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
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Not Yet Inflated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck
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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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If Job Numbers Swoon

For Powell, the data he’s viewing
Shows weakness is palpably brewing
Will he change his tune
If job numbers swoon?
If not, it could prove his undoing!

The admonition that markets will remain volatile in 2019 certainly has held true to form thus far. After a significant sell-off in global equity markets yesterday, two pieces of news have now helped a partial rebound. First was the story that vice-ministerial trade talks are now scheduled to be held between the US and China next Monday and Tuesday. The market has taken this as a sign that the trade conflict is abating and that there will be a deal forthcoming shortly. While that would certainly be great news, it seems a bit premature. Nonetheless, it was clearly seen as a market positive overnight.

The second bit of news comes from China, where the PBOC has announced a 1.0% cut in the RRR for all Chinese banks, half to be implemented next week and half two weeks later. As opposed to the very targeted efforts announced earlier in the week, this is a broad-based easing of monetary policy, the first since 2016, and appears to be a direct response to the fact that the Manufacturing PMI data is alluding to contraction in the Chinese economy. As I have written before, China will be forced to continue to ease monetary policy this year due to slowing growth, and it is for that reason that I expect the renminbi to gradually decline all year.

But the bad news is not restricted to China, we have also seen weaker data from both the US and Europe. Yesterday’s ISM Manufacturing data printed at 54.1, significantly lower than expectations and its weakest print November 2016, and while still in expansionary territory is indicative of slowing growth ahead. Meanwhile, inflation data from the Eurozone showed that price pressures continue to recede there on the back of sharply declining oil prices with the area wide CPI rising only 1.6% and the core reading remaining at 1.0%. It appears that the mooted inflation pressures Signor Draghi has been dreaming about remain only in his dreams.

Bond market reaction to this data was very much as would be expected, with 10-year Treasury yields falling to 2.57%, their lowest level since last January, while Bund yields have fallen back to 0.15%, levels not seen since April 2017. In fact, the futures market in the US is now beginning to bet on a rate cut by the Fed before the end of 2019. If you recall, at the December FOMC meeting, the dot plot indicated a median expectation of two more rate hikes this year.

What we can safely say is that there is a great deal of uncertainty in markets right now, and many disparate opinions as to how the economy will perform going forward, and to how the Fed and its central banking brethren will respond. And that uncertainty is not likely to dissipate any time soon. In fact, my fear is that when it does start to fade, it will be because the data is pointing to a much slower growth trajectory, or a recession on a widespread basis. At that point, uncertainty will diminish, but so will asset values!

And how, you may ask, is all this affecting the dollar? Well, yesterday’s price action was of the risk off variety, where the yen was the leader, but the dollar outperformed most emerging market currencies, as well as Aussie and Kiwi, but was slightly softer vs. the rest of its G10 counterparts. This morning, however, on the strength of the trade talk news and policy ease by China, risk is being tentatively embraced and so the yen has fallen a bit, -0.35%, and the dollar has ceded most of its recent gains vs. the EMG space. For example, ZAR (+1.3%), RUB (+1.0%), TRY (+1.1%), and IDR (+1.0%) have all managed to rally sharply alongside a rebound in commodity prices. As well, the market is still enamored of newly installed President Bolsonaro in Brazil with the real higher by a further 0.9% this morning, taking the YTD gain up to 3.0%.

As for the G10, AUD has benefitted from the Chinese news, rising 0.55%, while CAD and NOK are both higher by 0.5% on the back of the rebound in oil prices. This move was a reaction to OPEC output falling sharply. As to the euro, it is higher by just 0.2% although it has recouped about half its losses from Wednesday now. And finally, the pound has bounced as well after its PMI data was actually a positive surprise. That said, it remains within a few percent of its post Brexit vote lows, and until there is a resolution there, will be hard-pressed to gain much ground. Of course, if there is no deal, the pound is likely to move sharply lower. The UK Parliament is due to vote on the current deal next week, although recent news from PM May’s political allies, the Northern Irish DUP, indicates they are unhappy with the deal and cannot support it yet. With less than three months to go before Brexit is upon us, it is increasingly looking like there will be no deal beforehand, and that the pound has further to fall. For hedgers, I cannot exhort you enough to consider increasing your hedges there. I think the risks are highly asymmetric, with a deal resulting in a modest rally of perhaps 2-3%, while a no-deal outcome could easily see an 8% decline.

For today, the NFP report is on tap with expectations as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 177K
Private Payrolls 175K
Manufacturing Payrolls 20K
Unemployment Rate 3.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5

We also hear from Chairman Powell at 10:15, where the market will be parsing every word to try to get a better understanding of the Fed’s data reaction function, and perhaps to see which data points they deem most important. At this point, strong NFP data ought lead to declining Treasury prices and rising stock prices although I expect the dollar would remain under pressure based on the risk-on feeling. If the data is weak, however, look for stock futures to reverse course (currently they are higher by ~1.0%) and Treasuries to find support. As to the dollar then, broadly stronger, although I expect the yen will be the best performer overall.

Good luck
Adf

New Standard-Bearers

The largest of all Latin nations
This weekend confirmed its frustrations
Electing a man
Whose stated game plan
Is changing the country’s foundations

Meanwhile in a key German state
Frau Merkel and friends felt the weight
Of policy errors
So new standard-bearers
Like AfD now resonate

This weekend brought two key elections internationally, with Brazil voting in Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing firebrand and nationalist who has promised to clean up the corruption rampant in the country. Not unlike New Jersey and Illinois, Brazil has several former politicians imprisoned for corruption. Bolsonaro represented a change from the status quo of the past fifteen years, and in similar fashion to people throughout the Western world, Brazilians were willing to take a chance to see a change. Markets have been cheering Bolsonaro on, as he has a free-market oriented FinMin in mind, and both Brazilian equities and the real have rallied more than 10% during the past month. The early price action this morning has BRL rising by another 1.65%, continuing its recent rally, and that seems likely to continue until Bolsonaro changes tack to a more populist stance, something I imagine we will see within the first year of his presidency.

Just prior to those results, the German elections in the state of Hesse, one of the wealthiest states in Germany and the home of Frankfurt and the financial industry, showed disdain for the ruling coalition of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats, with their combined share of the vote falling to just 39%, from well above 50% at the last election. The big winners were the far left Green Party and the far right AfD, both of whom saw significant gains in the state house there, and both of whom will make it difficult to find a ruling coalition. But more importantly, it is yet another sign that Frau Merkel may be on her last legs. This was confirmed this morning when Merkel announced she was stepping down as leader of her party, the CDU, but claimed she will serve out her term as Chancellor, which runs until 2021.

One other Eurozone story came out Friday afternoon as Standard & Poors released their updated ratings on Italy’s sovereign debt, leaving the rating intact but cutting the outlook to negative. This was slightly better than expected as there were many who worried that S&P would follow Moody’s and cut the rating as well. Italian debt markets rallied on the opening with 10-year yields falling 10bps and the spread with German Bunds narrowing accordingly. So net, there was a euro negative, with Merkel stepping down, and a euro positive, from S&P, and not surprisingly, the euro wound up little changed so far, although that reflects a rebound from the early price action. My concern is that the positive story was really the absence of a more negative story, and one that could well be simply a timing delay, rather than an endorsement of the current situation in Italy. The budget situation remains uncertain there, and if the government chooses to ignore the EU and implement their proposed budget, I expect there will be more pressure on the euro. After all, what good are rules if they are ignored by those required to follow them? None of this bodes well for the euro going forward.

Two other key stories have impacted markets, first from Mexico, the government canceled the construction of a new airport for Mexico City. This was part of the departing administration’s infrastructure program, but, not surprisingly, it has seen its cost explode over time and the incoming president has determined the money is better spent elsewhere. The upshot is that the peso has fallen a bit more than 1% on the news, and I would be wary going forward as we approach AMLO’s inauguration. By cutting the investment spending, not only will the country’s infrastructure remain substandard, but its growth potential will suffer as well. I think this is a very negative sign for the peso.

The other story comes from China, where early Q4 data continues to show the economy slowing further. The government there, ever willing to do anything necessary to achieve their growth target, has proposed a 50% cut in auto sales taxes in order to spur the market. Auto sales are on track for their first annual decline ever this year, as growth slows throughout the country. Interestingly, the market impact was seen by rallies in auto shares throughout Europe and the US, but Chinese equity markets continued to slide, with the Shanghai Index falling another 2.2% overnight. This also has put further pressure on the renminbi with CNY falling another 0.2% early in the session before recently paring some of those losses. USDCNY continues to hover just below 7.00, the level deemed critical by the PBOC as they struggle to prevent an increase in capital outflows. The last time the currency traded at this level, it cost China more than $1 trillion to staunch the outflow, so they are really working to prevent that from happening again.

And those are the big stories from the weekend. Overall, the dollar is actually little changed as you can see that there have been individual issues across specific currencies rather than a broad dollar theme today. Looking ahead to the US session, we get the first of a number of important data points this morning with the full list here:

Today Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.2% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
Tuesday Case-Shlller Home Prices 5.8%
Wednesday ADP Employment 189K
  Chicago PMI 60.0
Thursday Initial Claims 213K
  Nonfarm Productivity 2.2%
  Unit Labor Costs 1.1%
  ISM Manufacturing 59.0
  ISM Prices Paid 65.0
  Construction Spending 0.1%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
  Private Payrolls 184K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 15K
  Unemployment Rate 3.7%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.1% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Trade Balance -$53.6B
  Factory Orders 0.4%

So there is a ton of data upcoming, with this morning’s PCE and Friday’s Payrolls the key numbers. Last week’s GDP data had a better than expected headline print but the entire weekend press was a discussion as to why the harbingers of weaker future growth were evident. And one other thing we have seen is the equity market dismiss better than expected Q3 earnings data from many companies, selling those stocks after the release, as the benefits from the tax cut at the beginning of the year are starting to get priced out of the future.

The market structure is changing, that much is clear. The combination of central bank actions to reduce accommodation, and an expansion that is exceedingly long in the tooth, as well as increased political uncertainty throughout the world has made investors nervous. It is these investors who will continue to support US Treasuries, the dollar, the yen and perhaps, gold,; the traditional safe havens. At this point, there is nothing evident that will change that theme.

Good luck
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