A Half Point’s Preferred

Said Williams, the Fed must be swift
When acting if growth is adrift
The market inferred
A half point’s preferred
Which gave all stock markets a lift

If there was any doubt that markets are still entirely beholden to the Fed, they should have been removed after yesterday’s price action. First, recall that a number of emerging market central banks cut interest rates, some in a complete market surprise (South Korea), while others were anticipated (Indonesia, South Africa, Ukraine) and yet all of those currencies strengthened on the day. It is always curious to me when a situation like that occurs, as it forces a deeper investigation as to the market drivers. But this investigation was pretty short as all the evidence pointed in one direction; the Fed. Yesterday afternoon, NY Fed President John Williams gave an, ostensibly, academic speech about how central banks should respond to economic weakness and highlighted that they should act quickly and aggressively in such cases. Notably, he said, “take swift action when faced with adverse economic conditions” and “keep interest rates lower for longer.” The market interpretation of those comments was an increased expectation for a 50bp rate cut by the Fed at the end of the month. Stocks reversed early losses, bonds rallied, with yields falling 4bps and the dollar fell as much as 0.5%. While a spokesperson for the NY Fed made a statement later trying to explain that Williams’ speech was not about policy, just academic research, the market remained convinced that 50bps is coming to a screen near you on July 31! We shall see.

The problem with the 50bp theme is that the economic data of late has actually been generally, although not universally, better than expected. Consider that last week, both core CPI (2.1%) and PPI (2.3%) printed a tick higher than expectations; Retail Sales were substantially stronger at 0.4% vs. the 0.1% expected; and both the Empire State and Philly Fed indices printed stronger than expected at 4.3 and 21.8 respectively. Also, the jobs report at the beginning of the month was much stronger than expected. Of course, there have been negatives as well, with IP (0.0%), Housing Starts (-0.9%) and Building Permits (-6.1%) all underperforming. In addition, we cannot forget the situation elsewhere in the world, where China printed Q2 GDP at 6.2%, its lowest print in the 27 years they have been releasing quarterly data, while Eurozone data continues to suffer as well. The implication is that if you assume there is a case for a rate cut at all, the case for a 50bp rate cut relies on much thinner gruel.

At this point, even if we continue to see stronger than expected US data, I believe that Powell and company are locked into a rate cut. Given that futures markets have fully priced that in, as well as the fact that the equity markets are unquestionably counting on that cut, disappointment would serve to truly disrupt markets, potentially impinging on financial conditions and certainly draw the ire of the White House. None of these consequences seem worthwhile for the potential benefit of leaving 25bps of dry powder in the magazine. Add to this the fact that we have heard from several Fed members; Bostic, Kaplan and George, none of whom are enthused about a rate cut at all. Now, of those three, only Esther George is a current voter, but one dissenting vote will not be enough to sway a clearly dovish FOMC. Add it all up and I think we see 25bps when the dust settles. Of course, if that’s the case, it is entirely realistic to see equity prices ‘sell the news’ unless Powell is hyper dovish in the press conference.

And in truth, that is the entire story today. Virtually every story in the financial press focuses on rate cuts, whether the question about the Fed, or the discussion of all the other central banks that have already acted. There is an ongoing argument about whether the ECB actually cuts rates next week, or if they simply prepare the market for a cut in September and the reinstitution of QE in January. Most analysts are opting for the latter, believing that Signor Draghi will wait and see, but if they know they are going to cut, why wait? I think there is a much better chance of immediate action than is being priced into the market.

On the Brexit front, the voting by Tory members continues, and by all accounts, Boris is still in the lead and due to be the next PM. That will continue to pressure the pound, as unless there is further movement by the EU, the chances of a no-deal Brexit will continue to rise. In fact, next week will be quite momentous as we hear from the ECB and get the UK voting results on Thursday.

Away from these stories, most things fall into the background. For example, China Minsheng Group, a major Chinese conglomerate, is defaulting on a $500 million bond repayment due in August. Clearly, this is not a positive event, but more importantly speaks to two specific issues, the lack of US dollar liquidity available in emerging markets as well as the true nature of the slowdown in the Chinese economy. This will be used as further ammunition for the camp that believes the Chinese significantly overstate their economic data.

Turning to this morning’s activity, the only data point is the Michigan Sentiment data (exp 98.5) and we get one more Fed speech, from uber-dove James Bullard. The dollar is stronger today, after yesterday’s afternoon selloff, having risen 0.35% vs. the euro and with gains also against the yen (0.3%), Aussie (0.25%) and most emerging market currencies (MXN 0.3%, ZAR 0.6%, CNY 0.1%). My sense is that yesterday afternoon’s price action was a bit overdone on the dollar, and so we will see more of that unwound ahead of the weekend. Look for modest further USD strength.

Good luck and good weekend
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Akin to Caffeine

There once was a time in the past
Where weakness in growth, if forecast
Resulted in prices
That forewarned a crisis
And traders sold what they’d amassed

But nowadays weakness is seen
As something akin to caffeine
‘Cause central bank measures
Will add to their treasures
It’s like a brand new cash machine

Chinese growth data was weak last night, falling to its lowest quarterly rate in the twenty-seven years that China has measured growth on a quarterly basis. The outcome of 6.2%, while expected, confirms that the ongoing trade situation with the US is having an increasingly negative impact on GDP worldwide. Naturally, not unlike Pavlov’s dogs, the market response was to rally on the theory that the PBOC would be adding more stimulus soon. After all, every other central bank in the world (save Norway’s) is preparing to ease policy further as growth worldwide continues to slow down. And so far, the Pavlovian response of buying stocks on bad news continues to be working as evidenced by the fact that equity markets throughout Asia rose. However, the magnitude of that rise has been quite limited, with gains of between 0.2% and 0.4% the norm. in fact, that market response is actually a bad sign for the central banks, because it demonstrates that the effectiveness of their policies is expected to be much less than in the past. Diminishing returns is a normal outcome for the repeated use of anything, and monetary policy is no different. The implication of this outcome is that despite the growing certainty that the Fed, ECB, BOJ, PBOC, BOE and more are going to ease policy further, equity markets seem unlikely to benefit as much as they have in the past. And if when a recession finally arrives, look for a change of heart in the equity community. But in the meantime, party hearty!

Speaking of further policy ease, it seems the market is chomping at the bit for next week’s ECB meeting, where there are two schools of thought. The conservative view is that Signor Draghi will sound quite dovish and indicate a 10bp cut is coming in September. But that is not nearly as exciting a view as the more aggressive analysts are discussing, which is a 20bp cut next week and the introduction of QE2 in September. Interestingly, despite all this certitude about ECB rate cuts, the euro is actually slightly higher this morning (albeit just 0.1%). It appears that traders are betting on the fact that if Draghi is aggressive, the Fed will have the opportunity the following week to match and outperform the ECB. Remember, the Fed has 250bps of rate cuts before it reaches ZIRP while the ECB is already negative. Despite the recent academic work explaining that negative rates are just fine and helping the situation, it still seems unlikely that we are going to see -2.0% anywhere in the world anytime soon. Ergo, the relative policy stance implies the Fed will ease more and the dollar will suffer accordingly. Just not today. Rather, today, the dollar is little changed overall, with some gains and some losses, but few large moves.

And those have been the real stories of note over what was a very quiet weekend. This week we see a fair amount of data, including Retail Sales, but more importantly, we hear from five more Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell tomorrow, in a total of nine speeches.

 

Today Empire Manufacturing 2.0
Tuesday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.2%
  IP 0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 78.2%
  Business Inventories 0.3%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1.262M
  Building Permits 1.30M
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 216K
  Philly Fed 5.0
  Leading Indicators 0.1%
Friday Michigan Sentiment 98.5

Given the importance of the consumer to the US economy, the Retail Sales data is probably the most important data point. Certainly, a weak outcome will result in rate cut euphoria, but it will be interesting to see what happens if there is a strong print. But otherwise, this seems more like a week where Fed speakers will dominate, as we hear from NY’s John Williams twice, as well as a mix of other governors and regional presidents. In the end, though, Powell’s comments are key, as I expect he will be looking to fine tune his message from last week’s congressional testimony.

It remains clear that the Fed has the most room to ease policy, and as long as that is the case, the dollar should remain under pressure. However, given the fact that the US economy continues to outperform the rest of the developed world, I don’t anticipate the dollar’s decline to be extreme, a few percent at most.

For today, there is precious little else to really drive things, so look for more of the recent choppiness that we have observed in markets, with no real directional bias.

Good luck
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Totally Thwarted

The data that China reported
Showed growth there somewhat less supported
Meanwhile in Hong Kong
The protesting throng
Has bullish views totally thwarted

Once again, risk is under pressure this morning as the litany of potential economic and financial problems continues to grow rather than recede. The latest concerns began last night when China reported slowing Investment (5.6%, below 6.1% expected) and IP (5.0%, weakest since 2002) data (although Retail Sales held up) which led to further concerns over the growth trajectory in the Middle Kingdom. PBOC Governor Yi Gang assures us that China has significant firepower left to address further weakness, but traders are a little less comforted. Adding to concerns are the ongoing protests in Hong Kong over potential new legislation which would allow extradition, to mainland China, of people accused of fomenting trouble in Hong Kong. That is a far cry from the separation that has been key in allowing Hong Kong’s financial markets and economy to flourish despite its close ties to Beijing.

The upshot is that stocks in Hong Kong (-0.65%) and Beijing (-1.0%) fell again, while interest rates in Hong Kong pushed even higher. This has resulted in a liquidity shortage in Hong Kong which is supporting the HKD (+0.2% this week and finally pushing away from the HKMA’s floor). The renminbi, meanwhile, has gone the other way, softening slightly since the protests began. Other signs of pressure were evident by the weakness in AUD and NZD, both of which rely heavily on the Chinese market as their primary export destinations.

Risk is also evident in the energy markets where there has been an escalation in the rhetoric between the US and Iran after the tanker attacks yesterday. This morning the US is claiming it has video proof that Iran was behind the attacks, although it has not been widely accepted as such. Oil prices, which rose sharply yesterday, have maintained those gains, although on the other side of the oil equation is the slowing economy sapping demand. In fact, the IEA is out with a report this morning that next year, production increases in the US, Canada and Brazil will significantly outweigh anemic increases in demand, further pressuring OPEC and likely oil prices overall. However, for the moment, the market concerns are focused on the increased tension in the Gulf with the possibility of a conflict there seeming to rise daily. Remember, risk assets tend to suffer greatly in situations like this.

Aside from the weaker Aussie (-0.25%) and Kiwi (-0.55%), we have also seen strength in the yen (+0.2%), a huge rally in Treasuries (10-year yield down 4.5bps), gold pushing higher (+1% and back to its highest level in three years) and the dollar, overall performing well. The latter is evidenced by the decline in the euro (-0.2%), the pound (-0.3%) and basically the rest of the G10 with similar declines.

This is the market backdrop as we await the last major piece of data before the FOMC meeting next week, this morning’s Retail Sales numbers. Current expectations are for a 0.6% increase, with the ex-autos number printing at 0.3%. But recall, last month economists were forecasting a significant gain and instead the headline number was negative. A similar result this morning would certainly add more pressure on Chairman Powell and friends next week. And that is really the big underlying story across all markets, just how soon are we likely to see the Fed or the ECB or the BOJ turn clearly dovish and ease policy.

It has become abundantly clear that inflation is the only data point that the big central banks are focusing on these days. And given their fixation on achieving a, far too precise, level of 2.0%, they are all failing by their own metrics. Wednesday’s US CPI data was softer than expected leading to reduced expectations for the PCE data coming at the end of the month. In the Eurozone, 5y/5y inflation swaps, one of the ECB’s key metrics for inflation sentiment, has fallen below 1.20% and is now at its lowest level since the contract began in 2003. And in Japan, CPI remains pegged just below 1.0%, nowhere near the target level. It is this set of circumstances, more than any questions on growth or employment, that will continue to drive monetary policy. With this in mind, one can only conclude that money is going to get easier going forward. I still don’t think the Fed moves next week, but I could easily see a 50bp cut in July. Regardless, markets are going to continue to pressure all central banks until policy rates are lowered, mark my words.

Regarding the impact of these actions on the dollar, it becomes a question of timing more than anything else. As I have consistently maintained, if the Fed starts to ease aggressively, you can be sure that the ECB and BOJ, as well as a host of other central banks, will be doing so as well. And in an environment of global weakness, I expect the dollar will remain the favored place to maintain assets.

As for today, a weak Retail Sales print is likely to see an initial sell-off in the dollar but look for it to reverse as traders focus on the impacts likely to be felt elsewhere.

Good luck and good weekend
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Doves There Held Sway

It seems that a day cannot pass
When one country ‘steps on the gas’
Twas China today
Where doves there held sway
With funding for projects en masse

If I didn’t know better, I would suspect the world’s central banks of a secret accord, where each week one of them is designated as the ‘dove du jour’ and makes some statement or announcement that will serve to goose stock prices higher. Whether it is Fed speakers turning from patience to insurance, the ECB promising more of ‘whatever it takes’ or actual rate cuts a la the RBA, the central banks have apparently realized that the only place they continue to hold sway is in global stock markets. And so, they are going to keep on pushing them for as long as they can.

This week’s champion is the PBOC, which last night eased restrictions further on infrastructure investment by local governments, allowing more issuance of ‘special bonds’ and encouraging banks to lend more for these projects. At the same time, the CNY fix was its strongest in a month, back below the 6.90 level, as the PBOC makes clear that for the time being, it is not going to allow the yuan to display any unruly behavior. True to form, Chinese equity markets roared higher led by construction and cement companies, and once again we see global equity markets in the green.

While in the short run, investors remain happy, the problem is that in the medium and longer term, it is unclear that the central banking community has sufficient ammunition left to really help economic activity. After all, how much lower is the ECB going to cut rates from their current -0.4% level? And will that really help the economy? How many more JGB’s can the BOJ buy given they already own about 50% of the market? In truth, the Fed and the PBOC are the only two banks with any real leeway to ease policy enough to have a real economic impact, rather than just a financial markets impact. And for a world that has grown completely reliant on central bank activity to maintain economic growth, that is a real problem.

Adding to these woes is the ongoing trade war situation which seems to change daily. The latest news on this front is that if President Xi won’t sit down with President Trump at the G20 meeting in Japan later this month, then the US will impose tariffs on all Chinese imports. However, it seems the market is becoming inured to statements like these as there has been precious little discussion on the subject, and the PBOC’s actions were clearly far more impactful.

The question is, how long can markets continue to ignore what is a clearly deteriorating global economic picture before responding? And the answer is, apparently, quite a long time. Or perhaps that question is aimed only at equity markets because bond markets clearly see a less rosy future. At some point, we are going to see a central bank announcement result in no positive impact, or perhaps even a negative one, and when that occurs, be prepared for a rockier ride.

Turning to the FX markets this morning, the dollar has had a mixed session, although is arguably a touch softer overall. So far this month, the euro, which is basically unchanged this morning, has rallied 1.4%, while the pound, which is a modest 0.15% higher this morning after better than expected wage data, is higher by just 0.5%. My point is that despite some recent angst in the analyst community that the dollar was due to come under significant pressure, the overall movements have been quite small.

In the EMG bloc, there has also been relatively little movement this month (and this morning) as epitomized by the Mexican peso, which fell nearly 3% last week after the threat of tariffs being imposed unless immigration changes were made by Mexico, and which has recouped essentially all of those losses now that the tariffs have been averted. China is another example of a bit of angst but no substantial movement. This morning, after the PBOC drove the dollar fix lower, the renminbi is within pips of where it began the month. Again, FX markets continue to fluctuate in relatively narrow ranges as other markets have seen far more activity.

Repeating what I have highlighted many times, FX is a relative market, and the value of one currency is always in comparison to another. So, if monetary policies are changing in the same direction around the world, then the relative impact on any currency is likely to be muted. It is why, despite the fact that the US has more room to ease policy than most other nations, I expect the dollar to quickly find its footing in the event the Fed gets more aggressive. Because we know that if the Fed is getting aggressive, so will every other central bank.

Data this morning has seen the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rise to 105.0, indicating that things in the US are, perhaps, not yet so dire. This is certainly not the feeling one gets from the analyst community or the bond market, but it is important to note. We do see PPI as well this morning (exp 2.0%, 2.3% core) but this is always secondary to tomorrow’s CPI report. The Fed remains in its quiet period so there will be no speakers, and the stock market is already mildly euphoric over the perceived policy ease from China last night. Quite frankly, it is hard to get excited about much movement at all in the dollar today, barring any new commentary from the White House.

Good luck
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Oy Vey!

The jobs report was quite the dud
And traders began smelling blood
If Powell and friends
Would not make amends
Then stocks would be dragged through the mud

Then later, down Mexico’s way
The tariff dispute went away
At least for the moment
Though Trump could still foment
More problems by tweeting, oy vey!

This morning, despite the confusion
The outcome’s a foregone conclusion
Stock markets will rise
While bonds scrutinize
The data, and fight the illusion

I’m not even sure where to start this morning. Friday’s market activity was largely as I had forecast given the weak payrolls report, just a 75K rise in NFP along with weaker earnings numbers, leading to a massive increase in speculation that the Fed is going to cut, and cut soon. In fact, the probability for a June cut of 25bps is now about 50/50, with a full cut priced in for the July meeting and a total of 70bps of cuts priced in for the rest of 2019. Equity markets worldwide have rallied on the weak data as a new narrative has developed as follows: weaker US growth will force the Fed to ease policy sooner than previously forecast and every other central bank will be forced to follow suit and ease policy as well. And since the reaction function for equity markets has nothing to do with economic activity, being entirely dependent on central bank largesse, it should be no surprise that stock markets are higher everywhere. Adding to the euphoria was the announcement by the Trump administration that those potential Mexican tariffs have been suspended indefinitely after progress was made with respect to the ongoing immigration issues at the US southern border.

This combination of news and data was all that was needed to reverse the Treasury market rally from earlier in the week, with 10-year yields higher by 5bps this morning, and the dollar, which had fallen broadly on Friday, down about 0.6% across the board after the payroll report, has rebounded against most of its counterpart currencies. The one outlier here is the Mexican peso, which after the tariff threat had fallen by nearly 3%, has rebounded and is 2.0% higher vs. the dollar this morning.

To say that we live in a looking glass world where up is down and down is up may not quite capture the extent of the overall market confusion. One thing is certain though, and that is we are likely to continue to see market volatility increase going forward.

Let’s unpack the Fed portion of the story, as I believe it will be most helpful in trying to anticipate how things will play out going forward. President Trump’s threats against Mexico really shook up the market but had an even bigger impact on the Fed. Consider, we have not heard the word ‘patient’ from a Fed speaker since Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester used the word on May 3rd. When the FOMC minutes were released on May 22, the term was rampant, but the world had changed by then. In the interim, we had seen the US-China trade talks fall apart and an increase in tariffs by both sides, as well as threats of additional actions, notably the banning of Huawei products in the US and the restriction of rare earth metals sales by China. At this point, the trade situation is referred to as a war by both sides and most pundits. We have also seen weaker US economic activity, with Retail Sales and Housing data suffering, along with manufacturing and production. While no one is claiming we are in recession yet, the probabilities of one arriving are seen as much higher.

The result of all this weak data and trade angst was a pretty sharp sell-off in the equity markets, which as we all know, seems to be the only thing that causes the Fed to react. And it did so again, with the Fed speakers over the past two weeks highlighting the weakening data and lack of inflation and some even acknowledging that a rate cut would be appropriate (Bullard and Evans.) This drove full on speculation that the Fed was about to ease policy and futures markets have now gone all-in on the idea. It would actually be disconcerting if the Fed acted after a single poor data point, so June still seems only a remote possibility, but when they meet next week, look for a much more dovish statement and for Chairman Powell to be equally dovish in the press conference afterward.

And remember, if the Fed is turning the page on ‘normalization’ there is essentially no chance that any other major central bank will be able to normalize policy either. In fact, what we have heard from both the ECB’s Draghi and BOJ’s Kuroda-san lately are defenses of the many tools they still have left to utilize in their efforts to raise inflation and inflationary expectations. But really, all they have are the same tools they’ve used already. So, look for interest rates to fall further, even where they are already negative, as well as more targeted loans and more QE. And the new versions of QE will include purchases that go far beyond government bonds. We will see much more central bank buying of equities and corporate bonds, and probably mortgages and municipals before it is all over.

Ultimately, the world has become addicted to central bank policy largesse, and I fear the only way this cycle will be broken is by a crisis, where really big changes are made (think debt jubilee), as more of the same is not going to get the job done. And that will be an environment where havens will remain in demand, so dollars, yen, Treasuries and Bunds, and probably gold will all do quite well. Maybe not immediately, but that is where we are headed.

Enough doom and gloom. Let’s pivot to the data story this week, which is actually pretty important:

Today JOLTs Jobs Report 7.479M
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz 102.3
  PPI 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
Wednesday CPI 0.1% (1.9% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.1% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 216K
Friday Retail Sales 0.7%
  -ex autos 0.3%
  IP 0.1%
  Capacity Utilization 78.7%
  Michigan Sentiment 98.1

Clearly CPI will be closely watched, with any weakness just fanning the flames for rate cuts sooner. Also, after the weak NFP report Friday, I expect closer scrutiny for the Initial Claims data. This has been quite steady at low levels for some time, but many pundits will be watching for an uptick here as confirmation that the jobs market is starting to soften. Finally, Retail Sales will also be seen as important, especially given the poor outcome last month, which surprised one and all.

Mercifully, the Fed is in its quiet period ahead of their meeting next week, so we won’t be hearing from them. Right now, however, the momentum for a rate cut continues to build and stories in the media are more about potential weakness in the economy than in the strength that we had seen several months ago. If the focus remains on US economic activity softening, the dollar should come under pressure, but once we see that spread to other areas, notably the UK and Europe, where they had soft data this morning, I expect those pressures to equalize. For today, though, I feel like the dollar is still vulnerable.

Good luck
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Called Into Question

A key market gauge of recession,
The yield curve, has called into question
Growth’s pace up ahead
And whether the Fed
Will restart financial repression

While markets this morning have stopped falling, there is no question that investors are on heightened alert. Yesterday saw further declines in the major stock indices and a continuation of the dollar’s rally alongside demand for Treasuries and Bunds. Today’s pause is hardly enough to change the predominant current view which can best be summed up as, AAAAGGGHHHH!

In the Treasury market, 10-year yields reached their steepest inversion vs. 3-month yields, 14bps, since 2007. While many pundits and analysts focus on the 2-year vs. 10-year spread, which remains slightly positive, the Fed itself has published research showing the 3-month vs. 10-year spread is a better indicator of future recessions. So the combination of fears over a drawn out trade war between the US and China and ongoing uncertainty in Europe given the Brexit drama and the uptick in tensions between Italy and the European Commission regarding Italy’s mooted budget, have been enough to send many investors hunting for the safest assets they can find. In this classic risk-off scenario, the fact that the dollar and the yen remain the currencies of choice is no surprise.

But let’s unpack the stories to see if the fear is warranted. On the trade front, every indication of late is that both sides are preparing for a much longer conflict. Just this morning China halted all imports of US soybeans. The other chatter of note is the idea that the Chinese may soon halt shipments of rare-earth metals to US industry, an act that would have significant negative consequences for the US manufacturing capability in the technology and aerospace industries. Of course, the US ban on Huawei and its increased pressure to prevent any allies from buying their equipment strikes at the heart of China’s attempts to move up the value chain in manufacturing. All told, until the G20 meeting in about a month’s time, I cannot foresee any thaw in this battle, and so expect continued negative consequences for the market.

As to Brexit, given the timing is that there won’t be a new Prime Minister until September, it seems that very little will happen in this arena. After all, Boris Johnson is already the favorite and is on record as saying a hard Brexit suits him just fine. While my personal view is that the probability of that outcome is more than 30%, I am in the minority. In fact, I would argue the analyst community, although not yet the market, is coalescing around the idea that no Brexit at all has become the most likely outcome. We have heard more and more MP’s talk about a willingness to hold a second referendum and current polls show Remain well ahead in that event. Of course, the FX market has not embraced that view as evidenced by the fact the pound remains within spitting distance of its lowest levels in more than two years.

Finally, the resurrection of the Italy story is the newest addition to the market’s menu of pain, and this one seems like it has more legs. Remarkably, the European Commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, is demanding that Italy reduce its fiscal spending by 1.5% of GDP despite the fact that it is just emerging from a recession and growth this year is forecast to be only 0.3%. This is remarkable given the Keynesian bent of almost all global policymakers. Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League whose power is growing after his party had a very strong showing in last week’s EU elections, has categorically rejected that policy prescription.

But of more interest is the fact that the Italian Treasury is back to discussing the issuance of ‘minibots’ which are essentially short-term Italian notes used by the government to pay contractors, and which will be able to trade in the market as a parallel currency to the euro. While they will be completely domestic, they represent a grave threat to the sanctity of the single currency and will not be lightly tolerated by the ECB or any other Eurozone government. And yet, it is not clear what the rest of Europe can do to stop things. The threat of a fine is ludicrous, especially given that Italy’s budget deficit is forecast to be smaller than France’s, where no threats have been made. The thing is, introduction of a parallel currency is a step into the unknown, and one that, in the short-term, is likely to weigh on the euro significantly. However, longer term, if Italy, which is generally perceived as one of the weaker links in the Eurozone, were to leave, perhaps that would strengthen the remaining bloc on a macroeconomic basis and the euro with it.

With that as background, it is no surprise that investors have been shunning risk. While this morning markets are rebounding slightly, with equity indices higher by a few tenths of a percent and Treasury yields higher by 3bps, the trend remains firmly in the direction of less risk not more.

The final question to be asked is, how will the Fed respond to this widening array of economic issues? Arguably, they will continue to focus on the US story, which while slowing, remains the least problematic of the major economies. At least that has been the case thus far. But today we have the opportunity to change things. Data this morning includes the first revision of Q1 GDP (exp 3.1%) as well as Initial Claims (215K) and the Goods Trade Balance (-$72.0B) at 8:30. There are concerns that the Q1 data falls below 3.0% which would not only be politically inconvenient, but perhaps a harbinger of a faster slowdown in Q2. Then, throughout the next week we get a significant run of data culminating in the payroll report next Friday. So, for now, the Fed is going to be watching closely, as will all market participants.

The predominant view remains that growth around the world is slowing and that the next easing cycle is imminent (fed funds futures are pricing in 3 rate cuts by the end of 2020!) However, Fed commentary has not backed up that view as yet. We will need to see the data to have a better idea, but for now, with risk still being shunned, the dollar should remain bid overall.

Good luck
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Support They Withdrew

Elections across the EU
Showed people there no longer view
The powers that be
As able to see
Their woes, so support they withdrew

The weekend saw the conclusion of the EU elections which resulted in a significant change in the political landscape there. No longer do the two centrist parties represent a majority but rather, huge gains were made by more extreme nationalist parties in almost every country. For example, in the UK, the Brexit party dominated, winning >30% of the vote, with both Tories and Labour losing significant share. In Germany, Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats saw their vote share decline dramatically, well below 30%, and in France, President Macron’s party lost out to the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. It appears that there is a great deal of anxiety afoot in the EU, which of course is only enflamed by the imminent (?) exit of the UK.

But getting trounced in EU elections is not nearly enough to stop those currently holding power in individual country governments from changing their ways, this much is clear. As evidence I point to the process for selecting the new leadership of the ECB, the European Commission and the European Council, which will continue to be managed according to the old rules of country size combined with the recentness of those nations holding one of the seats. The point is that while thus far there has been some lip service paid to the changes afoot, the entrenched political class are not about to give up their positions without a fight.

It is with this in mind that I continuously view the euro with such skepticism. Not only are individual countries riven, but the broad leadership seems unwilling to accept that the world is different than when the EU was formed. For now, markets continue to view the situation as tenable but weakening. And given the lack of fiscal policy initiatives across the bloc, (except for Italy which is on the road to getting penalized for them), currency values remain beholden to monetary policy efforts. With that in mind, all eyes will be on the ECB meeting next week when the latest economic forecasts are presented. Recent data has shown that surveys point to further weakness, but domestic consumption has held up well across most of the nations using the euro. However, given the clear slowdown being seen in both the US and China, it is difficult to believe that the ECB will sound remotely hawkish. I expect that the new TLTRO’s will have very favorable terms as Signor Draghi will do everything he can to goose the economy before he leaves in October. And despite the growing call for looser policy in the US, I expect the dollar to maintain its current strength.

In China a small bank went bust
And traders are losing their trust
The PBOC
Can preempt the spree
Of weakness that pundits discussed

The other interesting news over the weekend was that the PBOC assumed control of Baoshang Bank, a small lender that turned out to be highly overextended with off balance sheet transactions. This is the first time in more than 20 years this has been necessary, and the market impacts were mostly as one would expect. Shares in other small banks suffered, the PBOC injected ~$20 billion into the system to help offset some of the pressure and the yuan fell a further 0.25%. The one mild surprise was that the Shanghai Composite actually closed higher on the day, but that was in response to the new PBOC liquidity. Chinese data remains suspect and there is no evidence that anything regarding the US-China trade situation has improved since last week’s split. While the Chinese continue to claim they will maintain a stable currency, the pressure continues to build for the yuan to weaken further.

Away from those two stories, the wires have been relatively quiet. The dollar is firmer across the board this morning, rising about 0.2% uniformly, as risk continues to be reduced by investors around the world. Treasury yields have fallen back below 2.30% in the 10-year, while similar duration Bunds traded as low as -0.16% before edging back to their current -0.14% level. European equity markets are soft, albeit not collapsing, and US equity futures are pointing to a lower opening. The data to be released this week is relatively limited which means that markets are going to be looking for subtler clues from the central banking community for the next directional trends.

Today Case-Shiller Home Prices 2.6%
  Consumer Confidence 130.0
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Q2 GDP (2nd look) 3.1%
  Goods Trade Balance -$72.0B
Friday Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.2%
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 53.7
  Michigan Sentiment 101.5

We have a much less active Fed speaker calendar with just two, Clarida and Williams, but given the overall consistency of what we have heard lately, i.e. patience is the proper policy but the possibility of easing has not been ruled out, unless one of these two sounds highly dovish, I don’t expect much response. The week is setting up to focus on Thursday and Friday’s data, as well as waiting to hear about the next steps on Brexit or European leadership. It seems for now that the trade story has moved to the back burner. Given all this, it is hard to get excited about pending movement in the dollar, and I imagine that barring a self-induced market sell-off, there will be little of note ongoing this week with the dollar remaining in a fairly tight range.

Good luck
Adf