Flames of Concern

The story is still Evergrande
Whose actions last night have now fanned
The flames of concern
‘Til bondholders learn
If coupons will be paid as planned

Though pundits have spilled lots of ink
Explaining there’s really no link
Twixt Evergrande’s woes
And fears of new lows
The truth is they’re linked I would think

It must be very frustrating to be a government financial official these days as despite all their efforts to lead investors to a desired outcome, regardless of minor details like reality, investors and traders continue to respond to things like cash flows and liquidity, or lack thereof.  Hence, this morning we find ourselves in a situation where China Evergrande officially failed to pay an $83.2 million coupon yesterday and now has a 30-day grace period before they can be forced into default on the bond.  The concern arises because China Evergrande has more than $300 billion in bonds outstanding and another $300 billion in other liabilities and it is pretty clear they are not going to be able to even service that debt, let alone repay it.

At the same time, the number of articles written about how this is an isolated situation and how the PBOC will step in to prevent a disorderly outcome and protect the individuals who are on the hook continue to grow by leaps and bounds.  The true victims here are the many thousands of Chinese people who contracted with Evergrande to build their home, some of whom prepaid for the entire project while others merely put down significant (>50%) deposits, and who now stand to lose all their money.  Arguably, the question is whether or not the Chinese government is going to bail them out, even if they allow Evergrande to go to the wall.  Sanguinity in this situation seems optimistic.  Remember, the PBOC has been working very hard to delever the Chinese property market, and there is no quicker way to accomplish that than by allowing the market to reprice the outstanding debt of an insolvent entity.  As well, part of President Xi’s calculus will be what type of pain will be felt elsewhere in the world.  After all, if adversaries, like the US, suffer because of this, I doubt Xi would lose any sleep.

But in the end, markets this morning are demonstrating that they are beginning to get concerned over this situation.  While it may not be a Lehman moment, given that when Lehman was allowed to fail it was truly a surprise to the markets, the breadth of this problem is quite significant and the spillover into the entire Chinese property market, which represents ~25% of the Chinese economy, is enormous.  If you recall my discussion regarding “fingers of instability” from last week (Wednesday 9/15), this is exactly the type of thing I was describing.  There is no way, ex ante, to know what might trigger a more significant market adjustment (read decline), but the interconnectedness of Chinese property developers, Chinese banks, Chinese shadow financiers and the rest of the world’s financial system is far too complex to parse.  However, it is reasonable to estimate that there will be multiple knock-on effects from this default, and that the PBOC, no matter how well intentioned, may not be able to maintain control of an orderly market.  Risk should be off, and it is this morning.

It ought not be surprising that Chinese shares were lower last night with the Hang Seng (-1.3%) leading the way but Shanghai (-0.8%) not that far behind.  Interestingly, the only real winner overnight was the Nikkei (+2.1%) which seemed to be making up for their holiday yesterday.  European shares are having a rough go of it as well, with the DAX (-0.8%), CAC (-1.0%) and FTSE 100 (-0.3%) all under the gun.  There seem to be several concerns in these markets with the primary issue the fact that these economies, especially Germany’s, are hugely dependent on Chinese economic growth for their own success, so signs that China will be slowing down due to the Evergrande mess are weighing on these markets.  In addition, the German IFO surveys were all released this morning at weaker than expected levels and continue to slide from their peaks in June.  Slowing growth is quickly becoming a market meme.  After yesterday’s rally in the US, futures this morning are all leaning lower as well, on the order of -0.3% or so.

The bond market this morning, though, is a bit of a head-scratcher.  While Treasuries are doing what they are supposed to, rallying with yields down 2.6bps, the European sovereign market is all selling off despite the fall in equity prices.  So, yields are higher in Germany (Bunds +1.4bps) and France (OATs +2.2bps), with Italy (BTPs +5.0bps) really seeing some aggressive selling.  Gilts are essentially unchanged on the day.  But this is a bit unusual, that a clear risk off session would see alleged haven assets sell off as well.

Commodity markets are having a mixed day with oil unchanged at this hour while gold (+0.75%) is rebounding somewhat from yesterday’s sharp decline.  Copper (+0.1%) has edged higher, but aluminum (-1.4%) is soft this morning.  Agricultural prices are all lower by between 0.25% and 0.5%.  In other words, it is hard to detect much signal here.

As to the dollar, it is broadly stronger with only CHF +0.1%) able to rally this morning.  While the euro is little changed, we are seeing weakness in the Antipodean currencies (AUD, NZD -0.4%) and commodity currencies (CAC -0.2%, NOK -0.15%).  Granted, the moves have not been large, but they have been consistent.

In the EMG bloc, the dollar has put on a more impressive show with ZAR (-1.3%) and TRY (-0.9%) leading the way, although we have seen other currencies (PHP -0.6%, MXN -0.4%) also slide during the session.  The rand story seems to be a hangover from yesterday’s SARB meeting, where they left rates on hold despite rising inflation there.  TRY, too, is still responding to the surprise interest rate cut by the central bank yesterday.  In Manila, concern seems to be growing that the Philippines external balances are worsening too rapidly and will present trouble going forward.  (I’m not sure you remember what it means to run a current account deficit and have markets discipline your actions as it no longer occurs in the US, but it is still the reality for every emerging market economy.)

On the data front, we see only New Home Sales (exp 715K), a number unlikely to have an impact on markets.  However, we hear from six different Fed speakers today, including Chairman Powell, so I expect that there will be a real effort at fine-tuning their message.  Three of the speakers are amongst the most hawkish (Mester, George and Bostic), but of this group, only Bostic is a voter.  You can expect more definitive tapering talk from these three, but in the end, Powell’s words still carry the most weight.

The dollar remains in a trading range and we are going to need some exogenous catalyst to change that.  An Evergrande collapse could have that type of impact, but I believe it will take a lot more contagion for that to be the case.  So, using the euro as a proxy, 1.17-1.19 is still the right idea in my view.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Would That, Fear, Provoke?

Remember when everyone said
That Jay and his friends at the Fed
Would taper their buying
While still pacifying
Investors, lest screens all turn red?

Well, what if before the Fed spoke
That Evergrande quickly went broke?
Would traders still bet
The buying of debt
Will end? Or would that, fear, provoke?

Fear is in the air this morning as concerns over the status of China Evergrande’s ability to repay its mountain of debt seriously escalate.  Remember, Evergrande is the Chinese property developer with more than $300 billion in debt outstanding, and that has said they will not be repaying an $84 million loan due today, with the prospect for interest payments due this Thursday also gravely in doubt.  One cannot be surprised that the Hang Seng (-3.3%) reacted so negatively this morning, after all, that is the Evergrande’s main listing exchange.  Other property developers listed there came under substantial pressure as well, with one (Sinic Holdings Group) seeing its price fall 87% before trading was suspended.

Of equal interest to the fact that equity markets are trembling on the Evergrande story is the plethora of press that continues to explain that even if Evergrande goes bust, any fallout will be limited.  Columnists and pundits point to the damage that occurred when the Fed allowed Lehman Brothers to go bust and explain that will never be allowed again.  And while I’m certain they are correct, financial officials have exactly zero interest in allowing that type of situation to repeat, it remains far from clear they can prevent it.  That is, of course, unless the Chinese government is going to step in and pay the debts, something that seems highly unlikely.  As I continue to read and hear how this situation is nothing like Lehman, having had a front row seat to that disaster, I cannot help but see a great many parallels, including many assurances that the underlying cause of that contagion, subprime mortgage loans, was a small portion of the market and any fallout would be controlled.  We all know how well that worked out.

Remember, too, that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been aggressively attacking different sectors of the Chinese economy, specifically those sectors where great wealth (and power) was amassed and has implemented numerous changes to the previous rules.  This is the key reason the Shanghai stock market has underperformed the S&P 500 by 25% over the past year.  One of Xi’s problems is that property development has been a critical part of the growth of China’s economy and a source of significant income to all the provinces and cities.  Proceeds from the sales of property have funded infrastructure as well as helped moderate taxes.  If Evergrande goes under, the impact on the entire Chinese economy seems likely to be significant.  And all this is happening while the growth in China’s credit impulse has been declining rapidly, portending slower growth there anyway.

History has shown that situations of this nature are rarely effectively contained and there is usually fallout across numerous different areas.  Consider that global equity market indices have been hovering just below all-time high levels with stretched valuations on any measure on the basis of TINA and FOMO.  But between the two key emotions evident in investing, fear and greed, I assure you, fear is by far the more powerful.  While anything can still happen, fear is starting to spread more widely today than last week as evidenced by the sea of red across all equity markets today.

If you think that the Fed is going to taper their asset purchases into a period of market weakness, you are gravely mistaken.  The combination of slowing growth and market fear will induce a call for more support, not less, and history has shown that ever since October 1987 and Alan Greenspan’s response to Black Monday, the Fed will respond with more money.  The question this time is, will it be enough to stop the fall?  Interesting times lie ahead.

Most of Asia was on holiday last night, with only Hong Kong and Australia (ASX 200 -2.1%) open.  But Europe is open for business and the picture is not pretty.  The FTSE 100 (-1.55%) is the best performing market today with the continent (DAX -2.15%, CAC -2.1%) emblematic of every market currently open.  US futures, meanwhile, are the relative winners with losses ‘only’ ranging from the NASDAQ (-1.1%) to the Dow (-1.6%).  Now, don’t you feel better?

It can be no surprise that bonds are in demand this morning as risk is undeniably ‘off’ across all markets.  Treasury yields have fallen 3.6bps amid a flattening yield curve, while European sovereigns have all seen price gains as well with yields there slipping between 2.6bps (OATs) and 3.2 bps (Bunds).  In every case, we are seeing yield curves flatten, which tends to imply an increasing expectation of weaker economic activity.

Commodity prices are broadly under pressure as well this morning, with oil (-2.0%) leading the way but weakness across industrial metals (Cu -2.0%, Al -0.65%, Sn -1.2%) and agriculturals (corn -1.6%, wheat -0.9%, soybeans -1.0%) as well.  Gold (+0.2%) on the other hand, seems to have retained some of its haven status.

Speaking of havens, the dollar, yen and Swiss franc remain the currencies of choice in a crisis, so it should be no surprise they are today’s leaders.  Versus the dollar, the yen (+0.4%) and franc (+0.2%) are the only gainers on the day.  Elsewhere in the G10, AUD (-0.55%), SEK (-0.5%), CAD (-0.5%) and NOK (-0.4%) are the worst performers.  Obviously, oil’s decline is weighing on the krone and Loonie, but AUD is feeling it from the rest of the commodity complex, notably iron ore (Australia’s largest export by value) which has fallen to $105/ton, less than half its price on July 15th!

In the emerging markets, RUB (-0.8%) is feeling the heat from oil, while ZAR (-0.55%) has metals fatigue.  But every EMG currency that was open last night or is trading right now is down versus the dollar, with no prospects of a rebound unless risk attitude changes.  And that seems unlikely today.

On the data front, aside from the Fed on Wednesday, it is a housing related week.

Tuesday Housing Starts 1550K
Building Permits 1600K
Wednesday Existing Home Sales 5.88M
FOMC Rate Decision 0.00%-0.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 320K
Continuing Claims 2630K
Flash PMI Manufacturing 60.8
Friday New Home Sales 710K

Source: Bloomberg

As well as the Fed, on Thursday the Bank of England meets and while there is no expectation of a policy move then, there is increasing talk of tighter policy there as well.  Again, if fear continues to dominate markets, central banks are highly unlikely to tighten, and, in fact, far more likely to add yet more liquidity to the system.  Once the Fed meeting has passed, the FOMC members will get back out on the circuit to insure we understand what they are trying to do.  so, we will hear from five of them on Friday, and then a bunch more activity next week.

Today’s watchword is fear.  Markets are afraid and risk is being tossed overboard.  Absent a comment or event that can offset the China Evergrande led story, I see no reason for the dollar to do anything but rally.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Reason to Fear

In Europe, the price of Nat Gas
Has risen to new highs, alas
As winter comes near
There’s reason to fear
A rebound will not come to pass

As well the impact on inflation
Is likely to add to frustration
Of Madame Lagarde
As she tries so hard
To hide the debt monetization

Some days are simply less interesting than others, and thus far, today falls into the fairly dull category.  There has been limited new news in financial markets overall.  While the ongoing concerns over the imminent failure of China Evergrande continue to weigh on Asian stocks (Nikkei -0.6%, Hang Seng -1.5%, Shanghai -1.3%), the story that is beginning to see some light in Europe is focused on the extraordinary rise in Natural Gas prices.  As a point of reference, in the US, Nat Gas closed yesterday at $5.34/MMBtu, itself a significant rise in price over the past six months, nearly doubling in that time.  Europeans, however, would give their eye teeth for such a low price as the price in the Netherlands for TTF (a contract standard) is $22.61/MMBtu!  This price has risen nearly fourfold during the past six months and now stands more thar four times as costly as in the US.  Whatever concerns you may have had about your personal energy costs rising in the US, they are dwarfed by the situation in Europe.

This matters for a number of reasons beyond the economic (for instance, how will people in Europe afford to heat their homes in the fast approaching winter and continue to feed their families as well?)  but our focus here is on markets and economics.  Thus, consider the following:  Europe remains a manufacturing and exporting powerhouse and is reliant on stable supply and pricing of natural gas to power their factories.  Obviously, recent price action has been anything but stable, and given the European dependence on Russian gas supplies, there is a geopolitical element overhanging the market as well.  LNG can be a substitute, but Asian buyers have been paying up to purchase most of those cargoes, so Europe is finding itself with reduced supply and correspondingly rising prices.

The first big industrial impact came yesterday when a major manufacturer of fertilizer shut down two UK plants because the cost of Nat Gas had risen too far to allow them to be competitive.  Consider the chain of events here: first, closure of the plant means reduced overall output, as well as furloughed, if not fired, workers. Second, reduction in the supply of fertilizer means that the price for farmers will almost certainly rise higher, thus forcing farmers to either raise their prices or reduce production (or go out of business).  Higher food prices, which have already risen dramatically, will result in reduced non-food consumption and strain family budgets as it feeds into inflation.  Net, slower growth and higher prices are the exact wrong combination for any economy and one to be avoided at all costs.  Alas, this is very likely the type of future that awaits many, if not most, European countries, the dreaded stagflation.  The ECB has its work cut out to combat this issue effectively while the Eurozone economy sits on more than €11.3 trillion in debt.  I don’t envy Madame Lagarde’s current position.

Beyond the macroeconomic issues, what are the potential market impacts?  Here things, as always, are less clear, but thus far, we have seen one impact, and that is a declining euro (-0.4%).  In fact, all European currencies are falling today as it becomes clearer that economic activity across the pond is going to be further impaired by this situation.  It has been sufficient to offset perceived benefits of European economies reopening in the wake of the spread of the delta variant of Covid.  However, the upshot of this currency weakness has been equity market strength.  It seems that any concerns of the ECB considering tighter policy have been pushed even further into the future thus encouraging investors to continue to add risk to their portfolios.  Hence, this morning, in the wake of the ongoing rise in Nat Gas prices, we see European equities all in the green (DAX +0.5%, CAC +1.0%, FTSE 100 +0.45%).  Under the guise of TINA, weaker growth leads to continued low rates and higher stock prices.  What could possibly go wrong?

US markets are biding their time at this hour, with futures essentially unchanged and really, so are bond markets.  Of the major sovereigns, only Gilts (+1.8bps) have moved more than a fraction of a basis point this morning.  While risk may be on, it is not aggressively so.  Either that, or European banks are back to buying more and more of their national bonds tightening the doom loop that ultimately led to the Eurozone crisis in 2012.

Commodities?  Well, as it happens, after a multi-day rally, oil prices are consolidating with WTI (-0.25%) basically holding the bulk of the $10 in gains it has made in the past month.  Nat Gas, too, is consolidating this morning, down $0.16/MMBtu, although that represents 3% (Natty is very, very volatile!)  With the dollar rocking, we are also seeing weakness across the metals’ markets, both precious (gold -0.75%) and industrial (Cu -2.0%, Al -0.6%, Pb -1.6%).  In fact, the only commodity that is performing well today is Uranium, which is higher by a further 8.1%.

Finally, the dollar is king today, rising against 9 of its G10 counterparts with CHF (-0.5%) the laggard and only NZD (+0.1%) able to show any strength today.  The Kiwi story has been a much better than expected GDP print (2.8% vs 1.1% expected) leading to growing expectations of a 0.50% rate hike next month.  Meanwhile, the rest of the bloc is suffering from the aforementioned cracks in the rebound theory as well as broad-based dollar strength.  This strength has been universal in EMG markets, with every currency sliding against the greenback.  Thus far, the worst performer has been PLN (-0.6%) followed by THB (-0.5%) and HUF (-0.5%).  Beyond that, most currencies are down in the 0.2% range.  Interestingly, for both PLN and HUF, the market discussion is about raising interest rates with Hungary looking at 50bps while Poland has called for a “gentle” rise, assumed to be 0.25%.  As to THB, it seems the market has been reacting to a rise in the number of Covid cases which is perpetuating the Asian risk-off theme.

We have a full slate of data today at 8:30 with Initial (exp 323K) and Continuing (2740K) Claims; Philly Fed (19.0) and the biggest of the day, Retail Sales (-0.7%, 0.0% ex autos).  Tuesday’s Empire Manufacturing data was MUCH stronger than expected, so there will be some hope for Philly to beat.  But the Retail Sales data is the key.  Remember, this number started to slide once the stimulus checks stopped, and last month we saw a much worse than expected -1.1% outcome.  Given the uncertainty over the near-term trajectory of the economy, this will be seen as an important number.

Well, the dollar managed to strengthen despite lacking support from yields, certainly a blow to the dollar bears out there.  The thing is, against the G10, I continue to see the dollar in a range (1.17/1.19) and will need to see a break of either side to change views.  If forced to opine, I would say the medium-term trend for the dollar is gradually higher, but would need to see the euro below 1.17, or the DXY above 93.50 before getting too excited.

I will be out of the office tomorrow so no poetry until Monday.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Flames of Concern

While Fed commentary is banned
Inflation has certainly fanned
The flames of concern
And soon we’ll all learn
If prices are acting as planned

Meanwhile transitory’s the word
Jay’s used to describe what’s occurred
But most people feel
Inflation is real
And denial is naught but absurd

It is CPI day in the US today and recently the results have gained nearly as much attention as the monthly payroll data.  This seems reasonable given that pretty much every other story in the press touches on the subject, although as is constantly highlighted, the Fed pays attention to PCE, not CPI.  Nonetheless, CPI is the data that is designed to try to capture the average rate of increases in price for the ordinary consumer.  As well, virtually all contracts linked to inflation are linked to CPI.  So Social Security, union wage contracts and TIPS all use CPI as their benchmark.

Of course, the reason inflation is the hot topic is because it has been so hot over the past nine months.  Consider that since Paul Volcker was Fed Chair and CPI peaked at 14.8%, in 1980, there has been a secular decline for 40 years.  Now, for the first time since 1990, we are likely to have four consecutive Y/Y CPI prints in excess of 5.0%.  Although Powell and the FOMC have been very careful to avoid defining ‘transitory’, every month that CPI (and PCE) prints at levels like this serves to strain their credibility.

This is evidenced by a survey conducted by the New York Fed itself, which yesterday showed that the median expectation for inflation in one year’s time has risen to 5.2% and in three years’ time to 4.0%.  Both of these readings are the highest in the survey’s relatively short history dating back to 2013.  But the point is, people are becoming ever more certain that prices will continue rising.  And remember, while inflation may be a monetary phenomenon, it is also very much a psychological one.  If people believe that prices will rise in the future, they are far more likely to increase their demand for things currently in order to avoid paying those future high prices.  In other words, hoarding will become far more normal and expectations for higher prices will become embedded in the collective psyche.

In fact, it is this exact situation that the Fed is desperately trying to prevent, hence the constant reminders that inflation is transitory and so behavioral changes are unnecessary.  This is what also leads to absurdities like the White House trying to explain that except for the prices of beef, pork and poultry, food prices are in line with what would be expected.  Let’s unpack that for a minute.  Beef, pork and poultry are the three main protein sources consumed in this country, if not around the world, so the fact that those have risen in price makes it hard to avoid the idea that prices are rising.  But the second half of the statement is also disingenuous, “in line with what would be expected” does not indicate prices haven’t risen, only that they haven’t risen as much as beef etc.  I’m sure that when each of you heads to the supermarket to stock up for the week, you have observed the price of almost every item is higher than it was, not only pre-Covid, but also at the beginning of the year.  Alas, at this point, there is no reason to expect inflation to slow down.

Median expectations according to Bloomberg’s survey of economists show that CPI is forecast to have risen 0.4% in August with the Y/Y increase declining to 5.3% from last month’s 5.4% reading.  Ex food and energy, the forecasts are +0.3% and 4.2% respectively.  Now, those annual numbers are 0.1% lower than the July readings, which have many economists claiming that the peak is in, and a slow reversion to the lowflation environment we experienced for the past twenty years is going to return.  Counter to that argument, though, is the idea that the economy is cyclical and that includes inflation.  As such, even if there is an ebb for now, the next cycle will likely return us to these levels once again, if not higher.  PS, if the forecasts are accurate, as I mentioned before, this will still be the fourth consecutive month of 5+% CPI, a fact which makes it much easier for the masses to believe inflation has returned.  You can see why Powell and the entire FOMC continue to harp on the transitory concept, they are desperate to prevent expectations from changing because, as we’ve discussed before, they cannot afford to raise interest rates given the amount of leverage in the system.

Keeping all this in mind, it is easy to understand why the CPI data release has gained so much in importance, even to the Fed, who ostensibly focuses on PCE.  We shall see what the data brings.

In the meantime, the markets overnight have been mostly quiet with a few outlying events.  China Evergrande, the massively indebted Chinese property company has hired two law firms with expertise in bankruptcy.  This is shaking the Chinese markets as given the massive amount of debt involved (>$300 billion of USD debt) there is grave concern a bankruptcy could have significant knock-on repercussions across all sub-prime markets.  It should be no surprise that Chinese equity markets fell last night with Shanghai (-1.4%) and the Hang Seng (-1.2%) both under continued pressure.  However, the Nikkei (+0.7%) rose to its highest level since 1990, although still well below the peak levels from the Japanese bubble of the late ‘80s.  Europe is also mixed with the DAX (+0.1%) managing to eke out some gains while the rest of the continent slides into the red (CAC -0.4%, FTSE 100 -0.3%). US futures are basically unchanged this morning as we all await the CPI data.

Interestingly, despite a lot of equity uncertainty and weakness, bonds are also under pressure with yields rising across the board.  Treasuries (+1.2bps), Bunds (+1.9bps), OATs (+1.6bps) and Gilts (+3.8bps) have all sold off, with only Gilts making some sense as UK employment data was generally better than expected and indicative of a rebound in growth.

In the commodity markets, oil (WTI + 0.6%) continues to rebound as another hurricane hits the Gulf Coast and is shutting in more production.  But metals prices are under pressure led by copper (-1.25%) and aluminum (-1.0%).

As to the dollar, mixed is the best description I can give this morning.  In the G10, AUD (-0.5%) is the laggard after RBA Governor Lowe questioned why market participants thought the RBA would be raising rates anytime soon despite potential tapering in the US and Europe.  Australia is in a very different position and unlikely to raise rates before 2024.  On the plus side, NOK (+0.4%) continues to benefit from oil’s rebound and the rest of the bloc has seen much more modest movement, less than 0.2%, in either direction.

EMG markets are a bit weaker this morning, seemingly responding to the growing risk off sentiment as we see ZAR (-0.65%) and RUB (-0.5%) both under a fair amount of pressure with a long list of currencies declining by lesser amounts.  While declining metals prices may make sense as a driver of the rand, the ruble seems to be ignoring the oil price rally, as traders await the CPI data.  On the plus side, KRW (+0.45%) was the best performer as positions locally were adjusted ahead of the upcoming holiday there.

And that’s really the story as we await the CPI release.  The dollar, while softening slightly from its best levels recently, continues to feel better rather than worse, so I suspect we could see modest further strength if CPI is on target.  However, a miss in the print can have more significant repercussions, with a high print likely to see the dollar benefit  initially.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Outmoded

In Germany prices exploded
While confidence there has eroded
Now all eyes will turn
Back home where we’ll learn
On Tuesday if QE’s outmoded

The most disturbing aspect of the inflation argument (you know, is it transitory or not) is the fact that those in the transitory camp are willing to completely ignore the damage inflation does to household budgets.  Their attitude was recently articulated by the chief European economist at TS Lombard, Dario Perkins, thusly, “There is nothing inherently dangerous about inflation settling in, say, a 3-5% range instead of the 1-2% that’s been normal for the past decade.”  He continued, “the bigger risk is that hitherto dovish central bankers lose their nerve and raise interest rates until it causes a recession, like they’ve done in the past.”

Let’s consider that for a moment.  The simple math shows that at a 2% inflation rate, the price of something rises about 22% over the course of a decade.  So, that Toyota Camry that cost $25,000 in 2011 would cost $30,475 today.  However, at a 5% inflation rate over that time, it would cost $40,725, a 63% increase.  That’s a pretty big difference.  Add in the fact that wage gains have certainly not been averaging 5% per year and it is easy to see how inflation can be extremely damaging to anybody, let alone to the average wage earner.  The point is, while to an economist, inflation appears to be an abstract concept that is simply a number input into their models, to the rest of us, it is the cost of living.  And there is nothing that indicates the cost of living will stop rising sharply anytime soon.

This was reinforced overnight when Germany released its wholesale price index, which rose 12.3% in the past twelve months.  That is the highest rate of increase since 1974 in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo.  Now fortunately, the ECB is on the case.  Isabel Schnabel, the ECB’s head of markets explained, “The prospect of persistently excessive inflation, as feared by some, remains highly unlikely.  But should inflation sustainably reach our target of 2% unexpectedly soon, we will act equally quickly and resolutely.”  You know, they have tools!

On the subject of Wholesale, or Producer, Prices, while Germany’s were the highest print we’ve seen from a major economy, recall last week that Chinese PPI printed at 9.5%, in the US it was 8.3% and even in Japan, a nation that has not seen inflation in two decades, PPI rose 5.6% last month.  It appears that the cost of making “stuff” is rising pretty rapidly.  And even if the pace of these increases does slow down, the probability of prices declining is essentially nil.  Remember, the current central bank mantra is deflation is the worst possible outcome and they will do all they can to prevent it.  All I can say is, I sure hope everyone’s wages can keep pace with inflation, because otherwise, we are all at a permanent disadvantage compared to where things had been just a year or two ago.

Well, I guess there is one beneficiary of higher inflation…governments issuing debt.  As long as inflation grows faster than the size of their debt, a government’s real obligations decline.  And you wonder why the Fed insists inflation is transitory.  Oh yeah, for all of you who think that higher inflation will lead to higher interest rates, I wouldn’t count on that outcome either.  Whether or not the Fed actually tapers, they have exactly zero incentive to raise rates anytime soon.  And as to bonds, they have shown before (post WWII) that they are willing to cap yields at a rate well below inflation if it suits their needs.  And I assure you, it suits their needs right now.

So, what will all this do to the currency markets?  As always, FX is a relative game so what matters is the degree of change from one currency to the next.  The medium-term bearish case for the dollar is that inflation in the US will run hotter than in Europe, Japan or elsewhere, while the Fed caps yields in some manner.  The resultant expansion of negative real yields will have a significant negative impact on the dollar.  This argument will fail if one of two things occurs; either other central banks shoot for even greater negative yields, or, more likely, the Fed allows the back end of the curve to rise thus moderating the impact of negative real yields.  In either case, the dollar should benefit.  In fact, this is why the taper discussion is of such importance to the FX market, tapering implies higher yields in the back end of the US yield curve and therefore an opportunity for a stronger dollar.  Remember, though, there are many moving pieces, so even if the Fed does taper, that is not necessarily going to support the dollar all that much.

Ok, let’s look at this morning’s markets, where risk is largely being acquired, although there is no obvious reason why that is the case.  Equity markets in Asia were mixed with both gainers (Nikkei +0.2%, Shanghai +0.3%) and Losers (Hang Seng (-1.5%) as the ongoing Chinese crackdown on internet companies received new news.  It seems that the Chinese government is going to split up Ant Financial such that its lending business is a separate company under stricter government control.  Ali Baba, which is listed in HK, not Shanghai, fell sharply, as did other tech companies in China, hence the dichotomy between the Hang Seng and Shanghai indices.  But excluding Chinese tech, stocks were in demand.  The same is true in Europe where the screen is entirely green (DAX +1.1%, CAC +0.8%, FTSE 100 +0.8%) as it seems there is little concern about a passthrough of inflation, but great hope that reopening economies will perform well.  US futures are also looking robust this morning, with all three major indices higher by at least 0.5% as I type.

Funnily enough, despite the risk appetite in equities, bond prices are rallying as well, with 10-year Treasury yields lower by 1.7bps, and European sovereigns also seeing modest yield declines of between 0.5 and 1.0 bps. Apparently, as concerns grow over the possibility of a technical US default due to a debt ceiling issue, the safety trade is to buy Treasuries.  At least that is the explanation being offered today.

On the commodity front, oil (WTI +0.8%) is leading the way higher although we are seeing gains in many of the industrial metals as well, notably aluminum (+1.6%), which seems to be feeling some supply shortages.  Copper (-0.45%), surprisingly, is softer on the day, but the rest of that space is firmer.  I mentioned Uranium last week, and as an FYI, it is higher by 5% this morning as more and more people begin to understand the combination of a structural shortage of the metal and the increasing likelihood that any carbonless future will require nuclear power to be far more prevalent.

Finally, the dollar is broadly, although not universally, stronger this morning.  In the G10, only NOK (+0.2%) and CAD (+0.1%) have managed to hold their own this morning on the strength of oil’s rally.  Meanwhile, CHF (-0.7%) is under the most pressure as havens lose their luster, although the rest of the bloc has only seen declines of between -0.1% and -0.3%.  In the EMG bloc, THB (-0.75%) and KRW (-0.6%) lead the way lower as both nations saw equity market outflows on weakness in Asian tech stocks.  But generally, almost all currencies here are softer by between -0.2% and -0.4%.  the exceptions are TRY (+0.3%) and RUB (+0.25%) with the latter supported by oil while the former is benefitting from hope that the central bank will maintain tight policy to fight inflation.

On the data front, we have both CPI and Retail Sales leading a busy week:

Today Monthly Budget Statement -$175B
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 99.0
CPI 0.4% (5.3% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.3% (4.2% Y/Y)
Wednesday Empire Manufacturing 18.0
IP 0.4%
Capacity Utilization 76.4%
Thursday Initial Claims 320K
Continuing Claims 2740K
Retail Sales -0.8%
-ex auto -0.1%
Philly Fed 19.0
Friday Michigan Sentiment 72.0

Source: Bloomberg

With no recent stimulus checks, Retail Sales are forecast to suffer greatly.  Meanwhile, the CPI readings are forecast to be a tick lower than last month, but still above 5.0% for the third consecutive month.  Certainly, my personal experience is that prices continue to rise quite rapidly, and I would not be surprised to see a higher print.  Mercifully, the Fed is in its quiet period ahead of next week’s FOMC meeting, so we no longer need to hear about when anybody thinks tapering should occur.  The next information will be the real deal from Chairman Powell.

The tapering argument seems to be the driver right now, with a growing belief the Fed will reduce its QE purchases and US rates will rise, at least in the back end.  That seems to be the genesis of the dollar’s support.  As long as that attitude exists, the dollar should do well.  But if the data this week points to further slowing in the US economy, I would expect the taper story to fade along with the dollar.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Could Be Dead

The tapering talk at the Fed
Continues as they look ahead
Though growth’s clearly slowing
Inflation is growing
So, QE, next year, could be dead

In Europe, though, it’s not the same
As price rises largely are tame
But plenty of squawks
From ECB hawks
Have feathered the doves with great shame

Central bank meetings continue to be key highlights on the calendar and this week is no different.  Thus far we have already heard from the RBA, who left policy unchanged, as despite inflation running at 3.8% Q/Q, are unwilling to tighten policy amid a massive nationwide lockdown.  After all, how can they justify tighter policy as growth continues to sag?

This morning the BOC meets, and the universal view is that the Overnight Lending rate will be left unchanged at 0.25%.  However, you may recall that the BOC has actually begun to taper its QE purchases, reducing the weekly amount of purchases to C$2 billion from its peak setting of C$4 billion.  Most of the punditry believe that there will be no change in the rate of QE at this meeting as the bank will want to evaluate the impact of the delta variant on the Canadian economy more fully, but most also believe that the next step lower will occur in October.  In either event, though, it seems the currency markets remain far more focused on the US half of the equation than on what the other central bank is doing.  After all, since the BOC began to taper policy in April, the Loonie has weakened by more than 1%, although it did show initial strength in the wake of the surprise announcement.

Turning to tomorrow’s ECB meeting, there has also been a clear delineation between the hawks and doves as to the proper steps going forward.  Given the macroeconomic situation in Europe, where growth is slowing from relatively modest levels and inflation remains far below levels seen in either the US or Canada (or Australia or the UK), it would seem that the doves should retain the upper hand in the discussion.

But one of the key, inherent, flaws in the Eurozone is that different countries tend to have very different economies as well as very different fiscal policies, and so the individual economic outcomes vary greatly.  Thus, while Spain remains mired with excessively high unemployment and lackluster growth prospects, as does Italy, Germany has seen rising prices in a much more sustained fashion, with CPI there running a full percentage point above the Eurozone as a whole.  Given that German DNA is vehemently anti-inflation (a result of the suffering of the Weimar Hyperinflation of the 1920’s), this situation has resulted in Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann and some of his closest colleagues (Austria’s Holtzmann and the Netherlands’ Knot) vociferously calling for a reduction in the rate of purchases in the PEPP.  However, most of the rest of the committee sees no need to slow things down.  The question tomorrow is whether or not Madame Lagarde will be able to tether the hawks.  While there is market talk that tapering will occur, my money is on no change in the pace of purchases.  The direct impact of this should be further modest weakness in the euro and a rebound in European sovereign bond market prices.

As to the Fed, they meet in two weeks’ time and after Powell’s Jackson Hole performance, I think there are vanishingly few players who believe they are going to even announce the tapering schedule then.  However, that does not mean that the segment of the FOMC who are adamantly pro-taper will be quiet, and so expect to hear a steady stream of tapering talk until the quiet period begins on Saturday.  In fact, just last night St Louis President Bullard was interviewed by the FT and reiterated his vocal stance that tapering needs to begin right away.  As well, we will hear from Dallas’ Kaplan later today with his message guaranteed to be the same.  Of more interest will be NY’s Williams, who speaks this afternoon at 1:10pm, and who has yet to voice his tapering opinion.  If he does say tapering is necessary, that would be an important signal, so we must pay close attention.

With all that in mind, markets overnight have started to take a somewhat dimmer view of risk, especially in Europe.  In fact, looking around, only the Nikkei (+0.9%) has been able to see any positivity as the rest of Asia (Hang Seng -0.1%, Shanghai -0.1%) edged lower while Europe (DAX -0.7%, CAC -0.4%, FTSE 100 -0.5%) are seeing much greater selling.  That said, the situation on the Continent was worse earlier in the session with losses everywhere greater than 1.0%.  US futures, meanwhile, are essentially unchanged on the morning, although leaning slightly lower.

In the bond market, buyers have returned with Treasury yields falling 2.4bps, reversing half of yesterday’s climb.  But Europe, too, is seeing demand for havens with Bunds (-1.2bps), OATs (-1.5bps) and Gilts (-1.0bps) all decently bid this morning.  Certainly, if the ECB does reduce its PEPP purchases you can expect yields across the board in Europe to rise.  And, in fact, that is why I don’t expect that to occur!

In a bit of a conundrum, commodity prices are generally higher, alongside the dollar.  Looking at WTI (+1.4%), it seems that energy is on the rise everywhere.  (Pay attention to Uranium, which has rallied 32% in the past month and is structurally bullish as current demand is significantly greater than the run rate of production.)  But weirdly, other than copper (-0.8%) every other key commodity is higher this morning with Au (+0.3%), Al (+0.5%) and Soybeans (+0.7%) leading the way.

This is strange because the dollar is broadly, albeit generally modestly, higher this morning.  In the G10, EUR, CAD and DKK are all softer by 0.2% while only NZD (+0.1%) has managed any gains on the back of the strength in commodity prices.  In the emerging markets, the situation is far more pronounced with TRY (-1.0%) leading the way lower after the central bank indicated rate cuts were coming, although we also saw weakness overnight in KRW (-0.75%), THB (-0.5%) and TWD (-0.4%).  All of these Asian currencies suffered on a pure risk-off viewpoint as equity markets in these nations fell as well.  But it’s not just APAC currencies as we are seeing weakness in EMEA with HUF (-0.5%) and PLN (-0.3%) also under pressure.

On the data front, today brings the JOLTS Job Openings report (exp 10.049M) which continues to indicate the labor market is quite tight despite the payroll data last week.  And after that we get the Fed’s Beige Book at 2:00.  To my mind, Williams’ speech at 1:10pm is the most important story of the day, so we will need to pay close attention when he starts speaking.

Overall, it appears that the dollar bulls have regained the upper hand and are slowly pushing the greenback higher versus most counterparts.  If Williams does agree tapering is needed, I expect the dollar to take another leg higher.  But if he is clear that there is no rush, especially with the delta variant impact, look for the dollar to cede some of its recent gains and equity markets to regain a little spring in their step.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Severely Distraught

At Jackson Hole, Powell explained
Inflation goals have been attained
But joblessness still
Is high, so they will
Go slow ere their bond buying’s waned

The market heard slow and they thought
The stock market had to be bought
So, prices keep rising
And it’s not surprising
The hawks are severely distraught

In my absence, clearly the biggest story has been Chairman Powell’s Jackson Hole speech, where he promised at some point that the Fed would begin to taper their bond purchases, but that it was still a bit too early to do so.  He admitted that inflation had achieved their target but was still quite concerned over the employment portion of the Fed’s mandate, hence the ongoing delay in the tapering.  And perhaps he was prescient as after Jackson Hole the NFP number was a massively disappointing miss, just 235K vs 733K median forecast.  And to be clear, that number was well below the lowest forecast of 70 estimates.  The point is, the evolution of the economy is clearly not adhering to the views expressed by many, if not most, FOMC members.  We have begun to see significant reductions in GDP growth forecasts for the second half of the year, with major investment banks all cutting their forecasts and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow number falling to a remarkably precise 3.661% for Q3.

With this as a backdrop, it can be no surprise that the dollar has fallen dramatically during the past two weeks.  For instance, in the G10, NOK (+4.2%) and NZD (+4.2%) both led the way higher as commodity prices rebounded, oil especially, and the US interest rates fell.  In fact, the only currency to underperform the dollar since my last note has been the Japanese yen (-0.15%), which is essentially unchanged.  The story is the same in the EMG space with virtually every currency rising led by ZAR (+6.9%) and BRL (+4.1%).  In fact, only Argentina’s peso (-0.65%) managed to decline over the previous two weeks.  The point is, the belief in a stronger dollar, based on the idea of the Fed tapering QE and then eventually raising interest rates, has come a cropper.  The question is, where do we go from here?

With Jay in the mirror, rearview
It’s Christine’s time, now, to come through
On Thursday we’ll hear
If she’s set to steer
The ECB toward Waterloo

As the market walks in after the Labor Day holiday in the US, we are seeing the beginnings of a correction of the past two week’s price action, at least in the FX markets.  Surveying the overnight data shows a minor dichotomy in Germany, where IP (+1.0%) rose a bit more than expected although the ZEW Surveys were both softer than expected.  Meanwhile, Eurozone GDP grew at a slightly better than previously reported 2.2% quarterly rate in Q2, although that does not include the most recent wave of delta variant imposed lockdowns.  In other words, we are no longer observing either uniform strength or weakness in the data, with different parts of each national economy being impacted very differently by Covid-19.  One other thing to note here is the decline in support for the ruling CDU party in Germany where elections will be held in less than two weeks.  It seems that despite 16 years of relative prosperity there, under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the populace is looking for a change.  This matters to the FX markets as a change in German economic policy priorities is going to have a major impact on the Eurozone, and by extension the euro.  Of course, at this point, it is too early to tell just what that impact may be.

Of more immediate interest to the market will be Thursday’s ECB meeting, where, while policy settings will not be altered, all eyes and ears will be on Madame Lagarde to understand if the ECB, too, is now beginning to consider a tapering of its QE purchases.  Last week, CPI data from the Eurozone printed at 3.0%, its highest level since September 2008, and well above the ECB’s 2.0% target (albeit not quite as far above as in the US).  This has some of the punditry starting to expect that the ECB, too, is ready to begin to taper QE.  However, the Eurozone growth impulse remains significantly slower than that in the US, and with the area unemployment rate still running at an uncomfortably high 7.6%, (much higher in the PIGS), it remains difficult to see why they would be so keen to begin removing accommodation.  Given the ECB storyline, similar to the Fed, is that inflation is transitory, there is no reason to believe the ECB is getting set to move soon.  Rather, I expect that although the PEPP may well end next March on schedule, it will simply be replaced with either an extension or expansion of the original APP, and likely both.  The reality is that the bulk of the Eurozone would see a collapse in growth without the ongoing support of the ECB.

Turning away from that happy news, a quick survey of markets shows that equities in Asia have continued their recent strong performance (Nikkei +0.9%, Hang Seng +0.7%, Shanghai +1.5%), all of which have rallied sharply in the past two weeks.  Europe, however, has not embraced today’s data, or is nervous about potential ECB action, as markets there are a bit softer (DAX -0.3%, CAC -0.1%, FTSE 100 -0.4%).  US futures markets are essentially unchanged at this hour, continuing their recent very slow grind higher.

Of more interest today is the bond market, where Treasury yields have rallied 4.1 basis points and we are seeing higher yields throughout Europe as well (Bunds +3.9bps, OATs +4.3bps, Gilts +3.2bps).  During my break, yields have managed to rally 10bps (including today) which really tells you that the market is still completely in thrall to the transitory story.  Either that, or the Fed continues to absorb any excess paper around.  However, higher yields seem to be helping the dollar more than other currencies despite similar size movements.

While the movement has not been significant, especially compared to the dollar weakness seen during the past two weeks, we are seeing strength in the dollar vs G10 currencies (AUD -0.5%, CAD -0.4%); EMG currencies (ZAR -0.6%, TRY -0.6%); and commodities (WTI -0.6%, Au -0.7%, Cu -1.1%).  Looking at today’s price action, it appears that US rate movement has been the dominant driver.

On the data front, it is a remarkably quiet week with just a handful of numbers:

Wednesday JOLTs Job Openings 10.0M
Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 335K
Continuing Claims 2744K
PPI 0.6% (8.2% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (6.6% Y/Y)

Source: Bloomberg

We also hear from six Fed speakers, with NY President Williams the most important voice.  But thus far, the Fed’s messaging has been quite effective as they continue to assuage fixed income investors with the transitory tale and thus interest rates remain near their longer-term lows.  While at some point I expect this narrative to lose its hold on the investment community, it does not appear to be an imminent threat.

While I was out, the market flipped its views from concern over tapering leading to higher interest rates, to when tapering comes, it will be “like watching paint dry”*.  FX investors and traders determined there was no cause for a much stronger dollar, and so the buck gave back previous gains and now sits back in the middle of its trading range.  As such, we need to search for the next potential catalyst to change big picture views.  While my money is on the collapse of the transitory narrative, and ensuing dollar weakness, you can be certain the Fed will fight hard to keep that story going.  In other words, I expect that the trading range will remain intact for the foreseeable future.  Trade accordingly.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

*June 15, 2017 comments from then Fed Chair Janet Yellen regarding the normalization of Fed policy and the balance sheet, where she described the process as similar to watching paint dry.  It turns out, that policy process was a bit more exciting, especially in Q4 2018 when equity markets fell 20% and Chair Powell was forced to abandon that policy.

To Taper’s Ordained

The Minutes on Wednesday explained
That QE would still be sustained
But ere this year ends
Some felt that the trends
Implied that, to taper’s, ordained

But ask yourself this, my good friends
What happens if tapering sends
The stock market down
Will they turn around
And restart QE as amends?

Remember all the times the Fed tried to tell the world that their current policy stance, notably the massive amount of QE purchases, were not the driving force in the equity market?  Stock market bulls played along with this as well, explaining that historically high valuation measures were all appropriate given the huge corporate profit margins, and had nothing to do with the Fed’s suppression of interest rates along the entire yield curve.  The bulls would point to 30-year interest rates below 2.00% and explain that when you discounted future cash flows at such low levels, it was only natural that stock valuations were high.  The fact that it was the Fed that was simultaneously buying up all the net Treasury issuance, and then some, thus driving rates artificially lower, as well as promising to do so for the foreseeable future was seen as a minor detail.

Perhaps that detail was not as minor as the bulls would have you believe!  Yesterday, the FOMC Minutes were released and the part that garnered all the attention was the discussion on the current asset purchase framework and how it might change in the future.

“Most participants judged that the Committee’s standard of “substantial further progress” toward the maximum-employment goal had not yet been met. At the same time, most participants remarked that this standard had been achieved with respect to the price- stability goal. (my emphasis) A few participants noted, however, that the transitory nature of this year’s rise in inflation, as well as the recent declines in longer-term yields and in market-based measures of inflation compensation, cast doubt on the degree of progress that had been made toward the price-stability goal since December.”

So, it seems they are in sync on the fact that the employment situation has room to run, and they don’t want to act too early because of that.  But what I find more interesting is that they can use the term ‘price stability’ when discussing inflation running in the 4.0%-5.0% range.  As well, it is apparent that many of the committee members are drinking their own Kool-Aid on the transitory story.

“Looking ahead, most participants noted that, provided that the economy were to evolve broadly as they anticipated, they judged that it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year because they saw the Committee’s “substantial further progress” criterion as satisfied with respect to the price-stability goal and as close to being satisfied with respect to the maximum employment goal. Various participants commented that economic and financial conditions would likely warrant a reduction in coming months. Several others indicated, however, that a reduction in the pace of asset purchases was more likely to become appropriate early next year because they saw prevailing conditions in the labor market as not being close to meeting the Committee’s “substantial further progress” standard or because of uncertainty about the degree of progress toward the price-stability goal.” (my emphasis)

But this was the money line, the clear talk that most of the committee expected tapering to begin before the end of the year.  While we have not yet heard any of the three key leaders (Powell, Williams and Brainerd) say they were ready to taper, it seems that most of the rest of the committee is on board.  Jackson Hole suddenly became much more interesting, because if Powell discusses tapering as likely to occur soon, it will be a done deal.  But if he doesn’t explain that tapering is coming soon, it is possible that we see four dissents, at the next meeting.  And how about this for a thought, what if those three are the only votes to stand pat, and the other six voting members want to start the taper?  That would truly be unprecedented and, I think, have major negative market ramifications.  I don’t expect that to occur, but after everything that has occurred over the past 18 months, I wouldn’t rule out anything anymore.

At any rate, the tapering talk remains topic number one in every market, and one cannot be surprised that the market’s reaction has been a clear risk-off response.  Equity markets around the world are lower, substantially so in Europe; bond markets are rallying as risk is jettisoned; commodity prices are falling, and the dollar is king!

So, let’s take a tour and see where things are.  Starting in Asia, we saw equities decline throughout the region with the Nikkei (-1.1%), Hang Seng (-2.1%) and Shanghai (-0.6%) all under pressure.  But the real pressure was felt in Korea (KOSPI -1.9%) and Taiwan (TAIEX -2.7%).  In fact, the only markets in the region to hold their own were in New Zealand.  Turning to Europe, it is a uniform decline with the DAX (-1.6%), CAC (-2.5%), and FTSE 100 (-2.0%) all falling sharply, with the lesser known indices also completely in the red.  I guess the prospect of less Fed largesse is not seen as a positive after all.  Meanwhile, ahead of this morning’s opening, US equity futures are all sharply lower, on the order of 0.75%.

Turning to the bond market, the prospect of less Fed buying is having an interesting outcome, bonds are rallying.  Of course, this is because Treasuries remain the ultimate financial safe-haven trade and as investors flee risky assets, bonds are the natural response.  So, 10-year Treasury yields have fallen 3.5bps, and we are seeing yields decline in the European market as well, at least those countries that are deemed solvent.  So, Bunds (-1.4bps), OATs (-1.1bps) and Gilts (-3.4bps) are all seeing demand.  Yields for the PIGS, however, are unchanged to higher on the day.

Commodity prices are uniformly lower, except for gold, which is essentially unchanged on the day.  Oil (-3.7%) leads the way down, but we are seeing weakness in base metals (Cu -3.3%) as well as the Agricultural space (Wheat -1.5%, Soybeans -1.2%).

Finally, the dollar is on top of the world this morning, as investors are buying dollars to buy bonds, or so it seems.  In classic risk-off fashion, only the yen (+0.1%) has managed to hold its own vs. the dollar as the rest of the G10 bloc is weaker led by NOK (-0.95%) and AUD (-0.95%).  NZD (-0.7%) and CAD (-0.7%) are also suffering greatly given the commodity weakness story.  But do not ignore the euro (-0.15%) which while it hasn’t moved very far, has managed to finally trade below the key 1.1704 support level, and is set, in my view, to head much lower.

In the EMG space, ZAR (-1.3%) is the leading decliner, falling alongside the commodity complex.  KRW (-0.7%) has given back all of yesterday’s gains as equity outflows continue to dominate the market there, but we are seeing weakness across the board with most currencies falling between 0.3%-0.6% purely on the dollar’s overall strength.

On the data front, this morning brings the weekly Initial Claims (exp 364K) and Continuing Claims (2.8M) as well as Philly Fed (23.1) and Leading Indicators (+0.7%).  There’s no scheduled Fedspeak, but what else can they say after yesterday’s Minutes anyway?  If you recall, Monday’s Empire Mfg was quite weak, so I would not be surprised to see Philly follow suit.  In fact, I think the biggest problem the Fed is going to have is that the data is rolling over and looking like a slowing economy, despite high inflation.  If they keep seeing economic weakness, are they really going to taper into a weakening economy?  They may start, but I doubt they get two months in before they stop, especially if equities continue to revalue (fall).  As to the dollar, for now, I like its prospects and suspect that we are going to trade to levels not seen since June of last year.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

They’re Still Exposed

Though merely a few angstroms wide
The pressure that Covid’s applied
To all politicians
Has led to conditions
That many find unjustified

For instance, New Zealand has closed
Its borders, and rights they’ve bulldozed
To help in prevention
Of viral retention
Unfortunately, they’re still exposed

While the major headlines around the world continue to focus on the ongoing events in Afghanistan, at this point, they have had limited, if any, impact on markets in general.  And let’s face it, if for some reason there was a negative market impact traced to the Afgahi government collapse, it is pretty clear that the global central bank response would simply be to print more money thus supporting markets more completely.  But so far, that has not been the case (I just hope you weren’t long Afghani, interestingly the name of their currency as well, as it has fallen about 4.5% in the past 72 hours.)

This means we must turn our attention elsewhere for market moving information.  Asia continues to be the region with the most interesting issues, although Oceania is making a run for the money there in the following way; PM Ardern of New Zealand has imposed a level 4 lockdown for the next three days because a single case of the delta variant of Covid-19 has been found in the entire country!  This has resulted in a significant reevaluation of the RBNZ’s next move.  Prior to this devastating outbreak, the punditry had largely concluded that the RBNZ would be the first developed country to raise rates at their meeting tonight.  But now, second thoughts have crept in and a number of economists have changed their view and are calling for no change.  You would have thought that Covid was the most powerful force in the universe based on the (over)reaction of policymakers.  A single case!  At any rate, this change in view has resulted in NZD (-1.4%) falling sharply along with the local equity market, while NZ government bonds rallied almost a full point with yields declining by 9.7bps to 1.70%.  A single case! 

Meanwhile, in Australia, the government is proposing rounding up 24,000 unvaccinated children in a stadium to insure they are vaccinated as half that nation remains under lockdown.  The economic data Down Under has clearly rolled over with Consumer confidence the latest number to fall, while the RBA minutes, released last night, indicated that they were “prepared to act” in the event a further outbreak had a significant impact on the economy.  Not surprisingly, the market understood that to be a more dovish stance than the comments immediately following their meeting two weeks ago when they promised to start taper asset purchases next month.  AUD (-0.7%) is correspondingly under pressure as well today.

As to Asia, the big news continues to come from China where the government continues its relentless attack on its tech behemoths as President Xi has become more focused on removing any sources of power that do not emanate from his office.  Chinese equity markets sold off once again (Shanghai -2.0%, Hang Seng -1.7%) as investors read about the newest competition rules that were to come into force there and would break down the walls between financial networks run by Alibaba and Tencent.  It appears that capitalism with Chinese characteristics actually means, government-controlled businesses…full stop.

And so, before Europe even walked in, risk was under severe pressure and continues that way as I type.  Markets remain amazingly resilient with respect to business failures, but when it comes to potential policy failures, investors have less confidence that everything will work out well.  Remember, too, that it has been many months since we have even seen a 5% drawdown in the S&P 500, so do not be surprised if this is the catalyst for some further risk mitigation.

Thus far, today is definitely in the risk-off column with not just the Chinese markets declining, but the Nikkei (-0.4%) also sliding, albeit not nearly as drastically.  European markets are generally weak (Dax -0.24%, CAC -0.55%, FTSE MIB -1.0%, IBEX -0.95%) although the UK (FTSE 100 +0.1%) is holding its own after much better than expected employment data was released earlier.  It seems the combination of a highly vaccinated population and massive fiscal and monetary stimulus is helping the UK economy recover quite nicely.

It can be no surprise that bond markets are rallying sharply on this risk-off day, with Treasuries seeing yields fall by 3.7 basis points while all of Europe (Bunds -2.1bps, OATs -2.1bps, Gilts -3.8bps) are also seeing demand for haven assets.  This is even true for the PIGS where yields have fallen between 1 and 2 basis points.

On the commodity front, oil (-0.8%) continues to respond to concerns over slowing economic growth worldwide amid the spread of the delta variant, as does copper (-0.9%).  Both of these commodities are seen as the most sensitive to economic expectations.  Gold (+0.4% today, +6.2% from last week’s low) is performing the way many believe it should in times of stress.  As to the rest of the bloc, there are gainers and losers amid both base metals and agricultural products.

Finally, the dollar is on top of the world this morning, rallying against 9 of its G10 counterparts with only CHF (+0.1%) maintaining its status as a world haven.  Granted, the commodity currencies are the worst off, with CAD (-0.35%) also under pressure.  Interestingly, despite the positive UK data, the pound (-0.45%) is feeling the weight of the dollar today.

Emerging market currencies continue to struggle in general, although there are a couple of positive stories.  First up is PHP (+0.45%) which saw equity inflows as bargain hunters were seen following several days of equity market declines, and the central bank indicated no policy change was upcoming, an upgrade from concerns over further easing.  THB (+0.45%) was also stronger on the back of comments from the central bank governor as well as the fact that it had fallen so far lately, more than 6% in the past two months and back to 3-year lows, that there was a bout of profit taking.  On the downside, KRW (-0.65%) continues to be the region’s laggard as ongoing concern over chip stocks has encouraged more equity market selling (KOSPI -0.9%) and seen funds flow out of the country.  Adding to this pressure is the continued increase in Covid infections and that has been enough for the won to fall 3.4% in the past two weeks.

On the data front, this morning brings Retail Sales (exp -0.3%, +0.2% ex autos) as well as IP (0.5%) and Capacity Utilization (75.7%).  The Retail Sales data has been quite volatile lately, as each wave of Federal stimulus money has quickly found uses, but when that money has not been forthcoming, sales decline sharply.  I have seen estimates that we could see a MUCH worse than expected outcome here, something on the order of -2.5%, which would be of a piece with the weaker Michigan and Philly Fed data that we have seen lately.

This afternoon, Chairman Powell hosts a town hall meeting with educators, which does not seem like a venue for new information.  We also hear from the uber dove, Neel Kashkari.

While I understand tapering talk remains all the rage, I cannot help but look at what clearly appears to be a weakening economic impulse and wonder if by the time the Fed says they want to start tapering, the data are pointing in the wrong direction and it never comes to pass.  In that event, I feel the dollar, which has greatly benefitted from tapering talk, is likely to fall back, maybe quite a bit.  But that is still a few months away.  For now, it feels like the dollar remains numero uno.

Good luck and stay safe
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Havoc Our Way

It’s been fifty years to the day
Since Nixon brought havoc our way
He slammed down the sash
Where gold swapped for cash
That’s led to today’s disarray

Given the importance of this event, although it is often overlooked, I felt I had to mention the anniversary.  In truth, it was yesterday, August 15, 1971, when President Nixon closed the gold window, ending the Bretton Woods agreement that insured (allowed?) every nation to convert their dollars to gold and ushered in the current framework of fiat currencies.  Prior to his action, the global monetary system was based on the value of gold, which was exchangeable into US dollars (or perhaps the other way around) at $35.00/oz.  Each nation’s gold sat in cages in the vault at the Federal Reserve Bank of NY and would literally be physically moved from cage to cage in order to satisfy national debts amongst the countries. The problem for the US was that most of the movement was out of the US cage into other countries’, which represented the massive trade and current account deficits the US was running.  So, Nixon essentially told the world, holding dollars was the only choice.

Of course, the fiat currency regime has evolved into the current situation where the ability to print money is endless, and every government is happy for it to never end.  The strictures of a gold-backed currency are far too confining for the social programs deemed essential by virtually every government in the world today, which is why we will never go back.  The real question is, what lies ahead?

The ructions in China persist
As data last night, forecasts, missed
And President Xi
Continues to see
More targets that he can blacklist

As to the markets today, the single biggest story has been the release of Chinese data at significantly worse than expected levels.  The key figures showed Retail Sales (8.5%, exp 10.9%), IP (6.4%, exp 7.9%) and Fixed Asset Investment (10.3%, exp 11.3%).  The disappointing outcome has been attributed to the spread of the delta variant of Covid which has not only resulted in the closure of some key infrastructure points, notably two busy ports, but also weighed on many peoples’ willingness to travel during the typically busy summer vacation season.  Given the Chinese propensity for draconian measures in their effort to stop the spread of the virus, people are concerned they will get stuck some place with no ability to return home if there is a sudden lockdown.

The Wall Street response was immediate, with a number of economic forecasts for China taken lower by between 0.5%-0.7% for 2021 as a whole.  In addition, greater attention has been paid to the Chinese credit impulse (the amount of credit that is flowing into the economy from the banking system) which has been slowing rapidly since a peak in October.  This statistic tends to lead the Chinese economy’s performance by between 6 and 12 months, so it should be no surprise we are starting to see reduced output there.

Interestingly, despite the slowing growth story, the Xi government continues to attack its bellwether tech firms, the ones that have been growing the fastest.  It is becoming increasingly evident that President Xi is perfectly willing to sacrifice economic growth in an effort to consolidate his power even further.  Last night we again saw key government editorials about the evils of online gaming and how it should be curtailed even further.  Alibaba, one of the largest and most successful Chinese internet companies, remains squarely in Xi’s sights as he brings every potential threat to heel.  In the end, this is unlikely to help the Chinese economy writ large which from this poet’s perspective means we are likely to see a very gradual depreciation in the yuan as the currency market becomes a relief valve for domestic economic pressures.

The only other headline news has been the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in a remarkably swift 72 hours, with numerous stories about the evacuation as well as the political failures that led to this outcome.  Perhaps this is the impetus for today’s risk reduction, or perhaps it is the China story, or simply the ongoing spread of the delta variant; but whatever the reason, we are definitely seeing a bit of risk-off attitude across markets.

For instance, equity screens are all red with Asia ((Nikkei -1.6%, Hang Seng -0.8%, Shanghai 0.0%) and Europe (DAX -0.6%, CAC -1.0%, FTSE 100 -1.1%) clearly under pressure.  I’m sure Friday’s very weak Michigan Sentiment number (70.2, weakest since 2011) did not help anyone’s mood, and despite the fact that all three major US indices crept higher on the day Friday, by 0.1% or less, to new record highs, this morning all three are pointing lower by about -0.3%.

Bonds though are a bit more circumspect here, as while Treasury yields have edged lower by 0.3bps, all of Europe’s sovereign markets are selling off with yields rising.  Perhaps, investors have decided that the situation is so dire they don’t want any European paper at all!  So, bunds (+1.0bps), OATs (+1.4bps) and Gilts (+1.2bps) are all lower along side their respective equity markets.

Commodities, too, are softer this morning led by oil (-1.35%) and gold (-0.2%) with base metals (Cu -1.6%, Al -0.2%, Sn -0.3%) falling as well.  In fact, the only part of this bloc holding up is foodstuff, where the big three, corn, wheat and soybeans are all firmer.

Where, you may ask, is everybody putting their money if they are selling both stocks and bonds?  It seems the dollar is finding support against most currencies, except for the havens of JPY (+0.25%) and CHF (+0.2%).  Otherwise, the rest of the G10 is softer vs. the dollar, notably the commodity bloc where AUD (-0.5%), NOK (-0.45%) and CAD (-0.3%) are the laggards.  Similarly, in the EMG bloc, it is the commodity currencies that are under the most pressure with RUB (-0.3%), ZAR (-0.2%) and PHP (-0.35%).  In fact, the only currency with gains is TRY (+0.6%) which continues to benefit from the highest real yields on the planet.

The data story this week brings Retail Sales and Housing data as well as the FOMC Minutes on Wednesday.

Today Empire Manufacturing 28.5
Tuesday Retail Sales -0.2%
-ex autos 0.2%
IP 0.5%
Capacity Utilization 75.7%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1600K
Building Permits 1610K
FOMC Minutes
Thursday Initial Claims 365K
Continuing Claims 2800K
Philly Fed 24.0
Leading Indicators 0.7%

Source: Bloomberg

Retail Sales and the FOMC Minutes are likely to get the most attention, although any really big miss, like Friday’s Michigan data, could lead to further movements, so beware.  As well we hear from a few Fed speakers, with Chairman Powell talking tomorrow, but the subject does not appear to be the economy, then uber-dove Kashkari and his counterpart, the hawkish Kaplan later in the week.

At this point, risk remains under pressure and I sense that it has some room to run lower.  It has been more than 9 months since there has been a 5% drawdown in the equity market, an inordinately long period of time for pressures to build up.  This is not to say that a drawdown is coming, just that there is real instability underlying the market, so one is very possible.  And I sense that this risk-off event would be classic with the dollar gaining real ground against virtually everything.

Good luck and stay safe
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