Just Look What You’ve Wrought!

On Monday it seems we all thought
That crises were sold and not bought
On Tuesday we learned
Those sellers got burned
Chair Powell; just look what you’ve wrought!

hubris: noun
hu·bris | \’hyü-brƏs \
Definition of hubris : exaggerated pride or self-confidence
Example of hubris in a sentence
//It takes remarkable hubris to survey the ongoing situation regarding the 2019-nCoV virus and decide that Monday’s 1.5% decline in the S&P 500 was a buy signal.

I saw a note on Twitter this morning that really crystalized the current market condition. All prices are based on flow, not value. It is a fool’s errand to try to determine what the underlying value of any financial asset is these days, as it has no relevance regarding the price of that asset. This is most evident in the equity markets, but is equally true in the currency markets as well. So for all of us who are trying to determine what possible future paths are for market movements, the primary focus should be on how favored they are, for whatever reason, compared to the rest of the investment universe. In fact, this is the key outcome of the financialization of the global economy. And while this is just fine, maybe even great, when flows are driving equity prices, and other assets, higher, it will be orders of magnitude worse going the other way.

But the bigger issue is the financialization of the economy. Prior to the financial crisis and recession of 2008-2009, there seemed to be a reasonable balance between finance and production within the global economy. In other words, financial questions represented a minority of the impact on how companies were managed and on how much of anything was produced. This balance, which I would have put at 80% production / 20% finance, give or take a nickel, was what underpinned the entire economics profession. Finance was simply a relatively small part of every productive endeavor with the goal of insuring production could continue.

But in the wake of that recession, the fear of allowing massively overpriced markets to actually clear resulted in central banks stepping in and essentially taking over. The initial corporate reaction was to take advantage of the remarkably low interest rates and refinance their businesses completely. The problem was that since markets never cleared, there was still a dearth of demand on an overall basis. This is what led to a decade of subpar growth. Remember, the average annual GDP growth in the decade following the GFC was about 1.5%, well below the previous decade’s 3.0%. At the same time, the ongoing shortening of attention spans, especially for investors, forced corporate management to figure out how to make more money. Unfortunately, the fact that slow GDP growth prevented an actual increase in profits forced senior management to look elsewhere. And this is when it quickly became clear that levering up corporate balance sheets, while ZIRP and NIRP were official policy, made a great deal of sense. If a company couldn’t actually make more money, it sure could make it seem that way by issuing debt and buying back stock, thus reducing the denominator in the key metric, EPS.

And that is where we are today, in an economy that continues to grow at a much slower pace than prior to the financial crisis, but at the same time allows ongoing growth in a key metric, EPS, through financial engineering.

Which brings me back to the idea of flow. It is financial flows that determine the future paths of all assets, so the more money that is made available by the central banking community (currently about $100 billion per month of new cash), the higher the price assets will fetch. Let me say that they better not stop providing that new cash anytime soon.

With that as a (rather long) preamble, today’s market discussion is all about the Fed. This afternoon at 2:00 we will get the latest communique and then Chairman Powell will meet the press at 2:30. Current expectations are for no policy changes although there seems to be a growing view that the ongoing coronavirus situation, and its likely negative impact on Chinese/global GDP growth, will force a more dovish hue to both the statement and the press conference. Remember, the Fed is currently going through a major policy review, similar to that of the ECB, as they try to determine what tools are best to manage the economy achieve their mandated goals going forward. Given that ongoing policy review, it would take a remarkable catalyst to drive a near-term policy change, and apparently a global pandemic doesn’t rise to that standard.

Oh yeah, what about that coronavirus? Well, the death toll is now above 130, and the number of cases is touching 10,000, far more than seen in the SARS outbreak of 2003. (And I ask, if so many are skeptical of Chinese economic data, why would we believe that this data is accurate, especially as it would not reflect China in a positive light?) At any rate, while the Hang Seng fell sharply last night, its first session back since last week, the rest of the global equity market seems pretty comfortable. And hey, Apple earnings beat big time (congrats), so all is right with the world!!

What will this do to flows in the FX market? Broadly speaking, the dollar continues to see small gains vs. its G10 brethren as US rates remain the highest around. Granted Canadian rates are in the same place, but with oil’s recent decline, and growing concern over the housing bubble in Canada’s main cities, it seems like the dollar is safer to earn those rates. At the same time, many emerging markets currently carry rates that are far higher than in the US, and what we saw yesterday was significant interest in owning those currencies, especially MXN, RUB, BRL and COP, all of which gained between 0.5% and 1.0% in yesterday’s session. While those currencies have edged lower this morning, the flow story remains the key driver, and if markets maintain their hubris, the carry trade will quickly return.

On the data front, yesterday’s US Consumer Confidence number was much better than expected at 131.6. This morning we saw slightly better than expected GfK Consumer Confidence in Germany (9.9 vs. 9.6 exp) and better than expected French Consumer Confidence (104 vs 102). That is certainly a positive, but it remains to be seen if the spread of the coronavirus ultimately has a negative impact here. Ahead of the Fed, there is no important US data, so we are really in thrall to the ongoing earnings parade until Chairman Powell steps up to the mic. As to the dollar, it continues to perform well, and until the Fed, that seems likely to continue.

Good luck
Adf

Don’t Be Fooled

Said Christine Lagarde, don’t be fooled
That we’re on hold can be overruled
If data gets worse
Or else the reverse
Then our policies can be retooled

Madame Lagarde was in fine fettle yesterday between her press conference in Frankfurt following the ECB’s universally expected decision to leave policy unchanged, and her appearance on a panel at the WEF in Davos. The essence of her message is that the ECB’s policy review is critical to help lead the bank forward for the next decades, but that there is no goal in sight as they start the review, other than to try to determine how best to fulfill their mandate. She was quite clear, as well, that the market should not get complacent regarding policy activity this year. Currently, the market is pricing for no policy movement in 2020. However, Lagarde emphasized that at each meeting the committee would evaluate the current situation, based on the most recent data, and respond accordingly.

With that as a backdrop, it is interesting to look at this morning’s flash PMI data, which showed that while manufacturing across the Eurozone may be starting to improve slightly, overall growth remains desultory at best. Interestingly it was France that was the bigger laggard this month, with its Services and Composite data both falling well below expectations, and printing well below December’s numbers. Germany was more in line with expectations, but the situation overall is not one of unadulterated economic health. The euro, not surprisingly has suffered further after the weak data, falling another 0.2% this morning which takes the year-to-date performance to a 1.6% decline. While that is certainly not the worst performer in the G10 (Australia holds the lead for now) it is indicative that despite everything happening in the US politically, the economy continues to lead the G10 pack.

Perhaps a bit more surprising this morning is the British pound’s weakness. It has fallen 0.3% despite clearly more robust PMI data than had been expected. Manufacturing PMI rose to 49.8, well above expectations and the highest level since last April. Meanwhile, the Composite PMI jumped to 52.4, its highest point since September 2018, and indicative of a pretty substantial post-election rebound in the economy. Even better was that some of the sub-indices pointed to even faster growth ahead, and the econometricians have declared that this points to UK GDP growth of 0.2% in Q1, again, better than previously expected. Remember, the BOE meets next Thursday, and a week ago, the market had been pricing in a 70% probability of a 25bp rate cut. This morning that probability is down to 47% and the debate amongst analysts has warmed up on both sides. My view is the recent data removes the urgency on the BOE’s part, and given how little ammunition they have left, with the base rate sitting at 0.75%, they will refrain from moving. That means there is room for the pound to recoup some of its recent losses, perhaps trading back toward the 1.3250 level where we started the year.

Away from those stories, the coronavirus remains a major story with the Chinese government now restricting travel in cities with a total population of more than 40 million. While the WHO has not seen fit to declare a global health emergency, the latest count shows more than 800 cases reported with 27 deaths. The other noteworthy thing is the growing level of anger being displayed on social media in China, with the government getting blamed for everything that is happening. (I guess this is the downside of taking credit for everything good that happens). At any rate, if the spread is contained at its current levels, it is unlikely to have a major impact on the Chinese economy overall. However, if the virus spreads more aggressively, and there are more shutdowns of cities and travel restrictions, it is very likely to start impacting the data. With Chinese markets closed until next Friday, our only indicator in real-time will be CNH, which this morning is unchanged. Watch it closely as weakness there next week could well be an indicator that the situation on the ground in China is getting worse.

But overall, today’s market activity is focused on adding risk. Japanese equities, the only ones open in Asia overnight, stabilized after yesterday’s sharp declines. And European equities are roaring this morning, with pretty much every market on the Continent higher by more than 1.0%. US futures are pointing higher as well, albeit just 0.25%. In the bond market, Treasuries and bunds are essentially unchanged, although perhaps leaning ever so slightly toward higher rates. And gold is under pressure today, along with both the yen and Swiss franc. As I said, risk is back in favor.

There is neither data nor Fedspeak today, so the FX market will need to take its cues from other sources. If equities continue to rally, look for increased risk appetite leading to higher EMG currencies and arguably a generally softer dollar. What about the impeachment? Well, to date it has had exactly no impact on markets and I see no reason for that to change.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

Throw Her a Bone

Next week at the ECB meeting
We’re sure to hear Christine entreating
The whole Eurozone
To throw her a bone
And spend more, lest growth start retreating

In England, though, it’s now too late
As recent releases all state
The ‘conomy’s slowing
And Carney is knowing
Come month end he’ll cut the base rate

The dollar is finishing the week on a high note as it rallies, albeit modestly, against virtually the entire G10 space. This is actually an interesting outcome given the ongoing risk-on sentiment observed worldwide. For instance, equity markets in the US all closed at record highs yesterday, and this morning, European equities are also trading at record levels. Asia, not wanting to be left out, continues to rally, although most markets in APAC have not been able to reach the levels seen during the late 1990’s prior to the Asian crisis and tech bubble. At the same time, we continue to see Treasury and Bund yields edging higher as yield curves steepen, another sign of a healthy risk appetite. Granted, commodity prices are not uniformly higher, but there are plenty that are, notably iron ore and steel rebar, both crucial signals of economic growth.

Usually, in this type of market condition, the dollar tends to decline. This is especially so given the lack of volatility we have observed encourages growth in carry trades, with investors flocking to high yield currencies like MXN, IDR, BRL and ZAR. However, it appears that at this juncture, the carry trade has not yet come back into favor, as that bloc of currencies has shown only modest strength, if any, hardly the signal that investor demand has increased.

This leaves us with an unusual situation where the dollar is reasonably well-bid despite the better risk appetite. Perhaps investors are buying dollars to jump on board the US equity train, but I suspect there is more to the movement than this. Investigations continue.

Narrowing our focus a bit more, it is worthwhile to consider the key events upcoming, notably next week’s ECB and BOJ meetings and the following week’s FOMC and BOE meetings. Interestingly, based on current expectations, the Fed meeting is likely to be far less impactful than either the ECB or BOE.

First up is the BOJ, where there is virtually no expectation of any policy changes, and in fact, that is true for the entire year. With the policy rate stuck at -0.10%, futures markets are actually pricing in a 5bp tightening by the end of the year. Certainly, Japan has gone down the road of increased fiscal stimulus, and if you recall last month’s outcome, the BOJ essentially admitted that they would not be able to achieve their 2.0% inflation target during any forecastable timeline. With that is the recent history, and given that inflation remains either side of 1.0%, the BOJ is simply out of bullets, and so will not be doing anything.

The ECB, however, could well be more interesting as the market awaits their latest thoughts on the policy review. Madame Lagarde has made a big deal about how they are going to review procedures and policy initiatives to see if they are designed to meet their goals. Some of the things that have been mooted are a change in the inflation target from “close to but below 2.0%” to either a more precise target or a target range, like 1.5% – 2.5%. Of even more interest is the fact that they have begun to figure out that their current inflation measures are inadequate, as they significantly underweight housing expense, one of the biggest expenses for almost every household. Currently, housing represents just 4% of the index. As a contrast, in the US calculation, housing represents about 41% of the index! And the anecdotes are legion as to how much housing costs have risen throughout European cities while the ECB continues to pump liquidity into markets because they think inflation is missing. Arguably, that has the potential to change things dramatically, because a revamped CPI calculation could well inform that the ECB has been far too easy in policy and cause a fairly quick reversal. And that, my friends, would result in a much higher euro. Today however, the single currency has fallen prey to the dollar’s overall strength and is lower by 0.25%.

As I mentioned, I don’t think the FOMC meeting will be very interesting at all, as there is a vanishingly small chance they change policy given the economy keeps chugging along and inflation has been fairly steady, if not rising to their own 2.0% target. The BOE meeting, however, has the chance to be much more interesting. This morning’s UK Retail Sales data was massively disappointing, with December numbers printing at -0.8%, -0.6% excluding fuel. This was hugely below the expected outcomes of +0.8% and +0.6% respectively. Apparently, Boris’s electoral victory did not convince the good people of England to open their wallets. And remember, this was during Christmas season, arguably the busiest retail time of the year. It can be no surprise that the futures market is now pricing a 75% chance of a rate cut and remember, earlier this week we heard from three different BOE members that cutting rates was on the table. The pound, which has been rallying for the entire week has turned around and is lower by 0.2% this morning with every chance that this slide continues for the next week or two until the meeting crystalizes the outcome.

The other noteworthy news was Chinese data released last night, which showed that GDP, as expected, grew at 6.0%, Retail Sales also met expectations at 8.0%, while IP (+6.9%) and Fixed Asset Investment (+5.4%) were both a bit better than forecast. The market sees this data as proof that the economy there is stabilizing, especially with the positive vibe of the just signed phase one trade deal. The renminbi has benefitted, rallying a further 0.3% on the session, and has now gained 4.6% since its weakest point in early September 2019. This trend has further to go, of that I am confident.

On the data front this morning, we have Housing Starts (exp 1380K), Building Permits (1460K), IP (-0.2%), Capacity Utilization (77.0%), Michigan Sentiment (99.3) and JOLT’s Job Openings (7.25M). So plenty of news, but it is not clear it is important enough to change opinions in the FX market. As such, I expect that today’s dollar strength is likely to continue, but certainly not in a major way.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

A Good Place

Said Clarida, “We’re in a good place”
With regard to the policy space
Later Bullard explained
That inflation’s restrained
And a rise above two he’d embrace

“At this point I think it would be a welcome development, even if it pushed inflation above target for a time. I think that would be welcome, so bring it on.” So said St Louis Fed President James Bullard, the uber-dove on the FOMC, yesterday when discussing the current policy mix and how it might impact their inflation goals. Earlier, Vice-chairman Richard Clarida explained that while things currently seem pretty good, the risks remain to the downside and that the Fed would respond appropriately to any unexpected weakness in economic data. Not wanting to be left out, BOE member Silvana Tenreyo, also explained that she could easily be persuaded to vote to cut rates in the UK in the event that the economic data started to slow at all.

My point is that even though the central banking community has not seemed to be quite as aggressive with regard to policy ease lately, the reality is that they are collectively ready to respond instantly to any sign that the current global economic malaise could worsen. And of course, the ECB is still expanding its balance sheet by €20 billion per month while the Fed is growing its own by more than $60 billion per month. Any thought that the central bank community was backing away from interventionist policy needs to be discarded. While they continue to call, en masse, for fiscal stimulus, they are not about to step back and reduce their influence on markets and the economy. You can bet that the next set of rate moves will be lower, pretty much everywhere around the world. The only question is which bank will move first.

This matters because FX is a relative game, where currency movement is often based on the comparison between two nations’ monetary regimes and outlooks, with everyone looking at the same data, and central bank groupthink widespread, every response to a change in the economic outlook will be the same; first cut rates, then buy bonds, and finally promise to never raise rates again! And this is why I continue to forecast the dollar to decline as 2020 progresses, despite its robust early performance, the Fed has more room to cut rates than any other central bank, and that will ultimately undermine the dollar’s relative value.

But that is not the case today, or this week really, where the dollar has been extremely robust even with the tensions in Iran quickly dissipating. I think one of the reasons this has been the case is that the US data keeps beating expectations. As we head into the payroll report later this morning, recall that; the Trade Deficit shrunk, ISM Non-Manufacturing beat expectations, Factory Orders beat expectations, ADP Employment beat expectations and Initial Claims fell more than expected. The point is that no other nation has seen a run of data that has been so positive recently, and there has been an uptick in investment inflows to the US, notably in the stock market, which once again traded to record highs yesterday. While this continues to be the case, the dollar will likely remain well bid. However, ultimately, I expect the ongoing QE process to undermine the greenback.

Speaking of the payroll report, here are the latest median expectations according to Bloomberg:

Nonfarm Payrolls 160K
Private Payrolls 153K
Manufacturing Payrolls 5K
Unemployment Rate 3.5%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.1% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.4
Canadian Change in Employment 25.0K
Canadian Hourly Wage Rate 4.2%
Canadian Unemployment Rate 5.8%
Canadian Participation Rate 65.6%

With the better than expected ADP report, market participants are leaning toward a higher number than the economists, especially given the overall robustness of the recent data releases. At this point, I would estimate that any number above 180K is likely to see some immediate USD strength, although I would not be surprised to see that ebb as the session progresses amid profit-taking by traders who have been long all week. Ironically, I think that a weak number (<130K) is likely to be a big boost for stocks as expectations of Fed ease rise, although the dollar is unlikely to move much on the outcome.

On the Canadian front, they have been in the midst of a terrible run regarding employment, with last month’s decline of 71.2K the largest in more than a decade. While inflation up north has been slightly above target, if we continue to see weaker economic data there, the BOC is going to be forced to cut rates sooner than currently priced (one cut by end of the year) as there is no way they will be able to resist the pressure to address slowing growth, especially given the global insouciance regarding inflation. While that could see the Loonie suffer initially, I still think the long term trend is for the USD to soften.

As to the rest of the world, the overnight session was not very scintillating. The dollar had a mixed performance overall, rising slightly against most of its G10 brethren, but faring less well against a number of EMG currencies, notably the higher yielders. For example, IDR was the big winner overnight, rising 0.6% to its strongest point since April 2018, after the central bank explained that it would not be intervening to prevent further strength and investors flocked to the Indonesian bond market with its juicy 5+% yield. Similarly, INR was also a winner, rising 0.4% as investors chased yield there as well. You can tell that fears over an escalation of the US-Iran conflict have virtually disappeared as these are two currencies that are likely to significantly underperform in the event things got hot there.

On the downside, Hungary’s forint was today’s weakest performer, falling 0.5% after PM Victor Orban explained that Hungary joining the euro would be “catastrophic”. While I agree with the PM, I think the market response is based on the idea that if the Hungarians were leaning in that direction, the currency would likely rally before joining.

On the G10 front, both French and Italian IP were released within spitting distance of their expectations and once again, the contrast between consistently strong US data and lackluster data elsewhere has weighed on the single currency, albeit not much as it has only declined 0.1%. And overall, the reality is that the G10 space has seen very little movement, with the entire block within 0.3% of yesterday’s closes. At this point, the payroll data will determine the next move, but barring a huge surprise in either direction, it doesn’t feel like much is in store.

Payables hedgers, I continue to believe this is a great opportunity as the dollar’s strength is unlikely to last.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Just Dreams

Last night saw a rocket attack
On assets, US, in Iraq
The oil price surged
While stocks were submerged
’neath selling by bulls who cut back

This morning, however, it seems
Concerns about war were just dreams
The losses reversed
As traders still thirst
For assets now priced at extremes

What a difference a day makes…or does it? Yesterday saw market participants’ initial evaluation of the threat of escalation in Iran/Iraq as limited with the result that early price action favoring haven assets reversed and most markets closed within a few basis points of Monday’s prices. The one exception to that rule was the dollar, which maintained its bid all day long, actually extending its gains late into the session. Other than the idea that international investors are buying dollars so they can buy US stocks, it is hard to come up with a short term rationale for the dollar’s recent strength. If anything, news this morning that the Fed’s balance sheet has grown even further, to $4.17 trillion, would imply that a weaker dollar is in the offing.

Of course, last night, shortly after the US markets closed, came the news that Iran fired a number of missiles at two different military bases in Iraq that are jointly used by the US and Iraqi militaries. There was a great deal of huffing and puffing from Iran, they announced the attacks themselves on Iranian TV, but in the end, they were nothing more than damp squibs. There was no material damage and no personnel killed, or even severely wounded. (And that is a good thing!) But at the time the news hit the tape, this outcome was not clear and risk assets plunged while haven assets soared. Thus, overnight saw gold trade up to $1610/oz, WTI rise to $65.65 (Brent to $71.75), Treasury yields fall to 1.74% and the yen rise to 107.65 (0.75%). But that price action, and the fear driving it, was quite short-lived. Once it became clear that the Iranian retaliation was completely ineffective, and they announced they were not interested in a major conflict, essentially all of that movement was reversed. So this morning we see gold at $1579/oz, WTI at $62.60, Treasury yields back to 1.82% and the yen actually net weaker on the day, at 108.70 (-0.25%).

This begs the question of how to consider this new potential risk going forward. The first rule of an exogenous market risk is the law of diminishing returns. In other words, even if there is another attack of some sort, you can be sure that the haven rally will be smaller and risk assets will not decline as much as the first time. And since this entire affair is occurring in a locale that, other than oil production, has almost no impact on the global economy, the impact is likely to be even smaller. Now I waved off oil production as though it is not important, but there is no question that the remarkable rise of US oil production has significantly altered the global politics of oil. When the Middle East was responsible for more than 50% of global production, OPEC ruled the roost, and anything that happened there had a global impact. But as oil production elsewhere in the world has grown and OPEC’s market share sinks below 40% (remember, the US is the world’s largest oil producer now), the impact of Middle Eastern conflagrations has fallen dramatically. The point is that short of a major attack by Iran on Saudi oil facilities or attempts to close the Persian Gulf, this situation has probably driven all the market excitement it is going to. In other words, we need to look elsewhere for market catalysts.

With that in mind, if we turn to the ongoing data releases, we find that German Factory Orders once again missed the mark, falling 6.5% Y/Y in November, highlighting that the industrial malaise in the engine of Europe continues. French Consumer Confidence fell more than expected, and Eurozone Confidence indices were almost uniformly worse than expected. It is difficult to look at this data and conclude that the situation in Europe is improving, at least yet. I guess, given this situation it should be no surprise that the euro is lower again this morning, down 0.3%, and actually trading at its lowest point this year (a little unfair, but the lowest level in two weeks). But the dollar’s strength is evident elsewhere in the G10 as the pound remains under pressure, -0.1% today and 0.45% this week. And the same is true pretty much throughout the space.

In the EMG bloc, the results have been a bit more mixed overnight with THB the worst performer (-0.5%) after comments from the central bank decrying the baht’s strength and implying they may do something about it. Remember, too, that APAC currencies, in general, saw weakness on the fear story, which dissipated after those markets closed. On the flip side, ZAR is the day’s biggest gainer, +0.6%, completely recouping its early-session Middle East related losses, as investors apparently focused on the incipient US-China trade deal and how it will benefit the global economy and South African interests.

On the US data front, yesterday saw a smaller than expected Trade Deficit and better than expected ISM data (55.0 vs. 54.5 exp). This morning we are awaiting the ADP Employment numbers (exp 160K) and Consumer Credit ($16.0B) this afternoon. We also hear from Fed Governor Lael Brainerd this morning, but it doesn’t appear as though she will focus on monetary policy as part of her discussion on the Community Reinvestment Act.

In the end, US data has continued to perform well, which thus far has been enough to offset the early impact of the Fed’s (not) QE. However, as the Fed balance sheet continues to grow, I continue to look for the dollar to decline throughout the year. As such, payables receivers should consider taking advantage of the dollar’s early year strength.

Good luck
Adf

 

No Rapprochement

The topic du jour is Iran
Where threats, to and fro, carry on
Risk appetite’s fallen
And bears are now all in
That this time there’s no rapprochement

The rhetoric between the US and Iran over the weekend has escalated with both sides threatening retaliation for anything the other side does. Stories of cyber-attacks on the US as well as an attack on a base in Kenya where three Americans were killed seem to be the first steps, but with the US deploying reinforcements to the Middle East, and President Trump promising disproportionate responses to any further actions, the situation has become fraught with danger.

Not surprisingly, financial markets are stressing with risk appetites throughout the world dissipating and haven assets in demand. So, for a second day we have seen equity markets fall around the world (Nikkei -1.9%, Hang Seng -0.8%, DAX -1.6%, CAC -1.1%, FTSE -1.0%) and US futures are following along with all three indices currently lower by approximately 0.8%. Treasuries and German bunds have rallied, albeit Friday’s price action was far greater than this morning’s movement which has seen yields on each fall just one more basis point. Gold has soared to its highest level since April 2013 and is now pressing up toward $1600/oz. Oil continues to rise on supply fears, up another 1.0% this morning and nearly 6.0% since Friday morning. But recall that prior to the US action against Soleimani, oil was up more than 20% since October.

And finally, the dollar this morning is…lower. At least mostly that’s the case. In some ways this is quite surprising as the dollar tends to be a haven in its own right, but markets have been known to be fickle prior to today. In the G10 space, the pound is leading the way higher overnight, up 0.5%, which may well be a response to modestly better than expected UK data (New Car Registrations +3.4%, Services PMI 50.0) rather than to the geopolitical risks. Of course, PMI at 50.0 is hardly cause for celebration, but I guess that’s better than further sub-50 readings. The euro has also benefitted this morning, +0.35%, after PMI data across the region was also modestly better than the flash numbers from the week before last. However, based on the latest data, according to most econometric models, GDP for Q1 in the Eurozone is still running at just 0.1%, or less than 0.5% annualized. Again, it’s hard to get too excited about the situation yet.

And then there is the yen, which is essentially unchanged on the day, perhaps the biggest surprise of all. This is because even when the dollar has not run true to course on a risk basis, the yen has been extremely consistent. Granted, since New Year’s Eve, the yen has been the top G10 performer but its 0.5% rally in that time is hardly inspirational. My take is that even heightened rhetoric from either side is likely to see the yen gain further, but remember there are market technicals involved in the trade, with 108.00 having demonstrated strong support since early October. It appears we will need a bit more of a ‘kinetic’ action in Iraq/Iran before the yen takes its next steps higher.

In the EMG bloc, the situation is a bit different, with EEMEA currencies all trading in a tightly linked manner to the euro, and so higher by about 0.35%, but modest weakness seen across most of the APAC region. As to LATAM, CLP is opening much lower (-1.75%) as the central bank backed away from its USD sale program. The bank announced this morning that it would not be selling the $150mm in the spot market it has been executing every day since last autumn. If nothing else, this should be a good indication for hedgers of just how little liquidity exists within that market.

Turning to Friday’s FOMC Minutes, it can be no surprise that the Fed nearly twisted their own arm, patting themselves on the back, for setting policy at just the right place. And then there was the American Economic Association conference this past weekend where the Fed loomed large in the paper production. Former Fed chairs Bernanke and Yellen once again explained that things beyond their control (demographics and technology) were the reason that they could not achieve their policy targets, but both assured us that more of the same policies that have been ineffective for the economy (but great for the stock market) would get the job done! Meanwhile, current Fed members all expressed satisfaction with the current settings, although it is clear there is far more concern over economic weakness than rising price pressures. What is clear is that higher prices are coming to a store (every store) near you.

As to this week, the data parade starts tomorrow and runs through Friday’s payroll report as follows:

Tuesday Trade Balance -$43.9B
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 54.5
  Factory Orders -0.7%
Wednesday ADP Employment 160K
  Consumer Credit $15.8B
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 162K
  Private Payrolls 152K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 5K
  Unemployment Rate 3.5%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.1% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.4

Source: Bloomberg

In addition, we hear from five more Fed speakers, with many more doves than hawks slated to discuss their views. In truth, I think it would be more effective if they would simply shut up rather than constantly reiterate their opinion that they have done a great job and will continue to do so unless things change. However, with the reduced risk appetite due to the Iran situation, I guess they feel the need to try to support stock prices at all costs.

In the medium term, I think the dollar will continue to come under pressure. In the short term, I think it is much harder to have a view given the highly volatile nature of the current situation in the Middle East. This is why you hedge; to prevent significant problems, but take care in executing those hedges, markets are skittish on the opening, and market depth may be a bit less robust than normal.

Good luck
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Unease In Iraq

While yesterday, risk basked in glory
This morning risk-off is the story
Unease in Iraq
Had markets give back
The gains seen in each category

Well, this is probably not the way most of us anticipated the year to begin, with a retaliatory strike against Iran inside Iraq, but that’s what makes markets interesting. So yesterday’s bright beginning, where the PBOC reduced its reserve requirement ratio (RRR) by 0.50% to add further liquidity to the Chinese economy which led to broad based positive risk sentiment has been completely reversed this morning. Briefly recapping yesterday’s activity, equity markets around the world soared on the news of further central bank easy money, but interestingly, Treasury bonds rallied (yields declined) and gold rallied as did the dollar. This is a pretty unusual combination of market movements, as generally, at least one of that group would sell off in a given session. Perhaps it speaks to the amount of spare cash on the sidelines looking for investment opportunities to start the year.

However, that was soooo yesterday. At about 7:45 last night the news hit the tape that a senior Iranian general from the QUDS force had been killed by a US drone attack near Baghdad airport. When this was confirmed all of the positive sentiment that had been permeating markets disappeared in an instant. Equity prices went from a strong opening in Asia to closing with declines. The dollar and the yen both rallied sharply as did gold and oil. And not to be left out, Treasury yields have plummeted along with Bund and Gilt yields. In other words, today is a classic risk-off session.

So a quick look at markets as NY starts to walk in shows European equity markets under pressure (DAX -1.65%, CAC -0.5%, FTSE -0.5%) and US futures similarly falling (DJIA -1.2%, Nasdaq 1.5%, SPY -1.3%). In the bond market, Treasury yields are down 7.5bps to 1.80% while German Bunds are down 7bps to -0.30%. Gold prices have rallied a further 1.4% and are back to the highs touched in September at $1550/oz, a level which had not been seen since early 2013 prior to that. Oil prices have rocketed higher, up 3.9%, as fears of supply interruptions make the rounds. Of course, given that the US shale producers have essentially become the swing producers in the market, my sense is that we are not likely to see a permanently higher price level here. Remember, when Iran attacked Saudi oil facilities last September, the oil price spike was extremely short-lived, lasting just a couple of days before settling right back down.

And finally, the dollar has rallied sharply this morning against virtually all its counterparts except, naturally, the yen. During the last week of 2019, the dollar sold off broadly, losing about 2.0% against a wide range of currencies as investors and traders seemed to be preparing for a scenario of continued low US interest rates supporting stocks while undermining the dollar’s value. Of course, my view of ‘not QE’ having a significant impact on the dollar has not changed, and although the US economy continues to outperform its G10 peers and US interest rates remain higher than pretty much every other country in that bloc, the history of QE is that it will undermine the dollar this year.

But for right now, long-term structural issues are taking a back seat to the immediacy of growing concern over escalating tensions in Iraq and the Middle East. If a larger conflict erupts, then we are far more likely to see protracted USD and JPY strength alongside weaker equity markets, higher prices for gold and oil and lower Treasury yields. And the thing to remember right now is that traders were establishing short USD positions for the last several weeks, so this sudden reversal could well have further to run on position squaring alone. Markets remain less liquid than normal as most trading desks will not be fully staffed until Monday. So keep that in mind if some hedging needs to be executed today.

With that as an introduction, what else can we anticipate today? Well, we do get a bit of US data, ISM Manufacturing (exp 49.0) and ISM Prices Paid (47.8) as well as Construction Spending (0.4%) and then at 2:00 the FOMC Minutes from the December meeting will be released. Those have garnered a great deal of interest as even though Chairman Powell has essentially told us all that rates are on hold for a long time, all eyes will be searching for further discussion of the repo issue and how the Fed plans to handle it going forward. While they were able to prevent any untoward movement for the year-end turn, they are still buying $60 billion / month of T-bills and the balance sheet has grown more than $400 billion since October. Not coincidentally, equity prices have rallied sharply since October as well. The point is that the Fed remains on a path where they have promised to re-inflate the balance sheet until at least late Spring, and given the direct relationship between the Fed’s balance sheet and equity prices, as well as the demonstrated fear the Fed has shown with respect to doing anything that could be blamed for causing the stock market to decline, it seems awfully likely that ‘not QE’ is going to continue for a very long time. And that is going to weigh on the dollar going forward…just not today.

One more thing to look for this afternoon is a series of comments from a bevy of Fed doves (Brainard, Daly, Evans and Kaplan) who are attending a conference in San Diego. Do not be surprised to hear comments that continue to raise the bar for any possible rate hikes, but allow the idea of rate cuts to filter into the discussion. However, this too, is unlikely to undermine the dollar during a risk-off session. The theme here is that payables hedgers need to consider taking advantage of this short-term dollar strength.

Good luck
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