A Half Point’s Preferred

Said Williams, the Fed must be swift
When acting if growth is adrift
The market inferred
A half point’s preferred
Which gave all stock markets a lift

If there was any doubt that markets are still entirely beholden to the Fed, they should have been removed after yesterday’s price action. First, recall that a number of emerging market central banks cut interest rates, some in a complete market surprise (South Korea), while others were anticipated (Indonesia, South Africa, Ukraine) and yet all of those currencies strengthened on the day. It is always curious to me when a situation like that occurs, as it forces a deeper investigation as to the market drivers. But this investigation was pretty short as all the evidence pointed in one direction; the Fed. Yesterday afternoon, NY Fed President John Williams gave an, ostensibly, academic speech about how central banks should respond to economic weakness and highlighted that they should act quickly and aggressively in such cases. Notably, he said, “take swift action when faced with adverse economic conditions” and “keep interest rates lower for longer.” The market interpretation of those comments was an increased expectation for a 50bp rate cut by the Fed at the end of the month. Stocks reversed early losses, bonds rallied, with yields falling 4bps and the dollar fell as much as 0.5%. While a spokesperson for the NY Fed made a statement later trying to explain that Williams’ speech was not about policy, just academic research, the market remained convinced that 50bps is coming to a screen near you on July 31! We shall see.

The problem with the 50bp theme is that the economic data of late has actually been generally, although not universally, better than expected. Consider that last week, both core CPI (2.1%) and PPI (2.3%) printed a tick higher than expectations; Retail Sales were substantially stronger at 0.4% vs. the 0.1% expected; and both the Empire State and Philly Fed indices printed stronger than expected at 4.3 and 21.8 respectively. Also, the jobs report at the beginning of the month was much stronger than expected. Of course, there have been negatives as well, with IP (0.0%), Housing Starts (-0.9%) and Building Permits (-6.1%) all underperforming. In addition, we cannot forget the situation elsewhere in the world, where China printed Q2 GDP at 6.2%, its lowest print in the 27 years they have been releasing quarterly data, while Eurozone data continues to suffer as well. The implication is that if you assume there is a case for a rate cut at all, the case for a 50bp rate cut relies on much thinner gruel.

At this point, even if we continue to see stronger than expected US data, I believe that Powell and company are locked into a rate cut. Given that futures markets have fully priced that in, as well as the fact that the equity markets are unquestionably counting on that cut, disappointment would serve to truly disrupt markets, potentially impinging on financial conditions and certainly draw the ire of the White House. None of these consequences seem worthwhile for the potential benefit of leaving 25bps of dry powder in the magazine. Add to this the fact that we have heard from several Fed members; Bostic, Kaplan and George, none of whom are enthused about a rate cut at all. Now, of those three, only Esther George is a current voter, but one dissenting vote will not be enough to sway a clearly dovish FOMC. Add it all up and I think we see 25bps when the dust settles. Of course, if that’s the case, it is entirely realistic to see equity prices ‘sell the news’ unless Powell is hyper dovish in the press conference.

And in truth, that is the entire story today. Virtually every story in the financial press focuses on rate cuts, whether the question about the Fed, or the discussion of all the other central banks that have already acted. There is an ongoing argument about whether the ECB actually cuts rates next week, or if they simply prepare the market for a cut in September and the reinstitution of QE in January. Most analysts are opting for the latter, believing that Signor Draghi will wait and see, but if they know they are going to cut, why wait? I think there is a much better chance of immediate action than is being priced into the market.

On the Brexit front, the voting by Tory members continues, and by all accounts, Boris is still in the lead and due to be the next PM. That will continue to pressure the pound, as unless there is further movement by the EU, the chances of a no-deal Brexit will continue to rise. In fact, next week will be quite momentous as we hear from the ECB and get the UK voting results on Thursday.

Away from these stories, most things fall into the background. For example, China Minsheng Group, a major Chinese conglomerate, is defaulting on a $500 million bond repayment due in August. Clearly, this is not a positive event, but more importantly speaks to two specific issues, the lack of US dollar liquidity available in emerging markets as well as the true nature of the slowdown in the Chinese economy. This will be used as further ammunition for the camp that believes the Chinese significantly overstate their economic data.

