Absent Demand

With Autumn’s arrival at hand
The virus has taken a stand
It won’t be defeated
Nor barely depleted
Thus, markets are absent demand

Risk is definitely on the back foot this morning as concerns grow over the increase in Covid-19 cases around the world.  Adding to the downward pressure on risk assets is the news that a number of major global banks are under increased scrutiny for their inability (unwillingness?) to stop aiding and abetting money laundering.  And, of course, in the background is the growing sense that monetary authorities around the world, notably the Fed, have run out of ammunition in their ongoing efforts to support economic growth in the wake of the government imposed shutdowns.  All in all, things look pretty dire this morning.

Starting with the virus, you may recall that one of the fears voiced early on was that, like the flu, it would fade somewhat in the summer and then reassert itself as the weather cooled.  Well, it appears that was a pretty accurate analysis as we have definitely seen the number of new cases rising in numerous countries around the world.  Europe finds itself in particularly difficult straits as the early self-congratulatory talk about how well they handled things vis-à-vis the US seems to be coming undone.  India has taken the lead with respect to the growth in cases, with more than 130,000 reported in the past two days.  The big concern is that government’s around the world are going to reimpose new lockdowns to try to stifle growth in the number of cases, but we all know how severely that can impact the economy.  So, the question with which the markets are grappling is, will the potential long-term benefit of a lockdown, which may reduce the overall caseload outweigh the short-term distress to the economy, profits and solvency?

At least for today, investors and traders are coming down on the side that the lockdowns are more destructive than the disease and so we have seen equity markets around the world come under pressure, with Europe really feeling the pain.  Last night saw the Hang Seng (-2.1%) and Shanghai (-0.6%) sell off pretty steadily.  (The Nikkei was closed for Autumnal Equinox Day.)  But the situation in Europe has been far more severe with the DAX (-3.2%), CAC (-3.1%) and FTSE 100 (-3.5%) all under severe pressure.  All three of those nations are stressing from an increase in Covid cases, but this is where we are seeing a second catalyst, the story about major banks and their money laundering habits.  A new report has been released that describes movement of more than $2 trillion in illicit funds by major (many European) banks, even after sanctions and fines have been imposed.  It can be no surprise that bank stocks throughout Europe are lower, nor that pre-market activity in the US is pointing in the same direction.  As such, US future markets showing declines of 1.5%-2.0% are right in line with reasonable expectations.

And finally, we cannot ignore Chairman Powell and the Fed.  The Chairman will be speaking before Congress three times this week, on both the need for more fiscal stimulus as well as the impact of Covid on the economy.  Now we already know that the Fed has implemented “powerful” new tools to help support the US, after all, Powell told us that about ten times last week in his press conference.  Unfortunately, the market is a bit less confident in the power of those tools.  At the same time, it seems the ECB has launched a review of its PEPP program, to try to determine if it has been effective and how much longer it should continue.  One other question they will address is whether the original QE program, APP, should be modified to be more like PEPP.  It is not hard to guess what the answers will be; PEPP has been a huge success, it should be expanded and extended because of its success, and more consideration will be given to changing APP to be like PEPP (no capital key).  After all, the ECB cannot sit by idly and watch the Fed ease policy more aggressively and allow the euro to appreciate in value, that would be truly catastrophic to their stated goal of raising the cost of living inflation on the Continent.

With all that in mind, a look at FX markets highlights that the traditional risk-off movement is the order of the day.  In other words, the dollar is broadly stronger vs. just about everything except the yen.  For instance, in the G10 space, NOK (-1.45%) is falling sharply as the combination of risk aversion and a sharply lower oil price (WTI -2.5%) has taken the wind out of the krone’s sails.  But the weakness here is across the board as SEK (-0.8%) and the big two, GBP (-0.5%) and EUR (-0.45%) are all under pressure.  It’s funny, it wasn’t that long ago when the entire world was convinced that the dollar was about to collapse.  Perhaps that attitude was a bit premature.  In fact, the euro bulls need to hope that 1.1765 (50-day moving average) holds because if the technicians jump in, we could see the single currency fall a lot more.

As to the emerging markets, the story is the same, the dollar is broadly higher with recent large gainers; ZAR (-2.0%) and MXN (-1.4%), leading the way lower.  But the weakness is broad-based as the CE4 are all under pressure (CZK -1.3%, HUF -1.1%, PLN -0.95%) and even CNY (-0.2%) which has been rallying steadily since its nadir at the end of May, has suffered.  In fact, the only positive was KRW (+0.2%) which benefitted from data showing that exports finally grew, rising above 0.0% for the first time since before Covid.

As to the data this week, it is quite light with just the following to watch:

Tuesday Existing Home Sales 6.01M
Wednesday PMI Manufacturing (Prelim) 53.3
Thursday Initial Claims 840K
Continuing Claims 12.45M
New Home Sales 890K
Friday Durable Goods 1.1%
-ex Transport 1.0%

Source: Bloomberg

The market will be far more interested in Powell’s statements, as well as his answers in the Q&A from both the House and Senate.  The thing is, we already know what he is going to say.  The Fed has plenty of ammunition, but with interest rates already at zero, monetary policy needs help from fiscal policy.  In addition to Powell, nine other Fed members speak a total of twelve times this week.  But with Powell as the headliner, it is unlikely they will have an impact.

The risk meme is today’s story.  If US equity markets play out as the futures indicate, and follow Europe lower, there is no reason to expect the dollar to do anything but continue to rally.  After all, while short dollar positions are not at record highs, they are within spitting distance of being so, which means there is plenty of ammunition for a dollar rally as shorts get covered.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Shot of Caffeine

It’s true that, eternal, hope springs
And sessions like this give it wings
The news, seemingly
Is twixt Trump and Xi
Less angst will lead to better things

As well, hope has grown, a vaccine
Is likely, this year, to be seen
Now bulls rule the roost
Thus, giving a boost
To stocks like a shot of caffeine

Another day, another round of stories seemingly designed solely to boost equity markets around the world.  The first of these is a bit oblique, as the word from ‘insiders’ is that the Trump administration, despite its increasingly vocal hard line vs. the Chinese, is maintaining back channel communications, specifically regarding the WeChat app, and US companies’ ability to continue to use it in their advertising and marketing campaigns in China.  This is important as WeChat is a critical advertising venue for virtually every company in China, and if the mooted ban by the Trump administration in the US was a world-wide ban, most US companies would see their Chinese businesses devastated. If we forget, for a moment, the convenient timing of these leaked comments, this is, unarguably, good news for those US companies active in China.  Certainly, this is worth some added value to equity prices.

But let’s unpack the second story, the one about the vaccine.  While this weekend saw an announcement for the approval of another treatment, convalescent plasma injections, the big prize remains a working vaccine that is both safe and efficacious.  Briefly, the idea behind the plasma injections is that individuals who have recovered from the disease have antibodies in their blood, which can be separated and injected into severely ill patients in an effort to boost the patient’s own disease fighting capability.  As in everything to do with Covid-19, it remains experimental and there is controversy as to how well the therapy may work.  But given the desperation of some patients to get something done, the President has decided to overrule other voices and give emergency clearance.  However, this is a treatment, not a preventative.

The vaccine remains the holy grail.  To date, there are on the order of 180 different vaccines in various stages of development, 10 of which are in Phase 3 or have been given limited approvals.  Clearly, pharmaceutical companies see this as the newest potential blockbuster drug.  But the real question seems to be, even when (if) a vaccine is created, will it really change the nature of the spread of Covid-19 by that much?  It is unambiguous that the market narrative’s answer to that question is a resounding yes.  However, perhaps it is worth casting a skeptical eye on the idea.

Using influenza as our model, as it is the closest thing we have with respect to its contagion and even the structure of the disease and working under the assumption that human nature remains constant, the numbers don’t point to a vaccine as panacea.

Consider, in the US, roughly 45% of the population receives the flu vaccine each year.  In addition, it is only effective for, at most, two-thirds of those who do receive the vaccine.  Thus, the protective ‘shield’ that the flu vaccine creates is effective for roughly 30% of the population.  One of the reasons we consistently hear so much every year about getting the flu vaccine via PSA’s is that the virology community calculates we need a greater percentage of the population vaccinated to achieve a herd immunity.  And yet, the 45% inoculation rate has been pretty steady for years.  Human nature is pretty hard to change.

This begs the question, will the take-up of a Covid-19 vaccine be higher than that for the flu?  And if so, will it reach the level’s necessary to achieve herd immunity, thus encouraging governments to relax many of the current restrictions and people to resume some semblance of their former lives?

The argument for a higher take-up rate is that the media has gone out of its way to highlight the deadliness of Covid-19, in some cases exaggerating the numbers for effect, in what appears to be an attempt to sow fear in the population.  The underlying belief to this strategy is to convince a large portion of the population of the criticality of receiving the vaccine once it becomes available.  And perhaps this will be a successful strategy.  But human nature has taken a long time to evolve to where it currently resides, and the case for a flu-like take-up rate, and thus a failure to achieve herd immunity, is based on the idea that unless one has been sickened already, or personally knows someone who has, it is hard to make the case that inoculation rates will increase over those of the flu vaccine.

Alas, my money is on the under.  However, will that matter for the markets?  That is an entirely different question, and one which speaks to confidence, not data.  At this time, I would contend the underlying market belief is that a vaccine is going to be approved, and be effective, within the next twelve months.  The result will be an end to the lockdowns and a resumption in economic activity worldwide that is much closer to the pre-Covid time.  But if this is so, one needs to be careful that we are not looking at the biggest ‘but the rumor’ reaction in history, and that the approval of a safe vaccine could well be the proverbial bell for the top of the equity market.  Remember, economic growth is still a product of population growth and productivity, and there is nothing about a Covid vaccine that will have increased either of those from pre-Covid days.

That exceptionally long discussion was driven by the remarkable ongoing rally in risk assets seen this morning.  Equity markets in Asia were all higher (Nikkei +0.3%, Hang Seng +1.75%) and Europe is really on fire (DAX +2.3%, CAC +2.15%).  US futures are currently 1.0% higher and climbing.  Bonds are under modest pressure, with 10-year yields higher by 1 basis point in the US and most of Europe.  Oil prices, along with gold, are higher by 0.5%-0.7%, modest by their recent standards.  And the dollar is definitely under a bit of pressure.

In the G10 space, SEK and AUD lead the way, both higher by 0.5%, although the gains are fairly solid across the board.  In fact, despite extending the lockdown in Auckland, NZ, kiwi has retraced early losses and is higher by 0.25%.  In the EMG bloc, ZAR leads the way, up 1.2%, as the combination of risk positive stories and higher commodity prices continues to encourage investors to buy South African bonds.  But virtually the entire space is firmer this morning with two outliers, KRW (-0.25%) which fell after the central bank downgraded the economic outlook further, and TRY (-0.8%), which continue to see capital flee as the central bank is prevented by President Erdogan from raising rates.

There has been virtually no data today, and in truth, all eyes will be on Chairman Powell Thursday morning, when he speaks at the virtual Jackson Hole gathering.  Expectations are he is going to outline the new Fed framework, with a higher inflation target, and other potential changes.  But we will look into that later this week.  As for today, I see no reason to believe that the current risk attitude is going to change, so further dollar weakness is likely on the cards.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Gone Undetected

When Covid, last winter, emerged
Most government bond prices surged
As havens were sought
And most people thought
That price pressures would be submerged

But since then, with six months now passed
Economists all are aghast
Deflation expected
Has gone undetected
As price levels beat their forecasts

You may recall that when the coronavirus first came to our collective attention at the end of January, it forced China to basically shut down its economy for three weeks. At that time, expectations were for major supply chain disruptions, but concerns over the spread of the virus were not significant. Economists plugged that information into their models and forecast price rises due to supply constraints. Of course, over the next two months as Covid-19 spread rapidly throughout the rest of the world and resulted in lockdowns of economic activity across numerous countries, the demand destruction was obvious. Economists took this new information, plugged it into their models and declared that the deflationary pressures would be greater than the supply chain disruptions thus resulting in deflation, and more ominously, could result in a deflationary spiral like the one the US suffered during the Great Depression.

Central banks didn’t need their arms twisted to respond to that message, especially since the big three central banks, the Fed, ECB and BOJ, had all been struggling to raise inflation to their respective targets for nearly ten years. Thus began the greatest expansion of monetary stimulus in history. Throughout this period, central bankers pooh-poohed the idea that inflation would emerge by pointing to the financial crisis of 2008-9, when they implemented the previously greatest expansion in monetary policy, flooding economies with money, yet no inflation was recorded. At least, price inflation in goods and services, as measured by governments, remained subdued throughout the period.

But there is a very big difference between the current economic situation and the state of things back in 2009. During the financial crisis, banks were the epicenter of the problem, and printing money and injecting it into banks was all that was needed to prevent a further collapse in the economy. In fact, fiscal policy was relatively tight, so all that money basically sat on bank balance sheets as excess reserves at the Fed. There was no increase in buying pressure and thus no measured inflation. In fact, the only thing that inflated was financial asset prices, as the central bank response led to a decade long boom in both stock and bond prices.

In 2020 however, Covid-19 has inspired not just central bank action, but massive fiscal stimulus as well. At this point, over $10 trillion of fiscal stimulus has been implemented worldwide, with the bulk of it designed to get money into the hands of those people who have lost their jobs due to the economic shutdowns worldwide. In other words, this money has entered the real economy, not simply gone into the investment community. When combining that remarkable artificial increase in demand with the ongoing supply chain breakages, it is not hard to understand that price pressures are going to rise. And so they have, despite all the forecasts for deflation.

Just this morning, the UK reported CPI rose 1.0% Y/Y in July, 0.4% more than expected. Core CPI there rose 1.8% Y/Y, 0.6% more than expected. This outcome sounds remarkably like the US data from last week and shows this phenomenon is not merely a US situation. The UK has implemented significant fiscal stimulus as well as monetary support from the BOE. The UK has also seen its supply chains severely interrupted by the virus. The point is, prices seem far more likely to rise during this crisis than during the last one. We are just beginning to see the evidence of that. And as my good friend, @inflation_guy (Mike Ashton) explains, generating inflation is not that hard. Generating just a little inflation is going to be the problem. Ask yourself this, if the economy is still dragging and inflation starts to rise more rapidly than desired, do you really think any central bank is going to raise rates? I didn’t think so. Be prepared for more inflation than is currently forecast.

With that in mind, let us consider what is happening in markets today. Once again the picture is mixed, at least in Asia, as today the Nikkei (+0.25%) found a little support while the Hang Seng (-0.75%) and Shanghai (-1.25%) came under pressure. European exchanges are showing very modest gains (DAX +0.25%, CAC +0.1%) and US futures are all barely in the green. This is not a market that is excited about anything. Instead, investors appear to be on the sidelines with no strong risk view evident.

Turning to bond markets, we continue to see Treasury yields, and all European bond yields as well, slide this morning, with the 10-year Treasury yield down 2 basis points and similar declines throughout Europe. Commodity markets are showing some weakness, with both oil (WTI -0.9%) and gold (-0.6%) softer this morning. Add it all up and it feels like a bit of risk aversion rather than increased risk appetite.

And what of the dollar? Despite what has the feeling of some risk aversion, the dollar is slightly softer on the day, with most currencies showing some strength. In the G10 space, NZD is the outlier, rising 0.7% on the back of a massive short squeeze in the kiwi. But away from that, the movement has been far more muted, and, in fact, the pound is softer by 0.2% as traders are beginning to ask if Brexit may ultimately be a problem. In addition, while the UK inflation data was much higher than expected, there is certainly no indication at this time that the BOE is going to reverse course anytime soon. I have to say that the pound above 1.32 does seem a bit overextended.

EMG currencies are a more mixed picture with RUB (-0.3%) responding to oil’s modest decline, while ZAR has pushed higher by 0.6% on the back of strong foreign inflows for today’s local bond auctions. In what appears to be a benign environment, the hunt for yield is fierce and South Africa with its nominal yields above 9% in the 10-year and inflation running well below 3% is certainly attractive. But otherwise, movement has been uninteresting with most currencies edging higher vs. the dollar this morning.

On the data front today, the only US release is the FOMC Minutes from the July meeting where analysts will be searching for clues as to the Fed’s preferred next steps. More specific forward guidance tied to economic indicators seems to be in the cards, with the key question, which indicators?

Add it all up and we have another slow summer day where the dollar drifts lower. Arguably, the biggest unknown right now would be an agreement on the next US fiscal stimulus package, which if announced would likely result in a weaker dollar. However, I am not willing to forecast the timing of that occurring.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Poison Pens

The headlines all weekend have shouted
The dollar is sure to be routed
If Covid-19
Remains on the scene
A rebound just cannot be touted

But ask yourself this my good friends
Have nations elsewhere changed their trends?
Infections are rising
Despite moralizing
By pundits who wield poison pens

Based on the weekend’s press, as well as the weekly analysis recaps, the future of the dollar is bleak. Not only is it about to collapse, but it will soon lose its status as the world’s reserve currency, although no one has yet figured out what will replace it in that role. This is evident in the sheer number of articles that claim the dollar is sure to decline (for those of you with a Twitter account, @pineconemacro had a great compilation of 28 recent headlines either describing the dollar’s decline or calling for a further fall), as well as the magnitude of the short dollar positions in the market, as measured by CFTC data. As of last week, there are record long EUR positions and near-record shorts in the DXY.

So, the question is, why does everybody hate the dollar so much? It seems there are two reasons mentioned most frequently; the impact of unbridled fiscal and monetary stimulus and the inability of the US to get Covid-19 under control. Let’s address them in order.

There is no question that the Fed and the Treasury, at the behest of Congress, have expended extraordinary amounts of money to respond to the Covid crisis. The Fed’s balance sheet has grown from $4.2 trillion to $7.0 trillion in the course of four months. And of course, the Fed has basically bought everything except your used Toyota in an effort to support market functionality. And it is important to recognize that what they continue to explain is that they are not supporting asset prices per se, rather they are simply insuring that financial markets work smoothly. (Of course, their definition of working smoothly is asset prices always go higher.) Nonetheless, the Fed has been, by far, the most active central bank in the world with respect to monetary support. At the same time, the US government has authorized about $3.5 trillion, so far, of fiscal support, although there is much anxiety now that the CARES act increase in unemployment benefits lapsed last Friday and there is still a wide divergence between the House and Senate with respect to what to do next.

But consider this; while the US is excoriated for borrowing too much and expanding both the budget deficit and the amount of debt issued, the EU was celebrated for coming to agreement on…borrowing €2 trillion to expand the budget deficit and support the economies of each nation in the bloc. Debt mutualization, we have been assured, is an unalloyed good and will help the EU’s overall economic prospects by allowing the transfer of wealth from the rich northern nations to the less well-off southern nations. And of course, given the collective strength of the EU, they will be able to borrow virtually infinite sums from the market. Perhaps it is just me, but the stories seem pretty similar despite the spin as to which is good, and which is bad.

The second issue for the dollar, and the one that is getting more press now, is the fact that the US has not been able to contain Covid infections and so we are seeing a second wave of economic shutdowns across numerous states. You know, states like; Victoria, Australia; Melbourne, Australia; Tokyo, Japan; the United Kingdom and other large areas. This does not even address the ongoing spread of the disease through the emerging markets where India and Brazil have risen to the top of the worldwide caseload over the past two months. Again, my point is that despite reinstituted lockdowns in many places throughout the world, it is the US which the narrative points out as the problem.

It is fair to describe the dollar’s reaction function as follows: it tends to strengthen when either the US economy is outperforming other G10 economies (a situation that prevailed pretty much the entire time since the GFC) or when there is unbridled fear that the world is coming to an end and USD assets are the most desirable in the world given its history of laws and fair treatment of investors. In contrast, when the US economy is underperforming, it is no surprise that the dollar would tend to weaken. Well the data from Q2 is in and what we saw was that despite the worst ever quarterly decline in the US, it was dwarfed by the major European economies. At this time, the story being told seems to be that in Q3, the rest of the world will rapidly outpace the US, and perhaps it will. But that is a pretty difficult case to make when, first, Covid inspired lockdowns are popping up all around the world and second, the consumer of last resort (the US population) has lost their appetite to consume, or if not lost, at least reduced.

Once again, I will highlight that the dollar, while definitely in a short-term weakening trend, is far from a collapse, and rather is essentially right in the middle of its long-term range. This is not to say that the dollar cannot fall further, it certainly can, but do not think that the dollar is soon to become the Venezuelan bolivar.

And with that rather long-winded defense of the dollar behind us, let’s take a look at markets today. Equity markets continue to enjoy central bank support and have had an overall strong session. Asia saw gains in the Nikkei (+2.25%) and Shanghai (+1.75%) although the Hang Seng (-0.55%) couldn’t keep up with the big dogs. Europe’s board is no completely green, led by the DAX (+2.05%) although the CAC, which was lower earlier, is now higher by 1.0%. And US futures, which had spent the evening in the red are now higher as well.

Bond markets are embracing the risk-on attitude as Treasury yields back up 2bps, although are still below 0.55% in the 10-year. In Europe, the picture is mixed, and a bit confusing, as bund yields are actually 1bp lower, while Italian BTP’s are higher by 2bps. That is exactly the opposite of what you would expect for a risk-on session. But then, the bond market has not agreed with the stock market since Covid broke out.

And finally, the dollar, is having a pretty strong session today, perhaps seeing a bit of a short squeeze, as I’m sure the narrative has not yet changed. In the G10, all currencies are softer vs. the greenback, led by CHF (-0.6%) and AUD (-0.55%), although the pound (-0.5%) which has been soaring lately, is taking a rest as well. What is interesting about this move is that the only data released overnight was the monthly PMI data and it was broadly speaking, slightly better than expected and pointed to a continuing rebound.

EMG currencies are also largely under pressure, led by ZAR (-1.15%) and then the CE4 (on average -0.7%) with almost the entire bloc softer. In fact, the outlier is RUB (+0.8%), which seems to be the beneficiary of a reduction in demand for dollars to pay dividends to international investors, and despite the fact that oil prices have declined this morning on fears that the OPEC+ production cuts are starting to be flouted.

It is, of course, a huge data week, culminating in the payroll report on Friday, but today brings only ISM Manufacturing (exp 53.6) with the New Orders (55.2) and Prices Paid (52.0) components all expected to show continued growth in the economy.

With the FOMC meeting now behind us, we can look forward, as well, to a non-stop gabfest from Fed members, with three today, Bullard, Barkin and Evans, all set to espouse their views. The thing is, we already know that the Fed is not going to touch rates for at least two years, and is discussing how to try to push inflation higher. On the latter point, I don’t think they will have to worry, as it will get there soon enough, but their models haven’t told them that yet. At any rate, the dollar has been under serious pressure for the past several months. Not only that, most of the selling seems to come in the US session, which leads me to believe that while the dollar is having a pretty good day so far, I imagine it will soften before we log out this evening.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Second Wave

In Q2 we learned to behave
Like primitives stuck in a cave
In order to stem
The virus mayhem
And millions of lives, try to save

But Q3 has shown that we crave
More contact than lockdown, us, gave
Thus, it’s not surprising
Infections are rising
And now we’ve achieved second wave

If I were to describe market behavior of late, the word I would use is tentative. Investors and traders are caught between wanting to believe that the nonstop stimulus efforts on both fiscal, and especially, monetary fronts will be sufficient to help the economy through the current economic crisis (conveniently ignoring the extraordinary build up in debt), and concerns that there is too much permanent damage to too many businesses to allow for a swift recovery to a pre-Covid level of activity. Adding to the fear side of the equation is the resurgence in the number of infections worldwide, especially in places that had seemed to eradicate the virus. News from Hong Kong, Australia, China and India shows that the virus is making a resurgence, with several places recording more cases now than when things started five to six months ago. And of course, we have seen the same pattern in states that were first to reopen here at home.

Meanwhile, the medical community continues its extraordinary efforts to find a vaccine, with several promising candidates making their way through trials. Perhaps the best medical news is that it seems doctors on the front line have learned how to treat the disease more effectively, which has reduced the number of critical cases and helped drive down the fatality rate. Alas, an effective vaccine remains elusive. Ironically, the vaccine’s importance in many ways is symbolic. The idea that there is a way to avoid catching the bug is certainly appealing, but if the flu vaccine is any harbinger of the outcome, a minority of people will actually get vaccinated. So, the vaccine story is more about a chance for confidence to be restored than about people’s health. Perhaps this sums up the state of human affairs these days better than anything else.

And yet, while no politician anywhere will allow confirmation, it certainly appears that we are seeing a second wave of infections spread worldwide. From the market’s perspective, this has been a key concern for the past several months as a second wave of economy-wide shutdowns would end all hopes of that elusive V-shaped recovery. And the only way to justify the current levels of asset values is by assuming this crisis will pass quickly and things will return to a more normal framework. Hence the trader’s dilemma. Is the worst behind us? Or is a second wave going to expand and delay the recovery further? Perhaps the most telling feature of this market is the changed relationship between the S&P 500 and the VIX index. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, an equity rally of the type seen since late March would have seen the VIX index collapse toward 15, the level at which it traded for virtually all of 2019. But this time, 30 has become the new normal for the VIX, a strong indication that investors are paying for protection, despite the cost, as there remains an underlying fear of another sharp decline beyond the horizon. Hence, my description of things as tentative.

Looking at markets this morning, tentative is an excellent descriptor. In the equity space, Asian markets were mixed, with the Nikkei (-0.3%) on the weak side with the Hang Seng (+0.5%) was the strong side. But given the type of movement we have seen lately, neither really displayed anything new at the end of the week. European markets are also mixed with the DAX (+0.5%) the best performer while Spain’s IBEX (-0.5%) is the worst. Again, a mix of performances with no evident trend. US futures are currently pointing higher although only the NASDAQ (+1.0%) is showing any real strength.

Meanwhile, Treasury yields have slipped again, with the 10-year down to 0.60%, its lowest level since mid-April and just 4bps from its historic low. That is hardly a sign of economic confidence. In Europe, the picture is mixed but yields are essentially within 1bp of where they closed yesterday as traders are unwilling to take a view.

Finally, the dollar, too, is having a mixed session, although if I had to characterize it, I would say it is slightly softer overall. The euro is higher by 0.3% this morning as there is hope that the EU Summit, which began a few hours ago, will come to an agreement on their mooted €750 billion pandemic plan that includes joint borrowing. Of course, the frugal four still need to be bought off in some manner but given the political determination to be seen to be doing something, I would look for a watered-down version of the bill to be agreed. However, the best performer today is CHF (+0.5%) in what appears to be some profit taking on EURCHF positions after the cross’s strong rally this week.

In the emerging markets, IDR is the big underperformer today, falling 0.5% overnight as traders position for future rate cuts by the central bank. While they cut 25bps yesterday, they also came across as more dovish than expected implying they are not yet done with the rate hatchet. On the plus side, ZAR (+0.6%) is top of the charts as investors have been flocking to the front end of their yield curve after a much lower than expected inflation print. The view is that the SARB has further to cut which will drive front end yields down, hence the buying. (The dichotomy between the two currencies is fascinating as both are moving on rate cut assumptions, but in opposite directions. Hey, nobody ever said FX was rational!) But we are seeing more gainers than losers as the CE4 track the euro higher and several APAC currencies also moved modestly higher overnight. Remember, one of the emerging narratives has been the dollar’s imminent decline on the back of the twin deficits and lost prestige in the world community. So, every time we see a day where the dollar declines, you can be sure you will see stories on that topic. And while the twin deficit story is certainly valid from a theoretical basis, it has never been a good short-term indicator of movement in the currency markets.

On the data front, yesterday saw US Retail Sales print at a better than expected 7.5%, but Initial Claims fall less than expected, with still 1.3 million first time claims. As I have mentioned, that number continues to be the timeliest indicator of what is happening, and it is certainly not declining very rapidly anymore. Today brings Housing Starts (exp 1189K) and Building Permits (1293K) at 8:30 and then Michigan Sentiment (79.0) at 10:00. Neither of these seem likely to have a major market impact. Rather, as earnings season progresses, I expect the ongoing reports there to drive equity markets and overall risk appetite. For now, nobody is very hungry for risk, but a few good numbers could certainly change that view, pushing stocks higher and the dollar lower.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Prepare For Impact

The second wave nears
A swell? Or a tsunami?
Prepare for impact

The cacophony of concern is rising as the infection count appears to be growing almost everywhere in the world lately. Certainly, here in the US, the breathless headlines about increased cases in Texas, Florida and Arizona have dominated the news cycle, although it turns out some other states are having issues as well. For instance:

In Cali the growth of new cases
Has forced them to rethink the basis
Of easing restrictions
Across jurisdictions
So now they have shut down more places

In fact, it appears that this was the story yesterday afternoon that turned markets around from yet another day of record gains, into losses in the S&P and a very sharp decline in the NASDAQ. And it was this price action that sailed across the Pacific last night as APAC markets all suffered losses of approximately 1.0%. These losses resulted even though Chinese trade data was better than expected for both imports (+2.7% Y/Y) and exports (+0.5% Y/Y) seemingly indicating that the recovery was growing apace there. And, given the euphoria we have seen in Chinese stock markets specifically, it was an even more surprising outcome. Perhaps it is a result of the increased tensions between the US and China across several fronts (Chinese territorial claims, defense sales to Taiwan, sanctions by each country on individuals in the other), but recent history has shown that investors are unconcerned with such things. A more likely explanation is that given the sharp gains that have been seen throughout equity markets in the region lately, a correction was due, and any of these issues could have been a viable catalyst to get it started. After all, a 1% decline is hardly fear inducing.

The problem is not just in the US, though, as we are seeing all of Europe extend border closures for another two weeks. The issue here is that even though infections seem to be trending lower across the Continent, the fact that they will not allow tourists from elsewhere to come continues to devastate those economies which can least afford the situation like Italy, Spain and Greece. The result is that we are likely to continue to see a lagging growth response and continued, and perhaps increased, ECB largesse. Remember all the hoopla regarding the announcement that the EU was going to borrow huge sums of money and issue grants to those countries most in need? Well, at this point, that still seems more aspirational than realistic and the idea that there would be mutualized debt issuance remains just that, an idea, rather than a reality. While the situation in the US remains dire, it is hard to point to Europe and describe the situation as fantastic. One of the biggest speculative positions around these days, aside from owning US tech stocks, is being short the dollar, with futures in both EUR and DXY approaching record levels. While the dollar has clearly underperformed for the past several weeks, it has shown no indication of a collapse, and quite frankly, a short squeeze feels like it is just one catalyst away. Be careful.

Meanwhile, ‘cross the pond, the UK
Saw GDP that did display
A slower rebound
And thus, they have found
Most people won’t come out and play

As we approach the final Brexit outcome at the end of this year, investors are beginning to truly separate the UK from the EU in terms of economic performance.  Alas, for the pound, the latest data from the UK was uninspiring, to say the least.  Monthly GDP in May, the anticipated beginning of the recovery, rose only 1.8%, with the 3M/3M result showing a -19.1% outcome.  IP, Construction and Services all registered worse than expected results, although the trade data showed a surplus as imports collapsed.  The UK is continuing to try to reopen most of the economy, but as we have seen elsewhere throughout the world, there are localized areas where the infection rate is climbing again, and a second lockdown has been put in place.  The market impact here has been exactly what one would have expected with the FTSE 100 (-0.4%) and the pound (-0.3%) both lagging.

To sum things up, the global economy appears to be reopening in fits and starts, and it appears that we are going to continue to see a mixed data picture until Covid-19 has very clearly retreated around the world.

A quick look at markets shows that the Asian equity flu has been passed to Europe with all the indices there lower, most by well over 1.0%, although US futures are currently pointing higher as investors optimistically await Q2 earnings data from the major US banks starting today.  I’m not sure what they are optimistic about, as loan impairments are substantial, but then, I don’t understand the idea that stocks can never go down either.

The dollar, overall, is mixed today, with almost an equal number of gainers and losers in both the G10 and EMG blocs.  The biggest winner in the G10 is SEK (+0.6%), where the krona has outperformed after CPI data showed a higher than expected rate of 0.7% Y/Y.  While this remains far below the Riksbank’s 2.0% target, it certainly alleviates some of the (misguided) fears about a deflationary outcome.  But aside from that, most of the block is +/- 0.2% or less with no real stories to discuss.

On the EMG side, we see a similar distribution of outcomes, although the gains and losses are a bit larger.  MXN (+0.65%) is the leader today, as it seems to be taking its cues from the positive Chinese data with traders looking for a more positive outcome there.  Truthfully, a quick look at the peso shows that it seems to have found a temporary home either side of 22.50, obviously much weaker than its pre-Covid levels, but no longer falling on a daily basis.  Rather, the technical situation implies that by the end of the month we should see a signal as to whether this has merely been a pause ahead of much further weakness, or if the worst is behind us, and a slow grind back to 20.00 or below is on the cards.

Elsewhere in the space we see the CE4 all performing well, as they follow the euro’s modest gains higher this morning, but most Asian currencies felt the sting of the risk-off sentiment overnight to show modest declines.

On the data front, this week brings the following information:

Today CPI 0.5% (0.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.1% (1.1% Y/Y)
Wednesday Empire Manufacturing 10.0
  IP 4.4%
  Capacity Utilization 67.8%
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 1.25M
  Continuing Claims 17.5M
  Retail Sales 5.0%
  -ex auto 5.0%
  Philly Fed 20.0
  Business Inventories -2.3%
Friday Housing Starts 1180K
  Building Permits 1290K
  Michigan Sentiment 79.0

Source: Bloomberg

So, plenty of data for the week, and arguably a real chance to see how the recovery started off.  It is still concerning that the Claims data is so high, as that implies jobs are not coming back nearly as quickly as a V-shaped recovery would imply.  Also, remember that at the end of the month, the $600/week of additional unemployment benefits is going to disappear, unless Congress acts.  Funnily enough, that could be the catalyst to get the employment data to start to improve significantly, if they let those benefits lapse.  But that is a question far above my pay grade.

The dollar feels stretched to the downside here, and any sense of an equity market correction could easily result in a rush to havens, including the greenback.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

A Vaccine’s Required

Mnuchin and Powell explained
That Congress ought not be restrained
In spending more cash
Or else, in a flash
The rebound might not be maintained

Meanwhile, as the quarter expired
The data show growth is still mired
Within a great slump
And hopes for a jump
Are high, but a vaccine’s required

I continue to read commentary after commentary that explains the future will be brighter once a Covid-19 vaccine has been created. This seems to be based on the idea that so many people are terrified of contracting the disease they they will only consider venturing out of their homes once they believe the population at large is not contagious. While this subgroup will clearly get vaccinated, that is not likely to be majority behavior. If we consider the flu and its vaccine as a model, only 43% of the population gets the flu shot each year. Surveys regarding a Covid vaccine show a similar response rate.

Consider, there is a large minority of the population who are adamantly against any types of vaccines, not just influenza. As well, for many people, the calculation seems to be that the risk of contracting the flu is small enough that the effort to go and get the shot is not worth their time. Ask yourself if those people, who are generally healthy, are going to change their behavior for what appears to be a new form of the flu. My observation is that human nature is pretty consistent in this regard, so Covid is no scarier than the flu for many folks. The point is that the idea that the creation of a vaccine will solve the economy’s problems seems a bit far-fetched. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses have already closed permanently because of the economic disruption, and we are all well acquainted with the extraordinary job loss numbers. No vaccine is going to reopen those businesses nor bring millions back to work.

And yet, the vaccine is a key part of the narrative that continues to drive risk asset prices higher. While we cannot ignore central bank activities as a key driver of equity and bond market rallies, the V-shaped recovery is highly dependent on the idea that things will be back to normal soon. But if a vaccine is created and approved for use, will it really have the impact the market is currently anticipating? Unless we start to see something akin to a health passport in this country, a document that certifies the holder has obtained a Covid-19 shot, why would anyone believe a stranger is not contagious and alter their newly learned covid-based behaviors. History shows that the American people are not fond of being told what to do when it comes to restricting their rights of movement. Will this time really be different?

However, challenging the narrative remains a difficult proposition these days as we continue to see the equity bulls in charge of all market behavior. As we enter Q3, a quick recap of last quarter shows the S&P’s 20% rally as its best quarterly performance since Q4 1998. Will we see a repeat in Q3? Seems unlikely and the risk of a reversal seems substantial, especially if the recent increase in Covid cases forces more closures in more states. In any event, uncertainty appears especially high which implies price volatility is likely to continue to rise across all markets.

But turning to today’s session, equity markets had a mixed session in Asia (Nikkei -0.75%, Hang Seng +0.5%) despite the imposition of the new, more draconian law in Hong Kong with regard to China’s ability to control dissent there. Meanwhile, small early European bourse gains have turned into growing losses with the DAX now lower by 1.5%, the CAC down by 1.4% and the FTSE 100 down by 1.0%. While PMI data released showed that things were continuing on a slow trajectory higher, we have just had word from German Chancellor Merkel that “EU members [are] still far apart on recovery fund [and the] budget.” If you recall, there is a great deal of credence put into the idea that the EU is going to jointly support the nations most severely afflicted by the pandemic’s impacts. However, despite both German and French support, the Frugal Four seem to be standing their ground. It should be no surprise that the euro has turned lower on the news as well, as early modest gains have now turned into a 0.3% decline. One of the underlying supports for the single currency, of late, has been the idea that the joint financing of a significant budget at the EU level will be the beginning of a coherent fiscal policy to be coordinated with the ECB’s monetary policy. If they cannot agree these terms, then the euro’s existence can once again be called into question.

Perhaps what is more interesting is that as European equity markets turn lower, and US futures with them, the bond market is under modest pressure as well this morning. 10-year Treasury yields are higher by more than 2bps and in Europe we are seeing yields rise by between 3bps and 4bps. This is hardly risk-off behavior and once again begs the question which market is leading which. In the long run, bond investors seem to have a better handle on things, but on a day to day basis, it is anyone’s guess.

Finally, turning to the dollar shows that early weakness here has turned into broad dollar strength with only two currencies in the G10 higher at this point, the haven JPY (+0.4%) and NOK (+0.2%), which has benefitted from oil’s rally this morning with WTI up by about 1% and back above $40/bbl. In the emerging markets, only ZAR has managed any gains of note, rising 0.4%, after its PMI data printed at a surprisingly higher 53.9. On the flip side, PLN (-0.6%) is the laggard, although almost all EMG currencies are softer, as PMI data there continue to disappoint (47.2) and concerns over a change in political leadership seep into investor thoughts.

On the data front, we start to see some much more important data here today with ADP Employment (exp 2.9M), ISM Manufacturing (49.7) and Prices Paid (44.6) and finally, FOMC Minutes to be released at 2:00. Yesterday we saw some thought provoking numbers as Chicago PMI disappointed at 36.6, much lower than expected, while Case Shiller House Prices rose to 3.98%, certainly not indicating a deflationary surge.

Yesterday we also heard the second part of Chairman Powell’s testimony to Congress, where alongside Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, he said that the Fed remained committed to doing all that is necessary, that rates will remain low for as long as is deemed necessary, and that it would be a mistake if Congress did not continue to support the economy with further fiscal fuel. None of that was surprising and, quite frankly, it had no impact on markets anywhere.

At this point, today looks set to see a little reversal to last quarter’s extremely bullish sentiment so beware further dollar strength.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Overthrow

Health data are starting to show
A second wave might overthrow
The rebound we’ve seen
From Covid-19
Which clearly will cause growth to slow

Risk is under pressure this morning as market participants continue to read the headlines regarding the rising rate of Covid infections in some of the largest US states, as well as throughout a number of emerging market nations. While this is concerning, in and of itself, it has been made more so by the fact that virtually every government official has warned that a second wave will undermine the progress that has been made with respect to the economic rebound worldwide. However, what seems to be clear is that more than three months into a series of government ordered shut downs that have resulted in $trillions of economic damage around the world, people in many places have decided that the risk from the virus is not as great as the risk to their personal economic well-being.

And that is the crux of the matter everywhere. Just how long can governments continue to impose restrictions on people without a wholesale rebellion? After all, there have been many missteps by governments everywhere, from initially downplaying the impact of the virus to moving to virtual marital law, with early prognostications vastly overstating the fatality rate of the virus and seemingly designed simply to sow panic and exert government control. It cannot be surprising that at some point, people around the world decided to take matters into their own hands, which means they are no longer willing to adhere to government rules.

The problem for markets, especially the equity markets, is that their recovery seems to be based on the idea that not only is a recovery right around the corner, but that economies are going to recoup all of their pandemic related losses and go right back to trend activity. Thus, a second wave interferes with that narrative. As evidence starts to grow that the caseload is no longer shrinking, but instead is growing rapidly, and that governments are back to shutting down economic activity again, those rosy forecasts for a sharp rebound are harder and harder to justify. And this is why we have seen the equity market rebound stumble for the past three weeks. In that time, we have seen twice as many down sessions as up sessions and the net result has been a 5.5% decline in the S&P500, with similar declines elsewhere.

So, what comes next? It is very hard to read the news about the growing list of bankruptcies as well as the significant write-downs of asset values and order cancelations without seeing the bear case. The ongoing dichotomy between the stock market rally and the economic distress remains very hard to justify in the long run. Of course, opposing the real economic news is the cabal of global central banks, who are doing everything they can think of collectively, to keep markets in functioning order and hoping that, if markets don’t panic, the economy can find its footing. This is what has brought us ZIRP, NIRP and QE with all its variations on which assets central banks can purchase. Alas, if central bankers really believe that markets are functioning ‘normally’ after $trillions of interference, that is a sad commentary on those central bankers’ understanding of how markets function, or at least have functioned historically. But the one thing on which we can count is that there is virtually no chance that any central bank will pull back from its current policy stance. And so, that dichotomy is going to have to resolve itself despite central bank actions. That, my friends, will be even more painful, I can assure you.

So, on a day with ordinary news flow, like today, we find ourselves in a risk-off frame of mind. Yesterday’s US equity rally was followed with modest strength in Asia. This was helped by Chinese PMI data which showed that the rebound there was continuing (Mfg PMI 50.9, Non-mfg PMI 54.4), although weakness in both Japanese ( higher Jobless Rate and weaker housing data) and South Korean (IP -9.6% Y/Y) data detracted from the recovery story. Of course, as we continue to see everywhere, weak data means ongoing central bank largesse, which at this point still leads to equity market support.

Europe, on the other hand, has not seen the same boost as equity markets there are mostly lower, although the DAX (+0.4%) and CAC (+0.2%) are the two exceptions to the rule. UK data has been the most prevalent with final Q1 GDP readings getting revised a bit lower (-2.2% Q/Q from -2.0%) while every other sub-metric was slightly worse as well. Meanwhile, PM Johnson is scrambling to present a coherent plan to support the nation fiscally until the Covid threat passes, although on that score, he is not doing all that well. And we cannot forget Brexit, where today’s passage without an extension deal means that December 31, 2020 is the ultimate line in the sand. It cannot be a surprise that the pound has been the worst performing G10 currency over the past week and month, having ceded 2.0% since last Tuesday. With the BOE seriously considering NIRP, the pound literally has nothing going for it in the short run. Awful economic activity, questionable government response to Covid and now NIRP on the horizon. If you are expecting to receive pounds in the near future, sell them now!

Away from the pound, which is down 0.3% today, NOK (-0.6%) is the worst performer in the G10, and that is really a result of, not only oil’s modest price decline (-1.3%), but more importantly the news that Royal Dutch Shell is writing down $22 billion of assets, a move similar to what we have seen from the other majors (BP and Exxon) and an indication that the future value (not just its price) of oil is likely to be greatly diminished. While we are still a long way from the end of the internal combustion engine, the value proposition is changing. And this speaks to just how hard it is to have an economic recovery if one of the largest industries that was adding significant value to the global economy is being downgraded. What is going to take its place?

The oil story is confirmed in the EMG space as RUB is the clear underperformer today, down 1.4% as Russia is far more reliant on oil than even Norway. However, elsewhere in the EMG bloc, virtually the entire space is under pressure to a much more limited extent. The thing is, if we start to see risk discarded and equity markets come under further pressure, these currencies are going to extend their declines.

This morning’s US data is second tier, with Case Shiller Home Prices (exp +3.8%), Chicago PMI (45.0) and Consumer Confidence (91.4). The latter two remain far below their pre-covid levels and likely have quite some time before they can return to those levels. Meantime, Fed speakers are out in force today, led by Chair Powell speaking before a Congressional panel alongside Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. His pre-released opening remarks harp on the risk of a second wave as well as the uncertainty over the future trajectory of growth because of that. As well, he continues to promise the Fed will do whatever is necessary to support the economy. And in truth, we have continued to hear that message from every single Fed speaker for the past two months’ at least. What we know for sure is that the Fed is not going to change its tune anytime soon.

For today, unless Powell describes yet another new program, if he remains in his mode of warning of disaster unless the government does more, it is hard to see how investors get excited. Risk is currently on the back foot and I see nothing to change that view today.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A New Paradigm

As mid-year approaches, it’s time
To ponder the central bank clime
Will negative rates
Appear in the States
And welcome a new paradigm?

With the end of the first half of 2020 approaching, perhaps it’s time to recap what an extraordinary six months it has been as well as consider what the immediate future may hold.

If you can recall what January was like, the big story was the Phase One trade deal, which was announced as almost completed at least half a dozen times, essentially every time the stock market started to decline, before it was finally signed. In hindsight, the fact that it was signed right at the beginning of the Lunar New Year celebrations in China, which coincided with the recognition that the novel coronavirus was actually becoming a problem, is somewhat ironic. After all, it was deemed THE most important thing in January and by mid-February nobody even cared about it anymore. Of course, by that time, Covid-19 had been named and was officially declared a pandemic.

As Covid spread around the world, the monetary responses were impressive for both their speed of implementation and their size. The Fed was the unquestioned leader, cutting rates 150bps in two emergency meetings during the first half of March while prepping the market for QE4. They then delivered in spades, hoovering up Treasuries, mortgage-backed bonds, investment grade corporate bonds and junk bonds (via ETF’s) and then more investment grade bonds, this time purchasing actual securities, not ETF’s. Their balance sheet has grown more than $3 trillion (from $4.1 trillion to $7.1 trillion) in just four months and they have promised to maintain policy at least this easy until the economy can sustainably get back to their inflation and employment goals.

On the fiscal front, government response was quite a bit slower, and aside from the US CARES act, signed into law in late March, most other nations have been less able to conjure up enough spending to make much of a difference. There was important news from the EU, where they announced, but have not yet enacted, a policy that was akin to mutualization of debt across the entire bloc. If they can come to agreement on this, and there are four nations who remain adamantly opposed (Sweden, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands), this would truly change the nature of the EU and by extension the Eurozone. Allowing transfers from the richer northern states to the struggling Mediterranean countries would result in a boon for the PIGS as they could finally break the doom-loop of their own nation’s banks owning the bulk of their own sovereign debt. But despite the support of both France and Germany, this is not a done deal. Now, history shows that Europe will finally get something along these lines enacted, but it is likely to be a significantly watered-down version and likely to take long enough that it will not be impactful in the current circumstance.

Of course, the ECB, after a few early stumbles, has embraced the idea of spending money from nothing and is in the process of implementing a €1.35 trillion QE program called PEPP in addition to their ongoing QE program.

Elsewhere around the world we have seen a second implementation of yield curve control (YCC), this time by Australia which is managing its 3-year yields to 0.25%, the same level as its overnight money. There is much talk that the Fed is considering YCC as well, although they will only admit to having had a discussion on the topic. Of course, a quick look at the US yield curve shows that they have already essentially done so, at least up to the 10-year maturity, as the volatility of yields has plummeted. For example, since May 1, the range of 3-year yields has been just 10bps (0.18%-0.28%) while aside from a one-week spike in early June, 10-year yields have had an 11bp range. The point is, it doesn’t seem that hard to make the case the Fed is already implementing YCC.

Which then begs the question, what would they do next? Negative rates have been strongly opposed by Chairman Powell so far, but remember, President Trump is a big fan. And we cannot forget that over the course of the past two years, it was the President’s view on rates that prevailed. At this time, there is no reason to believe that negative rates are in the offing, but in the event that the initial rebound in economic data starts to stumble as infection counts rise, this cannot be ruled out. This is especially so if we see the equity market turn back lower, something which the Fed seemingly cannot countenance. Needless to say, we have not finished this story by a long shot, and I would contend there is a very good chance we see additional Fed programs, including purchasing equity ETF’s.

Of course, the reason I focused on a retrospective is because market activity today has been extremely dull. Friday’s equity rout in the US saw follow through in Asia (Nikkei -2.3%, Hang Seng -1.0%) although Europe has moved from flat to slightly higher (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.25%, FTSE 100 +0.5%). US futures are mixed, with the surprising outcome of Dow and S&P futures higher by a few tenths of a percent while NASDAQ futures are lower by 0.3%. The bond market story is that of watching paint dry, a favorite Fed metaphor, with modest support for bonds, but yields in all the haven bonds within 1bp of Friday’s levels.

And finally, the dollar is arguably a bit softer this morning, with the euro the leading gainer in the G10, +0.5%, and only the pound (-0.2%) falling on the day. It seems that there are a number of algorithmic models out selling dollars broadly today, and the euro is the big winner. In the EMG bloc, the pattern is the same, with most currencies gaining led by PLN(+0.65%) after the weekend elections promised continuity in the government there, and ZAR (+0.55%) which is simply benefitting from broad dollar weakness. The exception to the rule is RUB, which has fallen 0.25% on the back of weakening oil prices.

On the data front, despite nothing of note today, we have a full calendar, especially on Thursday with the early release of payroll data given Friday’s quasi holiday

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 3.70%
  Chicago PMI 44.0
  Consumer Confidence 90.5
Wednesday ADP Employment 2.95M
  ISM Manufacturing 49.5
  ISM Prices Paid 45.0
  FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 1.336M
  Continuing Claims 18.904M
  Nonfarm Payrolls 3.0M
  Private Payrolls 2.519M
  Manufacturing Payrolls 425K
  Unemployment Rate 12.4%
  Average Hourly Earnings -0.8% (5.3% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Participation Rate 61.2%
  Trade Balance -$53.0B
  Factory Orders 7.9%
  Durable Goods 15.8%
  -ex transport 4.0%

Source: Bloomberg

So, as you can see, a full slate for the week. Obviously, all eyes will be on the employment data on Wednesday and Thursday. At this point, it seems we are going to continue to see data pointing to a sharp recovery, the so-called V, but the question remains, how much longer this can go on. However, this is clearly today’s underlying meme, and the ensuing risk appetite is likely to continue to undermine the dollar, at least for the day. We will have to see how the data this week stacks up against the ongoing growth in Covid infections and the re-shutting down of portions of the US economy. The latter was the equity market’s nemesis last week. Will this week be any different?

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Money to Burn

If Covid is back on the rise
It’s likely it will compromise
The mooted return
Of money to burn
Instead, growth it will tranquilize

For the past two or three months, market behavior has been driven by the belief that a V-shaped recovery was in the offing as a combination of massive fiscal and monetary stimulus alongside a flatter infection curve and the reopening of economies would bring everything back close to where it was prior to the outbreak of Covid-19. However, since last Thursday, that narrative has lost more than a few adherents with the growing concern that the dreaded second wave of infections was starting to crest and would force economies, that were just starting to reopen, back into hibernation.

The most recent piece of evidence for the new storyline comes from Beijing, where the weekend saw the reporting of 100 new infections after several weeks of, allegedly, zero infections in the country. This has resulted in the Chinese government re-imposing some restrictions as well as massively increasing testing again. Chinese data last night showed that the economy remains under significant pressure, although analysts fell on both sides of the bullish-bearish spectrum. The four key data points are Retail Sales (-13.5% YTD, up from April’s -16.2% and right on the economic estimates); IP (-2.8% YTD, up from -4.9% and slightly better than -3.0% expected); Fixed Asset Investment (-6.3% YTD vs. -10.3% last month and -6.0% expected); and the Jobless Rate (5.9%, as expected and down from 6.0% last month). My read is that the Chinese economy remains quite troubled, although arguably it has left the worst behind it. The PBOC continues to inject liquidity into the market and the Chinese government continues to add fiscal support. Unfortunately for President Xi, China remains an export led economy and given the complete demand destruction that has occurred everywhere else in the world, the near-term prospects for Chinese growth would seem to be muted at best.

For political leaders everywhere, this is not the story that they want to tell. Rather, the narrative of the V-shaped recovery was crucial to maintaining some level of confidence for their populations as well as for their own popularity. Remember, at the government level, everything is political, so crafting a story that people believe accept is just as important, if not more so, than actually implementing policies that work to address the problems.

Another chink in the narrative’s armor is the fact that despite the approach of the summer solstice, and the northern hemisphere warming that accompanies it, infection levels are growing in many different places; not only Beijing, but Korea, Japan, California, Texas and Florida, all locations that had begun to reopen their respective economies due to reduced infections. Remember, a key part of the narrative has been that the virus, like the ordinary flu, thrives in cold weather, and warmth would be a natural disinfectant, if you will. While it remains too early to claim this is not the case, the recent flare-ups are not helping that storyline.

Ultimately, what is abundantly clear is we still don’t know that much about the virus and its potential and weaknesses. While we will certainly see more businesses reopen over the next weeks, it is unclear how long it will take for actual economic activity to start to revert to any semblance of normal. Equity markets have been wearing rose-colored glasses for at least two months. Beware of those slipping off and haven assets regaining their bid quite quickly.

So, a quick look at markets this morning simply reinforces the changing narrative, with equity markets lower around the world, bond markets rallying and the dollar reasserting itself. Overnight, Asian markets all fell pretty sharply, led by the Nikkei’s 3.5% decline, but also seeing weakness in the Hang Seng (-2.2%) and Shanghai (-1.0%). European indices are also bleeding this morning, with the DAX (-0.9%) and CAC (-0.8%) slipping on increasing concerns over the growth of the second wave. US futures will not miss this party, with all three indices sharply lower, between 1.5% and 2.0%.

In the bond market, Treasury yields are sliding, down 3 basis points, as haven assets are in demand. We are seeing increased demand across European bond markets as well, surprisingly even in the PIGS, although that seems more in anticipation of the almost certain increase in the pace of ECB QE. What is clear, however, is that we are seeing a rotation from stocks to bonds this morning.

Finally, the dollar is feeling its oats this morning, rallying against the high-beta G10 currencies with AUD the leading decliner (-0.9%) followed by NOK (-0.6%) and CAD (-0.5%). The latter two are clearly feeling the pressure from oil’s declining price, down 1.75% as I type, although it had been even lower earlier in the session. While we do see both JPY and CHF slightly firmer, the emphasis is on slightly, with both less than 0.1% higher than Friday’s closing levels. Meanwhile the euro and pound are both slightly softer, also less than 0.1% off Friday’s levels, which simply implies a great deal of uncertainty over the next big move. This is corroborated by price action in the option market, where implied volatility continues to climb, as 1mo EURUSD volatility is up 1.3 points in the past week. Of perhaps more interest is the fact that the 1mo risk reversal has flipped from 0.5 for euro calls to 0.35 for euro puts in the same time frame. Clearly, concern is growing that all is not right with the world.

As to the EMG bloc, one would not be surprised to see the Mexican peso as the biggest laggard this morning, down 1.5% as the combination of declining oil prices, increasing infections and risk reduction all play into the move. Asian currencies did not have a good evening, led by KRW (-1.0%) which suffered from a combination of concern over the US-Korean alliance (as the US withdrew some troops unexpectedly and continues to demand more payment for protection) as well as some warmongering from the North. But we have also seen weakness across the rest of the region, with declines in the 0.2%-0.5% range nearly universal. Too, the rand is under pressure this morning, falling 1.0%, on what appears to be broad-based risk reduction as there are no specific stories to note there.

Data this week is on the light side with Retail Sales tomorrow likely to garner the most attention.

Today Empire Manufacturing -30.0
Tuesday Retail Sales 8.0%
  -ex autos 5.3%
  IP 3.0%
  Capacity Utilization 66.9%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1100K
  Building Permits 1250K
Thursday Initial Claims 1.29M
  Continuing Claims 19.65M
  Philly Fed -25.0
  Leading Indicators 2.4%

Source: Bloomberg

We also hear from six Fed speakers in addition to the Chairman’s congressional testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday. Clearly, it will be the latter that keeps everyone most interested. There are those who complain that Powell should have done more last week, starting YCC or adding more stimulus, but that remains a slight minority view. Most mainstream economists seem to believe that we are fast approaching the point where excessive central bank largesse is going to create much bigger problems down the road. In fact, ironically, I believe that is one of the reasons we are in risk-off mode overall, growing concerns that the future is not as bright as markets have priced to date.

My sense is that the dollar is set to end its slide overall and start to regain traction as the reality that the V-shaped recovery is not coming begins to hit home. Hedgers beware, and don’t miss these opportunities.

Good luck and stay safe
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