Outrageous

The ECB’s fin’lly decided
That limits were badly misguided
So, starting today
All bonds are in play
To purchase, Lagarde has confided

As well, in the Senate, at last
The stimulus bill has been passed
Amidst all its pages
The Fed got outrageous
New powers, and hawks were aghast

Recent price action in risk assets demonstrated the classic, ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ concept as equity market activity in the past two sessions had been strongly positive on the back of the anticipated passage of a huge stimulus bill in the US. And last night, the Senate finally got over their procedural bickering and hurdles and did just that. As such, it should be no great surprise that risk assets are under pressure today, with only much less positive news on the horizon. Instead, we can now look forward to death tolls and bickering about government responses to the quickly evolving crisis. If that’s not a reason to sell stocks, I don’t know what is!

But taking a break from descriptions of market activity, I think it is worthwhile to discuss two other features of the total government response to this crisis. And remember, once government powers are enacted, it is extremely difficult to remove them.

The first is from the US stimulus bill, where there is a $500 billion portion of the bill that is earmarked for support of the business community. $75 billion is to go to shore up airlines and the aerospace infrastructure, but the other $425 billion is added to the Treasury’s reserve fund which they can use to backstop, at a 10:1 leverage ratio, Fed lending. In other words, all of the programs about which we have been hearing, including the CP backstop, the primary dealer backstop, and discussion of purchases of municipal and corporate bonds as well as even equities, will now have the funding in place to the tune of $4.25 trillion. This means that we can expect the Fed balance sheet to balloon toward at least $9 trillion before long, perhaps as quickly as the end of the year. Interestingly, just last year we consistently heard from mainstream economists as well as Chairman Powell and Secretary Mnuchin, how Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) was a crock and a mistake to consider. And yet, here we are at a point where it is now the best option available and about to effectively be enshrined in law. It seems this crisis will indeed be quite transformational with the death of the Austrian School of economics complete, and the new math of MMT at the forefront of the dismal science.

Meanwhile, Madame Lagarde could not tolerate for Europe to be left behind in this monetary expansion and so the ECB scrapped their own eligibility rules regarding purchases of assets to help support the Eurozone member economies. This means that the capital key, the guideline the ECB used to make sure they didn’t favor one nation over another, but rather executed their previous QE on a proportional basis relative to the size of each economy, is dead. This morning the ECB announced that they can buy whatever they please and they will do so in size, at least €750 billion, for the rest of this year and beyond if they deem it necessary. This goes hand in hand with the recent German repudiation of their fiscal prudence, as no measure is deemed unreasonable in an effort to fight Covid-19. In addition to this, the OMT program (Outright Monetary Transactions) which was created by Signor Draghi in the wake of the Eurozone bond crisis in 2012 but never utilized, may have a new lease on life. The problem had been that in order for a country (Italy) to avail themselves of the ECB hoovering up their debt, the country needed to sign up for specific programs aimed at addressing underlying structural problems in said country. But it seems that wrinkle is about to be ironed out as well, and that OMT will finally be utilized, most likely for Italian bonds.

While neither the Fed nor ECB will be purchasing bonds in the primary market, you can be sure that is not even remotely a hindrance. In fact, buying through the secondary market ensures that the bank intermediaries make a profit as well, another little considered, but important benefit of these programs.

The upshot is that when this crisis passes, and it will do so at some point, governments and central banks will have even more impact and control on all decisions made, whether business or personal. Remember what we learned from Milton Friedman, “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

Now back to market behavior today. It is certainly fair to describe the session as a risk-off day, with equity markets have been under pressure since the beginning of trading. Asia was lower (Nikkei -4.5%, Hang Seng -0.75%), Europe has been declining (DAX -2.3%, CAC -1.8%, FTSE 100 -2.1%) and US futures are lower (SPU’s -1.4%, Dow -1.0%). Meanwhile, Treasury yields have fallen 6bps, and European government bonds are all rallying on the back of the ECB announcement. After all, the only price insensitive buyer has just said they are coming back in SIZE. Commodity prices are soft, with WTI falling 2%, and agriculturals softer across the board although the price of gold continues to be a star, as it is little changed this morning but that means it is holding onto its recent 11% gain.

And finally, in the FX markets, while G10 currencies are all looking robust vs. the dollar, led by the yen’s 1.2% gain and Norway’s continued benefit from recent intervention helping it to rally a further 0.75%, EMG currencies are more mixed. ZAR is the worst of the day, down 0.9% as an impending lockdown in the country to fight Covid-19, is combining with its looming credit rating cut to junk by Moody’s to discourage buying of the currency. We’ve also seen weakness in an eclectic mix of EMG currencies with HUF (-0.35%), KRW (-0.25%) and MXN (-0.2%) all softer this morning. In fairness, the peso had a gangbusters rally yesterday, jumping nearly 3.5%, so a little weakness is hardly concerning. On the plus side, APAC currencies are the leaders with MYR, IDR and INR all firmer by 1.2% on the strength of their own stimulus (India’s $22.6 billiion package) or optimism over the impact of the US stimulus.

