Sanguinity Reigns

Despite growth in Chinese infections
And turmoil in Irish elections
Sanguinity reigns
As Powell takes pains
To help prevent any corrections

Once upon a time, people used to describe the President of the United States as ‘the most powerful man in the world’, on the back of the idea that he oversaw the richest and most powerful nation in the world. But these days, it has become pretty clear that the most powerful man in the world is Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. After all, not only is he in command of the US economy, but he is tasked with shielding us all from the impacts of non-financial issues like the coronavirus and climate change. And many people believe, not only can he do that, but it is imperative that he stops both of those things in their tracks.

And yet, the coronavirus continues to spread as virologists and doctors learn more about it each day and seemingly continue to fall further behind the curve. For example, initially, it had been believed that the incubation period for the virus was 14 days, implying that was an appropriate amount of time for any quarantine of suspected cases. But now, the data is showing it may be as long as 24 days, which means that formerly quarantined individuals who were cleared, may actually be infected, and thus the spread of the disease accelerated. As of this morning, more than 40,000 cases have been documented with more than 900 deceased. The human toll continues to rise, and quite frankly, shows no signs of abating yet. Stories of complete lockdowns of cities in Hubei province, where people were literally welded shut inside their homes to enforce the quarantine, and videos showing large scale disinfectant spraying are remarkable, as well as horrifying. And none of this leads to greater trust in the official information that is published by the Chinese government. In other words, this situation is by no means coming to an end and the impacts on economies worldwide as well as financial markets are just beginning to be felt.

From an economic perspective, China has largely been shut for nearly three weeks now, since the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday in January, which means that all those companies that had built supply chains that run through China while implementing just-in-time delivery have found themselves with major problems. Hubei province is a key center for automotive, technology, pharmaceutical and chemical production. Major global firms, like Foxconn, PSA (Peugeot), Honda and others have all seen production elsewhere impacted as parts that come from the area are no longer being delivered. In fact, Hyundai Motors has closed its operations in South Korea for lack of parts supply. My point is, the economic impact is going to be very widespread and likely quite significant. While there is no way to accurately assess that impact at this time, simple math implies that the fact China will have essentially been closed for 25% of Q1, at least, means that GDP data will be severely impacted, arguably by at least a full percentage point. And what about highly leveraged companies? Interest is still due even if they are not selling products and earning revenue. Trust me; things will get worse before they get better.

And yet…financial markets remain remarkably nonplussed over the potential ultimate impact of this. Yes, equity markets slipped on Friday, but a 0.5% decline is hardly indicative of a significant amount of fear. And overnight, while the Nikkei (-0.6%) and Hang Seng (-0.6%) both fell, somehow the Shanghai Composite rose 0.6%. Yes, the PBOC injected more stimulus, but there is a remarkable amount of faith that the impact of this virus is going to be completely transitory. That seems like a big bet to me, and one with decidedly ordinary odds.

European markets are in the same space, with very modest declines (DAX -0.25%, CAC -0.3%, FTSE -0.15%) and US futures are now little changed to higher. Apparently, economic growth is no longer an important input into the valuation of equities.

And that is the crux of the matter. Since the financial crisis in 2008-09, central banks around the world have, in essence, monetized the entire global economy. If growth appears to be slowing they simply print more cash. If things are going well, they also simply print more cash, although perhaps not quite as much as in the case of a slowdown. And companies everywhere, at least large, listed ones, borrow as much as possible to restructure their balance sheets, retiring equity and increasing leverage. Alas, that does not foster economic activity, and ultimately, that is the gist of the disconnect between financial market strength and the ongoing growth of populist and nationalist political parties. Welcome to the 2020’s.

