The Hawks Will Oppose

As growth there continually slows
The ECB already knows
More policy ease
Will certainly please
The doves, though the hawks will oppose

If you manage to get past Brexit and the US-China trade talks, there are two other themes that are clearly dominating recent economic discussions. The first is the slowing of global growth based on what has been an increasingly long run of disappointing data around the world. Granted part of this is attributed to the ongoing uncertainty over the Brexit outcome, and part of this is attributed to the ongoing uncertainty over the trade talks. But there seems to be a growing likelihood that slowing growth is organic. By that I mean that even without either Brexit or the questions over trade, growth would be slowing. Virtually every day we either see weaker than expected data, or we hear from central bankers that they are closely watching the data to insure their policies are appropriate.

The recent change has been the plethora of those central bankers who are highlighting the weak data and the need to reevaluate what had been tightening impulses. In the past several days we have heard that message from SF Fed President Daly, ECB member Coeuré and ECB member Villeroy, all of whom have pointed out that raising rates no longer seems appropriate. What has been more surprising is that the more hawkish central bankers (Mester and George in the US, Weidmann and Nowotny at the ECB) have not pushed back at all, and instead have subtly nodded their heads in agreement. At this point, my gut tells me that the probability of another rate hike this year by any major central bank is near zero.

This observation leads to the other story which continues to gain ground, with yet another WSJ story on the subject this morning, MMT. Modern Monetary Theory, you may recall, is the post-hoc rationalization that limiting government spending because of silly things like debt and deficits is not merely unnecessary, but actually ‘immoral’ if that spending could be used for benefits like free college tuition or free healthcare for all or a minimum basic wage. It seems that MMT is set to overturn 250 years of economic analysis and upend simple things like supply and demand. The frightening thing about this discussion is that it is being taken very seriously at the highest political levels on both sides of the aisle, which implies to me that we are going to see some changes in the law within the next few years. After all, what politician doesn’t love the idea that they can spend on every harebrained idea and not have to worry about funding it through tax revenues. The guns and butter approach is every elected official’s dream. Borrowing ceilings? Bah, why bother. Deficits growing to 10% or more of GDP? No big deal! The Fed can simply print the money to pay for things and there is no consequence!

Granted, I don’t have 250 years of experience myself, but I do have over 35 years of market experience, and I disagree that there will be no consequences. This time is never different, only the rationales for bad actions change. Ultimately, the question of importance from an FX perspective is, how will currency markets be impacted by these policies? The answer is it will depend on the sequence of timing as different countries adopt them, but I would expect things to go something like this for every country:

Explicit MMT adoption will lead to currency strength as expectations of faster growth will lead to investment inflows. Currency strength will have two results, first MMT proponents will initially claim that the old way of thinking about the economy has been all wrong given that increased supply will lead to a higher priced currency. But the second outcome, which will take a little longer to become evident, will be an increase in inflation and destruction of corporate earnings, both of which will lead to a decided outflow of investment and a much weaker currency. At that point, the available options will be to raise interest rates (leading to recession) or raise taxes (leading to recession). Transitioning from massive fiscal and monetary stimulus, to neither will have a devastating impact on an economy. I only hope that the proponents of this lunacy are held to account during those dark days, but I doubt that will happen.

However, despite my fears that this will occur much sooner than anyone currently expects, it will not be policy this year. Alas, leading up to the 2020 presidential elections, it may look like a good call for Mr. Trump next year.

Let’s move back to today’s markets. After another strong session on Friday, the dollar has given back some of those gains this morning. Friday’s move was on the back of the Coeuré statements that the ECB will be considering rolling over the TLTRO’s, something that I mentioned several weeks ago as a given. But that more dovish rhetoric from the ECB was enough to drive it lower. This morning’s rebound (EUR, GBP and AUD +0.35% each) looks more like profit taking given there has been exactly zero new information in the markets. In fact, all eyes are on the central bank Minutes that will be released later this week as traders are looking for more clarity on just how dovish the central banks are turning. At this point, it feels like there is a pretty consistent view that rate hikes are over everywhere.

What about data this week? In truth, there is very little, with the FOMC Minutes the clear highlight:

Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 229K
  Philly Fed 14.0
  Durable Goods 1.5%
  -ex transport 0.2%
  Existing Home Sales 5.00M

However, we do have six Fed speeches this week from five different FOMC members (Williams speaks twice). Based on all we have heard, there is no reason to believe that the message will be anything other than a continuation of the recent dovishness. In fact, as most of the speeches are Friday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the dovishness ramped up if Thursday’s data is softer than forecast. That is clearly the direction for now. We also hear from four more ECB speakers, including Signor Draghi on Friday. These, too, are likely to reflect the new dovish tone that is breaking out all over.

In the end, the dollar remains hostage to the Fed first, then other central banks. Right now, the narrative has changed quickly from Fed tightening to a Fed that is willing to wait much longer before getting concerned over potential inflation. Unless other central bankers are really dovish, I expect the market will see the current dialog as a dollar negative. Right up until the point where the ECB flinches and says further ease is necessary. But for today, modest further dollar depreciation seems to be about right.

Good luck
Adf

More Frustration

In Europe, the dominant nation
Is starting to feel more frustration
As data implies
They’ll soon demonize
The Chinese US for their degradation

The story in Europe continues to be one of diminishing growth across the board. Early this morning, German Factory Order data was released showing orders unexpectedly fell -1.6% in December after a downwardly revised -0.2% decline in November. Weakness was seen in every sector as both domestic and foreign demand shrank. There is no way to paint this as anything other than a sign of ongoing economic malaise. Once again, I will point out that there is a vanishingly small probability that the ECB will consider raising interest rates later this year, with a far more likely scenario being that further policy ease is on the way. The immediate impact of this data was to see the euro continue its recent decline, having fallen a further 0.2% this morning and now trading back below the 1.14 level.

Speaking of potential further easing of ECB monetary policy, the discussion regarding TLTRO’s is starting to heat up. These (Targeted Long-Term Refinancing Operations) were one of the several ways the ECB expanded their balance sheet during the Eurobond crisis several years ago. The idea was that the ECB made cheap (or even negative rate) liquidity available to Eurozone banks that wanted to fund an increase in their loan books. If the loans qualified (based on the recipients) banks actually got paid to borrow the money from the ECB. So, it was a pretty sweet deal for them, getting paid on both sides of the transaction. Because these loans had initial terms of four and five years, they also counted toward banks’ capital ratios and thus helped reduce their overall cost of funding.

But starting in June, the first of these loans will fall under twelve months until repayment is due, and thus will no longer be able to be counted as long-term capital. As I have written before, there are two possible scenarios: this financing rolls off and banks are forced to fund their outstanding loans in the markets at a much higher price. The result of this will be either slimmer profit margins for the banks, undermining their balance sheets, or they will be forced to raise rates or call in those outstanding loans, neither of which will help the growth story in Europe. The other, far more likely, choice is for the ECB to roll the TLTRO’s over, allowing the banks to maintain their interest rate margins and insuring that there is no tightening of monetary policy in the Eurozone. Given the ongoing weakness in data, which do you think is going to happen? Exactly, they will be rolled over, despite the fact that the ECB is unwilling to commit to that right now. It would be shocking if that is not the outcome!

But the euro is not the only currency to decline this morning, in fact, dollar strength has been pretty widespread. For example, AUD has fallen -1.45% after RBA Governor Lowe explained that the balance of risks for the Australian economy had tilted lower. The market has understood that as a ‘promise’ that future rate hikes have been delayed indefinitely. Aussie’s fall helped drag Kiwi lower as well, with NZD down -0.65%. Meanwhile, the ongoing decline in oil prices, most recently on the back of rising US inventories, has undermined CAD (-0.6%), NOK (-0.4%), MXN (-0.5%) and RUB (-0.4%). Interestingly, the pound, which had been lower earlier, is the one G10 currency that has held its own this morning. Of course, it has been declining steadily for more than two weeks, ever since the last big Parliamentary vote. What appears to be happening is that traders grew to believe that with Parliament taking charge of the negotiations, a deal would be reached, and the risk of a hard Brexit diminished. But funnily enough, Parliament is learning that despite their distaste for the Irish border solution proposed by PM May, there is no obvious better way to address that intractable problem. Traders are starting to lose their confidence that the outcome will be a deal, as despite a universal claim that a hard Brexit should not and cannot happen, it just might happen.

Turning to emerging markets, we have seen weakness across the board there as well. One of the big changes that the Fed has wrought by changing its stance from ongoing hawkishness to apparent dovishness is that many APAC central banks, that had been raising rates steadily alongside the Fed last year, are now backing away from those policies. Last night Bank of Thailand left rates on hold and later this week we will hear from both the Philippines (no change expected) and India (possible 25bp rate cut). Both mark a change from recent policy direction. So, while the dollar suffered in the wake of the Fed’s change, as that sentiment propagates around the world, I expect that the dollar will find its footing. After all, if every central bank is easing policy, the forces driving the FX market will need to be non-monetary. And for now, the US remains the best economy around, despite recent signs of slowing here.

One other story I need to mention is an article in Bloomberg (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-06/imf-staff-floats-dual-money-to-allow-much-deeper-negative-rates?srnd=markets-vp) that talks about a paper written at the IMF suggesting the creation of e-money to be issued alongside current cash. E-money would have negative interest rates and an exchange rate with cash which would drive the value of cash lower over time (effectively creating a negative interest rate for holding cash). Given my current role as Chief Strategist at 9th Gear Technologies, I have a particular interest in the concept of e-money, as I do believe cash will become scarcer and scarcer over time. I have also been vocal in my concerns that e-money will result in permanent negative interest rates, and that was before the IMF weighed in with that exact view.

Turning to this morning’s data releases, US Trade data is due (exp -$54.0B) at 8:30, and then we hear from the Fed’s Randall Quarles this afternoon. However, his focus continues to be on regulation, so I don’t anticipate any new monetary policy information. If the news from Asia is the new trend, then expect to see talk of easier money from all around the world, with the Fed, once again becoming the tightest policy around, thus supporting the dollar. I don’t imagine it will happen all at once, as there are still those harping on the Fed’s U-turn, but eventually, the news will be other banks easing while the Fed stands pat.

Good luck
Adf

As Patient As Needed

More rate hikes? The Fed said, ‘no way!’
With growth slowing elsewhere we’ll stay
As patient as needed
Since now we’ve conceded
Our hawkishness led us astray

If you needed proof that central bankers are highly political rather than strictly focused on the economics and financial issues, how about this:

Dateline January 24, 2019. ECB President Mario Draghi characterizes the Eurozone economy as slowing more than expected yet continues to support the idea that interest rates will be rising later this year as policy tightening needs to continue.

Dateline January 30, 2019. Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell characterizes the US economy as solid with strong employment yet explains that there is no need to consider raising rates further at this time, and that the ongoing balance sheet reduction program, which had been on “autopilot” is to be reevaluated and could well slow or end sooner than previously expected.

These are certainly confusing actions when compared to the comments attached. Why would Draghi insist that policy tightening is still in the cards if the Eurozone economy is clearly slowing? Ongoing pressure from the monetary hawks of northern Europe, notably Germany’s Bundesbank, continues to force Draghi to hew a more hawkish line than the data might indicate. As to the Fed, it is quite clear that despite the Fed’s description of a strong economy, Powell has succumbed to the pressure to support the equity market, with most of that pressure coming from the President. And yet central bankers consistently try to maintain that they are above politics and cherish their independence. There hasn’t been an independent central banker since Paul Volcker was Fed Chair from 1979-1987.

Nonetheless, this is where we are. The Fed’s dovishness was applauded by the markets with equities rallying briskly in the US (1.5%-2.2% across the indices) and following in Asia (Nikkei and Hang Seng both +1.1%) although Europe has shown less pluck. But Europe has, as described above, a slowing growth problem. This is best characterized by Italy, whose Q4 GDP release this morning (-0.2%) has shown the nation to be back in recession, their third in the past five years! It should be no surprise that Italy’s stock market is lower (-0.6%) nor that it is weighing on all the European indices.

Not surprisingly, government bond yields around the world are largely lower as well. This reaction is in a piece with market behavior in 2017 through the first three quarters of 2018, where both stocks and bonds rallied consistently on the back of monetary policy actions. I guess if easy money is coming back, and as long as there is no sign of inflation, there is no reason not to own them both. Certainly, the idea that 10-year Treasury yields are going to start to break higher seems to be fading into the background. The rally to 3.25% seen last November may well mark a long term high.

And what about the dollar? Well, if this is the new normal, then my views on the dollar are going to need to change as well. Consider this, given that the Fed has tightened more than any other central bank, the dollar has benefitted the most. We saw that last year as the dollar rallied some 7%-8% across the board. But now, the Fed has the most room to ease policy in comparison to every other G10 central bank, and so if the next direction is easy money, the dollar is certain to suffer the most. Certainly, that was the story yesterday afternoon in NY, where the dollar gave up ground across the board after the FOMC statement. Against the euro, the initial move saw the dollar sink 0.75% in minutes. Since then, it has traded back and forth but is little changed on the day, today, with the euro higher by just an additional 0.1%. We saw a similar move in the yen, rallying 0.7% immediately, although it has continued to strengthen and is higher by another 0.35% this morning. Even the pound, which continues to suffer from Brexit anxiety, rallied on the Fed news and has continued higher this morning as well, up another 0.2%. The point is, if the Fed is done tightening, the dollar is likely done rallying for now.

Other stories have not disappeared though, with the Brexit saga ongoing as it appears more and more likely to come down to a game of brinksmanship in late March. The EU is adamant they won’t budge, and the UK insists they must. I have a feeling that nothing is going to change until late March, just ahead of the deadline, as this game of chicken is going to play out until the end.

And what of the trade talks between the US and China? Well, so far there is no word of a breakthrough, and the only hints have been that the two sides remain far apart on some key issues. Do not be surprised to see another round of talks announced before the March 2 tariff deadline, or an agreement to postpone the raising of tariffs at that time as long as talks continue. Meanwhile, Chinese data released overnight showed Manufacturing PMI a better than expected (though still weak) 49.5 while Non-Manufacturing PMI actually rose to 54.7, its best reading since September, although still seeming to trend lower. However, the market there applauded, and the renminbi continues to perform well, maintaining its gains from the last week where it has rallied ~1.5%.

The US data picture continues to be confused from the government shutdown, but this morning we are due to receive Initial Claims (exp 215K and look for a revision higher from last week’s suspect 199K) as well as New Home Sales (569K). Yesterday’s ADP Employment number was much better than expected at 213K, and of course, tomorrow, we get the payroll report. Given the Fed’s hyper focus on data now, that could be scrutinized more closely than usual for guesstimates of how the Fed might react to a surprise.

In the end, the market tone has changed to mirror the Fed with a more dovish nature, and given that, the prospects for the dollar seem to have diminished. For now, it seems it has further to fall.

Good luck
Adf

 

If Things Go Very Wrong

Last year he thought growth would be strong
This year, “if things go very wrong”
It seems Signor Draghi
Just might restart QE
And rate hikes? They’ll ne’er come along!

Markets continue to bide their time ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC statement and the press conference by Chairman Powell. In addition, the Brexit saga continues with a series of votes scheduled today in Parliament that may help determine the next steps in that messy process. And of course, the next round of US-Chinese trade talks are set to begin tomorrow. So, there is plenty of potential news on the near-term horizon. But before I touch on those subjects, I wanted to highlight comments from ECB President Draghi yesterday speaking to EU lawmakers in Brussels. From the Bloomberg article this morning:

        The president of the European Central Bank blamed “softer external demand and some country and sector-specific factors” for the slowdown, but indicated he still has some confidence in the underlying strength of the economy.
       “If things go very wrong, we can still resume other instruments in our toolbox. There is nothing objecting to that possibility,” he told lawmakers in Brussels in response to a question on whether net asset purchases could be restarted. “The only point is under what contingency are we going to do this. And at this point in time, we don’t see such contingency as likely to materialize, certainly this year.”

Basically, he opened the door to reinstate QE, something which just two months ago would never have been considered. And while he tried to downplay the problems, it is clear there is growing concern in Frankfurt about Eurozone growth. Surprisingly, to me, the euro barely budged on the report, as I would have anticipated a sell-off. However, given the Fed is due to make its comments tomorrow, it appears that traders are waiting to see where Powell comes out on the hawkish-dovish spectrum. Because to me, Draghi’s comments were quite dovish. But essentially, the euro has been unchanged since trading opened in Asia yesterday, so clearly the market doesn’t see these comments as newsworthy.

Now, looking at the other three stories, there has been virtually no new information released since last week. Regarding the Fed, yesterday’s WSJ had an article that looked like a Fed plant discussing how unimportant the balance sheet issue was, and how the Fed sees no evidence that shrinking the balance sheet is having any impact on markets. That assessment is quite controversial as many investors and pundits see the balance sheet as a key issue driving recent market volatility. I expect we will hear more on Wednesday from Powell, but I also expect that now that Powell has shown he cannot withstand pressure from a declining stock market, that the pace of balance sheet reduction is going to slow. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it cut in half with a corresponding rally in both stocks and bonds on the news. In this event, the dollar should come under pressure as well.

As to Brexit, there still seems to be this disconnect between the UK and the EU in that the UK continues to believe that if Parliament votes to renegotiate parts of the deal, the EU will do so. Thus far, the EU has been pretty consistent that they like the deal the way it is and that there is not enough time to make changes. But from what I have seen this morning, it seems the most likely outcome is the ‘Malthouse proposal’ which will essentially do just that. Get support from Parliament to go back and change the Irish backstop arrangement. While I know that there is no desire for a hard Brexit, it strikes me that one cannot yet be ruled out.

Finally, on to the trade talks, we continue to get conflicting information from the US side as to where things stand, but ultimately the key issue is much more likely to be enforcement of any deal, rather than the deal itself. There is a great wariness that the Chinese will agree to something, and then ignore the details and go back to business as usual. Or perhaps create new and different non-tariff barriers to maintain their advantages. While the equity market continues to be positive on the process, I don’t see things quite so rosily. I think a deal would be great, but I don’t ascribe more than a 50% chance to getting one. However, I do expect that any tariff increases will be postponed for another round of talks to be enabled.

Beyond those stories, not too much of note is happening, which is evident by the fact that there has been almost no movement in the FX market, or any market for that matter. The G10 currencies are within pips of yesterday’s closing levels, and even EMG currencies are generally little changed. One exception is BRL, which has fallen -0.6% as ongoing news regarding the mining disaster and its impact on CRDV, a huge Brazilian mining conglomerate, seems to be generating a little angst. But otherwise, even this bloc of currencies is little changed. Equity markets are close to flat, as are bond and commodity markets. In other words, investors and traders are looking to the horizon and waiting for the big stories to play out. First in line is the Brexit voting, so perhaps later this afternoon we will see some movement, but I suspect that the FOMC is actually THE story of note for most people right now.

Good luck
Adf

 

Quite the Sensation

Economists’ latest creation
Called MMT’s quite the sensation
It claims there’s no risk
To nation or fisc
From vast monetary dilation

So, here’s the deal…apparently it doesn’t matter if economic growth is slowing around the world. It doesn’t matter if politics has fractured on both sides of the Atlantic and it doesn’t matter if the US and China remain at loggerheads over how to continue to trade with each other. None of this matters because…MMT is the new savior! Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is the newest output from our central banking saviors and their minions in the academic economic community. In a nutshell, it boils down to this; printing unlimited amounts of money and running massive budget deficits is just fine and will have no long-term negative consequences. This theory is based on the data from the past ten years, when central banks have done just that (printed enormous amounts of money) and governments have done just that (run huge deficits) and nothing bad happened. Therefore, these policymakers theorize, that nothing bad will happen if they keep it up.

Markets love this because hyper monetary and fiscal stimulus is perceived as an unambiguous positive for asset prices, especially equities, and so why would anybody argue to change things. After all, THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT he said with tongue firmly in cheek. This time is never different, and my greatest concern is that the continuing efforts to prevent any slowing of economic growth is going to lead to a situation that results in a massive correction at some point in the (probably) not too distant future. And the problem will be that central banks will have lost their ability to maintain stability as their policy tools will no longer be effective, while governments will have limited ability to add fiscal stimulus given their budget situations. But clearly, that day is not today as evidenced by the ongoing positivity evident from rising equity markets and an increasing risk appetite. Just something to keep in the back of your mind.

Said Mario after his meeting
‘This weakness should really be fleeting’
But traders believe
His view is naïve
Explains, which, why rates are retreating

It can be no surprise that the euro declined further yesterday (-0.8%), although this morning it has regained a small bit (+0.25% as I type). Not only did the PMI data disappoint completely, but Signor Draghi appears to be starting to recognize that things may not be as rosy as he had hoped. While he still held out hope that rates may rise later this year, that stance is becoming increasingly lonely. At this point, the earliest that any economist or analyst on the Street is willing to consider for that initial rate hike is December 2019 with the majority talking 2020. And of course, my view is that there will be no rate rise at all.

The problem they face is that that with rates already negative, when if the Eurozone slips into recession by the end of the year, what else can he do. Fortunately, Mario explained that the ECB still has many options in front of them, “We have lots of instruments and we stand ready to adjust them or use them according to the contingency that is produced.” The thing is, he was talking about forward guidance, more QE and TLTRO’s, all policies that are long in the tooth and appear to have lost a significant portion of their efficacy. As I have written before, Draghi will be happy to vacate his seat given the problems that are on the horizon. Though he certainly had to deal with a series of difficult issues (Eurozone debt crisis, Greek insolvency), at least he still had a full toolkit with which to work. His successor will have an empty cupboard. One last nail in the growth coffin was this morning’s Ifo data, which printed at its worst level in three years, 99.1, much lower than the expected 100.9. I would love to hear the euro bullish case, because I don’t see much there.

Away from that story, Brexit remains an ongoing market uncertainty, although it certainly appears, based on the pound’s recent trajectory, that more and more traders and investors have decided that there will be no Brexit at all. At least that’s the only thing I can figure based on what is happening in the market. On the one hand, I guess it is reasonable to assume that given all the tooth-gnashing and garment rending that we have seen, the belief is that Brexit will be so toxic as to be unthinkable. And we have begun to see some of the rest of the Eurozone members get nervous, notably Ireland which is adamant about preventing a hard border between themselves and Northern Ireland. Alas there is still no resolution as to how to police the border in the event the UK leaves. (And based on the ongoing US discussion, we know that any type of border barrier will be a waste of money!) It is not clear to me that it is viable to rule out a hard Brexit, but that is clearly what investors are beginning to do.

As to the US-China trade story, despite President Trump’s professed optimism that a deal will be done, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, indicated that we are still “miles and miles” away from a deal. And though it certainly appears that both sides are incented to solve this problem, especially given the slowing growth trajectory in both nations, it is by no means clear that will be the outcome. At least not before there is another rise in tariffs. And yet, markets are generally sanguine about the prospects of the talks failing.

So, despite potential problems, risk is in the ascendancy this morning with equity markets rising, commodities and Treasuries stable and the dollar under pressure. It is almost as if there is fatigue over the myriad potential problems and given that none of them have actually created a difficulty of note yet, investors are willing to ignore them. At least that’s my best guess.

A tour around the FX markets shows the dollar softer against most of its G10 counterparts, with JPY the only exception, further adding to the risk-on narrative, while it remains mixed vs. EMG currencies. However, overall, the tone is definitely of the dollar on its back foot. Given the ongoing US government shutdown, there is no data scheduled to be released and the Fed remains in quiet mode ahead of next week’s meeting, so unless something happens regarding trade, my money is on continued dollar weakness in today’s session as more and more investors whistle that happy tune.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

Growth Had Decreased

While Draghi and his ECB
Evaluate their policy
The data released
Showed growth had decreased
A fact they’re unhappy to see

With limited new information on the two key stories, Brexit and the trade war, the market has turned its attention to this morning’s Flash PMI data for Europe, which it turns out was not very good. French, German and Eurozone numbers (the only ones released) all printed much lower than expected with German Manufacturing dipping to 49.9, a concerning signal about future growth there. The euro responded as would be expected, falling 0.3% and helping to drag down many other currencies vs. the dollar.

This is the backdrop to today’s ECB meeting, further signs of slowing Eurozone growth, which cannot be helping the internal debate about slowly normalizing policy. The policy statement will be released at 7:45 this morning and is expected to show no changes in rates or the balance sheet. Remember, the most recent guidance has been that rates would remain on hold “at least through the end of summer” and that maturing securities would be reinvested. But today’s data has to weigh on that process. As I have argued in the past, there is, I believe, a vanishingly small probability that the ECB raises rates at all. And that is their big problem. If the current slowdown turns into a recession, exactly what else can the ECB do to support the economy there? Nothing! I’m sure they will restart QE, and it is a given that they will roll over the TLTRO’s this year, but will it be enough to change the trajectory? Mario will be pretty happy to turn over the reins to someone else this October as the next ECB President is likely to have a very unhappy time, with lots of problems and lots of blame and not many tools available to address things. This remains the key reason I like the euro to decline as 2019 progresses.

Away from that, though, the Brexit story is waiting for Parliamentary votes next week regarding the elimination of the no-deal choice, which has been seen as a distinct GBP positive. While it is a touch softer this morning, -0.2%, the pound is getting the benefit of every doubt right now. As I wrote yesterday, maintain a fully hedged positions as the risk of a sharp decline has not yet disappeared by any stretch.

There has been no discussion on trade, no US data and no Fed speakers, so traders and investors are running out of cues on which to deal, at least for now. Overall, the dollar is firmer this morning, but that is really just offsetting yesterday’s weakness. In fact, it is very difficult to look at the current situation and anticipate any substantive price action in the near term. While the ECB could surprise by easing policy, that seems highly unlikely for now. However, if we get an even gloomier outlook from Draghi at the 8:30 press conference, I could see the euro declining further. But absent that, it is shaping up to be quite a dull session.

Good luck
Adf

A Terrible Sight

The data from China last night
Described their economy’s plight
With trade talks ongoing
Their growth is still slowing.
For Xi, it’s a terrible sight

While the Martin Luther King holiday in the US will close markets and keep things quiet here, the rest of the world continues to be active. Equity markets in Europe are weak on the back of disappointing data from China. In fact, that has been the story of the day. Chinese GDP in Q4 was reported at 6.4% higher than Q4 2018, its slowest pace of growth since the financial crisis in 2009. And when considered on an annual basis, the 6.6% growth in calendar 2018 was the slowest pace of growth since 1990. Retail Sales and Industrial Production also continued their long-term downtrends, with no sign that things are set to reverse anytime soon. While the trade situation with the US is clearly weighing on the Chinese economy, they are also reaping the ‘benefits’ of the decades of increased leverage needed to achieve previous growth targets. The telling statistic I’ve seen is that ten years ago, one dollar of leverage bought $0.80 worth of additional growth. Today that number is ~$0.15 of additional growth for each new dollar of leverage. That is not the recipe for long term success!

In the meantime, despite the comments on Friday about China proposing a path to reduce the US trade deficit to zero over six years, it seems that substantive talks on protecting IP and preventing its forced transfer to local Chinese partners have gone nowhere. (In addition, the idea that reducing that trade deficit to zero would be net beneficial is not actually clear. (This article by Mike Ashton, @inflation_guy (https://mikeashton.wordpress.com/author/mikeashton/)  does an excellent job of describing potential outcomes.) At any rate, Friday’s good vibes are not nearly as apparent this morning.

Of course, the other storyline that has been nonstop is Brexit, with today the deadline for PM May to put forth her Plan B. It remains unclear as to what she can actually change to get Parliament to agree, but she will try for something. An interesting analysis I saw this weekend actually made the case that the risk of a no-deal Brexit was actually vanishingly small. The idea is that Parliament will vote to make that outcome illegal, meaning the government cannot accept that as an outcome. (Remember, Parliament and the government are not the same institution, similar to our legislative and executive branches in the US.) The alternatives are to delay the deadline in order to get a new referendum put together, or to unilaterally decide not to leave. The problem I have with that idea is that it seems a bit like Parliament declaring that recessions are illegal. As much as they would like to avoid having them, it is not clear they control the situation. Certainly, the FX market is coming around to that view as the pound has been rallying for five weeks (although there was virtually no movement overnight), but it seems to me that there is still a significant risk of a no-deal outcome, which given the recent rally, will almost certainly result in a sharp fall in the pound.

Away from those two stories, things remain remarkably dull in the FX world. The ongoing government shutdown in the US has had limited impact (arguably just that some data has not been released), while within the Eurozone, data continues to ebb and the political will to make changes of substance remains absent. Japan remains in stasis and there is virtually no possibility, in my view, that either the ECB or the BOJ tightens policy at all in 2019. In fact, I continue to believe that they will both seek to ease further at the margins.

What about the emerging market you may ask? Again, the story remains one of limited new news, at least news that is sufficient to drive market movement. Overall, investors and traders are wedded to the big picture stories like trade and Brexit, and we continue to see broad based moves accordingly.

The data story this week is unimpressive (largely due to the shutdown) with just two data points coming, tomorrow’s Existing Home Sales (exp 5.24M) and Thursday’s Initial Claims (218K). With the Fed meeting next week, they are now in their quiet period so there are no speakers on the docket. Arguably, the ECB meeting on Thursday is the biggest FX news of the week, but there is no expectation for anything new. I imagine the press conference will focus on the previous comments about tightening later this year in the context of the ongoing economic slowdown there, but we have a few days before we have to worry about that. In the end, the dollar is modestly higher this morning, but I expect it to see very limited movement in the holiday market.

Good luck
Adf