Turning to this morning’s activity, the only data point is the Michigan Sentiment data (exp 98.5) and we get one more Fed speech, from uber-dove James Bullard. The dollar is stronger today, after yesterday’s afternoon selloff, having risen 0.35% vs. the euro and with gains also against the yen (0.3%), Aussie (0.25%) and most emerging market currencies (MXN 0.3%, ZAR 0.6%, CNY 0.1%). My sense is that yesterday afternoon’s price action was a bit overdone on the dollar, and so we will see more of that unwound ahead of the weekend. Look for modest further USD strength.

Good luck and good weekend
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Could Not Be Severer

For two years the EU played rough
On Brexit and called every bluff
They forced the UK
To see it their way
And every pushback they’d rebuff

But now that the date’s drawing nearer
And Johnson can’t be any clearer
He’ll walk with no deal
It’s now become real
That Brexit could not be severer

So Barnier finally blinked
Agreeing the Irish were linked
And in a surprise
He talked compromise
Though as yet, no new deal’s been inked

The pound is higher this morning as news that the EU is willing to discuss a compromise for the Irish border has clearly changed the discussion. If you recall, the EU has been adamant that the only deal available is the one that erstwhile PM May negotiated, which includes a section on the Irish border that could easily keep the UK beholden to the EU in perpetuity. Naturally, the Brexiteers were not happy with that outcome and it eventually led to May’s resignation.

The problem for the EU is that Boris Johnson, who is the most likely candidate to become the new PM when results are announced next week, has been abundantly clear that if the EU doesn’t fix the parts of the deal that are controversial, he will take the UK out on October 31 without a deal. And there is no indication he is bluffing. So suddenly the EU has figured out that a no-deal Brexit is a real possibility and that they may no longer have the upper hand. Consider that the UK has already suffered economically during the run-up to the actual exit, while the EU’s suffering has been self-inflicted and not related to Brexit at all. Given the EU’s economy is broadly slowing already, the last thing they need is something like Brexit, which would likely tip the EU into recession if there is no deal. And voila, the EU has finally figured out that they have much to lose in this negotiation.

It should be no surprise that the pound has rallied on the news, although the 0.5% rally is not that impressive. But it’s a start, and if the two sides can come to an agreement on the Irish situation, then there is a real opportunity for the pound to rebound sharply. After all, a smooth Brexit has always been likely to drive the pound back toward 1.40. While it is still way too early to assume that outcome, at least it is back on the table.

The other theme of the overnight session has been central bank rate cuts, with South Korea surprising analysts with a 25bp cut to 1.50% while they lowered forecasts for both growth and inflation for 2019 and 2020. The ongoing trade situation between the US and China is a major headache for the Koreans, and don’t forget they have their own direct trade issue with Japan regarding the Japanese export of key materials for Korean manufacturing. We also saw Indonesia cut rates 25bps, beginning the reversal of the 175bps of rate hikes they implemented in 2018. While growth there remains solid, with inflation falling and forecasts for slowing growth in its key export markets, this was not a great surprise. Analysts are looking for two more cuts this year as well. Interestingly, neither the won nor rupiah weakened on the news, with both currencies firmer by 0.15% when the market closed in Asia time.

And perhaps that is the theme for today, mild dollar weakness despite other nation’s activities. But the operative word is mild. In fact, the pound’s rally, which was also helped by surprisingly robust Retail Sales data, is by far the largest move of the session. Otherwise, in both G10 and EMG spaces, we are seeing some back and forth on the order of 0.10%-0.20%, hardly enough to get excited about.

Clearly, there is much more market discussion on the earnings season as it unfolds in the US. Yesterday’s big news was Netflix, which missed estimates on subscriber growth in Q2 and has seen its stock fall sharply in the aftermarket. But Eurozone equities are under pressure as well after weak results from SAP and Nordea Bank presage further struggles on the continent.

Now here’s something to consider. Right now, the market is fully priced for a Fed cut at the end of the month, and there is a strong expectation that the ECB meeting next week is going to outline its future policy ease. Those have been key drivers in the broad equity market rally we have seen since June, and if either Powell or Draghi disappoints, equity markets are certainly going to suffer. But what if earnings data comes in broadly worse than expected, a la Netflix last night, and equity prices fall regardless of the rate story. After all, by almost every measure, valuations in the US equity space are quite high so a decline may well be due on its own, rate cuts or not. The question is how those same central banks will respond. Will they ease more aggressively to prevent a further decline, or will they ignore the outcome? In the past, this wasn’t really a consideration as central banks were focused only on inflation and employment or growth. But these days I’m not so sure that is the case. Just beware if earnings data start to stumble.

Turning to this morning’s session, there are only two US data points, Initial Claims (exp 216K) and Leading Indicators (0.1%). We also hear from two Fed speakers, Bostic and Williams, although both have already explained their views earlier this week. On that subject, we heard from FOMC voter Esther George yesterday and she has been the first Fed speaker to be clear that there is no reason for a rate cut anytime soon. Now she has always been one of the more hawkish Fed members and it would not shock me if she dissented at the next vote assuming a rate cut is the outcome. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the first dissent under Powell’s tenure was looking for a cut and the second, in the following meeting, was looking to stay on hold? It certainly indicates there is a diversity of opinion at the Fed, at least with regard to the proper policy implementation if not with regard to Keynesianism.

And that’s all there is for today. Earnings data are likely to be the main drivers as neither data point is seen as a market mover. With the dollar on its back foot this morning, I see no reason for it to turn around at this time. Look for a further slow decline.

Good luck
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Be Prepare for Mayhem

Next week when the former PM
Steps down be prepared for mayhem
Both Johnson and Hunt
Are willing to punt
May’s deal, which they’re quick to condemn

Remember, back in the day, when I suggested that the probability of a hard Brexit was much higher than the market was assuming? In fact, I have been highlighting this fact pretty consistently since, at least, January heading up to the original deadline. Well, now, it appears that the market is figuring out that the probability of a hard Brexit is higher than they previously assumed. Last night, in a debate between the two candidates for PM, front-runner Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, both were clear that the Irish backstop was dead in the water, and both were clear that they would be willing to walk away with no deal. Ongoing negotiations have become more difficult as the UK is making more demands and the EU is now complaining that the UK is trying to “bully” them! This is the funniest statement that I have ever seen. For two years, the EU essentially bullied PM May into agreeing to things that were unpalatable, including the Irish backstop. Now all of a sudden, the EU’s tender feelings have been hurt by the UK pushing back!

Since the original vote, pundits around the world have assumed that the UK would bear the brunt of the fallout from Brexit. After all, the rest of the EU is the UK’s largest trading partner, and the UK only represents something like 10% of EU exports. But as the EU dips back into recession with monetary policy already stretched, it is becoming clearer that the EU will suffer greatly in a no-deal Brexit. Just ask Germany how its auto manufacturers will be impacted when suddenly there are tariffs on BMW’s in the UK. The point is that both sides are likely to feel pain, although it seems the UK has already absorbed part of it, while the rest of the EU has been laboring under the assumption that the UK would cave in eventually. My view is there is no chance of a deal at this point and there are only two possible outcomes; no-deal Brexit or no Brexit. However, there seems to be limited willingness to hold a second referendum to try to overturn the first one, with major splits within both main parties there. And that leads to a no-deal Brexit. Be prepared.

It should be no surprise that this has had a pretty big impact on the pound this morning, which has fallen by 0.75% to its lowest level since January 2017. And this is despite better than expected employment data where wages grew a stronger than expected 3.6% in May, while the Unemployment rate remained at 45-year lows of 3.8%. While the UK economy seems to be holding up reasonably well, I continue to look for the BOE to cut rates in November after the hard Brexit occurs, if only as a precaution for a quick slowdown. Meanwhile, the pound is likely to continue to decline between now and then, testing 1.20 before long. However, vs. the euro, where the pound has also been sliding, I expect that trend to stabilize and even reverse. This is due to the fact that the Eurozone is going to suffer far more than currently anticipated from a hard Brexit. Right now, the cross is trading at 0.9030. I would look for a move in the euro to 1.05-1.06 and the cross to head down to 0.88.

Away from the Brexit story, things are a bit less exciting on the currency front. Broadly the dollar is strong today, as weaker Eurozone data (German ZEW Sentiment fell more than expected to -24.5) has pundits discussing a recession in Germany and confirming a more aggressive policy ease from the ECB. As such, the euro is lower by 0.3% this morning, as all the dovishness from the Fed is being offset by all the dovishness from ECB members.

Down Under, the RBA Minutes continue to highlight the need to keep policy accommodative as they, too, recognize that their old models need tweaking and that lower rates will not lead directly to further inflation. Aussie, which has actually performed pretty well overall since Powell’s first testimony last week, is lower by 0.2%. While the RBA is likely to remain on hold for now, look for more cuts as soon as the Fed starts to cut.

And those have really been the key drivers in the market today. Looking at the CE4, all of them have fallen roughly the same 0.3% as the euro meaning there is no new information to be gleaned. LATAM currencies are barely budged and APAC has also seen very limited movement overnight. The same can be said of global equity markets, which have seen very limited movement, on the order of 0.2% as investors await the next big story. Arguably, that story will start to be told next week by the ECB, with the punchline added by the FOMC at the end of the month. In the meantime, earnings season is beginning, so individual equity prices are likely to see movement, but it is hard to get excited about a macro move in the near term. And bonds? Well, they have stopped falling as the overly aggressive long positions seem to have been unwound. I expect they will start to rally again, albeit at a slower pace than we saw at the beginning of the month.

This morning brings the most interesting data of the week, Retail Sales (exp 0.1%, 0.1% ex autos), as well as a spate of Fed speakers including Chairman Powell at 1:00 this afternoon. If Retail Sales disappoint already low expectations, look for bonds to rally along with stocks as the dollar falls. If they are quite strong, I think the market is far less prone to react as the July rate cut is still a done deal. It just will have a much smaller probability of being a 50bp cut.

Good luck
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Akin to Caffeine

There once was a time in the past
Where weakness in growth, if forecast
Resulted in prices
That forewarned a crisis
And traders sold what they’d amassed

But nowadays weakness is seen
As something akin to caffeine
‘Cause central bank measures
Will add to their treasures
It’s like a brand new cash machine

Chinese growth data was weak last night, falling to its lowest quarterly rate in the twenty-seven years that China has measured growth on a quarterly basis. The outcome of 6.2%, while expected, confirms that the ongoing trade situation with the US is having an increasingly negative impact on GDP worldwide. Naturally, not unlike Pavlov’s dogs, the market response was to rally on the theory that the PBOC would be adding more stimulus soon. After all, every other central bank in the world (save Norway’s) is preparing to ease policy further as growth worldwide continues to slow down. And so far, the Pavlovian response of buying stocks on bad news continues to be working as evidenced by the fact that equity markets throughout Asia rose. However, the magnitude of that rise has been quite limited, with gains of between 0.2% and 0.4% the norm. in fact, that market response is actually a bad sign for the central banks, because it demonstrates that the effectiveness of their policies is expected to be much less than in the past. Diminishing returns is a normal outcome for the repeated use of anything, and monetary policy is no different. The implication of this outcome is that despite the growing certainty that the Fed, ECB, BOJ, PBOC, BOE and more are going to ease policy further, equity markets seem unlikely to benefit as much as they have in the past. And if when a recession finally arrives, look for a change of heart in the equity community. But in the meantime, party hearty!

Speaking of further policy ease, it seems the market is chomping at the bit for next week’s ECB meeting, where there are two schools of thought. The conservative view is that Signor Draghi will sound quite dovish and indicate a 10bp cut is coming in September. But that is not nearly as exciting a view as the more aggressive analysts are discussing, which is a 20bp cut next week and the introduction of QE2 in September. Interestingly, despite all this certitude about ECB rate cuts, the euro is actually slightly higher this morning (albeit just 0.1%). It appears that traders are betting on the fact that if Draghi is aggressive, the Fed will have the opportunity the following week to match and outperform the ECB. Remember, the Fed has 250bps of rate cuts before it reaches ZIRP while the ECB is already negative. Despite the recent academic work explaining that negative rates are just fine and helping the situation, it still seems unlikely that we are going to see -2.0% anywhere in the world anytime soon. Ergo, the relative policy stance implies the Fed will ease more and the dollar will suffer accordingly. Just not today. Rather, today, the dollar is little changed overall, with some gains and some losses, but few large moves.

And those have been the real stories of note over what was a very quiet weekend. This week we see a fair amount of data, including Retail Sales, but more importantly, we hear from five more Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell tomorrow, in a total of nine speeches.

 

Today Empire Manufacturing 2.0
Tuesday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.2%
  IP 0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 78.2%
  Business Inventories 0.3%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1.262M
  Building Permits 1.30M
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 216K
  Philly Fed 5.0
  Leading Indicators 0.1%
Friday Michigan Sentiment 98.5

Given the importance of the consumer to the US economy, the Retail Sales data is probably the most important data point. Certainly, a weak outcome will result in rate cut euphoria, but it will be interesting to see what happens if there is a strong print. But otherwise, this seems more like a week where Fed speakers will dominate, as we hear from NY’s John Williams twice, as well as a mix of other governors and regional presidents. In the end, though, Powell’s comments are key, as I expect he will be looking to fine tune his message from last week’s congressional testimony.

It remains clear that the Fed has the most room to ease policy, and as long as that is the case, the dollar should remain under pressure. However, given the fact that the US economy continues to outperform the rest of the developed world, I don’t anticipate the dollar’s decline to be extreme, a few percent at most.

For today, there is precious little else to really drive things, so look for more of the recent choppiness that we have observed in markets, with no real directional bias.

Good luck
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Soon On the Way

Said Brainerd and Williams and Jay
A rate cut is soon on the way
Inflation’s quiescent
And growth’s convalescent
So easing will help save the day

We have learned a great deal this week about central bank sentiment from the Fed, the ECB, the BOE, Sweden’s Riksbank as well as several emerging market central banks like Mexico and Serbia. And the tone of all the commentary is one way; easier policy is coming soon to a central bank near you.

Let’s take a look at the Fed scorecard to start. Here is a list of the FOMC membership, voting members first:

Chairman Jerome Powell                – cut
Vice-Chair Richard Clarida             – cut
Lael Brainerd                                    – cut
Randal Quarles                                 – cut
Michelle Bowman                            – ?
NY – John Williams                           -cut
St Louis James Bullard                    – cut
Chicago – Charles Evans                  – cut
KC – Esther George                           – stay
Boston – Eric Rosengren                 – cut

Non-voting members
Philadelphia – Patrick Harker       – cut
Dallas – Robert Kaplan                    – ?
Minneapolis – Neel Kashkari         – cut 50!
Cleveland – Loretta Mester            – stay
Atlanta – Rafael Bostic                    – stay
Richmond – Thomas Barkin          – stay

While we have not yet heard from the newest Governor, Michelle Bowman, it would be unprecedented for a new governor to dissent so early in their tenure. In the end, based on what we have heard publicly from voting members, only Esther George might dissent to call for rates to remain on hold, but it is clear that at least a 25bp cut is coming at the end of the month. The futures market has priced it in fully, and now the question is will they cut 50. At this point, it doesn’t seem that likely to me, but there are still two weeks before the meeting, so plenty can happen in the interim.

But it’s not just the Fed. The ECB Minutes were released yesterday, and the telling line was there was “broad agreement” that the ECB should “be ready and prepared to ease the monetary policy stance further by adjusting all of its instruments.” It seems pretty clear to me (and arguably the entire market) that they are about to ease policy. There are many analysts who believe the ECB will wait until their September meeting, when they produce new growth and inflation forecasts, but a growing number of analysts who believe that they will cut later this month. After all, if the Fed is about to cut based on weakening global growth, why would the ECB wait?

And there were the Minutes from Sweden’s Riksbank, which were released this morning and showed that their plans for raising rates as early as September have now been called into question by a number of the members, as slowing global growth and ongoing trade uncertainties weigh on sentiment. While Sweden’s economy has performed better than the Eurozone at large, it will be extremely difficult for the Riksbank to tighten policy while the ECB is easing without a significant adjustment to the krona. And given Sweden’s status as an open economy with significant trade flows, they cannot afford for the krona to strengthen too much.

Meanwhile, Banco de Mexico Minutes showed a split in the vote to maintain rates on hold at 8.25% last month, with two voters now looking for a cut. While inflation remains higher than target, again, the issue is how long can they maintain current policy rates in the face of cuts by the Fed. Look for rate cuts there by autumn. And finally, little Serbia didn’t wait, cutting 25bp this morning as growth there is beginning to slow, and recognizing that imminent action by the ECB would need to be addressed anyway.

In fairness, the macroeconomic backdrop for all this activity is not all that marvelous. For example, just like South Korea reported last week, Singapore reported Q2 GDP growth as negative, -3.4% annualized, a much worse than expected outcome and a potential harbinger of the future for larger economies. Singapore’s economy is hugely dependent on trade flows, so given the ongoing US-China trade issues, this ought not be a surprise, but the magnitude of the decline was significant. Speaking of China, their trade data, released last night, showed slowing exports (-1.3%) and imports (-7.3%), with the result a much larger than expected trade surplus of $51B. Additionally, we saw weaker than expected Loan growth and slowing M2 Money Supply growth, both of which point to slower economic activity going forward. Yesterday’s other important economic data point was US CPI, where core surprised at 2.1%, a tick higher than expected. However, the overwhelming evidence that the Fed is going to cut rates has rendered that point moot for now. We will need to see that number move much higher, and much faster, to change any opinions there.

The market impact of all this has generally been as expected. Equity prices, at least in the US, continue to climb as investors cling tightly to the idea that lower interest rates equal higher stock prices. All three indices closed at new records and futures are pointing higher across the board. The dollar, too, has been under pressure, as would be expected given the view that the Fed is going to enter an easing cycle. Of course, while the recent trend for the dollar has been down, the slope of the line is not very steep. Consider that the euro is only about 1% above its recent cyclical lows from late April, and still well below the levels seen at the end of June. So while the dollar has weakened a bit, it is quite easy to make the case it remains within a trading range. In fact, as I mentioned yesterday, if all central banks are cutting rates simultaneously, the impact on the currency market should be quite limited, as the relative rate stance won’t change.

Finally, a quick word about Treasury bonds as well as German bunds. Both of these markets were hugely overbought by the end of last week, as investors and speculators jumped on the idea of lower rates coming soon. And so, it should be no surprise that both of these markets have seen yields back up a decent amount as those trades are unwound. This morning we see 10-year yields at 2.13% in the US and -0.21% in Germany, well off the lows of last week. However, this trade is entirely technical and at some point, when these positions are gone, look for yields on both securities to head lower again.

This morning brings just PPI (exp 1.6%, 2.2% core) which is unlikely to have much impact on anything. With no more Fed speakers to add to the mix, I expect that we will continue to see equities rally, and that the dollar, while it may remain soft, is unlikely to move too far in any direction.

Good luck and good weekend
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Half Has Allure

The Fed Reserve Chairman named Jay
Is tasked, market fears, to allay
He did it in spades
Explaining that trade
And Brexit, could possibly weigh

On growth in the US this year
And so he implied cuts were near
A quarter seems sure
But half has allure
Since price rises never appear

Every market story today is the same story; the Fed is going to cut rates at the end of the month. In fact, the only mystery at this point is whether it will be the 25bps that is currently fully priced in by the futures market, or if the Fed will jump in with a 50bp cut. Every market around the world has felt the impact of this story and will continue to do so until the actual cut arrives.

The knock-on effects have been largely what would be expected from a lower rate environment. For example, equity prices have risen almost everywhere, closing at new record highs in the US yesterday and trading in the green throughout Asia overnight and Europe today. The dollar has fallen back, much to President Trump’s delight I’m sure, giving up some of its recent gains with declines of 0.5% vs. the euro, 0.6% vs. the pound and 0.7% vs. the yen. Emerging market currencies have also rallied a bit with, for example, BRL rising 1.3%, ZAR 1.8% and KRW up 0.8%. Even CNY has rallied slightly, +0.25%, although as we already know, its volatility is managed to a much lower level than other currencies.

Bond markets, on the other hand, have not demonstrated the same exuberance as stocks, commodities (gold +2.0%) or currencies today as they had clearly anticipated the news last week. If you recall, Bunds had traded to new record lows last week, touching -0.41% before reversing course, and are now “up” to a yield of -0.31%. And 10-year Treasuries, after trading to 1.935% a week ago, have since reversed course, picking up nearly 12bps at one point, although have given back a tick this morning. In fact, many traders have been looking at the market technicals and see room for bond yields to trade higher in the short-term, although the long-term trend remains for lower yields.

But those are simply the market oriented knock-on effects. There will be other effects as well. For example, it is now patently clear that a new central bank easing cycle is unfolding. We already knew the ECB was preparing to cut, and you can be sure they will both cut rates and indicate a restarting of QE at their next meeting on July 25. Meanwhile, by that date, Boris Johnson is likely to be the new UK PM which means that the BOE is going to need to prepare for a hard Brexit in a few months’ time. Part of that preparation is going to be lower interest rates and possibly the restarting of QE there as well. In fact, this morning, Governor Carney was on the tape discussing the issues that will impact the UK in the event of a hard Brexit, including slowing growth, lower confidence and weakness in markets. Japan? Well, they never stopped easing, but are likely to feel a renewed sense of urgency to push harder on that string, especially if USDJPY starts to fall more substantially. And finally, of the major economies, China will also certainly be looking to ease monetary policy further as growth there continues to lag desired levels and the trade situation continues to weigh on sentiment. The biggest problem the PBOC has is they have no sure-fire way to cut rates without quickly reinflating the leverage bubble they have been working to reduce for the past three years.

And of course, away from the major central banks, you can be sure that we are going to see easier monetary policy pretty much everywhere else in the world. This is especially true throughout the emerging markets, the countries that have suffered the most from the combination of higher US rates and a stronger dollar.

The irony of all this is that, as RBA Governor Lowe pointed out two weeks ago when they cut rates, if everybody cuts rates at the same time, one of the key transmission mechanisms, a weaker currency, is likely to have far less impact because the relative rate structure will remain the same. This is the reason that the dollar is likely to come under pressure in the short-run, because the Fed has more room to cut rates than most other central banks. But in the end, if everybody reaches ZIRP, currency valuations will need to be decided on other criteria with macroeconomic performance likely to be a key driver. And in the end, the dollar still comes up looking like the best bet.

And that’s really it. Every story is about the Fed cutting rates and how it will impact some other country, market, company, policy, etc.. Brexit is hanging out there, but until the new PM is named, nothing is going to change. The trade talks have restarted, but there is no conclusion in sight. Granted, several individual currencies have suffered of their own accord lately, notably MXN which fell more than 2.0% on Monday after the FinMin resigned due to philosophical differences with President AMLO, and TRY, which fell a similar amount at the end of last Friday after President Erdogan fired the central bank president and replaced him with someone more likely to cut rates. But those are special situations, and in truth, a good deal of those losses have been mitigated by the Fed story. As I said, it is all one story today.

Looking ahead to today’s market, we see our only important data point of the week, CPI (exp 1.6%, 2.0% core) and we also get Initial Claims (223K). But Chairman Powell testifies in front of the Senate today, and we hear from Williams, Bostic, Barkin, Kashkari and Quarles before the day is through as well. Given the Minutes released yesterday indicated a majority of FOMC members were ready to cut this month, it will be interesting to see how dovish this particular group sounds today, especially in the wake of the Chairman’s comments yesterday. Overall, I think the bias will be more dovish, and that the dollar probably has a bit further to fall before it is all over.

Good luck
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Laden With Fears

When lending, a term of ten years
At one time was laden with fears
But not anymore
As bond prices soar
And bond bulls regale us with cheers

Another day, another record low for German bund yields, this time -0.396%, and there is no indication that this trend is going to stop anytime soon. While this morning’s PMI Composite data was released as expected (Germany 52.6, France 52.7, Eurozone 52.2), it continues at levels that show subdued growth. And given the ongoing weakness in the manufacturing sector, the major fear of both economists and investors is that we are heading into a global recession. Alas, I fear they are right about that, and when the dust settles, and the NBER looks back to determine when the recession began, don’t be surprised if June 2019 is the start date. At any rate, it’s not just bund yields that are falling, it is a universal reaction. Treasuries are now firmly below 2.00% (last at 1.95%), but also UK Gilts (0.69%), French OATs (-0.06%) and JGB’s (-0.15%). Even Italy, where the ongoing fight over their budget situation is getting nastier, has seen its yields fall 13bps today down to 1.71%. In other words, bond markets continue to forecast slowing growth and low inflation for some time to come. And of course, that implies further policy ease by the world’s central bankers.

Speaking of which:

In what was a mini bombshell
Said Mester, it’s too soon to tell
If rates should be lowered
Since, as I look forward
My models say things are just swell

Yesterday, Cleveland Fed president Loretta Mester, perhaps the most hawkish member of the Fed, commented that, “I believe it is too soon to make that determination, and I prefer to gather more information before considering a change in our monetary-policy stance.” In addition, she questioned whether lowering rates would even help address the current situation of too-low inflation. Needless to say, the equity markets did not appreciate her comments, and sold off when they hit the tape. But it was a minor reaction, and, in the end, the prevailing wisdom remains that the Fed is going to cut rates at the end of this month, and at least two more times this year. In truth, we will learn a great deal on Friday, when the payroll report is released, because another miss like last month, where the NFP number was just 75K, is likely to bring calls for an immediate cut, and also likely to see a knee-jerk reaction higher in stocks on the premise that lower rates are always good.

The IMF leader Lagarde
(Whom Greeks would like feathered and tarred)
Come later this year
The euro will steer
As ECB prez (and blowhard)

The other big news this morning concerns the changing of the guard at the ECB and the other EU institutions that have scheduled leadership changes. In a bit of a surprise, IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, is to become the new ECB president, following Mario Draghi. Lagarde is a lawyer, not a central banker, and has no technocratic or central banking experience at all. Granted, she is head of a major supranational organization, and was French FinMin at the beginning of the decade. But all that reinforces is that she is a political hack animal, not that she is qualified to run the second most important policymaking institution in the world. Remember, the IMF, though impressive sounding, makes no policies, it simply hectors others to do what the IMF feels is correct. If you recall, when Chairman Powell was nominated, his lack of economics PhD was seen as a big issue. For some reason, that is not the case with Lagarde. I cannot tell if it’s because Powell has proven to be fine in the role, or if it would be seen as politically incorrect to complain about something like that since she ticks several other boxes deemed important. At any rate, now that politicians are running the two largest central banks (or at least will be as of November 1), perhaps we can dispel the fiction that central banks are independent of politics!

Away from the bond market, which we have seen rally, the market impact of this news has arguably been mixed. Equity markets in Asia were generally weak (Nikkei -0.5%, Shanghai -1.0%), but in Europe, investors are feeling fine, buying equities (DAX +0.6%, FTSE + 0.8%) alongside bonds. Arguably, the European view is that Madame Lagarde is going to follow in the footsteps of Signor Draghi and continue to ease policy aggressively going forward. And despite Mester’s comments, US equity futures are pointing higher as well, with both the DJIA and S&P looking at +0.3% gains right now.

Gold prices, too, are anticipating lower interest rates as after a short-term dip last Friday, with the shiny metal trading as low as $1384, it has rebounded sharply and after touching $1440, the highest print in six years, it is currently around $1420. I have to admit that the combination of fundamentals (lower global interest rates) and market technicals (a breakout above $1400 after three previous failed attempts) it does appear as though gold is heading much higher. Don’t be surprised to see it trade as high as $1700 before this rally is through.

Finally, the dollar continues to be the least interesting of markets with a mixed performance today, and an overall unchanged outcome. The pound continues to suffer as the Brexit situation meanders along and the uncertainty engendered hits economic activity. In fact, this morning’s PMI data was awful (50.2) and IHS/Markit is now calling for negative GDP growth in Q2 for the UK. Aussie data, however, was modestly better than expected helping both AUD and NZD higher, despite soft PMI data from China. EMG currencies are all over the map, with both gainers and losers, but the defining characteristic is that none of the movement has been more than 0.3%, confirming just how quiet things are.

As to the data story, this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 223K), the Trade Balance (-$54.0B), ISM Non-Manufacturing (55.9) and Factory Orders (-0.5%). While the ISM data may have importance, given the holiday tomorrow and the fact that payrolls are due Friday morning, it is hard to get too excited about significant FX movement today. However, that will not preclude the equity markets from continuing their rally on the basis of more central bank largesse.

Good luck
Adf