Growth Has Now Faltered

The working assumption had been
That governments soon would begin
To lift their restrictions
Across jurisdictions
From Lisbon to well past Berlin
 
But Covid had other designs
By spreading, despite strict guidelines
So, growth has now faltered
And views have been altered
Regarding recovery times
 
Remember how smug so many publications around the world seemed when comparing the spread of Covid in the US and throughout Europe?  The narrative was that despite a devastating first wave in Italy and Spain, nations on the Continent handled the situation significantly better than the chaos occurring in the US.  Much was blamed on the different types of healthcare systems, and of course, there was significant opprobrium set aside for the US president. But a funny thing has happened to that narrative lately, and it was reinforced this morning by the preliminary PMI data that was released.  Suddenly, the growth in Covid cases throughout Europe is expanding to what seems very much like a true second wave, with France and Spain leading the way, each reporting more than 10,000 cases yesterday, while in the US, we continue to see a true flattening of the curve.  The discussion in many European countries is whether or not to impose a second lockdown, as governments there try to decide if their economies and budgets can withstand such an outcome.  (I don’t envy them their choice as no matter the outcome, some people will suffer and scream loudly about the decision.)
 
But a funny thing seems to be happening within economies, despite this government wariness to act, people are making the decisions for themselves.  And so, service businesses are seeing real declines in activity as people naturally avoid restaurants, travel and entertainment companies.  And that’s just what the data shows.  PMI Services surveys showed significantly worse outcomes in France (47.5 vs. 51.5 expected), Germany (49.1 vs. 53.0) and the Eurozone as a whole (47.6 vs. 50.6).  In other words, it appears that people are pretty good at self-preservation, and will not put themselves knowingly at risk without a good reason.  Getting a pint at the local pub is clearly not a good enough reason.
 
For elected policymakers, however, this is the worst of all worlds.  Not only does economic activity contract, for which they will be blamed, but they are not making the decisions for the people, which appears to be their primary motivation in so many cases.  Of course, there is a class of policymakers to whom this outcome is seen as a pure benefit…central bankers.  It is this group who gets to continue to preen about all they have done to support the markets economy, and while the Fintwit community blasts them regularly, the bulk of the population sees them as saviors.  Central banking continues to be a pretty good gig.  Lots of power, no responsibility.
 
Meanwhile, the investment community, including those blasting the central bankers on Fintwit, continue to take advantage of the ongoing central bank largesse and pump asset prices ever higher.  While there was a very short correction back at the beginning of the month, now that merely seems like a bad dream.  And if the data continues to turn lower, the one thing we know is that central banks will step further on the accelerator, announcing greater asset purchase programs, and potentially dragging a few more countries (is the UK next?) into the negative rate world.
 
But that is the world in which we live, whether or not we like it, or agree with the policies.  And as our focus is on markets, we need to be able to describe them and try to understand the evolving trends.  Today, and really this week, that trend continues to see the dollar grind higher despite the fact that we have seen both up and down equity market activity.  In other words, this does not appear to be simply a risk-off related USD rally.  Rather, this appears to be a USD rally built on short-term economic fundamentals.  Remember, FX is a relative game, and even if things in the US are not great, if they are perceived as better than elsewhere, that is sufficient to help drive the value of the dollar higher.  One other thing to note regarding the current market activity is that the hysteria over the dollar’s ‘imminent collapse’, which was all the rage throughout the summer, seems to have completely disappeared. 
 
So, turning to this morning’s session, we find equity markets in the green around the world.  Yesterday’s US rally was followed by a fairly dull Asian session (Nikkei -0.1%, Hang Seng +0.1%) but Europe has really exploded higher.  It seems that the weakening economic data has convinced investors the ECB will be even more active in their policy mix, thus adding more support to equity markets there.  Hence today’s gains (DAX +1.6%, CAC +1.8%, FTSE 100 +2.3%) are a direct response to the weaker data.  It appears we are in the bad news is good phase for investors.  Not to worry, US futures are also pointing higher, albeit not quite as aggressively as we are seeing in Europe.
 
Bond markets remain somnolent as 10-year Treasury yields are at 0.675%, essentially unchanged from yesterday and right in the middle of the tiny 7 basis point range we have seen since September 1st.  (For those of you who were disappointed the Fed did not announce yield curve control, the reason is that they already have it, there is no need to announce it!)  At the same time, German bunds are unchanged on the day, and also mired within a fairly tight, 10bp range.  But the ongoing winners are Italy and Greece, who have seen their 10-year yields decline by 2 and 3 basis points, respectively today, with Italy’s down more than 25 basis points since the beginning of the month.
 
The strong dollar is having a deleterious impact in one market, gold, which has fallen 0.4% today and is now lower by nearly 10% from the highs seen in early August.  The driving forces of the rally remain in place, with real rates still under pressure and inflation still percolating, but it was a very overcrowded trade that seems to be getting unwound lately.
 
Finally, a look at the dollar vs. its G10 brethren shows that commodity currencies are the worst performers today with AUD and NZD both lower by -0.6%, while NOK (-0.5%) and CAD (-0.2%) complete the list.  However, at this hour, the entire bloc is softer vs. the dollar.  In the emerging markets, one needn’t be prescient to have guessed that MXN (-0.85%) and ZAR (-0.75%) are the leading decliners given the combination of their recent volatility and connection to commodity prices.  RUB (-0.6%) is also a leading decliner, suffering from the commodity market malaise, but frankly, APAC and CE4 currencies are also somewhat softer this morning.  This is all about USD strength though, not specific currency story weakness.
 
On the data front, yesterday’s Existing Home Sales were right on the button at 6.0M, as I mentioned, the highest reading since the middle of 2007.  Today the only thing to see is Markit’s US PMI data, expected to print at 53.5 for Manufacturing and 54.5 for Services.  Given the European readings, it will be quite interesting to see if the same pattern is evolving here.
 
Yesterday we also heard from Chairman Powell, but all he said was that the Fed has plenty of ammo and has done a great job, but things would be better if Congress passed another fiscal stimulus bill.  No surprises there.
 
This morning’s USD strength, while broad-based, is shallow.  Perhaps the biggest thing working in the dollar’s favor right now is the size of the short-USD positioning and the fact that recent price action is starting to warm up the technicians for a more sustained move higher.  I think that trend remains but believe we will need to see some real confirmational data to help it extend.
 
Good luck and stay safe
Adf
 
 

Stocks Dare Not Wane

Can someone, to me, please explain
The reason that stocks dare not wane?
If this is to be
Then how come we see
Both silver and gold, new heights gain?

It seems like the narrative is becoming more difficult to explain these days. On the one hand, risk appetite appears to be gaining as evidenced by the ongoing rally in equity markets, the continued rebound in oil prices and the dollar’s steady decline. The rationale continues to be one where hope springs eternal for the elusive Covid vaccine and that fiscal stimulus will continue to be pumped into the global economy until said vaccine arrives driving a V-shaped recovery. Meanwhile, paying for that fiscal stimulus will be global central banks, who are printing money as quickly as possible in order to mop up all the newly issued bonds. (I would wager that the ECB will purchase at least 50% of the new EU bonds when they are finally issued.)

The potential flaw in this theory is the price behavior of haven assets, notably gold, silver and Treasuries, all of which have continued to rally right alongside risk assets. Now, it is certainly possible that the continuous flood of new money into the global economy has simply resulted in all assets rising in price, including the haven assets, but it would be a mistake to ignore the signals those haven assets are flashing. For instance, 10-year Treasury yields have fallen back below 0.60% today for the first time since establishing their historic low at 0.569% in mid-April. Historically, the message of low 10-year yields has been slow growth ahead. It seems to me that doesn’t jive very well with the V-shaped recovery story that appears to be driving equity prices. Of course, the issue here could easily be that the Fed’s purchases are simply distorting the market thus removing any signaling power from 10-year yields, but they have assured us repeatedly that is not the case. Rather, their purchases are designed to insure the opposite, that the market functions normally.

Turning to precious metals, both gold and silver have been on a tear of late, with silver really turning it on in July, rising 21%, while gold has seen steady buying and is higher by 4.3% so far this month. Granted, this could simply be part of the dollar weakness effect, where a declining dollar lifts the value of all commodities. But you cannot rule out the idea that this price movement is a signal of growing concerns over the value of all fiat currencies as central banks around the world work overtime to provide liquidity to markets.

From the perspective of the narrative, it is important to accept that this time it’s different, and that these haven asset signals are merely noise in the new world order. And maybe they are. Maybe the fact that central banks around the world have added nearly $20 trillion of liquidity to global markets without corresponding economic growth is of no real concern and will not result in consequences like rising inflation or growth in inequality. Unfortunately, the one thing that we have learned during this crisis is that central banks have a single playbook regardless of the situation…print more money. Like a man with a hammer, to whom every problem looks like a nail, central bankers see a problem and respond in one way only… turn on the presses. I certainly hope the Fed et al, know what they are doing, but the evidence is that their models are no longer reflective of reality, and that is the big problem. Any model is only as good as its data, but good data doesn’t make a bad model good, in fact it is more likely to give misinformation instead.

So, let us now turn to the market’s activities this morning to see if there is anything new under the sun. While equity markets around the world are under pressure, the losses are relatively small and arguably just a reflex response to what has been a strong run for the past several sessions. Government bonds continue to rally ever so slowly in both the US and Europe, but the truly interesting things are happening in the FX world.

To start, the euro has well and truly broken out of its range, easily taking out resistance at 1.1495 during its 0.7% climb yesterday. This morning, it has added to those gains, up another 0.4% and trading at levels last seen in October 2018. Momentum is on its side and as I mentioned yesterday, I see no real resistance until at least 1.17, meaning another 1.0%-2.0% is quite within reason. At this stage, there doesn’t need to be a narrative, just the acceptance that the current trend is strong. But yesterday saw the entire G10 space rally, led by AUD (+1.6%) and NOK (+1.3%) with the former benefitting from a serious short squeeze while the latter had oil to thank for its gains. But even the yen (+0.45% yesterday) showed real strength, despite no concern about risk.

But the real story was in the EMG space, where virtually the entire bloc was firmer, although none so impressively as BRL, which rocketed 3.1% during the day. It seems that a combination of general positivity from the EU’s announced deal and the specifics of the introduction of the long-awaited new tax reform by the Bolsonaro administration were enough to get the juices flowing. Technically, it appears that barring any significant negative news, this could continue until USDBRL tests 5.00, or even the 4.85 lows seen in mid-June.

But the entire EMG bloc was on fire, with the CE4 far outperforming the euro (CZK +1.95%, HUF +1.90%, PLN +1.6%) but also strength elsewhere in LATAM (CLP +1.75%, COP +0.75%). In fact, APAC currencies were the laggards, although most of them did rise modestly. This morning’s price action has been a bit more muted, although we have seen IDR (+0.6%) halt what has been an impressive weakening trend. It seems that a local company is planning to move into Covid vaccine trials next month which has encouraged optimists to believe the second wave of infections there may be addressed soon.

Arguably, the one truly interesting thing today is the weakness in CNY (-0.2%) which seems to be a response to the story that the US has closed the Chinese consulate in Houston. The Chinese are now threatening to close the US consulate in Wuhan (who would want to work in that office anyway?) with the real concern that the ongoing cold war between the two nations shows no signs of abating. In fact, if you want a rationale for owning haven assets, this situation offers plenty of scope.

Turning to the data today, we get our first from the US in the form of Existing Home Sales (exp 4.75M) which would represent a 21% gain from last month. Of course, the level remains far below the pre-Covid situation where 5.5M was the norm for more than 5 years. The Fed remains in its quiet period as the market will eventually turn their attention to next Wednesday’s meeting, but for now, the market doesn’t need any further impetus. The story is the dollar is falling and risk is to be acquired. While the latter idea might be a little bit of a concern, the former, a weaker dollar, seems a fait accompli for now.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Shareholders’ Dreams

The contrast is hard to ignore
Twixt growth, which is still on the floor
And market extremes
Where shareholders’ dreams
Of gains help them come back for more

“There’s no way I can lose.  Right now, I’m feeling invincible.”

This quote from a Bloomberg article about the massive rally in the Chinese stock markets could just as easily come from a US investor as well.  It is a perfect encapsulation of the view that the current situation is one where government support of both the economy and the markets is going to be with us for quite a while yet, and so, stock prices can only go higher.  So far, of course, that view has been spot on, at least since March 23rd, when the US markets bottomed.

The question this idea raises, though, is how long can this situation endure?  There is no denying the argument that ongoing monetary support for economies is flowing into asset markets.  One need only look at the correlation between the gain in the value of global equity markets since things bottomed, and the amount of monetary stimulus that has been implemented.  It is no coincidence that both numbers are on the order of $15 trillion.  But as we watch bankruptcy after bankruptcy get announced, Brooks Brothers was yesterday’s big-name event, it becomes harder and harder to see how market valuations can maintain their current levels without central bank support.  Thus, if equity market values are important to central banks, and I would argue they are, actually, their leading indicator, it leads to the idea that central banks will continue to add liquidity to the economy forever.  In other words, MMT has arrived.

Magical Money Tree Modern Monetary Theory is the controversial idea that, as long as governments print their own money, like the US does with dollars, as opposed to how euros are created by an “independent” authority, there is nothing to stop governments from spending whatever they want, budgets be damned.  After all, they can either issue debt, and print the money needed to repay it, or skip the issuance step and simply print what they need when they need it.  The proponents explain that the only hitch is inflation, which they claim would be the moderator on overprinting.  Thus, if inflation starts to rise, they can slow down the presses.

Originally, this was deemed a left leaning strategy as their idea was to print more money to pay for social programs.  But like every good (?) idea, it has been co-opted by the political opposition in a slightly different form.  Thus, printing money to buy financial assets (which is exactly what the Fed has been doing since 2009’s first bout of QE, is the right leaning application of this view.  To date, the Fed has only purchased bonds, but you can see the evolution toward stocks is underway. At first it was only Treasuries and then mortgage-backed bonds, which was designed to aid the collapsing housing market.  But now we are on to Munis (at least they are government entities) and investment grade corporate ETF’s, then extending to junk bond ETF’s and then individual corporate bonds.  It is not hard to see that the next step will be SPYders and DIAmonds and finally individual stocks.

It is also not hard to discern the impact on equity prices as we go forward in this scenario, much higher.  But ask yourself this; is this a good long-term outcome?  Consider the classic definition of Socialism:

      noun:   a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the state.

Would it not be the case that if the central bank owns equities, they are taking ownership of the means of production?  Would the Fed not be voting their shareholder rights?  And wouldn’t they be deciding winners and losers based on political issues, not economic ones?  Is this really where we want to go?

The EU is already on the way, with a new plan to take equity stakes in SME’s, the economic sector that has been least aided by PEPP and the ECB versions of QE.  And already the discussion there is of which companies to help; only those that meet current ‘proper’ criteria, such as climate neutrality and social cohesion.  The point is that the future is shaping up to turn out quite differently than the recent past, at least when it comes to the financial/economic models that drive political decisions.  Stay alert to these changes as they are almost certainly on their way.

Once again, I drifted into a non-market discussion because the market discussion is so incredibly boring.  Equity markets continue their climb, based on ongoing financial largesse by central banks.  Bond markets remain mired in tight ranges and the dollar continues to consolidate after a massive rally in March led to a more gradual unwinding of haven asset positions.  But lately, the story is just not that interesting.

Arguably, the dollar’s recent trend lower is still intact, it has just flattened out a great deal.  So we continue to see very gradual weakness in the greenback, just not necessarily every day.  For example, in the past three weeks, the euro has climbed 1.25%, but had an equal number of up and down days during this span.  In other words, if you look hard enough, you can discern a trend, it is just not a steep one.  In fact, as I type, it has turned modest overnight gains into modest losses, but is certainly not showing signs of a breakout in either direction.  And this is a pretty fair description of the entire G10 bloc, modest movement in both directions over the course of a few weeks, but net slightly firmer vs. the dollar.

Today, the pound is the big winner, although it has only gained 0.25%, coming on the back of the government’s announcement of an additional £30 billion of fiscal support for the UK economy focused on wages, job retention and small businesses.  As to the rest of the G10, SEK is firmer by 0.2%, although there are no stories that would seem to support the movement, while the other eight currencies are less than 0.1% changed from yesterday.

In the emerging markets, the story is somewhat similar with just two outliers, RUB (+0.6% as oil is higher) and ZAR (+0.5% as gold is higher).  In fact, the currency that has truly performed best of all this year is gold, which is higher by nearly 20% YTD, and shows no signs of slowing down.  Arguably, the rand should continue to find support from this situation.

Once again, data is scarce, with today’s Initial and Continuing Claims data the highlights (exp 1.375M and 18.75M respectively).  At this stage, these are probably the most important coincident indicators we have, as any signs of increased layoffs will result in a lot more anxiety, both in markets and the White House.  Of course, if those numbers decline, look for the V-shaped recovery story to gain further traction and stronger equity markets alongside a (slightly) weaker dollar.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

 

Overthrow

Health data are starting to show
A second wave might overthrow
The rebound we’ve seen
From Covid-19
Which clearly will cause growth to slow

Risk is under pressure this morning as market participants continue to read the headlines regarding the rising rate of Covid infections in some of the largest US states, as well as throughout a number of emerging market nations. While this is concerning, in and of itself, it has been made more so by the fact that virtually every government official has warned that a second wave will undermine the progress that has been made with respect to the economic rebound worldwide. However, what seems to be clear is that more than three months into a series of government ordered shut downs that have resulted in $trillions of economic damage around the world, people in many places have decided that the risk from the virus is not as great as the risk to their personal economic well-being.

And that is the crux of the matter everywhere. Just how long can governments continue to impose restrictions on people without a wholesale rebellion? After all, there have been many missteps by governments everywhere, from initially downplaying the impact of the virus to moving to virtual marital law, with early prognostications vastly overstating the fatality rate of the virus and seemingly designed simply to sow panic and exert government control. It cannot be surprising that at some point, people around the world decided to take matters into their own hands, which means they are no longer willing to adhere to government rules.

The problem for markets, especially the equity markets, is that their recovery seems to be based on the idea that not only is a recovery right around the corner, but that economies are going to recoup all of their pandemic related losses and go right back to trend activity. Thus, a second wave interferes with that narrative. As evidence starts to grow that the caseload is no longer shrinking, but instead is growing rapidly, and that governments are back to shutting down economic activity again, those rosy forecasts for a sharp rebound are harder and harder to justify. And this is why we have seen the equity market rebound stumble for the past three weeks. In that time, we have seen twice as many down sessions as up sessions and the net result has been a 5.5% decline in the S&P500, with similar declines elsewhere.

So, what comes next? It is very hard to read the news about the growing list of bankruptcies as well as the significant write-downs of asset values and order cancelations without seeing the bear case. The ongoing dichotomy between the stock market rally and the economic distress remains very hard to justify in the long run. Of course, opposing the real economic news is the cabal of global central banks, who are doing everything they can think of collectively, to keep markets in functioning order and hoping that, if markets don’t panic, the economy can find its footing. This is what has brought us ZIRP, NIRP and QE with all its variations on which assets central banks can purchase. Alas, if central bankers really believe that markets are functioning ‘normally’ after $trillions of interference, that is a sad commentary on those central bankers’ understanding of how markets function, or at least have functioned historically. But the one thing on which we can count is that there is virtually no chance that any central bank will pull back from its current policy stance. And so, that dichotomy is going to have to resolve itself despite central bank actions. That, my friends, will be even more painful, I can assure you.

So, on a day with ordinary news flow, like today, we find ourselves in a risk-off frame of mind. Yesterday’s US equity rally was followed with modest strength in Asia. This was helped by Chinese PMI data which showed that the rebound there was continuing (Mfg PMI 50.9, Non-mfg PMI 54.4), although weakness in both Japanese ( higher Jobless Rate and weaker housing data) and South Korean (IP -9.6% Y/Y) data detracted from the recovery story. Of course, as we continue to see everywhere, weak data means ongoing central bank largesse, which at this point still leads to equity market support.

Europe, on the other hand, has not seen the same boost as equity markets there are mostly lower, although the DAX (+0.4%) and CAC (+0.2%) are the two exceptions to the rule. UK data has been the most prevalent with final Q1 GDP readings getting revised a bit lower (-2.2% Q/Q from -2.0%) while every other sub-metric was slightly worse as well. Meanwhile, PM Johnson is scrambling to present a coherent plan to support the nation fiscally until the Covid threat passes, although on that score, he is not doing all that well. And we cannot forget Brexit, where today’s passage without an extension deal means that December 31, 2020 is the ultimate line in the sand. It cannot be a surprise that the pound has been the worst performing G10 currency over the past week and month, having ceded 2.0% since last Tuesday. With the BOE seriously considering NIRP, the pound literally has nothing going for it in the short run. Awful economic activity, questionable government response to Covid and now NIRP on the horizon. If you are expecting to receive pounds in the near future, sell them now!

Away from the pound, which is down 0.3% today, NOK (-0.6%) is the worst performer in the G10, and that is really a result of, not only oil’s modest price decline (-1.3%), but more importantly the news that Royal Dutch Shell is writing down $22 billion of assets, a move similar to what we have seen from the other majors (BP and Exxon) and an indication that the future value (not just its price) of oil is likely to be greatly diminished. While we are still a long way from the end of the internal combustion engine, the value proposition is changing. And this speaks to just how hard it is to have an economic recovery if one of the largest industries that was adding significant value to the global economy is being downgraded. What is going to take its place?

The oil story is confirmed in the EMG space as RUB is the clear underperformer today, down 1.4% as Russia is far more reliant on oil than even Norway. However, elsewhere in the EMG bloc, virtually the entire space is under pressure to a much more limited extent. The thing is, if we start to see risk discarded and equity markets come under further pressure, these currencies are going to extend their declines.

This morning’s US data is second tier, with Case Shiller Home Prices (exp +3.8%), Chicago PMI (45.0) and Consumer Confidence (91.4). The latter two remain far below their pre-covid levels and likely have quite some time before they can return to those levels. Meantime, Fed speakers are out in force today, led by Chair Powell speaking before a Congressional panel alongside Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. His pre-released opening remarks harp on the risk of a second wave as well as the uncertainty over the future trajectory of growth because of that. As well, he continues to promise the Fed will do whatever is necessary to support the economy. And in truth, we have continued to hear that message from every single Fed speaker for the past two months’ at least. What we know for sure is that the Fed is not going to change its tune anytime soon.

For today, unless Powell describes yet another new program, if he remains in his mode of warning of disaster unless the government does more, it is hard to see how investors get excited. Risk is currently on the back foot and I see nothing to change that view today.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Tremors of Dread

This weekend we learned nothing new
‘Bout what central bankers will do
As they look ahead
With tremors of dread
That QE’s a major miscue

There is a bit of a conundrum developing as headlines shout about a surge in new cases of the coronavirus at the same time that countries around the world continue to reopen from their previous lockdowns. It has become increasingly apparent that governments everywhere have determined that the economic damage of the shutdown in response to Covid now outweighs the human cost of further fatalities from the disease. Of course, three months on from when the epidemic really began to rage in the West, there is also a much better understanding of who is most vulnerable and how to maintain higher levels of safe behavior, notably social distancing and wearing masks. And so, while there are still extremely vocal views on both sides of the argument about the wisdom of reopening, it is very clear economies are going to reopen.

Meanwhile, central banks continue to bask in the glow of broadly positive press that their actions have been instrumental in propping up the stock market preventing an even greater contraction of economic activity than what has actually played out. The constant refrain from every central bank speaker has been that cutting rates and expanding their balance sheets has been very effective. Oh, they are also prepared to do even more of both if they deem such action necessary because it turns out it wasn’t effective.

However, despite these encomiums about central bank perspicacity, investors find themselves at a crossroads these days. Risk assets continue to perform extremely well overall, with stocks having recouped most of their losses from March, but haven assets continue to demonstrate significant concern over the future as long-term government bond yields continue to point to near-recessionary economic activity over the medium and long term. At the end of the day, however, I think the only universal truth is that the global economy, and certainly financial markets, have become addicted to QE, and the central banks are not about to stop providing that liquidity no matter what else happens.

On this subject, this morning we had two very different visions espoused, with BOE Governor Bailey explaining that when things get better, QT will be the first response, not a raising of rates. Of course, we all remember the “paint drying” effect of QT in the US in 2018, and how it turns out removing that liquidity is really hard without causing a financial earthquake. At the same time, the ECB’s Madame Lagarde and her minions have been enthusiastically describing just how proportionate their QE purchases have been in response to the German Constitutional Court ruling from last month. Frankly, it would be easy for the ECB to point out the proportionality of buying more Italian debt given there is much more Italian debt than any other type in the EU. But I don’t think that was the German court’s viewpoint. At any rate, there is no reason to expect anything but ongoing QE for the foreseeable future. In fact, the only thing that can stop it is a significant uptick in measured inflation, but that has not yet occurred, nor does it seem likely in the next couple of quarters. So, the presses will continue to roll.

With this as background, a turn to the markets shows a fairly benign session overall. Equity market in Asia were very modestly lower (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng -0.5%, Shanghai flat) while European markets are also a touch softer (DAX -0.1%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 flat) although US futures are pointing higher, with all three indices up about 0.75% as I type. Meanwhile, bond markets are also showing muted price action, although the tendency is toward slightly lower yields as Treasuries have decline 1bp and Bunds 2bps. While the direction here is consistent with a risk off session, the very slight magnitude of the moves makes it less convincing.

As to the dollar, it is definitely on its back foot this morning, falling against most G10 and many EMG currencies. Kiwi is atop the leaderboard this morning, rallying 0.6% with Aussie just behind at 0.5%, as both currencies recoup a bit of the past two week’s losses. In fact, that seems to be the story behind most of the G10 today, we are seeing a rebound from the dollar’s last two weeks of strength. The only exception is the yen, which is essentially unchanged, after its own solid recent performance, and NOK, which has edged lower by 0.15% on the back of a little oil price weakness.

In the EMG bloc, the picture is a bit more mixed with APAC currencies having suffered last night, led by KRW (-0.5%) as tensions with the North increase, and IDR (-0.35%) as the market demonstrated some concern over the future trajectory of growth and interest rates there. On the positive side, it is the CE4 that is showing the best gains today with PLN (+0.8%) far and away the best performer after posting a much better than expected Retail Sales number of +14.5%, which prompted the government to highlight the opportunity for a v-shaped recovery.

Looking ahead to data this week, nothing jumps out as likely to have a big impact.

Today Existing Home Sales 4.09M
Tuesday PMI Manufacturing 50.8
  PMI Services 48.0
  New Home Sales 635K
Thursday Initial Claims 1.35M
  Continuing Claims 19.85M
  Durable Goods 10.9%
  -ex transport 2.3%
  GDP Q1 -5.0%
Friday Personal Income -6.0%
  Personal Spending 8.8%
  Core PCE 0.0% (0.9% Y/Y)
  Michigan Sentiment 79.0

Source: Bloomberg

The thing about the PMI data is that interpretation of the data is more difficult these days as a rebound from depression levels may not be indicative of real strength, rather just less weakness. In fact, the bigger concern for policymakers these days is that the Initial Claims data is not declining very rapidly. After that huge spike in March, we have seen a substantial decline, but the pace of that decline has slowed alarmingly. It seems that we may be witnessing a second wave of layoffs as companies re-evaluate just how many employees they need to operate effectively, especially in a much slower growth environment. And remember, if employment doesn’t rebound more sharply, the US economy, which is 70% consumption based, is going to be in for a much longer period of slow or negative growth. I assure you that is not the scenario currently priced into the equity markets, so beware.

As to the dollar today, recent price activity has not been consistent with the historic risk appetite, and it is not clear to me which is leading which, stocks leading the dollar or vice versa. For now, it appears that the day is pointing to maintaining the overnight weakness, but I see no reason for this to extend in any major way.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Revert to the Mean

For more than two weeks we have seen
Risk assets all polish their sheen
But now has the bar
Been raised much too far?
And will we revert to the mean?

I read today that recent price action (+42% since March 23) has been the largest 50-day rally in the S&P 500’s long history. Think about that for a moment, the economy has cratered (the Atlanta Fed GDPNow forecast is currently at -52.8% for Q2), unemployment has hit levels not seen since the Great Depression with more than 40 million Americans losing their job in the past three months and the stock market is flying. Well, at least the S&P 500 index is flying as the value of its five largest constituents continues to rise, seemingly inexorably, thus dragging the index along with them. The disconnect between the performance of risk assets and the data representing the economy is truly stunning. And while I understand that equity markets are discounting ‘instruments’ looking ahead to the future, it still beggars belief that most of the companies in the index are going to see earnings recover in anywhere near the time anticipated by the market. Remember, the CBO just published an analysis describing the most likely outcome being a 10-year timeframe before the US economy gets back to the levels seen in 2019.

Part and parcel of this movement in risk assets has been the dollar’s decline, with the Dollar Index (DXY) down more than 5% during the same period. While that is not historic in nature, it is still a very large move for such a short period of time.

And so I must ask, is this movement in risk assets sustainable? Clearly the driving force here has been central bank, (mainly the Fed) largesse as they have pumped trillions of dollars of liquidity into the economy, much of which seems to have found its way into stocks. But remember, the Fed started its unlimited QE by buying $75 billion A DAY of securities. That number is now down to less than $5 billion each day and declining on a weekly basis. In fairness, the Fed got ahead of the curve, recognizing just how devastating the situation was going to be. But the Treasury has caught up and has been issuing debt as quickly as they can. Now the Fed’s liquidity is being funneled directly to the Treasury, rather than finding a home elsewhere, and unless Powell reverses course and starts to increase daily purchases again, there is every chance for equity markets to begin to suffer instead.

One other thing that is missing from this market, and which has been a key driver of the long bull market, is share repurchases by companies. Stock buybacks represented nearly all of the net stock buying seen during the rally. And I assure you, that ship has sailed and is not likely to return to port for many years to come. In fact, it would not be surprising if new laws are enacted that limit or prohibit repurchases going forward. The point I am trying to make is that there are numerous reasons to believe that this remarkable rebound in the stock market, and risk assets in general, is overdone and due for its own correction.

Is today that correction? Well, for a start, it is not an extension of the rally as equity markets in Asia were little changed (Nikkei +0.35%, Hang Seng +0.2%, Shanghai -0.15%) and those in Europe are all in the red (DAX -0.7%, CAC -0.6%, FTSE 100 -0.3%). The DAX performance is quite interesting given the announcement by the German government that they have agreed on a €130 billion stimulus package, 30% larger than anticipated. Meanwhile, US futures are all pointing lower as well, down between 0.2% and 0.5%.

Bond markets continue to lack any informational value as they have become entirely controlled by the central bank community. While yield curve control is only explicit in Japan (for the 10-year) and Australia (for the 2-year) the reality is that every central bank is actively preventing government interest rates from rising out of necessity. After all, given how much borrowing is ongoing, governments cannot afford for interest rates to rise, they would not be able to pay the bills. Perhaps the only exception to this rule is the very long end, 30 years and beyond, where yields continue to rise as curves continue to steepen. (Remember when an inverted yield curve was seen as the death knell of the economy? The reality is the problem comes when it steepens like this! Steepening curves are not so much about future economic growth as much as about higher future inflation.)

And then there is the dollar, which is broadly higher this morning, albeit not in any dramatic fashion. As the market awaits word from Madame Lagarde and her 24 colleagues, we have seen the dollar rise modestly vs. both G10 and EMG counterparts. The biggest retreats have been seen by PLN (-1.25%), where the government just announced an expected 8.5% budget deficit, and MXN (-0.9%), which is suffering as oil sells off a bit. However, both those currencies have seen significant rallies in the past two weeks, so a little reversal is not surprising. As to the rest of the bloc, EEMEA currencies are underperforming APAC currencies, but generally they are all lower.

In the G10, the movement have been much more muted, with GBP, AUD and SEK all lower by 0.4% or so and the rest of the bloc, save the Swiss franc’s 0.1% rally, lower by smaller amounts. Again, it is difficult to point to any one thing as the cause for this movement, arguably it is simply position reductions after a long run.

At this point, all eyes are on the ECB, where expectations have built for an increase in the PEPP of as much as €500 billion. While they have not come close to using the original amount, it seems clear they will need more before the end of the year, and so the market has latched onto the idea it will be announced today. One potential problem with this action is it could reduce pressure on the EU to actually go ahead with their mooted €750 billion fiscal support program that includes joint borrowing, a key feature for the euro’s future. It is clear that as much as the frugal four don’t want to see the ECB distort markets further, they are even more disinclined to give their money to the Italians and Spanish directly. However, in the end, I believe Madame Lagarde will give the market what it wants and raise the PEPP limit.

Today’s data picture brings Initial Claims (exp 1.843M), Continuing Claims (20.0M), the April Trade Balance (-$49.2B), Nonfarm Productivity (-2.7%) and Unit Labor Costs (5.0%). With the monthly NFP report tomorrow, it seems unlikely the market will respond to today’s data in any meaningful way. Earlier we saw Eurozone Retail Sales decline 11.7%, not as bad as feared but still the worst outcome in the history of the series dating back to January 1998. And yet, as we have seen lately, the data is not the driver right now, it is the central banks and sentiment. While we have paused today, sentiment still seems to be for a further rally, but my take is that sentiment is getting old and tired. Beware the reversion to the mean!

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Somewhat More Bold

The Old Lady left rates on hold
But Norway was somewhat more bold
They cut rates to nil
And won’t move them til
The virus is fin’lly controlled

Once again, central banks are sharing the headlines with Covid-19 as they attempt to address the havoc the virus is causing throughout the world. The latest moves come from the Bank of England, which while leaving policy unchanged, hinted at further stimulus to come next month, and the Norgesbank.

The base rate in the UK is currently at a record low level of 0.10%, and they have been adamant that there is no place for negative rates in the island nation. This means that QE is the only other serious tool available, and while they did not increase the amount of purchases at this meeting, it seems the current guidance, to reach a total of £465 billion, will be exhausted in July. Hence, two MPC members voted to increase QE today with the rest indicating that is a more appropriate step next month. In sum, expectations are now for a £100 billion increase at the June meeting. The other noteworthy thing from the meeting was the BOE’s economic forecast, which forecast a 14% decline in GDP in 2020 before a sharp rebound in 2021. This is by far the most dire forecast we have seen for the UK. Through it all, though, the pound has held its own, and is actually modestly higher this morning, although it remains lower by nearly 2% this month.

Meanwhile, the Norgesbank surprised almost every analyst by cutting its Deposit rate to 0.0%, a new record low for the country. With oil prices having rebounded so sharply over the past two weeks, one might have thought that prospects in Norway were improving. However, the commentary accompanying the cut indicated that the council members are trying to ensure that there will be no liquidity constraints when the economy starts to reopen post-virus, and so sought to stay ahead of the curve. They also indicated that there was virtually no chance that interest rates would move into negative territory, although we have heard that song before. The market is now expecting the Deposit Rate to remain at 0.0% for another two years. As to the krone, it is actually the strongest currency in the G10 (and the world) this morning, having risen by 1.6% vs. the dollar as I type, although it was even stronger prior to the Norgesbank action.

Today’s news simply reinforces that central banks remain the first line of defense for nearly every nation with regard to economic support during this period. As much as fiscal stimulus is critical for helping support any rebound going forward, central banks are still best positioned to adjust policies as necessary on a timely basis. Just remember how long and hard the process was for the US congress to write, debate, vote on and implement the CARES act. The same is true throughout the developed world, where legislative bodies don’t move at the speed of either the virus or markets. And so, for the foreseeable future, central banks will remain the primary tool for virtually every nation in seeking to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.

The biggest problem with this circumstance is that most central banks, and certainly the major ones, have nearly exhausted their ammunition in this fight. In the G10, the highest overnight rate currently is 0.25%, with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all at that level. While QE was clearly a powerful tool when first widely introduced in 2010, it has lost some of its strength. At least with respect to aiding Main Street as opposed to Wall Street. That is why QE has evolved from government bond purchases to central bank purchases of pretty much any asset available. And yet, despite their collective efforts, monetary policy remains an extremely inefficient instrument with which to fight a viral outbreak. However, you can be sure that there will be many distortions to the economy for years to come as a result of all this activity. And that has much longer-term implications, likely slowing the pace of any recovery and future growth significantly.

Meanwhile, markets this morning are in fairly fine fettle, with equity indices in Europe all higher by something under 1%. And this is despite some pretty awful data releases showing French IP fell 16.2% in March and 17.3% Y/Y. Germany’s data, while better than that, was still awful (IP -9.2% in March and -11.6% Y/Y) and Italy regaled us with collapsing Retail Sales data (-21.3% in March). But no matter, investors are now looking into 2021 and the prospects of a strong recovery for their investment thesis. The only problem with this theory is that the potential for a non-V-shaped recovery is quite high. If this is the case, I would look for markets to reprice valuations at some point. Earlier, APAC equity markets were mixed, with the Nikkei edging higher by 0.3%, but Hang Seng (-0.6%) and Shanghai (-0.2%) both a bit softer. Finally, US futures are looking pretty good at this hour, higher by nearly 1.5% across the board.

Bond prices have edged a bit lower this morning, but movement has been modest to say the least. Yesterday saw Treasury yields rise from 10-years on out as the Treasury announced a surprisingly large 20-year auction of $20 billion. It seems that we are about to see more significant Treasury issuance going forward, and if the Fed does not continue to expand its balance sheet, we are likely to see the back end continue to sell off with correspondingly higher interest rates and a steeper yield curve. But that is a story for another day.

Elsewhere in the FX markets, Aussie (+0.9%) and Kiwi (+0.7%) have been the next best performers after NOK, as both are benefitting from the current narrative of reopening economies leading to the bottom of the economic peril. On the flip side, the yen (-0.4%) has given back some of its recent gains as risk appetite grows.

In the EMG space, the major loser is TRY, which has fallen 1.0% this morning, to a new historic low, after the central bank enacted rules to try to prevent further speculation against the currency. Alas, as long as it is freely traded, those rules will have a tough time stopping the rout. On the plus side, the three main movers have been RUB (+0.9%), ZAR (+0.8%) and MXN (+0.65%), all of which are benefitting from this morning’s positive risk attitude. One other thing to note is BRL, which while not yet open, fell another 2.5% yesterday and is back pushing its historic low levels vs. the dollar. The story there continues to be political in nature, with increasing pressure on President Bolsonaro as his most popular cabinet members exit and markets lose confidence in his presidency. My take is 6.00 is coming soon to a screen near you.

On the data front, yesterday’s ADP print of -20.236M was pretty much on the money and didn’t seem to have much impact. This morning we see Initial Claims (exp 3.0M), Continuing Claims (19.8M), Nonfarm Productivity (-5.5%) and Unit Labor Costs (4.5%). At this stage, we will have to see much worse than expected data to have a market impact, something which seems a bit unlikely, and beyond that, given tomorrow is the NFP report, I expect far more attention will be focused there than on this morning’s releases.

Overall, risk is in the ascendancy and so I would look for the dollar to generally remain under pressure for today, but I would not be surprised to see it recoup some of its early losses before the session ends.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Yields Are Appalling

Though prices for oil keep falling
And Treasury yields are appalling
The stock market’s view
Is skies will be blue
If Covid’s spread’s finally stalling

The ongoing dichotomy between equity market performance, traditionally a harbinger of future economic activity, and commodity market performance, also a harbinger of future economic activity, remains glaring. The commodity markets are clearly signaling significant demand destruction amid the economic devastation that has followed the spread of Covid-19. At the same time, equity markets around the world continue to recover from the lows seen in March, telling a completely different tale; that the future is bright.

When two key leading indicators offer such different portents, we need to look elsewhere to build our case of likely future outcomes. Clearly, government bond markets are the next best indicator, but their signal has been clouded by the more than $15 trillion that central banks around the world have spent buying those bonds since the financial crisis in 2008-09. Absent those purchases, would 10-year Treasury yields really be 0.65% like they are this morning? Would 10-year German bund yields really be at -0.44%, their 356th consecutive day yielding less than zero? Consider how much new debt has been issued and how that debt would have been absorbed absent central bank intervention. My point is that perhaps, using bond yields now as a proxy for future economic activity may no longer be quite as useful.

Which leaves us with the FX markets as our last signal for future activity. What does the dollar’s value tell us about expectations for the future? The problem with the dollar as an indicator is, its track record is extremely unclear. Throughout history, the US economy has been strong with both a strong dollar and a weak dollar. If anything, the dollar is a far better coincident indicator than anything else. After all, what is the risk-off/risk-on characteristic other than a signal of investors’ current views of the market. Thus, when fear is rampant, which was evident last month, the dollar performed extremely well. A quick look at currency returns during the month of March showed the dollar rising against 9 of its G10 Brethren, from 0.2% vs. the Swiss franc, to 10.7% vs. the oil-linked Norwegian krone. Only the yen, which managed a 0.75% rise, was able to outperform the dollar.

Not surprisingly, the EMG space saw some much more significant declines led by the Mexican peso (-18.1%) and Russian ruble (-15.3%). The broad theme in this bloc was that the best performers, those that fell the least, were APAC currencies with closer links to China, while LATAM and EEMEA were generally devastated. But, again, this was a real-time response to coincident activities, not a harbinger of the future.

The lesson to learn from this brief look at recent history is that there is no consensus view as to how things are going to evolve from here. Both sides make their respective cases strongly, and both sides can point to a substantial amount of data that supports their argument. However, the only universal truth is that economic disruptions that have been caused by the response to Covid-19 are unprecedented in both size and speed, and econometric models built for a different environment are unlikely to be very effective. Modeling of complex systems, whether the economy, the climate or the spread of a pathogen is an extremely fraught undertaking. More often than not, models will produce useless results. Their benefits generally come from the need to define conditions and factors, thus helping to better think and understand a particular situation, not from spurious calculations that produce a result. And this is why hedging is an important part of risk management, because regardless of what certain harbingers indicate, the reality is nobody knows what the future will bring.

But back to today’s activity. As we have seen for the past several sessions, the prospect of the reopening of economies is being seen by the equity markets as a clear positive. Despite abysmal earnings results across most industries, once again equity markets are firmer this morning, with most of Europe higher by 1.5%-2.0% and US futures pointing to gains of more than 1.0% on the open. Countries throughout Europe are starting to announce their plans to reopen with May 11 seeming to be the date where things will really start. And of course, the same process is ongoing in the US, with Georgia dipping its toe into the water yesterday, and other states lining up to do the same. Of course, the end of the lockdown does not mean that that things will return to the pre-virus situation. Incalculable damage has been done to every nation’s economy as regardless of government attempts, thousands upon thousands of small businesses will never return. Arguably, the one thing we know about the future is that it is going to be different than what was envisioned on January 1st.

Bond markets are behaving consistently with a modest risk-on view as Treasury and bund yields edge higher, while yields for the PIGS continue to slide. And finally, the dollar remains under pressure this morning, sliding against most of its counterparts as short-term fears abate. The best performers today in the G10 bloc are SEK and NOK, with the former rallying on what was perceived as a more hawkish than expected message from the Riksbank, when they didn’t cut rates back below zero at today’s meeting, and merely promised to continue to buy more bonds. NOK is a bit more difficult to explain given that oil prices (WTI -7.7%) continue to suffer from either significant excess supply or a complete lack of demand, depending on your point of view. However, given that NOK has been the worst performing G10 currency this year, it is probably due for some recovery given the positive sentiment seen today.

EMG currencies are also generally firmer, with MXN (+1.5%) atop the charts, as it, too, is ignoring the declining price of oil and instead finding demand after a precipitous fall this year. but we are also seeing strength in ZAR (+1.2%) and most EEMEA currencies, as some of last month’s excesses seem to be unwinding as we approach the end of April.

On the data front this morning are two minor releases, Case Shiller Home Prices (exp 3.19%) and Consumer Confidence (87.0). Rather, with the FOMC’s two-day meeting beginning this morning at 9:00, discussions will continue to focus on expectations for the Fed tomorrow, as well as the first look at Q1 GDP. But for today, I expect that we will continue to see this mildly positive risk attitude and the dollar to remain under modest pressure. My view remains that there are still significant issues ahead and the market is not pricing in the length of how bad things are going to be, but clearly for now, I am in the minority.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Rule By Decree

The virus continues to be
Our number one priority
The global response
Has been to ensconce
The idea of rule by decree

Thus governments, both left and right
Expand as they all try to fight
Their total demise
And what that implies
‘Bout politics as a birthright

Covid-19 has created a new lens through which we view everything these days, from financial market activity to whether or not to answer the doorbell. And in every task, we have become more circumspect as to the potential effects of our choices. As Dorothy said, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” But despite the major upheavals we have seen, we must still seek the best possible outcomes at our appointed tasks, be they as important caring for our loved ones, or as mundane as hedging FX risk. Of course, this note talks about the latter not the former, so while I truly wish you all to stay healthy and safe, that will not be the topic du jour.

Instead, I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss just how much firepower central banks and governments have thrown at Covid-19, or more accurately at the disruptions the spread of the virus has wrought. I have gathered from central bank websites the remarkable amount of actions that they have taken so far in just March of this year. This is not meant to be exhaustive but merely illustrative of the breadth of activity we have seen:

Central Bank Rate cuts Current rate QE  Bio USD equivalent
Fed -1.50% 0.25% 5000
BOC -1.50% 0.25% 90
Norgesbank -1.25% 0.25%
RBNZ -0.75% 0.25%
Chile -0.75% 1.00%
RBI -0.75% 4.40% 12
Bank of England -0.65% 0.10% 240
RBA -0.50% 0.25% 80
BOKorea -0.50% 0.75%
Philippines -0.50% 3.75%
BCBrazil -0.50% 3.75%
Colombia -0.50% 3.75%
Banxico -0.50% 6.50%
Thailand -0.25% 0.75%
Indonesia -0.25% 4.50%
PBOC -0.20% 2.20%
SNB 0.00% -0.75%
ECB 0.00% -0.50% 1100
BOJ 0.00% -0.10% 205
Riksbank 0.00% 0.00% 30
MASingapore 0.00% 1.26%
Russia 0.00% 6.00%
Danmark Nationalbank 0.15% -0.60%

The collective amount of rate cutting has been 10.70%! And QE that was easily confirmed now totals more than $6.75 trillion equivalent. Central banks are pulling out all the stops. Meanwhile, governments, to the extent they are separate than central banks, have been adding fiscal stimulus by the truckload as they create inventive new ways to support both businesses and individuals in this most remarkable of situations. Will it be enough to stem the tide? Only time will tell, but nobody can accuse these officials of not trying, that’s for sure.

Of course, as I have discussed previously, the biggest concern ought to be just how much of the economy is controlled by governments, especially in ostensibly free market nations, when all this finally passes. And even more importantly, how quickly they reduce that control. Alas, if history is any guide, it will require a revolution for governments to cede their grip on the economy, and by extension the power it brings. There is a book, “The Fourth Turning” by Neil Howe, which discusses the cycles of history. It is a fascinating read, and one which seems quite prescient as to the current global political situation. I highly recommend taking a look.

In the end, what seems quite certain is that what we assumed was normal just two months ago may never return. This is true of businesses as well as market behaviors. Safe havens have lost much of their luster as investors find themselves in a very difficult situation. How can getting paid just 0.6% nominally for 10 years (current 10-year treasury yield) be considered a safe place to hold your funds with inflation running at 2.3%, and after a likely short-term deflationary bout due to demand destruction, set to move to heights not seen since prior to the GFC? Of course, the answer is, it can’t. But then Treasuries have a higher return than Gilts, Bunds or JGB’s, the other nations to which one would naturally gravitate for a safe haven. Equities certainly don’t create warm and fuzzy feelings given the extraordinary situation with businesses shutting down everywhere and revenues and earnings collapsing. Commodities? Even gold has had a tough time, although it is marginally higher since all this really got going in earnest, but as a safe haven? Cryptocurrencies? (LOL). In fact, despite the ongoing depreciation of the dollar through creeping inflation, Benjamins are clearly the one thing that remain accepted as a place to maintain value. They are fungible and recognized worldwide as a store of value and medium of exchange. It is with this in mind that we should recognize the near-term outlook for the dollar should remain positive.

So what has happened overnight? The dollar is king once again, rising against all its G10 counterparts with CAD the laggard, -1.1%, after oil prices once again sold off sharply (WTI briefly traded below $20/bbl and isdown about 5.2%) this morning. But the weakness is widespread with SEK -1.0% and EUR -0.8% following closely behind the Loonie. European data released this morning showed, not surprisingly, that Economic Confidence (94.5 from 103.5) had fallen at its fastest pace ever, although it has not yet plumbed the depths of the Eurozone crisis in 2012. Give it time!

Emerging markets are also under significant pressure, with MXN today’s biggest loser, down 1.8%, as the combination of tumbling oil prices, the rapid decline of US demand and AMLO’s remarkably insouciant response to Covid-19 has investors fleeing despite the highest yields available in LATAM. But RUB (-1.3%) on the back of declining oil prices and ZAR (-1.1%) on the back of declining commodity prices as well as internal credit problems, are also suffering. In fact, just two currencies, MYR and PHP were able to rally today, each by about 0.2% as each nation announced additional fiscal and monetary support.

Looking ahead this week, aside from the ongoing virus news, we do get more data as follows:

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 3.29%
  Chicago PMI 40.0
  Consumer Confidence 110.0
Wednesday ADP Employment -150K
  Construction Spending 0.5%
  ISM Manufacturing 45.0
  ISM Prices Paid 41.8
Thursday Trade Balance -$40.0B
  Initial Claims 3150K
  Factory Orders 0.2%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls -100K
  Private Payrolls -110K
  Manufacturing Payrolls -10K
  Unemployment Rate 3.8%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.0% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.2
  Participation Rate 63.3%
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 44.0

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, much of this is still backward looking and the real question on the NFP report is just how much of the disruption took place during the survey week, which was 3 weeks ago. I think the Initial Claims number will have more power this month, as well as the ISM data. But boy, next month’s NFP report is going to be UGLY!

At any rate, there is not going to be anything positive from the economic data set this week, or probably throughout April. Rather the next piece of positive news we will hear is when the infection curve has started to flatten and there is an end to this disruption in sight. As of now, one man’s view is we will be like this for another month at least. I sincerely hope for everyone, that it is shorter than that.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

No Easy Fix

As fears ‘bout the virus increased
Supply and demand growth have ceased
There’s no easy fix
Or policy mix
But funding soon will be released

Words fail to describe the price action across all markets recently as volatile seems too tame a description. Turbulent? Tumultuous? I’m not sure which implies larger moves. But that is certainly what we have seen for the past two weeks and is likely to be what we see for a while longer. The confluence of events that is ongoing is so far outside what most market participants had become accustomed to over the past decade, that it seems many are simply giving up.

Consider; signing of phase one of the trade deal between the US and China was hailed as a milestone that would allow trading to return to its prior environment which consisted of ongoing monetary support by central banks helping to underpin economic growth with low inflation. As such, we saw equity markets worldwide benefit, we saw haven assets come under some pressure as havens were seen as unnecessary, and we saw the dollar rally as the US equity market led the way and investors everywhere wanted to get in on the party.

But that is basically ancient history now, as the combination of the discovery, evolution and spread of the coronavirus along with a pickup in US electoral excitement essentially destroyed that story. The past two weeks has been the markets’ collective effort to write a new narrative, and so far, they have not agreed on a theme.

The interesting point about Covid-19 economically is that it has created both a supply and a demand shock. The supply shock was the first thing really observed as China shut down throughout February and companies worldwide that relied on China as part of their supply chain realized that their own production would be impaired. So, we had a period where the focus was almost entirely on which multinational companies would be reducing Q1 earnings estimates due to the supply problems. This also encouraged the economics set to assume a “V” shaped recovery which had most investors looking through Q1 earnings warnings and remaining fully invested.

Unfortunately, as Covid-19 spread though, and I think it is now on every continent and spreading more rapidly, governments worldwide have imposed travel restrictions to the hardest hit countries (China, South Korea, Italy). But an even bigger problem is that many companies around the world are imposing their own travel and hiring restrictions, with Ford, famously, halting all business travel alongside a number of major banks (JPM, HSBC, Credit Suisse). In fact, yesterday, I was visiting a client who explained that our meeting would be their last as they are not allowing other companies to visit their headquarters starting today. The point is this is a demand shock. Travel and leisure companies will continue to suffer until an all clear is sounded. Talk of postponing or canceling the Olympics in Tokyo this summer is making the rounds. Talk of sporting events being played in empty arenas has increased. (March Madness with no crowds!) And there are the requisite stories about store shelves being emptied of things like toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer.

The problem for policy makers is that the response to a supply shock and the response to a demand shock are very different. A demand shock is what policymakers have been assuming since the Great Depression, as easing monetary and fiscal policy is designed to increase demand through several different channels. But a supply shock requires a different emphasis. Neither monetary nor fiscal policy can address Covid-19 directly, curing the ill or protecting those still uninfected. The closure of manufacturing capacity as a response to trying to avoid the spread of a disease is going to have a massive negative impact on corporate finances. After all, interest is still due even if a company doesn’t make any sales. To address this, central banks will need to show forbearance on banks’ non-performing loan ratios, as well as incent banks to continue to lend to companies so impacted. It needs to be more finely targeted, something at which central banks have not shown themselves particularly adept.

And of course, after a decade of central bankers teaching markets that if there is a decline of any magnitude, the central bank will step in, policy space is already quite limited. In sum, the next market narrative remains unwritten because we have never seen this confluence of circumstances before and there are millions of different ideas as to what is the right way to behave. Volatility will be with us for a while.

So with that long preamble, turning to the markets sees that after yesterday’s remarkable risk-on rally in the US, arguably catalyzed by the fact that Senator Sanders fared more poorly than expected in Super Tuesday voting, (thus reducing the chance of his eventual election), Asia picked up the baton and rallied. But Europe has not been able to follow along with virtually every European equity market down at least 1.5%. US futures are also suffering, currently lower by 1.75% or so across all three indices. Meanwhile, 10-year yields, which yesterday managed to trade back above 1.0%, are down nearly 10bps this morning as risk is being jettisoned left and right. The yen is rocking, up by 0.6%, with the dollar trading below 107.00 for the first time since October. In fact, the dollar is generally on its back foot this morning, as the market continues to price in further significant rate activity by the Fed, something which essentially none of its counterparty central banks can implement. At this point, the market is pricing in almost 50bps more at the March meeting in two weeks, and a total of 75bps by July. The ECB doesn’t have 75 to cut, neither does the BOJ or the BOE or the RBA. So, for now, the dollar is likely to remain soft. But as the market has priced these cuts in, I would have anticipated the dollar to fall even further. This hints that the dollar’s decline is likely near its end.

On the data front, remarkably, yesterday’s ISM Non-Manufacturing print was stellar at 57.3, but nobody is certain how to interpret that and what impact Covid-19 may have had on the data. Today we see a bit more data here with Initial Claims (exp 215K), Nonfarm Productivity (1.3%), Unit Labor Costs (1.4%) and Factory Orders (-0.1%). My sense is that Initial Claims is the one to watch. Any uptick there could well be interpreted as the beginning of layoffs due to Covid-19, but also as a prelude to weaker overall growth and perhaps a recession. It is still early days, but arguably, Initial Claims data, which is weekly, will be our first look into the evolution of the economy during the virus.

For now, the dollar remains soft, and I doubt any data will change that, but the dollar will not fall forever. Layering in receivables hedges seems like a pretty good plan at this point.

Good luck
Adf