Absent Demand

With Autumn’s arrival at hand
The virus has taken a stand
It won’t be defeated
Nor barely depleted
Thus, markets are absent demand

Risk is definitely on the back foot this morning as concerns grow over the increase in Covid-19 cases around the world.  Adding to the downward pressure on risk assets is the news that a number of major global banks are under increased scrutiny for their inability (unwillingness?) to stop aiding and abetting money laundering.  And, of course, in the background is the growing sense that monetary authorities around the world, notably the Fed, have run out of ammunition in their ongoing efforts to support economic growth in the wake of the government imposed shutdowns.  All in all, things look pretty dire this morning.

Starting with the virus, you may recall that one of the fears voiced early on was that, like the flu, it would fade somewhat in the summer and then reassert itself as the weather cooled.  Well, it appears that was a pretty accurate analysis as we have definitely seen the number of new cases rising in numerous countries around the world.  Europe finds itself in particularly difficult straits as the early self-congratulatory talk about how well they handled things vis-à-vis the US seems to be coming undone.  India has taken the lead with respect to the growth in cases, with more than 130,000 reported in the past two days.  The big concern is that government’s around the world are going to reimpose new lockdowns to try to stifle growth in the number of cases, but we all know how severely that can impact the economy.  So, the question with which the markets are grappling is, will the potential long-term benefit of a lockdown, which may reduce the overall caseload outweigh the short-term distress to the economy, profits and solvency?

At least for today, investors and traders are coming down on the side that the lockdowns are more destructive than the disease and so we have seen equity markets around the world come under pressure, with Europe really feeling the pain.  Last night saw the Hang Seng (-2.1%) and Shanghai (-0.6%) sell off pretty steadily.  (The Nikkei was closed for Autumnal Equinox Day.)  But the situation in Europe has been far more severe with the DAX (-3.2%), CAC (-3.1%) and FTSE 100 (-3.5%) all under severe pressure.  All three of those nations are stressing from an increase in Covid cases, but this is where we are seeing a second catalyst, the story about major banks and their money laundering habits.  A new report has been released that describes movement of more than $2 trillion in illicit funds by major (many European) banks, even after sanctions and fines have been imposed.  It can be no surprise that bank stocks throughout Europe are lower, nor that pre-market activity in the US is pointing in the same direction.  As such, US future markets showing declines of 1.5%-2.0% are right in line with reasonable expectations.

And finally, we cannot ignore Chairman Powell and the Fed.  The Chairman will be speaking before Congress three times this week, on both the need for more fiscal stimulus as well as the impact of Covid on the economy.  Now we already know that the Fed has implemented “powerful” new tools to help support the US, after all, Powell told us that about ten times last week in his press conference.  Unfortunately, the market is a bit less confident in the power of those tools.  At the same time, it seems the ECB has launched a review of its PEPP program, to try to determine if it has been effective and how much longer it should continue.  One other question they will address is whether the original QE program, APP, should be modified to be more like PEPP.  It is not hard to guess what the answers will be; PEPP has been a huge success, it should be expanded and extended because of its success, and more consideration will be given to changing APP to be like PEPP (no capital key).  After all, the ECB cannot sit by idly and watch the Fed ease policy more aggressively and allow the euro to appreciate in value, that would be truly catastrophic to their stated goal of raising the cost of living inflation on the Continent.

With all that in mind, a look at FX markets highlights that the traditional risk-off movement is the order of the day.  In other words, the dollar is broadly stronger vs. just about everything except the yen.  For instance, in the G10 space, NOK (-1.45%) is falling sharply as the combination of risk aversion and a sharply lower oil price (WTI -2.5%) has taken the wind out of the krone’s sails.  But the weakness here is across the board as SEK (-0.8%) and the big two, GBP (-0.5%) and EUR (-0.45%) are all under pressure.  It’s funny, it wasn’t that long ago when the entire world was convinced that the dollar was about to collapse.  Perhaps that attitude was a bit premature.  In fact, the euro bulls need to hope that 1.1765 (50-day moving average) holds because if the technicians jump in, we could see the single currency fall a lot more.

As to the emerging markets, the story is the same, the dollar is broadly higher with recent large gainers; ZAR (-2.0%) and MXN (-1.4%), leading the way lower.  But the weakness is broad-based as the CE4 are all under pressure (CZK -1.3%, HUF -1.1%, PLN -0.95%) and even CNY (-0.2%) which has been rallying steadily since its nadir at the end of May, has suffered.  In fact, the only positive was KRW (+0.2%) which benefitted from data showing that exports finally grew, rising above 0.0% for the first time since before Covid.

As to the data this week, it is quite light with just the following to watch:

Tuesday Existing Home Sales 6.01M
Wednesday PMI Manufacturing (Prelim) 53.3
Thursday Initial Claims 840K
Continuing Claims 12.45M
New Home Sales 890K
Friday Durable Goods 1.1%
-ex Transport 1.0%

Source: Bloomberg

The market will be far more interested in Powell’s statements, as well as his answers in the Q&A from both the House and Senate.  The thing is, we already know what he is going to say.  The Fed has plenty of ammunition, but with interest rates already at zero, monetary policy needs help from fiscal policy.  In addition to Powell, nine other Fed members speak a total of twelve times this week.  But with Powell as the headliner, it is unlikely they will have an impact.

The risk meme is today’s story.  If US equity markets play out as the futures indicate, and follow Europe lower, there is no reason to expect the dollar to do anything but continue to rally.  After all, while short dollar positions are not at record highs, they are within spitting distance of being so, which means there is plenty of ammunition for a dollar rally as shorts get covered.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Chairman Regales

Tomorrow the Chairman regales
Us all with the latest details
Of ways that the Fed,
When looking ahead,
Might ever consider bond sales

The one thing of which we are sure
Is ZIRP, for some years, will endure
The worry is Jay
Has nothing to say
On what he’ll do when there’s a cure

Markets have been biding their time overnight and seem likely to do so for the rest of today’s session as investors and traders await the wisdom of Chairman Powell.  Tomorrow morning’s speech is expected to define the basics of the new Fed operating framework.  In other words, it will describe their latest views on how to achieve their Congressional mandate of achieving “…maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long-term interest rates.”

It was in 2012 when the FOMC decided that 2.0% inflation was the definition of stable prices and formalized that number as their target. (Interestingly, the history of the 2.0% inflation target starts back in New Zealand in the late 1980’s, when inflation there was consistently between 15%-20%.  Donald Brash was appointed RBNZ governor and in one of his first actions decided that 2.0% inflation represented a good compromise between rampant inflation and price stability.  There was neither academic literature nor empirical data that supported this view, it was simply his feeling.  But it has since become the watchword in central banking with respect to price stability.  Remember, at 2.0% annual inflation, the real value of things halves every 20 years. Many argue that does not define price stability.)  Fortunately for us all, the Fed has been largely unable to reach their target, with measured inflation averaging 1.6% since then.  Of course, there are issues with the way inflation is measured as well, especially the Fed’s preferred gauge of Core PCE.

But regardless of any issues with the measurement of inflation, that process is not due for adjustment.  Rather, this is all about how the Fed is going to approach the problem of achieving something they have not been able to do consistently since they began the process.

The consensus view is that the Fed is now going to target the average inflation rate over time, although over what time period seems to be left unsaid.  The rationale seems to be that with the Philips Curve relationship now assumed dead (the Phillips curve is the model that explains as unemployment falls, inflation rises), and given the current dire economic situation with unemployment in double digits, the Fed wants to assure everyone that they are not going to do anything to prevent an economic recovery from not only taking off, but extending well into the future.  Thus, the idea is that even when the recovery starts to pick up steam, and presumably inflation rises alongside that recovery, the Fed will happily allow higher prices in order to help to continue to drive unemployment lower.  In other words, the famous dictum of ‘removing the punch bowl just as the party gets started’ is to be assigned to the trash heap of history.

The reason this matters to us all is that future path of inflation, and just as importantly expectations about that path, are what drive interest rates in the market, especially at the long end of the curve.  While the Fed can exert significant control over interest rates out to 2 years, and arguably out to 5 years, once you get past that, it becomes far more difficult for them to do so.  And given the fact that ZIRP and NIRP reign supreme throughout G10 economies, the long end of the curve is the only place where any yield is available.

The problem for investors is that with 30-year Treasuries yielding 1.4%, if the Fed is successful at getting inflation back above 2.0%, the real return on those bonds will be negative, and significantly so.  The alternative, of course, is for investors to sell their current holdings of those bonds, driving down prices and correspondingly raising yields to levels that are assumed to take into account the mooted higher rate of inflation.  The problem there is that the US government, who has been issuing bonds at record rates to fund the spending for Covid programs as well as to make up for lost tax revenue from the economic slowdown, will have to pay a lot more for their money.  That, too, is something that the Fed will want to prevent.  In other words, there are no really good solutions here.

However, what we have begun to see in markets is that investors are expressing concern over a rise in inflation, and so Treasury yields, as well as bond yields elsewhere, are beginning to rise.  Now, nobody would ever call 0.7% on the 10-year a high yield, but that is 0.2% higher than where it was just three weeks ago.  The same is true in the 30-year space, with similar moves seen throughout the rest of the G10 bond markets.  While deflation concerns remain the primary focus of central bankers everywhere, bond markets are beginning to look the other way.  And that, my friends, will be felt in every market around the world; equities, commodities and FX.

So, a quick look at markets this morning shows us that equities in Asia had a mixed to weaker session (Nikkei +0.0%, Hang Seng +0.0%, Shanghai -1.3%) while European bourses are mostly very modestly higher (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 -0.2%).  US futures are mixed as well, although NASDAQ (+0.5%) futures continue to power ahead, the Dow and S&P are essentially unchanged.

Bond markets continue to slowly sell off as they are seeming to price in the idea that if the Fed is willing to accept higher inflation going forward, so will every other central bank.  Thus, another 3bp rise this morning in 10-year Treasuries, Bunds and Gilts has been seen.  Meanwhile, as interest rates go higher, gold is losing some of its luster, having fallen another 0.6% today which takes it nearly 8% below its recent historic peak.

And finally, the dollar is having what can only be described as a mixed session.  Versus the G10, it has gained slightly against the Euro, Danish krone and Swiss franc, and edged lower vs NZD.  Those movements are on the order of just 0.2%-0.3%, with the rest of the bloc +/- 0.1% and offering no information.  Emerging market currencies have seen similar price action, albeit with a bit more oomph, as HUF (-0.8%) and CZK (-0.6%) demonstrate their higher beta characteristics compared to the euro, while ZAR (+0.5%) continues to find buyers for their still highest yielding debt available.

As I said at the top, markets appear to be biding their time for the Chairman’s speech tomorrow morning at 9:15 NY time.  On the data front, this morning only brings Durable Goods (exp 4.8%, 2.0% ex Transport), which while generally important, will unlikely be enough to shake up the trading or investment community.  For now, the dollar’s medium-term trend lower has been halted.  Its future direction will depend largely on Mr Powell and what he has to tell us tomorrow.  Until then, don’t look for very much movement at all.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Prices Bespeak

It seems that the rate of inflation
Is rising across our great nation
Demand remains weak
But prices bespeak
The need for some new Fed mentation

Does inflation still matter to markets? That is the question at hand given yesterday’s much higher than expected, although still quite low, US CPI readings and various market responses to the data. To recap, CPI rose 0.6% in July taking the annual change to 1.0%. The core rate, ex food & energy, also rose 0.6% in July, which led to an annual gain of 1.6%. For good order’s sake, it is important to understand that those monthly gains were the largest in quite a while. For the headline number, the last 0.6% print was in June 2009. For the core number, the last 0.6% print was in January 1991!

The rationale for inflation’s importance is twofold. First, and foremost, the Fed (and in fact, every central bank) is charged with maintaining stable prices as a key part of their mandate. As such, monetary policy is directly responsive to inflation readings and designed to achieve those targets. Second, economic theory tells us that the value of all assets over time is directly impacted by the change in the price level. This concept is based on the idea that investors and asset holders want to maintain the real value of their savings (and wealth) over time so that when they need to draw on those savings, they can maintain their desired level of consumption in the future.

Of course, the Fed has made a big deal about the fact that inflation remains far too low and one of the stated reasons for ZIRP and QE is to help push the inflation rate back up to their 2.0% target. Remember, too, that target is symmetric, which means that they expect inflation to print higher than their target as well as lower, and word is, come the September meeting, they are going to formalize the idea of achieving an average of 2.0% inflation over time. The implication here is that they are going to be willing to let the inflation rate run above 2.0% in order to make up for the last decade when their preferred measure, core PCE, only touched 2.0% in 11 of the 103 months since they established the target.

Looking at the theory, what we all learned in Economics 101 was that higher inflation led to higher nominal interest rates, higher gold prices and a weaker currency. The equity question was far less clear as there are studies showing equities are a good place to be and others showing just the opposite. A quick look at the market response to yesterday’s CPI data shows that yields behaved as expected, with 10-year Treasuries seeing yields climb 3.5 basis points. Gold, on the other hand, had a more mixed performance, rallying 1.0% in the first hours after the release, but ultimately falling 1.0% on the day. And finally, the dollar also behaved as theory would dictate, falling modestly in the wake of the release, probably about 0.25% on average.

So yesterday, the theory held up quite well, with markets moving in the “proper” direction after the news came out. But a quick look at the longer-term relationship between inflation and markets tells a bit of a different story. The correlation between US CPI and EURUSD has been 0.01% over the past ten years. In the same timeframe, gold’s correlation to CPI has actually been slightly negative, -0.05%, while Treasury yields have shown the only consistent relationship with the proper sign, but still just +0.2%.

What this data highlights are not so much that inflation impacts market prices, but that we should only care about inflation, from a market perspective at least, because the Fed (and other central banks) have made it part of their mantra. Thus, the answer to the question, does inflation still matter is that only insofar as the Fed continues to care about it. And what we have gleaned from the Fed over the past five months, since the onset of the covid pandemic, is that inflation is way down their list of priorities right now. In other words, look for higher inflation readings going forward with virtually no signal from the Fed that they will respond. At least, not until it gets much higher. If you were wondering how we could get back to the 1970’s situation of stagflation, we are clearly setting the table for just such an outcome.

But on to markets today. Risk is under a bit of pressure this morning as equity markets in Asia and Europe were broadly lower, the only exception being the Nikkei (+1.8%) which saw a large tech sector rally drive the entire index higher. Europe, on the other hand, is a sea of red although only the FTSE 100 in London is down appreciably, -1.1%. And at this hour, US futures are essentially flat.

Bond markets are less conclusive today. Treasury yields are lower by 1 basis point at this hour, although that is well off the earlier session price highs, but European government bond markets are actually falling today, with yields edging higher, despite the soft equity market performance. As to gold, it is currently higher by 1.0%, which simply takes it back to the level seen at the time of yesterday’s CPI release.

Turning to the dollar, it is definitely softer as in the G10, only NZD (-0.3%), which seems to be responding to the sudden recurrence of Covid-19 cases in the country, is weaker than the greenback. But NOK (+0.6%) with oil continuing to edge higher, leads the pack, followed closely by the euro and pound, both of which are firmer by 0.5% this morning. Perhaps French Unemployment data, which showed an unemployment rate of just 7.1% instead of the 8.3% forecast, is driving the bullishness. But arguably, we are simply watching the continuation of the dollar’s recent trend lower.

In the emerging markets, the CE4 are all solidly higher as they track the euro’s movement with a bit more beta. But the rest of the space has seen almost no movement with those currency markets that are open showing movement on the order of +/- 10 basis points. In other words, there is no real story here to tell.

On the data front, we get the weekly Initial Claims (exp 1.1M) and Continuing Claims (15.8M) data at 8:30, but that is really all there is. We continue to hear from some Fed speakers, with today bringing Bostic and Brainard, but based on what we have heard from other FOMC members recently, there is nothing new we will learn. Essentially, the Fed continues to proselytize for more fiscal support and blame all the economy’s problems on Covid-19, holding themselves not merely harmless for the current situation, but patting themselves on the back for all they have done.

With this in mind, it is hard to get excited about too much activity today, and perhaps the best bet is the dollar will continue to drift lower for now. While the dollar weakening trend remains intact, it certainly has lost a lot of its momentum.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

More Growth to Ignite

While Congress continued to fight
The President stole the limelight
Four orders he signed
As he tries to find
The kindling, more growth to ignite

As I return to action after a short hiatus, it doesn’t appear the market narrative has changed very much at all.  Broadly speaking, markets continue to be focused on, and driven by, the Fed and other central banks and the ongoing provision of extraordinary liquidity.  Further fiscal stimulus remains a key objective of both central bankers and central planners everywhere, and the arguments for the dollar’s decline and eventual collapse are getting inordinate amounts of airtime.

Starting with the fiscal side of the equation, the key activity this weekend was the signing, by President Trump, of four executive orders designed to keep the fiscal gravy train rolling.  By now, we are all aware that the Democratic led House had passed a $3.5 trillion fiscal stimulus bill while the Republican led Senate had much more modest ambitions, discussing a bill with a price tag of ‘only’ $1.0-$1.5 trillion.  (How frightening is it that we can use the term ‘only’ to describe $1 trillion?)  However, so far, they cannot agree terms and thus no legislation has made its way to the President’s desk for enactment.  Hence, the President felt it imperative to continue the enhanced unemployment benefits, albeit at a somewhat reduced level, as well as to prevent foreclosures and evictions while reducing the payroll tax.

Naturally, this has inflamed a new battle regarding the constitutionality of his actions, but it will certainly be difficult for either side of the aisle to argue that these orders should be rescinded as they are aimed directly at the middle class voter suffering from the economic effects of the pandemic.

Another group that must be pleased is the FOMC, where nearly to a (wo)man, they have advocated for further fiscal stimulus to help them as they try to steer the economy back from the depths of the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic.  Perhaps we should be asking them why they feel it necessary to steer the economy at all, but that is a question for a different venue.  However, along with central banks everywhere, the Fed has been at the forefront of the calls for more fiscal stimulus.  Again, despite the unorthodox methodology of the stimulus coming to bear, it beggars belief that they would complain about further support.

So, while political squabbles will continue, so will enhanced unemployment benefits.  And that matters to the more than 31 million people still out of work due to the impact of Covid-19 on the economy.  Of course, the other thing that will continue is the Fed’s largesse, as there is absolutely no indication they are going to be turning off the taps anytime soon.  And while their internal discussions regarding the strength of their forward guidance will continue, and to what metrics they should tie the ongoing application of stimulus, it is already abundantly clear to the entire world that interest rates in the US will not be rising until sometime in 2023 at the earliest.

Which brings us to the third main discussion in the markets these days, the impending collapse of the dollar.  Once again, the weekend literature was filled with pontifications and dissertations about why the dollar would continue its recent decline and why it could easily turn into a rout.  The key themes appear to be the US’s increasingly awful fiscal position, with debt/GDP rising rapidly above 100%, the fact that the Fed is going to continue to add liquidity to the system for years to come, and the fact that the US is losing its status as the global hegemon.

And yet, it remains exceedingly difficult, at least in my mind, to make the case that the end of the dollar is nigh.  As I have explained before, but will repeat because it is important to maintain perspective, not only is the dollar not collapsing, it is actually little changed if we look at its value since the beginning of 2020.  And as I recall, there was no discussion of the dollar collapsing back then.  Whether looking at the G10 or the EMG bloc, what we see is that there are some currencies that have performed well, and others that have suffered this year.  For example, despite the dollar’s “collapse”, CAD has fallen 3.0% so far in 2020, and NOK has fallen 2.9%.  Yes, SEK is higher by 7.0% and CHF by 5.3%, but the tally is six gainers and four laggards, hardly an indication of irretrievable decline.

Looking at the EMG bloc, it is even clearer that the dollar’s days are not yet numbered.  YTD, BRL has tumbled 25.9%, ZAR has fallen 21.2% and TRY, the most recent victim of true economic mismanagement, is lower by 18.6%.  The fact that the Bulgarian lev (+4.8%) and Romanian leu (+3.8%) are a bit higher does not detract from the fact that the dollar continues to play a key role as a haven asset.

Finally, I must mention the euro, which has gained 4.8% YTD.  When many people think of the dollar’s value rising or falling, this is the main metric.  But again, keeping things in context, the euro, currently trading around 1.1750, is still below the midpoint of its historic range (0.8230-1.6038) as well as its lifetime average (1.2000).  The point is, there is no evidence of a collapse.  And there are two other things to keep in mind; first, the fact that it is assumed the Fed will continue to ease policy for years ignores the fact that the ECB will almost certainly be required to ease policy for an even longer time.  And second, long positioning in EURUSD is now at historically high levels, with the CFTC showing record long outstanding positions.  The point is, there is far more room for a correction than for a continued collapse.

One last thing to consider is that despite the shortcomings of the US economy right now, the reality remains that there is currently no viable alternative to replace the greenback as the world’s reserve currency.  And there won’t be one for many years to come.  While modest further dollar weakness vs. the euro and some G10 currencies is entirely reasonable, do not bet on a collapse.

With that out of the way, the overnight session was entirely lackluster across all markets, as summer holidays are what most traders are either dreaming about, or living, so I expect the next several weeks to see less volatility.  As to the data this week, Retail Sales and CPI are the highlights, although I continue to look at Initial Claims as the most important number of all.

Today JOLTS Job Openings 5.3M
Tuesday NFIB Small Business 100.4
  PPI 0.3% (-0.7% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.1% (0.0% Y/Y)
Wednesday CPI 0.3% (0.7% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (1.1% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 1.1M
  Continuing Claims 15.8M
Friday Retail Sales 1.9%
  -ex autos 1.3%
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.5%
  Unit Labor Costs 6.2%
  IP 3.0%
  Capacity Utilization 70.3%
  Business Inventories -1.1%
  Michigan Sentiment 71.9

Source: Bloomberg

While I’m sure Retail Sales will garner a great deal of interest, it remains a backward-looking data point, which is why I keep looking mostly at the weekly claims data.  In addition to this plethora of new information, we hear from six different Fed speakers, but ask yourself, what can they say that is new?  Arguably, any decision regarding the much anticipated changes in forward guidance will come from the Chairman, and otherwise, they all now believe that more stimulus is the proper prescription going forward.

Keeping everything in mind, while the dollar is not going to collapse anytime soon, that does not preclude some further weakness against select currencies.  If I were a hedger, I would be thinking about taking advantage of this dollar weakness, at least for a portion of my needs.

Good luck and say safe

Adf

 

 

 

 

 

Poison Pens

The headlines all weekend have shouted
The dollar is sure to be routed
If Covid-19
Remains on the scene
A rebound just cannot be touted

But ask yourself this my good friends
Have nations elsewhere changed their trends?
Infections are rising
Despite moralizing
By pundits who wield poison pens

Based on the weekend’s press, as well as the weekly analysis recaps, the future of the dollar is bleak. Not only is it about to collapse, but it will soon lose its status as the world’s reserve currency, although no one has yet figured out what will replace it in that role. This is evident in the sheer number of articles that claim the dollar is sure to decline (for those of you with a Twitter account, @pineconemacro had a great compilation of 28 recent headlines either describing the dollar’s decline or calling for a further fall), as well as the magnitude of the short dollar positions in the market, as measured by CFTC data. As of last week, there are record long EUR positions and near-record shorts in the DXY.

So, the question is, why does everybody hate the dollar so much? It seems there are two reasons mentioned most frequently; the impact of unbridled fiscal and monetary stimulus and the inability of the US to get Covid-19 under control. Let’s address them in order.

There is no question that the Fed and the Treasury, at the behest of Congress, have expended extraordinary amounts of money to respond to the Covid crisis. The Fed’s balance sheet has grown from $4.2 trillion to $7.0 trillion in the course of four months. And of course, the Fed has basically bought everything except your used Toyota in an effort to support market functionality. And it is important to recognize that what they continue to explain is that they are not supporting asset prices per se, rather they are simply insuring that financial markets work smoothly. (Of course, their definition of working smoothly is asset prices always go higher.) Nonetheless, the Fed has been, by far, the most active central bank in the world with respect to monetary support. At the same time, the US government has authorized about $3.5 trillion, so far, of fiscal support, although there is much anxiety now that the CARES act increase in unemployment benefits lapsed last Friday and there is still a wide divergence between the House and Senate with respect to what to do next.

But consider this; while the US is excoriated for borrowing too much and expanding both the budget deficit and the amount of debt issued, the EU was celebrated for coming to agreement on…borrowing €2 trillion to expand the budget deficit and support the economies of each nation in the bloc. Debt mutualization, we have been assured, is an unalloyed good and will help the EU’s overall economic prospects by allowing the transfer of wealth from the rich northern nations to the less well-off southern nations. And of course, given the collective strength of the EU, they will be able to borrow virtually infinite sums from the market. Perhaps it is just me, but the stories seem pretty similar despite the spin as to which is good, and which is bad.

The second issue for the dollar, and the one that is getting more press now, is the fact that the US has not been able to contain Covid infections and so we are seeing a second wave of economic shutdowns across numerous states. You know, states like; Victoria, Australia; Melbourne, Australia; Tokyo, Japan; the United Kingdom and other large areas. This does not even address the ongoing spread of the disease through the emerging markets where India and Brazil have risen to the top of the worldwide caseload over the past two months. Again, my point is that despite reinstituted lockdowns in many places throughout the world, it is the US which the narrative points out as the problem.

It is fair to describe the dollar’s reaction function as follows: it tends to strengthen when either the US economy is outperforming other G10 economies (a situation that prevailed pretty much the entire time since the GFC) or when there is unbridled fear that the world is coming to an end and USD assets are the most desirable in the world given its history of laws and fair treatment of investors. In contrast, when the US economy is underperforming, it is no surprise that the dollar would tend to weaken. Well the data from Q2 is in and what we saw was that despite the worst ever quarterly decline in the US, it was dwarfed by the major European economies. At this time, the story being told seems to be that in Q3, the rest of the world will rapidly outpace the US, and perhaps it will. But that is a pretty difficult case to make when, first, Covid inspired lockdowns are popping up all around the world and second, the consumer of last resort (the US population) has lost their appetite to consume, or if not lost, at least reduced.

Once again, I will highlight that the dollar, while definitely in a short-term weakening trend, is far from a collapse, and rather is essentially right in the middle of its long-term range. This is not to say that the dollar cannot fall further, it certainly can, but do not think that the dollar is soon to become the Venezuelan bolivar.

And with that rather long-winded defense of the dollar behind us, let’s take a look at markets today. Equity markets continue to enjoy central bank support and have had an overall strong session. Asia saw gains in the Nikkei (+2.25%) and Shanghai (+1.75%) although the Hang Seng (-0.55%) couldn’t keep up with the big dogs. Europe’s board is no completely green, led by the DAX (+2.05%) although the CAC, which was lower earlier, is now higher by 1.0%. And US futures, which had spent the evening in the red are now higher as well.

Bond markets are embracing the risk-on attitude as Treasury yields back up 2bps, although are still below 0.55% in the 10-year. In Europe, the picture is mixed, and a bit confusing, as bund yields are actually 1bp lower, while Italian BTP’s are higher by 2bps. That is exactly the opposite of what you would expect for a risk-on session. But then, the bond market has not agreed with the stock market since Covid broke out.

And finally, the dollar, is having a pretty strong session today, perhaps seeing a bit of a short squeeze, as I’m sure the narrative has not yet changed. In the G10, all currencies are softer vs. the greenback, led by CHF (-0.6%) and AUD (-0.55%), although the pound (-0.5%) which has been soaring lately, is taking a rest as well. What is interesting about this move is that the only data released overnight was the monthly PMI data and it was broadly speaking, slightly better than expected and pointed to a continuing rebound.

EMG currencies are also largely under pressure, led by ZAR (-1.15%) and then the CE4 (on average -0.7%) with almost the entire bloc softer. In fact, the outlier is RUB (+0.8%), which seems to be the beneficiary of a reduction in demand for dollars to pay dividends to international investors, and despite the fact that oil prices have declined this morning on fears that the OPEC+ production cuts are starting to be flouted.

It is, of course, a huge data week, culminating in the payroll report on Friday, but today brings only ISM Manufacturing (exp 53.6) with the New Orders (55.2) and Prices Paid (52.0) components all expected to show continued growth in the economy.

With the FOMC meeting now behind us, we can look forward, as well, to a non-stop gabfest from Fed members, with three today, Bullard, Barkin and Evans, all set to espouse their views. The thing is, we already know that the Fed is not going to touch rates for at least two years, and is discussing how to try to push inflation higher. On the latter point, I don’t think they will have to worry, as it will get there soon enough, but their models haven’t told them that yet. At any rate, the dollar has been under serious pressure for the past several months. Not only that, most of the selling seems to come in the US session, which leads me to believe that while the dollar is having a pretty good day so far, I imagine it will soften before we log out this evening.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Struck by the Flu

If you think that Jay even thought
‘bout thinking ‘bout thinking he ought
To raise interest rates
He’ll not tempt the fates
Despite all the havoc ZIRP’s wrought

Meanwhile, ‘cross the pond what we learned
Is Germany ought be concerned
Their growth in Q2
Was struck by the flu
As exports, their customers, spurned

(Note to self; dust off “QE is Our Fate” on September 16, as that now seems a much more likely time to anticipate how the Fed is going to adjust their forward guidance.) Yesterday we simply learned that rates are going to remain low for the still indeterminate, very long time. Clearly, the bond market has gotten the message as yields along the Treasury curve press to lows in every tenor out through 7-year notes while the 10-year sits just 1.5 bps above the lows seen in March at the height of the initial panic. This should be no surprise as the FOMC statement and ensuing press conference by Chairman Powell made plain that the Fed is committed to use all their available tools to support the economy. Negative rates are not on the table, yield curve control is already there, effectively, so the reality is they only have more QE and forward guidance left in their toolkit. Powell promised that QE would be maintained at least at the current level, and the question of forward guidance is tied up with the internal discussions on the Fed’s overall policy framework. Those discussions have been delayed by the pandemic but are expected to be completed by the September meeting. Perhaps, at that time, they will let us know what they plan to do about their inflation mandate. The smart money is betting on a commitment to allow inflation to overshoot their target for an extended period in order to make up for the ground lost over the past decade, when inflation was consistently below target. I guess you need to be a macroeconomist to understand why rising prices helps Main Street, because, certainly from the cheap seats, I don’t see the benefit!

The market response was in line with what would be expected, as yields fell a bit further, the dollar fell a bit further and stocks rallied a bit further. But that is soooo yesterday. Let’s step forward into today’s activities.

Things started on a positive note with Japanese Retail Sales jumping far more than expected (+13.1%) in June which took the Y/Y number to just -1.2%. That means that Japanese Retail Sales are almost back to where things were prior to the outbreak. Unfortunately, this was not enough to help the Nikkei (-0.3%) and had very little impact on the yen, which continues to trade either side of 105.00. Perhaps it was the uptick in virus cases in Japan which has resulted in further restrictions being imposed on bars and restaurants that is sapping confidence there.

Speaking of the virus, Australia, too, is dealing with a surge in cases, as Victoria and Melbourne have seen significant jumps. As it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, there is growing concern that when the weather cools off here, we are going to see a much bigger surge in cases as well, and based on the current government response to outbreaks, that bodes ill for economic activity in the US come the fall.

But then, Germany reported their Q2 GDP data and it was much worse than expected at -10.1%. Analysts had all forecast a less severe decline because Germany seemed to have had a shorter shutdown and many fewer unemployed due to their labor policies where the government pays companies to not lay-off workers. So, if the shining star of Europe turned out worse than expected, what hope does that leave us for the other major economies there, France, Italy and Spain, all of which are forecast to see declines in Q2 GDP in excess of 15%. That data is released tomorrow, but the FX market wasted no time in selling the euro off from its recent peak. This morning, the single currency is lower by 0.35%, although its short-term future will also be highly dependent on the US GDP data due at 8:30.

Turning to this morning’s US data, today is the day we get the most important numbers, as the combination of GDP (exp -34.5%), to see just how bad things were in Q2, and Initial (1.445M) and Continuing (16.2M) Claims, to see how bad things are currently, are to be released at 8:30. After the combination of weak German data and resurgence in virus cases in areas thought to have addressed the issue, it should be no surprise that today is a conclusively risk-off session.

We have seen that in equity markets, where both the Hang Seng (-0.7%) and Shanghai (-0.25%) joined the Nikkei lower in Asia while European bourses are all in the red led by the DAX (-2.3%) and Italy’s FTSE MIB (-2.2%). And don’t worry, US futures are all declining, with all three major indices currently pointing to 1% declines at the open.

We have already discussed the bond market, where yields are lower in the US and across all of Europe as well with risk being pared around the world. A quick word on gold, which is lower by 0.8%, and which may seem surprising to some. But while gold is definitely a long-term risk aversion asset, its day to day fluctuations are far more closely related to the movement in the dollar and today, the dollar reigns supreme.

In the G10 bloc, NOK is the laggard, falling 1.0% as oil prices come under pressure given the weak economic data, but we have seen substantial weakness throughout the entire commodity bloc with AUD (-0.6%) and CAD (-0.57%) also suffering. In fact, the only currency able to hold its own this morning is the pound, which is essentially unchanged on the day. In the EMG bloc, there are several major declines with ZAR (-1.6%), RUB (-1.4%) and MXN (-1.0%) leading the way down. The contributing factor to all three of these currencies is the weakness in the commodity space and corresponding broad-based dollar strength. But the CE4 are all lower by between 0.3% and 0.6%, and most Asian currencies also saw modest weakness overnight. In other words, today is a dollar day.

And that is really the story. At this point, we need to wait for the data releases at 8:30 to get our next cues on movement. My view is that the Initial Claims data remains the single most important data point right now. Today’s expectation is for a higher print than last week, which the market may well read as the beginning of a reversal of the three-month trend of declines. A higher than expected number here is likely to result in a much more negative equity day, and correspondingly help the dollar recoup even more of its recent losses.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A New Paradigm

As mid-year approaches, it’s time
To ponder the central bank clime
Will negative rates
Appear in the States
And welcome a new paradigm?

With the end of the first half of 2020 approaching, perhaps it’s time to recap what an extraordinary six months it has been as well as consider what the immediate future may hold.

If you can recall what January was like, the big story was the Phase One trade deal, which was announced as almost completed at least half a dozen times, essentially every time the stock market started to decline, before it was finally signed. In hindsight, the fact that it was signed right at the beginning of the Lunar New Year celebrations in China, which coincided with the recognition that the novel coronavirus was actually becoming a problem, is somewhat ironic. After all, it was deemed THE most important thing in January and by mid-February nobody even cared about it anymore. Of course, by that time, Covid-19 had been named and was officially declared a pandemic.

As Covid spread around the world, the monetary responses were impressive for both their speed of implementation and their size. The Fed was the unquestioned leader, cutting rates 150bps in two emergency meetings during the first half of March while prepping the market for QE4. They then delivered in spades, hoovering up Treasuries, mortgage-backed bonds, investment grade corporate bonds and junk bonds (via ETF’s) and then more investment grade bonds, this time purchasing actual securities, not ETF’s. Their balance sheet has grown more than $3 trillion (from $4.1 trillion to $7.1 trillion) in just four months and they have promised to maintain policy at least this easy until the economy can sustainably get back to their inflation and employment goals.

On the fiscal front, government response was quite a bit slower, and aside from the US CARES act, signed into law in late March, most other nations have been less able to conjure up enough spending to make much of a difference. There was important news from the EU, where they announced, but have not yet enacted, a policy that was akin to mutualization of debt across the entire bloc. If they can come to agreement on this, and there are four nations who remain adamantly opposed (Sweden, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands), this would truly change the nature of the EU and by extension the Eurozone. Allowing transfers from the richer northern states to the struggling Mediterranean countries would result in a boon for the PIGS as they could finally break the doom-loop of their own nation’s banks owning the bulk of their own sovereign debt. But despite the support of both France and Germany, this is not a done deal. Now, history shows that Europe will finally get something along these lines enacted, but it is likely to be a significantly watered-down version and likely to take long enough that it will not be impactful in the current circumstance.

Of course, the ECB, after a few early stumbles, has embraced the idea of spending money from nothing and is in the process of implementing a €1.35 trillion QE program called PEPP in addition to their ongoing QE program.

Elsewhere around the world we have seen a second implementation of yield curve control (YCC), this time by Australia which is managing its 3-year yields to 0.25%, the same level as its overnight money. There is much talk that the Fed is considering YCC as well, although they will only admit to having had a discussion on the topic. Of course, a quick look at the US yield curve shows that they have already essentially done so, at least up to the 10-year maturity, as the volatility of yields has plummeted. For example, since May 1, the range of 3-year yields has been just 10bps (0.18%-0.28%) while aside from a one-week spike in early June, 10-year yields have had an 11bp range. The point is, it doesn’t seem that hard to make the case the Fed is already implementing YCC.

Which then begs the question, what would they do next? Negative rates have been strongly opposed by Chairman Powell so far, but remember, President Trump is a big fan. And we cannot forget that over the course of the past two years, it was the President’s view on rates that prevailed. At this time, there is no reason to believe that negative rates are in the offing, but in the event that the initial rebound in economic data starts to stumble as infection counts rise, this cannot be ruled out. This is especially so if we see the equity market turn back lower, something which the Fed seemingly cannot countenance. Needless to say, we have not finished this story by a long shot, and I would contend there is a very good chance we see additional Fed programs, including purchasing equity ETF’s.

Of course, the reason I focused on a retrospective is because market activity today has been extremely dull. Friday’s equity rout in the US saw follow through in Asia (Nikkei -2.3%, Hang Seng -1.0%) although Europe has moved from flat to slightly higher (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.25%, FTSE 100 +0.5%). US futures are mixed, with the surprising outcome of Dow and S&P futures higher by a few tenths of a percent while NASDAQ futures are lower by 0.3%. The bond market story is that of watching paint dry, a favorite Fed metaphor, with modest support for bonds, but yields in all the haven bonds within 1bp of Friday’s levels.

And finally, the dollar is arguably a bit softer this morning, with the euro the leading gainer in the G10, +0.5%, and only the pound (-0.2%) falling on the day. It seems that there are a number of algorithmic models out selling dollars broadly today, and the euro is the big winner. In the EMG bloc, the pattern is the same, with most currencies gaining led by PLN(+0.65%) after the weekend elections promised continuity in the government there, and ZAR (+0.55%) which is simply benefitting from broad dollar weakness. The exception to the rule is RUB, which has fallen 0.25% on the back of weakening oil prices.

On the data front, despite nothing of note today, we have a full calendar, especially on Thursday with the early release of payroll data given Friday’s quasi holiday

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 3.70%
  Chicago PMI 44.0
  Consumer Confidence 90.5
Wednesday ADP Employment 2.95M
  ISM Manufacturing 49.5
  ISM Prices Paid 45.0
  FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 1.336M
  Continuing Claims 18.904M
  Nonfarm Payrolls 3.0M
  Private Payrolls 2.519M
  Manufacturing Payrolls 425K
  Unemployment Rate 12.4%
  Average Hourly Earnings -0.8% (5.3% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Participation Rate 61.2%
  Trade Balance -$53.0B
  Factory Orders 7.9%
  Durable Goods 15.8%
  -ex transport 4.0%

Source: Bloomberg

So, as you can see, a full slate for the week. Obviously, all eyes will be on the employment data on Wednesday and Thursday. At this point, it seems we are going to continue to see data pointing to a sharp recovery, the so-called V, but the question remains, how much longer this can go on. However, this is clearly today’s underlying meme, and the ensuing risk appetite is likely to continue to undermine the dollar, at least for the day. We will have to see how the data this week stacks up against the ongoing growth in Covid infections and the re-shutting down of portions of the US economy. The latter was the equity market’s nemesis last week. Will this week be any different?

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Time of Distress

If banks in this time of distress
Are fine, at least in the US
Then why would the Fed
Stop dividends dead
While buy backs, forever suppress?

In a market that is showing little in the way of price volatility today, arguably the most interesting story is the results of the Fed’s bank stress tests that were released yesterday. There seemed to be a few inconsistencies between the actions and the words, although I guess we should expect that as standard operating procedure these days.

The punchline is the Fed halted share repurchases by banks while capping dividend payouts to no more than their average earnings for the past four quarters. In their tests they explained that, depending on the trajectory of the recovery, banks could lose between $560 billion (V-shaped) and $700 billion (U-shaped) in the coming year from loan losses. It ought not be that surprising that they would want to force banks to preserve capital in this situation, especially as the current Covid economy is far worse than any of their previous stress test parameters. And yet, the Fed explained that the banks were strongly capitalized, nonetheless. It strikes me that if they were so well capitalized, there would be no concerns over rewarding shareholders, but then again, I am just an FX guy.

But let’s take a look at the bigger picture. While the Fed has been doing everything in their power to prevent the equity market from declining, and so far have been doing a pretty good job in that regard, they have just laid out two of what I believe will be three regulations that are in our future. As populism rises worldwide and the 1% remain on the defensive, I expect that we are going to see widespread changes in the way capital markets work. Consider the following:

• Share repurchases are going to be a thing of the past. Now that the Fed has shown the way, I expect that regardless of who is in the White House after the election, one of the key lessons that will have been learned is that companies need to keep bigger rainy day funds, as well as invest more in their own businesses. At least that will be the spin when share repurchases are made illegal.
• Dividend caps are going to be the future as well. Here, too, with a nod toward reducing overall leverage and maintaining greater cash balances, dividends are going to be capped at some percentage of net income, probably averaged over several quarters so a single event will not necessarily disrupt that process, but dividend yields are going to decline as well. Of course, any yield will be better than the ongoing returns from ZIRP!
• Management salary caps. Finally, I think we will be able to look forward (?) to a time when senior management will have their salaries and bonuses capped at a multiple, and not a very large one, of the average employee’s salary.

The real question is, will these regulations apply only to publicly listed companies, or will there be an effort to change the way all businesses are managed in the US? But mark my words, this is the future, at least for a while.

If I am correct, and I truly hope I am not, then I think several other things will play out. First, these regulations will quickly be enacted in most nations. After all, if the US, the largest economy with the most sophisticated capital markets, can change the rules, so can everybody else. Second, this is going to play havoc with the Fed’s ongoing attempts to support equity prices. After all, restricting the ability of investors to earn a return is going to have a severe negative impact on valuations. However, the Fed will find themselves hard-pressed to argue against widespread adoption of these policies as they initiated them with the banks. Needless to say, risk assets are likely to find much reduced demand if there is less prospect of return.

To sum it up, there seems to be a real risk that we are going to see structural changes in capital markets that will result in permanently lower valuations, and the potential for a significant repricing of risk assets. This is not an imminent threat, but especially if there is a change in the White House and the Senate, this will quickly move up the agenda. Risk assets are likely to become far riskier, at least at current valuations.

But enough about my clouded crystal ball. Rather, a quick look at today’s session shows that yesterday afternoon’s US equity rally continued into Asia (Nikkei +1.1%, Sydney +1.5%) and Europe (DAX +1.1%, CAC +1.6%, FTSE 100 +1.55%) although US futures are actually little changed at this hour. Bond markets are edging higher, with yields declining on the order of 1bp-2bps across the haven markets, while oil is continuing to rebound from its sharp fall earlier this week.

FX markets are mixed in direction and have seen limited movement overall. In fact, the leading gainer this morning is the yen, up 0.3%, although despite some commentary that this is a haven asset move, that really doesn’t jive with what we are seeing in the equity space. Perhaps a better explanation is that CPI readings last night from Tokyo continue to show deflationary forces are rampant and, as we have seen for the past twenty years, that is a currency support. Kiwi is up a similar amount, but here, too, there is no news on which to hang our hat. On the flip side, we have seen tiny declines in SEK and GBP, and in truth, beyond yen and kiwi, no currency has moved more than 0.1%.

In the emerging markets, the picture is also mixed, with a similar number of gainers and losers, although magnitudes here are also relatively small. On the downside, RUB and ZAR have both fallen 0.4% while last night KRW managed a 0.35% gain. Both Russia and South Africa reported a jump in new Covid cases which seems to be overshadowing hopes of reopening the economy. As to the won, it was a beneficiary of both the equity risk rally as well as an apparent easing of tensions with North Korea.

On the data front, yesterday’s Initial Claims data was a bit concerning as though the number fell, it fell far less than expected. There are growing concerns that a second wave of layoffs is coming, although we continue to see companies reopening as well. I still believe this is the most relevant number going right now. This morning we get Personal Income (exp -6.0%), Personal Spending (9.2%), Core PCE (0.9% Y/Y) and Michigan Sentiment (79.2). While there will almost certainly be political hay made about the Income and Spending numbers, my sense is none of them will have much market impact. Rather, today is shaping up as a very quiet Friday as traders and investors look forward to a summer weekend.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

 

Sand on the Beach

The central bank known as the Fed
Injected more funds, it is said
Than sand on the beach
While they did beseech
The banks, all that money to spread

But lately the numbers have shown
Liquidity, less, they condone
Thus traders have bid
For dollars, not quid
Nor euros in every time zone

A funny thing seems to be happening in markets lately, which first became evident when the dollar decoupled from equity markets a few days ago. It seemed odd that the dollar managed to rally despite continued strength in equity markets as the traditional risk-on stance was buy stocks, sell bonds, dollars and the yen. But lately, we are seeing stock prices continue higher, albeit with a bit tougher sledding, while the dollar has seemingly forged a bottom, at least on the charts.

The first lesson from this is that markets are remarkably capable at sussing out changes in underlying fundamentals, certainly far more capable than individuals. But of far more importance, at least with respect to understanding what is happening in the FX market, is that dollar liquidity, something the Fed has been proffering by the trillion over the past three months, is starting to, ever so slightly, tighten. This is evident in the fact that the Fed’s balance sheet actually shrunk this week, to “only” $7.14 trillion from last week’s $7.22 trillion. While this represents just a 1% shrinkage, and seemingly wouldn’t have that big an impact, it is actually quite a major change in the market.

Think back to the period in March when the worst seemed upon us, equity markets were bottoming, and central banks were panicking. The dollar was exploding higher at that time as both companies and countries around the world suddenly found their revenue streams drying up and their ability to service and repay their trillions of dollars of outstanding debt severely impaired. That was the genesis of the Fed’s dollar swap lines to other central banks, as Chairman Jay wanted to insure that other countries would have temporary access to those needed dollars. At that time, we also saw the basis swap bottom out, as borrowing dollars became prohibitively expensive, and in the end, many institutions decided to simply buy dollars on the foreign exchange markets as a means of securing their payments.

However, once those swap lines were in place, and the Fed announced all their programs and started growing the balance sheet by $75 billion/day, those apocalyptic fears ebbed, investors decided the end was not nigh and took those funds and bought stocks. This explains the massive rebound in the equity markets, as well as the dollar’s weakness that has been evident since late March. In fact, the dollar peaked and the stock market bottomed on the same day!

But as the recovery starts to gather some steam, with recent data showing that while things are still awful, they are not as bad as they were in April or early May, the Fed is reducing the frequency of their dollar swap operations to three times per week, rather than daily. They have reduced their QE purchases to less than $4 billion/day, and essentially, they are mopping up some of that excess liquidity. FX markets have figured this out, which is why the dollar has been pretty steadily strengthening for the past seven sessions. As long as the Fed continues down this path, I think we can expect the dollar to continue to perform.

And this is true regardless of what other central banks or nations do. For example, yesterday’s BOE action, increasing QE by £100 billion, was widely expected, but interestingly, is likely to be the last of their moves. First, it was not a unanimous vote as Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, voted for no change. The other thing is that expectations for future government Gilt issuance hover in the £70 billion range, which means that the BOE will have successfully monetized the entire amount of government issuance necessary to address the Covid crash. But regardless of whether this appears GBP bullish, it is dwarfed by the Fed activities. Positive Brexit news could not support the pound, and now it is starting to pick up steam to the downside. As I type, it is lower by 0.3% on the day which follows yesterday’s greater than 1% decline and takes the move since its recent peak to more than 3.4%.

What about the euro, you may ask? Well, it too has been suffering as not only is the Fed beginning to withdraw some USD liquidity, but the ECB, via yesterday’s TLTRO loans has injected yet another €1.3 trillion into the market. While the single currency is essentially unchanged today, it is down 2.0% from its peak on the 10th of June. And this pattern has repeated itself across all currencies, both G10 and EMG. Except, of course, for the yen, which has rallied a bit more than 1% since that same day.

Of course, in the emerging markets, the movement has been a bit more exciting as MXN has fallen more than 5.25% since that day and BRL nearly 10%. But the point is, this pattern is unlikely to stop until the Fed stops withdrawing liquidity from the markets. Since they clearly take their cues from the equity markets, as long as stocks continue to rally, so will the dollar right now. Of course, if stocks turn tail, the dollar is likely to rally even harder right up until the Fed blinks and starts to turn on the taps again. But for now, this is a dollar story, and one where central bank activity is the primary driver.

I apologize for the rather long-winded start but given the lack of interesting idiosyncratic stories in the market today, I thought it was a good time for the analysis. Turning to today’s session, FX market movement has been generally quite muted with, if anything, a bias for modest dollar strength. In fact, across both blocs, no currency has moved more than 0.5%, a clear indication of a lack of new drivers. The liquidity story is a background feature, not headline news…at least not yet.

Other markets, too, have been quiet, with equity markets around the world very slightly firmer, bond markets very modestly softer (higher yields) and commodity markets generally in decent shape. On the data front, the only noteworthy release was UK Retail Sales, which rebounded 10.2% in May but were still lower by 9.8% Y/Y. This is the exact pattern we have seen in virtually every data point this month. As it happens, there are no US data points today, but we do hear from four Fed speakers, Rosengren, Quarles, Mester and the Chairman. However, they have not changed their tune since the meeting last week, and certainly there has been no data or other news which would have given them an impetus to do so.

The final interesting story is that China has apparently recommitted to honoring the phase one trade deal which means they will be buying a lot of soybeans pretty soon. The thing is, I doubt it is because of the trade deal as much as it is a comment on their harvest and the fact they need them. But the markets have largely ignored the story. In the end, at this point, all things continue to lead to a stronger dollar, so hedgers, take note.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Making More Hay

The Chairman explained yesterday
That more help would be on the way
If things turned out worse
Thus he’s not averse
To Congress soon making more hay

Chairman Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee yesterday and continued to proffer the message that while the worst may be behind us, there is still a long way to go before the recovery is complete. He continued to highlight the job losses, especially in minority communities, and how the Fed will not rest until they have been able to foster sufficient economic growth to enable unemployment to fall back to where it was prior to the onset of the Covid crisis. He maintains, as does the entire FOMC, that there are still plenty of additional things the Fed can do to support the economy, if necessary, but that he hopes they don’t have to take further measures. He also agreed that further fiscal stimulus might still be appropriate, although he wouldn’t actually use those words in his effort to maintain the fiction that the Fed is independent of the rest of the government. (They’re not in case you were wondering.) In other words, same old, same old.

The market’s response to the Chairman’s testimony was actually somewhat mixed. Equity prices continue to overperform, although they did retreat from their intraday highs by the close, but the dollar, despite what was clearly an increasing risk appetite, reversed early weakness and strengthened further. Initially, that dollar strength was attributed to a blow-out Retail Sales number, +17.7%, but that piece of the rally faded in minutes. However, as the day progressed, dollar buyers were in evidence as the greenback ignored traditional sell signals and continued to forge a bottom.

Recently, there seems to have been an increase in discussion about the dollar’s imminent decline and the end of its days as the global reserve currency. Economists point to the massive current account deficit, the debasement by the Fed as it monetizes debt and the concern that the current administration will not embrace previous global norms. My rebuttal of this is simple: what would replace the dollar as the global monetary asset that would be universally accepted and trusted to maintain some semblance of its value? The answer is, there is nothing at this time, that could possible do the job. The euro? Hah! Not only is it still dealing with existential issues, but the fact that there is no European fiscal policy will necessarily result in missing support when needed. The renminbi? Hah! The idea that the free world would rely on a currency controlled by the largest communist regime is laughable. The Swiss franc? Too small. Bitcoin? Hahahahah! ‘Nuff said. Gold? Those who are calling the end of the dollar’s importance in the world are not the same people calling for a return to the gold standard. In fact, the views of those two groups are diametrically opposed. For now, the dollar remains the only viable candidate for the role, and that is likely to remain the case for a very long time. As such, while it will definitely rise and fall over short- and medium-term windows, do not believe the idea of a coming dollar collapse.

Meanwhile, ‘cross the pond in the land
Where Boris is still in command
Inflation is sinking
While Bailey is thinking
He ought, the B/S, to expand

Turning to more immediate market concerns, UK data this morning showed CPI falling to 0.5% Y/Y, well below the BOE’s target of 2.0%. With the BOE on tap for tomorrow, the market feels quite confident that Governor Bailey will be increasing QE purchases by £100 billion, taking the total to £745 billion, or slightly more than one-third of the UK economy. The thing is, it is not clear that QE lifts prices of anything other than stocks. I understand that central banks are limited by monetary tools, but if we have learned anything since the GFC in 2008-09, it is that monetary tools are not very effective when addressing the real economy. There is no evidence that this time will be different in the UK than it has been everywhere else in the world forever. The pound, however, has suffered in the wake of the current UK combination of events. So rapidly declining inflation along with expectations of further monetary policy ease have been more than enough to offset yesterday’s positive Brexit comments explaining that both sides believe a deal is possible. Perhaps the question we ought to be asking is, even if hard Brexit is avoided, should the pound really rally that much? My view remains that while a hard Brexit would definitely be a huge negative, the pound has enough troubles on its own to avoid rising significantly from current levels. I still cannot make a case for 1.30, not in the current situation.

As to the rest of the FX market, it is having a mixed session today, with both gainers and losers, although no very large movers in either direction. For instance, the best G10 performer today is NOK, which has rallied just 0.3% despite oil’s lackluster performance today. Meanwhile, the worst performer is the euro, which has fallen 0.2%. The point is, movement like this does not need a specific explanation, and is simply a product of position adjustments over time.

Emerging market currency activity has been no different, really, with MXN the best performer (you don’t hear that much) but having rallied just 0.35%. the most positive story I’ve seen was that the Mexican president, AMLO, has promised to try to work more closely with the business community there to help address the still raging virus outbreak. On the downside, KRW, yesterday’s best performer, is today’s worst, falling 0.55%. This seems to be a response to the increasingly aggressive rhetoric from the North, who is now set to deploy troops to the border, scrapping previous pledges to maintain a demilitarized zone between the nations. However, it would be wrong not to mention yesterday’s BRL price action, where the real fell 1.7%, taking its decline over the past week to more than 5.1%. The situation on the ground there seems to be deteriorating rapidly as the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, more than 37K new cases were reported yesterday, and investors are taking note.

On the data front this morning, we see Housing Starts (exp 1100K) and Building Permits (1245K), neither of which seems likely to be a market mover. The Chairman testifies before the House today, but it is only the Q&A that will be different, as his speech is canned. We also hear from the Uber-hawk, Loretta Mester, but these days, even she is on board for all the easing that is ongoing, so don’t look for anything new there.

Ultimately, I continue to look at the price action and feel the dollar is finding its footing, regardless of the risk attitude. Don’t be too greedy if you are a receivables hedger, there is every chance for the dollar to strengthen further from here.

Good luck and stay safe
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