Perhaps the biggest thing on the docket this morning is Initial Claims (exp 1.64M) which would be a record number. But so you understand how uncertain this forecast is, the range of forecasts is from 360K to 4.40M, so nobody really has any idea how bad it will be. My fear is we will be worse than the median, but perhaps not as high as the 4.4M guess. And really, that’s the only data that matters. The rest of it is backward looking and will not inform any views of the near future.

We have seen two consecutive days of a risk rally, the first two consecutive equity rallies in more than a month, but I expect that there are many more down days in our future. The dollar’s weakness in the past two sessions is temporary in my view, so if you have short term receivables to hedge, now is a good time. One other thing to remember is that bid-ask spreads continue to be much wider than we are used to, so do not be shocked when you begin your month-end balance sheet activity today.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Truly a Beast

The PMI data released
Showed just how fast growth has decreased
Tis services that
Have fallen so flat
This virus is truly a beast

But yesterday two bits of news
May help prevent any more blues
The Fed started things
By spreading their wings
And buying all debt that accrues

As well, in a break from the past
The Germans decided at last
To open the taps
As well as, perhaps
Support debt Italians amassed

And finally, where it began
The virus, that is, in Wuhan
Two months from their dawn
Restrictions are gone
Defining the lockdown’s lifespan

Markets have a much better tone this morning as traders and investors react to two very important responses to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. The first thing that is getting a positive, albeit delayed, response is the Fed’s enactment of a series of new programs including support for CP, mortgage-backed securities, primary dealers and money market funds as well as embarking on QE Infinity, buying $75 billion of Treasuries and $50 billion of mortgage-backed securities every day this week, and then on into the future. Previous concerns about the size of the Fed’s balance sheet relative to the US economy have been completely dismissed, and you can bet that we will soon see a Fed balance sheet with $10 trillion in assets, nearly 50% as large as the economy. But the announcement, while at first not getting quite the positive impact desired, seems to be filtering through into analysis and is definitely seen in a more positive light this morning than yesterday at this time.

The second piece of news was that not only is Germany going to embark on a €750 billion spending program to help the economy, but, more importantly, they are willing to support Italy via European wide programs like the European Stability Mechanism, and even jointly issued coronaviru bonds, to prevent a further catastrophe there. In truth, that seems to be a bigger deal than the Fed, as the long-term implications are much greater and point to a real chance that the European experiment of integration could eventually work. If they move down the path to jointly issue and support debt available to all members, that is a massive change, and likely a long term positive for the single currency. We have to see if they will actually go forward, but it is the most promising structural comment in Europe in years, perhaps even since the euro was formed.

However, we cannot forget that the current reality remains harsh, and were reminded of such by this morning’s Flash PMI data, which, unsurprisingly, fell to record lows throughout Europe and the UK. Services were hit much harder than Manufacturing with readings of 29.0 in France, 34.5 in Germany, 31.4 in the Eurozone and 35.7 in the UK. Japan also released their data, which was equally dismal at 32.7 for Services PMI there. And they added to the story by releasing Department Store Sales, which fell a healthy 12.2%. Of course, everyone knows that the data is going to be awful for the time being, and since we saw China’s PMI data last month, this was expected. Granted, analysts had penciled in slightly higher numbers, but let’s face it, everybody was simply guessing. Let’s put it this way, we are going to see horrific data for at least the next month, so it will have to be extraordinarily bad to really garner a negative market reaction. This is already built into the price structure. While the US has historically looked far more closely at ISM data, to be released next week, than PMI data, we do see the US numbers later this morning, with forecasts at 42.0 for Services and 43.5 for Manufacturing.

So the data is not the driver today, which has seen a more classic risk-on framework, rather I think it is not only the absorption of the Fed and German actions, but also, perhaps, the news from Wuhan that the restrictions on travel, imposed on January 23, are being lifted, nearly two months to the day after imposition. Arguably, that defines the maximum lockdown period, although yesterday President Trump hinted that the US period will be much shorter, with 14 or 15 days mooted. If that is the case, and I would place the start date as this week, we are looking at heading back to our offices come April 6. If the Fed is successful in preventing financial institution collapse, and Congress finally passes a stimulus bill to address the massive income dislocation that is ongoing, (which they will almost certainly do in the next two days), there is every chance that while Q2 GDP will be hit hard, the panic inducing numbers of -30% GDP growth (Morgan Stanley’s forecast) or -50% GDP growth (St Louis Fed President Bullard’s forecast), will be referred to as the height of the panic. We shall see.

