A Vaccine’s Required

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Over and Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Off to the Races

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Sand on the Beach

The central bank known as the Fed
Injected more funds, it is said
Than sand on the beach
While they did beseech
The banks, all that money to spread

But lately the numbers have shown
Liquidity, less, they condone
Thus traders have bid
For dollars, not quid
Nor euros in every time zone

A funny thing seems to be happening in markets lately, which first became evident when the dollar decoupled from equity markets a few days ago. It seemed odd that the dollar managed to rally despite continued strength in equity markets as the traditional risk-on stance was buy stocks, sell bonds, dollars and the yen. But lately, we are seeing stock prices continue higher, albeit with a bit tougher sledding, while the dollar has seemingly forged a bottom, at least on the charts.

The first lesson from this is that markets are remarkably capable at sussing out changes in underlying fundamentals, certainly far more capable than individuals. But of far more importance, at least with respect to understanding what is happening in the FX market, is that dollar liquidity, something the Fed has been proffering by the trillion over the past three months, is starting to, ever so slightly, tighten. This is evident in the fact that the Fed’s balance sheet actually shrunk this week, to “only” $7.14 trillion from last week’s $7.22 trillion. While this represents just a 1% shrinkage, and seemingly wouldn’t have that big an impact, it is actually quite a major change in the market.

Think back to the period in March when the worst seemed upon us, equity markets were bottoming, and central banks were panicking. The dollar was exploding higher at that time as both companies and countries around the world suddenly found their revenue streams drying up and their ability to service and repay their trillions of dollars of outstanding debt severely impaired. That was the genesis of the Fed’s dollar swap lines to other central banks, as Chairman Jay wanted to insure that other countries would have temporary access to those needed dollars. At that time, we also saw the basis swap bottom out, as borrowing dollars became prohibitively expensive, and in the end, many institutions decided to simply buy dollars on the foreign exchange markets as a means of securing their payments.

However, once those swap lines were in place, and the Fed announced all their programs and started growing the balance sheet by $75 billion/day, those apocalyptic fears ebbed, investors decided the end was not nigh and took those funds and bought stocks. This explains the massive rebound in the equity markets, as well as the dollar’s weakness that has been evident since late March. In fact, the dollar peaked and the stock market bottomed on the same day!

But as the recovery starts to gather some steam, with recent data showing that while things are still awful, they are not as bad as they were in April or early May, the Fed is reducing the frequency of their dollar swap operations to three times per week, rather than daily. They have reduced their QE purchases to less than $4 billion/day, and essentially, they are mopping up some of that excess liquidity. FX markets have figured this out, which is why the dollar has been pretty steadily strengthening for the past seven sessions. As long as the Fed continues down this path, I think we can expect the dollar to continue to perform.

And this is true regardless of what other central banks or nations do. For example, yesterday’s BOE action, increasing QE by £100 billion, was widely expected, but interestingly, is likely to be the last of their moves. First, it was not a unanimous vote as Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, voted for no change. The other thing is that expectations for future government Gilt issuance hover in the £70 billion range, which means that the BOE will have successfully monetized the entire amount of government issuance necessary to address the Covid crash. But regardless of whether this appears GBP bullish, it is dwarfed by the Fed activities. Positive Brexit news could not support the pound, and now it is starting to pick up steam to the downside. As I type, it is lower by 0.3% on the day which follows yesterday’s greater than 1% decline and takes the move since its recent peak to more than 3.4%.

What about the euro, you may ask? Well, it too has been suffering as not only is the Fed beginning to withdraw some USD liquidity, but the ECB, via yesterday’s TLTRO loans has injected yet another €1.3 trillion into the market. While the single currency is essentially unchanged today, it is down 2.0% from its peak on the 10th of June. And this pattern has repeated itself across all currencies, both G10 and EMG. Except, of course, for the yen, which has rallied a bit more than 1% since that same day.

Of course, in the emerging markets, the movement has been a bit more exciting as MXN has fallen more than 5.25% since that day and BRL nearly 10%. But the point is, this pattern is unlikely to stop until the Fed stops withdrawing liquidity from the markets. Since they clearly take their cues from the equity markets, as long as stocks continue to rally, so will the dollar right now. Of course, if stocks turn tail, the dollar is likely to rally even harder right up until the Fed blinks and starts to turn on the taps again. But for now, this is a dollar story, and one where central bank activity is the primary driver.

I apologize for the rather long-winded start but given the lack of interesting idiosyncratic stories in the market today, I thought it was a good time for the analysis. Turning to today’s session, FX market movement has been generally quite muted with, if anything, a bias for modest dollar strength. In fact, across both blocs, no currency has moved more than 0.5%, a clear indication of a lack of new drivers. The liquidity story is a background feature, not headline news…at least not yet.

Other markets, too, have been quiet, with equity markets around the world very slightly firmer, bond markets very modestly softer (higher yields) and commodity markets generally in decent shape. On the data front, the only noteworthy release was UK Retail Sales, which rebounded 10.2% in May but were still lower by 9.8% Y/Y. This is the exact pattern we have seen in virtually every data point this month. As it happens, there are no US data points today, but we do hear from four Fed speakers, Rosengren, Quarles, Mester and the Chairman. However, they have not changed their tune since the meeting last week, and certainly there has been no data or other news which would have given them an impetus to do so.

The final interesting story is that China has apparently recommitted to honoring the phase one trade deal which means they will be buying a lot of soybeans pretty soon. The thing is, I doubt it is because of the trade deal as much as it is a comment on their harvest and the fact they need them. But the markets have largely ignored the story. In the end, at this point, all things continue to lead to a stronger dollar, so hedgers, take note.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Making More Hay

The Chairman explained yesterday
That more help would be on the way
If things turned out worse
Thus he’s not averse
To Congress soon making more hay

Chairman Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee yesterday and continued to proffer the message that while the worst may be behind us, there is still a long way to go before the recovery is complete. He continued to highlight the job losses, especially in minority communities, and how the Fed will not rest until they have been able to foster sufficient economic growth to enable unemployment to fall back to where it was prior to the onset of the Covid crisis. He maintains, as does the entire FOMC, that there are still plenty of additional things the Fed can do to support the economy, if necessary, but that he hopes they don’t have to take further measures. He also agreed that further fiscal stimulus might still be appropriate, although he wouldn’t actually use those words in his effort to maintain the fiction that the Fed is independent of the rest of the government. (They’re not in case you were wondering.) In other words, same old, same old.

The market’s response to the Chairman’s testimony was actually somewhat mixed. Equity prices continue to overperform, although they did retreat from their intraday highs by the close, but the dollar, despite what was clearly an increasing risk appetite, reversed early weakness and strengthened further. Initially, that dollar strength was attributed to a blow-out Retail Sales number, +17.7%, but that piece of the rally faded in minutes. However, as the day progressed, dollar buyers were in evidence as the greenback ignored traditional sell signals and continued to forge a bottom.

Recently, there seems to have been an increase in discussion about the dollar’s imminent decline and the end of its days as the global reserve currency. Economists point to the massive current account deficit, the debasement by the Fed as it monetizes debt and the concern that the current administration will not embrace previous global norms. My rebuttal of this is simple: what would replace the dollar as the global monetary asset that would be universally accepted and trusted to maintain some semblance of its value? The answer is, there is nothing at this time, that could possible do the job. The euro? Hah! Not only is it still dealing with existential issues, but the fact that there is no European fiscal policy will necessarily result in missing support when needed. The renminbi? Hah! The idea that the free world would rely on a currency controlled by the largest communist regime is laughable. The Swiss franc? Too small. Bitcoin? Hahahahah! ‘Nuff said. Gold? Those who are calling the end of the dollar’s importance in the world are not the same people calling for a return to the gold standard. In fact, the views of those two groups are diametrically opposed. For now, the dollar remains the only viable candidate for the role, and that is likely to remain the case for a very long time. As such, while it will definitely rise and fall over short- and medium-term windows, do not believe the idea of a coming dollar collapse.

