As inflation fails to rise
How low can rates go?
You know things are tough in Japan, at least for the BOJ, when a sales tax hike, that in the last go-round increased inflation by nearly two percentage points, had exactly zero impact on the latest CPI readings. Last night’s Tokyo CPI data was released at 0.4%, unchanged from the September data and well below the 0.7% expected. And that’s an annual number folks, not the monthly kind. It seems that the government’s efforts to help young families by reducing tuition for pre-school and kindergarten to zero was enough to offset the impact of the rise in the Goods and Services Tax, essentially the Japanese VAT. However, the upshot is that CPI inflation, at least in Tokyo which is seen as a harbinger for the nation as a whole, remains nonexistent. Now for the average Japanese family, one would think that is a good thing. After all, who wants the prices of the stuff they need to buy rising all the time. But for the BOJ, who doggedly continues to believe that unless inflation rises to 2.0% the economy will implode, it is merely the latest sign that central banks are out of ammunition.
The yen’s response to this ongoing futility was to rise ever so marginally, not quite 0.1%, but that has not changed its more recent trend. In the past two months, the yen has weakened a solid 4.4%. But the picture changes if you step a bit further back for more perspective. Over the past six months, since late April, the yen has actually strengthened nearly 3.0%. So, which is it; is the yen getting stronger or weaker? In fact, I would argue that it is doing neither, but rather the yen is in a major long-term consolidation pattern (a triangle formation for the technicians out there) and that barring a major exogenous shock like a GFC2, the yen is likely to continue trading in an even narrower range going forward, perhaps for as long as the next year. The thing is, these triangle patterns tend to resolve themselves with a very significant break-out move when they end. At this stage, there is no way to discern which direction that will follow, and , as I said, it is probably a year away, but it is quite realistic to expect that the doldrums we have experienced in the yen for the past many years is likely to end. Perhaps the US presidential election will be the catalyst to cause a change, at least the timing will be right.
For hedgers, the best advice I can offer is to extend the tenor of your hedges as much as you can. This is especially true for receivables hedgers, where the carry is in your favor. But the reality is that even a payables hedger needs to consider the benefits of hedging in an extremely low volatility environment as opposed to waiting until a breakout, which may result in the yen jumping higher by as much as 5%-10%, completely outweighing the current cost of carry.
Three Latin American nations
Have populist administrations
Brazil, on the right
Of late’s shining bright
But fear’s grown ‘round Argie’s relations
For the past two weeks, the story in Brazil has been one of unadulterated joy, at least for investors. The real has rallied more than 5.0% in that time as President Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing firebrand, has been able to push pension reform through congress there. That has been warmly received by markets as it implies that Brazil’s long-term finances are likely to remain under control. The pension system had been massively underfunded and was far too generous relative to the government’s ability to pay. Correcting these problems is seen as crucial to allowing Brazil to move forward with other investments to help the nation’s economy and productivity. Again, a glance at the charts shows that USDBRL has formed a triple top formation and is already accelerating lower. Quite frankly, it would not surprise to see BRL strengthen to 3.70 before this movement is over.
Turning to Mexico, it too has performed extremely well over the past two months, rallying more than 5% during that time. It is interesting that the markets have been extremely patient with AMLO as, since his initial action to cancel the Mexico City Airport construction, which was seen in an extremely negative light, his policies have been far less disruptive than most investors feared. Clearly, Mexico has been a beneficiary of the ongoing US-China trade war as companies seek low cost manufacturing sites near the US and given the (still pending) USMCA trade agreement, there is more confidence that companies will be able to set up shop there with fewer repercussions.
However, as with the yen, I might argue that what we have seen over the past five years is an increasingly narrowing consolidation in the peso’s exchange rate, albeit with a tad more volatility attached. And the thing about this pattern is its culmination is likely to occur much sooner than that in the yen. A quick look at MXN’s PPP shows that the peso remains significantly undervalued vs. the dollar, and in truth vs. most currencies. All this points to the idea that barring any surprisingly anti-business actions from AMLO, the peso may be setting up for a much larger rally, especially with the carry benefits that continue to exist.
Argentina, on the other hand, with newly elected left-wing President Fernandez, has its work cut out for itself. If you recall, the preliminary vote back in August, saw the peso decline more than 35%, and while it was choppy for a bit, the price action of late has been for steady depreciation. It is too early to know what Fernandez will do, but given the dire straits in the Argentine economy, with inflation running north of 50% while growth is shrinking rapidly and the debt situation is untenable, it seems the path of least resistance is for ARS to continue to weaken.
A quick look at the majors sees the dollar generally firmer this morning as there is a mild risk-off sentiment in markets. However, the news moments ago that the Labour party agreed to an early election has helped bolster the pound specifically, and risk in general. I expect that the pound will now be reacting to the polls as it becomes clearer if Boris can win with a majority, or if he will go down to defeat and perhaps an even more beneficial outcome for the pound will arise, the withdrawal of Article 50. My money remains on a Johnson victory and a Brexit with the recently negotiated deal.
This morning we get two minor pieces of data, Case Shiller Home Prices (exp 2.10%) and Consumer Confidence (128.0). Yesterday we did see a weak Dallas Fed manufacturing index print, but equity markets made new highs. I can see little reason, beyond the ongoing Brexit story, for traders to alter their positions ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC meeting, and so anticipate another quiet day in the market.