A Major Mistake

There once was a pundit named Fately
Who asked, is Fed policy lately
A major mistake
Or did Yellen break
The mold? If she did t’was sedately

Please sanction my poetic license by listing Janet Yellen as the primary suspect in my inquiry; it was simply that her name fit within the rhyme scheme better than her fellow central bankers, all of whom acted in the same manner. Of course, I am really discussing the group of Bernanke, Draghi, Kuroda and Carney as well as Yellen, the cabal that decided ZIRP (zero interest rate policy), NIRP (negative interest rate policy) and QE (quantitative easing) made sense.

Recently, there has been a decided uptick in warnings from pundits about how current Fed Chair, Jay Powell, is on the verge of a catastrophic policy mistake by raising interest rates consistently. There are complaints about his plainspoken manner lacking the subtleties necessary to ‘guide’ the market to the correct outcome. In this case, the correct outcome does not mean sustainable economic growth and valuation but rather ever higher equity prices. There are complaints that his autonomic methodology (which if you recall was actually instituted by Yellen herself and simply has been followed by Powell), does not take into account other key issues such as wiggles in the data, or more importantly the ongoing rout in non-US equity markets. And of course, there is the constant complaint from the current denizen of the White House that Powell is undermining the economy, and by extension the stock market, by raising rates. You may have noticed a pattern about all the complaints coming back to the fact that Powell’s policy actions are no longer supporting the stock markets around the world. Curious, no?

But I think it is fair to ask if Powell’s policies are the mistake, or if perhaps, those policies he is unwinding, namely QE and ZIRP, were the mistakes. After all, in the scope of history, today’s interest rates remain exceedingly low, somewhere in the bottom decile of all time as can be seen in Chart 1 below.

5000 yr interest rate chart

So maybe the mistake was that the illustrious group of central bankers mentioned above chose to maintain these extraordinary monetary policies for nearly a decade, rather than begin the unwinding process when growth had recovered several years after the recession ended. As the second chart shows, the Fed waited seven years into a recovery before beginning the process of slowly unwinding what had been declared emergency policy measures. Was it really still an emergency in 2015, six years after the end of the recession amid 2.0% GDP growth, which caused the Fed to maintain a policy stance designed to address a severe recession?

Chart 2

real gdp growth

My point is simply that any analysis of the current stance of the Federal Reserve and its current policy trajectory must be seen in the broader context of not only where it is heading, but from whence it came. Ten years of extraordinarily easy monetary policy has served to build up significant imbalances and excesses throughout financial markets. Consider the growth in leveraged loans, especially covenant lite ones, corporate debt or government debt, all of which are now at record levels, as key indicators of the current excesses. The history of economics is replete with examples of excesses leading to shakeouts throughout the world. The boom and bust cycle is the very essence of Schumpeterian capitalism, and as long as we maintain a capitalist economy, those cycles will be with us.

The simple fact is that every central bank is ‘owned’ by its government, and has been for the past thirty years at least. (Paul Volcker is likely the last truly independent Fed Chair we have had, although Chairman Powell is starting to make a name for himself.) And because of that ownership, every central bank has sought to keep rates as low as possible for as long as possible to goose growth above trend. In the past, although that led to excesses, the downturns tended to be fairly short, and the rebounds quite robust. However, the advent of financial engineering has resulted in greater and greater leverage throughout the economy and correspondingly bigger potential problems in the next downturn. The financial crisis was a doozy, but I fear the next one, given the massive growth in debt outstanding, will be much worse.

At that point, I assure you that the first person who will be named as the culprit for ‘causing’ the recession will be Jay Powell. My point here is that, those fingers need to be pointed at Bernanke, Yellen, Draghi, Carney and Kuroda, as it was their actions that led to the current significantly imbalanced economy. The next recession will have us longing for the good old days of 2008 right after Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, and the political upheaval that will accompany it, or perhaps follow immediately afterwards, is likely to make what we are seeing now seem mild. While my crystal ball does not give me a date, it is becoming abundantly clear that the date is approaching far faster than most appreciate.

