Could Not Be Severer

For two years the EU played rough
On Brexit and called every bluff
They forced the UK
To see it their way
And every pushback they’d rebuff

But now that the date’s drawing nearer
And Johnson can’t be any clearer
He’ll walk with no deal
It’s now become real
That Brexit could not be severer

So Barnier finally blinked
Agreeing the Irish were linked
And in a surprise
He talked compromise
Though as yet, no new deal’s been inked

The pound is higher this morning as news that the EU is willing to discuss a compromise for the Irish border has clearly changed the discussion. If you recall, the EU has been adamant that the only deal available is the one that erstwhile PM May negotiated, which includes a section on the Irish border that could easily keep the UK beholden to the EU in perpetuity. Naturally, the Brexiteers were not happy with that outcome and it eventually led to May’s resignation.

The problem for the EU is that Boris Johnson, who is the most likely candidate to become the new PM when results are announced next week, has been abundantly clear that if the EU doesn’t fix the parts of the deal that are controversial, he will take the UK out on October 31 without a deal. And there is no indication he is bluffing. So suddenly the EU has figured out that a no-deal Brexit is a real possibility and that they may no longer have the upper hand. Consider that the UK has already suffered economically during the run-up to the actual exit, while the EU’s suffering has been self-inflicted and not related to Brexit at all. Given the EU’s economy is broadly slowing already, the last thing they need is something like Brexit, which would likely tip the EU into recession if there is no deal. And voila, the EU has finally figured out that they have much to lose in this negotiation.

It should be no surprise that the pound has rallied on the news, although the 0.5% rally is not that impressive. But it’s a start, and if the two sides can come to an agreement on the Irish situation, then there is a real opportunity for the pound to rebound sharply. After all, a smooth Brexit has always been likely to drive the pound back toward 1.40. While it is still way too early to assume that outcome, at least it is back on the table.

The other theme of the overnight session has been central bank rate cuts, with South Korea surprising analysts with a 25bp cut to 1.50% while they lowered forecasts for both growth and inflation for 2019 and 2020. The ongoing trade situation between the US and China is a major headache for the Koreans, and don’t forget they have their own direct trade issue with Japan regarding the Japanese export of key materials for Korean manufacturing. We also saw Indonesia cut rates 25bps, beginning the reversal of the 175bps of rate hikes they implemented in 2018. While growth there remains solid, with inflation falling and forecasts for slowing growth in its key export markets, this was not a great surprise. Analysts are looking for two more cuts this year as well. Interestingly, neither the won nor rupiah weakened on the news, with both currencies firmer by 0.15% when the market closed in Asia time.

And perhaps that is the theme for today, mild dollar weakness despite other nation’s activities. But the operative word is mild. In fact, the pound’s rally, which was also helped by surprisingly robust Retail Sales data, is by far the largest move of the session. Otherwise, in both G10 and EMG spaces, we are seeing some back and forth on the order of 0.10%-0.20%, hardly enough to get excited about.

Clearly, there is much more market discussion on the earnings season as it unfolds in the US. Yesterday’s big news was Netflix, which missed estimates on subscriber growth in Q2 and has seen its stock fall sharply in the aftermarket. But Eurozone equities are under pressure as well after weak results from SAP and Nordea Bank presage further struggles on the continent.

Now here’s something to consider. Right now, the market is fully priced for a Fed cut at the end of the month, and there is a strong expectation that the ECB meeting next week is going to outline its future policy ease. Those have been key drivers in the broad equity market rally we have seen since June, and if either Powell or Draghi disappoints, equity markets are certainly going to suffer. But what if earnings data comes in broadly worse than expected, a la Netflix last night, and equity prices fall regardless of the rate story. After all, by almost every measure, valuations in the US equity space are quite high so a decline may well be due on its own, rate cuts or not. The question is how those same central banks will respond. Will they ease more aggressively to prevent a further decline, or will they ignore the outcome? In the past, this wasn’t really a consideration as central banks were focused only on inflation and employment or growth. But these days I’m not so sure that is the case. Just beware if earnings data start to stumble.

Turning to this morning’s session, there are only two US data points, Initial Claims (exp 216K) and Leading Indicators (0.1%). We also hear from two Fed speakers, Bostic and Williams, although both have already explained their views earlier this week. On that subject, we heard from FOMC voter Esther George yesterday and she has been the first Fed speaker to be clear that there is no reason for a rate cut anytime soon. Now she has always been one of the more hawkish Fed members and it would not shock me if she dissented at the next vote assuming a rate cut is the outcome. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the first dissent under Powell’s tenure was looking for a cut and the second, in the following meeting, was looking to stay on hold? It certainly indicates there is a diversity of opinion at the Fed, at least with regard to the proper policy implementation if not with regard to Keynesianism.

And that’s all there is for today. Earnings data are likely to be the main drivers as neither data point is seen as a market mover. With the dollar on its back foot this morning, I see no reason for it to turn around at this time. Look for a further slow decline.

Good luck
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Be Prepare for Mayhem

Next week when the former PM
Steps down be prepared for mayhem
Both Johnson and Hunt
Are willing to punt
May’s deal, which they’re quick to condemn

Remember, back in the day, when I suggested that the probability of a hard Brexit was much higher than the market was assuming? In fact, I have been highlighting this fact pretty consistently since, at least, January heading up to the original deadline. Well, now, it appears that the market is figuring out that the probability of a hard Brexit is higher than they previously assumed. Last night, in a debate between the two candidates for PM, front-runner Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, both were clear that the Irish backstop was dead in the water, and both were clear that they would be willing to walk away with no deal. Ongoing negotiations have become more difficult as the UK is making more demands and the EU is now complaining that the UK is trying to “bully” them! This is the funniest statement that I have ever seen. For two years, the EU essentially bullied PM May into agreeing to things that were unpalatable, including the Irish backstop. Now all of a sudden, the EU’s tender feelings have been hurt by the UK pushing back!

Since the original vote, pundits around the world have assumed that the UK would bear the brunt of the fallout from Brexit. After all, the rest of the EU is the UK’s largest trading partner, and the UK only represents something like 10% of EU exports. But as the EU dips back into recession with monetary policy already stretched, it is becoming clearer that the EU will suffer greatly in a no-deal Brexit. Just ask Germany how its auto manufacturers will be impacted when suddenly there are tariffs on BMW’s in the UK. The point is that both sides are likely to feel pain, although it seems the UK has already absorbed part of it, while the rest of the EU has been laboring under the assumption that the UK would cave in eventually. My view is there is no chance of a deal at this point and there are only two possible outcomes; no-deal Brexit or no Brexit. However, there seems to be limited willingness to hold a second referendum to try to overturn the first one, with major splits within both main parties there. And that leads to a no-deal Brexit. Be prepared.

It should be no surprise that this has had a pretty big impact on the pound this morning, which has fallen by 0.75% to its lowest level since January 2017. And this is despite better than expected employment data where wages grew a stronger than expected 3.6% in May, while the Unemployment rate remained at 45-year lows of 3.8%. While the UK economy seems to be holding up reasonably well, I continue to look for the BOE to cut rates in November after the hard Brexit occurs, if only as a precaution for a quick slowdown. Meanwhile, the pound is likely to continue to decline between now and then, testing 1.20 before long. However, vs. the euro, where the pound has also been sliding, I expect that trend to stabilize and even reverse. This is due to the fact that the Eurozone is going to suffer far more than currently anticipated from a hard Brexit. Right now, the cross is trading at 0.9030. I would look for a move in the euro to 1.05-1.06 and the cross to head down to 0.88.

Away from the Brexit story, things are a bit less exciting on the currency front. Broadly the dollar is strong today, as weaker Eurozone data (German ZEW Sentiment fell more than expected to -24.5) has pundits discussing a recession in Germany and confirming a more aggressive policy ease from the ECB. As such, the euro is lower by 0.3% this morning, as all the dovishness from the Fed is being offset by all the dovishness from ECB members.

Down Under, the RBA Minutes continue to highlight the need to keep policy accommodative as they, too, recognize that their old models need tweaking and that lower rates will not lead directly to further inflation. Aussie, which has actually performed pretty well overall since Powell’s first testimony last week, is lower by 0.2%. While the RBA is likely to remain on hold for now, look for more cuts as soon as the Fed starts to cut.

And those have really been the key drivers in the market today. Looking at the CE4, all of them have fallen roughly the same 0.3% as the euro meaning there is no new information to be gleaned. LATAM currencies are barely budged and APAC has also seen very limited movement overnight. The same can be said of global equity markets, which have seen very limited movement, on the order of 0.2% as investors await the next big story. Arguably, that story will start to be told next week by the ECB, with the punchline added by the FOMC at the end of the month. In the meantime, earnings season is beginning, so individual equity prices are likely to see movement, but it is hard to get excited about a macro move in the near term. And bonds? Well, they have stopped falling as the overly aggressive long positions seem to have been unwound. I expect they will start to rally again, albeit at a slower pace than we saw at the beginning of the month.

This morning brings the most interesting data of the week, Retail Sales (exp 0.1%, 0.1% ex autos), as well as a spate of Fed speakers including Chairman Powell at 1:00 this afternoon. If Retail Sales disappoint already low expectations, look for bonds to rally along with stocks as the dollar falls. If they are quite strong, I think the market is far less prone to react as the July rate cut is still a done deal. It just will have a much smaller probability of being a 50bp cut.

Good luck
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Soon On the Way

Said Brainerd and Williams and Jay
A rate cut is soon on the way
Inflation’s quiescent
And growth’s convalescent
So easing will help save the day

We have learned a great deal this week about central bank sentiment from the Fed, the ECB, the BOE, Sweden’s Riksbank as well as several emerging market central banks like Mexico and Serbia. And the tone of all the commentary is one way; easier policy is coming soon to a central bank near you.

Let’s take a look at the Fed scorecard to start. Here is a list of the FOMC membership, voting members first:

Chairman Jerome Powell                – cut
Vice-Chair Richard Clarida             – cut
Lael Brainerd                                    – cut
Randal Quarles                                 – cut
Michelle Bowman                            – ?
NY – John Williams                           -cut
St Louis James Bullard                    – cut
Chicago – Charles Evans                  – cut
KC – Esther George                           – stay
Boston – Eric Rosengren                 – cut

Non-voting members
Philadelphia – Patrick Harker       – cut
Dallas – Robert Kaplan                    – ?
Minneapolis – Neel Kashkari         – cut 50!
Cleveland – Loretta Mester            – stay
Atlanta – Rafael Bostic                    – stay
Richmond – Thomas Barkin          – stay

While we have not yet heard from the newest Governor, Michelle Bowman, it would be unprecedented for a new governor to dissent so early in their tenure. In the end, based on what we have heard publicly from voting members, only Esther George might dissent to call for rates to remain on hold, but it is clear that at least a 25bp cut is coming at the end of the month. The futures market has priced it in fully, and now the question is will they cut 50. At this point, it doesn’t seem that likely to me, but there are still two weeks before the meeting, so plenty can happen in the interim.

But it’s not just the Fed. The ECB Minutes were released yesterday, and the telling line was there was “broad agreement” that the ECB should “be ready and prepared to ease the monetary policy stance further by adjusting all of its instruments.” It seems pretty clear to me (and arguably the entire market) that they are about to ease policy. There are many analysts who believe the ECB will wait until their September meeting, when they produce new growth and inflation forecasts, but a growing number of analysts who believe that they will cut later this month. After all, if the Fed is about to cut based on weakening global growth, why would the ECB wait?

And there were the Minutes from Sweden’s Riksbank, which were released this morning and showed that their plans for raising rates as early as September have now been called into question by a number of the members, as slowing global growth and ongoing trade uncertainties weigh on sentiment. While Sweden’s economy has performed better than the Eurozone at large, it will be extremely difficult for the Riksbank to tighten policy while the ECB is easing without a significant adjustment to the krona. And given Sweden’s status as an open economy with significant trade flows, they cannot afford for the krona to strengthen too much.

Meanwhile, Banco de Mexico Minutes showed a split in the vote to maintain rates on hold at 8.25% last month, with two voters now looking for a cut. While inflation remains higher than target, again, the issue is how long can they maintain current policy rates in the face of cuts by the Fed. Look for rate cuts there by autumn. And finally, little Serbia didn’t wait, cutting 25bp this morning as growth there is beginning to slow, and recognizing that imminent action by the ECB would need to be addressed anyway.

In fairness, the macroeconomic backdrop for all this activity is not all that marvelous. For example, just like South Korea reported last week, Singapore reported Q2 GDP growth as negative, -3.4% annualized, a much worse than expected outcome and a potential harbinger of the future for larger economies. Singapore’s economy is hugely dependent on trade flows, so given the ongoing US-China trade issues, this ought not be a surprise, but the magnitude of the decline was significant. Speaking of China, their trade data, released last night, showed slowing exports (-1.3%) and imports (-7.3%), with the result a much larger than expected trade surplus of $51B. Additionally, we saw weaker than expected Loan growth and slowing M2 Money Supply growth, both of which point to slower economic activity going forward. Yesterday’s other important economic data point was US CPI, where core surprised at 2.1%, a tick higher than expected. However, the overwhelming evidence that the Fed is going to cut rates has rendered that point moot for now. We will need to see that number move much higher, and much faster, to change any opinions there.

The market impact of all this has generally been as expected. Equity prices, at least in the US, continue to climb as investors cling tightly to the idea that lower interest rates equal higher stock prices. All three indices closed at new records and futures are pointing higher across the board. The dollar, too, has been under pressure, as would be expected given the view that the Fed is going to enter an easing cycle. Of course, while the recent trend for the dollar has been down, the slope of the line is not very steep. Consider that the euro is only about 1% above its recent cyclical lows from late April, and still well below the levels seen at the end of June. So while the dollar has weakened a bit, it is quite easy to make the case it remains within a trading range. In fact, as I mentioned yesterday, if all central banks are cutting rates simultaneously, the impact on the currency market should be quite limited, as the relative rate stance won’t change.

Finally, a quick word about Treasury bonds as well as German bunds. Both of these markets were hugely overbought by the end of last week, as investors and speculators jumped on the idea of lower rates coming soon. And so, it should be no surprise that both of these markets have seen yields back up a decent amount as those trades are unwound. This morning we see 10-year yields at 2.13% in the US and -0.21% in Germany, well off the lows of last week. However, this trade is entirely technical and at some point, when these positions are gone, look for yields on both securities to head lower again.

This morning brings just PPI (exp 1.6%, 2.2% core) which is unlikely to have much impact on anything. With no more Fed speakers to add to the mix, I expect that we will continue to see equities rally, and that the dollar, while it may remain soft, is unlikely to move too far in any direction.

Good luck and good weekend
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Some Real Fed Appeasing

The jobs report Friday suggested
That everyone who has requested
Employment has found
That jobs still abound
And companies are still invested

The market response was less pleasing
At least for the bulls who seek easing
With equities falling
And yields, higher, crawling
Look, now, for some real Fed appeasing

We are clearly amidst a period of ‘good news is bad’ and ‘bad news is good’ within the market context these days. Friday was the latest evidence of this fact as the much better than expected Nonfarm Payroll report (224K vs. 160K expected) resulted in an immediate sell-off in equity and bond markets, with the dollar rallying sharply. The underlying thesis remains that weakness in the US (and global) economy will be sufficient to ensure easier monetary policy, but that the problems will not get so bad as to cause a recession. That’s a pretty fine line to toe for the central banks, and one where history shows they have a lousy record.

However, whether it is good or bad is irrelevant. What is abundantly clear is that this is the current situation. So, Friday saw all three major US indices fall from record highs; it saw 2-year Treasury yields back up 11bps and 10-year yields back up 8pbs; and it saw the dollar rally roughly 0.75%.

The question is, why were markets in those positions to begin with? On the equity side of the ledger, prices have been exclusively driven by expectations of Fed policy. Until the NFP report, not only was a 25bp rate cut priced into Fed funds for the FOMC meeting at the end of the month, but there was a growing probability of a 50bp rate cut. This situation is fraught with danger for equity investors although to date, the bulls have been rewarded. At least the bond story made more sense from a macroeconomic perspective, as broadly weaker economic data (Friday’s numbers excepted) had indicated that both the US and global economies were slowing with the obvious prescription being easier monetary policy. This had resulted in German bunds inverting relative to the -0.40% deposit rate at the ECB as well as US 10-year yields falling below 2.00% for the first time in several years. Therefore, stronger data would be expected to call that thesis into question, and a sell-off in bonds made sense.

And finally, for the dollar, the rally was also in sync with fundamentals as higher US yields, and more importantly, the prospect of less policy ease in the future, forced the dollar bears to re-evaluate their positions and unwind at least some portion. As I have been writing, under the assumption that the Fed does indeed ease policy, it makes sense that the dollar should decline somewhat. However, it is also very clear that the Fed will not be easing policy in a vacuum, but rather be leading a renewed bout of policy ease worldwide. And as the relative interest rate structure equalizes after all the central banks have finished their easing, the US will still likely be the most attractive investment destination, supporting the dollar, but also, dollar funding will still need to be found by non-US businesses and countries, adding to demand for the buck.

With this as a backdrop, the week ahead does not bring much in the way of data, really just CPI on Thursday, but it does bring us a great deal of Fed speak, including a Powell speech tomorrow and then his House and Senate testimony on Wednesday and Thursday. And don’t forget the ECB meeting on Thursday!

Today Consumer Credit $17.0B
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz 105
  JOLT’s Jobs Report 7.47M
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday ECB Meeting -0.4%
  Initial Claims 222K
  CPI 0.0% (1.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.0% Y/Y)
Friday PPI 0.1% (1.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)

Remember, that on top of the FOMC Minutes to be released Wednesday afternoon, we will hear from seven different Fed speakers a total of thirteen times this week, including Powell’s testimony on Capitol Hill. Amongst this crowd will be the two most dovish members of the FOMC, Bullard and Kashkari, as well as key members Williams and Quarles. It will be extremely interesting to see how these speakers spin the jobs data relative to their seemingly growing bias toward easing. Much has been made of the idea of an ‘insurance’ rate cut, in order to prevent anything from getting out of hand. But Powell will also need to deal with the allegations that he is capitulating to President Trump’s constant demands for lower interest rates and more QE if he comes across as dovish. I don’t envy him the task.

Regarding the ECB meeting, despite continuing weakness in most of the Eurozone data, it feels like it is a bit too soon for them to ease policy quite yet. First off, they have the issue of what type of impact pushing rates even further negative will have on the banking system there. With the weekend news about Deutsche bank retrenching across numerous products, with no end of red ink in sight, the last thing Signor Draghi wants is to have to address a failing major bank. But it is also becoming clearer, based on comments from other ECB members (Coeure and Villeroy being the latest) that a cut is coming soon. And don’t rule out further QE. The ECB is fast becoming desperate, with no good options in sight. Ultimately, this also plays into my belief that despite strong rationales for the dollar to decline, it is the euro that will suffer most.

However, the fun doesn’t really start until tomorrow, when Chairman Powell speaks at 8:45am. So for today, it appears that markets will consolidate Friday’s moves with limited volatility, but depending on just how dovish Powell sounds, we are in for a more active week overall.

Good luck
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Laden With Fears

When lending, a term of ten years
At one time was laden with fears
But not anymore
As bond prices soar
And bond bulls regale us with cheers

Another day, another record low for German bund yields, this time -0.396%, and there is no indication that this trend is going to stop anytime soon. While this morning’s PMI Composite data was released as expected (Germany 52.6, France 52.7, Eurozone 52.2), it continues at levels that show subdued growth. And given the ongoing weakness in the manufacturing sector, the major fear of both economists and investors is that we are heading into a global recession. Alas, I fear they are right about that, and when the dust settles, and the NBER looks back to determine when the recession began, don’t be surprised if June 2019 is the start date. At any rate, it’s not just bund yields that are falling, it is a universal reaction. Treasuries are now firmly below 2.00% (last at 1.95%), but also UK Gilts (0.69%), French OATs (-0.06%) and JGB’s (-0.15%). Even Italy, where the ongoing fight over their budget situation is getting nastier, has seen its yields fall 13bps today down to 1.71%. In other words, bond markets continue to forecast slowing growth and low inflation for some time to come. And of course, that implies further policy ease by the world’s central bankers.

Speaking of which:

In what was a mini bombshell
Said Mester, it’s too soon to tell
If rates should be lowered
Since, as I look forward
My models say things are just swell

Yesterday, Cleveland Fed president Loretta Mester, perhaps the most hawkish member of the Fed, commented that, “I believe it is too soon to make that determination, and I prefer to gather more information before considering a change in our monetary-policy stance.” In addition, she questioned whether lowering rates would even help address the current situation of too-low inflation. Needless to say, the equity markets did not appreciate her comments, and sold off when they hit the tape. But it was a minor reaction, and, in the end, the prevailing wisdom remains that the Fed is going to cut rates at the end of this month, and at least two more times this year. In truth, we will learn a great deal on Friday, when the payroll report is released, because another miss like last month, where the NFP number was just 75K, is likely to bring calls for an immediate cut, and also likely to see a knee-jerk reaction higher in stocks on the premise that lower rates are always good.

The IMF leader Lagarde
(Whom Greeks would like feathered and tarred)
Come later this year
The euro will steer
As ECB prez (and blowhard)

The other big news this morning concerns the changing of the guard at the ECB and the other EU institutions that have scheduled leadership changes. In a bit of a surprise, IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, is to become the new ECB president, following Mario Draghi. Lagarde is a lawyer, not a central banker, and has no technocratic or central banking experience at all. Granted, she is head of a major supranational organization, and was French FinMin at the beginning of the decade. But all that reinforces is that she is a political hack animal, not that she is qualified to run the second most important policymaking institution in the world. Remember, the IMF, though impressive sounding, makes no policies, it simply hectors others to do what the IMF feels is correct. If you recall, when Chairman Powell was nominated, his lack of economics PhD was seen as a big issue. For some reason, that is not the case with Lagarde. I cannot tell if it’s because Powell has proven to be fine in the role, or if it would be seen as politically incorrect to complain about something like that since she ticks several other boxes deemed important. At any rate, now that politicians are running the two largest central banks (or at least will be as of November 1), perhaps we can dispel the fiction that central banks are independent of politics!

Away from the bond market, which we have seen rally, the market impact of this news has arguably been mixed. Equity markets in Asia were generally weak (Nikkei -0.5%, Shanghai -1.0%), but in Europe, investors are feeling fine, buying equities (DAX +0.6%, FTSE + 0.8%) alongside bonds. Arguably, the European view is that Madame Lagarde is going to follow in the footsteps of Signor Draghi and continue to ease policy aggressively going forward. And despite Mester’s comments, US equity futures are pointing higher as well, with both the DJIA and S&P looking at +0.3% gains right now.

Gold prices, too, are anticipating lower interest rates as after a short-term dip last Friday, with the shiny metal trading as low as $1384, it has rebounded sharply and after touching $1440, the highest print in six years, it is currently around $1420. I have to admit that the combination of fundamentals (lower global interest rates) and market technicals (a breakout above $1400 after three previous failed attempts) it does appear as though gold is heading much higher. Don’t be surprised to see it trade as high as $1700 before this rally is through.

Finally, the dollar continues to be the least interesting of markets with a mixed performance today, and an overall unchanged outcome. The pound continues to suffer as the Brexit situation meanders along and the uncertainty engendered hits economic activity. In fact, this morning’s PMI data was awful (50.2) and IHS/Markit is now calling for negative GDP growth in Q2 for the UK. Aussie data, however, was modestly better than expected helping both AUD and NZD higher, despite soft PMI data from China. EMG currencies are all over the map, with both gainers and losers, but the defining characteristic is that none of the movement has been more than 0.3%, confirming just how quiet things are.

As to the data story, this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 223K), the Trade Balance (-$54.0B), ISM Non-Manufacturing (55.9) and Factory Orders (-0.5%). While the ISM data may have importance, given the holiday tomorrow and the fact that payrolls are due Friday morning, it is hard to get too excited about significant FX movement today. However, that will not preclude the equity markets from continuing their rally on the basis of more central bank largesse.

Good luck
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Absent Deceit

Two presidents are set to meet
From nations that fiercely compete
The issue at hand
Is how to expand
The trade twixt them absent deceit

For markets, this issue is key
And so far, today, what we see
Is traders complacent
A deal is now nascent
So buyers have been on a spree

The upcoming meeting between President’s Trump and Xi, due to be held on Saturday, has drawn the most focus amid financial markets in the past twenty-four hours. Yesterday we heard Treasury Secretary Mnuchin express confidence a deal could be completed and that “we were about 90% of the way there…” prior to the abrupt end of discussions last month. If you recall, the US claimed China reneged on their willingness to enshrine the deal details into their canon of law, which the US demanded to insure the deal was followed. However, shortly thereafter, President Trump, in a Fox News interview, talked about raising tariffs if necessary and seemed quite unconcerned over the talks falling apart. In fact, he turned his ire on India and Vietnam for adding to trade troubles. While Asian markets all rallied as the vibes seemed to be improving, a short time ago China announced they would have a set of conditions to present to Mr Trump in order to reach a deal. These include an end to the ban on Huawei products and purchases as well as an immediate end to all tariffs.

Given the importance of reaching a deal for both sides, my take is these comments and terms are simply being used to establish the baseline for the negotiations between the two men, and that some middle ground will be reached. However, markets (wisely I think) took the Chinese demands as a sign that a deal is far less certain than optimists believe, and European equities, as well as US futures, have sold off since their release. I have maintained throughout this process that a deal was always going to be extremely difficult to achieve given the fundamental problem that the Chinese have yet to admit to IP theft or forced technology transfers while the US sees those as critical issues. In addition, the question of enshrinement of terms into local law describes one of the fundamental differences between the two nations. After all, the US is a nation based on its laws, while China is a nation entirely in thrall to one man. Quite frankly, I think the odds of completing a deal are 50:50 at best, and if the luncheon between the two men does not result in the resumption of talks, be prepared for a pretty significant risk-off event.

In the meantime, the global economic picture continues to fade as data releases point to slowing growth everywhere. Yesterday’s Durable Goods numbers were much worse than expected at -1.3%, although that was largely due to the reduction in aircraft orders on the back of the ongoing travails of Boeing’s 737 Max jet. But even absent transport, the 0.3% increase, while better than expected, is hardly the stuff of a strong expansion. In fact, economists have begun adjusting their GDP forecasts lower due to the absence of manufacturing production. Yesterday I highlighted the sharp decline in all of the regional Fed manufacturing surveys, so the Durables data should be no real surprise. But surprise or not, it bodes ill for GDP growth in Q2 and Q3.

Of course, the US is not alone in seeing weaker data. For example, this morning the Eurozone published its monthly Confidence indices with Business Confidence falling to 0.17, the lowest level in five years, while Economic Sentiment fell to 103.3 (different type of scale), its lowest level in three years and continuing the steep trend lower since a recent peak in the autumn of last year. Economists have been watching the ongoing deterioration in Eurozone data and have adjusted their forecasts for the ECB’s future policy initiatives as follows: 10bp rate cut in September and December as well as a 50% probability of restarting QE. The latter is more difficult as that requires the ECB to change their self-imposed rules regarding ownership of government debt and the appearance of the ECB financing Eurozone governments directly. Naturally, it is the Germans who are most concerned over this issue, with lawsuits ongoing over the last series of QE. However, I think its quaint that politicians try to believe that central banks haven’t been directly funding governments for the past ten years!

So, what has all this done for the FX markets? Frankly, not much. The dollar is little changed across the board this morning, with nary a currency having moved even 0.20% in either direction. The issue in FX is that the competing problems (trade, weakening growth, central bank policy adjustments) are pulling traders in different directions with no clarity as to longer term trends. Lately, a common theme emerging has been that the dollar’s bull run is over, with a number of large speculators (read hedge funds) starting to establish short dollar positions against numerous currencies. This is based on the idea that the Fed will be forced to begin easing policy and that they have far more room to do so than any other central bank. As such, the dollar’s interest rate advantage will quickly disappear, and the dollar will fall accordingly. While I agree that will be a short-term impact, I remain unconvinced that the longer-term trend is turning. After all, there is scant evidence that things are getting better elsewhere in the world. Remember, the ongoing twin deficits in the US are hardly unique. Governments continue to spend far more than they receive in tax revenues and that is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Rather, ultimately, we are going to see more and more discussion on MMT, with the idea that printing money is without risk. And in a world of deflating currencies and halting growth, the US will still be the place where capital is best treated, thus drawing investment and dollar demand.

This morning brings some more data as follows: Initial Claims (exp 220K) and the third look at Q1 GDP (3.1%). Later, we also see our 6th regional Fed manufacturing index, this time from KC and while there is no official consensus view, given the trend we have seen, one has to believe it will fall sharply from last month’s reading of 2.0. There are no Fed speakers on the docket, so FX markets ought to take their cues from the equity and bond markets, which as the morning progressed, are starting to point to a bit of risk aversion.

Good luck
Adf

 

QE Will Soon Have Returned

The ECB started the trend
Which helped the bond market ascend
Then yesterday Jay
Was happy to say
A rate cut he’d clearly portend

Last night from Japan we all learned
Kuroda-san was not concerned
That yields there keep falling
And if growth is stalling
Then QE will soon have returned

This morning on Threadneedle Street
The Governor and his staff meet
Of late, they’ve implied
That rates have upside
But frankly, that tune’s obsolete

This morning, every story is the same story, interest rates are going lower. Tuesday, Signor Draghi told us so. Yesterday Chairman Jay reiterated the idea, and last night, Kuroda-san jumped on the bandwagon. This morning, Governor Carney left policy unchanged, although he continues to maintain that interest rates in the UK could rise if there is a smooth exit from the EU. Gilt markets, however, clearly don’t believe Carney as yields there fall and futures markets are pricing in a 25bp rate cut by the end of the year.

But it is not just those banks that are looking to ease policy. Remember, several weeks ago the RBA cut rates to a new record low at 1.25%, and last night, Governor Lowe indicated another cut was quite realistic. Bank Indonesia cut the reserve requirement by 0.50% last night and strongly hinted that an interest rate cut was on its way. While Bangko Sentral ng Pilipanas surprised most analysts by leaving rates on hold due to an uptick in inflation, that appears to be a temporary outcome. And adding to the Asian pressure is the growing belief that the RBNZ is also set to cut rates right before Australia does so.

In fact, looking around the world, there is only one place that is bucking this trend, Norway, which actually increased interest rates this morning by 25bp to a rate of 1.25%. In fairness, Norway continues to grow strongly, estimated 2.6% GDP growth this year, and inflation there is running above the 2.0% target and forecast to continue to increase. And it should be no surprise that the Norwegian krone is this morning’s best performing currency, rallying 1.0% vs. the euro and 1.5% vs. the dollar.

But in the end, save Norway, every story is still the same story. Global GDP growth is slowing amid increased trade concerns while inflationary pressures are generally absent almost everywhere. And in that environment, policy rates are going to continue to fall.

The market impacts ought not be too surprising either. Equity investors everywhere are giddy over the thought of still lower interest rates to help boost the economy. Or if not boosting the economy, at least allowing corporations to continue to issue more debt at extremely low levels and resume the stock repurchase schemes that have been underpinning equity market performance. Meanwhile, bond market investors are pushing the central banks even further, with new low yield levels in many countries. For example, in the 10-year space, German bunds are at -0.31%; Japanese JGB’s are at -0.18%; UK Gilts yield 0.81%; and Treasuries, here at home, have fallen to 2.01% right now, after touching 1.97% yesterday. It is abundantly clear that the market believes policy rates are going to continue to fall, and that QE is going to be reinstated soon.

As to the FX markets, yesterday saw the beginning of a sharp decline in the dollar with the euro up nearly 1.0% since the FOMC announcement, the pound +0.5% and the yen +0.6%. This makes sense as given the global rate structure, it remains clear that the Fed has the most room to ease from current settings, and thus the dollar is likely to suffer the most in the short term. However, as those changes take effect, I expect that the dollar’s decline will slow down, and we will find a new short-term equilibrium. I had suggested a 3%-5% decline before settling, and that still seems reasonable. After all, despite the fall yesterday, the dollar is simply back to where it was a week ago, before all the central bank fireworks.

With the BOE out of the way, the rest of the morning brings us two data releases, Initial Claims (exp 220K) and Philly Fed (11.0). For the former, there is still real scrutiny there given the weak NFP number earlier this month, and estimates have been creeping slightly higher. A big miss on the high side will likely see rates fall further and the dollar with them. As to the latter, given the huge miss by the Empire Manufacturing print on Monday, there will be wariness there as well. A big miss here will become the second piece of news that indicates a more acute slowing of the US economy, and that will also likely see rates fall further.

In fact, that is the theme for now, everything will be an excuse for rates to fall until the meeting between President’s Trump and Xi next week, with all eyes looking for signs that the trade situation will improve. And one other thing to remember is that tensions in the Middle East are increasing after Iran claimed to have shot down a US drone. Both oil and gold prices are much higher this morning, and I assure you, Treasuries are a beneficiary of this story as well.

So, for the dollar, things look dim in the short and medium term, however, I see no reason for a prolonged decline. Hedgers should take advantage of the weakness in the buck to add to hedges over the next few weeks.

Good luck
Adf