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