Plan B

As PM May turns to ‘Plan B’
The choices are not one, but three
Will Brexit be hard?
Or will she discard
The vote so Bremainers feel glee

The third choice is seek a delay
From Europe so that the UK
Can head to the polls
To sort out their goals
And maybe this time choose to stay

Once again Brexit remains the topic du jour as the ongoing political maelstrom in the UK is both riveting and agonizing at the same time. The latest news is that PM May survived the no-confidence vote. Her next step was to reach out to all opposition parties to try to determine what they wanted to see in Brexit as a prelude to going back to the EU with more demands requests. But the market has dismissed that idea as a non-starter (which I think is correct) and instead is clearly expecting that the decision will be for the UK to seek an extension of several months so that the UK can organize a second referendum on the question. At that point, the result would be binary, either stay in the EU or accept a hard Brexit. At least, that seems to be the current thinking amongst market participants and pundits. The pound has continued its slow recovery from the December lows as investors and traders start to assume that there will be no Brexit after all, and that the only reason the pound trades at its current levels is because of the prospect of leaving the EU. I cannot handicap how a second referendum would turn out, but it does appear that any result would be extremely close in either direction. Like many of you, I am ready for this saga to end, but I fear we will be hearing about it for another six months. In the meantime, the pound will remain hostage to the latest thoughts on the outcome, with Brexit still resulting in a significant decline, while confidence in Bremain will result in sterling strength.

As an indication of just how remarkable the Brexit story has become, Fed activity has faded from the front pages. We continue to hear from Fed speakers and the consistent message is that the Fed is now in ‘wait-and-see’ mode, with no rate hikes likely in the near future unless economic data indicates that prices are rising sharply. It appears that the Fed is losing faith in its Phillips Curve models, and although there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what should replace them, concerns over runaway inflation based on continued low Unemployment rates are diminishing.

Economic data from around the world continues to moderate, if not outright slow, and while recession remains in the future, it is arguably closer. The upshot is that no central banks are going to consider tightening policy further for quite a while, and the odds favor more policy ease from the big banks instead. As I have consistently written, the FX market remains entirely focused on the Fed without considering the fact that the ECB is in no position to think about raising interest rates later this year and is, in fact, more likely to have to reintroduce QE as the Eurozone economy slows. If the market is beginning to price in rate cuts by the Fed, which it is, then rate cuts by the ECB (or at least QE2) is a given. It is very difficult to see a path where the Fed eases and the ECB doesn’t follow suit, if not lead. This is not a positive outlook for the single currency.

Speaking of easing policy, the PBOC has been at it consistently as growth in China ebbs with no indication they will be reducing these efforts soon. While policy rates remain unchanged, the PBOC has continued to inject excess liquidity into the market there (so far this week they have injected CNY 1.169 Billion) in an effort to bring down short term financing costs for banks. The objective is to help the banks maintain their loan books, especially for those loans that are underperforming. As long as the renminbi remains relatively firm (and although weakening 0.3% overnight remains more than 3.0% from the 7.00 level that is seen as critical in preventing capital outflows), they will be able to continue this easing policy. However, at the point in time that the renminbi begins to weaken (and it will at some point), the PBOC will find its toolkit somewhat more restricted. Remember, despite the fact that so much has occurred in markets and policy circles recently, we are less than three weeks into 2019. There is plenty of time for trader and investor views to change if forecasted activities don’t materialize.

Once again, beyond those three stories, FX remains generally dull. Overall, the dollar is little changed this morning, rising against some currencies (CNY, NZD, RUB, MXN) and falling against others (JPY, EUR, GBP, BRL). The data releases were uninspiring with Eurozone inflation the most noteworthy release but coming in exactly as expected at 1.6% headline and 1.0% core. Those are not inflation rates that quicken the pulse. Yesterday’s Beige Book indicated an increase in uncertainty by a number of businesses but described ongoing decent economic activity. This morning we see Initial Claims (exp 220K) and Philly Fed (10.0), with the latter more likely to be interesting than the former. But for now, FX market attention continues to focus on Brexit first and then the Fed. And today that is not a recipe for excitement! I see little reason, at this point, for the dollar to do much of anything today.

Good luck
Adf

 

Disgraced

Prime Minister May was disgraced
As Parliament calmly laid waste
To hopes that her deal
With Europe could heal
The schism that Brexit emplaced

Yesterday’s Parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal negotiated between PM May’s government and the EU resulted in a resounding rejection. While the UK remains fairly evenly divided on the absolute concept of Brexit, what was made clear was that the terms proposed were unacceptable to all sides. As I have maintained, the Irish border issue is an intractable one, where one side or the other simply must cede ground. There is no middle way. At this time, neither side is willing to do so, and quite frankly, unless Northern Ireland is willing to reunite with Ireland, (which seems highly unlikely any time soon), there can be no deal that will be acceptable to both sides. This leaves three potential outcomes; the UK could leave the EU with no deal in hand and go back to WTO tariff rules; the UK could opt not to leave at all (based on the European Court of Justice ruling from November); or there is a small possibility that the deadline could be delayed a number of months in order to reopen negotiations.

Let’s unpack those three choices.
1. In a no-deal Brexit, pretty much every published analysis by economists has forecast a nearly apocalyptic result for the UK economy, with a deep recession followed by much slower growth. Or course, every one of those economists likely voted to remain as the demographics of the vote showed professionals, especially financial industry professionals, overwhelmingly voted to remain. In other words, they are talking their book. Will the UK suffer? Almost certainly. Will the UK collapse into a depression? Absolutely not. The UK was a strong and viable nation before the EU came into existence and will certainly continue to be so going forward. The market impact of this outcome is likely to be quite negative in the short term, however, with both the pound and UK equity markets falling sharply if it becomes clear this will be the outcome. While both will recover eventually, the timing on that is unclear.

2. If the May government opted to remain in the EU, essentially repudiating the results of the referendum, I fear it would lead to riots in the streets, certainly in the Midlands which led the vote to leave. In fact, I could see an alliance between the French gilets jaune and the Brexiteers as both will be taking to the streets in an effort to change the government. A unilateral decision not to leave would have much deeper consequences with regard to the political system within the UK, as there would be whole swathes of the nation that would cease to trust the government entirely. I actually think this is the least likely scenario, although in the event it occurred, I would expect both the pound and the FTSE to rally sharply initially, but as the consequences of that act became clearer, I imagine both would suffer greatly.

3. Delaying the deadline seems like the best fudge available to both sides at this point, although the initial comments by EU officials followed the line that, given the depth of the defeat of the already negotiated deal, there seems little chance to make small changes and get a new result. This will also require unanimous approval by the remaining 27 members of the EU, which sounds daunting, although if there it was believed there was a serious chance of coming up with a better deal would get done. Here, too, the market response will be for a rally in the pound, and probably the FTSE, as investors would likely take the stance that the delay presages a deal.

However, for the time being, PM May’s first course of business is to fight off the no-confidence motion brought by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn in his attempt to bring down the government and force a general election. Pundits believe that while the deal was unacceptable, May will hold on. The problem is, she has no ideas as to how to move the process forward. Certainly, the probability of a no-deal Brexit has increased somewhat after the vote. Interestingly, the FX markets have not really priced for that outcome. In fact, since the original vote date, December 11, when May pulled the bill to try to garner more support, the pound has rallied pretty steadily and is nearly 3% higher over the past month. It would seem that FX traders believe a deal will be found.

The other story of note is that the Chinese government is now set to cut taxes in an effort to add fiscal stimulus to their ongoing monetary stimulus efforts. Remember, they have already cut bank reserve requirements by another 1% this year, adding to 2% cuts from last year, and they have created a loan targeting policy for SME’s. Now income tax cuts are to be included as well. This highlights just how poorly the Chinese economy is performing right now, and how critical President Xi believes it is to continue publishing GDP growth above 6%. While the FX market has shown little response to these actions, they have had a much more positive impact on equity markets, with yesterday’s rallies easily attributed to the announcement. The one thing that is certain is that Xi will continue to do whatever he things is necessary to support economic growth in the short run, regardless of the potential longer-term negative consequences. After all, despite being President for life, he is still a politician!

