Past Its Shelf Life

The narrative most of this year
Described central banks full of fear
So rates they would cut
Which might help somewhat
But so far that hasn’t been clear

Instead every meeting’s been rife
With conflict, dissension and strife
For NIRP, the doves pine
While hawks like to whine
That policy’s past its shelf life

At the end of a week filled with numerous central bank meetings, it’s time to consider what we’ve learned. Arguably, the first thing is that groupthink in the central banking community is not quite as widespread as we previously believed. This was made evident by the three dissenting votes at the FOMC on Wednesday as well as last week’s ECB meeting, where at least five members of the council argued vociferously for no further stimulus. The funny thing is that while I understand the European monetary hawks’ zeitgeist, (German hyperinflation of the 1920’s) the fact remains that Europe is slipping into recession and arguably the ECB is correct in trying to address that. With that said, I would argue they would have been far better off extending the TLTRO’s to an even longer maturity and cut rates there, allowing banks to earn from the ECB while they lend to clients at a positive rate. Simply cutting the deposit rate to -0.50% is very unlikely to spur growth further, at least based on the fact that it has not helped yet.

At the same time, the FOMC also has a wide range of opinions on display. Not only were there two hawkish dissents, there was a dovish one as well. And based on the dot plot, after this cut, there are now ten of the seventeen members who see no further rate action in 2019. Meanwhile, the market is still pricing in a 69% probability of a cut by the December meeting. There was a comment by a famous hedge fund trader that Chairman Powell is the weakest chairman in decades, based on these dissents, but it was just three years ago, in the September 2016 meeting when Janet Yellen chaired the Fed, that there were also three dissents at a meeting, with all three seeking a rate hike, while the Fed stood pat. The point is, it is probably a bit unfair to be claiming Powell is weak because some members have different views. And in the big picture, shouldn’t we want a diversity of ideas at the Fed? I think that would make for a healthier debate.

Two other meetings stand out, the BOJ and the PBOC, or at least actions by those banks stand out. While the BOJ left policy on hold officially, they not only promised a re-evaluation of the current monetary policy framework, but last night, they significantly reduced the amount of JGB’s that they purchased in the longer maturities. The absent ¥50 billion surprised market players and helped drive the yields on the back end higher by between 3-4bps. The BOJ have made it clear that they are interested in a steeper yield curve, and that’s just what they got. Their problem is that despite decades of ZIRP and then NIRP, as well as a massive QE program, their inflation target remains as far away as ever. Last night, for example, CPI was released at 0.5% Y/Y ex fresh food, the lowest level since mid-2017. It seems pretty clear that their actions have been a failure for decades and show no sign of changing. Perhaps they could use a little dissent!

Finally, the PBOC cut its 1-year Loan Prime Rate (its new monetary benchmark) by 5bps last night, the second consecutive cut and an indication that they are trying to add stimulus without inflating any financial bubbles. While this move was widely anticipated, they did not change the level of the 5-year Rate, which was also anticipated. The overall difference here, though, is that the PBOC is clearly far less concerned with what happens to investors than most Western central banks. After all, they explicitly take their marching orders from President Xi, so the overall scope of policy is out of their hands.

When looking at the impact of these moves, though, at least in the currency markets, the thrust was against the grain of what was desired by the central banks. If you recall last week, the euro initially declined, but then rallied sharply by the end of the day after the ECB meeting and has largely maintained those gains. Then yesterday we saw JPY strength, with no reprieve overnight after their change of stance, while the renminbi has actually strengthened 0.2% overnight in the wake of the rate cut. As I have been writing, central banks are slowly losing their grip on the markets, a situation which I believe to be healthy, but also one that will see increased volatility over time.

Looking at the market activity overnight, the screen shows that one of the best performers was INR, with the rupee gaining 0.5%. This comes on the back of the government’s announced $20 billion stimulus plan of corporate tax cuts. While equity markets there responded joyfully, Sensex +5.3%, government bonds fell sharply, with 10-year yields rising 15bps as bond investors questioned the ability of the government to run larger deficits. But away from that, the FX market was quite dull. EMG currencies saw both gainers and losers, with INR the biggest mover. G10 currencies were pretty much the same story with NZD the biggest mover, falling 0.4% after S&P explained that New Zealand banks still had funding problems.

The other two big stories have had mixed impact, with positive trade vibes being felt as low-level talks between the US and China have been ongoing this week, while the UK Supreme Court is now done with its hearings and we all simply await the decision. At the same time, EC President Juncker sounded positive that a Brexit deal could be done although Ireland continues to claim that nothing is close. The pound rallied on Juncker’s comments, but fell back below 1.25 after Ireland weighed in. Ask yourself if you think the rest of the EU will tolerate a solo Irish dissent on getting to a deal. It ain’t gonna happen.

As to today’s session, there is no data to be released but we will hear from three Fed speakers, Williams first thing, then Rosengren and Kaplan. It will be interesting to see how they try to spin things as to the Fed’s future activities. With that in mind, the biggest surprise seems like it can come from the UK , if we hear from the Supreme Court later today. While there is no clarity when they will rule, it is not out of the question. As to the dollar, it has no overall momentum and I see no reason for it to develop any without a catalyst.

Good luck and good weekend
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A Major Broadside

The question that needs to be asked
Is, have central bank powers passed?
The ECB tried
A major broadside
But markets ignored Draghi’s blast

There has certainly been no shortage of interesting news in the past twenty-four hours, however from a markets perspective, I think the ECB actions, and the market reactions are the most critical to understand. To recap Signor Draghi’s action, the ECB did the following:

1. cut the deposit rate 10bps to -0.50%;
2. restarted QE in the amount of €20Bio per month for as long as necessary;
3. reduced the rate and extended the tenor of TLTRO III loans; and
4. introduced a two-tier system to allow some excess liquidity to be exempt from the -0.50% deposit rate.

Certainly the market was prepared for the rate cut, which had been widely telegraphed, and the talk of tiering excess liquidity had also been making the rounds. Frankly, TLTRO’s had not been a centerpiece of discussion but I think that is because most market participants don’t see them as a major force in the policy debate, which leaves the start of QE2 as the most controversial thing Draghi introduced. Well, maybe that and the fact that forward guidance is now based on achieving a “robust convergence” toward the inflation target rather than a particular timeframe.

Remember, in the past two weeks we had heard from the Three Hawksketeers (Weidmann, Lautenschlager and Knot) each explicitly saying that more QE was not appropriate. We also heard that from the Latvian central banker, Rimsevics, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, from Franҫois Villeroy de Galhau, the French central bank chief. And yet despite clearly stiff opposition, Draghi got the Council to agree. Perhaps, though, he went too far in describing the “consensus as so broad, there was no need to take a vote.” Now, while I have no doubt that no vote was taken, that statement stretches credulity. This was made clear when Robert Holzmann, the new Austrian central bank president and first time member of the ECB, gave an interview yesterday afternoon explicitly saying that the ECB could well have made a mistake by reintroducing QE.

But let’s take a look at what happened after the ECB statement and during the press conference. The initial move was for the euro to decline sharply, trading down 0.65% in the first 10 minutes after the release. When Draghi took to the stage at 8:30 and reiterated the points in the statement, the euro declined a further 30 pips, touching 1.0927, its lowest level since May 2017. But that was all she wrote for the euro’s decline. As Draghi continued to speak and answer questions, traders began to suspect that the cupboard was bare regarding anything else the ECB can do to address further problems in the Eurozone economies. This was made abundantly clear in his pleas for increased fiscal stimulus, which much to his chagrin, does not appear to be forthcoming.

It was at this point that things started to turn with the euro soaring, at one point as much as 1.5% from the lows, and closed 1.3% higher than those levels. And this morning, the rally continues with the euro up to 1.1100 as I type, a solid 0.3% gain. But the big question that now must be asked is; has the market decided the ECB is out of ammunition? After all, given the relative nature of the FX market and the importance of monetary policy on exchange rates, if the market has concluded the ECB CANNOT do anymore that is effective, then by definition, the Fed is going to promulgate easier policies than the ECB with the outcome being a rising euro. So if the Fed follows through next week and cuts 25bps, and especially if it does not close the door on further cuts, we could easily see the euro rally continue. That will not help the ECB in their task to drive inflation higher, and it will set a difficult tone for Madame Lagarde’s tenure as ECB President going forward.

Turning to the Fed, the market is still fully priced for a 25bp cut next week, but thoughts of anything more have receded. However, a December cut is still priced in as well. The problem for the Fed is that the economic data has not been cooperating with the narrative that inflation is dead. For instance, yesterday’s CPI data showed Y/Y core CPI rose 2.4%, the third consecutive outcome higher than expectations and the highest print since September 2008! Once again, I will point to the anecdotal evidence that I, personally, rarely see the price of anything go down, other than the gyrations in gasoline prices. But food, clothing and services prices have been pretty steady in their ascent. Does this mean that the Fed will stay on hold? While I think it would be the right thing to do, I absolutely do not believe it is what will happen. However, it is quite easy to believe that the accompanying statement is more hawkish than currently expected (hoped for?) and that we could see this as the end of that mid-cycle adjustment. My gut is the equity market would not take that news well. And the dollar? Well, that would halt the euro’s rise pretty quickly as well. But that is next week’s story.

As if all that wasn’t enough, we got more news on the trade front, where President Trump has indicated the possibility of an interim trade deal that could halt, and potentially roll back, tariff increases in exchange for more promises on IP protection and agricultural purchases. That was all the equity market needed to hear to rally yet again, and in fairness, if there is a true thawing in that process, it should be positive for risk assets. So, the dollar declined across the board, except against the yen which fell further as risk appetite increased.

Two currencies that have had notable moves are GBP and CNY. The pound seems to be benefitting from the fact that there was a huge short position built over the past two months and the steady stream of anti-Brexit news seems to have put Boris on his back foot. If he cannot get his way, which is increasingly doubtful, then the market will continue to reprice Brexit risk and the pound has further to rally. At the same time, the renminbi’s rally has continued as well. Yesterday, you may recall, I mentioned the technical position, an island reversal, which is often seen as a top or bottom. When combining the technical with the positive trade story and the idea that the Fed has a chance to be seen as the central bank with the most easing ahead of it, there should be no surprise that USDCNY is falling. This morning’s 0.45% decline takes the two-day total to about 1.0%, a big move in the renminbi.

Turning to this morning’s data, Retail Sales are the highlight (exp 0.2%, 0.1% ex autos) and then Michigan Sentiment (90.8) at 10:00. Equity futures are pointing higher and generally there is a very positive attitude as the week comes to an end. At this point, I think these trends continue and the dollar continues to decline into the weekend. Longer term, though, we will need to consider after the FOMC next week.

Good luck and good weekend
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Another False Dawn

Will Mario cut rates again?
And if so, by twenty or ten
Plus when will he start
To fill up his cart
With more bonds to piss off Wiedmann

Today is all about the ECB which will release its policy statement at 7:45 this morning. Then at 8:30, Signor Draghi will hold his press conference where reporters will attempt to dig deeper. At this stage, markets have priced in a 0.10% cut in the base rate, to -0.50%, with a 32% chance of a 0.20% cut. Just last week markets had priced in a 50% chance of that larger cut, so clearly the commentary from the hawks had an impact. At the same time, 80% of analysts surveyed are expecting a restart to QE with estimates of €30B – €35B per month as the jumping off point. This remains the case despite the vocal opposition by German, Dutch and French central bankers. Clearly, Draghi will have a lot of convincing to do in order to get his way. As I mentioned yesterday, bond prices have retreated driving yields higher which in the case of Bunds and other European paper implies a somewhat lower expectation of more QE.

It is also important to see what type of forward guidance we get as this has become one of the most powerful tools in central bank toolkits. Promises of a continuation in this policy until a specific inflation target is met would be quite powerful. Similarly, any indication that the ECB’s self-imposed limits on QE are under review would also be seen as quite bond bullish with both of these messages sure to undermine the euro. And perhaps that is the interim goal, weakening the euro such that the Eurozone can import a little inflation. Of course with Chinese prices declining and the huge trade uncertainty restricting business investment thus keeping a lid on growth, even a weak euro doesn’t seem that likely to drive inflation higher. At least not the time being. But central bankers remain convinced that they must do something, even if they know it will be ineffective. Finally, you can be sure there will be further pleas for fiscal stimulus to help address the current economic malaise. (Of course, Brussels will still seek to prevent the Italians from adding stimulus, of that you can be sure.)

The US-Chinese rapprochement
Has bolstered the Chinese yuan
Thus equities rose
Although I suppose
This could be another false dawn

It wouldn’t be a complete day without some new trade story and today’s is clearly on the positive side. President Trump delayed the imposition of the additional 5% tariffs on Chinese goods by two weeks, so they will now not go into effect until October 15. This gesture of good will is allegedly to allow the Chinese to celebrate their founding day without new clouds. The Chinese were appreciative and indicated they were now looking at imports of agricultural items, something they have purposely shunned in an attempt to pressure President Trump politically. Of course, given the swine fever that has decimated more than half the Chinese hog population, it seems likely that they are pretty keen to import US pork. At any rate, look for the next round of trade talks to occur during the first half of October while the détente is ongoing. The market response was immediately positive with the Nikkei and Shanghai indices both closing higher by 0.75%, although Eurozone equity markets are little changed, clearly waiting the ECB decision. Perhaps even more impressively, the renminbi has rallied 0.4% to its strongest level since August 23 and closing the gap on the charts that opened up when China last raised tariffs on US goods. At this point, market technicians may get involved as there is an island top in place on the charts. Don’t be surprised if USDCNY falls back to at least 7.00 before this move is over, and perhaps below if the trade situation seems to be easing.

Finally, the last of our big 3 stories, Brexit, has seen more political machinations and an uproar in the UK as the government was forced to release its planning document for a no-deal Brexit. Despite the fact that there were several potential scenarios, all the focus was on the worst-case which described massive potential shortages of food, fuel and medicine along with potential rioting. I have not seen the probability estimates for that scenario, and I’m pretty sure that no news source that favors Remain (all of them?) will publish one. However, despite the uproar in the papers, the pound is unchanged on the day. Remember, parliament is not in session, nor will it be until October 14. It will be fascinating to watch how this plays out. As to the pound, it remains a binary play; hard Brexit leads to 1.10 or below; any deal agreed leads to 1.30-1.35. Place your bets!

This morning we see the most important data of the week, CPI (exp 1.8%, 2.3% ex food & energy) as well as the weekly Initial Claims number (215K). If we see the recent trend continue, where CPI edges higher (was as low as 1.5% in February), that could well give pause to the FOMC. After all, cutting rates when inflation is rising and growth is stable at trend is much tougher to justify. That said, if the FOMC doesn’t cut I would expect a market bloodbath and a cacophony from the White House that would be unbearable, especially if Mario somehow manages to be extremely dovish.

Finally, a short time ago the Central Bank of Turkey cut rates more than expected to 16.5%, with new Central Bank head, Murat Cetinkaya, clearly accepting President Erdogan’s view that high rates cause inflation. At any rate, the lira has been the best performer of the day, rallying 1.1% as I type. Broadly, the dollar is softer ahead of the ECB, but that is simply position squaring before the decision. All the action will come after that.

Good luck
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Though Bond Prices Tumbled

There once was a time when the buck
Reacted when bonds came unstuck
If fear was seen rising
It wasn’t surprising
If traders would back up the truck

But lately though bond prices tumbled
The dollar just hasn’t been humbled
Instead of declining
Investors are pining
For dollars as other cash crumbled

First, a moment of silence to remember the horrific events of 18 years ago this morning…

As the market awaits tomorrow’s ECB meeting, it is not surprising that FX markets have remained pretty benign. In fact, looking across both G10 and EMG currencies, the largest mover overnight was the Hungarian forint, which has fallen 0.4%, a moderately exaggerated move relative to the shallow rally in the dollar. Arguably, yesterday’s modestly lower than expected CPI print has reduced some of the pressure on the central bank there to keep policy firm, hence the selloff. But otherwise, there are really no stories of direct currency interest today and no data of note overnight.

As such, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at government bond yields and their gyrations lately. It was just eight days ago when 10-year Treasury yields were trading at 1.45% as expectations for further coordinated policy ease by the major central banks became the meme du jour. Economic data appeared to be rolling over (ISM at 49.1, German GDP -0.1%, Eurozone CPI 0.9%, etc.) which inspired thoughts of massive policy ease by the big 3 central banks. The market narrative evolved into the ECB cutting rates by 0.20% and restarting QE to the tune of €35 billion / month while the Fed cut 0.50% and the BOJ cut rates by 0.10% and pumped up QE further. It seemed as though analysts were simply trying to outdo one another’s forecasts so they could be heard above the din. And after all, we had seen central banks all around the world cutting rates during the previous two months (Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, India et al.) so it seemed natural to expect the biggest would be acting soon.

During this time, the FX market responded as might be expected during a pretty clear risk-off scenario, the dollar and the yen rallied while other currencies suffered. In fact, we have seen several currencies trade near historic lows lately (CLP, COP, BRL, INR, PHP to name a few). Equity markets were caught between fear and the idea that central bank ease would support stock prices, and while there were certainly wobbles, in the end greed won out.

But then a funny thing happened to the narrative; a combination of data and commentary started to turn the tide (sorry for the mixed metaphor). We heard from a variety of central bank speakers, notably from the ECB, who were clearly pushing back on the narrative. Weidmann, Lautenschlager, Knot and Villeroy were all adamant that there was no reason for the ECB to consider restarting QE. At the same time, just before the quiet period we heard from a number of Fed members (Rosengren, George, Kaplan, Barkin) who were quite clear they didn’t see the need for an aggressive rate cutting stance, and then Chairman Powell, in the last words before the quiet period, basically stuck to the party line of the current stance being a modest mid-cycle adjustment as they closely monitored the data.

It cannot be a surprise that the market has adjusted its views ahead of the first of the three central bank meetings tomorrow. But boy, what an adjustment. 10-year Treasury yields have rallied 27bps, 10-year Bunds are higher by 19bps and 10-year JGB yields are up 8.5bps (there’s a lot less activity there as the BOJ already owns so many bonds there is very little ability to trade.) However, this is not a risk-on move despite the movement in yields. This has been a massive position unwinding. A couple of things highlight the lack of risk appetite. First, the dollar continues to move higher overall. While individual currencies may have good days periodically, nothing has changed the long-term trend of dollar strength. And history shows that when risk is sought, dollars are sold. Equity markets have also been underwhelming lately, with very choppy price action but no direction. Granted, stocks are not falling, but they are certainly not rallying like risk is being ignored. And finally, gold, which had been performing admirably during the fear period, has ceded some of its recent gains as positions there are also unwound.

The point is that in the current market environment, it is very difficult to draw lessons from the price movement. Market moves lately have been all about position adjustments and very little about either market fundamentals (data) or monetary policy. While this is not the first time markets have behaved in this manner, in the past these periods have tended to be pretty short. The ECB meeting tomorrow will allow views to crystalize regarding future monetary policy there, and my sense is that we will go back to the previous market driver of the policy narrative. In fact, it is arguably quite healthy that we have seen this correction as it allows markets a fresh(er) start with new information. However, there is still nothing I see on the horizon which will weaken the dollar overall.

This morning the only thing of note on the calendar is PPI (exp 1.7%, 2.2% core). It is hard to believe that it will change any views. At this point, look for continued position adjustments (arguably modest further declines in bond prices but no direction in the dollar) as we all await Signor Draghi and the ECB tomorrow morning.

Good luck
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Much Dissension

The market has turned its attention
To Draghi to see if he’ll mention
More buying of bonds
Or if he responds
To those who expect much dissension

While there were fireworks galore yesterday in London, where the UK Parliament had their last meeting before prorogation, this morning sees a much calmer market attitude overall. In brief, Boris did not fare well yesterday as he was unable to achieve his goal of a snap election while Parliament passed a law requiring him to ask for an extension on Brexit if there is no deal at the deadline. (I wonder what will happen if he simply chooses not to do so as that seems entirely feasible given the situation there). The market has absorbed the past several days’ activities with increasing amazement, but ultimately, FX traders have started to price out the probability of a hard Brexit. This is clear from the pound’s nearly 3.0% rally in the past week. While much will certainly take place during the next five weeks of prorogation, notably the party conferences, it would seem the only true surprise can be that a deal has been agreed, at which point the pound will be much higher. I don’t foresee that outcome, but it cannot be ruled out.

With Brexit on the back burner, the market is moving on to the trio of central bank meetings over the next nine days. This Thursday we hear from Signor Draghi while next week brings Chairman Powell on Wednesday and then Governor Carney on Thursday. What makes the ECB meeting so interesting is the amount of pushback that Draghi and his fellow doves have received lately from the northern European hawks. While it is never a surprise that the Germans or Austrians remain monetary hawks, it is much more surprising that Franҫois Villeroy de Galhau, the French ECB member and Governor of the Bank of France, has also been vocal in his rejection of the need for further QE at this time. The issue breaks down to whether the ECB should use its very limited arsenal early in an effort to prevent a broader economic downturn, or whether they should wait until they see the whites of recession’s eyes before acting. The tacit admission from this argument is that there is only a very limited amount of ammunition left for the ECB, despite Draghi’s continuous comments that they have many things they can do if necessary.

Unlike the FOMC or most other central banks, the ECB tries not to actually vote on policy, but rather come to a consensus. However, in this case, it may come to a vote, which would likely be unprecedented in and of itself. It would also highlight just how great the split between views remains, and implies that Madame Lagarde, when she takes the reins on November 1st, will have quite a lot of work ahead if she wants to continue along the dovish path.

In the doves’ favor is this morning’s data releases which showed French IP rebounding less than expected from last month’s disastrous reading (0.3%, -0.2% Y/Y) and Italian IP falling more sharply than expected (-0.7%). Meanwhile, after better than expected GDP data yesterday, the UK employment situation also showed a solid outcome with the Unemployment Rate falling back to 3.8% while earnings rose 4.0%, their highest rate since 2008.

And what did this do for currencies? Well, in that respect neither of these data points had much impact. The euro is lower by a scant 0.1% while the pound is essentially unchanged on the day. In fact, that is a pretty good description of the day overall, with the bulk of the G10 trading +/-0.20% from yesterday’s closing levels although the Skandies have seen more substantial weakness (SEK -0.8%, NOK -0.6%). In both cases, CPI was released at softer than expected levels (SEK 1.4%, 1.6% core; NOK 1.6%, 2.1% core) for August, which puts a crimp in the both central banks’ goal to push interest rates higher by the end of the year.

Turning to emerging markets, the largest movers have been ZAR which gained 0.5% after Factory Output fell a less than expected 1.1% and hope springs eternal for further stimulus driving bond investment. In second place was the renminbi, which has gained 0.25% overnight after the government there, in the guise of SAFE, removed barriers for investment in stocks and bonds. Clearly China has been trying to increase the importance of the renminbi within global financial markets, and allowing freer capital flow is one way to address that concern. However, this process has been ongoing for more than 20 years which begs the question, why now? It is quite reasonable to estimate that the continued pressure being applied by the US via the tariffs and trade war are forcing China to change many things that they would have preferred to keep under their own control. And while it is certainly possible they would have done this anyway, history suggests that the Chinese do not willingly reduce their control over any aspect of the economy. Just a thought. At any rate, initially this freedom is likely to see an inflow of assets as most investors and fund managers are underweight Chinese assets. The newfound ability to move funds in and out is likely to see an inflow to start, with corresponding CNY strength.

Beyond those stories though, it has been pretty dull. Treasury yields are lower by just 1bp, hardly the stuff of a risk assessment, while equity markets are slightly softer after a mixed, but basically flat, day yesterday. At this point, the market is looking toward Signor Draghi, who given futures markets are pricing a 100% chance of a 10bp cut and a 50% chance of a 20bp cut, along with a strong probability of the restarting of QE, has the chance to significantly disappoint. If that is the case, look for the euro to rally quickly, although a move of more than 1.0%-1.5% seems unlikely.

As for today, the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index was released at a bit worse than expected 103.1, perhaps indicating the peak is behind us (certainly my view) and at 10:00 we see the JOLTS Job Opening report (exp 7.331M). But it is really shaping up to be a quiet one with everyone thinking about the ECB until Thursday morning.

Good luck
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Under Stress

The week that just passed was a mess
With both bulls and bears under stress
As equities fell
Most bonds performed well
And dollars? A roaring success

Pundits have been searching for adjectives to describe the week that is ending today. Tumultuous strikes me as an accurate reflection, but then stormy, tempestuous and volatile all work as well. In the end though, the broad trends have not changed at all. Equities continue to retreat from their mid-summer highs, bonds continue to rally sharply while yield curves around the world flatten and the dollar continues to march higher.

So what is driving all this volatility? It seems the bulk of the blame is laid at the feet of President Trump as his flipping and flopping on trade policy have left investors and traders completely confused. After all, late last week he declared tariffs would be imposed on the rest of Chinese imports not already subject to them, then after market declines he decided that a portion of those tariffs would be delayed from September until December. But then the Chinese struck back saying they would retaliate and now the President has highlighted he will be speaking directly with President Xi quite soon. On the one hand, it is easy to see given the numerous changes in stance, why markets have been so volatile. However, it beggars belief that a complex negotiation like this could possibly be completed on any short timeline, and almost by definition will take many more months, if not years. There is certainly no indication that either side is ready to capitulate on any of the outstanding issues. So the real question is, why are markets responding to every single tweet or comment? To quote William Shakespeare, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Alas, there is every indication that this investor and trader behavior is going to continue for a while yet.

This morning we are back in happy mode, with the idea that the Presidents, Trump and Xi, are going to speak soon deemed a market positive. Equity markets around the world are higher (DAX +1.0%, CAC +1.0%, Nikkei +0.5%); bond markets have been a bit more mixed with Treasuries (+2bps) and Gilts (+4.5bps) selling off a bit but we continue to see Bunds (-1.5bps) rally. In fact we are at new all-time lows for Bund yields with the 10-year now yielding -0.73%!

As to the dollar, it is still in favor, with only the pound showing any real life in the G10 space, having rallied 0.65% this morning with the market continuing to be impressed with yesterday’s Retail Sales data there. In fact, if we look over the past week, the pound is the only G10 currency to outperform the dollar, having rallied more than 1.0%. On the flip side, the Skandies are this week’s biggest losers with both SEK and NOK down by 1.35% closely followed by the euro’s 1.1% decline, of which 0.3% has happened overnight.

The FX market continues to track the newest thoughts regarding relative central bank policy changes and that is clearly driving the euro. For example, yesterday, St Louis Fed President Bullard, likely the most dovish FOMC member (although Kashkari gives him a run), sounded almost reticent to continue cutting rates, and ruled out the idea that an intermeeting cut was necessary. While he supported the July cut, and will likely vote for September, he again ruled out 50bps and didn’t sound like more made sense. At the same time, Finnish central bank president Ollie Rehn, a key ECB member, explained that come September, the ECB would act very aggressively in order to get the most bang for the buck (euro?). The indication was not only will they cut rates, and possibly more than the 10bps expected, but QE would be restarted and expanded, and he did not rule out movement into other products (equities anyone?) as well. In the end, the market sees that the ECB is going to basically do everything else they can right away as they watch the Eurozone economy sink into recession. Meanwhile, most US data continues to point to a much more robust growth situation.

Let’s look at yesterday’s US data where Retail Sales were very strong (0.7%, 1.0% ex autos) and Productivity, Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed all beat expectations. Of course, confusingly, IP was a weaker than expected -0.2% and Capacity Utilization fell to 77.5%. Adding to the overall confusion is this morning’s Housing data where Starts fell to 1191K although Permits rose to 1336K. In the end, there is more data that is better than worse which helps explain the 2.1% growth trajectory in the US, which compares quite favorably with the 0.8% GDP trajectory on the continent. As long as this remains the case, look for the dollar to continue to outperform.

Oh and one more thing, given the problems in the Eurozone, do you really believe the EU will sit by and watch the UK exit without changing their tune? Me either!

Next week brings the Fed’s Jackson Hole symposium and key speeches, notably by Chairman Powell. As to today, there is no reason to expect the dollar to do anything but continue its gradual appreciation.

Good luck and good weekend
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Rates Will Be Hewn

Inflation remains far too low
In Europe, and so Mario
Has promised that soon
Their rates will be hewn
And, too, will their balance sheet grow

The ECB did not act yesterday, leaving all policy unchanged, but Signor Draghi was quite clear that a rate cut, at the very least, would be coming in September. He hinted at a restart of QE, although he indicated that not everyone was on board with that idea. And he pleaded with Eurozone governments to implement more fiscal stimulus.

That plea, however, is a perfect example of why the Eurozone is dysfunctional. While the ECB, one of the key Eurozone institutions, is virtually begging governments to spend more money, another one of those institutions, the European Commission, is prepared to sanction, and even fine, Italy because they want to spend more money! You can’t make this stuff up. As another example, consider that Germany is running a 1.7% fiscal surplus this year, yet claims it cannot afford to increase its defense spending.

It is this type of contradiction that exemplifies the problem with the Eurozone, and more specifically with the euro. Every nation is keen to accept the benefits of being a member, but none want to assume the responsibilities that come along with those benefits. In other words, they all want the free option. The euro is a political construct and always has been. Initially, countries were willing to cede their monetary sovereignty in order to receive the benefits of a more stable currency. But twenty years later, it is becoming clear that the requirements for stability are greater than initially expected. In a way, the ECB’s policy response of even more NIRP and QE, which should further serve to undermine the value of the single currency, is the only possible outcome. If you were looking for a reason to be long term bearish on the euro, this is the most powerful argument.

Speaking of the euro’s value, in the wake of the ECB statement yesterday morning, it fell 0.3% to 1.1100, its lowest level since mid-May 2017, however, Draghi’s unwillingness to commit to even more QE at the press conference disappointed traders and the euro recouped those early losses. This morning, it is basically right at the same level as before the statement, with traders now turning their focus to Wednesday’s FOMC meeting.

So, let’s consider that story. At this point it seems pretty clear that the Fed is going to cut rates by 25bps. Talk of 50bps has faded as the last several data points have proven much stronger than expected. Yesterday saw a blowout Durable Goods number (+2.0%, +1.2% ex transport) with both being well above expectations. This follows stronger than expected Retail Sales, CPI and payroll data this month, and even a rebound in some of the manufacturing surveys like Philly and Empire State. While the Housing Market remains on its heels, that doesn’t appear to be enough to entice a 50 bp move. In addition, we get our first look at Q2 GDP this morning (exp 1.8%) and the Fed’s favorite inflation data of PCE next week before the FOMC meeting concludes. Strength in any of this will simply cement that any cut will be limited to 25bps. Of course, there are several voting members, George and Rosengren top the list, who may well dissent on cutting rates, at least based on their last comments before the quiet period. Regardless, it seems a tall order for Chairman Powell to come across as excessively dovish given the data, and I would contend that the euro has further to fall as a result. In fact, I expect the dollar has further to climb across the board.

The other big story, of course, is the leadership change in the UK, where PM Boris had his first discussion with EU leaders regarding Brexit. Ostensibly, Boris demanded to discard the Irish backstop and the EU said absolutely not. At this point the EU is counting on a sufficient majority in the UK Parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit, but there are still three months to go. This game is going to continue for a while yet, but at some point, it is going to be a question of whether Ireland blinks as they have the most to lose. Their economy is the most closely tied to the UK, and given they are small in their own right, don’t have any real power outside the EU. My money is on the EU changing their stance come autumn. In the meantime, the pound is going to remain under pressure as the odds of a no-deal Brexit remain high. This morning it is lower by a further 0.2%, and I see no reason for this trend to end anytime soon.

In other news, Turkey slashed rates 425bps yesterday as the new central bank head, Murat Uysal, wasted no time in the chair responding to President Erdogan’s calls for lower rates. The market’s initial response was a 1.5% decline in the lira, but it was extremely short-lived. In fact, as I type, TRY is firmer by nearly 1.0% from its levels prior to the announcement. Despite the cut, interest rates there remain excessively high, and in a world desperately seeking yield, TRY assets are near the top of the list on both a nominal and real basis.

Beyond that, it is hard to get excited about too much heading into the weekend. While equity markets suffered yesterday after some weak earnings data, futures are pointing to a better opening this morning. Treasuries are virtually unchanged as are gold and oil. So all eyes will be on the GDP data, where strength should reflect in a stronger dollar, but probably weaker equities, as the chance for more than a 25bp cut dissipates.

Good luck
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