Their Latest Excuse

While prices worldwide keep on rising
Most central banks are still devising
Their latest excuse
For why money, loose,
Is still the least unappetizing

On Wednesday Chair Powell explained
That QE would slowly be drained
Then Thursday the Bank
Of England helped sank
Gilt yields, leaving traders bloodstained

Now Friday’s arrived and we’re all
Concerned that a Payrolls curveball
Could quickly defuse
The new dovish views
With hawks back for their curtain call

If you sell stuff in the UK, or hold assets there, I sure hope you’ve hedged your currency exposure.  In what can only be described as shocking, the Bank of England left policy on hold yesterday after numerous hints from members, including several explicitly from Governor Andrew Bailey, that something needed to be done about rising inflation. The combination of rising inflation prints, rising inflation forecasts and comments from BOE members had the market highly convinced that a 0.15% base rate hike was coming yesterday, with the idea it would then allow the central bank to hike further in 25 basis point increments with futures pointing to the base rate at 1.00% come next December.  But it was not to be.  Instead, in a 7-2 vote, the BOE left policy rates unchanged and will continue its current QE program which has £20 billion left to buy to reach their target.

The result was a massive repricing of markets as interest rates tumbled across the entire curve and the pound tumbled along side them.  In what is perhaps the most brazen lie audacious statement from a major central banker lately, Bailey explained in a Bloomberg TV interview that it was “not our job to steer markets.”  Seriously?  That is all every central banker ever tries to do.  If financial stability is one of the goals enumerated for central banks, the BOE failed dismally yesterday.  Tallying up the impact shows that 10-year Gilt yields fell 13 basis points (and another 4.1 this morning), OIS markets saw the 1-year interest rate decline 20 basis points and the pound fell 1.4% yesterday and a further 0.5% this morning.  It was ugly.

Perhaps the lesson to learn here is that as central banks around the world try to adjust monetary policy going forward, there are going to be a lot more bumps along the way, with market expectations being left unfulfilled and severe market reactions accordingly.  Forward guidance, which has become a critical tool for central banks over the past decade plus is no longer going to be as effective.  When Ben Bernanke highlighted the idea in 2009, it was thought to be a great addition to the central bank toolkit, the ability to adjust markets without adjusting policy.  And while that may have been true when monetary policy was being eased for years, it turns out that forward guidance is a bit more difficult to handle in the other direction.  Market volatility, across all markets, is likely to increase over the next couple of years as the coordinated central bank activities we have become used to seeing disappear.  Consider that while the Fed, ECB, BOJ and BOE have all pushed back on raising rates soon, the Norgesbank, BOC, RBNZ, RBA and a host of emerging market central banks are starting the process or already well along the way.

Turning to this morning’s data, if you recall, the last two NFP numbers were quite disappointing, with both coming in well below expectations.  The only thing we know about the labor market is that we don’t really know what is going on there anymore.  Clearly, based simply on the JOLTS data we know there are more than 10 million job openings in the country.  (That is also made obvious whenever you leave your home and see all the help wanted signs in store windows.)  But despite clearly rising wages, it has thus far not been enough to entice many people back into the labor force.  So, the Unemployment Rate remains far higher than it was pre-pandemic, but there are plenty of jobs available.  In this situation I feel for the Fed, as there is no clarity available with conflicting data rampant.  At any rate, here are the forecasts heading into the release:

Nonfarm Payrolls 450K
Private Payrolls 420K
Manuacturing Payrolls 30K
Unemployment Rate 4.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.4% (4.9% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Participation Rate 61.7%

Source: Bloomberg

One interesting thing is that excluding the pandemic stimulus checks, the current Y/Y Earnings data is the highest since the series began in 2006.  And worse still, it is lagging CPI by at least a half-point.  My sense is that we are likely to see another weaker than expected number as the kinks in the labor market have not yet been worked out.

Ok, a quick look at markets shows that Asia had a rough go of it last night (Nikkei -0.6%, Hang Seng -1.4%, Shanghai -1.0%) as continued concerns over the Chinese property market weigh on the economy there while Japan looks more like position adjustment ahead of the weekend.  Europe, on the other hand, is doing much better (DAX +0.15%, CAC +0.6%, FTSE 100 +0.55%) despite much weaker than expected IP data from both Germany (-1.1%) and France (-1.3%) in September.  Too, Eurozone Retail Sales (-0.3%) badly missed expectations in September, but revisions helped ameliorate some of those losses.  Regardless, I would argue that the weak data has encouraged investors and traders to believe that all the talk of tightening to address inflation is ebbing.  Meanwhile, US futures, which had spent the bulk of the evening essentially unchanged are now higher by about 0.25%.

Bond yields are generally lower again this morning with most European sovereigns seeing declines of around 1 basis point except for Gilts, pushing 4bps.  Treasuries, which had seen softer yields earlier in the session have now turned around and edged lower (higher yields) but are still less than a basis point different from yesterday’s close.

Commodity prices also had a wild session yesterday with oil initially rallying $2/bbl before abruptly reversing and falling $5/bbl to close back below $80 for the first time in a month.  Given that backdrop, this morning’s 0.6% rise seems less interesting and it is still below $80.  NatGas (-0.5%) has slipped this morning, while the rest of the commodity complex is showing no trends whatsoever, with both gainers and losers.  Like every other market, traders are trying to come to grips with the new central bank situation.

The one consistency has been the dollar, which rallied yesterday and is continuing today.  In the G10, the pound (-0.5%) is the worst performer but we are seeing weakness in AUD (-0.4%), CHF (-0.4%) and NOK (-0.35%) as well with the entire bloc under pressure.  NOK is clearly still being impacted by yesterday’s oil moves while the others seem to be feeling the heat from suddenly more dovish thoughts regarding policy.  In the EMG space, PHP (+0.55%) is the outlier, rallying on comments from the central bank that it will continue to support the economy and news that the Covid infection rate has been falling.  Otherwise, the bulk of the bloc is in the red led by ZAR (-0.45%), PLN (-0.4%) and MXN (-0.35%).  Of these, the most noteworthy is PLN, where the central bank, which had just been touting its hawkish bona fides, has completely reversed and indicated that further rate hikes may not be necessary.  This seems odd given inflation is running at 6.8%, and forecast to top 8.0% next year, while the base rate was just raised to 1.25%.  It feels to me like PLN could fall further.

So, for now, we all await the payroll data and then get to reevaluate our views and expectations of Fed actions.  Nothing has changed my view that inflation will continue higher and nothing has changed my view that growth is going to slow.  So, while the Fed may begin to taper, I still believe they will stop before the end.  However, for now, the Fed is the most hawkish dove out there, so the dollar can continue to rally.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Their Bond Vigilantes

Down Under, the RBA bought
Four billion in bonds as they fought
Their bond vigilantes
Who came back from Dante’s
Ninth circle with havoc they wrought

Investors responded by buying
More bonds and more stocks fortifying
The view central banks
All still deserve thanks
For making sure markets keep flying

Atop the reading list of every G10 central banker is the book written by Mario Draghi in 2012 and titled, How to Keep Interest Rates Lower for Longer*, and every one of those bankers is glued to page one.  At this point, there is no indication that higher interest rates will be tolerated for any length of time, and while jawboning is always the preferred method of moving markets in the desired direction, sometimes these bankers realize they must act.  And act they did, well at least Phillip Lowe, the RBA Governor, did.  Last night, the RBA bought $4 billion in 3-year ACGB’s, doubling the normal and expected amount of purchases as he fought back against the idea that the RBA would not be able to maintain control of the yield curve as they have announced.  The response must have been quite gratifying as not only did 3-year yields nose back below 0.10%, the target, but 10-year yields tumbled 0.25% as investors regained their confidence and took advantage of the sudden increase in yields available to increase their holdings.

So, last week’s price action is now deemed to have been nothing more than a hiccup, or a bad dream, with market activity today seen as the reality.  At least that is the story all the world’s central banks keep telling themselves, and arguably will continue to do for as long as possible.  It seems that the fact the RBA was willing to be so aggressive was seen by investors as a harbinger of what other central banks are willing and capable of enacting with the result being a massive asset rally worldwide.  Think about that for a moment, the purchase of an extra $1.5 billion of ACGBs has resulted in asset price increases on the order of $1 trillion worldwide.  That, my friends, is bang for your buck!

Of course, the question that remains is, will investors continue to accept this worldview, or will data, and ever-increasing debt supply, return us to last week’s market volatility and force a much bigger response by much bigger players?  My money is on the latter, as there is no sign that deficit spending is being reined in, and the signs of higher inflation remain clear, even in Europe!

But clearly, today is not one for calling out central bankers.  While ongoing conversations in Tokyo highlight the question of whether the BOJ needs to intervene ahead of their mid-month meeting when they are to present their Policy Review, and ECB members continue to warn about unwarranted tightening of financial conditions, thus far, we have not seen any increase in activity by either central bank.  However, at 9:45 this morning we will see the latest data from the ECB regarding their purchases during the last week in the PEPP, and it will be instructive to see if those purchases increased, or if they simply maintained their regular pace of activity.  An increase could be taken positively, shoring up investor belief that the ECB has their back, but given how poorly the European government bond market performed last week, it could also be seen as a sign that the ECB is losing its sway in markets.

The one truism is that market volatility, despite central banks’ fervent desire for it to decrease, remains on a higher trajectory as the possible economic outcomes for the world as a whole, as well as for individual countries, diverge.  And this is, perhaps, the hardest thing for investors to accept and understand; after a forty year period of declining inflation and volatility, if the cycle is turning back higher for both of these characteristics, which have a high correlation, then the future will be more difficult to navigate than the recent past.

So, just how impressive was the RBA’s action?  Pretty impressive.  For instance, equity markets in Asia all rose sharply (Nikkei +2.4%, Hang Sent +1.6%, Shanghai +1.2%) and are all higher in Europe as well (DAX +0.7%, CAC +1.1%, FTSE 100 +1.0%).  US futures, meanwhile, are powering ahead by approximately 1.0% across the board.

As to bonds, while the ACGB move was the most impressive, we did see a halt to the rise in 10-year JGB yields, and in Europe, the rally is powerful with Bunds (-5.0bps), OATs (-5.5bps) and Gilts (-4.1bps) all paring back those yield hikes from last week.  Interestingly, Treasury yields (+2.2bps) are not holding to this analysis, as perhaps the news that the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed the House this weekend has investors a bit more nervous.  After all, passage implies increased issuance of $1.9 trillion, and it remains an open question as to how much demand there will be for these new bonds, especially after last week’s disastrous 7-year auction.  And that’s really the key question, will there be natural demand for all this additional paper, or will the Fed need to expand QE in order to prevent yields from rising further?

On the commodity front, we are seeing strength across the board with oil (+1.0%) leading energy higher on the reflation idea, both base and precious metals markets rallying and agricultural products seeing their ongoing rallies continue.  Stuff continues to cost more, despite the Fed’s claims of low inflation.

As to the dollar, it is mixed this morning, with commodity currencies performing well (NOK +0.4%, CAD +0.35%, AUD +0.3%) while the European commodity users are all under pressure (SEK -0.5%, CHF -0.5%, EUR -0.25%).  The euro’s weakness seems a bit strange given the manufacturing PMI data released this morning was positive and better than expected.  As well, German CPI, which is released on a state by state basis, is showing a continued gradual increase.

In the emerging markets, TRY (+2.5%) is the runaway leader as the lira offers the highest real yields around and as fear recedes, hot money flows there quickest.  But away from that, RUB (+0.6%) on the back of oil’s rally, and CLP (+0.45%) on the back of copper’s ongoing rally are the best performers.  With the euro softer, the CE4 are all weaker and we saw desultory price action in Asian currencies overnight.

On the data front, this is a big week, culminating in the payroll report.

Today ISM Manufacturing 58.6
ISM Prices Paid 80.0
Wednesday ADP Unemployment 180K
ISM Services 58.6
Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 755K
Continuing Claims 4.3M
Nonfarm Productivity -4.7%
Unit Labor Costs 6.7%
Factory Orders 1.8%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 180K
Private Payrolls 190K
Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
Unemployment Rate 6.4%
Participation Rate 61.4%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (5.3% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.9
Trade Balance -$67.4B
Consumer Credit $12.0B

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to all this, we hear from Chairman Powell on Thursday, as well as six other Fed speakers a total of nine times this week.  But we already know what they are going to say, rising long end yields are a positive sign of growth and with unemployment so high, we are a long way from changing our policy.  History shows that the market will test those comments, especially once the Fed goes into its quiet period at the end of the week.

As for today, risk is quite clearly ‘on’ and it seems unlikely that will change without a completely new catalyst.  The RBA has fired the shot across the bow of the pessimists, and for now it is working.  While the euro seems to be under pressure on the assumption the ECB will act as well, as long as commodities continue to rally, that is likely to support the growth story and commodity currencies.

Good luck and stay safe

*a fictional work conceived by the author

Cash Will Be Free

The Chairman was, once again, clear
The theory to which they adhere
Is rates shall not rise
Until they apprise
That joblessness won’t reappear

The market responded with glee
Assured, now, that cash will be free
The dollar got whacked
And traders, bids, smacked
In bonds, sending yields on a spree

It does not seem that Chairman Powell could have been any clearer as to what the future holds in store for the FOMC…QE shall continue, and Fed Funds shall not rise under any circumstance.  And if there was any doubt (there wasn’t) that this was the committee’s view, Governor Brainerd reiterated the story in comments she made yesterday.  The point is that the Fed is all-in on easy money until maximum employment is achieved.

What is maximum employment you may ask?  It is whatever they choose to make it.  From a numerical perspective, it appears that the FOMC is now going to be looking at the Labor Force Participation rate as well as the U-6 Unemployment Rate, which counts not only those actively seeking a job (the familiar U-3 rate), but also those who are unemployed, underemployed or discouraged from looking for a job.  As an example, the current Unemployment Rate, or U-3, is 6.8% while the current U-6 rate is 12.0%.  Given the current estimated labor force of a bit over 160 million people, that difference is more than 8 million additional unemployed.

When combining this goal with the ongoing government lockdowns throughout the country, it would seem that the Fed will not be tightening policy for a very long time to come.  There is, of course, a potential fly in that particular ointment, the inflation rate.  Recall that the Fed’s mandate requires them to achieve both maximum employment and stable prices, something which they have now defined as average inflation, over an indefinite time, of 2.0%.  As I highlighted yesterday, the Fed remains sanguine about the prospects of inflation rising very far for any length of time.  In addition, numerous Fed speakers have explained that they have the tools to address that situation if it should arise.

But what if they are looking for inflation in all the wrong places?  After all, since 1977, when the Fed’s current mandate was enshrined into law, the U-3 Unemployment Rate was the benchmark.  Now, it appears they have determined that no longer tells the proper story, so they have widened their focus.  In the same vein, ought not they ask themselves if Core PCE is the best way to monitor price movement in the economy?  After all, it consistently underreports inflation relative to CPI and has done so 86% of the time since 2000, by an average of almost 0.3%.  Certainly, my personal perspective on prices is that they have been rising smartly for a number of years despite the Fed’s claims.  (I guess I don’t buy enough TV’s or computers to reap the benefits of deflation in those items.)  But the word on the street is that the Fed’s models all “work” better with PCE as the inflation input rather than CPI, and so that is what they use.

Carping by pundits will not change these things, nor will hectoring from Congress, were they so inclined.  In fact, the only thing that will change the current thinking is a new Fed chair with different views, a reborn Paul Volcker type.  Alas, that is not coming anytime soon, so the current Fed stance will be with us for the foreseeable future.  And remember, this story is playing out in a virtually identical manner in every other major central bank.

Which takes us to the market’s response to the latest retelling of, ‘How to Stop Worrying (about prices) and Start Keep Easing.’ (apologies to Dale Carnegie).  It can be no surprise that after the Fed chair reiterated his promise to keep the policy taps wide open that equity markets around the world rallied, that commodity prices continued to rise, and that the dollar has come under pressure.  Oh yeah, bond markets worldwide continue to sell off sharply as yields, from 10 years to 30 years, all rise.

Let’s start this morning’s tour in the government bond market where yields are not merely higher, but mostly a LOT higher in every major country.  The countdown looks like this:

US Treasuries +7.5bps
UK Gilts +7.3bps
German Bunds +5.4bps
French OATs +5.9bps
Italian BTPs +8.0bps
Australian ACGBs +11.8bps
Japanese JGBs +2.5bps

Source: Bloomberg

Folks, those are some pretty big moves and could well be seen as a rejection of the central banks preferred narrative that inflation is not a concern.  After all, even JGB’s, which the BOJ is targeting in the YCC efforts has found enough selling pressure to move the market.  Suffice it to say that current yields are the highest in the post-pandemic markets, although there is no indication that they are topping anytime soon.

On the equity front, Asia looked great (Nikkei +1.7%, Hang Seng +1.2%, Shanghai +0.5%) but Europe, which started off higher, is ceding those early gains and we now see the DAX (-0.4%), CAC (0.0%) and FTSE 100 (+0.2%) with quite pedestrian showings.  Perhaps a bit more ominous is the US futures markets where NASDAQ futures are -1.0%, although the S&P (-0.3%) and DOW (0.0%) are not showing the same concerns.  It seems the rotation from tech stocks to cyclicals is in full swing.

Commodity prices continue to rise generally with oil up, yet again, by a modest 0.25%, but base metals all much firmer as copper leads the way higher there on the reflation inflation trade.  Precious metals, though, are suffering (Gold -1.0%, Silver -0.2%) as it seems investors are beginning to see the value in holding Treasury bonds again now that there is actually some yield to be had.  For the time-being, real yields have been rising as nominal yields rise with no new inflation data.  However, once that inflation data starts to print higher, and it will, look for the precious metals complex to rebound.

Finally, the dollar is…mixed, and in quite an unusual fashion.  In the G10, the only laggard is JPY (-0.25%) while every other currency is firmer.  SEK (+0.55%) leads the way, but the euro (+0.5%) is right behind.  Perhaps the catalyst in both cases were firmer than expected Confidence readings, especially in the industrial space.  You cannot help but wonder if the central banks even understand what the markets are implying, but if they do, they are clearly willing to ignore the signs of how things may unfold going forward.

Anyway, in the G10 space, currencies have a classic risk-on stance.  But in the EMG space, things are very different.  The classic risk barometers, ZAR (-1.8%) and MXN (-1.4%) are telling a very different story, that risk is being shunned.  And the thing is, there is no story that I can find attached to either one.  For the rand, there is concern over government fiscal pledges, but I am confused by why fiscal prudence suddenly matters.  The only Mexican news seems to be a concern that the economy there is slower in Q1, something that I thought was already widely known.  At any rate, there are a number of other currencies in the red, BRL (-0.3%), TRY (-0.9%) that would also have been expected to perform well today.  The CE4 is tracking the euro higher, and Asian currencies were generally modestly upbeat.

As to data today, we see Durable Goods (exp 1.1%, 0.7% ex transport), Initial Claims (825K),  Continuing Claims (4.46M) and GDP (Q4 4.2%) all at 8:30.  Beware on the Claims data as the deep freeze and power outages through the center of the country could easily distort the numbers this week.  On the Fed front, now that Powell has told us the future, we get to hear from 5 more FOMC members who will undoubtedly tell us the same thing.

While the ECB may be “closely monitoring” long-term bond yields, for now, the market does not see that as enough of a threat to be concerned about capping those yields.  As such, all FX eyes remain on the short end of the curve, where Powell’s promises of free money forever are translating into dollar weakness.  Look for the euro to test the top of its recent trading range at 1.2350 in the coming sessions, although I am not yet convinced we break through.

Good luck and stay safe

More Havoc

Said Jay, ‘don’t know why you believe
That just because people perceive
Inflation is higher
That we would conspire
To raise rates, that’s really naïve

Instead, interest rates will remain
At zero until we attain
The outcome we seek
Although that may wreak
More havoc than financial gain

The economy is a long way from our employment and inflation goals, and it is likely to take some time for substantial further progress to be achieved.”  So said Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell at his Senate testimony yesterday morning.  If that is not a clear enough statement that the Fed will not be adjusting policy, at least in a tightening direction, for years to come, I don’t know what is.  Essentially, after he said that, the growing fears that US monetary policy would be tightening soon quickly dissipated, and the early fears exhibited in the equity markets, where the NASDAQ fell almost 4% at its worst level, were largely reversed.

However, the much more frightening comment was the hubris he demonstrated regarding inflation, “I really do not expect that we’ll be in a situation where inflation rises to troubling levels.  Inflation dynamics do change over time, but they don’t change on a dime, and so we don’t really see how a burst of fiscal support or spending that doesn’t last for many years would actually change those inflation dynamics.” [author’s emphasis].  Perhaps he has forgotten the 2017 tax cut package or the $2.2 trillion CARES act or the $900 billion second stimulus package last December, but it certainly seems like we have been adding fiscal support for many years.  And, of course, if the mooted $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passes through Congress, that would merely be adding fuel to the fire.

If one wanted an explanation for why government bond yields around the world are rising, one needs look no further than the attitude expressed by the Chairman.  Bond investors clearly see the threat of rising prices as a much nearer term phenomenon than central bankers.  The irony is that these rising prices are the accompaniment to a more robust recovery than had been anticipated by both markets and central bankers just months ago.  In other words, this should be seen as good news.  But the central banks fear that market moves in interest rates will actually work against their interests and have made clear they will fight those moves for a long time to come.  We have heard this from the ECB, the BOE, the RBA and the RBNZ just in the past week.  Oh yeah, the BOJ made clear that continued equity market purchases on their part will not be stopping either.  History has shown that when inflation starts to percolate, it can rise extremely rapidly in a short period of time, even after central bank’s change their policies.  Ignoring this history has the potential to be quite problematic.

But for now, the central banks have been able to maintain their control over markets, and every one of them remains committed to keeping the monetary taps open regardless of the data.  So, while the longest dated debt is likely to continue to see rising yields, as that is the point on the curve where central banks generally have the least impact, the fight between inflation hawks and central banks at the front of the curve is very likely to remain a win for the authorities, at least for now.

Turning our attention to today’s session we see that while Asian equity markets were uniformly awful (Nikkei -1.6%, Hang Seng -3.0%, Shanghai -2.0%), part of the problem was the announcement of an increased stamp duty by the Hong Kong government, meaning the tax on share trading was going higher.  Look for trading volumes to decrease a bit and prices to lag for a while.  Europe, however, has shown a bit more optimism, with the DAX (+0.6%) benefitting from a slightly better than expected performance in Q4 2020, where GDP was revised higher to a 0.3% gain from the original 0.1% estimate.  While Q1 2021 is going to be pretty lousy, forecast at -1.5% due to the lockdowns, Monday’s IFO Survey showed growing confidence that things will get better soon.  Meanwhile, the CAC (0.0%) and FTSE 100 (-0.1%) are not enjoying the same kind of performance, but they are certainly far better than what we saw in Asia.  And finally, US futures are mixed as NASDAQ futures (-0.2%) continue to lag the other indices, both of which are flat at this time.  Rising bond yields are really starting to impact the NASDAQ story.

Speaking of bonds, Treasury yields, after a modest reprieve yesterday, are once again selling off, with the 10-year seeing yields higher by 2.6bps.  Similarly, Gilts (+2.6bps) are under pressure as inflation expectations rise in the UK given their strong effort in vaccinating the entire population.  However, both Bunds and OATs are little changed this morning, as the ECB continues to show concern over rising yields, “closely monitoring” them which is code for they will expand purchases if yields rise too much.

On the commodity front, oil continues to rally, up a further 0.5%, and we are seeing a bit of a bid in precious metals as well (gold +0.2%).  Base metals have been more mixed, although copper continues to soar, and the agricultural space remains well bid.  Food costs more.

As to the dollar, mixed is a good description today with NZD (+0.7%) the leading gainer after some traders read the RBNZ comments as an indication less policy ease was needed.  As well, NOK (+0.5) is benefitting from oil’s ongoing rally, with CAD (+0.25%) a lesser beneficiary.  On the flip side, JPY (-0.5%) is the laggard, as carry trades using the yen as funding currency are gaining adherents again.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the pound (+0.2%), for its 13th trading gain in the past 15 sessions, during which it has risen over 4.3%.

In the EMG bloc, it is the commodity currencies that are leading the way higher with RUB (+1.2%) on the back of oil’s strength on top of the list, followed by CLP (+0.7%) on copper’s continued rally, MXN (+0.7%), oil related, and ZAR (+0.5%) on general commodity strength.  The only notable loser today is TRY (-0.8%), after comments by President Erdogan that Turkey is determined to reduce inflation and cut interest rates.

On the data front, New Home Sales (exp 856K) is the only release, although we hear from Chairman Powell again, as well as vice-Chairman Clarida.  Powell’s testimony to the House is unlikely to bring anything new and he will simply reiterate that their job is not done, and they will maintain current policy for a long time to come.

It seems to me that the dollar is trapped in its recent trading range and will need a significant catalyst to change opinions.  If the US yield curve continues to steepen, which seems likely, and that results in equity markets repricing to some extent, I think the dollar could retest the top of its recent range.  However, as long as the equity narrative continues to play out, that the Fed will prevent any sharp declines and the front end of the yield curve will stay put for years to come, I think an eventual break down in the dollar is likely.  That will be accelerated as inflation data starts to print higher, but that remains a few months away.  So, range trading it is for now.

Good luck and stay safe

Our Dovish Song

Said Powell, you all would be wrong,
Til progress moves further along,
On jobs and inflation
To think there’s causation
For us to change our dovish song

I challenge anyone to put forward the name of a central bank board member, from any major central bank, who is anything but dovish.  Once upon a time there was a spectrum of views ranging from neo-Keynesians, who believed it was the central bank’s job to continually support economic activity to the Austrian scholars, who believed that the less central bank activity, the better.  The neo-Keynesians pushed to maintain the lowest interest rates possible to encourage capital investment and by extension further economic growth.  They were far less concerned with price implications and far more concerned with the employment situation.  The Austrians were highly focused on price stability and believed that stable prices allowed people to have the confidence to create products and services demanded by the public, which would drive economic growth.  And there was a great middle with central bankers adhering to some of those views, but willing to be pragmatic.

But that is all ancient history now as there is only one type of central banker left in the world, the uber-dove.  Literally, every comment made by any central banker, whether from the Fed, the ECB, the BOJ, the BOE or anyplace else, describes the need, not only for ongoing easy money, but for massive fiscal stimulus as well.  There isn’t even a lone, voice in the wilderness, arguing the other side anymore.  The financialization of economies, which itself is the result of more than a decade of easy money, has resulted in an evolution of views.  In essence, interest rates, per se, are not the focus, but financial conditions.  And one of the key variables in every central bank measure of financial conditions is the price of the stock market indices.  A higher stock market means easier money, in this model, and so leads to further growth.  I fear they have the causality backwards (easy money leads to a higher stock market), but my views don’t matter.  Even formerly staunch monetary hawks, notably the Bundesbankers, are all-in for more stimulus and see no reason to consider any potential negative consequences of these actions.

This was made clear once again yesterday by comments from Lagarde, Powell and Bailey, all of whom continue to explain that their respective central bank will do whatever is necessary to support the economy, and, oh by the way, more fiscal stimulus is necessary as they can’t do it all by themselves.  While current central bank messaging tells us rates will remain low until at least 2023, look for that terminal date to continue to get pushed back.  We have already seen this play out for the ECB, where in 2018, they tried to explain that rates would begin to normalize by the end of 2020.  We all know that never happened.  Now they claim when the PPE uses up its authorization in 2022, that will be enough.  But it won’t.  They will simply expand and extend the terms again.  Here at home, we have already heard from numerous Fed speakers that if inflation were to rise to 2.5% or 3.0%, they wouldn’t be concerned.  And Powell, yesterday, was clear that more fiscal stimulus was needed to help the economy, and that the Fed would be adding even more liquidity until “substantial further progress” is made toward their goals.

So, what does this mean for markets?  It means that the inflation of asset price bubbles will continue, and that when looking at foreign exchange, the question will be which nation will maintain the easiest (or tightest) relative policy.  The broad view remains the Fed has more firepower than any other central bank, which is a key reason so many (present company included) believe the dollar will eventually decline.  But it will not be without a fight.  No other country believes they can afford for their own currency to appreciate or they won’t be able to achieve their goals.  Perhaps the real question is, what will be the catalyst to stop the flow of easy money?  And truthfully, I cannot see one on the horizon.  Traditionally, it would have been a rise in inflation, but that would be warmly welcomed by the current central bank heads, so there is really nothing left.

But perhaps, we are seeing a bit of fatigue on investors’ parts, as the trend higher in asset prices seems to have stalled for a time.  Certainly, there has been no decline of note, but it is not racing up like it had previously.  Does this mean the end is near?  I doubt it.  But remember this, when the last black swan appeared, Covid, central banks, notably the Fed, had some monetary policy room to adjust rates and try to address the problem.  When that next rare black avian appears, with rates already at zero or negative throughout the G10, what do they do next?

And on that cheery thought, let’s take a quick tour of what has been a pretty dull overnight session, where the Lunar New Year has begun to be celebrated.  In Asia, only the Hang Seng (+0.45%) was open with Japan closed for Coming of Age day, and Shanghai celebrating New Year’s.  PS, the Chinese celebration lasts for a full week.  In Europe, stocks started off mixed, but have edged higher over the past few hours with the DAX (+0.6%) leading the way followed by the FTSE 100 (+0.1%) and finally the CAC essentially unchanged on the day.  US futures markets are all higher, led by the NASDAQ (+0.5%) with the other two key indices up around 0.3%.

Bond markets, despite the growing positivity in stocks, are pretty healthy today as well.  Perhaps the never-ending promises by central bankers to continue to buy bonds is helping.  So, while Treasury yields are essentially unchanged, in Europe, Bunds, OATs and Gilts have all seen yields decline by about 2.3 basis points, and that price action is consistent across the smaller markets as well.

Oil (-0.7%) is lower today for a true change of pace, as it has rallied for the previous eight consecutive sessions.  Arguably, this is simply a trading pause, as there is no news of note that would drive the market.  Meanwhile, gold is unchanged on the day, although there is strength in the base metals space while ags remain mixed.

As to the dollar, it is under very modest pressure this morning, with AUD (+0.35%) the leading gainer in the G10 after mildly positive comments from the Treasury Secretary there.  But away from this, no other currency has moved even 0.2%, indicating there is nothing happening.  In the emerging markets, LATAM currencies are the leaders (CLP +0.8%, BRL +0.6%, MXN +0.5%) although don’t count out ZAR (+0.75%) either.  The ZAR story is a response to much better than expected mining production data while CLP has seen investor inflows into the bond market increase and Brazil is benefitting from a bill just passed granting autonomy to the central bank.  Be careful on MXN, as Banxico meets today and is expected to cut interest rates again, with a 25bp cut priced into the market, but some looking for more.

On the data front, yesterday’s CPI data was a bit softer than forecast, but didn’t seem to have much impact on the markets, although the dollar did edge lower after the release.  This morning, Initial Claims (exp 760K) and Continuing Claims (4.42M) are all we get and there are no Fed speakers slated.  So, on this snowy day in the northeast, I would look for the dollar to remain rangebound as it seeks its next catalyst.  To my eyes, the correction appears to be over, but we will need something else to get the dollar selling bandwagon rolling again.

Good luck and stay safe

The Feathers of Hawks

It seems like the feathers of hawks
Turn whiter when each of them talks
On Monday, Loretta
Said policy betta
Stay easy for pumping up stocks

For those of you not familiar with a word ladder, it is a type of puzzle where you start with a word, Hawk, for example, and change one letter in each step, while maintaining the order of the letters, to form another word and keep doing so until you arrive at the desired second word.  The object is to complete this task in as few moves as possible.  In this way, this morning’s task is to use a word ladder to turn hawk into dove (one possible answer below).

Once upon a time, in the economic community, there were two schools of thought as to how monetary policy would best serve a nation.  There were hawks, who believed that Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek had identified the most effective way for central banks to behave; namely minimalist activity and allowing the markets to work.  The consequences of this policy view were that economic cycles would exist but would be moderated naturally rather than allowing bubbles to inflate and interest rates would be set by the intersection of supply and demand.  On the other side of the debate were the doves, whose hero was John Maynard Keynes (although Stephanie Kelton of MMT fame is quickly rising up the ranks) and who believed that an activist central bank was the most effective.  This meant constant monetary interventions to support demand, alongside fiscal interventions to support more demand.  As to the consequences of this policy, like unsustainable debt loads, or rising inflation, they were seen as ephemeral and unimportant.

But that was soooo long ago, at least a full year.  In the interim, Covid-19 appeared as a deadly and virulent disease. While we have learned that it is particularly dangerous for the elderly and for those with comorbidities, there is also another group which has basically been made extinct, monetary hawks in public policy positions.  For the longest time, the two most hawkish members of the FOMC were Kansas City’s Esther George and Cleveland’s Loretta Mester.  However, at the very least, Ms. Mester has now shown that she coos like a dove as per her comments yesterday about US monetary policy, “We’re going to be accommodative for a very long time because the economy just needs it to get back on its feet.

The global central bank community is all-in on the idea that ZIRP, NIRP and QE are the new normal, and as long as equity markets around the world continue to rally, they are not going to change their views.  In a related note, the BOJ is in the midst of continuing its policy review and the question of how they should describe their ETF purchases has come up.  It seems that while a number of board members would like to pare back the purchases, they are unwilling to explain that for fear the market would misinterpret their adjustments as a policy change and the result would be a sharp equity market sell-off.  And we know that cannot be tolerated!

The point is, no matter which central bank you consider, they have all reached the point where their previous actions have resulted in fragile markets and they appear to have lost the ability to change policy.  In other words, there is no end in sight to easy money, inflation be damned.

Which, of course, is exactly what we saw yesterday in markets, as equities rallied in the US, with all three major indices closing at new all-time highs.  Asian markets mostly followed through with the Nikkei (+0.4%), Hang Seng (+0.5%) and Shanghai (+2.0%) all nicely firmer, although Australia’s ASX (-0.9%) couldn’t find any love.  And perhaps, that is the story in Europe, as well, this morning, with various shades of red painting the screen.  The DAX (-0.5%) is the worst performer, with both the CAC (-0.1%) and FTSE 100 (-0.1%) more pink than red.  As to US futures, they find themselves in the unusual position of being negative at this hour, but only just, with all three indices looking at losses of between 0.1% and 0.2%.

Bond markets are clearly in more of a risk-off mood than a risk-on one, with Treasury yields lower by 2.2bps this morning and more than 4bps lower than the peak seen yesterday.  European markets have seen less movement, with yields in the major markets all down less than one basis point, hardly a strong signal, although notably, Italian 10-year yields, at 0.502%, have traded to a new historic low level.  Excitement over the prospect that Super Mario can fix Italy remains high.

On the commodity front, oil’s early gains have reversed, and it is now essentially flat on the day, although it remains within pennies of the highs set early this morning above $58/bbl.  Gold (+0.7%) is rebounding strongly, from the lows seen last Tuesday, with silver (+1.3%) even stronger.  Of course, all these non-fiat currency plays pale in comparison to Bitcoin (+17%) which exploded higher as the progenitor of one bubble (a certain EV maker in California) explained it bought $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin for its Treasury reserves.

With this type of price action in commodities, as well as with the ongoing conversion of US monetary hawks into doves, it should not be surprising that the dollar is lower this morning, pretty much across the board.  In the G10 space, CHF and JPY are leading the way higher (+0.6% each) as investors seem to be running for havens not called the dollar.  But the euro (+0.45%) has also gained nicely and any thoughts that January’s price action was anything other than a short-term correction are now quickly fading away.  It will be interesting to see how the market responds to tomorrow’s CPI data, as that has the opportunity, if it prints higher than forecast, to alter views on real interest rates.  I have maintained that declining real yields will undermine the dollar, but I have to admit, I didn’t expect it to happen this early in the year.

EMG currencies are also firm this morning, led by ZAR (+0.6%) and RUB (+0.5%), on the back of commodity price rises, but with a pretty uniform strength throughout the CE4 and LATAM.  The one exception is BRL (-0.3%), the worst performing currency in the world this morning, as a lower than expected CPI print for January has traders shedding the belief that the central bank may be forced to raise rates any time soon.

On the data front, NFIB Small Business Optimism printed lower than last month and worse than expected at 95.0, not a good sign for the economy, but probably a boost for the view that more stimulus is coming.  At 10:00, we see JOLTs Job Openings (exp 6.4M), although that tends to be ignored.

The only Fed speaker today is St Louis’ Bullard, whose tendencies before Covid-19 were dovish, and he certainly hasn’t changed his views.  As such, and given that the market seems to have rejected the notion of a further USD correction higher, it looks like the dollar’s downtrend is getting set to resume.

Good luck and stay safe

One possible answer:  I would love to see others

No Bubble’s Detected

While Jay and his friends at the Fed
Claim when they are looking ahead
No bubble’s detected
So, they’ve not neglected
Their teachings and won’t be misled

But China views markets and sees
Their policy has too much ease
So, money they drained
As they ascertained
Investors, they need not appease

Perhaps there is no clearer depiction of the current difference between the Fed (and truly all G10 central banks) and the PBOC than the fact that last night, the PBOC drained liquidity from the market.  Not only did they drain liquidity, they explained that they were concerned about bubbles in asset markets like stocks and real estate, inflating because of current conditions.  Think about that, the PBOC did not simply discuss the idea that at some point in the future they may need to drain liquidity, they actually did so.  I challenge anyone to name a G10 central banker who could possibly be so bold.  Certainly not Chairman Powell, who tomorrow will almost certainly reiterate that this is not the time to be considering the removal of policy support.  Neither would ECB President Lagarde venture down such a road given the almost instantaneous damage that would inflict on the PIGS economies.

One cannot be surprised that stock markets fell in Asia after this action, with the Hang Seng (-2.6%) leading the way, while Shanghai (-1.5%) also fared poorly.  By contrast, the Nikkei’s -1.0% performance looked pretty good.  It should also be no surprise that the stock markets of the APAC nations whose trade relations with China define their economies saw weak outcomes.  Thus, Korea’s KOSPI (-2.1%) and Taiwan’s TAIEX (-1.8%) suffered as well.  And finally, it cannot be surprising that the Chinese renminbi traded higher (+0.15%) and is pushing back to levels last seen in June 2018.

Arguably, the key question here is, what does this mean for markets going forward?  Despite constant denials by every G10 central banker, it remains abundantly clear that equity market froth is a direct result of central bank policy.  The constant addition of liquidity to the economic system continues to spill into financial markets and push up equity (and bond and other asset) prices.  If the PBOC action were seen as a harbinger of other central bank activity, I expect that we would see a very severe repricing of risk assets.  However, a quick look at European equity markets shows that no such thing is occurring.  Rather, the powerful rally we are seeing across the board on the continent today (DAX +1.5%, CAC +1.1%, FTSE MIB +0.85%) indicates just the opposite.  Investors are not merely convinced that the ECB will never remove liquidity, but we are likely seeing some of the money that fled Asia finding a new home amid the easy money of Europe.

If the PBOC continues down this road, it is likely to have a far greater impact over time.  In fact, if they are successful in deflating the asset bubbles in China without crushing the economy, something that has never successfully been done by any central bank, it would certainly bode well for China going forward, as global investors would beat a path to their door.  While that is already happening (in 2020, for the first time, China drew more direct investment than the US), the speed with which it would occur could be breathtaking, especially in the current environment when capital moves at a blinding pace.  And that implies that Western equity markets might lose their allure and deflate.  The irony is that a communist nation firmly in the grip of the government would be deemed a better investment opportunity than the erstwhile bastion of free markets.  Ironic indeed!

However, that will only take place over a longer time frame, while we want to focus on today.  So, don’t ignore this occurrence, but don’t overreact either.

In the meantime, a look at today’s activity shows that there is little coherence in markets right now.  As you’ve seen, European equity markets are rallying nicely despite the fact that the Italian government just fell as PM Giuseppe Conte resigned.  A few months ago, this would have been seen as a significant negative for Italian assets, but not anymore.  Not only are Italian stocks higher, but BTP’s have seen yields decline another 3 basis points, taking their rally since Friday to 10 basis points!  As I have often written, BTP’s and the bonds of the other PIGS countries trade more like risk assets than havens, so it should be no surprise they are rallying.  In fact, haven assets all over are declining with Treasuries (+2.2bps), Bunds (+1.4bps) and Gilts (+1.6bps) all being sold today.

Recapping the action so far shows APAC stocks falling sharply, European stocks rallying sharply and haven bonds falling.  Is that risk-on?  Or risk-off?  Beats me!  Commodity prices point to risk-on, with oil rising 0.55% and most agricultural products higher by between 0.4%-1.0%.

Finally, looking at the dollar gives us almost no further information.  While the SEK (-0.25%) is under pressure on a complete lack of news, and the NZD (+0.2%) has moved higher after PM Arcern explained that the country would remain closed to outside travelers until the pandemic ended, the rest of the bloc is +/- 0.1% or less.  In the EMG bloc, the picture is also mixed, with KRW (-0.5%) the worst performer followed by IDR (-0.3%).  Given China’s monetary move last night, this should be no surprise.  On the plus side, TRY (+0.7%) leads the way followed by BRL (+0.4%), with the former benefitting from the IMF raising its GDP growth forecast to 6% in 2021, from a previous estimate of 5%. Meanwhile, the real has benefitted from the news that the BCB meeting last week contained discussions of raising interest rates from their current historically low level of 2.0%.  Concern over inflation picking up has some of the more hawkish members questioning the current policy stance.  Certainly, given that BRL has been one of the worst performing currencies for the past year, having declined 26% since the beginning of 2020, there is plenty of room for it to rise on the back of higher interest rates.

On the data front, this morning brings Case Shiller Home Prices (exp +8.7%) and Consumer Confidence (89.0).  On the former, this reflects historically low mortgage rates and a lack of inventory.  As to the latter, it must be remembered that this reading was above 120 for the entire previous Administration’s tenure until Covid came calling.  Alas, there is no indication that people are feeling ready to head back to the malls and movies yet.

With the FOMC on tap for tomorrow, I expect that the FX market will take its cues from equities.  If the US follows Europe, I would expect to see the dollar give up a little ground, but as I type, futures are little changed with no consistent direction.  While the dollar’s medium-term trend lower has been interrupted, for now, it also appears that the correction has seen its peak.  However, it could take a few more sessions before any downward pressure resumes in earnest, subject, naturally, to what the Fed tells us tomorrow.

Good luck and stay safe

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

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

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