Not Yet Inflated

Said Chairman Jay, we are frustrated
That prices have not yet inflated
So, patient we’ll be
With rates ‘til we see
More growth than now’s anticipated

The market response was confusing
With stocks up, ere taking a bruising
While Treasuries jumped
The dollar was dumped
And gold found more buyers, it, choosing

Close your eyes for a moment and think back to those bygone days of… December 2018. The market was still giddy over the recent Brexit deal agreed between the UK and the EU. At the same time, hopes ran high that the US-China trade war was set to be defused following a steak dinner in Argentina with President’s Trump and Xi hashing out a delay of tariff increases. And of course, the Fed had just raised the Fed Funds rate 25bps to its current level of 2.50% with plans for two or three more hikes in 2019 as the US economy continued to outperform the rest of the world. Since that time, those three stories have completely dominated the dialog in market and economic circles.

Now, here we are three months later and there has been painfully little progress on the first two stories, while the third one has been flipped on its head. I can only say I won’t be unhappy if another major issue arises, as at least it will help change the topic of conversation. But for now, this is what we’ve got.

So, turning to the Fed, yesterday afternoon, to no one’s surprise, the Fed left policy rates on hold. What was surprising, however, was just how dovish Chairman Powell sounded at the press conference, essentially declaring that there will be no more rate hikes in 2019. He harped on the fact that the Fed has been unable to push inflation to their view of stable, at 2.0%, and are concerned that it has been so long since prices were rising at that pace that they may be losing credibility. (I can assure them they are losing credibility, but not because inflation has remained low. Rather, they should consider the fact that they have ceded monetary policy to the stock market’s gyrations and how that has impacted their credibility. And this has been the case ever since the ‘Maestro’ reacted in October 1987!)

So, after reiterating their current patient stance, markets moved as follows: stocks rallied, bonds rallied, and the dollar fell. Dissecting these moves leads to the following thoughts. First stocks: what were they thinking? The Fed’s patience is based on the fact that the US economy is slowing and that the global economy is slowing even more rapidly. Earnings growth has been diminished and leverage is already through the roof (Corporate debt as %age of GDP is at record levels, above 75%, with more than half of the Investment Grade portion rated BBB, one notch from junk!) Valuations remain extremely high and history has shown that long-term returns from periods of high valuations are de minimus. Granted, by the end of the session, they did give back most of those gains, but it is difficult to see the bull case for equities from current levels given the economic and monetary backdrop. I would argue that all the best news is already in the price.

Next bonds, which rallied to the point where 10-year Treasury yields, at 2.51%, are now at their lowest level since January 2018, and back then, Fed Funds were 100bps lower. So now we have a situation where 3mo T-bills are yielding 2.45% and 10-year T-bonds are yielding 6bps more. This is not a market that is anticipating significant economic growth, rather it is beginning to look like one that is anticipating a recession in the next twelve months. (My own view is less optimistic and that we will see one before 2019 ends.) Finally, the dollar got hammered. This makes sense as, at the margin, with the Fed clearly more dovish than the market had expected, perception of policy differentials narrowed with the dollar on the losing side. So, the 0.6% slide in the broad dollar index should be no surprise. However, until I see strong growth percolating elsewhere, I cannot abandon my view the dollar will remain well supported.

Turning to Brexit, the situation seems to be deteriorating in the final days ahead of the required decision. PM May’s latest gambit to get Parliament to back her bill appears to be failing. She has indicated she will request a 3-month delay, until June 30, but the EU has said they want a shorter one, until May 23 when European parliament elections are to be held (they want the UK out so there will be no voting by UK citizens) or a much longer one so that, get this, the UK can have another referendum to reverse the process and end Brexit. It is remarkable to me that there is so much anxiety over foreign interference in local elections on some issues, but that the EU feels it is totally appropriate to tell the UK they should vote again to overturn their first vote. Hypocrisy is the only constant in politics! With all this, May is in Brussels today to ask for the delay, but it already seems like the EU is going to need to meet again next week as the UK Parliament has not formally agreed to anything except leaving next Friday. Suddenly, the prospect of that happening has added some anxiety to the heretofore smug EU leaders.

Meanwhile, the Old Lady meets today, and there is no chance they do anything. In fact, unless the UK calls off Brexit completely, they will not be tightening policy for years. Slowing growth and low inflation are hardly the recipe for tighter monetary policy. The pound has fallen 0.5% this morning as concerns over the Brexit outcome are growing and its value remains entirely dependent on the final verdict.

As to the trade story, mixed signals continue to emanate from the talks, but the good news is the talks are continuing. I remain more skeptical that there will be a satisfactory resolution but thus far, equity markets, at least, seem to believe that a deal will be signed, and all will be right with the world.

Turning away from these three stories, we have heard from several other central banks, with Brazil leaving the Selic rate on hold at 6.50%, a still historic low, with a statement indicating they are comfortable with this rate given the economic situation there. Currently there is an attempt to get a new pension bill through Congress their which if it succeeds should help reduce long-term debt implications and may open the way for further rate cuts, especially since inflation is below their target band of 4.25%-5.25%, and growth is slowing to 2.0% this year. Failure of this bill, though, could well lead to more turmoil and a much weaker BRL.

Norway raised rates 25bps, as widely expected, as they remain one of the few nations where inflation is actually above target following strong growth throughout the economy. Higher oil prices are helping, but the industrial sector is also growing, and unemployment remains quite low, below 4.0%. The Norgesbank indicated there will be more rate hikes to come this year. It should be no surprise that the krone rallied sharply on the news, rising 0.9% vs. the dollar with the prospect for further gains.

Finally, the Swiss National Bank left rates unchanged at -0.75%, but cut its inflation forecast for 2019 to 0.3% and for 2020 to 0.6%. The downgraded view has reinforced that they will be sidelined on the rates front for a very long time (and they already have the lowest policy rates in the world!) and may well see them increase market intervention going forward. This is especially true in the event of a hard Brexit, where their haven status in Europe is likely to draw significant interest, even with a -0.75% deposit rate.

On the data front today, Philly Fed (exp 4.5) and Initial Claims (225K) are all we’ve got. To my mind, the market will continue to focus on central bank policies, which given central banks’ collective inability to drive the type of economic rebound they seek, will likely lead to government bond support and equity market weakness. And the dollar? Maybe a little lower, but not for long.

Good luck
Adf

Incessant Whining

Can someone help me understand
Why euros remain in demand?
Theira growth rate’s declining
While incessant whining
Is constant from Rome to Rhineland

Another day, another failure in Eurozone data. This morning’s culprits were German and Spanish IP, both of which fell sharply. The German outcome was a fourth consecutive monthly decline, with a surprise fall of 0.4%, as compared to expectations for a 0.7% rise. Not only that, November’s release was revised lower to -1.3%. It seems pretty clear that positive growth momentum in Germany has faded. At the same time, Spain, which had been the best growth story in the entire Eurozone, also released surprisingly weak IP data, -6.2%, its largest decline in seven years, and significantly lower than the -2.3% expected. This marks two consecutive months of decline, and three of the past four. It appears that the Spanish growth story is also ebbing.

It should be no surprise that the euro has fallen further, down another 0.3% this morning and back to its lowest levels in two weeks. As I have consistently maintained, FX movements rely on two stories, with the relative strength of one currency’s economy and monetary policy stance compared to the other’s. And while the Fed’s U-turn at the end of January, marked an important point in the market’s collective eyes, thus helping to undermine the dollar strength story, the fact that the European growth story seems to be diminishing so rapidly is now having that same impact on the euro. The EU has reduced, yet again, its growth forecasts for the EU and virtually every one of its member nations. Italy’s forecast was cut to just 0.2% GDP growth in 2019. Germany’s has been cut to 1.1% from a previous forecast of 1.9% in 2019. As I have written repeatedly, the idea that the ECB can tighten policy any further given the economic outlook is fantasy. Look for a reversal by June and either a reinstatement of QE, or forward guidance eliminating any chance of a rate hike before 2021! Rolling over TLTRO’s is a given.

But the euro is not the only currency under pressure this morning, in fact, the dollar, once again, is on the move. The pound, for example, is also down by 0.3% as the market awaits the BOE’s rate decision. There is no expectation for a rate move, but there is a great deal of interest in Governor Carney’s comments regarding the future. Given the ongoing uncertainty with Brexit (which shows no signs of becoming clearer anytime soon), it remains difficult to believe that the BOE can raise rates. This is especially true because the economic indicators of late have all shown signs of a substantial slowdown of UK growth. The PMI data was awful, and growth forecasts by both private and government bodies continue to be reduced. However, despite the fact that the measured inflation rate has been falling back to the 2.0% target more quickly than expected, there is a great deal of discussion amongst BOE members that wages are growing quite quickly and thus are set to push up overall inflation. This continues to be the default mindset of central bankers around the world, as it is built into their models, despite the fact that there is scant evidence in the past ten years that rising wages has fed into measured price inflation. And while it is entirely possible that inflation is coming soon to a store near you, the recent evidence has pointed in the opposite direction. Inflation data around the world continues to decline. Despite Carney’s claims that Brexit may force the BOE to raise rates after a sudden spike higher in inflation, I think that is an extremely low probability event.

In the meantime, the Brexit saga continues with no obvious answers, increasing frustration on both sides, and just fifty days until the UK is slated to exit the EU. Parliament is due to vote on PM May’s Plan B next week, although it now appears that might be delayed until the end of the month. But in the end, Plan B is just Plan A, which was already soundly rejected. At this point, it is delay or crash, and as the pound’s recent decline implies, there are more and more folks thinking it is crash.

Other currency news saw the RBI cut rates 25bps last night in what was a mild surprise. If you recall I mentioned the possibility yesterday, although the majority of analysts were looking for no movement. Interestingly, the rupee actually rallied on the news (+0.2%), apparently on the belief that the new RBI Governor, Shaktikanta Das, has a more dovish outlook which is going to support both growth and the current market friendly government of PM Modi. However, beyond that, the dollar is broadly higher this morning. This is of a piece with the fact that equity markets are generally under pressure after a lackluster decline yesterday in the US; commodity prices have continued their recent slide, and government bonds are firming up with yields in the havens, like Treasuries and Bunds, declining. In addition, the one other currency performing well this morning is the yen. In other words, it appears we are seeing a mild risk-off session

Turning to the data, yesterday’s Trade deficit was significantly smaller than expected at ‘just’ -$49.7B with lower imports the driving force there. Arguably, we would rather see that number shrink on higher exports, but I guess tariffs are having their intended effect. This morning, the only scheduled data is Initial Claims (exp 221K), which jumped sharply last week, but have been averaging about 225K for the past several months. However, given what might be a turn in the Unemployment Rate trend, it is entirely possible that this number starts trending slightly higher. We will need to keep watch.

At this point, the dollar has continued to perform well for the past several sessions and there is no reason to believe that will change. The initial dollar weakness in the wake of the Fed’s more dovish commentary is now being offset by what appears to be ongoing weakness elsewhere in the world. I admit I expected to see the dollar remain under pressure for a longer period than a week, but so far, that’s been the case, one week of softening followed by a rebound with no obvious reason to see it stop. If equity markets continue to underperform, then it seems likely the dollar will remain bid.

Good luck
Adf

 

Yikes!

Said Powell, we’re now “just below”
The neutral rate, thus we’ll forego
Too many more hikes
The market said yikes!
And saw all key price metrics grow

If you wonder why I focus on the Fed as much as I do, it is because the Fed continues to be the single most important player in global financial markets. This was reinforced yesterday when Chairman Powell indicated that the current Fed Funds rate, rather than being “…a long way from neutral at this point,” as he described things on October 3rd, are in fact, “…just below” the neutral rate of interest. The implication is that the Fed is much closer to the end of their rate hiking cycle than had previously been anticipated by most market participants. And the market response was immediate and significant. US equity markets exploded higher, with all three major indices rising more than 2.3%; Treasury yields continued their recent decline, with the 10-year yield falling 4.5bps to levels not seen since mid-September; and the dollar fell sharply across the board, with the euro jumping 1% at one point, although it has since given back about 0.3% of that move. But it wasn’t just the euro that rallied, overnight we saw IDR and INR, two of the worst performing EMG currencies, each rally more than 1.0% as a more dovish Fed will clearly bring relief to what has ailed economies throughout the emerging markets.

It is abundantly clear that a more dovish Fed will have significant consequences for markets around the world. In this event we can expect the recent equity market correction to come to an end, we can expect the dollar to give back some portion of its recent gains, and we can expect Treasury yields to level off, especially in the front end, with fears over a yield curve inversion dissipating rapidly. However, is the Fed really changing its tune? Or is yesterday’s market reaction significantly overdone? Unfortunately, it is far too soon to judge. In fact, this will add further significance to the FOMC Minutes from the October meeting, which will be released at 2:00pm today. Remember, that meeting was held nearly four weeks after Powell’s ‘long way from neutral’ comments, so would reflect much more updated thinking.

