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