Infinite Easing

Until “further progress” is made
On joblessness, Jay won’t be swayed
From infinite easing
Which stocks should find pleasing
Explaining how he will get paid

As well, one more time he inferred
That Congress was being absurd
By not passing bills
With plenty of frills
So fiscal relief can be spurred

We’re going to keep policy highly accommodative until the expansion is well down the tracks.”  This statement from Chairman Powell in yesterday’s post-meeting press conference pretty much says it all with respect to the Fed’s current collective mindset.  While the Fed left the policy rate unchanged, as universally expected, they did hint at the idea that additional QE is still being considered with a subtle change in the language of their statement.  Rather than explaining they will increase their holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities “at least at the current pace”, they now promise to do so by “at least $80 billion per month” in Treasuries and “at least $40 billion per month” in mortgages.  And they will do this until the economy reaches some still unknown level of unemployment alongside their average 2% inflation target.

What is even more interesting is that the Fed’s official economic forecasts were raised, as GDP growth is now forecast at 4.2% for 2021 and 3.2% for 2022, each of these being raised by 0.2% from their September forecasts.  At the same time, Unemployment is expected to fall to 5.0% in 2021 and 4.2% in 2022, again substantially better than September’s outlook of 5.5% and 4.6% respectively.  As to PCE Inflation, the forecasts were raised slightly, by 0.1% for both years, but remain below their 2% target.

Put it all together and you come away with a picture of the Fed feeling better about the economy overall, albeit with some major risks still in the shadows, but also prepared to, as Mario Draghi declared in 2012, “do whatever it takes” to achieve their still hazy target of full employment and average inflation of 2%.  For the equity bulls out there, this is exactly what they want to hear, more growth without tighter policy.  For dollar bears, this is also what they want to hear, a steady supply increase of dollars that need to wash through the market, driving the value of the dollar lower.  For the reflatonistas out there, those who are looking for a steeper yield curve, they took heart that the Fed did not extend the duration of their purchases, and clearly feel better about the more upbeat growth forecasts, but the ongoing lack of inflation, at least according to the Fed, means that the rationale for higher bond yields is not quite as clear.

After all, high growth with low inflation would not drive yields higher, especially in the current world with all that liquidity currently available.  And one other thing argues against much higher Treasury yields, the fact that the government cannot afford them.  With the debt/GDP ratio rising to 127% this year, and set to go higher based on the ongoing deficit spending, higher yields would soak up an ever increasing share of government revenues, thus crowding out spending on other things like the entitlement programs or defense, as well as all discretionary spending.  With this in mind, you can be sure the Fed is going to prevent yields from going very high at all, for a very long time.

Summing up, the last FOMC meeting of the year reconfirmed what we already knew, the Fed is not going to tighten monetary policy for many years to come.  For their sake, and ours, I sure hope inflation remains as tame as they forecast, because in the event it were to rise more sharply, it could become very uncomfortable at the Mariner Eccles Building.

In the meantime, this morning brings the last BOE rate decision of the year, with market expectations universal that no changes will be forthcoming.  That makes perfect sense given the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, although this morning we heard from the EU’s top negotiator, Michel Barnier, that good progress has been made, with only the last stumbling blocks regarding fishing to be agreed.  However, in the event no trade deal is reached, the BOE will want to have as much ammunition as possible available to address what will almost certainly be some major market dislocations.  As I type, the pound is trading above 1.36 (+0.8% on the day) for the first time since April 2018 and shows no signs of breaking its recent trend.  I continue to believe that a successful Brexit negotiation is not fully priced in, so there is room for a jump if (when?) a deal is announced.

And that’s really it for the day, which has seen a continuation of the risk-on meme overall.  Looking at equity markets, Asia saw strength across the board (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng +0.8%, Shanghai +1.1%), although Europe has not been quite as universally positive (DAX +0.8%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 0.0%).  US futures markets are pointing higher again, with all three indices looking at 0.5%ish gains at this time.

The bond market is showing more of a mixed session with Treasuries off 2 ticks and the yield rising 0.7bps, while European bond markets have all rallied slightly, with yields declining across the board between 1 and 2 basis points. Again, if inflation is not coming to the US, and the Fed clearly believes that to be the case, the rationale for higher Treasury yields remains absent.

Commodity markets are feeling good this morning with gold continuing its recent run, +0.7%, while oil prices have edged up by 0.3%.  And finally, the dollar is on its heels vs. essentially all its counterparts this morning, in both G10 and EMG blocs.  Starting with the G10, NOK (+1.0%) is the leader, although AUD and NZD (+0.8% each) are benefitting from their commodity focus along with the dollar’s overall weakness.  In fact, the euro (+0.3%) is the laggard here, while even JPY (+0.4%) is rising despite the risk-on theme.  This simply shows you how strong dollar bearishness is, if it overcomes the typical yen weakness attendant to risk appetite.

In the emerging markets, it is also the commodity focused currencies that are leading the way, with ZAR (+0.9%) and CLP (+0.75%) on top of the leaderboard, but strong gains in RUB (+0.7%), BRL (+0.6%) and MXN (+0.5%) as well.  The CE4, have been a bit less buoyant, although all are stronger on the day.  But this is all of a piece, stronger commodity prices leading to a weaker dollar.

On the data front, I think we are in an asymmetric reaction function, where strong data will be ignored while weak data will become the rationale for further risk appetite.  This morning we see Initial Claims (exp 815K), Continuing Claims (5.7M), Housing Starts (1535K), Building Permits (1560K), and Philly Fed (20.0).  Yesterday saw a much weaker than expected Retail Sales outcome (-1.1%, -0.9% ex autos) although the PMI data was a bit better than expected.  But now that the Fed has essentially said they are on a course regardless of the data, with the only possible variation to be additional easing, data is secondary.  The dollar downtrend is firmly entrenched at this time, and while we will see reversals periodically, and the trend is not a collapse, there is no reason to believe it is going to end anytime soon.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Aged Like Bad Wine

While Veterans here are recalled
And politics has us enthralled
The dollar’s decline
Has aged like bad wine
With strategies soon overhauled

US markets are closed today in observance of the Veteran’s Day holiday, but the rest of the world remains at work.  That said, look for a far less active session than we have seen recently.  In the first place, with the Fed on holiday, the Treasury market is closed and price action there has been one of the biggest stories driving things lately.  Secondly, while US equity futures markets are trading, all three stock exchanges are closed for the day, so the opportunity for individual company excitement is absent.  And finally, with today being an official bank holiday, while FX staff will be available, staffing will be at skeleton levels and come noon in New York, when London goes home, things here will slow to a standstill.

However, with that as a caveat, the world continues to turn.  For instance, while last week saw meetings in three key central banks, with two of them (RBA and BOE) explaining that easier monetary policy was in store, although the Fed made no such claims, last night saw the smallest of G10 nations, New Zealand, make headlines when the RBNZ explained that they were not changing policy right now, but that the economy there has been far more resilient than expected and they would not likely need to ease monetary policy any further.  It should be no surprise that the market responded by selling New Zealand government bonds (10-year yields rose 14.5 basis points), while overnight rates rose 16 basis points and traders removed all expectations for NIRP. QED, the New Zealand dollar is today’s best performer, rising 0.8%.

Sticking with the central bank theme, and reinforcing my view that the dollar’s decline has likely run its course broadly, although certainly individual currencies can strengthen based on country specific news, were comments from the Bank of Spain’s chief economist, Oscar Arce, explaining that the ECB must do still more to combat the threat of deflation in the Eurozone and that the December meeting will bring an entirely new discussion to the table.  The takeaway from the ECB meeting two weeks ago was that they would be expanding their stimulus programs in December.  Literally every comment we have heard from a European banking official in the interim has, not merely reinforced this view, but has implied that actions then will be massive.

I will repeat my strongly held view that the ECB will not, nay cannot, allow the euro to rise very far in their efforts to reboot the Eurozone economy.  Remember, one of the major benefits expected from easing monetary policy is a weakening of the currency.  When an economy is struggling with growth and deflation issues, as the Eurozone is currently struggling, a weak currency is the primary prescription to fix things.  You can be certain that every time the euro starts to rally near 1.20, which seems to be their tolerance zone, we will hear even more from ECB members about the additional easing in store as Madame Lagarde does her level best to prevent a euro rally.  And if the euro declines, so will the CE4 as well as the pound, Swiss franc and the Scandies.  In other words, the dollar is unlikely to decline much further than we have already seen.

In truth, those are the most noteworthy stories of the session so far.  Virtually every other headline revolves around either the ongoing election questions in the US, both the contestation of the presidential outcome and the upcoming run-off elections in Georgia for two Senate seats and control of the Upper House, or the vaccine and how quickly it can be approved and then widely distributed.

So, a quick look around markets this morning shows that risk appetite is moderate, at best.  For instance, equity markets in Asia were mixed with the Nikkei (+1.8%) continuing its recent strong run, up more than 10% this month, but the Hang Seng (-0.3%) and Shanghai (-0.5%) couldn’t find the same support.  Europe, on the other hand, is all in the green, but the movement is pretty modest with the FTSE 100 (+0.7%) the leader and both the DAX and CAC up just 0.4% at this hour.  US futures, which are trading despite the fact that equity markets here will be closed today, are all higher as well, with the NASDAQ (+1.0%) leading the way after having been the laggard for the first part of the week, while the other two are showing solid gains of 0.65%.

Bond markets in Europe are rising slightly, with yields slipping between 1 and 3 basis points on prospects for further ECB policy ease courtesy of Senor Arce as highlighted above, as there was no new economic data nor other statements of note.  As I mentioned, the Treasury market will be closed today for the holiday.

But commodity markets continue to perform well, with oil prices higher yet again, this morning by 3.2% taking the gains this week to 15%!  Metals prices, both base and precious, are also firmer as the vaccine news continues to spread good cheer regarding economic prospects going forward.

And finally, the dollar is best described as mixed to stronger.  For instance, against its G10 brethren, only NZD is firmer, as explained above.  But the rest of the bloc is softer led by NOK (-0.65%) and EUR (-0.4%).  While the euro makes sense given the Arce comments and growing belief that the ECB will really be aggressive next month, with oil’s sharp rebound, one must be surprised at the krone’s performance.  In fact, this merely reinforces my view that as the euro goes (lower) it will drag many currencies along for the ride.

However, in the EMG bloc, movement has been pretty even (excepting TRY) with a few more losers than gainers, but generally speaking, no really large movement.  On the plus side we see THB (+0.5%) and KRW (+0.45%) leading while on the downside it is MXN (-0.6%) and HUF (-0.45%) in the worst shape.  Looking a bit more deeply, the baht has been rallying all quarter and we may be looking at the last hurrah as the government has asked the BOT to manage the currency’s strength in order to help export industries compete more effectively.  Meanwhile, the won was the beneficiary of a significant jump in preliminary export data, with a 20.1% Y/Y gain for the first ten days of November auguring well for the economy.  Meanwhile, on the downside, the peso, which would have been expected to rally on the back of oil prices, is actually serving as a proxy for Peruvian risk as the impeachment of the president there Monday night has thrown the nation into turmoil and investors are seeking a proxy that is more liquid than the sol.  As to HUF, it is simply tracking the euro’s decline, and we can expect to see the same behavior for the entire CE4 bloc.

And that’s really it for today.  There is no news and no scheduled speakers and the session will be short.  But the dollar is edging higher, so keep that in mind.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

QE’s Not Constrained

For everyone who seems to think
The dollar will steadily sink
This weekend disclosed
The world is opposed
To letting the buck’s value shrink

In China they eased the restrictions
On short sales in all jurisdictions
While Europe explained
QE’s not constrained
And further rate cuts are not fictions

It cannot be a surprise that we are beginning to see a more concerted response to dollar weakness from major central banks.  As I have written consistently, at the current time, no nation wants their currency to be strong.  Each is convinced that a weak currency will help obtain the twin goals of improved export performance leading to economic growth and higher inflation.  While financial theory does show that, in a closed system, those are two natural consequences of a weak currency, the evidence over the past twelve years has been less convincing.  Of course, as with every economic theory, a key assumption is ‘ceteris paribus’ or all else being equal.  But all else is never equal.  A strong argument can be made that in addition to the global recession undermining pricing power, the world is in the midst of a debt deflation.  This is the situation where a high and rising level of overall debt outstanding directs cash flow to repayment and reduces the available funding for other economic activity.  That missing demand results in price declines and hence, the debt deflation.  History has shown a strong correlation between high levels of debt and deflation, something many observers fail to recognize.

However, central banks, as with most large institutions, are always fighting the last war.  The central bank playbook, which had been effective from Bretton Woods, in 1944 until, arguably, sometime just before the Great Financial Crisis in 2008-09, explained that the reflexive response to economic weakness was to cut interest rates and ease financing conditions.  This would have the dual effect of encouraging borrowing for more activity while at the same time weakening the currency and making the export community more competitive internationally, thus boosting growth further.  And finally, a weaker currency would result in imported inflation, as importers would be forced to raise prices.

The Great Financial Crisis, though, essentially broke that model, as both the economic and market responses to central bank activities did not fit that theoretical framework.  Instead, adhering to the playbook saw interest rates cut to zero, and then below zero throughout Europe and Japan, additional policy ease via QE and yet still extremely modest economic activity.  And, perhaps, that was the problem.  Every central bank enacted their policies at the same time, thus there was no large relative change in policy.  After all, if every central bank cut interest rates, then the theoretical positive outcomes are negated.  In other words, ceteris isn’t paribus.

Alas, central banks have proven they are incapable of independent thought, and they have been acting in concert ever since.  Thus, rate cuts by one beget rate cuts by another, sometimes explicitly (Denmark and Switzerland cutting rates after the ECB acts) and sometimes implicitly (the ECB, BOE and BOC cutting rates after the Fed acts).  In the end, the results are that the relative policy settings remain very close to unchanged and thus, the only beneficiary is the equity market, where all that excess money eventually flows in the great hunt for positive returns.

Keeping the central bank mindset at the fore, we have an easy time understanding the weekend actions and comments from the PBOC and the ECB.  The PBOC adjusted a reserve policy that had been aimed at preventing rampant selling speculation against the renminbi.  For the past two plus years, all Chinese banks had been required to keep a 20% reserve against any short forward CNY positions they executed on behalf of customers.  This made shorting CNY prohibitively expensive, thus reducing the incentive to do so and helped support the currency.  However, the recent price action in CNY has been strongly positive, with the renminbi having appreciated nearly 7% between late May and Friday.  For a country like China, that sells a great many low margin products to the rest of the world, a strong currency is a clear impediment to their economic plans.  The PBOC action this weekend, removing that reserve requirement completely, is perfectly in keeping with the mindset of a weaker currency will help support exports and by extension economic growth.  Now there is no penalty to short CNY, so you can expect more traders to do so.  Especially since the fixing last night was at a weaker CNY level than expected by the market.  Look for further CNY (-0.8% overnight) weakness going forward.

As to the ECB, their actions were less concrete, but no less real.  ECB Chief Economist Philip Lane, the member with the most respected policy chops, was on the tape explaining that the Eurozone faces a rocky patch after the initial rebound from Covid.  He added, “I do not see that the ECB has a structurally tighter orientation for monetary policy[than the Federal Reserve].  Anyone who pays attention to our policies and forward guidance knows that we will not tighten policy without inflation solidly appearing in the data.”  Lastly, he indicated that both scaling up QE purchases and further rate cuts are on the table.

Again, it should be no surprise that the ECB is unwilling to allow the euro to simply rally unabated in the current environment.  The playbook is clear, a strong currency needs to be addressed, i.e. weakened. This weekend simply demonstrated that all the major central banks view the world in exactly the same manner.

Turning to the markets on this holiday-shortened session, we see that Chinese equities were huge beneficiaries of the PBOC action with Shanghai (+2.65%) and the Hang Seng (+2.0%) both strongly higher although the Nikkei (-0.25%) did not share the market’s enthusiasm.  European markets are firming up as I type, overcoming some early weakness and now green across the board.  So, while the FTSE 100 (+0.1%) is the laggard, both the DAX (+0.45%) and CAC (+0.75%) are starting to make some nice gains.  As to US futures, they, too, are now all in the green with NASDAQ (+ 1.3%) far and away the leader.  Despite the federal holiday in the US, the stock market is, in fact, open today.

Banks, however, are closed and the Treasury market is closed with them.  So, while there is no movement there, we are seeing ongoing buying interest across the European government bond markets as traders prepare for increased ECB QE activity.  After all, if banks don’t own the bonds the ECB wants to buy, they will not be able to mark them up and sell them to the only price insensitive buyer in the European government bond market.  So, yields here are lower by about 1 basis point across the board.

As to the dollar, it is broadly, but mildly stronger this morning.  Only the yen (-0.15%) is weaker in the G10 space as the rest of the block is responding to the belief that all the central banks are going to loosen policy further, a la the ECB.  As to the EMG bloc, CZK is actually the biggest loser, falling 0.9% after CPI there surprised the market by falling slightly, to 3.2%, rather than extending its recent string of gains.  This has the market looking for further central bank ease going forward, something that had been questioned as CPI rose.  Otherwise, as we see the prices of both oil and gold decline, we are seeing MXN (-0.6%), ZAR (-0.5%) and RUB (-0.5%) all fall in line.  On the flip side, only KRW (+0.55%) has shown any strength as foreign investors continue to pile into the stock market there on the back of Chinese hopes.

We do get some important data this week as follows:

Tuesday CPI 0.2% (1.4% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
Wednesday PPI 0.2% (0.2% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (0.9% Y/Y)
Thursday Empire Manufacturing 14.0
Initial Claims 825K
Continuing Claims 10.4M
Philly Fed 14.0
Friday Retail Sales 0.8%
-ex autos 0.4%
IP 0.6%
Capacity Utilization 71.9%
Michigan Sentiment 80.5

Source: Bloomberg

Remember, we have seen five consecutive higher than expected CPI prints, so there will be a lot of scrutiny there, but ultimately, the data continues to point to a slowing recovery with job growth still a major problem.  We also hear from nine more Fed speakers, but again, this message is already clear, ZIRP forever and Congress needs to pass stimulus.

In the end, I find no case for the dollar to weaken appreciably from current levels, and expect that if anything, modest strength is the most likely path going forward, at least until the election.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Can’t Stop the Pain

While central banks worldwide compete
To broaden their own balance sheet
They also complain
They can’t stop the pain
Lest more money reaches Main Street

Fiscal policy is the topic du jour as not only are there numerous stories about the ongoing theatrics in Washington, but we continue to hear virtually every member of the Fed calling for more fiscal stimulus.  Starting from the top, where in a speech on Tuesday, Chairman Powell excoriated Congress for not acting more quickly, and on through a dozen more speeches this week, there is one universal view; the Fed has done everything in its power to support the economy but it is up to the government to add more money to the mix to make up for the impact of the government shutting down businesses.  And while this is not just a US phenomenon, we hear the same thing from the ECB, BOE, BOC and BOJ, it appears that the market is coming to believe that the US is going to be the nation that acts most aggressively on this front going forward.

There is a conundrum here, though, as this view is seen as justification for a weaker dollar.  And frankly, I am confused as to the logic behind that view.  It appears there is a growing belief, based on polling data, that President Trump will lose the election, and that there will be a Democratic sweep taking back the Senate.  With that outcome in mind, investors expect a huge fiscal stimulus will quickly be enacted, perhaps as much as $4 trillion right away.  Now, if this is indeed the case, and if fiscal stimulus is what is required to get the economy growing again, and if the US is going to be the country taking the biggest steps in that direction, wouldn’t it make sense that the dollar would be in demand?  After all, if US data improves relative to that in Europe or elsewhere, doesn’t it stand to reason that the dollar will benefit?

Adding to this conundrum is the fact that we are hearing particularly dovish signals from other central banks (in addition to their calls for more fiscal stimulus) with the Bank of Canada the latest to explain that negative interest rates could well be appropriate policy if the government doesn’t spend more money.  So now, NIRP has the potential to become policy in virtually every G10 nation except the US, where the Fed has been consistent and explicit in saying it is not appropriate.  So, I ask, if US rates remain positive across the curve, while other nations all turn negative, is that really a dollar bearish signal?  It doesn’t seem so to me, but then I’m just a salesman working from home.

And yet, dollar weakness is certainly today’s theme, with the greenback lower vs. every one of its major counterparts today.  For example, the euro is higher by 0.4% this morning despite the fact that production data from the three largest economies point to a renewed slowdown in activity.  French IP has fallen -6.2% since August of last year, rising a less than forecast 1.3% on a M/M basis.  Monday, we saw German IP data fall -0.2% in August, taking its Y/Y results to -9.6%.  hardly the stuff of bullishness.  And while it is true that Italy’s data was better than expected (+7.7% in August, though still -0.3% Y/Y), looking at that suite of outcomes does not inspire confidence in the Eurozone economy.  And recall, too, that the ECB Minutes released Wednesday were clear in their concern over a rising euro, implying they would not allow that to come to pass.  But here we are, with the euro back at 1.1800 this morning.  Go figure.

The pound, too, seems to be defying gravity as despite much worse than forecast monthly GDP data (2.1% vs. 4.6% expected) and IP data (0.3% M/M, -6.4% Y/Y), the pound, which has been a strong performer lately, is slightly higher this morning, up 0.1%.  Again, this data hardly inspires confidence in the future economic situation in the UK.

But as they say, you can’t fight city hall.  So, for whatever reason, the current narrative is that the dollar is due to fall further because the US is going to enact more stimulus.  There is, however, one market which seems to understand the ramifications of additional stimulus, the Treasury market.  10-year Treasury yields, which had found a home near 0.65% for a long time, look very much like they are heading higher.  While this morning, bonds have rallied slightly with the yield declining 1.5 bps, we are still at 0.77%, and it seems only a matter of time before we are trading through this level and beyond.  Because, remember, if the narrative is correct and there is a huge stimulus coming, that’s $4 trillion in new paper to be issued.  That cannot be a positive for bond prices.

The European government bond market is also having a good day, with yields declining between 2 and 3 basis points everywhere.  At least here, if the ECB is to be believed, the idea of additional QE driving bond yields lower makes sense, especially since we are not looking at the prospect of multiple trillions of euros of additional issuance.

Looking at those two markets, it is hard to come up with a risk framework for today, and the equity markets are not helping.  Asian markets overnight were generally slightly softer (Nikkei -0.1%, Hang Seng -0.3%) but we did see Shanghai rally nicely, +1.6%, after having been closed all week long.  That seems like it was catching up to the week’s price action.  Europe, on the other hand is mixed, with strength in some markets (CAC +0.35%, FTSE 100 +0.45%) and weakness in others (DAX 0.0%, Spain -0.6%, Italy -0.3%).  I find it interesting that the UK and France, the nations that released the weakest IP data are the best performers.  Strange things indeed.  US futures, though, are pointing higher, somewhere on the order of 0.4%-0.5%.

And as I mentioned, the dollar is weaker across the board.  The best performers in the G10 are NZD (+0.6%) and NOK (+0.5%), with the former looking more like a technical rebound after some weakness earlier this week, while the krone has benefitted from its CPI data.  Earlier this year, as NOK weakened, Norwegian CPI rose sharply, to well over 3.0%, but it appears that the krone’s recent strength (it has rallied back to levels seen before the pandemic related market fluctuations) is starting to have a positive impact on inflation.

EMG currencies are also entirely in the green this morning with CNY (+1.35%) the biggest gainer.  In fairness, this appears to be a catch-up move given China had been closed since last Thursday.  But even CNH, which traded throughout, has rallied 0.7% this morning, so clearly there is a lot of positivity regarding the renminbi.  This also seems to be politically driven, as the assumption is a President Biden, if he wins, will be far less antagonistic to China, thus reducing sanctions and tariffs and allowing the country to resume its previous activities. But the whole bloc is higher with the CE4 showing strength on the order of 0.5%-0.7% and MXN, another politically driven story, rising 0.5%.  The peso is also assumed to be a big beneficiary of an impending Biden victory as immigration restrictions are expected to be relaxed, thus helping the Mexican economy.

And that’s really it for the day.  There is no data to be released and only one Fed Speaker, Richmond’s Barkin, but based on what we have heard this week, we already know he is going to call for more fiscal stimulus and not much else.  Also, as Monday is the Columbus Day holiday, look for things to slow down right around lunch, so if you have things to get done, get them done early.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Risk is in Doubt

The chatter before the Fed met
Was Powell and friends were all set
To ease even more
Until they restore
Inflation to lessen the debt

And while Jay attempted just that
His efforts have seemed to fall flat
Now risk is in doubt
As traders clear out
Positions from stocks to Thai baht

Well, the Fed meeting is now history and in what cannot be very surprising, the Chairman found out that once you have established a stance of maximum policy ease, it is very difficult to sound even more dovish.  So, yes, the Fed promised to maintain current policy “…until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee’s assessments of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2 percent and is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time.”  And if you really parse those words compared to the previous statement’s “…maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals”, you could make the case it is more dovish.  But the one thing at which market participants are not very good is splitting hairs.  And I would argue that is what you are doing here.  Between the old statement and Powell’s Jackson Hole speech, everybody already knew the Fed was not going to raise rates for a very long time.  Yesterday was merely confirmation.

In fact, ironically, I think the fact that there were two dissents on the vote, Kaplan and Kashkari, made things worse.  The reason is that both of them sought even easier policy and so as dovish as one might believe the new statement sounds, clearly some members felt it could be even more dovish than that.  At the same time, the dot plot added virtually nothing to the discussion as the vast majority believe that through 2023 the policy rate will remain pegged between 0.00%-0.25% where it is now.  Also, while generating inflation remains the animating force of the committee, according to the Summary of Economic Projections released yesterday, even their own members don’t believe that core PCE will ever rise above 2.0% and not even touch that level until 2023.

Add it all up and it seems pretty clear that the Fed is out of bullets, at least as currently configured with respect to their Congressional mandate and restrictions.  It will require Congress to amend the Federal Reserve Act and allow them to purchase equities in order to truly change the playing field and there is no evidence that anything of that nature is in the cards.  A look at the history of the effectiveness of QE and either zero or negative interest rates shows that neither one does much for the economy, although both do support asset markets.  Given those are the only tools the Fed has, and they are both already in full use (and not just at the Fed, but everywhere in the G10), it is abundantly clear why central bankers worldwide are willing to sacrifice their independence in order to cajole governments to apply further fiscal stimulus.  Central banks seem to have reached the limit of their capabilities to address the real economy.  And if (when) things turn back down, they are going to shoulder as much blame as elected officials can give with respect to who is responsible for the bad news.

With that as background, let’s take a peek at how markets have responded to the news.  Net-net, it hasn’t been pretty.  Equity markets are in the red worldwide with losses overnight (Nikkei -0.7%, Hang Seng -1.6%, Shanghai -0.4%) and in Europe (DAX -0.7%, CAC -0.8%, FTSE 100 -1.0%).  US futures are pointing lower after equity markets in the US ceded all their gains after the FOMC and closed lower yesterday.  At this time, all three futures indices are lower by about 1.0%.

Meanwhile, bond markets, which if you recall have not been tracking the equity market risk sentiment very closely over the past several weeks, are edging higher, at least in those markets truly seen as havens.  So, Treasury yields are lower by 2bps, while German bunds and French OATS are both seeing yields edge lower, but by less than one basis point.  However, the rest of the European government bond market is under modest pressure, with the PIGS seeing their bonds sell off and yields rising between one and two basis points.  Of course, as long as the ECB continues to buy bonds via the PEPP, none of these are likely to fall that far in price, thus yields there are certainly capped for the time being.  I mean even Greek 10-year yields are 1.06%!  This from a country that has defaulted six times in the modern era, the most recent being less than ten years ago.

Finally, if we look to the FX markets, it can be no surprise to see the dollar has begun to reverse some of its recent losses.  Remember, the meme here has been that the Fed would be the easiest of all central banks with respect to monetary policy and so the dollar had much further to fall.  Combine that with the long-term theme of macroeconomic concerns over the US twin deficits (budget and current account) and short dollars was the most popular position in the market for the past three to four months.  Thus, yesterday’s FOMC outcome, where it has become increasingly clear that the Fed has little else to do in the way of policy ease, means that other nations now have an opportunity to ease further at the margin, changing the relationship and ultimately watching their currency weaken versus the dollar.  Remember, too, that essentially no country is comfortable with a strong currency at this point, as stoking inflation and driving export growth are the top two goals around the world.  The dollar’s rebound has only just begun.

Specifically, in the G10, we see NOK (-0.5%) as the laggard this morning, as it responds not just to the dollar’s strength today, but also to the stalling oil prices, whose recent rally has been cut short.  As to the rest of the bloc, losses are generally between 0.15%-0.25% with no specific stories to drive anything.  The exception is JPY (+0.2%) which is performing its role as a haven asset today.  While this is a slow start, do not be surprised to see the dollar start to gain momentum as technical indicators give way.

Emerging market currencies are also under pressure this morning led by MXN (-0.7%) and ZAR (-0.6%).  If you recall, these have been two of the best performing currencies over the past month, with significant long positions in each driving gains of 5.3% and 7.1% respectively.  As such, it can be no surprise that they are the first positions being unwound in this process.  But throughout this bloc, we are seeing weakness across the board with average declines on the order of 0.3%-0.4%.  Again, given the overall risk framework, there is no need for specific stories to drive things.

On the data front, yesterday’s Retail Sales data was a bit softer than expected, although was generally overlooked ahead of the FOMC.  This morning saw Eurozone CPI print at -0.2%, 0.4% core, both still miles below their target, and highlighting that we can expect further action from the ECB.  At home, we are awaiting Initial Claims (exp 850K), Continuing Claims (13.0M), Housing Starts (1483K), Building Permits (1512K) and the Philly Fed index (15.0).

Back on the policy front, the BOE announced no change in policy at all, leaving the base rate at 0.10% and not expanding their asset purchase program.  However, in their effort to ease further they did two things, explicitly said they won’t tighten until there is significant progress on the inflation goal, but more importantly, said that they will “engage with regulators on how to implement negative rates.”  This is a huge change, and, not surprisingly the market sees it as another central bank easing further than the Fed.  The pound has fallen sharply on the news, down 0.6% and likely has further to go.  Last night the BOJ left policy on hold, as they too are out of ammunition.  The fear animating that group is that risk appetite wanes and haven demand drives the yen much higher, something which they can ill afford and yet something which they are essentially powerless to prevent.  But not today.  Today, look for a modest continuation of the dollar’s gains as more positions get unwound.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Gone Undetected

When Covid, last winter, emerged
Most government bond prices surged
As havens were sought
And most people thought
That price pressures would be submerged

But since then, with six months now passed
Economists all are aghast
Deflation expected
Has gone undetected
As price levels beat their forecasts

You may recall that when the coronavirus first came to our collective attention at the end of January, it forced China to basically shut down its economy for three weeks. At that time, expectations were for major supply chain disruptions, but concerns over the spread of the virus were not significant. Economists plugged that information into their models and forecast price rises due to supply constraints. Of course, over the next two months as Covid-19 spread rapidly throughout the rest of the world and resulted in lockdowns of economic activity across numerous countries, the demand destruction was obvious. Economists took this new information, plugged it into their models and declared that the deflationary pressures would be greater than the supply chain disruptions thus resulting in deflation, and more ominously, could result in a deflationary spiral like the one the US suffered during the Great Depression.

Central banks didn’t need their arms twisted to respond to that message, especially since the big three central banks, the Fed, ECB and BOJ, had all been struggling to raise inflation to their respective targets for nearly ten years. Thus began the greatest expansion of monetary stimulus in history. Throughout this period, central bankers pooh-poohed the idea that inflation would emerge by pointing to the financial crisis of 2008-9, when they implemented the previously greatest expansion in monetary policy, flooding economies with money, yet no inflation was recorded. At least, price inflation in goods and services, as measured by governments, remained subdued throughout the period.

But there is a very big difference between the current economic situation and the state of things back in 2009. During the financial crisis, banks were the epicenter of the problem, and printing money and injecting it into banks was all that was needed to prevent a further collapse in the economy. In fact, fiscal policy was relatively tight, so all that money basically sat on bank balance sheets as excess reserves at the Fed. There was no increase in buying pressure and thus no measured inflation. In fact, the only thing that inflated was financial asset prices, as the central bank response led to a decade long boom in both stock and bond prices.

In 2020 however, Covid-19 has inspired not just central bank action, but massive fiscal stimulus as well. At this point, over $10 trillion of fiscal stimulus has been implemented worldwide, with the bulk of it designed to get money into the hands of those people who have lost their jobs due to the economic shutdowns worldwide. In other words, this money has entered the real economy, not simply gone into the investment community. When combining that remarkable artificial increase in demand with the ongoing supply chain breakages, it is not hard to understand that price pressures are going to rise. And so they have, despite all the forecasts for deflation.

Just this morning, the UK reported CPI rose 1.0% Y/Y in July, 0.4% more than expected. Core CPI there rose 1.8% Y/Y, 0.6% more than expected. This outcome sounds remarkably like the US data from last week and shows this phenomenon is not merely a US situation. The UK has implemented significant fiscal stimulus as well as monetary support from the BOE. The UK has also seen its supply chains severely interrupted by the virus. The point is, prices seem far more likely to rise during this crisis than during the last one. We are just beginning to see the evidence of that. And as my good friend, @inflation_guy (Mike Ashton) explains, generating inflation is not that hard. Generating just a little inflation is going to be the problem. Ask yourself this, if the economy is still dragging and inflation starts to rise more rapidly than desired, do you really think any central bank is going to raise rates? I didn’t think so. Be prepared for more inflation than is currently forecast.

With that in mind, let us consider what is happening in markets today. Once again the picture is mixed, at least in Asia, as today the Nikkei (+0.25%) found a little support while the Hang Seng (-0.75%) and Shanghai (-1.25%) came under pressure. European exchanges are showing very modest gains (DAX +0.25%, CAC +0.1%) and US futures are all barely in the green. This is not a market that is excited about anything. Instead, investors appear to be on the sidelines with no strong risk view evident.

Turning to bond markets, we continue to see Treasury yields, and all European bond yields as well, slide this morning, with the 10-year Treasury yield down 2 basis points and similar declines throughout Europe. Commodity markets are showing some weakness, with both oil (WTI -0.9%) and gold (-0.6%) softer this morning. Add it all up and it feels like a bit of risk aversion rather than increased risk appetite.

And what of the dollar? Despite what has the feeling of some risk aversion, the dollar is slightly softer on the day, with most currencies showing some strength. In the G10 space, NZD is the outlier, rising 0.7% on the back of a massive short squeeze in the kiwi. But away from that, the movement has been far more muted, and, in fact, the pound is softer by 0.2% as traders are beginning to ask if Brexit may ultimately be a problem. In addition, while the UK inflation data was much higher than expected, there is certainly no indication at this time that the BOE is going to reverse course anytime soon. I have to say that the pound above 1.32 does seem a bit overextended.

EMG currencies are a more mixed picture with RUB (-0.3%) responding to oil’s modest decline, while ZAR has pushed higher by 0.6% on the back of strong foreign inflows for today’s local bond auctions. In what appears to be a benign environment, the hunt for yield is fierce and South Africa with its nominal yields above 9% in the 10-year and inflation running well below 3% is certainly attractive. But otherwise, movement has been uninteresting with most currencies edging higher vs. the dollar this morning.

On the data front today, the only US release is the FOMC Minutes from the July meeting where analysts will be searching for clues as to the Fed’s preferred next steps. More specific forward guidance tied to economic indicators seems to be in the cards, with the key question, which indicators?

Add it all up and we have another slow summer day where the dollar drifts lower. Arguably, the biggest unknown right now would be an agreement on the next US fiscal stimulus package, which if announced would likely result in a weaker dollar. However, I am not willing to forecast the timing of that occurring.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Shareholders’ Dreams

The contrast is hard to ignore
Twixt growth, which is still on the floor
And market extremes
Where shareholders’ dreams
Of gains help them come back for more

“There’s no way I can lose.  Right now, I’m feeling invincible.”

This quote from a Bloomberg article about the massive rally in the Chinese stock markets could just as easily come from a US investor as well.  It is a perfect encapsulation of the view that the current situation is one where government support of both the economy and the markets is going to be with us for quite a while yet, and so, stock prices can only go higher.  So far, of course, that view has been spot on, at least since March 23rd, when the US markets bottomed.

The question this idea raises, though, is how long can this situation endure?  There is no denying the argument that ongoing monetary support for economies is flowing into asset markets.  One need only look at the correlation between the gain in the value of global equity markets since things bottomed, and the amount of monetary stimulus that has been implemented.  It is no coincidence that both numbers are on the order of $15 trillion.  But as we watch bankruptcy after bankruptcy get announced, Brooks Brothers was yesterday’s big-name event, it becomes harder and harder to see how market valuations can maintain their current levels without central bank support.  Thus, if equity market values are important to central banks, and I would argue they are, actually, their leading indicator, it leads to the idea that central banks will continue to add liquidity to the economy forever.  In other words, MMT has arrived.

Magical Money Tree Modern Monetary Theory is the controversial idea that, as long as governments print their own money, like the US does with dollars, as opposed to how euros are created by an “independent” authority, there is nothing to stop governments from spending whatever they want, budgets be damned.  After all, they can either issue debt, and print the money needed to repay it, or skip the issuance step and simply print what they need when they need it.  The proponents explain that the only hitch is inflation, which they claim would be the moderator on overprinting.  Thus, if inflation starts to rise, they can slow down the presses.

Originally, this was deemed a left leaning strategy as their idea was to print more money to pay for social programs.  But like every good (?) idea, it has been co-opted by the political opposition in a slightly different form.  Thus, printing money to buy financial assets (which is exactly what the Fed has been doing since 2009’s first bout of QE, is the right leaning application of this view.  To date, the Fed has only purchased bonds, but you can see the evolution toward stocks is underway. At first it was only Treasuries and then mortgage-backed bonds, which was designed to aid the collapsing housing market.  But now we are on to Munis (at least they are government entities) and investment grade corporate ETF’s, then extending to junk bond ETF’s and then individual corporate bonds.  It is not hard to see that the next step will be SPYders and DIAmonds and finally individual stocks.

It is also not hard to discern the impact on equity prices as we go forward in this scenario, much higher.  But ask yourself this; is this a good long-term outcome?  Consider the classic definition of Socialism:

      noun:   a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the state.

Would it not be the case that if the central bank owns equities, they are taking ownership of the means of production?  Would the Fed not be voting their shareholder rights?  And wouldn’t they be deciding winners and losers based on political issues, not economic ones?  Is this really where we want to go?

The EU is already on the way, with a new plan to take equity stakes in SME’s, the economic sector that has been least aided by PEPP and the ECB versions of QE.  And already the discussion there is of which companies to help; only those that meet current ‘proper’ criteria, such as climate neutrality and social cohesion.  The point is that the future is shaping up to turn out quite differently than the recent past, at least when it comes to the financial/economic models that drive political decisions.  Stay alert to these changes as they are almost certainly on their way.

Once again, I drifted into a non-market discussion because the market discussion is so incredibly boring.  Equity markets continue their climb, based on ongoing financial largesse by central banks.  Bond markets remain mired in tight ranges and the dollar continues to consolidate after a massive rally in March led to a more gradual unwinding of haven asset positions.  But lately, the story is just not that interesting.

Arguably, the dollar’s recent trend lower is still intact, it has just flattened out a great deal.  So we continue to see very gradual weakness in the greenback, just not necessarily every day.  For example, in the past three weeks, the euro has climbed 1.25%, but had an equal number of up and down days during this span.  In other words, if you look hard enough, you can discern a trend, it is just not a steep one.  In fact, as I type, it has turned modest overnight gains into modest losses, but is certainly not showing signs of a breakout in either direction.  And this is a pretty fair description of the entire G10 bloc, modest movement in both directions over the course of a few weeks, but net slightly firmer vs. the dollar.

Today, the pound is the big winner, although it has only gained 0.25%, coming on the back of the government’s announcement of an additional £30 billion of fiscal support for the UK economy focused on wages, job retention and small businesses.  As to the rest of the G10, SEK is firmer by 0.2%, although there are no stories that would seem to support the movement, while the other eight currencies are less than 0.1% changed from yesterday.

In the emerging markets, the story is somewhat similar with just two outliers, RUB (+0.6% as oil is higher) and ZAR (+0.5% as gold is higher).  In fact, the currency that has truly performed best of all this year is gold, which is higher by nearly 20% YTD, and shows no signs of slowing down.  Arguably, the rand should continue to find support from this situation.

Once again, data is scarce, with today’s Initial and Continuing Claims data the highlights (exp 1.375M and 18.75M respectively).  At this stage, these are probably the most important coincident indicators we have, as any signs of increased layoffs will result in a lot more anxiety, both in markets and the White House.  Of course, if those numbers decline, look for the V-shaped recovery story to gain further traction and stronger equity markets alongside a (slightly) weaker dollar.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

 

Overthrow

Health data are starting to show
A second wave might overthrow
The rebound we’ve seen
From Covid-19
Which clearly will cause growth to slow

Risk is under pressure this morning as market participants continue to read the headlines regarding the rising rate of Covid infections in some of the largest US states, as well as throughout a number of emerging market nations. While this is concerning, in and of itself, it has been made more so by the fact that virtually every government official has warned that a second wave will undermine the progress that has been made with respect to the economic rebound worldwide. However, what seems to be clear is that more than three months into a series of government ordered shut downs that have resulted in $trillions of economic damage around the world, people in many places have decided that the risk from the virus is not as great as the risk to their personal economic well-being.

And that is the crux of the matter everywhere. Just how long can governments continue to impose restrictions on people without a wholesale rebellion? After all, there have been many missteps by governments everywhere, from initially downplaying the impact of the virus to moving to virtual marital law, with early prognostications vastly overstating the fatality rate of the virus and seemingly designed simply to sow panic and exert government control. It cannot be surprising that at some point, people around the world decided to take matters into their own hands, which means they are no longer willing to adhere to government rules.

The problem for markets, especially the equity markets, is that their recovery seems to be based on the idea that not only is a recovery right around the corner, but that economies are going to recoup all of their pandemic related losses and go right back to trend activity. Thus, a second wave interferes with that narrative. As evidence starts to grow that the caseload is no longer shrinking, but instead is growing rapidly, and that governments are back to shutting down economic activity again, those rosy forecasts for a sharp rebound are harder and harder to justify. And this is why we have seen the equity market rebound stumble for the past three weeks. In that time, we have seen twice as many down sessions as up sessions and the net result has been a 5.5% decline in the S&P500, with similar declines elsewhere.

So, what comes next? It is very hard to read the news about the growing list of bankruptcies as well as the significant write-downs of asset values and order cancelations without seeing the bear case. The ongoing dichotomy between the stock market rally and the economic distress remains very hard to justify in the long run. Of course, opposing the real economic news is the cabal of global central banks, who are doing everything they can think of collectively, to keep markets in functioning order and hoping that, if markets don’t panic, the economy can find its footing. This is what has brought us ZIRP, NIRP and QE with all its variations on which assets central banks can purchase. Alas, if central bankers really believe that markets are functioning ‘normally’ after $trillions of interference, that is a sad commentary on those central bankers’ understanding of how markets function, or at least have functioned historically. But the one thing on which we can count is that there is virtually no chance that any central bank will pull back from its current policy stance. And so, that dichotomy is going to have to resolve itself despite central bank actions. That, my friends, will be even more painful, I can assure you.

So, on a day with ordinary news flow, like today, we find ourselves in a risk-off frame of mind. Yesterday’s US equity rally was followed with modest strength in Asia. This was helped by Chinese PMI data which showed that the rebound there was continuing (Mfg PMI 50.9, Non-mfg PMI 54.4), although weakness in both Japanese ( higher Jobless Rate and weaker housing data) and South Korean (IP -9.6% Y/Y) data detracted from the recovery story. Of course, as we continue to see everywhere, weak data means ongoing central bank largesse, which at this point still leads to equity market support.

Europe, on the other hand, has not seen the same boost as equity markets there are mostly lower, although the DAX (+0.4%) and CAC (+0.2%) are the two exceptions to the rule. UK data has been the most prevalent with final Q1 GDP readings getting revised a bit lower (-2.2% Q/Q from -2.0%) while every other sub-metric was slightly worse as well. Meanwhile, PM Johnson is scrambling to present a coherent plan to support the nation fiscally until the Covid threat passes, although on that score, he is not doing all that well. And we cannot forget Brexit, where today’s passage without an extension deal means that December 31, 2020 is the ultimate line in the sand. It cannot be a surprise that the pound has been the worst performing G10 currency over the past week and month, having ceded 2.0% since last Tuesday. With the BOE seriously considering NIRP, the pound literally has nothing going for it in the short run. Awful economic activity, questionable government response to Covid and now NIRP on the horizon. If you are expecting to receive pounds in the near future, sell them now!

Away from the pound, which is down 0.3% today, NOK (-0.6%) is the worst performer in the G10, and that is really a result of, not only oil’s modest price decline (-1.3%), but more importantly the news that Royal Dutch Shell is writing down $22 billion of assets, a move similar to what we have seen from the other majors (BP and Exxon) and an indication that the future value (not just its price) of oil is likely to be greatly diminished. While we are still a long way from the end of the internal combustion engine, the value proposition is changing. And this speaks to just how hard it is to have an economic recovery if one of the largest industries that was adding significant value to the global economy is being downgraded. What is going to take its place?

The oil story is confirmed in the EMG space as RUB is the clear underperformer today, down 1.4% as Russia is far more reliant on oil than even Norway. However, elsewhere in the EMG bloc, virtually the entire space is under pressure to a much more limited extent. The thing is, if we start to see risk discarded and equity markets come under further pressure, these currencies are going to extend their declines.

This morning’s US data is second tier, with Case Shiller Home Prices (exp +3.8%), Chicago PMI (45.0) and Consumer Confidence (91.4). The latter two remain far below their pre-covid levels and likely have quite some time before they can return to those levels. Meantime, Fed speakers are out in force today, led by Chair Powell speaking before a Congressional panel alongside Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. His pre-released opening remarks harp on the risk of a second wave as well as the uncertainty over the future trajectory of growth because of that. As well, he continues to promise the Fed will do whatever is necessary to support the economy. And in truth, we have continued to hear that message from every single Fed speaker for the past two months’ at least. What we know for sure is that the Fed is not going to change its tune anytime soon.

For today, unless Powell describes yet another new program, if he remains in his mode of warning of disaster unless the government does more, it is hard to see how investors get excited. Risk is currently on the back foot and I see nothing to change that view today.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A New Paradigm

As mid-year approaches, it’s time
To ponder the central bank clime
Will negative rates
Appear in the States
And welcome a new paradigm?

With the end of the first half of 2020 approaching, perhaps it’s time to recap what an extraordinary six months it has been as well as consider what the immediate future may hold.

If you can recall what January was like, the big story was the Phase One trade deal, which was announced as almost completed at least half a dozen times, essentially every time the stock market started to decline, before it was finally signed. In hindsight, the fact that it was signed right at the beginning of the Lunar New Year celebrations in China, which coincided with the recognition that the novel coronavirus was actually becoming a problem, is somewhat ironic. After all, it was deemed THE most important thing in January and by mid-February nobody even cared about it anymore. Of course, by that time, Covid-19 had been named and was officially declared a pandemic.

As Covid spread around the world, the monetary responses were impressive for both their speed of implementation and their size. The Fed was the unquestioned leader, cutting rates 150bps in two emergency meetings during the first half of March while prepping the market for QE4. They then delivered in spades, hoovering up Treasuries, mortgage-backed bonds, investment grade corporate bonds and junk bonds (via ETF’s) and then more investment grade bonds, this time purchasing actual securities, not ETF’s. Their balance sheet has grown more than $3 trillion (from $4.1 trillion to $7.1 trillion) in just four months and they have promised to maintain policy at least this easy until the economy can sustainably get back to their inflation and employment goals.

On the fiscal front, government response was quite a bit slower, and aside from the US CARES act, signed into law in late March, most other nations have been less able to conjure up enough spending to make much of a difference. There was important news from the EU, where they announced, but have not yet enacted, a policy that was akin to mutualization of debt across the entire bloc. If they can come to agreement on this, and there are four nations who remain adamantly opposed (Sweden, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands), this would truly change the nature of the EU and by extension the Eurozone. Allowing transfers from the richer northern states to the struggling Mediterranean countries would result in a boon for the PIGS as they could finally break the doom-loop of their own nation’s banks owning the bulk of their own sovereign debt. But despite the support of both France and Germany, this is not a done deal. Now, history shows that Europe will finally get something along these lines enacted, but it is likely to be a significantly watered-down version and likely to take long enough that it will not be impactful in the current circumstance.

Of course, the ECB, after a few early stumbles, has embraced the idea of spending money from nothing and is in the process of implementing a €1.35 trillion QE program called PEPP in addition to their ongoing QE program.

Elsewhere around the world we have seen a second implementation of yield curve control (YCC), this time by Australia which is managing its 3-year yields to 0.25%, the same level as its overnight money. There is much talk that the Fed is considering YCC as well, although they will only admit to having had a discussion on the topic. Of course, a quick look at the US yield curve shows that they have already essentially done so, at least up to the 10-year maturity, as the volatility of yields has plummeted. For example, since May 1, the range of 3-year yields has been just 10bps (0.18%-0.28%) while aside from a one-week spike in early June, 10-year yields have had an 11bp range. The point is, it doesn’t seem that hard to make the case the Fed is already implementing YCC.

Which then begs the question, what would they do next? Negative rates have been strongly opposed by Chairman Powell so far, but remember, President Trump is a big fan. And we cannot forget that over the course of the past two years, it was the President’s view on rates that prevailed. At this time, there is no reason to believe that negative rates are in the offing, but in the event that the initial rebound in economic data starts to stumble as infection counts rise, this cannot be ruled out. This is especially so if we see the equity market turn back lower, something which the Fed seemingly cannot countenance. Needless to say, we have not finished this story by a long shot, and I would contend there is a very good chance we see additional Fed programs, including purchasing equity ETF’s.

Of course, the reason I focused on a retrospective is because market activity today has been extremely dull. Friday’s equity rout in the US saw follow through in Asia (Nikkei -2.3%, Hang Seng -1.0%) although Europe has moved from flat to slightly higher (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.25%, FTSE 100 +0.5%). US futures are mixed, with the surprising outcome of Dow and S&P futures higher by a few tenths of a percent while NASDAQ futures are lower by 0.3%. The bond market story is that of watching paint dry, a favorite Fed metaphor, with modest support for bonds, but yields in all the haven bonds within 1bp of Friday’s levels.

And finally, the dollar is arguably a bit softer this morning, with the euro the leading gainer in the G10, +0.5%, and only the pound (-0.2%) falling on the day. It seems that there are a number of algorithmic models out selling dollars broadly today, and the euro is the big winner. In the EMG bloc, the pattern is the same, with most currencies gaining led by PLN(+0.65%) after the weekend elections promised continuity in the government there, and ZAR (+0.55%) which is simply benefitting from broad dollar weakness. The exception to the rule is RUB, which has fallen 0.25% on the back of weakening oil prices.

On the data front, despite nothing of note today, we have a full calendar, especially on Thursday with the early release of payroll data given Friday’s quasi holiday

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 3.70%
  Chicago PMI 44.0
  Consumer Confidence 90.5
Wednesday ADP Employment 2.95M
  ISM Manufacturing 49.5
  ISM Prices Paid 45.0
  FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 1.336M
  Continuing Claims 18.904M
  Nonfarm Payrolls 3.0M
  Private Payrolls 2.519M
  Manufacturing Payrolls 425K
  Unemployment Rate 12.4%
  Average Hourly Earnings -0.8% (5.3% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Participation Rate 61.2%
  Trade Balance -$53.0B
  Factory Orders 7.9%
  Durable Goods 15.8%
  -ex transport 4.0%

Source: Bloomberg

So, as you can see, a full slate for the week. Obviously, all eyes will be on the employment data on Wednesday and Thursday. At this point, it seems we are going to continue to see data pointing to a sharp recovery, the so-called V, but the question remains, how much longer this can go on. However, this is clearly today’s underlying meme, and the ensuing risk appetite is likely to continue to undermine the dollar, at least for the day. We will have to see how the data this week stacks up against the ongoing growth in Covid infections and the re-shutting down of portions of the US economy. The latter was the equity market’s nemesis last week. Will this week be any different?

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Looking Distressed

The market was looking distressed
So, Jay clearly thought it was best
To tell everyone
The Fed had begun
To buy corporates at his behest

Frankly, I’m stunned. Anyone who believes that the Fed is focusing on any variable other than the S&P 500 was completely disabused of that notion yesterday. While I know it seems like it was weeks ago, yesterday morning there was concern that Chairman Powell’s comments last week about a long, tough road to recovery were still top of mind to market participants. Concerns over a rising infection rate in some states and countries were growing thus driving investors to react negatively. After all, if the mooted second wave of Covid comes and the nascent economic revival is squashed at the outset, the case for the V-shaped recovery and stratospheric stock prices would quickly die. And so, Chairman Powell responded by explaining that the Fed would expand the SMCCF* program to start buying individual bonds today. Remember, the initial story was ETF’s were the only purchases to be made. Now, the Fed is effectively cherry-picking which investors it wants to help as certainly the companies whose bonds the Fed buys will not be getting any of that money. Or will they? Perhaps the hope is that if the Fed owns individual corporate bonds, in the coming debt jubilee, they will tear up those bonds as well as their Treasuries, thus reducing leverage in a trice.

A debt jubilee, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is a government sanctioned erasure of outstanding debts. Its origins are in the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, when every 50 years there was a call for the release of all debts, both monetary and personal (indenture). Of course, in the modern world it is a bit more difficult to accomplish as all creditors would be severely impacted by the concept. All creditors except one, that is, a nation’s central bank.

Now that we are in a fiat currency system where central banks create money from nothing (paraphrasing Dire Straits), any public debt that they hold on their balance sheets can simply be forgiven by decree, thus reducing the leverage outstanding. While there would seem to be some inflationary consequences to the action (after all, an awful lot of funds would be instantly freed up to chase after other goods, services and investments), the modern central bank viewpoint on inflation is that it is dangerously low and a problem at current levels, so those consequences are likely to be quickly rationalized away. Thus, if the Fed owns individual corporate bonds, especially of highly indebted companies, they will be able forgive those, reduce leverage and support those companies’ prospects to maintain a full-sized staff. You see, the rationalization is it will support employment, not help investors.

To be clear, there is no official plan for a debt jubilee, but it is something that is gaining credence amongst a subset of the economics community. Especially because of the inherent concerns over near- and medium-term growth due to Covid-19, as future consumer behavior is likely to be very different than past consumer behavior, I expect that a debt jubilee is something about which we will hear a great deal more going forward. Nonstop printing of money by the world’s central banks is not a sustainable activity in the long run. Neither is it sustainable for governments to run deficits well in excess of GDP. A debt jubilee is a potential solution to both those problems, and if it can be accomplished by simply having central banks tear up debt, other creditors will not be destroyed. Truly a (frightening) win-win.

It can be no surprise that the stock market reacted positively to the news, turning around morning losses to close higher by 0.85% in the US with the sharpest part of the move happening immediately upon the statement’s release at 2:15 yesterday. This euphoria carried over into Asia with remarkable effect as the Nikkei (+4.9%) and KOSPI (+5.3%) exploded higher while the rest of the region merely saw strong gains of between 1.4% (Shanghai) and 3.9% (Australia). And naturally, Europe is a beneficiary as well, with the DAX (+2.8%) leading the way, but virtually every market higher by more than 2.0%. US futures? Not to worry, all three indices are currently higher by more than 1.1%.

In keeping with the risk-on attitude, we also saw Treasury bonds sell off in the afternoon with yields rising a bit more than 4bps since the announcement. In Europe, bund yields are higher as are gilts, both by 2.5bps, but the PIGS are basking in the knowledge that their future may well be brighter as we are seeing Portugal (-2bps), Italy (-5.5bps), Greece (-6.5bps) and Spain (-3bps) all rallying nicely.

And finally, the dollar, which had started to show some strength yesterday, has also reversed most of those gains and is broadly, though not deeply, softer this morning. In the G10, the pound is the leader, higher by 0.45%, as the market ignored Jobless Claims in the UK falling by 529K, only the second worst level on record after last month’s numbers, and instead took heart that a Brexit deal could well be reached after positive comments from both Boris Johnson and the EU leadership following a videoconference call earlier today. While nothing is confirmed, this is the best tone we have heard in a while. However, away from the pound gains are limited to less than 0.25% with some currencies even declining slightly.

In the emerging markets, the leading gainer is KRW (+0.75%) despite the fact that North Korea blew up the Joint Office overnight. That office was the sight of ongoing discussions between the two nations and its destruction marks a significant rise in hostility by the North. In my view, the market is remarkably sanguine about the story, especially in light of its response to the news out of India, where Chinese soldiers ostensibly attacked and killed three Indian soldiers in the disputed border zone. There, the rupee fell 0.25% on the report as concerns grow over an escalation of tensions between the two nations. But aside from those two currencies, there were many more gainers in APAC currencies as funds flowed into local stock markets on the Fed inspired risk appetite.

On the data front, we see Retail Sales (exp 8.4%, 5.5% ex autos) as well as IP (3.0%) and Capacity Utilization (66.9%), with all three numbers rebounding sharply from their lows set in April. We saw a similar rebound in German ZEW Expectations (63.4 and its highest since 2006), but recall, that is based on the change of view month to month.

Chairman Powell testifies to the Senate this morning, so all ears will be listening at 10:00. Yesterday we heard from two Fed speakers, Dallas’s Kaplan and San Francisco’s Daly, both of whom expressed the view that a rebound was coming, that YCC was not appropriate at this time and that the Fed still had plenty they could do, as they made evident with yesterday afternoon’s announcement.

While equity markets continue to react very positively to the central bank activities, the dollar seems to be finding a floor. In the end, investment flows into the US still seem to be larger than elsewhere and continue to be a key driver for the dollar. Despite a positive risk appetite, it appears the dollar has limited room to fall further.

Good luck and stay safe
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*Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility