Would That, Fear, Provoke?

Remember when everyone said
That Jay and his friends at the Fed
Would taper their buying
While still pacifying
Investors, lest screens all turn red?

Well, what if before the Fed spoke
That Evergrande quickly went broke?
Would traders still bet
The buying of debt
Will end? Or would that, fear, provoke?

Fear is in the air this morning as concerns over the status of China Evergrande’s ability to repay its mountain of debt seriously escalate.  Remember, Evergrande is the Chinese property developer with more than $300 billion in debt outstanding, and that has said they will not be repaying an $84 million loan due today, with the prospect for interest payments due this Thursday also gravely in doubt.  One cannot be surprised that the Hang Seng (-3.3%) reacted so negatively this morning, after all, that is the Evergrande’s main listing exchange.  Other property developers listed there came under substantial pressure as well, with one (Sinic Holdings Group) seeing its price fall 87% before trading was suspended.

Of equal interest to the fact that equity markets are trembling on the Evergrande story is the plethora of press that continues to explain that even if Evergrande goes bust, any fallout will be limited.  Columnists and pundits point to the damage that occurred when the Fed allowed Lehman Brothers to go bust and explain that will never be allowed again.  And while I’m certain they are correct, financial officials have exactly zero interest in allowing that type of situation to repeat, it remains far from clear they can prevent it.  That is, of course, unless the Chinese government is going to step in and pay the debts, something that seems highly unlikely.  As I continue to read and hear how this situation is nothing like Lehman, having had a front row seat to that disaster, I cannot help but see a great many parallels, including many assurances that the underlying cause of that contagion, subprime mortgage loans, was a small portion of the market and any fallout would be controlled.  We all know how well that worked out.

Remember, too, that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been aggressively attacking different sectors of the Chinese economy, specifically those sectors where great wealth (and power) was amassed and has implemented numerous changes to the previous rules.  This is the key reason the Shanghai stock market has underperformed the S&P 500 by 25% over the past year.  One of Xi’s problems is that property development has been a critical part of the growth of China’s economy and a source of significant income to all the provinces and cities.  Proceeds from the sales of property have funded infrastructure as well as helped moderate taxes.  If Evergrande goes under, the impact on the entire Chinese economy seems likely to be significant.  And all this is happening while the growth in China’s credit impulse has been declining rapidly, portending slower growth there anyway.

History has shown that situations of this nature are rarely effectively contained and there is usually fallout across numerous different areas.  Consider that global equity market indices have been hovering just below all-time high levels with stretched valuations on any measure on the basis of TINA and FOMO.  But between the two key emotions evident in investing, fear and greed, I assure you, fear is by far the more powerful.  While anything can still happen, fear is starting to spread more widely today than last week as evidenced by the sea of red across all equity markets today.

If you think that the Fed is going to taper their asset purchases into a period of market weakness, you are gravely mistaken.  The combination of slowing growth and market fear will induce a call for more support, not less, and history has shown that ever since October 1987 and Alan Greenspan’s response to Black Monday, the Fed will respond with more money.  The question this time is, will it be enough to stop the fall?  Interesting times lie ahead.

Most of Asia was on holiday last night, with only Hong Kong and Australia (ASX 200 -2.1%) open.  But Europe is open for business and the picture is not pretty.  The FTSE 100 (-1.55%) is the best performing market today with the continent (DAX -2.15%, CAC -2.1%) emblematic of every market currently open.  US futures, meanwhile, are the relative winners with losses ‘only’ ranging from the NASDAQ (-1.1%) to the Dow (-1.6%).  Now, don’t you feel better?

It can be no surprise that bonds are in demand this morning as risk is undeniably ‘off’ across all markets.  Treasury yields have fallen 3.6bps amid a flattening yield curve, while European sovereigns have all seen price gains as well with yields there slipping between 2.6bps (OATs) and 3.2 bps (Bunds).  In every case, we are seeing yield curves flatten, which tends to imply an increasing expectation of weaker economic activity.

Commodity prices are broadly under pressure as well this morning, with oil (-2.0%) leading the way but weakness across industrial metals (Cu -2.0%, Al -0.65%, Sn -1.2%) and agriculturals (corn -1.6%, wheat -0.9%, soybeans -1.0%) as well.  Gold (+0.2%) on the other hand, seems to have retained some of its haven status.

Speaking of havens, the dollar, yen and Swiss franc remain the currencies of choice in a crisis, so it should be no surprise they are today’s leaders.  Versus the dollar, the yen (+0.4%) and franc (+0.2%) are the only gainers on the day.  Elsewhere in the G10, AUD (-0.55%), SEK (-0.5%), CAD (-0.5%) and NOK (-0.4%) are the worst performers.  Obviously, oil’s decline is weighing on the krone and Loonie, but AUD is feeling it from the rest of the commodity complex, notably iron ore (Australia’s largest export by value) which has fallen to $105/ton, less than half its price on July 15th!

In the emerging markets, RUB (-0.8%) is feeling the heat from oil, while ZAR (-0.55%) has metals fatigue.  But every EMG currency that was open last night or is trading right now is down versus the dollar, with no prospects of a rebound unless risk attitude changes.  And that seems unlikely today.

On the data front, aside from the Fed on Wednesday, it is a housing related week.

Tuesday Housing Starts 1550K
Building Permits 1600K
Wednesday Existing Home Sales 5.88M
FOMC Rate Decision 0.00%-0.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 320K
Continuing Claims 2630K
Flash PMI Manufacturing 60.8
Friday New Home Sales 710K

Source: Bloomberg

As well as the Fed, on Thursday the Bank of England meets and while there is no expectation of a policy move then, there is increasing talk of tighter policy there as well.  Again, if fear continues to dominate markets, central banks are highly unlikely to tighten, and, in fact, far more likely to add yet more liquidity to the system.  Once the Fed meeting has passed, the FOMC members will get back out on the circuit to insure we understand what they are trying to do.  so, we will hear from five of them on Friday, and then a bunch more activity next week.

Today’s watchword is fear.  Markets are afraid and risk is being tossed overboard.  Absent a comment or event that can offset the China Evergrande led story, I see no reason for the dollar to do anything but rally.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Dissatisfaction

The Chinese would have us believe
Their growth targets, they will achieve
Alas, recent data
When looked at pro rata
Shows trust in their words is naïve

Meanwhile, in the UK, inflation
Is rising across that great nation
The market’s reaction
Is dissatisfaction
Thus, Gilts have seen depreciation

Just how fast is China’s GDP growing?  That is the question to be answered after last night’s data dump was distinctly worse than expected.  The big outlier was Retail Sales, which grew only 2.5% Y/Y in August, down from 8.5% in July and far below the expected 7.0% forecast.  But it was not just the Chinese consumer who slowed down their activity, IP rose only 5.3% Y/Y, again well below the July print of 6.4% and far below the forecast of 5.8%.  Even property investment was weaker than forecast, rising 10.9%, down from 12.7% in July and below the 11.3% forecast.  So, what gives?

Well, there seem to be several issues ongoing there, some of which may be temporary, like lockdowns due to the spreading delta variant of Covid, while others are likely to be with us for a longer time, notably the fallout from the bankruptcy of China Evergrande on the property market there.  The Chinese government is walking a very fine line of trying to support the economy without overstimulating those areas that tend toward speculation, notably real estate.  This is, however, extraordinarily difficult to achieve, even for a government that controls almost every lever of power domestically.  The problem is that the Chinese economy remains hugely reliant on exports (i.e. growth elsewhere in the world) in order to prosper.  So, as growth globally seems to be abating, the impact on China is profound and very likely will continue to detract from its GDP results.

Adding to the Chinese government’s difficulties is that the largest property company there, Evergrande, is bankrupt and will need to begin liquidating at least a portion of its property portfolio.  Remember, it has more than $300 billion in USD debt and the government has already said that interest and principal payments due next week will not be made.  A key concern is the prospect of contagion for other property companies in China, as well as for dollar bonds issued by other Chinese and non-US entities.  History has shown that contagion from a significant bankruptcy has the ability to spread far and wide, especially given the globalized nature of financial markets.  While we will certainly hear from Chinese officials that everything is under control, recall that the Fed assured us that the subprime crisis was under control, right before they let Lehman Brothers go under and explode the GFC on the world.  The point is, there is a very real risk that investors become wary of certain asset classes and risk overall which could easily lead to a more severe asset price correction.  This is not a prediction, merely an observation of the fact that the probability of something occurring has clearly risen.

Speaking of things rising, the other key story of the morning is inflation in the UK, which printed at 3.2%, its highest level since March 2012, and continues to trend higher.  This cannot be surprising given that inflation is rising rapidly everywhere in the world, but the difference is the BOE may have a greater ability to respond than some of its central bank counterparts, notably the Fed.  For instance, the UK debt/GDP ratio, while having risen recently to 98.8%, remains well below that of the rest of the G7, notably the Fed as the US number has risen to around 130%.  As such, markets have begun to price in actual base rate hikes by the BOE, looking for the base rate to rise to 0.50% (from 0.10% today) by the end of next year with the first hike expected in May.  While that may not seem like much overall (it is not really), it is far more than anticipated here in the US.  And remember, our CPI is running above 5.0% vs. 3.2% in the UK.

The upshot of the key stories overnight is that taking risk is becoming harder to justify for investors all over the world.  While there has certainly not yet been a defining break from the current ‘buy the dip’ mentality, fingers of instability* seem to be developing throughout financial markets globally.  The implication is that the probability of a severe correction seems to be growing, although the timing and catalyst remain completely opaque.

So, how has the most recent news impacted markets?  Based on this morning’s price action, there is clearly at least some concern growing.  For example, equity markets in Asia were all in the red (Nikkei -0.5%, Hang Seng -1.8%, Shanghai -0.2%) as the fallout of slowing Chinese growth and the China Evergrande story continue to weigh on sentiment there.  In Europe, the continent is under some pressure (DAX -0.1%, CAC -0.5%) although the UK (FTSE 100 +0.1%) seems to be shaking off the higher than expected CPI readings.  As to US futures, as I type, they are currently marginally higher, about 0.2% each, but this follows on yesterday’s afternoon sell-off resulting in lower closes.  Nothing about this performance screams risk-on, although it is not entirely bad news.

The bond market seems a bit more cautious as Treasury yields have fallen further and are down 1.3bps this morning after a 4bp decline yesterday.  This is hardly the sign of speculative fever.  In Europe at this hour, yields are essentially unchanged except in Italy, where BTP yields have risen 1.6bps as concerns grow over the amount of leeway the Italian government has to continue supporting its economy.

Commodity markets show oil prices continuing to rise (WTI +1.35%) after inventory numbers continue to show drawdowns and Gulf of Mexico production remains reduced due to the recent hurricane Nicholas.  While gold prices are little changed on the day, both copper (+0.6%) and aluminum (+1.6%) are firmer on supply questions.  Certainly nothing has changed my view that the price of “stuff” is going to continue higher in step with the ongoing central bank additions of liquidity to markets and economies.

Finally, the dollar is under pressure this morning, which given the risk-off sentiment, is a bit unusual.  But against its G10 brethren, the greenback is lower across the board with NOK (+0.85%) the clear leader on the strength of oil’s rally, although we are seeing haven assets CHF (+0.4%) and JPY (+0.4%) as the next best performers.  The rest of the bloc has seen much lesser gains, but dollar weakness is clear.

The same situation obtains in the EMG markets, where the dollar is weaker against all its counterparts, although the mix of gainers is somewhat unusual.  ZAR (+0.5%) is the top performer on the back of strengthening commodity prices and it is no surprise to see RUB (+0.4%) doing well either.  But both HUF (+0.45%) and CZK (+0.4%) are near the top of the list as both have seen higher than forecast inflation readings recently and both central banks are tipped to raise rates in the next two weeks.  As such, traders are trying to get ahead of the curve there.  The rest of the bloc is also firmer, but the movement has been much less pronounced with no particular stories to note.

On the data front this morning, Empire Manufacturing (exp 17.9), IP (0.5%) and Capacity Utilization (76.4%) are on the docket, none of which are likely to change many opinions.  The Fed remains in their quiet period until the FOMC meeting next week, so we will continue to need to take our FX cues from other markets.  Right now, it appears that 10-year yields are leading the way, so if they continue to slide, look for the dollar to follow suit.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

*see “Ubiquity” by Mark Buchanan, a book I cannot recommend highly enough

Anything But Preordained

Some pundits think Madame Lagarde
Is ready, the PEPP, to retard
But others believe
She’ll never achieve
Her goals sans her bank’s credit card

Meanwhile data last night explained
That factory prices had gained
The idea inflation
Is due for cessation
Is anything but preordained

Two noteworthy stories this morning are the ECB meeting, where shortly we will learn if the much-mooted reduction in PEPP purchases is, in fact, on the way and Chinese inflation data.  Similar to the Fed, despite a more lackluster economic performance across the Eurozone as a whole, the hawkish contingent of the ECB (Germany, Austria, Finland and the Netherlands) have been extremely vocal in their calls for tapering PEPP bond purchases.  While the Germans have been the most vocal, and are also seeing the highest inflation readings, this entire bloc has a history of fiscal prudence and the ongoing ECB asset purchase programs, which essentially fund fiscal policy in the PIGS, remains a significant concern.  However, the majority of nations in the Eurozone appear quite comfortable with the ongoing purchase programs.  At times like this, one cannot think along the lines of the economic logic of tapering; instead one must consider the political logic.  Remember, Lagarde is a politician, not a true central banker steeped in policy and economics.  To the extent that enough of her constituents believe the current purchase rate of €80 billion to €85 billion per month is appropriate, that is the rate she will maintain.

Markets are generally, I believe, looking for a modest reduction in PEPP purchases, so if the ECB does not adjust purchases lower, I would expect European sovereign bonds (currently slightly firmer with yields lower by about 1 basis point) to rally and the euro (+0.15% this morning) to decline.  European bourses, currently all lower by between 0.25% and 0.75%, are also likely to perform well on the news.

On a different note, China reported its inflation data last night and while CPI there remains muted (0.8% Y/Y), PPI (9.5% Y/Y) is absolutely soaring.  This is the highest reading since August 2008, right before the GFC began, and is the product of rising commodity prices as well as increases in shipping costs and shortages of labor.  The reason this matters so much to the rest of the world is that China continues to be the source of a significant portion of “stuff” consumed by most nations.  Whether that is tee-shirts or iPhones, rising prices at the Chinese factory gate imply further price pressures elsewhere in the world, notably here in the US.  Several studies have shown a strong relationship between Chinese PPI and US CPI, and the logic behind the relationship seems impeccable.  Perhaps a key question is whether or not Chinese PPI increases are also transitory, as that would offer some hope for the Fed.  Alas, history has shown that the moderation of Chinese PPI is measured in years, not months.

Before we turn to today’s markets, I believe it is worthwhile to mention the latest Fedspeak.  Yesterday we heard from NY Fed president John Williams who stayed on message, explaining that substantial further progress had been made on the Fed’s inflation goal, but not yet on the employment goal.  He followed that up by telling us that if things go according to his forecasts, tapering could well begin before the end of the year.  The theme of tapering before the end of 2021, assuming the economy grows according to plan, has been reiterated by numerous Fed speakers at this point, with both Kaplan and Bostic adding to Williams’ comments yesterday.  But what happens if growth does not achieve those lofty goals?  After all, the Atlanta Fed’s own GDPNow data is now forecasting 1.943% growth in Q3.  That seems quite a bit lower than FOMC forecasts.  And yesterday’s JOLTS data showed nearly 11 million job openings are extant, as the supply of willing workers continues to shrink.  A cynic might believe that the current Fedspeak regarding the potential for tapering shortly, assuming data adheres to forecasts, is just a ruse as there is limited expectation, within the Fed, that the data will perform.  This will allow the Fed to maintain their easy money with a strong rationale while sounding more responsible.  But that would be too cynical by half. Do remember, however, Fed forecasts are notoriously inaccurate.

OK, markets overnight are continuing down a very modest risk-off path.  Equities in Asia were generally lower (Nikkei -0.6%, Hang Seng -2.3%) with Shanghai (+0.5%) a major exception.  Ongoing crackdowns on on-line gaming continue to undermine the value of some of China’s biggest (HK listed) companies, while the debt problems at China Evergrande continue to explode.  (China Evergrande is the second largest real estate company in China with a massive debt load of >$350 billion and has been dramatically impacted by China’s attempts to deflate its real estate bubble.  It has been downgraded multiple times and its stock price has now fallen well below its IPO price.  There are grave concerns about its ability to remain an ongoing company, but given the size of its debt load, a failure would have a major impact on the Chinese banking sector as well as, potentially, markets worldwide.  Think Lehman Brothers.)  Alongside the previously mentioned weakness in Europe, US futures are all currently lower by about 0.25%.

Treasury prices are continuing their modest rally, with yields falling another 1.2bps as risk appetite generally wanes.  Given the FOMC meeting is still two weeks away, investors remain comfortable that Treasuries are still a better buy than other securities.  Interestingly, the debt ceiling question does not seem to have reached the market’s collective consciousness yet, although it does offer the opportunity for some serious concern.  However, history shows that despite all the huffing and puffing, Congress will never allow a default, so this is probably the correct behavior.

Commodity prices are rebounding with oil (+0.8%), gold (+0.45%) and copper (+1.3%) leading the way.  The rest of the industrial space is generally firmer although foodstuffs are all softer this morning in anticipation of upcoming crop reports (“sell Mortimer!”)

As to the dollar, it is on its heels this morning, down versus all its G10 counterparts led by NOK (+0.35%) and GBP (+0.3%).  Clearly the former is benefitting from oil’s rise while the pound seems to be benefitting from BOE comments indicating a greater concern with inflation and the fact the Old Lady may need to address that sooner than previously anticipated.  In the EMG bloc, there are far more winners than losers, but the gains have been muted.  For instance, PHP (+0.4%) has been the biggest winner, followed by ZAR (+0.3%) and RUB (+0.25%).  While the latter two are clear beneficiaries of firmer oil and commodity prices, PHP seems to have gained on the back of a potential reversal of Covid lockdown policy by the government, with less restrictions coming.  On the downside, only KRW (-0.25%) was really under pressure as the Asian risk-off environment continues to see local equity market sales and outflows by international investors.

On the data front, this morning brings only Initial (exp 335K) and Continuing (2.73M) Claims.  However, we do hear from four more Fed speakers, with only Chicago’s Evans having yet to say tapering could be a 2021 event.  In truth, at this point, given how consistent the message has been, I feel like data is more likely to drive markets than comments.  Given today’s calendar is so light, I expect we will see another day of modest movement.  The one caveat is if the ECB surprises in some manner, with a greater risk of a more dovish stance than the market assumes.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Starting to Wane

The rebound is starting to wane
In England, in France and in Spain
But prices keep rising
With German’s realizing
They’ve not yet transcended their pain

First, some housekeeping, I will be on my mandatory two-week leave starting Monday, so there will be no poetry after today until September 7.

Meanwhile, this morning’s market activity is bereft of interesting goings-on, with very few stories of note as the summer holiday season is clearly in full swing.  Perhaps the three most notable events were UK Retail Sales, German PPI and new Chinese legislation.  Frankly, none of them paint a very positive picture regarding either the economy or markets going forward.

Starting at the top, UK Retail Sales (-2.4% in July) fell short of expectations, with the Y/Y reading back down to +1.8% from a revised +6.8% and the universal description of the situation as the reopening rebound is over.  The spread of the delta variant continues to add pressure as closures are dotted throughout the country, and sentiment seems to be turning lower.  It ought be no surprise that the pound (-0.15%) has fallen further, taking its month-to-date losses to 2.5%.  Too, the FTSE 100 (-0.2%) is under pressure, although it does remain in a broader uptrend, unlike the pound.  However, the first indication here is that risk is being sold off, which seems a pretty good description of the day.

Next, we turn to Germany’s PPI reading (10.4% Y/Y, 1.9% M/M) which is actually the largest annual rise since January 1975, where prices were impacted by the oil crisis!  While we have all been constantly reassured that inflation is a fleeting event and there is absolutely no indication that the ECB will see this number and consider tightening policy in any way, shape or form, I suspect that the good people of Germany may see things a bit differently.  The chatter from Germany is a growing concern over rapidly rising prices with a real chance of political fallout coming.  Remember, Germany goes to the polls next month in an effort to replace Chancellor Merkel, who has been running the country for the past 16 years.  Currently no candidate looks particularly strong, so a weak coalition seems a very possible outcome.  It is not clear that a weakened Germany will be a positive for the euro, which while unchanged on the day has been trending steadily lower for the past two months and yesterday broke below, what I believe is, a key support level at 1.1704.  Look for further declines here.

And finally, the Chinese passed a stricter personal data protection law prohibiting private companies from collecting and keeping data on their customers without explicit permission, a practice that had heretofore been commonplace. This appears to be yet another attack on the tech sector in China as President Xi ensures that the Chinese tech behemoths are disempowered.  After all, similarly to the US, the value of the big platforms comes from these companies’ abilities to compile and monetize the meta-data they collect by using it for targeted advertising.  Of course, the law says nothing about the Chinese government collecting that data and maintaining it, as that is part and parcel of the new normal in China.  One cannot be surprised that Chinese equity markets continue to decline on the back of these ongoing attacks against formerly unsullied companies, with the Hang Seng (-1.85%) now lower by 21% from its peak in February, and showing no signs of stopping as international funds flow out of the country.  Shanghai (-1.1%) also fell sharply, but given this index has more SOE’s and less tech, its decline from its February peak is only 9%.  As to the renminbi, it softened a bit further and is pushing slowly back above 6.50 at this time, its weakest level since April.

Otherwise, nada.  Equity markets are in the red everywhere, with the Nikkei (-1.0%) also slipping and we are seeing losses throughout Europe (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.3%, FTSE 100 -0.2%) as well.  US futures, too, are pointing lower, with all three indices looking at 0.4% declines.  Of course, yesterday, things looked awful at this hour and both the NASDAQ and S&P 500 managed to close higher on the day, albeit only slightly.

Bonds are definitely in the ascendancy with yields continuing to slide.  Treasury yields are lower by 1.5 bps, Bunds and OATs by 0.5bps and Gilts by 2.0bps.  The question to be asked here, though, is, does this represent confidence that inflation is truly transitory?, or is this a commentary on future economic activity?, or perhaps, is this simply the recognition that central banks have distorted these markets so much they no longer give useful signals?  Whatever the underlying driver, the reality of bonds’ haven appeal remains and given the signals from the equity market, falling bond yields are not a big surprise.

Commodity prices remain under pressure generally, with oil (-0.8%) continuing its recent decline.  After a massive rally from last November through its peak in early July, crude has fallen 17% as of this morning.  In this case, while I understand the story regarding weakening economic growth, it seems to me the long term picture here remains quite positive as the Biden administration’s efforts to end oil production in the US, or at the very least starve it of future growth, means that supply is going to lag demand for years to come.  That implies higher prices are on the way.  As to the rest of the space, gold (+0.25%) continues to trade in its 1775-1805 range since mid-June with the exception of the two-day blip lower that was quickly erased.  Copper’s recent downtrend remains intact although it has bounce 0.3% this morning, and the rest of the industrial metals are either side of unchanged.

The dollar is broadly stronger this morning, with CAD (-0.7%) the weakest of the G10 currencies, clearly suffering from oil’s decline but also, seemingly, from self-inflicted wounds regarding its draconian Covid policies.  The Loonie has now fallen 4.25% this month with half of that coming in just the last two sessions.  But we are seeing continued weakness throughout the commodity bloc here with NOK (-0.45%) and AUD and NZD (both -0.3%) continuing their recent declines.  On the plus side, only CHF (+0.2%) has shown any strength of note.

Emerging market currencies are also under pressure this morning led by ZAR (-0.6%) and MXN (-0.4%) as softer commodity prices weigh heavily here.  We also continue to see weakness in some APAC currencies, with IDR (-0.35%) and KRW (-0.3%) suffering from concerns over the ongoing spread of the delta variant and the corresponding investor funds outflow from those nations.  On the flipside, PHP (+0.35%) was the only gainer of note in the region after the government loosened some Covid restrictions.

There is no economic data today and only one Fed speaker, Dallas Fed President Kaplan.  Of course, Kaplan has been the most vocal calling for tapering, so we already know his view, and after the Minutes from Wednesday, it seems he has persuaded many of his colleagues.  But once again I ask, if the economy is slowing, which I believe to be the case, will the Fed really start to remove accommodation?  I don’t believe that will be the case.  However, for now, the market is likely to bide its time until next week’s Jackson Hole speech by Powell.  Beware summer choppiness due to lack of liquidity and look for the current dollar uptrend to continue while I’m away.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Beyond His Control

Next week look for Jay to extol
His record, when in Jackson Hole,
He offers the view
Equality’s skew
Is mostly beyond his control

Now keep that in mind when you hear
That China has also made clear
Division of wealth
Is better for health
Thus, taxes will soon be severe

In a market with muted price action across all asset classes overnight, two stories this morning seem to encapsulate the current zeitgeist.  First is the fact that, in what can only be described as extraordinarily ironic, when Chairman Powell regales us next week regarding the evils of inequality and all the things the Fed is heroically doing to right those wrongs, he will be doing so from the seat of the richest county in the United States.  That’s right, Teton County has the nation’s highest per capita income from wealth.  Apparently, irony is second only to hypocrisy when considering political commentary.  And make no mistake, the Fed is completely political.

The other story of note, and one that follows directly from the recent Chinese attacks on their own successful tech companies, is that China has now made clear that wealth in the country needs to be more evenly divided.  Given the fact that China is ostensibly a communist country, or at the very least clearly run by a communist party, it also seems a bit ironic that there is so much concern over wealth inequality.  One would have thought the Gini coefficient would have been far lower there.  But I guess, equality is the new freedom, a valuable political slogan if not an actual goal.  The reason this matters, however, is that it implies the recent Chinese efforts to rein in certain highly successful companies, and especially their high profile bosses, has no end in sight.  From an investment point of view, it appears the Chinese equity markets are going to have any gains severely impeded.  Look, too, for new taxes on estates and wealth there, all of which will have a decided impact on international investing.

Remarkably, beyond those stories, it is difficult to come up with anything that is truly meaningful regarding markets today.  The RBNZ did wind up leaving interest rates on hold, backing away from the expected 0.25% increase, as the fact that the nation has reverted to a complete and total lockdown due to the single case of Covid that was detected last week, has given them pause on their views of future growth.  NZD (-0.4%) is the worst G10 currency performer today on the back of that policy activity (or lack thereof), but given the tiny size of the nation, it has not had any other significant impact.

Inflation data was released in both Europe (2.2%, 0.7% core) as expected and the UK (CPI 2.0%, 1.9% core) with both of those readings 0.2% lower than forecast.  So, while inflation is seemingly running quite hot in the US, it appears to have potentially plateaued across the pond.  While we can be certain that the ECB is not going to change its current policy stance anytime soon, there has been a great deal more discussion regarding the BOE.  Hawkish vibes were emanating from Threadneedle Street recently, but if inflation is not going to rise further, then those views may soon be called into question.  However, there is a case to be made that this is a temporary lull in the CPI data and that looking ahead, readings will push up toward 4.0%, at least, as previously announced price increases start to be felt throughout the economy.  Thus far, the FX impact from this data has been essentially nil, but equity markets in Europe and the UK are all under modest pressure this morning (DAX -0.1%, CAC -0.35%, FTSE 100 -0.35%).

As to markets elsewhere, Asia saw some rebounding from its recent travails, with the Nikkei (+0.6%), Hang Seng (+0.5%) and Shanghai (+1.1%) all having their first positive day in five sessions.  We also saw a reversal in some currency activity there as KRW (+0.7%) was the best performer after comments from the central bank describing the recent weakness as an overshoot and that the Finance Ministry is monitoring things closely.

A look at bonds shows that Treasury yields have backed up 1.2bps this morning after having fallen by about 10bps in the prior three sessions.  European sovereigns, though, continue to find support as the ECB continues to hoover up virtually all the paper issued.  As such, Bunds, OATs and Gilts have all seen yields slip about 1 basis point.

Finally, the dollar can only be described as mixed this morning, with movement in the G10, aside from kiwi’s decline, pretty minimal, <0.2%, although with an equal number slightly lower and higher.  EMG currencies show the same pattern, with most movement quite limited and only one notable laggard (TRY -0.7%) which also seems to be a trading response to its recent strong rally (+3.3% in the past 5 sessions).  In other words, there is very little to discuss at all today.

On the data front, after yesterday’s disappointing Retail Sales number (-1.1%, exp -0.3%), this morning brings Housing Starts (exp 1600K) and Building Permits (1610K) and then this afternoon, we get the potentially most interesting news, the FOMC Minutes.

On the Fedspeak front, thus far, the only three FOMC members who have not advocated for tapering are Powell, Williams and Brainerd, as even Kashkari, yesterday, said he could see the case for tapering by early next year.  But Powell gave no indication he is ready to go down that road, so barring an insurrection at the Fed, one has to believe any tighter policy is still some ways away.  Today, we hear from Bullard, but he has already made his tapering bona fides known.

And that is really all there is today.  It truly has all the hallmarks of a summer doldrums day, with limited price action and limited news, unless something shocking comes from the Minutes.  My money is on nothing, and a range trading day ahead of us.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

They’re Still Exposed

Though merely a few angstroms wide
The pressure that Covid’s applied
To all politicians
Has led to conditions
That many find unjustified

For instance, New Zealand has closed
Its borders, and rights they’ve bulldozed
To help in prevention
Of viral retention
Unfortunately, they’re still exposed

While the major headlines around the world continue to focus on the ongoing events in Afghanistan, at this point, they have had limited, if any, impact on markets in general.  And let’s face it, if for some reason there was a negative market impact traced to the Afgahi government collapse, it is pretty clear that the global central bank response would simply be to print more money thus supporting markets more completely.  But so far, that has not been the case (I just hope you weren’t long Afghani, interestingly the name of their currency as well, as it has fallen about 4.5% in the past 72 hours.)

This means we must turn our attention elsewhere for market moving information.  Asia continues to be the region with the most interesting issues, although Oceania is making a run for the money there in the following way; PM Ardern of New Zealand has imposed a level 4 lockdown for the next three days because a single case of the delta variant of Covid-19 has been found in the entire country!  This has resulted in a significant reevaluation of the RBNZ’s next move.  Prior to this devastating outbreak, the punditry had largely concluded that the RBNZ would be the first developed country to raise rates at their meeting tonight.  But now, second thoughts have crept in and a number of economists have changed their view and are calling for no change.  You would have thought that Covid was the most powerful force in the universe based on the (over)reaction of policymakers.  A single case!  At any rate, this change in view has resulted in NZD (-1.4%) falling sharply along with the local equity market, while NZ government bonds rallied almost a full point with yields declining by 9.7bps to 1.70%.  A single case! 

Meanwhile, in Australia, the government is proposing rounding up 24,000 unvaccinated children in a stadium to insure they are vaccinated as half that nation remains under lockdown.  The economic data Down Under has clearly rolled over with Consumer confidence the latest number to fall, while the RBA minutes, released last night, indicated that they were “prepared to act” in the event a further outbreak had a significant impact on the economy.  Not surprisingly, the market understood that to be a more dovish stance than the comments immediately following their meeting two weeks ago when they promised to start taper asset purchases next month.  AUD (-0.7%) is correspondingly under pressure as well today.

As to Asia, the big news continues to come from China where the government continues its relentless attack on its tech behemoths as President Xi has become more focused on removing any sources of power that do not emanate from his office.  Chinese equity markets sold off once again (Shanghai -2.0%, Hang Seng -1.7%) as investors read about the newest competition rules that were to come into force there and would break down the walls between financial networks run by Alibaba and Tencent.  It appears that capitalism with Chinese characteristics actually means, government-controlled businesses…full stop.

And so, before Europe even walked in, risk was under severe pressure and continues that way as I type.  Markets remain amazingly resilient with respect to business failures, but when it comes to potential policy failures, investors have less confidence that everything will work out well.  Remember, too, that it has been many months since we have even seen a 5% drawdown in the S&P 500, so do not be surprised if this is the catalyst for some further risk mitigation.

Thus far, today is definitely in the risk-off column with not just the Chinese markets declining, but the Nikkei (-0.4%) also sliding, albeit not nearly as drastically.  European markets are generally weak (Dax -0.24%, CAC -0.55%, FTSE MIB -1.0%, IBEX -0.95%) although the UK (FTSE 100 +0.1%) is holding its own after much better than expected employment data was released earlier.  It seems the combination of a highly vaccinated population and massive fiscal and monetary stimulus is helping the UK economy recover quite nicely.

It can be no surprise that bond markets are rallying sharply on this risk-off day, with Treasuries seeing yields fall by 3.7 basis points while all of Europe (Bunds -2.1bps, OATs -2.1bps, Gilts -3.8bps) are also seeing demand for haven assets.  This is even true for the PIGS where yields have fallen between 1 and 2 basis points.

On the commodity front, oil (-0.8%) continues to respond to concerns over slowing economic growth worldwide amid the spread of the delta variant, as does copper (-0.9%).  Both of these commodities are seen as the most sensitive to economic expectations.  Gold (+0.4% today, +6.2% from last week’s low) is performing the way many believe it should in times of stress.  As to the rest of the bloc, there are gainers and losers amid both base metals and agricultural products.

Finally, the dollar is on top of the world this morning, rallying against 9 of its G10 counterparts with only CHF (+0.1%) maintaining its status as a world haven.  Granted, the commodity currencies are the worst off, with CAD (-0.35%) also under pressure.  Interestingly, despite the positive UK data, the pound (-0.45%) is feeling the weight of the dollar today.

Emerging market currencies continue to struggle in general, although there are a couple of positive stories.  First up is PHP (+0.45%) which saw equity inflows as bargain hunters were seen following several days of equity market declines, and the central bank indicated no policy change was upcoming, an upgrade from concerns over further easing.  THB (+0.45%) was also stronger on the back of comments from the central bank governor as well as the fact that it had fallen so far lately, more than 6% in the past two months and back to 3-year lows, that there was a bout of profit taking.  On the downside, KRW (-0.65%) continues to be the region’s laggard as ongoing concern over chip stocks has encouraged more equity market selling (KOSPI -0.9%) and seen funds flow out of the country.  Adding to this pressure is the continued increase in Covid infections and that has been enough for the won to fall 3.4% in the past two weeks.

On the data front, this morning brings Retail Sales (exp -0.3%, +0.2% ex autos) as well as IP (0.5%) and Capacity Utilization (75.7%).  The Retail Sales data has been quite volatile lately, as each wave of Federal stimulus money has quickly found uses, but when that money has not been forthcoming, sales decline sharply.  I have seen estimates that we could see a MUCH worse than expected outcome here, something on the order of -2.5%, which would be of a piece with the weaker Michigan and Philly Fed data that we have seen lately.

This afternoon, Chairman Powell hosts a town hall meeting with educators, which does not seem like a venue for new information.  We also hear from the uber dove, Neel Kashkari.

While I understand tapering talk remains all the rage, I cannot help but look at what clearly appears to be a weakening economic impulse and wonder if by the time the Fed says they want to start tapering, the data are pointing in the wrong direction and it never comes to pass.  In that event, I feel the dollar, which has greatly benefitted from tapering talk, is likely to fall back, maybe quite a bit.  But that is still a few months away.  For now, it feels like the dollar remains numero uno.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Havoc Our Way

It’s been fifty years to the day
Since Nixon brought havoc our way
He slammed down the sash
Where gold swapped for cash
That’s led to today’s disarray

Given the importance of this event, although it is often overlooked, I felt I had to mention the anniversary.  In truth, it was yesterday, August 15, 1971, when President Nixon closed the gold window, ending the Bretton Woods agreement that insured (allowed?) every nation to convert their dollars to gold and ushered in the current framework of fiat currencies.  Prior to his action, the global monetary system was based on the value of gold, which was exchangeable into US dollars (or perhaps the other way around) at $35.00/oz.  Each nation’s gold sat in cages in the vault at the Federal Reserve Bank of NY and would literally be physically moved from cage to cage in order to satisfy national debts amongst the countries. The problem for the US was that most of the movement was out of the US cage into other countries’, which represented the massive trade and current account deficits the US was running.  So, Nixon essentially told the world, holding dollars was the only choice.

Of course, the fiat currency regime has evolved into the current situation where the ability to print money is endless, and every government is happy for it to never end.  The strictures of a gold-backed currency are far too confining for the social programs deemed essential by virtually every government in the world today, which is why we will never go back.  The real question is, what lies ahead?

The ructions in China persist
As data last night, forecasts, missed
And President Xi
Continues to see
More targets that he can blacklist

As to the markets today, the single biggest story has been the release of Chinese data at significantly worse than expected levels.  The key figures showed Retail Sales (8.5%, exp 10.9%), IP (6.4%, exp 7.9%) and Fixed Asset Investment (10.3%, exp 11.3%).  The disappointing outcome has been attributed to the spread of the delta variant of Covid which has not only resulted in the closure of some key infrastructure points, notably two busy ports, but also weighed on many peoples’ willingness to travel during the typically busy summer vacation season.  Given the Chinese propensity for draconian measures in their effort to stop the spread of the virus, people are concerned they will get stuck some place with no ability to return home if there is a sudden lockdown.

The Wall Street response was immediate, with a number of economic forecasts for China taken lower by between 0.5%-0.7% for 2021 as a whole.  In addition, greater attention has been paid to the Chinese credit impulse (the amount of credit that is flowing into the economy from the banking system) which has been slowing rapidly since a peak in October.  This statistic tends to lead the Chinese economy’s performance by between 6 and 12 months, so it should be no surprise we are starting to see reduced output there.

Interestingly, despite the slowing growth story, the Xi government continues to attack its bellwether tech firms, the ones that have been growing the fastest.  It is becoming increasingly evident that President Xi is perfectly willing to sacrifice economic growth in an effort to consolidate his power even further.  Last night we again saw key government editorials about the evils of online gaming and how it should be curtailed even further.  Alibaba, one of the largest and most successful Chinese internet companies, remains squarely in Xi’s sights as he brings every potential threat to heel.  In the end, this is unlikely to help the Chinese economy writ large which from this poet’s perspective means we are likely to see a very gradual depreciation in the yuan as the currency market becomes a relief valve for domestic economic pressures.

The only other headline news has been the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in a remarkably swift 72 hours, with numerous stories about the evacuation as well as the political failures that led to this outcome.  Perhaps this is the impetus for today’s risk reduction, or perhaps it is the China story, or simply the ongoing spread of the delta variant; but whatever the reason, we are definitely seeing a bit of risk-off attitude across markets.

For instance, equity screens are all red with Asia ((Nikkei -1.6%, Hang Seng -0.8%, Shanghai 0.0%) and Europe (DAX -0.6%, CAC -1.0%, FTSE 100 -1.1%) clearly under pressure.  I’m sure Friday’s very weak Michigan Sentiment number (70.2, weakest since 2011) did not help anyone’s mood, and despite the fact that all three major US indices crept higher on the day Friday, by 0.1% or less, to new record highs, this morning all three are pointing lower by about -0.3%.

Bonds though are a bit more circumspect here, as while Treasury yields have edged lower by 0.3bps, all of Europe’s sovereign markets are selling off with yields rising.  Perhaps, investors have decided that the situation is so dire they don’t want any European paper at all!  So, bunds (+1.0bps), OATs (+1.4bps) and Gilts (+1.2bps) are all lower along side their respective equity markets.

Commodities, too, are softer this morning led by oil (-1.35%) and gold (-0.2%) with base metals (Cu -1.6%, Al -0.2%, Sn -0.3%) falling as well.  In fact, the only part of this bloc holding up is foodstuff, where the big three, corn, wheat and soybeans are all firmer.

Where, you may ask, is everybody putting their money if they are selling both stocks and bonds?  It seems the dollar is finding support against most currencies, except for the havens of JPY (+0.25%) and CHF (+0.2%).  Otherwise, the rest of the G10 is softer vs. the dollar, notably the commodity bloc where AUD (-0.5%), NOK (-0.45%) and CAD (-0.3%) are the laggards.  Similarly, in the EMG bloc, it is the commodity currencies that are under the most pressure with RUB (-0.3%), ZAR (-0.2%) and PHP (-0.35%).  In fact, the only currency with gains is TRY (+0.6%) which continues to benefit from the highest real yields on the planet.

The data story this week brings Retail Sales and Housing data as well as the FOMC Minutes on Wednesday.

Today Empire Manufacturing 28.5
Tuesday Retail Sales -0.2%
-ex autos 0.2%
IP 0.5%
Capacity Utilization 75.7%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1600K
Building Permits 1610K
FOMC Minutes
Thursday Initial Claims 365K
Continuing Claims 2800K
Philly Fed 24.0
Leading Indicators 0.7%

Source: Bloomberg

Retail Sales and the FOMC Minutes are likely to get the most attention, although any really big miss, like Friday’s Michigan data, could lead to further movements, so beware.  As well we hear from a few Fed speakers, with Chairman Powell talking tomorrow, but the subject does not appear to be the economy, then uber-dove Kashkari and his counterpart, the hawkish Kaplan later in the week.

At this point, risk remains under pressure and I sense that it has some room to run lower.  It has been more than 9 months since there has been a 5% drawdown in the equity market, an inordinately long period of time for pressures to build up.  This is not to say that a drawdown is coming, just that there is real instability underlying the market, so one is very possible.  And I sense that this risk-off event would be classic with the dollar gaining real ground against virtually everything.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Down in Flames

The nation that built the Great Wall
Has lately begun to blackball
Its best and its brightest
For even the slightest
Concerns, causing prices to fall

Last night it was TenCent’s new games
Which suffered some unfounded claims
Concerns have now grown
They’ll need to atone
So their stock price went down in flames

The hits keep coming from China where last night, once again we were witness to a government sanctioned hit on a large private company, in this case Tencent.  In fact, Tencent is was the largest company in China by market cap but has since fallen to number two, after an article in an official paper, Xinhua News Agency’s “The Economic Information Daily” wrote about online gaming and how it has become “spiritual opium” for young people there.  While the government did not actually impose any restrictions, the warning shot’s meaning was abundantly clear.  Tencent’s stock fell 6.5% and Asian equity markets overall fell (Nikkei -0.5%, Hang Seng -0.2%, Shanghai -0.5%) as investors continue to fret over President Xi’s almost nightly attacks on what had been considered some of the greatest success stories in the country.  Apparently, that has been the problem; when companies are considered a greater success than the government (read communist party) they cease to serve their purpose.  It seems that capitalism with Chinese characteristics is undergoing some changes.

There is, perhaps, another lesson that we can learn from the ongoing purge of private sector success in China, that it has far less impact on global risk opinion than the activities in other geographies, namely the US.  While China has grown to the second largest economy in the world and is widely tipped to become the largest in the next decade or two, its capital markets remain significantly smaller on the world stage than those elsewhere.  So, when idiotic idiosyncratic situations arise like we have seen lately, with ideological attacks on successful companies, investors may reduce risk in China, but not necessarily everywhere else.  This is evident this morning where we see gains throughout Europe (DAX +0.15%, CAC +0.9%, FTE 100 +0.4%) as well as in the US futures markets (DOW and SPX +0.4%, NASDAQ +0.2%).  Despite last night’s poor performance in Asia, risk remains in vogue elsewhere in the world.

Away from the ongoing theatrics in China, last night we also heard from the RBA, who not only left policy on hold, as universally expected, but explained that they remain on track to begin tapering their QE purchases, down from A$ 5 billion/week to $A 4 billion/week, come September, despite the recent Covid lockdowns in response to the spread of the delta variant.  They see enough positive news and incipient credit demand to believe that tapering remains the proper course of action.  While there were no expectations of a policy change currently, many pundits were expecting the lockdowns to force a delay in tapering and the result was a nice little rally in the Aussie dollar, rising 0.5% overnight.

But, as we have just entered August, the month where vacations are prominent and government activity slows to a crawl, there were few other interesting tidbits overnight.  At this point, markets are looking ahead to Thursday’s BOE meeting, where there is some thought that tapering will be on the agenda, as well as Friday’s NFP report.  One final story that is gaining interest is the US financing situation with the debt ceiling back in place as of last Saturday.  Congress is on its summer recess, and Treasury Secretary Yellen has been forced to adjust certain cash outlays in order to continue to honor the government’s debt obligations.  As it stands right now, Treasury cannot issue new debt, although it can roll over existing debt.  However, that will not be enough to pay the bills come October.  There is no reason to believe this will come to a messy conclusion, but stranger things have happened.

As to the rest of the markets, bonds are under a bit of pressure today with Treasury yields rising 1.5bps, and similar size moves throughout Europe.  Of course, this is in the wake of yesterday’s powerful bond rally where yields fell 5bps after ISM data once again missed estimates.  In fact, we continue to see a pattern of good data that fails to match forecasts which is a strong indication that we have seen the peak in economic growth, and it is all downhill from here.  Trend GDP growth prior to Covid was in the 1.5%-1.7% range, and I fear we will soon be right back at those levels with the unhappy consequence of higher inflation alongside.  It is an outcome of this nature that will put the most stress on the Fed as the policy prescriptions for weak growth and high inflation are opposite in nature.  And it is this reason that allowing inflation to run hot on the transitory story is likely to come back to haunt every member of the FOMC.

Commodity markets today are offering less clarity in their risk signals as while oil prices are higher, (WTI +0.5%), we are seeing weakness throughout the rest of the space with precious metals (Au -0.2%), base metals (Cu -0.85%, Al -0.5%) and agriculturals (Soybeans -0.7%, Corn -0.9%, Wheat -0.5%) all under pressure today.

Finally, the dollar is falling versus virtually all its main counterparts today, with the entire G10 space firmer and the bulk of the EMG bloc as well.  NOK (+0.75%) leads the G10 group as oil’s rally bolsters the currency along with general dollar weakness.  Otherwise, NZD (+0.6%) and AUD (+0.5%) have benefitted from the RBA’s relative hawkishness.  The rest of the bloc is also higher, but by much lesser amounts.  I do want to give a shout out to JPY (+0.1% today, +2.3% in the past month) as it seems to be performing well despite the risk preferences being displayed in the market.  something unusual seems to be happening in Japan, and I have not yet been able to determine the underlying causes.  However, I also must note that last night, exactly zero 10-year JGB’s traded in the market, despite a JGB auction.  If you were wondering what a dysfunctional market looked like, JGB’s are exhibit A.  The BOJ owns 50% of the outstanding issuance, and the idea that there is a true market price of interest rates is laughable.

As to emerging markets, we are seeing strength throughout all three regional blocs led by ZAR (+0.8%), HUF (+0.7%) and PHP (+0.6%), with the story in all places the sharp decline in US rates leading to investors seeking additional carry.  While BRL is not yet open, it rallied 0.7% yesterday as the market is beginning to believe the central bank may hike rates by 100 bps tomorrow, a shockingly large move in the current environment, but one that is being driven by rapidly rising inflation in the country.

Data today brings Factory Orders (exp 1.0%) and Vehicle Sales (15.25M), neither of which is likely to distract us from Friday’s payroll report.  We also hear from one Fed speaker, governor Bowman, who appears to be slightly dovish, but has not make public her opinions on the tapering question as of yet.

Yesterday saw modest dollar strength despite lower interest rates.  Today that strength is being unwound, but net, we are not really going anywhere.  And that seems to be the best bet, not much direction overall, but continued choppy trading.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Jay Powell’s Story

This weekend the Chinese reported
That PMI growth has been thwarted
This likely implies
They’ll increase the size
Of stimulus, when all is sorted

Meanwhile, as the week doth progress
Investors will need to assess
If Jay Powell’s story
About transitory
Inflation means more joblessness

The conventional five-day work week clearly does not apply to China.  On a regular basis, economic data is released outside of traditional working hours as was the case this past weekend when both sets of PMI data, official and Caixin (targeting small companies), were reported.  And, as it happens, the picture was not very pretty.  In fact, it becomes easier to understand why the PBOC reduced the reserve requirement for banks several weeks ago as growth on the mainland is quite evidently slowing.  The damage can be seen not only in the headline manufacturing numbers (PMI 50.4, Caixin 50.3) but also in the underlying pieces which showed, for example, new export orders fell to 47.7, well below the expansion/contraction line.

While it is one of Xi’s key goals to wean China from the dominance of exports as an economic driver, the reality is that goal has come nowhere near being met.  China remains a mercantilist, export focused economy, where growth is defined by its export sector.  The fact that manufacturing is slowing and export orders shrinking does not bode well for China’s economy in the second half of the year.  To the extent that the delta variant of Covid is responsible for slowing growth elsewhere in the world, apparently, China has not escaped the impact as they claim.

However, in today’s upside-down world, weakening Chinese growth is seen as a positive for risk assets.  The ongoing ‘bad news is good’ meme continues to drive markets and this weaker Chinese data was no exception.  Clearly, investors believe that the Chinese are going to add more stimulus, whether fiscal or monetary being irrelevant, and have responded by snapping up risk assets.  The result was higher equity prices in Asia (Nikkei +1.8%, Hang Seng +1.1%, Shanghai +2.0%) as well as throughout Europe (CAC +0.8%, FTSE 100 +0.95%, DAX +0.1%) with the DAX having the most trouble this morning.  And don’t worry, US futures are all higher by around 0.5% as I type.

But it was not just Chinese equities that benefitted last night, investors snapped up Chinese 10-year bonds as well, driving yields lower by 5bps as expectations of further policy ease are widespread in the investment community there. That performance is juxtaposed versus what we are witnessing in developed market bonds, where yields are actually slightly firmer, although by less than 1 basis point, as the risk-on attitude encourages investors to shift from fixed income to equity weightings.

Of course, all this price action continues to reflect the fact that the Fed, last week, was not nearly as hawkish as many had expected with the tapering question remaining wide open, and no timetable whatsoever with regard to rate movement.  And that brings us to the month’s most important data point, Non-farm Payrolls, which will be released this Friday.  At this early point in the week, the median forecast, according to Bloomberg, is 900K with the Unemployment Rate falling to 5.7%.

Given we appear to be at an inflection point in some FOMC members’ thinking, I believe Friday’s number may have more importance than an August release would ordinarily demand.  Recall, the recent trend of US data has been good, but below expectations.  Another below expectations outcome here would almost certainly result in a strong equity and bond rally as investors would conclude that the tapering story was fading.  After all, the Fed seems highly unlikely to begin tapering into a softening economy.  Last week’s GDP data (6.5%, exp 8.5%) and core PCE (3.5%, exp 3.7%) are just the two latest examples of a slowing growth impulse in the US.  That is not the time when the Fed would historically tighten policy, and I don’t believe this time will be different.

There is, however, a lot of time between now and Friday, with the opportunity for many new things to occur.  Granted, it is the beginning of August, a time when most of Europe goes on vacation along with a good portion of the Wall Street crowd and investment community as a whole, so the odds of very little happening are high.  But recall that market liquidity tends to be much less robust during August as well, so any new information could well lead to an outsized impact.  And finally, historically, August is one of the worst month for US equities, with an average decline of 0.12% over the past 50 years.

Keeping this in mind, what else has occurred overnight?  While bad news may be good for stock prices, as it implies lower rates for even longer, slowing growth is not an energy positive as evidenced by WTI’s (-1.8%) sharp decline.  Interestingly, gold (-0.25%) is not benefitting either, as arguably the reduced inflation story implies less negative real yields.  More surprisingly, copper (+0.7%) and Aluminum (+0.6%) are both firmer this morning, which is a bit incongruous on a weaker growth story.

As to the dollar, it is broadly weaker, albeit not by much, with G10 moves all less than 0.2% although we have seen some much larger gains in the EMG space.  On top of that list sits ZAR (+1.15%) and TRY (+1.1).  The former is quite surprising given the PMI data fell by a record amount to 43.5, 14 points below last month’s reading as rioting in the wake of the Zuma arrest had a huge negative impact on business sentiment and expectations.  Turkey, on the other hand, showed a solid gain in PMI data, which bodes well for the economy amid slowing growth in many other places.  After those two, the gains were far more modest with HUF (+0.5%) and RUB (+0.35%) the next best performers with both the forint and the ruble benefitting from more hawkish central bank comments.

Obviously, it is a big data week as follows:

Today ISM Manufacturing 60.9
ISM Prices Paid 88.0
Construction Spending 0.5%
Tuesday Factory Orders 1.0%
Wednesday ADP Employment 650K
ISM Services 60.5
Thursday Initial Claims 382K
Coninuing Claims 3260K
Trade Balance -$74.0B
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 900K
Private Payrolls 750K
Manufacturing Payrolls 28K
Unemployment Rate 5.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.9% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.7
Participation Rate 61.7%
Consumer Credit $22.0B

Source: Bloomberg

Beyond the data, surprisingly, we only hear from three Fed speakers as many must be on holiday.  But at this point, the market is pretty sure that it is only a matter of time before the Fed starts to taper, so unless they want to really change that message, which I don’t believe is the case, they can sit on the sidelines for now.  of course, that doesn’t mean they are going to taper, just that the market expects it.

While the dollar is opening the week on its back foot, I don’t expect much follow through weakness, although neither do I expect much strength.  I suspect many participants will be biding their time ahead of Friday’s report unless there is some exogenous signal received.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Thrilled…Chilled

The ECB just must be thrilled
Inflation they’ve tried hard to build
Is finally growing
Though Germany’s showing
The growth impulse there has been chilled

The news from the Continent this morning would seem to be pretty good.  GDP, which rose 2.0% Q/Q in Q2 was substantially higher than the forecast 1.5%.  The growth leadership came from Spain (2.8%) and Italy (2.7%) although France (0.9%) was somewhat lackluster and Germany (1.5%) was extremely disappointing, coming in well below expectations.  At the same time, Eurozone CPI rose to 2.2% in July, above both the expected 2.0% print, and the ECB’s target rate.  Given everything we have heard from Madame Lagarde and virtually every ECB speaker over the past months, this must be quite exciting as it is a demonstration of success of their policies.  It seems that buying an additional €3.3 trillion in assets was finally sufficient to drive inflation higher.  (Well, arguably, what that did was drive up the price of virtually every commodity while government lockdowns were able to reduce productive capacity sufficiently to create massive bottlenecks in supply chains forcing prices higher.)  Nonetheless, the ECB gets to take a victory lap as they have achieved their target.

As an aside, you may recall yesterday’s data that showed German CPI rose a shockingly high 3.8%, a level at which the good people of that nation are very likely horrified.  While the Eurozone, as a whole, continues to recover pretty well, there must be a little concern that Germany is facing a period of stagflation, with subpar growth and higher prices.  Of course, this is the worst possible outcome for policymakers as the remedy for the two aspects require opposite policies and thus a choice must be made that will almost certainly result in greater pain for the economy initially.  Forty years ago, Fed Chair Paul Volcker was able to withstand the political heat when making this decision, but I fear there is not a central banker in the seat who could do so today.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of all this is that European equity markets are all in the red, with not a single one responding positively to the data.  Ironically, Spain’s IBEX (-1.0%) is the laggard, despite Spain’s top of the list growth.  Then comes the DAX (-0.8%) and the CAC (-0.25%).  For good measure, the FTSE 100 (-0.9%) is following suit although its GDP data won’t be published for two more weeks.  Arguably, despite this positive news, the ongoing spread of the delta variant seems to be undermining both confidence and actual activity at some level.

Of course, European markets tend to take their cues from what happens in Asia before they open, and last night was another risk-off session there with the Nikkei (-1.8%), Hang Seng (-1.35%) and Shanghai (-0.4%) all sliding.  There are two stories here, one Japanese and one Chinese.  From Japan, the issue is clearly the resurgence of Covid as the recently imposed emergency lockdown has been extended further amid a spike in daily cases to near 10K, higher than the peaks seen in both January and May of this year.  The rapid spread of the disease has policymakers there quite flustered and investors are beginning to show their concern.

China, on the other hand, assures us that they have no Covid problems, rather markets there are suffering over policy decisions.  One observation that might be made is that the government is enhancing regulations on very specific segments of the economy in order to achieve their stated goals from the most recent 5-year plan.  So, education is very clearly seen as critical, far too important for capitalism to have any influence, and I would expect that this industry sector will ultimately privatize and turn into the suggested non-profit organizations.  On the tech side, China is all about hardware type tech, and will do all they can to support companies in that space.  However, companies like Didi, AliBaba and Tencent don’t produce anything worthwhile, they simply consume resources to provide retail services, none of which lead toward Xi Jinping’s ultimate goals.  As such, they are likely to find increasing restrictions on what they do in order to reduce their influence on the economy.

And as I hinted at the other day, there appears to be growing concern that the real estate bubble that exists in China has been a key feature of their demographic problems.  Couples are less likely to have children if they cannot afford to buy a house, and the damage from China’s one-child policy will take generations to repair, although that is a key focus of the government.  As such, do not be surprised if real estate firms come under pressure with respect to things like restrictions on margins and pricing as the government tries to deflate that bubble.  This opens the possibility that yet another sector of the Chinese equity market is going to come under further pressure.  To the extent that Asian markets set the tone for the global day, that does not bode well for the near future.

Interestingly, despite a lackluster performance by the European and Asian equity markets (and US futures, which are all lower this morning), the bond markets are not exactly on fire.  While it is true that Treasury yields have slipped 2.5bps, European sovereigns are either side of unchanged today, with nothing moving more than 0.3bps in either direction.  I would have expected a bit better performance given the equity risk-off signal.

Commodity markets are generally a bit softer with oil (-0.2%) slipping a bit although it has recovered almost all of its losses from two weeks ago and sits at $73.50/bbl.  Gold, after a huge rally yesterday is unchanged this morning, while base metals are mixed (Cu -0.2%, Al +1.4%, Sn +0.15%).  Finally, ags are all softer this morning as weather conditions in key growing areas have improved lately.

Lastly, the dollar can best be described as mixed, with NOK (-0.4%) and AUD (-0.35%) the laggards amid softer oil and  commodity prices while EUR (+0.1%) and CHF (+0.1%) have both edged higher on what I would contend is the ongoing decline in real US interest rates.

Emerging market currencies have performed far better generally with TRY (+0.6%) and PHP (+0.6%) the leaders although both EEMEA and other APAC currencies have performed well.  The lira responded to the Turkish central bank raising its inflation forecast thus implying rates would remain higher there for the foreseeable future.  Meanwhile, the peso seemed to benefit from the idea that the renewed covid lockdown would reduce its balance of payments issues by reducing its trade deficit.  On the other side of the ledger was KRW (-0.3%) which continues to suffer from the uncertainty over Chinese business activity.

On the data front today, we get the Fed’s key inflation reading; Core PCE (exp 3.7%) as well as Personal Income (-0.3%), Personal Spending (0.7%), Chicago PMI (64.1) and Michigan Sentiment (80.8).  Clearly all eyes will be on the PCE number, where a higher print will likely encourage more taper talk.  However, if it is below expectations, look for a very positive market response.  We also hear from two Fed speakers, Bullard and Brainerd, the former who has turned far more hawkish and has been calling for a taper, while Ms Brainerd is not nearly ready for such action.  And in the end, Brainerd matters more than Bullard for now.

I expect the market will take its cues from the PCE data, with a higher print likely to undermine the dollar while a softer print could well see a bit of a rebound from the past several sessions’ weakness.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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