Boris Has Gotten His Way

The EU will change what they say
To get a deal with the UK
They’ll now make believe
(The Brits, to deceive)
That Boris has gotten his way

The other thing that’s worth your note
Is guesstimates of next month’s vote
Investors are betting
A Blue Wave is heading
Our way, so bond prices they smote

This morning brings a little more clarity on one issue, and a little more hope on another, with both of these discussions driving market prices.

The hope stems from comments by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who finally admitted that both sides will need to make compromises in order for a deal to be reached in time to prevent a hard Brexit.  While that may seem obvious to an outsider, we don’t have the benefit of the conceit that forms the EU negotiating stance. Interestingly, it seems the new ‘secret sauce’ for the EU is to make believe that Boris is getting his way in the negotiations for his home audience, while not actually ceding any ground.  Of course, what’s a bit odd about this tactic is their willingness, nay eagerness, to publicize the concept.  After all, this seems better left unsaid, to help perpetuate the story.  If the British people read about this, they may question the value of any concessions and demand more.  Of course, I am no politician, so would never presume to claim I understand the political machinations required to achieve a deal this complex with so many different constituencies to satisfy.

Nonetheless, today’s price action clearly demonstrates that, despite already crowded long GBP positions in the trading and investor community, there is further appetite for pounds on the assumption that a Brexit deal will give the currency an immediate boost.  As such, cable is leading the G10 higher versus the dollar with a 0.8% rally and taking the pound back to its highest level in more than a month.  what is even more surprising about the cable move is the fact that yet another BOE member, Gertjan Vlieghe, was on the tape discussing the need for further stimulus and the fact that negative rates are very much on the table.  You may recall yesterday when the RBA made the same comments, the Aussie dollar fell.  But today, those comments are insignificant compared to the renewed hope for a Brexit deal.  My final thought here is for hedgers to beware this movement.  The pound’s rally ahead of any deal implies that a ‘sell the news’ event is increasingly likely.  Regardless of the Brexit outcome, I believe the next leg in cable is lower.

On to the clarity, which has seen the US yield curve, and in fairness most major curves, steepen further with 10-year Treasuries now yielding 0.80% and 30-year Treasuries up to 1.61%.  According to pretty much everyone, the new narrative is as follows: the polls show not merely a Biden victory in the presidential election, but that the Democrats will be retaking the Senate as well.  This means that not only will there be a much larger pandemic stimulus response, but that spending will be much higher across the board, with much larger budget deficits, significantly more Treasury issuance and inflationary expectations increasing accordingly.  The outcome will be a much steeper yield curve, as the Fed is able to maintain control of the front end, between QE and forward guidance but will have much more difficulty controlling the back end of the curve.  In fact, I have consistently read that curve steepeners are now the most crowded trade out there.  Of course, the most common market reaction to an overcrowded trade is to go the other way, at least in the short run, but given the assumptions, the logic behind the trade seems sound.

Of course, the key is that the assumptions are accurate.  Any outcome other than a Blue Wave will arguably not result in the same type of government spending, Treasury issuance and subsequent inflationary outcomes.  So, while there does not appear to be a clear idea of what will happen to the dollar given potential election outcomes, there is certainly a strong view as to what will occur in the bond market.  We should know more in two weeks’ time.

Meanwhile, today is difficult to characterize in terms of risk appetite.  Equity markets, bond markets and FX markets seem to each be dancing to their own tune, rather than listening to the same music.  For instance, Asian equity markets were modestly positive in general (Nikkei +0.3%, Hang Seng +0.75%, Shanghai -0.1%) but European bourses are all in the red (DAX -0.65%, CAC -0.8%, FTSE 100 -1.05%).  US futures have managed to unwind earlier losses but are generally unchanged on the day.  Yesterday’s deadline, as set by Speaker Pelosi, apparently was as hard as Boris’s Brexit negotiating deadline of last Thursday.  But in the end, I would say there is more risk aversion than risk accumulation here.

The bond market, as discussed above, is under more pressure this morning, with today’s 1.7 basis point rise in yields taking the week’s movement to a 6.0 basis point gain since Monday morning.  Europe is seeing generally higher yields as well, although German bunds are little changed.  UK gilts have seen yields rise 2.5bps and Italy (+2.5bps) and Greece (+6.5bps) especially, are seeing movement.  But the point is, bonds selling off are more consistent with risk-on than risk-off.  So, as stocks and bonds are both selling off today, I wonder what people are buying!

As to the dollar, it is broadly lower, with the pound in the lead, but strong gains by NOK (+0.75%), NZD (+0.75%) and JPY (+0.6%).  One might assume that oil is rallying given the move in NOK, but that is not the case, as WTI is lower by 1.7% this morning.  Once again, there is no obvious catalyst for this movement as there have been neither data nor comments regarding the krone.  One thing to keep in mind is that NOK has been the worst performing G10 currency vs. the dollar this year, so unwinding of medium-term positions, especially if there are concerns over a dollar “collapse” is certainly realistic.  As to kiwi, it is possible that modestly higher bond yields there has encouraged some buying, but the movement appears to largely be an unwinding of yesterday’s sharp decline.  Finally, the yen’s strength is in keeping with equity market activity, but at odds with bonds.  Comments from BOJ member Sakurai indicated no rush to add additional monetary stimulus in response to the resurgence in Covid infections, so perhaps that is helping underpin the currency.

Interestingly, EMG currencies have seen less movement than their G10 counterparts, with the biggest gainer KRW (+0.7%) and the rest of the bloc generally rising in the 0.3% range.  Here, at least, there is a cogent explanation, as early export data showed a 5.9% rise in October compared to a 9.8% decline in September.  While the Y/Y data were still weak (-5.8%) that was more a function of the number of days in the period than actual performance.

On the data front, the only thing released in the US today is the Fed’s Beige Book at 2:00pm.  But, six more Fed speakers are on tap for the day, starting with Cleveland’s Loretta Mester at 10:00 this morning.  A broad summary of recent comments would indicate that virtually every FOMC member is willing to implement further monetary stimulus, but all are begging for a fiscal package to really help the economy.  Who knows, maybe today is the day that Mnuchin and Pelosi agree to one.

As the dollar has broken some key technical levels, there is room for a bit more of a decline.  But I wouldn’t be looking for a collapse.  Hedgers, take advantage of these levels.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Deeper Downturn

There once was a virus that spread
Worldwide, leaving too many dead
Its summer vacation
Has led to frustration
That governments, people, misled

Now lockdowns have made a return
From London to Paris to Bern
And ECB voices
All highlight the choices
More QE or deeper downturn

As another week draws to a close, market activity has been relatively muted.  It seems that participants are biding their time waiting for an outcome on at least one of the big current stories.  Will Brexit talks continue and be successful or will Boris decide there is no chance and simply prepare for a no-deal outcome?  Will the second wave of Covid infections running rampant in Europe slow down, or will this wave be even larger than the first with a bigger negative impact on the economy?  And finally, what is going to happen in the US presidential election?

And let’s face it, those are three really big questions with no clear answers at this time.  But let’s quickly try to address them in order and see if we can discern potential market responses.

Brexit – we have already passed the deadline Boris had originally issued for a deal, although he has since recanted and said if the EU demonstrates they are interested in “intensifying” the talks, the UK will work even harder to reach a deal.  Unfortunately, the indications from the EU are less promising as French President Macron remains adamant that French fishing vessels have unfettered access to UK waters in any deal.  While there are signs the rest of Europe are annoyed with Macron over this stance, his unwillingness to compromise, as of yet, means there has been no movement.  The other sticking point, the level of UK state aid to its companies, seems much more tractable to solve. However, right now, no deal is in sight.

Trying to game out the market impact of this binary outcome is dependent on an estimate of what is currently priced into the market.  Several indicators, including CFTC positioning and some proprietary bank positioning indicators, show that the market remains net long Sterling.  As the pound appears overvalued at current levels, it seems the likelihood of a large rally in the event of a positive outcome is quite limited.  Rather, the future for the pound is likely lower.  In the event of a no-deal Brexit, a move toward 1.20 is quite realistic by year end.  Whereas, a positive outcome is more likely to see just a moderate, ‘sell the news’ response, perhaps back toward 1.25-1.28.