So, with all that said, risk is modestly off this morning, but by no means universally so. Yes, Treasury yields are lower, down another basis point to 1.57%, but that does not speak to unmitigated fear. And in the currency market, the impact of the overnight story has been largely muted. In fact, the biggest mover today has been Norwegian krone, which has rallied 0.75% after its inflation data surprised on the high side (CPI +1.8% Y/Y in January) which has helped convince traders that Norway may be inclined to tighten policy going forward. While I don’t see that outcome, it likely takes any rate cuts off the table for the immediate future. But elsewhere in the G10, the pound’s modest 0.3% rally is the next largest move, and that has all the earmarks of a simple trading rebound after a 2.5% decline last week. Otherwise, this space has been dull, and looks set to remain so. In the EMG bloc, the picture is mixed as well, with CLP weakening furthest, -0.55% on the open, as traders bet on policy ease by the central bank, while we have seen a series of currencies, notably CNY, rally a modest 0.3%, as fears abate over a worsening outcome from the virus.

This week’s upcoming highlight is likely to be Fed Chair Powell’s testimony to the House and Senate, but we do see both CPI and Retail Sales data late in the week as well.

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 103.3
JOLTS Job Openings 6.85M
Powell House Testimony
Wednesday Powell Senate Testimony
Thursday CPI 0.2% (2.4% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)
Initial Claims 211K
Friday Retail Sales 0.3%
-ex autos 0.3%
IP -0.2%
Capacity Utilization 76.8%
Michigan Sentiment 99.3

Source: Bloomberg

Aside from Powell’s two days in the spotlight, there will be eight other Fed speakers as well, with my guess being that all the interest will be regarding the impact of the virus. So far, there is no indication that the Fed is ready to react, but it also seems abundantly clear that they will not hesitate to cut rates again in the event that things rapidly deteriorate on that front. Ultimately, the dollar remains extremely well bid as the bid for Treasuries continues to drive flows, but nothing has changed my medium term view that the dollar will eventually weaken on the back of Not QE4.

Good luck
Adf

Despite Cash

In China the stock market sank
Despite cash from its central bank
But elsewhere it seems
The narrative deems
Investors, the Kool-Aid, have drank

So, it can be no surprise that after a one and a half week hiatus, the Chinese equity markets sold off dramatically (Shanghai -7.8%) when they reopened last night. After all, equity markets elsewhere in the world had all been under pressure for the entire time as the novel coronavirus spread seemed to accelerate. Of course, since Chinese markets closed for the Lunar New Year holiday, major global markets in the west had fallen only between 3.5% and 4.0%. But given China is the country whose economy will be most impacted, the ratio doesn’t seem wrong.

What we learned over the weekend, though, is that the acceleration has not yet begun to slow down. The latest data shows over 17,000 infected and over 300 deaths are now attributable to this illness. Most epidemiological models indicate that we have not reached the peak, and that it would not be surprising to see upwards of a quarter of a million cases within the next month or two. Remember too, this assumes that the information coming from China is accurate, which given the global reaction to the situation, may be a big ask. After all, I’m pretty sure President Xi Jinping does not want to be remembered as the leader of China when it unleashed a global pandemic. You can be sure that there will be a lot of finger-pointing in China for the rest of 2020, as some heads will need to roll in order to placate the masses, or at least to placate Xi.

But in what has been a classic case of ‘sell the rumor, buy the news’, equity markets in the rest of the world seem to have gotten over their collective fears as we see modest strength throughout Europe (DAX +0.2%, CAC +0.2% FTSE +0.4%) and US futures are all pointing higher as well. So at this point in time, it appears that the market’s modest correction last week is seen as sufficient to adjust for what will certainly be weaker growth globally, at least in Q1 2020. Something tells me that there is further repricing to be seen, but for now, the default belief is that the Fed and other central banks will do “whatever it takes” as Signor Draghi once said, to prevent an equity market collapse. And that means that selling risk would be a mistake.

With that as prelude, let’s turn our attention to what is happening away from the virus. The biggest FX mover overnight has been the pound, which has fallen 1.1% after tough talk from both PM Boris Johnson and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. The market’s concern seems to be that there will be no agreement reached and thus come December, we will have a Brexit redux. I am strongly in the camp that this is just posturing and that come June, when the decision for an extension must be made, it will be done under the guise of technical aspects, and that a deal will be reached. Neither side can afford to not reach a deal. In fact, one of the key discussion points in Europe this morning is the fact that the EU now has a €6 billion hole in its budget and there is nobody able to fill the gap.

On the data front, Eurozone Manufacturing PMI data was modestly better than forecast, with the bloc-wide number at 47.9, still contractionary, but Italy, France and Germany all edging higher by a tenth or two. However, despite the modestly better data and the modest uptick in equity markets, the single currency is under some pressure this morning, down 0.25%, as the market adjusts its outlook for Fed activity. It remains pretty clear that the ECB is already doing everything it can, so the question becomes will the Fed ease more aggressively as we go forward, especially if we start to see weaker data on the back of the coronavirus situation. Friday’s market activity saw futures traders reprice their expectations for Fed rate cuts, with the first cut now priced for July and a second for December. And that rate change was what undermined the dollar during Friday’s session, as it suddenly appeared that the US would be stepping on the monetary accelerator. In fairness, if the quarantine in China continues through the end of Q1, a quick Fed rate cut seems pretty likely. We shall see how things evolve. However, this morning sees a bit less fear all over, and so less need for Fed action.

The other main mover in the G10 was NOK (-0.7%), which given how much oil prices have suffered, seems quite reasonable. There is a story that Chinese oil demand has fallen 20% since the outbreak, as the combination of factory closures and quarantines reducing vehicle traffic has taken its toll. In fact, OPEC is openly discussing a significant production cut to try to rebalance markets, although other than the Saudis, it seems unlikely other producers will join in. But away from those currencies, the G10 space is in observation mode.

In the emerging markets, it should be no surprise that CNY is much weaker, falling 1.1% on-shore (catching up to the offshore CNH) and trading below (dollar above) 7.00. Again, that seems pretty appropriate given the situation, and its future will depend on just how big a hit the economy there takes. Surprisingly, the big winner today is ZAR, which has rebounded 1.0% after Friday’s sharp decline which took the currency through the 15.0 level for the first time since October. In truth, this feels more like a simple reaction to Friday’s movement than to something new. If anything, this morning’s PMI data from South Africa was much worse than expected at 45.2, which would have seemingly undermined the currency, not bolstered it.

On the data front, this week will be quite active as we see the latest payroll data on Friday, and a significant amount of new data between now and then.

Today ISM Manufacturing 48.5
  ISM Prices Paid 51.5
  Construction Spending 0.5%
Tuesday Factory Orders 1.2%
Wednesday ADP Employment 158K
  Trade Balance -$48.2B
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 55.1
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Unit Labor Costs 1.2%
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.6%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 160K
  Private Payrolls 150K
  Manufacturing Payrolls -4K
  Unemployment Rate 3.5%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.3
  Participation Rate 63.2%
  Consumer Credit $15.0B

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, all eyes will be on the payrolls on Friday, although the ISM data will garner a great deal of attention as well. Last Friday’s core PCE data was right on the screws, so the Friday rate movement was all about coronavirus. With the FOMC meeting behind us, we get back to a number of Fed speakers, although this week only brings four. Something tells me there will be a lot of discussion regarding how they will respond to scenarios regarding China and the virus.

In the end, short term price action is going to be all about the virus and its perceived impact on the global economy. Any indication that the outbreak is slowing down will result in an immediate risk grab-a-thon. If it gets worse, look for havens to get bid up quickly.

Good luck
Adf

Another Cut’s Quite Apropos

The Chair said, ‘inflation’s too low
And there’s something you all need to know
Lest prices soon rise
We’ll not compromise
Thus another cut’s quite apropos

There are a number of discussion topics in the market this morning so let’s get right to it.

