Dashing Hopes

Said Trump when he landed in London
Your Brexit deal needs to be undone
Because as it stands
We’ll never shake hands
On trade, dashing hopes ere they’ve begun

On Thursday, PM Theresa May has had yet another trying day. President Trump came to town and wasted no time skewering her recently outlined Brexit framework indicating that if the UK heads down her preferred road (you remember, trade in goods to remain within the EU umbrella, but services to be wide open) that the US would not be able to sign a free trade deal. Trump’s point, albeit indelicately made, is that a comprehensive trade deal with the UK will be impossible because the EU will be involved. And, as you may remember, Trump has several issues with the way the EU approaches trade. This was a terrible blow to May because she has clearly been counting on a deal with the US to help offset the changed status with the EU.

It should be no surprise that the pound did not take the news well and as I type, it is lower by 0.6% today and 1.7% this week. And this is despite the fact that Governor Carney virtually promised to raise rates at next month’s BOE meeting. We are still a long way from any resolution on the Brexit situation, and I continue to believe that uncertainty over the outcome will weigh on Pound Sterling. The pound remains some 12.5% below its levels prior to the Brexit vote two years ago. While it is still well clear of the lows seen at the beginning of last year (1.2000 or so) given my belief that there will be no Brexit deal signed, I expect that the market will return to those lows over time. Higher rates or not, confidence in the UK right now is somewhat lacking.

The other big news overnight was the Chinese data releases that showed that the trade surplus rose sharply to $41.6 billion with the US portion rising to a record $29 billion. This may be a timing issue with many companies anxiously shipping product ahead of the imposition of tariffs. But it also could simply reflect that the Chinese economy is slowing down, thus import growth is ebbing, while the US economy continues to power ahead and lead the global economy. In the end, I am certain that the Trump administration will look at these numbers and feel further justification in their stance on trade.

But on top of the trade data, Chinese Money Supply growth continues to ebb, a sign that economic activity on the mainland is slowing. Other indications of a Chinese slowdown are that the government’s campaign to reduce excess leverage seems to have gone into reverse. There have been several stories about how Beijing is now looking for local governments to insure they spend allocated money rather than worry about cutting back on new allocations. It seems that there is a growing fear that real GDP growth (not necessarily what is reported) is slipping more quickly than President Xi is prepared to accept. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the renminbi is under further pressure this morning, down 0.45%, and is now trading back at levels not seen since last August. And it has further to fall. I expect that we will be testing 7.00 before the year is over.

One last noteworthy item was yesterday’s CPI release, where headline CPI printed at 2.9%, its highest since 2012, and the ex food & energy number printed at 2.3%. What this tells us is that wage gains are barely keeping up with inflation, and so consumers are not really benefitting from the recent modest uptick we have seen there. We heard from both Chairman Powell and Philly President Harker yesterday and both indicated they were comfortable with the Fed’s current trajectory. Both also indicated that while the trade situation has not yet impacted the economy in any meaningful way, they could foresee how that might come about and cause the Fed to rethink their strategy. As of now, I remain in the four hikes this year camp, and will need to see a substantial change to the economic data to change that view.

Turning to the overnight FX performance, the dollar has continued its recent uptrend, rising against almost all its counterparts in both the G10 and the EMG. In fact, the dollar has risen every day this week, completely unwinding last week’s decline. There was a modest amount of data from the Eurozone, all pointing to the ongoing lack of inflation in the region, which continues to undermine the ECB’s case to normalize policy quickly. We also continue to see issues throughout emerging markets with TRY, for example, plummeting 6% this week as the market responds to President Erdogan’s cabinet moves. Remember, he installed his son-in-law as FinMin and ousted all the market friendly ministers in the cabinet. As I have written before, this currency has much further to fall.

Meanwhile, US equity markets continue to power ahead, well at least the big tech names continue to do so and that has been sufficient to drive the averages higher overall. However, market breadth continues to narrow which is always an ominous trend. Treasury yields have been stable in the 10-year space, but the 2-year continues to march higher and that spread is down to 26bps, edging ever closer to inversion. While I believe that the signaling effect this time is not quite the same due to the massive distortions in bond markets brought about by QE, I am in a minority view there.

In the end, the big trends remain intact, which means to me that the dollar is going to continue its march higher. Hedgers keep that in mind as you start to think about your 2019 hedging needs.

Today’s only data is Michigan Sentiment (exp 98.2) and then we hear from Atlanta Fed President Rafael Bostic. But given what we just heard from Harker and Powell (and Brainerd and Williams earlier in the week), there is no indication that the Fed is going to change its tune in the near future. The trend is your friend, and right now that trend is for the dollar to continue to rally.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

The Fed’s Fallen Short

This morning’s inflation report
Ought show that the Fed’s fallen short
In holding down prices
And so my advice is
It’s time, those short dollars, abort

Yesterday’s session was dominated by two key themes; the suddenly increased trade tensions after the announcement of a new list of $200 billion of Chinese tariff targets, and the sharp decline in oil prices (WTI – 5.0%) after Libya declared the end of force majeure with respect to shipments from its eastern port. The oil price decline, which occurred despite a surprisingly large drawdown of US inventories, was in sync with other commodity prices, notably copper which fell 2.5% and is now down more than 16% in the past month. Copper is generally seen as an important harbinger of future economic growth given its widespread use throughout different industries, and so falling demand for copper often leads to slower economic growth. And yet, despite the declining commodity price environment, yesterday’s PPI data (3.4% Y/Y) was the strongest in more than six years while expectations for today’s CPI are similarly elevated with consensus views looking for 0.2% monthly increases in both headline and core data which translates into 2.8% headline and 2.3% core on a Y/Y basis.

If those expectations are met, the Fed will certainly continue its hiking cycle, which ought to continue to support the dollar going forward. The other key dollar support has been risk aversion, which is where the trade story comes into play. As long as trade tensions remain front-page news, investors are likely to remain skittish which means they will be reducing risk and looking for safe places to invest. US Treasuries remain the global safe haven of choice, and so both Treasuries and the dollar should continue to benefit from this situation.

Yesterday I mentioned that there had been no indication that there were background talks ongoing between the US and China regarding trade, something I found surprising given the situation. However, this morning there is a story that such talks are, in fact, proceeding which implies to me that there will be some type of solution that arrives before the next round of tariffs are in place. Look for concessions on both sides as well as comments highlighting the strength of the Sino-US relationship, especially with regard to North Korea. At least that’s my view. But it will be several months before anything comes to fruition, and so we are likely to be subject to further volatility on the subject.

One of the impacts of the China trade story was yesterday’s very sharp decline in the renminbi (-1.1%), which resulted in the currency falling to its weakest level since last August. Some pundits see this as an attempt to adjust for the recent tariff impositions by the US, but a case can be made that since the dollar was so strong overall yesterday, (USDX +0.65%), the CNY move was not really out of character. And this morning, the renminbi has already retraced half of that movement, so I am inclined to give the Chinese the benefit of the doubt here and accept the broad dollar strength thesis. In fact, one of the things that continues to haunt the PBOC is their mini devaluation in 2015, which triggered significant capital outflows and forced the imposition of very strict capital controls in China. Regardless of the trade situation, I assure you the Chinese will do all they can to prevent a repeat of that outcome. However, steady depreciation of the renminbi going forward remains my base case.

Otherwise, in G10 space the Bank of Canada raised rates by 25bps, as expected, which helped the Loonie temporarily, but in the end, it seems that weaker oil prices overwhelmed the rate hike and CAD fell 0.75% on the day. However, the BOC continues to sound upbeat on the economy for now and is positioned to continue to track the Fed’s policy for the next year or two.

From the UK, this morning, we received PM May’s latest Brexit position paper which is seeking to have the UK track EU goods regulations, but simultaneously looking for the UK to go completely its own way regarding services and seek trade agreements around the world on that basis. While it is an interesting idea, and one with merit given that services represent ~80% of the UK economy, with less than nine months before the Brexit date, it feels like they may not be able to complete much of the process in time. However, the BOE appears completely ready to raise rates next month with the market pricing an 80% probability of the event and Governor Carney commenting that growth in the UK continues to perform as the BOE expected in its rebound from Q1. The pound, however, has added a small 0.1% decline this morning to yesterday’s 0.5% slide.

Beyond these stories, nothing of note to the FX markets has really been evident. Given the strength of yesterday’s dollar move, it would be no real surprise if there was a small retracement, but in fact, I have a feeling that we are going to see high side surprises in the CPI data which will only serve to increase Fed expectations and support the dollar. So my money is on the dollar continuing its strengthening trend of the week and closing yet higher today.

Good luck
Adf

Lighthearted

At this point one must be impressed
Investors have not become stressed
A trade war has started
Yet they are lighthearted
With willingness still to invest

On top of that word from the Fed
Is they will keep pushing ahead
With rate hikes until
Our growth starts to chill
Or when markets start to bleed red

There has certainly been a lot to digest in the past twenty-four hours. Arguably the biggest story is the imposition of tariffs by the US on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods, which began at midnight last night. China is responding in kind and the Trump administration is determining whether they want to up the ante by an additional $200 billion. Now that the trade war is ‘officially’ underway, the key questions are just how far it will go and how long it will last. While there has been nothing in the press indicating that background negotiations are ongoing and that things can be resolved soon, based on the US equity market’s insouciance, it certainly seems that many investors feel that is the case. I hope they are correct, and soon, because otherwise I expect that we will see a more substantial correction in stocks. As to the dollar in this case, I expect that it will continue to benefit from its safe haven status in a time of market turmoil.

A second fear for equity investors has to be the Fed, which explained in yesterday’s release of the June meeting minutes, that while the trade situation could well become a concern in the future, for now they are much more focused on the potential for the US economy to overheat. The upshot is that the Fed is bound and determined to continue normalizing policy by gradually raising rates and by allowing the balance sheet to continue to gradually shrink. Speaking of the balance sheet, starting this month, they are going to allow $40 billion per month to roll off, and then beginning in October, it will be $50 billion per month until they reach whatever size they determine is appropriate. That means that $270 billion of bids for Treasury’s are going missing for the rest of the year. As the Fed continues to drain liquidity from the economy, I expect that the dollar will continue to benefit across the board, and that the US equity market will face additional headwinds. After all, QE was effective in its goal of forcing investors further out the risk curve and driving equity prices around the world higher as central banks everywhere hoovered up government bonds. Well, with yields rising and central banks backing away from the market (all while equity prices remain robustly valued) it seems there is ample opportunity for a substantial correction in stocks.

You may have noticed I said exactly the same thing when discussing the trade war situation. My point is that we are starting to see multiple catalysts align for a potential change in tone. A higher dollar and lower US (and likely global) equity prices seem like an increasingly possible outcome. Be prepared.

This leaves us at our third big story for the day, the payroll report this morning. Yesterday’s ADP Employment number was a mild disappointment, rising 177K rather than the 190K expected, but the reason appeared to be a lack of available workers rather than a lack of demand for hiring. In other words, the labor market in the US remains extremely strong. Or so it seems. Here are this morning’s expectations:

Nonfarm Payrolls 195K
Private Payrolls 190K
Manufacturing Payrolls 18K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (2.8% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
Trade Balance -$43.7B

It strikes me that this is a potential third catalyst that will line up with the trade war and Fed story in that a strong print today will encourage the Fed to continue or even accelerate their activities; it will encourage the administration that they can outlast the Chinese in this war of attrition, and so the dollar is likely to firm up while equity markets suffer. In the event payrolls disappoint, I think we could see the dollar’s modest correction lower continue and I expect that equity markets will be fine, at least in the US.

Remarkably, I don’t have space to more fully discuss what appears to be a euro positive, where Chancellor Merkel has averted disaster in Germany by getting the third coalition partner, the SPD, to agree to her immigration reforms thus keeping her government intact. As long as this internal truce lasts, there should be no further impact on the euro, but if the problem arises again (and I’m pretty sure it will soon) the euro is likely to suffer. At the same time, the pound is on tenterhooks as PM May is meeting with her cabinet today to finalize a negotiating stance regarding Brexit. If she cannot get the cabinet to agree, I expect the pound will feel the heat as concern over the fall of the May government will rise and an election campaign just nine months before the deadline for leaving the EU cannot be seen as a positive, especially with the chance that Jeremy Corbyn, the far-left Labour Party leader could become the next PM. Investors will not appreciate him in that seat, at least not at first.

As to the overnight session, the dollar is slightly softer and equity markets are under modest pressure, including US futures, as the market awaits the labor situation report. Remember, too, that many trading desks remain lightly staffed because of the holiday, and so liquidity is going to be a bit less robust than normal. If pressed my thought is that NFP will print near consensus, around 200K. I just wonder if the Unemployment Rate doesn’t tick even lower. And keep an eye on AHE, where my gut tells me it will be 0.4% enough to get Fed tongues wagging again. Net, I like the dollar to end the week on a strong note.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf