Flummoxed

Kuroda flummoxed
As inflation fails to rise
How low can rates go?

You know things are tough in Japan, at least for the BOJ, when a sales tax hike, that in the last go-round increased inflation by nearly two percentage points, had exactly zero impact on the latest CPI readings. Last night’s Tokyo CPI data was released at 0.4%, unchanged from the September data and well below the 0.7% expected. And that’s an annual number folks, not the monthly kind. It seems that the government’s efforts to help young families by reducing tuition for pre-school and kindergarten to zero was enough to offset the impact of the rise in the Goods and Services Tax, essentially the Japanese VAT. However, the upshot is that CPI inflation, at least in Tokyo which is seen as a harbinger for the nation as a whole, remains nonexistent. Now for the average Japanese family, one would think that is a good thing. After all, who wants the prices of the stuff they need to buy rising all the time. But for the BOJ, who doggedly continues to believe that unless inflation rises to 2.0% the economy will implode, it is merely the latest sign that central banks are out of ammunition.

The yen’s response to this ongoing futility was to rise ever so marginally, not quite 0.1%, but that has not changed its more recent trend. In the past two months, the yen has weakened a solid 4.4%. But the picture changes if you step a bit further back for more perspective. Over the past six months, since late April, the yen has actually strengthened nearly 3.0%. So, which is it; is the yen getting stronger or weaker? In fact, I would argue that it is doing neither, but rather the yen is in a major long-term consolidation pattern (a triangle formation for the technicians out there) and that barring a major exogenous shock like a GFC2, the yen is likely to continue trading in an even narrower range going forward, perhaps for as long as the next year. The thing is, these triangle patterns tend to resolve themselves with a very significant break-out move when they end. At this stage, there is no way to discern which direction that will follow, and , as I said, it is probably a year away, but it is quite realistic to expect that the doldrums we have experienced in the yen for the past many years is likely to end. Perhaps the US presidential election will be the catalyst to cause a change, at least the timing will be right.

For hedgers, the best advice I can offer is to extend the tenor of your hedges as much as you can. This is especially true for receivables hedgers, where the carry is in your favor. But the reality is that even a payables hedger needs to consider the benefits of hedging in an extremely low volatility environment as opposed to waiting until a breakout, which may result in the yen jumping higher by as much as 5%-10%, completely outweighing the current cost of carry.

Three Latin American nations
Have populist administrations
Brazil, on the right
Of late’s shining bright
But fear’s grown ‘round Argie’s relations

For the past two weeks, the story in Brazil has been one of unadulterated joy, at least for investors. The real has rallied more than 5.0% in that time as President Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing firebrand, has been able to push pension reform through congress there. That has been warmly received by markets as it implies that Brazil’s long-term finances are likely to remain under control. The pension system had been massively underfunded and was far too generous relative to the government’s ability to pay. Correcting these problems is seen as crucial to allowing Brazil to move forward with other investments to help the nation’s economy and productivity. Again, a glance at the charts shows that USDBRL has formed a triple top formation and is already accelerating lower. Quite frankly, it would not surprise to see BRL strengthen to 3.70 before this movement is over.

Turning to Mexico, it too has performed extremely well over the past two months, rallying more than 5% during that time. It is interesting that the markets have been extremely patient with AMLO as, since his initial action to cancel the Mexico City Airport construction, which was seen in an extremely negative light, his policies have been far less disruptive than most investors feared. Clearly, Mexico has been a beneficiary of the ongoing US-China trade war as companies seek low cost manufacturing sites near the US and given the (still pending) USMCA trade agreement, there is more confidence that companies will be able to set up shop there with fewer repercussions.

However, as with the yen, I might argue that what we have seen over the past five years is an increasingly narrowing consolidation in the peso’s exchange rate, albeit with a tad more volatility attached. And the thing about this pattern is its culmination is likely to occur much sooner than that in the yen. A quick look at MXN’s PPP shows that the peso remains significantly undervalued vs. the dollar, and in truth vs. most currencies. All this points to the idea that barring any surprisingly anti-business actions from AMLO, the peso may be setting up for a much larger rally, especially with the carry benefits that continue to exist.

Argentina, on the other hand, with newly elected left-wing President Fernandez, has its work cut out for itself. If you recall, the preliminary vote back in August, saw the peso decline more than 35%, and while it was choppy for a bit, the price action of late has been for steady depreciation. It is too early to know what Fernandez will do, but given the dire straits in the Argentine economy, with inflation running north of 50% while growth is shrinking rapidly and the debt situation is untenable, it seems the path of least resistance is for ARS to continue to weaken.

A quick look at the majors sees the dollar generally firmer this morning as there is a mild risk-off sentiment in markets. However, the news moments ago that the Labour party agreed to an early election has helped bolster the pound specifically, and risk in general. I expect that the pound will now be reacting to the polls as it becomes clearer if Boris can win with a majority, or if he will go down to defeat and perhaps an even more beneficial outcome for the pound will arise, the withdrawal of Article 50. My money remains on a Johnson victory and a Brexit with the recently negotiated deal.

This morning we get two minor pieces of data, Case Shiller Home Prices (exp 2.10%) and Consumer Confidence (128.0). Yesterday we did see a weak Dallas Fed manufacturing index print, but equity markets made new highs. I can see little reason, beyond the ongoing Brexit story, for traders to alter their positions ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC meeting, and so anticipate another quiet day in the market.

Good luck
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Not the Nadir

The Chairman explained to us all
Preventing the ‘conomy’s stall
Required a cut
Of twenty-five but
Don’t look for, rates, further to fall

However, it’s not the nadir
For all rates, that’s certainly clear
Brazil cut a half
While BOJ staff
Will check if they’re now too austere

As I mentioned on Monday, the Fed was merely the first in a long list of major central banks meeting this week. By now we all know the FOMC cut rates by 25 bps and released a statement that was certainly more hawkish than many had hoped for expected. The vote was largely as expected, with the July dissenters, George and Rosengren, continuing to vote for no change, while this month, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard also dissented, voting for a 50bp cut. Of more interest was the dot plot, which showed five members forecasting no further cuts this year, five looking for one more cut and seven looking for two cuts. That is actually quite a bit more hawkish than expected going into the meeting. In the end, equity markets sold off initially, but rallied late in the day to close essentially unchanged. Treasuries rallied all day leading up to the meeting, but ceded those gains in the wake of the announcement and press conference while the dollar rallied against most currencies, although it has given back those gains overnight.

Powell’s explanation for cutting was that the committee was still concerned over issues like global growth, trade policy and Brexit, and so felt a cut was merited to help insure steady growth. My impression is Powell is not anxious to cut again, but arguably it will depend on how the data evolves between now and the October meeting.

Meanwhile, late yesterday afternoon the Central Bank do Brazil cut their SELIC rate by 50bps to 5.50%, a new record low for the rate, but also a widely expected move by the market. Inflation in Brazil continues to slow, and with growth extremely sluggish, President Roberto Campos Neto made clear that they expect inflation to remain quiescent and will do what they can to help bolster the economy there. Look for another 50bps this year and potentially more next year as well. It should be no surprise that the real weakened yesterday, falling 0.8%, and I expect it has further to fall as Neto was clear that a weaker currency would not deter him.

Then overnight we heard from a number of central banks with Bank Indonesia cutting the expected 25bps top 5.25%, while the HKMA also cut in order to keep step with the US. Both currencies, IDR and HKD, were virtually unchanged overnight as the market had fully priced in the moves. Arguably of more importance was the BOJ meeting, where they left policy unchanged, but where Kuroda-san explained that the BOJ would undertake a full review of policy by the October meeting to insure they were doing everything they could to support the economy. There were a number of analysts who were expecting a rate cut, or at least further QE, and so the disappointment led to a 0.5% rally in the yen.

When Europe walked in, there were three central bank meetings scheduled with the Swiss maintaining policy rates but adjusting the amount of reserves exempt from the deposit rate of -0.75%. While Swiss banks have been complaining about this, given there was already a tiered system it was not anticipated that things would change. The upshot is that the franc is firmer by 0.6% in the wake of the announcement, although traders are a bit on edge given the SNB was clear that intervention remained on the table.

The biggest surprise came from Norway, which hiked rates 25 bps to 1.50%. While several of the Norwegian banks were calling for the hike, the market at large did not believe the Norgesbank would raise rates while the rest of the world was cutting. But there you go, the situation there is that the economy is doing fine, inflation is perking up and because of the government’s ability to tap the oil investment fund, they are actually utilizing fiscal policy as well as monetary policy in their economic management. With all that in mind, however, they were pretty clear this is the last hike for the foreseeable future. NOK rallied 0.5% on the news, but it has given all those gains back and now sits unchanged on the day.

Finally, in what is no surprise at all, the BOE just announced that policy remains unchanged for the time being as all eyes turn toward Brexit and what will happen there. The UK also released Retail Sales data which was bang on expectations and so the pound remains beholden entirely to the Brexit situation.

Speaking of Brexit, today is the third day of hearings at the UK Supreme Court regarding the two lawsuits against the Johnson government’s decision to prorogue parliament for five weeks. If you recall, late Tuesday when word got out that the justices seemed to be very hard on the government, the pound rallied. Interestingly, this morning there are stories all over the press about how the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit seems to be growing quickly. Everybody is tired of the process and thus far, neither side has blinked. I maintain the EU will blink as the economic damage to Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland adding to the entire EU’s economic malaise will be too much to tolerate. But we shall see. As I have been typing, the pound has been edging lower and is now down 0.2% on the day, but in the big picture, that is the same as unchanged.

Turning to this morning’s US data, we start with Philly Fed (exp 10.5) and Initial Claims (213K) and then at 10:00 see Existing Home Sales (5.38M). Yesterday’s housing data, starts and permits, were much better than expected, which given the sharp decline in mortgage rates and still robust employment situation, should not be that surprising. As to Fed speakers, there is no one on tap for today, but three (Williams, Rosengren and Kaplan) due to speak tomorrow. Equity futures are pointing slightly lower right now and if I had to guess, the dollar is more likely to rally slightly than not as the day progresses although large moves are not on the cards.

Good luck
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A New Race Begins

The die has now finally been cast
Prime Minister May’s time has past
A new race begins
With fears that who wins
Will push for a hard Brexit fast

June 7, 2019 is the day on which Theresa May will step down from her role as leader of the Conservative Party in the UK, and consequently Prime Minister. While she will remain in the chair as caretaker, she will no longer drive policy. Instead, we will get to hear about the ensuing political machinations of each of the MP’s who want to replace her. At this time, the leading candidate is Boris Johnson, who was Foreign Minister until he resigned about a year ago under protest of how May was conducting the Brexit negotiations. He is seen as quite committed to having the UK exit and is not afraid of a no-deal outcome. Also in the running is ex-Brexit Minister, Dominic Raab, who while clearly pushing for finality is not seen quite as hardline as Johnson.

The mechanics of the process are a bit arcane, especially for Americans unfamiliar with the Parliamentary process. Briefly, the PM is the leader of the party that wins the most seats in Parliament. The Conservative Party, while without a current majority, leads the government through a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. There are 120,000 members of the Conservative Party (active party members) who will vote to determine the new leader of the party. The current MP’s will have a series of polls to whittle potential successors down to just two candidates for that vote. The key to remember is that these 120K are the activist wing and are substantially more pro-Brexit than the party at large. As such, it is quite possible, if not likely, that the next PM makes an exit, deal or not, a requirement by the new deadline of October 31.

But politics is a funny thing, and as we have all learned over the past few years, what polls say and how people vote are not necessarily the same thing. At this time, the market has clearly been pricing in an increasing probability of a hard Brexit, although it is by no means fully priced. Last week I proffered a table showing my estimates of probabilities for each of three scenarios and will update it here:

  May 16, 2019 May 17, 2019 May 24, 2019
Soft Brexit 50% 20% 5%
Vote to Remain 30% 35% 40%
Hard Brexit 20% 45% 55%

It strikes me that the idea of a deal is going away. Given the EU’s position that they will not renegotiate, the choices have come down to stay or leave with no deal. Simply based on the fact that the pound has been falling for the past three weeks, my assumption is that preparations for a hard Brexit are moving apace. As it happens, this morning the pound has rallied slightly, +0.25%, but the trend remains quite clear and this was likely short-term profit taking into the long holiday weekend. The path of least resistance for the pound remains lower.

And actually, short-term profit taking seems to be the story of the day in the FX markets. The dollar is very modestly softer across the board after a week of steady strength. For instance, the euro, after a 0.4% jump on the back of weaker than expected New Home Sales yesterday morning has maintained that gain but been unable to rally further. We see AUD and NZD both having bounced (0.1% and 0.35% respectively) and CAD is firmer by 0.2%. Meanwhile, the yen, which has rallied 1% on its haven status during the past week, has edged down 0.1%.

Speaking of havens, after a pretty awful week in the equity markets, this morning Europe is bouncing, and US futures are pointing higher. At the same time, Treasury yields, which traded as low as 2.29% yesterday (their lowest since October 2017) have rebounded slightly to 2.32%. Bunds also dipped to their lowest level (-0.117%) since October 2016 yesterday. In other words, risk appetite has clearly been under pressure lately.

However, this morning, there is a little relief, at least on the trading front, and that can be seen in the EMG bloc as well. The CE4, most of APAC and LATAM’s opening are all showing very modest strength. The only currency moving more aggressively has been INR, where PM Modi’s surprisingly strong showing in the election, where he clearly won a strong mandate to continue his policies, has been seen as a huge boon for the Indian economy and helped the rupee gain 1.4% this week.

Turning to the data today, we get Durable Goods (exp -2.0%, +0.2% ex-Transport) as the final piece of the puzzle before the holiday weekend. After a spate of Fed speakers, there is nothing scheduled on that front either. On this subject, Dallas Fed President Kaplan yesterday reiterated the party line of patience, explaining that there was no compelling evidence right now to drive his decision on the next policy move. There are currently 15 members of the FOMC (two governor roles remain empty), and my tally is there are 3-4 who would be quick to cut rates with the remaining group firmly in the do-nothing camp. If upcoming data next week starts to point to a weakening trend, I would expect to see that ratio swing more dovish, but for now, there is no reason to believe that anything here is going to change. In other words, there are still more reasons for the dollar to rally than fall.

Good luck and have a great holiday weekend
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Hawks Are Now Doves

Two years ago Minister May
Put Article 50 in play
But when she unveiled
Her deal, it detailed
A course many felt went astray

Instead of the exit they sought
And for which the Brexiteers fought
Today the UK
Is forced, still, to play
By rules that the EU has wrought

So, it’s Brexit day and yet there is no final solution. Later today Parliament will vote on the legally binding aspects of the negotiated deal, but that still appears destined to fail. The problem remains that the Northern Irish DUP, which holds the ten votes that maintain the Tory majority in Parliament, has categorically refused to back the deal. The problem, as they see it, is that the deal splits them away from the UK and impinges too greatly on their sovereignty. If this vote fails (it is due to take place at 10:30 this morning) then the debate will shift to what to do next. The EU has afforded the UK another two weeks to come up with any decision at all, but even that seems increasingly doubtful. Earlier this morning, it appeared that the probability of a no-deal Brexit was increasing, at least according to the market as the pound traded down to 1.30 (-0.3%), but it has since rebounded a bit and is, in fact, higher by 0.35% on the session now. It appears the ebbs and flows of the debate in Parliament are moving the price right now, so be prepared for a sharper move in a few hours. It is devilishly difficult to predict political outcomes, thus at this point, all we can do is watch and wait.

Both patience and data dependence
Are hallmarks of Powell’s transcendence
The hawks are now doves
And everyone loves
The theory of Fed independence

This takes us to the other topic of note in the markets, the Fed. Yesterday, yet again, we heard from Fed speakers who have all said virtually the same thing. The current mantra is there is no reason for the Fed to act right now on rates, and that they will carefully analyze all the data, both from the US and the rest of the world, before making their next decision. They cannot tell us frequently enough how in 1998-9, when growth elsewhere in the world was suffering (the Asian crisis was unfolding), the Fed eased policy even though things were fine in the US, and that is what helped prevent a much worse outcome. (Of course, they never discuss how those extra low rates helped inflate the tech bubble which burst dramatically the following year, but that doesn’t really suit the narrative, does it?) At any rate, it is abundantly clear that the Fed is on hold for the rest of the year, and that the balance sheet program is going to taper off and end by the autumn. And there is no question that the Fed has remained independent throughout this process, remember that!

The last of the big three stories, trade talks with China, was back in the news as well as the US delegation was seen going “line by line” through the text with their Chinese counterparts to try to come to an agreement. It does appear that the Chinese are conceding some points, with a story this morning about how US cloud companies are going to be allowed access, without a partner, into China to compete with locals. The other story was about a change in Chinese law that ostensibly addresses IP theft. These are two key issues for the US and seem to indicate that there is a real possibility that an agreement will actually make changes in the relationship that could benefit the US in the long run. Certainly, equity markets see it that way as Chinese stocks rallied sharply, more than 3% and Europe is higher along with US futures.

Elsewhere, yesterday’s BRL collapse was largely reversed, although the Turkish lira continues to suffer ahead of the local elections this weekend. In the former, it appears that foreign investors are taking advantage of a weaker real and stock market to buy in at better levels as there is an underlying belief that pension reform will be passed. In the latter, it remains to be seen how President Erdogan’s allies fare this weekend, and there is no clarity as to how he will react if he loses some measure of power.

Yesterday saw the dollar perform well, overall, despite the GDP data coming in on the soft side (2.2% vs. 2.6% expected), but again, that is backward looking data. This morning brings PCE (exp 1.4%, core 1.9%) as well as Personal Income (0.3%) and Spending (0.3%). We also see Chicago PMI (61.0), New Home Sales (620K) and Michigan Sentiment (97.8) later on. There are also a few more Fed speakers, but we pretty much know what they are going to say, don’t we?

Overall, the dollar has performed well this week, although it is a touch softer this morning. My sense is that we could see a bit more weakness by the end of the day, simply on position adjustments. And of course, if somehow the UK makes a decision of some sort, that will help the pound rebound and add to pressure on the buck. Just don’t count on that last part!

Good luck and good weekend
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So Despised

Is anyone truly surprised
That Parliament, once authorized
To find a solution
Found no substitution
For May’s deal that they so despised?

One of the more confusing aspects of recent market activity was the rally in the pound when Parliament wrested control of the Brexit process from PM May. The idea that a group of 650 fractious politicians could possibly agree on a single idea, especially one so fraught with risks and complexities, was always absurd. And so, predictably, yesterday Parliament voted on seven different proposals, each designed to be a path forward, and none of them even came close to achieving a majority of votes. This included a vote to prevent a no-deal Brexit. In the meantime, PM May has now indicated she will resign regardless of the outcome, which, arguably, will only lead to more chaos as a leadership fight will now consume the Tories. In the meantime, there is still only one deal on the table, and it doesn’t appear to have the votes to become law. As such, while I understand that the idea of a hard Brexit is anathema to so many, it cannot be dismissed as a potential outcome. It should not be very surprising that the FX market is taking the idea a bit more seriously this morning, although only a bit, as the pound has fallen a further 0.4%, which makes the move a total of 1.0% lower in the past twenty-four hours.

One way to look at the pound’s value is as a probability weighted price of three potential outcomes; no deal, passing May’s deal and a long delay. Based on my views that spot would trade to 1.20, 1.38 or 1.40 depending on those outcomes, and assigning probabilities of 40%, 20% and 40% to those outcomes, spot is actually right where it belongs near 1.3160. But that leaves room for a lot of movement!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the FX market, volatility is making a comeback. Between Turkey (-5.0%), Brazil (-3.0%) and Argentina (-3.0%), it seems that traders are beginning to awaken from their month’s long hiatus. Apparently, the monetary policy anesthesia that had been administered by central banks globally is wearing off. As it happens, each of these currencies is dealing with local specifics. For instance, upcoming elections in Turkey have President Erdogan on the defensive as his iron grip on power seems to be rusting and he tries to crack down on speculators in the lira. Meanwhile, recently elected Brazilian president Bolsonaro has seen his honeymoon end quite abruptly with his approval ratings collapsing and concerns over his ability to implement key policies seen as desirable by the markets, notably pension reform. Finally, Argentine president Macri remains under pressure as the slowing global growth picture severely restricts local economic activity although inflation continues to run away to unsustainable levels (4% per month!) and the peso, not surprisingly is suffering.

As to the G10, activity there has been less impressive although the dollar’s tone this morning is one of strength, not weakness. In fact, risk continues to be jettisoned by investors as can be seen by the continuing rally in government bonds (Treasury yields falling to 2.35%, Bund yields to -0.07%, JGB’s to -0.09%) while equity markets were weak in Asia and have gained no traction in Europe. Adding to the impression of risk-off has been the yen’s rally (0.2% overnight, 1.0% in the past week), a reliable indicator of market sentiment.

Turning to the data, yesterday saw the Trade Balance shrink dramatically, to -$51.1B, a much lower deficit than expected, and sufficient to positively impact Q1 GDP measurement by a few tenths of a percent. This morning we see the last reading on Q4 GDP (exp 1.8%) as well as Initial Claims (225K). Given the backward-looking nature of Q4 data, it seems unlikely today’s print will impact markets. One exception to this thought would be a much weaker than expected print, which may convince some investors the global slowdown is more advanced than previously thought with equities selling off accordingly. But a better number is likely to be ignored. We also hear from (count ‘em) six more Fed speakers today (Quarles, Clarida, Bowman, Williams, Bostic and Bullard), but given the consistency of recent comments by others it seems doubtful we will learn anything new. To recap, every FOMC member believes that waiting is the right thing to do now and that they should only respond when the data indicates there is a change, either rising inflation or a significant slowing in the economy. Although the market continues to price rate cuts before the end of the year, as yet, there is no indication that Fed members are close to believing that is necessary.

Ultimately, the same key stories are at the fore in markets. Brexit, as discussed above, slowing global growth and the monetary policy actions being taken to ameliorate that, and the US-China trade talks, which are resuming but have made no new progress. One of the remarkable features of markets lately has been the resilience of equity prices despite a constant drumbeat of bad economic news. Investors have truly placed an enormous amount of faith in central banks (specifically the Fed and ECB) to be able to come to the rescue again and again and again. Thus far, that faith has been rewarded, but keep in mind that the toolkit continues to dwindle, so that level of support is likely to diminish. In the end, I continue to see the dollar as a key beneficiary of the current policy mix, as well as the most likely ones for the near future.

Good luck
Adf

 

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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If Things Go Very Wrong

Last year he thought growth would be strong
This year, “if things go very wrong”
It seems Signor Draghi
Just might restart QE
And rate hikes? They’ll ne’er come along!

Markets continue to bide their time ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC statement and the press conference by Chairman Powell. In addition, the Brexit saga continues with a series of votes scheduled today in Parliament that may help determine the next steps in that messy process. And of course, the next round of US-Chinese trade talks are set to begin tomorrow. So, there is plenty of potential news on the near-term horizon. But before I touch on those subjects, I wanted to highlight comments from ECB President Draghi yesterday speaking to EU lawmakers in Brussels. From the Bloomberg article this morning:

        The president of the European Central Bank blamed “softer external demand and some country and sector-specific factors” for the slowdown, but indicated he still has some confidence in the underlying strength of the economy.
       “If things go very wrong, we can still resume other instruments in our toolbox. There is nothing objecting to that possibility,” he told lawmakers in Brussels in response to a question on whether net asset purchases could be restarted. “The only point is under what contingency are we going to do this. And at this point in time, we don’t see such contingency as likely to materialize, certainly this year.”

Basically, he opened the door to reinstate QE, something which just two months ago would never have been considered. And while he tried to downplay the problems, it is clear there is growing concern in Frankfurt about Eurozone growth. Surprisingly, to me, the euro barely budged on the report, as I would have anticipated a sell-off. However, given the Fed is due to make its comments tomorrow, it appears that traders are waiting to see where Powell comes out on the hawkish-dovish spectrum. Because to me, Draghi’s comments were quite dovish. But essentially, the euro has been unchanged since trading opened in Asia yesterday, so clearly the market doesn’t see these comments as newsworthy.

Now, looking at the other three stories, there has been virtually no new information released since last week. Regarding the Fed, yesterday’s WSJ had an article that looked like a Fed plant discussing how unimportant the balance sheet issue was, and how the Fed sees no evidence that shrinking the balance sheet is having any impact on markets. That assessment is quite controversial as many investors and pundits see the balance sheet as a key issue driving recent market volatility. I expect we will hear more on Wednesday from Powell, but I also expect that now that Powell has shown he cannot withstand pressure from a declining stock market, that the pace of balance sheet reduction is going to slow. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it cut in half with a corresponding rally in both stocks and bonds on the news. In this event, the dollar should come under pressure as well.

As to Brexit, there still seems to be this disconnect between the UK and the EU in that the UK continues to believe that if Parliament votes to renegotiate parts of the deal, the EU will do so. Thus far, the EU has been pretty consistent that they like the deal the way it is and that there is not enough time to make changes. But from what I have seen this morning, it seems the most likely outcome is the ‘Malthouse proposal’ which will essentially do just that. Get support from Parliament to go back and change the Irish backstop arrangement. While I know that there is no desire for a hard Brexit, it strikes me that one cannot yet be ruled out.

Finally, on to the trade talks, we continue to get conflicting information from the US side as to where things stand, but ultimately the key issue is much more likely to be enforcement of any deal, rather than the deal itself. There is a great wariness that the Chinese will agree to something, and then ignore the details and go back to business as usual. Or perhaps create new and different non-tariff barriers to maintain their advantages. While the equity market continues to be positive on the process, I don’t see things quite so rosily. I think a deal would be great, but I don’t ascribe more than a 50% chance to getting one. However, I do expect that any tariff increases will be postponed for another round of talks to be enabled.

Beyond those stories, not too much of note is happening, which is evident by the fact that there has been almost no movement in the FX market, or any market for that matter. The G10 currencies are within pips of yesterday’s closing levels, and even EMG currencies are generally little changed. One exception is BRL, which has fallen -0.6% as ongoing news regarding the mining disaster and its impact on CRDV, a huge Brazilian mining conglomerate, seems to be generating a little angst. But otherwise, even this bloc of currencies is little changed. Equity markets are close to flat, as are bond and commodity markets. In other words, investors and traders are looking to the horizon and waiting for the big stories to play out. First in line is the Brexit voting, so perhaps later this afternoon we will see some movement, but I suspect that the FOMC is actually THE story of note for most people right now.

Good luck
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