Be careful out there. Markets and politics are going to become much more volatile over the next several years.

One poet’s view!

Powell’s Fixation

Though spending by business has slowed
(And debt from the government growed)
There’s no indication
That Powell’s fixation
On raising rates soon will erode

The Fed left rates on hold yesterday, as universally expected. The policy statement was largely unchanged although it did tweak the wording regarding business investment, which previously had been quite strong but is now slowing somewhat. That said, there is absolutely no indication that the Fed is going to slow its trajectory of rate increases anytime soon. With the meeting now out of the way, I expect that the Fedspeak we hear going forward will reinforce that view, with only Kashkari and Bullard seeking to slow the pace, and neither of them is yet a voting member. The market response was actually mildly surprising in that equities sold off somewhat after the news (and have fallen sharply in Asia and Europe) despite the fact that this was the expected outcome. Meanwhile the dollar has continued to rebound from its recent lows touched on Wednesday, with the euro having declined 0.2% further this morning and 1.4% from its peak.

As an aside, I am constantly amazed at the idea that the Fed, especially as overseen by Jay Powell, is more than mildly interested in the happenings in the stock market. The Fed mandate is clear, maximum employment and stable prices, notably lacking any discussion of rising equity markets. Alas, ever since the Maestro himself, Alan Greenspan, was Fed Chair, it seems that the default reaction has been to instantly add liquidity to the market if there was any stock market decline. The result is we have seen three massive bubbles blown in markets, two of which have burst (tech stocks and real estate) with the third ongoing as we speak. If you understand nothing else about the current Fed chairman, it is abundantly clear that he is unconcerned with the day-to-day wobbles in financial markets. I am confident that if there is a significant change in the economic situation, and markets respond by declining sharply, the current Fed will address the economic situation, not the markets, and that, in my view, is the way policy should be handled.

But back to today’s discussion. I fully admit that I did not understand the market response to the election results, specifically why the dollar would have declined on the news. After all, a split Congress is not going to suddenly change policies that are already in place, especially since the Republican majority in the Senate expanded. And as the Fed made clear yesterday, they don’t care about the politics and are going to continue to raise rates for quite a while yet. Certainly, we haven’t seen data elsewhere in the world which is indicative of a significant uptick in growth that would draw investment away from the US, and so the dollar story will continue to be the tension between the short-term cyclical factors (faster US growth and tighter monetary policy) vs. the long-term structural factors (rising budget deficits and questionable fiscal sustainability). Cyclical data points to a stronger dollar; structural data to a weaker one, and for now, the cyclical story is still the market driver. I think it is worth keeping that in mind as one observes the market.

Regarding other FX related stories, the Brexit situation is coming to a head in the UK as PM May is trying to get her cabinet to sign off on what appears to be quite a bad deal, where the Irish border situation results in the UK being forced to abide by EU rules without being part of the EU and thus having no input to their formation. This is exactly what the Brexiteers wanted to avoid, and would seemingly be the type of thing that could result in a leadership challenge to May, and perhaps even new elections, scant months before Brexit. While I have assumed a fudge deal would be agreed, I am losing confidence in that outcome, and see an increasing chance that the pound falls sharply. Its recent rally has been based entirely on the idea that a deal would get done. For the pound, it is still a binary outcome.

The Italian budget story continues to play out with not only Brussels upset but actually the backers of the League as well. While I am no expert on Italian politics, it looks increasingly likely that there could be yet another election soon, with the League coming out on top, five star relegated to the backbenches, and more turmoil within the Eurozone. However, in that event, I think it highly improbable that the League is interested in leaving the euro, so it might well end up being a euro positive net.

So the week is ending on a positive note for the dollar, and I expect to see that continue throughout the session. This morning’s PPI data was much firmer than expected with the headline print at 2.9% and the core at 2.6%, indicating that there is no real moderation in the US inflation story. This data is likely tariff related, but that is no comfort given that there is no indication that the tariff situation is going to change soon. And if it does, it will only get worse. So look for the dollar to continue its rebound as the weekend approaches.

Good luck and good weekend
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The Next Year Or So

Said Williams, “the next year or so”
Should see rates reach neutral, you know
At that point we’ll see
If our GDP
Is humming or soon set to slow

The dollar is under very modest pressure this morning, although in reality it is simply continuing to consolidate its recent gains. While there have been individual currency stories, the big picture continues apace.

As I write, the IMF is holding its annual meeting in Indonesia and so we are hearing much commentary from key financial officials around the world. Yesterday, IMF Managing Director Lagarde told us that the ongoing trade tensions were set to slow global growth. Overnight, we heard from NY Fed President John Williams, who said that the US economy continued to be strong and that while there is no preset course, it seemed likely that the Fed would continue to adjust policy until rates reached ‘neutral’. Of course, as nobody knows exactly where neutral is, there was no way to determine just how high rates might go. However, there was no indication that the Fed was going to pause anytime soon. Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan, who said that he foresaw three more rate hikes before any pause, corroborated this idea. According to the dot plot, 3.00% seems to be the current thinking of where the neutral rate lies as long as inflation doesn’t push significantly higher than currently expected. All this points to the idea that the Fed remains on course to continued policy tightening, with the risks seemingly that if inflation rises more than expected, they will respond accordingly.

The other truly noteworthy news was from the UK, where it appears that a compromise is in sight for the Brexit negotiations. As expected, there is some fudge involved, with semantic definitions of the difference between customs and regulatory checks, but in the end, this cannot be a great surprise. The impetus for change came from Germany, who has lately become more concerned that a no-deal Brexit would severely impact their export industries, and by extension their economy. The currency impact was just as would be expected with the pound jumping one penny on the report and having continued to drift higher from there. This seems an appropriate response as no deal is yet signed, but at least it appears things are moving in the right direction. In the meantime, UK data showed that Q3 GDP growth is on track for a slightly better than expected outcome of 0.7% for the quarter (not an annualized figure).

As to the other ongoing story, there has been no change in the tone of rhetoric from the Italian government regarding its budget, but there are still five days before they have to actually submit it to their EU masters. It remains to be seen how this plays out. As I type, the euro has edged up 0.15% from yesterday’s close, but taking a step back, it is essentially unchanged for the past week. If you recall, back in August there was a great deal of discussion about how the dollar had peaked and that its decline at that time portended a more significant fall going forward. At this point, after the dollar recouped all those losses, that line of discussion has been moved to the back pages.

Turning to the emerging markets, Brazil remains a hot topic with investors piling into the real in expectations (hopes?) of a Bolsonaro win in the runoff election. That reflected itself in yet another 1.5% rise in the currency, which is now higher by more than 10% over the past month. The China story remains one where the renminbi seems to be on the cusp of a dangerous level, but has not yet fallen below. Equity markets there took a breather from recent sharp declines, ending the session essentially flat, but there is still great concern that further weakness in the CNY could lead to a sharp rise in capital outflows, or correspondingly, more draconian measures by the PBOC to prevent capital movement.

But after those two stories, it is harder to find something that has had a significant impact on markets. While Pakistan just reached out to the IMF for a $12 billion loan, the Pakistani rupee is not a relevant currency unless you live there. However, this issue is emblematic of the problems faced by many emerging economies as the Fed continues to tighten policy. Excessive dollar borrowing when rates were low has come back to haunt many of these countries, and there is no reason to think this process will end soon. Continue to look for the dollar to strengthen vs. the EMG bloc as a whole.

This morning brings our first real data of the week, PPI (exp 2.8%, 2.5% ex food & energy). However, PPI is typically not a market mover. Tomorrow’s CPI data, on the other hand, will be closely watched for signs that inflation is starting to test the Fed’s patience. But for now, other than the Brexit news, which is the first truly positive non-dollar news we have seen in a while, my money is on a quiet session with limited FX movement. The only caveat is if we see significant equity market movement, whereby a dollar reaction would be normal. This is especially so if equities fall and so risk mitigation leads to further dollar buying.

Good luck
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When Tax Cuts Arrive

The euro has taken a dive
As Italy tries to revive
Its still quite weak growth
By managing both
More spending when tax cuts arrive

It was just earlier this week that pundits were sounding the death knell for the dollar, as they explained the market has already fully priced in Fed rate hikes while other markets, both developed and emerging, were just beginning their turn towards tighter policy. In fact, the convergence trade was becoming all the rage; the idea that as the dollar started to slide, emerging market economies would see reduced pressure on their fundamentals (it would become easier to repay dollar debt) while commodity prices could rebound (most emerging markets are commodity exporters) and so both stock and bond prices in those markets would benefit. At the same time, other developed markets would see a similar, albeit lesser, impact and so market sentiment would get markedly better. Or not.

Yesterday, the market learned that the Italian budget question, something that had been set aside as not really impactful, has become impactful. The announcement by the ruling coalition that they would be targeting a 2.4% budget deficit next year, well above earlier estimates of 1.8% but still below the EU’s 3.0% target, has raised numerous red flags for investors. First, the new budget will do nothing to address Italy’s debt/GDP ratio, which at 131% is second only to Greece within the EU. One of the reasons that the EU wanted that lower target was to help address that situation. The potential consequence of that issue, a larger debt/GDP ratio, is that the ratings agencies may lower their country credit ratings for Italy, which currently stand at Baa2 by Moody’s and BBB by S&P. And given that those ratings are just two notches above junk, it could put the country in a precarious position of having a much more difficult time funding its deficit. It should be no surprise that Italian government bond yields jumped, with 2-year yields spiking 46bps and 10-year yields up 31bps. It should also be no surprise that the Italian stock markets fell sharply, with the FTSE-MIB down 4.1% as I type. And finally, it should be no surprise that the euro is lower, having fallen more than 1.5% since this news first trickled into the market yesterday morning NY time. While this could still play out where the coalition government backs off its demands and markets revert, what is clear is that dismissing Italian budget risk as insignificant is no longer a viable option.

But it’s not just the euro that is under pressure; the dollar is generally stronger against most of its counterparts. For example, the pound is down 0.3% this morning and 1% since yesterday morning after UK data showed weakening confidence and slowing business investment. Both of these seem to be directly related to growing Brexit concerns. And on that subject, there has been no movement with regard to the latest stance by either the UK or the EU. Politicians being what they are, I still feel like they will have something signed when the time comes, but it will be short on specifics and not actually address the issues. But every day that passes increases the odds that the UK just leaves with no deal, and that will be, at least in the short term, a huge pound Sterling negative.

Meanwhile, the yen has fallen to its lowest level vs. the dollar this year, trading through 113.60 before consolidating, after the BOJ once again tweaked its concept of how to manage QE there. Surprisingly (to me at least) the movement away from buying 30-year bonds was seen as a currency negative, despite the fact that it drove yields higher at the back of the curve. If anything, I would have expected that move to encourage Japanese investors to repatriate funds and invest locally, but that is not the market reaction. What I will say is that the yen’s trend is clearly downward and there is every indication that it will continue.

Looking at the data story, yesterday we saw US GDP for Q2 confirmed at 4.2%, while Durable Goods soared at a 4.5% pace in August on the back of strong aircraft orders. For this morning, we are looking for Personal Income (exp 0.4%); Personal Spending (0.3%); PCE (0.2%, 2.3% Y/Y); Core PCE (0.1%, 2.0% Y/Y); and Michigan Sentiment (100.8). All eyes should be on the Core PCE data given it is the number the Fed puts into their models. In addition, we hear from two Fed speakers, Barkin and Williams, although at this stage they are likely to just reiterate Wednesday’s message. Speaking of which, yesterday Chairman Powell spoke and when asked about the flattening yield curve explained that it was something they watched, but it was not seen as a game changer.

In the end, barring much weaker PCE data, there is no reason to believe that the Fed is going to slow down, and if anything, it appears they could fall behind the curve, especially if the tariff situation starts to impact prices more quickly than currently assumed. There is still a tug of war between the structural issues, which undoubtedly remain dollar negative, and the cyclical issues, which are undoubtedly dollar positive, but for now, it appears the cyclicals are winning.

Good luck and good weekend
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Too Arcane

The Fed took the time to explain
Why ‘Neutral’ they’ll never attain
Though theories suppose
O’er that rate, growth slows
Its measurement is too arcane

If one needed proof that Fed watching was an arcane pastime, there is no need to look beyond yesterday’s activities. As universally expected, the FOMC raised the Fed funds rate by 25bps to a range of 2.00% – 2.25%. But in the accompanying statement, they left out the sentence that described their policy as ‘accommodative’. Initially this was seen as both surprising and dovish as it implied the Fed thought that rates were now neutral and therefore wouldn’t need to be raised much further. However, that was not at all their intention, as Chairman Powell made clear at the press conference. Instead, because there is an ongoing debate about where the neutral rate actually lies, he wanted to remove the concept from the Fed’s communications.

The neutral rate, or r-star (r*) is the theoretical interest rate that neither supports nor impedes growth in an economy. And while it makes a great theory, and has been a linchpin of Fed models for the past decade at least, Chairman Powell takes a more pragmatic view of things. Namely, he recognizes that since r* cannot be observed or measured in anything like real-time, it is pretty useless as a policy tool. His point in removing the accommodative language was to say that they don’t really know if current policy is accommodative or not, at least with any precision. However, given that their published forecasts, the dot plot, showed an increase in the number of FOMC members that are looking for another rate hike this year and at least three rate hikes next year, it certainly doesn’t seem the Fed believes they have reached neutral.

The market response was pretty much as you would expect it to be. When the statement was released, and initially seen as dovish, the dollar suffered, stocks rallied and Treasury prices fell in a classic risk-on move. However, once Powell started speaking and explained the rationale for the change, the market reversed those moves and the dollar actually edged higher on the day, equity markets closed lower and Treasury yields fell as bids flooded the market.

In the end, there is no indication that the Fed is slowing down its current trajectory of policy tightening. While they have explicitly recognized the potential risks due to growing trade friction, they made clear that they have not seen any evidence in the data that it was yet having an impact. And given that things remain fluid in that arena, it would be a mistake to base policy on something that may not occur. All told, if anything, I would characterize the Fed message as leaning more hawkish than dovish.

So looking beyond the Fed, we need to look at everything else that is ongoing. Remember, the trade situation remains fraught, with the US and China still at loggerheads over how to proceed, Canada unwilling to accede to US demands, and the ongoing threat of US tariffs on European auto manufacturers still in the air. As well, oil prices have been rallying lately amid the belief that increased sanctions on Iran are going to reduce global supply. There is the ongoing Brexit situation, which appears no closer to resolution, although we did have French President Macron’s refreshingly honest comments that he believes the UK should suffer greatly in the process to insure that nobody else in the EU will even consider the same rash act as leaving the bloc. And the Italian budget spectacle remains an ongoing risk within the Eurozone as failure to present an acceptable budget could well trigger another bout of fear in Italian government bonds and put pressure on the ECB to back off their plans to remove accommodation. In other words, there is still plenty to watch, although none of it has been meaningful to markets for more than a brief period yet.

Keeping all that in mind, let’s take a look at the market. As I type (which by the way is much earlier than usual as I am currently in London) the dollar is showing some modest strength with the Dollar Index up about 0.25% at this point. The thing is, there has been no additional news of note since yesterday to drive things, which implies that either a large order is going through the market, or that short dollar positions are being covered. Quite frankly, I would expect the latter reason is more compelling. But stepping back, the euro has traded within a one big figure range since last Thursday, meaning that nothing is really going on. The same is true for most of the G10, as despite both data and the Fed, it is clear very few opinions have really changed. My take is that we are going to need to see material changes in the data stream in order to alter views, and that will take time.

In the emerging markets, we have two key interest rate decisions shortly, Indonesia is forecasts to raise their base rate by 25bps to 5.75% and the Philippines are expected to raise their base rate by 50bps to 4.50%. Both nations have seen their currencies remain under pressure due to the dollar’s overall strength and their own current account deficits. They have been two of the worst three performing APAC currencies this year, with India the other member of that ignominious group. Meanwhile, rising oil prices have lately helped the Russian ruble rebound with today’s 0.2% rally adding to the nearly 7% gains seen in the past two plus weeks. And look for the Argentine peso to have a solid day today after the IMF increased its assistance to $57 billion with faster disbursement times. Otherwise, it is tough to get very excited about this bloc either.

On the data front, this morning brings the weekly Initial Claims data (exp 210K), Durable Goods (2.0%, 0.5% ex transport) and our last look at Q2 GDP (4.2%). I think tomorrow’s PCE data will be of far more interest to the markets, although a big revision in GDP could have an impact. But overall, things remain on the same general trajectory, solid US growth, slightly softer growth elsewhere, and a Federal Reserve that is continually tightening monetary policy. I still believe they will go tighter than the market has priced, and that the dollar will benefit accordingly. But for now, we remain stuck with the opposing cyclical and structural issues offsetting. It will be a little while before the outcome of that battle is determined, and in the meantime, a drifting currency market is the most likely outcome.

Good luck
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Watching With Rigor

Though Draghi said data of late
May not have appeared all that great
We’re watching with rigor
Inflation that’s vigor-
Ously rising at a high rate

After a multi week decline, the dollar is showing further signs of stabilizing this morning. And that includes its response to yesterday’s surprising comments by ECB President Mario Draghi, who indicated that despite the ECB lowering its forecasts for growth this year and next, and that despite the fact that recent data has been falling short of expectations, he still described the underlying inflation impulse as “relatively vigorous” and reconfirmed that QE would be ending in December with rates rising next year. In fact, several of his top lieutenants, including Peter Praet and Ewald Nowotny, indicated that rates ought to rise even sooner than that. Draghi, however, has remained consistent in his views that gradual removal of the current policy accommodation is the best way forward. But as soon as the words “relatively vigorous” hit the tape, the euro jumped more than 0.5% and touched an intraday high of 1.1815, its richest point since June. The thing is, that since that time yesterday morning, it has been a one-way trip lower, with the euro ultimately rising only slightly yesterday and actually drifting lower this morning.

But away from the excitement there, the dollar has continued to consolidate Friday’s gains, and is actually edging higher on a broad basis. It should be no surprise that the pound remains beholden to the Brexit story, and in truth I am surprised it is not lower this morning after news that the Labour party would definitively not support a Brexit deal based on the current discussions. This means that PM May will need to convince everyone in her tenuous majority coalition to vote her way, assuming they actually get a deal agreed. And while one should never underestimate the ability of politicians to paint nothing as something, it does seem as though the UK is going to be leaving the EU with no exit deal in place. While the pound is only down 0.15% this morning, I continue to see a very real probability of a much sharper decline over the next few months as it becomes increasingly clear that no deal will appear.

There was one big winner overnight, though, the Korean won, which rallied 4.2% on two bits of news. Arguably the biggest positive was the word that the US and Korea had agreed a new trade deal, the first of the Trump era, which was widely hailed by both sides. But let us not forget the news that there would be a second round of talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un to further the denuclearization discussion. This news is also a significant positive for the won.

The trade situation remains fascinating in that while Mr Trump continues to lambaste the Chinese regarding trade, he is aggressively pursuing deals elsewhere. In fact, it seems that one of the reasons yesterday’s imposition of the newest round of tariffs on Chinese goods had so little market impact is that there is no indication that the president is seeking isolationism, but rather simply new terms of trade. For all the bluster that is included in the process, he does have a very real success to hang his hat on now that South Korea is on board. Signing a new NAFTA deal might just cause a re-evaluation of his tactics in a more positive light. We shall see. But in the end, the China situation does not appear any closer to resolution, and that will almost certainly outweigh all the other deals, especially if the final threatened round of $267 billion of goods sees tariffs. The punditry has come around to the view that this is all election posturing and that there will be active negotiations after the mid-term elections are concluded in November. Personally, I am not so sanguine about the process and see a real chance that the trade war situation will extend much longer.

If the tariffs remain in place for an extended period of time, look for inflation prints to start to pick up much faster and for the Fed to start to lean more hawkishly than they have been to date. The one thing that is clear about tariffs is that they are inflationary. With the FOMC starting their meeting this morning, all eyes will be on the statement tomorrow afternoon, and then, of course, all will be tuned in to Chairman Powell’s press conference. At this point, there seems to be a large market contingent (although not a majority) that is looking for a more dovish slant in the statement. Powell must be happy that the dollar has given back some of its recent gains, and will want to see that continue. But in the end, there is not yet any evidence that the Fed is going to slow down the tightening process. In fact, the recent rebound in oil prices will only serve to put further upward pressure on inflation, and most likely keep the doves cooped up.

With that in mind, the two data points to be released today are unlikely to have much market impact with Case-Shiller Home Prices (exp 6.2%) at 9:00am and Consumer Confidence (132.0) due at 10:00. So barring any new comments from other central bankers, I expect the dollar to remain range bound ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC action.

Good luck
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Just How He Feels

On Wednesday the Chairman reveals
To all of us, just how he feels
If dovish expect
Bulls to genuflect
If hawkish, prepare for some squeals

This is an early note as I will be in transit during my normal time tomorrow.

On Friday, the dollar continued its early morning rebound and was generally firmer all day long. The worst performer was the British pound, which fell more than 1.0% after Friday’s note was sent. It seems that the Brexit story is seen as increasingly tendentious, and much of the optimism that we had seen develop during the past three weeks has dissipated. While the pound remains above its lowest levels from earlier in the month, it certainly appears that those levels, and lower ones, are within reach if there is not some new, positive news on the topic. This appears to be an enormous game of chicken, and at this point, it is not clear who is going to blink first. But every indication is that the pound’s value will remain closely tied to the perceptions of movement on a daily basis. Hedgers need to be vigilant in maintaining appropriate hedge levels as one cannot rule out a significant move in either direction depending on the next piece of news.

But away from the pound, the story was much more about lightening positions ahead of the weekend, and arguably ahead of this week’s FOMC meeting. The pattern from earlier in the week; a weaker dollar along with higher equity prices around the world and higher government bond yields, was reversed in a modest way. US equity markets closed slightly softer, the dollar, net, edged higher, and 10-year Treasury yields fell 2bps.

The big question remains was the dollar’s recent weakness simply a small correction that led to the other market moves, or are we at the beginning of a new, more significant trend of dollar weakness? And there is no easy answer to that one.

Looking ahead to this week shows the following data will be released:

Tuesday Case-Shiller House Prices 6.2%
  Consumer Confidence 312.2
Wednesday New Home Sales 630K
  FOMC Decision 2.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 208K
  Goods Trade Balance -$70.6B
  Q2 GDP 4.2%
Friday PCE 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.3%
  Chicago PMI 62.5
  Michigan Sentiment 100.8

So clearly, the FOMC is the big issue. It is universally expected that they will raise the Fed funds rate by 25bps to 2.25%. The real question will be with the dot plot, and the analysis as to whether the sentiment in the room is getting even more hawkish, or if the CPI data from two weeks ago was enough to take some of the edge off their collective thinking, and perhaps even change the median expectations of the path of rate hikes. I can virtually guarantee you that if the dot plot shows a lower median, even if it is because of a change by just one FOMC member, equity markets will explode higher around the world, the dollar will fall and government bond yields will rise. However, my own view is that the data since we have last heard from any Fed speaker has not been nearly soft enough to consider changing one’s view. Instead, I expect a neutral to hawkish statement, and a little pressure on equities.

But the big picture narrative does seem to be starting to change, and so any dollar benefit is likely to be short lived. Be ready to hear a great deal more about the structural deficits and how that will force the dollar lower. One last thing, tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports go into effect on Monday, which will only serve to add upward pressure to inflation data, and ultimately keep the FOMC quite vigilant. I remain committed to the idea that the cyclical factors will regain their preeminence, but it just may take a few weeks or months for that to be apparent. In the meantime, look for the dollar to slowly slide lower.

Good luck
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