Throw Her a Bone

Next week at the ECB meeting
We’re sure to hear Christine entreating
The whole Eurozone
To throw her a bone
And spend more, lest growth start retreating

In England, though, it’s now too late
As recent releases all state
The ‘conomy’s slowing
And Carney is knowing
Come month end he’ll cut the base rate

The dollar is finishing the week on a high note as it rallies, albeit modestly, against virtually the entire G10 space. This is actually an interesting outcome given the ongoing risk-on sentiment observed worldwide. For instance, equity markets in the US all closed at record highs yesterday, and this morning, European equities are also trading at record levels. Asia, not wanting to be left out, continues to rally, although most markets in APAC have not been able to reach the levels seen during the late 1990’s prior to the Asian crisis and tech bubble. At the same time, we continue to see Treasury and Bund yields edging higher as yield curves steepen, another sign of a healthy risk appetite. Granted, commodity prices are not uniformly higher, but there are plenty that are, notably iron ore and steel rebar, both crucial signals of economic growth.

Usually, in this type of market condition, the dollar tends to decline. This is especially so given the lack of volatility we have observed encourages growth in carry trades, with investors flocking to high yield currencies like MXN, IDR, BRL and ZAR. However, it appears that at this juncture, the carry trade has not yet come back into favor, as that bloc of currencies has shown only modest strength, if any, hardly the signal that investor demand has increased.

This leaves us with an unusual situation where the dollar is reasonably well-bid despite the better risk appetite. Perhaps investors are buying dollars to jump on board the US equity train, but I suspect there is more to the movement than this. Investigations continue.

Narrowing our focus a bit more, it is worthwhile to consider the key events upcoming, notably next week’s ECB and BOJ meetings and the following week’s FOMC and BOE meetings. Interestingly, based on current expectations, the Fed meeting is likely to be far less impactful than either the ECB or BOE.

First up is the BOJ, where there is virtually no expectation of any policy changes, and in fact, that is true for the entire year. With the policy rate stuck at -0.10%, futures markets are actually pricing in a 5bp tightening by the end of the year. Certainly, Japan has gone down the road of increased fiscal stimulus, and if you recall last month’s outcome, the BOJ essentially admitted that they would not be able to achieve their 2.0% inflation target during any forecastable timeline. With that is the recent history, and given that inflation remains either side of 1.0%, the BOJ is simply out of bullets, and so will not be doing anything.

The ECB, however, could well be more interesting as the market awaits their latest thoughts on the policy review. Madame Lagarde has made a big deal about how they are going to review procedures and policy initiatives to see if they are designed to meet their goals. Some of the things that have been mooted are a change in the inflation target from “close to but below 2.0%” to either a more precise target or a target range, like 1.5% – 2.5%. Of even more interest is the fact that they have begun to figure out that their current inflation measures are inadequate, as they significantly underweight housing expense, one of the biggest expenses for almost every household. Currently, housing represents just 4% of the index. As a contrast, in the US calculation, housing represents about 41% of the index! And the anecdotes are legion as to how much housing costs have risen throughout European cities while the ECB continues to pump liquidity into markets because they think inflation is missing. Arguably, that has the potential to change things dramatically, because a revamped CPI calculation could well inform that the ECB has been far too easy in policy and cause a fairly quick reversal. And that, my friends, would result in a much higher euro. Today however, the single currency has fallen prey to the dollar’s overall strength and is lower by 0.25%.

As I mentioned, I don’t think the FOMC meeting will be very interesting at all, as there is a vanishingly small chance they change policy given the economy keeps chugging along and inflation has been fairly steady, if not rising to their own 2.0% target. The BOE meeting, however, has the chance to be much more interesting. This morning’s UK Retail Sales data was massively disappointing, with December numbers printing at -0.8%, -0.6% excluding fuel. This was hugely below the expected outcomes of +0.8% and +0.6% respectively. Apparently, Boris’s electoral victory did not convince the good people of England to open their wallets. And remember, this was during Christmas season, arguably the busiest retail time of the year. It can be no surprise that the futures market is now pricing a 75% chance of a rate cut and remember, earlier this week we heard from three different BOE members that cutting rates was on the table. The pound, which has been rallying for the entire week has turned around and is lower by 0.2% this morning with every chance that this slide continues for the next week or two until the meeting crystalizes the outcome.

The other noteworthy news was Chinese data released last night, which showed that GDP, as expected, grew at 6.0%, Retail Sales also met expectations at 8.0%, while IP (+6.9%) and Fixed Asset Investment (+5.4%) were both a bit better than forecast. The market sees this data as proof that the economy there is stabilizing, especially with the positive vibe of the just signed phase one trade deal. The renminbi has benefitted, rallying a further 0.3% on the session, and has now gained 4.6% since its weakest point in early September 2019. This trend has further to go, of that I am confident.

On the data front this morning, we have Housing Starts (exp 1380K), Building Permits (1460K), IP (-0.2%), Capacity Utilization (77.0%), Michigan Sentiment (99.3) and JOLT’s Job Openings (7.25M). So plenty of news, but it is not clear it is important enough to change opinions in the FX market. As such, I expect that today’s dollar strength is likely to continue, but certainly not in a major way.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Pundits Maligned

Phase one of the trade deal’s been signed
And though many pundits maligned
The outcome, it’s clear
That in the, term, near
Its impact on trading’s been kind

Amid a great deal of hoopla yesterday morning, President Trump signed the long-awaited phase one trade deal with China. The upshot is that the US has promised to roll back the tariffs imposed last September by 50%, as well as delay the mooted December tariffs indefinitely while the Chinese have promised to purchase upwards of $95 billion in US agricultural products over the next two years as well as agreeing to crack down on IP theft. In addition, the Chinese have committed to preventing excess weakness in the renminbi, and in fact CNY has been strengthening steadily for the past month as the negotiations came to an end. For example, this morning CNY is firmer by 0.15% and since mid-December it has rallied nearly 2.0%. Clearly there are larger trade issues outstanding between the two nations, notably forced technology transfer as well as numerous non-tariff barriers, but something is better than nothing.

Taking a step back, though, the bilateral nature of the deal is what has many pundits and economists unhappy. Certainly the economic theories I was taught, and that have been prevalent since David Ricardo first developed the theory of comparative advantage in 1817, indicate that multilateral trade is a better outcome for all concerned. Alas, the current political backdrop, where populism has exploded in response to the unequal outcomes from the globalization phenomenon of the past sixty years, has tarred multilateralism with a very bad reputation. And while it is far outside the purview of this commentary to dissect the issues, it is important to understand they exist and how they may impact markets. Given that the relative value of a nation’s currency is an important driver of trade outcomes, we cannot ignore it completely. Ultimately, as things currently stand, the market has seen this deal as a positive outcome, and risk appetite remains strong. As such, haven assets like the yen, dollar and Swiss franc are likely to remain on the back foot for the time being.

Beside the trade story, there has been scant new information on which to base trading decisions. Important data remains limited with the only notable print being German CPI at 1.5%, exactly as expected, although EU Car registrations bucked the trend and rose sharply, 21.7%, perhaps indicating we have seen a bottom on the Continent. But in reality, the market is now looking for the next big thing, and quite frankly, nobody really knows what that is. After all, the Fed has promised it is on hold, as are the ECB and BOJ, at least for the time being. Perhaps it is the BOE’s meeting in two weeks’ time, where the market continues to price in a growing probability of a rate cut. Of course, if the market is pricing it in, it is not likely to be that big a surprise, is it?

So in an uninspiring market, let’s look at what is coming up in today’s session. On the data front we see Initial Claims (exp 218K) and then Retail Sales (0.3%, 0.5% ex autos) as well as Philly Fed (3.8). Arguably, of just as much importance for the global economic outlook is tonight’s Chinese data where we will see; GDP (6.0%), Fixed Asset Investment (5.2%), Retail Sales (7.9%) and IP (5.9%). Remember, 6.0% growth has been President Xi’s target, and given the recent trajectory lower, any weaker than expected data is likely to be a risk-off sign, although it is likely to see a PBOC response in short order as well. Meanwhile, the US consumer continues to play its supporting role in the global economy, so any downside in this morning’s data is also likely to be a stock market negative.

On the speaker front, there are no Fed speakers today, although Philly’s Patrick Harker will regale us tomorrow. Later this afternoon ECB President Lagarde will be on the tape, and given she is still learning how much impact her words have on markets, there is always a chance of some unintentional excitement. Finally, yesterday, for the first time, we heard a Fed speaker explain that even though not-QE is not QE, the market may still consider it to be QE and the resulting rise in the price of risk assets may well be excessive. Dallas Fed President Kaplan is the first Fed member to publically admit that they may need to address this issue going forward. Certainly, the fact that the short-term repo program continues to be extended, and is now expected to run through April, rather than the original February completion, is an indication that the Fed still does not have control over the money markets. It is this last point which holds the potential to drive more significant market moves in the event of a communication or policy error. Just not today.

The dollar is mildly softer overall this morning, while we are seeing a very modest bias higher in equity markets around the world. Treasury yields are unchanged, just below 1.78%, and the previous narratives regarding recession probabilities and curve inversions as well as ongoing QE activities have just faded into the background. It all adds up to what is likely to be another quiet day in the FX markets, with no compelling story to drive movement.

Good luck
Adf

 

A Dangerous Game

In ‘Nineteen the story was trade
As Presidents Trump and Xi played
A dangerous game
While seeking to blame
The other for why growth decayed

But ‘Twenty has seen both adjust
Their attitudes and learn to trust
That working together,
Like birds of a feather,
Results in an outcome, robust

In a very quiet market, the bulk of the discussion overnight has been about the upcoming signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House tomorrow, where the US and China will agree the phase one piece of a trade deal. Despite the fact that this has been widely expected for a while, it seems to be having a further positive impact on risk assets. Today’s wrinkle in the saga has been the US’ removal of China from the Treasury list of currency manipulators. Back in August, in a bit of a surprise, the US added China to that list formally, rather than merely indicating the Chinese were on notice, as President Trump sought to apply maximum pressure during the trade negotiations. Now that the deal is set to be signed, apparently the Chinese have made “enforceable commitments” not to devalue the yuan going forward, which satisfied the President and led to the change in status. The upshot is that the ongoing positive risk framework remains in place thus supporting equity markets while undermining haven assets. In other words, just another day where the politicians seek to anesthetize market behavior, and have been successful doing so.

Chinese trade data released last night was quite interesting on two fronts; first that the Chinese trade surplus with the US shrank 11%, exactly what the President was seeking, and second, that the Chinese found many substitute markets in which to sell their wares as their overall trade surplus rose to $425 billion from 2018’s $351 billion. And another positive for the global growth watch was that both exports (+7.6%) and imports (+17.7%) grew nicely, implying that economic growth in the Middle Kingdom seems to be stabilizing. As to the yuan, it has been on a tear lately, rising 1.4% this year and nearly 4.5% since early September right after the US labeled China a currency manipulator. So, here too, President Trump seems to have gotten his way with the Chinese currency having regained almost all its losses since the November 2016 election. Quite frankly, it seems likely that the yuan has further to climb as prospects for Chinese growth brightened modestly and investors continue to hunt for yield and growth opportunities.

But away from the trade story there is precious little else to discuss. The pound remains under pressure (and under 1.30) as the idea of a BOE rate cut at the end of the month gains credence. Currently the market is pricing in a 47% probability of a rate cut, which is up from 23% on Friday. After yesterday’s weak GDP data, all eyes are focused on tomorrow’s UK CPI data as well as Friday’s Retail Sales where any weakness in either one is likely to see the market push those probabilities up even further.

As haven assets are shed, the Japanese yen has finally breached the 110 level for the first time since May and quite frankly there doesn’t appear to be any reason for the yen to stop declining, albeit slowly. Barring some type of major risk-off event, which is always possible, the near term portents are for further weakness. However, as the year progresses, ongoing Fed QE should serve to reverse this movement.

Even the Emerging markets have been dull overnight, with no currency moving more than 0.3%, which in some cases is nearly the bid-ask spread. For now, most market participants have become quite comfortable that no disasters are looming and that, with the US-China trade deal about to be completed, there is less likelihood of any near-term angst on that front. While a phase two deal has been mooted, given the issues that the US has indicated are important (forced technology transfer, state subsidies), and the fact that they are essentially non-starters in China, it seems highly improbable that there will be any progress on that issue this year.

On the data front, this morning brings the first US data of the week, where NFIB Small Business Optimism actually disappointed at 102.7 and the market is now awaiting December CPI data (exp 2.4%, 2.3% ex food & energy) at 8:30. The headline forecast represents a pretty big uptick from November, but that is directly related to oil’s price rally last month. The core, however, remains unchanged and well above the 2.0% Fed target. Of course that target is based on PCE, something that is designed to print lower, and there has been abundant evidence that the Fed’s idea of the target is to miss it convincingly on the high side. In other words, don’t look for the Fed to even consider a tighter policy stance unless CPI has a 3 handle.

And that’s really it for the session. Equity futures are pointing slightly higher as European equity indices are edging in that direction as well. Treasury yields are hovering just above 1.80%, little changed on the day and showing no directional bias for the past several weeks. If anything, the dollar is slightly higher this morning, but I would be surprised if this move extends much further at all.

Good luck
Adf

Wind At His Sails

In England and Scotland and Wales
Young Boris has wind at his sails
A thumping great win
To Labour’s chagrin
Has put Brexit back on the rails

As well, from the US, the news
Is bears need start singing the blues
The trade deal is done
At least for phase one
Thus more risk, investors did choose

An historic victory for PM Boris Johnson yesterday has heralded a new beginning for the UK. Historic in the sense that it is the largest majority in Parliament for either party since Margret Thatcher’s second term, and historic in the sense that the Labour party won the fewest seats since 1935. One can only conclude that Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of renationalization of industry and high taxes was not the direction in which the UK wants to head. Perhaps the only concern is the Scottish National Party winning 49 of the 58 seats available and will now be itching to rerun the Scottish independence referendum. But that is an issue for another day, and today is all about a huge relief rally in equities as the threat of a hard Brexit essentially disappears, while the pound has also benefitted tremendously, rising 1.7% from yesterday’s closing level and having traded almost a full percent higher than that in the early aftermath of the results. So here we are this morning at 1.3390, right at my forecast for the initial move in the event of a Johnson victory. The question of course, is where do we go from here?

Before I answer, I must also mention the other risk positive story, about which I’m sure you are already aware, the news that President Trump has signed off on terms of a phase one trade deal with China. The details thus far released indicate China has promised to buy $50 billion of agricultural products from the US, and will be more vigilant in protection of IP rights, while the US is set to reduce the tariff rates already imposed and delay, indefinitely, the tariffs that were due to come into effect this Sunday. Not surprisingly, equity markets around the world rallied sharply on this news as well while haven investments like Treasuries, Bunds and the yen (and the dollar) have all fallen.

So everyone is feeling good this morning and with good reason, as two of the major political uncertainties that have been hanging over the market have been resolved. With this in mind, we can now try to answer the question of what’s next in the FX markets.

History has shown that while macroeconomic factors have some impact on the relative value of currencies, that impact is driven by the corresponding interest rates in each nation. So a nation that has strong economic growth and relatively tighter monetary policy is likely to see a strong currency while the opposite is also true. Now this correlation is hardly perfect, and financial theory cannot be completely ignored regarding a country’s fiscal balances (current account, trade and budget), where deficits tend to lead to a weaker currency, at least in theory, and surpluses the opposite. Obviously, one need only look at the dollar these days to recognize that despite the US’s significant negative fiscal position, the dollar remains relatively quite strong.

But ever since the financial crisis, there has been another part of monetary policy that has had a significant impact on the FX market, namely QE. As I’ve written before, when the US was implementing QE’s 1, 2 and 3, the dollar fell markedly each time, by 22%, 25% and 17% over a period of 9 months, 11 months and 22 months respectively. Clearly that pattern demonstrates the law of diminishing returns, where a particular action has a weaker and weaker effect the more frequently it is used. Of course, in each of these cases, the Fed funds rate was at 0.00%, so QE was the only tool in the toolbox. This brings us to the current situation; positive interest rates but the beginning of QE4. I know that none of us think 1.5% is a robust return on our savings, but remember, US interest rates are the highest in the G10, by a lot. In addition, the economy seems to be doing pretty well with GDP ticking over above 2.0%, Unemployment at 50 year lows and wage gains solidly at 3.0% or higher. Equity markets in the US make new highs on a regular basis and measured inflation is running right around 2.0%. And yet…the Fed is clearly looking at QE despite all their protestations. Buying $60 billion per month of T-bills with the newly stated option of extending those purchases to coupons is clearly expanding the balance sheet and driving risk accumulation further. And that is QE!

So with the knowledge that the Fed is engaged in QE4, and the history that shows the dollar has fallen pretty significantly during each previous QE policy, my view is that we are about to embark on a reasonable weakening of the US dollar for the next year or so. Now, clearly the initial conditions this time are different, with positive growth and interest rates, but while that will likely limit the dollar’s decline to some extent, it won’t prevent it. If pressed, I would say that we are likely to see the dollar fall by 10% or so over the next 12-18 months. And that is regardless of the outcome of the US elections next year. In the event that we were to see a President Warren or President Sanders, I think the dollar would suffer far more aggressively, but right now, removing the effect of the election still points to a slow decline in the buck. So for receivables hedgers, it is likely to be a situation where patience is a virtue.

Turning to the data story, last night we saw the Japanese Tankan report fall to 0, below expectations of 3 and down from its previous reading of 5. But the yen’s 0.35% decline overnight has more to do with risk appetite than that particular number. However, I’m sure PM Abe and BOJ Governor Kuroda are not thrilled with the implications for the economy. Otherwise, there has been precious little else of note released leaving us to ponder this morning’s Retail Sales data (exp 0.5%, 0.4% ex Autos) and wait to hear pearls of wisdom from NY Fed President Williams at 11:00. Of course, given the fact the Fed just finished meeting and there appears very little uncertainty over their immediate future course, my guess is the only thing he can try to defend is ‘not QE’ and how they are on top of the repo situation. But today is a risk on day, so while we may not extend these movements much further, I feel we are likely to maintain the gains vs. the dollar across the board.

In a final note, this will be the last poetry until January as I will be on vacation and then will return with my prognostications for 2020 to start things off.

Good luck, good weekend and happy holidays to all
Adf

 

Hawks Would Then Shriek

Lagarde and Chair Powell both seek
Consensus, when later this week
Their brethren convene
While doves are still keen
To ease more, though hawks would then shriek

Markets are relatively quiet this morning as investors and traders await three key events as well as some important data. Interestingly, neither the Fed nor ECB meetings this week are likely to produce much in the way of fireworks. Chairman Powell and his minions have done an excellent job convincing market participants that the temporary cyclical adjustment is finished, that rates are appropriate, and that they are watching everything closely and prepared to act if necessary. Certainly Friday’s blowout NFP data did not hurt their case that no further easing is required. By now, I’m sure everyone is aware that we saw the highest headline print since January at 266K, which was supported by upward revisions of 41K to the previous two months’ data. And of course, the Unemployment Rate fell to 3.5%, which is back to a 50-year low. In fact, forecasts are now showing up that are calling for a 3.2% or 3.3% Unemployment Rate next November, which bodes well for the incumbent and would be the lowest Unemployment Rate since 1952!

With that as the economic backdrop in the US, it is hard for the doves on the Fed to make the case that further easing is necessary, but undoubtedly they will try. In the meantime, ECB President Lagarde will preside over her first ECB meeting where there are also no expectations for policy changes. Here, however, the situation is a bit tenser as the dramatic split between the hawks (Germany, the Netherlands and Austria) and the doves (Spain, Portugal and Italy) implies there will be no further action anytime soon. Madame Lagarde has initiated a policy review to try to find a consensus on how they should proceed, although given the very different states of the relevant economies, it is hard to believe they will agree on anything.

Arguably, the major weakness in the entire Eurozone construct is that the lack of an overarching continent-wide fiscal authority means that there is no easy way to transfer funds from those areas with surpluses to those with deficits. In the US, this happens via tax collection and fiscal stimulus agreed through tradeoffs in Congress. But that mechanism doesn’t exist in Europe, so as of now, Germany is simply owed an extraordinary amount of money (~€870 billion) by the rest of Europe, mostly Italy and Spain (€810 billion between them). The thing is, unlike in the US, those funds will need to be repaid at some point, although the prospects of that occurring before the ECB bails everyone out seem remote. Say what you will about the US running an unsustainable current account deficit, at least structurally, the US is not going to split up, whereas in Europe, that is an outcome that cannot be ruled out. In the end, it is structural issues like this that lead to long term bearishness on the single currency.

However, Friday’s euro weakness (it fell 0.45% on the day) was entirely a reaction to the payroll data. This morning’s 0.15% rally is simply a reactionary move as there was no data to help the story. And quite frankly, despite the UK election and pending additional US tariffs on China, this morning is starting as a pretty risk neutral session.

Speaking of the UK, that nation heads to the polls on Thursday, where the Tories continue to poll at a 10 point lead over Labour, and appear set to elect Boris as PM with a working majority in Parliament. If that is the outcome, Brexit on January 31 is a given. As to the pound, it has risen 0.2% this morning, which has essentially regained the ground it lost after the payroll report on Friday. At 1.3165, its highest point since May 2019, the pound feels to me like it has already priced in most of the benefit of ending the Brexit drama. While I don’t doubt there is another penny or two possible, especially if Boris wins a large majority, I maintain the medium term outlook is not nearly as robust. Receivables hedgers should be taking advantage of these levels.

On the downside this morning, Aussie and Kiwi have suffered (each -0.2%) after much weaker than expected Chinese trade data was released over the weekend. Their overall data showed a 1.1% decline in exports, much worse than expected, which was caused by a 23% decline in exports to the US. It is pretty clear that the trade war is having an increasing impact on China, which is clearly why they are willing to overlook the US actions on Hong Kong and the Uighers in order to get the deal done. Not only do they have rampant food inflation caused by the African swine fever epidemic wiping out at least half the Chinese hog herd, but now they are seeing their bread and butter industries suffer as well. The market is growing increasingly confident that a phase one trade deal will be agreed before the onset of more tariffs on Sunday, and I must admit, I agree with that stance.

Not only did Aussie and Kiwi fall, but we also saw weakness in the renminbi (-0.15%), INR (-0.2%) and IDR (-0.2%) as all are feeling the pain from slowing trade growth. On the plus side in the EMG bloc, the Chilean peso continues to stage a rebound from its worst levels, well above 800, seen two weeks ago. This morning it has risen another 0.85%, which takes the gain this month to 4.8%. But other than that story, which is really about ebbing concern after the government responded quickly and positively to the unrest in the country, the rest of the EMG bloc is little changed on the day.

Turning to the data this week, we have the following:

Tuesday NFIB Small Business Optimism 103.0
  Nonfarm Productivity -0.1%
  Unit Labor Costs 3.4%
Wednesday CPI 0.2% (2.0% Y/Y)
  -ex Food & Energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
  FOMC Rate Decision 1.75%
Thursday ECB Rate Decision -0.5%
  PPI 0.2% (1.2%)
  -ex Food & Energy 0.2% (1.7%)
  Initial Claims 215K
Friday Retail Sales 0.4%
  -ex autos 0.4%

Source: Bloomberg

While there is nothing today, clearly Wednesday and Thursday are going to have opportunities for increased volatility. And the UK election results will start trickling in at the end of the day on Thursday, so if there is an upset brewing, that will be when things are first going to be known.

All this leads me to believe that today is likely to be uneventful as traders prepare for the back half of the week. Remember, liquidity in every market is beginning to suffer simply because we are approaching year-end. This will be more pronounced next week, but will start to take hold now.

Good luck
Adf

A Future Quite Bright

The data from China last night
Implied that growth might be all right
The PMI rose
And everyone knows
That points to a future quite bright!

Is it just me? Or does there seem to be something of a dichotomy when discussing the situation in China? This morning has a decidedly risk-on tone as equity markets in Asia (Nikkei +1.0%, Hang Seng +0.4%, Shanghai +0.15%) rallied after stronger than expected Chinese PMI data was released Friday night. For the record, the official Manufacturing PMI rose to 50.2, its first print above 50.0 since April, while the non-Manufacturing version rose to 54.4, its highest print since March. Then, this morning the Caixin PMI data, which focuses on smaller companies, also printed a bit firmer than expected at 51.8. These data releases were sufficient to encourage traders and investors to scoop up stocks while they dumped bonds. After all, everything is just ducky now, right?

And yet…there are still two major issues outstanding that have no obvious short-term solution, both of which can easily deteriorate into a much worse situation overall. The first, of course, is the trade fiasco situation, where despite comments from both sides that progress has been made, there is no evidence that progress has been made. At least, there is no timeline for the completion of phase one and lately there has been no discussion of determining a location to sign said deal. Certainly it appears that the current risk profile in markets is highly dependent on a successful conclusion of these talks, at least as evidenced by the fact that every pronouncement of an impending deal results in a stock market rally.

The second issue is the ongoing uprising in Hong Kong. China has begun to use stronger language to condemn the process, and is extremely unhappy with the US for passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act last week. However, based on China’s response, we know two things: first that completing a trade deal is more important than words about Hong Kong. This was made clear when the “harsh” penalties imposed in the wake of the Act’s passage consisted of sanctions on US-based human rights groups that don’t operate in China and the prevention of US warships from docking in Hong Kong. While the latter may seem harsh, that has already been the case for the past several months. In other words, fears that the Chinese would link this law to the trade talks proved unfounded, which highlights the fact that the Chinese really need these talks to get completed.

The second thing we learned is that China remains highly unlikely to do anything more than complain about what is happening in Hong Kong as they recognize a more aggressive stance would result in much bigger international relationship problems. Of course, the ongoing riots in Hong Kong have really begun to damage the economy there. For example, Retail Sales last night printed at -24.3%! Not only was this worse than expected, but it was the lowest in history, essentially twice as large a decline as during the financial crisis. GDP there is forecast to fall by nearly 3.0% this year, and unless this is solved soon, it seems like 2020 isn’t going to get any better. But clearly, none of the troubles matter because, after all, PMI rose to 50.2!
Turning to Europe, PMI data also printed a hair better than expected, but the manufacturing sector remains in dire straits. Germany saw a rise to 44.1 while France printed at 51.7 and the Eurozone Composite at 46.9. All three were slightly higher than the flash data from last week, but all three still point to a manufacturing recession across the continent. And the biggest problem is that the jobs sub-indices were worse than expected. At the same time, Germany finds itself with a little political concern as the ruling coalition’s junior partner, the Social Democrats, just booted out their leadership and replaced it with a much more left wing team who are seeking changes in the coalition agreement. While there has been no call for a snap election, that probability just increased, and based on the most recent polls, there is no obvious government coalition with both the far left and far right continuing to gain votes at the expense of the current government. While this is not an immediate problem, it cannot bode well if Europe’s largest economy is moving toward internal political upheaval, which means it will pay far less attention to Eurozone wide issues. This news cannot be beneficial for the euro, although this morning’s 0.1% decline is hardly newsworthy.

Finally, with less than two weeks remaining before the British (and Scottish, Welch and Northern Irish) go to the polls, the Conservatives still hold between a 9 and 11 point lead, depending on which poll is considered, but that lead has been shrinking slightly. Pundits are quick to recall how Theresa May called an election in the wake of the initial Brexit vote when the polls showed the Tories with a large lead, but that she squandered that lead and wound up quite weakened as a result. At this point, it doesn’t appear that Boris has done the same thing, but stranger things have happened. At any rate, the FX market appears reasonably confident that the Tories will win, maintaining the pound above 1.29, although unwilling to give it more love until the votes are in. I expect that barring any very clear gaffes, the pound will range trade ahead of the election and in the event of a Tory victory, see a modest rally. If we have a PM Corbyn, though, be prepared for a pretty sharp decline.

Looking ahead to this week, we have a significant amount of US data, culminating in the payroll report on Friday:

Today ISM Manufacturing 49.2
  ISM Prices Paid 47.0
  Construction Spending 0.4%
Wednesday ADP Employment 140K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 54.5
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Trade Balance -$48.6B
  Factory Orders 0.3%
  Durable Goods 0.6%
  -ex Transport 0.6%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
  Private Payrolls 180K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 40K
  Unemployment Rate 3.6%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.4
  Michigan Sentiment 97.0

Source: Bloomberg

As we have seen elsewhere around the world, the manufacturing sector in the US remains under pressure, but the services sector remains pretty robust. But overall, if the data prints as expected, it is certainly evidence that the US economy remains in significantly better shape than that of most of the rest of the world. And it has been this big picture story that has underpinned the dollar’s strength overall. Meanwhile, with the Fed meeting next week, they are in their quiet period, so there will be no commentary regarding policy until the next statement and press conference. In fact, next week is set to be quite interesting with the FOMC, the UK election and then US tariffs slated to increase two weeks from yesterday.

And yet, despite what appear to be numerous challenges, risk remains the primary choice of investors. As such, equities are higher and bonds are selling off although the dollar remains stuck in the middle for now. We will need to get more news before determining which way things are likely to break for the buck in the near term.

Good luck
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The Final Throes

Trump said that he now could disclose
Trade talks have reached “the final throes”
We soon will reveal
A fabulous deal
Designed to increase our trade flows

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the leader of the largest nation (by population) on earth and that you run the place with an iron grip. (Or at least you continue to imply to the outside world that is the case.) Imagine, also, that your only geopolitical rival, with far fewer people but far more money, has completely changed the ground rules regarding how business will be transacted going forward, totally upsetting intricately created supply chains that have been hugely profitable and beneficial to your country over the past two decades. And finally, imagine that for the past eighteen months, a series of unforeseen events (increasingly violent protests in a recalcitrant province, devastating epidemic of a virus decimating your nation’s protein supply, etc.) have combined with the rule changes to significantly slow your economy’s growth rate. (Remember, this growth rate is crucial to maintaining order in your nation.) What’s a despot leader to do?

It can be no real surprise that the US and China are moving closer to completing a phase one trade deal because the importance of completing said deal has grown on both sides of the table. We saw evidence of this earlier in the week when the Chinese changed their tune on IP theft; an issue they had previously maintained did not exist, but are now willing to codify as criminal. And with every lousy piece of Chinese data (last night Industrial Profits fell 9.9%, their largest decline since 2011 and further evidence of the slowing growth trajectory on the mainland) the pressure on President Xi increases to do something to arrest the decline. Meanwhile, though the US economy seems to be ticking along reasonably well (at least according to every Fed speaker and as evidenced by daily record high closings in the US equity markets) the other issues in Washington are pushing on President Trump to make a deal and score a big win politically.

With this as a backdrop, I expect that we will continue to hear positive comments regarding the trade deal from both sides and that prior to the December 15 imposition of new tariffs by the US, we will have something more concrete, including a timetable to sign the deal. And so, there is every reason to believe that risk appetite will continue to be whetted and that equity markets will continue to perform well through the rest of 2019 and arguably into the beginning of 2020.

It is easy to list all the concerns that exist for an investor as they are manifest everywhere. Consider: excess corporate leverage, a global manufacturing recession, anemic global growth, $14 trillion of negative yielding debt globally, and, of course, the still unresolved US-China trade issues and crumbling of seventy years of globalization infrastructure. And that doesn’t even touch on the non-financial, but still economic issues of wealth and income inequality and the growing number of protests around the world by those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder (Chile, Colombia, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Lebanon, and even Hong Kong and France’s gilets jaunes). And yet, risk appetite remains strong.

The point I am trying to make is that there is quite a dichotomy between financial market, specifically equity market, behavior and the economic and political situation around the world. The question I would ask is; how long can this dichotomy be maintained? Every bear’s fear is that there will be some minor catalyst that has an extremely outsized impact on risk pricing causing a significant decline. Bears constantly point to all those things mentioned above, and more, and are firm in their collective belief that the central bank community, which may be the only thing holding risk asset prices higher, is running out of ammunition. Certainly I agree with the latter point, they are running out of ammunition, but as Lord John Maynard Keynes was reputed to have said, “Markets can remain irrational far longer than you can remain solvent.”

As of right now, there is no evidence that any of the above mentioned issues are relevant to market pricing decisions. So what is relevant? Based on the almost complete lack of price movement in the FX market for the past several sessions, I would say nothing is relevant. Every day we walk in and the euro or the yen or the pound or the renminbi is within a few basis points of the previous day’s levels. Trading appetite has diminished and implied volatility continues to track to new lows almost daily. In fact, especially for those hedgers who are paying significantly to manage balance sheet risks, it almost seems like it is not worth the money to continue doing so. But I assure you that it is worth the cost. This is not the first time we have seen an extended period of market malaise in FX (2007-8 and 2014 come to mind) and in both those cases we saw a significant rebound in activity in the wake of a surprising catalyst (financial crisis, oil market crash). Do not be caught out when the current market attitude changes.

With that, rather long-winded, opening, a look at markets today shows that every G10 currency is within 15bps of yesterday’s closing levels. And those levels were similarly close to the previous day’s levels. There has been a distinct lack of data, and really very little commentary by central bank officials. Even in the emerging markets, activity generally remains muted. I will grant that the Chilean peso (-0.6%) has been a dog lately, but that is entirely related to the ongoing protests in that country and the fact that investors are exiting rapidly. But elsewhere, movement remains less than 0.3% except for in South Africa, where the rand has actually gained 0.5% as demand increases for their bond issuance today. In a world where a third of sovereign debt carries negative interest rates, 8% and 9% coupons are incredibly attractive!

On the data front, with Thanksgiving tomorrow, we see a ton of stuff today:

Initial Claims 221K
Q2 GDP 1.9%
Durable Goods -0.9%
-ex Transport 0.1%
Chicago PMI 47.0
Personal Income 0.3%
Personal Spending 0.3%
Core PCE 0.1% (1.7% Y/Y)
Fed’s Beige Book  

We should certainly learn if the growth trajectory in the US remains solid before the morning is over, and I expect that the dollar may respond accordingly, with strong data supporting the greenback and vice versa. But the thing is, given the holiday tomorrow, liquidity will be somewhat impaired, especially this afternoon. So if you still have things that you need to get done in November, I cannot stress strongly enough that executing early today is in your best interest.

Overall, the dollar continues to hold its own despite the risk-on attitude, but I have a feeling that is because we are seeing international investors buy dollars to buy US equities. At this point, there is no reason to believe that process will change, so I like the dollar to continue to edge higher over time.

Good luck and have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday
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