No Real Direction

Ahead of the midterm election
The dollar’s had no real direction
Once ballots are tallied
The dollar, which rallied
Before, may be due for rejection

It’s Election Day here in the US, as I’m sure everyone is already aware. The current expectations are for the Democrats to capture the House while the Republicans maintain the Senate, with perhaps a larger majority. Of course, many of you may remember the 2016 Presidential election when expectations proved misguided. My point is, nothing is clear to me at this point, and I will not pontificate on any particular outcome. Rather the question at hand is, what will happen to the dollar once the ballots are counted.

If expectations are borne out, a gridlocked government is likely to put forth significantly less in the way of economic policy initiatives. Given the lack of fiscal policy changes, monetary policy will gain in importance. If there is no additional fiscal stimulus, will the Fed feel compelled to continue tightening as quickly as they have been doing? Will the US economy slow more rapidly than currently projected (remember we are already growing well above most economists’ forecasts for sustainability which hover between 2.0% and 2.5%)? If this is the case, then it would be reasonable to expect the dollar to soften going forward since right now, the dollar’s strength can be largely attributed to a Fed that is tightening faster than most of the market had assumed would be the case.

On the other hand, either of the other two scenarios, the Democrats sweep or the Republicans sweep have much clearer implications for the dollar, at least to my mind. In the event of the former, I would expect the dollar to come under immediate pressure. The probability of impeachment proceedings would rise significantly and with that, the chaos that would occur would almost certainly undermine the dollar. One need only look back twenty years, when a Republican House of Representatives sought to impeach Bill Clinton. From September 1998 through the actual vote in December 1998, the dollar declined roughly 10%. Something like that is entirely realistic.

And if the Republicans were to hold the House and grow their Senate majority, the probability of even more fiscal stimulus would simply force the Fed’s hand further, and may see an even tighter policy response, as their fear of inflation would grow commensurately. A more hawkish Fed, especially in the context of what is a clearly slowing global economic picture, should further support the dollar, with a move toward 1.05 in the euro very viable. Not tomorrow mind you, but over time.

At any rate, for today, there is very little else we can do than wait. So looking at the rest of the world, we see that growth in the Eurozone may not have been quite as bad as feared. The flash PMI numbers reported two weeks ago were worse than the finalized ones reported this morning, but they are still the softest readings in more than two years. Yesterday saw the euro edge slightly higher by the end of the day, but in reality, it has done virtually nothing since November 1st. This is the picture of a market biding its time, with the election clearly the event of note.

Meanwhile, the pound continues to creep higher as there seems to be a growing belief that PM May will be able to convince her cabinet to support her with regard to the Brexit deal she is proposing. Having read about the proposed solution, it appears to me that pro-Brexit cabinet members will have a difficult time supporting anything that allows the EU to have a role in future UK decisions. After all, the idea behind Brexit was to end that process. But politics makes strange bedfellows, as they say, and so I wouldn’t rule out anything. In the end, the pound remains hostage to the Brexit outcome, and nothing has changed in that regard overnight.

As to the rest of the G10, we have seen a mixed picture with AUD and NZD both having a nice day (both higher by ~0.3%) on the back of the RBA’s upgraded forecast for economic growth Down Under. Just like in the US, wages continue to lag what historic models would indicate, but the RBA is further behind the cycle than the US, and so expectations are growing that the next move there will be for higher interest rates. At the same time, CAD and the Skandies have softened a bit this morning, but in reality, overall movement has been modest at best.

In the EMG bloc, the dollar is actually rising pretty uniformly, with ZAR (-0.65%), MXN (-0.25%), KRW (-0.25%) and TRY (-0.9%) leading the way. CNY has edged slightly lower but remains well within recent trading bounds. The exception to the rule is IDR, which has rallied 1.2% after data showed that foreign inflows into both the stock and government bond market had increased significantly in the past several weeks, prompted by an economy growing more than 5.0% with inflation remaining moderate around 3.0%. And remember, the rupiah had fallen as much as 12% from the beginning of the year before the recent little rally, so many investors see a real opportunity.

And that is really all there is. Both equity and bond markets are biding their time as well, as everybody awaits the outcome of the US elections. There is no reason to believe that the market will move much ahead of that outcome this evening, so hedgers might want to take advantage of quiet markets to top up hedges in the event of a surprise tonight.

Good luck
Adf

Hardliners Abhorred

According to sources, it seems
That Minister May and her teams
Have neared the accord
Hardliners abhorred
As they’ll need to give up their dreams

While there is much in store for markets this week from the US, between the midterm elections tomorrow and the FOMC meeting on Thursday, today’s biggest headline is really about the UK and Brexit. Allegedly, albeit with no corroboration from either side, the entire UK will remain in the customs union, not just Northern Ireland, in the immediate aftermath of Brexit as the two sides continue to work out the eventual solution. May’s idea is that she will present this to her cabinet with an ultimatum to approve it and send it to Parliament in order to get the process completed before the end of the year. And while the other 27 members of the EU must also ratify the deal, the current belief is that there will be limited problems doing that. However, this all remains speculation at this point, except for the fact that May and her cabinet have a meeting scheduled for tomorrow where more details should become available.

It cannot be surprising that the pound has rallied on the news, jumping 60 pips on the open although since giving back about half that original gain. The broad consensus in the market is that any deal will result in the pound trading sharply higher, although I am skeptical that it can stay much above 1.35 for any meaningful amount of time. Even if the Brexit monkey climbs off the pound’s back, the market will still have to account for the fact that UK growth is slowing more sharply than its peers and that the pressure for the BOE to raise rates will likely ebb accordingly. But for now it remains speculation as to whether a deal is imminent or not. And as long as that uncertainty remains, the pound will be beholden to the latest story or headline on the subject.

Away from the pound though, the dollar is starting to show some life at this stage of the morning. Friday’s employment report, with NFP printing at 250K and AHE at 3.1%, confirmed that growth in the US continues to outperform virtually every other region in the world, and will have done nothing to dissuade the Fed from continuing its rate hiking strategy. While there is no expectation of any activity by the Fed on Thursday, the market probability for a rate hike in December remains above 80%. As long as US data continues to outpace that of the rest of the world, it seems unlikely that the Fed is going to stop.

Regarding the US midterm elections, clearly there is the potential for a market reaction depending on the results and whether the Republican party maintains its hold on the House of Representatives. If not, a split government (it is assumed that they will retain the Senate) will clearly impede the president’s plans for further economic stimulus programs and reintroduce brinksmanship to things like budget discussions. Net, given the current economic situation, I expect that after a kneejerk response, it is unlikely to have a significant impact for a while. However, it does open the possibility of more inflammatory rhetoric, including the threat of impeachment hearings, which may well detract from the dollar’s performance going forward. As we learned following President Trump’s election, markets pay close attention to significant electoral changes. With this in mind, it is important to remember that many pundits have been forecasting the Democrats will retake the House, so if the Republicans hold on, even with a much smaller majority, that may be an outcome not currently priced into the market. My point is that there is still great uncertainty to the outcome, and it is not entirely clear the FX impact that will result.

Away from those stories, the biggest news we saw was the weaker than expected Caixin PMI data from China. The Services print was 50.8 with the Composite number at just 50.5. The latter was at its weakest in more than two years and is an indication that the trade conflict with the US is continuing to take a toll on the Chinese economy. In addition, there were several articles in the press this weekend explaining that despite President Trump’s tweets last week, the meeting between Xi and Trump is really just going to get the trade negotiations restarted. There is no deal imminent. It should be no surprise that the renminbi has weakened during the session, especially after last week’s remarkable rally. So the 0.3% decline this morning needs to be kept in context, and simply represents a move back toward its previous trend.

Broadly speaking, the dollar is performing well against the EMG bloc today with MXN (-0.4%), INR (-0.9%) and KRW (-0.5%) indicative of the type of market activity ongoing.

Looking ahead to the upcoming data, we see that beyond the Fed and election, there is precious little that we will learn.

Today ISM Non-Manufacturing 59.3
Tuesday JOLT’s Jobs Report 7.1M
Thursday Initial Claims 214K
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.25%
Friday PPI 0.3% (2.5% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
  Michigan Sentiment 98.0
  Wholesale Inventories 0.3%

So between the US elections and PM May’s cabinet meeting with its chance to make real Brexit headway, there is much to look for this week. But the data will not be the story. As to today’s session, APAC equity markets have reversed some of last week’s gains after it became clear that trade situation wasn’t going to improve in the very short term. US equity futures are pointing lower, although Europe is modestly higher. It all strikes me as though traders are biding their time awaiting the big news, which makes sense. Look for a dull session today, but with the chance for some fireworks tomorrow, at least in the pound if something happens in the cabinet meeting.

Good luck
Adf