First the Fed surprised exactly nobody yesterday afternoon by leaving policy unchanged, (except for a ‘technical’ adjustment to IOER, which they raised by the expected 5bps). However, the talk this morning is all about the tone of the statement and the ensuing press conference. In the end, it appears that the Fed is leaning slightly more dovish than they had seemed to be previously, with a still greater focus on inflation. Powell and friends appear to be increasingly concerned that inflation expectations are still declining, and are terrified of an ultimate outcome similar to the past two decades in Japan. As such, it appears they are getting set to move from an inflation target to a price level target. This means that if inflation runs below target for a period of time, as it has been doing ever since it was officially announced in 2012, they will be comfortable allowing it to run above target in order to make up ground. The conclusion is that the bar to raising rates is now impossibly high, at least assuming prices don’t follow the lead of Argentina or Venezuela. And if anything, especially with the impact of the coronavirus still just being discussed and modeled, the likelihood is for more rate cuts before the end of the year.

Speaking of the coronavirus, the WHO has suddenly figured out what the rest of the world has known for a week, this is a serious problem that is spreading quickly. The death toll is over 170 and the number of cases is quickly approaching 8000. The economic impact is growing as more and more companies halt activity in China, more flights are canceled to and from all cities in China, and fear spreads further. Last night, Taiwan’s stock market reopened for the first time in a week and fell 5.75%. Meanwhile the Taiwan dollar fell 1.0%. And the renminbi? Well onshore markets are still closed, and will be so through Monday, at least, but the CNH traded below 7.00 (dollar higher) in London early this morning and remains within basis points of that level as NY walks in. As I wrote on Monday, this will be the best indicator of sentiment as it is the only thing that can actively trade that reflects opinions on the mainland. It should be no surprise that the other Asian equity markets that were open also fell sharply (Nikkei -1.7%, Hang Seng -3.1%, KOSPI -1.7%) as investors just don’t know what to do at this stage. Fear remains the key driver, and will continue to be until there is some sense that the infection rate is slowing down. To date, that has not been the case.

And finally, the Old Lady just announced no change in the base rate, which according to the futures market had been a 50:50 chance. The pound’s response was an immediate pop and it is now higher by 0.4% on the day, making it the best performing G10 currency. Data early in the month prompted a number of dovish comments from three BOE members, including Governor Carney himself, but the data we have seen recently has shown much more positive momentum in the wake of PM Johnson’s December electoral victory. Clearly, a number of fears have receded and tomorrow is the big day, when the UK officially leaves the EU. The EU Parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve the deal, as the UK’s Parliament did last week. So the UK has reclaimed its total sovereignty and now must make its own way in the world. As I have said all along, while there is a risk that no trade deal is agreed by year end, I think the odds are vanishingly small that Boris will risk his current political strength by pushing things to that level. Come summer, a short delay will be agreed and eventually a deal will be signed. Meanwhile, the US will be seeking a deal as well. Overall, I like the pound throughout the year on the twin features of an increasingly weaker USD (QE related) and the positivity of the situation on the ground there.

And those are the three big stories of the morning. We did get some data, notably the German employment report which showed the Unemployment Rate remained unchanged at 5.0%, while the number of people unemployed fell by…2k. This was better than the expected 5k increase in unemployment, but can we step back for a moment and consider what this actually means. Do you know how many people are employed in Germany? I didn’t think so. But the answer is 41.73 million. So, this morning’s data, showing a net change of 7k vs. expectations represents exactly a 0.0167% improvement. In other words, IT DOESN’T MATTER. And I think we need to consider this issue on a regular basis. So much is made of a number being better or worse than expected when most of the time it is well within the margin of error of any estimate. Nonetheless, the euro has edged higher this morning, by just 0.15%, but my goodness it has been stable of late. And quite frankly, in the short term, barring a massive uptick in coronavirus cases which changes broad risk sentiment, I see no reason for it to do much. Ultimately, I still like the single currency to edge higher throughout the year on the back of my weaker dollar call.

This morning brings two more data points in the US, with Initial Claims (exp 215K) and Q4 GDP (2.0%) released at 8:30. However, unless the GDP number is significantly different from expectations, the market focus will remain on the coronavirus issue. Equity markets in Europe are under pressure (DAX -1.1%, CAC -1.4%) and US futures are pointing in the same direction, with all 3 indices leaning about 0.75% lower. Meanwhile, Treasury yields continue to fall with the 10-year now at 1.56%, its lowest level in three months. With no Fed speakers on the docket, today is a risk day, and that arrow is pointing lower. Look for EMG currencies to suffer, while the yen benefits.

Good luck
Adf

Truly a Curse

In China, it’s gotten much worse
This virus that’s truly a curse
How fast will it spread?
And how many dead?
Ere treatment helps it to disperse.

Despite the fact that we have two important central bank meetings this week, the Fed and the BOE, the market is focused on one thing only, 2019-nCoV, aka the coronavirus. The weekend saw the number of confirmed infections rise to more than 2800, with 81 deaths as of this moment. In the US, there are 5 confirmed cases, but the key concern is the news that prior to the city of Wuhan (the epicenter of the outbreak) #fom locked down, more than 5 million people left town at the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday. While I am not an epidemiologist, I feel confident in saying that this will seem worse before things finally settle down.

And it’s important to remember that the reason the markets are responding has nothing to do with the human tragedy, per se, but rather that the economic impact has the potential to be quite significant. At this point, risk is decidedly off with every haven asset well bid (JPY +0.35%, 10-year Treasury yields -7bps, gold +0.8%) while risk assets have been quickly repriced lower (Nikkei -2.0%, DAX -2.0%, CAC -2.1%, FTSE 100 -2.1%, DJIA futures -1.4%, SPX futures -1.4%, WTI -3.0%).

Economists and analysts are feverishly trying to model the size of the impact to economic activity. However, that is a Sisyphean task at this point given the combination of the recency of the onset of the disease as well as the timing, at the very beginning of the Lunar New year, one of the most active commercial times in China. The Chinese government has extended the holiday to February 2nd (it had been slated to end on January 30th), and they are advising businesses in China not to reopen until February 9th. And remember, China was struggling to overcome a serious slowdown before all this happened.

It should be no surprise that one of the worst performing currencies this morning is the off-shore renminbi, which has fallen 0.8% as of 7:00am. In fact, I think this will be a key indicator of what is happening in China as it is the closest thing to a real time barometer of sentiment there given the fact that the rest of the Chinese financial system is closed. CNH is typically a very low volatility currency, so a movement of this magnitude is quite significant. In fact, if it continues to fall sharply, I would not be surprised if the PBOC decided to intervene in order to prevent what it is likely to believe is a short-term problem. There has been no sign yet, but we will watch carefully.

And in truth, this is today’s story, the potential ramifications to the global economy of the spreading infection. With that in mind, though, we should not forget some other featured news. The weekend brought a modestly surprising outcome from Italian regional elections, where Matteo Salvini, the populist leader of the League, could not overcome the history of center-left strength in Emilia-Romagna and so the current coalition government got a reprieve from potential collapse. Salvini leads in the national polls there, and the belief was if his party could win the weekend, it would force the governing coalition to collapse and new elections to be held ushering in Salvini as the new PM. However, that was not to be. The market response has been for Italian BTP’s (their government bonds) to rally sharply, with 10-year yields tumbling 18bps. This has not been enough to offset the risk-off mentality in equity markets there, but still a ray of hope.

We also saw German IFO data significantly underperform expectations (Business Climate 95.9, Expectations 92.9) with both readings lower than the December data. This is merely a reminder that things in Germany, while perhaps not accelerating lower, are certainly not accelerating higher. The euro, however, is unchanged on the day, as market participants are having a difficult time determining which currency they want to hold as a haven, the dollar or the euro. Elsewhere in the G10, it should be no surprise that AUD and NZD are the laggards (-0.85% and -0.65% respectively) as both are reliant on the Chinese economy for economic activity. Remember, China is the largest export destination for both nations, as well as the source of a significant amount of inbound tourism. But the dollar remains strong throughout the space.

Emerging markets are showing similar activity with weakness throughout the space led by the South African rand (-1.0%) on the back of concerns over the disposition of state-owned Eskom Holdings, the troubled utility, as well as the general macroeconomic concerns over the coronavirus outbreak and its ultimate impact on the South African economy. Meanwhile, the sharp decline in the price of oil has weighed on the Russian ruble, -0.9%.

As I mentioned above, we do have two key central bank meetings this week, as well as a significant amount of data as follows:

Today New Home Sales 730K
  Dallas Fed Manufacturing -1.8
Tuesday Durable Goods 0.5%
  -ex Transport 0.3%
  Case Shiller Home Prices 2.40%
  Consumer Confidence 128.0
Wednesday Advance Goods Trade Balance -$65.0B
  FOMC Rate Decision 1.75% (unchanged)
Thursday BOE Rate Decision 0.75% (unchanged)
  Initial Claims 215K
  GDP (Q4) 2.1%
Friday Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.3%
  Core PCE Deflator 1.6%
  Chicago PMI 49.0
  Michigan Sentiment 99.1

Source: Bloomberg
Regarding the BOE meeting, the futures market is back to pricing in a 60% probability of a rate cut, up from 47% on Friday, which seems to be based on the idea that the coronavirus is going to have a significant enough impact to require further monetary easing by central banks. As to the Fed, there is far more discussion about what they may be able to do in the future as they continue to review their policies, rather than what they will do on Wednesday. Looking at the spread of data this week, we should get a pretty good idea as to whether the pace of economic activity in the US has changed, although forecasts continue to be for 2.0%-2.5% GDP growth this year.

And that’s really it for the day. Until further notice, the growing epidemic in China remains the number one story for all players, and risk assets are likely to remain under pressure until there is some clarity as to when it may stop spreading.

Good luck
Adf

Insane Consequences

The last time the Year of the Rat
Was with us, the markets fell flat
In two thousand eight
The crisis was great
Let’s hope this year’s better than that

Alas as the New Year commences
The Chinese can’t offer pretenses
That virus is spreading
And fears are it’s heading
Worldwide, with insane consequences

Markets this morning are on alert as fears increase regarding a more rapid spread of the coronavirus first identified last week in China. Late yesterday afternoon, Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus’ outbreak was shut down by Chinese authorities. This means that all air and long distance train travel out of the city has been halted. The thing is Wuhan has 11 million residents, larger than NYC, and keeping tabs on all of them is impossible. Then just hours ago, two other cities with a combined population of 8.5 million, Huanggang and Ezhou, announced they, too, were restricting all long distance travel out as well as closing public spaces like movie theaters and internet cafes. The death toll attributed to this virus is up to 17 now, and more than 500 confirmed cases have been recorded.

The timing of all this is extraordinarily poor. China is about to embark on a week-long holiday celebration of the New Year, this year being the Year of the Rat. Typically, this is a time of active travel within and out of China, as well as a time of significant consumer activity. But clearly, locking down major cities with a population approaching 20 million is not instilling confidence anywhere. Chinese equity markets, which historically have always rallied in the last session prior to the New Year holiday, fell sharply last night, with Shanghai falling 2.75% and the Hang Seng down 1.5%. While this fear has not filtered into European equity markets, they remain essentially flat, we have seen increasing demand for Treasuries with the yield on the 10-year falling to 1.75% and German bund yields falling to -0.275%. The last piece of this puzzle is the yuan, which fell 0.4% in its last on-shore session ahead of the holiday. However, CNH continues to trade so do not be surprised to see further weakness there if we continue to hear more negative stories regarding the health situation in China.

But, back to the Year of the Rat. What does it mean in economic and financial terms? The Chinese have a twelve year cycle within their calendar, so the last Year of the Rat was in 2008. I’m sure you all remember how 2008 finished, with the financial crisis unfolding in the wake of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy that September. Clearly, nobody wants to see that happen again! But there are certainly anecdotal indicators that might give one pause. The latest anecdote comes from Bob Prince, CIO of Bridgewater Associates, the giant hedge fund, who explained that “…we’ve probably seen the end of the boom-bust cycle.” This is disturbingly similar to a different Prince, Chuck, the former CEO of Citibank, when he defended loosening lending standards in 2008 by remarking, “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing.” Perhaps an even more famous comment of this nature was made by Irving Fisher, the renowned economist whose work on debt-deflation and in monetary economics earned him wide acclaim, but who just nine days before the stock market crash of 1929 declared that stocks had “reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” Now granted, 1929 was not the Year of the Rat, but pronouncements of this nature do have a habit of coming back to bite the speaker in the butt. Given the remarkably long tenure of the current economic and stock market gains, caution that things might change is in order. I’m not predicting an imminent collapse of anything, just highlighting that many market prices seem somewhat excessive and reliant upon a continued perfect outcome of moderate growth and easy money.

Looking at this morning’s activity, the major news will be made in Frankfurt, where the ECB has left policy unchanged (Deposit rate -0.5%, QE €20 billion/month) and now all eyes and ears will turn to Madame Lagarde’s press conference at 8:30 NY time. She is expected to announce the results of the ECB’s internal review of their inflation target, with the ongoing “close to but below 2.0%” likely to be changed to a more precise 2.0%, with an emphasis on the symmetry of that target, implying that slightly higher inflation will be acceptable as well. Alas for the ECB, higher inflation is just not in the cards, at least as long as they maintain interest rates at -0.5%. They can push on that string as much as they like and still will not achieve their goals. As to the single currency, this morning it is unchanged, continuing to hover just below 1.11, right in the middle of its effective 1.10/1.12 range that has been in place since October. We will need something really significant to change this mindset, and my sense is it will not come from within the Eurozone, but rather be driven by the US.

Other than that story, the UK Parliament approved the Brexit bill, which now needs to be ratified by the rest of the EU and is due to be addressed next Wednesday. Then Brexit will well and truly be done, a scant forty-two months after the initial vote. Of course, the next step is the trade negotiations, but even Boris would not risk blowing things up, now that he is in power, so look for an approved delay and an eventual deal next year. Meanwhile, the pound, which has been the best performing G10 currency this week, has stopped its run higher for now, and is actually lower by a modest 0.15% this morning. The other G10 currency movement of note was the Aussie dollar, rallying 0.4% after Unemployment surprisingly fell to 5.1%, thus offering some good news for a change.

In the emerging markets, while CNY is the biggest loser, the rest of the space has been pretty uneventful. On the positive side, CLP is higher by 0.5% after the central bank there indicated they would start to intervene if the peso started to decline too rapidly on the back of weakening commodity prices.

Aside from the ECB press conference, there are two pieces of data today; Initial Claims (exp 214K) and Leading Indicators (-0.2%). But at this point, unless Lagarde says something very surprising, it is shaping up as a very quiet session.

Good luck
Adf

Cashiered!

In China, a virus appeared
That seems to be worse than first feared
It’s spreading so quickly
That markets turned sickly
And stock market bulls got cashiered!

Some of you may remember the SARS virus from the winter of 2002-3, when a respiratory illness, emanating from Guangdong in China, spread quickly around the world resulting in some 800 odd deaths, but more importantly from the market’s perspective, created a very real risk-off environment. As an example, from January through March of 2003, the Dow Jones fell more than 16%, largely on fears that the virus would continue to spread and ultimately reduce economic activity worldwide. Fortunately, that was not the case, as those diagnosed with the virus were isolated and the spread of the disease ended. Naturally, risk was reignited and all was right with the world…until 2008.

I remind everyone of this history as this morning, there is another coronavirus that has been discovered in central China, this time Wuhan seems to be ground zero, and has begun to spread rapidly from human to human. In just a few weeks, more than 200 cases have been reported with several deaths. However, the big concern is that the Lunar New Year celebration begins on Saturday and this is the heaviest travel time of the year within China and for Chinese people around the world. And if your goal was to spread a virus, there is no better way to do so than by getting infected people on airplanes and sending them around the world! Of course, this is nobody’s goal, however it is a very real potential consequence of the confluence of the new virus and the Lunar New Year. The market has reacted just as expected, with risk aversion seen across markets (equities lower, bonds higher) and specific stocks reacting to anticipated direct effects. For example, every Asian airline stock has been aggressively sold lower, while manufacturers of things like latex gloves and face masks have rallied sharply.

Now, while none of this should be surprising, a quick look at market levels shows us that the current impact of this virus has been widespread, at least from a market perspective. For example, equity markets have suffered across the board, although Asia was worst hit (Nikkei -0.9%, Hang Seng -2.8%, Shanghai -1.4%, DAX -0.25%, CAC -0.85%, FTSE -1.0%). Treasury yields have fallen 2bps, although bund yields are actually higher by 0.5bps this morning on the back of stronger than expected ZEW survey data.

And in the currency market, the dollar is broadly, although not universally, higher. It can be no surprise that APAC currencies are under the most pressure given the risk-off causality, with KRW -0.75% and CNY -0.55%, its largest daily decline since last August. But we are also seeing weakness throughout LATAM with both BRL (-0.45%) and MXN (-0.35%) among the day’s worst performers.

In the G10 space, the results have been a bit more mixed, and actually seem more related to data than the general risk sentiment. For example, the pound is today’s big winner, +0.35% after UK Employment data was released with much better than expected results. While the Unemployment Rate remained unchanged at 3.8%, the 3M/3M Employment Change rose 208K, nearly double expectations and the first really good piece of data seen from the UK in two weeks (recall PMI data was a bit better than expected). This has resulted in some traders questioning whether the BOE will cut rates next week after all. Futures markets continue to price a 61% probability, although that is down from 70% on Friday.

Elsewhere, the euro reversed small early losses and now has small gains after the ZEW Expectations data (26.7 vs. 15.0 expected), while the yen has benefitted ever so slightly on two different fronts. First, the broad risk-off market flavor has helped keep the yen underpinned, but more importantly, the BOJ met last night, and although they left policy unchanged, as universally expected, there continues to be a growing belief that the next move there is going to be a tightening! This was reinforced by the BOJ raising its growth estimates for both 2019 (0.8%, up from 0.6%) and 2020 (0.9% up from 0.7%). Of course, offsetting that somewhat was the decline in the BOJ’s inflation forecast, down to 0.8% in 2020 from the previous expectation of 0.9%. In the end, it is difficult to get overly excited about the Japanese economy’s prospects, with a much greater likelihood of significant yen strength emanating from a more severe risk-off event.

Looking ahead to the week, not only is the Fed in its quiet period, but there is a very limited amount of US data set to be released.

Wednesday Existing Home Sales 5.43M
Thursday Initial Claims 214K
  Leading Indicators -0.2%

Source: Bloomberg

Of course, there are two other events this week that may have a market impact, although my personal belief is that neither one will do so. This morning the US Senate takes up the Articles of Impeachment for President Trump that were finally proffered by the House of Representatives. And while the politicos in Washington and the talking heads on TV are all atwitter over this situation, financial markets have collectively yawned throughout the entire process. I see no reason for that stance to change at this point.

The other event is the World Economic Forum in Davos, the annual get together of the rich and famous, as well as those who want to be so, to pontificate on all things they deem important. However, it beggars belief that anything said from this conference is going to change any investment theories, let alone any fiscal or monetary policies. This too, from the market’s perspective, is unlikely to have any impact at all.

And that’s really it for today. Lacking catalysts, I anticipate a quiet session overall. Short term, the dollar still seems to have some life. But longer term, I continue to look for a slow decline as the effects of the Fed’s QE begin to be felt more keenly.

Good luck
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Throw Her a Bone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and good weekend
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