Votes in the States

The second wave’s not the infection
Nor, either, is it the election
Instead, central banks
Will fire more blanks
As each makes a massive injection

But meantime, the world now awaits
The outcome from votes in the States
Most polls point toward Blue
Which many construe
As time to add risk to their plates

Election day has finally arrived, and the market is positively giddy over the prospects, or at least so it seems.  Equity markets worldwide are rising dramatically, haven assets are selling off, so Treasuries and bunds have fallen, and the dollar is under pressure versus every currency except the Turkish lira.  Most polls continue to point to a Biden victory, although there are several, interestsingly those that predicted Trump’s victory four years ago, calling for him to be reelected.  It is interesting that risk is being acquired so aggressively at this time given a key part of the narrative has been the relatively high probability of a contested election with no winner declared for weeks, if not longer driving major uncertainty in markets.  In addition, several big cities have been taking precautions against anticipated violence and rioting, with storefronts being boarded up and additional police called to duty.  Again, that hardly seems like a signal to be adding risk, but then this is the 2020’s, when everything you thought you knew turns out to have been wrong.

I guess the real question is, can the risk rally be sustained?  Well, if central banks have anything to say on the subject, and clearly they will try, the answer is a qualified yes.  Qualified because the longevity of the rally is still subject to debate.

While we all know that both the Fed and Bank of England will be meeting on Thursday, last night we got our first central bank meeting of the week, when the RBA convened Down Under.  As was widely expected, they cut their Cash Rate Target to 0.10% and they lowered the yield target on 3-year government bonds to 0.10% (that is their yield curve control program) but they also surprised the market by expanding their QE by A$100 billion.  This last is in addition to their unlimited purchases to maintain the 3-year rate at 0.10%.  The market response was quite positive, but it’s not clear whether that would have happened regardless, or whether it was dependent on the RBA’s actions.  But whatever the case, the ASX 200 rose 1.9% and AUD rose more than a penny and is higher by 0.9% at this hour.

But what of the rest of the world?  Why is risk being gobbled up so aggressively today?  For instance, despite a complete lack of new data from Europe, we are seeing broad-based strength in Continental equity markets.  The DAX (+1.75%), the CAC (+2.0%) and the FTSE 100 (+1.65%) are all firmly in the green, as are every other Eurozone market.  Perhaps they are continuing to react to last week’s ECB meeting where Madame Lagarde promised to “recalibrate” ECB policy in order to do more.  In other words, the creativity of central bankers will be on full display.  Consider, right now, all they can do is print money and buy bonds.  Perhaps they will start to buy other assets (equities anyone?), or perhaps, the frequently discussed digital euro will be announced, with every Eurozone citizen eligible to open an account at the central bank that will be replenished with cash funds regularly.  Or is it simply the European asset management crowd voting that if the polls are correct, the economy will recover quickly?  While there is no obvious catalyst, market sentiment has turned quite positive this week, especially after last week’s doom and gloom.

But it’s not just Europe.  We saw strength in Asia (Nikkei +1.4%, Hang Seng +2.0%, Shanghai +1.4%) and US futures are rocking as well with DOW (+1.5%) leading the way, though both the SPX (+1.2%) and NASDAQ (+0.75%) remain firmly positive.  Again, other than the RBA news, there was nothing out of Asia, and of course it is far too early to have anything from the US.  In fairness, yesterday did see a blowout ISM number 59.3 vs. 56.0 expected, so the data in the US continues to be impressive.  But it beggars belief that equities are rallying today based on that information.  In the end, it remains all about the election.

One thing that we have seen really build up lately is the view that the US yield curve is going to steepen dramatically.  That is evident in the record short position in long bond futures in Chicago (>260K), as well as the massive outflows the from ETF’s TLT and LQD, the biggest government bond and IG corporate bond ETF’s respectively.  The view seems to be that regardless of who wins the election, the US is going to see higher interest rates in the back end as the massive amount of Treasury issuance that will be required to fund the growing budget deficit will overwhelm the market.  And that makes perfect sense.  Of course, making sense and making money are two very different things.  If the market is excessively skewed in one direction in anticipation of an event, it is the very definition of the ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ set-up that happens time and again.  My take here is that while a year from now, we may well see much higher Treasury yields in the 30-year, that will not be the first move once the election is over.  Not only will the Fed have something to say on the subject, but positions will get stale and unwound, and we could easily see a significant Treasury rally, especially if the economy falters.

One last thing to mention is the oil market, which saw a massive rebound yesterday on the story that the OPEC+ production cuts are likely to remain in place, rather than their expected ending.  In the end, oil prices remain a function of supply and demand, and any economic growth, for now, will still require oil.  The future may well be renewables, but in this case, the future is quite a few years away.

But that is really the story heading into the election.  It is surprising to me that we have seen as much movement as we have this morning, but since election results won’t be released until 7:00pm Eastern time, today is no different than yesterday in terms of new information.  I sincerely doubt that Factory Orders (exp 1.0%) are going to change any views, and given the Fed meeting Thursday, we still have silence from the FOMC.  While I would not fight the tape today, I still do not see the appeal of a short dollar position for the medium term.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Lost Traction

The tea leaves that everyone’s reading
‘bout trade talks claim risk is receding
Since Donald and Xi
Are desperate anxious to see
A deal that shows both sides succeeding

The equity market reaction
Has been one of great satisfaction
But bonds and the buck
Have had much less luck
As growth on both sides has lost traction

This morning is all about trade. Headlines blaring everywhere indicate that the US and China are close to ironing out their differences and that Chinese President Xi, after a trip through parts of Europe later this month, will visit the US at the end of March to sign a deal. It should be no surprise that global equity markets have jumped on the news. The Nikkei rose 1.0%, Shanghai was up 1.1% while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong rallied 0.5%. We have seen strength in Europe as well, (FTSE +0.5%, CAC +0.5%) although the German DAX is little changed on the day. And finally, US futures are pointing to a continuation of the rally here with both S&P and Dow futures currently trading higher by 0.25%.

However, beyond the equity markets, there has been much less movement in prices. Treasuries have barely edged higher and the dollar, overall, is little changed. It is pretty common for equity market reactions to be outsized compared to other markets, and this appears to be one of those cases. In fact, I would caution everyone about one of the oldest trading aphorisms there is, “buy the rumor, sell the news.” A dispassionate analysis of the trade situation, one which has evolved over the course of two decades, would indicate that a few months hardly seems enough time to solve some extremely difficult issues. The issue of IP (whether stolen or forced to be shared in order to do business) and state subsidies for state-owned firms remains up in the air and given that both these issues are intrinsic to the Chinese economic model, will be extremely difficult to alter. It is much easier for China to say they will purchase more stuff (the latest offer being $23 billion of LNG) or that they will prevent the currency from weakening, than for them to change the fundamentals of their business model. While positive trade sentiment has clearly been today’s driver, I would recommend caution over the long-term impacts of any deal. Remember, the political imperatives on both sides remain quite clear and strong, with both Presidents needing a deal to quiet criticism. But political expediency has rarely, if ever, been a harbinger of good policy, especially when it comes to economics.

Of course, one of the reasons that a deal is so important to both sides is the slowing economic picture around the world and the belief that a trade deal can reverse that process. Certainly, Friday’s US data was unimpressive with Personal Spending falling -0.5% in December (corroborating the weak Retail Sales data), while after a series of one-off events in December pumped up the Personal Income data, that too declined in January by -0.1%. The ISM numbers were softer than expected (54.2 vs. the 55.5 expected) and Consumer Confidence slumped (Michigan Sentiment falling to 93.7). All in all, not a stellar set of data.

This has set up a week where we hear from three key central banks (RBA tonight, Bank of Canada on Wednesday and ECB on Thursday) with previous thoughts of policy normalization continuing to slip away. Economic data in all three economic spheres has been retreating for the past several months, to the point where it is difficult to blame it all on the US-China trade situation. While there is no doubt that has had a global impact (look at Germany’s poor performance of late), it seems abundantly clear that there are problems beyond that.

History shows that most things have cyclical tendencies. This is especially true of economics, where the boom-bust cycle has been a fact of life since civilization began. However, these days, cycles are no longer politically convenient for those in power, as they tend to lose their jobs (as opposed to their heads a few hundred years ago) when things turn down. This explains the extraordinary effort that even dictators like President Xi put into making sure the economy never has a soft patch. Alas, the ongoing efforts to mitigate that cycle are likely to have much greater negative consequences over time. The law of diminishing returns virtually insures that every extra dollar or euro or yuan spent today to prevent a downturn will have a smaller and smaller impact until at some point, it will have none at all. It is this process which drives my concern that the next recession will be significantly more painful than the last.

So, while a trade deal with China would be a great outcome, especially if it was robust and enforceable, US trade with China is not the only global concern. Remember that as the trade saga plays out.

Aside from the three central bank meetings, we also get a bunch of important data this week, culminating in Friday’s payroll report:

Today Construction Spending 0.1%
Tuesday New Home Sales 590K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 57.2
Wednesday Trade Balance -$49.3B
  ADP Employment 190K
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.7%
  Unit Labor Costs 1.6%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 180K
  Private Payrolls 170K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
  Unemployment Rate 3.9%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.3% Y/Y)

In addition to all this, we hear from four more Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell on Friday. It seems increasingly clear that Q1 growth has ebbed worldwide compared to the end of last year, and at this point, questions are being raised as to how the rest of the year will play out. Reading those tea leaves is always difficult, but equity markets would have you believe, based on their recent performance, that this is a temporary slowdown. So too, would every central banker in the world. While that would be a wonderful outcome, I am not so sanguine. In the end, slowing global growth, which I continue to anticipate, will result in all those central bankers following the Fed’s lead and changing their tune from policy normalization to continued monetary support. And that will continue to leave the dollar, despite President Trump’s latest concerns over its strength, the best place to be.

Good luck
Adf