I’m Concerned

Said Madame Lagarde, ‘I’m concerned
That strength in the euro’s returned
If that is the case
We’ll simply debase
The currency many have earned

Christine Lagarde, in a wide-ranging interview last week, but just released this morning, indicated several things were at the top of her agenda.  First is the fact that the containment measures now reappearing throughout the continent, notably in France, Spain and Germany, will weaken the recovery that started to gather steam during the summer. This cannot be a surprise as the key reason for the economic devastation, to begin with, was the dramatic lockdowns seen throughout Europe, and truthfully around the world.  But her second key concern, one about which I have written numerous times in the past, is that the euro’s recent strength is damaging the ECB’s efforts to support a recovery.  The new euphemism from ECB members is they are “very attentive” to the exchange rate.  The implication seems to be that if the euro starts to head back to the levels seen in early September, when it touched 1.20, they might act.  Clearly, the preferred action will be more verbal intervention.  But after that, I expect to see an increase in the PEPP program followed by a potential cut in the deposit rate and lastly actual intervention.

To be fair, most economists are already anticipating the PEPP will be expanded in December, when the ECB next publishes its economic forecasts.  Currently, the program has allocated €1.35 trillion to purchase assets on an unencumbered basis.  Recall, one of the issues with the original QE program, the APP, was that it followed the capital key, meaning the ECB would only purchase government bonds in amounts corresponding with a given economy’s size in the region.  So German bunds were the largest holdings, as Germany has the largest economy.  The problem with this was that Italy and Spain were the two large nations that needed the most help, and the ECB could not overweight their purchases there.  Enter PEPP, which has no such restrictions, and the ECB is now funding more purchases of Italian government bonds than any other nation’s.  Of course, there are more Italian government bonds than any other nation in Europe, and in fact Italy is the fourth largest issuer worldwide, following only the US, Japan and China.

As to further interest rate cuts, the futures market is already pricing in a 0.10% cut next year, so in truth, for the ECB to have an impact, they would need to either surprise by cutting sooner, or cut by a larger amount.  While the former is possible, the concern is it would induce fear that the ECB knows something negative about the economy that the rest of the market does not and could well induce a sharp asset sell-off.  As to cutting by a larger amount, European financial institutions are already suffering mightily from NIRP, and some may not be able to withstand further downward pressure there.

What about actual intervention?  Well, that would clearly be the last resort.  The first concern is that intervention tends not to work unless it is a concerted effort by multiple central banks together (think of the Plaza Agreement in 1985), so its efficacy is in doubt, at least in the medium and long term.  But second, depending on who occupies the White House, ECB intervention could be seen as a major problem for the US inspiring some type of retaliation.

In the end, for all those dollar bears, it must be remembered that the Fed does not operate in a vacuum, and in the current global crisis, (almost) every country would like to see their currency weaken on a relative basis in order to both support their export industries as well as goose inflation readings.  As such, nobody should be surprised that other central banks will become explicit with respect to managing currency appreciation, otherwise known as dollar depreciation.

Keeping this in mind, a look at markets this morning shows a somewhat mixed picture.  Yesterday’s strong US equity performance, ostensibly on the back of President Trump’s release from the hospital, was enough to help Asian markets rally with strength in the Nikkei (+0.5%) and Hang Seng (+0.9%).  China remains closed until Friday.  European markets started the day a bit under the weather, as virtually all of them were lower earlier in the session, but in the past hour, have climbed back toward flat, with some (Spain’s IBEX +0.95%) even showing solid gains.  However, the DAX (+0.1%) and CAC (+0.3%) are not quite following along.  Perhaps Madame Lagarde’s comments have encouraged equity investors that the ECB is going to add further support.  As to US futures markets, only NASDAQ futures are showing any movement, and that is actually a -0.4% decline at this time.

The bond market, on the other hand, has been a bit more exciting recently, as yesterday saw 10-year Treasury yields trade to their highest level, 0.782%, since June.  While this morning’s price action has seen a modest decline in yields, activity lately speaks to a trend higher.  Two potential reasons are the ever increasing amount of US debt being issued and the diminishing appetite for bonds by investors other than the Fed; and the potential that the recent trend in inflation, which while still below the Fed’s targeted level, has investors concerned that there are much higher readings to come.  After all, core PCE has risen from 0.9% to 1.6% over the past five months.  With the Fed making it clear they will not even consider responding until that number is well above 2.0%, perhaps investors are beginning to become a bit less comfortable that the Fed has things under control.  Inflation, after all, has a history of being much more difficult to contain than generally expected.

Finally, looking at the dollar, it is the least interesting market this morning, at least in terms of price action.  In the G10, the biggest mover has ben AUD, which has declined 0.4%, as traders focus on the ongoing accommodation of the RBA as stated in their meeting last night.  But away from Aussie, the rest of the G10 is +/- 0.2% or less from yesterday’s closing levels, with nothing of note to discuss.  In the emerging markets. THB (+0.7%) was the big winner overnight as figures showed an uptick in foreign purchases of Thai bonds.  But away from that, again, the movement overnight was both two-way and modest at best.  Clearly, the FX market is biding its time for the next big thing.

On the data front, this morning brings the Trade Balance (exp -$66.2B) and JOLTS Job Openings (6.5M).  Yesterday’s ISM Services number was a bit better than expected at 57.8, indicating that the pace of growth in the US remains fairly solid.  In fact, the Atlanta Fed GDPNow forecast is up to 34.6% for Q3.  But arguably, Chairman Powell is today’s attraction as he speaks at 10:40 this morning.    I imagine he will once again explain how important it is for fiscal stimulus to complement everything they have done, but as data of late has been reasonably solid, I would not expect to hear anything new.  In the end, the dollar remains range-bound for now, but I expect that the bottom has been seen for quite a while into the future.

Good luck and stay safe

More Growth to Ignite

While Congress continued to fight
The President stole the limelight
Four orders he signed
As he tries to find
The kindling, more growth to ignite

As I return to action after a short hiatus, it doesn’t appear the market narrative has changed very much at all.  Broadly speaking, markets continue to be focused on, and driven by, the Fed and other central banks and the ongoing provision of extraordinary liquidity.  Further fiscal stimulus remains a key objective of both central bankers and central planners everywhere, and the arguments for the dollar’s decline and eventual collapse are getting inordinate amounts of airtime.

Starting with the fiscal side of the equation, the key activity this weekend was the signing, by President Trump, of four executive orders designed to keep the fiscal gravy train rolling.  By now, we are all aware that the Democratic led House had passed a $3.5 trillion fiscal stimulus bill while the Republican led Senate had much more modest ambitions, discussing a bill with a price tag of ‘only’ $1.0-$1.5 trillion.  (How frightening is it that we can use the term ‘only’ to describe $1 trillion?)  However, so far, they cannot agree terms and thus no legislation has made its way to the President’s desk for enactment.  Hence, the President felt it imperative to continue the enhanced unemployment benefits, albeit at a somewhat reduced level, as well as to prevent foreclosures and evictions while reducing the payroll tax.

Naturally, this has inflamed a new battle regarding the constitutionality of his actions, but it will certainly be difficult for either side of the aisle to argue that these orders should be rescinded as they are aimed directly at the middle class voter suffering from the economic effects of the pandemic.

Another group that must be pleased is the FOMC, where nearly to a (wo)man, they have advocated for further fiscal stimulus to help them as they try to steer the economy back from the depths of the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic.  Perhaps we should be asking them why they feel it necessary to steer the economy at all, but that is a question for a different venue.  However, along with central banks everywhere, the Fed has been at the forefront of the calls for more fiscal stimulus.  Again, despite the unorthodox methodology of the stimulus coming to bear, it beggars belief that they would complain about further support.

So, while political squabbles will continue, so will enhanced unemployment benefits.  And that matters to the more than 31 million people still out of work due to the impact of Covid-19 on the economy.  Of course, the other thing that will continue is the Fed’s largesse, as there is absolutely no indication they are going to be turning off the taps anytime soon.  And while their internal discussions regarding the strength of their forward guidance will continue, and to what metrics they should tie the ongoing application of stimulus, it is already abundantly clear to the entire world that interest rates in the US will not be rising until sometime in 2023 at the earliest.

Which brings us to the third main discussion in the markets these days, the impending collapse of the dollar.  Once again, the weekend literature was filled with pontifications and dissertations about why the dollar would continue its recent decline and why it could easily turn into a rout.  The key themes appear to be the US’s increasingly awful fiscal position, with debt/GDP rising rapidly above 100%, the fact that the Fed is going to continue to add liquidity to the system for years to come, and the fact that the US is losing its status as the global hegemon.

And yet, it remains exceedingly difficult, at least in my mind, to make the case that the end of the dollar is nigh.  As I have explained before, but will repeat because it is important to maintain perspective, not only is the dollar not collapsing, it is actually little changed if we look at its value since the beginning of 2020.  And as I recall, there was no discussion of the dollar collapsing back then.  Whether looking at the G10 or the EMG bloc, what we see is that there are some currencies that have performed well, and others that have suffered this year.  For example, despite the dollar’s “collapse”, CAD has fallen 3.0% so far in 2020, and NOK has fallen 2.9%.  Yes, SEK is higher by 7.0% and CHF by 5.3%, but the tally is six gainers and four laggards, hardly an indication of irretrievable decline.

Looking at the EMG bloc, it is even clearer that the dollar’s days are not yet numbered.  YTD, BRL has tumbled 25.9%, ZAR has fallen 21.2% and TRY, the most recent victim of true economic mismanagement, is lower by 18.6%.  The fact that the Bulgarian lev (+4.8%) and Romanian leu (+3.8%) are a bit higher does not detract from the fact that the dollar continues to play a key role as a haven asset.

Finally, I must mention the euro, which has gained 4.8% YTD.  When many people think of the dollar’s value rising or falling, this is the main metric.  But again, keeping things in context, the euro, currently trading around 1.1750, is still below the midpoint of its historic range (0.8230-1.6038) as well as its lifetime average (1.2000).  The point is, there is no evidence of a collapse.  And there are two other things to keep in mind; first, the fact that it is assumed the Fed will continue to ease policy for years ignores the fact that the ECB will almost certainly be required to ease policy for an even longer time.  And second, long positioning in EURUSD is now at historically high levels, with the CFTC showing record long outstanding positions.  The point is, there is far more room for a correction than for a continued collapse.

One last thing to consider is that despite the shortcomings of the US economy right now, the reality remains that there is currently no viable alternative to replace the greenback as the world’s reserve currency.  And there won’t be one for many years to come.  While modest further dollar weakness vs. the euro and some G10 currencies is entirely reasonable, do not bet on a collapse.

With that out of the way, the overnight session was entirely lackluster across all markets, as summer holidays are what most traders are either dreaming about, or living, so I expect the next several weeks to see less volatility.  As to the data this week, Retail Sales and CPI are the highlights, although I continue to look at Initial Claims as the most important number of all.

Today JOLTS Job Openings 5.3M
Tuesday NFIB Small Business 100.4
  PPI 0.3% (-0.7% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.1% (0.0% Y/Y)
Wednesday CPI 0.3% (0.7% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (1.1% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 1.1M
  Continuing Claims 15.8M
Friday Retail Sales 1.9%
  -ex autos 1.3%
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.5%
  Unit Labor Costs 6.2%
  IP 3.0%
  Capacity Utilization 70.3%
  Business Inventories -1.1%
  Michigan Sentiment 71.9

Source: Bloomberg

While I’m sure Retail Sales will garner a great deal of interest, it remains a backward-looking data point, which is why I keep looking mostly at the weekly claims data.  In addition to this plethora of new information, we hear from six different Fed speakers, but ask yourself, what can they say that is new?  Arguably, any decision regarding the much anticipated changes in forward guidance will come from the Chairman, and otherwise, they all now believe that more stimulus is the proper prescription going forward.

Keeping everything in mind, while the dollar is not going to collapse anytime soon, that does not preclude some further weakness against select currencies.  If I were a hedger, I would be thinking about taking advantage of this dollar weakness, at least for a portion of my needs.

Good luck and say safe







About to Retrace

The question investors must face
Is what type of risk to embrace
Are we in a movie
Where things turn out groovy?
Or are stocks about to retrace?

The risk narrative is having a harder time these days as previous rules of engagement seem to have changed. For instance, historically, when risk was ‘off’, stock prices fell, government bond markets rallied, although credit spreads would widen, the dollar and the yen, and to an extent the Swiss franc, would all out perform the rest of the currency world and gold would outperform the rest of the commodity complex. Risk on would see the opposite movement in all these markets. Trading any product successfully mostly required one to understand the narrative and then respond mechanically. Those were the days!

Lately, the risk narrative has been in flux, as a combination of massive central bank interference across most markets and evolving views on the nature of the global geopolitical framework have called into question many of the previous market assumptions.

The adjustments have been greatest within the bond markets as global debt issuance has exploded higher ever since the GFC in 2009, taking an even sharper turn up in the wake of Covid-19. Of course, central banks have been so heavily involved in the market via QE purchases that it is no longer clear what the bond market is describing. Classical economics explained that countries that issued excessive debt ultimately saw their interest rates rise and their currencies devalue amidst an inflationary spike. However, it seems that theory must be discarded because the empirical evidence has shown that massive government debt issuance has resulted in low inflation and relative currency stability for most nations.

The MMT crowd will explain this is the natural response and should be expected because government spending is an unalloyed good that can be expanded indefinitely with nary a consequence. Meanwhile, the Austrians are hyperventilating over the idea that the ongoing expansion of both government spending and debt issuance will result in a debt deflation and anemic growth for as long as that debt remains a weight on the economy.

These days, the distortion in the bond markets has rendered them unrecognizable to investors with any longevity. Central banks are actively buying not only their own government debt, but corporate debt (IG and junk) and municipal debt. Thus, credit spreads have been compressed to record low levels despite the fact that the current economic situation is one of a cataclysmic collapse in activity. Bankruptcies are growing, but debt continues to be sought by investors worldwide. At some point, this final dichotomy will reconcile itself, but for now, central banks rule the roost.

Equity markets have taken a slightly different tack; when things are positive, buy the FANGMAT group of stocks before anything else, although other purchases are allowed. But when it is time to be concerned because the economic story is in question, simply buy FANGMAT and don’t touch any other stocks. If you remove those seven stocks from the indices, the result is that the S&P and NASDAQ have done virtually nothing since the crash in March, and US markets have actually underperformed their European brethren. Of course, those stocks are in the indices, so cannot be ignored, but the question that must be asked is, based on their current valuation of >$6.8 trillion, are they really worth more than the GDP of Germany and the UK combined? While yesterday saw a modest sell-off in the US, which has continued overnight (Hang Seng -2.2%, Shanghai -3.9%, DAX -1.5%, CAC -1.3%) the fact remains stock markets continue to price in a V-shaped recovery and nothing less. And since stock markets tend to drive the overall narrative, if that story changes, beware the movement elsewhere.

It should be noted that yesterday’s Initial Claims data, printing at 1.41M, the first rise in the data point since March, bodes ill for the idea that growth is going to quickly return to pre-Covid levels. And given the uncertainty over how long that recovery will take, stocks may soon be telling us a different story. Just stay alert.

While idioms tell us what’s bold
Is brass, we must all now behold
The barbarous relic
Whose rise seems angelic
Of course, I’m referring to gold!

Turning to precious metals as risk indicators, price action in both gold and silver indicates a great deal of underlying concern in the current market framework. Gold, as you cannot have missed, is fast approaching $1900/oz and its record high level of $1921 is in sight. Silver, while still well below its all-time highs of $49.80/oz, has rallied more than 24% in July, and is gaining more and more adherents. The key unknown is whether this is due to an impending fear of economic calamity, or simply the fact that real interest rates have turned negative throughout the G10 nations and so the cost of owning gold is de minimis.

For the conspiracy theorists, the concern is that ongoing central bank money printing is going to ultimately debase the value of all currencies, so while they may remain relatively stable in the FX markets, their value in purchasing real goods will greatly diminish. In other words, inflation, that the central banks so fervently desire, will reveal itself as a much greater threat than currently imagined by most. Here, too, the geopolitics comes into play, as there is growing concern that the current tit-for-tat squabbles between the US and China will escalate into a more dangerous situation, one where shots are fired in anger, at which times gold is seen as the ultimate safe haven. Personally, I do not believe the US-China situation deteriorates into a hot war as while both presidents need to show they are strong and tough against their rivals, thus the rhetoric and diplomatic squabbles, neither can afford a war.

And finally, to the FX market, where the dollar has clearly lost its luster as the ultimate safe haven, a title it held as recently as two month’s ago. While today’s movement is relatively benign across all currencies, what we have seen this month is a dollar declining against the entire G10 bloc and the bulk of the EMG bloc as well, with several currencies (CLP +7.0%, HUF +5.4%, SEK +5.2%) showing impressive gains. If we think back to the narrative heading into the July 4th holiday, it was focused on the upcoming payroll release and the recent FOMC meeting which had everyone buying into the risk-on narrative. That came from the fact that the payroll data was MUCH better than expected and the Fed made clear they were going to stand ready to continue to add liquidity to markets forever, if they deemed it necessary. Back then, the euro was trading just above 1.12, and its future path seemed uncertain to most. But now, here we are just three weeks later, and the euro has been rising steadily despite the fact that concerns continue to grow over the growth narrative.

Is the euro becoming the new haven currency of last resort? That seems a bit premature, although the EU’s recent agreement to issue mutual debt and inaugurate a more fulsome EU-wide fiscal policy will be an important part of that story in the future. But for now, it seems that there is an almost willful blindness on the part of the investor community as they pay lip service to worries about the recovery’s shape but continue to find succor in (previous) risk-on assets.

While the dollar today is mixed with limited movement in any currency, there is no doubt the FX narrative is evolving toward ‘the dollar has much further to fall between the political chaos and the still positive view of the economy’s future. But remember this, while the dollar has traded to its weakest point in about two years, it is far away from any level that could be considered weak. Current momentum is against the dollar, and if the euro were to trade to resistance between 1.17-1.18, it would not be surprising, but already the pace of its decline has been ebbing, so I do not expect a collapse of any sort, rather a further gradual decline seems the best bet for now.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe


No Use Delaying

In Europe, the powers that be
Are feeling quite smug, don’t you see
Not only have they
Held Covid at bay
But also, they borrow for free

Thus, Italy now wants to spend
More money, recession, to end
If Germany’s paying
There’s no use delaying
With Merkel now Conte’s best friend

The euro is continuing its climb this morning, as it mounts a second attack on 1.1600, the highest level it has traded since October 2018. While the overall news cycle has been relatively muted, one thing did jump out today. It should be no surprise, but Italy is the first nation to take advantage of the new EU spending plans as they passed a supplemental €25 billion budget to help support their economy.

Now, it must be remembered that prior to the pandemic, Italy was in pretty bad shape already, at least when looking at both fiscal and economic indicators. For instance, Italy was in recession as of Q4 2019, before Covid, and it was maintaining a debt/GDP ratio of more than 130%. Unemployment was in double digits and there was ongoing political turmoil as the government was fighting for its life vs. the growing popularity of the conservative movement, The League, led by Matteo Salvini. Amongst his supporters were a large number of Euroskeptics, many of whom wanted to follow in the UK’s footsteps and leave the EU. (Quitaly, not Italexit!) However, it seems that the economic devastation of Covid-19 may have altered the equation, and while Salvini’s League still has the most support, at 26%, it has fallen significantly since the outbreak when it was polling more than 10 points higher. Of course, when the government in power can spend money without limits, which is the current situation, that tends to help that government stay in power. And that is the current situation. The EU has suspended its budget restrictions (deficits <3.0%) during the pandemic, and Italy clearly believes, and are probably correct, that the EU is ultimately going to federalize all EU member national debt.

It seems the growing consensus is that federalization of EU fiscal policies will be a true benefit. Of course, it remains to be seen if the 8 EU nations that are not part of the Eurozone will be forced to join, or if the EU will find a way to keep things intact. My money is on the EU forcing the issue and setting a deadline for conversion to the euro as a requisite for remaining in the club. Of course, this is all looking far in the future as not only are these monumental national decisions, but Europe takes a very long time to move forward on pretty much everything.

This story, though, is important as background information to developing sentiment regarding the euro, which is clearly improving. In fairness, there are shorter term positives for the single currency’s value, notably that real interest rates in the rest of the world are falling rapidly, with many others, including the US, now plumbing the depths of negative real rates. Thus, the rates disadvantage the euro suffered is dissipating. At the same time, as we have seen over the past several months, there is clearly very little fear in the market these days, with equity prices relentlessly marching higher on an almost daily basis. Thus, the dollar’s value as a safe haven has greatly diminished as well. And finally, the appearance of what seems to be a second wave of Covid infections in the US, which, to date, has not been duplicated as widely in Europe, has added to confidence in the Eurozone and the euro by extension.

With all this in mind, it should be no surprise that the euro continues to rally, and quite frankly, has room for further gains, at least as long as the economic indicators continue to rebound. And that is the big unknown. If the economic rebound starts to falter, which may well be the case based on some high-frequency data, it is entirely likely that there will be some changes to some of the narrative, most notably the idea that risk will continue to be eagerly absorbed, and the euro may well find itself without all its recent supports.

But for now, the euro remains in the driver’s seat, or perhaps more accurately, the dollar remains in the trunk. Once again, risk is on the move with equity markets having gained modestly in Asia (Hang Seng +0.8%, Sydney +0.3%, Nikkei was closed), while European bourses have also seen modest gains, on the order of 0.5% across the board. US futures are also pointing higher, as there is no reason to be worried for now. Bond markets have behaved as you would expect, with Treasuries and bunds little changed (although Treasuries remain at levels pointing to significant future economic weakness) while bonds from the PIGS are seeing more demand and yields there are falling a few basis points each. Oil is higher on optimism over economic growth, and gold continues to rally, preparing to set new all-time highs as it trades just below $1900/oz. The gold (and silver) story really revolves around the fact that negative real interest rates are becoming more widespread, thus the opportunity cost of holding that barbarous relic have fallen dramatically. Certainly, amongst the market punditry, gold is a very hot topic these days.

As to the rest of the currency space, there are two noteworthy decliners in the G10, NOK (-0.5%) and GBP (-0.25%). The former, despite rising oil prices, fell following the release of much worse than expected employment data. After all, rising unemployment is hardly the sign of an economic rebound. The pound, on the other hand, has suffered just recently after comments by both sides regarding Brexit negotiations, where the essence was that they are no nearer a positive conclusion than they were several months ago. Brexit has been a background issue for quite a few months, as most market players clearly assume a deal will be done, and that is a fair assumption. But that only means that there is the potential for a significant repricing lower in the pound if the situation falls apart there. Otherwise, the G10 is broadly, but modestly firmer.

In the emerging markets, the picture is a bit more mixed with the CE4 tracking the euro higher, but most other currencies ceding earlier session gains. IDR is the one exception, having rallied 0.5% for a second day as equity inflows helped to support the rupiah. On the downside, KRW (-0.2%) suffered after GDP data was released at a worse than expected -3.4%, confirming Korea is in a recession. Meanwhile, the weakest performer has been ZAR (-0.6%) as traders anticipate a rate cut by the SARB later today.

Data in the US this morning includes the ever-important Initial Claims (exp 1.3M) and Continuing Claims (17.1M), as well as Leading Indicators (2.1%). But all eyes will be on the Claims data as the consensus view is weakness there implies the rebound is over and the economic situation may slide back again. Counterintuitively, that could well help the dollar as it spreads fear that the V-shaped recovery is out of the question. However, assuming the estimates are close, I would look for the current trends to continue, so modestly higher equities and a modestly weaker dollar.

Good luck and stay safe


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