How Long Can They Wait?

While prices worldwide are all rising
Most central banks keep emphasizing
That they have no fear
And later this year
Their efforts will be stabilizing

But every time data’s released
It seems that inflation’s increased
How long can they wait
Ere they contemplate
It’s time QE should be deceased?

It has been another extremely dull day in financial markets as participants await the next catalyst, arguably coming tomorrow in the form of either a surprise from the ECB, a low probability event, or a surprise from the US CPI release, a higher probability event.  And yet, even if CPI surprises, will it really have much market impact?

For inspiration on the potential impact of a surprising outcome, let us quickly turn to China, where last night inflation data was released with PPI rising 9.0% Y/Y, its highest print since 2008, although CPI rose a less than expected 1.3%.  However, for the world overall, Chinese PPI is of much greater importance as it offers clues to what Chinese manufacturers may be charging for the many goods they sell elsewhere in the world.  If they start raising prices, you can be sure that prices elsewhere will be rising as well.  But the market response to this much higher than expected result was a collective yawn.  Chinese bond yields actually fell 1 basis point while the renminbi slipped 0.2%.  Chinese equities rose 0.3% in Shanghai to complete the triumvirate of markets demonstrating no concern over rising prices.

Is that what we can expect if tomorrow’s CPI data prints at a higher than expected number, perhaps even above 5.0%?  The first thing to note is that the Treasury market is certainly not demonstrating concern, at least in the classical sense of selling off into a rising inflationary situation.  In fact, yields are now back to their lowest level, 1.50%, since early March, the period during which yields were rising rapidly and eventually touched the early-April highs of 1.75%.  But here we are 25 basis points lower and the market seems to have completely bought into the Fed narrative of transitory inflation.  (As an aside, perhaps someone can explain to me why, if inflation is transitory and the Fed need not respond to the recent rises, there is a growing consensus that the Fed is going to start to taper QE purchases.  After all, the implication of transitory inflation is that current policy is fine as is, why change it and rock the boat?)

Another story that has been getting increasing play is about the growing short positions in Treasury bonds and how regardless of tomorrow’s data, we could see a short squeeze and lower yields.  Now, when I look at the CFTC data, I do see that last week open positions fell by nearly 50K contracts, but the overall outstanding position remains net long ~55K and there has been no discernible pattern of building short positions, so I’m not sure where that story has come from.  

So, when considering what we know about the current situation, near-term inflation pressures but central bank certitude it is transitory and recent price action indicating limited concern over inflation, it tells me that a high CPI print, currently forecast at 4.7%, will have no impact of note on the bond market.  As such, it seems unlikely that a high CPI print will have much impact on any market.  We will need to see a series of high prints, and they will need to continue at least through October or November before, it seems, anybody is going to believe that inflation may be more than a transitory phenomenon.  Unfortunately, we will all suffer equally due to the fact that prices are going to continue to rise, regardless of what the Fed or BLS tells us.

Turning to today’s session, price action has been generally similar to yesterday’s session, which means that there have been continued small movements in markets with strong trends difficult to identify.  For instance, equity markets overnight showed the Nikkei (-0.3%) and Hang Seng (-0.1%) both slipping a bit while Shanghai (+0.3%) managed to eke out a gain.  Hardly conclusive evidence of a theme.  Europe, however, is a bit softer, with the DAX (-0.5%) and FTSE 100 (-0.6%) both under a bit of pressure although the CAC (0.0%) has gone nowhere at all.  The German story is one of weaker than expected data, this time a smaller trade surplus with declines of both imports and exports indicating growth there is not quite so robust.  Meanwhile, Brexit issues between the EU and UK have arisen again over Northern Ireland, and this seems to be weighing on sentiment there.  As to US futures markets, they are very little changed at this hour.

Bond markets are clearly not concerned over inflation with Treasury yields down 2.7 basis points and similar declines in Europe (Bunds -2.6bps, OATs -3.0bps, Gilts -2.0bps).  Looking further afield, Italian BTPs have seen yields decline by 5 basis points with Spain and Portugal both falling 4bps or more.  It seems clear the market believes the ECB is going to continue to actively support the European government bond market.

On the commodity front, oil continues to rally with WTI (+0.4%) back over $70/bbl.  Something to consider regarding oil is that as ESG initiatives continue to grow in importance, and many of them are attacking the fossil fuel industry, seeking to prevent funding, there will be less and less exploration for and drilling of new oil sources.  But the transition to eliminating fossil fuels from the economy will take many years, (I’ve seen credible estimates of 30-50 years) meaning demand will not disappear, even if supply shrinks.  It seems pretty clear what will happen to the price of oil in this situation.  Do not be surprised if the previous high of $147/bbl is eclipsed in the coming years.

As to the rest of the commodity space, precious metals are a bit softer while base metals are more mixed today (Cu -0.9%, Al -0.15%, Ni +0.3%).  And finally, the grains are giving back some of their recent gains with all three down about 1.0%.

Finally, in FX, the dollar is broadly softer, but the movement has been very modest.  In G10 space, NOK (+0.3%) is the leader along side CAD (+0.3%) as they both follow oil’s rise.  After that, though, the movement is between 0.0% and 0.2%, with no stories to discuss.  In the Emerging Markets, HUF (+0.6%) is the big winner, as CPI continues to print above 5.0% and the central bank is tipped to raise rates at its meeting tomorrow.  But aside from that, there are more winners than losers although they are all just modest gains on the order of 0.1%-0.2%.  Weakness was seen in some APAC currencies overnight, but that, too, was very modest.

There is no important data to be released today, nor are there any Fed speakers, so my take is the market will continue to trade on the back of the Treasury market movement.  If yields continue to slide, look for the dollar to stay under some pressure.  If they reverse, I think the dollar will as well.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf





Crucial Advice

The Chinese Department of Price

Is proffering crucial advice

Don’t think about hoarding

It won’t be rewarding

And don’t make us speak to you twice!

There really is such a thing as the Department of Price in China.  It is part of the National Development and Reform Commission, the Chinese economic planning agency, although I have to admit it sounds more like something from Atlas Shrugged than a real agency.  But soaring commodity prices during the past year have become quite the problem for China, resulting in rising inflation and shortages of inputs for their manufacturers.  Apparently, President Xi is not pleased with this result and so this obscure (absurd?) government agency is now tasked with preventing prices from rising across a range of commodities.  Their tactics include threats against buyers deemed to be hoarding, against speculators in commodity trading firms and against manufacturers for passing on rising input costs to their final customers.  While one cannot help but chuckle at the futility of this effort (prices of things in demand will rise or shortages will result) it also highlights just how much of a concern inflation is to the Chinese and helps explain the recent PBOC action regarding FX reserves in order to stop/reverse the renminbi’s recent strength.  While a stronger renminbi would help ease inflationary pressures, its impact on exports, especially with input prices rising, was just too much to take.  For the foreseeable future, you can expect USDCNY to rise in a slow and steady manner.

Along with the FOMC

Investors are anxious to see

The payroll release

With forecast increase

To offset last month’s perigee

Turning to today’s news, markets remain quiet and rangebound ahead of this morning’s NFP report.  Last month’s abysmal outcome, just 266K new jobs, hugely below the nearly one million expected has increased the concern today.  While yesterday’s ADP Employment report was spectacular at 978K, last month it was nearly 750K and we still got that huge surprise.  Estimates this morning range from 335K to 1000K which tells us that nobody really knows, and none of the econometric models out there are well tuned to the current economic circumstances.  Here are the current median forecasts according to Bloomberg:

Nonfarm Payrolls 674K
Private Payrolls 610K
Manufacturing Payrolls 25K
Unemployment Rate 5.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.9
Participation Rate 61.8%
Factory Orders -0.3%

Following yesterday’s ADP report, the dollar, which had been drifting higher, got a huge boost and rallied strongly versus all its counterparts.  In addition, we saw sharp declines in precious metals prices and more modest declines in bond prices (yields on the 10-year rose about 4bps).  Arguably, that is exactly what one would expect with news that the US economy is growing more rapidly than previously thought.  But that begs the question for today, has the market already priced in a much larger number and so become subject to some serious profit-taking on a ‘sell the news’ meme?  My sense is that we will need to see a very large number, something on the order of 1.3 million to continue yesterday’s price action in markets.  Anything less, even if above the median forecast, will likely be seen as toppish and given it is a summer Friday, traders will be quick to square up positions.

Obviously, the FOMC is watching this data closely.  Recall, their stated goal is maximum employment and they continue to harp on the 8.1 million jobs that have not yet been replaced due to the Covid shutdown as well as the 2 million jobs that would have otherwise been created based on trend growth prior to the shutdown.  The point is that, given the transitory inflation pressures theme that has been universally repeated by every FOMC member, the Fed seems very likely to maintain the current policy settings for a while yet.  So, while today’s number is important for the market’s understanding of the current situation, I don’t believe there is any number that will change Fed policy.  At least no large number.  On the flipside, a second consecutive weak number might just encourage discussion that the current QE is not sufficient.  It will certainly raise eyebrows and cause a great deal of angst at the next FOMC meeting in two weeks’ time.

At this point, however, there is nothing we can do but wait.  A recap of the overnight activity shows that equity markets had minimal movements with no major index moving more than 0.4% (Nikkei -0.4%) and US futures essentially unchanged at this time.  Bond markets are exhibiting the same lack of direction, with movements less than 1 basis point ahead of the release across Treasuries and European sovereigns.  Commodity prices, after yesterday’s spectacular declines in the precious metals of more than 2%, have stabilized with oil drifting slightly higher (WTI +0.3%), and metals and agricultural prices either side of unchanged.

Finally, the dollar has also been ranging with no G10 currency having moved more than 0.2% from yesterday’s closing level and an even spread of gainers and losers.  In other words, everyone is biding their time here.  EMG currencies have displayed a bit more weakness, but much of that is due to last night’s APAC session where most currencies fell in response to the ADP number, just like everything else did during yesterday’s NY session.  Looking at the EEMEA currencies, only PLN (-0.4%) is showing any type of noteworthy movement and that mostly appears to be a reaction to the fact it has been amongst the best performers over the past month, having gained more than 3.0%, and so is subject to more profit-taking.  In other words, every market is simply biding its time ahead of the release.

Away from the payroll report, Chairman Powell does speak this morning, but the focus is on climate change, not monetary policy, so it seems unlikely we will learn very much.  And after this, the Fed is in its quiet period ahead of the meeting, so we are left to our own devices to determine what will happen.

My sense is we will see a strong showing today, maybe 750K as well as a revision up to last month’s data, which was abnormally weak given other indicators, but I am hard pressed to see the dollar repeat yesterday’s gains.  Rather, consolidation into the weekend seems the most likely outcome.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

Quite Premature

In Europe, to pundits’ surprise

The rate of inflation did rise

The ECB’s sure

It’s quite premature

To think prices will reach new highs

Meanwhile at the PBOC

They altered FX policy

Banks there must now hold

More money, we’re told

Preventing the yuan to run free

Two big stories presented themselves since we last observed markets before the Memorial Day holiday in the States; a policy change by the PBOC raising FX reserve requirements in order to encourage less renminbi buying dollar selling, and the release of Eurozone CPI showing that rising demand into supply bottlenecks does, in fact, lead to rising prices.  In line with the second story, let us not forget that Friday’s core PCE reading of 3.1%, was not only higher than anticipated but reinforced the idea that inflation is rising more rapidly than central bankers would have you believe.

But let’s start with China, where the renminbi has been appreciating very steadily since last May, rising more than 11% in that time.  initially, this was not seen as a concern as the starting point for USDCNY was well above 7.0, which is a level that had widely been seen as concerning for the PBOC with respect to excessive weakness.  But twelve months later, it has become clear that the PBOC now believes enough is enough.  Remember, the Chinese economy continues to be heavily reliant on exports for total activity, and an appreciation of that magnitude, especially for the low value items that are produced and exported, can be a significant impediment to growth.  Remember, too, that while a strong renminbi helps moderate inflation in China, it effectively exports that inflation to its customers. (We’ll get back to this shortly.)

Ultimately, China’s goal is to continue to grow their economy as rapidly as possible to insure limited unemployment and increased living standards for its population.  To the extent that a strengthening currency would disrupt that process, it is no longer a welcome sight.  Hence the PBOC’s move to reign in speculation for further CNY appreciation.  By raising the FX reserve requirement, they reduce the amount of onshore USD available (banks must now simply hold onto them) hence counting on the dollar to rise in value accordingly.  Or at the very least, to stop sliding in value.  Consider that China’s long-term stated goal is to further internationalize the renminbi, which means that direct intervention is an awkward method of control.  (International investors tend to shy away from currencies that are subject to the whims of a government or central bank).  This effort to change the FX reserve ratio, thus altering the supply/demand equation is far more elegant and far less intrusive.  Look for this ratio, now set at 7%, to rise further should the renminbi continue to appreciate in value.

As to the inflation story, this time Europe is the setting where prices are rising more rapidly than anticipated.  This morning’s CPI print of 2.0% is the first time it has printed that high since November 2018.  Now, price pressures in Europe are not yet to the level seen in the US, where Friday’s data was clearly an unwelcome surprise, but based on the PMI data releases, with the Eurozone composite rising to a record high of 63.1, and the fact that the latest spate of European lockdowns is coming to an end within the next week or two, it appears that economic activity on the continent is set to grow.  So, the demand side of the equation is moving higher.  meanwhile, the rising value of the CNY has raised input prices for manufacturers as well as retail prices directly.  While margins may be compressed slightly, the fact that Eurozone aggregate savings are at an all-time high suggests that there is plenty of money available to spend on higher priced items.  It is this combination of events that is set to drive inflation.

There is, however, a dichotomy brewing as bond markets, both in the US and Europe, do not seem to be indicating a great deal of concern over higher inflation.  Typically, they are the first market to demonstrate concern, usually forcing a central bank response.  But both here in the States, where Friday’s PCE data resulted in a collective yawn (Treasury yields actually fell 1 basis point) and  this morning in the Eurozone, where across major Eurozone countries, German bunds 0.1 bp rise is the only gain, with yields declining slightly elsewhere, the market is telling us that bond investors agree with the central banks regarding the transitory nature of the current rising inflation.  

Perhaps they are right.  While it is difficult to go to the store, any store, and not see that prices for many items have increased during the post-pandemic period, rising inflation means that those price rises will continue for a long time to come, not a simple one-off jump. Both the Fed and the ECB are certain that supply bottlenecks will be loosened soon, thus describing the temporary nature of their inflation views.  However, it is not as clear to me that is the case.  one of the defining features of the global economy during the past decade has been the adjustment of investment priorities at the corporate level, from investing and building new capacity to repurchasing outstanding shares.  This financialization of the economy is not well prepared to expand actual output.  I fear it may take longer than central banks anticipate to loosen those bottlenecks, which means price pressures are likely to be with us for a lot longer than central banks believe.  

A quick tour of markets this morning shows that regardless of Chinese activity or inflation concerns, risk is ON.  While Asia was mixed (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng +1.1%, Shanghai +0.2%), Europe is a green machine (DAX +1.5%, CAC +0.9%, FTSE 100 +1.1%) after strong PMI data across the board.  US markets are not to be left out of this rally with futures in all three major indices rising by about 0.4% at this hour.

As mentioned above, the bond market is far less interesting this morning.  While Treasury yields have backed up 2bps, Europe is going the other way, save Gilts (+1.1bps).  Clearly there is no inflation concern there right now.  And this is despite the fact that oil prices are much higher (WTI +2.8%, Brent +2.1% and >$70/bbl) along with copper (+4.7%) although wedid see Aluminum slip (-0.6%).  Grains are rising as well as is Silver (+0.75%), although gold, which was higher earlier, is back to flat on the day.

The dollar, this morning, is mixed, with roughly an equal number of currencies higher and lower, although the gains are much greater than the losses.  For instance, NOK (+0.7%) is clearly responding to oil’s rise, while SEK (+0.5%) is benefitting from continued strong PMI data.  However, the rest of the G10 space is +/- 0.2% with the pound (-0.25%) the most noteworthy decliner after concerns were raised that a new Covid variant could delay the reopening of the economy.

In the EMG space, KRW (+0.4%) and THB (+0.3%) have been the best performers as both are thriving amid improving economic performance and anticipation that China’s recovery will help support them further.  Meanwhile, on the flipside, TRY (-0.5%) is the laggard followed by INR (-0.4%) and ZAR (-0.3%).  CNY (-0.2%) slipped in the wake of the PBOC action, while INR is suffering as Covid cases continue to surge.  The same is true in South Africa, and Turkey suffered after higher inflation readings than expected.

Data this week is big starting with ISM and culminating in the payroll report.

TodayConstruction Spending0.5%
 ISM Manufacturing60.9
 ISM Prices Paid89.0
WednesdayFed’s Beige Book 
ThursdayADP Employment650K
 Initial Claims395K
 Continuing Claims3.615M
 ISM Services63.0
FridayNonfarm Payrolls650K
 Private Payrolls600K
 Manufacturing Payrolls25K
 Unemployment Rate5.9%
 Average Hourly Earnings0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
 Average Weekly Hours34.9
 Participation Rate61.8%
 Factory Orders-0.2%

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to this data we will hear from six more Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell on Friday.  All ears will be tuned toward the tapering debate and how this week’s speakers address the situation.  However, if you consider it, if inflation is transitory and growth is going well, why would they need to taper?  After all, they appear to have achieved the nirvana of  explosive growth with no inflation. 

Needless to say, not everyone believes that story.  However, the one story that is gaining credence everywhere is that the dollar is likely to decline going forward.  That was the consensus view at the beginning of the year, and after a quarter of concern, it appears to be regaining many adherents.  To date, the relationship between the dollar and 10-year Treasury yields has been very strong.  It has certainly appeared that the bond drove the dollar.  However, recent activity has been less conclusive.  I still believe that relationship holds, but will be watching closely.  That said, the dollar does feel heavy these days.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

‘Bout Enough

A storm in the bond market’s brewing

As some central banks start eschewing

The idea QE

Forever, should be

Thus, traders, their longs are undoing

Meanwhile, in the markets for stuff

The Chinese have had ‘bout enough

As prices there soar

Xi’s minions call for

Restraint, or they’ll have to get tough

Heading into the Memorial Day weekend in the US, there are two stories making the rounds this morning.  The first is the latest discussion regarding tapering of QE by central banks around the world while the second is a growing discussion on the commodity markets and the impact the Chinese are having via both economic growth and governmental efforts to prevent prices from rising further. 

During the past month we have gained more clarity from four key central banks on their future QE activities, but the big three (Fed, ECB and BOJ) have not yet come out with any real guidance.  Certainly, we have heard several members of the FOMC opining that the time is coming soon where they will start to consider the idea, if growth continues at its current accelerated pace and if the employment situation improves dramatically.  This is, however, by no means the universal view in Washington, at least not yet.  With respect to the BOJ, the next MPC member who talks about tapering JGB buying will be the first one to do so.  The Japanese have been so invested in this strategy for more than 20 years it will be extraordinarily difficult to even consider a change.

In Frankfurt, however, there is far more disagreement as to the proper steps forward.  Unfortunately for the ECB, the lack of a common fiscal framework in the Eurozone is becoming a bigger problem as they remain the only institution capable of supporting the entire group of nations.  This is made clear by recent data, which shows that there are very different growth and inflation scenarios, potentially requiring different monetary policy responses, in different countries.

For instance, inflation in Germany, at 2.3% is running a lot hotter than in Italy, at 1.0%.  And while the Continent’s average may be around 1.6% right now, it is the Germans that see things as more problematic.  Consider that while the Weimar hyperinflation of nearly 100 years ago may seem ancient to most, it was the most searing economic event in the nation’s history and has informed the entire German zeitgeist of thrift and frugality.  (Contrast this to the Great Depression, with the concomitant deflation that occurred in the US, and which has informed the US zeitgeist with respect to fear of prices and the economy collapsing.)  Remember, the only way to get the Germans to agree to the euro was to promise that the ECB would essentially be a clone of the Bundesbank.  That meant keeping a lid on inflation at all times.  However, the current situation, where the economic circumstances across the continent are so widely disparate, has put the ECB in a bind.  Efforts to support those economies that remain weak with a low inflationary impulse, like Italy, Ireland and Greece, will result in increasing price pressures on those economies that are further ahead in the economic rebound like Germany and the Netherlands.

It is this conundrum that has different ECB speakers saying different things.  On the one hand, we have recently heard from Italy’s Panetta, France’s Villeroy and Madame Lagarde that tapering is not appropriate.  Yet this morning, Germany’s Isabel Schnabel was far more circumspect with respect to maintaining current policy as she commented, “Rising yields are precisely what we want to see.”  That does not seem the comment of someone keen to keep buying bonds.  However, for now, the Germans remain in the minority and so the idea that the ECB will mention the tapering of asset purchases at the June meeting seems unlikely.

As to the commodity story, in the past two weeks we have heard from at least seven different Chinese officials and key organizations about the need for both reducing upward pressure on commodities as well as reducing upward pressure on the renminbi.  For the past twenty years, China has been the marginal buyer of most commodities as their economy has grown at a remarkable pace and they have built up extraordinary infrastructure of roads, airports and cities.  Thus, they have consumed countless tons of steel, copper and other industrial materials.  However, a little considered impact of the pandemic was the dramatic reduction in the capex of mining for industrial metals, which means that future supplies are likely to be less available as the world continues to reopen and growth expands.  The natural result has been rising prices as markets anticipate surplus demand relative to forecast supply. 

Apparently, the powers that be in China have figured out that rising prices are not conducive to their domestic plans and are now caught between a situation where they benefit from a stronger currency if it puts downward pressure on inflation, but suffer from a stronger currency if it reduces the attractiveness of their export sector.  They seem to believe that if they can prevent further strength in CNY while simultaneously talking down commodity prices, they can achieve both their ends.  While they have had some success over the past several weeks on the commodity front, CNY has steadily appreciated, gaining more than 3.25% since April 1st.  I guess this is one of the difficulties of trying to manage growth, inflation and your currency’s value simultaneously.  Something’s gotta give.  Right now, it looks like the currency and further strength there should not be a surprise.

As to our holiday shortened session, European equity markets are uniformly higher this morning (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE100 +0.3%) although Asia had a more mixed picture with the Nikkei (+2.1%) quite strong but the Hang Seng (0.0%) and Shanghai (-0.2%) less enthusiastic about things.  US futures are all green to the tune of about 0.5%, so pending this morning’s data, the rally should continue.

Bond markets are little changed this morning with Treasuries, which saw yields rise 3.5bps yesterday essentially unchanged this morning.  EGB’s are generally a tick or two higher with yields lower by less than 1 basis point, as there is much more focus on stocks today.

In the commodity space, oil (+0.5%) continues to rebound from last week’s dip while precious metals are modestly softer this morning (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.8%).  The Chinese seem to be having some success in their efforts to push down metals prices with Cu (-1.0%) and Al (-0.4%) leading the way lower.

The dollar, despite the positive risk sentiment in equities, is stronger vs. all its G10 peers, with NZD (-0.85%) and AUD (-0.6%) the worst performers on the day.  In truth, the magnitude of this move smacks of position adjustments after the RBNZ’s surprisingly hawkish tone earlier this week led to significant buying in both currencies.  But the dollar’s strength is universal as generally positive data releases throughout Europe have not been able to encourage currency buying. 

Emerging markets have seen a different picture as the dollar was universally soft overnight and APAC currencies all showed strength while those markets were open, but since then, EEMEA and LATAM currencies have come under pressure.  The most notable mover here has been TRY (-0.95%) as ongoing inflation worries continue to undermine faith in the currency both at home and internationally.

The data story today has the chance to be quite interesting with Personal Income (exp -14.2%), Personal Spending (0.5%) and Core PCE (0.6% M/M, 2.9% Y/Y) all coming at 8:30.  Then at 10:00 we see Chicago PMI (68.0) and Michigan Sentiment (83.0).  In my mind, Core PCE is the number that matters.  Given the current market discussion on tapering, a higher than anticipated number there could easily see a bond market sell-off and further support for the dollar.  Frankly, based on the fact that every inflation reading this month has been higher than forecast, I see no reason for this to be any different.  Look for a high print and the dollar to remain well-bid into the weekend.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

Not Really There

There once was a Fed Reserve Chair
Whose minions explained with fanfare
Though prices were climbing
With all the pump priming
Inflation was not really there

Investors responded with glee
And bought everything they did see
So, risk was a hit
While yields fell a bit
As money remains largely free

Brainerd, Bostic and Bullard, though sounding like a law firm, are actually three FOMC members who spoke yesterday.  In what has been a remarkably consistent performance by virtually every single member of the committee (Robert Kaplan excepted), they all said exactly the same thing: prices will rise due to bottlenecks and shortages in the near-term, but that this was a short-term impact of the pandemic response, and that soon those issues would abate and prices would quickly stabilize again.  They pointed to ‘well-anchored’ inflation expectations and reminded one and all that they have the tools necessary to combat inflation in the event their version of events does not come to pass.  You have to give Chairman Powell credit for convincing 16 ostensibly independent thinkers that his mantra is the only reality.

The market response was one of rainbows and unicorns, with rallies across all assets as risk was snapped up everywhere.  After all, it has been nearly two weeks since the CPI print was released at substantially higher levels than anticipated raising fears amongst investors that the Fed was losing control.  But two weeks of soothing words and relatively benign data has been sufficient to exorcise those inflation demons.  In the meantime, the Fed continues to purchase assets and expand its balance sheet as though the economy is teetering on the brink of destruction while they await the “substantial progress” toward their goals to be met.

One consequence of the Fed’s QE program has been that high-quality collateral for short term loans, a critical part of the financial plumbing of the US (and global) economy has been in short supply.  For the past two months, Treasury bill issues have been clearing at 0.00%, meaning the government’s cost of financing has been nil.  This is due to a combination of factors including the Treasury running down the balances in the Treasury General Account at the Fed (the government’s checking account) and the ongoing Fed QE purchases of $80 billion per month.  This has resulted in the Treasury needing to issue less T-bills while simultaneously injecting more funds into the economy.  Banks, meanwhile, wind up with lots of bank reserves on their balance sheets and no place to put them given the relative dearth of lending.  The upshot is that the Fed’s Reverse Repurchase Program (RRP) is seeing unprecedented demand with yields actually starting to dip below zero.  This is straining other securities markets as well given the bulk of activity in markets, especially derivatives activity, is done on a margin, not cash, basis.  While so far, there have not been any major problems, as the stress in this corner of the market increases, history shows that a weak link will break with broader negative market consequences.  For now, however, the Fed is able to brush off any concerns.

The result of the constant commentary from Fed speakers, with three more on the schedule for today, as well as the fading of the memories of the high CPI print has been a wholesale reengagement of the risk-on meme.  Growth continues to rebound, while zero interest rates continue to force investors out the risk curve to find a return.  What could possibly go wrong?

Today, the answer is, nothing.  Risk is back with a vengeance as evidenced by a strong equity session in Asia (Shanghai +2.4%, Hang Seng +1.75%, Nikkei +0.7%) and a solid one in Europe as well (DAX +0.8%, CAC +0.15%, FTSE 100 0.0%).  The Chinese (and Hong Kong) rally seems to be a product of the PBOC focusing their attentions on the commodity market, not equities, as the source of imbalances and a potential target of interventionist policies thus allowing speculators there to run free.  German equities are the beneficiary of better than expected ZEW data, with both the current conditions (95.7) and Expectations (102.9) indices leading the way.  While yesterday’s US equity rally faded a bit late in the day, futures this morning are all pointing higher by about 0.3%.

Arguably, the FOMC trio had a bigger impact on the bond market, where 10-year Treasury yields are now back below 1.60%, down 1 basis point this morning and at their lowest level in more than two weeks.  It is certainly hard to believe that the bond market is remotely concerned about inflation at this time.  Remember, though, Friday we see the core PCE print, which is the number the Fed truly cares about, and while it is forecast to print above the 2.0% target, (0.6% M/M, 2.9% Y/Y) we also know that the Fed strongly believes this is transitory and is no reason to panic.  Markets, however, if that print is even stronger, may not agree with that sentiment.

Commodity prices are having a less positive day as the ongoing concerns about Chinese actions to prevent price rises continues to weigh on sentiment.  Oil has slipped just a bit (-0.3%) but we are seeing declines in Cu (-0.4%), Al (-1.1%) and Fe (-3.1%), all directly in the crosshairs of the Chinese government.  Agricultural product prices are mixed today while precious metals remain little changed.

Finally, the dollar is mostly lower this morning with broad weakness seen in the EMG bloc, but less consistency in G10.  While SEK (+0.5%) leads the way higher, the rest of the bloc has been more mixed.  NOK (-0.2%) is clearly suffering from oil’s decline, while JPY (-0.2%) seems to be giving ground as havens are unloved.  EUR (+0.25%) has been helped by that German ZEW data as well as the beginnings of a perception that the Fed is going to be more aggressively dovish than the ECB for a long time to come.  In that event, the euro will certainly rise further, although it has a key resistance level at 1.2350 to overcome.

ZAR (+0.7%) leads the emerging market parade higher as concerns over inflation there abate, and South Africa continues to have amongst the highest real yields in the world.  KRW (+0.4%) is next in line as consumer sentiment in South Korea rose to its highest level in 3 years.  The other noteworthy move has been CNY (+0.2%) not so much for the size of the move as much as for the fact that it has breached the 6.40 level and the government has indicated they are going to be taking additional steps to open the FX market in China to help local companies hedge their own FX risks. The only laggard of note is TRY (-0.3%) which is suffering as President Erdogan has replaced yet another member of the central bank’s board, inviting concerns inflation will run higher with no response.

Data today shows Case Shiller Home Prices (exp +12.5%) as well as New Home Sales (950K) and Consumer Confidence (119.0), none of which are likely to change either Fed views or market opinions.   As mentioned above, three Fed speakers will regale us with their sermon on transitory inflation, and I expect that the dollar will remain under pressure for the time being.  In fact, until we see core PCE on Friday, it is hard to make a case that the dollar will turn around and only then if the number is higher than expected.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Clearly Annoyed

In China they say speculation
And hoarding is now the causation
Of quite an ordeal
As copper and steel
See prices rise bringing inflation

(Or, the second variation on this theme)

The Chinese are clearly annoyed
That price signals have been destroyed
So, meetings were called
And price rises stalled
As punishment threats were employed

Markets are mixed this morning after a relatively quiet weekend, at least in the more mainstream markets.  Cryptocurrencies, on the other hand, continue to prove they are nothing more than speculative assets with Bitcoin declining 20% before rebounding 16% in the past 36 hours.  The proximate cause of that movement was a comment from the Chinese about cracking down on bitcoin mining, again.  Whether or not this particular initiative succeeds, the one thing that is abundantly clear when it comes to the cryptocurrency space is that more and more governments are lining up against them.  Do not underestimate government interest in regulating the crypto space out of existence, or at the very least to significantly marginalize it, as no government can tolerate a competitor for their incredibly lucrative monopoly of creating money.

Speaking of tolerance, the Chinese have also, this weekend, explained that they have “zero tolerance” for certain activities in the commodity markets like hoarding, speculating or disseminating misinformation. At a hastily called meeting of the heads of top metals producers, those words were used along with the explicit threat of severe punishment for violation of not only the letter, but the spirit, of the law.  Remember, China executed the former head of Huarong, a financial firm, for similar types of issues, so the notion of severe punishment must certainly be taken seriously.  It can be no surprise that metals prices fell in the Chinese session, with steel, iron ore, aluminum, zinc and tin all lower, although copper has maintained some of its recent gains.

From a market’s perspective, these were the only remotely noteworthy stories of the weekend.  While the inflation/deflation debate continues to rage, and rightly so given its importance, and speculation over potential central bank policy changes remains rife, as of now, we have no new information on either of these stories and so it will remain entirely opinion, not fact.  Of course, Friday we get the latest release of core PCE, which will certainly be above the 2.0% Fed target, and will certainly generate much tongue-wagging, but will have virtually no impact on the Fed.

A tour of markets this morning shows that movements have been modest and there is no direction or theme in any of them.  Asian equity markets were mixed (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng -0.2%, Shanghai +0.3%) and movements were limited.  Europe has seen a bit more positivity, but only a bit (DAX +0.4%, CAC +0.1%, FTSE 100 +0.2%), hardly the stuff of dreams.  Finally, US futures are the market putting in the best performance, with gains between 0.4% and 0.6% two plus hours ahead of the opening.

Bond markets are showing even less movement than stocks at this hour with Treasury yields lower by 0.5bps while Bunds and OATs are essentially unchanged.  Gilts are the big mover, with the yields declining by 1.1 basis points.  Even peripheral nation yields are essentially unchanged.

On the back of the Chinese comments, commodity prices are mostly lower although oil will have none of it, rising 1.7% this morning.  However, while Cu is unchanged, Fe (-3.9%), Ni (-2.1%) and Zn (-1.1%) have all taken the Chinese to heart.  Precious metals are little changed although ags are a bit softer.

Finally, the dollar can only be described as mixed this morning, with an equal number of gainers and losers in both the G10 and EMG blocs.  And the thing is, those moves have been desultory, at best, with NOK (+0.25%) the leading gainer on the back of oil’s gains, while GBP (-0.15%) is the laggard, on position adjustments.  EMG currencies are seeing similar types of modest movements with nary a story to highlight.

Data this week is also pretty sparse although that core PCE number on Friday will be closely watched.

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices +12.55%
New Home Sales 950K
Consumer Confidence 118.9
Thursday Initial Claims 425K
Continuing Claims 3.68M
Durable Goods 0.8%
-ex transport 0.7%
Q1 GDP 6.5%
Friday Personal Income -14.8%
Personal Spending 0.5%
Core PCE 0.6% (2.9% Y/Y)
Chicago PMI 69.0
Michigan Confidence 83.0

Source: Bloomberg

There are several Fed speakers, but we already know what they are going to say, inflation is temporary, I’m sorry, transitory, and they have a significant way to go to achieve their goals.

At this time, given the central banks have all proclaimed themselves data dependent, until we get data that indicates a change in the situation, there is no reason to believe that markets will do more than chop back and forth.  There is, as yet, no clarity in the inflation debate, nor will there be for a number of months to come.  So, for now, the dollar seems likely to continue to chop around until we see a break in interest rates in one direction or the other.  That said, if the inflationist camp is correct, then the first move should be for dollar strength alongside the higher interest rates that will ensue.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Devil-May-Care

It wasn’t all that long ago
When Powell and friends let us know
That prices might rise
But that in their eyes
T’was something we soon would outgrow

And lately it seems they were right
As chains of supply get more tight
But so far, they’re clear
The Fed has no fear
Inflation could rise overnight

Investors, though, don’t seem to share
That attitude, devil-may-care
Instead they’re rebelling
And stocks they are selling
While bond markets, too, they forswear

Perhaps as a prelude to tomorrow’s CPI data here in the US, last night we saw Chinese inflation data.  Chinese data, though, has a very different meaning than US data.  From China, markets care far more about PPI than about CPI, as China continues to be the world’s factory floor.  So, a rising PPI in China may presage rising retail prices elsewhere in the world.  Consider this when looking at the Chinese data, where PPI rose a more than expected 6.8%, it’s highest print since October 2017, while CPI there rose only 0.9%, a tick less than forecast.  The proximate cause of the sharp rise in PPI has been the ongoing explosion higher in commodity prices.  All their input costs are rising (iron ore, steel, copper, energy, etc.) thus producers are forced to raise their prices.  While retailers have not yet passed through all the cost increases in China, manufacturers and retailers elsewhere in the world have not been so sanguine on the issue.  Instead, the combination of rising commodity prices and shortages in key intermediate goods, like semiconductors, has been more than sufficient to push up prices.

It should be no surprise that markets, in general, are not applauding this outcome, and in fact, are concerned that this is just the beginning of the move in prices.  On the one hand, we continue to hear from both the Fed and the ECB that there is no reason to consider tightening policy at this time as neither bank has achieved their policy aims.  On the other, there is no sign that the supply side damage that was caused by the pandemic is anywhere close to being repaired.  Reduced supply meeting ongoing artificially high demand is guaranteed to raise prices.  I guess the Fed and ECB will soon be quite pleased with themselves for having created inflation.  The rest of us?  Not so much.

However, this policy mistake action in the face of the current conditions is what is driving market prices, which today are wholly in the red, and in substantial size.  Equity markets worldwide (Nikkei -3.1%, Hang Seng -2.1%, DAX -2.2%, CAC -2.0%, FTSE 100 -2.2%) have been under severe pressure ever since yesterday’s US tech slump, but bond markets, too, are seeing significant selling pressure, with Bunds, OATs and Gilts all seeing yields climb by 4 basis points this morning.  In other words, investors are explaining they don’t want to hold financial assets in an inflationary environment.  In fact, there is a great deal of buzz in the markets about some of the large interest rate bets that are being made in both Eurodollar and Euribor futures markets, where very large size option trades are being executed with the aggressor buying put options as part of large risk reversals.  It seems there is very little concern over interest rates declining from current levels, and rightly so, but expectations for higher rates well before either the Fed or ECB has indicated they are considering changing tack are the new normal.

What, you may ask, has this done for the dollar?  That is a much tougher question to answer as the outcome has been far less clear.  I have been adamant that the 10-year Treasury yield has been the key driver of the dollar’s value for virtually all of 2021, and despite the sell-off in European sovereigns this morning, Treasury yields are unchanged at 1.60%.  Heading into tomorrow’s CPI data, as well as another round of Treasury refunding starting with today’s 3-year auction of $40 billion (a total of $108 billion will be auctioned this week), it appears that investors and traders are not certain what to do.  Despite economic data that points to quickening growth, we continue to hear from Fed speaker after Fed speaker that they are not even close to considering tapering QE, let alone raising interest rates.  Well, except for the lone(ly) hawk, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan.  But yesterday, both Chicago’s Mike Evans and SF’s Mary Daly were clear it is far too early to consider tapering QE.  Today brings six more Fed speakers, none of whom have a history of hawkishness.

In the end, if inflation continues to rise while Treasury yields remain rangebound due to QE, as real yields decline, look for the dollar to follow.  Breakeven inflation rates continue to trade at multi-year highs (5-year 2.73%, 10-year 2.53%) and are indicating a strong belief that inflation is picking up pace. While the Fed continues to tell us they “have the tools” necessary to combat any potential inflation, the only thing of which we can be sure is they not only “have the tools” required to support markets (and the economy by extension), but that they will use those tools. When it comes to fighting the inflation battle, though, not a single current FOMC member is battle tested.  Given this asymmetry, it is not surprising that we are seeing an increase in market bets on higher interest rates.

Back to the dollar, which is actually under a bit of pressure this morning, along with all those other assets. In the G10, only CHF (-0.1%) is softer as we are seeing gains from the European bloc (NOK, SEK +0.4%, EUR +0.3%) leading the way.  Arguably, this is on the back of the much better than expected German ZEW expectations index, which printed at its highest level in more than 10 years.  Meanwhile, the pound (+0.1%) and commodity bloc here are having a much less interesting session.

In the emerging markets, Asian currencies felt pressure overnight on the tech stock decline with KRW (-0.5%), TWD (-0.4%) and MYR (-0.3%).  On the other hand, the CE4 have all followed the euro higher and we are seeing strength in ZAR (+0.5%), RUB (+0.6%) and MXN (+0.5%), despite oil’s small slide (-0.8%).

All in all, today is shaping up as another one that will be driven by the yield story.  In order for the dollar to really turn around its recent weakness, we will need to see a very significant risk-off event, with Treasuries rallying and fear abundant.  But so far, the current equity decline has not been sufficient to get those juices flowing.  As such, I still would err on the side of a weaker dollar.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Right From the Script

While last night, the 10-year yield slipped
It’s still reading right from the script
Of trading much higher
As growth does transpire
And vaccines are rapidly shipped
 
Investors, though, caution, have shown
As high yields have caused a full-blown
Correction in tech
And currency wreck
Just proving the future’s unknown
 
Price action throughout markets overnight has largely been a correction of what has turned out to be a surprising rout in tech stocks and a surprising rally in the dollar.  Quickly recapping the consensus views as the year began, the combination of more fiscal and monetary stimulus and a ramped up vaccination rate would lead to a reopening of the US (and world) economy, much faster growth, higher Treasury yields, rising stock prices and a weaker dollar as increased risk appetite led to dollar selling.  Positioning for those views was both widespread and large as investors looked forward to another banner year.  Oops!
 
As so often happens in markets, even if views are correct in the long run, when a new consensus is reached it means that, pretty much all the investment that is heading in that direction has already arrived, and the result is that those positions tend to lose out as the excitement fades.  And arguably, that is what we have seen in general, although not universally.  Despite last night’s modest bond rally (Treasury yields -5.9bps), the yield curve remains both higher and steeper than at the beginning of the year and appears to have room for further movement in that direction.
 
One of the strongest views that exists is that the Fed will not (cannot) allow Treasury yields to rise beyond a certain, unknown, point, as the cost to the government would be devastating.  That has certainly been my view and informs my belief that when that happens, the dollar will reverse its recent strength and decline sharply alongside real US yields.  But what if the Fed means what they say when describing the rise in long-term yields as a good thing?  How might that play out?
 
The first thing to note is that the yield curve (which I will define as the 2yr-10yr spread) is currently at 137bps, obviously well above the levels seen at the beginning of the year and showing no signs of stopping.  The one thing of which we can be confident right now is that the 2yr yield seems unlikely to move with the Fed maintaining ZIRP up front, so the spread will be entirely dependent on the movement in the 10-year.  But a quick look at the history of the spread shows that the current level is merely in the middle of the range with at least five different times in the past 30 years where this spread rose well over 200 basis points, the most recent being during the Taper Tantrum in 2013 when it reached 260 basis points.  Now, ask yourself what would happen if 10-year Treasury yields rose to 2.75%.  How do you think that would play out in the equity market?  In FX? And for the economy as a whole?
 
Arguably, this type of interest rate movement would be the result of much faster growth and inflation in the US than currently forecast and seen elsewhere in the world.  (As an aside, the OECD today raised their forecast for US GDP growth in 2021 to 6.5%).  If that forecast is accurate, and if inflation simply gets to the Fed’s 2.0% target, that means nominal GDP will be 8.5%!  How can that square with a 10-year yield of 2.75%, let alone today’s 1.55%.  It would seem that something has to give here.  Two potential relief valves are the dollar, which would need to rally much more sharply than we have seen (think EURUSD at 1.05-1.10) or inflation rising more than 2.0%, perhaps as high as 3.5%-4.0%.  History has shown that in situations like that, equity markets tend to underperform.  And maybe that’s the key.  Most of these forecasts for the strong equity, higher interest rate, weaker dollar outcome were based on the idea that central banks and governments could find the perfect mix of policies to achieve these goals.  If there is anything about which we can be sure, other than 2-year yields are not going to rise, it is that neither central banks nor governments have any idea what the proper mix of policies is to achieve those goals.  This is why economic and market activity remain volatile, because the constant tweaks and changes have many unexpected side effects.
 
This is not to imply that the yield curve is going to steepen that much, just that it cannot be ruled out, and if that happens, you need to be ready for a great deal more market volatility.
 
Which takes us to the current session. 
 
In China, the powers that be
Are worried they’re starting to see
A market decline
That could well define
New weakness in President Xi
 
Overnight saw mixed risk appetite with both the Nikkei (+1.0%) and Hang Seng (+0.8%) rising, but Shanghai (-1.8%) having a rough session.  In fact, the decline in stocks on the mainland has been so great that the Chinese government has called in the plunge protection team, which saw action last night to try to prevent a further rout (Shanghai -10% in pat 3 weeks), although obviously they were unable to prevent the process continuing.  As China continues to register concern over bubbles, it is reasonable to expect further declines in this market, as well as many of the other Asian markets that are linked.
 
Europe, on the other hand, is feeling better this morning with gains pretty much across the board (DAX +0.3%, CAC +0.3%, FTE 100 +0.6%), which seem to have ignored modes downward revisions to some Q4 economic data (GDP -0.7%).  And finally, US futures are all firmly higher, notably NASDAQ (+2.2%), which is rebounding from its 11% decline over the past 3 weeks.
 
European bond markets are rallying alongside Treasuries, with Bunds (-5.3bps) and OATs (-5.2bps) a good descriptor of the entire continent’s price action.  Given the type of movement we have seen throughout government bonds worldwide, it would not be a huge surprise to see a further correction before the next leg higher in yields.
 
On the commodity front, oil prices are leading things higher (+0.6%) although the decline in yields has also supported gold (+1.4%) which is coming off a very difficult stretch.  Base metals are mixed as are agriculturals, with the current price action almost certainly a consolidation before the next leg higher for both segments.
 
And finally, the dollar, which is almost universally weaker this morning.  In the G10, AUD (+0.65%) is the leading gainer, but is merely emblematic of the commodity price action as we have seen the other commodity linked currencies in this bloc perform well (NOK +0.6%, CAD +0.45%).  In the EMG space, TRY (+1.5%) is the leading gainer, which during a risk on session is quite normal, with ZAR (+0.9%) and MXN (+0.8%) joining in the fun.  CE4 currencies are also performing well (CZK +0.8%, PLN +0.6%).  However, there are a couple of laggards, notably BRL (-0.7%), KRW (-0.6%) and TWD (-0.5%).  The latter two suffered from ongoing equity outflows from international investors, linked to China’s equity woes, while BRL is suffering from concerns over new political problems President Bolsonaro.
 
On the data front, NFIB Small Business Optimism was released this morning at a worse than expected 95.8, which, while better than expected, demonstrates some still ongoing concerns over the state of the economy.  Clearly, there are no Fed speakers today, so FX is very likely to follow the risk appetite today.  This modest dollar correction lower seems more like a reaction to what had been a surprisingly powerful dollar rally than a reversal.  So my gut tells me that the dollar will rebound along with yields as the week progresses.
 
Good luck and stay safe
Adf

No Bubble’s Detected

While Jay and his friends at the Fed
Claim when they are looking ahead
No bubble’s detected
So, they’ve not neglected
Their teachings and won’t be misled

But China views markets and sees
Their policy has too much ease
So, money they drained
As they ascertained
Investors, they need not appease

Perhaps there is no clearer depiction of the current difference between the Fed (and truly all G10 central banks) and the PBOC than the fact that last night, the PBOC drained liquidity from the market.  Not only did they drain liquidity, they explained that they were concerned about bubbles in asset markets like stocks and real estate, inflating because of current conditions.  Think about that, the PBOC did not simply discuss the idea that at some point in the future they may need to drain liquidity, they actually did so.  I challenge anyone to name a G10 central banker who could possibly be so bold.  Certainly not Chairman Powell, who tomorrow will almost certainly reiterate that this is not the time to be considering the removal of policy support.  Neither would ECB President Lagarde venture down such a road given the almost instantaneous damage that would inflict on the PIGS economies.

One cannot be surprised that stock markets fell in Asia after this action, with the Hang Seng (-2.6%) leading the way, while Shanghai (-1.5%) also fared poorly.  By contrast, the Nikkei’s -1.0% performance looked pretty good.  It should also be no surprise that the stock markets of the APAC nations whose trade relations with China define their economies saw weak outcomes.  Thus, Korea’s KOSPI (-2.1%) and Taiwan’s TAIEX (-1.8%) suffered as well.  And finally, it cannot be surprising that the Chinese renminbi traded higher (+0.15%) and is pushing back to levels last seen in June 2018.

Arguably, the key question here is, what does this mean for markets going forward?  Despite constant denials by every G10 central banker, it remains abundantly clear that equity market froth is a direct result of central bank policy.  The constant addition of liquidity to the economic system continues to spill into financial markets and push up equity (and bond and other asset) prices.  If the PBOC action were seen as a harbinger of other central bank activity, I expect that we would see a very severe repricing of risk assets.  However, a quick look at European equity markets shows that no such thing is occurring.  Rather, the powerful rally we are seeing across the board on the continent today (DAX +1.5%, CAC +1.1%, FTSE MIB +0.85%) indicates just the opposite.  Investors are not merely convinced that the ECB will never remove liquidity, but we are likely seeing some of the money that fled Asia finding a new home amid the easy money of Europe.

If the PBOC continues down this road, it is likely to have a far greater impact over time.  In fact, if they are successful in deflating the asset bubbles in China without crushing the economy, something that has never successfully been done by any central bank, it would certainly bode well for China going forward, as global investors would beat a path to their door.  While that is already happening (in 2020, for the first time, China drew more direct investment than the US), the speed with which it would occur could be breathtaking, especially in the current environment when capital moves at a blinding pace.  And that implies that Western equity markets might lose their allure and deflate.  The irony is that a communist nation firmly in the grip of the government would be deemed a better investment opportunity than the erstwhile bastion of free markets.  Ironic indeed!

However, that will only take place over a longer time frame, while we want to focus on today.  So, don’t ignore this occurrence, but don’t overreact either.

In the meantime, a look at today’s activity shows that there is little coherence in markets right now.  As you’ve seen, European equity markets are rallying nicely despite the fact that the Italian government just fell as PM Giuseppe Conte resigned.  A few months ago, this would have been seen as a significant negative for Italian assets, but not anymore.  Not only are Italian stocks higher, but BTP’s have seen yields decline another 3 basis points, taking their rally since Friday to 10 basis points!  As I have often written, BTP’s and the bonds of the other PIGS countries trade more like risk assets than havens, so it should be no surprise they are rallying.  In fact, haven assets all over are declining with Treasuries (+2.2bps), Bunds (+1.4bps) and Gilts (+1.6bps) all being sold today.

Recapping the action so far shows APAC stocks falling sharply, European stocks rallying sharply and haven bonds falling.  Is that risk-on?  Or risk-off?  Beats me!  Commodity prices point to risk-on, with oil rising 0.55% and most agricultural products higher by between 0.4%-1.0%.

Finally, looking at the dollar gives us almost no further information.  While the SEK (-0.25%) is under pressure on a complete lack of news, and the NZD (+0.2%) has moved higher after PM Arcern explained that the country would remain closed to outside travelers until the pandemic ended, the rest of the bloc is +/- 0.1% or less.  In the EMG bloc, the picture is also mixed, with KRW (-0.5%) the worst performer followed by IDR (-0.3%).  Given China’s monetary move last night, this should be no surprise.  On the plus side, TRY (+0.7%) leads the way followed by BRL (+0.4%), with the former benefitting from the IMF raising its GDP growth forecast to 6% in 2021, from a previous estimate of 5%. Meanwhile, the real has benefitted from the news that the BCB meeting last week contained discussions of raising interest rates from their current historically low level of 2.0%.  Concern over inflation picking up has some of the more hawkish members questioning the current policy stance.  Certainly, given that BRL has been one of the worst performing currencies for the past year, having declined 26% since the beginning of 2020, there is plenty of room for it to rise on the back of higher interest rates.

On the data front, this morning brings Case Shiller Home Prices (exp +8.7%) and Consumer Confidence (89.0).  On the former, this reflects historically low mortgage rates and a lack of inventory.  As to the latter, it must be remembered that this reading was above 120 for the entire previous Administration’s tenure until Covid came calling.  Alas, there is no indication that people are feeling ready to head back to the malls and movies yet.

With the FOMC on tap for tomorrow, I expect that the FX market will take its cues from equities.  If the US follows Europe, I would expect to see the dollar give up a little ground, but as I type, futures are little changed with no consistent direction.  While the dollar’s medium-term trend lower has been interrupted, for now, it also appears that the correction has seen its peak.  However, it could take a few more sessions before any downward pressure resumes in earnest, subject, naturally, to what the Fed tells us tomorrow.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Willing to Meet

The latest from 10 Downing Street
Is Boris is willing to meet
Midway twixt the stance
Of England and France
In order, the talks, to complete

Meanwhile, from the Far East we heard
That growth was strong in, quarter, third
They’re now set to be
The only country
Where year on year growth has occurred

The weekend has brought a few stories of note, all of them with bullish overtones, and so it should be no surprise that the week is starting with a risk-on tone.  The first place to look is in China, which released its Q3 GDP data last night at a slightly worse than expected 4.9% Y/Y.  While the market was looking for 5.5%, given that China is the first nation to achieve positive year over year growth, it was still seen as a market plus.  At least to the broad market. Interestingly, the Shanghai stock market fell 0.7%.  But, between the GDP data, Retail Sales rising 3.3% Y/Y and the Surveyed Jobless Rate falling a bit more than expected to 5.4%, the Chinese are painting a picture of a solid recovery.  And while this is well below the levels seen prior to the pandemic, it is still well ahead of the rest of the world.

Next up is the UK, where optimism has grown that a Brexit deal will, in fact, be reached. Boris, playing to both his constituents and the Europeans, has said that the UK is preparing for a no-deal outcome, but is happy to continue to talk if the Europeans would consider some compromises.  As well, in the House of Lords, word is they are prepared to remove the offending language from the UK government’s proposed Internal Market Bill, the one that caused all the concern since it was published in July.  In this bill, the UK sets out the relationship between the four nations in the UK; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  However, it was written in such a way as to render part of the Withdrawal Agreement moot, essentially overturning international law unilaterally.  Hence the issue.  In fact, the EU has sued the UK in the ICJ to prevent the law from being enacted.  This has been a major sticking point for the EU and has undermined a great deal of trust between the two sides.  Hence, the removal of that language is seen as a clear positive.  Certainly, FX traders saw it that way as the pound has rallied 0.75% since the news first was reported and is now back to 1.30.  While I believe the probability of a deal being completed remains above 50% (neither side wants a no-deal outcome), I also believe that the pound will fall after a deal is reached.  Sell the news remains the most likely situation in my view.

Adding to these two positive stories, the never-ending US stimulus talks continue to garner headlines despite a distinct lack of progress.  Yet, optimism on a stimulus bill seems to be a key driver in US equity markets, and in fact, in global ones as they are all, save Shanghai, propelled higher.  Given the proximity to the election, it seems unlikely that either side will allow the other to have a political victory, and so I remain skeptical a deal will be reached soon.  Of course, that merely means we can have a whole bunch of rallies on optimism that one will be reached!

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the markets this morning.  Aside from Shanghai’s negative outcome in Asia, we saw strength with the Nikkei (+1.1%) and Hang Seng (+0.65%) both rallying nicely.  Europe as seen modest strength with the CAC (+0.6%) leading the way although the rest of the continent has seen far less love with the DAX (+0.1%), for instance, barely positive.  In fact, as I write, the FTSE 100 is actually slightly lower, down -0.15%.  US futures, though, have taken the stimulus story to heart and are much higher, between 0.8% (DOW) and 1.1% (NASDAQ).

Bond markets are feeling the risk-on mood as well, as they have fallen across the board with yields rising in every developed market.  Treasury yields are higher by 3.2 basis points, while bunds have seen a more modest 1.2 basis point rise.  Interestingly, the PIGS are seeing their bonds tossed overboard with an average rise of 4.5 basis points in their 10-year yields.

Oil prices (WTI -0.35%) are little changed, surprisingly, as one would expect commodities to rally on a positive risk day, while gold (+0.7%) and silver (+2.6%) are both quite strong, again somewhat surprising given higher yields and positive risk.  There are still many market relationships which have broken down compared to long-term trends.

Finally, the dollar is under pressure across the board this morning, with every G10 currency higher led by NOK (+0.95%) despite oil’s decline.  One of the drivers appears to be the unwinding of some large short positions in commodity currencies, a view that had been gaining credence amongst the leveraged community set.  This has helped SEK (+0.6%) and NZD (+0.55%) today as well.  The rest of the bloc, while higher, has been far less interesting.

On the EMG front, ZAR (+0.65%) is the leader with KRW (+0.5%) next in line.  After that, the gains are far less significant.  Korea’s won clearly benefitted from the Chinese GDP news, as China remains South Korea’s largest export destination.  Meanwhile, any gain in gold is likely to help support the rand given the gold mining industry’s importance to the economy there.  And as you consider the fact that the dollar is weak against virtually every currency, it is far more understandable that gold and silver have rallied as well.

On the data front, this week is not terribly interesting with only a handful of releases:

Tuesday Housing Starts 1455K
Building Permits 1506K
Wednesday Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 865K
Continuing Claims 9.85M
Leading Indicators 0.7%
Existing Home Sales 6.30M
Friday Manufacturing PMI 53.5
Services PMI 54.6

Source: Bloomberg

However, despite a lack of data, there is no lack of Fedspeak this week, with six speeches just today, led by Chairman Powell at 8:00 on an IMF panel.  One of the themes of this week seems to be the discussion of central bank digital currencies, an idea that seems to be gaining traction around the world.  The other central bank tidbit comes from Madame Lagarde, who, not surprisingly, said she thought it made sense the PEPP (Pandemic EMERGENCY Purchase Program) be made a permanent vehicle.  This is perfectly in keeping with central bank actions where policies implemented to address an emergency morph into permanent policy tools as central bank mandates expand.  Once again, I will point out that the idea that other G10 central banks will allow the Fed to expand their balance sheet and undermine the dollar’s value without a response is categorically wrong. Every central bank will respond to additional Fed ease with their own package, thus this argument for a weaker dollar is extremely short-sighted.

But with all that said, there is no reason to believe the positive risk attitude will change today, unless there is a categorical denial by one of the parties discussing the stimulus bill.  As such, look for the dollar to continue to slide on the session.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf