So Despised

Is anyone truly surprised
That Parliament, once authorized
To find a solution
Found no substitution
For May’s deal that they so despised?

One of the more confusing aspects of recent market activity was the rally in the pound when Parliament wrested control of the Brexit process from PM May. The idea that a group of 650 fractious politicians could possibly agree on a single idea, especially one so fraught with risks and complexities, was always absurd. And so, predictably, yesterday Parliament voted on seven different proposals, each designed to be a path forward, and none of them even came close to achieving a majority of votes. This included a vote to prevent a no-deal Brexit. In the meantime, PM May has now indicated she will resign regardless of the outcome, which, arguably, will only lead to more chaos as a leadership fight will now consume the Tories. In the meantime, there is still only one deal on the table, and it doesn’t appear to have the votes to become law. As such, while I understand that the idea of a hard Brexit is anathema to so many, it cannot be dismissed as a potential outcome. It should not be very surprising that the FX market is taking the idea a bit more seriously this morning, although only a bit, as the pound has fallen a further 0.4%, which makes the move a total of 1.0% lower in the past twenty-four hours.

One way to look at the pound’s value is as a probability weighted price of three potential outcomes; no deal, passing May’s deal and a long delay. Based on my views that spot would trade to 1.20, 1.38 or 1.40 depending on those outcomes, and assigning probabilities of 40%, 20% and 40% to those outcomes, spot is actually right where it belongs near 1.3160. But that leaves room for a lot of movement!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the FX market, volatility is making a comeback. Between Turkey (-5.0%), Brazil (-3.0%) and Argentina (-3.0%), it seems that traders are beginning to awaken from their month’s long hiatus. Apparently, the monetary policy anesthesia that had been administered by central banks globally is wearing off. As it happens, each of these currencies is dealing with local specifics. For instance, upcoming elections in Turkey have President Erdogan on the defensive as his iron grip on power seems to be rusting and he tries to crack down on speculators in the lira. Meanwhile, recently elected Brazilian president Bolsonaro has seen his honeymoon end quite abruptly with his approval ratings collapsing and concerns over his ability to implement key policies seen as desirable by the markets, notably pension reform. Finally, Argentine president Macri remains under pressure as the slowing global growth picture severely restricts local economic activity although inflation continues to run away to unsustainable levels (4% per month!) and the peso, not surprisingly is suffering.

As to the G10, activity there has been less impressive although the dollar’s tone this morning is one of strength, not weakness. In fact, risk continues to be jettisoned by investors as can be seen by the continuing rally in government bonds (Treasury yields falling to 2.35%, Bund yields to -0.07%, JGB’s to -0.09%) while equity markets were weak in Asia and have gained no traction in Europe. Adding to the impression of risk-off has been the yen’s rally (0.2% overnight, 1.0% in the past week), a reliable indicator of market sentiment.

Turning to the data, yesterday saw the Trade Balance shrink dramatically, to -$51.1B, a much lower deficit than expected, and sufficient to positively impact Q1 GDP measurement by a few tenths of a percent. This morning we see the last reading on Q4 GDP (exp 1.8%) as well as Initial Claims (225K). Given the backward-looking nature of Q4 data, it seems unlikely today’s print will impact markets. One exception to this thought would be a much weaker than expected print, which may convince some investors the global slowdown is more advanced than previously thought with equities selling off accordingly. But a better number is likely to be ignored. We also hear from (count ‘em) six more Fed speakers today (Quarles, Clarida, Bowman, Williams, Bostic and Bullard), but given the consistency of recent comments by others it seems doubtful we will learn anything new. To recap, every FOMC member believes that waiting is the right thing to do now and that they should only respond when the data indicates there is a change, either rising inflation or a significant slowing in the economy. Although the market continues to price rate cuts before the end of the year, as yet, there is no indication that Fed members are close to believing that is necessary.

Ultimately, the same key stories are at the fore in markets. Brexit, as discussed above, slowing global growth and the monetary policy actions being taken to ameliorate that, and the US-China trade talks, which are resuming but have made no new progress. One of the remarkable features of markets lately has been the resilience of equity prices despite a constant drumbeat of bad economic news. Investors have truly placed an enormous amount of faith in central banks (specifically the Fed and ECB) to be able to come to the rescue again and again and again. Thus far, that faith has been rewarded, but keep in mind that the toolkit continues to dwindle, so that level of support is likely to diminish. In the end, I continue to see the dollar as a key beneficiary of the current policy mix, as well as the most likely ones for the near future.

Good luck
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Growth Will Soon Sleep

The place with less people than sheep
Last night said rates might be too steep
A cut now seems fated
Their dollar deflated
As Kiwis fear growth soon will sleep

You can tell it’s a dull day in the FX markets when the most interesting thing that happened was the RBNZ turned dovish in their policy statement, indicating the next interest rate move in New Zealand would be lower. This was a decided change of pace, but also cannot be too great a surprise since their larger neighbor, Australia, pivoted the same way just two weeks ago. The upshot is NZD fell sharply, down 1.4% in the wake of the statement. While I understand that given the diminutive size of the New Zealand economy, any exposures there are likely to be quite small, I think this simply reinforces the story about slowing global growth. In the same vein, we heard a similar story from Bank Negara Malaysia as they lowered their growth and inflation forecasts and hinted that they will cut rates if they see things slowing too rapidly. While the impact on MYR was less impressive, just -0.25%, it is of a piece with the overall global economic situation. That story remains one of slowing growth with central banks hopeful the slowdown is temporary but prepared to react quickly if it appears longer lasting. As I wrote yesterday, it is virtually impossible for the Fed to be responding to slowing growth without every other major central bank (and many minor ones) reacting in the same manner.

Yesterday actually saw the dollar rally during the US session, with the euro falling about 0.4% in NY hours. That helps explain why this morning it is higher by 0.15% on the session, yet lower than when I wrote yesterday. There has been limited new information on the data front (Italian Business Confidence falling more than expected to 100.8), but there has been a widely reported story about Signor Draghi hinting that the ECB is beginning to recognize that five years of negative interest rates might be having some negative impacts on the Eurozone banking sector. It certainly would have been hard to predict that an economic area that heavily relies on bank lending, rather than capital markets, would feel negative impacts from compression of bank lending margins…NOT! But back when NIRP was taking shape, the apocalyptic fears were so great these issues were simply glossed over as meaningless. And now that Eurozone growth has turned lower, the ECB’s plans to normalize rates have fallen by the wayside. It is quite possible that they, too, have painted themselves into an intractable policy corner. It is yet another reason I remain long-term bearish on the euro.

Finally, this morning’s dose of Brexit shows that the hardline euro skeptics may be coming around to PM May’s deal after all. If you recall, this afternoon there will be a series of votes in Parliament as MP’s try to find a solution, mostly to the Irish border question. However, as I have written frequently in the past, this is a truly intractable issue, one where there is no compromise available, but only capitulation on one side or the other. However, there is a growing call for Brexit to be canceled which has the euro skeptics on edge. This line of thought seems to have been PM May’s when she called for a third vote on her plan, and it may well be falling into place. Of course, the caveat for her is that she may be asked required to step down from her role in order to get it over the line. The two alternatives to her plan are now clearly either a lengthy delay, one giving time for a second vote and a reversal of Brexit, or a no-deal outcome on April 12. Since nobody seems to want the latter, and the hard-liners don’t want the former, they may finally get the votes to approve May’s deal. It is the “least worst option” as so delicately put by Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the leaders of the euro skeptics. Given the toing and froing over the issue, it should be no surprise that the pound is little changed on the day, still hanging around 1.32 as nobody is prepared to take a position on the outcome. If pressed, I would estimate that a vote for the deal will result in the pound rallying toward 1.38 before running into significant selling, while a no-deal outcome probably sees a quick move toward 1.20. And if the result of today’s Parliamentary votes leads toward a long delay, that is likely the pound’s best friend, perhaps driving the beleaguered currency back above 1.40 for a while.

Away from that, the only other noteworthy feature today has been weakness in some oil related currencies with MXN (-1.0%), RUB (-0.75%), NOK (-0.55%) and CAD (-0.25%) all softer. It appears that after a strong run, oil prices are ebbing back somewhat, and these currencies are feeling the brunt today. Quite frankly, the currency movements seem overdone relative to the oil price decline, but it is the only connector I can find across this group.

On the data front, yesterday’s Housing Starts number was quite weak, just 1.162M (exp 1.213M) as was the Consumer Confidence reading at 124.1. We also heard from several other Fed speakers (Kaplan and Daly) both telling us that patience remains a virtue and that while they had modest concern over the yield curve inversion, it wasn’t a game changer for their current policy models. This morning’s only data point is the Trade Balance (exp -$57.0B) and then we hear from KC Fed President Esther George this evening. I am hard pressed to find a change in market sentiment at this point and so hard pressed to change my views. The equity market continues to rally based on more easy money, but monetary policy around the world continues to turn easier and easier, with the Fed still the least tight of them all. In other words, to me, the dollar still has the best position.

Good luck
Adf

Doublespeak

The sitting Prime Minister, May
Heard terrible news yesterday
Her plan to promote
A Brexit deal vote
Was halted much to her dismay

This forces her, later this week
A longer extension to seek
But still the EU
Seems unlikely to
Do more than add new doublespeak

In yet another twist to the Brexit saga, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, refused to allow another vote on PM May’s deal this week. He explained that Parliamentary rules since 1604 have existed to prevent a second vote on a bill that has already been rejected unless there have been substantial changes to the bill. In this case there were no changes and PM May was simply trying to force approval based on the idea that the clock was running out of time. The pound reacted to the news yesterday by quickly dropping 0.5%, although it has since recouped 0.2% this morning.

This has put the PM in a difficult spot as she prepares to travel to the EU council meeting in Brussels later this week. Given that there is still no clarity on how the UK wants to handle things, or at least how Parliament wants to handle things, she will need to seek an extension in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit. However, the comments from several EU members, notably Germany and France, have indicated they need some sense of direction as to what the UK wants before they will agree to that extension. Remember, too, it requires a unanimous vote by the other 27 members of the EU to grant any extension. At this stage, the market is virtually certain an extension will be granted, at least based on the fact that the pound remains little changed on the day and has been able to maintain its modest gains this year. And it is probably a fair bet that an extension will be granted. But the real question is what the UK will do with the time. As of now, there is no clarity on that at all. Unless the EU is willing to change the deal, which seems unlikely, then we are probably heading for either a new general election or a new Brexit referendum, or both. Neither of these will add certainty, although the predominant view is that a new referendum will result in a decision to stay. Do not, however, ignore the risk that through Parliamentary incompetence, next week the UK exits without a deal. That risk remains very real.

One side note on the UK is that employment data released this morning continues to beat all estimates. Wages continue to rise (+3.4%) and the Unemployment Rate fell further to 3.9%. Despite a slowing economy overall, that has been one consistent positive. It has been data like this that has helped the pound maintain those gains this year.

Elsewhere the global growth story continues to suffer overall, as both China and the Eurozone continue to lag. While there was no new data from China, we did see the German ZEW survey (-3.6 up from -13.4) and the Eurozone version as well (-2.5 up from -16.6). However, at the same time, the Bundesbank just reduced their forecast for German GDP in 2019 to 0.6%, although they see a rebound to 1.7% in 2020. My point is that though things may have stopped deteriorating rapidly, they have not yet started to show a significant rebound. And it is this dearth of economic strength that will continue to prevent the ECB from tightening policy at all for quite a while to come.

A quick glance Down Under shows that optimism in the lucky country is starting to wane. Three-year Australian government bonds have seen their yield fall to 1.495%, just below the overnight rate and inverting the front of the curve there. This calls into question the RBA’s insistence that the next move will be an eventual rate hike. Rather, the market is now pricing in almost two full rate cuts this year as Australia continues to suffer from the slowing growth in China, and the world overall. While the FX impact today has been muted, just a -0.1% decline, Aussie continues to lag vs. other currencies against a dollar that has been on its back foot lately.

Speaking of the dollar, tomorrow, of course, we hear from the Fed, with a new set of economic projections and a new Dot Plot. Since there is no chance they move rates, I continue to expect the market to be focused on the balance sheet discussion. This discussion is not merely about the size of the balance sheet, and when they stop shrinking it, but also the composition and general tenor of the assets they hold. Remember, prior to the financial crisis and the utilization of QE, the Fed generally owned just short-term T-bills and maybe T-notes out to three years. But as part of their monetary policy experiment, they extended the maturities of their holdings with the average maturity now nine years. This compares to the six-year average maturity of the entire government bond issuance. The longer this average tenor, the more monetary ease they are providing to the market, so the question they need to answer is do they want to maintain that ease now or try to shorten the current maturity, so they have the opportunity to use that policy in a time of greater need. While this remains up in the air right now, whatever decision is made it will give a strong clue into the Fed’s view of the current situation and just how strongly the economy is actually performing.

This morning’s Factory Orders data (exp 0.3%) is unlikely to have a market impact of any sort. Equity markets have been muted with US futures pointing to essentially an unchanged opening. Yesterday saw limited price action, with both the dollar and equities barely changed. My sense is today will shape up the same way. Tomorrow, however, will be a different story, of that you can be sure.

Good luck
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It All Went to Hell

First Mario cooed like a dove
Then trade data gave things a shove
It all went to hell
As stock markets fell
While folks showed the dollar some love

It was a rocky day in markets yesterday as risk appetite was severely impaired. The ECB wound up being more dovish than many had expected by extending the guidance on interest rates and definitively rolling over the TLTRO program. And yet, this morning many analysts are complaining they didn’t do enough! The details are that interest rates will now remain where they are (-0.4% deposit rate) until at least the end of the year, well past “through the summer” as the guidance had been previously. Of course, for some time now, my own view has been that rates will remain unchanged well into 2020. In addition, the ECB said that there would be a new round of TLTRO’s initiated in September, but that the maturity of these new loans would only be two years, and the terms are not yet decided, with some indications they may not be as favorable as the current crop.

All of this followed in the wake of the ECB revising lower their 2019 GDP growth forecast from 1.7% to 1.1%. But remember, the OECD is looking for even slower growth at just 1.0%. “We never thought we were behind the curve,” said Signor Draghi, and “in any event today we are not behind the curve, for sure.” These comments are not nearly as impactful as “whatever it takes” from 2012, that’s the only thing for sure! Several other ECB members were quick to express that there was no expectation of a recession this year, but the market seems to have a less positive view. The market response to the surprisingly increased dovishness was negative across the board, with equity markets selling off in Europe (~-0.6%) and the US (-0.8%) while government bonds rallied (Treasuries -4.5bps) and the dollar strengthened materially, rising 1.2% vs. the euro.

But wait, there’s more! Overnight, Chinese trade data was released, and it turns out that exports fell -20.7% from a year ago! Now, in fairness, part of this has to do with the timing of the Chinese New Year, which was earlier this year than last, but even when stripped out of the data, the underlying trend showed a -4.7% decline. It appears that the US tariffs are really starting to bite.

Adding to the negative China sentiment were two more things. First, comments by Terry Branstad, the US ambassador to China, indicated that a trade deal was not so close (shocking!) and that the mooted meeting between President’s Trump and Xi later this month may well be postponed further. Second, in a huge surprise to Chinese investors, China Citic Securities issued a sell rating on one of the most popular stocks in the market there. The immediate response was for that particular stock, People’s Insurance Company (Group) of China, a state-owned insurer, to fall the daily 10% limit. This led the way for the Shanghai Index to fall 4.4% as investors now believe that the Chinese government is not merely willing to see equity markets fall, but actually interested in having it occur as they try to deflate the bubble that blew up during the past several months.

Needless to say, this information did not help assuage investor feelings anywhere, with the rest of Asia suffering on the day (Nikkei -2.0%, Hang Seng -1.9%) while Europe is also going down that road with the Stoxx 600 currently lower by -0.8%. And US futures? They too are under pressure, -0.4% as I type following yesterday’s -0.8% declines. [As an aside, can someone please explain to me why global index purveyors like MSCI are willing to include Chinese shares in their indices? Given the clear government market manipulation that exists there, as well as the foreign investment restrictions, the idea that they represent a true valuation of a company is laughable.]

So that is the backdrop as we head into the US session with employment data the first thing we’ll see. Expectations are currently as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 180K
Private Payrolls 170K
Manufacturing Payrolls 11K
Unemployment Rate 3.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.3% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
Housing Starts 1.197M
Building Permits 1.289M

The data of late has pretty consistently shown the US economy holding its own relative to everywhere else in the world. Meeting expectations today would simply reinforce that view. Now, Fed speakers this week (Brainerd, Williams and Clarida) have been consistent in their comments that given the current situation and outlook, there is no need to raise rates further. And yet, that is still relatively hawkish compared to the ECB who has actually added more stimulus. Chairman Powell speaks this afternoon as well, but it would be remarkable if he were to change the message. In the end, the relative story remains the same; the US is still the best performing economy (although it is showing signs of slowing) and the dollar is likely to continue to benefit from that reality.

Good luck and good weekend
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Mario’s Turn

It’s Mario’s turn to explain
Why rates should start rising again
His problem, of course
Is he can’t endorse
A rise if it leads to more pain

Markets have been quiet overnight as traders and investors await the ECB’s policy statement, and then perhaps more importantly, Signor Draghi’s press conference to be held at 8:30 this morning. The word filtering out from the ECB is that the TLTRO discussion has moved beyond the stage of IF they need to be rolled over to the stage of HOW exactly they should construct the process. Yesterday’s OECD downgrade of Eurozone growth is likely the last straw for the more hawkish ECB members, notably Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. This is especially so given the OECD slashed their forecasts for German growth by 0.8%! As it happens, Eurozone GDP data was released this morning, and it did nothing to help the monetary hawks’ cause with Q4’s estimate revised lower to 1.1% Y/Y. While the FX market has shown little overall movement ahead of the ECB meeting, European government bonds have been rallying with Italy, the country likely to take up the largest share of the new TLTRO’s, seeing the biggest gains (yield declines) of all.

Once again, the juxtaposition of the strength of the US economy and the ongoing weakness in the Eurozone continues to argue for further gradual strength in the dollar. That US strength was reaffirmed yesterday by the much higher than expected trade deficit (lots more imports due to strong demand) as well as the ADP Employment report, which not only saw its monthly number meet expectations, but showed a massive revision to the previous month, up to 300K from the initial 213K reported. So, for all the dollar bears out there, please explain the drivers for a weaker dollar. While the Fed has definitely turned far less hawkish, so has every other central bank. FX continues to be a two-sided game with relative changes the key drivers. A more dovish ECB, and that is almost certainly what we are going to see this morning, is more than sufficient to undermine any long-term strength in the euro.

Beyond the ECB meeting, however, the storylines remain largely the same, and there has been little movement in any of the major ones. For example, the Brexit deadline is drawing ever closer without any indication that a solution is at hand. Word from the EU is that they are reluctant to compromise because they don’t believe it will be sufficient to get a deal over the line. As to PM May, she is becoming more explicit with her internal threats that if the euroskeptics don’t support her deal, they will be much less pleased with the ultimate outcome as she presupposes another referendum that will vote to Remain. The pound continues to struggle in the wake of this uncertainty, falling another 0.25% overnight which simply indicates that despite all the talk of the horror of a no-deal Brexit, there is a growing probability it may just turn out that way.

Looking at the US-China trade talks, there has been no word since Sunday night’s WSJ story that said the two sides were moving closer to a deal. The trade data released yesterday morning was certainly significant but is really a reflection of the current global macroeconomic situation, namely that the US economy continues to be the strongest in the world and continues to absorb a significant amount of imports. At the same time, weakness elsewhere has manifested itself in reduced demand for US exports. In addition, there was probably some impact from US importers stuffing the channel ahead of worries over increased tariffs. With that concern now dismissed after the US officially stated there would be no further tariff increases for now, channel stuffing is likely to end, or at least slow significantly. Given the lack of information regarding the status of the trade talks, there is no way to evaluate their progress. The political imperatives on both sides remain strong, but there are some very difficult issues that have yet to be addressed adequately. In the meantime, the reniminbi has been biding its time having stabilized over the past two weeks after a 3.0% rally during the previous three months. That stability was evident overnight as it is essentially unchanged on the day.

Beyond those stories there is precious little to discuss today. There is a bit of US data with Initial Claims (exp 225K) along with Nonfarm Productivity (+1.6%) and Unit Labor Costs (+1.6%) all released this morning. In addition, we hear from Fed governor Brainerd (a known dove) early this afternoon. But those things don’t seem likely to be FX drivers today. Rather, it is all about Signor Draghi and his comments. The one other thing to note is that risk appetite in markets, in general, has been ebbing of late. US Equities have fallen in six of the past eight sessions and futures are pointing lower again. The same has largely been true throughout Europe, where markets are lower this morning by roughly 0.4%. fear is a growing factor in markets overall, and as we all know by now, both the dollar and the yen are the main FX beneficiaries in that scenario. It feels like the dollar has room to edge higher today, unless Draghi is quite hawkish. And that is a low probability outcome!

Good luck
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A Little Less Clear

In China, the outcome this year
For growth is a little less clear
The target has changed
To feature a range
That’s lower, but still not austere

The Chinese have reduced their target rate of GDP growth to a range of 6.0%-6.5% from last year’s “about 6.5%” goal. It is, of course, unsurprising that the Chinese met last year’s goal, on paper, as despite significant evidence from individual economic data points, given the lack of independence of the Chinese statistics agency and the political imperative for President Xi to be seen as a great economic leader, 6.6% was determined to be the appropriate representation in 2018. However, given the fact that the growth trajectory in China has been slowing steadily for the past decade, and adding the fact that global growth continues to slow, it seems that even the mighty Chinese bureaucracy can no longer be certain of a particular outcome, hence the range. There is a large group that remains skeptical of the veracity of Chinese data (myself included), and the ongoing gradual reduction in forecasts that we have seen during the past several years simply reinforces the idea that previous data was too rosy.

At the same time, further fiscal stimulus was announced with a cut in VAT and more infrastructure spending, so for now, China remains focused on fiscal support rather than adding more monetary ease and potentially reflating the credit bubble they have spent the last two years trying to deflate. Much of this forecast, naturally, depends on a successful conclusion to the trade talks with the US, and while Sunday night there was a report indicating the deal is almost done, it is not done yet. If, in fact, the mooted deal falls through, look for analyst revisions lower and even government guidance toward the lower end of this range.

As to the renminbi, China has pledged to maintain a stable currency, although they have not indicated exactly what the benchmark for stability will be. This remains a key focus for President Trump and is ostensibly part of the nascent trade agreement. While I believe that economic pressures would naturally tend toward a weaker renminbi over time, as I had forecast at the beginning of the year, the one thing I know is that if the Chinese choose to strengthen the currency in the short run, regardless of the macroeconomic factors that may exist, they will be able to do so. Wall Street analysts are slowly adjusting their forecasts toward a stronger CNY this year, and if a trade agreement is reached, that seems exactly correct. Of course, if the talks founder, all bets are off.

Meanwhile, one week before PM May is set to have another Parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal, she continues to try to get a modification to the terms of the Irish backstop. Uncertainty remains high as to the actual outcome, but it appears to me that either the deal, as written and newly interpreted, will squeak through, resulting in a short delay in order that all sides can pass the appropriate legislation, or the deal will fail and Parliament will vote to ask for a 6-9 month delay with the intent of having a new referendum. While there is still a chance that the UK leaves without a deal at the end of the month, it does seem to be a very small chance. With that in mind, a look at the pound, which has fallen ~1.5% in the past week (-0.15% overnight), and it appears that we are witnessing another ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ outcome. As hopes grew that there would be no hard Brexit, the pound steadily rallied for a number of weeks. I have maintained that even a positive outcome has only limited further potential upside given the UK economy remains mired in a slowdown and their largest trading partner, the EU, is slowing even more rapidly. Don’t be surprised to see the pound jump initially on a positive vote next week, but it will be short-lived, mark my words.

Pivoting to the euro, this morning’s Services PMI data was mildly better than the flash projections of two weeks ago. The current market interpretation is that the slowdown in the Eurozone has stabilized. And while that may be true for the moment, it is in no way clear the future portends a resumption in growth. Meanwhile, the euro has continued its recent drift lower, with a very modest decline this morning, just 5bps, but approaching a 1% decline in the past week. The ongoing discussion about the ECB is focused on exactly what tools they have available in the event that the slowdown proves more long-lasting than currently hoped expected. I continue to believe that TLTRO’s will be rolled over with an announcement by June, but after that, the cupboard is bare. Pushing rates to an even more negative level will be counterproductive as the negative impact on banks will almost certainly curtail their lending activity. And restarting QE just months after they ended it would be seen as an indication the ECB has no idea what is going on in the Eurozone economy. Therefore, though Signor Draghi will be reluctant to discuss much about this on Thursday at his press conference, pressure on the ECB will increase when they lower their growth and inflation forecasts further. Look for the euro to continue to drift slowly lower and talk of TLTRO’s to increase.

Last night the RBA left rates on hold, which was universally expected, but the market continues to expect an eventual reduction in the overnight interest rate Down Under. The housing market bubble has been rapidly deflating, and while employment has so far held up, remember employment is a lagging indicator. With that in mind, it is not surprising that AUD has fallen -0.25% overnight, and I think the underlying trend will still point lower. This is especially true if the US-China trade talks falter given China’s status as Australia’s largest trading counterparty. Slowing growth in China means slowing growth in Australia, count on it.

As can be seen from these discussions, the dollar is modestly higher overall this morning, although movement in any given currency has been fairly small. While President Trump continues to decry the dollar’s strength, the US remains the only large economy that is not slowing sharply. And as I have written consistently, with the Fed’s clear stance that further tightening is off the table, you can be sure that no other central bank will be looking to tighten policy anytime ahead of the Fed. The president will not get satisfaction on this front anytime soon.

Turning to this morning’s data, we see ISM Non-Manufacturing (exp 57.3) and New Home Sales (600K). We also hear from Fed uber-dove Neel Kashkari, but now that the Fed has turned dovish overall, it is not clear that he can say much that will alter impressions in the market. While throughout February, the dollar was on its back foot, taking a step back shows that it has been range trading since last October. Given the recent data situation, as well as the sentiment shifts we have seen, it does appear that the dollar can grind back toward the top of that trading range (think of the euro at 1.1200), but we are still lacking a catalyst for a substantial change.

Good luck
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A Lack of Pizzazz

This week, central banks, numb’ring three
Released information that we
Interpreted as
A lack of pizzazz
So, don’t look for tight policy

Yesterday’s release of the ECB Minutes from their January meeting didn’t garner nearly as much press as the FOMC Minutes on Wednesday. However, they are still important. The topic du jour was the analysis necessary to help them determine if rolling over the TLTRO’s was the appropriate policy going forward. Not surprisingly, the hawks on the committee, like Austria’s Ewald Nowotny, said there is no hurry and a decision doesn’t need to be taken until June when the first of these loans fall below twelve months in their remaining term. I am pretty sure that he is against adding any more stimulus at all. At the same time, given the recession in Italy and slowing growth picture throughout Germany and France, and given that Italian and French banks had been the first and third most active users of the financing, in the end, the ECB cannot afford to let them lapse. I remain 100% convinced that these loans will be rolled over in an effort to ‘avoid tightening financial conditions’, not in order to ease them further. However, the market impact of the Minutes was muted at best, as has been this morning’s data releases; one confirming that German GDP was flat in Q4, and more importantly, the decline in the Ifo Business Climate indicator to 98.5, its lowest level in four years. Meanwhile, Eurozone inflation remains absent from the discussion with January’s data confirmed to have declined to a 1.4% Y/Y rise. Nothing in this data indicates the ECB will tighten policy in 2019, and quite frankly, I would be shocked to see them move in 2020 as well.

The other central bank information of note was the Bank of Canada, where Governor Poloz spoke in Montreal and explained that while the current policy setting (base rates are 1.75%) remain below their range of estimates of the neutral rate (2.5%-3.5%), current conditions dictate that there is no hurry to tighten further, especially with the ongoing uncertainty emanating from the US and the overall global trade situation. So here is another central bank that had been talking up the tightening process and has now backed away.

In virtually every case, the central banks continue to hang their hats on the employment market’s strength, and the idea that a tight jobs market will lead to higher wages, and thus higher inflation. The thing is, this Phillips Curve model has two flaws; first it only relates lower unemployment to higher wages, not higher general inflation; and second, it is based on an analysis of the UK from 1861-1957, which may not actually be a relevant timeline compared to the global economy in 2019. And one other thing to remember is that employment is a lagging indicator with respect to economic signals. This means that it is backward looking and has been demonstrated to have limited predictive power. My point is that despite a clearly strong employment situation, it is still entirely possible that global growth can slow much further and much more quickly than policymakers would have you believe.

Back to the currency markets, the upshot of all the new information was that traders have essentially left both the euro and the Loonie unchanged for the past two days. In fact, they have left most currencies that way. This morning’s largest G10 mover is the pound, which just recently has extended its losses to -0.40% after it became clear that the EU was NOT going to make any concessions regarding the backstop issue as had been believed just yesterday. The latest story is that the UK is going to ask for a three-month extension, which is likely to be granted. The thing is, the problem is not going to get any easier to solve in three months’ time than it is now. This will simply extend the time of uncertainty.

Of course, the other story is the trade talks and the positive spin that we continue to hear despite the information that there remain wide differences on key issues like enforcement of any deals as well as the speed with which the Chinese are willing to open up their markets. It is all well and good for the Chinese to say they will buy more corn, or more soybeans or more oil, but while nice, those pledges don’t address the question of IP protection and state subsidies. I remain concerned that any deal, if it is brokered, will be much less impactful than is claimed. And it is quite possible that the US will not remove any of the current tariffs until they have validation that the Chinese have upheld their side of any deal. I feel like the market is far too optimistic on this subject, but then again, I am a cynic.

While FX markets have been slow to respond to these stories, we continue to see equity markets wholeheartedly embrace the idea that a deal is coming soon and there is no reason to worry. Last night, Chinese equity markets rallied sharply (Shanghai +1.9%), although the Nikkei actually slipped -0.2%. European markets this morning are higher by around 0.4%-0.5%, as they, too, seem bullish on the trade picture. Certainly, it is not based on the economic picture in the Eurozone.

But as we have seen for the past several weeks, central banks, Brexit and trade are the only stories that matter. Right now, investors and traders are giving mixed signals, with the equity markets feeling positive, but currency and bond markets much less so. My money is on the bond market vs. the stock market as having correctly analyzed the situation.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf