“Talks” Become “War”

At what point do “talks” become “war”?
And how long can traders ignore
The signs that a truce
Are, at best, abstruse?
It seems bulls don’t care any more

So, markets continue to shine
But something’s a bit out of line
If problems have past
Then why the forecast
By bonds of a further decline

I can’t help being struck this morning by the simultaneous rebound in equity markets alongside the strong rally in bond markets. They seem to be telling us conflicting stories or are perhaps simply focusing on different things.

After Monday’s equity market rout set nerves on edge, and not just among the investor set, but also in the White House, it was no surprise to hear a bit more conciliatory language from the President regarding the prospects of completing the trade negotiations successfully. That seemed to be enough to cool the bears’ collective ardor and brought bargain hunters dip buyers back into the market. (Are there any bargains left at these valuations?) This sequence of events led to a solid equity performance in Asia despite the fact that Chinese data released last night was, in a word, awful. Retail Sales there fell to 7.2%, the lowest in 16 years and well below forecasts of 8.6% growth. IP fell to 5.4%, significantly below the 6.5% forecast, let alone last month’s 8.5% outturn. And Fixed Asset Investment fell to 6.1%, another solid miss, with the result being that April’s economic performance in the Middle Kingdom was generally lousy. We have already seen a number of reductions in GDP forecasts for Q2 with new expectations centering on 6.2%.

But the market reaction was not as might have been expected as the Shanghai composite rose a solid 1.9%. It seems that China is moving into the ‘bad news is good’ scenario, where weak data drives expectations of further monetary stimulus thus supporting stock prices. The other interesting story has been the change in tone in the official Chinese media for domestic Chinese consumption, where they have become more stridently nationalist and are actively discussing a trade “war”, rather than trade “talks”. It seems the Chinese are girding for a more prolonged fight on the trade front and are marshaling all the resources they can. Of course, at the end of the day, they remain vulnerable to significant pain if the second set of tariffs proposed by the US is enacted.

One consequence of this process has been a weakening Chinese yuan, which has fallen 2.7% since its close on Friday May 3rd, and is now at its weakest point since mid-December. At 6.9150 it is also less than 2% from the 7.00 level that has been repeatedly touted by analysts as a no-go zone for the PBOC. This is due to concerns that the Chinese people would be far more active in their efforts to protect their capital by moving it offshore. This is also the reason there are such tight capital flow restrictions in China. It doesn’t help the trade talks that the yuan has been falling as that has been a favorite talking point of President Trump, China’s manipulation of their currency.

This process has also renewed pundit talk of the Chinese selling all their Treasury holdings, some $1.1 trillion, as retaliation to US tariffs. The last idea makes no sense whatsoever, as I have mentioned in the past, if only because the question of what they will do with $1.1 trillion in cash has yet to be answered. They will still need to own something and replacing Treasuries with other USD assets doesn’t achieve anything. Selling dollars to buy other currencies will simply weaken the dollar, which is the opposite of the idea they are trying to manipulate their currency to their advantage, so also makes no sense. And finally, given the huge bid for Treasuries, with yields on the 10-year below 2.40%, it seems there is plenty of demand elsewhere.

Speaking of the Treasury bid, it seems bond investors are looking ahead for weaker overall growth, hence the declining yields. But how does that square with equity investors bidding stocks back up on expectations that a trade solution will help boost the economy. This is a conundrum that will only be resolved when there is more clarity on the trade outcome.

(Here’s a conspiracy theory for you: what if President Trump is purposely sabotaging the talks for now, seeking a sharp enough equity market decline to force the Fed to ease policy further. At that point, he can turn around and agree a deal which would result in a monster rally, something for which we can be sure he would take credit. I’m not saying it’s true, just not out of the question!)

At any rate, nothing in the past several sessions has changed the view that the trade situation is going to continue to be one of the key drivers for market activity across all markets for the foreseeable future.

After that prolonged diatribe, let’s look at the other overnight data and developments. German GDP rose 0.4%, as expected, in Q1. This was a significant uptick from the second half of last year but appears to be the beneficiary of some one-off issues, with slower growth still forecast for the rest of the year. Given expectations were built in, the fact that the euro has softened a bit further, down 0.1% and back below 1.12, ought not be too surprising. Meanwhile, the pound is little changed on the day, but has drifted down to 1.2900 quietly over the past two sessions. Despite solid employment data yesterday, it seems that traders remain unconvinced that a viable solution will be found for Brexit. This morning the word is that PM May is going to bring her thrice-defeated Brexit deal to Parliament yet again in June. One can only imagine how well that will go.

Elsewhere in the G10 we have the what looks like a risk-off session. The dollar is modestly stronger against pretty much all of that bloc except for the yen (+0.2%) and the Swiss franc (+0.1%), the classic haven assets. So, bonds (Bund yields are -0.10%, their lowest since 2016) and currencies are shunning risk, while equity traders continue to lap it up. As I said, there is a conundrum.

This morning we finally get some US data led by Retail Sales (exp 0.2%, 0.7% ex autos) as well as Empire Manufacturing (8.5), IP (0.0%) and Capacity Utilization (78.7%) all at 8:30. Business Inventories (0.0%) are released at 10:00 and we also hear from two more Fed speakers, Governor Quarles and Richmond Fed President Barkin. However, it seems unlikely that, given the consistency of message we have heard from every Fed speaker since their last meeting, with Williams and George yesterday reinforcing the idea that there is no urgency for the Fed to change policy in the near term and politics is irrelevant to the decision process, that we will hear anything new from these two.

In the end, it feels like yesterday’s equity rebound was more dead-cat than a start of something new. Risks still abound and slowing economic growth remains the number one issue. As long as US data continues to outperform, the case for dollar weakness remains missing. For now, the path of least resistance is for a mildly firmer buck.

Good luck
Adf

Still Feeling Stressed

The overnight data expressed
That China is still feeling stressed
But Europe’s reports
Showed growth of some sorts
Might finally be manifest

The dollar is on its heels this morning after data from Europe showed surprising strength almost across the board. Arguably the most important data point was Eurozone GDP printing at 0.4% in Q1, a tick higher than expected and significantly higher than Q4’s 0.2%. The drivers of this data were Italy, where Q1 GDP rose 0.2%, taking the nation out of recession and beating expectations. At the same time Spain grew at 0.7%, also better than expectations while France maintained its recent pace with a 0.3% print. Interestingly, Germany doesn’t report this data until the middle of May. However, we did see German GfK Consumer Confidence print at 10.4, remaining unchanged on the month rather than falling as expected. Adding to the growth scenario were inflation readings that were generally a tick firmer than expected in Italy, Spain and France. While these numbers remain well below the ECB target of “close to but just below” 2.0%, it has served to ease some concerns about Europe’s future. In the end, the euro has rallied 0.25% while European government bond yields are all higher by 2-5bps. However, European equity markets did not get the memo and remain little changed on the day.

Prior to these releases we learned that China’s PMI data was softer than expected, with the National number printing lower at 50.1, while the Caixin number printed at 50.2. Even though both remain above the 50.0 level indicating future growth, there is an increasing concern that China’s Q1 GDP data was more the result of a distorted comparison to last year’s data due to changed timing of the Lunar New Year. Remember, that holiday has a large impact on the Chinese economy with manufacturing shutdowns amid widescale holiday making, and so the timing of those events each year are not easily stabilized with seasonal adjustments to the data. As such, it is starting to look like Q1’s 6.4% GDP growth may have been somewhat overstated. Of course, China remains opaque in many ways, so we may need to wait until next month’s PMI data to get a better handle on things. One other clue, though, has been the ongoing decline in the price of copper, a key industrial metal and one which China represents approximately 50% of global demand. Arguably, a falling copper price implies less demand from China, which implies slowing growth there. Ultimately, while it is no surprise that the renminbi is little changed on the day, Chinese equities edged higher on the theory that the PBOC is more likely to add stimulus if the economic slowdown persists.

Of course, the other China story is that the trade talks are resuming in Beijing today and market participants will be watching closely for word that things are continuing to move in the right direction. You may recall the President Xi Jinping gave a speech last week where he highlighted the changes he anticipated in Chinese policy, all of which included accession to US demands in the trade talks. At this point, it seems the negotiators need to “simply” hash out the details, which of course is not simple at all. But if the direction from the top is broadly set, a deal seems quite likely. However, as I have pointed out in the past, the market appears to have already priced in the successful conclusion of a deal, and so when (if) one is announced, I would expect equity markets to fall on a ‘sell the news’ response.

Turning to the US, yesterday’s data showed that PCE inflation (1.5%, core 1.6%) continues to lag expectations as well as remain below the Fed’s 2.0% target. With the FOMC meeting starting this morning, although we won’t hear the outcome until tomorrow afternoon, the punditry is trying to determine what they will say. The universal expectation is for no policy changes to be enacted, and little change in the policy statement. However, to me, there has been a further shift in the tone of the most recent Fed speakers. While I believe that Loretta Mester and Esther George remain monetary hawks, I think the rest of the board has morphed into a more dovish contingent, one that will respond quite quickly to falling inflation numbers. With that in mind, yesterday’s readings have to be concerning, and if we see another set of soft inflation data next month, it is entirely possible that the doves carry the day at the June meeting and force an end to the balance sheet roll-off immediately as a signal that they will not let inflation fall further. I think the mistake we are all making is that we keep looking for policy normalization. The new normal is low rates and growing balance sheets and we are already there.

As Powell and friends get together
The question is when, it’s not whether
More policy easing
Will seem less displeasing
So prices can rise like a feather

Looking at this morning’s releases, the Employment Cost Index (exp 0.7%) starts us off with Case-Shiller home prices (3.2%) and then Chicago PMI (59.0) following later in the morning. However, with the Fed meeting ongoing, it seems unlikely that any of these numbers will move the needle. In fact, tomorrow’s ADP number would need to be extraordinary (either high or low) to move things ahead of the FOMC announcement. All this points to continued low volatility in markets as players of all stripes try to figure out what the next big thing will be. My sense is we are going to see central banks continue to lean toward easier policy, as the global focus on inflation, or the lack thereof, will continue to drive policy, as well as asset bubbles.

Good luck
Adf

A Victimless Crime

Investors are biding their time
Til GDP data sublime
But what if it’s weak?
Will havoc it wreak?
Or is that a victimless crime?

In general, nothing has really happened in markets overnight. Perhaps the only exception is the continued weakness in the Shanghai Composite, which fell another 1.2%, taking the week’s decline beyond 5%. But otherwise, most equity markets are little changed, currencies have done little, and bond yields are within 1 bp of yesterday’s closes as well. The blame for this inactivity is being laid at the feet of this morning’s US GDP data, where we get our first look at Q1. What is truly interesting about this morning’s number is the remarkably wide range of expectations according to economist surveys. They range from 1.0% to 3.2% and depending on your source, I have seen median expectations of 2.0% (Tradingeconomics.com), 2.2% (Bloomberg) and 2.5% (WSJ). The problem with such a wide range is it will be increasingly difficult to determine what is perceived as strong or weak when it prints. However, my view is that we are in the middle of a market narrative which dictates that a strong print (>2.5%) will see equity and dollar strength on the back of confidence in the US economy continuing its world leading growth, while a weak number (<2.0%) will lead to equity strength but dollar weakness as traders will assume that given the Fed’s recent dovish turn, expectations for rate cuts will grow and stocks will benefit accordingly while the dollar suffers. We’ll know more pretty soon.

Returning to the China story, there are actually two separate threads of discussion regarding the Chinese markets and economy. The first, which has been undermining equities there this week, is that the PBOC is backing off on its recent easing trajectory, slowing the injection of short-term funds into the market. The massive equity market rally that we have seen there so far this year has been fueled by significant margin buying, however, if easy money is ending then so will the rally. While I am certain the PBOC will do all it can to prevent a major correction in stock prices, the tone of discussion there is that the PBOC is no longer supporting a further rise.

The second part of the story was a speech last night by President Xi regarding the Belt and Road Initiative. In it, he basically acceded to the US demands for honoring IP, ending forced technology transfer and maintaining a stable currency. Adding to that was the PBOC’s fix at a stronger than expected rate of 6.7307, reinforcing the idea that they would not seek advantage by weakening their currency. Given that the renminbi has been weakening steadily for the past seven sessions and reached its weakest point in more than two months, the PBOC’s actions have served to reinforce their desire to maintain control of the currency.

But arguably, the more important part of the speech was that it cleared the way, at the highest levels, for the Chinese to agree to numerous US demands on trade, and thus successfully conclude the trade talks. Those talks get going again next week when Mnuchin and Lighthizer travel back to Beijing. Look for very positive vibes when they meet the press.

Given that one of the key constraints in the global economy lately has been trade concerns, led by the US-China spat, a resolution will be seen as a harbinger to deals elsewhere and the removal of at least one black cloud. Will central banks then return to their tightening efforts? I sincerely doubt that we will see anything of the sort in the near term. At this point, I expect the reaction function for the central banking community is something along the lines of, ‘we will raise rates after we see inflation print at high levels for several consecutive months, not in anticipation that higher inflation is coming because of growth in another variable.’

So despite my earlier concerns that the market had already priced in a successful conclusion of the trade deal, and that when it was signed, equity markets would retreat, it now seems more likely that we have further to run on the upside. Central banks are nowhere near done blowing all their bubbles.

And those are the big stories for the day. As well as the GDP data at 8:30 we get Michigan Sentiment at 10:00 (exp 97.0), although that seems unlikely to have any impact after GDP. The dollar has had a hell of a week, rallying steadily as we continue to see weak data elsewhere (Japanese IP -4.6% last night!), and some emerging markets, notably ARS and TRY have come under significant new pressure. It wouldn’t surprise if there was some profit taking after the data, whether strong or weak, so I kind of expect the dollar to fade a little as we head into the weekend.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Spring Next Year

Interest rates shan’t
Rise ere spring next year. But might
They possibly fall?

This morning’s market theme is that things look bad everywhere, except perhaps in the US. Starting in Tokyo, the BOJ met last night and, to no one’s surprise, left their policy rate unchanged at -0.10%. They maintained their yield curve control target of 0.00% +/- 0.20% for 10-year JGB’s and they indicated they would continue to purchase JGB’s at a clip of ¥80 trillion per year. But there were two things they did change, one surprising and one confusing.

First the surprise; instead of claiming rates would remain low for an “extended period”, the new language gave a specific date, “at least through around spring 2020”. Of course, this gives them the flexibility to extend that date specifically, implying an even more dovish stance going forward. Market participants were not expecting any change to the language, but interestingly, the yen actually rallied after the report. Part of that could be because there was significant weakness in Asian equity markets and a bit of a risk-off scenario, but I also read that some analysts see this as a prelude to tighter policy. I don’t buy the latter idea, but it does have adherents. The second thing they did, the confusing one, was they indicated they would create a lending facility for their ETF portfolio. The unusual thing here is that generally, lending securities is a way to encourage short-selling, although they did couch the idea in terms of added liquidity to the market. Given they own more than 70% of the ETF market, it is clear that liquidity must be suffering, but I wouldn’t have thought bringing short-sellers to the party would be their goal.

In South Korea, Q1 GDP shrank -0.3%, a much worse outcome than the expected 0.3% growth, and largely caused by a sharp decline in exports and IP. This is an ominous sign for the global economy, and also calls into question the accuracy of the Chinese data last week. Given the tight relationship between Korean exports and Chinese growth, something seems out of place here. The market impact was a decline in the KOSPI (-0.5%), falling Korean yields and a decline in the KRW, which fell a further 0.6% and is now at its weakest point in two years. Look for the Bank of Korea to ease policy going forward.

Turning to Europe, the Swedish Riksbank left policy rates unchanged at -0.25%, as expected, but their statement indicated that there would be no rate hike later this year, as previously expected, given the slowing growth and lack of inflation in Sweden. While I foreshadowed this earlier this week, the market response was severe, with SEK falling 1.4%, although the Swedish OMX (stock market) rallied 1% on the news. You know, bad news is good because rates remain low.

One last central bank note, the Bank of Canada has thrown in the towel on normalizing policy, dropping any reference to higher rates in the future from their statement yesterday. Upon the release of the statement, the Loonie fell a quick 1%. Although it has since recovered a bit of that, it is still lower by 0.6% from before the meeting. It seems concerns over slowing growth now outweigh concerns over excess leverage in the private sector.

The other market note was the sharp decline in Chinese stocks with the Shanghai Composite falling 2.4% as traders and investors there lose faith that the PBOC is going to continue to support the economy, especially after the better than expected GDP data last week. Even the renminbi fell, -0.3%, although it has been especially stable for the past two months as the US-China trade talks continue. Speaking of which, the next round of face-to-face talks are set to get under way shortly, but there has been little in the way of news, either positive or negative, for the past two weeks.

One other thing about which we have not heard much lately is Brexit, where the internal political machinations continue in Parliament, but as yet, there has been no willingness to compromise on either side of the aisle. Of note is that the pound continues to fall, down a further 0.2% this morning and now firmly below 1.29. While there is no doubt that the dollar is strong across the board, it also strikes that some market participants are beginning to price in a chance of a no-deal Brexit again, despite Parliament’s stated aim of preventing that. As yet, there is no better alternative.

Finally, the euro is still under pressure this morning as well, down a further 0.2% this morning, which makes 1.5% in the past week. This morning’s only data point showed Unemployment in Spain rose unexpectedly to 14.7%, another sign of slowing growth throughout the Eurozone. At this point, the ECB is unwilling to commit to easing policy much further, but with the data misses piling up, at some point they are going to concede the point. Easier money is coming to the Eurozone as well.

This morning brings Initial Claims data (exp 200K) and Durable Goods (0.8%, 0.2% ex Transport). It doesn’t seem that either of these will change any views, and as we have seen all week, I expect that Q1 earnings will be the market’s overall focus. A bullish spin will continue to highlight the different trajectories of the US and the rest of the world, and ultimately, continue to support the dollar.

Good luck
Adf

 

Addiction To Debt

A policy change did beget
In China, addiction to debt
Per last night’s report
Financial support
Continues, the bulls’ views, to whet

The data from China continues to surprise modestly to the upside. Last week, you may recall, the Manufacturing PMI report printed above 50 in a surprising rebound. Last night, Q1 GDP printed at 6.4%, a tick better than expected, and the concurrent data; Fixed Asset Investment (6.3%), IP (8.5%) and Retail Sales (8.7%) all beat expectations as well. In fact, the IP data blew them away as the analyst community was looking for a reading of 5.9%. While there is some possibility that the data is still mildly distorted from the late Lunar New Year holiday, it certainly seems as though the Chinese have managed to prevent any significant further weakness in their economy.

How, you may ask, have they accomplished this feat? Why the way every government does these days. As we also learned last week, debt in China continues to grow rapidly, far more rapidly than the economy, which means that every yuan of debt buys less growth. It should be no surprise that there is diminishing effectiveness in this strategy, but it should also be no surprise that this is likely to be the way forward. In the short run, this process certainly pads the data story, helping to ensure that growth continues. However, there is a clear and measurable negative aspect to this policy.

Exhibit A is real estate. One of the areas seeing the most investment in China continues to be real estate. The problem with expanding real estate debt (it grew 11.6% in Q1 compared to 6.4% growth for GDP) is that real estate investment is not especially productive. For an economy that relies on manufacturing, productivity growth is crucial. The more money invested in real estate, the less available for improved efficiencies in the economy. Longer term this will lead to slower GDP growth in China, just as it has done in all the developed world economies. However, as politics, even in China, is based on the here and now, there is no reason to expect these policies to change. Two years ago, President Xi tried to force a crackdown on excessive debt used to finance the property bubble that had inflated throughout China. However, it is abundantly clear that the priorities have shifted to growth at all costs. At this stage, I expect that we will see consistently better numbers out of China going forward, regardless of any trade resolution. If Xi wants growth, that is what the rest of the world will see, whether it exists or not.

Turning to the FX market, this implies to me that we are about to see CNY start to strengthen further. Last night saw a 0.40% rally taking the dollar down to key support levels between 6.68-6.69. I expect that we are going to see the renminbi start a more protracted move higher and at this point would not be surprised to see the USDCNY end 2019 around 6.30. That is a significant change in my view from earlier this year, but there has also been a significant change in the policy stance in China which cannot be ignored.

Elsewhere, risk overall has been ‘on’ as investors have responded to the better than expected Chinese data, as well as the continued dovishness from the central banking community, and keep buying stocks. If you recall several weeks ago, there was a conundrum as both stocks and bonds were rallying. At the time, the view from most pundits was that the stock market was wrong and that the bond market was presaging a significant slowdown in the economy. In fact, we saw that first yield curve inversion at the time in early March. However, since then, 10-year Treasury yields have backed up by 22bps and now sit above 2.60% for the first time in a month, while stock prices have continued to rally. As such, it appears that the bond market had it wrong, not the stock market. The one caveat is that this stock market rally has been on diminishing volumes which implies that it is not that widely supported. The opposing viewpoints are the bulls believe there is a big catch up rally in the wings as those who have missed out reach peak FOMO, while the bears believe that though the rally has been substantial, it has a very weak underlying basis, and will retreat rapidly.

As to the FX market, yesterday saw dollar strength, which was a bit surprising given the weaker than expected economic data (both IP and Capacity Utilization disappointed) as well as mixed to negative earnings data from the equity market. However, this morning, the dollar has retraced those gains with the pound being the one real outlier, falling slightly amid gains in virtually every other currency, as inflation data from the UK printed softer than expected at 1.9%, thus pushing any concept of tighter policy even further into the future.

On the data front, this morning brings the Trade Balance (exp -$53.3B) and then the Fed’s Beige Book is released this afternoon. We also have two more Fed speakers, Harker and Bullard, but that message remains pretty consistent. No change in policy in the near future and all efforts to determine the best way to push inflation up to the target level. What this means in practice is that there is a vanishingly small probability that US monetary policy will tighten any further in the near future. Of course, neither will policy elsewhere tighten, so I continue to view the dollar’s prospects positively with the clear exception of the CNY as mentioned above.

Good luck
Adf

 

Clearly On Hold

Though policy’s clearly on hold
Most central banks feel they’ve controlled
The story on growth
And yet they’re still loath
To change their inflation threshold

Amidst generally dull market activity (at least in the FX market), traders and investors continue to look for the next key catalysts to drive markets. In US equity markets, we are now entering earnings season which should keep things going for a while. The early releases have shown declining earnings on a sequential basis, but thus far the results have bested estimates so continue to be seen as bullish. (As an aside, could someone please explain to me the bullish case on stocks trading at a 20+ multiple with economic growth in the US at 2% and globally at 3.5% alongside extremely limited policy leeway for further monetary ease? But I digress.) Overnight saw Chinese stocks rock, with Shanghai soaring 2.4% and the Hang Seng 1.1%. European stocks are a bit firmer as well (DAX +0.6%, FTSE +0.4%) and US futures are pointing higher.

Turning to the central banks, we continue to hear the following broad themes: policy is in a good place right now, but the opportunity for further ease exists. Depending on the central bank this is taking different forms. For example, the Minutes of the RBA meeting indicated a growing willingness to cut the base rate further, and market expectations are building for two more cuts this year, down to 1.00%. Meanwhile, the Fed has no ability to cut rates yet (they just stopped raising them in December) but continues to talk about how they achieve their inflation target. Yesterday, Boston Fed president Rosengren posited that a stronger commitment to the symmetry around their 2.0% target could be useful. Personally, I don’t believe that, but I’m just a gadfly, not a PhD economist. At any rate, the idea is that allowing the economy to run hot without tightening is tantamount to easing policy further. In the end, it has become apparent the Fed’s (and every central bank’s) problem is that their economic models no longer are a good representation of the inner workings of the economy. As such, they are essentially flying blind. Previous relationships between growth, inflation and employment have clearly changed. I make no claim that I know what the new relationships are like, just that 10 years of monetary policy experiments with subpar results is enough to demonstrate the central banks are lost.

This is true not just in the US and Europe, but in Japan, where they have been working on QE for nearly thirty years now.

More ETF’s bought
Will be followed by more and
More ETF’s bought

It’s vital for the Bank of Japan to continue persistently with powerful monetary easing,” Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said. As can be seen from Kuroda-san’s comments last night in the Diet, the BOJ is a one-trick pony. While it is currently illegal for the Fed to purchase equities, that is not the case in Japan, and they have been buying them with gusto. The thing is, the Japanese economy continues to stumble along with minimal growth and near zero inflation. As the sole mandate for the BOJ is to achieve their 2.0% inflation target, it is fair to say that they have been failing for decades. And yet, they too, have not considered a new model.

In the end, it seems the lesson to be learned is that the myth of omnipotence that the central banks would have us all believe is starting to crack. Once upon a time central banks monitored activity in the real economy and tried to adjust policy accordingly. Financial markets followed their lead and responded to those actions. But as the world has become more financially oriented during the past thirty years, it seems we now have the opposite situation. Now, financial markets trade on anticipation of central bank activity, and if central banks start to tighten policy, financial markets tend to throw tantrums. However, there is no tough love at central banks. Rather they are indulgent parents who cave quite quickly to the whims of declining markets. Regardless of their alleged targets for inflation or employment, the only number that really matters is the S&P 500, and that is generally true for every central bank.

Turning to this morning’s data story, the German ZEW survey was released at a better than expected 3.1. In fact, not only was this better than forecast, but it was the first positive reading in more than a year. It seems that the ongoing concerns over German growth may be easing slightly at this point. Certainly, if we see a better outcome in the Manufacturing PMI data at the end of April, you can look for policymakers to signal an all clear on growth, although they seem unlikely to actually tighten policy. Later this morning we see IP (exp 0.2%) and Capacity Utilization (79.1%) and then tonight, arguably more importantly, we see the first look at Chinese Q1 GDP (exp 6.3%).

If you consider the broad narrative, it posits that renewed Chinese monetary stimulus will prevent a significant slowdown there, thus helping economies like Germany to rebound. At the same time, the mooted successful conclusion of the US-China trade talks will lead to progress on US-EU and US-Japanese talks, and then everything will be right with the world as the previous world order is reincarnated. FWIW I am skeptical of this outcome, but clearly equity market bulls are all-in.

In the end, the dollar has been extremely quiet (volatility measures are back to historic lows) and it is hard to get excited about movement in the near-term. Nothing has yet changed my view that the US will ultimately remain the tightest policy around, and thus continue to draw investment and USD strength. But frankly, recent narrow ranges are likely to remain in place for a little while longer yet.

Good luck
Adf

 

A Future Upgrade

The data from China conveyed
A story that can be portrayed
As Q1 was weak
But policy tweaks
Imply there’s a future upgrade

In a relatively dull session for news events, Chinese data was the biggest story. The trade surplus there expanded dramatically, rising to $32.6B, much larger than any expectations, as not only did exports grow more robustly (+14.2%) but imports fell sharply (-7.6%). On the surface this suggests that the global situation may have seen its worst days, as demand for Chinese goods was strong, but the domestic economy there continues to be plagued by weakness. However, a few hours later, Chinese money supply and loan data was released with a slightly different message. Here, M2 grew more than expected at an 8.6% rate, while new loans also expanded sharply (+13.7%) implying that the PBOC’s efforts at stimulating the economy are starting to bear fruit. The loan data also implies that growth going forward, in Q2 and beyond, is likely to rebound further. In fact, the only negative piece of news was that auto sales continue to decline in China, falling 5.2% in March, the ninth consecutive year/year decline in the series. The market response to this was muted in the equity space, with Shanghai virtually unchanged, but the renminbi did benefit, rising 0.2% in the wake of the release.

Away from those data points, the news has been sparse. Interestingly, the dollar has been under pressure across the board since yesterday’s close with the euro now higher by 0.6%, both the pound and yen by 0.3% and Aussie leading the way amid firmer commodity prices, by 0.7%. In fact, despite the Shanghai equity performance, today has all the other earmarks of a risk-on session. Equity markets elsewhere in Asia were firm (Nikkei +0.75%, Hang Seng +0.25%), they are higher in Europe (FTSE and CAC +0.4%, DAX +0.6%) and US futures are pointing higher as well (DJIA +0.7%, S&P +0.5%). At the same time government bond yields are rising with 10-year Treasury yields now higher by 5bps. Much of this movement has occurred early this morning after JP Morgan released better than expected results. So, for today, all seems right with the world!

Away from those data releases, there has been far less of interest. Yesterday we heard from NY Fed President Williams who explained that the rate situation was appropriate for now and that there was no reason for the Fed to act in the near future. While growth seems solid, the continuing lack of measured inflation shows no signs of changing and so rates are likely to remain on hold for an extended period. In a related story, a WSJ survey of economists described this morning shows expectations for the next Fed move to have been pushed back to Q4 2020, with a growing likelihood that it will be a rate cut. In other words, expectations are for an extended period of time with no monetary policy changes. If that is the case, then markets will need to find other catalysts to drive prices. Who knows, maybe equity prices will start to reflect company fundamentals again! Just kidding!

Actually, this situation will drive the market to be even more focused on the economic data as essentially every central bank around the world has indicated the current policy pause is designed to observe the data and then respond accordingly. So, if weakness becomes evident in a country or region, look for the relevant central bank(s) to ease policy quickly. At the same time, if inflation does start to pick up someplace, policy tightening will be discussed, if not implemented right away. And markets will respond to these discussions given the lack of other catalysts.

For now however, Goldilocks has been revived. Rates have almost certainly peaked for this cycle, and policy stability may well lead us to yet further new highs in the equity space. Perhaps the central banks have well and truly killed the business cycle and replaced it with a permanent modest growth trajectory. Personally, I don’t believe that is the case, as evidenced by the diminishing impact of each of their policies, but the evidence over the past several years is working in their favor, I have to admit.

This morning’s only data point is Michigan Consumer Sentiment, which is expected to decline slightly from last month’s 98.4 to 98.0 today. We also hear from Chair Powell again, but that story is old news. With risk being acquired, look for the dollar to continue to falter for the rest of the session, albeit probably not by much more. Things haven’t changed that much!

Good luck and good weekend
Adf