The second wave of infections is clearly a growing problem.  More localized lockdowns are being imposed in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain with talk of more coming in Italy and throughout Eastern Europe.  This is in addition to the curfew in Paris which is equally problematic.  Not surprisingly, ECB members have been vocal about the need and ability of the central bank to do even more, implying that the PEPP is going to get quite a boost by December.  Once again, I will highlight that the Fed has made it quite clear they have limited ability to do anything else, although they will certainly try, which means that on a relative basis, other countries are going to ease their monetary policy further.  In this case, that bodes ill for the future direction of the euro, which I think has every possibility of drifting back to 1.15 in the short run and 1.10 over time, ceteris paribus.

But the big ceteris is the US presidential election.  The polls point to a Biden victory, although I’m sure nobody has forgotten that the same polls pointed to a Clinton victory four years ago.  Betting markets are also leaning that way, although with far less confidence.  As to the market, based on my readings, it appears that a large majority of market participants agree with the polls and have positioned accordingly.  Remember, too, that control of Congress is a crucial point in anticipating any potential market movement.  So here goes:

Blue wave – Biden wins and Democrats retake Senate:  given the platform of much higher capital gains and corporate taxes and massive spending, equity markets seem likely to fall sharply this year as investors take profits at current tax rates, and the dollar to fall alongside them.  I would want to own gold in this scenario.

Biden win with Republican Senate:  much less impact as divided government gets less done.  Arguably, we will fund the budget on continuing resolutions for four years, rather than any big new programs getting enacted.  The market response here is likely to be far more benign, with range trading rather than steep trends.

Trump win with Democratic House:  No change to current situation means further efforts at tax cuts and deregulation, but unlikely to see tax hikes.  The US has the chance to be the cleanest shirt in the dirty laundry basket and draw in more investment and prop up dollar strength.

Trump win and Republican House (admittedly low probability):  dollar strength as US continues to focus on as much economic growth as possible, with more stimulus and more tax cuts.

At this point, all these questions remain open, but by New Year’s Eve, we will have answered at least two of the three for sure.

As to markets today, there is really very little to tell.  Equities in Asia were mixed (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng +0.9%) but are performing well in Europe (DAX +1.1%, CAC +1.8%) as the ECB comments seem to have investors believing more stimulus is on its way.  US futures have edged higher in the past hour, but are still only pointing to gains of 0.2% or so.

Interestingly, bond markets are rallying with yields continuing their recent downtrend.  Treasury yields are lower by 1bp after having backed up a few yesterday afternoon.  European markets are seeing roughly 2 basis point declines across the board.  In fact, bunds are back at their lowest level (-0.635%) since the panic of late March when Covid first struck Europe.  Bonds there are certainly pricing in a slowing economy in the Eurozone.

Finally, the dollar is mixed.  Against its G10 counterparts, it is +/-0.2% with the Brexit story by far the most impactful.  GBP (-0.2% as I write) was higher by 0.3% just minutes ago, as it wiggles on each headline.  But the bloc is generally uninteresting.  As to emerging markets, it is largely the same story, with a pretty even mix of gainers and losers.  Here, though, the movement has been a bit larger with ZAR (+0.5%) the best performer, perhaps on strength in the metals markets, followed by CNY (+0.4%) where everyone is looking for strong GDP numbers on Monday.  On the downside, KRW (-0.4%) is bottom of the barrel today after a higher than expected Unemployment rate was reported.

Data this morning brings Retail Sales (exp 0.8%, 0.4% ex autos), IP (0.5%), Capacity Utilization (71.8%) and Michigan Sentiment (80.5).  Yesterday’s Initial Claims data was quite disappointingly high and bodes ill for the growth story here.  But in the end, the ongoing uncertainty and confusion over the three issues raised above imply a lack of direction in the near term, although choppiness could well be on the menu.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf