Terribly Slow

From Germany data did show
That Q1 was terribly slow
As well, for Q2
Recession’s in view
Their hope remains Q3 will grow

Meanwhile last night China revealed
‘twill be a long time ere its healed
Despite what they’ve said
‘bout moving ahead
Consumers, their checkbooks, won’t wield

While the market has not yet truly begun to respond to data releases, they are nonetheless important to help us understand the longer-term trajectory of each nation’s economy as well as the overall global situation. So, despite very modest movement in markets overnight, we did learn a great deal about how Q1 truly fared in Europe. Remember, Covid-19’s impact really only began in the second half of March, just a small slice of the Q1 calendar. And yet, Q1 GDP was released early this morning from Germany, with growth falling at a 2.2% quarterly rate, which annualized comes in somewhere near -9.0%. In addition, Q4 data was revised lower to -0.1%, so Germany’s technical recession has already begun. Remember, prior to the outbreak, Germany’s economy was already in the doldrums, having printed negative quarterly GDP data in three of the previous six quarters. Of course, those numbers were much less dramatic, but the point is the engine of Europe was sputtering before the recent calamity. Forecasts for Q2 are even worse, with a quarterly decline on the order of 6.5% penciled in there despite the fact that Germany seems to be leading the way in reopening their economy.

For the Eurozone as a whole, GDP in Q1 fell 3.8% in Q1 as Germany’s performance was actually far better than most. Remember, Italy, Spain and France all posted numbers on the order of -5.0%. The employment situation was equally grim, as despite massive efforts by governments to pay companies to keep employees on the payroll, employment fell 0.2%, the first decline in that reading since the Eurozone crisis in 2012-13. One other highlight (lowlight?) was Italian Industrial Activity, which saw both orders and sales fall more than 25% in March. Q2 is destined to be far worse than Q1, and the current hope is that there is no second wave of infections and that Q3 sees a substantial rebound. At least, that’s the current narrative.

The problem with the rebound narrative was made clear, though, by the Chinese last night when they released their monthly statistics. Retail Sales there have fallen 16.2% YTD, a worse outcome than forecast and strong evidence that despite the “reopening” of the Chinese economy, things are nowhere near back to normal. Fixed Asset Investment printed at -10.3% with Property Investment continuing to decline as well, -3.3%. Only IP showed any improvement, rising 3.9% in April, but the problem there is that inventories are starting to build rapidly as consumers are just not spending. Again, the point is that shutting things down took mere days or weeks to accomplish. Starting things back up will clearly take months and likely years to get back close to where things were before the outbreak.

However, as I mentioned at the top, market reactions to data points have been virtually nonexistent for the past two months. At this point, investors are well aware of the troubles, and so data confirming that knowledge is just not that interesting. Rather, the information that matters now is the policy response that is in store.

The one thing we have learned over the past decade is that the stigma of excessive debt has been removed. Japan is the poster child for this as JGB’s outstanding represent more than 240% of Japan’s GDP, and yet the yield on 10-year JGB’s this morning is -0.01%. Obviously, this is solely because the BOJ continues to buy up all the issuance these days, but in the end, the lesson for every other nation is that you can issue as much debt and spend as much money as you like with few, if any consequences. Central bank reaction functions have been to support the economy via market actions like QE whenever there is a hint of a downturn in either the economy or the stock market. Both the Fed and ECB have learned this lesson well, and look set to continue with extraordinary support for the foreseeable future.

But the consequence of this in the one market that is not directly supported (at least in the case of the G10), the FX market, is what we need to consider. And as I observe central bank activity and try to discern its economic impacts, I have become persuaded that the medium-term outlook for the dollar is actually much lower.

Consider that the Fed is clearly going to continue its QE programs across as many assets as they deem necessary. Not merely Treasuries and Agencies, but Corporates, Munis and Junk bonds as well. And as is almost always the case, these ‘emergency’ measures will evolve into ordinary policy, meaning they will be doing this forever. The implication of this policy is that yields on overall USD debt are going to decline from a combination of continued reductions in Treasury yields and compression of credit spreads. After all, don’t fight the Fed remain a key investment philosophy. Thus, nominal yields are almost certain to continue declining.

But what about real yields? Well, that is where we get to the crux of the story and why my dollar view has evolved. CPI was just released on Tuesday and fell to 0.3% Y/Y. Thus, strictly speaking, 10-year Treasuries show a +0.31% real yield this morning (nominal of 0.61% – CPI of 0.3%). The thing is, while current inflation readings are quite low, and may well fall for another few months, the supply shock we have felt in the economy is very likely to raise prices considerably over time. Inflation is not really on the market’s radar right now, nor on that of the Fed. If anything, the concern is over deflation. But that is exactly why inflation remains a far more dangerous concern, because higher prices will not only crimp consumer spending, it will create a policy conundrum for the Fed of epic proportions. After all, Paul Volcker taught us all that raising interest rates was how to fight inflation, but that is directly at odds with QE. The point is, if (when) inflation does begin to rise, the Fed is certain to ignore the evidence for as long as possible. And that means we are going to see increasingly negative real rates in the US. History has shown that when US real rates turn negative; the dollar suffers accordingly. Hence the evolution in my medium- and long-term views of the dollar.

A quick look at this morning’s markets shows that yesterday’s late day equity rally in the US has largely been followed through Asia and Europe. Bonds are also in demand as yields throughout the government sector are mostly lower. And the dollar this morning is actually little changed overall, with a smattering of winners and losers across both G10 and EMG blocs, and no truly noteworthy stories.

We do see a decent amount of US data this morning led by Retail Sales (exp -12.0%, -8.5% ex autos). We also see Empire Manufacturing (-60.0), IP (-12.0%), Capacity Utilization (63.8%), JOLTs Job Openings (5.8M) and finally Michigan Sentiment (68.0). Only the Empire number is truly current, but to imply that a rise from -78.2 to -60.0 is progress really overstates the case. As I’ve pointed out, the data has not been a driver. Markets are exhausted after a long period of significant volatility. My expectation is for the dollar to do very little today, and actually until we see a new narrative evolve. So modest movement should be the watchword.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Undeterred

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
Adf

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
Adf

Tough Sledding

The Minister, Prime, has declared
Come June, the UK is prepared
To tell the EU
If no deal’s in view
He’ll walk. Sterling bulls should be scared!

Meanwhile as the virus keeps spreading
Investors have found it’s tough sledding
There’s no end in sight
For this terrible blight
Thus, risk assets, most holders keep shedding

While Covid-19 remains the top story across all markets, this morning we did get to hear about something else that mattered, the UK position paper on their upcoming negotiations with the EU regarding trade terms going forward. The EU insists that if a nation wants to trade with them, that nation must respect (read adhere) to the EU’s rules on various issues, notably competition and state aid, but also things like labor conditions. (Funnily enough, China doesn’t seem to need to adhere to these rules). However, Boris has declared, “At the end of this year we will regain, in full, our political and economic independence.” Those are two pretty different sentiments, and while I believe that this is just tough talk designed to level set the negotiations, which begin next week, there is every chance that the UK does walk without a deal. Certainly, that is a non-zero probability. And the FX markets have taken it to heart as the pound has suffered this morning with the worst G10 performance vs. the dollar, falling -0.3%.

In fact, it is the only currency falling vs. the dollar today, which some have ascribed to the dollar’s waning status as a haven asset. However, I would argue that given the dollar’s remarkable strength this year, as outlined yesterday, the fact that some currencies are rebounding a bit should hardly be surprising. Undoubtedly there are those who believe that as Covid-19 starts to be seen in the US, it will have a deleterious impact on the US economy, and so selling dollars makes sense. But remember, the US economy is the world’s largest consumer, by a long shot, so every other country will see their own economies suffer further in that event.

A more salient argument is that the US is the only G10 country (except Canada which really is too small to matter) that has any monetary policy room of note, and in an environment where further monetary policy ease seems a given, the US will be able to be more aggressive than anyone else, hence, lower rates leading to a softer dollar. While that is a viable argument, in the end, as the ongoing demand for Treasuries continues to show, people need dollars, and will buy them, even if they’re expensive. Speaking of Treasuries, the 10-year yield has now fallen another 4bps to 1.29%, a new all-time low yield. And you can’t buy Treasuries using euros or yen!

So as things shape up this morning, it is another risk-off session with most equity markets around the world in the red (Nikkei -2.3%, Kospi -1.1%, DAX -2.5%, CAC -2.4% FTSE 100 -2.2%) and most haven assets (CHF +0.55%, JPY, +0.3%, Gold + 0.4%) performing well. The Covid-19 virus and national responses to the infection continues to be the lead story pretty much everywhere. In fact, last night’s US Presidential press conference was seen to be quite the fiasco as President Trump was unable to convince anyone that the US is on top of the situation. And while I’ve no doubt that things here will not run smoothly, it is not clear to me that things are going to run smoothly anywhere in the world. Fast moving viral epidemics are not something that large governments are very good at addressing. As such, I would look for things to get worse everywhere before they get better.

Looking at some specific FX related stories, perhaps the biggest surprise this morning is the euro’s solid rally, +0.5%, which was underpinned by surprisingly strong Economic Sentiment data for the month of February. This is in spite of the fact that growth figures throughout the major economies on the continent have been turning lower and the unknown consequences of Covid-19. And the euro’s strength has been sufficient to underpin the CE4 currencies, all of which are up by even greater amounts, between 0.6% and 0.85%. Again, these are currencies that have been under pressure for the best part of 2020, so a rebound is not that surprising.

Elsewhere in the EMG bloc, we continue to see weakness in the commodity producers, with oil falling more than 2% this morning and base metals also in the red. MXN (-0.7%), CLP (-0.45%), RUB (-0.3%) and ZAR (-0.3%) remain victims of the coming economic slowdown and reduced demand for their key exports.

This morning’s US session brings us a lot of data including; Initial Claims (exp 212K), Q4 GDP (2.1%) and Durable Goods (-1.5%, +0.2% ex transport). Yesterday’s New Home Sales data was much better than forecast (764K), which given the historically low mortgage rates in the US cannot be that surprising. We also continue to hear from Fed speakers, with each one explaining they are watching the virus situation closely and are prepared to act (read cut rates) if necessary, but thus far, the economic situation has not changed enough to justify a move. It is comments like these that highlight just how much of a follower the Fed has become, unwilling to lead a situation.

Speaking of the foibles of the Fed, I must mention one other thing that serves to demonstrate how out of touch they are with reality. Economists from the SF Fed released a paper explaining that, as currently constructed, the Fed will not be able to achieve their inflation goals because in the next downturn, with rates so low, the public worries that the Fed will not be able to add more support to the economy (my emphasis). Now, I think about the Fed constantly as part of my job, but I am willing to wager that a vanishingly small number of people in this country, far less than 1%, think about the Fed at all…ever! To think that the Fed’s inability to hit their target has anything to do with public sentiment about their power is extraordinary, and laughable!

At any rate, today’s session looks set to continue the risk-off stance, with equity futures down 0.75% or so, and while the dollar has been under pressure overnight, I expect that will be short-lived.

Good luck
Adf

 

Hawks Must Beware

The BOE finally sees
That Brexit may not be a breeze
So hawks must beware
As rates they may pare
For doves, though, this act’s sure to please

Two stories from the UK are driving the narrative forward this morning, at least the narrative about the dollar continuing to strengthen. The first, and most impactful, were comments from BOE member, Michael Saunders, who prior to this morning’s speech was seen as one of the more hawkish members of the MPC. However, he explained that regardless of the Brexit outcome, the continuing slowdown in the UK, may require the BOE to cut rates soon. The UK economy has been under considerable pressure for some time and the data shows no signs of reversing. The market has been pricing in a rate cut for a while, although BOE rhetoric, especially from Governor Carney, worked hard to keep the idea of the next move being a rate hike. But no more. If Saunders is in the cutting camp, you can bet that we will see action at the November meeting, even if there is another Brexit postponement.

And speaking of Brexit postponements, Boris won a court victory in Northern Ireland where a lawsuit had been filed claiming a no-deal Brexit was a breach of the Good Friday accords that brought peace to the country. However, the court ruled it was no such thing, rather it was simply a political act. The upshot is this was seen as a further potential step toward a no-deal outcome, adding to the pound’s woes. In the meantime, Johnson’s government is still at odds with Parliament, and is in the midst of another round of talks with the EU to try to get a deal. It seems the odds of that deal are shrinking, although I continue to believe that the EU will blink. The next five weeks will be extremely interesting.

At any rate, once Saunders’ comments hit the tape, the pound quickly fell 0.5%, although it has since regained a bit of that ground. However, it is now trading below 1.23, its weakest level in two weeks, and as more and more investors and traders reintegrate a hard Brexit into their views, you can look for this decline to continue.

Of course, the other big story is the ongoing impeachment exercise in Congress which has caused further uncertainty in markets. As always, it is extremely difficult to trade a political event, especially one without a specific date attached like a vote. As such, it is difficult to even offer an opinion here. Broadly, in the event President Trump was actually removed from office, I expect the initial move would be risk-off but based on the only other impeachment exercise in recent memory, that of President Clinton in 1998, it took an awful long time to get through the process.

Turning to the data, growth in the Eurozone continues to go missing as evidenced by this morning’s confidence data. Economic Confidence fell to its lowest level in four years while the Business Climate and Industrial Confidence both fell more sharply than expected as well. We continue to see a lack of inflationary impulse in France (CPI 1.1%) and weakness remains the predominant theme. While the euro traded lower earlier in the session, it is actually 0.1% higher as I type. However, remember that the single currency has fallen more than 4.4% since the end of June and nearly 2.0% in the past two weeks alone. With the weekend upon us, it is no surprise that short term positions are being pared.

Overall, the dollar is having a mixed session. The yen and pound are vying for worst G10 performers, but the movement remains fairly muted. It seems the yen is benefitting from today’s risk-on feeling, which was just boosted by news that a cease-fire in Yemen is now backed by the Saudis. It is no surprise that oil is lower on the news, with WTI down 1.1%, and equity market have also embraced the news, extending early gains. On the other side of the coin, the mild risk-on flavor has helped the rest of the bunch.

In the EMG space it is also a mixed picture with ZAR suffering the most, -0.35%, as concerns grow over the government’s plans to increase growth. Meanwhile, overnight we saw strength in both PHP and INR (0.45% each) after the Philippine central bank cut rates and followed with a reserve ratio cut to help support the economy. Meanwhile, in India, as the central bank removes restrictions on foreign bond investment, the rupee has benefitted.

But overall, movement has not been large anywhere. US equity futures are pointing higher as we await this morning’s rash of data including: Personal Income (exp 0.4%); Personal Spending (0.3%); Core PCE (1.8%); Durable Goods (-1.0%, 0.2% ex transport); and Michigan Sentiment (92.1). We also hear from two more Fed speakers, Quarles and Harker. Speaking of Fed speakers (sorry), yesterday vice-Chairman Richard Clarida gave a strong indication that the Fed may change their inflation analysis to an average rate over time. This means that they will be comfortable allowing inflation to run hot for a time to offset any period of lower than targeted inflation. Given that inflation has been lower than targeted essentially since they set the target in 2012, if this becomes official policy, you can expect prices to continue to gain more steadily, and you can rule out higher rates anytime soon. In fact, this is quite dovish overall, and something that would work to change my view on the dollar. Essentially, given the history, it means rates may not go up for years! And that is not currently priced into any market, especially not the FX market.

The mixed picture this morning offers no clues for the rest of the day, but my sense is that the dollar is likely to come under further pressure overall, especially if risk is embraced more fully.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Mere Nonchalance

On Friday we learned the US
Grew faster, but not to excess
The market response
Was mere nonchalance
In stocks, but the buck did depress

This morning in Europe, however,
The outcome did not seem as clever
Growth there keeps on slowing
Thus Mario’s going
To need a new funding endeavor

If you needed a better understanding of why the dollar, despite having declined ever so modestly this morning, remains the strongest currency around, the contrasting data outcomes from Friday in the US and this morning in the Eurozone are a perfect depiction. Friday saw US GDP in Q1 rise 3.2% SAAR, significantly higher than expected, as both trade and inventory builds more than offset softer consumption. Whatever you make of the underlying pieces of the number, it remains a shining beacon relative to the rest of the G10. Proof positive of that difference was this morning’s Eurozone sentiment data, where Business Confidence fell to 0.42, its weakest showing in nearly three years while Economic Sentiment fell to 104, its sixteenth consecutive decline and weakest since September 2016.

It is extremely difficult to look at the Eurozone data and conclude that the ECB is not going to open the taps again soon. In fact, while the official line remains that no decisions have been made regarding the terms of the new TLTRO’s that are to be offered starting in June, it is increasingly clear that those terms are going to be very close to the original terms, where banks got paid to borrow money from the ECB and on-lend it to clients. The latest comment came from Finnish central bank chief Ollie Rehn where he admitted that hopes for a rebound in H2 of this year are fading fast.

With that as the backdrop, this week is setting up for the chance for some fireworks as we receive a great deal of new information on both the economic and policy fronts. In fact, let’s take a look at all the information upcoming this week right now:

Today Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.7%
  PCE 0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (1.7% Y/Y)
Tuesday Employment Cost Index 0.7%
  Case-Shiller Home Prices 3.2%
  Chicago PMI 59.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 181K
  ISM Manufacturing 55.0
  ISM Prices Paid 55.4
  Construction Spending 0.2%
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.5% (unchanged)
Thursday BOE Rate Decision 0.75% (unchanged)
  Initial Claims 215K
  Unit Labor Costs 1.4%
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.2%
  Factory Orders 1.5%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 181K
  Private Payrolls 173K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
  Unemployment Rate 3.8%
  Participation Rate 62.9%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.4% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 57.0

So, by Friday we will have heard from both the Fed and the BOE, gotten new readings on manufacturing and prices, and updated the employment situation. In addition, on Friday, we have four Fed speakers (Evans, Clarida, Williams and Bullard) as the quiet period will have ended.

Looking at this morning’s data, the PCE numbers continue to print below the Fed’s 2.0% target and despite recently rising oil prices, there is no evidence that is going to change. With the employment situation continuing its robust performance, the Fed is entirely focused on this data. As I wrote on Friday, it has become increasingly clear that the Fed’s reaction function has evolved into ‘don’t even consider raising rates until inflation is evident in the data for a number of months.’ There will be no more pre-emptive rate hikes by Jay Powell. Inflation will need to be ripping higher before they consider it. And in fact, as things progress, it is entirely possible that the Fed does cut rates despite ongoing solid GDP growth, if they feel inflation is turning lower in a more protracted manner. As of Friday, the futures market had forecast a 41% probability of a Fed rate cut by the end of 2019. In truth, I am coming around to the belief that we could see more than one cut before the year ends, especially if we see any notable slowing in the US economy. (At this point, the Fed’s only opportunity to surprise the market dovishly is if they do cut rates on Wednesday, (although in the wake of the GDP data, that seems a little aggressive.)

The real question is if the Fed turns more dovish, will that be a dollar negative. One thing for certain is that it won’t be an equity negative, and it is unlikely to have a negative impact on Treasuries either, but by rights, the dollar should probably suffer. After all, a more dovish Fed will offset the dovishness emanating from other nations.

The problem with this thesis is that it remains extremely expensive for speculators to short the dollar given the still significantly higher short-term rates in the US vs. anywhere else in the G10. And so, we are going to need to see real flows exiting the US to push the dollar lower. Either that, or a change in the narrative that the Fed, rather than being on hold, is getting set to take rates back toward zero. For now, neither of those seem very likely, and so significant dollar weakness seems off the table for the moment. As such, while it was no surprise that the dollar fell a bit on Friday as profit taking was evident after a strong run higher, the trend remains in the dollar’s favor, so hedgers need to take that into account. And for all you hedgers, given the significant reduction in volatility that we have witnessed during the past several months, options are an increasingly attractive alternative for hedging. Food for thought.

Good luck
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Impugned

The continent east of the ‘pond’
Makes many things of which we’re fond
But data of late
Impugned their growth rate
Just when will Herr Draghi respond?

There is an ongoing dichotomy in the economic landscape that I continue to have difficulty understanding. Pretty much every day we see data that describes slowing economic activity from multiple places around the world. Sales are slowing, manufacturing is ebbing, or housing markets are backing away from their multiyear explosion higher. And all this is occurring while in the background, international trade agreements, that have underpinned the growth in global trade for the past forty years, are also under increasing pressure. And yet, equity markets around the world seemingly ignore every piece of bad news and, when there is a glimmer of hope, investors grab hold and markets rally sharply.

Arguably the best explanation is that the dramatic change in central bank policies have evolved from emergency measures to the baseline for activity. Following that line of thought and adding the recent central bank response to increased ‘volatility’ (read declines) as seen in December, it has become apparent that economic fundamentals no longer matter very much at all. While the central bankers all pay lip service to being data dependent, the only data that seems to matter is the latest stock market close. For someone who has spent a career trying to identify macroeconomic risks and determine the best way to manage them, I’m concerned that fewer and fewer investors view that as important. I fear that when the next downturn comes, and I remain highly confident there will be another economic downturn too large to ignore, we will be wistful for the good old days of 2008-09, when recession was ‘mild’.

Please excuse my little rant, but it continues to be increasingly difficult to justify market movements when looking at economic data. For example, last night we learned that PMI data throughout the Eurozone was confirmed to be abysmal in February (Germany 47.6, Italy 47.7, Spain 49.9, Eurozone overall 49.2) and has led to a reduced forecast for Eurozone GDP growth in Q1 of just 0.1%. Naturally, every equity market in Europe is higher on the news. Even the euro has edged higher, climbing 0.15% (albeit after falling 0.4% in yesterday’s session). Adding to the malaise, Eurozone core inflation unexpectedly fell to 1.0%, a long way from the ECB’s target of just below 2.0% and showing no signs of increasing any time soon.

With the March ECB meeting on the docket for next week, the discussion has focused on how Signor Draghi will justify his ongoing efforts to normalize monetary policy amid weakening growth. His problem is that he has downplayed economic weakness as temporary, but it has lingered far longer than anticipated. It is widely expected that the new economic forecasts will point to further slowing, and this will just make his task that much more difficult. Ultimately, the market is not pricing in any interest rate hikes until June 2020, and there is a rising expectation that TLTRO’s are going to be rolled over with an announcement possible as soon as April’s meeting. Draghi’s term as ECB president ends in October, and it is pretty clear that he will have never raised interest rates during his eight years at the helm. The question is, will his successor get a chance in the next eight years? Once again, I have looked at this information, compared it to the ongoing Fed discussion, and come out on the side of the euro having further to decline. We will need to see much stronger growth and inflation from Europe to change that view.

Other than that discussion, there is very little of real note happening today. Chinese Caixin PMI data was slightly better than expected at 49.9, which has been today’s argument for adding risk, but recall just yesterday how weak the official statistic was. As with everything from China, it is difficult to understand the underlying story as the data often has inconsistencies. But this has been enough to create a risk-on atmosphere with Treasuries falling (10-year yields +2bps) and JPY falling (-0.4%) while commodities and equities rally. Gold, naturally, is the exception to this rule as it has softened this morning.

Regarding trade, today’s news stories discuss documents being prepared for an eventual Trump-Xi summit later this month. If there really is a deal, that will be a global positive as it would not only clear up US-Chinese confusion, but it would bode well for all the other trade discussions that are about to begin (US-Japan, US-Europe). Hopefully, President Trump won’t feel the need to walk away from this deal.

Looking back at yesterday’s session, we saw Q4 GDP actually grew 2.6%, a bit stronger than expected, which arguably helped underpin the dollar’s performance. We also learned that the House Finance Committee is equally unconcerned over what the Fed is doing, as Chairman Powell’s testimony was a complete sleeper. So, with no oversight, the Fed will simply motor along. At this point, it would be remarkable if the Fed raised rates again in 2019, and unless Core PCE goes on an extended run higher, perhaps even in 2020. I have a feeling that we are going to see this flat yield curve for a long time.

This morning brings a bunch more data with both December and January numbers due. Looking at the January data, the only forecast I find is Personal Income (exp 0.3%) but Personal Spending, and PCE are both due as well. At 10:00 we see ISM Manufacturing (55.5) which is now biased higher after yesterday’s Chicago PMI printed at a robust 64.7, its strongest print in 18 months. With risk being embraced today, I think we are far more likely to see the dollar edge lower than not by the end of the day.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

Growth Had Decreased

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck
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