Meanwhile, ‘cross the pond in the land
Where Boris is still in command
Inflation is sinking
While Bailey is thinking
He ought, the B/S, to expand

Turning to more immediate market concerns, UK data this morning showed CPI falling to 0.5% Y/Y, well below the BOE’s target of 2.0%. With the BOE on tap for tomorrow, the market feels quite confident that Governor Bailey will be increasing QE purchases by £100 billion, taking the total to £745 billion, or slightly more than one-third of the UK economy. The thing is, it is not clear that QE lifts prices of anything other than stocks. I understand that central banks are limited by monetary tools, but if we have learned anything since the GFC in 2008-09, it is that monetary tools are not very effective when addressing the real economy. There is no evidence that this time will be different in the UK than it has been everywhere else in the world forever. The pound, however, has suffered in the wake of the current UK combination of events. So rapidly declining inflation along with expectations of further monetary policy ease have been more than enough to offset yesterday’s positive Brexit comments explaining that both sides believe a deal is possible. Perhaps the question we ought to be asking is, even if hard Brexit is avoided, should the pound really rally that much? My view remains that while a hard Brexit would definitely be a huge negative, the pound has enough troubles on its own to avoid rising significantly from current levels. I still cannot make a case for 1.30, not in the current situation.

As to the rest of the FX market, it is having a mixed session today, with both gainers and losers, although no very large movers in either direction. For instance, the best G10 performer today is NOK, which has rallied just 0.3% despite oil’s lackluster performance today. Meanwhile, the worst performer is the euro, which has fallen 0.2%. The point is, movement like this does not need a specific explanation, and is simply a product of position adjustments over time.

Emerging market currency activity has been no different, really, with MXN the best performer (you don’t hear that much) but having rallied just 0.35%. the most positive story I’ve seen was that the Mexican president, AMLO, has promised to try to work more closely with the business community there to help address the still raging virus outbreak. On the downside, KRW, yesterday’s best performer, is today’s worst, falling 0.55%. This seems to be a response to the increasingly aggressive rhetoric from the North, who is now set to deploy troops to the border, scrapping previous pledges to maintain a demilitarized zone between the nations. However, it would be wrong not to mention yesterday’s BRL price action, where the real fell 1.7%, taking its decline over the past week to more than 5.1%. The situation on the ground there seems to be deteriorating rapidly as the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, more than 37K new cases were reported yesterday, and investors are taking note.

On the data front this morning, we see Housing Starts (exp 1100K) and Building Permits (1245K), neither of which seems likely to be a market mover. The Chairman testifies before the House today, but it is only the Q&A that will be different, as his speech is canned. We also hear from the Uber-hawk, Loretta Mester, but these days, even she is on board for all the easing that is ongoing, so don’t look for anything new there.

Ultimately, I continue to look at the price action and feel the dollar is finding its footing, regardless of the risk attitude. Don’t be too greedy if you are a receivables hedger, there is every chance for the dollar to strengthen further from here.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Money to Burn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Bloomberg

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

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

Good luck and stay safe
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Jay Was Thinking

If anyone thought Jay was thinking
‘Bout raising rates while growth was sinking
The chairman was clear
That long past next year
Their balance sheet will not be shrinking

The money quote: “We’re not thinking about raising rates. We’re not even thinking about thinking about raising rates,” said Mr. Powell.  And this pretty much sums up the Fed stance for the time being.  While there are those who are disappointed that the Fed did not add to any programs or announce something like YCC or, perhaps, more targeted forward guidance, arguably the above quote is even more powerful than one of those choices.  Frequently it is the uncertainty over a policy’s duration that is useful, not the policy itself.  Uncertainty prevents investors from anticipating a change and moving markets contrary to policymakers’ goals.  So, for now, there is no realistic way to anticipate the timing of the next rate hike.  Perhaps the proper question is as follows: is timing the next hike impossible because of the lack of clear targets?  Or is it impossible because there will never be another rate hike?

What the Fed did tell us (via the dot plot) is that only two of the seventeen FOMC members believe interest rates will be above 0.0% in 2022 (my money is on Esther and Mester, the two most hawkish members), but mercifully, not a single dot in the dot plot was in negative territory.  They also expressed a pretty dour view of the economy as follows:

 

  2020 2021 2022
Real GDP -6.5% 5.0% 3.5%
Core PCE 1.0% 1.5% 1.7%
Unemployment 9.3% 6.5% 5.5%

Source: Bloomberg

It is, of course, the 11.5% gain from 2020 to 2021 that encourages the concept of the V-shaped recovery as evidenced by simply plotting the numbers (including 2019’s 2.3% to start).

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 9.30.05 AM

So, perhaps the bulls are correct, perhaps the stock market is a screaming buy as growth will soon return and interest rates will remain zero for as far as the eye can see.  There is, however, a caveat to this view, the fact that the Fed is notoriously bad at forecasting GDP growth over time.  In fact, they are amongst the worst when compared with Wall Street in general.  But hey, at least we understand the thesis.

Another interesting outcome of the meeting was the tone of the press conference, where Chairman Jay sounded anything but ebullient over the current economic situation, especially the employment situation.  And it is this takeaway that had the biggest market impact.  After the press conference, equity markets in the US sold off from earlier highs (the NASDAQ set another all-time high intraday) and Treasuries rallied with yields falling again.  In other words, despite the prospect of Forever ZIRP (FZ), equity investors seemed to lose a bit of their bullishness.  This price action has been in place ever since with Asian equity markets all falling (Nikkei -2.8%, Hang Seng -2.3%, Shanghai – 0.8%) and Europe definitely under pressure (DAX -2.1%, CAC -2.2%, FTSE 100 -2.0%).  US futures are also lower with the Dow (-1.9%) currently the laggard, but even NASDAQ futures are lower by 1.1% at this hour.

It should be no surprise that bond markets around the world are rallying in sync with these equity declines as the combination of risk-off and the prospect for FZ lead to the inevitable conclusion that lower long term rates are in our future.  This also highlights the fact that the Fed’s concern over the second part of its mandate, stable prices, has essentially been set aside for another era.  The belief that inflation will remain extremely low forever is clearly a part of the current mindset.  Yesterday’s CPI (0.1%, 1.2% core) was simply further evidence that the Fed will ignore prices going forward.  So, 10-year Treasury yields are back to 0.7% this morning, 20 basis points below last Friday’s closing levels.  In other words, the impact of last Friday’s NFP number has been erased in four sessions.  But we are seeing investors rotate from stocks to bonds around the world, perhaps getting a bit nervous about the frothiness of the recent rallies.  (Even Hertz, the darling of the Robinhooders, is looking like Icarus.)

With risk clearly being jettisoned around the world, it should be no surprise that the dollar has stopped falling, and in fact is beginning to rally against almost all its counterparts.  While haven assets like CHF (+0.2%) and JPY (+0.1%) are modestly higher, NOK (-0.9%) and AUD (-0.85%) are leading the bulk of the G10 lower.  Norway is suffering on, not only broad dollar strength, but oil’s weakness this morning, with WTI -3.1% on the session.  As to Aussie, the combination of weaker commodity prices, the strong dollar, and market technicals as it once again failed to hold the 0.70 level, have led to today’s decline.

Emerging market activity is also what you would expect in a risk-off session, with MXN (-1.6%), ZAR (-1.1%) and RUB (-0.7%) leading the way lower.  Obviously, oil is driving both MXN and RUB, while ZAR is suffering from the weakness in the rest of the commodity complex.  I think the reason that the peso has fallen so much further than the ruble is that MXN has seen remarkable gains over the past month, more than 13% at its peak, and so seems overdue for a correction.  One notable exception to this price action today is THB, which is higher by 0.65% on a combination of reports of a fourth stimulus package and a breach of the 200-day moving average which got technicians excited.

This morning’s data brings the latest Initial Claims data (exp 1.55M), as well as Continuing Claims (20.0M) and PPI (-1.2%, 0.4% core).  While nobody will care about the latter, there will be ongoing intense scrutiny on the former as Chairman Jay made it abundantly clear that employment is the only thing the Fed is focused on for now.  With the FOMC meeting behind us, we can expect to start to hear from its members again, but on the schedule, nothing happens until next week.

It is not hard to make the case that both the euro and pound have been a bit toppish at recent levels, and with risk decidedly off today, further declines there seem quite viable.

 

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Value, Nought

In college Econ 101
Professors described the long run
As when we all died
Like Keynes had replied
Debating a colleague for fun

However, the rest that they taught
Has turned out to have, value, nought
Their models have failed
While many have railed
That people won’t do what they ought

Observing market activity these days and trying to reconcile price action with the theories so many of us learned in college has become remarkably difficult. While supply and demand still seem to have meaning, pretty much every construct more complex than that turns out to have been a description of a special case and not a general model of behavior. At least, that’s one conclusion to be drawn from the fact that essentially every forecast made these days turns out wrong while major pronouncements, regarding the long-term effect of a given policy, by esteemed economists seem designed to advance a political view rather than enhance our knowledge and allow us to act in the most effective way going forward. Certainly, as merely an armchair economist, my track record is not any better. Of course, the difference is that I mostly try to highlight what is driving markets in the very short term rather than paint a picture of the future and influence policy.

I bring this up as I read yet another article this morning, this by Stephen Roach, a former Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and current professor at Yale, about the imminent collapse of the dollar and the end of its status as the world’s reserve currency. He is not the first to call for this, nor the first to call on the roster of models that describe economic activity and determine that because one variable has moved beyond previous boundaries, doom was to follow. In this case growth of the US current account deficit will lead to the end of the dollar’s previous role as reserve currency. Nor will he be the last to do so, but the consistent feature is that every apocalyptic forecast has been wrong over time.

This has been true in Japan, where massive debt issuance by the government and massive debt purchases by the BOJ were destined to drive inflation much higher and weaken the yen substantially. Of course, we all know that the exact opposite has occurred. This has been true around the world where negative interest rates were designed to encourage borrowing and spending, thus driving economic growth higher, when it only got half the equation right, the borrowing increase, but it turns out spending on shares was deemed a better use of funds than spending on investment, despite all the theories that said otherwise.

Ultimately, the point is that despite the economics community having built a long list of very impressive looking and sounding models that are supposed to describe the workings of the economy, those models were built based on observed data rather than on empirical truths. Now that the data has changed, those models are just no longer up for the task. In other words, when it comes to forecasting models, caveat emptor.

Turning to the markets this morning, equity markets seem to have stopped to catch their collective breath after having recouped all of their March losses. In fact, the NASDAQ actually set a new all-time high yesterday, amid an economy that is about to print a GDP number somewhere between -20% and -50% annualized in Q2.

I get the idea of looking past the short-run problems, but it still appears to me that equity traders are ignoring long-run problems that are growing on the horizon. These issues, like the wave of bankruptcies that will significantly reduce the number of available jobs, as well as the potential for behavioral changes that will dramatically reduce the value of entire industries like sports and entertainment, don’t appear to be part of the current investment thesis, or at least have been devalued greatly. And while in the long-run, new companies and activities will replace all these losses, it seems highly unlikely they will replace them by 2021. Yet, yesterday saw US equity indices rally for the 7th day in the past eight. While this morning, futures are pointing a bit lower (SPU’s and Dow both lower by 1.2%, NASDAQ down by 0.7%), that is but a minor hiccup in the recent activity.

European markets are softer this morning as well, with virtually every major index lower by nearly 2% though Asian markets had a bit better showing with the Hang Seng (+1.1%) and Shanghai (+0.6%) both managing gains although the Nikkei (-0.4%) edged lower.

Bond markets are clearly taking a closer look at the current risk euphoria and starting to register concern as Treasury yields have tumbled 5bps this morning after a 4bp decline yesterday. We are seeing similar price action in European markets, albeit to a much lesser extent with bunds seeing yields fall only 2bps since yesterday. But, in true risk-off fashion, bonds from the PIGS have all seen yields rise as they are clearly risk assets, not havens.

And finally, the dollar is broadly stronger this morning with only the other havens; CHF (+0.3%) and JPY (+0.4%) gaining vs. the buck. On the downside, AUD is the laggard, falling 1.4% as a combination of profit taking after a humongous rally, more than 27% from the lows in March, and a warning by China’s education ministry regarding the potential risks for Chinese students returning to university in Australia have weighed on the currency. Not surprisingly, NZD is lower as well, by 1.1%, and on this risk-off day, with oil prices falling 2.5%, NOK has fallen 1.0%. But these currencies’ weakness has an awful lot to do with the dollar’s broad strength.

In the emerging markets, the Mexican peso, which had been the market’s darling for the past month, rallying from 25.00 to below 21.50 (13.5%) has reversed course this morning and is down by 1.4%. But, here too, weakness is broad based with RUB (-0.95%), PLN (-0.7%) and ZAR (-0.6%) all leading the bloc lower. The one exception in this space was KRW (+0.6%) after the announcement of some significant shipbuilding orders for Daewoo and Samsung Heavy Industries improved opinions of the nation’s near-term trade situation.

Turning to the data, although it’s not clear to me it matters much yet, we did see some horrific trade data from Germany, where their surplus fell to €3.5 billion, its smallest surplus in twenty years, and a much worse reading than anticipated as exports collapsed. Meanwhile, Eurozone Q1 GDP data was revised ever so slightly higher, to -3.6% Q/Q, but really, everyone wants to see what is happening in Q2. At home, the NFIB Small Biz Index was just released at a modestly better than expected 94.4 but has been ignored. Later this morning we see the JOLT’s Jobs data (exp 5.75M), but that is for April so seems too backward-looking to matter.

Risk is on its heels today and while hopes are growing that the Fed may do something new tomorrow, for now, given how far risk assets have rallied over the past two weeks, a little more consolidation seems a pretty good bet.

Good luck and stay safe
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Revert to the Mean

For more than two weeks we have seen
Risk assets all polish their sheen
But now has the bar
Been raised much too far?
And will we revert to the mean?

I read today that recent price action (+42% since March 23) has been the largest 50-day rally in the S&P 500’s long history. Think about that for a moment, the economy has cratered (the Atlanta Fed GDPNow forecast is currently at -52.8% for Q2), unemployment has hit levels not seen since the Great Depression with more than 40 million Americans losing their job in the past three months and the stock market is flying. Well, at least the S&P 500 index is flying as the value of its five largest constituents continues to rise, seemingly inexorably, thus dragging the index along with them. The disconnect between the performance of risk assets and the data representing the economy is truly stunning. And while I understand that equity markets are discounting ‘instruments’ looking ahead to the future, it still beggars belief that most of the companies in the index are going to see earnings recover in anywhere near the time anticipated by the market. Remember, the CBO just published an analysis describing the most likely outcome being a 10-year timeframe before the US economy gets back to the levels seen in 2019.

Part and parcel of this movement in risk assets has been the dollar’s decline, with the Dollar Index (DXY) down more than 5% during the same period. While that is not historic in nature, it is still a very large move for such a short period of time.

And so I must ask, is this movement in risk assets sustainable? Clearly the driving force here has been central bank, (mainly the Fed) largesse as they have pumped trillions of dollars of liquidity into the economy, much of which seems to have found its way into stocks. But remember, the Fed started its unlimited QE by buying $75 billion A DAY of securities. That number is now down to less than $5 billion each day and declining on a weekly basis. In fairness, the Fed got ahead of the curve, recognizing just how devastating the situation was going to be. But the Treasury has caught up and has been issuing debt as quickly as they can. Now the Fed’s liquidity is being funneled directly to the Treasury, rather than finding a home elsewhere, and unless Powell reverses course and starts to increase daily purchases again, there is every chance for equity markets to begin to suffer instead.

One other thing that is missing from this market, and which has been a key driver of the long bull market, is share repurchases by companies. Stock buybacks represented nearly all of the net stock buying seen during the rally. And I assure you, that ship has sailed and is not likely to return to port for many years to come. In fact, it would not be surprising if new laws are enacted that limit or prohibit repurchases going forward. The point I am trying to make is that there are numerous reasons to believe that this remarkable rebound in the stock market, and risk assets in general, is overdone and due for its own correction.

Is today that correction? Well, for a start, it is not an extension of the rally as equity markets in Asia were little changed (Nikkei +0.35%, Hang Seng +0.2%, Shanghai -0.15%) and those in Europe are all in the red (DAX -0.7%, CAC -0.6%, FTSE 100 -0.3%). The DAX performance is quite interesting given the announcement by the German government that they have agreed on a €130 billion stimulus package, 30% larger than anticipated. Meanwhile, US futures are all pointing lower as well, down between 0.2% and 0.5%.

Bond markets continue to lack any informational value as they have become entirely controlled by the central bank community. While yield curve control is only explicit in Japan (for the 10-year) and Australia (for the 2-year) the reality is that every central bank is actively preventing government interest rates from rising out of necessity. After all, given how much borrowing is ongoing, governments cannot afford for interest rates to rise, they would not be able to pay the bills. Perhaps the only exception to this rule is the very long end, 30 years and beyond, where yields continue to rise as curves continue to steepen. (Remember when an inverted yield curve was seen as the death knell of the economy? The reality is the problem comes when it steepens like this! Steepening curves are not so much about future economic growth as much as about higher future inflation.)

And then there is the dollar, which is broadly higher this morning, albeit not in any dramatic fashion. As the market awaits word from Madame Lagarde and her 24 colleagues, we have seen the dollar rise modestly vs. both G10 and EMG counterparts. The biggest retreats have been seen by PLN (-1.25%), where the government just announced an expected 8.5% budget deficit, and MXN (-0.9%), which is suffering as oil sells off a bit. However, both those currencies have seen significant rallies in the past two weeks, so a little reversal is not surprising. As to the rest of the bloc, EEMEA currencies are underperforming APAC currencies, but generally they are all lower.

In the G10, the movement have been much more muted, with GBP, AUD and SEK all lower by 0.4% or so and the rest of the bloc, save the Swiss franc’s 0.1% rally, lower by smaller amounts. Again, it is difficult to point to any one thing as the cause for this movement, arguably it is simply position reductions after a long run.

At this point, all eyes are on the ECB, where expectations have built for an increase in the PEPP of as much as €500 billion. While they have not come close to using the original amount, it seems clear they will need more before the end of the year, and so the market has latched onto the idea it will be announced today. One potential problem with this action is it could reduce pressure on the EU to actually go ahead with their mooted €750 billion fiscal support program that includes joint borrowing, a key feature for the euro’s future. It is clear that as much as the frugal four don’t want to see the ECB distort markets further, they are even more disinclined to give their money to the Italians and Spanish directly. However, in the end, I believe Madame Lagarde will give the market what it wants and raise the PEPP limit.

Today’s data picture brings Initial Claims (exp 1.843M), Continuing Claims (20.0M), the April Trade Balance (-$49.2B), Nonfarm Productivity (-2.7%) and Unit Labor Costs (5.0%). With the monthly NFP report tomorrow, it seems unlikely the market will respond to today’s data in any meaningful way. Earlier we saw Eurozone Retail Sales decline 11.7%, not as bad as feared but still the worst outcome in the history of the series dating back to January 1998. And yet, as we have seen lately, the data is not the driver right now, it is the central banks and sentiment. While we have paused today, sentiment still seems to be for a further rally, but my take is that sentiment is getting old and tired. Beware the reversion to the mean!

Good luck and stay safe
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Playing Hardball

Last night China shocked one and all
With two policy shifts not too small
They’ve now become loath
To target their growth
And in Hong Kong they’re playing hardball

It seems President Xi Jinping was pining for the spotlight, at least based on last night’s news from the Middle Kingdom. On the economic front, China abandoned their GDP target for 2020, the first time this has been the case since they began targeting growth in 1994. It ought not be that surprising since trying to accurately assess the country’s growth prospects during the Covid-19 crisis is nigh on impossible. Uncertainty over the damage already done, as well as the future infection situation (remember, they have seen a renewed rise in cases lately) has rendered economists completely unable to model the situation. And recall, the Chinese track record has been remarkable when it comes to hitting their forecast, at least the published numbers have a nearly perfect record of meeting or beating their targets. The reality on the ground has been called into question many times in the past on this particular subject.

The global economic community, of course, will continue to forecast Chinese GDP and current estimates for 2020 GDP growth now hover in the 2.0% range, a far cry from the 6.1% last year and the more than 10% figures seen early in the century. Instead, the Chinese government has turned its focus to unemployment with the latest estimates showing more than 130 million people out of a job. In their own inimitable way, they manage not to count the rural unemployed, meaning the official count is just 26.1M, but that doesn’t mean those folks have jobs. At this time, President Xi is finding himself under much greater pressure than he imagined. 130 million unemployed is exactly the type of thing that leads to revolutions and Xi is well aware of the risks.

In fact, it is this issue that arguably led to the other piece of news from China last night, the newly mooted mainland legislation that will require Hong Kong to enact laws curbing acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion. In other words, a new law that will bring Hong Kong under more direct sway from Beijing and remove many of the freedoms that have set the island territory apart from the rest of the country. While Covid-19 has prevented the mass protests seen last year from continuing in Hong Kong, the sentiments behind those protests did not disappear. But Xi needs to distract his population from the onslaught of bad news regarding both the virus and the economy, and nothing succeeds in doing that better than igniting a nationalistic view on some subject.

While in the short term, this may work well for President Xi, if he destroys Hong Kong’s raison d’etre as a financial hub, the downside is likely to be much greater over time. Hong Kong remains the financial gateway to China’s economy largely because the legal system their remains far more British than Chinese. It is not clear how much investment will be looking for a home in a Hong Kong that no longer protects private property and can seize both people and assets on a whim.

It should be no surprise that financial markets in Asia, particularly in Hong Kong, suffered last night upon learning of China’s new direction. The Hang Seng fell 5.6%, its largest decline since July 2015. Even Shanghai fell, down 1.9%, which given China’s announcement of further stimulus measures despite the lack of a GDP target, were seen as positive. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, the Nikkei slipped a more modest 0.9% despite pledges by Kuroda-san that the BOJ would implement even more easing measures, this time taking a page from the Fed’s book and supporting small businesses by guaranteeing bank loans made in a new ¥75 trillion (~$700 billion) program. It is possible that markets are slowly becoming inured to even further policy stimulus measures, something that would be extremely difficult for the central banking community to handle going forward.

The story in Europe is a little less dire, although most equity markets there are lower (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 -1.0%). Overall, risk is clearly not in favor in most places around the world today which brings us to the FX markets and the dollar. Here, things are behaving exactly as one would expect when investors are fleeing from risky assets. The dollar is stronger vs. every currency except one, the yen.

Looking at the G10 bloc, NOK is the leading decliner, falling 1.1% as the price of oil has reversed some of its recent gains and is down 6% this morning. But other than the yen’s 0.1% gain, the rest of the bloc is feeling it as well, with the pound and euro both lower by 0.4% while the commodity focused currencies, CAD and AUD, are softer by 0.5%. The data releases overnight spotlight the UK, where Retail Sales declined a remarkable 18.1% in April. While this was a bit worse than expectations, I would attribute the pound’s weakness more to the general story than this particular data point.

In the EMG bloc, every market that was open saw their currency decline and there should be no surprise that the leading decliner was RUB, down 1.1% on the oil story. But we have also seen weakness across the board with the CE4 under pressure (CZK -1.0%, HUF -0.75%, PLN -0.5%, RON -0.5%) as well as weakness in ZAR (-0.7%) and MXN (-0.6%). All of these currencies had been performing reasonably well over the past several sessions when the news was more benign, but it should be no surprise that they are lower today. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that HKD was lower by just basis points, despite the fact that it has significant space to decline, even within its tight trading band.

As we head into the holiday weekend here in the US, there is no data scheduled to be released this morning. Yesterday saw Initial Claims decline to 2.44M, which takes the total since late March to over 38 million! Surveys show that 80% of those currently unemployed expect it to be temporary, but that still leaves more than 7.7M permanent job losses. Historically, it takes several years’ worth of economic growth to create that many jobs, so the blow to the economy is likely to be quite long-lasting. We also saw Existing Home Sales plummet to 4.33M from March’s 5.27M, another historic decline taking us back to levels last seen in 2012 and the recovery from the GFC.

Yesterday we also heard from Fed speakers Clarida and Williams, with both saying that things are clearly awful now, but that the Fed stood ready to do whatever is necessary to support the economy. This has been the consistent message and there is no reason to expect it to change anytime soon.

Adding it all up shows that investors seem to be looking at the holiday weekend as an excuse to reduce risk and try to reevaluate the situation as the unofficial beginning to summer approaches. Trading activity is likely to slow down around lunch time so if you need to do something, early in the morning is where you will find the most liquidity.

Good luck, have a good holiday weekend and stay safe
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