Said Christine, we are “undeterred”
By Germany’s court that inferred
QE is lawbreaking
As there’s no mistaking
Our power, from Brussels’, conferred

Thus, QE is here til we say
The ‘conomy’s finally okay
More bonds we will buy
And don’t even try
To hint there might be a delay!

Last week, when the German Constitutional Court ruled that the ECB’s original QE program, PSPP, broke EU laws about monetary financing of EU governments, there was a flurry of interest, but no clear understanding of the eventual ramifications of the ruling. This morning, those ramifications are beginning to become clear. Not surprisingly the ruling ruffled many feathers within the EU framework, as it contradicted the European Court of Justice, which is the EU’s highest court. This is akin to a State Supreme Court contradicting the US Supreme Court on a particular issue. At least, that’s what the legal difference is. But in one way, this is much more dangerous. There is no serious opportunity for any US state to leave the union, but what we have learned over the course of the past several years is that while the German people, on the whole, want to remain in the Eurozone and EU, they also don’t want to pay for everybody else’s problems. So, the question that is now being raised is, will Frau Merkel and her government be able to contain the damage?

In the end, this will most likely result in no changes of any sort by the ECB. There will be much harrumphing about what is allowed, and a great deal of technical jargon will be discussed about the framework of the EU. But despite Merkel’s weakened political state, she will likely manage to prevent a blow-up.

The thing is, this is the likely outcome, but it is certainly not the guaranteed outcome. The EU’s biggest problem right now is that Italy, and to a slightly lesser degree Spain, the third and fourth largest economies in the EU, have run are running out of fiscal space. As evidenced by the spreads on their debt vs. that of Germany, there remains considerable concern over either country’s ability to continue to provide fiscal support during the Covid-19 crisis. The ECB has been the only purchaser of their bonds, at least other than as short-term trading vehicles, and the entire premise of this ruling is that the ECB cannot simply purchase whatever bonds they want, but instead, must adhere to the capital key.

The threat is that if the ECB does not respond adequately, at least according to the German Court, then the Bundesbank would be prevented from participating in any further QE activities. Since they are the largest participant, it would essentially gut the program and correspondingly, the ECB’s current monetary support for the Eurozone economies. As always, it comes down to money, in this case, who is ultimately going to pay for the current multi-trillion euros of largesse. The Germans see the writing on the wall and want to avoid becoming the Eurozone’s ATM. Will they be willing to destroy a structure that has been so beneficial for them in order to not pick up the tab? That is the existential question, and the one on which hangs the future value of the euro.

Since the ruling was announced, the euro has slumped a bit more than 1.25% including this morning’s 0.2% fall. This is hardly a rout, and one could easily point to the continued awful data like this morning’s Italian March IP release (-28.4%) as a rationale. The thing about the data argument is that it no longer seems clear that the market cares much about data. As evidenced by equity markets’ collective ability to rally despite evidence of substantial economic destruction, it seems that no matter how awful a given number, traders’ attitudes have evolved into no data matters in the near-term, and in the longer-term, all the stimulus will solve the problem. With this as background, it appears that the euro’s existential questions are now a more important driver than the economy.

But it’s not just the euro that has fallen today, in fact the dollar is stronger across the board. In the G10 space, Aussie (-0.7%) and Kiwi (-0.8%) are the leading decliners, after a story hit the tapes that China may impose duties on Australia’s barley exports to the mainland. This appears to be in response to Australia’s insistence on seeking a deeper investigation into the source of the covid virus. But the pound (-0.65%), too, is softer this morning as PM Johnson has begun lifting lockdown orders in an effort to get the country back up and running. However, he is getting pushback from labor unions who are concerned for the safety of their members, something we are likely to see worldwide.

Interestingly, the yen is weaker this morning, down 0.6%, in what started as a risk-on environment in Asia. However, we have since seen equity markets turn around, with most of Europe now lower between 0.3% and 1.3%, while US futures have turned negative as well. The yen, however, has not caught a bid and remains lower at this point. I would look for the yen to gain favor if equity markets start to add to their current losses.

In the EMG space, the bulk of the group is softer today led by CZK (-1.1%) and MXN (-1.0%), although the other losses are far less impressive. On the plus side, many SE Asian currencies showed marginal gains overnight while the overall risk mood was more constructive. If today does turn more risk averse, you can look for those currencies to give back last night’s gains. A quick look at CZK shows comments from the central bank that they are preparing for unconventional stimulus (read QE) if the policy rate reaches 0%, which given they are currently at 0.25% as of last Thursday, seems quite likely. Meanwhile, the peso seems to be preparing for yet another rate cut by Banxico this week, with the only question being the size. 0.50% is being mooted, but there is clearly scope for more.

On the data front, to the extent this still matters, this week brings a modicum of important news:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 85.0
  CPI -0.8% (0.4% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy -0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
Wednesday PPI -0.5% (-0.3% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.0% (0.9% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 2.5M
  Continuing Claims 24.8M
Friday Retail Sales -11.7%
  -ex autos -6.0%
  IP -12.0%
  Capacity Utilization 64.0%
  Empire Manufacturing -60.0
  Michigan Sentiment 68.0

Source: Bloomberg

But, as I said above, it is not clear how much data matters right now. Certainly, one cannot look at these forecasts and conclude anything other than the US is in a deep recession. The trillion-dollar questions are how deep it will go and how long will this recession last. Barring a second wave of infections following the reopening of segments of the economy, it still seems like it will be a very long time before we are back to any sense of normalcy. The stock market continues to take the over, but the disconnect between stock prices and the economy seems unlikely to continue growing. As to the dollar, it remains the ultimate safe haven, at least for now.

Good luck and stay safe

To Aid and Abet

The treaties that built the EU
Explain what each nation should do
The German high court
Ruled that to comport
A challenge was in their purview

But politics trumps all the laws
And so Lagarde won’t even pause
In buying up debt
To aid and abet
The PIGS for a much greater cause

Arguably, the biggest story overnight was just not that big. The German Constitutional Court (GCC) ruled that the Bundesbank was wrong not to challenge the implementation of the first QE program in 2015 on the basis that the Asset Purchase Program (APP) was a form of monetary support explicitly prohibited. Back when the euro first came into existence, Germany’s biggest fear was that the ECB would finance profligate governments and that the Germans would ultimately have to pay the bill. In fact, this remains their biggest fear. While technically, QE is not actually debt monetization, that is only true if central banks allow their balance sheets to shrink back to pre-QE sizes. However, what we have learned since the GFC in 2008-09 is that central bank balance sheets are permanently larger, thus those emergency purchases of government debt now form an integral part of the ECB structure. In other words, that debt has effectively been monetized. The essence of this ruling is that the German government should have challenged QE from the start, as it is an explicit breach of the rules preventing the ECB from financing governments.

The funny thing is, while the court ruled in this manner, it is not clear to me what the outcome will be. At this point, it is very clear that the ECB is not going to be changing their programs, either APP or PEPP, and so no remedy is obvious. Arguably, the biggest risk in the ruling is that the GCC will have issued a binding opinion that will essentially be ignored, thus diminishing the power of their future rulings. Undoubtedly, there will be some comments within the three-month timeline laid out by the GCC, but there will be no effective changes to ECB policy. In other words, like every other central bank, the ECB has found themselves officially above the law.

While the actuality of the story may not have much impact on ECB activities, the FX market did respond by selling the euro. This morning it is lower by 0.5%, which takes its decline this month to 1.2% and earns it the crown, currently, of worst performing G10 currency. The thought process seems to be that there is nothing to stop the ECB in its efforts to debase the euro, so the path of least resistance remains lower.

Beyond the GCC story though, there is little new in the way of news. Equity markets have a better tone on the strength of oil’s continuing rebound, up nearly 10% this morning as I type, as production cuts begin to take hold, as well as, I would contend, the GCC ruling. In essence, despite numerous claims that central banks have overstepped their bounds, it is quite clear that nobody can stop them from buying up an ever larger group of financial assets and supporting markets. So, yesterday’s late day US rally led to a constructive tone overnight (Hang Seng +1.1%, Australia +1.6%, China and Japan are both closed for holidays) which has been extended through the European session (both DAX and CAC +1.8%, FTSE 100 +1.4%) with US futures pointing higher as well.

In the government bond market, Treasury yields are 3.5bps higher, but the real story seems to be in Europe. Bund yields have also rallied a bit, 2bps, but that can easily be attributed to the risk-on mentality that is permeating the market this morning. However, I would have expected Italian and Spanish yields to have fallen on the ruling. After all, they have become risk assets, not havens, and yet both have seen price declines of note with Italian yields higher by 10bps and Spanish (and Portuguese) higher by 5bps. Once again, we see the equity and bond markets looking at the same news in very different lights.

As to the FX market, it is a mixed picture this morning. While the Swiss franc is tracking the euro lower, also down by 0.5% this morning, we are seeing NOK (+0.4%) and CAD (+0.2%) seeming to benefit from the oil price rally. Aussie, too, is in better shape this morning, up 0.2% on the broad risk-on appetite and news that more countries are trying to reopen after their Covid inspired shutdowns.

The EMG space is similarly mixed with ZAR (+1.25%), RUB (+1.0%) and MXN (+0.6%) the leading gainers. While the ruble’s support is obviously oil, ZAR has benefitted from the overall risk appetite. This morning, the South African government issued ZAR 4.5 billion of bonds in three maturities and received bid-to-cover ratios of 6.8x on average. With yields there still so much higher than elsewhere (>8.0%), investors are willing to take the risk despite the recent credit rating downgrade. Finally, the peso is clearly benefitting from the oil price as well as the broad risk-on movement. The peso remains remarkably volatile these days, having gained and lost upwards of 5% several times in the past month, often seeing daily ranges of more than 3%. Today simply happens to be a plus day.

On the downside, the damage is far less severe with CE4 currencies all down around the same 0.5% as the euro. When there are no specific stories, those currencies tend to track the euro pretty tightly. As to the rest of APAC, there were very modest gains to be seen, but nothing of consequence.

On the data front, yesterday’s Factory Orders data was even worse than expected at -10.3% but did not have much impact. This morning brings the Trade Balance (exp -$44.2B) as well as ISM Non-Manufacturing (37.9). At this point, everybody knows that the data is going to look awful compared to historical releases, so it appears that bad numbers have lost their shock value. At least that is likely to be true until the payroll data later this week. The RBA left rates unchanged last night, as expected, although they have reduced the pace of QE according to their read of what is necessary to keep markets functioning well there. And finally, we will hear from three Fed speakers today, Evans, Bostic and Bullard, but again, it seems hard to believe they will say anything really new.

Overall, risk appetite has grown a bit overnight, but for the dollar, it is not clear to me that it has a short-term direction. Choppiness until the next key piece of news seems the most likely outcome. Let’s see how things behave come Friday.

Good luck and stay safe


Significant Woe

The data continue to show
A tale of significant woe
Last night’s PMIs
Define the demise
Of growth; from Spain to Mexico

Another day, another set of data requiring negative superlatives. For instance, the final March PMI data was released early this morning and Italy’s Services number printed at 17.4! That is not merely the lowest number in Italy’s series since the data was first collected in 1998, it is the lowest number in any series, ever. A quick primer on the PMI construction will actually help show just how bad things are there.

As I’ve written in the past, the PMI data comes from a single, simple question; ‘are things better, the same or worse than last month?’ Each answer received is graded in the following manner:

Better =      1.0
Same =        0.5
Worse =      0.0

Then they simply multiply the number of respondents by each answer, normalize it and voila! Essentially, Italy’s result shows that 65.2% of the country’s services providers indicated that March was worse than February, with 34.8% indicating things were the same. We can probably assume that there was no company indicating things were better. This, my friends, is not the description of a recession; this is the description of a full-blown depression. IHS Markit, the company that performs the surveys and calculations, explained that according to their econometric models, GDP is declining at a greater than 10% annual rate right now across all of Europe (where the Eurozone Composite reading was 26.4). In Italy (Composite reading of 20.2) the damage is that much worse. And in truth, given that the spread of the virus continues almost unabated there, it is hard to forecast a time when things might improve.

It does not seem like a stretch to describe the situation across the Eurozone as existential. What we learned in 2012, during the Eurozone debt crisis, was that the project, and the single currency, are a purely political construct. That crisis highlighted the inherent design failure of creating a single monetary policy alongside 19 fiscal policies. But it also highlighted that the desire to keep the experiment going was enormous, hence Signor Draghi’s famous comment about “whatever it takes”. However, the continuing truth is that the split between northern and southern European nations has never even been addressed, let alone mended. Germany, the Netherlands and Austria continue to keep fiscal prudence as a cornerstone of their government policies, and the populations in those nations are completely in tune with that, broadly living relatively frugal lives. Meanwhile, the much more relaxed atmosphere further south continues to encourage both government and individual profligacy, leading to significant debt loads across both sectors.

The interesting twist today is that while Italy and Spain are the two hardest hit nations in Europe regarding Covid-19, Germany is in third place and climbing fast. In other words, fiscal prudence is no protection against the spread of the disease. And that has led to, perhaps, the most important casualty of Covid-19, German intransigence on debt and deficits. While all the focus this morning is on the proposed 10 million barrel/day cut in oil production, and there is a modest amount of focus on the Chinese reduction in the RRR for small banks and talk of an interest rate cut there, I have been most amazed at comments from Germany;s Heiko Maas, granted the Foreign Minister, but still a key member of the ruling coalition, when he said, regarding Italy’s situation, “We will help, we must help, [it is] also in our own interest. These days will remind us how important it is that we have the European Union and that we cannot solve the crisis acting unilaterally. I am absolutely certain that in coming days we’ll find a solution that everyone can support.” (my emphasis). The point is that it is starting to look like we are going to see some significant changes in Europe, namely the beginnings of a European fiscal policy and borrowing authority. Since the EU’s inception, this has been prevented by the Germans and their hard money allies in the north. But this may well be the catalyst to change that view. If this is the case, it is a strong vote of confidence for the euro and would have a very significant long-term impact on the single currency in a positive manner. However, if this does not come about, we could well see the true demise of the euro. As I said, I believe this is an existential moment in time.

With that in mind, it is interesting that the market has continued to drive the euro lower, with the single currency down 0.5% on the day and falling below 1.08 as I type. That makes 3.3% this week and has taken us back within sight of the lows reached two weeks ago. In the short term, it is awfully hard to be positive on the euro. We shall see how the long term plays out.

But the euro is hardly the only currency falling today. In fact, the dollar is firmer vs. all its G10 counterparts, with Aussie and Kiwi the biggest laggards, down 1.2% each. The pound, too, is under pressure (finally) this morning, down 1.0% as there seems to be some concern that the UK’s response to Covid-19 is falling short. But in the end, the dollar continues to perform its role of haven of last resort, even vs. both the Swiss franc (-0.35%) and Japanese yen (-0.6%).

EMG currencies are similarly under pressure with MXN once again the worst performer of the day, down 2.1%, although ZAR (-2.0%) is giving it a run for its money. The situation in Mexico is truly dire, as despite its link to oil prices, and the fact that oil prices have rallied more than 35% since Wednesday, it has continued to fall further. AMLO is demonstrating a distinct lack of ability when it comes to running the country, with virtually all his decisions being called into question. I have to say that the peso looks like it has much further to fall with a move to 30.00 or even further quite possible. Hedgers beware.

Risk overall is clearly under pressure this morning with equity markets throughout Europe falling and US futures pointing in the same direction. Treasury prices are slightly firmer, but the market has the feeling of being ready for the weekend to arrive so it can recharge. I know I have been exhausted working to keep up with the constant flow of information as well as price volatility and I am sure I’m not the only one in that situation.

With that in mind, we do get the payroll report shortly with the following expectations:

Nonfarm Payrolls -100K
Private Payrolls -132K
Manufacturing Payrolls -10K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.1
Participation Rate 63.3%
ISM Non- Manufacturing 43.0

Source: Bloomberg

But the question remains, given the backward-looking nature of the payroll report, does it matter? I would argue it doesn’t. Of far more importance is the ISM data at 10:00, which will allow us to compare the situation in the US with that in Europe and the rest of the world on a more real-time basis. But in the end, I don’t think it is going to matter too much regarding the value of the dollar. The buck is still the place to be, and I expect that it will continue to gradually strengthen vs. all comers for a while yet.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Set For a Rout

In case you still had any doubt
That growth has encountered a drought
The readings this morning
Gave adequate warning
That markets are set for a rout

You may all remember the Chinese PMI data from last month (although granted, that seems like a year ago) when the official statistic printed at 35.7, the lowest in the history of the series. Well, it was the rest of the world’s turn this month to see those shockingly low numbers as IHS Markit released the results of their surveys for March. Remember, they ask a simple question; ‘are things better, the same or worse than last month?’ Given the increasing spread of Covid-19 and the rolling shut-downs across most of Europe and the US in March, it can be no surprise that this morning’s data was awful, albeit not as awful as China’s was in February. In fact, the range of outcomes in the Eurozone was from Italy’s record low of 40.3 to the Netherlands actually printing at 50.5, still technically in expansion phase. The Eurozone overall index was at 44.5, just a touch above the lows reached during the European bond crisis in 2012. You remember that, when Signor Draghi promised to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. The difference this time is that was a self-inflicted wound, this problem is beyond the ECB’s control.

The current situation highlights one of the fundamental problems with the construction of the Eurozone, a lack of common fiscal policy. While this has been mentioned many times before, it is truly coming home to roost now. In essence, with no common fiscal policy, each of the 19 countries share a currency, but make up their own budgets. Now there are rules about the allowed levels of budget deficits as well as debt/GDP ratios, but the reality is that no country has really changed their ways since the Union’s inception. And that means that Germany, Austria and the Netherlands remain far more frugal than Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. And the people of Germany are just not interested in paying for the excesses of Italian or Spanish activities, as long as they have a choice.

This is where the ECB can make a big difference, and perhaps why Madame Lagarde, as a politician not banker, turns out to have been an inspired choice for the President’s role. Prior to the current crisis, the ECB made every effort to emulate the Bundesbank, and was adamant about preventing the monetization of national debt. But in the current situation, with Covid-19 not seeming to respect the German’s inherent frugality, every nation is rolling out massive spending packages. And the ECB has pledged to buy up as much of the issued debt as they deem necessary, regardless of previous rules about capital keys and funding. Thus, ironically, this may be what ultimately completes the integration of Europe. Either that or initiates the disintegration of the euro. Right now, it’s not clear, although the euro’s inability to rally, despite a clear reduction in USD funding pressures, perhaps indicates a modestly greater likelihood of the latter rather than the former. In the end, national responses to Covid-19 continue to truly hinder economic activity and there seems to be no immediate end in sight.

With that as our preamble, a look at markets as the new quarter dawns shows that things have not gotten any better than Q1, at least not in the equity markets. After a quarter where the S&P 500 fell 20.0%, and European indices all fell between 25% and 30%, this morning sees equity markets under continued pressure. Asia mostly suffered (Nikkei -4.5%, Hang Seng -2.2%) although Australian stocks had a powerful rally (+3.6%) on the strength of an RBA announcement of A$3 billion of QE (it’s first foray there). Europe, meanwhile, has seen no benefits with every market down at least 1.75% (Italy) with the CAC (-4.0%) and DAX (-3.6%) the worst performers on the Continent. Not to be left out, the FTSE 100 has fallen 3.8% despite UK PMI data printing at a better than expected 47.8. But this is a risk-off session, so a modestly better than expected data print is not enough to turn the tide.

Bond markets are true to form this morning with Treasury yields down nearly 7bps, Bund yields down 3bps and Gilt yields lower by 6bps, while both Italian (+5bps) and Greek (+9bps) yields are rising. Bond investors have clearly taken to pricing the latter two akin to equities rather than the more traditional haven idea behind government bonds. And a quick spin through the two most followed commodities shows gold rising 0.8% while oil is split between a 3.5% decline in Brent despite a 0.5% rally in WTI.

And finally, in the FX world, the dollar continues to be the biggest winner, although we have an outlier in Norway, where the krone is up by 0.8% this morning, despite the weakness in Brent crude and the very weak PMI data. Quite frankly, looking at the chart, it appears that the Norgesbank has been in once again supporting the currency, which despite today’s gains, has fallen by nearly 9% in the past month. Otherwise, in the G10 space, CAD is the worst performer, down 1.4%, followed closely by AUD (-1.0%) as commodity prices generally remain under pressure. In fact, despite its 0.25% decline vs. the dollar, the pound is actually having a pretty good session.

In EMG markets, it is HUF (-2.5%) and MXN (-2.1%) which are the leading decliners with the former suffering on projected additional stimulus reducing the rate structure there, while the peso continues to suffer from weak oil prices and the US slowdown. But really, the entire space is lower as well, with APAC and EMEA currencies all down on the day and LATAM set to slide on the opening.

On the data front this morning, we see ADP Employment (exp -150K), which will be a very interesting harbinger of Friday’s payroll data, as well as ISM Manufacturing (48.0) and Prices Paid (44.5). We already saw the big hit in Initial Claims last week, and tomorrow’s is set to grow more, so today is where we start to see just how big the impact on the US economy Covid-19 is going to have. I fear, things will get much worse before they turn, and an annualized decline of as much as 10% in Q1 GDP is possible in my view. But despite that, there is no indication that the dollar is going to be sold in any substantial fashion in the near term. Too many people and institutions need dollars, and even with all the Fed’s largesse, the demand has not been sated.

Volatility will remain with us for a while yet, so keep that in mind as you look for hedging opportunities. Remember, volatility can work in your favor as well, especially if you leave orders.

Good luck and stay safe

Many a Penny

The stock market had been for many
A place to make many a penny
But lately they’ve seen
Bright red on their screen
It’s best if they practice their zen (ny)

Meanwhile though the Fed seems quite clear
A rate cut will not soon appear
The market is stressing
And Jay will be pressing
For twenty-five quite soon this year

It’s not clear to me whether the top story is the dramatic decline in global stock markets or the increasing spread of Covid-19. Obviously, they are directly related to each other, and one would have to assume that the causality runs from Covid to stocks, but if you read the paper, stocks get top billing. Coming a close second is the bond market, where 10-year Treasury yields (1.20%) have hit new historic lows every day since Tuesday while discussion of other markets takes a back seat. And, oh yeah, it looks like Turkey and Russia might go to war in Syria!

As is often written, the two great drivers of financial markets are fear and greed. Greed leads to FOMO, which is a pretty solid description of what we have seen, at least in the US equity markets, since 2009. Fear, however, is what happens when excessive greed, also known as complacency, meets the notorious black swan, in this case, Covid-19. And historically, the longer the period of greed, the sharper is fear’s retaliation. With equity markets around the world having fallen by 10% or more this week, there is no question that we could have a session or two where things steady. And given what the futures market is now pricing with respect to central bank activity, it seems reasonable that the market will respond positively to those imminent actions. But I fear that there is a lot of excess in this market, and that stock prices everywhere can fall much further before this is all done.

Let’s look at futures market pricing for central banks this morning vs. last week and last month. This is the number of 25bp rate cuts priced by the end of 2020:

Country Feb 28 Feb 21 Jan 31
US 3.5 1.8 2.0
Canada 2.5 1.6 1.4
Eurozone (10 bps) 1.3 0.7 0.6
UK 1.5 0.8 1.1
Australia 2.1 1.5 1.5
Japan (10 bps) 1.3 0.8 0.8

Source: Bloomberg

Part of the difference is the fact that only the US and Canada have room for more than 2 cuts before reaching the zero-bound, but the market is screaming out for central banks to come to the rescue. This should be no surprise as central banks have been doing this since 1987 when Chairman Greenspan, the maestro himself, stepped in after Black Monday and said he would support markets. It is a little bit late for central bankers to complain that they cannot help things given their actions, around the world, for the past thirty years, which has really stepped up since the financial crisis in 2008. At this point, if equity markets crater this morning in the US (and futures are pointing that way with all three indices currently lower by 1.3%), I expect an “emergency rate cut” by the Fed before stock markets open on Monday. One man’s view.

So how about the dollar? What is happening there? Well, the dollar is having a mixed session this morning, stronger vs. a number of emerging market currencies, as well as Aussie and Kiwi, but weaker vs. the yen and Swiss franc, and a bit more surprisingly, vs. the euro. The euro is an interesting case, and a situation we have seen before.

Consider, if you were a hedge fund investor and looking to fund positions. Where would you seek to fund things? Clearly, the currency with the lowest interest rates is the place to start. Now, knowing the history of the Swiss franc, and the fact that it is not that large a market, CHF is likely not a place to be. But euros, on the other hand, were a perfect funding vehicle, hugely liquid and negative interest rates. And that is what we saw for months and months, hedge funds shorting euro and buying MXN, INR, ZAR and any other currency with real yield. Well, now in the panic situation currently engulfing markets, these positions are being closed rapidly, and that means that hedge funds are aggressively buying euros while selling those other currencies. Hence, the euro’s performance this week has been relatively stellar, +1.35%, although it has recently backed off its highs this morning and is now unchanged on the day.

And where did we see this before? Prior to the financial crisis in 2008, JPY was the only currency that had zero interest rates and was the funding currency of choice for the hedge fund community. Extremely large yen shorts existed vs. the same high yielding currencies of today. And when the crisis struck, hedge funds were forced to buy yen as well as dollars driving it much higher. This was the genesis of the yen as a haven asset, although its consistent current account surplus has done a lot to help the story since then.

As to the rest of the FX market today, yen is the top performer, +0.75%, and CHF is also ahead of the game, +0.2%, but the rest of the G10 is under pressure. The laggard is NZD (-1.1%) as the first Covid-19 case was identified there and markets anticipate the RBNZ to cut rates soon. In the EMG space, with oil crashing again (WTI -2.6%), it is no surprise to see RUB (-1.5%) and MXN (-1.0%) lower. But today’s worst performing EMG currency is IDR (-2.05%) after the first Covid cases were identified and talk of rate cuts there circulated. Interestingly, CNY has been a solid performer today, rising 0.3%, although remember, it is under tight control by the PBOC.

On the data front today we see Personal Income (exp 0.4%), Personal Spending (0.3%), Core PCE (1.7%), Chicago PMI (46.0) and Michigan Sentiment (100.7). While PCE had been the most important data in the past, I think all eyes will be on the Chicago and Michigan numbers, as they are forward looking. Also, of tremendous interest to the market will be tonight’s China PMI data, with estimates ranging from 30.0 to 50.0. My money is on the low side here.

Two things argue for a bounce in equities in the US today, first, simply the fact that they have fallen so much in such a short period of time and a trading bounce is due. But second, given their significant decline, portfolio rebalancing is likely to see buyers today, which can be quite substantial in the short run. But a bounce is just that, and unless we see dramatic central bank activity by Monday, I anticipate we are not nearly done with this move.

Good luck and good weekend

Tempting the Fates

Around the world most central banks
Have, monthly, been forced to give thanks
That tempting the fates
With negative rates
Has not destroyed euros or francs

And later today we will hear
From Draghi, the man who made clear
“Whatever it takes”
Would fix the mistakes
Investors had grown, most, to fear

With Brexit on the back burner for the day, as the UK awaits the EU’s decision on how long of a delay to grant, the market has turned its attention to the world’s central banks. Generally speaking, monetary ease remains the primary focus, although there are a few banks that are bucking the trend.

Starting with the largest for today, and world’s second most important central bank, the ECB meets today in what is Mario Draghi’s final policy meeting at the helm. Given their actions last month, where they cut the deposit rate a further 10bps to -0.50% and restarted QE to the tune of €20 billion per month, there is no expectation for any change at all. In fact, the only thing to expect is more exhortations from Draghi for increasing fiscal policy stimulus by Germany and other Northern European nations that are not overly indebted. But it will not change anything at this stage, and he has already tied Madame Lagarde’s hands going forward with their most recent guidance, so this will be the farewell tour as everybody regales him for saving the euro back in 2012.

But there have been a number of other moves, the most notable being the Swedish Riksbank, which left rates unchanged, but basically promised to raise them by 25bps in December to return them to 0.00%. Apparently they are tired of negative rates and don’t want them to become habit forming. While I admire that concept, the problem they have is growth there is slowing and inflation is falling well below their target of 2.0%. The most recent reading was 1.5%, but the average going back post the financial crisis is just 1.1%. SEK gained slightly after their comments, rallying 0.15% this morning, but the trend in the krone remains lower and I think they will need to raise a lot more than 25bps to change that.

Meanwhile, other central bank activity saw Norway leave rates unchanged at 1.50% as core inflation there remains above their 2.0% target. NOK’s response was essentially nil. Indonesia cut rates by 25bps, as widely expected, its fourth consecutive rate cut, and although the rupiah is ever so slightly softer this morning, -0.2%, its performance this year has been pretty solid, having gained 2.3% YTD. Finally, the Turkish central bank cut rates by a surprising 250bps this morning, much more than the 100bps expected. If you recall, President Erdogan has been adamant that higher interest rates beget higher inflation, and even fired the previous central bank head to replace him with someone more malleable. Interestingly, a look at Turkish inflation shows that it has been falling despite (because of?) recent rate cuts. And today, despite that huge cut, the initial currency impact was pretty modest, with the lira falling 0.5% immediately, but already recouping some of those losses. And in the broader picture, the lira’s recent trend has clearly been higher and remains so after the cut.

On the data front we saw PMI data from the Eurozone and it simply reinforced the idea that the Eurozone is heading into a recession. Germany’s numbers were worse than expected (Manufacturing 41.9, Composite 48.6) which was enough to drag the Eurozone data down as well (Manufacturing 45.7, Composite 50.2). It seems clear that when Germany reports their Q3 GDP next month it will be negative and Germany will ‘officially’ be in a recession. It is data of this nature that makes it so hard to turn bullish on the single currency. Given their economic travails, the Teutonic austerity mindset, which was enshrined in law, and the fact that the ECB is essentially out of bullets, it is very difficult to have a positive view of the euro in the medium term. This morning, ahead of the ECB policy statement, the euro is little changed, and I see no reason for it to move afterwards either.

So, there was lots of central bank activity, but not so much FX movement in response. My sense is that FX traders are now going to fully turn their attention to the FOMC meeting next week, as even though a rate cut seems assured, the real question is will the Fed call a halt to the mid-cycle adjustment, or will they leave the door open to further rate cuts. The risk with the former is that the equity market sells off sharply, thus tightening financial conditions, sowing fear in Washington and forcing a reversal. However, the risk with the latter is that the Fed loses further credibility, something they have already squandered, by being proven reactive to the markets, and less concerned with the economy writ large.

For today’s session, we have the only real data of the week, Durable Goods (exp -0.7%, -0.2% ex Transport), and Initial Claims (215K) at 8:30, then New Home Sales (702K) at 10:00. We also see the US PMI data (Manufacturing 50.9, Services 51.0) although the market generally doesn’t pay much attention to this. Instead it focuses on the ISM data which won’t be released until next week.

Without any Fed speakers on the docket, once again the FX market is likely to take its cues from equities, which are broadly higher this morning after a number of better than expected earnings announcements. In this risk-on environment, I think the dollar has room to edge lower, but unless we start to see the US data really deteriorate, I have a feeling the Fed is going to try to end the rate cuts and the dollar will benefit going forward. Just not today.

Good luck


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


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

Lingering Issues

Some pundits now have the impression
That we will soon be in recession
The data of late
Has spurred the debate
And could remove Powell’s discretion

Meanwhile, we just heard from Herr Draghi
That “lingering” issues made foggy
The future of growth
So he and Jay both
Will soon ease ere things turn too quaggy

Some days, there is far more to discuss than others, and today is one of those days. Markets are trying to digest all of the following information: weaker US data, weaker Eurozone data, dovish comments from Signor Draghi, confirmation the RBA is likely to cut rates again, increased likelihood that Boris Johnson will be the next PM in the UK, and increased tensions in the Middle East.

Starting at the top, yesterday’s Empire State Manufacturing survey printed at a much worse than expected -8.6, which represented a 26.4-point decline from May’s survey and the largest fall on record. It was a uniformly awful report, with every sub-index weak. While by itself, this report is generally second tier data, it is adding to the case that the US economy is slowing more rapidly than had previously been expected and is increasing market expectations that the Fed will act sooner rather than later. We will see how that turns out tomorrow.

Then this morning, the German ZEW Survey was released at -21.1, a 19-point decline and significantly worse than expected. This is seen as a potential harbinger of further weakness in the German economy adding to what has been a run of quite weak manufacturing data. Although auto registrations in the Eurozone ticked ever so slightly higher in May (by 0.04%), the trend there also remains sharply downward. All in all, there has been very little encouraging of late from the Continent.

Then Signor Draghi got is turn at the mike in Sintra, Portugal, where the ECB is holding its annual summer festivities, and as usual, he did not disappoint. He explained the ECB has plenty of tools left to address “lingering” risks in the economy and hinted that action may be coming soon. He expressly described the ability for the ECB to cut rates further as well as commit to keep rates lower for even longer. And he indicated that QE is still available as the only rules that could restrict it are self-imposed, and easily changed. Arguably, this had the biggest impact of the morning as Eurozone equities rocketed on the prospect of lower rates, bouncing back from early losses and now higher by more than 1.0% on the day across the board. German bunds have plumbed new yield depths, touching -0.30% while the euro, to nobody’s surprise, has weakened further, ceding modest early gains to now sit lower by -0.3%. This is proof positive of my contention that the Fed will not be easing policy in isolation, and that if they start easing, you can be sure that the rest of the world will be close behind. Or perhaps even ahead!

Adding to the news cycle were the RBA minutes, which essentially confirmed that the next move there will be lower, and that two more rate cuts this year are well within reason as Governor Lowe tries to drive unemployment Down Under to just 4.5% from its current 5.2% level. Aussie has continued its underperformance on the news, falling a further 0.1% this morning and is now back to lows last touched in January 2016. And it has further to fall, mark my words.

Then there is the poor old pound, which has been falling sharply for the past week (-1.75%) as the market begins to price in an increased chance of a no-deal Brexit. This is due to the fact that Boris Johnson is consolidating his lead in the race to be the next PM and he has explicitly said that come October 31, the UK will be exiting the EU, deal or no deal. Given the EU’s position that the deal on the table is not open for renegotiation, that implies trouble ahead. One thing to watch here is the performance of Rory Stewart, a dark horse candidate who is gaining support as a compromise vs. Johnson’s more hardline stance. The point is that any indication that Johnson may not win is likely to see the pound quickly reverse its recent losses.

And finally, the Middle East continues to see increased tensions as Iran announced they were about to breach the limits on uranium production imposed by the ill-fated six-nation accord while the US committed to increase troop deployment to the area by 1000 in the wake of last week’s tanker attacks. Interestingly, oil is having difficulty gaining any traction which is indicative of just how much market participants are anticipating a global economic slowdown. OPEC, too, has come out talking about production cuts and oil still cannot rally.

To recap, bond, currency and commodity markets are all forecasting a significant slowdown in economic activity, but remarkably, global stock markets are still optimistic. At this point, I think the stock jockeys are on the wrong side of the trade.

As to today, we are set to see Housing Starts (exp 1.239M) and Building Permits (1.296M) at 8:30. Strong data is likely to have little impact on anybody’s thinking right now, but weakness will start to drive home the idea that the Fed could act tomorrow. Overall, the doves are in the ascendancy worldwide, and rightly so given the slowing global growth trajectory. Look for more cooing tomorrow and then on Thursday when both the BOJ and BOE meet.

Good luck


Doves There Held Sway

It seems that a day cannot pass
When one country ‘steps on the gas’
Twas China today
Where doves there held sway
With funding for projects en masse

If I didn’t know better, I would suspect the world’s central banks of a secret accord, where each week one of them is designated as the ‘dove du jour’ and makes some statement or announcement that will serve to goose stock prices higher. Whether it is Fed speakers turning from patience to insurance, the ECB promising more of ‘whatever it takes’ or actual rate cuts a la the RBA, the central banks have apparently realized that the only place they continue to hold sway is in global stock markets. And so, they are going to keep on pushing them for as long as they can.

This week’s champion is the PBOC, which last night eased restrictions further on infrastructure investment by local governments, allowing more issuance of ‘special bonds’ and encouraging banks to lend more for these projects. At the same time, the CNY fix was its strongest in a month, back below the 6.90 level, as the PBOC makes clear that for the time being, it is not going to allow the yuan to display any unruly behavior. True to form, Chinese equity markets roared higher led by construction and cement companies, and once again we see global equity markets in the green.

While in the short run, investors remain happy, the problem is that in the medium and longer term, it is unclear that the central banking community has sufficient ammunition left to really help economic activity. After all, how much lower is the ECB going to cut rates from their current -0.4% level? And will that really help the economy? How many more JGB’s can the BOJ buy given they already own about 50% of the market? In truth, the Fed and the PBOC are the only two banks with any real leeway to ease policy enough to have a real economic impact, rather than just a financial markets impact. And for a world that has grown completely reliant on central bank activity to maintain economic growth, that is a real problem.

Adding to these woes is the ongoing trade war situation which seems to change daily. The latest news on this front is that if President Xi won’t sit down with President Trump at the G20 meeting in Japan later this month, then the US will impose tariffs on all Chinese imports. However, it seems the market is becoming inured to statements like these as there has been precious little discussion on the subject, and the PBOC’s actions were clearly far more impactful.

The question is, how long can markets continue to ignore what is a clearly deteriorating global economic picture before responding? And the answer is, apparently, quite a long time. Or perhaps that question is aimed only at equity markets because bond markets clearly see a less rosy future. At some point, we are going to see a central bank announcement result in no positive impact, or perhaps even a negative one, and when that occurs, be prepared for a rockier ride.

Turning to the FX markets this morning, the dollar has had a mixed session, although is arguably a touch softer overall. So far this month, the euro, which is basically unchanged this morning, has rallied 1.4%, while the pound, which is a modest 0.15% higher this morning after better than expected wage data, is higher by just 0.5%. My point is that despite some recent angst in the analyst community that the dollar was due to come under significant pressure, the overall movements have been quite small.

In the EMG bloc, there has also been relatively little movement this month (and this morning) as epitomized by the Mexican peso, which fell nearly 3% last week after the threat of tariffs being imposed unless immigration changes were made by Mexico, and which has recouped essentially all of those losses now that the tariffs have been averted. China is another example of a bit of angst but no substantial movement. This morning, after the PBOC drove the dollar fix lower, the renminbi is within pips of where it began the month. Again, FX markets continue to fluctuate in relatively narrow ranges as other markets have seen far more activity.

Repeating what I have highlighted many times, FX is a relative market, and the value of one currency is always in comparison to another. So, if monetary policies are changing in the same direction around the world, then the relative impact on any currency is likely to be muted. It is why, despite the fact that the US has more room to ease policy than most other nations, I expect the dollar to quickly find its footing in the event the Fed gets more aggressive. Because we know that if the Fed is getting aggressive, so will every other central bank.

Data this morning has seen the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rise to 105.0, indicating that things in the US are, perhaps, not yet so dire. This is certainly not the feeling one gets from the analyst community or the bond market, but it is important to note. We do see PPI as well this morning (exp 2.0%, 2.3% core) but this is always secondary to tomorrow’s CPI report. The Fed remains in its quiet period so there will be no speakers, and the stock market is already mildly euphoric over the perceived policy ease from China last night. Quite frankly, it is hard to get excited about much movement at all in the dollar today, barring any new commentary from the White House.

Good luck