this correction as it allows markets a fresh(er) start with new information. However, there is still nothing I see on the horizon which will weaken the dollar overall.

This morning the only thing of note on the calendar is PPI (exp 1.7%, 2.2% core). It is hard to believe that it will change any views. At this point, look for continued position adjustments (arguably modest further declines in bond prices but no direction in the dollar) as we all await Signor Draghi and the ECB tomorrow morning.

Good luck
Adf

Up Sh*t’s Creek

Much time has progressed
Since last I manned a bank desk
But I have returned

Good morning all. Briefly I wanted to let you know that I have begun a new role at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. (SMBC) as of Monday morning and look forward to rekindling so many wonderful relationships while trying to assist in risk management in an increasingly uncertain world. Don’t hesitate to reach out to chat.

Said Trump well those tariffs can wait
Until it’s a much later date
That opened the door
To buy stocks and more
Now don’t you all feel simply great?

But trade is still problematique
And that’s why the view is so bleak
In Europe they’re shrinking
And China is sinking
It seems the world’s now up sh*t’s creek

Volatility continues to reign in markets as the combination of trade commentary and economic data force constant u-turns by traders and investors. Yesterday afternoon, President Trump decided to delay the imposition of tariffs on the remaining Chinese exports from the mooted September 1st start to a date in mid-December. While that hardly seems enough time to conclude any negotiations, the market reaction was swift and yesterday morning’s risk-off session was completely reversed. Stocks turned around and closed more than 1% higher. Treasuries sold off with yields jumping 5bps in the 10-year and the dollar reversed course with USDJPY rocking 1.5% higher while USDCNY tumbled more than 1%. But that was then…

The world looks less sanguine this morning, however, after data releases last night and this morning showed that the fears over a slowing global economy are well warranted. For instance, Chinese data was uniformly awful with Industrial Production falling to 4.8% growth in July, well below the 6.0% estimate and the slowest growth since they began producing data 17 years ago. Retail Sales were also much weaker than expected, rising 7.6% Y/Y in July vs. expectations of an 8.6% rise. If there were any questions as to whether or not the trade war is impacting China, they were answered emphatically last night…YES.

Then early this morning Germany released its Q2 GDP data at -0.1%, as expected but the second quarter of the past four where the economy has shrunk. Additional Eurozone data showed IP there falling -1.6%, its worst showing since February 2016. Meanwhile, inflation data continues to show a complete lack of price pressure and Eurozone Q2 GDP grew just 0.2%, also as expected but also awful. It should be no surprise that this has led to another reversal in investor psychology as the hopes engendered in the Trump comments yesterday has completely evaporated.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the 2yr-10yr Treasury spread actually inverted this morning for the first time, although it had come close several times during the past months. But not only did the Treasury curve invert there, so did Gilts in the UK and we are seeing the same thing in Japan. At the same time, Bunds have fallen to yet another new low in the 10-year, trading at a yield of -0.645% as I type. The upshot is that combined with the weak economic data, the inverted yield curves have historically implied a recession was on the way. While there are those who are convinced ‘this time is different’ because of how central banks have impacted yield curves with their QE, it is all still pointing down to me.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at markets this morning. Overnight we have seen a mixed picture in the FX market, with the yen retracing some of yesterday’s weakness, rallying 0.7%, while Aussie and the Skandies have led to the downside with all three falling 0.7% or so. As to the euro and the pound, neither has moved at all overnight. But I think it is instructive to look at the two day move, given the volatility we have seen and over that timeline, the dollar has simply rallied against the entire G10 space. Granted vs. the pound it has been a deminimis 0.1%, but CHF, EUR and CAD are all lower by 0.3% since Monday and the yen is still weaker by 0.6% snice Monday.

In the EMG space, KRW was the big winner overnight, rallying 0.8% after the tariff delay, and we also saw IDR benefit by 0.5%. CNY, meanwhile, was fixed slightly stronger and the offshore currency has held onto that strength, rising 0.35%. On the downside, ZAR is the big loser overnight, falling 1.0% as foreign investors are selling South African bonds ahead of a feared ratings downgrade into junk. We have also seen MXN retrace half of yesterday’s post trade story gain, falling 0.65% at this time.

Looking ahead to this morning’s session, there is little in the way of data that is likely to drive markets so we should continue to see sentiment as the key market mover. Right now, sentiment is not very positive so I expect risk to be jettisoned as can be seen in the equity futures with all down solidly so far. As to the dollar, I like it vs. the EMG bloc, maybe a little less vs. the G10.

Good luck
Adf

 

Shocked and Surprised

Delivering just twenty-five
Did not satisfy Donald’s drive
To boost US growth
So he made an oath
That tariffs he’d quickly revive

Investors were shocked and surprised
As trade talks had seemed civilized
Thus stocks quickly fell
And yields did as well
Seems risk assets are now despised

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

Obviously, the big news yesterday was President Trump’s decision to impose a 10% tariff on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports starting September 1st. Arguably, this was driven by two things; first was the fact that he has been increasingly frustrated with the Chinese slow-walking the trade discussions and wants to push that along faster. Second is he realizes that if he escalates the trade threats, the Fed may be forced to cut rates further and more quickly. After all, one of their stated reasons for cutting rates Wednesday was the uncertainty over global growth and trade. That situation just got more uncertain. So in President Trump’s calculation, he addresses two key issues with one action.

Not surprisingly, given the shocking nature of the move, something that not a single analyst had been forecasting, there was a significant market reaction. Risk was quickly jettisoned as US equity markets turned around and fell 1% on the day after having been higher by a similar amount in the morning. Asian equity markets saw falls of between 1.5% and 2.0% and Europe is being hit even harder, with a number of markets (DAX, CAC) down more than 2.5%. But even more impressive was the decline in Treasury yields, which saw a 12bp fall in the 10-year and a 14bp fall in the 2-year. Those are the largest single day declines since May 2018, and the 10-year is now at its lowest level since October 2016. Of course, it wasn’t just Treasuries that rallied. Bund yields fell to a new record low of -0.498%, and we have seen similar declines throughout the developed markets. For example, Swiss 10-year yields are now -0.90%, having fallen 9bps and are the lowest in the world by far! In fact, the entire Swiss government yield curve is negative!

And in the FX market, haven number one, JPY rallied sharply. After weakening early in the session, it rebounded 1.7% yesterday and is stronger by a further 0.5% this morning. This has taken the yen back to its strongest level since April last year. Not surprisingly the Swiss franc saw similar price action and is now more than 1.0% stronger than yesterday. However, those are not the only currencies that saw movement, not by a long shot. For example, CNY has fallen 0.9% since the announcement and is now within spitting distance of the key 7.00 level. Significant concern remains in the market about that level as the last time the renminbi was that weak, it led to significant capital outflows and forced the PBOC to adjust policy and impose restrictions. However, there are many analysts who believe it is seen as less of a concern right now, and of course, a weaker renminbi will help offset the impact of US tariffs.

Commodity prices were also jolted, with oil tumbling 7% and oil related currencies feeling the brunt of that move. For example, RUB is lower by 1.2% this morning after a 0.5% fall yesterday. MXN is lower by a further 0.3% this morning after a 0.6% decline yesterday and even NOK, despite its G10 status, is lower by 1.0% since the tariff story hit the tape. In fact, looking at the broad dollar, it is actually little changed as there has been significant movement in both directions as traders and investors adjust their risk profiles.

With that as a prelude, we get one more key piece of data this morning, the payroll report. Current expectations are as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 164K
Private Payrolls 160K
Manufacturing Payrolls 5K
Unemployment Rate 3.6%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.1% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.4
Trade Balance -$54.6B
Michigan Sentiment 90.3

You can see the bind in which the Fed finds itself. The employment situation remains quite robust, with the Unemployment Rate expected to tick back to 50-year lows and steady growth in employment. This is hardly a classic set of statistics to drive a rate cut. But with the escalation of the trade situation, something they specifically highlighted on Wednesday, they are going to need to address that or lose even more credibility (although it’s not clear how much they have left to lose!) In a funny way, I would wager that Chairman Powell is secretly rooting for a weak number this morning which would allow further justification for rate cuts and correspondingly allow him to save some face.

In the end, the key to remember is that markets are beholden to many different forces with the data merely one of those, and increasingly a less and less important one. While historically, the US has generally allowed most market activity without interference, there has clearly been a change of heart since President Trump’s election. His increased focus on both the stock market and the dollar are something new, and we still don’t know the extent of the impact this will have over time. While volatility overall has been relatively low, it appears that is set to change with this increased focus. Hedgers keep that in mind as programs are implemented. All of this untested monetary policy is almost certainly building up problems for the future, and those problems will not be easily addressed by the central banks. So, my sense is that we could see a lot more volatility ahead.

In the meantime, today has the sense of a ‘bad news is good’ for stocks and vice versa as equity investors will be looking for confirmation that more rate cuts are on the way. As to the dollar, bad news will be bad!

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

More Clear

The contrast could not be more clear
Twixt growth over there and right here
While Europe is slowing
The US is growing
So how come a rate cut is near?

It seems likely that by the time markets close Friday afternoon, investors and traders will have changed some of their opinions on the future given the extraordinary amount of data and the number of policy statements that will be released this week. Three major central banks meet, starting with the BOJ tonight, the Fed tomorrow and Wednesday and then the BOE on Thursday. And then there’s the data download, which includes Eurozone growth and inflation, Chinese PMI and concludes with US payrolls on Friday morning. And those are just the highlights. The point is that this week offers the opportunity for some significant changes of view if things don’t happen as currently forecast.

But before we talk about what is upcoming, perhaps the question at hand is what is driving the Fed to cut rates Wednesday despite a run of better than expected US economic data? The last that we heard from Fed members was a combination of slowing global growth and business uncertainty due to trade friction has been seen as a negative for future US activity. Granted, US GDP grew more slowly in Q2 at 2.1%, than Q1’s 3.1%, but Friday’s data was still better than expected. The reduction was caused by a combination of inventory reduction and a widening trade gap, with consumption maintaining its Q1 pace and even speeding up a bit. The point is that things in the US are hardly collapsing. But there is no doubt that growth elsewhere in the world is slowing down and that prospects for a quick rebound seem limited. And apparently, that is now the driving force. The Fed, which had been described as the world’s central bank in the past, seems to have officially taken on that mantle now.

One fear of this action is that it will essentially synchronize all major economies’ growth cycles, which means that the amplitude of those cycles will increase. In other words, look for higher highs and lower lows over time. Alas, it appears that the first step of that cycle is lower which means that the depths of the next recession will be wider and worse than currently expected. (And likely worse than the last one, which as we all remember was pretty bad.) And it is this prognosis that is driving global rates to zero and below. Phenomenally, more than 25% of all developed market government bonds outstanding now have negative yields, something over $13.4 Trillion worth. And that number is going to continue to grow, especially given the fact that we are about to enter an entirely new rate cutting cycle despite not having finished the last one! It is a strange world indeed!

Looking at markets this morning, ahead of the data onslaught, shows that the dollar continues its winning ways, with the pound the worst performer as more and more traders and investors begin bracing for a no-deal Brexit. As I type, Sterling is lower by 0.55%, taking it near 1.23 and its lowest point since January 2017. As long as PM BoJo continues to approach the EU with a hard-line stance, I expect the pound to remain under pressure. However, I think that at some point the Irish are going to start to scream much louder about just how negative things will be in Ireland if there is no deal, and the EU will buckle. At that point, look for the pound to turn around, but until then, it feels like it can easily breech the 1.20 level before summer’s out.

But the dollar is generally performing well everywhere, albeit not quite to the same extent. Rather we are seeing continued modest strength, on the order of 0.1%-0.2% against most other currencies. This has been the pattern for the past several weeks and it is starting to add up to real movement overall. It is no wonder that the White House has been complaining about currency manipulation elsewhere, but I have to say that doesn’t appear to be the case. Rather, I think despite the international community’s general dislike of President Trump, at least according to the press, investors continue to see the US as the destination with the most profit opportunity and best prospects overall. And that will continue to drive dollar based investment and strengthen the buck.

Away from the FX markets, we have seen pretty inconsequential movement in most equity markets with two exceptions (FTSE +1.50% on the weak pound and KOSPI -1.8% on increasing trade issues and correspondingly weaker growth in South Korea). As to US futures markets, they are pointing to essentially flat openings here this morning, although the earnings data will continue to drive things. And bond markets have seen similarly modest movement with most yields within a basis point or two of Friday’s levels. Consider two bonds in Europe in particular; Italian 10-year BTP’s yield 1.54%, more than 50bps less than Treasuries, and this despite the fact that the government coalition is on the rocks and the country’s fiscal situation continues to deteriorate amid a recession with no ability to cut rates directly; and Greek 10-year yields are 2.05% vs. 2.08% for US Treasuries! Yes, Greek yields are lower than those in the US, despite having defaulted on their debt just 7 years ago! It is a strange world indeed.

A look at the data this week shows a huge amount of information is coming our way as follows:

Tuesday BOJ Rate Decision -0.10% (unchanged)
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.3%
  Core PCE 1.7%
  Case-Shiller Home Prices 2.4%
  Consumer Confidence 125.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 150K
  Chicago PMI 50.5
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.25% (-25bps)
Thursday BOE Rate Decision 0.75% (unchanged)
  Initial Claims 214K
  ISM Manufacturing 52.0
  ISM Prices Paid 49.6
  Construction Spending 0.3%
Friday Trade Balance -$54.6B
  Nonfarm Payrolls 165K
  Private Payrolls 160K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 5K
  Unemployment Rate 3.6%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.2% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.4
  Factory Orders 0.8%
  Michigan Sentiment 98.5

And on top of that we see Chinese PMI data Tuesday night, Eurozone GDP and Inflation on Wednesday and a host of other Eurozone and Asian data releases. The point is it is quite possible that the current view of the world changes if the data shows a trend, especially if that trend is faster growth. Right now, the default view is global growth is slowing with the question just how quickly. However, a series of strong prints could well stop that narrative in its tracks. And ironically, that is likely the best opportunity for the dollar to stop what has been an inexorable, if slow, climb higher. However, the prospects of weak data elsewhere are likely to see an acceleration of central bank easing around the world with the dollar benefitting accordingly.

In sum, there is an awful lot happening this week, so be prepared for potentially sharp moves on missed expectations. But unless the data all points to faster growth away from the US while the US is slowing, the dollar’s path of least resistance remains higher.

Good luck
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More Concern

Most data of late have been weak
Thus central banks are set to tweak
Their policy rates
As they have mandates
Designed to keep growth at a peak

Now later this morning we’ll learn
If payrolls are starting to turn
Last month’s poor display
And weakness today
Would certainly cause more concern

It’s payroll day in the US and markets have been extremely quiet overnight. In fact, given yesterday’s July 4th holiday here in the US, they have been quiet for two days. However, don’t let the lack of market activity distract you from the fact that there are still a lot of things ongoing in the global economy.

For example, a key question on analysts’ minds has been whether or not a recession is in the offing. Data continues to generally disappoint, with this morning’s sharply lower German Factory Orders (-2.2%) and UK Labor Productivity (-0.5%) as the latest in a long line of crummy results. And given last month’s disappointment on the US payroll front (recall the outcome was 75K vs. the 185K expected) today’s numbers are being closely watched. Here are the current median expectations based on economist surveys:

Nonfarm Payrolls 160K
Private Payrolls 153K
Manufacturing Payrolls 0K
Unemployment Rate 3.6%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.4

A couple of things to note are the fact that the NFP number, even if it comes in at the median expectation, still represents a declining rate of job growth compared to what the US experienced in 2018. This is likely based on two factors; first that this historically long expansion is starting to slow down, and second, that there are less available workers to fill jobs as population growth remains restrained. The other thing to remember is that the Unemployment Report has always been a lagging indicator, looking backwards at how things were, rather than giving direction about the future. The point is that worsening of this data implies that things are already slowing. As I wrote Wednesday, don’t be surprised if when the inevitable recession finally gets determined, that it started in June 2019. I failed to mention the ADP report on Wednesday as a data release, but it, too, disappointed, printing at 102K, some 40K below expectations.

With that as our cheerful backdrop, let’s consider what to expect ahead of the release:

Weaker than expected results – If the NFP number prints at 90K or less, look for equity markets to rejoice as they perceive the Fed will become even more aggressive in their attempts to head off a recession, and the idea of a 50bp rate cut at the end of the month takes hold. Bond markets, too, will soar on the same expectations, while the dollar is likely to give up its overnight gains (granted they were only about 0.2%) as a more aggressive Fed will be seen as a signal to sell the buck. The key conundrum in this scenario remains equities, which continue to rally into weaker economic conditions. At some point, if the economy continues to weaken, the negative impact on earnings is going to outweigh the kneejerk reaction of buying when the Fed cuts, but as John Maynard Keynes reminded us all, ‘markets can stay irrational far longer than you can stay solvent.’

Results on or near expectations – If we see a print in the 120K-180K range, I would expect traders to be mildly disappointed as the call for a more aggressive Fed policy would diminish. Thus equities might suffer slightly, especially given they are sitting at record highs, while bonds are likely to see yields head back toward 2.0%. The dollar, meanwhile, is likely to maintain its overnight gains, and could well see a modest uptick as the idea of more aggressive Fed easing starts to ebb, at least for now.

Stronger than expected results – Any print above 180K will almost certainly, perversely, see a stock market selloff. It is abundantly clear that equity buyers are simply counting on Fed largesse to keep the party going. The market has nothing to do with the fundamentals of the economy or individual company situations. With this in mind, strong data means that the Fed will have no call to cut rates. The result is that the futures market will likely reprice the odds of a rate cut in July lower, perhaps to a 50% probability, while equity traders will take the news as a profit-taking opportunity given the lack of reason for a follow through higher in stocks. Bonds will get tossed overboard as well, as concerns about slowing growth will quickly abate, and a sharp move higher in 10-year yields is entirely realistic. As a point of information, the last time the payroll report was released on July 5th, in 2013, 10-year yields rallied 25bps on a surprising payroll outcome. And remember, technical indicators show that the bond market is massively overbought, so there is ample opportunity for a sharp move. And finally, because of the holiday yesterday, trading desks will have skeleton staffs, further reducing liquidity. Oh yeah, and the dollar will probably see significant gains as well.

The point is that there are two possible outcomes that could see some real fireworks (pun intended) today, so stay on your toes. While one number is just that, a single data point, given the recent trend in place, today’s data seem to have a lot of importance. If pressed, my sense is that the trend of weaker data that has been evident worldwide is going to manifest itself with something like a 50K print, and an uptick in the Unemployment Rate to 3.7% or 3.8%.

We will know shortly.

Good luck and good weekend
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Laden With Fears

When lending, a term of ten years
At one time was laden with fears
But not anymore
As bond prices soar
And bond bulls regale us with cheers

Another day, another record low for German bund yields, this time -0.396%, and there is no indication that this trend is going to stop anytime soon. While this morning’s PMI Composite data was released as expected (Germany 52.6, France 52.7, Eurozone 52.2), it continues at levels that show subdued growth. And given the ongoing weakness in the manufacturing sector, the major fear of both economists and investors is that we are heading into a global recession. Alas, I fear they are right about that, and when the dust settles, and the NBER looks back to determine when the recession began, don’t be surprised if June 2019 is the start date. At any rate, it’s not just bund yields that are falling, it is a universal reaction. Treasuries are now firmly below 2.00% (last at 1.95%), but also UK Gilts (0.69%), French OATs (-0.06%) and JGB’s (-0.15%). Even Italy, where the ongoing fight over their budget situation is getting nastier, has seen its yields fall 13bps today down to 1.71%. In other words, bond markets continue to forecast slowing growth and low inflation for some time to come. And of course, that implies further policy ease by the world’s central bankers.

Speaking of which:

In what was a mini bombshell
Said Mester, it’s too soon to tell
If rates should be lowered
Since, as I look forward
My models say things are just swell

Yesterday, Cleveland Fed president Loretta Mester, perhaps the most hawkish member of the Fed, commented that, “I believe it is too soon to make that determination, and I prefer to gather more information before considering a change in our monetary-policy stance.” In addition, she questioned whether lowering rates would even help address the current situation of too-low inflation. Needless to say, the equity markets did not appreciate her comments, and sold off when they hit the tape. But it was a minor reaction, and, in the end, the prevailing wisdom remains that the Fed is going to cut rates at the end of this month, and at least two more times this year. In truth, we will learn a great deal on Friday, when the payroll report is released, because another miss like last month, where the NFP number was just 75K, is likely to bring calls for an immediate cut, and also likely to see a knee-jerk reaction higher in stocks on the premise that lower rates are always good.

The IMF leader Lagarde
(Whom Greeks would like feathered and tarred)
Come later this year
The euro will steer
As ECB prez (and blowhard)

The other big news this morning concerns the changing of the guard at the ECB and the other EU institutions that have scheduled leadership changes. In a bit of a surprise, IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, is to become the new ECB president, following Mario Draghi. Lagarde is a lawyer, not a central banker, and has no technocratic or central banking experience at all. Granted, she is head of a major supranational organization, and was French FinMin at the beginning of the decade. But all that reinforces is that she is a political hack animal, not that she is qualified to run the second most important policymaking institution in the world. Remember, the IMF, though impressive sounding, makes no policies, it simply hectors others to do what the IMF feels is correct. If you recall, when Chairman Powell was nominated, his lack of economics PhD was seen as a big issue. For some reason, that is not the case with Lagarde. I cannot tell if it’s because Powell has proven to be fine in the role, or if it would be seen as politically incorrect to complain about something like that since she ticks several other boxes deemed important. At any rate, now that politicians are running the two largest central banks (or at least will be as of November 1), perhaps we can dispel the fiction that central banks are independent of politics!

Away from the bond market, which we have seen rally, the market impact of this news has arguably been mixed. Equity markets in Asia were generally weak (Nikkei -0.5%, Shanghai -1.0%), but in Europe, investors are feeling fine, buying equities (DAX +0.6%, FTSE + 0.8%) alongside bonds. Arguably, the European view is that Madame Lagarde is going to follow in the footsteps of Signor Draghi and continue to ease policy aggressively going forward. And despite Mester’s comments, US equity futures are pointing higher as well, with both the DJIA and S&P looking at +0.3% gains right now.

Gold prices, too, are anticipating lower interest rates as after a short-term dip last Friday, with the shiny metal trading as low as $1384, it has rebounded sharply and after touching $1440, the highest print in six years, it is currently around $1420. I have to admit that the combination of fundamentals (lower global interest rates) and market technicals (a breakout above $1400 after three previous failed attempts) it does appear as though gold is heading much higher. Don’t be surprised to see it trade as high as $1700 before this rally is through.

Finally, the dollar continues to be the least interesting of markets with a mixed performance today, and an overall unchanged outcome. The pound continues to suffer as the Brexit situation meanders along and the uncertainty engendered hits economic activity. In fact, this morning’s PMI data was awful (50.2) and IHS/Markit is now calling for negative GDP growth in Q2 for the UK. Aussie data, however, was modestly better than expected helping both AUD and NZD higher, despite soft PMI data from China. EMG currencies are all over the map, with both gainers and losers, but the defining characteristic is that none of the movement has been more than 0.3%, confirming just how quiet things are.

As to the data story, this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 223K), the Trade Balance (-$54.0B), ISM Non-Manufacturing (55.9) and Factory Orders (-0.5%). While the ISM data may have importance, given the holiday tomorrow and the fact that payrolls are due Friday morning, it is hard to get too excited about significant FX movement today. However, that will not preclude the equity markets from continuing their rally on the basis of more central bank largesse.

Good luck
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Retreated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck
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