Removal of Tariffs

According to some in Beijing
Removal of tariffs’ the thing
That ought to diminish
And fin’lly help finish
The problems the trade war did bring

Another day, another story about progress in the trade talks. Given the complete lack of movement actually seen, a cynic might conclude that both sides have realized just talking about progress is probably as effective as making progress, maybe more so. After all, making progress requires both sides to make actual decisions. Talking about progress just hints that those decisions are being made. And let’s face it; the one thing at which politicians have proven especially inept is making decisions. At any rate, the news early this morning was that part of the elusive phase one deal would be simultaneous rollbacks of the current tariff schedules. If true, that is a great leap forward from simply delaying the imposition of new tariffs. But the key is, if true. At this point, it has become difficult to recognize the difference between actual progress and trial balloons. The one thing going for this story is it was put out by the Chinese, not President Trump. Of course, that could simply be a negotiating tactic trying to force Trump’s hand.

It should be no surprise that the market reacted quite positively to the story, with equity markets in Asia turning around from early losses to close higher on the day. While the Nikkei just clawed back to +0.1%, the Hang Seng finished higher by 0.6% and Australia’s ASX 200 gained 1.0% on the day. Europe has followed the trend with the DAX leading the way, +0.75%, and the rest of the Continent showing gains of between 0.2% (CAC) and 0.6% (IBEX). And of course, US futures turned higher on the news, now showing gains of approximately 0.5% across all three.

So risk is in vogue once again. Treasuries and Bunds have both sold off sharply, with yields in the 10-year space higher by roughly 6bps in both markets. And the dollar, as would be expected, is under further pressure this morning.

A trade truce cannot come soon enough for Germany, which once again released worse than expected data. This morning’s miss was IP, which fell 0.6% in September, and is down 4.3% Y/Y. So while yesterday’s Factory Orders seemed positive, they also seem like the outlier, not the trend. However, given the dollar’s overall performance this morning, it should be no surprise that the euro has edged higher, rising 0.1% as I type. But a step back for some perspective shows that the euro has actually done essentially nothing for the past month, trading within a range barely exceeding 1.0%. It will take more than just the occasional positive or negative economic print to change this story.

And perhaps there is a story brewing that will do just that. Several weeks ago there was a Bloomberg article about inflation in the Eurozone, specifically in Spain, that highlighted the dichotomy between the low rate of measured inflation, which in Spain is running at 1.0%, and the fact that the cost of home ownership and rent is rising at a double digit pace. It turns out that the European CPI measurements have rent as just 6.5% of the index and don’t even include the costs of home ownership. In contrast, those represent more than 30% of the US CPI measurement! And housing costs throughout Europe are rising at a much faster rate, something on the order of 3.0%+ over the past five years. In other words, a CPI basket constructed to include what Europeans actually spend their money on, rather than on some theoretical construct, would almost certainly have resulted in higher CPI readings and potentially would have prevented the poisonous negative interest rate conundrum.

With this in mind, and considering Madame Lagarde’s review of ECB policy, there is a chance, albeit a small one, that the ECB will consider changing the metric, and with a change in the metric, the need for further QE and NIRP will diminish greatly. That would be hugely euro positive! This is something to watch for going forward.

The other big news that just hit the tape was from the Bank of England, where while rates were left unchanged, two members of the MPC voted to cut rates by 25bps in a complete surprise. Apparently, there is growing concern inside the Old Lady that the recent weakening data portends further problems regardless of the election outcome. Of course, regarding the election, the fact that both the Tories and Labour are promising huge new spending plans, the need for low rates is clear. After all, it is much easier to borrow if interest rates are 0.5% than 5.0%! The pound, which had been trading modestly higher before the news quickly fell 0.4% and is now back toward the lower end of its recent trading range. Sometimes I think central banks do things simply to prove that they matter to the markets, but in this case, given the ongoing economic malaise in the UK, it does seem likely that a rate cut is in the offing.

As to the rest of the market, some of the biggest gainers this morning are directly related to the US-China trade story, with the offshore renminbi trading higher by 0.6% and back to its strongest level in three months’ time. In addition we have seen NOK rally 0.85%, which seems to be on the back of stronger oil and the fact that easing trade tensions are likely to further support the price of crude. Combining this with the fact that the krone has been mysteriously weak given its fundamentals, relatively strong economic growth and positive interest rates, it looks like a lot of short positions are getting squeezed out.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Brazilian real, which yesterday tumbled 2.0% after a widely anticipated auction of off-shore oil drilling rights turned into a flop, raising just $17 billion, far less than the $26 billion expected. In fact, two of the three parcels had no bids, and no oil majors were involved. While they will certainly put them up for auction again, the market’s disappointment was clear. It should also be no surprise that the real is rebounding a bit on the open, currently higher by 0.5%.

On the data front this morning the only thing of note is Initial Claims (exp 215K) and there are two more Fed speakers on the agenda, Kaplan and Bostic. However, the plethora of speakers we have heard this week have all remained on message, things are good and policy is appropriate, but if needed we will do more.

And that’s really it. I expect we will continue to hear more about the trade talks and perhaps get a bit more clarity on the proposed tariff rollbacks. But it will take a lot to turn the risk story around, and as such, I expect the dollar will continue to be under pressure as the session progresses.

Good luck
Adf

 

Hawks Must Beware

The BOE finally sees
That Brexit may not be a breeze
So hawks must beware
As rates they may pare
For doves, though, this act’s sure to please

Two stories from the UK are driving the narrative forward this morning, at least the narrative about the dollar continuing to strengthen. The first, and most impactful, were comments from BOE member, Michael Saunders, who prior to this morning’s speech was seen as one of the more hawkish members of the MPC. However, he explained that regardless of the Brexit outcome, the continuing slowdown in the UK, may require the BOE to cut rates soon. The UK economy has been under considerable pressure for some time and the data shows no signs of reversing. The market has been pricing in a rate cut for a while, although BOE rhetoric, especially from Governor Carney, worked hard to keep the idea of the next move being a rate hike. But no more. If Saunders is in the cutting camp, you can bet that we will see action at the November meeting, even if there is another Brexit postponement.

And speaking of Brexit postponements, Boris won a court victory in Northern Ireland where a lawsuit had been filed claiming a no-deal Brexit was a breach of the Good Friday accords that brought peace to the country. However, the court ruled it was no such thing, rather it was simply a political act. The upshot is this was seen as a further potential step toward a no-deal outcome, adding to the pound’s woes. In the meantime, Johnson’s government is still at odds with Parliament, and is in the midst of another round of talks with the EU to try to get a deal. It seems the odds of that deal are shrinking, although I continue to believe that the EU will blink. The next five weeks will be extremely interesting.

At any rate, once Saunders’ comments hit the tape, the pound quickly fell 0.5%, although it has since regained a bit of that ground. However, it is now trading below 1.23, its weakest level in two weeks, and as more and more investors and traders reintegrate a hard Brexit into their views, you can look for this decline to continue.

Of course, the other big story is the ongoing impeachment exercise in Congress which has caused further uncertainty in markets. As always, it is extremely difficult to trade a political event, especially one without a specific date attached like a vote. As such, it is difficult to even offer an opinion here. Broadly, in the event President Trump was actually removed from office, I expect the initial move would be risk-off but based on the only other impeachment exercise in recent memory, that of President Clinton in 1998, it took an awful long time to get through the process.

Turning to the data, growth in the Eurozone continues to go missing as evidenced by this morning’s confidence data. Economic Confidence fell to its lowest level in four years while the Business Climate and Industrial Confidence both fell more sharply than expected as well. We continue to see a lack of inflationary impulse in France (CPI 1.1%) and weakness remains the predominant theme. While the euro traded lower earlier in the session, it is actually 0.1% higher as I type. However, remember that the single currency has fallen more than 4.4% since the end of June and nearly 2.0% in the past two weeks alone. With the weekend upon us, it is no surprise that short term positions are being pared.

Overall, the dollar is having a mixed session. The yen and pound are vying for worst G10 performers, but the movement remains fairly muted. It seems the yen is benefitting from today’s risk-on feeling, which was just boosted by news that a cease-fire in Yemen is now backed by the Saudis. It is no surprise that oil is lower on the news, with WTI down 1.1%, and equity market have also embraced the news, extending early gains. On the other side of the coin, the mild risk-on flavor has helped the rest of the bunch.

In the EMG space it is also a mixed picture with ZAR suffering the most, -0.35%, as concerns grow over the government’s plans to increase growth. Meanwhile, overnight we saw strength in both PHP and INR (0.45% each) after the Philippine central bank cut rates and followed with a reserve ratio cut to help support the economy. Meanwhile, in India, as the central bank removes restrictions on foreign bond investment, the rupee has benefitted.

But overall, movement has not been large anywhere. US equity futures are pointing higher as we await this morning’s rash of data including: Personal Income (exp 0.4%); Personal Spending (0.3%); Core PCE (1.8%); Durable Goods (-1.0%, 0.2% ex transport); and Michigan Sentiment (92.1). We also hear from two more Fed speakers, Quarles and Harker. Speaking of Fed speakers (sorry), yesterday vice-Chairman Richard Clarida gave a strong indication that the Fed may change their inflation analysis to an average rate over time. This means that they will be comfortable allowing inflation to run hot for a time to offset any period of lower than targeted inflation. Given that inflation has been lower than targeted essentially since they set the target in 2012, if this becomes official policy, you can expect prices to continue to gain more steadily, and you can rule out higher rates anytime soon. In fact, this is quite dovish overall, and something that would work to change my view on the dollar. Essentially, given the history, it means rates may not go up for years! And that is not currently priced into any market, especially not the FX market.

The mixed picture this morning offers no clues for the rest of the day, but my sense is that the dollar is likely to come under further pressure overall, especially if risk is embraced more fully.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Weakness Worldwide

The Fed followed through on their pledge
To cut rates, as they try to hedge
‘Gainst weakness worldwide
But Jay clarified
It’s not a trend as some allege

The market response was quite swift
With equities given short shrift
Commodities fell
While bonds did excel
In FX, the buck got a lift

Something has really begun to bother me lately, and that is the remarkable inconsistency over the benefits/detriments of a currency’s value. For example, the dollar has been relatively strong lately, and as you are all aware, I believe will continue on that path overall. The key rationales for the dollar’s strength lie in two factors; first, despite yesterday’s cut, US interest rates remain much higher than every other G10 country, in most cases by more than 100bps, and so the relative benefit of holding dollars vs. other currencies continues. The second reason is that the US economy is the strongest, by far, of the G10, as recent GDP data demonstrated, and while there are certain sectors of weakness, notably housing and autos, things look reasonably good. This compares quite favorably to Europe, Japan and Oceania, where growth is slowing to the point that recession is a likely outcome. The thing is, article after article by varying analysts points to the dollar’s strength as a major problem. While President Trump rightly points out that a strong dollar can hinder US exports, and as a secondary effect corporate earnings, remember that trade represents a small portion of the US economy, just 12% as of the latest data.

Contrast this widespread and significant concern over a strong currency with the angst over the British pound’s recent performance as it continues to decline. Sterling is falling not only because the dollar is strong, but also because the market is repricing its estimates of the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. Ever since the Brexit vote the pound has been under pressure. Remember that the evening of the vote, when the first returns pointed to a Remain win, the pound touched 1.50. However, once the final results were in, the pound sold off sharply, losing as much as 20% of its value within four months of the vote. However, since then, during the negotiation phase, the pound actually rallied back as high as 1.4340 when it looked like a deal would get done and agreed. Alas, that never occurred and now that no-deal is not only back on the table, but growing as a probability, the pound is back near its lows. And this is decried as a terrible outcome! So, can someone please explain why a strong currency is bad but a weak currency is also bad? You can’t have it both ways. Arguably, every complaint over the pound’s weakness is a political statement clothed in an economic argument. And the same is true as to the dollar’s strength, with the difference there being that the President makes no bones about the politics.

In the end, the beauty of a floating currency regime is that the market adjusts based on actual and expected flows, not on political whims. If there is concern over a currency’s value, that implies that broader policy adjustments need to be considered. In fact, one of the most frightening things we have heard of late is the idea that the US may intervene directly to weaken the dollar. Intervention has a long and troubled history of failure, especially when undertaken solo rather than as part of a globally integrated plan a la the Plaza Accord in the 1980’s. An unsolicited piece of advice to the President would be as follows: if you want the strongest economy in the world, be prepared for a strong currency to accompany that situation. It is only natural.

With that out of the way, there is no real point in rehashing the FOMC yesterday as there are myriad stories already available. In brief, they cut 25bps, but explained it as an insurance cut because of global uncertainties. Weak sauce if you ask me. The telling thing is that during the press conference, when Powell explained that this was not the beginning of a new cycle and the stock market sold off sharply, he quickly backtracked and said more cuts could come as soon as he heard about the selloff. It gets harder and harder to believe that the Fed sees their mandate as anything other than boosting the stock market.

This morning brings the final central bank meeting of the week with the BOE on the docket at 7:00am. At this point, with rates still near historic lows and Brexit on the horizon, the BOE is firmly in the wait and see camp. Concerns have to be building as more economic indicators point to a slump, with today’s PMI data (48.0) posting its third consecutive month below the 50.0 level. I think it is clear that a hard Brexit will have a short-term negative impact on the UK economy, likely making things worse before they get better, but I also believe that the market has already priced in a great deal of that weakness. And in the end, I continue to believe that the EU will blink as they cannot afford to drive Europe into a recession just to spite the UK. So there will be no policy change here.

One interesting outcome since the Fed action yesterday was how many other central banks quickly cut interest rates as well. Brazil cut the Selic rate by 50bps, to a record low 6.00% as they had room from the Fed move and then highlighted the fact that a key pension reform bill seemed to have overwhelming support and was due to become law. This would greatly alleviate government spending pressures and allow for even more policy ease. As well, the Middle East saw rate cuts by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain all cut rates by 25bps as well. In fact, the only bank that does not seem likely to respond is the PBOC, where they have been trying to use other tools, rather than interest rate policy, to help bolster the economy there.

This morning sees the dollar broadly higher with both the euro and pound down by ~0.40%, and similar weakness in a number of EMG currencies like MXN and INR. Even the yen has weakened this morning by 0.2%, implying this is not so much a risk-off event as a dollar strength event. Data today brings Initial Claims (exp 212K) and ISM Manufacturing (52.0). Regarding the ISM data, yesterday saw an extremely weak Chicago PMI print of just 44.4, its lowest since December 2015. Given how poor the European and Chinese PMI data were overnight and this morning, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a weak outcome there. However, I don’t think that will be enough to weaken the dollar much as the Fed just gave the market its marching orders. We will need to see a very weak payroll report tomorrow to change any opinions, but for today, the dollar remains in the ascendancy.

Good luck
Adf

 

QE Will Soon Have Returned

The ECB started the trend
Which helped the bond market ascend
Then yesterday Jay
Was happy to say
A rate cut he’d clearly portend

Last night from Japan we all learned
Kuroda-san was not concerned
That yields there keep falling
And if growth is stalling
Then QE will soon have returned

This morning on Threadneedle Street
The Governor and his staff meet
Of late, they’ve implied
That rates have upside
But frankly, that tune’s obsolete

This morning, every story is the same story, interest rates are going lower. Tuesday, Signor Draghi told us so. Yesterday Chairman Jay reiterated the idea, and last night, Kuroda-san jumped on the bandwagon. This morning, Governor Carney left policy unchanged, although he continues to maintain that interest rates in the UK could rise if there is a smooth exit from the EU. Gilt markets, however, clearly don’t believe Carney as yields there fall and futures markets are pricing in a 25bp rate cut by the end of the year.

But it is not just those banks that are looking to ease policy. Remember, several weeks ago the RBA cut rates to a new record low at 1.25%, and last night, Governor Lowe indicated another cut was quite realistic. Bank Indonesia cut the reserve requirement by 0.50% last night and strongly hinted that an interest rate cut was on its way. While Bangko Sentral ng Pilipanas surprised most analysts by leaving rates on hold due to an uptick in inflation, that appears to be a temporary outcome. And adding to the Asian pressure is the growing belief that the RBNZ is also set to cut rates right before Australia does so.

In fact, looking around the world, there is only one place that is bucking this trend, Norway, which actually increased interest rates this morning by 25bp to a rate of 1.25%. In fairness, Norway continues to grow strongly, estimated 2.6% GDP growth this year, and inflation there is running above the 2.0% target and forecast to continue to increase. And it should be no surprise that the Norwegian krone is this morning’s best performing currency, rallying 1.0% vs. the euro and 1.5% vs. the dollar.

But in the end, save Norway, every story is still the same story. Global GDP growth is slowing amid increased trade concerns while inflationary pressures are generally absent almost everywhere. And in that environment, policy rates are going to continue to fall.

The market impacts ought not be too surprising either. Equity investors everywhere are giddy over the thought of still lower interest rates to help boost the economy. Or if not boosting the economy, at least allowing corporations to continue to issue more debt at extremely low levels and resume the stock repurchase schemes that have been underpinning equity market performance. Meanwhile, bond market investors are pushing the central banks even further, with new low yield levels in many countries. For example, in the 10-year space, German bunds are at -0.31%; Japanese JGB’s are at -0.18%; UK Gilts yield 0.81%; and Treasuries, here at home, have fallen to 2.01% right now, after touching 1.97% yesterday. It is abundantly clear that the market believes policy rates are going to continue to fall, and that QE is going to be reinstated soon.

As to the FX markets, yesterday saw the beginning of a sharp decline in the dollar with the euro up nearly 1.0% since the FOMC announcement, the pound +0.5% and the yen +0.6%. This makes sense as given the global rate structure, it remains clear that the Fed has the most room to ease from current settings, and thus the dollar is likely to suffer the most in the short term. However, as those changes take effect, I expect that the dollar’s decline will slow down, and we will find a new short-term equilibrium. I had suggested a 3%-5% decline before settling, and that still seems reasonable. After all, despite the fall yesterday, the dollar is simply back to where it was a week ago, before all the central bank fireworks.

With the BOE out of the way, the rest of the morning brings us two data releases, Initial Claims (exp 220K) and Philly Fed (11.0). For the former, there is still real scrutiny there given the weak NFP number earlier this month, and estimates have been creeping slightly higher. A big miss on the high side will likely see rates fall further and the dollar with them. As to the latter, given the huge miss by the Empire Manufacturing print on Monday, there will be wariness there as well. A big miss here will become the second piece of news that indicates a more acute slowing of the US economy, and that will also likely see rates fall further.

In fact, that is the theme for now, everything will be an excuse for rates to fall until the meeting between President’s Trump and Xi next week, with all eyes looking for signs that the trade situation will improve. And one other thing to remember is that tensions in the Middle East are increasing after Iran claimed to have shot down a US drone. Both oil and gold prices are much higher this morning, and I assure you, Treasuries are a beneficiary of this story as well.

So, for the dollar, things look dim in the short and medium term, however, I see no reason for a prolonged decline. Hedgers should take advantage of the weakness in the buck to add to hedges over the next few weeks.

Good luck
Adf

The Chaff from the Wheat

As markets await the report
On Payrolls they’re having to sort
The chaff from the wheat
From Threadneedle Street
As Carney, does rate hikes exhort

The gloom that had been permeating the analyst community (although certainly not the equity markets) earlier this year, seems to be lifting slightly. Recent data has shown a stabilization, at the very least, if not the beginnings of outright growth, from key regions around the world. The latest news was this morning’s surprising Eurozone inflation numbers, where CPI rose a more than expected 1.7% in April, while the core rate rose 1.2%, matching the highest level it has seen in the past two years. If this is truly a trend, then perhaps that long delayed normalization of monetary policy in the Eurozone may finally start to occur. Personally, I’m not holding my breath. Interestingly, the FX market has responded by selling the euro with the single currency down 0.2% this morning and 1.0% since Wednesday’s close. I guess that market doesn’t see the case for higher Eurozone rates yet.

In the meantime, the market continues to consider BOE Governor Carney’s comments in the wake of yesterday’s meeting, where he tried to convince one and all that the tendency for UK rates will be higher once Brexit is finalized (and assuming a smooth transition). And perhaps, if there truly is a global recovery trend and policy normalization becomes a reality elsewhere, that will be the case. But here, too, the market does not seem to believe him as evidenced by the pound’s ongoing weakness (-0.3% and back below 1.30) and the fact that interest rate futures continue to price in virtually no chance of rate hikes in the UK before 2021.

While we are discussing the pound, there is one other thing that continues to confuse me, the very fact that it is still trading either side of 1.30. If you believe the narrative, the UK cannot leave the EU without a deal, so there is no chance of a hard Brexit. After all, isn’t that what Parliament voted for? In addition, according to the OECD, the pound at 1.30 is undervalued by 12% or so. Combining these two themes, no chance of a hard Brexit and a massively undervalued pound, with the fact that the Fed has seemingly turned dovish would lead one to believe that the pound should be trading closer to 1.40 than 1.30. And yet, here we are. My take is that the market is not yet convinced that a hard Brexit is off the table or else the pound would be much higher. And frankly, in this case, I agree. It is still not clear to me that a hard Brexit is off the table which means that any true resolution to the situation should result in a sharp rally in the pound.

Pivoting to the rest of the FX market, the dollar is stronger pretty much across the board this morning, and this is after a solid performance yesterday. US data yesterday showed a significant jump in Nonfarm Productivity (+3.6%) along with a decline in Unit Labor Costs (-0.9%), thus implying that corporate activity was quite robust and the growth picture in the US enhanced. We also continue to see US earnings data that is generally beating (quite low) expectations and helping to underpin the equity market’s recent gains. Granted the past two days have seen modest declines, but overall, stocks remain much higher on the year. In the end, it continues to appear that despite all the angst over trade, and current US policies regarding energy, climate and everything else, the US remains a very attractive place to invest and dollars continue to be in demand.

Regarding this morning’s data, not only do we see the payroll report, but also the ISM Non-manufacturing number comes at 10:00.

Nonfarm Payrolls 185K
Private Payrolls 180K
Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Participation Rate 62.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.3% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
ISM Non-Manufacturing 57.0

One cannot help but be impressed with the labor market in the US, where for the last 102 months, the average NFP number has been 200K. It certainly doesn’t appear that this trend is going to change today. In fact, after Wednesday’s blowout ADP number, the whisper is for something north of 200K. However, Wednesday’s ISM Manufacturing number was disappointingly weak, so there will be a great deal of scrutiny on today’s non-manufacturing view.

Adding to the mix, starting at 10:15 we will hear from a total of five Fed speakers (Evans, Clarida, Williams, Bowman, Bullard) before we go to bed. While Bullard’s speech is after the markets close, the other four will get to recount their personal views on the economy and future policy path with markets still open. However, given that we just heard from Chairman Powell at his press conference, and that the vote to leave rates was unanimous, it seems unlikely we will learn too much new information from these talks.

Summing up, heading into the payroll report the dollar is firm and shows no signs of retreating. My take is a good number will support the buck, while a weak one will get people thinking about that insurance rate cut again, and likely undermine its recent strength. My money is on a better number today, something like 230K, and a continuation of the last two days of dollar strength.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Rather Wrong

While Powell said growth may be strong
He still thinks it seems rather wrong
That prices won’t rise
So it’s no surprise
That rates will go lower ‘ere long

After the FOMC left policy largely unchanged yesterday (they did tweak the IOER down by 5bps) and the statement was parsed, it appeared that the Fed’s clear dovish bias continues to drive the overall tone of policy. Growth is solid but inflation remains confusingly soft and it appeared that the Fed was moving closer to the ‘insurance’ rate cut markets have been looking hoping for to prevent weakness from showing up. Stocks rallied and so did bonds with the yield on the 10yr falling to 2.45% just before the press conference while stock markets were higher by 0.5% or so. But then…

According to Powell the story
Is price declines are transitory
So patience remains
The thought in Fed brains
With traders stuck in purgatory

Powell indicated that the majority view at the Fed was that the reason we have seen such weak price data lately is because of transitory issues. These include reduced investment management fees in the wake of the sharp equity market declines in Q4 of last year and the change in the way the Fed gathered price data at retail stores where they now collect significantly greater amounts of data digitally, rather than having ‘shoppers’ go to stores and look at price tags. The upshot is that while he was hardly hawkish in any sense of the word, trying to maintain as neutral a stance as possible, he was far more hawkish than the market had anticipated. Not surprisingly, markets reversed their earlier moves with 10yr yields shooting higher by 6bps, closing higher than the previous day’s close, while equity markets ceded all their early gains and wound up falling about 0.7% on average between the three major indices.

What about the dollar? Well, it followed the same type of trajectory as other assets, softening on the dovish ideas throughout the session before rallying a sharp 0.55% in the wake of Powell’s press conference opening statement. Since then, it has largely maintained the rebound, although this morning it is softer by about 0.1% across the board.

Looking ahead, markets are going to continue to focus on the interplay between the data releases and the central bank comments. Nothing has changed with regard to the overarching dovish bias evident in almost all central banks, but in order for them to act, rather than merely talk, the data will have to be clearly deteriorating. And lately, the best description of the data releases has been mixed. For example, yesterday saw a huge ADP Employment number, 275K, boding well for tomorrow’s NFP report. However, ISM Manufacturing fell sharply to 52.8, well below last month’s 55.3 reading as well as far below the 55.0 market expectation. So, which one is more important? That’s the thing. As long as we see strength in some areas of the economy along with weakness in others, the Fed is almost certainly going to sit on the sidelines. That is, of course, unless the inflation data starts to move more aggressively in either direction. I think it is far better than even money that Fed funds are 2.25%-2.50% on December 31.

But what about other places? Well, the ECB seems stuck between a rock and a hard place as Q1 data has been disappointing overall and they are running out of tools to fight a slowdown. Given the current rate structure, the question being debated in the halls in Frankfurt is just how low can rates go before having a net detrimental impact on the economy. If we see any further weakness from the Eurozone, we are going to find out. That brings us to this morning’s PMI data, where Bloomberg tried hard to put a positive spin on what remains lousy data. Germany (44.4), Italy (49.1) and France (50.0) remain desultory at best. The Eurozone print (47.2) is hardly the stuff of dreams, although in fairness, it was better than analysts had been expecting. So perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of a stabilization in the decline, rather than a continuing acceleration of such. But that hardly gives a rationale for tighter policy. The ECB remains stuck on hold on the rate front and is certainly going to see significant uptake of their new TLTRO’s when they come out. It remains difficult to see a reason for the euro to rebound given the underlying economic weakness in the Eurozone, especially with the ECB committed to negative rates for at least another year.

What about the UK? Well, the BOE met this morning and left rates on hold by a unanimous vote. They also released new economic forecasts that showed reduced expectations for inflation this year, down to 1.6%, with the out years remaining essentially unchanged. They indicated that the delay in Brexit would have a limited impact as they continue to plan on a smooth transition, and their growth forecasts changed with 2019 rising to 1.5% on the back of the inventory led gains in Q1, although the out years remain unchanged. Here, too, there is no urgency to raise rates, although they keep trying to imply that slightly higher rates would be appropriate. However, the market is having none of it, pricing a 30% chance of a 25bp rate cut before the end of next year. The pound chopped on the news, rallying at first, but falling subsequently and is now sitting at 1.3050, essentially unchanged on the day.

Of course, Brexit continues to influence the pound’s movements and recent hints from both PM May and Labour Leader Corbyn indicate that it is possible they are going to agree a deal that includes permanent membership of a customs union with the EU. Certainly, verification of that will help the pound rally back. But boy, if I voted for Brexit and this is what they delivered, it would be quite upsetting. In essence, it destroys one of the main benefits of Brexit, the ability to manage their own trade function. We shall see how it plays out.

This morning brings more data, starting with Initial Claims (exp 215K), Nonfarm Productivity (2.2%) and Unit Labor Costs (1.5%) at 8:30, then Factory Orders (1.5%) at 10:00. The onslaught of Fed speakers doesn’t start until tomorrow, so that’s really it for the day. Equity futures are rallying this morning as the idea that the markets fell yesterday seems more like a mirage than a market response to new information. In the end, you cannot fight city hall, and though Powell tried to sound tough, I didn’t see anything to change the view that the Fed remains biased toward cutting rates as their next move.

Good luck
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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
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