Something else to keep in mind regarding the potential future path of interest rates is that we continue to see evidence that key sectors of the US economy are slowing down. Yesterday’s New Home Sales data reinforced the idea that higher mortgage rates, a direct consequence of Fed actions during the past two years, continue to take a toll on the housing sector as the print was just 544K, well below expectations and indicative of a market that is flatlining, not growing. We have also seen the trade data deteriorate further despite the president’s strenuous efforts at reversing that trend. In other words, for a data dependent Fed, there is a growing segment of data showing that rates need not go higher. While Powell was clear that there is no preset path of interest rates, the market is now pricing in just two more hikes, one in December and one in March, and then nothing. If that turns out to be the case, the dollar may well come under pressure.

Of course, FX is really about interest rate differentials, not merely interest rates. And while changes in Fed expectations are crucial, so are changes in other central bank actions. For example, early this morning we saw that Eurozone Consumer Confidence fell for the 11th straight month; we saw that Swiss GDP shrank -0.2% unexpectedly in Q3; and we saw that Swedish GDP shrank -0.2% unexpectedly in Q3. The point is that the slowing growth scenario is not simply afflicting the US, but is actually widespread. If Eurozone growth has peaked and is slipping, it will be increasingly difficult for Signor Draghi and the ECB to begin to tighten policy, even if they do end QE next month. The Swedes, who are tipped to raise rates next month are likely to give that view another thought, and the Swiss are certain to maintain their ultra-easy policy. In other words, the interest rate differentials are not going to suddenly change in favor of other currencies, although they don’t seem likely to continue growing in the dollar’s favor. Perhaps we are soon to reach an equilibrium state. (LOL).

On Threadneedle Street there’s a bank
That raised interest rates to outflank
Rising inflation
But now fears stagnation
If they walk the Brexit gangplank

The only currency that has not benefitted from the Powell dovish tone has been the British pound, which has fallen 0.5% this morning back toward the bottom of its recent trading range. The Brexit debate continues apace there and despite analyses by both the government and the BOE regarding the potential negative consequences of a no-deal Brexit (worst case is GDP could be 10% smaller than it otherwise would be with the currently negotiated deal) it seems that PM May is having limited success in convincing a majority of MP’s that her deal is acceptable. Interestingly, the BOE forecast that in their worst-case scenario the pound could fall below parity with the dollar, although every other pundit (myself included) thinks that number is quite excessive. However, as I have maintained consistently for the past two years, a move toward 1.10-1.15 seems quite viable, and given the current political machinations ongoing, potentially quite realistic. All told, the pound remains completely beholden to the Brexit debate, and until the Parliamentary vote on December 11, will be subject to every comment, both positive and negative, that is released. However, the trend remains lower, and unless there is a sudden reversal of sentiment amongst the politicians there, it is feeling more and more like a hard Brexit is in our future. Hedgers beware!

Quickly, this morning’s data brings Initial Claims (exp 221K), Personal Income (0.4%), Personal Spending (0.4%), and the PCE data (Headline 2.0%, Core 1.9%) as well as the FOMC Minutes at 2:00. Unless the PCE data surprises sharply, I expect that markets will remain quiet until the Minutes. But if we see softer PCE prints, look for equities to rally and the dollar to suffer.

Good luck
Adf

 

Opted To Stay

The BOE banker named Mark
Whose bite pales compared to his bark
Has opted to stay
To help PM May
Get through a time sure to be stark

It has been a relatively docile FX market in the overnight session with traders awaiting new information on which to take positions. With that in mind, arguably the most interesting news has been that BOE Governor, Mark Carney, has agreed to extend his term in office for a second time, establishing a new exit date of January 2020. This is a relief to Chancellor Phillip Hammond, who really didn’t want to have a new Governor during what could turn out to be a very turbulent time immediately in the wake of the actuality of Brexit, which occurs on March 31, 2019. This is actually Carney’s second extension of his term, as he agreed to extend it originally by one year in the immediate wake of the Brexit vote in 2016. The market response was positive, with the pound bouncing about 0.5% upon the news, but just around 7:00am, it has started to cede those gains and is now actually down 0.3% on the session.

Away from the Carney news, there is precious little new to discuss. Eurozone data was generally softer than expected with IP there falling a worse than expected -0.8% in July. This resulted in the Y/Y figure actually turning negative as well, indicating that growth on the Continent is starting to suffer. In fact, there is another story that explains the ECB economists (not the governing council) have lowered their growth forecasts for the Eurozone during the next three years on the basis of increased trade frictions, emerging market malaise and higher US interest rates driving the global cycle. It will be interesting to see how Signor Draghi handles this news, and whether it will force the council to rethink their current plan to reduce QE starting next month and ending it in December. We will get to find out his thoughts tomorrow morning at the 8:30am press conference following their meeting. If pressed, I would expect that Draghi will be reluctant to change policy, but the increasing dangers to the economy, especially those posed by the escalating trade tensions between the US and China, will be front and center in the discussion. In the end, the euro has fallen slightly on the day, down 0.2%.

Otherwise, it is hard to get overly excited about the market this morning. Emerging market currencies are having a mixed session with INR rebounding, finally, after indications that the RBI is going to address the ongoing rupee weakness with tighter policy and perhaps increased market intervention. TRY is firmer by about 0.9% this morning as the market awaits tomorrow’s central bank news. Current market expectations are for a 300bp rate hike to address both the weakening currency and sharply rising inflation. However, we cannot forget President Erdogan’s distaste for higher interest rates as well as his control over the economy. In fact, this morning he fired the entire governing board of the Turkish sovereign wealth fund and installed himself as Chairman. I am skeptical that the Bank of Turkey raises rates anywhere near as much as the market anticipates. Meanwhile, yesterday saw the Brazilian real fall 1.6% as the presidential election polls show that the left wing candidates are gaining ground on Jair Bolsonaro, the market favorite. Given the virtual certainty there will be a second round vote, and the fact that Bolsonaro, who leads the polls right now, is shown by every poll to lose in the second round, it seems the market is coming to grips with the idea that the politics in Brazil are going to move away from investor friendliness into a more populist scenario. I fear the real may have quite a bit further to fall over time. 5.00 anyone?

Beyond these stories, nothing else is really noteworthy. Looking ahead to today’s US data shows that PPI will be released at 8:30 with the headline number expected at +0.2%, 3.2% Y/Y, and the core +0.2%, 2.7% Y/Y. We hear from two Fed speakers, uberdove Bullard and dovish leaning Brainerd, and then at 2:00pm comes the Fed’s Beige Book.

In the end, the dollar remains strongly linked to Fed policy, and there is no evidence that Fed policy is going to change from its current trajectory. In fact, if anything, it seems more likely that policy tightening quickens rather than slows. Consider the fact that the mooted tariffs of $200 billion of Chinese goods will impact a significant portion of consumer products, and if tariffs on an additional $267 billion are in play, then virtually everything that comes from China will be higher in price. I assure you that inflation will be higher in that event, and that the Fed will be forced to raise rates even more aggressively if that is the case. My point is that the dollar is still going to be the big beneficiary of this process, and my view that it will continue to strengthen remains intact.

Good luck
Adf

Uncomfortably High

Said Carney, exhaling a sigh
The odds are “uncomfortably high”
More pain will we feel
If there is no deal
When England waves Europe bye-bye

Yesterday the BOE, in a unanimous decision, raised its base rate by 25bps. This outcome was widely expected by the markets and resulted in a very short-term boost for the pound. However, after the meeting, Governor Carney described the odds of the UK leaving the EU next March with no transition deal in hand as “uncomfortably high.” That was enough to spook markets and the pound sold off pretty aggressively afterwards, closing the day lower by 0.9%. And this morning, it has continued that trend, falling a further 0.2% and is now trading back below 1.30 again.

By this time, you are all well aware that I believe there will be no deal, and that the market response, as that becomes increasingly clear, will be to drive the pound still lower. In the months after the Brexit vote, January 2017 to be precise, the pound touched a low of 1.1986, but had risen fairly steadily since then until it peaked well above 1.40 in April of this year. However, we have been falling back since that time, as the prospects for a deal seem to have receded. The thing is, there is no evidence that points to any willingness to compromise among the Tory faithful and so it appears increasingly likely that no deal will be agreed by next March. Carney put the odds at 20%, personally I see them as at least 50% and probably higher than that. In the meantime, the combination of ongoing tightening by the Fed and Brexit uncertainty impacting the UK economy points to the pound falling further. Do not be surprised if we test those lows below 1.20 seen eighteen months ago.

This morning also brought news about the continuing slowdown in Eurozone growth as PMI data was released slightly softer than expected. French, German and therefore, not surprisingly, Eurozone Services data was all softer than expected, and in each case has continued the trend in evidence all year long. It is very clear that Eurozone growth peaked in Q4 2017 and despite Signor Draghi’s confidence that steady growth will lead inflation to rise to the ECB target of just below 2.0%, the evidence is pointing in the opposite direction. While the ECB may well stop QE by the end of the year, it appears that there will be no ability to raise rates at all in 2019, and if the current growth trajectory continues, perhaps in 2020 as well. Yesterday saw the euro decline 0.7%, amid a broad-based dollar rally. So far this morning, after an early extension of that move, it has rebounded slightly and now sits +0.1% on the day. But in the end, the euro, too, will remain under pressure from the combination of tighter Fed policy and a decreasing probability of the ECB ever matching that activity. We remain in the 1.1500-1.1800 trading range, which has existed since April, but as we push toward the lower end of that range, be prepared for a breakout.

Finally, the other mover of note overnight was CNY, with the renminbi falling to new lows for the move and testing 6.90. The currency has declined more than 8% since the middle of June as it has become increasingly clear that the PBOC is willing to allow it to adjust along with most other emerging market currencies. While the movement has been steady, it has not been disorderly, and as yet, there is no evidence that capital outflows are ramping up quickly, so it is hard to make the case the PBOC will step in anytime soon. And that is really the key; increases in capital outflows will be the issue that triggers any intervention. But while many pundits point to 7.00 as the level where that is expected to occur, given the still restrictive capital controls that exist there, it may take a much bigger decline to drive the process. With the Chinese economy slowing as well (last night’s Caixin Services PMI fell to 52.8, below expectations and continuing the declining trend this year) a weaker yuan remains one of China’s most important and effective policy tools. There is no reason for this trend to end soon and accordingly, I believe 7.50 is reasonable as a target in the medium term.

Turning to this morning’s payroll report, here are the current expectations:

Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
Private Payrolls 189K
Manufacturing Payrolls 22K
Unemployment Rate 3.9%
Average Hourly Earnings (AHE) 0.3% (2.7% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
Trade Balance -$46.5B
ISM Non-Manufacturing 58.6

Wednesday’s ADP number was much stronger than expected at 213K, and the whisper number is now 205K for this morning. As long as this data set continues to show a strong labor market, and there is every indication it will do so, the only question regarding the Fed is how quickly they will be raising rates. All of this points to continued dollar strength going forward as the divergence between the US economy and the rest of the world continues. While increasing angst over trade may have a modest impact, we will need to see an actual increase in tariffs, like the mooted 25% on $200 billion in Chinese imports, to really affect the economy and perhaps change the Fed’s thinking. Until then, it is still a green light for dollar buyers.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

For How Long?

The US economy’s strong
Denial of this would be wrong
It’s not too surprising
That rates will be rising
The question is just, for how long?

Despite the Trump administration’s recent discussion of imposing 25% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports, rather than the 10% initially mooted, the Fed looked at the economic landscape and concluded that things continue apace. While they didn’t adjust rates yesterday, as was universally expected, the policy statement was quite positive, highlighting the strength in both economic growth and the labor market, while pointing out that inflation is at their objective of 2.0%. Market expectations for a September rate hike increased slightly, with futures traders now pricing in a nearly 90% probability. More interestingly, despite the increased trade rhetoric, those same traders have increased their expectations for a December hike as well, with that number now hovering near 70%. At this point, despite President Trump’s swipe at higher rates last week, it appears that the Fed is continuing to blaze its rate-hiking path undeterred.

The consequences of the Fed’s stance are starting to play out more clearly now, with the dollar once again benefitting from expectations of higher short term rates, and equity markets around the world, but especially in APAC, feeling the heat. The chain of events continues in the following manner. Higher US rates have led to a stronger US dollar, especially vs. many emerging market currencies. The companies in those countries impacted are those that borrowed heavily in USD over the past ten years when US rates were near zero. They now find themselves struggling to repay and refinance that debt. Repayment is impacted because their local revenues buy fewer dollars while refinancing is impacted by the fact that US rates are that much higher. With this cycle in mind, it should not be surprising that equity markets elsewhere in the world are struggling. And those struggles don’t even include the potential knock-on effects of further US tariff increases. Quite frankly, it appears that this trend has further to run.

Meanwhile, the week’s central bank meetings are coming to a close with this morning’s BOE decision, where they are widely touted to raise the Base rate by 25bps, up to 0.75%. It is actually quite amusing to read some of the UK headlines talking about the BOE raising rates to the ‘highest in a decade’, which while strictly true, seems to imply so much more than the reality of still exceptionally low interest rates. However, given the ongoing uncertainty due to the Brexit situation, I continue to believe that Governor Carney is extremely unlikely to raise rates again this year, and if we are headed to a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, which I believe is increasingly likely, UK rates will head back lower again. Early this morning the UK Construction PMI data printed at a better than expected 55.8, its highest since late 2016, but despite the strong data and rate expectations, the pound has fallen 0.35% on the day.

Other currency movement has been similar, with the euro down 0.35%, Aussie and Kiwi both falling more than 0.5% and every other G10 currency, save the yen declining. The yen has rallied slightly, 0.2%, as interest rates in Japan continue to respond to Tuesday’s BOJ policy tweaks. JGB’s seem to have quickly found a new home above the old 0.10% ceiling, and there is now a growing expectation that as the 10-year yield there approaches the new 0.2% cap, the longer end of the JGB curve will rise with it taking the 30-year JGB to 1.00%. While that may not seem like much to the naked eye, when considering the nature of international flows, it is potentially quite important. The reason stems from the fact that Japanese institutional investors tend to hedge the FX exposure that comes from foreign fixed income purchases thus reducing their net yield from the higher rates received overseas to something on the order of 1.0%. And if the Japanese 30-year reaches that 1.0% threshold (it is currently yielding 0.83%), there is a growing expectation that those same investors will sell Treasuries and other bonds and bring the money home. That will have two impacts. First, I would be far less concerned over an inverting yield curve in the US as yields across the back end of the US curve would rise on those sales, and second, the dollar would likely rally overall on higher rates, but decline further against the yen. These are the type of background flows that impact the FX market, but may not be obvious to most hedgers.

Turning to the emerging markets, the dollar is firmer against virtually all of these currencies as well. One of the biggest movers has been CNY, falling 0.5% and now trading at its weakest level since May 2017. The renminbi’s decline has been impressive since mid-April, clocking in at nearly 9%, and clearly offsetting some of the impact of the recent tariffs. But remember, the renminbi’s decline began well before any tariffs were in place, and has as much to do with a slowing Chinese economy forcing monetary policy ease in China as with the recent trade spat. At this point, capital outflows have not yet become a problem there, but if history is any guide, as we get closer to 7.00, we are likely to see more pressure on the system as both individuals and companies seek to get their money out of China and into a stronger currency. I expect that there are more fireworks in store here.

Aside from China, the usual suspects continue to fall, with TRY having blasted through 5.00 overnight and now down 1.5% on the day. But we have also seen significant weakness in ZAR (-1.75%), KRW (-1.15%), and MXN (-0.75%). Even INR is down 0.5% despite the RBI having raised rates 0.25% overnight to try to rein in rising inflation pressures there. So today’ story is clear, the dollar remains in the ascendancy on the back of optimism in the US vs. increasing pessimism elsewhere in the world.

A quick peek at today’s data shows that aside from the weekly Initial Claims (exp 220K) we see only Factory Orders (0.7%). Yesterday’s ADP Employment data was quite strong, rising 219K, while the ISM Manufacturing report fell to a still robust 58.1, albeit a larger fall than expected. However, given the Fed’s upbeat outlook, the market was able to shake off the news. At this point, however, I expect that eyes are turning toward tomorrow’s NFP report, which will be seen as taking a much more accurate reading on the economy. All in all, I see no reason for the dollar to give back its recent gains, and in fact, expect that modest further strength is in the cards.

Good luck
Adf

 

Still At Its Peak

Three central bank meetings this week
Seem unlikely, havoc to wreak
When they all adjourn
Attention will turn
To joblessness, still at its peak

In the current central bank calendric cycle, the ECB meeting was the first to be completed, and last Thursday we learned virtually nothing new about Mario Draghi’s plans. The ECB is going to reduce QE further starting in October and is due to end it completely by year end. As to interest rates, ‘through summer’ remains the watchword, with markets forecasting a 10bp rate rise in either September or October of next year.

This week brings us the other three big central bank meetings, starting with the BOJ’s announcement tomorrow evening, then the FOMC on Wednesday and finally the BOE on Thursday. Going in reverse order, the market remains convinced that Governor Carney will raise rates 25bps, with a more than 80% probability priced in by futures traders. While I think it is a mistake, it does seem increasingly likely it will be the outcome. As to the Fed, there are no expectations of any policy adjustments at this meeting, and as there is no press conference following, I expect that the statement, when released Wednesday afternoon, will have little market impact.

This takes us to tomorrow evening’s BOJ meeting, which is the only one where there seems to be any real uncertainty. Last week I discussed the questions at hand which boil down to whether or not Kuroda and company have come to believe that QQE is not only ineffective, but actually beginning to have a detrimental impact on the Japanese economy. After all, they have been at it for the better part of five years and have still had zero success in achieving their 2.0% inflation goal. The three biggest problems are that Japanese banks have seen their business models decimated by increasingly narrow lending spreads; the ETF purchase program has had an increasingly large distortive impact on the Japanese stock markets as the BOJ now owns roughly 4% of all Japanese equities; and finally, the yield curve control plan has essentially broken the JGB market as evidenced by the fact that they continue to see sessions where there are actually no trades in the 10-year JGB. (Consider what would happen if there were no trades in 10-year Treasuries one day!)

With all of this as baggage, there has been increasing discussion that the BOJ may seek to tweak the program to try to make it more effective. However, they have painted themselves into a corner because if they reduce their activity in the JGB market, the market is likely to see it as a reduced commitment to QE and it is likely to result in higher yields there, which can easily lead to two separate but related outcomes. First, USDJPY is likely to fall further, as higher JGB yields lead to more interest for Japanese investors to bring their funds home. Given the disinflationary impact of a stronger currency, this would be a disaster. And second, if there is less support for JGB’s, given the fungibility of money and the open capital markets that exist, we are likely to see yields rise in US, UK, European and other developed markets. While Chairman Powell may welcome this as it will reduce concern over the Fed inverting the yield curve, the rest of the world, which retains far easier monetary policy, is likely to be somewhat less welcoming of that outcome. And this is all based on anonymous reports that the BOJ is going to make some technical adjustments to their program, not change the nature of what they are doing. So if you are looking for some fireworks this week, the BOJ is your best bet.

However, beyond the central banks, the market will turn its attention to Friday’s employment report here in the US. Last Friday saw a robust GDP report, as widely expected, and further proof of the divergence between the US and the rest of the global economy. This Friday could simply add to that impression. Here is the full listing of this week’s data, which is quite robust:

Tuesday BOJ Rate Decision -0.10% (unchanged)
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.3% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
  Case-Shiller Home Prices 6.4%
  Chicago PMI 62.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 185K
  ISM Manufacturing 59.5
  ISM Prices Paid 75.8
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.00% (unchanged)
Thursday BOE Rate Decision 0.75% (+0.25%)
  Initial Claims 221K
  Factory Orders 0.7%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
  Private Payrolls 185K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 22K
  Unemployment Rate 3.9%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (2.7% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Trade Balance -$46.2B
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 58.7

So, as you can see there is much to be learned this week. With the focus on the central banks and Friday’s payroll data, don’t lose sight of tomorrow’s PCE report, because remember, that is the Fed’s go-to number on inflation. Overall, looking at forecasts, things remain remarkably strong in the US economy this long into an expansion, which is something that has many folks concerned. We also continue to see important corporate earnings releases this week for Q2, which given the high profile misses we had last week, could well impact markets beyond individual equity names.

As to the dollar through all this, it is a touch softer this morning, but remains on the strong side of its recent trading range. While I still like it higher, there is so much potential new information coming this week, it is probably wisest to remain as neutral as possible for now. For hedgers, that means the 50% rule is in effect.

Good luck
Adf