Quite Sordid

For Italy, France and for Spain
The data released showed their pain
Each nation recorded
A number quite sordid
And each, Covid, still can’t contain

As awful as the US GDP data was yesterday, with an annualized decline of 32.9%, this morning saw even worse data from Europe.  In fact, each of the four largest Eurozone nations recorded larger declines in growth than did the US in Q2.  After all, Germany’s 10.1% decline was a Q/Q number.  If we annualize that, it comes to around 41%.  Today we saw Italy (-12.4% Q/Q, -50% annualized), France (-13.8% Q/Q or -55% annualized) and Spain, the worst of the lot (-18.5% Q/Q or -75% annualized).  It is, of course, no surprise that the Eurozone, as a whole, saw a Q/Q decline of 12.1% which annualizes to something like 49%.  At those levels, precision is not critical, the big figure tells you everything you need to know.  And what we know is that the depths of recession in Europe were greater than anywhere else in Q2.

The thing is, none of this really matters any more.  The only thing the Q2 GDP data did was establish the base from which future growth will occur.  We saw this in the US yesterday, where equity markets rallied, and we are seeing and hearing it today throughout Europe as the narrative is quite clear; Q2 was the nadir and things should get better going forward.  In fact, that is the entire thesis behind the V-shaped recovery.  Certainly, one would be hard pressed to imagine a situation where Q3 GDP could shrink relative to Q2, but unfortunately the rebound story is running into some trouble these days.

The trouble is making itself known in various ways.  For example, the fact that the Initial Claims data in the US has stopped declining is a strong indication that growth is plateauing.  This is confirmed by the resurgence of Covid cases being recorded throughout the South and West and the reimposition of lockdown measures and closures of bars and restaurants in California, Texas and Arizona.  And, alas, we are seeing the same situation throughout Europe (and in truth, the rest of the world) as nations that had been lionized for their ability to act quickly and prevent the spread of the virus through draconian measures, find that Covid is quite resilient and infections are surging in Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and even in China.  You remember China, the origin of the virus, and the nation that explained they had eradicated it completely just last month.  Maybe eradicated was too strong a word.

So, the real question is, what happens to markets if the future trajectory of growth is much shallower than a V?  It is not difficult to argue that equity markets, especially in the US, are priced for the retracement of all the lost growth.  That seems to be at odds with the situation on the ground where thousands of small businesses have closed their doors forever.  And not just small businesses.  The list of bankruptcy filings by large, well-known companies is staggeringly long.

Can continued monetary and fiscal support from government institutions really replace true economic activity?  Of course, the answer to that question is no.  Money from nothing and excessive debt issuance will never substitute for the creation of real goods and services that are demanded by the population.  So, while equity markets trade under the assumption that government support is a stop-gap filler until activity returns to normal, the recent, high-frequency data is implying that the gap could be much longer than initially anticipated.

And as has been highlighted in many venues, the bond market is telling a different story.  Treasury yields out to 10 years are now trading at record lows.  The amount of negative yielding debt worldwide is climbing again, now back to $16 trillion, and heading for the record levels seen at the end of last August.  This price behavior is the very antithesis of expected strong growth in the future.  Rather it signals concerns that growth will be absent for years to come, and with it inflationary pressures.  At some point, these two asset classes will both agree on a story, and one of them will require a major repricing.  My money is on the stock market to change its tune.

But that is a longer term discussion.  For now, let us review the overnight session.  It is hard to characterize it as either risk-on or risk-off, as we continue to see mixed signals from different markets.  In Asia, the Nikkei was the worst performer, falling 2.8% as concerns grow that a second wave of Covid infections is going to stop the signs of recovery.  Confirming those fears, a meeting of government and central bank officials took place where they discussed what to do in just such a situation, which of course means there will be more stimulus, both monetary and fiscal, on its way soon.  The yen behaved as its haven status would dictate, rallying further and touching a new low for the move at 104.19 before backtracking and sitting unchanged on the day as I type.  The thing about the yen is that 105 had proven to be a strong support level and is now likely going to behave as resistance.  While I don’t see a collapse, USDJPY has further to fall.

The rest of Asia saw weakness (Hang Seng -0.5%, Sydney -2.0%) and strength (Shanghai +0.7%) with the latter responding to modestly better than expected PMI data, while the former two are feeling the impact of the rise in infections.  Europe, on the other hand, is green across the board, with Italy’s FTSE MIB (+1.25%) leading the way, although the DAX (+0.7%) is performing well.  Here, just like in the US, investors seem to believe in the V-shaped recovery and now that the worst has been seen, those investors are prepared to jump in with both feet.

As discussed above, bond markets continue to rally, and yields continue to fall.  That is true throughout Europe as well as in the US.  In fact, it is true in Asia as well, with China the lone exception, seeing its 10-year yield rise 4bps overnight.

And finally, the dollar can only be described as mixed.  In the G10, NZD (-0.5%) and AUD (-0.2%) are the worst performers as both suffer from concerns over growing numbers of new Covid cases, while SEK and GBP (+0.25% each) lead the way higher.  It is ironic as there is concern over the growing number of cases in those nations as well, and, in fact, the UK is locking down over 4 million people in the north because of a rise in infections.  But the pound has been on fire lately, and that momentum shows no signs of abating for now.  One would almost think that a Brexit deal has been agreed, but the latest news has been decidedly negative there.  This is simply a reminder that FX is a perverse market.

Emerging markets have also seen mixed activity, although it is even more confusing.  Even though commodities are having a pretty good day, with both oil and gold prices higher, the commodity currencies are the worst performers today, with ZAR (-1.35%), RUB (-1.0%) and MXN (-0.9%) all deeply in the red.  On the positive side, THB (+0.85%) and CNY (+0.5%) are showing solid strength.  The renminbi, we already know, is benefitting from the better than expected PMI data while the baht benefitted from ongoing equity inflows.

This morning we see another large grouping of data as follows: Personal Income (exp -0.6%), Personal Spending (5.2%), core PCE Deflator (1.0%), Chicago PMI (44.5) and Michigan Sentiment (72.9).  As inflation is no longer even a concern at the Fed, or any G10 central bank, the market is likely to look at two things, Spending data which could help cement the idea that things are rebounding nicely, or not, and Chicago PMI, as an indication of whether industrial activity is picking up again.

Overall, regardless of the data, the trend remains for the dollar to decline, at least against its G10 brethren and I see nothing that is going to change that trend for now.  At some point, it will make sense for receivables hedgers to take advantage, but it is probably still too early for that.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

 

Struck by the Flu

If you think that Jay even thought
‘bout thinking ‘bout thinking he ought
To raise interest rates
He’ll not tempt the fates
Despite all the havoc ZIRP’s wrought

Meanwhile, ‘cross the pond what we learned
Is Germany ought be concerned
Their growth in Q2
Was struck by the flu
As exports, their customers, spurned

(Note to self; dust off “QE is Our Fate” on September 16, as that now seems a much more likely time to anticipate how the Fed is going to adjust their forward guidance.) Yesterday we simply learned that rates are going to remain low for the still indeterminate, very long time. Clearly, the bond market has gotten the message as yields along the Treasury curve press to lows in every tenor out through 7-year notes while the 10-year sits just 1.5 bps above the lows seen in March at the height of the initial panic. This should be no surprise as the FOMC statement and ensuing press conference by Chairman Powell made plain that the Fed is committed to use all their available tools to support the economy. Negative rates are not on the table, yield curve control is already there, effectively, so the reality is they only have more QE and forward guidance left in their toolkit. Powell promised that QE would be maintained at least at the current level, and the question of forward guidance is tied up with the internal discussions on the Fed’s overall policy framework. Those discussions have been delayed by the pandemic but are expected to be completed by the September meeting. Perhaps, at that time, they will let us know what they plan to do about their inflation mandate. The smart money is betting on a commitment to allow inflation to overshoot their target for an extended period in order to make up for the ground lost over the past decade, when inflation was consistently below target. I guess you need to be a macroeconomist to understand why rising prices helps Main Street, because, certainly from the cheap seats, I don’t see the benefit!

The market response was in line with what would be expected, as yields fell a bit further, the dollar fell a bit further and stocks rallied a bit further. But that is soooo yesterday. Let’s step forward into today’s activities.

Things started on a positive note with Japanese Retail Sales jumping far more than expected (+13.1%) in June which took the Y/Y number to just -1.2%. That means that Japanese Retail Sales are almost back to where things were prior to the outbreak. Unfortunately, this was not enough to help the Nikkei (-0.3%) and had very little impact on the yen, which continues to trade either side of 105.00. Perhaps it was the uptick in virus cases in Japan which has resulted in further restrictions being imposed on bars and restaurants that is sapping confidence there.

Speaking of the virus, Australia, too, is dealing with a surge in cases, as Victoria and Melbourne have seen significant jumps. As it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, there is growing concern that when the weather cools off here, we are going to see a much bigger surge in cases as well, and based on the current government response to outbreaks, that bodes ill for economic activity in the US come the fall.

But then, Germany reported their Q2 GDP data and it was much worse than expected at -10.1%. Analysts had all forecast a less severe decline because Germany seemed to have had a shorter shutdown and many fewer unemployed due to their labor policies where the government pays companies to not lay-off workers. So, if the shining star of Europe turned out worse than expected, what hope does that leave us for the other major economies there, France, Italy and Spain, all of which are forecast to see declines in Q2 GDP in excess of 15%. That data is released tomorrow, but the FX market wasted no time in selling the euro off from its recent peak. This morning, the single currency is lower by 0.35%, although its short-term future will also be highly dependent on the US GDP data due at 8:30.

Turning to this morning’s US data, today is the day we get the most important numbers, as the combination of GDP (exp -34.5%), to see just how bad things were in Q2, and Initial (1.445M) and Continuing (16.2M) Claims, to see how bad things are currently, are to be released at 8:30. After the combination of weak German data and resurgence in virus cases in areas thought to have addressed the issue, it should be no surprise that today is a conclusively risk-off session.

We have seen that in equity markets, where both the Hang Seng (-0.7%) and Shanghai (-0.25%) joined the Nikkei lower in Asia while European bourses are all in the red led by the DAX (-2.3%) and Italy’s FTSE MIB (-2.2%). And don’t worry, US futures are all declining, with all three major indices currently pointing to 1% declines at the open.

We have already discussed the bond market, where yields are lower in the US and across all of Europe as well with risk being pared around the world. A quick word on gold, which is lower by 0.8%, and which may seem surprising to some. But while gold is definitely a long-term risk aversion asset, its day to day fluctuations are far more closely related to the movement in the dollar and today, the dollar reigns supreme.

In the G10 bloc, NOK is the laggard, falling 1.0% as oil prices come under pressure given the weak economic data, but we have seen substantial weakness throughout the entire commodity bloc with AUD (-0.6%) and CAD (-0.57%) also suffering. In fact, the only currency able to hold its own this morning is the pound, which is essentially unchanged on the day. In the EMG bloc, there are several major declines with ZAR (-1.6%), RUB (-1.4%) and MXN (-1.0%) leading the way down. The contributing factor to all three of these currencies is the weakness in the commodity space and corresponding broad-based dollar strength. But the CE4 are all lower by between 0.3% and 0.6%, and most Asian currencies also saw modest weakness overnight. In other words, today is a dollar day.

And that is really the story. At this point, we need to wait for the data releases at 8:30 to get our next cues on movement. My view is that the Initial Claims data remains the single most important data point right now. Today’s expectation is for a higher print than last week, which the market may well read as the beginning of a reversal of the three-month trend of declines. A higher than expected number here is likely to result in a much more negative equity day, and correspondingly help the dollar recoup even more of its recent losses.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Time of Distress

If banks in this time of distress
Are fine, at least in the US
Then why would the Fed
Stop dividends dead
While buy backs, forever suppress?

In a market that is showing little in the way of price volatility today, arguably the most interesting story is the results of the Fed’s bank stress tests that were released yesterday. There seemed to be a few inconsistencies between the actions and the words, although I guess we should expect that as standard operating procedure these days.

The punchline is the Fed halted share repurchases by banks while capping dividend payouts to no more than their average earnings for the past four quarters. In their tests they explained that, depending on the trajectory of the recovery, banks could lose between $560 billion (V-shaped) and $700 billion (U-shaped) in the coming year from loan losses. It ought not be that surprising that they would want to force banks to preserve capital in this situation, especially as the current Covid economy is far worse than any of their previous stress test parameters. And yet, the Fed explained that the banks were strongly capitalized, nonetheless. It strikes me that if they were so well capitalized, there would be no concerns over rewarding shareholders, but then again, I am just an FX guy.

But let’s take a look at the bigger picture. While the Fed has been doing everything in their power to prevent the equity market from declining, and so far have been doing a pretty good job in that regard, they have just laid out two of what I believe will be three regulations that are in our future. As populism rises worldwide and the 1% remain on the defensive, I expect that we are going to see widespread changes in the way capital markets work. Consider the following:

• Share repurchases are going to be a thing of the past. Now that the Fed has shown the way, I expect that regardless of who is in the White House after the election, one of the key lessons that will have been learned is that companies need to keep bigger rainy day funds, as well as invest more in their own businesses. At least that will be the spin when share repurchases are made illegal.
• Dividend caps are going to be the future as well. Here, too, with a nod toward reducing overall leverage and maintaining greater cash balances, dividends are going to be capped at some percentage of net income, probably averaged over several quarters so a single event will not necessarily disrupt that process, but dividend yields are going to decline as well. Of course, any yield will be better than the ongoing returns from ZIRP!
• Management salary caps. Finally, I think we will be able to look forward (?) to a time when senior management will have their salaries and bonuses capped at a multiple, and not a very large one, of the average employee’s salary.

The real question is, will these regulations apply only to publicly listed companies, or will there be an effort to change the way all businesses are managed in the US? But mark my words, this is the future, at least for a while.

If I am correct, and I truly hope I am not, then I think several other things will play out. First, these regulations will quickly be enacted in most nations. After all, if the US, the largest economy with the most sophisticated capital markets, can change the rules, so can everybody else. Second, this is going to play havoc with the Fed’s ongoing attempts to support equity prices. After all, restricting the ability of investors to earn a return is going to have a severe negative impact on valuations. However, the Fed will find themselves hard-pressed to argue against widespread adoption of these policies as they initiated them with the banks. Needless to say, risk assets are likely to find much reduced demand if there is less prospect of return.

To sum it up, there seems to be a real risk that we are going to see structural changes in capital markets that will result in permanently lower valuations, and the potential for a significant repricing of risk assets. This is not an imminent threat, but especially if there is a change in the White House and the Senate, this will quickly move up the agenda. Risk assets are likely to become far riskier, at least at current valuations.

But enough about my clouded crystal ball. Rather, a quick look at today’s session shows that yesterday afternoon’s US equity rally continued into Asia (Nikkei +1.1%, Sydney +1.5%) and Europe (DAX +1.1%, CAC +1.6%, FTSE 100 +1.55%) although US futures are actually little changed at this hour. Bond markets are edging higher, with yields declining on the order of 1bp-2bps across the haven markets, while oil is continuing to rebound from its sharp fall earlier this week.

FX markets are mixed in direction and have seen limited movement overall. In fact, the leading gainer this morning is the yen, up 0.3%, although despite some commentary that this is a haven asset move, that really doesn’t jive with what we are seeing in the equity space. Perhaps a better explanation is that CPI readings last night from Tokyo continue to show deflationary forces are rampant and, as we have seen for the past twenty years, that is a currency support. Kiwi is up a similar amount, but here, too, there is no news on which to hang our hat. On the flip side, we have seen tiny declines in SEK and GBP, and in truth, beyond yen and kiwi, no currency has moved more than 0.1%.

In the emerging markets, the picture is also mixed, with a similar number of gainers and losers, although magnitudes here are also relatively small. On the downside, RUB and ZAR have both fallen 0.4% while last night KRW managed a 0.35% gain. Both Russia and South Africa reported a jump in new Covid cases which seems to be overshadowing hopes of reopening the economy. As to the won, it was a beneficiary of both the equity risk rally as well as an apparent easing of tensions with North Korea.

On the data front, yesterday’s Initial Claims data was a bit concerning as though the number fell, it fell far less than expected. There are growing concerns that a second wave of layoffs is coming, although we continue to see companies reopening as well. I still believe this is the most relevant number going right now. This morning we get Personal Income (exp -6.0%), Personal Spending (9.2%), Core PCE (0.9% Y/Y) and Michigan Sentiment (79.2). While there will almost certainly be political hay made about the Income and Spending numbers, my sense is none of them will have much market impact. Rather, today is shaping up as a very quiet Friday as traders and investors look forward to a summer weekend.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

 

Over and Done

Our planet, third rock from the sun
Has had a remarkable run
For ten years, at least
No famine, just feast
But now that streak’s over and done

The IMF said, yesterday
This year will see growth go away
For ‘Twenty, it’s clear
While next year they fear
A second wave, growth will delay

Fear was the order of the day yesterday amid several related stories. Headlines continue to highlight the resurgence in reported Covid cases in the US, notably in those states that have begun to reopen more aggressively. So, California, Texas and Florida have all seen a big jump in infections which many are saying requires a second lockdown. While no orders of that nature have yet been issued, it is clear there is a risk they will be deemed necessary. That would be quite the body blow to the US economy, as well as to the equity markets which are pretty clearly pricing in that elusive V-shaped recovery. If we see second order lockdowns, you can be pretty confident that the equity market will suffer significantly. Simply consider yesterday’s performance, with the three US indices all falling at least 2.2% without having to deal with any actual change in regulations.

Adding insult to injury was the IMF, which released its updated global GDP forecasts and is now looking for a more severe global recession with growth falling 4.9% in 2020. That is down from the -3.0% expectation in April. As well, they reduced their forecasts for 2021, albeit not as dramatically, to +5.4%, down 0.4% from the April forecasts. However, they warned that should a second wave manifest itself, 2021 could see essentially zero growth globally as unemployment worldwide explodes and poverty levels in the emerging markets explodes with it. In other words, they don’t really think we are out of the woods yet.

With that one-two punch, it is no surprise that we saw risk jettisoned yesterday as not only did equity markets suffer, but we saw demand for bonds (Treasury yields -4bps yesterday and another 1.5bps this morning) while the dollar saw broad-based demand, with the DXY rising 0.6% on the day. If nothing else, this is strong evidence that all markets are anticipating quite a strong recovery, and that anything that may disrupt that process is going to have a negative impact on risk asset prices.

Adding to the fun yesterday was oil’s 6% decline on data showing inventories growing more than expected, which of course means that demand remains lackluster. Certainly, I know that while I used to fill up the tank of my car every week, I have done so only once in the past three months! While that is good for my budget, it is not helping support economic activity.

The point is, the risk asset rally has been built on shaky foundations. Equity fundamentals like revenues and earnings are (likely) in the process of bottoming out, but the rally is based on expectations of a V. Every data point that indicates the V is actually a U or a W or, worst of all, an L, will add pressure on the bulls to continue to act solely because the Fed keeps purchasing assets. History has shown that at some point, that will not be enough, and a more thorough repricing of risk assets will occur. Part of that process will almost certainly be a very sharp USD rally, which is, of course, what matters in the context of this note.

Looking at how today’s session has evolved shows that Asian equity markets had a down session, with the Nikkei taking its cues from the US and falling 1.2%, and Australia suffering even more, down 2.5%. China and Hong Kong were closed while they celebrated Dragon Boat Day. European bourses are in the green this morning, but just barely, with the average gain just 0.15% at this hour following yesterday’s 1.3%-2.0% declines. And US futures have turned lower at this time after spending much of the overnight session in the green.

As mentioned, bond markets are rallying with yields falling correspondingly, while the dollar continues to climb even after yesterday’s broad-based strength. So, in the G10 space, the euro is today’s worst performer, down 0.4%, amid overall growing concerns of a slower rebound. While the German GfK Consumer Confidence survey printed better than expected (-9.6), it was still the second worst print in the series history after last month’s. Aside from the euro, perhaps the most interesting thing is that both CHF and JPY have fallen 0.2%, despite the demand for havens. There is no news from either nation that might hint at why these currencies are underperforming from their general risk stance, but as I wrote last week, it may well be that the demand for dollars is leading the global markets these days, rather than acting as a relief valve like usual.

Emerging market currencies are seeing a more broad-based decline, simply following on yesterday’s price action. I cannot ignore the 3.6% fall in BRL yesterday, as the Covid situation grows increasingly out of control there. While the market has not opened there yet, indications are that the real’s decline will continue. Meanwhile, today’s worst performer is HUF, down 1.3%, although here, too, there is no obvious catalyst for the decline other than the dollar’s strength. Now, from its weakest point in April, HUF had managed to rally nearly 12% through the beginning of the month but has given back 5.3% of that since. On a fundamental basis, HUF is highly reliant on the Eurozone economies performing well as so much of their economic activity is generated directly on the back of Europe. Worries over the Eurozone’s trajectory will naturally hit all of the CE4. And that is true today with CZK (-0.7%) and PLN (-0.55%) also amongst the worst performers. APAC currencies suffered overnight, but not to the extent we are seeing this morning, and LATAM seems set to pick up where yesterday’s declines left off.

On the data front, this morning brings the bulk of the week’s important data. Initial Claims (exp 1.32M) and Continuing Claims (20.0M) remain critical data points in the market’s collective eyes. Anything that indicates the employment situation is not getting better will have a direct, and swift, negative impact on risk assets. We also see Durable Goods (10.5%, 2.1% ex transport) and the second revision of Q1 GDP (-5.0%). One other lesser data point that might get noticed is Retail Inventories (-2.8%) which has been falling after a sharp rise in March, but if it starts to rise again may also be a red flag toward future growth.

Two more Fed speakers are on the docket, Kaplan and Bostic, but there is nothing new coming from the Fed unless they announce a new program, and that will only come from the Chairman. So, at this stage, I see no reason to focus on those speeches. Instead, lacking an exogenous catalyst, like another Fed announcement (buying stocks maybe?) it feels like risk will remain on the defensive for the day.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Off to the Races

Though headlines describe the new cases
Of Covid, in so many places
The market’s real fear
Is later this year
The trade war is off to the races

Risk is under pressure today as, once again, concerns grow that increased trade tensions will derail the rebound from the Covid inspired global recession. You may recall yesterday’s fireworks in Asia after Peter Navarro seemed to describe the phase one trade deal as over. (Remember, too, President Trump quickly remedied that via Twitter.) This morning has seen a somewhat less dramatic market impact, although it has shown more staying power, after the Trump Administration explained that it was targeting $3.1 billion of European and UK goods for tariffs in a WTO sanctioned response to the EU’s illegal Airbus subsidies. Of course, the fact that they are sanctioned does not make them any less damaging to the economic rebound. Pretty much the last thing the global economy needs right now is something else to impede the flow of business. According to reports, the targeted goods will be luxury goods and high-end liquors, so the cost of that Hendricks and Tonic just might be going up soon. Naturally, the EU immediately responded that they would have to retaliate, although they have not released a list of their targets.

Needless to say, even the unbridled optimism over a central bank induced recovery was dented by these announcements as they are a direct attack on the idea that growth will rebound to previous levels quickly. Now, those tariffs are not yet in place, and the US has said they are interested in negotiating a better solution, but investors and traders (and most importantly, algorithms) are programmed to read tariffs as a negative and sell stocks. And so, what we have seen this morning is a solid decline across European bourses led by the DAX (-2.1%) and FTSE 100 (-2.3%) although the rest of the continent is looking at declines between of 1.25% and 1.75%. It is a bit surprising that the bond market has not seen things in quite the same light, with 10-year Treasury yields almost unchanged at this hour, as are German bund yields, and only Italian BTP’s seeing any real movement as yields there rise (prices fall) by 2bps. Of course, we recognize that BTP’s are more akin to stocks than bonds these days.

In the background, though, we continue to hear of a resurgence in Covid cases in many places throughout the world. In the US, newly reported infections are rising in many of the states that are going through a slow reopening process. There are also numerous reports of cases popping up in places that had seemed to have eliminated the virus, like Hong Kong, China and Japan. And then, there are areas, notably LATAM nations, that are seeing significant growth in the caseload and are clearly struggling to effectively mitigate the impact. The major market risk to this story is that economies around the world will be forced to stage a second shutdown with all the ensuing economic and financial problems that would entail. Remember, too, that if a second shutdown is in our future, governments, which have already spent $trillions they don’t have, will need to find $trillions more. At some point, that is also likely to become a major problem, with emerging market economies likely to be impacted more severely than developed nations.

So, with those unappetizing prospects in store, let us turn our attention to this morning’s markets. As I mentioned, risk is clearly under pressure and that has manifest itself in the foreign exchange markets as modest dollar strength. In the G10 space, NZD is the laggard, falling 0.9% after the RBNZ, while leaving policy on hold, promised to do more to support the economy (ease further via QE) if necessary. Apparently, the market believes it will be necessary, hence the kiwi’s weakness. But away from that, the dollar’s strength has been far more muted, with gains on the order of 0.2%-0.3% against the higher beta currencies (SEK, AUD and CAD) while the euro, yen and pound are virtually unchanged on the day.

In the EMG bloc, it has been a tale of two sessions with APAC currencies mostly gaining overnight led by KRW (+0.8%), which seemed to be responding to yesterday’s news of sunshine, lollipops and roses modestly improving economic data leading toward an end to the global recession. Alas, all those who bought KRW and its brethren APAC currencies will be feeling a bit less comfited now that the trade war appears to be heating up again. This is made evident by the fact that the CE4 currencies are all lower this morning, led by HUF (-0.6%) and CZK (-0.4%). In no uncertain terms, increased trade tensions between the US and Europe will be bad for that entire bloc of economies, so weaker currencies make a great deal of sense. As to LATAM, they too are under pressure, with MXN (-0.5%) the only one open right now, but all indications for further weakness amid the combination of the spreading virus and the trade tensions.

On the data front, we did see German IFO data print mildly better than expected, notably the Expectations number which rose to 91.4 from last month’s reading of 80.1. But for context, it is important to understand that prior to the onset of Covid-19, these readings were routinely between 105 and 110, so we are still a long way from ‘normal’. The euro has not responded to the data, although the trade story is likely far more important right now.

In the US we have no data of note today, and just two Fed speakers, Chicago’s Evans and St Louis’ Bullard. However, as I have pointed out in the recent past, every Fed speaker says the same thing; the current situation is unprecedented and awful but the future is likely to see a sharp rebound and in the meantime, the Fed will continue to expand their balance sheet and add monetary support to the economy.

And that’s really all there is today. US futures are pointing lower, on the order of 0.75% as I type, so it seems to be a question of watching and waiting. Retail equity investors continue to pile into the stock market driving it higher, so based on recent history, they will see the current decline as another opportunity to buy. I see no reason for the dollar to strengthen much further barring yet another trade announcement from the White House, and if my suspicions about the stock market rebounding are correct, a weaker dollar by the end of the day is likely in store.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Our Fears

Said Powell, it may take two years
Ere Covid’s impact finally clears
All central banks pleaded
More spending is needed
But really, it’s down to our fears

Fed Chairman Powell continues to be the face of the global response to the Covid-19 economic disruption. Last night, in a 60 Minutes interview broadcast nationwide, he said, “Assuming there’s not a second wave of the coronavirus, I think you’ll see the economy recover steadily through the second half of this year. For the economy to fully recover, people will have to be fully confident, and that may have to await the arrival of a vaccine.” He also explained that the Fed still has plenty of ammunition to continue supporting the economy, although he was clear that fiscal policy had a hugely important role to play and would welcome further efforts by the government on that score. Tomorrow, he will be testifying before the Senate Banking Committee where the Republican leadership has indicated they would prefer to wait and watch to see how the CARES act has fared before opting to double down.

In the meantime, it does appear that the spread of the virus has slowed more substantially. In addition, we continue to see more state governors reopening parts of their local economies on an ad hoc basis. And globally, restrictions are being lifted throughout Europe and parts of Asia as the infection curve truly seems to be in decline. It is this latter aspect that seems to be the current theory as to why there will be a V-shaped recovery which is supporting equity markets globally.

But when considering the prospects of a V, it is critical to remember this important feature of the math behind investing. A 10% decline requires an 11.1% recovery just to return to the previous level. And as the decline grows in size, the size of the recovery needs to be that much larger. For instance, the Atlanta Fed’s latest GDPNow forecast is calling for a, very precise, 42.81% contraction in Q2. If that were to come to pass, it means that a recovery to the previous level will require a 74.8% rebound! While the down leg of this economic contraction is clearly shaped like the left-hand side of a V, it seems highly unlikely that the speed of the recovery will approach the same pace. The final math lesson is that if Q3 were to rebound 42.81%, it would still leave the economy at just under 82% of its previous level. In other words, still in depression.

However, math is clearly not the strong suit of the investment community these days, as once again this morning, we continue to see a strong equity market performance. In fact, we have seen a strong performance in equities, bonds, gold, oil, and virtually everything else that can be bought. One explanation for this behavior would be that investors are concerned that the current QE Infinity programs across nations are going to debase currencies everywhere and so the best solution is to own assets with a chance for appreciation. While historically, the flaw in that theory would be the bond market, which should be selling off dramatically on this sentiment, it seems that the knowledge that central banks are going to continue to mop up all the excess issuance is seen as reason enough to continue to hold fixed income. With that in mind, I would have to characterize today’s session is a risk grab-a-thon.

The Brits and the EU have met
With no progress really made yet
The British are striving
To just keep trade thriving
The EU’s a different mindset

Meanwhile, remember Brexit? With all the focus on Covid, it is not surprising that this issue had moved to the back of the market’s collective consciousness. It has not, however, disappeared. If you recall, the terms of the UK exit were that a deal needs to be reached by the end of this year and that if there is to be another extension, that must be agreed by the end of June. Well, it seems that Boris is sticking to his guns that he will not countenance an extension and has instructed his negotiators to focus on a trade deal only. The EU, however, apparently still doesn’t accept that Brexit occurred and is seeking a deal that essentially requires the UK to remain beholden to the European Court of Justice as well as to adhere to all EU conditions on issues like the environment and diversity. The result is that the negotiations have become a game of chicken with a very real, and growing, probability that we will still have the feared hard Brexit come December. In a funny way, Covid could be a blessing for PM Johnson’s Brexit strategy, because given the negative impact already in play, at the margin, Brexit is not likely to make a significant difference. Arguably, it is the growing realization that a hard Brexit is back on the table that has undermined the pound’s performance lately. Despite a marginal 0.1% gain this morning, the pound is the worst performing G10 currency this month, down about 4.0%. At this time, I see no reason for the pound to reverse these losses barring a change in the tone of the negotiations.

As to this morning’s session, the overall bullish tone to most markets has left the dollar on the sidelines. It is firmer against some currencies, weaker vs. others with no clear patterns, and in truth, most movement has been limited. The biggest gainer today has been RUB, which has rallied 1.0% on the strength of oil’s 8% rally. In fact, oil is back over $30/bbl for the first time in two months. Not surprisingly we are seeing strength in MXN (+0.75%) and ZAR (+0.65%) as well on the same commodity rally story. On the flipside, APAC currencies were the main losers with MYR (-0.5%) and INR (-0.45%) the worst of the bunch as Covid infections are making a comeback in the area. In the G10 bloc, NOK (+0.75%) and AUD (+0.7%) are the leaders as they, too, benefit most from commodity strength.

On the data front, last night saw Japanese GDP print at -3.4% annualized, confirming the technical recession that has begun there. (Remember, Q4 was a disaster, -7.3%, because of the imposition of the national sales tax increase.) Otherwise, there were no hard data points from Europe at all. Looking ahead to this week, it is a muted schedule focused on housing.

Tuesday Housing Starts 923K
  Building Permits 1000K
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 2.425M
  Continuing Claims 23.5M
  Philly Fed -40.0
  Leading Indicators -5.7%
  Existing Home Sales 4.30M

Source: Bloomberg

In truth, with the market still reacting to Powell’s recent comments, and his testimony on Tuesday, as well as comments from another six Fed members, I would argue that this week is all about them. For now, the V-shaped rebound narrative continues to be the driver. If the Fed speakers start to sound a bit less optimistic, that could bode ill for the bulls, but likely bode well for the dollar. If not, I imagine the dollar will remain under a bit of pressure for now.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Huge Threat

In Europe officials now fret
‘bout dealing with Italy’s debt
If it gets downgraded
It could be blockaded
From PEPP, which would be a huge threat

At home, both the Senate and House
Agreed that it’s time to espouse
More spending is needed
And so, they proceeded
To spend half a trill, thereabouts

While oil prices are still getting press (and still under pressure), the return to positive prices has quickly turned that story into one about supply and demand, and the knock-on economic impacts of lower oil prices, rather than the extraordinary commentary on the meaning of negative prices for a commodity. In other words, it’s just not so exciting any more. Instead, today has seen markets turn their collective attention back toward government and central bank activities with investors trying to determine the next place to take advantage of all the ongoing financial largesse.

Starting in Europe, this evening the ECB will be having a video conference to discuss its next steps. Topic number one is what to do about Italian, and to a lesser extent, the rest of Southern Europe’s debt. Remember, the ECB is precluded from financing government spending by its charter, and the Teutonic trio watch that issue like hawks. So, news from Rome this morning that highlighted PM Conte’s promise to double the stimulus spending to €55 billion in order to better support the economy is at odds with that promise.

The problem is, that much spending will take the budget deficit above 10% of GDP and drive the debt/GDP ratio above 155%. While the latter will still simply be the third highest ratio in the world (Japan and Greece have nothing to fear yet), both the budget and debt numbers are far higher than currently allowed under the Stability and Growth Pact as defined by the EU. (For good order’s sake, the EU demands its members to maintain budget deficits below 3% of GDP and a debt/GDP ratio of 60% or lower).

A potentially larger problem is that Italy’s sovereign debt is currently rated at BBB with a negative outlook, just two notches above junk. Italian interest rates have been rising as BTP’s are no longer seen as a haven, but rather a pure risk trade. Combining all this together puts the ECB in a very tough position. If Italian debt is downgraded to junk, the ECB charter would preclude it from purchasing Italian debt. But if that were the case, you could pretty much bank on a collapse in the Italian bond market, followed by a collapse in the Italian economy, and a very real risk that Italy exits the euro, likely collapsing that as well. Clearly, the ECB wants to prevent that sequence of events. Thus, to successfully sail between the Scylla of financing government spending and the Charybdis of a euro collapse, the ECB is very likely to revise their collateral rules such that sub-investment grade debt is acceptable to purchase. And they will be buying the long-dated bonds which they will hold to maturity, thus effectively funding Italy but being able to technically tell the Germans they are not. It is an unenviable position for Madame Lagarde, but the alternatives are worse. Once again, if you wonder about the euro’s long-term viability, these are the questions that need to be answered.

However, despite the latest drama on the rates side, the market seems to be focusing on the positive stories today, namely the decisions by a number of European governments to gradually reduce the ongoing covid-inspired restrictions on their citizens. Throughout Europe, small shops are gradually being allowed to reopen and there have been discussions of schools reopening as well. The infection data appears to have stabilized overall, with many countries reporting a downtick in the number of new infections. Governments worldwide have the unenviable task of balancing the risk of further damage to their economies vs. the risk of another increase in the spread of the disease. At this time, it seems clear that there is a broad-based move toward getting on with life. And that’s a good thing!

In the meantime, this morning, the House is set to approve the Senate bill to extend further stimulus in the US, this time with a $480 billion price tag. The bulk of this will go to extending the Paycheck Protection Program, but there are various other goodies to support farms and hospitals. As well, the discussion about reopening the US economy continues apace, with the latest updates seeming to show that about half the states, mostly in the Midwest and mountain states, are going to be returning to a more normal footing, as they have been the least impacted. Even parts of western New York are now being considered for a removal of restrictions, given the demographic there is far closer to Wyoming than Manhattan.

Put it all together, and the bulls get to define the narrative today, with a better future ahead and more government spending to support things. It should be no surprise that equity markets are modestly higher this morning, with European bourses up by 1% or so, and US futures higher by a similar amount. Treasuries have seen some supply, with the yield on the 10-year rising 2bps, and the dollar is softer vs. almost all other currencies.

In the G10 bloc, only NOK is weaker today, and by just 0.1% as oil prices continue to slide, but even CAD, also closely linked to oil, is higher today, up 0.5%. Aussie is the biggest winner today, higher by 1.0% after a short-covering spree emerged in the wake of better than expected Retail Sales data. But the dollar’s weakness is broad-based today.

EMG currencies are also faring well today with ZAR (+1.15%) leading the way on the back of a $26 billion stimulus package, and RUB (+0.75%) following up as traders begin to believe the currency markets have oversold the ruble. MXN (+0.55%) is gaining on the same thesis, and, in fact, most of the space is higher due to this more positive feeling in the markets. The one outlier here is KRW (-0.2%) which is coming under pressure as a second wave of Covid infections makes its way through the country.

On the data front this morning, there is nothing of note to be released in the US. Yesterday saw Existing Home Sales fall slightly less than expected, to 5.27M, but just slightly. All eyes are on tomorrow’s claims data, as well as the PMI’s. The only data from Europe showed that UK inflation remains quiescent (and is likely to fall further) while Italian industry continues to shrink with Industrial Orders -2.6% in February, ahead of the worst of the outbreak.

Risk has a better tone this morning, but I fear it has the ability to be a fleeting break. Markets have shown they still like new stimulus, but at some point, questioning the ability to pay for it all is going to overwhelm the short-term benefits of receiving it. Today doesn’t seem like that day, but I assure you it is getting closer.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

New Aspirations

In Europe, the largest of nations
Has made clear its new aspirations
As Covid now peaks
In less than three weeks
Some schools can return from vacations

Despite less than stellar results from other countries that have started to reopen their economies (Japan, Singapore, South Korea) after the worst of the virus seemed to have passed, Germany has announced that by May 4, they expect to begin reopening secondary schools as well as small retail shops, those less than 800 square meters in size. This is a perfect example of the competing pressures on national leaders between potential health outcomes and worsening economic conditions.

The economic damage to the global economy has clearly been extraordinary, and we are just beginning to see the data that is proving this out. For instance, yesterday’s US Retail Sales data fell 8.7%, a record decline, while the Empire Manufacturing result was a staggering -78.2. To better understand just what this means, the construction of the number is as follows: % of surveyed companies reporting improving conditions (6.8%) less % of surveyed companies reporting worsening conditions (85%). That result was far and away the worst in the history of the series and more than double the previous nadir during the GFC. We also saw IP and Capacity Utilization in the US decline sharply, although they did not achieve record lows…yet.

Interestingly, we have not yet seen most of the March data from other countries as they take a bit longer to compile the information, but if the US is any indication, and arguably it will be, look for record declines in activity around the world. In fact, the IMF is now forecasting an actual shrinkage of global GDP in 2020, not merely a reduction in the pace of growth. In and of itself, that is a remarkable outcome.

And yet, the question with which each national leader must grapple is, what will be the increased loss of life if we get back to business too soon? Once again, I will remind everyone that there is no ‘right’ answer here, and that these life and death tradeoffs are strictly the purview of government leadership. I don’t envy them their predicament. In the meantime, markets continue to try to determine the most likely path of action and the ultimate outcome. Unfortunately for the market set, the unprecedented nature of this government activity renders virtually all forecasting based on historical information and data irrelevant.

This should remind all corporate risk managers that the purpose of a hedging program is to mitigate the changes in results, not to eliminate them. It is also a cogent lesson in the need to have a robust hedging program in place. After all, hedge ineffectiveness is not likely to be a major part of earnings compared to the extraordinary disruption currently underway. Yet a robust hedging program has always been a hallmark of strong financial risk management.

In the meantime, as we survey markets this morning, here is what is happening. After yesterday’s weak US equity performance, Asia was under pressure, albeit not aggressively so with the Nikkei (-1.3%) and Hang Seng (-0.6%) falling while Shanghai (+0.3%) actually managed a small gain. European bourses are mostly positive this morning, but the moves are modest compared to recent activity with the DAX (+1.0%), CAC (+0.6%) and FTSE 100 (+0.4%) all green. And US futures are pointing higher, although all three indices are looking at gains well less than 1.0%.

Bond markets have been similarly uninteresting, with 10-year Treasury yields virtually unchanged this morning, although this was after a near 12bp decline yesterday. German bunds, too are little changed, with yields higher by 1bp, but the standout mover today has been Italy, where 10-year BTP’s have seen yields decline 14bps as hope permeates the market after the lowest number of new Covid infections in more than a month were reported yesterday, a still high 2.667.

Turning to the FX market, despite what appears to be a generally more positive framework in markets, the dollar continues to be the place to be. In the G10 space, only SEK is stronger this morning, having rallied 0.25% on literally no news, but the rest of the bloc is softer by between 0.15% and 0.3%. So, granted, the movement is not large, but the direction remains the same. Ultimately, the global dollar liquidity shortage, while somewhat mitigated by Federal Reserve actions, remains a key feature of every market.

Meanwhile, in the EMG bloc, we have seen two noteworthy gainers, RUB (+1.0%) and ZAR (+0.5%). The former is responding to oil’s modest bounce this morning, with prices there up about 2.0%, while the latter is the beneficiary of international investor inflows in the hunt for yield. After all, South African 10-year bonds yield 10.5% these days, a whole lot more than most other places! But, for the rest of the bloc, it is business as usual, which these days means declines vs. the dollar. Remarkably, despite oil’s rebound, the Mexican peso remains under pressure, down 0.6% this morning. But it is KRW (-0.95%) and MYR (-0.85%) that have been the worst performers today. The won appears to have suffered on the back of yesterday’s weak US equity market/risk-off sentiment, with the market there closing before things started to turn, while Malaysia was responding to yesterday’s weakness in oil prices. Arguably, we can look for both of these currencies to recoup some of last night’s losses tonight.

On the data front, this morning brings the latest Initial Claims number (exp 5.5M) as well as Housing Starts (1300K), Building Permits (1300K) and Philly Fed (-32.0). I don’t think housing data is of much interest these days, but the claims data will be closely scrutinized to see if the dramatic changes are ebbing or are still going full force. I fear the latter. Meanwhile, after yesterday’s Empire number, I expect the Philly number to be equally awful.

As much as we all want this to be over, we are not yet out of the woods, not even close. And over the next month, we are going to see increasingly worse data reports, as well as corporate earnings numbers that are likely to be abysmal as well. The point is, the market is aware of these things, so inflection in the trajectory of data is going to be critical, not so much the raw number. For now, the trend remains weaker data and a stronger dollar. Hopefully, sooner, rather than later, we will see that change.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Prices So Low

Since distancing, social, has spread
Demand for petroleum’s bled
Its price has declined
As less is refined
Is OPEC now near its deathbed?

Well, last night the Chinese explained
They’d not let reserves there be drained
With prices so low
Their stockpile they’ll grow
Thus, Pesos and Rubles have gained

One cannot be surprised by the fact that the sharp decline in the price of oil has prompted some nations to take the opportunity to top up their strategic reserves of the stuff. Last night, the story came out that China was going to do just that. In addition to the mooted plans to purchase upwards of 100 million barrels, there is also discussion that they are going to increase the size of their storage facilities. This serves a twofold purpose; first to allow them more storage, but second it is a clear short-term economic stimulus for the country as well, something they are desperately seeking given the quickly slowing growth trajectories of their major export markets.

The market response to the story has been exactly as would be expected, with oil prices surging (both WTI and Brent are higher by a bit more than 10% as I type) and petrocurrencies NOK, RUB and MXN, all rallying nicely as well. At least, that’s how they started the session. Approaching 7:00am in NY, NOK is by far the leading gainer in the G10 space, jumping 1.6% without the benefit of central bank intervention, as any rebound in oil, no matter how short-lived, is a positive for the country and by extension its currency.

The emerging market petros, though, are having a bit of a tougher time of it. Earlier, both the ruble and Mexican peso were firmer by well more than 1% compared with yesterday’s closing levels, but in the past hour, we have seen both give up the bulk of those gains. It just goes to show how difficult it is going to be for some currencies to rebound in the short run. This is because, a 10% rally in oil still leaves it at $22/bbl or so, far below the cost of production and not nearly enough to stem either nation’s fiscal woes. By the way, this is still far below the cost of shale oil production as well. In fact, the only country that really has a production cost below the current market price is Saudi Arabia. But in FX terms that doesn’t really matter as the riyal is fixed to the dollar.

Away from that story, though, financial and economic stories are thin on the ground, with most simply a rehash or update of ongoing themes. For instance, we already know that virtually every developed country is adding fiscal support to their economies, but there have been no new reports of additional stimulus. We already know that virtually every developed country’s central bank has added monetary support to their economies, but, if anything, the overnight stories were complaints that it wasn’t coming fast enough. To wit, the RBNZ is being chastised for not expanding its QE purchases quickly enough as market participants anticipate a significant increase in debt issuance by the government. That said, however, kiwi is a top performer today, rising 0.65% on the back of the Chinese oil story and the knock-on effects of renewed Chinese growth.

Otherwise, the news is almost entirely about the virus and its impacts on healthcare systems around the world, as well as the evolving story about the Chinese having underreported their caseload and by extension, distorting the medical community’s understanding of key features of the pathogen, namely its level of contagion and lethality. But that is all in the political realm, not the market realm.

Yesterday’s equity market decline has stopped for now with European indices modestly higher at this point, generally less than 1%, although US futures are looking a bit perkier, with all of them up by more than that 1% marker. Bond markets are under a bit of pressure, as investors are tentatively reaching out to acquire some risk, with yields in most government bond markets edging higher by a few bps this morning. Treasuries, which had seen a 4bp rise earlier in the session, though, have now rallied back to unchanged on the day.

And if one wants to look at the dollar more broadly, away from the NOK and NZD, the pound is firmer (+0.5% and it has really been holding up remarkably well lately), and CAD and AUD are both firmer by about 0.3% on the back of the oil/China positive story. On the downside, the euro cannot find a bid, falling 0.4% this morning, as the focus turns back to the rampant spread of Covid-19 in both Italy and Spain, as well as how much the German economy will suffer throughout the crisis.

In the EMG space, TRY (+0.5%) has been the top performer after confirmed FX intervention in the markets, but otherwise, despite what seems to be a modestly better tone to markets this morning, no other currency in the space is more than 0.1% firmer. On the downside, ZAR is the loser du jour, falling more than 1% and reaching a new historic low as interest rates in the country decline thus reducing its attractiveness as an investment destination.

This morning’s data brings Initial Claims (exp 3.7M) which has everybody atwitter given just how uncertain this outcome is. The range of estimates is from 800K to 6.5M which is another way of saying nobody has a clue. The one thing of which we can be certain is that it will be a large number. Interestingly, yesterday’s ADP number showed many fewer job losses than expected, which implies that tomorrow’s payroll data will also not give an accurate picture of the current situation. The survey week came before the real shutdowns began, so we will need to wait until the April data, not released until May 8, to get a better picture. And what’s interesting about that is, if the current timeline of a resumption of more normal activity by the end of April comes to pass, that data, while showing the depths of the problem, will no longer be that informative either. The lesson from this is that it may still be quite some time before data serves as a market driver like in the past, especially the NFP report.

Summing up, despite a modestly better attitude toward risk this morning, the dollar continues to be the place to be. Ultimately, until global dollar liquidity demand ebbs, I expect that we are going to see the greenback maintain its strength.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

No Respite

This weekend, alas, brought no respite
As markets are still in the cesspit
A worrying trend
While govs try to end
The panic, is that they turn despot

Well, things have not gotten better over the weekend, in fact, arguably they continue to deteriorate rapidly. And I’m not talking markets here, although they are deteriorating as well. More and more countries have determined that the best way to fight this scourge is to lockdown their denizens and prevent gatherings of more than a few people while imposing minimum distance restrictions to be maintained between individuals. And of course, given the crisis at hand, a virulently contagious disease, it makes perfect sense as a way to prevent its further spread. But boy, doesn’t it have connotations of a dictatorship?

The attempt to prevent large groups from gathering is a hallmark of dictators who want to prevent a revolution from upending their rule. The instructions to maintain a certain distance are simply a reminder that the government is more powerful than you and can force you to act in a certain manner. Remember, too, that governments, once they achieve certain powers, are incredibly loathe to give them up willingly. Those in charge want to remain so and will do almost anything to do so. Milton Friedman was spot on when he reminded us that, “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” The point is, while the virus could not be foreseen, the magnitude of the economic impact is directly proportional to the economic policies that preceded it. In other words, a decade of too-easy money led to a massive amount of leverage, which under ‘normal’ market conditions was easily serviceable, but which has suddenly become a millstone around the economy’s neck. And adding more leverage won’t solve the problem. Both the economic and financial crisis have a ways to go yet, although they will certainly take more twists and turns before ending.

None of this, though, has dissuaded governments worldwide from trying every trick suggested to prevent an economic depression. At the same time, pundits and analysts are in an arms race, to make sure they will be heard, in forecasting economic catastrophe. Q2 US GDP growth is now being forecast to decline by anywhere from 5% to 50%! And the high number ostensibly came from St Louis Fed President James Bullard. Now I will be the first to tell you that I have no idea how Q2 will play out, but I also know that given the current circumstances, and the fact that the virus is a truly exogenous event, it strikes me that any macroeconomic model built based on historical precedents is going to be flat out wrong. And remember, too, we are still in Q1. If the draconian measures implemented are effective, recovery could well be underway by May 15 and that would result in a significant rebound in the second half of Q2. Certainly, that’s an optimistic viewpoint, but not impossible. The point is, we simply don’t know how the next several quarters are going to play out.

In the meantime, however, there is one trend that is becoming clearer in the markets; when a country goes into lockdown its equity market gets crushed. India is the latest example, with the Sensex falling 13.1% last night after the government imposed major restrictions on all but essential businesses and reduced transportation services. Not surprisingly, the rupee also suffered, falling 1.2% to a new record low. RBI activity to stem the tide has been marginally effective, at best, and remarkably, it appears that India is lagging even the US in terms of the timeline of Covid-19’s impact. The rupee has further to fall.

Singapore, too, has seen a dramatic weakening in its dollar, falling 0.9% today and trading to its lowest level since 2009. The stock exchange there also tumbled, -7.3%, as the government banned large gatherings and limited the return of working ex-pats.

These are just highlights (lowlights?) of what has been another difficult day in financial markets around the world. The one thing we have seen is that the Fed’s USD swap lines to other central banks have been actively utilized around the world as dollar liquidity remains at a premium. Right now, basis swaps have declined from their worst levels as these central bank activities have reduced some of the worst pressure for now. A big concern is that next Tuesday is quarter end (year end for Japan) and that dollar funding requirements over the accounting period could be extremely large, exacerbating an already difficult situation.

A tour around the FX markets shows that the dollar remains king against most everything although the yen has resumed its haven status, at least for today, by rallying 0.3%. Interestingly, NOK has turned around and is actually the strongest currency as I type, up 0.8% vs. the dollar after having been down as much as 1.3% earlier. This reversal appears to be on the back of currency intervention by the Norgesbank, which is the only thing that can explain the speed and magnitude of the movement ongoing as I type. What that tells me is that when they stop, NOK will resume its trip lower. But the rest of the G10 is on its heels, with kiwi the laggard, -1.25%, after the RBNZ jumped into the QE game and said they would be buying NZD 30 billion throughout the year. AUD and GBP are both lower by nearly 1.0%, as both nations struggle with their Covid responses on the healthcare front, not so much the financial front, as each contemplates more widespread restrictions.

In the emerging markets, IDR is actually the worst performer of all, down 3.7%, as despite central bank provision of USD liquidity, dollars remain in significant demand. This implies there may be a lack of adequate collateral to use to borrow dollars and could presage a much harsher decline in the future. But MXN and KRW are both lower by 1.5%, and remember, South Korea has been held up as a shining example of how to combat the disease. Their problem stems from the fact that as an export driven economy, the fact that the rest of the world is slowing rapidly is going to be devastating in the short-term.

Turning to the data, this week things will start to be interesting again as we see the first numbers that include the wave of shut-downs and limits on activity.

Today Chicago Fed Activity -0.29
Tuesday PMI Manufacturing 44.0
  PMI Services 42.0
  New Home Sales 750K
Wednesday Durable Goods -1.0%
  -ex transport -0.4%
Thursday Initial Claims 1500K
  Q4 GDP 2.1%
Friday Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.2%
  PCE Deflator core 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
  Michigan Sentiment 90.0

Source: Bloomberg

Tomorrow’s PMI data and Thursday’s Initial Claims are the first data that will have the impact of the extraordinary measures taken against the virus, so the real question is, just how bad will they be? I fear they could be much worse than expected, and that is not going to help our equity markets. It will, however, perversely help the dollar, as fear grows further.

Forecasting is a mugs game at all times, but especially now. The only thing that is clear is that the dollar continues to be in extreme demand and is likely to be so until we start to hear that the spread of Covid-19 has truly slowed down. That said, the dollar will not rally forever, so payables hedgers should be thinking of places where they can add to their books.

Good luck and stay well
Adf