But taking a look at markets this morning, we see the dollar under pressure across the board, with the Norwegian krone today’s champion, rallying 5.4% as a follow on to yesterday’s reversal and ultimate 1.2% gain. But the pound has bounced 2.0% this morning along with SEK and AUD is higher by 1.7%. It is entirely possible that what we are seeing is a relief in the funding markets as the Fed’s actions have made USD available more widely around the world and reduced some of that pressure.

EMG markets are seeing similar strength in their currencies, led by MXN (+2.6%) and HUF (+2.3%), but every currency in both blocs is higher vs. the greenback today. Equity markets are all green as well, with major rallies in Asia (Nikkei +7.1%, Hang Seng +4.5%, Shanghai +2.7%) and Europe (DAX +6.25%, CAC +5.25%, FTSE 100 +4.0%) with US equity futures limit up in all three indices. Bonds, meanwhile, have sold off slightly, with yields higher in both the US and Germany by 2bps. I think given the overall backdrop, bonds are unlikely to sell off sharply anytime soon, especially given the central bank promises to buy unlimited quantities of them.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention gold, which is up 2.5% today and 6.2% since Friday’s close as investors realize that all the money printing and fiscal stimulus is likely to lead to a much different view on inflation, namely that it is going to rise in the future.

Volatility remains the watchword as 5% daily moves in the equity market, even when they are up moves, remain extremely taxing on all trading activities. Market liquidity remains suspect in most markets, with bid-ask spreads still far wider than we’ve come to expect. Forward FX spreads of 5-10 pips for dates under 1 year are not uncommon in the majors, let alone in things like MXN or BRL. Keep that in mind as you prepare for your balance sheet rolling programs later this week.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Has Panic Subsided?

This morning a look at the screen
Shows everything coming up green
Has panic subsided?
Or is it misguided
To think that a bottom’s been seen?

It certainly feels less frightening in markets this morning as assets of all nature, equity, commodity and fixed income, are rallying nicely and the panic buying of dollars seems to have ended for the time being. Of course, this is an interesting outcome if one reads the news, given that virus stories have not only continued apace, but the statistics and government responses are getting more draconian. Arguably, the biggest story is that the entire state of California, with its population of 40 million, has been put on lockdown, with stay-at-home restrictions imposed by the Governor. By itself, California is, famously, the fifth largest economy in the world, just ahead of the UK, so the idea that economic activity there is going to come screeching to a halt cannot be seen as a positive. At least not in the short term. In addition, virus related deaths in Italy have now surpassed those from China, and further personal restrictions are being contemplated by PM Conte in order to get a handle on the situation. Thus, the fact remains that Italy is in dire straits from an economic perspective, again at least in the short term. Yet the FTSE MIB (the main Italian stock market index) is higher by 3.8% as I type this morning.

This all begs the question, why are markets reversing course from what has been several hellacious weeks of price declines? Let’s consider a few possible reasons:

It could be that the combination of expanded central bank and government activity around the world has finally achieved a point where investors believe that apocalyptic scenarios overstate the case.

While this is possible, it seems a bit far-fetched to believe that in the course of 36 hours, investors have suddenly decided to accept all the actions, and there have been many, have done the job.

A recap of the major actions shows:
• ECB creates €750 billion PEPP as additional QE measures
• Fed extends USD swap lines to 9 additional central banks to allow USD liquidity to reach all G10 nations and several more developed EMG nations like South Korea
• Fed creates money market fund liquidity backstop to insure that CP issuance by US corporates is able to continue and companies are able to fund operations
• BOJ added ¥5.3 trillion in liquidity to markets while snapping up ¥201 billion of new ETF’s
• RBA cut rates by 0.25%, added new liquidity to markets and started a QE program to control the 3-year AGB at a rate of 0.25%

There is no question that this is an impressive list of actions put into place in very short order which demonstrates just how seriously governments are taking the Covid-19 outbreak. And this doesn’t include any of the fiscal stimulus packages which either have been enacted or are on the cusp of being so. In fact, a total of 31 central banks around the world have cut rates, added liquidity or started QE programs in the past week in order to stem the tide. (I have to add that the Danish central bank actually raised its base rate by 0.15%, to -0.60%, yesterday morning in a truly shocking move. Apparently there was growing concern that with the ongoing problems in Italy, investors were flocking to DKK from EUR and driving that cross, which the central bank uses as its monetary benchmark, strongly in favor of the krona. In this instance, strongly represents a 3.5 basis point move, which has since been reversed.) And perhaps the market is telling us, they’ve done enough. But I doubt it.

Remember, the problem is not financial at its heart, it is a medical issue and efforts to contain the virus remain only partially effective thus far. The medical news, however, continues to get worse, at least in Europe and the US, as the caseload continues to increase rapidly, as well as the death toll, and governments are imposing stricter and stricter regulations on the population. So along with California’s action, New York has mandated that no more than 25% of a company’s workforce is allowed to work at the office (at SMBC we are below 15%), while New Jersey has closed all personal service businesses, like hair salons, exercise facilities and tattoo parlors. And these are just the most recent ones that I have seen because of where I live and work. I know there are countless measures throughout the US and Europe. And all of those measures inflict significant pain on the economy.

Yesterday’s Initial Claims number jumped to 281K, significantly higher than model forecasts, but just a fraction of what we are likely to see going forward as small service businesses like restaurants and hair salons and so many others are forced to close for now and cannot afford to continue paying their staff. Hence I’ve seen estimates that we could see those numbers jump as high as 2 million! So while it is not an economic or financial condition at its heart, it is certainly having that impact.

A second thought, one which I think has more substance to it is that during the past three weeks we have seen a substantial amount of position liquidation by highly leveraged fund managers who were forced to sell assets (or cover shorts) at ANY price due to margin calls. The only way to get market movements of 5%-10% or more is to have market participants be price insensitive. In other words, sales (short covers) were mandated, not by choice. However, once those positions are closed, and the evidence is that most have been so, markets revert to price discovery in the normal fashion, with buyers and sellers putting their money to work based on views of the asset. So while there is still significant trepidation by investors, my gut tells me that we have seen the worst of the financial market activity and volatility. It will still be quite a while before things truly settle down, and there is every chance that as the economic data comes over the next weeks and months and shows just how badly things were impacted, we will see sharp market downdrafts. So I am not calling a bottom per se, but think that going forward it will be less dramatic than we have seen during the first three weeks of March.

A quick recap of this morning’s markets shows equity markets around the world higher, with many substantially so (CAC +5.1%, DAX +4.2%, Hang Seng +5.0%); government bond markets also rallying nicely with yields almost everywhere falling (Treasuries -14bps, Gilts -14bps, Bunds -9bps); commodity prices rallying virtually across the board (WTI +2.4%,Copper +1.7%, Gold +2.3%); and finally, the dollar selling off virtually universally, with some of the worst recent performers regaining the most. So KRW (+3.0%), AUD (+2.6%) and GBP (+2.3%) are all unwinding some of the excess movement we saw in the past weeks. If I am correct and the worst has passed, I expect the dollar will cede more of its recent gains. However, given my timeline of May, I expect it will be another month before we see that in any material way. So, if you are a payables hedger, these are likely to be some of the best opportunities you are going to see for quite a while. Don’t miss out!

Good luck, good weekend and please all stay safe and socially distant
Adf

All the PIGS in Her Fief

Said Madame Lagarde, ‘Well I guess
Things really are in quite a mess’
And so up we’ll step
To introduce PEPP
As we try to deal with the stress

The market’s response was relief
That Europe’s new central bank chief
Has realized at last
The time is long past
To help all the PIGS in her fief

Another day, another bunch of new programs! First, though, a quick observation about the overall situation right now. There is no panic in the streets (after all the streets are mostly empty due to shelter-in-home and self-quarantining) but there is panic in… Washington DC, London, Bonn, Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid, etc. And that panic emanates from the fact that all those elected politicians are facing the biggest crisis of all…they might not get reelected because of Covid-19. I believe it is the belated realization that their jobs are on the line that has seen a significant acceleration in the number of new programs being proposed and introduced around the world.

Central banks, which had borne the brunt of the heavy lifting, are starting to get help from fiscal policy actions, but those central banks are still on the front lines. To wit, in an unprecedented intermeeting action, last night the ECB unveiled a new QE program called the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program (PEPP) which will authorize the purchase of €750 billion of public and private assets for the rest of the year, or longer if deemed necessary. This time they are including Greek government bonds, which the ongoing QE program would not touch due to the credit rating, they are ignoring the capital key, which means they can purchase far more Italian debt than Italy’s share of the Eurozone economy would dictate, and they are expanding the corporate purchases to non-financial CP. And the market liked what they heard with European government bonds rallying sharply pushing 10-year benchmark yields down by 47bps in Portugal, 71bps in Italy, 167bps in Greece and 45bps in Spain. Equity markets in Europe have stopped collapsing, but we still see pressure in Germany and the UK, while the PIGS are all higher. One other thing about Germany was the release of the IFO Expectations Index which fell to 82.0, its lowest point since the financial crisis in 2008. Certainly short-term prospects seem dire there.

And what about the euro you may ask? Well, it continues to slide, down 1.0% this morning, but is actually about middle of the pack in the G10. If you want to see real carnage, look no further than Norway, where the krone has fallen another 2.75% as I type, but that is only after it had been lower by nearly 7.5% at 6:00 this morning, which forced a response from the Norgesbank that they would be intervening if things got worse. Looking over price action during the past month, when oil prices collapsed from $53.78 to as low as $20.06 (currently $22.88), which has been a 57% decline, the worst performing currencies have been; MXN (-23.8%), RUB (-21.2%), NOK (-19.7%) and COP (-17.3%). Two caveats on this list are Norway was down much further earlier this morning, and Colombia hasn’t opened yet today, so has room for a further decline. The only positive I can take from this is that the correlation between the currencies of oil producers and the price of oil remains intact. At least we know what to expect!

But there was plenty of other activity as well. For instance, the RBA cut rates again, by 25bps, taking their base rate to a historic low of 0.25%. In addition they have implemented their first QE plan where they are targeting the yield on 3-year AGB’s at 0.25%. The problem is that the 10-year bond got hammered on the news with yields there jumping 23bps overnight, taking the move since Monday to 57bps. Look for the RBA to do more, and probably soon. And the Aussie dog dollar? Down a further 1% this morning, which takes the decline in the past month to 14.3% and it is now trading at levels not seen since 2003.

And let’s not forget South Korea, which is stepping into the market to buy KRW 1.5 trillion (~$1.1 billion) of government bonds, as it prepares both bond and stock stabilization funds to help support markets there. In other words, the government is going to be buying equities to stop the slide. The KRW response? -3.2%!

Japan would not be left out of this parade, buying a new record ¥201.6 billion of ETF’s last night while injecting ¥5.3 trillion yen in new liquidity to the money markets. Unfortunately, the Nikkei continued its decline, although fell only 1.0%, arguably an improvement over recent performance. The yen has no haven characteristics this morning, falling 1.50%, which is actually now the worst performing currency as NOK continues to rebound as I type on the back of Norgesbank activity.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Fed has unveiled yet another program, this time to backstop money market funds, a key part of the US financial plumbing system, and one that when it broke in 2008 after Lehman’s bankruptcy, resulted in financial markets seizing up entirely. The fund is there to make liquidity available to funds to meet increased redemptions without having to sell their holdings. Instead, they will pledge them as collateral and receive cash from the Fed.

This note is too short to go through every action taken, but we continue to see other central bank rate cuts and we continue to see fiscal packages starting to get enacted. In fact, President Trump signed into law the latest yesterday, to support paid sick leave and increased unemployment benefits, and now Congress turns to the MOAS (mother of all stimuli) packages which may include helicopter money as well as bailouts of airlines and hospitality businesses that have been decimated by the virus response. Mooted price tag…$1.3 trillion, but my bet is it winds up larger than that.

Meanwhile, the dollar remains the single place to be. It has rallied against everything yet again as holding cash is seen as the only response to the current situation. And the cash everyone wants to hold is green. Foreign borrowers are scrambling and struggling as their local currencies collapse and swap spreads blow out. And domestic borrowers are wondering how they are going to repay or roll over their debt given the absolute collapse in economic activity.

For now, this is likely to continue to be the situation, as there is no obvious end in site. However, the growing sense of urgency in those national capitals leads me to believe that we are going to start to see much bigger fiscal packages and a newfound belief that printing money and giving it out is a better solution than allowing economic activity to seize up completely. As I said last week, the MMT proponents have won the day. It has just not yet been made explicit.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Still Aren’t Buying

The market continues to fear
The virus, as it’s become clear
Whatever they try
Recession is nigh
And coming worldwide late this year

But Jay and his friends keep on trying
To help us all so they’re supplying
A hundred beep cut
Which might aid somewhat
Investors, though, still aren’t buying

It is getting hard to keep up with all the policy actions being undertaken by the world’s central banks and governments as every nation tries to address the Covid-19 outbreak. By now, I am sure you are all aware that the Fed, in an unprecedented Sunday night move, cut the Fed funds rate by 100bps, back to the zero bound. But here is what else they did:

• They committed to QE4, which involves purchasing $500 billion in Treasury coupon bonds as well as $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities.
• They cut the interest rate at the discount window to 0.25% and will allow borrowings there for up to 90 days (it had been an overnight facility prior to this).
• And perhaps the most interesting thing, they cut bank reserve requirements to 0.0%, essentially allowing infinite leverage for banks to encourage them to lend.
• Finally, they reinstituted USD swap lines with other major central banks around the world to help everyone else get access to USD liquidity.

The Bank of Japan, meanwhile, pulled their monthly meeting forward to last night so they could act in concert with the rest of the world. With interest rates already negative, they did not touch those, but doubled their target for ETF and corporate bond purchases to ¥12 trillion and they introduced a new zero-rate lending program to help businesses hit by the pandemic. Kuroda-san also made clear there was more they can do if necessary.

The PBOC in a somewhat lukewarm response offered 100 billion yuan of liquidity via the medium-term lending facility at an unchanged rate of 3.15%. Given they are one of the few central banks with room to cut rates, that was somewhat of a surprise. It was also surprising given just how incredibly awful the economic data releases were last night:

Retail Sales -20.5%
Industrial Production -13.5%
Fixed Asset Investment -24.5%
Unemployment Rate 6.2%

The RBNZ cut its base rate by 0.75%, taking it down to 0.25%, and promised to maintain that rate for at least 12 months. They also indicated they would be starting QE if they needed to do anything else. (And to think, New Zealand historically had been considered a ‘high-yielder’!)

The Bank of Korea cut its base rate by 0.50%, taking it to 0.75% in an unscheduled emergency meeting. Analysts are looking for another 50bps at their regular meeting on April 9.

The RBA offered further liquidity injections via repurchase agreements (repos) extending their tenor and indicated it “stands ready” to purchase government bonds (i.e. start QE) with further announcements due Wednesday.

In addition, we saw the Philippines, Hong Kong, Turkey and Sri Lanka act last night. This is clearly a global effort, but one that has not yet gained traction amid the investment community.

Speaking of the investment community, equity markets worldwide are getting crushed, with Asia falling sharply and Europe in even worse shape, as all markets are down at least 6%. Meanwhile, US equity futures are limit down at -5.0% after Friday’s remarkable late day short-covering rally. Again, the only constant here is that volatility is extremely elevated!

Treasury yields have fallen sharply again, down 20bps as I type, but were lower earlier. Interestingly, other than Treasuries, Bunds and Gilts, the rest of the government bond markets have lost their appeal to investors. Instead, we are seeing them sold off alongside equity markets with French yields higher by 4bps, Italian yields +16bps and Greek yields +26bps. In fact, pretty much every other country is seeing yields rise today. I think part of this is the fact that as equity markets decline and margin calls come in, investors must sell the only thing that has any liquidity, and that is government bonds. This behavior could go on for a while.

And lastly, turning to the dollar, it is a mixed picture this morning. The haven currencies, JPY (+1.6%) and CHF (+0.7%) are doing what they are supposed to. The euro, too, has rallied a bit, up 0.5% in what arguably is a response to the dramatically lower US interest rate picture. But NZD and NOK are both lower by 1.5%, the former on the back of its surprise central bank actions while the krone is suffering because oil has collapsed 5.6% this morning amid the ongoing oil war. CAD and AUD, the other G10 commodity currencies are also under pressure, down 0.8% and 0.5% respectively.

Turning to the EMG space, the bright spot is Central Europe, which has seen gains in PLN, RON and BGN. But otherwise, these currencies are under pressure again, some more extreme than others. RUB is the leading decliner, -2.9%, along with oil’s decline, and MXN is also getting hammered, -2.6%. ZAR (-2.4%) and CZK (-1.8%) are the next in line, but basically all APAC currencies have suffered by at least 0.5%, and one can only imagine what will happen to LATAM when it opens. It is not likely to be pretty.

We do see some data this week, but it is not clear how important it will be. Arguably, these will be the last data points prior to the onset of the epidemic.

Today Empire Manufacturing 4.9
Tuesday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.1%
  IP 0.4%
  Capacity Utilization 77.1%
  JOLT’s Job Openings 6.401M
Wednesday Housing Starts 1502K
  Building Permits 1500K
Thursday Initial Claims 219K
  Philly Fed 10.0
  Leading Indicators 0.1%
Friday Existing Home Sales 5.50M

Source: Bloomberg

At this point, the Fed has canceled their meeting this week, having acted yesterday, which means that we will be able to hear from Fed speakers as they try to massage their message. But the essence of the problem is this is not a financially driven crisis, it is a global health crisis, and all the central banks can do is adjust monetary policy. Fiscal policy adjustments as well as government actions directed at ameliorating the impacts of Covid-19 are much harder, especially in large democratic nations, and so I fear that it will be a number of weeks before things even begin to return to a semblance of normal. Only then will we learn how effective all this monetary policy action will be. In the meantime, I see further declines in equity markets and continued volatility. In fact, the only positive catalyst I could see coming up is the announcement of successful testing of a vaccine for Covid-19, and its immediate production. Alas, nobody knows when that will come.

In the meantime, while bid-ask spreads will be wider, and based on what we have seen in the CDS markets, credit spreads are wider as well, the FX market is still operating, and hedgers should be able to get most everything they need done.

Good luck
Adf

 

Urgent Action

Said Madame Lagarde urgent action
Is needed if we’re to gain traction
In putting a lid
On spreading Covid
Or we’ll have an ‘08 contraction

No sooner were those words reported
Than Governor Carney supported
A 50bp cut
(More than scuttlebutt!)
Thus, hoping recession is thwarted

Another day and another raft of new and important news driving markets. So far this morning, the biggest news has been the BOE’s surprise emergency rate cut of 0.50%, taking the base rate back down to 0.25%, its all-time low first reached during the financial crisis. Governor Carney, in his last official act, as he steps down on Sunday, explained that the idea behind the early cut (after all, the BOE has its regularly scheduled meeting in two weeks) was to show coordination with the government which will be releasing its budget for the new fiscal year later today. In addition, he explained, and was seconded by incoming Governor Andrew Bailey, that the BOE still had plenty of tools available to ease policy further if necessary.

In addition to the rate cut, they also restarted a targeted lending scheme that is designed to support bank lending to SME’s. As I type, we have not yet heard the nature of the budget package, but expectations are for a significant increase in spending focused on the National Health Service and small businesses. The market response has been positive for equities (FTSE 100 +0.8%), although Gilt yields have edged higher by 5bps. In the FX market, the pound’s initial reaction on the rate cut was to fall sharply, more than a penny, but it has since recouped all of that and then some and is currently higher by 0.2%.

Turning to Europe, Madame Lagarde led a conference call of EU leaders this morning and explained that if they don’t respond quickly and aggressively, the situation could devolve into the same type of financial crisis that the 2008 mortgage and credit crisis engendered with an equally deep recession. At the same time, Italian PM Conte is trying to get the rest of the EU to allow him to break the spending limits in order to rescue his country. With the entire nation on lockdown, economic activity is screeching grinding to a halt and the impact on individuals, who will not be able to get paid and therefore pay their bills, as well as small companies will be devastating. But remarkably, the EU has not yet endorsed the package, which is set to be as much as €25 billion. In the end, there is no question the package will be implemented even if the Germans are dragged along kicking and screaming. Italian stocks rallied on the announcement, +0.9%, while Italian BTP’s (their treasury bonds) rallied sharply with yields falling 16bps. The euro has also benefitted this morning, currently higher by 0.4%, although I think a lot of that is simply a rebound from yesterday’s sharp decline. After all, the single currency fell 1.5% yesterday.

Turning to the dollar itself, broadly speaking it is weaker overall, albeit not universally so. Versus its G10 counterparts, the dollar is on the back foot, which seems to reflect the fact that we are hearing of every other G10 country taking concrete action to fight Covid-19, while the US remains a little behind the curve. The $8 billion package passed last week is small beer in this economy, but the administration’s calls for a reduction in payroll taxes and federally supported sick leave pay has fallen on deaf ears in Congress. With Congress due to go on a one-week recess starting Thursday, it is hard to believe they will come up with something before they leave. This policy uncertainty is weighing on US assets with equity futures pointing lower as I type, on the order of 1.7%, and Treasuries rallying again with the 10-year yield falling by 10bps.

At this point, all eyes are on the Fed with market expectations still fully baked in for a 50bp rate cut one week from today. What is interesting is the number of pundits who are pointing to a speech given last summer by NY Fed President Williams, where he highlighted research showing that when policy space is limited (i.e. rates are already low), a central bank should be more aggressive to get an impact from their actions, rather than trying to hold onto what limited ammunition they have left. This has a number of economists around Wall Street calling for a 1.00% rate cut next week by the Fed, which would truly be a shock and awe move, at least initially. The problem for the Fed is that they don’t have the structure to create targeted lending facilities the way other central banks do, and they can only buy securities issued or guaranteed by the US government, so Treasuries and mortgages. While that law can be changed, it will not be done either quickly or without controversy. In other words, the Fed may find it has a more limited toolkit than they need in the short run. At this point, a 0.50% cut to Fed funds next week will not do very much, but more than that is likely to have a big market impact. In fact, I’m leaning toward the idea that they cut 1.00% next week to see if they can get a positive response and force the government to step up.

In the EMG bloc, only ZAR (-0.7%) and MXN (-0.65%) are under any real pressure this morning as both feel the weight of sinking commodity prices. While some others here are soft, the moves are modest (RUB -0.3%). On the positive side, INR is the leader, rising 0.7% in a catch-up move as the country was on holiday yesterday during the rally by other Asian currencies.

But as we look ahead to today, unless we get new news from the US administration, my sense is the dollar will remain under pressure overall. There is data upcoming as CPI will print at 8:30 (exp 2.2%, 2.3% core), but I don’t think anybody is paying attention. The market is still completely driven by comments and official actions, with longer term views sidelined.

Good luck
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All Stay at Home

While yesterday was, for most, scary
It seems the moves were temporary
This morning we’ve seen
Our screens filled with green
On hopes of response monetary

Meanwhile, as the virus expands
And spreads across multiple lands
The word out of Rome
Is, ‘all stay at home’
And please don’t go round shaking hands!

What a difference a day makes! After what was a total obliteration of risk on Monday, this morning we have seen equity markets around the world rebound sharply as well as haven assets lose some of their luster. While net, risk assets are still lower than before the oil war broke out, there is a palpable sense of relief in trading rooms around the world.

But is anything really different? Arguably, the big difference this morning is that we have begun to hear from governments around the world about how they are planning to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic epidemic, and more importantly, that they actually do have a response. The most dramatic response is arguably from Italy, where the government has locked down the entire nation. Schools and businesses are closed and travel within as well as in and out of the country is banned save for a dire emergency. Given how badly hit Italy has been hit by Covid, nearly 500 deaths from more than 9,000 cases, and the fact that the case load is increasing, this should be no surprise. At the same time, given the demographics in Italy, only Germany and Japan have older populations, and given the fact that the virus is particularly fatal for elderly people, things are likely to continue to get worse before they get better. I have seen two different descriptions of how dire the situation is there, with both calling the health infrastructure completely overwhelmed. Look for Germany to impose more restrictions later this week as well, given the growing spread of the virus there.

But from a market perspective, what is truly turning things around is the discussion of combined monetary and fiscal response that is making the rounds. Last night President Trump explained the administration was considering payroll tax cuts as well as direct subsidies to hourly workers via increased support for paid sick leave. In addition, the market is certain the Fed will cut at least 50bps next week, and still essentially pricing in 75bps. So, the twin barrels of monetary and fiscal policy should go a long way to helping regain confidence. Of course, neither of these things will solve the problems in the oil patch as shale drillers find themselves under extraordinary financial pressure with oil prices still around $34/bbl. While that is a 10% rebound from yesterday, most of the shale drillers need oil to be near $45-$50/bbl to make a living. But there is very little the government can do about that right now.

And we are hearing about pending support from other governments as well, with the UK, France and Japan all preparing or announcing new measures. However, as long as the virus remains as contagious as it is, all these measures are merely stop-gaps. Lockdowns have serious longer-term consequences and there will be significant lost output that is permanently gone. Recession this year seems a highly likely event in many, if not most, G10 countries, so be prepared.

And with that as a start, let’s take a look around the markets. As I mentioned, equities rebounded in Asia (Nikkei +0.85%, Hang Seng +1.4%, Shanghai +1.8%) and are much higher in Europe (DAX +3.6%, CAC +4.4%, FTSE 100 +4.2%). Of course, that was after significantly larger declines yesterday. US futures are sharply higher as I type, with all three indices more than 4% higher at this time. Meanwhile, bond markets are seeing the opposite price action with 10-year Treasury yields rebounding to 0.71% after touching a low of 0.31% yesterday. Bunds have also rebounded 12bps to -0.74%, and more importantly, both Italian and Greek bonds have rallied (yields falling) sharply. Make no mistake, the bonds of those two nations are not considered havens in any language.

In the FX market, yesterday saw, by far, the most volatile trading we have experienced since the financial crisis in 2008-09. And this morning, along with other markets, much of that is reversing. So we are looking at the yen falling 2.4% this morning, by far the worst performer in the G10, but also seeing weakness in the euro (-0.85%), pound Sterling (-0.7%) and Swiss franc (-0.85%). On the plus side, NOK is higher by 1.05% and CAD has regained a much less impressive 0.35%.

Emerging markets have also seen significant reversals with MXN, yesterday’s worst performer, rebounding 1.8%, ZAR +1.65% and KRW +0.95%. On the downside, RUB is today’s loser extraordinaire, falling 3.5% after Saudi Aramco said they would increase production to a more than expected 12.3 million bbls/day. But the CE4 currencies, which rallied with the euro yesterday, are all softer this morning by roughly 0.8%.

The one thing that seems clear is that volatility remains the base case for now, and although market implied volatilities have fallen today, they remain far higher than we had seen just a week ago. I think there will also be far more market liquidity to be involved in this market as well.

On the data front, the NFIB Small Business Optimism report has already been released at 104.5, rising from last month and far better than expected. Now this survey covers February which means that there had to be at least some virus impact. With that in mind, the result is even more impressive. The thing is that right now, data is just not a market driver, so the FX markets have largely ignored this along with every other release.

Looking ahead to today’s session, the reversal of yesterday’s moves is clearly in place and unless we suddenly get new information that the virus is more widespread, or that there is pushback on support packages and they won’t be forthcoming, I expect this morning’s moves to continue a bit further.

Longer term, we remain dependent on the spread of Covid-19 and government responses as the key driver. After all, the oil news seems pretty fully priced in for now.

Good luck
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