Far From Benign

Was yesterday’s market decline
A flash or a longer-term sign
Of things gone astray
That might well give way
To outcomes quite far from benign

Is this the end?  Have we seen the top in the equity markets?  That seems to be the question being asked this morning as both traders and investors try to determine if the first risk-off session in a number of months is the beginning of a trend, or merely a symptom of some short-term position excesses.  While Asian markets (Nikkei -1.0%, Hang Seng -0.85%, Shanghai -0.1%) continued along the theme of greater problems to come, Europe is not quite as worried, at least not in the equity space.  Interestingly, despite the rebound in Europe (DAX +0.1%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 +0.3%) European sovereign debt has continued its rally with yields there lower by a pretty consistent 3 basis points across the board.

Meanwhile, after a tremendous rally in the Treasury market yesterday, where 10-year yields fell 10 basis points and the 2yr-10-yr spread flattened to below 100bps, buyers are still at large with the 10-year declining a further 1.2bps as I write.

It seems the narrative that is beginning to take hold is that the economic rebound from the Covid recession has reached its peak and that going forward, growth will quickly revert to trend.  This newer narrative has been reinforced by the spread of the delta variant of Covid throughout Asia and Europe (and the US, although lockdowns don’t seem to be on the agenda here) and the renewed closures being imposed around the world.  For instance, half of Australia has been put back under lockdown, as has New Zealand and growing parts of Southeast Asia including Singapore and Indonesia.  Europe, too, is feeling the pressure with rising caseloads n the UK, Spain and France resulting in calls for further restrictions.   The upshot of this is that earnings will struggle to rise as much as previously expected and that inflation pressures will quickly abate, and the concept of transitory inflation may be proven correct.

Chair Powell and friends are quite sure
Inflation, we won’t long endure
But pundits abound
Who’ll gladly expound
On why it’s the problem du jour

This brings us back to the big question hanging over markets, is inflation transitory or persistent?  Certainly, the recent trend in the data might argue for persistence as we continue to see higher prints than both the previous period as well as than forecasted.  As long as that is the case, it will be more and more difficult for the central banks to declare victory.  While commodity futures markets are well off their highs, a broad index of basic materials prices, things where there are no futures markets, is at all-time highs and rising.  Wages continue to rise as well, as the disconnect between the number of unemployed people and the number of job openings is forcing business to increase pay to get workers to come on board.  All of these things point to continued higher prices going forward, as do surveys of both consumers and businesses who virtually all agree higher prices are in our future.

However, the evidence from the bond market, the market that is historically seen as the most attuned to inflationary pressures, would argue that the inflation scare has passed.  With yields tumbling, US 10-year yields are more than 60 basis points off their late March highs, and the yield curve flattening.  All indications are that bond investors are sanguine over the inflation threat and are actually more worried about deflation.

The argument on this side remains that temporary bottlenecks have resulted in price pressures during the reopening of economies from the Covid lockdowns.  Economists’ models point to those very price pressures as the impetus for increased supply and, thus, lower prices in the future.  The problem is that the timeline for increasing supply is very different across different products.  Perhaps the most widely known shortage is semiconductors which has led to reductions in the production of cars, washing machines and consumer electronics.  But it takes at least 2 years to build a semiconductor factory, so it is quite possible the shortage will not be alleviated anytime soon.  Similarly, with mined raw materials, it takes multiple years to open up new mines, so shortages in copper or tin may not be alleviated for a number of years yet.  Of course, if growth is slowing, demand for these items will diminish and price pressures are likely to fade as well.

Let’s consider a few things about which we are certain.  First, securities prices do not travel in a straight line, and in fact, there are many short-term reversals involved in long-term trends.  Thus, if inflation is indeed persistent, the recent bond rally may well be the result of short-term factors and position reductions.  Recall, higher yields were the consensus Wall Street forecast three months ago, with expectations for the 10-year to be yielding between 2.0% and 2.5% in December.  Large fund managers were on board with that idea and built large positions, which take time to unwind.  It is entirely possible we are seeing the last throes of those position adjustments right now.

Another thing about which we are (pretty) certain is that during the Fed’s quiet period, we will not hear from any Fed speakers.  This means that in the event the market really does continue yesterday’s declines and starts to accelerate, the Fed will be hamstrung in their ability to try to jawbone things back to a smoother path.  Would Powell break the quiet period if markets fell 5% or 8% in a day?  My sense is he might, but that is exactly the type of thing that markets like to test.

Finally, let’s not forget that markets are hugely imperfect forecasters of the future.  After all, it was only 3 months ago when markets were forecasting much greater inflation while anticipating no change in Fed policy until 2024.  So, just because the current market view points to a potential slowing of economic growth and reduced inflation pressures, the economy behaves independently of the markets, and may well show us that the views from March were, in fact, correct.

Having already touched on equity and bond markets, a quick look at the FX markets shows that the dollar continues to power ahead vs. its G10 counterparts with NOK (-0.7%) and NZD (-0.65%) the laggards this morning.  NOK continues to suffer from oil’s remarkable 7.5% decline yesterday, while New Zealand is suffering on renewed lockdown fervor, and this after the RBNZ just last week explained they were about to tighten policy!  But we are seeing weakness in the pound (-0.45%) and AUD (-0.35%) both of which seem to be Covid shutdown related, while JPY (0.0%) is the only currency holding up in the bloc today despite further negative news regarding the Olympics and athletes contracting Covid as well as sponsors pulling out.

Emerging markets have been more varied with losers in Asia (SGD -0.35%, KRW -0.25%) on the back of Covid lockdowns, while gainers have included TRY (+0.4%), INR (+0.35%) and RUB (+0.3%).  The ruble seems to be reacting to the end of oil’s decline, unlike NOK, while INR saw equity market inflows driving the currency higher.  TRY, which is on holiday today, is benefitting from a higher inflation reading than expected and expectations of further policy tightening by the central bank there.

On the data front today we see Housing Starts (exp 1590K) and Building Permits (1696K).  We all know the housing market remains hot, so these data points are unlikely to move markets.  Rather, watch carefully for a continuation of yesterday’s risk off session and a stronger dollar.  I have a feeling that this morning’s price action is more pause than trend.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Bears’ Great Delight

As Covid renews its broad spread
Investors have started to shed
Their risk appetite,
To bears’ great delight,
And snap up more havens instead

Risk is off this morning on a global basis.  Equity markets worldwide have fallen, many quite sharply, while haven assets, like bonds, the yen and the dollar, are performing quite well.  It seems that the ongoing increase in Covid infections, not only throughout emerging markets, but in many developed ones as well, has investors rethinking the strength of the economic recovery.

The latest mutation of Covid, referred to as the delta variant, is apparently significantly more virulent than the original.  This has led to a quickening of the pace of infections around the world.  Governments are responding in exactly the manner we have come to expect, imposing lockdowns and curfews and restricting mobility.  Depending on the nation, this has taken various forms, but in the end, it is clearly an impediment to near-term growth.  Recent examples of government edicts include France, where they are now imposing fines on anyone who goes to a restaurant without a vaccine ‘passport’ as well as on the restaurants that allow those people in.  Japan has had calls to cancel the Olympics, as not only will there be no spectators, but an increasing number of athletes are testing positive for the virus and being ruled out of competition.

A quick look at hugely imperfect data from Worldometer shows that 8 of the 10 nations with the most reported new cases yesterday are emerging markets, led by Indonesia and India.  But perhaps of more interest is that the largest number of new cases reported was from the UK.  Today is ‘Freedom Day’ in the UK, where the lockdowns have ended, and people were to be able to resume their pre-Covid lives.  However, one has to wonder if the number of infections continues to rise at this pace, how long it will be before further restrictions are imposed.  Clearly, market participants are concerned as evidenced by the >2.0% decline in the FTSE 100 as well as the 0.45% decline in the pound.

While this story is not the only driver of markets, it is clearly having the most impact.  It has dwarfed the impact of the OPEC+ agreement to raise output thus easing supply concerns for the time being.  Oil (WTI – 2.75%) is reacting as would be expected given the large amount of marginal supply that will be entering the market, but arguably, lower oil prices should be a positive for risk appetite.  As I indicated, today is a Covid day.  The other strong theme is in agricultural products where prices are rising in all the major grains (Soybeans +0.6%, Wheat +1.4%, Corn +1.7%) as the weather is having a detrimental impact on projected crop sizes.  The ongoing drought and extreme heat in the Western US have served to reduce estimates of plantings and heavy rains have impacted crops toward the middle of the country.

With all that ‘good’ news in mind, it cannot be surprising that risk assets have suffered substantially, and havens are in demand.  For instance, Asian equity markets were almost universally in the red (Nikkei -1.25%, Hang Seng -1.85%, Shanghai 0.0%), while European markets are performing far worse (DAX -2.0%, CAC -2.0%, FTSE MIB (Italy) -2.9%).  US futures are all pointing lower with the Dow (-1.0%) leading the way but the others down sharply as well.

Bonds, on the other hand, are swimming in it this morning, with demand strong almost everywhere.  Treasuries are leading the way, with yields down 4.7bps to 1.244%, their lowest level since February, and despite all the inflation indications around, sure look like they are headed lower.  But we are seeing demand throughout Europe as well with Bunds (-2.4bps, OATs -2.0bps and Gilts -3.6bps) all well bid.  The laggards here are the PIGS, which are essentially unchanged at this hour, but had actually seen higher yields earlier in the session.  After all, who would consider Greek bonds, where debt/GDP is 179% amid a failing economy, as a haven asset.

We’ve already discussed commodities except for the metals markets which are all lower.  Gold (-0.35%) is not performing its haven function, and the base metals (Cu -1.7%, Al -0.1%, sn -0.7%) are all responding to slowing growth concerns.

Ahh, but to find a market where something is higher, one need only look at the dollar, which is firmer against every currency except the yen, the other great haven.  CAD (-1.2%) is the laggard today, falling on the back of the sharp decline in oil and metals prices.  NOK (-0.9%) is next in line, for obvious reasons, and then AUD (-0.7%, and NZD (-0.7%) as commodity weakness drags them lower.  The euro (-0.25%) is performing relatively well despite the uptick in reported infections, as market participants start to look ahead to the ECB meeting on Thursday and wonder if anything of note will appear beyond what has already been said about their new framework.  In addition, consider that weakness in commodities actually helps the Eurozone, a large net importer.

In the EMG space, it is entirely red, with RUB (-0.75%) leading the way lower, but weakness in all regions.  TRY (-0.7%), KRW (-0.7%), CZK (-0.55%) and MXN (-0.5%) are all suffering on the same story, weaker growth, increased Covid infections and a run to safety and away from high yielding EMG currencies.

Data this week is quite sparse, with housing the main theme

Tuesday Housing Starts 1590K
Building Permits 1700K
Thursday Initial Claims 350K
Continuing Claims 3.05M
Leading Indicators 0.8%
Existing Home Sales 5.90M
Friday Flash PMI Mfg 62.0
Flash PMI Services 64.5

Source: Bloomberg

The Fed is now in their quiet period, so no speakers until the meeting on the 28th.  Thursday, we hear from the ECB, where no policy changes are expected, although further discussion of PEPP and the original QE, APP, are anticipated.  So, until Thursday, it appears that the FX markets will be beholden to both exogenous risks, like more Covid stories, and risk sentiment.  If the equity market remains under pressure, you can expect the dollar to maintain its bid tone.  If something happens to turn equities around (and right now, that is hard to see) then the dollar will likely retreat in a hurry.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Popular View

It seems that a popular view

Explains that the Fed will pursue

A slowdown in buying

More bonds as they’re trying 

To bid, fondly, QE adieu





At least that’s what pundits all thought

The Powell press conference had wrought

They talked about talking

But are not yet walking

The path to where policy’s taut

It appears virtually unanimous that the punditry believes the FOMC is going to be tightening policy (i.e. tapering) in the ‘near future’.  Of course, the near future is just as imprecise as transitory, the Fed’s favorite word.  Neither of these words convey any specificity, which makes them very powerful in the narrative game, but perhaps not so powerful when directly addressed.  My take on transitory is as follows: initial expectations were it meant 2 or 3 quarters of price pressures which would then dissipate as supply chains were quickly reconnected.  However, it has since morphed into as much as 2 to 3 years given the reality that certain shortages, notably semiconductors, may take much longer to abate as the timeline to build out new capacity is typically 2 to 3 years.  I guess it all depends on your frame of reference as to what transitory means.  For instance, to a tortoise, 2 to 3 year is clearly but a blip in their lives, but to a fruit fly, it is beyond an eternity.  Sadly, the market’s attention span is much closer to that of a fruit fly’s than a tortoise’s so 2 to 3 years feels a lot more permanent than not.  This is especially so since there is no way to know if other, more persistent inflationary issues may arise in the interim.

As to the ‘near future’, that seems to mean somewhere between the middle of 2022 and the middle of 2024.  Here too, the timeline is extremely flexible to accommodate whatever story is trying to be sold told.  When puffing up the strength of the economic recovery, expectations tend toward the earliest estimates.  In fact, we continue to hear from several FOMC members that tapering will soon be appropriate.  However, if we look at who is making those comments (Bullard, Kaplan, Rosengren and Bostic), we find that only Raphael Bostic from Atlanta currently has a vote.  At the same time, those who are least interested in the idea of tapering include the leadership (Powell, Clarida and Williams) as well as the other governors (Bowman, Brainard, Quarles and Waller), and they have permanent votes.  In other words, my take on the FOMC meeting is it was far less hawkish than much of the punditry has described.  And there is one group, which really matters, that is apparently in agreement with me; the bond market!  Treasury prices after an initial sell-off (yield rally) have reversed that move and are essentially unchanged with a flatter yield curve.  It strikes me that if the Fed were to taper, yields would start to rise in the long end as the removal of that support would have a significant negative price impact.

So, if I were to piece together the narrative now it appears to be the following: inflation is still transitory if it remains well above target for the next 2 years and the bond market is convinced that is the case (ostensibly a survey showed that 70% of fixed income managers believe the transitory story).  Meanwhile, despite the transitory nature of inflation, the Fed is going to tighten its monetary policy sometime next year and potentially even raise the Fed Funds rate in 2023.  Personally, that seems somewhat contradictory to me, but apparently cognitive dissonance is a prerequisite to becoming an FOMC member these days.

At any rate, given the lack of actual policy changes by the Fed, all we have is the narrative.  This week we will have four more Fed speakers to continue to reiterate that narrative, that despite the transitory nature of inflation we are going to tighten policy in the future.  Of course, that begs the question, Why?  Why tighten policy if there is no inflation?  Cognitive dissonance indeed.

In the meantime, as markets continue to try to figure out what exactly is happening, we wind up with paralysis by analysis and relatively limited movement.  For instance, equity markets in Asia were all essentially unchanged overnight, with not one of them moving even 0.1%.  Europe, on the other hand is having a tougher go this morning with red across the screen (DAX -0.1%, CAC -0.5% and FTSE 100 -0.5%) with a real outlier as Spain’s IBEX (-1.5%).  There has been no data released but there is growing concern that the Delta variant of Covid is going to cause another lockdown in Europe before they finished reopening the first time.  This is based on the fact that we have seen lockdowns reimposed in Australia, Japan, Singapore and Israel after all those nations seemed to be moving forward.  As to US futures, they are either side of unchanged at this hour awaiting some clarity on anything.

It can be no surprise that bond markets are rallying slightly with Treasuries (-1.7bps) leading the way but small yield declines in Europe as well (Bunds -0.8bps, OATs -1.1bps, Gilts -1.8bps).  With equity markets under pressure, this is a natural reaction.  And if you consider the reasoning, worries over another Covid wave, then slower growth would be expected.

Funnily enough, Covid is having a currency impact today as well.  In the G10, the new Health Minister, Sajid Javid, has said he wants to see the country return to normal “as soon and as quickly as possible.”  Despite the equity market concerns, the FX market saw that as bullish and the pound (+0.2%) is the leading gainer in the G10 this morning.  But as the morning has progressed and risk sentiment has become less positive, the dollar is starting to asset itself against most of the rest of the bloc with NZD (-0.35%) and NOK (-0.3%) the laggards.  Both of these are under pressure from declining commodity prices as oil (-0.1%) is sagging a bit.

In the EMG bloc, ZAR (-0.8%) is in the worst condition this morning as the Delta Covid variant has increased its spread and the government is behind the curve in treating the issue.  But we saw weakness overnight in THB (-0.6%), and this morning the CE4 are all under the gun as well.  And the story seems to be the same everywhere, tighter Covid restrictions are undermining currencies while positivity is helping them.

It is a big data week as it culminates in the payroll report on Friday:

TuesdayCase Shiller Home Prices14.85%
 Consumer Confidence119.0
WednesdayADP Employment550K
 Chicago PMI70.0
ThursdayInitial Claims389K
 Continuing Claims3335K
 ISM Manufacturing61.0
 ISM Prices Paid86.0
FridayNonfarm Payrolls700K
 Private Payrolls600K
 Manufacturing Payrolls25K
 Unemployment Rate5.7%
 Average Hourly Earnings0.3% (3.6% y/Y)
 Average Weekly Hours34.9
 Participation Rate61.7%
 Trade Balance-$71.3B
 Factory Orders1.5%

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, all eyes will be on the payroll data as the Fed has made it clear that employment is their key focus for now.  There was an interesting story in the WSJ this morning highlighting how the states that have ended the Federal Unemployment Insurance bonus have seen an immediate pickup in employment with jobs suddenly being filled.  That bodes well for the future, but it also means we will have this issue for another quarter if all the states that maintain the bonuses continue to do so.

As mentioned above, several Fed speakers will be out selling the narrative that inflation is transitory, but tapering may be coming anyway.  (A cynic might think they are not being totally honest in what they are saying, but only a cynic.)

A quick top down look at the FX market leads me to believe that individual national stories are currently the real drivers.  So those nations that are raising interest rates to fight inflation (Mexico, Brazil, Hungary, Russia) are likely to see their currencies hold up.  Those nations that are having serious relapses in Covid infections (South Africa, much of Europe) are likely to see their currencies come under pressure.  Where the two meet (South Korea), it seems to depend on the day as to which way the currency goes.  With that in mind, though, I would bet the monetary policy story will have more permanence will be the ultimate driver.

Today, the dollar seems to be in fine fettle as risk is on the back foot given the increasing Covid concerns over the Delta variant.  But do not be surprised if tomorrow is different.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

The Bottom’s Not In

Attention this morning’s returned
To Treasuries, where we have learned
The bottom’s not in
As yields underpin
The dollar that once had been spurned

Plus ça change, plus ça même chose.

During the past several weeks, there have been a number of stories that seemed designed to shift our attention away from what has been the major market driver in 2021…the Treasury market.  But despite the Ever Given running aground, despite the forced liquidation of Archegos Capital Management and despite Covid’s resurgence throughout Europe and additional mooted lockdowns there, the clear driver of market activity remains US Treasury yields, specifically in the back end of the curve.  As I type this morning, the 10-year has risen 5.7bps on the session with the yield now 1.765%, its highest level since January 22, 2020.  This movement has dragged up yields across the US yield curve, with 5-year yields fast approaching 1.0% while even 2-year yields, which remain anchored by the Fed’s promises to keep the Fed Funds rate at its current level through at least 2023, has edged up by 1.4 basis points.

And this movement is not isolated to the United States, as sovereign yields across the board are higher today with European markets looking at gains of between 5.5bps and 7.5 bps, while overnight saw Australian yields climb 9.2 basis points.  But it is clearly the Treasury market in the lead.  The current story seems to revolve around the ongoing outperformance of the US economy vis-à-vis those of Europe and much of Asia, the success of the US vaccine program and the promise of yet another fiscal stimulus bill coming from the Biden administration.  That trifecta dwarfs all other nations’ activities and so has seen ongoing flows into US equity markets as well as into the dollar.  And the thing is, for now, it is hard to see what can derail this story in the short-term.  In fact, with the latest payroll data due to be released Friday and expected to show a substantial gain in the number of jobs, while more and more states reduce Covid inspired economic restrictions, things seem like they will only get better.

And perhaps things will only get better.  Perhaps we have passed the worst of the pandemic.  Perhaps all Covid inspired restrictions will be relaxed and people will head back out on vacations and to movies and theme parks. Perhaps shopping malls will regain their allure as people look for anyplace to go that is not inside their own home.  In this case, as the service sector reopens along with the jobs attendant to that process, the Fed would likely be able to justify a very gradual reduction in some of their stimulus.  And this could all happen.  But, so could we wake up tomorrow to learn that pigs really can fly.

Instead, while there is no doubt that the US remains the driving force in the economy right now, as it leads other nations out of the pandemic, the imbalances that have developed due to the policies implemented during the pandemic will take a very long time to unwind.  In addition, they pose a very real threat to the stability of markets and economies.  For instance, how will nations around the world address the issue of the massive rise in their debt/GDP ratios.  While servicing costs right now are tenable given the historically low level of interest rates, investors may well start demanding higher yields to compensate for the growing riskiness of those portfolios.  After all, we have seen many nations default on their debt in the past, with Greece and Argentina just the two latest on the list.

But rising yields will force governments to choose between honoring their debt promises, or paying for their activities, a choice no elected politician ever wants to make.  It is not unreasonable to assume that this choice will be forced on countries by the markets (and in fact, is starting to be forced as we watch yield curves steepen) with two potential outcomes; either the central bank caps yields to insure that debt service remains viable, or the debt is restructured by the central bank who will monetize it.  Either situation will almost certainly result in rising inflation, not of the asset kind, but will also result in a situation where those tools that central banks claim they have to fight inflation will not be available.  After all, if they are capping yields, they cannot very well raise rates to fight inflation.

It is this endgame that has some very thoughtful people concerned, as when this situation has arisen in the past, and after all, there is nothing new under the sun, the result has been a combination of much more significant inflation and debt defaults.  Now, in the US, the idea of a debt default seems quite impossible.  However, the idea of higher inflation, especially given the Fed’s stated desire to see inflation rise, is much easier to accept.  And after all, given the newly stated desire to achieve an average inflation rate, with a desire to see higher than 2.0% inflation readings for some indeterminate amount of time, how will the Fed know when they’ve seen enough?  The point is, the Fed, and every central bank, still has a very difficult task ahead of them to maintain stability while supporting the economy.  And there is no guarantee that their actions will work.

With that joyous thought in mind, a quick look at other markets beyond bonds shows that equities remain supported with widespread gains overnight (Nikkei +0.15%, Hang Seng +0.8%, Shanghai +0.6%), while European bourses are all green as well (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.55%, FTSE 100 +0.25%).  US futures, however, are starting to fade, led by the NASDAQ (-0.8%) although SPX futures (-0.2%) have turned lower as well.  Remember, the NASDAQ, with its predominantly growth-oriented companies, is similar to a long-term bond, as higher yields reduce the current discounted value of its future growth.

Commodity markets are under pressure this morning as well with oil (-1.5%) falling back a bit further, and both base and precious metals all under the gun.  This commodity story is synchronous with the combination of rising yields and…a rising dollar.  And the dollar continues to rise, against all early year supposition.

Versus the G10, it is higher against all comers, with JPY (-0.5%) leading the way lower and breaking above 110 for the first time in a year.  However, this move looks far more sustainable than the price action seen in the immediate wake of the initial Covid panic.  Quite frankly, in the short-term, there is no reason to think USDJPY cannot rise to 115.00.  But the weakness is universal with SEK (-0.4%) and NOK (-0.3%) also continuing lower.  While the latter is undermined by the oil decline, the Swedish krona remains the highest beta G10 currency, and is simply leading the euro (-0.25%) on its downward path.

EMG currencies are not in any better shape with TRY (-2.2%) by far the worst performer as more bets get piled on that the new central bank governor will be cutting interest rates soon at the behest of President Erdogan.  INR (-1.2%) is the next worst performer, suffering as state-run banks were seen actively buying dollars in the market ahead of their fiscal year-end, cleaning up their balance sheets.  But pretty much the entire bloc is lower by between 0.2% and 0.4% on the simple fact that the dollar is growing in demand as US yields lead the way higher.

On the data front, two minor releases today, Case Shiller Home Prices (exp 11.2%) and Consumer Confidence (96.9) are unlikely to have much impact as the market looks forward to the employment situation starting with tomorrow’s ADP Employment report and then Friday’s NFP data.

Adding it all up comes to the idea that the current trends, higher yields and a higher dollar, remain firmly entrenched and I see no reason for them to change in the near future.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Covid Comes Calling

The German economy’s stalling
In Q1, as Covid comes calling
But still there’s belief
That fiscal relief
Will stop it from further snowballing

Consensus is hard to find this morning as we are seeing both gains and losses in the various asset classes with no consistent theme.  Perhaps the only significant piece of news was the German IFO data, which disappointed across the board, not merely missing estimates but actually declining compared with December’s data.  This is clearly a response to the renewed lockdowns in Germany and the fact that they have been extended through the middle of February.  The item of most concern, is that the manufacturing sector, which up until now had been the brightest spot, by far, is also seeing softness.  Now part of this problem has to do with the fact that shipping has been badly disrupted with insufficient containers available to ship products.  This has resulted in higher shipping costs and reduced volumes, hence reduced sales.  But part of this issue is also the fact that since virtually all of Europe is in lockdown, economic activity on the continent is simply slowing down.  It is the latter point that informs my view of the ECB’s future activities, namely non-stop monetary ease for as far as the eye can see.

When combining that view, the ECB will continue to aggressively ease policy, with the fact that the Fed is also going to continue to ease policy, it becomes much more difficult to estimate which currency is going to underperform.  Heading into 2021, the strongest conviction trade across markets was that the dollar was going to decline sharply, continuing the descent from its March 2020 highs.  And that’s exactly what we saw…for the first week of the year.  However, since then, the dollar has reversed those losses and currently sits higher on the year vs. most currencies.  My point is, and has consistently been, that in the FX market, the dollar is a relative game, and the policies of both nations are critical in establishing its value.  Thus, if every nation is aggressively easing policy, both monetary and fiscal, then the magnitude of those policy efforts are critical.  Perhaps, the fact that Congress has yet to pass an additional stimulus bill, especially given the strong belief that the Blue Wave would quickly achieve that, has been sufficient to change some views of the dollar’s future strength (weakness?).  Regardless, the one thing that is clear is that the year has just begun and there is plenty of time for more policy action as well as more surprises.  In the end, I do believe that as inflation starts to climb in the US, and real interest rates fall to further negative levels, the dollar will ultimately fall.  But that is a Q2-Q3 outcome, not really a January story.

And remarkably, that is basically the biggest piece of news from overnight.  At this point, traders and investors are turning their attention to the FOMC meeting on Wednesday, although there are no expectations for policy shifts yet.  However, the statement, and Chairman Powell’s press conference, will be parsed six ways to Sunday in order to try to glean the future.  Based on what we heard from a majority of Fed speakers before the quiet period began, there is no current concern over the backup in Treasury yields, and there is limited sentiment for the Fed to even consider tapering their policy of asset purchases, with just four of the seventeen members giving it any credence.  One other thing to remember is that the annual rotation of voting regional presidents has turned more dovish, with Cleveland’s Loretta Mester, one of the two most hawkish members, being replaced by Chicago’s Charles Evans, a consistent dove.  The other changes are basically like for like, with Daly for Kashkari (two extreme doves) and Barkin and Bostic replacing Harker and Kaplan.  These four are the minority who discussed the idea that tapering purchases could be appropriate by the end of the year, so, again, no change in voting views.

With this in mind, we can see the lack of consistent message from overnight activity.  Asian equity markets were all firmer, led by the Hang Seng (+2.4%), with the Nikkei (+0.7%) and Shanghai (+0.5%) trailing but in the green.  However, Europe has fared less well after the soft IFO data with all three major markets (DAX, CAC and FTSE 100) lower by -0.6%.  As to US futures, they are the perfect embodiment of a mixed session with NASDAQ futures higher by 0.8% while DOW futures are lower by 0.2%,

Bond markets, though, have shown some consistency, with yields falling in Treasuries (-1.0bp) and Europe (Bunds -1.7bps, OATs -1.5bps, Gilts -2.2bps).  The biggest winner, though, are Italian BTPs, which have rallied more than half a point and seen yields decline 5.3 basis points.  It seems that concerns over the government falling have abated.  Either that or the 0.70% yield available is seen as just too good to pass up.

On the commodity front, oil prices have edged up by the slightest amount, just 0.1%, as the consolidation of the past three months’ gains continues.  Gold has risen 0.4%, but there is a great deal of discussion that, technically, it has begun a downtrend and has further to fall.  Again, consistent with my view that real interest rates are likely to decline sharply in Q2, when inflation really starts to pick up, we could easily see gold slide until then, before a more emphatic recovery.

And lastly, the dollar, where both G10 and EMG blocs show a virtual even split of gainers and losers.  Starting with the G10, NZD (+0.3%) is today’s “big” winner, with SEK (+0.25%) next in line.  Market talk is about the reduction of restrictions in Australia’s New South Wales state as a reason for optimism in AUD (+0.15%) and NZD.  As for SEK, this is simply a trading move, with no obvious catalysts present.  On the flip side, the euro (-0.1%) is the worst performer, arguably suffering from that German IFO data, with other currencies showing little movement in either direction.

The EMG bloc is led by TRY (+0.4%), as it seems discussions between Turkey and Greece to resolve their competing claims over maritime boundaries is seen as a positive.  After the lira, though, no currency has gained more than 0.2%, which implies there is nothing of note to describe.  On the downside, ZAR (-0.4%) is the worst performer, which appears to be a positioning move as long rand positions are cut amid concerns over the spread of Covid and the lack of effective government response thus far.

On the data front, the week is backloaded with Wednesday’s FOMC clearly the highlight.

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 8.65%
Consumer Confidence 89.0
Wednesday Durable Goods 1.0%
-ex transport 0.5%
FOMC Meeting 0.00%-0.25% (unchanged)
Thursday Initial Claims 880K
Continuing Claims 5.0M
GDP Q4 4.2%
Leading Indicators 0.3%
New Home Sales 860K
Friday Personal Income 0.1%
Personal Spending -0.4%
Core PCE 1.3%
Chicago PMI 58.0
Michigan Sentiment 79.2

Source: Bloomberg

So, plenty of stuff at the end of the week, and then Friday, two Fed speakers hit the tape.  One thing we know is that the housing market continues to burn hot, meaning data there is assumed to be strong, so all eyes will be on the PCE data on Friday.  After all, that is the Fed’s measuring stick.  The other thing that we have consistently seen during the past six months is that inflationary pressures have been stronger than anticipated by most analysts.  And it is here, where the Fed remains firmly of the belief that they are in control, where the biggest problems are likely to surface going forward.  But that is a story for another day.  Today, the dollar is wandering.  However, if the equity market in the US can pick up its pace, don’t be surprised to see the dollar come under a little pressure.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

All Colored Rose

With spectacles all colored rose
Investors see only the pros
While cons may exist
They’ve all been dismissed
Thus, risk appetite only grows

It is good to be alive!!  That seems to be the mantra in markets this morning as despite ongoing vote recounts in a number of states, the mainstream media have declared Joe Biden the winner of the election.  This has unleashed a wave of buying (albeit not a blue wave) which has pushed both equity and commodity prices higher, as well as, interestingly enough, bond prices.  While I rarely, if ever, quote from another organization’s research, I will make an exception today as I feel it encapsulates the mindset that appears to have taken hold.  Citibank published a note over the weekend with the following: “..[the] trifecta of knowing who the next president will be, that the end of the pandemic is at hand and that sufficient economic stimulus will be available for the interim will mark the bright start of the New Economic Cycle in 2021.”  Perhaps, reading this comment you may understand why I have become such a skeptic over time.

Let us deconstruct this trifecta.  At this time, there are recounts in several key battleground states where the margin of victory was extremely narrow, including Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan and Georgia, and although the bulk of the media continue to claim this will not change the outcome, stranger things have happened.  However, let us assume this is the case.  The second leg is “the end of the pandemic is at hand”.  This statement seems a bit disingenuous. Every day there is a headline about the rising number of cases worldwide, which have now topped 50 million since this began in March and are spiking rapidly into the second wave.  In addition, we know that Europe has essentially closed down half its economy for the month of November.  In the meantime, one of the forecast benefits of a Biden victory was a new, national and sensible approach to addressing the pandemic.  It strikes me that if the end of the pandemic were at hand, the rise in new daily cases would be heading toward zero, or some extremely low number, certainly not the 472+K reported yesterday or 600K the day before, nor would there be a need for a new and sensible policy as the pandemic was already ending.  Finally, with the presumed Republican majority in the Senate, and with Majority Leader McConnell having indicated that the next stimulus bill should not be more than $500 billion, either the definition of sufficient has changed (prior to the election the punditry insisted that at least $2 trillion was necessary), or more cynically, Citibank is simply talking their book, trying to encourage more investment and economic activity, especially utilizing their services.

However, it is clear that market participants are willing to accept that trifecta at face value, and so this morning, we are seeing a powerful risk rally across all asset classes.  Starting with equity markets, which are clearly the drivers of risk sentiment, not only is my screen completely green, but powerfully so.  Asia started the process with significant gains (Nikkei +2.1%, Hang Seng +1.2%, Shanghai +1.9%), and Europe has taken up the mantle with gusto (DAX +1.9%, CAC +1.6%, FTSE 100 +1.4%).  Remember, all this positivity exists despite the fact that the Brexit negotiations remain quite far apart and ostensibly need to be completed by Sunday coming.  But today, that is irrelevant.  Lest you were concerned US markets were not participating, futures here are much higher as well (DOW and SPC +1.45%, NASDAQ +1.8%).  In other words, all is right with the world.

The bond market’s behavior is far more interesting, however, although perhaps there is a cogent explanation.  As we all know, a risk-on day, especially one as powerful as this, typically sees haven assets like government bonds sold off to free up capital to invest in stocks.  But this morning, Treasury yields are lower by 1 basis point while European markets are seeing yield declines (price rises) of between 2 and 3 basis points (with Greek 10-year yields lower by 8 basis points.)  While Greek yields make sense, after all their bonds are risk assets, not havens, it is surprising to see Bunds, OATS and Gilts rallying so much.  Perhaps the rationale behind this movement is the belief that we are set to see an increase in QE, especially in Europe, as Madame Lagarde has made clear that the ECB is going to be doing more come the December meeting.  The only concern with this thought process is that we have known that to be the case for two weeks, so why would these rallies suddenly pick up steam today?

Commodity markets are definitely feeling the love with oil rallying 3+% and both precious and base metals all higher on the day.  In other words, optimism reigns here.

Finally, the dollar is under pressure against most of its counterparts in the EMG space this morning although is having a mixed performance versus the G10.  Starting with the G10, perhaps the most surprising thing is that NOK (+0.15%) has gained so little given the strong rebound in oil.  Instead, the Commonwealth currencies are the leaders, with NZD (+0.4%) on top followed by CAD and AUD (both +0.2%).  All four of those currencies are beneficiaries of firmer commodity prices.  Meanwhile, JPY (-0.45%) is the leading decliner, which in a risk-on scenario is just what would be expected.  As well, weakness in CHF (-0.2%) is also no surprise.  But the pound (-0.2%) is under a bit of pressure, and neither the euro (-0.1%) nor SEK (-0.2%) have been able to gain during this session, which is somewhat surprising, especially given Stockie’s high beta to risk assets.

In the Emerging markets, TRY (+5.5%) is far and away the big winner today after the central bank governor was replaced and the economics minister (Erdogan’s son-in-law) stepped down.  It seems the market believes that the new central bank governor is going to raise rates to try to shore up the currency.  After that, we have seen solid strength in IDR (+1.0%), MXN (+0.8%) and KRW (+0.65%), although the bulk of the bloc is somewhat higher.  In the case of IDR, the rupiah has been the beneficiary of stock market inflows overnight with Korea’s won feeling the same sort of love.  Of course, MXN benefits when oil rallies, as does RUB (+0.3%) just not that much today.  In fact, the only red numbers come from the CE4 (HUF -0.5% with the others just marginally lower), and that only recently after the euro slid to a loss on the day.

On the data front, there is precious little released this week, with CPI the clear highlight.

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 104.4
JOLT’s Job Openings 6.5M
Thursday Initial Claims 730K
Continuing Claims 6.75M
CPI 0.2% (1.3% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
Friday PPI 0.2% (0.4% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (1.2% Y/Y)
Michigan Sentiment 81.8

Source: Bloomberg

However, while there may not be much data of note, we do get to hear from loads more Fed speakers this week, with thirteen different events, although only nine different speakers (Dallas’s Kaplan will be hoarse after his four different speeches).  One of these, though, on Thursday, will be Chairman Powell at the ECB Forum, where we will also hear from Madame Lagarde and the BOE Governor Andrew Bailey.

Breaking news just hit the tape about a Pfizer vaccine that was quite efficacious and that has encouraged even more risk taking, so equities are even stronger.  At this stage, there is nothing to stop the risk rally, and thus, nothing to help the dollar today.  While it won’t collapse, it will likely remain under pressure all day.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Quickly Fading

With stimulus hopes quickly fading
And Covid, more countries pervading
Most risk appetites
Have been read last rites
Thus traders, to buy, need persuading

Well, yesterday was no fun, at least if you owned equities in your portfolio, as we saw sharp declines throughout European and US markets.  And frankly, today is not shaping up to be much better.  Risk assets are still being jettisoned around the world as investors run to havens.  Perhaps the only place this is not true is China, where recent data releases show the economy there moving back toward trend growth.  The question at hand, then, seems to be, Is this the beginning of the widely anticipated sell-off/correction?  Or is this simply a short-term blip in an otherwise strong uptrend in risk asset pricing?

Evidence on the side of the broader sell-off comes in the form of; a) the lack of a stimulus bill, which seems officially impossible before the election, and to which may hopes were pinned; and b) the increasing spread of Covid-19, forcing governments worldwide to reimpose restrictions on dining, drinking and many in-person services.  Without the stimulus to offset the economic activity that is being halted, the prospects of economic growth are fading quickly.  And unless the Fed or ECB starts to give money directly to citizens, rather than simply purchase securities, there is very little either one can do to prevent a more serious economic downturn.

Worryingly, the evidence for the short-term blip thesis is entirely technical, as yesterday’s price action halted at a key trend line, thus did not ‘officially’ break lower.  Certainly, it is exceedingly difficult to find a good reason to believe that, after a remarkable runup since the March lows, there is much left in the tank of this rally.  On what basis does one become bullish from here?  After all, the hopes for stimulus have been dashed, at least in the near-term.  Hopes for a vaccine have taken a back seat as well, with much less discussion as numerous candidates continue to go through phase 2 and 3 trials, but nothing has been approved.  The problem with the hopes for a vaccine being approved quickly is that a key part of the approval process is to ensure that there are no long-term side effects for those that prove efficacious.  And that simply takes time and cannot be accelerated.

Meanwhile, as the US election nears, investors appear to be taking their cues from the polls and expectations for a Biden victory are growing.  It is interesting to me that given the Democratic platform of higher taxes, more government intrusion into the economy and an attack on the mega-cap tech companies with an eye toward breaking them up, that investors believe a Blue wave will be positive for equities.  It seems to me, all of those would be decidedly negative outcomes for shareholders as we would transition from one of the most openly business-friendly presidencies to what, on the surface, would shape up as one of the least business-friendly administrations.  Yet, nearly everything that has been published, or at least that I have seen, comes down on the side of a Biden victory as being positive for risk assets.  While this appears to be entirely on the strength of expectations for a massive new stimulus bill, for an institution that prides itself on its forward-looking abilities, one would think the negatives of even larger increases in the budget deficit and the public debt required to fund those, would be recognized as distinctly negative.

But for now, the narrative remains if the polls are correct, risk assets will perform well, the yield curve will steepen, and the dollar will decline.  While I would argue the first two are unlikely, the dollar’s behavior will depend on what happens elsewhere in the world, thus seems impossible to call at this time.

And that seems to be the state of play this morning.  So, let’s take a look around markets at this hour.  Overnight equity action saw a mixed bag with the Nikkei essentially unchanged, the Hang Seng (-0.5%) softening and Shanghai (+0.1%) marginally higher.  As an aside, Australia’s ASX 200 fell 1.7%, despite the relatively positive news about China.  In Europe, while the FTSE 100 is back to flat on the session, the Continent remains under water led by the CAC (-1.0%) but with solid declines elsewhere (DAX -0.4%, Italy’s MIB -0.55%).  These readings, though, are actually better than from earlier in the session.  Finally, US futures have also improved in the past hour and are now pointing higher by roughly 0.5%.

Bond markets are showing modest risk-off tendencies this morning, at least throughout Europe, with Bund yields lower by 1bp, as are French OAT’s.  Treasuries, on the other hand are unchanged in the session, trading right at 0.80%, which represents about a 7-basis point decline (bond rally) from last week’s levels.  There remains a huge amount of sentiment that the yield curve is going to steepen dramatically after the election as traders and investors anticipate a tsunami of bond issuance to fund the new Administration’s platform.  Of course, if the polls prove to be wrong, as they were in 2016, my sense is we could see a very sharp bond rally as the record short interest in bond futures gets quickly unwound.

Commodity prices, which yesterday were under pressure, and have seen oil trade well back below the $40/bbl level, are bouncing this morning, up ~1.0%, but looking through the rest of the complex, in base metals and ags, movement has been very modest and is mixed.

Finally, the dollar has turned from a dull opening, to some modest weakness overall.  NOK (+0.65%) is leading the way higher in the G10 space as it benefits from oil’s bounce.  However, after that, CAD (+0.3%) is the next biggest mover, also being helped by oil, and the rest of the bloc is +/- 0.2%, with no real stories to tell.  The pound, which has really done very little this month, continues to be whipsawed by Brexit headlines, although there is some positivity as both sides are meeting right now in London.

Emerging market currencies have two outliers this morning, ZAR (+0.75%) and TRY (-0.8%), with the rest of the bloc +/- 0.2% and very little of news to discuss.  If I had to characterize the market, it would be slightly dollar bearish, but in truth, the modesty of movement makes any judgement hard to offer.  As to the big movers, Turkey’s lira continues to suffer (-3.5% this week) as investors flee the country amid concerns the central bank has completely lost control of markets there, while President Erdogan continues his war of words with Europe and feels the sting of further sanctions.  On the flipside, ZAR is actually the leading gainer in the past week, as well as today, with hopes for positive budget news bolstering the demand for very high real yields.

Data today brings Durable Goods (exp 0.5%, 0.4% ex transport), Case Shiller Home Prices (4.20%) and Consumer Confidence (102.0).  With the Fed meeting next week, we have entered into the quiet period, so will not be hearing them castigate Congress for failing to pass a spending bill, although they all will be thinking it!  Across the pond, the ECB meets Thursday, and analysts are anticipating a strong signal that the ECB is going to increase monetary ease in December, yet another reason to be suspect of the collapsing dollar theory.  As for today, if the bulls can get the upper hand, then the dollar’s modest retreat thus far today can certainly extend.  But I don’t really see that happening, and think we see a bit of dollar strength before the session ends.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Naught Left to Wield

The PMI data revealed
The Continent’s yet to be healed
The second wave’s crest
Must still be addressed
And Christine has naught left to wield

It appears as though the market reaction function has returned to ‘bad news is good.’  This observation is based on the market response this morning, to what can only be described as disappointing PMI data from Europe and Japan, while we have seen equity markets higher around the world, bond yields generally declining and the dollar under pressure.  The working assumption amongst the investment community seems to be that as economic weakness, fostered by the much discussed second wave of Covid infections, spreads, it will be met with additional rounds of both fiscal and monetary stimulus.  And, this stimulus, while it may have only a marginal impact on economies, is almost certainly going to find its way into investment portfolios driving asset prices higher.

Unpacking the data shows that France is suffering the most, with Manufacturing PMI declining to 51.0 and Services PMI declining to 46.5, with both of those falling short of market expectations.  Germany, on the other hand, saw Manufacturing PMI rise sharply, to 58.0, on the back of increased exports to China, but saw its Services data decline more than expected to 48.9.  And finally, the Eurozone as a whole saw Manufacturing rise to 54.4 on the back of German strength, but Services fall to 46.2, as tourism numbers remain constrained, especially throughout southern Europe.

This disappointment has analysts reconfirming their views that the ECB is going to increase the PEPP by €500 billion come December, with many expecting Madame Lagarde to basically promise this at the ECB meeting next week.  The question is, will that really help very much?  The ECB has been hoovering up huge amounts of outstanding debt and there is no indication that interest rates on the Continent are going to rise one basis point for years to come.  In fact, Euribor rates fell even further, indicating literally negative concern about rates increasing.  And yet, none of that has helped the economy recover.  While the ECB will offer counterfactuals that things would be worse if they didn’t act as they have been, there is no proof that is the case.  Except for one thing, stock prices would be lower if they hadn’t acted, that much is true.  However, in their counterfactual world, they are focused on the economy, not risk assets.

The message to take away from this information is that the second wave of infections is clearly on the rise in Europe, (>217K new cases reported yesterday), and correspondingly as governments react by imposing tighter restrictions on activities, specifically social ones like dining and drinking, economic activity is going to slow.  At this point, estimates for Q4 GDP are already sliding back toward 0.0% for the Eurozone as a whole.

One last thing, the weakening growth and inflation impulses in Europe is a clear signal to…buy euros, which is arguably why the single currency is higher by 0.25% this morning.  Don’t even ask.

A quick look at the UK story shows PMI releases were also slightly worse than expected, but all well above the critical 50.0 level (Mfg 53.3, Services 52.3, Composite 52.9).  While these were softer than September’s numbers, they do still point to an economy that is ticking over on the right side of flat.  Retail Sales data from the UK was also better than expected in September, rising 1.6% in the month and are now up 6.4% Y/Y.  Despite all the angst over Brexit and the mishandling of the pandemic by Boris, the economy is still in better shape than on the Continent.  One other positive here is that the UK and Japan signed a trade deal last night, the UK’s first with a major country since Brexit.  So, it can be done.  Ironically, in keeping with the theme that bad news is good, the pound is the one G10 currency that has ceded ground to the dollar this morning, falling a modest 0.15%, despite what appear to be some pretty good headlines.

And that is pretty much the story this morning.  Last night’s debate, while more civil than the first one, likely did nothing to change any opinions.  Trump supporters thought he won.  Biden supporters thought he won.  Of more importance is the fact that the stimulus discussions between Pelosi and Mnuchin seem to be failing, which means there will be nothing coming before the election, and quite frankly, my guess is nothing coming until 2021 at the earliest.  If this is the case, the stock market will need to refocus on hopes for a vaccine, as hopes for stimulus will have faded.  But not to worry, there is always hope for something (trade deal anyone?) to foster buying.

So, let’s quickly tour markets.  Asian equities were generally on the plus side (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng +0.5%), but Shanghai didn’t get the memo and fell 1.0%.  European indices have been climbing steadily all morning, with the DAX (+1.2%), CAC (+1.55%) and FTSE 100 (+1.7%) all now at session highs.  Meanwhile, US futures, which had basically been unchanged earlier in the session, are now higher by 0.3% to 0.5%.

Bond markets are actually mixed at this time, with Treasury yields edging ever so slightly higher, less than 1bp, with similar increases in France and Germany.  The PIGS, however, are seeing demand with yields there lower by between 1bp and 3bps.  As an aside, S&P is due to release their latest ratings on Italian debt, which currently sits at the lowest investment grade of BBB-.  If they were to cut the rating, there could be significant forced selling as many funds that hold the debt are mandated to hold only IG rated paper.  But it seems that the market, in its constant hunt for yield, is likely to moderate any impact of the bad news.

As to the dollar, it is broadly, but not steeply, weaker this morning.  AUD (+0.35%) is the leading gainer in the G10 bloc as copper prices have been rising on the back of increased Chinese demand for the metal.  Otherwise, movement in the bloc remains modest, at best, although clearly, this week’s direction has been for a weaker dollar.

In the emerging markets, most currencies are stronger, but, here too, the gains are not substantial.  HUF and CZK (+0.35% each) are the leaders, following the euro, although there is no compelling story behind either move.  The rest of the bloc is generally higher although we have seen some weakness in TRY (-0.35%) and MYR (-0.3%).  The lira is still suffering the aftereffects of the central bank’s surprise policy hold as many expected them to raise rates.  Rationale for the ringgit’s decline is far harder to determine.  One last thing, there was a comment from the PBOC last night indicating they were quite comfortable with the renminbi’s recent strength.  This helped support further small gains in CNY (+0.2%) and seems to give free reign for investors to enter the carry trade here, with Chinese rates substantially higher than most others around the world.

On the data front here, yesterday saw the highest Existing Home Sales print since 2005, as record low mortgage rates encourage those who can afford it, to buy their homes.  This morning brings the US PMI data (exp 53.5 Mfg, 54.6 Services), but recall, that gets far less traction than the ISM data which is not released until Monday, November 2nd.  As to Fed speakers, we are mercifully entering the quiet period ahead of the next FOMC meeting.  But the message has been consistent, more fiscal stimulus is desperately needed.

As the weekend approaches, I would not be surprised to see the dollar’s recent losses moderated as short-term traders take risk off the table ahead of the weekend.  At this point, having broken through a key technical level in EURUSD, I expect an eventual test of 1.20, but once again, I see no reason for a break there, nor expect that if the dollar does fall to that level, it will be the first steps toward the end of its status as a reserve currency.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Concerns Within Europe

Concerns within Europe have grown
As surveys this morning have shown
Small businesses think
That many will sink
If Covid is not overthrown

The world seems a bit gloomier this morning as negative stories are gaining a foothold in investors’ minds.  Aside from the ongoing election and stimulus dramas in the US, and the ongoing Brexit drama in the UK/EU, concern was raised after a report was released by McKinsey this morning with results of a survey of SME’s in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK.  Those results were not promising at all, as more than half of the 2200 companies surveyed in August expected to file for bankruptcy in the next year if revenues don’t increase.  More than 80% of those companies described the economy as weak or very weak.  If this survey is representative of SME’s throughout Europe, this is a very big deal.  SME’s (defined here as companies with less than 250 employees) employ over 90 million people in the EU.  Losing a large portion of those companies would be a devastating blow to the EU economy.  In fact, the IMF, which in its past had been the high priest of austerity for troubled nations, is now urging European (really all) countries to continue to spend any amount necessary to prevent businesses from collapsing.

This report serves as a fresh reminder of the remarkable contrast between market behavior and economic activity worldwide.  Not only is the current business situation tenuous, but prospects for the immediate future remain terrible as well.  And yet, equity markets worldwide have been able to look past the current economic devastation and rally on expectations of; 1) a blue wave in the US which will prompt massive stimulus spending; and 2) the quick and successful completion of Covid vaccine trials which will restore confidence in people’s everyday activities.  After all, if you were no longer concerned about getting infected with a deadly disease by a stranger, going to a movie, or taking a train or any one of a thousand different normal behaviors could be resumed, and the economy would truly start to rebound in earnest.

The question, of course, is how realistic are these assumptions underlying the market behavior?  Anecdotally, I have seen too many things to disrupt the idea of a blue wave and would question the accuracy of many of the polls.  Again, in 2016, Hillary Clinton was given a 98.4% probability of winning the election the day before voting, and we know how that worked out.  My point is, this race is likely significantly tighter than many polls reflect, yet markets do not seem to be taking that into account.  Secondly, vaccines typically take between four and five years to be created and approved, so expecting that a safe and effective vaccine will be widely available in a twelve-month timeline seems quite the stretch as well.  I understand technology has improved dramatically, but this timeline is extremely aggressive.  And this doesn’t even answer the question of how many people will take the vaccine, if it becomes available.  Remember, the flu vaccine, which is widely available, generally safe and constantly advertised, is only taken by 43% of the population.

The bigger point is that the market narrative has been very clear but could well be based on fallacious assumptions.  And looking at market behavior yesterday and today, it seems as though some of those assumptions are finally being questioned.

For instance, equity markets, after falling in the US afternoon on the back of worries that the Pelosi/Mnuchin stimulus talks are stalling, fell in Asia (Nikkei -0.7%, Shanghai -0.4%) ) although early losses in Europe have since been pared back to essentially flat performance.  US futures are pointing slightly lower, but only on the order of 0.1%-0.2%.  Aside from the negative tone of the McKinsey survey discussed above, GfK Consumer Confidence in Germany fell to -3.1, a bit worse than expected, and French Business Confidence indices all turned out lower than expected.  Again, evidence of a strong recovery in Europe remains hidden.

Bond markets remain disconnected from the equity sphere, at least from traditional correlations when discussing risk appetite.  While today has more characteristics of a risk-off session, and in fairness, 10-year Treasury yields have fallen 1 basis point, European government bond markets are selling off, with yields rising across the board.  Once again, the PIGS lead the way as Greece has seen its 10-year yield rise 20bps in the past week.  For a little perspective on 10-year yields, which have become a very hot topic as they traded through 0.80% two days ago, looking at a 5-year chart, the range has been 3.237%, in November 2018, to 0.507% this past August.  It is hard to get overly excited that yields are rising rapidly given the virtual flat line that describes the trend of the post Covid activity world.

Finally, the dollar, which has been under pressure this week overall, is seeing a little love this morning, having rallied modestly against most of the G10 as well as the EMG bloc.  Starting with emerging markets, the CE4 have been key underperformers with PLN (-0.4%), HUF (-0.4%) and CZK (-0.3%) following the euro lower.  Remember, these currencies tend to track the single currency quite closely, if with a bit more beta.  CNY (-0.4%) has also come under pressure, but given its performance over the past five months, this blip appears mostly as profit taking.  The only EMG currency in the green today is ZAR (+0.2%) which is most likely driven by ongoing interest in South African bond yields.

In the G10, SEK (-0.4%) is the laggard, although both GBP (0.3%) and EUR (-0.3%) are not far behind.  Swedish krona price action looks to be purely position related, as it has been among the best performers in the past week, so a little profit-taking seems in order.  As to the euro, we have already discussed the weak data and survey results.  And finally, the pound remains beholden to the Brexit negotiations, which while heavily hyped yesterday, seem to have found a few more doubters this morning, with a positive outcome not nearly so clear.

On the data front, this morning brings weekly Initial Claims (exp 870K) and Continuing Claims (9.625M) as well as Leading Indicators (0.6%) and Existing Home Sales (6.30M).  Last week’s Initial Claims data was disappointingly high, so this week’s results should get extra scrutiny with respect to the pace of any economic recovery.  As to the Home Sales data, Starts and Permits earlier in the week were solid, and record low mortgage rates, thanks to the Fed’s QE, continue to support housing, as does the flight to the suburbs from so many major urban areas.

From the Fed, it can be no surprise that uber-dove Lael Brainerd virtually demanded more federal stimulus in her comments yesterday, but that has been the theme from the Chairman on down.  Today we hear from three speakers, and it is almost certain that all three will maintain the new Fed mantra of, we will do what we can, but stimulus is necessary.

And that’s really it for the day.  If I had to guess, I expect there to be some positive stimulus headlines, although I doubt a deal will actually be reached.  But all the market needs is headlines, at least that’s all the algos need, so look for the dollar to give up its early gains on some type of positive news like that.

Good luck and stay safe
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Deeper Downturn

There once was a virus that spread
Worldwide, leaving too many dead
Its summer vacation
Has led to frustration
That governments, people, misled

Now lockdowns have made a return
From London to Paris to Bern
And ECB voices
All highlight the choices
More QE or deeper downturn

As another week draws to a close, market activity has been relatively muted.  It seems that participants are biding their time waiting for an outcome on at least one of the big current stories.  Will Brexit talks continue and be successful or will Boris decide there is no chance and simply prepare for a no-deal outcome?  Will the second wave of Covid infections running rampant in Europe slow down, or will this wave be even larger than the first with a bigger negative impact on the economy?  And finally, what is going to happen in the US presidential election?

And let’s face it, those are three really big questions with no clear answers at this time.  But let’s quickly try to address them in order and see if we can discern potential market responses.

Brexit – we have already passed the deadline Boris had originally issued for a deal, although he has since recanted and said if the EU demonstrates they are interested in “intensifying” the talks, the UK will work even harder to reach a deal.  Unfortunately, the indications from the EU are less promising as French President Macron remains adamant that French fishing vessels have unfettered access to UK waters in any deal.  While there are signs the rest of Europe are annoyed with Macron over this stance, his unwillingness to compromise, as of yet, means there has been no movement.  The other sticking point, the level of UK state aid to its companies, seems much more tractable to solve. However, right now, no deal is in sight.

Trying to game out the market impact of this binary outcome is dependent on an estimate of what is currently priced into the market.  Several indicators, including CFTC positioning and some proprietary bank positioning indicators, show that the market remains net long Sterling.  As the pound appears overvalued at current levels, it seems the likelihood of a large rally in the event of a positive outcome is quite limited.  Rather, the future for the pound is likely lower.  In the event of a no-deal Brexit, a move toward 1.20 is quite realistic by year end.  Whereas, a positive outcome is more likely to see just a moderate, ‘sell the news’ response, perhaps back toward 1.25-1.28.

The second wave of infections is clearly a growing problem.  More localized lockdowns are being imposed in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain with talk of more coming in Italy and throughout Eastern Europe.  This is in addition to the curfew in Paris which is equally problematic.  Not surprisingly, ECB members have been vocal about the need and ability of the central bank to do even more, implying that the PEPP is going to get quite a boost by December.  Once again, I will highlight that the Fed has made it quite clear they have limited ability to do anything else, although they will certainly try, which means that on a relative basis, other countries are going to ease their monetary policy further.  In this case, that bodes ill for the future direction of the euro, which I think has every possibility of drifting back to 1.15 in the short run and 1.10 over time, ceteris paribus.

But the big ceteris is the US presidential election.  The polls point to a Biden victory, although I’m sure nobody has forgotten that the same polls pointed to a Clinton victory four years ago.  Betting markets are also leaning that way, although with far less confidence.  As to the market, based on my readings, it appears that a large majority of market participants agree with the polls and have positioned accordingly.  Remember, too, that control of Congress is a crucial point in anticipating any potential market movement.  So here goes:

Blue wave – Biden wins and Democrats retake Senate:  given the platform of much higher capital gains and corporate taxes and massive spending, equity markets seem likely to fall sharply this year as investors take profits at current tax rates, and the dollar to fall alongside them.  I would want to own gold in this scenario.

Biden win with Republican Senate:  much less impact as divided government gets less done.  Arguably, we will fund the budget on continuing resolutions for four years, rather than any big new programs getting enacted.  The market response here is likely to be far more benign, with range trading rather than steep trends.

Trump win with Democratic House:  No change to current situation means further efforts at tax cuts and deregulation, but unlikely to see tax hikes.  The US has the chance to be the cleanest shirt in the dirty laundry basket and draw in more investment and prop up dollar strength.

Trump win and Republican House (admittedly low probability):  dollar strength as US continues to focus on as much economic growth as possible, with more stimulus and more tax cuts.

At this point, all these questions remain open, but by New Year’s Eve, we will have answered at least two of the three for sure.

As to markets today, there is really very little to tell.  Equities in Asia were mixed (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng +0.9%) but are performing well in Europe (DAX +1.1%, CAC +1.8%) as the ECB comments seem to have investors believing more stimulus is on its way.  US futures have edged higher in the past hour, but are still only pointing to gains of 0.2% or so.

Interestingly, bond markets are rallying with yields continuing their recent downtrend.  Treasury yields are lower by 1bp after having backed up a few yesterday afternoon.  European markets are seeing roughly 2 basis point declines across the board.  In fact, bunds are back at their lowest level (-0.635%) since the panic of late March when Covid first struck Europe.  Bonds there are certainly pricing in a slowing economy in the Eurozone.

Finally, the dollar is mixed.  Against its G10 counterparts, it is +/-0.2% with the Brexit story by far the most impactful.  GBP (-0.2% as I write) was higher by 0.3% just minutes ago, as it wiggles on each headline.  But the bloc is generally uninteresting.  As to emerging markets, it is largely the same story, with a pretty even mix of gainers and losers.  Here, though, the movement has been a bit larger with ZAR (+0.5%) the best performer, perhaps on strength in the metals markets, followed by CNY (+0.4%) where everyone is looking for strong GDP numbers on Monday.  On the downside, KRW (-0.4%) is bottom of the barrel today after a higher than expected Unemployment rate was reported.

Data this morning brings Retail Sales (exp 0.8%, 0.4% ex autos), IP (0.5%), Capacity Utilization (71.8%) and Michigan Sentiment (80.5).  Yesterday’s Initial Claims data was quite disappointingly high and bodes ill for the growth story here.  But in the end, the ongoing uncertainty and confusion over the three issues raised above imply a lack of direction in the near term, although choppiness could well be on the menu.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf