What Will the Fed Do?

To taper, or not, is the new
Discussion.  What will the Fed do?
One group sees next winter
As when the Fed printer
Will slow down if forecasts come true

But yesterday doves answered back
It’s premature to take that tack
There’s no need to shrink
QE, the doves think
‘Til growth has absorbed all the slack

Remember just last month when the Fed tightened the wording in the FOMC statement to explain they would buy “at least $80 billion per month” of Treasuries and “at least $40 billion per month” of agency mortgage-backed securities “until substantial further progress has been made toward the Committee’s maximum employment and price stability goals.”  This was clearly more specific than their previous guidance of buying securities at “the current pace” to achieve the same ends.  It would be easy to read that December statement and conclude that reducing asset purchases was quite a long way off in the future, arguably years.  This is especially so when considering the fact that the US government cannot afford for interest rates to rise very far given the extraordinarily large amount of debt they have outstanding and need to service.  After all, it is much easier to service debt when interest rates are 0.25% than when they are 2.5%.

Granted, the first Covid vaccine had just been approved the weekend before that meeting, so the question of how it would be rolled out was still open, but it had to be clear that the vaccine was going to become widely available in the following months.  And yet, the statement seems to imply QE could increase going forward if there was to be any change at all.  Yet here we are just four weeks later, and we have heard a virtual chorus of Fed regional presidents explaining that tapering purchases may be appropriate before the end of the year.  In the past seven days, Chicago’s Evans, Philly’s Harker, Dallas’s Kaplan and Atlanta’s Bostic all said tapering purchases would be appropriate soon, with Harker explaining it could easily be this year.

That’s pretty powerful stuff, if the Fed is truly considering changing its stance on policy and the ramifications are huge.  Arguably, if the Fed truly announced they were going to be reducing purchases, the bond market would sell off much harder than recently, the stock market would sell off quite hard and the dollar would reverse course and rally sharply.  But of those three reactions, the only thing ongoing is the steepening of the yield curve, with stocks continuing their slow move higher and the dollar, while consolidating for the past week, hardly on a tear.

Naturally, there is a counterpoint which was reiterated by St Louis’s Bullard and Boston’s Rosengren yesterday, and earlier this week by Cleveland’s uber-hawk, Loretta Mester and Fed vice-Chair Richard Clarida, that there is no sign a taper is appropriate any time soon, and that the Fed will have the printing presses running at full tilt until the pandemic is behind us.

So, which is it?  Well, that is the question that will be debated in and by the markets for the foreseeable future, or at least until the Fed tells us.  This week, we will hear from nine more Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell, but then the quiet period starts and there will be no word until the FOMC meeting two weeks from today.  The list of speakers spans the spectrum from hawkish to dovish, but arguably, all eyes will be on Powell.  Many analysts have highlighted the 2013 Taper Tantrum, which resulted after then Fed Chair Bernanke mentioned that the Fed would not be buying bonds forever.  The market response then was to drive 10-year Treasury yields from 1.62% on May 1 2013 to 2.99% on September 15 2013!  I find it incredibly hard to believe that the current Fed will allow anything like that at all.  As I pointed out earlier, the US government simply cannot afford that outcome, and the Fed will prevent it from happening.  The implication is that at some point soon, the Fed is going to discuss yield curve control, likely as a method to help finance all the mooted infrastructure spending that is supposed to be coming from the new Administration and Congress.  Or something like that.  But they will not allow yields to rise that much more, they simply can’t.

How has this argument discussion played out in the markets today?  The picture has been mixed, at best, with perhaps a tendency to reduce risk becoming the theme.  Looking at equities, the Nikkei (+1.0%) was the outstanding performer overnight, while we saw marginal declines in the Hang Seng (-0.2%) and Shanghai (-0.3%).  European bourses, which had been slightly higher earlier in the session, have slipped back to either side of unchanged with the DAX (-0.15%) and FTSE 100 (-0.1%) a touch lower while the CAC (+0.1%) has edged higher.  The CAC has been supported by the news that Alimentation Couche-Tarde is bidding for Carrefours, the French grocery store chain, and a key member of the index.  In truth, this performance is a bit disappointing as well, given comments from ECB member Villeroy that they would be supporting the economy with easy money as long as necessary, and that they were carefully watching the exchange rate of the euro. (more on this later).  Finally, US futures, which had been slightly higher earlier in the session, are all slightly lower now, but less than 0.1% each.

As to the bond market, safety is clearly in demand, at least in Europe, where yields have fallen by between 1.8bps (Gilts) and 2.7bps (Bunds) with most other markets somewhere in between.  Treasuries, meanwhile, have edged higher by just a tick with the yield a scant 0.3bps lower at this time.  As I said, this is going to be the battle royal going forward.

In the commodity space, oil is basically unchanged this morning, holding on to recent gains, while gold is also unchanged, holding on to recent losses.

And finally, the dollar is somewhat higher this morning, seeming to take on its traditional role of haven asset.  It should be no surprise the euro (-0.3%) is under pressure, which is exactly what the ECB wants to see.  Remember, the other sure thing is that the ECB cannot afford for the euro to rally very far as it will negatively impact the Eurozone export community as well as import deflation, something they have been trying to fight for years.  Elsewhere in the G10, SEK (-0.95%) is the worst performer after the Riksbank announced they would be selling SEK 5 billion per month to buy foreign currency reserves, and coincidentally weaken their currency.  And they will be doing this until December 2023, which means they will be creating an additional SEK 180 billion in the market, a solid 13.5% of GDP.  Look for further relative weakness here.  But beyond SEK, the rest of the G10 has seen lesser moves, all of a piece with broad dollar strength.

In the emerging markets, CLP (-2.1%) is today’s big loser after announcing that they, too, would be selling CLP each day to increase their FX reserves to the tune of 5% of the Chilean economy.  Of course, liquidity in CLP is far worse than that in SEK, so a larger move is no surprise.  Regardless, we can expect continued pressure on this peso for a while.  But away from this story, the overnight session saw modest strength in most APAC currencies led by IDR (+0.5%) and KRW (+0.4%), while the morning session has seen CE4 currencies suffer alongside the euro, and LATAM currencies give up some ground as well.  BRL (-0.6%) seems to be responding to the extremely high inflation print seen yesterday, while HUF (-0.7%) is reacting to the news of an increase in QE there as the central bank expanded its corporate bond purchases to HUF 1.15 trillion from HUF 750 billion previously.

On the data front, today brings CPI (exp 0.4% M/M, 0.1% core) and the afternoon brings the Fed’s Beige Book.  With the inflation story gaining traction everywhere, all eyes will be on the data there.  If we see a higher than expected print, the pressure will increase on the Fed, but so far, they have been quite clear they are unconcerned with rising prices and are likely to stay that way for quite a while.  Ultimately, I fear that is one of the biggest risks out there, rising inflation.

Looking ahead, I believe the dollar’s consolidation of its losses will continue but would be surprised if it rallied much more at all.  Rather, a choppy day seems to be in store.

Good luck and stay safe

The UK’s Current Plight

In England, the doves are in flight
Explaining that NIRP is alright
But hawks keep maintaining
That zero’s restraining
Despite the UK’s current plight

What we’ve learned thus far in 2021 is that Monday is risk-off day, at least, so far.  Yesterday, for the second consecutive week, risk was under pressure as equity markets everywhere fell, while the dollar rallied sharply.  But just like last week, where risk was avidly sought once Monday passed, this morning has seen a rebound in many equity markets, as well as renewed pressure on the dollar.

But aside from a very early assessment of a potential pattern forming, this morning brings a dearth of market-moving news.  Perhaps the most interesting is the battle playing out inside the BOE, where Silvana Tenreyo, one of the more dovish MPC members, has been making the case that in the current situation, the UK should cut the base rate into negative territory.  Her analysis, as well as that of other central banks like the ECB, SNB and Danish central bank, have shown that there are many benefits to the policy and that it has been quite effective.  Of course, those are three of four central banks (the BOJ is the other) that currently maintain negative rates, so it would be pretty remarkable if those studies said NIRP was a failure.  The claim is that NIRP increases the amount of lending that banks extend, thus encouraging spending and investment as well as weakening the currency to help the export industries in the various countries.  And the studies go on to explain that all these factors help drive inflation higher, a key goal of each of those central banks.

Now, there is no question that those are the theoretical underpinnings of NIRP, alas, it is hard to find the data to support this.  Rather, these studies tend to give counterfactual analyses, that indicate if the central banks had not gone negative, things would have been worse.  For instance, let’s look at CPI in the Eurozone (-0.3%), Switzerland (-0.8%) and Denmark (+0.5%).  Not for nothing, but those hardly seem like data that indicate inflation has been supported.  In fact, in each of these countries, inflation was going nowhere fast before the pandemic, although I will grant that Covid has depressed the numbers further to date.  And how about the currency?  Well, one of the biggest stories of the past six months has been how the dollar has declined nearly 10% against these currencies.  Once again, the concept of a weaker currency seems misplaced.

The point here is that the discussion is heating up in the UK, with the independent MPC members pushing for a move below zero, while the BOE insiders are far more reluctant, explaining that the banking system would see serious harm.  (I think if one looks at the banking system in Europe, it is a fair statement that the banks there are not performing all that well, despite (because of?) 6 years of NIRP.  The BOE counterpoint was made this morning by Governor Bailey who explained there were still many issues to be addressed and implied NIRP was not likely to be implemented in the near future.  With all this as background, it should be no surprise that the pound has been the best performer in the G10 today, rising 0.6%, after Bailey’s comments squashed ideas NIRP was on its way soon.

But the dollar, overall, is softer today, not nearly reversing yesterday’s gains (except vs. the pound), but generally under pressure.  However, there is precious little that seems to be driving markets this morning, other than longer term stories regarding fiscal stimulus and Covid-19.

So, a quick tour of markets shows that Asian equity markets shook off the weakness in the US yesterday and rallied nicely.  The Nikkei (+0.1%) was the laggard, as the Hang Seng (+1.3%) and Shanghai (+2.1%) showed real strength.  Europe, on the other hand, is showing a much more mixed picture, wit the DAX (+0.1%) actually the best performer of the big 3, while the CAC (0.0%) and FTSE 100 (-0.6%) are searching for buying interests.  The FTSE is likely being negatively impacted by the pound’s strength, as there is a narrative that the large exporters in the index are helped by a weak pound and so there is a negative correlation between the pound and the FTSE.  The problem with that is when running the correlation analysis, over the past two years, the correlation is just 0.08% and the sign is positive, meaning they move together, not oppositely.  But it is a nice story!  And one more thing, US futures are green, up about 0.25% or so.

Bond markets are selling off this morning as yields continue to rise on expectations that the future is bright.  10-year Treasury yields are up to 1.16%, which is a new high for the move, having rallied a further 1.2bps this morning.  But we are seeing the same type of price action throughout Europe, with yields higher by between 1.7 bps (Bunds) and 4.0bps (Italian BTP’s), with Gilts (+2.3bps) and OATs (+2.0bps) firmly in between.  What I find interesting about this movement is the constant refrain that H1 2021 is going to be much worse than expected, with the Eurozone heading into a double dip recession and the US seeing much slower than previously expected growth as many analysts have downgraded their estimates to 1.0% from 4.0% before.  At the same time, the message from the Fed continues to be that tighter policy is outcome based, and there is no indication they are anywhere near thinking about raising rates.  With that as background, the best explanation I can give for higher yields is concerns over inflation.  Remember, CPI is released tomorrow morning, and since the summer, almost every release was higher than forecast.  As I have written before, the Fed is going to be tested as to their tolerance for above target inflation far sooner than they believe.

The inflation story is supported, as well, but this morning’s commodity price moves, with oil higher by 1.3% and gold higher by 0.8%.  In fact, I believe that inflation is going to become an increasingly bigger story as the year progresses, perhaps reaching front page news before the end of 2021.

Finally, as mentioned above, the dollar is under broad-based, but generally modest pressure this morning.  After the pound, AUD (+0.35%) and CAD (+0.25%) are the leading gainers, responding to the firmer commodity prices, although NOK (0.0%) is not seeing any benefit from oil’s rise.  In the EMG space, it is also the commodity linked currencies that are leading the way, with ZAR (+0.9%), RUB (+0.8%) and MXN (+0.5%) topping the list.  Also, of note is the CNY (+0.3%) which is back to levels last seen in June 2018, as the strengthening trend their continues.

On the data front, the NFIB Small Business Optimism index showed less optimism, falling to 95.9, well below expectations, again pointing to a slowing growth story in H1.  The only other data point from the US is JOLT’s Job Openings (exp 6.4M), which rarely has any impact.  I would like to highlight, in the inflation theme, that Brazilian inflation was released this morning at a higher than expected 4.52% in December, which is taking it back above target and to levels last seen in early 2019.  If this continues, BRL may become a high yielder again.

Finally, we hear from 6 different Fed speakers today, but again, unless they all start to indicate tighter policy, not just better economic outcomes, in H2, while the dollar may benefit slightly, it will not turn the current trend.  And that’s really the story, the medium-term trend in the dollar remains lower, but for now, absent a catalyst for the next leg (something like discussion of YCC or increased QE), I expect a bit of choppiness.

Good luck and stay safe


Just last week the narrative spoke
And told us the world would soon choke
On dollars they held
Thus, would be compelled
To sell them, ere they all went broke

But funnily, this week it seems
The selling had reached its extremes
So, shorts are now squeezed
And traders displeased
As they now must look for new themes

It had been the number one conviction trade entering 2021, that the dollar would sell off sharply this year.  In fact, there were some who were calling for a second consecutive year of a 10% decline in the dollar versus its G10 counterparts, with even more gains in some emerging market currencies.  The market, collectively, entered the new year short near record amounts of dollars, riding the momentum they had seen in Q4 of last year and looking for another few percentage points of decline.  Alas, one week into the year and things suddenly seem quite different.

The first thing to highlight is that while a few percent doesn’t seem like much of a move, certainly compared to equities or bitcoin, the institutional trading community, consisting of hedge funds and CTA’s, lever up their positions dramatically.  In fact, 10x capital is quite common, with some going even further.  So, that 2% move on a 10x leverage position results in a 20% gain, certainly very respectable.  The second thing to highlight is that if a short-term trading reversal is able to cause this much angst in the trading community, conviction in the trade must not have been that high after all.

But let us consider what has changed to see if we can get a better understanding of the market dynamics.  Clearly, the biggest change was the run-off election in Georgia, which had been expected to result in at least one seat remaining in Republican hands, and thus a Republican majority in the Senate.  This outcome of a split government was seen to be a general positive for risk, as it would prevent excessive increases in debt financed stimulus, thus force the Fed to maintain low US interest rates.  And of course, we all know, that low rates should undermine the currency.

But when the Democrats won both seats, and the Senate effectively flipped, the new narrative was that there would be massive stimulus forthcoming, encouraging the reflation trade.  The thing is, the reflation trade is part and parcel of the steepening yield curve trade based on the significant amount of new Treasury debt that would need to be absorbed by the market, with the result being declining prices and higher Treasury yields.  (One thing that I never understood about the weak dollar trade in this narrative was the idea that a steeper yield curve would lead to a weaker dollar, when historically it was always the other way around; steep curve => strong dollar.)

Last week, of course, we saw Treasury yields back up 20 basis points in the back end of the curve, exactly what you would expect in a reflation trade.  And so, it cannot be surprising that the dollar has found a bottom, at least in the short-term, as higher yields are attracting investors.  But what does this say about the future prospects for the dollar?

My thesis this year has been the dollar will decline on the back of declining real yields in the US, which will be driven by rising inflation and further Fed support.  Neither the US, nor any G10 country for that matter, can afford for interest rates to rise as they continue to issue massive amounts of debt, since higher rates would ultimately bankrupt the nation.  However, inflation appears to be making a comeback, and not just in the US, but in many places around the world, specifically China.  Thus, the combination of higher inflation and capped yields will result in larger negative real rates, and thus a decline in the dollar.  Last week saw real yields rise 15 basis points, so the dollar’s rally makes perfect sense.  But once the Fed makes it clear they are going to prevent the back end of the curve from rising, the dollar will come under renewed pressure.  However, that may not be until March, unless we see a hiccup in the equity market between now and then.  For now, though, as long as US yields rise, look for the dollar to go along for the ride.

Of course, higher US yields and a stronger dollar do not encourage increased risk appetite, so a look around markets today shows redder screens than that to which we have become accustomed.  The exception to the sell-off rule was Tokyo, where the Nikkei (+2.35%) rallied sharply as the yen continues to weaken.  Remember, given the export orientation of the Japanese economy, a weaker yen is generally quite positive for stocks there.  The Hang Seng (+0.1%) managed a small gain, but Shanghai (-1.1%), fell after inflation data from China showed a much larger rebound than expected with CPI jumping from -0.5% to +0.2%.  Obviously, that is not high inflation, but the size and direction of the move is a concern.

European markets, however, are all underwater this morning, with the DAX, CAC and FTSE 100 all lower by 0.5%.  US futures are pointing down as well, between 0.4%-0.6% to complete the sweep.  Bond markets are modestly firmer this morning, with Treasury yields slipping 1.5 bps, while Bunds, OATS and Gilts have all seen yields fall just 0.5bps.  Do not be surprised that yields for the PIGS are rising, however, as they remain risk assets, not havens.

In the commodity space, oil is under modest pressure, -0.65%, while gold is essentially unchanged, although I cannot ignore Friday’s 2.5% decline, and would point out it fell another 1.5% early in today’s session before rebounding.  Since I had highlighted Bitcoin’s remarkable post-Christmas rally, I feel I must point out it is down 17% since Friday, with some now questioning if the bubble is popping.

Finally, the dollar continues its grind higher, with commodity currencies suffering most in the G10 (NOK -1.1%, NZD -0.7%, AUD -0.6%) as well as the pound (-0.6%) which is feeling the pain of Covid-19 restrictions sapping the economy.  In the EMG space, we are also seeing universal weakness, with the commodity focused currencies under the most pressure here as well.  So, ZAR (-1.0%), MXN (-0.85%) and BRL (-0.8%) are leading the pack lower, although there were some solid declines out of APAC (IDR -0.75%, KRW -0.7%) and CE4 (PLN -0.75%, HUF -0.7%).

On the data front, this week brings less info than last week, with CPI and Retail Sales the highlights:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz 100.3
JOLTs Job Openings 6.5M
Wednesday CPI 0.4% (1.3% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.1% (1.6% Y/Y)
Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 785K
Continuing Claims 5.0M
Friday Retail Sales 0.0%
-ex autos -0.2%
PPI 0.3% (0.7% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.1% (1.3%)
Empire Manufacturing 5.5
IP 0.4%
Capacity Utilization 73.5%
Business Inventories 0.5%
Michigan Sentiment 80.0

Source: Bloomberg

Aside from that, we also will hear a great deal from the Fed, with a dozen speakers this week, including Powell’s participation in an economics webinar on Thursday.  Last week, you may recall that Philadelphia’s Patrick Harker indicated he could see a tapering in support by the end of the year, but the market largely ignored that.  However, if we hear that elsewhere, beware as the low rates forever theme is likely to be questioned, and the dollar could well find a lot more support.  The thing is, I don’t see that at all, as ultimately, the Fed will do all they can to prevent higher yields.  For now, the dollar has further room to climb, but over time, I do believe it will reverse and follow real yields lower.

Good luck and stay safe

Macron’s Pet Peeve

Each day from the UK we learn
The data implies a downturn
Infections keep rising
Yet what’s so surprising
Is Sterling, no trader will spurn

Investors, it seems, all believe
That fishing rights, Macron’s pet peeve
Will soon be agreed
And both sides proceed
Towards Brexit come this New Year’s Eve

Since the last day of September, the pound has been a top performer in the G10 space, rallying 2.0% despite the fact that, literally, every piece of economic data has fallen short of expectations.  Whether it was GDP, PMI, IP or Employment, the entire slate has been disappointing.  At the same time, stories about Brexit negotiations continue to focus on the vast gap between both sides on fishing rights for the French fleet as well as state aid limits for UK companies.  And yet the pound continues to grind higher, trading back to its highest levels in a month.  Granted this morning it has ceded a marginal -0.2%, but that is nothing compared to this steady climb higher.

It seems apparent that traders are not focusing on the macro data right now, but instead are looking toward a successful conclusion of the Brexit negotiations.  Granted, Europe’s history in negotiations is to have both (or all) sides agree at the eleventh hour or later, but agree, nonetheless.  So, perhaps the investor community is correct, there will be no hard Brexit and thus the UK economy will not suffer even more egregiously than it has due to Covid.  But even if a deal is agreed, does it make sense that the pound remains at these levels?

At this stage, the economic prospects for the UK seem pretty awful.  This morning’s employment report showed the 3M/3M Employment change (a key measure in the UK) falling 153K.  While that is not the worst reading ever, which actually came during the financial crisis in June 2009, it is one of the five worst in history and was substantially worse than market expectations.  Of greater concern was that the pace of job cuts rose to the most on record, with 114K redundancies reported in the June-August period.  Adding it all up leaves a pretty poor outlook for the UK economy, especially as further lockdowns are contemplated and enacted to slow the resurgence in Covid infections seen throughout various parts of the country.  And yet the pound continues to perform well.

Perhaps the rally is based on monetary policy expectations.  Alas, the last we heard from the Old Lady was that they were discussing how banks would handle negative interest rates, something which last year Governor Carney explained didn’t make any sense, but now, under new leadership, seems to have gained more adherents.  If history is any guide, the fact that the BOE is talking to banks about NIRP is a VERY strong signal that NIRP is coming to the UK in the next few months.  Again, it strikes me that this is not a positive for the currency.

In sum, all the information I see points to the pound having more downside than upside, and yet upside is what we have seen for the past several weeks.  As a hedger, I would be cautious regarding expectations that the pound has much further to rally.

Turning to the rest of the market, trading has been somewhat mixed, with no clear direction on risk assets seen.  Equity markets in Asia saw gains in the Hang Seng (+2.2%) although the Nikkei (+0.2%) and Shanghai (0.0%) were far less enthusiastic.  Interestingly, the HKMA was forced to intervene in the FX market last night, selling HKD6.27 billion to defend the strong side of the peg.  Clearly, funds are flowing in that direction, arguably directly into the stock market there, which after plummeting 27.5% from January to March on the back of Covid concerns, has only recouped about 42% of those losses, and so potentially offers opportunity.  Perhaps more interestingly, last night China reported some very solid trade data, with imports rising far more than expected (+13.2% Y/Y) and the Trade Balance falling to ‘just’ $37.0B.  Export growth was a bit softer than expected, but it seems clear the Chinese economy is moving forward.

European bourses, however, are all in the red with the DAX (-0.4%) and CAC (-0.3%) representative of the general tone of the market.  Aside from the weak UK employment data, we also saw a much weaker than expected German ZEW reading (56.1 vs. 72.0 expected), indicating that concerns are growing regarding the near-term future of the German economy.

In keeping with the mixed tone to today’s markets, Treasuries have rallied with yields falling 2 basis points after yesterday’s holiday.  Perhaps that is merely catching up to yesterday’s European government bond markets, as this morning, there is no rhyme or reason to movement in this segment.  In fact, the only movement of note here is Greece, which has seen 10-year yields decline by 3bps and which are now sitting almost exactly atop 10-year Treasuries.

As to the dollar, mixed is a good description here as well.  In the G10 space, given the German data, it is no surprise that the euro has edged lower by 0.2% nor that the pound has crept lower as well.  AUD (-0.24%) is actually the worst performer, which looks a response to softness in the commodity space.  SEK (+0.3%) is the best performer after CPI data turned positive across the board, albeit not rising as much as had been forecast.  You may recall the Swedes are the only country that had moved to NIRP and then raised rates back to 0.0%, declaring negative rates to be a bad thing.  The previous few CPI readings, which were negative, had several analysts calling for Swedish rates to head back below zero, but this seems to support the Riksbank’s view that no further rate cuts are needed.

Emerging market currencies are under a bit more pressure, with the CE4 leading the way lower (CZK -0.8%, PLN -0.7%, HUF -0.65%) but the rest of the bloc has seen far less movement, generally +/- 0.2%.  Regarding Eastern Europe, it seems there are growing concerns over a second wave of Covid wreaking further havoc on those nations inspiring more rate cuts by the respective central banks.  Yesterday’s Czech CPI data, showing inflation falling into negative territory was merely a reminder of the potential for lower rates.

Speaking of CPI, that is this morning’s lead data point, with expectations for a 0.2% M/M gain both headline and ex food and energy, which leads to 1.4% headline and 1.7% core on a Y/Y basis.  Remember, these numbers have been running higher than expectations all summer, and while the Fed maintains that inflation is MIA, we all know better.  I see no reason for this streak of higher than expected prints to be broken.  In addition, we hear from two Fed speakers, Barkin and Daly, but we already know what they are likely going to say; we are supporting the economy, but Congress needs to enact a fiscal support package, or the world will end (and it won’t be their fault.)

US equity futures are a perfect metaphor for the day, with DOW futures down 0.4% and NASDAQ futures higher by 0.9%.  In other words, it is a mixed picture with no clear direction.  My fear is the dollar starts to gain more traction, but my sense is that is not in the cards for today.

Good luck and stay safe

More Sales Than Buys

The virus has found a new host
As Trump has now been diagnosed
Investors reacted
And quickly transacted
More sales than buys as a riposte

While other news of some import
Explained that Lagarde’s come up short
Seems prices are static
Though she’s still dogmatic
Deflation, her ideas, will thwart

Tongues are wagging this morning after President Trump announced that he and First Lady Melania have tested positive for Covid-19.  The immediate futures market response was for a sharp sell-off, with Dow futures falling nearly 500 points (~2%) in a matter of minutes.  While they have since recouped part of those losses, they remain lower by 1.4% on the session.  SPU’s are showing a similar decline while NASDAQ futures are down more than 2.2% at this time.

For anybody who thought that the stock markets would be comfortable in the event that the White House changes hands next month, this seems to contradict that theory.  After all, what would be the concern here, other than the fact that President Trump would be incapacitated and unable to continue as president.  As vice-president Pence is a relative unknown, except to those in Indiana, investors seem to be demonstrating a concern that Mr Trump’s absence would result in less favorable economic and financial conditions.  Of course, at this time it is far too early to determine how this situation will evolve.  While the President is 74 years old, and thus squarely in the high-risk age range for the disease, he also has access to, arguably, the best medical attention in the world and will be monitored quite closely.  In the end, based on the stamina that he has shown throughout his tenure as president, I suspect he will make a full recovery.  But stranger things have happened.  It should be no shock that the other markets that reacted to the news aggressively were options markets, where implied volatility rose sharply as traders and investors realize that there is more potential for unexpected events, even before the election.

Meanwhile, away from the day’s surprising news we turn to what can only be considered the new normal news.  Specifically, the Eurozone released its inflation data for September and, lo and behold, it was even lower than quite low expectations.  Headline CPI printed at -0.3% while Core fell to a new all-time low level of 0.2%.  Now I realize that most of you are unconcerned by this as ECB President Lagarde recently explained that the ECB was likely to follow the Fed and begin allowing inflation to run above target to offset periods when it was ‘too low’.  And according to all those central bank PhD’s and their models, this will encourage businesses to borrow and invest more because they now know that rates will remain low for even longer.  The fly in this ointment is that current expectations are already for rates to remain low for, essentially, ever, and business are still not willing to expand.  While I continue to disagree with the entire inflation targeting framework, it seems it is becoming moot in Europe.  The ECB has essentially demonstrated they have exactly zero influence on CPI.  As to the market response to this news, the euro is marginally softer (-0.25%), but that was the case before the release.  Arguably, given we are looking at a risk off session overall, that has been the driver today.

Finally, let’s turn to what is upcoming this morning, the NFP report along with the rest of the day’s data.  Expectations are as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 875K
Private Payrolls 875K
Manufacturing Payrolls 35K
Unemployment Rate 8.2%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (4.8% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.6
Participation Rate 61.9%
Factory Orders 0.9%
Michigan Sentiment 79.0

Source: Bloomberg

Once again, I will highlight that given the backward-looking nature of this data, the Initial Claims numbers seem a much more valuable indicator.  Speaking of which, yesterday saw modestly better (lower) than expected outcomes for both Initial and Continuing Claims.  Also, unlike the ECB, the Fed has a different inflation issue, although one they are certainly not willing to admit nor address at this time.  For the fifth consecutive month, Core PCE surprised to the upside, printing yesterday at 1.6% and marching ever closer to their (symmetrical) target of 2.0%.  Certainly, my personal observation on things I buy regularly at the supermarket, or when going out to eat, shows me that inflation is very real.  Perhaps one day the Fed will recognize this too.  Alas, I fear the idea of achieving a stagflationary outcome is quite real as growth seems destined to remain desultory while prices march ever onward.

A quick look at other markets shows that risk appetites are definitely waning today, which was the case even before the Trump Covid announcement.  The Asian markets that were open (Nikkei -0.7%, Australia -1.4%) were all negative and the screen is all red for Europe as well.  Right now, the DAX (-1.0%) is leading the way, but both the CAC (-0.9%) and FTSE 100 (-0.9%) are close on its heels.  It should be no surprise that bond markets have caught a bid, with 10-year Treasury yields down 1.5 basis points and similar declines throughout European markets.  In the end, though, these markets remain in very tight ranges as, while central banks seem to have little impact on the real economy or prices, they can manage their own bond markets.

Commodity prices are softer, with oil down more than $1.60/bbl or 4.5%, as both WTI and Brent Crude are back below $40/bbl.  That hardly speaks to a strong recovery.  Gold, on the other hand, has a modest bid, up 0.2%, after a more than 1% rally yesterday which took the barbarous relic back over $1900/oz.

And finally, to the dollar.  This morning the risk scenario is playing out largely as expected with the dollar stronger against almost all its counterparts in both the G10 and EMG spaces.  The only exceptions are JPY (+0.35%) which given its haven status is to be expected and GBP (+0.15%) which is a bit harder to discern.  It seems that Boris is now scheduled to sit down with EU President Ursula von der Leyen tomorrow in order to see if they can agree to some broad principles regarding the Brexit negotiations which will allow a deal to finally be agreed.  The market has taken this as quite a positive sign, and the pound was actually quite a bit higher (+0.5%) earlier in the session, although perhaps upon reflection, traders have begun to accept tomorrow’s date between the two may not solve all the problems.

As to the EMG bloc, it is essentially a clean sweep here with the dollar stronger across the board.  The biggest loser is RUB (-1.4%) which is simply a response to oil’s sharp decline.  But essentially all the markets in Asia that were open (MYR -0.3%, IDR -0.2%) fell while EEMEA is also on its back foot.  We cannot forget MXN (-0.55%), which has become, perhaps, the best risk indicator around.  It is extremely consistent with respect to its risk correlation, and likely has the highest beta to that as well.

And that’s really it for the day.  The Trump story is not going to change in the short-term, although political commentators will try to make much hay with it, and so we will simply wait for the payroll data.  But it will have to be REALLY good in order to change the risk feelings today, and I just don’t see that happening.  Look for the dollar to maintain its strength, especially vs. the pound, which I expect will close the day with losses not gains.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Prices Bespeak

It seems that the rate of inflation
Is rising across our great nation
Demand remains weak
But prices bespeak
The need for some new Fed mentation

Does inflation still matter to markets? That is the question at hand given yesterday’s much higher than expected, although still quite low, US CPI readings and various market responses to the data. To recap, CPI rose 0.6% in July taking the annual change to 1.0%. The core rate, ex food & energy, also rose 0.6% in July, which led to an annual gain of 1.6%. For good order’s sake, it is important to understand that those monthly gains were the largest in quite a while. For the headline number, the last 0.6% print was in June 2009. For the core number, the last 0.6% print was in January 1991!

The rationale for inflation’s importance is twofold. First, and foremost, the Fed (and in fact, every central bank) is charged with maintaining stable prices as a key part of their mandate. As such, monetary policy is directly responsive to inflation readings and designed to achieve those targets. Second, economic theory tells us that the value of all assets over time is directly impacted by the change in the price level. This concept is based on the idea that investors and asset holders want to maintain the real value of their savings (and wealth) over time so that when they need to draw on those savings, they can maintain their desired level of consumption in the future.

Of course, the Fed has made a big deal about the fact that inflation remains far too low and one of the stated reasons for ZIRP and QE is to help push the inflation rate back up to their 2.0% target. Remember, too, that target is symmetric, which means that they expect inflation to print higher than their target as well as lower, and word is, come the September meeting, they are going to formalize the idea of achieving an average of 2.0% inflation over time. The implication here is that they are going to be willing to let the inflation rate run above 2.0% in order to make up for the last decade when their preferred measure, core PCE, only touched 2.0% in 11 of the 103 months since they established the target.

Looking at the theory, what we all learned in Economics 101 was that higher inflation led to higher nominal interest rates, higher gold prices and a weaker currency. The equity question was far less clear as there are studies showing equities are a good place to be and others showing just the opposite. A quick look at the market response to yesterday’s CPI data shows that yields behaved as expected, with 10-year Treasuries seeing yields climb 3.5 basis points. Gold, on the other hand, had a more mixed performance, rallying 1.0% in the first hours after the release, but ultimately falling 1.0% on the day. And finally, the dollar also behaved as theory would dictate, falling modestly in the wake of the release, probably about 0.25% on average.

So yesterday, the theory held up quite well, with markets moving in the “proper” direction after the news came out. But a quick look at the longer-term relationship between inflation and markets tells a bit of a different story. The correlation between US CPI and EURUSD has been 0.01% over the past ten years. In the same timeframe, gold’s correlation to CPI has actually been slightly negative, -0.05%, while Treasury yields have shown the only consistent relationship with the proper sign, but still just +0.2%.

What this data highlights are not so much that inflation impacts market prices, but that we should only care about inflation, from a market perspective at least, because the Fed (and other central banks) have made it part of their mantra. Thus, the answer to the question, does inflation still matter is that only insofar as the Fed continues to care about it. And what we have gleaned from the Fed over the past five months, since the onset of the covid pandemic, is that inflation is way down their list of priorities right now. In other words, look for higher inflation readings going forward with virtually no signal from the Fed that they will respond. At least, not until it gets much higher. If you were wondering how we could get back to the 1970’s situation of stagflation, we are clearly setting the table for just such an outcome.

But on to markets today. Risk is under a bit of pressure this morning as equity markets in Asia and Europe were broadly lower, the only exception being the Nikkei (+1.8%) which saw a large tech sector rally drive the entire index higher. Europe, on the other hand, is a sea of red although only the FTSE 100 in London is down appreciably, -1.1%. And at this hour, US futures are essentially flat.

Bond markets are less conclusive today. Treasury yields are lower by 1 basis point at this hour, although that is well off the earlier session price highs, but European government bond markets are actually falling today, with yields edging higher, despite the soft equity market performance. As to gold, it is currently higher by 1.0%, which simply takes it back to the level seen at the time of yesterday’s CPI release.

Turning to the dollar, it is definitely softer as in the G10, only NZD (-0.3%), which seems to be responding to the sudden recurrence of Covid-19 cases in the country, is weaker than the greenback. But NOK (+0.6%) with oil continuing to edge higher, leads the pack, followed closely by the euro and pound, both of which are firmer by 0.5% this morning. Perhaps French Unemployment data, which showed an unemployment rate of just 7.1% instead of the 8.3% forecast, is driving the bullishness. But arguably, we are simply watching the continuation of the dollar’s recent trend lower.

In the emerging markets, the CE4 are all solidly higher as they track the euro’s movement with a bit more beta. But the rest of the space has seen almost no movement with those currency markets that are open showing movement on the order of +/- 10 basis points. In other words, there is no real story here to tell.

On the data front, we get the weekly Initial Claims (exp 1.1M) and Continuing Claims (15.8M) data at 8:30, but that is really all there is. We continue to hear from some Fed speakers, with today bringing Bostic and Brainard, but based on what we have heard from other FOMC members recently, there is nothing new we will learn. Essentially, the Fed continues to proselytize for more fiscal support and blame all the economy’s problems on Covid-19, holding themselves not merely harmless for the current situation, but patting themselves on the back for all they have done.

With this in mind, it is hard to get excited about too much activity today, and perhaps the best bet is the dollar will continue to drift lower for now. While the dollar weakening trend remains intact, it certainly has lost a lot of its momentum.

Good luck and stay safe



This morning the UK released
Fresh data that showed growth decreased
By quite an extent
(Some twenty percent)
Last quarter. Boy, Covid’s a beast!

But really the market’s transfixed
By gold, where opinions are mixed
It fell yesterday
An awfully long way
With shorts praying it’s been deep-sixed

Two stories are vying for financial market headline supremacy this morning; the remarkable collapse in gold (and silver) prices, and the remarkable collapse in the UK economy in Q2. And arguably, they are sending out opposite messages.

Starting with the gold price, yesterday saw the yellow metal fall nearly 6%, which translated into $114/oz decline. On a percentage basis, silver actually fell far further, -14.7%, although for now let’s simply focus on gold. The question is, what prompted such a dramatic decline? Arguably, gold’s rally has been based on two key supports, the increasingly larger negative real yield in US interest rate markets and an underlying concern over the impact of massive monetary stimulus by the Fed and other central banks undermining all fiat currencies. These issues drove a speculative frenzy where gold ETF’s were trading above NAV and demand for physical metal was increasing faster than production.

Looking at the real yield story, last Thursday saw the nadir, at least so far, in that metric, with real10-year Treasury yields falling to -1.08%. However, as risk appetite recovered a bit, nominal yields rebounded by 10bps, and real yields did the same, now showing at ‘just’ -0.99%. At this point, it is important to remember that markets move at the margin, so even though real yields remain highly negative, the modest rebound changed the tone of the trade and encouraged a bout of profit-taking in gold. Simultaneously, we saw a much more positive risk environment, especially after Germany’s ZEW survey showed much better than forecast Expectations, pumping up European equity markets and US ones as well. This simply added to the rationale to take profits on what had been a very sharp, short-term increase in the precious metals markets. As these things are wont to do, the selling begat more selling and bingo, a major correction resulted.

Is this the end of the gold story? I sincerely doubt it, as the underlying drivers are likely to continue their original trend. If anything, what we continue to see from central banks around the world is additional stimulus driving ever lower nominal and real yields. We saw this last night in New Zealand, where the RBNZ increased their QE program and openly discussed NIRP, pushing kiwi (-0.5%) lower. But in this context, the important issue is that, yet another G10 central bank is leaning closer to negative nominal yields, which will simply drive real yields even lower. Simultaneously, additional QE is exactly the issue driving concern over the ultimate value of fiat currencies, so both key factors in gold’s rise are clearly still relevant and growing today. Not surprisingly, gold’s price has rebounded about 1.0% this morning, although it did fall an additional 2.5% early in the Asian session.

As to the other story, wow is all you can say. Q2 GDP fell 20.4% in the UK, more than double the US decline and the worst G10 result by far. Social distancing is a particularly damaging policy for the UK economy because of the huge proportion of services activity that relies on personal contact. But the UK government’s relatively slow response to the outbreak clearly did not help the economy there, and the situation on the ground indicates that there are still several pockets of rampant infection. One thing working in the UK’s favor, and thus the pound’s as well, is that despite the depths of the Q2 data, recent activity reports on things like IP and capital formation have actually been better than expected. The point is, this data, while shocking, is old news, as is evidenced by the fact that the pound is unchanged on the day while the FTSE 100 is higher by more than 1% as I type.

So, what are the mixed messages? Well, the collapse in gold prices on the back of rising yields would ordinarily be an indication of a stronger than expected economic result, as increased activity led to more credit demand and higher yields. But the UK GDP result is just the opposite, a dramatic decline that has put even more pressure on both PM Johnson’s government as well as the BOE to increase fiscal and monetary stimulus, thus driving yields lower and debasing the currency even further. So which story will ultimately dominate? That, of course, is the $64 trillion question, but for now, my money is on weaker growth, lower yields and a gold rebound.

Not dissimilar to the mixed messages of those two stories, today’s session has seen a series of mixed outcomes. For instance, equity markets are showing no consistency with both gainers (Nikkei +0.4%, Hang Seng +1.4%) and losers (Shanghai -0.6%) in Asia with similar mixed action in Europe (CAC +0.4%, DAX 0.0%, Stockholm -0.5%). Not to worry, US futures are pointing higher across the board by roughly 0.75%.

Bond markets, however, are pretty consistent, with 10-year yields higher in virtually every market (New Zealand excepted), as Treasuries rise 2.5bps, UK gilts a similar amount and German bunds a bit more than 3bps. In fact, Treasury yields, now at 0.67%, are 17bps higher in the past 6 sessions, the largest move we have seen since May. But again, I see no evidence that the big picture stories have changed nor any reason for US yields, at least in the front end, to rebound any further. One can never get overly excited by a single day’s movement, especially in as volatile an environment as we currently sit.

Finally, the dollar, too, is having a mixed session, with kiwi the leading decliner, but weakness also seen in JPY (-0.45%) and AUD (-0.25%). Meanwhile, the ongoing rally in oil prices continues to support NOK (+0.55%), with SEK (+0.45%) rising on the back of firmer than expected CPI data this morning. (As an aside, the idea that we are in a massively deflationary environment is becoming harder and harder to accept given that virtually every nation’s inflation data has been printing at much higher than expected levels.)

EMG currencies, keeping with the theme of the day, are also mixed, with TRY (-1.3%) the worst in the world as investors and locals continue to flee the currency and the country amid disastrous monetary policy activity. IDR (-0.55%) is offered as Covid cases continue to rise and despite the central bank’s efforts to contain its weakness, and surprisingly, RUB (-0.25%) is softer despite oil’s rally. On the plus side, the gains are quite modest, but CZK (+0.3%) and ZAR (+0.3%) lead the way with the former simply adding to yesterday’s gains while the rand seemed to benefit from a positive economic survey result.

This morning brings US CPI (exp 0.7%, 1.1% ex food & energy) on an annual basis, but as Chairman Powell and his minions have made clear, inflation is not even a top ten concern these days. However, if we see a higher than expected print, it is entirely realistic to see Treasury yields back up further.

Overall, the dollar remains under modest pressure, but one has to wonder if yesterday’s gold price action is a precursor to a correction here as well. Remember, positioning is extremely short the dollar, so any indication that the Fed will be forced to address inflation could well be a signal for position reductions, and hence a dollar rebound.

Good luck and stay safe


Inflation’s Not Bubbled

Ahead of the Fed’s tête-à-tête
The CPI reading we’ll get
Though Jay remains troubled
Inflation’s not bubbled
The rest of us know that’s bullshet

Yes, it is Fed day with the FOMC set to announce their policy stance at 2:00 this afternoon and Chairman Jay scheduled to meet the press at 2:30. At this point, he and his colleagues have done an excellent job of leading market expectations toward no change, with the futures market pricing in a 0.0% probability of a cut. Interestingly, there is the tiniest (just 5.8%) probability of a rate hike, although that is even less likely in my view. While there will be a great deal of interest in the dot plot, certainly there has not been enough data to change Powell’s oft-stated view that the economy and monetary policy are both in “a good place.”

What should be of greater concern to all of us, as individuals and consumers, is that there has been an increase in discussions about the Fed changing their inflation targeting regime to achieving an average inflation rate of 2.0% over time, meaning that for all the time inflation remains below target (the past 10 years), they will allow it to run above target to offset that outcome. Now, we all know that the Fed’s constant complaints about too-low inflation ring hollow in our ears every time we go to the supermarket, or even the mall (assuming anyone else still goes there) as prices for pretty much everything other than flat screen tv’s has consistently risen for years. But given the way the Fed measures such things; they continue to register concern over the lack of inflation. And remember, too, that the Fed uses PCE, Personal Consumption Expenditures, in their models, which reflects not what we pay, but the rate of change of prices at which merchants sell goods. It is a subtle difference, but the construct of PCE, with a much lower emphasis on housing, and inclusion of the costs that the government pays for things like healthcare (obviously at a lower rate than the rest of us) insures that PCE will always track lower over time. In fact, it is an open question as to whether the Fed can even achieve a higher inflation rate, however it is measured, as long as they maintain their financial repression.

All of that is a prelude to today’s CPI release, where the market is anticipating a reading of 2.0% for the headline and 2.3% for the core. Arguably, this should be an important data point for the folks in the Mariner Eccles building today, but I forecast that they will only see weakness here as noteworthy, arguing for even more stimulus. However, whatever today’s print, it will simply be background noise in the end. It would take some remarkable news to change today’s outlook.

But inflation is important elsewhere in the world as well. For example, this morning Sweden’s CPI rose to 1.8%, a tick higher than expected and basically confirmed to the market that the Riksbank, who seem desperate to exit their negative rate policy, are likely to do so at their February meeting. (Expectations for movement next week remain quite muted.) Nonetheless, the Swedish krona has been a major beneficiary in the market, rallying 0.65% vs. the dollar (0.5% vs. the euro), and is today’s top performer.

Another place we are seeing prices rise more rapidly is in Asia, specifically in both China and India. In the former, CPI rose to 4.5% in November, higher than the expected 4.3% and the highest level since January 2012. This is a reflection of the skyrocketing price of pork there as African swine fever continues to decimate the hog population. (It is this problem that is likely to help lead to a phase one trade deal as President Xi knows he needs to be able to feed his people, and US pork is available and cheap!) In India, the October data jumped to 4.62% (what precision!) and November is forecast to rise to 5.3%. Here, too, food prices are taking a toll on the price index, and we need to be prepared for the November release due tomorrow. When the October print hit the tape, the rupee gapped lower (dollar higher) by nearly 1%, and although it has been slowly clawing back those losses, another surprise on the high side could easily see a repeat.

In contrast to those countries, the Eurozone remains an NPZ (no price zone), a place where price rises simply do not occur. Now, I grant that I have not been there in some time, so cannot determine if the European measurements are reflective of most people’s experience, but certainly on a measured basis, inflation remains extremely low, hovering around 1.0% per annum throughout most of the continent. Remember, tomorrow, Christine Lagarde leads her first ECB meeting and while she has spoken about how fiscal policy needs to pick up the pace and how the ECB needs to be more focused on issues like climate change, we have yet to hear her views on what she actually was hired to do, manage monetary policy. While there is no doubt that she is an exceptional politician, it remains to be seen what kind of central banking chops she possesses. Based solely on her commentary over the years, she appears firmly in the dovish camp, but given Signor Draghi’s parting gift of a rate cut and renewed QE, it seems most likely that she will simply stay the course and exhort governments to spend more money. One thing to keep in mind is that markets have a way of testing new central bank heads early in their terms with some kind of stress. That initial response is everything in determining if said central banker will be seen as strong or weak. We can only hope that Madame Lagarde measures up in that event.

The only other story is the UK election, certainly critical, but given it takes place tomorrow, we will look to discuss outcomes then. One interesting thing was that a Yougov poll released last evening showed PM Boris and the Tories would win 339 seats, still a comfortable majority, but a smaller one than the same poll from two weeks earlier. The pound fell sharply on the news, having traded as high as 1.3215 late yesterday afternoon it was actually just above 1.3100 when I left the office. This morning, it is right in the middle at 1.3150, which is apparently where it was at 5:00 last evening as the stated movement today is virtually nil. Barring a major faux pas by either candidate at this late stage, I think we will see choppiness in the pound until the results are released, early Friday morning. While a vic(Tory) by Boris will likely see a knee-jerk response higher in the pound, I remain of the view that any rally will be modest, perhaps 1%-2% at most, and should be seen as an opportunity to add hedges for receivables hedgers.

And that’s really it for today. I would look for modest movement overall, and don’t anticipate the FOMC meeting to generate much excitement.

Good luck


Both Sides Connive

The trade war continues to drive
Discussion as both sides connive
To show they are right
And it’s their birthright
The other, access to deprive

Once again, discussion about the trade situation seems to be the dominant theme in market activity. Not only did we get comments from Chinese President Xi (“We didn’t initiate this trade war and this isn’t something we want. When necessary, we will fight back, but we have been working actively to try not to have a trade war,”) but we also got a raft of weak PMI data from around the world where, to an analyst, the blame was attributed to… the impact of the trade war.

For instance, Australia started off the data slump with Composite PMI falling to 49.5, below that magic 50.0 boom-bust level and endangering the ‘Lucky Country’s’ 27 year streak of growth with no recession. This outcome increased the talk that the RBA would soon be forced to cut rates again, or perhaps even consider QE, a road down which they have not yet traveled. Aussie, however, is little changed on the day although it has been trending steadily lower for the entire month of November.

Next we saw PMI data from the Eurozone and the UK, all of which was pretty awful. On the EZ side, the interesting thing was that the manufacturing readings were all slightly higher than expected (Germany 43.8, France 51.6, EZ 46.6) but the services data were all much worse driving the composite figures lower (Germany 49.2, France 52.7, and EZ 50.3). The point is that one of the key fears expressed lately has been that the global manufacturing slump would eventually bleed into the rest of the economy. This data is some powerful evidence that is exactly what is occurring. The euro, however, is little changed on the day having rallied on earlier confirmation that Germany did not enter a technical recession, but falling back after the PMI release.

In the UK, however, things were even worse, with all three PMI data points printing much lower than expected and all three with a 48 handle. These are the weakest readings since the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote in June 2016, and speak to the increased uncertainty that led to the recently called election. In this case, the pound did suffer, falling 0.3% and earning the crown for worst performer of the day. There are just less than three weeks left before the election and thus far, it still appears that Boris is well placed to win. But stranger things have happened with regard to elections lately. Next week we will get to see the Tory manifesto, which you can be sure will be very different than Labour’s version. Once again, I look at that document and wonder why any politician would believe that promising higher taxes, on what appeared to be everyone, is seen as a winning position. I’m confident that Boris will not be proposing a tax program of that nature, although I’m sure there will be plenty of spending promises. However, all of these political machinations are only likely to have modest impacts on the value of the pound at this point. We will need to see the outcome of the election for the next move to be defined. I still believe that a Tory majority in Parliament will see the pound rally a few cents more, but that trading above 1.35 will be very difficult in the near term.

Inflation remains
Elusive in the distance
A crow at midnight

Japan released their latest inflation data overnight and it showed that, despite the 2% rise in the GST, to 10%, the general price level did virtually nothing. The headline number was unchanged at 0.2% while the core number did manage to tick up to…0.7%. Wow. If one were to evaluate the BOJ’s performance on an objective basis, something like how they have done achieving their inflation target, it strikes me that Kuroda-san would be deemed a colossal failure. This is not to imply that the job is easy, but he has been in the chair for more than six years at this point, and despite an extraordinary amount of monetary stimulus (growing the balance sheet from 32.3% of GDP to 104.2% of GDP) core CPI has risen only from -0.7% to +0.7%. Granted, that is not actual deflation, but there is certainly no reason to believe that the 2.0% target is ever going to be attainable. To his credit, I guess, he has been able to drive the yen lower by some 16% since he started (95.00 to 108.50) which has clearly helped Japanese corporate profitability but arguably not much else. I know I’m a bit of a heretic here, but perhaps the Japanese might consider another measure of what they want to achieve. Again I ask; do policy makers around the world really believe that their populations are keen to pay more for anything? I fear that a slavish pursuit of some macroeconomic model’s mooted outcome has resulted in creating more problems than it has fixed. Just sayin’.

A quick peek at the EMG bloc shows that no currency has moved even 0.2% today, which implies that there is nothing, at all, to discuss here. On the data front, yesterday’s Initial Claims data was higher than expected at 227K with a revision higher to the previous week’s print. This is a data point that is going to get increasing scrutiny going forward, because if it starts to trend higher, it could well signal the US economy is starting to suffer more than currently believed (or at least expressed) by the Fed and its members. And that means more rate cuts and the potential for a lower dollar. This morning’s only data point is Michigan Sentiment (exp 95.7) and mercifully we don’t hear from any more Fed speakers.

It is difficult to broadly characterize this morning’s market activity, with the dollar mixed, bond yields slightly lower but equity markets slightly higher. My take is that after a week of modest overall movements, and with the Thanksgiving holiday approaching next week, there is little reason to believe we will see any currency move more than a few ticks in either direction before we head home for the weekend.

Good luck and good weekend


Removal of Tariffs

According to some in Beijing
Removal of tariffs’ the thing
That ought to diminish
And fin’lly help finish
The problems the trade war did bring

Another day, another story about progress in the trade talks. Given the complete lack of movement actually seen, a cynic might conclude that both sides have realized just talking about progress is probably as effective as making progress, maybe more so. After all, making progress requires both sides to make actual decisions. Talking about progress just hints that those decisions are being made. And let’s face it; the one thing at which politicians have proven especially inept is making decisions. At any rate, the news early this morning was that part of the elusive phase one deal would be simultaneous rollbacks of the current tariff schedules. If true, that is a great leap forward from simply delaying the imposition of new tariffs. But the key is, if true. At this point, it has become difficult to recognize the difference between actual progress and trial balloons. The one thing going for this story is it was put out by the Chinese, not President Trump. Of course, that could simply be a negotiating tactic trying to force Trump’s hand.

It should be no surprise that the market reacted quite positively to the story, with equity markets in Asia turning around from early losses to close higher on the day. While the Nikkei just clawed back to +0.1%, the Hang Seng finished higher by 0.6% and Australia’s ASX 200 gained 1.0% on the day. Europe has followed the trend with the DAX leading the way, +0.75%, and the rest of the Continent showing gains of between 0.2% (CAC) and 0.6% (IBEX). And of course, US futures turned higher on the news, now showing gains of approximately 0.5% across all three.

So risk is in vogue once again. Treasuries and Bunds have both sold off sharply, with yields in the 10-year space higher by roughly 6bps in both markets. And the dollar, as would be expected, is under further pressure this morning.

A trade truce cannot come soon enough for Germany, which once again released worse than expected data. This morning’s miss was IP, which fell 0.6% in September, and is down 4.3% Y/Y. So while yesterday’s Factory Orders seemed positive, they also seem like the outlier, not the trend. However, given the dollar’s overall performance this morning, it should be no surprise that the euro has edged higher, rising 0.1% as I type. But a step back for some perspective shows that the euro has actually done essentially nothing for the past month, trading within a range barely exceeding 1.0%. It will take more than just the occasional positive or negative economic print to change this story.

And perhaps there is a story brewing that will do just that. Several weeks ago there was a Bloomberg article about inflation in the Eurozone, specifically in Spain, that highlighted the dichotomy between the low rate of measured inflation, which in Spain is running at 1.0%, and the fact that the cost of home ownership and rent is rising at a double digit pace. It turns out that the European CPI measurements have rent as just 6.5% of the index and don’t even include the costs of home ownership. In contrast, those represent more than 30% of the US CPI measurement! And housing costs throughout Europe are rising at a much faster rate, something on the order of 3.0%+ over the past five years. In other words, a CPI basket constructed to include what Europeans actually spend their money on, rather than on some theoretical construct, would almost certainly have resulted in higher CPI readings and potentially would have prevented the poisonous negative interest rate conundrum.

With this in mind, and considering Madame Lagarde’s review of ECB policy, there is a chance, albeit a small one, that the ECB will consider changing the metric, and with a change in the metric, the need for further QE and NIRP will diminish greatly. That would be hugely euro positive! This is something to watch for going forward.

The other big news that just hit the tape was from the Bank of England, where while rates were left unchanged, two members of the MPC voted to cut rates by 25bps in a complete surprise. Apparently, there is growing concern inside the Old Lady that the recent weakening data portends further problems regardless of the election outcome. Of course, regarding the election, the fact that both the Tories and Labour are promising huge new spending plans, the need for low rates is clear. After all, it is much easier to borrow if interest rates are 0.5% than 5.0%! The pound, which had been trading modestly higher before the news quickly fell 0.4% and is now back toward the lower end of its recent trading range. Sometimes I think central banks do things simply to prove that they matter to the markets, but in this case, given the ongoing economic malaise in the UK, it does seem likely that a rate cut is in the offing.

As to the rest of the market, some of the biggest gainers this morning are directly related to the US-China trade story, with the offshore renminbi trading higher by 0.6% and back to its strongest level in three months’ time. In addition we have seen NOK rally 0.85%, which seems to be on the back of stronger oil and the fact that easing trade tensions are likely to further support the price of crude. Combining this with the fact that the krone has been mysteriously weak given its fundamentals, relatively strong economic growth and positive interest rates, it looks like a lot of short positions are getting squeezed out.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Brazilian real, which yesterday tumbled 2.0% after a widely anticipated auction of off-shore oil drilling rights turned into a flop, raising just $17 billion, far less than the $26 billion expected. In fact, two of the three parcels had no bids, and no oil majors were involved. While they will certainly put them up for auction again, the market’s disappointment was clear. It should also be no surprise that the real is rebounding a bit on the open, currently higher by 0.5%.

On the data front this morning the only thing of note is Initial Claims (exp 215K) and there are two more Fed speakers on the agenda, Kaplan and Bostic. However, the plethora of speakers we have heard this week have all remained on message, things are good and policy is appropriate, but if needed we will do more.

And that’s really it. I expect we will continue to hear more about the trade talks and perhaps get a bit more clarity on the proposed tariff rollbacks. But it will take a lot to turn the risk story around, and as such, I expect the dollar will continue to be under pressure as the session progresses.

Good luck