If Things Go Astray

The jobs report Friday was great
Which served to confuse the debate
Is growth on the rise?
Or will it downsize?
And how will the Fed acclimate?

The first indication from Jay
Is data continues to say
While growth seems robust
We’ll surely adjust
Our actions, if things go astray

In what can only be described as remarkable, despite the strongest jobs report in nearly a year, handily beating the most optimistic expectations for both job growth and wages, Fed Chairman Jay Powell told the market that the Fed could easily slow the pace of policy tightening if needed. While this may seem incongruous based on the data, it was really a response to several weeks of market gyrations that have been explicitly blamed on the Fed’s ongoing policy normalization procedure. A key concern over this sequence of events is that the data of ‘data dependence’ is actually market indices rather than economic ones. For every analyst and economist who had been looking for Powell to break the cycle of kowtowing to the stock market, Friday was a dark day. For the stock market, however, it was anything but, with the S&P 500 rising 3.4% and the NASDAQ an even more impressive 4.25%. The Fed ‘put’ seems alive and well after a three month hiatus.

So what can we expect going forward? The futures market has removed all pricing for the Fed to raise rates further in 2019, and in fact, has priced in a 50% probability of a 25bp rate cut before the year is over! Think about that. Two weeks ago, the market was priced for two 25bp rate hikes! This is a very large, and rapid, change of opinion. The upshot is that the dollar has come under significant pressure as both traders and investors abandon the view of continued cyclical dominance and start to focus on the US’ structural issues (growing twin deficits). In that scenario, the dollar has much further to fall, with a 10% decline this year well within reason. Equity markets around the world, however, have seen a short-term revival as not only did Powell blink, but also the Chinese continue to aggressively add to their monetary policy ease. And one final positive note was heard from the US-China trade talks in Beijing, where Chinese Vice-Premier, Liu He, President Xi’s top economic official, made a surprise visit to the talks. This was seen as a demonstration of just how much the Chinese want to get a deal done, and are likely willing to offer up more concessions than previously expected to do so. The ongoing weak data from China is clearly starting to have a real impact there.

It is situations like this that make forecasting such a fraught exercise. Based on the information we had available on December 31, none of these market movements seemed possible, let alone likely. But that’s the thing about predictions; they are especially hard when they focus on the future.

As to markets today, while Asian equity markets followed Friday’s US price action higher, the same has not been true in Europe, where the Stoxx 600 is lower by 0.4%. Weighing on the activity in Europe has been weaker than expected German Factory Order data (-1.0%) as well as the re-emergence of the gilets jaunes protests in France, where some 50,000 protestors, at least, made their presence felt over the weekend.

Turning to the dollar, it is down broadly, with every G10 currency stronger vs. the greenback and most EMG currencies as well. If the market is correct in its revised expectations regarding the Fed, then the dollar will remain under pressure in the short run. Of course, if the Fed stops tightening policy, and we continue to see Eurozone malaise, you can be certain that the ECB is going to be backing away from any rate rises this year. I have maintained that the ECB would not actually raise interest rates until 2020 at the earliest, and I see no reason to change that view. With oil prices hovering well below year ago levels, headline inflation has no reason to rise. At the same time, despite Signor Draghi’s false hope regarding eventual wage inflation, core CPI in the Eurozone seems pegged at 1.0%. As long as this remains the case, it will be extremely difficult for Draghi, or his successor, to consider raising rates there. As that becomes clearer to the market, the euro will likely begin to suffer. However, until then, I can see the euro grinding back toward 1.18 or so.

One last thing to remember is that despite the Christmas hiatus, the Brexit situation remains front and center in the UK, with Parliament scheduled to vote on the current deal early next week. At this time, there is no indication that PM May is going to find the votes to carry the day, although as the clock ticks down, it is entirely possible that some nays turn into yeas in order to prevent the economic catastrophe that is being predicted by so many. The pound remains beholden to this situation, but I believe the likely outcomes are quite asymmetric with a 2-3% rally all we will see if the deal passes, while an 8% decline is quite viable in the event the UK exits the EU with no deal.

As to data this week, it will not be nearly as exciting as last week, but we see both the FOMC Minutes on Wednesday and CPI on Friday. In addition, we hear from seven Fed speakers across nine speeches, including Chairman Powell again, as well as vice-Chairman Clarida.

Today ISM non-Manufacturing 59.0
Tomorrow NFIB Small Business Optimism 105.0
  JOLT’s Job Openings 7.063M
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
Friday CPI -0.1% (1.9% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)

All in all, it seems that the current market narrative is focused solely on the Fed changing its tune while the rest of the central banking community is ignored. As long as this is the case, look for a rebound in equity markets and the dollar to remain under pressure. But you can be certain that if the Fed needs to hold rates going forward because of weakening economic data, the rest of the world will be in even more dire straits, and central banks elsewhere will be back to easing policy as well. In the end, while there may be short-term weakness, I continue to like the dollar’s chances throughout the year as the US continues to lead the global economy.

Good luck
Adf

A Year So Dreary

(With apologies to Edgar Allen Poe)

‘Eighteen was a year so dreary, traders studied hara-kiri
As they pondered every theory, algorithm and z-score.
Interest rates were slowly rising, growth no longer synchronizing,
Brexit’s failures mesmerizing, plus we got a real trade war
Italy, meanwhile explained that budget limits were a bore
Europe looked aghast and swore.

Thus instead of markets booming, (which most pundits were assuming)
What we got was all consuming angst too great to just ignore
Equities reduced to rubble, high-yield bonds saw their spreads double
As the Fed inspired bubble sprung a leak through the back door
Balance sheet adjustment proved to be more harsh than heretofore
Stock investors cussed and swore.

But the New Year’s now commencing, with the markets’, trouble, sensing
Thus predictions I’m dispensing might not be what you wished for
Life’s not likely to get better, ‘specially for the leveraged debtor
Who ought write an open letter to Chair Powell and implore
Him to stop his raising rates so assets grow just like before
Would that he would raise no more.

Pundits far and wide all wonder if Chair Powell’s made a blunder
Or if he will knuckle under to entreaties from offshore
Sadly for mainstream investors, lest our growth decays and festers
Powell will ignore protestors though they’ll raise a great uproar
Thus far he has made it clear that neutral’s what he’s shooting for
Jay, I fear, sees two hikes more.

At the same time Signor Draghi, who’s EU is weak and groggy
Using words in no way foggy, told us QE’s dead, he swore!
Plus he strongly recommended that when summer, this year, ended
Raising rates would be just splendid for those nations at the core
Even though the PIGS keep struggling, this he’s willing to ignore
Higher rates might be in store.

Lately, though, are growing rumors, that six billion world consumers
Are no longer in good humors, thus are buying less, not more
This result should be concerning for those bankers who are yearning
Rates to tighten, overturning years when rates were on the floor
Could it be what we will see is QE4 as an encore?
Maybe low rates are called for.

What about the budget shortfall, in the States that’s sure to snowball
If our growth rate has a pratfall like it’s done ten times before?
While this would be problematic, growth elsewhere would crash to static
Thus it would be quite pragmatic to assume the buck will soar
Don’t believe those euro bulls that think rate hikes there are in store
Christmas next we’re One-Oh-Four.

Now to Britain where the story of its Brexit’s been so gory
Leaving Labour and the Tories in an all out civic war
Though the deal that’s on the table, has its flaws, it would help cable
But when PM May’s unable to find votes here’s what’s in store
Look for cable to go tumbling well below its lows of yore
Next December, One-One-Four.

Time to focus on the East, where China’s growth just might have ceased
Or slowed quite sharply at the least, from damage due to Trump’s trade war
Xi, however’s not fainthearted, and more ease he has imparted
Trying to get growth restarted, which is really quite a chore
But with leverage so extended, how much more can they pay for?
Not as much as days of yore.

With growth there now clearly slowing, public cash is freely flowing,
Banks are told, be easygoing, toward the Chinese firms onshore
But the outcome’s not conclusive, and the only thing conducive
To success for Xi is use of weakness in the yuan offshore
I expect a steady drift much lower to Seven point Four
Only this and nothing more.

Now it’s time for analyzing, ten-year yields, so tantalizing
With inflation hawks advising that those yields will jump once more
But inflation doves are banking that commodities keep tanking
Helping bonds and Bunds when ranking outcomes, if you’re keeping score
Here the doves have better guidance and the price of bonds will soar
At what yields will they sell for?

Slowing growth and growing fear will help them both throughout the year
And so it’s not too cavalier to look for lower yields in store
Treasuries will keep on rising, and for now what I’m surmising
Is a yield of Two point Five is likely come Aught Twenty’s door
Bunds will see their yields retreat to Zero, that’s right, to the floor
Lower ten-year yields, look for.

In a world where growth is slowing, earnings data won’t be glowing
Red ink will, for sure, be flowing which investors can’t ignore
P/E ratios will suffer, and most firms will lack a buffer
Which means things will just get tougher for investors than before
What of central banks? Won’t they be able, prices, to restore?
Not this time, not like before.

In the States what I foresee is that the large cap S&P
Can fall to Seventeen Fifty by year end next, if not before
Europe’s like to see the same, the Stoxx 600 getting maimed
Two Fifty is where I proclaim that index will next year explore
Large percentage falls in both are what investors all abhor
But its what I see in store.

Oil’s price of late’s been tumbling, which for drillers has been humbling
OPEC meanwhile keeps on fumbling, each chance to, its strength, restore
But with global growth now slowing, storage tanks are overflowing
Meanwhile tankers, oceangoing, keep on pumping ship to shore
And more drilling in the States means lower prices are in store
Forty bucks I now call for.

One more thing I ought consider, Bitcoin, which had folks on Twitter
Posting many Tweets quite bitter as it tumbled ever more
Does this coin have true potential? Will it become influential?
In debates quite consequential ‘bout where assets you may store?
While the blockchain is important, Hodlers better learn the score
Bitcoin… folks won’t pay much for

So instead come winter next, Bitcoin Hodlers will be vexed
As it suffers from effects of slowing growth they can’t ignore
While it might be worth Two Grand, the end result is that demand
For Bitcoin will not soon expand, instead its like to shrink some more
Don’t be fooled in thinking you’ll soon use it at the grocery store
Bitcoin… folks won’t pay much for

Fin’lly here’s an admonition, if these views do reach fruition
Every single politician will blame someone else for sure
I’m not hoping for this outcome, I just fear the depths we might plumb
Will result in falling income and recession we’ll explore
So if risk you’re managing, more hedging now is what’s called for
Fear and risk are what will soar!

For you folks who’ve reached the end, please know I seek not to offend
But rather try to comprehend the state of markets and some more
If you read my thoughts last year, I tried to make it very clear
That economic trouble’s near, and so that caution is called for
Mostly though I hope the time invested has not made you sore
For you, my readers, I adore!

Have a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year
Adf

 

Still Great Disorder

While PM May fought off defeat
The Brexit debate’s incomplete
There’s still great disorder
O’er the Irish border
And angst for the man in the street

Was it much ado about nothing? In the end, PM May won the no-confidence vote, but in a singularly unimpressive manner with more than one-third of the Conservative MP’s voting against her. The upshot is that while she cannot be challenged again for another year, it clarified the strength of the opposition to her handling of the Brexit negotiations. At the same time, the EU has reiterated that the deal, as negotiated, represents all they are willing to offer. May’s strategy now seems to be to delay any vote until such time that the choice is clearly binary; accept the deal or exit with no deal. Despite the increasingly dire warnings that have come from the BOE and some private forecasters, I have lost my faith in the idea that a deal would be agreed. If this is the case, the impact on the pound is going to be quite negative for some time. Over the past two days, the pound has rallied 1.3% although it remains quite close to its post vote lows. However, in the event of a hard Brexit, look for the pound to test its historic lows from 1985, when it traded at approximately 1.05.

As to the rest of the market, it is central bank day in Europe with the Norgebank leaving rates on hold but promising to raise them in Q1; the Swiss National Bank leaving rates on hold and describing the necessity of maintaining a negative interest rate spread vs. the euro as the Swiss economy slows and inflation along with it; and, finally, the market awaits the ECB decision, where Signor Draghi is universally expected to confirm the end of QE this month. One of the interesting things about Draghi’s actions is that he is set to end QE despite his own internal forecasts, which, according to ‘sources’ are going to be reduced for both growth and inflation in 2019. How, you may ask, can a central banker remove policy accommodation despite weakening data? Arguably the answer is that the ECB fears the consequences of going back on its word more than the consequences of implementing the wrong policy. In any event, look for Draghi to speak of transient and temporary causes to the reduced forecasts, but express optimism that going forward, Eurozone growth is strong and will be maintained as inflation edges toward their target of just below 2.0%.

Of greater consequence for the euro this morning, which has rallied a modest 0.1%, is the news from Italy that they have adjusted their budget forecasts to expect a very precise 2.04% deficit in 2019, down from the previous budget deficit forecast of 2.4%. Personally I question the changes other than the actual decimal place on the forecast, but the market has accepted them at face value and we have seen Italian assets rally, notably 10-year BTP’s where yields have fallen 10bps and the spread with German bunds has fallen a similar amount. While the situation in France does not seem to have improved very much, the market is clearly of the view that things in Europe are better than they were last week. However, caution is required in accepting that all the issues have been adequately addressed. They have not.

In the end, though, despite these important issues, risk sentiment continues to be broadly driven by the trade situation between the US and China. Helping that sentiment this morning has been the news that China just purchased several million tons of US soybeans for the first time since the trade tussle began. That has encouraged investors to believe that a truce is coming, and with it, a resumption of the previous regime of steadily increasing global growth. Caution is required here, as well, given the still nascent level of discussions and the fact that the US negotiators, LIghthizer and Navarro, are known trade hawks. While it would certainly be better for all involved if an agreement is reached, it is far from certain that will be the case.

Recapping, the dollar has been under pressure this morning on the basis of a broad view of a better risk environment across markets. These include PM May’s retaining her seat, movement on the Italian budget issue and positive signs from the US-China trade conflict. And yet the dollar is only softer by some 0.1% or so, on average. Nothing has changed my view that the underlying fundamentals continue to favor the greenback.

Pivoting to the emerging markets, INR has performed well again, rallying 0.3% overnight which makes more than 1% this week while nearly erasing the losses over the past month. It appears that investors have taken a new view on the necessity of an independent central bank. Recall that the RBI governor stepped down on Monday as he was at odds with the government about the path of future policy, with ex-governor Patel seeking to maintain tighter money and address excess leverage and non-performing loans, while the government wanted easy money and fast growth in order to be reelected. The replacement is a government hack that will clearly do PM Modi’s bidding and likely cut rates next. Yet, market participants are rewarding this action as evidenced not only by the rupee’s rally, but also by the performance of the Indian stock market, which has led APAC markets higher lately. To this observer, it appears that this short term gain will be overwhelmed by longer term losses in both equities and the currency, if monetary policy falls under the government’s thumb. But right now, that is not the case, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see movement in this direction elsewhere as governments try to maintain economic growth at all costs. This is a dangerous precedent, but one that is ongoing nonetheless.

Yesterday’s CPI data was right in line with expectations at 2.2% for both headline and core, and the market had limited response. This morning brings only Initial Claims (exp 225K) and then the monthly Budget Figures are released this afternoon (exp -$188B). In other words, there is limited new information due once we hear from Signor Draghi. As long as there is a broad risk-on consensus, which appears to be the case, look for the dollar to remain under pressure. But I continue to see this as a short-term phenomenon. At some point, the market will recognize that the rest of the world is going to halt any efforts at tightening policy as global growth slows, and that will help support the dollar.

Good luck
Adf

 

Sans Reason or Rhyme

In England, the Minister Prime
Is serving, now, on borrowed time
No confidence reigns
As Brexit remains
The issue sans reason or rhyme

The biggest headline early this morning was the collection of a sufficient number of letters of no-confidence in PM May to force a vote in Parliament on the issue. Thus, later today, that vote will be held as the UK holds its breath. If she wins, it will likely strengthen her standing there, and potentially help her push through the Brexit deal that is currently on the table, despite its many flaws. If she loses, a leadership contest will begin and though she will remain PM, it will be only in an acting capacity without any power to move the agenda forward. One potential consequence of the latter outcome is that the probability of the UK leaving the EU with no deal will grow substantially.

With that in mind, the two best indicators of the likely outcome of the vote are the bookie market in the UK and the price of the pound. According to Ladbrokes, one of the largest betting shops in the UK, she is a 2:7 favorite to win the vote after starring at even money. In the FX market, the pound, after having fallen below 1.25 yesterday afternoon has rebounded by 0.4% thus far this morning. In other words, market sentiment is in her favor. Of course, if you recall, market sentiment was clearly of the opinion that Brexit would never occur, or that President Trump would never be president, so these measures are hardly perfect. At any rate, the vote is due to be completed by 3:00pm in NY, and results released shortly thereafter, so we won’t have long to wait. If she wins, look for the pound to continue this morning’s rally, with another 1% well within reason. However, a May victory in no way guaranties that the Brexit deal gets through Parliament. If she loses the vote, however, I expect that the pound will sell off pretty sharply, and that 1.20 could well be in the cards before the end of the year. It will be seen as a decided negative.

Away from the UK, the other big market news is the renewed enthusiasm over prospects for a US-China trade deal being achieved. Equity markets continue to rally on the back of a single phone call between the two nations that ostensibly discussed China purchasing more US soybeans and cutting tariffs on US made cars from 40% to 15%. While both of those are obviously good outcomes, neither addresses the issues of IP theft and Chinese subsidies to SOE’s. It feels a little premature to be celebrating an end to the trade conflict after the first phone call, but nobody ever claimed markets were rational. (Or perhaps they did, Professor Fama, and were just mistaken!) At any rate, after a volatile session yesterday, equities in Asia and Europe have all rallied on the trade news and US futures are pointing higher as well.

Meanwhile, the litany of other global concerns continues to exist. For example, there has been no resolution of the Italian budget issue, which has become even more fraught now that French President Macron has decided to expand the deficit in France in order to try to buy off the gilets jaunes protesters. This begs the question as to why it is acceptable for the French to break the budget guidelines, but not for the Italians to do so. Methinks there is plenty more drama left in this particular issue, and likely not to the euro’s benefit. However, the broad risk-on sentiment generated by the trade discussion has lifted the euro by 0.2% this morning, although it remains much closer to recent lows than highs. It would be hard to describe the market as having enthusiasm over the euro’s near-term prospects. And don’t forget that tomorrow the ECB will meet and ostensibly end QE. There is much discussion about how this will play out and what they will do going forward, but we will cover that tomorrow.

In India, the new RBI governor is a long-time Treasury bureaucrat, Shaktikanta Das, which calls into question the independence of that institution going forward. After all, the reason that the former head, Urjit Patel, quit was because he was coming under significant government pressure to act in a manner he thought unwise for the nation, but beneficial to the government’s electoral prospects. It is hardly comforting that a long time government minister is now in the seat. That said, the rupee continued yesterday’s modest rally and is higher by a further 0.4% this morning.

And those are really the big FX market stories for the day. Overall, the dollar’s performance today could be characterized as mixed. While modestly weaker vs. the euro and pound, it is stronger vs. NZD and SEK, with the latter down by 0.7%. As to the rest of the G10, they are little changed. In the EMG space, the dollar is modestly softer vs. LATAM names, but vs. APAC, aside from INR, it has shown modest strength. In other words, there is little uniform direction evident today as I believe traders are awaiting the big news events. So the UK vote and the ECB tomorrow are set to have more significant impacts.

On the data front, this morning brings CPI (exp 2.2% for headline and core), where a miss in either direction could have a market impact. At this time, Fed funds futures are pricing a ~78% chance that the Fed raises rates 25bps next week, but there is less than one rate hike priced in for 2019. My take continues to be that the market is overestimating the amount of tightening we will see from the ECB going forward, and as that becomes clearer, the euro will start its next leg lower. But for the rest of the day, I expect limited movement at least until the UK vote results are announced this afternoon.

Good luck
Adf

Toadies Galore

There once was a time in the past
When jobs like PM were a blast
With toadies galore
And laws you’d ignore
While scheming, all foes, to outlast

But these days when leading a nation
The role has outgrown bloviation
Consider Ms. May
Who just yesterday
Was subject to near ruination

Well, Brexit managed to not be the headline story for the several days between the time the current deal was tentatively agreed with the rest of the EU and the scheduled vote by the House of Commons to approve said deal. During that period, PM May made the rounds to try to sell her deal to the people of the UK. Alas, apparently she’s not a very good saleswoman. Under extreme duress, yesterday she indefinitely delayed the vote that was originally to be held this evening. Amid jeering from the floor of the House of Commons, she tried to make her case, but was singularly unable to do so. As has been the problem all along, the Irish border issue remains intractable with the opposing goals of separating the two nations legally and, more importantly, for customs purposes, while not installing a border between the two. As it currently stands, I will argue there is no compromise solution that is viable. One side is going to have to accept the other side’s demands and frankly, that doesn’t seem very likely. The upshot is that the market has once again begun to assume a no-deal Brexit with all the hyperbolic consequences that entails. And the pound? It was not a happy day if you were long as it fell 2% at its worst point, although only closed down by about 1.5%. This morning, it has regained a further 0.4%, but remains near its weakest levels since April 2017. Unless you believe in miracles (and in fairness there is no better time to do so than this time of year), my strong belief is the UK is going to exit the EU with nothing in place. The pound has further to fall, so hedgers beware.

Let’s pivot to the euro for a moment and discuss all the benefits of the single currency. First, there is the prospect of its third largest trading partner, the UK, leaving the fold and suddenly imposing tariffs on those exports. Next we have France literally on fire, as the gilets jaunes continue to run riot throughout the country while protesting President Macron’s mooted fuel tax increase. In the end, that seems to have been pulled and now he is offering tax cuts! Fiscal probity has been tossed aside in the name of political expediency. Thirdly, we have the ongoing Italian opera over the budget. The antiestablishment coalition government remains adamant that it is going to inject fiscal stimulus to the country, which is slipping into recession as we speak, but the EU powers-that-be are chuffed by the fact that the Italian budget doesn’t meet their criteria. In fact, those same powers continue down the road of seeking to impose fines on Italy for the audacity of trying to manage their own country. (Will someone please explain to me why when the French make outlandish promises that will expand their budget deficit, the EU remains mum, but when the Italians do so, it is an international crisis?)

At the same time as all of this is ongoing, the ECB is bound and determined to end QE this month and keeps talking about starting to normalize interest rates next autumn. Whistling past the graveyard anyone? When three of the four biggest nations in the EU are under significant duress, it seems impossible to consider that owning the euro is the best position. While it is clear that the situation in the US is not nearly as robust as had been believed just a month ago, and the Fed seems to be responding to that by softening their tone; at some point, the ECB is going to recognize that things in the Eurozone are also much worse, and that talk of tightening policy is going to fade from the scene. Rather, the discussion will be how large to make the new TLTRO loan program and what else can the ECB do to help support the economy since cutting rates seems out of the question given the starting point. None of that is priced into the market right now, and so as that unfolds, the euro will fall. However, in today’s session, the euro has recouped about half its losses from yesterday, rebounding by 0.4% after a more than 0.8% decline Monday. As much as there is a building discussion over the impending collapse of the dollar, it continues to seem to me that there are much bigger problems elsewhere in the world, which will help the dollar retain its haven status.

Away from those two stories, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Reserve Bank of India’s widely respected governor, Urjit Patel, resigned suddenly Monday evening leading to a 1.5% decline in the rupee and a sharp fall in Indian equity markets Tuesday. But then, results from recent local elections seemed to shift toward the ruling BJP, instilling a bit more confidence that PM Modi will be able to be reelected next year. Given the perception of his market/business friendliness, that change precipitated a sharp reversal in markets with the rupee actually rallying 0.9% and Indian equity markets closing higher by 0.6%.

In fact, despite my warnings above, the dollar is under pressure across the board this morning while global equity markets are looking up. It seems there was a call between the US and China restarting the trade negotiation process, which was taken by investors as a sign that all would be well going forward. And while that is certainly encouraging, it seems a leap to believe a solution is at hand. However, there is no question the market is responding to that news as equity markets in Europe are all higher by between 1.0% and 2.0%, US equity futures are pointing to a 1% gain on the open, government bonds are softer across the board and the dollar is down. Even commodities are playing nice today with most rallying between 0.5%-1.0%. So everyone, RISK IS ON!!

Turning to the data story, first let me say that the euro has been helped by a better than expected German ZEW Index (-17.5 vs. exp -25), while the pound has benefitted from a modestly better than expected employment report, with Average earnings rising 3.3% and the Employment Change jumping 79K. At the same time, the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index was just released at a worse than expected 104.8, indicating that the peak may well be behind us in the US economy. At 8:30 we see PPI data (exp 2.5%, 2.6% core) however, that tends not to be a significant market mover. Rather, today is shaping up as a risk-on day and unless there is a change in the tone of the trade talks, there is no reason to believe that will change. Accordingly, for hedgers, take advantage of the pop in currencies as the big picture continues to point toward eventual further dollar strength.

Good luck
Adf

 

A More Dovish Muse

The Chair of the Federal Reserve
For months has displayed steady nerve(s)
He’s gradually lifted
Fed Funds as he’s sifted
The data Fed members observe

But Friday brought more iffy news
And many now look for some clues
That Powell may soon
Abandon his tune
And search for a more dovish muse

Meanwhile o’er in Frankfurt they claim
That QE will end all the same
Though growth there is fading
There is no persuading
The Germans they’ll soon take the blame

The dollar started the Asian session on its back foot as market participants have jumped on the idea that softer employment data on Friday is going to prevent the Fed from maintaining their aggressive stance on monetary policy. And in fairness, we have already heard the first cracks in that story, as a number of Fed speakers were quite willing to admit that if the data slowed, they would not be as aggressive. However, the Fed is now in their blackout period, which means that we will not hear anything from them until they release their statement a week from Wednesday. In this market, that is an eternity with the ability for so much to happen and markets to move extraordinary distances.

As far as selling the dollar is concerned, I certainly understand the impulse given the clearly weaker US data and mildly more dovish tone of the latest comments last week. But the key thing to remember in the FX market is that everything is relative. And while US data is not as robust as it was just a few months ago, the same is true of both Eurozone and Japanese data, as well as Chinese and most EMG data. In fact, while the majority of participants continue to believe that the ECB is going to end QE on December 31st, and confirm that stance this week, there is a very big question mark regarding future European growth, especially in the event of a hard Brexit. Will the ECB have the guts ability to restart QE when inflation data suddenly starts to slide while Q4 GDP disappoints? And so while policy ease may be the proper response, having just ended their program they will be desperate to retain any credibility that they have left. At the end of the day, while the US economy appears to be slowing, it remains significantly brighter than the rest of the world. And that, eventually, is going to underpin the dollar. However, apparently not today.

Arguably, the biggest story this morning is the European Court of Justice’s ruling that the UK can unilaterally withdraw their Section 50 letter (the one where they officially declared they were leaving the EU). The upshot is the Bremainers feel there is new life and they can prevent the disastrous outcome of a hard Brexit. The one thing that seems clear, however, is that the Brexit deal, as currently negotiated, is likely to go down to defeat in the House of Commons in any vote. While that vote had been scheduled to occur tomorrow evening, just moments ago PM May took it off the agenda, with no alternative time scheduled. At the same time, her government reiterated that the UK is going through with Brexit as that was the result requested by the nation during the referendum. The FX market response to the latest histrionics has been to sell the pound. As I type, Sterling is lower by -0.45%, although that is also partially due to the fact that UK data was quite weak as well. For example, Construction Orders fell -30.7% in Q3, its worst performance since the depths of the great recession in 2009. IP fell -0.8% and GDP continues to edge along at a mere 0.1% monthly rate, having grown just 1.5% in the past year. It is becoming ever more clear that Brexit uncertainty is having a negative impact on the UK and by extension on the pound.

Away from the pound’s decline, though, the dollar is generally under pressure in the G10. For example, the euro has rallied 0.3% after modestly positive German trade and Italian IP data, although quite frankly, it seems more of a dollar negative than euro positive story. Bearing out the dollar weakness theme are the commodity currencies, with all three (AUD, CAD and NZD) firmer this morning despite declines across the board in energy, metals and agricultural prices.

Turning to the Emerging markets, the story is a little less anti-dollar as INR has fallen -0.7% after local elections added pressure to PM Modi’s political standing and called into question his ability to be reelected next year. In a more normal reaction to weaker commodity prices, both ZAR (-0.55%) and IDR (-0.5%) are suffering. At the same time, ongoing tensions regarding the US-China trade situation continue to weigh on KRW (-0.7%) and, not surprisingly, CNY (-0.5%). But away from those stories, the broad EMG theme is actually one of modest currency strength. Overall, it has been a mixed picture in the FX space.

Looking ahead to the data this week, with the UK vote now pulled from the calendar and Fed speakers absent, the market will look toward inflation data and Retail Sales for the latest clues on the economy.

Today JOLT’s Jobs Report 6.995M
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 107.3
  PPI 0.0% (2.5% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.1% (2.6% Y/Y)
Wednesday CPI 0.0% (2.2% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
Friday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.2%
  IP 0.3%
  Capacity Utilization 78.5%
  Business Inventories 0.5%

While the inflation data is important, the one thing that seems abundantly clear from recent Fed commentary is that they are unconcerned over the potential for inflation to run much higher. Instead, my sense is that they are going to be very focused on the potential first harbingers of a slowdown in the employment situation, where Initial Claims have ended their decade long decline and actually have started to rise. This is often seen as an early sign of potential economic weakness. But in the end, with the Fed quiet this week, I expect that we are going to be subject to much more foreign influence, with the ongoing Brexit situation driving the pound, the potential for a surprise from the ECB (which meets Thursday) and of course, the ongoing trade melee. In addition, we cannot forget the influence of equity markets, which continue to decline this morning after an abysmal week last week. In other words, there is plenty to drive markets this week, even absent the Fed, and for now, the dollar seems to be under pressure.

Good luck
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Progress Was Made

The Presidents, Trump and Xi, met
Attempting, trade talks, to reset
Some progress was made
Though China downplayed
Reductions in tariffs as yet

Risk is back! At least it is for today, with the news that there has been a truce, if not an end, to the trade war between the US and China seen as a huge positive for risky assets. And rightly so, given that the trade contretemps has been one of the key drivers of recent investor anxiety. In addition, the G20 managed to release a statement endorsed by all parties, albeit one that was a shadow of its former self. There remain significant disagreements on the value of the G20 with the Trump administration still convinced that these gatherings seek to institutionalize rules and regulations that are contra to the US best interests.

At any rate, equity markets around the world have rallied sharply with Shanghai jumping 2.5%, the Nikkei up 1.25% and the South Korean KOSPI rising by 1.75%. In Europe, the FTSE is higher by 1.75%, the DAX by 2.2% and the CAC, despite ongoing riots in Paris and throughout France, higher by 1.0%. Ahead of the opening here, futures are pointing to an opening on the order of 2.0% higher as well. It should be no surprise that Treasury bonds have fallen somewhat, although the 2bp rise in 10-year yields is dwarfed relative to the equity movements. And finally, the dollar is lower, not quite across the board, but against many of its counterparts. Today, EMG currencies are leading the way, with CNY rising 0.9%, MXN rising 1.7% and RUB up 0.75% indicative of the type of price movement we have seen.

However, the trade story is not the only market driver today, with news in the oil market impacting currencies as well. The story that OPEC and Russia have agreed to extend production cuts into 2019, as well as the news that Alberta’s Premier has ordered a reduction of production, and finally, the news that Qatar is leaving OPEC all combining to help oil jump by more than 3% this morning. The FX impact from oil, however, was mixed. While the RUB and MXN both rallied sharply, as did CAD (+0.9%) and BRL (+0.9%), those nations that are major energy importers, notably India (INR -1.1%), have seen their currencies suffer. I would be remiss not to mention the fact that the euro, which is a large energy importer, has actually moved very little as the two main stories, trade war truce and oil price rise, have offsetting impacts in FX terms on the Continent.

But through it all, there is one currency that is universally underperforming, the British pound, which has fallen 0.3% vs. the dollar and much further against most others. Brexit continues to cast a long shadow over the pound with today’s story that the DUP, the small Northern Irish party that has been key for PM May’s ability to run a coalition government, is very unhappy with the Brexit deal and prepared to not only vote against it in Parliament next week, but to agree a vote of no confidence against PM May as well. This news was far too much for the pound, overwhelming even much better than expected Manufacturing PMI data from the UK (53.1 vs. exp 51.5). So the poor pound is likely to remain under pressure until that vote has been recorded next Tuesday. As of now, it continues to appear that the Brexit deal will fail in its current form, and that the UK will be leaving the EU with no framework for the future in place. This has been the market’s collective fear since the beginning of this process, and the pound will almost certainly suffer further in the event Parliament votes down the deal.

While all this has been fun, the week ahead brings us much more news and
information, as it is Payrolls week in the US.

Today ISM Manufacturing 57.6
  ISM Prices Paid 70.0
  Construction Spending 0.4%
Wednesday ADP Employment 197K
  Nonfarm Productivity 2.3%
  Unit Labor Costs 1.2%
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 59.2
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Trade Balance -$54.9B
  Factory Orders -2.0%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 200K
  Private Payrolls 200K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 19K
  Unemployment Rate 3.7%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.1% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Michigan Sentiment 97.0

So a lot of data, and even more Fed speakers, with a total of 11 speeches, including congressional testimony by Chairman Powell on Wednesday, from six different Fed Governors and Presidents. Now we have heard an awful lot from the Fed lately and it has been interpreted as being somewhat less hawkish than the commentary from September and October. In fact, Minneapolis President Kashkari was out on Friday calling for an end to rate hikes, although he is arguably the most dovish member of the FOMC. Interestingly, the trade truce is likely to lead to one less problem the Fed has highlighted as an economic headwind, and may result in some more hawkish commentary, but my guess is that the current mindset at the Eccles Building is one of moderation. I continue to believe that a December hike is a done deal, but I challenge anyone who claims they have a good idea for what 2019 will bring. The arguments on both sides are viable, and the proponents are fierce in their defense. While the Fed continues to be a key driver of FX activity, my sense is that longer term FX views are much less certain these days, and will continue down to be that way as the Fed strives to remove Forward Guidance from the tool kit. Or at least put it away for a while. I still like the dollar, but I will admit my conviction is a bit less robust than before.

Good luck
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