Make Boris Bend

As Parliament seeks to extend
The timeline, and make Boris bend
The market’s decided
The deal he provided
Will ultimately pass in the end

Well, Brexit is still the number one topic in markets, although after a quiet Friday on the trade front, we got more discussion there as well. As to Brexit, Boris lost his fight to get a clean vote on the newly renegotiated deal on Saturday. Instead, Parliament voted to force a request for an extension, which at this moment the EU is considering. Interestingly, in the EU there are a number of countries that seem ready to be done with the process and no longer care if the UK exits. However, as sweet as that would be for the Brexiteers, in the end that would require courage by the country(ies) who voted no. And courage is something in short supply at the top of European (and most) governments. At any rate, given the speed with which this story changes, this morning the word is that Johnson has found the votes necessary to get his deal through Parliament, but it means that he has to get another vote. The roadblock there is in the form of John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who has proven himself to be a virulent Bremainer, and wants nothing more than to see Boris fail.

With that as background, one might have thought the pound would have suffered, but the market has looked through all the permutations and decided that a deal is forthcoming in the near-term, or perhaps more accurately, that the odds of a no-deal Brexit have been significantly reduced. This is evident in the fact that as I type, the pound is essentially unchanged since Friday’s optimistic close at 1.2980, and has traded above 1.30 earlier in the session for the first time since May (the month, not the former PM).

However, I think the euro’s performance has been far more interesting lately. Consider that despite an ongoing run of generally awful data, showing neither growth nor inflationary impulse, the single currency continues to climb slowly. A part of this is likely a result of what has been mild dollar weakness amid increasing risk appetite. But I think that the market has also begun to recognize that a Brexit deal will remove uncertainty on the continent and the euro will benefit accordingly. From the time of the referendum in 2016 I have made it clear that Brexit was not just a British pound story, but a euro one as well. And this slow appreciation (EUR is higher by 2.7% this month, about 0.7% more than the dollar index) is a belated reaction to the fact that a Brexit deal is a benefit there as well. At any rate, much of this story is yet to be written, and a successful outcome will almost certainly result in further GBP outperformance, but the euro is likely to continue this grind higher as well.

On the trade front, comments from Chinese vice-premier Liu He explaining China would work with the US to address each other’s core concerns and that ending the trade war would be good for everyone were seen as quite positive by equity and other risk markets. In fact, the combination of optimism on the two big issues of the day, trade and Brexit has led to a clear, if modest, risk-on session. Equity markets in Asia performed well (Nikkei +0.25%, CSI 300 +0.3%), and we are seeing modest gains throughout Europe as well (DAX +0.7%, CAC +0.15%). It is certainly a positive that the trade dialog continues, but I fear we remain a very long way from a broad deal.

Another weekend event was the World Bank / IMF meetings in Washington with the commentary exactly what you would expect. Namely, everyone derided the trade war and explained it would be better if it ended. Everyone derided Brexit and said it would be better if it didn’t happen. And everyone explained that it’s time for fiscal policy to step up to the plate to help central banks. What has become very clear is that central banks are truly running out of room to help support their respective economies but it is impolitic to say so. This results in exhortations for fiscal policy pushes by those who can afford it. However, Germany remains resolute in their belief that there is no reason to implement a supplementary budget of any kind and that continuing to run a budget surplus is the best thing for the nation. Look for pressure to continue to build, but unless growth really starts to crater there, I don’t expect them to change their views, or policies.

A look around the rest of the FX market shows that the biggest gainer this weekend was KRW, rising 0.8% on optimism that a trade deal between the US and China was closer. Certainly it was not the terrible data from South Korea that helped the won rally, as exports in October have fallen nearly 20%, making eleven consecutive monthly declines in that statistic. Otherwise, the mild risk-on atmosphere has helped most EMG currencies edge higher. On the G10 front, NOK is the big winner, rising 0.55%, although that simply looks like a reaction to its sharp declines over the past two weeks.

On the data front it is extremely quiet this week as follows:

Tuesday Existing Home Sales 5.45M
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Durable Goods -0.7%
  -ex Transport -0.3%
  New Home Sales 701K
Friday Michigan Sentiment 96.0

Source: Bloomberg

Arguably, Durable Goods is the most interesting number of the bunch. And after a two-week deluge of Fed speakers, they have gone into their quiet period ahead of next Wednesday’s meeting. The final comments by Kaplan and Clarida were similar to the previous comments we heard, namely that the economy is in a “good place” and that they are essentially going to play it by ear on the next rate decision. As of this morning, the market is still pricing in an 89.5% probability of a rate cut.

Speaking of low rates, Signor Draghi presides over his last ECB meeting this week and while there are no new policies expected, it is universally anticipated that he will renew his call for fiscal stimulus to help the Eurozone economic outlook. Quite frankly, I think it is abundantly clear that the ECB has completely run out of ammunition to fight any further weakness, and that Madame Lagarde, when she takes the seat on November 1, will feel more like Old Mother Hubbard than anything else.

For the day, I see no reason for the risk-on attitude to change, and if anything, I imagine we can see more positive news from the UK which will only help drive things further in that direction. While in the end, I still see the dollar performing well, for now, it is on its back foot and likely to stay there for a little while longer.

Good luck
Adf

Can Boris Succeed?

In Brussels they finally agreed
On how Brexit now will proceed
The DUP still
Insist that they will
Vote No, so can Boris succeed?

Methinks that the answer is yes
As many MP’s acquiesce
Their voters are tired
And Boris admired
For finding the key to success

Well, it’s done! Or at least almost done. The UK and the EU have agreed the legal text for the Brexit deal as well as the political declaration for their relationship going forward. It seems that despite all of Parliament’s efforts to undermine the prime minister’s negotiating tactics, the EU realized that a continuation of this process was detrimental to their own well-being. And so a deal has been reached with EU President Jean-Claude Juncker encouraging the other 27 members to ratify the document.

Of course, the UK Parliament still needs to do the same, and the last word was that Arlene Foster and her DUP were not yet willing to accept the terms. The surface calculation is that Boris needs them since he doesn’t have an outright majority in Parliament. However, I think that he will be able to find votes throughout the rest of Parliament. Remember, about half of Labour’s constituents voted to leave as well, so there will be a lot of pressure for Labour MP’s to break ranks and finish this process on Saturday. After that, a vote of no-confidence could bring down Boris’s government, but he will relish the new election. In fact, it is entirely possible that Labour will not seek that vote as a newly emboldened Johnson could easily regain a solid majority and send Jeremy Corbyn to the backbenches forever. At least now, Johnson is somewhat weakened by his coalition.

So what does this mean for markets going forward? It should be no surprise that risk appetite has quickly increased this morning with equity markets popping higher on the news, Treasury yields rising and the dollar falling. Right after the announcement, the pound jumped more than 1.3%, to 1.2990, but it has since given back some of those gains on a combination of profit taking and questions as to whether Parliament will ratify the deal. Still, as I type, the pound is higher by 0.4% since yesterday’s close.

Perhaps of more interest is the rally in the euro, which is also higher by 0.4% this morning. It also spiked on the news, albeit not quite as far, and has been rallying in lockstep with, although not quite at the same trajectory as, the pound for the past two weeks. Since the beginning of October, when negotiations really intensified, the euro is higher by 2.4% while the pound has rallied nearly 6.0%. This ratio seems reasonable to me, and when (if) Parliament ratifies the deal on Saturday, I expect it to continue for a while longer.

But risk appetite means that other currencies are also performing well with AUD today’s top performer after the Unemployment Rate fell surprisingly to 5.2% last night. While the RBA had expressed concern over its recent trajectory, it is up from 4.9% in February, if things are stabilizing Down Under, there is less call for further monetary ease, and so the Aussie responded accordingly. This helped drag kiwi higher (+0.6%), and we are seeing solid strength across the entire G10 front. EMG markets are responding in a similar manner, with the bulk of the space higher by between 0.3% and 0.6%. This includes a cross section of APAC, EEMEA and LATAM currencies, thus implying this is much more about the dollar than any particular currency story.

So what is happening to the dollar? Certainly yesterday’s Retail Sales data (-0.3%; -0.1% ex autos) did not help the greenback, as it showed the first potential cracks in the consumer portion of the economy. This has been the economic (and stock market) bears’ key concern; that a slowdown in the manufacturing sector, which has been evident, would bleed over to the consumer sector. The bulls, and the Fed, continue to point to the strength in the labor market as their rationale to dismiss the idea, but we all know that the Unemployment Rate is a severely lagging indicator, and that it will not start to suffer until other data have already pointed to a sharper slowdown. This morning’s Housing Starts (exp 1320K) and Building Permits (1350K) data will be closely scrutinized in the wake of the Retail Sales numbers, but remember, this is the sector most directly benefitting from the Fed’s recent largesse.

To go back to the question of what is happening to the dollar, I would suggest that the market had been pretty convinced that US growth would continue to exceed that elsewhere in the world, and that despite the Fed’s ‘mid-cycle adjustment’ that interest rates here would remain higher than elsewhere. But if there is now some concern over the US economy slowing more rapidly than previously thought, and that the Fed will need to be more aggressive, the dollar will very likely suffer in the near term. A key question in this scenario is; will market participants continue to add to their risk profiles if the US is sliding into a recession? At some point, one would expect, adding risk will seem the wrong decision, and a risk-off dollar rally is likely to ensue. But we are not yet at that point.

On top of the Housing data we also see Initial Claims (exp 215K); Philly Fed (7.6); IP (-0.2%); and Capacity Utilization (77.7%). Given the recent slowdown in the ISM data, this other data will be carefully watched as well. If it underperforms, look for the probability of a Fed cut in two weeks, currently 82%, to rise further, and the dollar to suffer as well. In addition to the data, we hear from three more Fed speakers, the dovish Charles Evans, and both Michelle Bowman and John Williams, who are much more middle of the road. This has been a very active week for Fed speakers and yet nothing new has come from any of them. The message continues to be that the revived purchases of Treasuries, at a rate of $60 billion per month, is definitely not QE, but merely a technical adjustment to the balance sheet. And beyond that, they are closely watching the data but feel the economy is in a “good place.” I know that makes me feel better!

For the rest of the session, I see no reason for the dollar to reverse course barring something outside this discussion, notably trade talk, popping up. Mercifully, there has been no trade conversation so equity markets are focused on earnings and FX markets are focused on the probability of the Brexit deal being ratified by Parliament. Success on Saturday should open the way for the pound to rally another 3-5 cents next week, especially if the dollar remains under pressure overall.

Good luck
Adf

 

A Currency Pact

The market is focused on trade
And hoping that progress is made
There’s news China’s backed
A currency pact
If tariff boosts can be delayed

Activity overnight was considerably more volatile than usual as conflicting stories regarding the US-China trade talks hit the tape. Risk was quickly jettisoned after a story from the South China Morning Post indicated that the talks, starting this morning in Washington, would be cut short. Shortly thereafter, the White House denied that report encouraging traders to buy back their stocks and sell bonds. Then Fox Business reiterated the original report less than a half hour later and the sell-off happened all over again. Finally, two positive reports helped equity markets recoup all of their overnight losses and took the shine off bonds. The first of those was that the currency pact that had been agreed between the US and China back in May (when chances of a big deal seemed realistic) was being dusted off and likely would be part of a mini-deal with the US agreeing to delay the imposition of new tariffs next Tuesday. And finally, President Trump has allowed US firms to sell non-critical technology to Huawei again, which was seen as additional thawing of the trade situation.

Of course, all this means is that we are back where we started, the trade talks are due to begin this morning and the Chinese delegation is scheduled to leave tomorrow evening. Arguably, the story that both sides are willing to agree on a currency pact as part of this round, and the indications that there are low level things that can be agreed, bode well for the rest of the week. But make no mistake, the major issues; IP theft, forced technology transfer and state subsidies are nowhere near being solved, and quite frankly, given they are integral to China’s economic model, seem unlikely ever to be solved. But for equity bulls, at least, hope springs eternal.

The FX impact in the end has been for a much softer dollar pretty much across the board. The idea is that if risk is to be embraced again, the higher yields available in Emerging Markets, as well as developed markets on a swapped basis, are the place to be. While the biggest mover overnight has been SEK, that is actually due to a surprising CPI report, with the annual pace of price increases rising to 1.5%, above the 1.3% expectation and a boon for the Riksbank who has been trying to normalize monetary policy by raising rates back to, and above, zero again. This report has given the market reason to believe that at their next meeting, in two weeks, while they won’t hike, they will continue to give guidance that a hike is coming before the end of the year. As such, SEK has rallied a solid 1.4%, although arguably, the trend is still for a weaker krone.

But the rest of the G10 has performed as well, with AUD, NZD and NOK all higher by 0.6% and the euro, despite disappointing data from both Germany and France, higher by 0.5%. Even the pound is higher this morning, up 0.35%, as the market awaits word on the outcome of a lunch meeting between Boris and Irish PM Leo Varadkar as they try to find a compromise. It seems to make the most sense that Varadkar is representing the EU given Ireland will be the nation most negatively impacted by a hard Brexit. My sense is we should start to hear about the outcome of this lunch around the time that US CPI is released, although I would read a delay as quite positive. The longer it takes; it seems the more likely that they are making headway on a compromise which would be very bullish for the pound. But until we actually see the news, the broad dollar trend is all we have.

In the EMG bloc we have also seen broad based strength paced this morning by HUF’s 0.7% rally. While much of this move is simply on the back of the euro’s rise, Hungary did have a quite successful auction of 5yr-15yr bonds which encouraged additional forint buying. Otherwise, the rest of the CE4 have moved directly in line with the euro and gains throughout Asia were only on the order of 0.2%. Of course, those markets closed before all the trade news had been released, so assuming nothing changes on that front (a difficult assumption) APAC currencies are likely to perform well tonight.

Turning to today’s session, we see our most important data of the week with CPI (exp 1.8%, 2.4% ex food & energy) as well as the usual Initial Claims data (220K). Regarding the former, Tuesday’s PPI report was surprisingly soft, with the headline number printing at -0.3% on the month and dragging the annual number down to just 1.4%. While there have been no forecast shifts amongst economists, there is still some lingering concern (hope?) amongst market participants that we could see a soft number here as well. The issue is a soft number would seem to open the door for the Fed to be far more aggressive in their rate cutting. Remember, Chairman Powell has repeated several times lately that the committee is watching the data closely and will do what they need to do in order to maintain the expansion while achieving their twin goals of stable prices and maximum employment. Obviously, with the Unemployment Rate at 3.5%, there is not much concern there. But falling inflation will ring alarm bells.

One last thing, though, regarding employment. The Initial Claims data is often a very good leading indicator of the overall employment situation, starting to rise well before the nonfarm numbers start to decline. Since the financial crisis, Initial Claims have tumbled from a peak of 665K in March 2009 to the low 200’s that we have seen for the past year. But recently, it appears that the number is beginning to creep higher again, with the 210k-215k readings that we had been seeing regularly now edging toward 220K and beyond. And while I know that seems extremely subtle, I merely caution that Initial Claims is a measure of job cuts, so if they are actually growing, that bodes ill for the economy’s future performance.

As to today, unless and until we hear more from the Trade talks or Boris, don’t look for much movement. But certainly the bias is to add risk for the day meaning the dollar should remain under pressure.

Good luck
Adf

 

The UK Wants to Shun

This morning as part of his plan
For Brexit, the PM began
A series of talks,
Before Britain walks,
With Angela as middleman

Alas, when the phone call was done
The odds of a deal approached none
The EU made clear
The (Northern) Irish adhere
To rules the UK wants to shun

The pound is suffering this morning, down 0.5%, after news that a phone call between Boris and Angela resulted in Johnson explaining that a Brexit deal is “essentially impossible” at the current time. If you recall, Boris’s plan was for Northern Ireland to adhere to EU rules on manufactured goods and agricultural products while customs activities would take place a number of miles from the actual border. Finally, Northern Ireland would be allowed to vote every four years to determine if they were happy with that situation. The EU view is that Northern Ireland must remain a part of the customs union in perpetuity, something that would essentially split them from the rest of the UK. It is no surprise that both Boris and Northern Ireland rejected that outcome, and so the Johnson government has increased preparations for a hard Brexit.

There are two interesting tidbits ongoing as well, both of which bode ill for a deal. First is that Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is terrified that he and his nation will be blamed if no deal is reached. And when I say terrified, it means that he is afraid that a no-deal Brexit will result in a significant (~5%) hit to Ireland’s economy and that he will be tossed from office because of that. Remember, every politician’s number one priority during any situation is to be reelected, hence his terror. His response has to increase the rhetoric about how Boris is the problem, further poisoning the well. The second interesting thing is that a survey in the EU by Kantar (a European polling company) showed that between 47% and 66% of citizens in six EU nations (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain and Poland) believe the EU should not extend the Brexit deadline, with a solid majority in all nations except the Netherlands. Perhaps Boris will get his wish that Europe won’t offer an extension or agree to one if asked. It appears that this saga is reaching its denouement. And despite all of this, I continue to see a strong possibility that the EU blinks as they figure out Boris is serious. My impression is that Merkel and the EU continue to believe that the UK will come begging, hat in hand, for another extension and that a new vote will lead to the end of this process with the UK revoking Article 50. And so they continue to believe they are dealing from a position of strength. We shall see.

Of course, the reason we care so much about this is not just for the impact on the British pound, but actually the impact on the global economy. Consider that the global economy has been slowing steadily for the past eighteen months under pressure from the ongoing trade war between the US and China and the uncertainty that has engendered. If the estimates of the economic impact of a hard Brexit are even halfway correct, we are looking at a sharp decline in economic activity in the UK, Ireland, Germany, France and the Netherlands, ranging between 0.5% and 5.0%. I assure you that will not help the global growth situation. It will also result in immediate additional policy ease by the world’s central banks, notably the Fed. The impact on equity markets will be significant, bond markets will rally sharply as will haven currencies. In other words, it could easily be the catalyst required to bring on that recession on the horizon.

Beyond Brexit, the other big story overnight was on trade as the US put 28 Chinese firms on an export blacklist under the guise of those companies helping in repression of Muslim minorities in northwest China. Not surprisingly, the Chinese were not amused and ‘instructed’ the US to correct its mistake. They also told the world to “stay tuned” for any retaliation that will be forthcoming. Fortunately, this has not changed the plans for the trade talks to be held on Thursday and Friday in Washington with Vice-premier Liu He, at least not yet. But that remains a huge concern, that He will not make the trip and that the trade impasse will harden. At this point it has become pretty clear that a big trade deal is not in the offing. The Chinese appear to be betting that President Trump will lose the election and so are waiting him out. However, this is the one area where the President truly has bipartisan support so it is not clear to me that a President Warren, Biden or Sanders would be any more inclined to come to an agreement that didn’t meet hurdles regarding IP theft and state subsidies.

The combination of these two events has served to undermine equity markets in Europe with virtually every major index having fallen by more than 1% this morning. While Asian equity markets performed well (Nikkei +1.0%, KOSPI +1.2%, Shanghai +0.25%) that was before the Boris-Angela call. US futures have turned lower in the past hour with all three exchanges now pointing to 0.5% declines on the opening. Meanwhile, Treasury yields continue to fall with the 10-year at 1.52%, down 4bps and Bunds are following with yields there down 1.5bps.
As to the dollar, it is no surprise the yen (+0.4%) and Swiss franc (+0.35%) have rallied, but a bit more surprising that aside from the pound, most other G10 currencies are firmer. That said, the movement has not been that large and if we see a true risk-off session in the US, I would expect the dollar to strengthen. In the EMG space, ZAR is the biggest loser today, falling 0.65%, after Renaissance Capital put out a report that the country’s debt would be downgraded to junk status next month. Given their recent track record, correctly calling 8 of the past 9 ratings moves, it is being given some credence. After that, RUB has fallen 0.5% on the back or weaker oil prices, which are down 1.3% this morning and more than 11% from before the attack on the Saudi oil facility in the middle of September.

As to data today, NFIB was already released at a slightly weaker than expected 101.8. While that remains at the high end of its historic readings, it is clear that this series has rolled over and is heading lower. We also get PPI (exp 1.8%, 2.3% ex food & energy) at 8:30 but most folks ignore that and are looking for CPI on Thursday. Chairman Powell speaks again today at 2:30 this afternoon, so all eyes will be focused on Denver to see how he responds to the most recent gyrations in the big stories.

Overall, it feels like a day of uncertainty and risk reduction. Look for further yen and Swiss franc strength as well as for the dollar to regain its footing against the rest of its counterparts.

Good luck
Adf

Digging In Heels

In Europe they’re digging in heels
Ignoring all UK appeals.
So, Brexit is looming
With Boris assuming
They’ll blink, ratifying his deal

Brexit and the Trade Wars sounds more like a punk rock band than a description of the key features in today’s markets, but once again, it is those two stories that are driving sentiment.

Regarding the former, the news today is less positive that a deal will be agreed. A wide group of EU leaders have said Boris’s latest offering is unacceptable and that they are not willing to budge off their principles (who knew they had principles?). It appears the biggest sticking point is that the proposal allows Northern Ireland to be the final arbiter of approval over the workings of the deal, voting every four years to determine if they want to remain aligned with the EU’s rules on manufactured goods, livestock and agricultural products. This, of course, would take control of the process out of the EU’s hands, something which they are unwilling to countenance.

French President Emmanuel Macron has indicated that if they cannot agree the framework for a deal by this Friday, October 11, there would be no chance to get a vote on a deal at the EU Summit to be held next week on October 17. It appears, at this point, that the EU is betting the Benn Act, the legislation recently passed requiring the PM to ask for an extension, will be enforced and that the UK will hold a general election later this year in an attempt to establish a majority opinion there. The risk, of course, is that the majority is to complete Brexit regardless and then the EU will find itself in a worse position. All of this presupposes that Boris actually does ask for the extension which would be a remarkable climb-down from his rhetoric since being elected.

Given all the weekend machinations, and the much more negative tone about the outcome, it is remarkable that the pound is little changed on the day. While it did open the London session down about 0.35%, it has since recouped those losses. As always, the pound remains a binary situation, with a hard Brexit likely to result in a sharp decline, something on the order of 10%, while a deal will result in a similar rally. However, in the event there is another extension, I expect the market will read that as a prelude to a deal and the pound should trade higher, just not that much, maybe 2%-3%.

Otherwise, the big story is the trade war and how the Chinese are narrowing the scope of the negotiations when vice-premier Liu He arrives on Thursday. They have made it quite clear that there will be no discussion on Chinese industrial policy or subsidies, key US objectives, and that all the talks will be about Chinese purchases of US agricultural and energy products as well as attempts to remove tariffs. It appears the Chinese believe that the impeachment inquiry that President Trump is facing will force him to back down on his demands. While anything is possible, especially in politics, based on all his actions to date, I don’t think that the President will change his tune on trade because of a domestic political tempest that he is bashing on a regular basis. The market seems to agree with that view as well, at least based on today’s price action which can best be described as modestly risk-off. Treasury and Bund yields are lower, albeit only between 1-2bps, the yen (+0.1%) and Swiss franc (+0.2%) have strengthened alongside the dollar and US equity futures are pointing to a decline of 0.2% to start the session. Ultimately, this story will remain a market driver based on headlines, but it would be surprising if we hear very much before the meetings begin on Thursday.

Looking ahead to the rest of the week, the FOMC Minutes will dominate conversation, but we also see CPI data:

Today Consumer Credit $15.0B
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 102.0
  PPI 0.1% (1.8% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
Wednesday JOLTS Job Openings 7.25M
  FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  CPI 0.1% (1.8% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.4% Y/Y)
Friday Michigan Sentiment 92.0

Source: Bloomberg

Over the weekend we heard from both Esther George and Eric Rosengren, the two FOMC members who dissented against the rate cuts. Both said they see no reason to cut rates again right now, but if the data do deteriorate, they have an open mind about it. Meanwhile, Friday Chairman Powell gave no hints that last week’s much weaker than expected data has changed his views either. This week brings seven more Fed speakers spread over ten different events, including Chairman Powell tomorrow.

At the same time, this morning saw German Factory Orders decline a more than expected 0.6%, which makes the twelfth consecutive Y/Y decline in that series. It is unambiguous that Germany is in a recession and the question is simply how long before the rest of Europe follows, and perhaps more importantly, will any country actually consider fiscal stimulus? As it stands right now, Germany remains steadfast in their belief it is unnecessary. Maybe a hard Brexit will change that tune!

The big picture remains intact, with the dollar being the beneficiary as the currency of the nation whose prospects outshine all others in the short run. As it appears highly unlikely a trade deal will materialize this week, I see no reason for the dollar to turn around. Perhaps the only place that is not true is if there is, in fact, a break though in the UK.

Good luck
Adf

It’s Now or Never

Like Elvis said, it’s now or never
For Boris’s Brexit endeavor
The Irish are chuffed
As Coveney huffed
He’s not, but he thinks he’s so clever

Around 7:00 this morning, PM Boris Johnson will be addressing the Tory party at their annual convention and the key focus will be on his plan to ensure a smooth Brexit. The early details call for customs checks several miles away from the border on both sides with a time limit of about four years to allow for technology to do the job more effectively. However, he maintains that the whole of the UK will be out of the EU and that there will be no special deal for Northern Ireland. His supporters in Northern Ireland, the DUP, appear to have his back. In addition, he is reportedly going to demand that an agreement be reached by October 11 so that it can be agreed in Parliament as well as throughout the EU.

Interestingly, the Irish are still playing tough, at least according to Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who said that the leaked details formed “no basis for an agreement.” Of course, as in everything to do with this process, there are other views in Ireland with Irish PM Varadkar seemingly far more willing to use this as a basis for discussion. His problem is the Fianna Fail party, a key coalition member, is unhappy with the terms. I say this is interesting because in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Ireland’s economy will be the one most severely impacted, with estimates of 4%-5% declines in GDP in 2020.

With respect to the market, it is difficult to untangle the effect of the latest Brexit news from the dreadful economic data that continues to be released. This morning’s UK Construction PMI fell to 43.3, within ticks of the lows seen during the financial crisis in 2009. The pound has suffered, down 0.4% as I type, although it was even softer earlier in the session. The FTSE 100 is also weak, -1.8%, although that is very much in line with the rest of the European equity markets (CAC -1.6%, DAX -1.3%) and is in synch with the sharp declines seen yesterday in the US and overnight in Asia.

Speaking of yesterday’s price action, it was pretty clear what drove activity; the remarkably weak ISM Manufacturing print at 47.8. This was far worse than forecast and the lowest print since June 2009. It seems pretty clear at this point that there is a global manufacturing recession ongoing and the question that remains is, will it be isolated to manufacturing, or will it spill over into the broader economy. Remember, manufacturing in the US represents only about 11.6% of GDP, so if unemployment remains contained and services can hold up, there is no need for the US economy to slip into recession. But it certainly doesn’t help the situation. However, elsewhere in the world, manufacturing represents a much larger piece of the pie (e.g. Germany 21%, China 40%, UK 18%) and so the impact of weak manufacturing is much larger on those economies as a whole.

It is this ongoing uncertainty that keeps weighing on sentiment, if not actually driving investors to sell their holdings. And perhaps of most interest is that despite the sharp equity market declines yesterday, it was not, by any means, a classic risk-off session. I say this because the yen barely budged, the dollar actually fell and Treasuries, while responding to the ISM print at 10:00am by rallying more than half a point (yields -7bps), could find no further support and have not moved overnight. If I had to describe market consensus right now, it would be that everyone is unsure of what is coming next. Will there be positive or negative trade news? Will the impeachment process truly move forward and will it be seen as a threat to the Administration’s plans? Will Brexit be soft, hard or non-existent? As you well know, it is extremely difficult to plan with so many potential pitfalls and so little clarity on how both consumers and markets will react to any of this news. I would contend that in situations like this, owning options make a great deal of sense as a hedge. This is especially so given the relatively low implied volatilities that continue to trade in the market.

Turning to the rest of the session, a big surprise has been the weakness in the Swiss franc, which has fallen 0.6% this morning despite risk concerns. However, the Swiss released CPI data and it was softer than expected at -0.1% (+0.1% Y/Y) which has encouraged traders to look for further policy ease by the SNB, or at least intervention to weaken the currency. But just as the dollar was broadly weaker yesterday, it has largely recouped those losses today vs. its G10 counterparts. Only the yen, which is up a scant 0.15%, has managed to show strength vs. the greenback. In the EMG space, KRW has been the biggest mover, falling 0.55% overnight after North Korea fired another missile into the sea last night, heightening tensions on the peninsula there. Of course, given the negative data (negative CPI and sharply declining exports) there is also a strong case being made for the BOK to ease policy further, thus weakening the won. Beyond that, however, the EMG currency movement has been mixed and modest, with no other currency moving more than 25bps.

This morning after Boris’s speech, all eyes will turn to the ADP employment data (exp 140K) and then we have three more Fed speakers this morning, Barkin, Harker and Williams. Yesterday, we heard from Chicago Fed president Charles Evans, who explained that he felt the economy was still growing nicely and that the two rate cuts so far this year were appropriate. He did not, however, give much of a hint as to whether he thought the Fed needed to do more. Reading what I could of the text, it did not really seem to be the case. My impression is that his ‘dot’ was one of the five looking for one more cut before the September meeting.

And that’s what we have for today. Barring something remarkable from Boris, it appears that if ADP is in line with expectations, the dollar is likely to consolidate this morning’s gains. A strong print will help boost the buck, while a weak print, something on the order of 50K, could well see the dollar cede everything it has gained today and then some.

Good luck
Adf

 

What He’s Wrought

The High Court within the UK
Explained in a ruling today
That Boris cannot
Complete what he’s wrought
A win for those who want to stay

As I wrote last Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruling in the UK cannot be a surprise to anyone. The issue was that twelve justices who were appointed to their seats from lives of privilege and wealth, and who almost certainly each voted to Remain two years ago, were going to decide whether Boris Johnson, a rebel in every conceivable way, would be allowed to lead the UK out of the EU against their personal views. These are folks who have greatly benefitted from the UK being within the EU, and they were not about to derail that gravy train. Thus, this morning’s ruling should have been the default case in everyone’s mind.

Interestingly, the ruling went far beyond simply the legality of the prorogation, but included a call for Parliament to reconvene immediately. Naturally, John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, and an alleged non-partisan player, called on both sides of the aisle to get back to work post haste. Given that prorogation was nothing new in Parliament, having occurred on a fairly regular basis since 1628 when King Charles I first did so, and since there is no written constitution in the UK by which to compare laws to a basic canon, it will be interesting in the future when another PM seeks prorogation at a time less fraught than the current Brexit induced mania, whether or not they have the ability to do so.

Nonetheless, we can expect Parliament to reconvene shortly and try to do more things to insure that Boris cannot unilaterally ignore the current law requiring the PM to ask for an extension if there is no deal agreed at the deadline. In other words, there is still plenty of action left in this process, with just 37 days left until the current deadline.

And what of Sterling you ask? When the announcement hit the tape at 5:30 this morning, it jumped a quick 0.4% to just below 1.2500. That move had all the hallmarks of short covering by day traders, and we have since removed half of that gain. Interestingly, Boris is currently at the UN session in NY meeting with his EU counterparts and trying to get a deal in place. In the end, I still believe that the EU is ready to relent on some issues to pave the way for a deal of some sort. As European economic data continues to melt down (German IFO Expectations fell to 90.8, well below forecasts and the lowest in more than a decade), there is a growing sense of urgency that the EU leadership cannot afford to allow a hard Brexit. Combining that view with the fact that everybody over there is simply tired of the process and wants it to end means that a deal remains far more likely than not. As such, I remain pretty confident that we will see a deal before the deadline, or at least agreement on the key Irish backstop issue, and that the pound will rebound sharply.

Away from that story, however, things are far less exciting and impactful. On the trade front, news that China has allowed exemptions from soybean tariffs for a number of Chinese importers has been met with jubilation in the farm belt, and has imparted a positive spin to the equity market. Last week’s trepidations over the canceling of the Chinese delegation’s trip to Montana and Nebraska is ancient history. The narrative is back to progress is being made and a deal will happen sooner or later. Equity markets have stabilized over the past two days, although in order to see real gains based on the trade situation we will need to see more definitive progress.

Bond prices continue to focus on the global industrial malaise that is essentially made evident every day by a new data release. Yesterday it was PMI, today IFO and later this week, on Thursday, we will see Eurozone confidence indicators for Industry, Services and Consumers. All three of these have been trending lower since the winter of 2017 and there is no reason to expect that trend to have changed. As such, it is no surprise that we continue to see government bond yields slide with Treasuries down a further 3bps this morning as are JGB’s. Bunds, however, have seen less buying interest and have seen yields fall just 1bp. The story with Bunds is more about the increasing calls for fiscal stimulus in the Eurozone. Signor Draghi has tried his best but the Teutons remain stoic in the face of all his pressure. But Draghi is an economist. Incoming ECB President Christine Lagarde is a politician and may well be the best choice for the role after all. If she has the political nous to change Merkel’s views, that will be enough to open the taps, arguably support growth in the EU and reduce the need for further monetary ease. However, that is a BIG if.

One other story out of China describes comments from PBOC Governor Yi Gang that essentially said there was no reason for them to ease policy aggressively at this time, although they have plenty of tools available if they need to do so in the future. It is clear they are still quite concerned over inflating a housing bubble and will do all they can to prevent any further excess leverage in the real estate sector. It should not be surprising that the renminbi benefitted from these comments as it is 0.25% stronger than yesterday. The combination of a slightly more hawkish PBOC and the positive trade news was all it took.

Turning to this morning’s session, things are pretty quiet at this time. There are only two minor pieces of data, Case Shiller House Prices (exp 2.90%) and Consumer Confidence (133.0). On the speaker front, nobody is scheduled today although yesterday we heard from a number of doves, Bullard, Daly and Williams, all of whom agreed with the recent rate cut. With the day’s big news out of the way, I anticipate a relatively uneventful session. Overall the dollar is slightly softer on the day, and it seems reasonable to believe that trend will stay in place so look for a modest decline as the day progresses.

Good luck
Adf

Gone To Extremes

In England, the Court of Supremes
Will soon rule on Boris’s dreams
He thought it a breeze
To prorogue MP’s
But they think he’s gone to extremes

Meanwhile oil markets are stressed
With traders, quite rightly, obsessed
‘bout all of the facts
From last week’s attacks
And if a response will be pressed

As New York walks in this morning, markets are still on edge regarding the unprecedented attack on Saudi oil infrastructure over the weekend. Yesterday’s price action saw oil close higher by more than 13%, although this morning WTI has backed off by $1.00/bbl or 1.5%. The short-term issue is how long it will take the Saudis to restore production. Initial estimates seemed a bit optimistic, and the latest seem to be pointing to at least several months before things are back. The long-term issue is more focused on supply disruption risk, something which the market had essentially removed from prices prior to yesterday. It seems that the ongoing problems in Venezuela and Libya, where production gets shuttered regularly, had inured the market to the idea that a short-term disruption would impact prices. After all, oil prices are still well below levels seen a year ago. Now all the talk is how the oil market will need to permanently price in a risk assessment, meaning that prices will default higher. I challenge that view, though, as history shows traders and investors have very short memories, and I would estimate that once the Saudi production is back up and running, it will only be a matter of months before any risk premium is removed. This is especially true if the global growth story continues to deteriorate meaning oil demand will diminish.

The other story of note comes from the UK, where two separate lawsuits against PM Johnson’s act to prorogue (suspend) parliament for five weeks leading up to the Brexit deadline are to be heard by the UK Supreme Court. The government’s argument is that this is not a legal matter, but a political one, and therefore is fine. Of course, Brexit opponents are doing everything they can to prevent Boris from his stated intentions of leaving on October 31 ‘come hell or high water.’ The thing is, unlike the US, where we have a written constitution, there is no such document in the UK. The upshot is twelve unelected officials will be making what may be the most momentous decision in UK history based solely on their personal views of the law, and no doubt, Brexit. And while I am in no way trying to disparage this group, who I am certain are all well-deserved of their roles, the fact that there is neither a guiding document nor precedence results in the opportunity for whichever side loses the argument to scream quite loudly, and I’m sure they will!

A funny thing about this situation is that if the Supremes declare the prorogation illegal, I think the market will see that as a sign that a no-deal Brexit is now off the table completely. And you know what that means for the pound, a significant rally. So for all of you Sterling hedgers out there, the next several days are going to be critical. Hearings are scheduled to take place through Thursday with a decision possible as early as Friday, although more likely next week. So gaming out possible scenarios consider the following choices: 1) Supreme Court (SC) rules against the government and parliament reconvenes => pound rallies sharply, probably back toward 1.30 as markets assume Brexit is dead; 2) SC rules government is within its rights to prorogue parliament for an extended time => pound sells off back to 1.20 as chance of no-deal Brexit grows. Remember, however, that the law in the UK is now that the PM must ask for an extension if there is no deal by the October 18 EU summit. The question, of course, is whether Boris will do so despite the political consequences of not asking, and whether the EU will grant said extension. The latter is not a given either.

With all of that ongoing, the FOMC begins their two-day meeting this morning with the market convinced that they will be cutting rates by 25 bps tomorrow afternoon. Changes to the narrative of late have shown a reduced expectation for a December rate cut, now 53% from more than 90% earlier in the month. Doves will certainly point to the rise in geopolitical risks from the attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure this weekend while hawks will continue to point to solid US data. However, that is a discussion for tomorrow morning.

Turning to market activity overnight, risk is definitely under pressure this morning as most haven type bonds (Treasuries, Bunds, Gilts, etc.) have rallied while Italy, Spain and Portugal have all seen yields rise. Equity markets are somewhat softer, although by no means collapsing, and the dollar is generally, though not universally, stronger. In the G10 space, the Skandies are under the most pressure, with both SEK and NOK falling about 0.4%, as the former is suffering after a terrible employment report which saw the Unemployment Rate rise to 7.4%, rather than decline to 6.8%. NOK, meanwhile, seems to be tracking the price of oil. In the EMG space, KRW was the big loser, still suffering over the much weaker than expected Chinese data and concerns over slowing growth in the economy there.

Data early this morning showed the German ZEW falling more than expected to -19.9, simply highlighting the problems in Germany and increasing the likelihood that the nation enters a technical recession this quarter. Yesterday’s Empire Manufacturing data was a touch weaker than expected, but hardly disastrous. This morning we see IP (exp 0.2%) and Capacity Utilization (77.6%), neither of which is likely to move markets. At this point, it is difficult to make the case for significant movement today as market participants will be waiting for tomorrow’s FOMC decision. Look for a dull one, but with a chance of fireworks on the horizon.

Good luck
Adf

 

Not Making Hay

In China, despite what they say
The ‘conomy’s not making hay
Their exports are lagging
With industry gagging
On stuff manufactured each day

The upshot’s the PBOC
Released billions of renminbi
Reserve rates are shrinking
And everyone’s thinking
They’ll shrink further ere ought twenty

Long before trading started last evening, Chinese trade data set the tone for the markets as exports there shrank by 1.0% in USD terms, a clear indication that the trade war is starting to bite. Imports fell further (5.6%), but overall, the trade surplus was significantly smaller than expected. In the current market environment, it cannot be a surprise that the response was for a rally in Asian equity markets as the weak data presages further policy ease by the Chinese. In fact, there are numerous articles discussing just what options they have. Friday afternoon they cut the reserve ratio by a full percentage point, and analysts all over are expecting at least one more cut before the end of the year. As to direct interest rate cuts, that is far less clear given the still problematic bubble tendencies in the Chinese real estate market. The PBOC is quite concerned over allowing that bubble to blow up further, so any reductions in the benchmark rate are likely to be modest…at least until the renminbi starts to strengthen again.

Speaking of the currency, while it has remained quite stable overall, -0.2% this morning, +0.65% in the past week, it remains one of the easiest tools for the PBOC to utilize. The government there has also sought to stimulate via fiscal policy, with significant tax cuts proposed and some implemented, but thus far, those have not been effective in supporting economic growth. While I am confident that when the next GDP number prints in mid-October it will be above 6.0%, there are an increasing number of independent reports showing that growth there is much slower than that, with some estimates more in line with the US at 3.0%. At any rate, equity markets continue to believe that a trade deal will happen sooner rather than later, and as long as talks continue, look for a more positive risk attitude across markets.

The other big news this morning is from the UK, where British PM Boris Johnson met with his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, to discuss how to overcome the Irish backstop conundrum. It is interesting to see the two attitudes; Boris quite positive, Leo just the opposite, but in the end, nothing was agreed. In this instance, Ireland is at far more risk than the UK as its much smaller economy is far more dependent on free access to the UK than vice versa. But thus far, Varadkar is holding his ground. Another Tory cabinet member, Amber Rudd, quit Saturday night, but Boris is unmoved. There was an interesting article over the weekend describing a possible way for Boris to get his election; he can call for a no-confidence vote in his government, arguably losing, and paving the way for the election before the Brexit deadline. Certainly it seems this would put parliament in an untenable position, support him to prevent the election, but that would imply they support his program, or defeat him and have the election he wants.

Of course, while all this is ongoing, the currency market is looking at the pound and trying to decide the ultimate outcome. For the past two weeks, it is clear that a belief is growing there will be no Brexit at all as the pound continues to rally. This morning it is higher by 0.6% and back to its highest level in over a month. Part of that, no doubt, was the UK GDP data, which surprised one and all by showing a 0.3% gain in July, which virtually insures there will be no technical recession yet. But the pound is a solid 3.5% from its lows seen earlier this month. I continue to believe that the EU will blink and a deal will be cobbled together with the pound rebounding much further.

Elsewhere, the dollar is softer in most cases. The continuation of last week’s risk rally has reduced the desire to hold dollars and we continue to see yields edge higher as well. Beyond the pound’s rally, which is the largest in the G10 space, AUD and NZD have pushed back up by about 0.3% on the China stimulus story, but the rest of G10 is quite dull. In the EMG bloc, ZAR is today’s big winner, +0.8%, as hopes for more global stimulus increase the relative attractiveness of high yielding ZAR denominated bonds. But otherwise, here too, things are uninteresting.

Looking to the data this week, it is an Inflation and Retail Sales week with no Fed speak as they are now in their quiet period ahead of next week’s meeting.

Today Consumer Credit $16.0B
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 103.5
  JOLT’s Job Openings 7.311M
Wednesday PPI 0.0% (1.7% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial claims 215K
  CPI 0.1% (1.8% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
Friday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.1%
  Michigan Sentiment 90.5

Aside from this, we hear from both the ECB and BOJ this Thursday with expectations for a rate cut and potentially more QE by Signor Draghi, while there are some thoughts that Kuroda-san will be cutting rates in Japan as well. Ultimately, nothing has changed the broad sweep of central bank policy ease. As long as everybody is easing, the relative impact of monetary policy on the currency market will be diminished. And that means that funds will continue to flow to the best performing economies with the best prospects. Despite everything ongoing, the US remains the choice, and the dollar should remain supported overall.

Good luck
Adf

Run Off The Rails

In England and Scotland and Wales
The saga has run off the rails
So Boris is gambling
A vote will keep scrambling
Dissent and extend his coattails

Meanwhile market focus has turned
To data, where much will be learned
When payrolls are shown
And if they have grown
Watch stocks rise as havens are spurned

The Brexit story remains front page news as the latest twists and turns create further uncertainty over the outcome. Boris is pushing for an election to be held on October 15 so that he can demonstrate he has a sufficient majority to exit with no deal when the EU next meets on October 17-18, thus forcing the EU’s hand. However, parliament continues to do what they can to prevent a no-deal Brexit and have passed a bill directing the PM to seek an extension if there is no deal agreed by the current Halloween deadline. With that in hand, they will agree to a vote on October 29, thus not allowing sufficient time for a new government to do anything ahead of the deadline.

But Boris, being Boris, has intimated that despite the extension bill, he may opt not to seek that extension and simply let the UK leave. That would really sow chaos in the UK as it would call into question many constitutional issues; but based on the current agreement with the EU, that action may not be able to be changed. After all, even if the EU offers the extension, the UK must accept it, which seemingly Boris has indicated he won’t. Needless to say, there is no clarity whatsoever on how things will play out at this time, so market participants remain timid. The recent news has encouraged the view that there will be no hard Brexit and has helped the pound recoup 2.0% this week. However, this morning it is slipping back a bit, -0.3%, as traders and investors are just not sure what to believe anymore. Nothing has changed my view that the EU will seek a deal and cave-in on the Irish backstop issue, especially given the continuous stream of terrible European data.

To that point, German IP was released at a much worse than expected -0.6% this morning, with the Y/Y outcome a -4.2% decline. I know that Weidmann and Lautenschlager are ECB hawks, but it is starting to feel like they are willing to sacrifice their own nation’s health on the altar of economic fundamentalism. The ECB meeting next Thursday will be keenly watched and everything Signor Draghi says at the press conference that follows will be parsed. But we have a couple of things coming before that meeting which will divert attention. And that doesn’t even count this morning’s surprise announcement by the PBOC that they were cutting the RRR by 0.5% starting September 16 in an effort to ease policy further without stoking the real estate bubble there.

So let’s look at today’s festivities, where the US payroll report is released at 8:30 and then Chairman Powell will be our last Fed speaker ahead of the quiet period and September 18 FOMC meeting. Here are the current expectations:

Nonfarm Payrolls 160K
Private Payrolls 150K
Manufacturing Payrolls 5K
Unemployment Rate 3.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.4

Yesterday’s ADP number was much stronger than expected at 195K, but the employment data from the ISM surveys has been much weaker so there is a wide range of estimates this month. In addition, the government has been hiring census workers, and it is not clear how that will impact the headline numbers and the overall data. I think the market might be a little schizophrenic on this number as a good number could serve to reinforce that the economy is performing well enough and so drive earning expectations, and stocks with them, higher. But a good number could detract from the ongoing Fed ease story which, on the surface, would likely be a stock market negative. In a funny way, I think Powell’s 12:30 comments may be more important as market participants will take it as the clear direction the Fed is leaning. Remember, futures are pricing in certainty that the Fed cuts 25bps at the meeting, with an 11% probability they cut 50bps! And the comments we have heard from recent Fed speakers have shown a gamut of viewpoints exist on the FOMC. Interesting times indeed! At this point, I don’t think the Fed has the gumption to stand up to the market and remain on hold, so 25bps remains the most likely outcome.

As to the rest of the world, next week’s ECB meeting will also be highly scrutinized, but lately there has been substantial pushback on market and analyst expectations of a big easing package. Futures are currently pricing in a 10bp cut with a 46% chance of a 20bp cut. Despite comments from a number of hawks regarding the lack of appetite for more QE, the majority of analysts are calling for a reinstitution of the asset purchase program as soon as October. As to the euro, while it has edged higher this week, just 0.35%, it remains in a long-term downtrend and has fallen 1.6% this month. The ECB will need to be quite surprisingly hawkish to do anything to change the trend, and I just don’t see that happening. Signor Draghi is an avowed dove, as is Madame Lagarde who takes over on November 1. Look for the rate cuts and the start of QE, and look for the euro to continue its decline.

Overall, though, today has seen a mixed picture in the FX market with both gainers and losers in G10 and EMG currencies. Some of those movements have been significant, with ZAR, for example, rallying 0.75% as investment continues to flow into the country, while CHF has fallen 0.6% as haven assets are shed in the current environment. Speaking of shedding havens, how about the 10-year Treasury, which has seen yields rebound 15bps in two days, a truly impressive squeeze on overdone buyers. But for now, things remain generally quiet ahead of the data.

Given it is Friday, and traders will want to be lightening up any positions outstanding, I expect that this week’s dollar weakness may well see a modest reversal before we go home. Of course, a surprise in the data means all bets are off. And if Powell sounds remotely hawkish? Well then watch out for a much sharper dollar rally.

Good luck
Adf