Pivoting to the data story, yesterday Germany reported 2018 GDP growth of just 1.5%, its weakest performance in 5 years, although there was no report on Q4 growth. Given the surprise decline in Q3, pundits were watching to see if Germany had entered a technical recession, although it appears not to be the case. However, it is clear that growth in the engine of Europe is continuing to slow which doesn’t bode well for the entire Eurozone. Nor does it bode well for the ECB’s nascent attempts to remove policy accommodation. In fact, their biggest fear has to be that growth slows further there and they have basically no monetary tools left to combat the situation. This morning’s data has shown that inflation continues to ebb in Europe (France 1.6%, Germany 1.7%, Spain 1.2%, Italy 1.1%), and the UK (2.1%) as well, which reduces pressure to tighten policy at all. While US inflation is also softening, it continues to puzzle me that there is any belief the ECB (or the BOE for that matter) will consider raising interest rates any time soon. So even if the Fed is more dovish (and given remarks from the always hawkish KC President Esther George yesterday, it is clear that there is no rate hike in the near future in the US), the idea that any other central bank is going to be tightening policy is absurd.

In fact, I would argue that the dollar’s recent weakness has been predicated solely on the idea that the Fed will back off on previously forecast rate hikes. But if the Fed is stopping, you can be 100% certain that any thoughts of tighter policy elsewhere are also out the window, and so relatively speaking, the US remains the tightest policy around. I still like the dollar for that reason.

Good luck
Adf

Animal Spirits Were Stirred

All week from the Fed we have heard
That patience is their new watchword
The market’s reaction
Implied satisfaction
And animal spirits were stirred!

While it may be a new day, nothing has really changed. Yesterday we heard from both Chairman Powell and vice-Chairman Clarida and both said essentially the same thing: the Fed is watching both the economy and markets closely, and given where policy rates currently stand, they can afford to be patient before acting next. On the subject of the Fed’s balance sheet, neither indicated there was cause for a policy change, but Powell, when asked, remarked that if they thought the shrinking balance sheet was becoming a problem, they would not hesitate to adjust policy. The market interpretation was: the Fed is not going to raise rates anytime soon so we better buy stocks as quickly as we can. The result was yet another rally in equities with all three US market indices rising about 0.5% on the day. At this point, even the Fed must recognize that they have gotten their message across.

The next key story that remains ongoing is the trade situation between the US and China. There was no specific news on the subject and no comments from either side. The market view is that there was clearly some progress made during the initial discussions earlier this week and many people are optimistic that the next round of talks, which will include more senior representatives from both sides, can lead to a permanent resolution. As long as that remains the collective mindset, it is one less pressure point for global equity markets. However, it must be remembered that the US is seeking significant changes in the structure of the Chinese economy, and so a complete resolution will not be easy to achieve, especially in the accelerated timeline currently extant. I expect an extension of the timeline as the first concrete result.

The third key story has been Brexit, which continues to be a complete mess. Next week’s Parliamentary vote looks destined to fail, and now there is a growing movement for the deadline to be extended three months to the end of June. While that requires a unanimous vote to do so, comments from European members seem to be heading in that direction. The pound has benefitted from the discussion, as traders believe that the extra three months will help alleviate the risk of a no-deal Brexit and the forecast consequences on both the economy and the currency in that event. However, the Irish border remains unchanged and there has been no indication that the UK will accept an effective walling off of Northern Ireland for the sake of the deal. We shall see.

Two other stories are also gaining in their importance, the rebound in oil prices and further weakness in the Eurozone economy. As to the first, the OPEC agreement to cut production by 1.2 million barrels/day has served to remove fears of an oil glut and recent inventory figures have backed that up. As well, while WTI has traded back above $50/bbl, there is a growing belief that the US fracking community is not going to be able to produce as much oil as previously thought, especially if prices slip back below that $50 level. Oil prices have rallied for nine consecutive days but remain far below levels seen just last October. Historically, rising commodity prices have gone hand in hand with a declining dollar, and for right now, that correlation has been holding.

Finally, we continue to see weak economic data from the Eurozone, with this morning’s Italian IP data (-1.6% in Nov) the latest in a string that has shown Europe’s manufacturing sector is under increasing pressure. This story is the one that has received shortest shrift from the market overall. In fact, I would argue it has been completely ignored, certainly by FX traders. While everyone focuses intently on the Fed and the recent change of heart regarding future rate hikes, there has been almost no discussion with regard to the ECB and how, as economic growth continues to slow in the Eurozone, the idea that they will be tightening policy further come September is laughable. At some point, the market will realize that the Eurozone is in no position to normalize policy further, and that instead, the question will arise as to when they will seek to add more stimulus. My gut tells me that a change in forward guidance will be the first step as they extend the concept of rate hikes from; “not until the end of summer” to something along the lines of “when we deem appropriate based on the economic data”. In other words, the current negative rate regime will be indefinite, and if (when) the next recession arrives, look for a reintroduction of QE there. My point is that the euro has no business rallying in any substantive way.

With all of this as background, a quick tour of markets shows that while the dollar actually performed fairly well during the US session yesterday, it is giving back some of those gains this morning. For example, the euro, despite weak data, is higher by 0.3%. The pound, on the back of the renewed Brexit deal hope is higher by 0.5%. Firmer commodity prices have helped AUD (+0.6%), NZD (+0.9%) and CAD (+0.3%). But the biggest consistent winner of late has been CNY, which has rallied a further 0.65% overnight and is now up 1.6% this week. This is a far cry from the situation just a few weeks ago, when there were concerns the yuan might break through the 7.00 level. Two things come to mind here as to the cause. The first possibility is that there has been an increase in investment flows into the Chinese bond market, where yields remain higher than in much of the developed world, and the Chinese bond market is slowly being added to global bond indices requiring fund managers to add positions there. The second, slightly more conspiratorial idea is that the Chinese government is pushing the yuan higher during the trade negotiations with the US to insure that its value is not seen as an impediment to reaching any deal. Whatever you think of President Trump’s tactics, there is no question that the Chinese economy has come under increased pressure since the imposition of US tariffs on their exports. It is not hard to believe that the stronger yuan is a direct response to help reach an agreement as quickly as possible.

And that’s pretty much everything to watch today. This morning we get CPI data with expectations for headline to print at -0.1% (1.9% Y/Y) and ex food & energy to print at +0.2% (2.2% Y/Y). Thankfully there are no more Fed speakers, but I would say given the near unanimity of the message from the nine speakers this week, we have a pretty good idea of what they are thinking. Equity futures are pointing slightly lower following European markets, which are softer today. However, given that equity markets around the world have rallied steadily all week, it can be no real surprise that a little profit taking is happening on a Friday. As to the dollar, in the short term I think it remains under pressure, but over time, I continue to see more reasons to own it than to short it.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

Greater Clarity

Last year rate hikes had regularity
But now the Fed seeks greater clarity
‘Bout whether our nation
Is feeling inflation
Or some other source of disparity

Investors exhaled a great sigh
And quickly realized they must buy
Those assets with risk
To burnish their fisc
Else soon prices would be too high

The December FOMC Minutes were received quite positively by markets yesterday as it appears despite raising rates for the fourth time in 2018, it was becoming clearer to all involved that there was no hurry to continue at the same pace going forward. The lack of measured inflation and the financial market ructions were two key features that gave pause to the FOMC. While the statement in December didn’t seem to reflect that discussion, we have certainly heard that tune consistently since then. Just yesterday, two more Fed regional presidents described the need for greater clarity on the economic situation before seeing the necessity to raise rates again. And after all, given the Fed has raised rates 225bps since they began in December 2015, it is not unreasonable to pause and see the total impact.

However, regarding the continued shrinking of the balance sheet, the Fed showed no concern at this point that it was having any detrimental effect on either the economy or markets. Personally I think they are mistaken in this view when I look at the significant rise in LIBOR beyond the Fed funds rate over the past year, where Fed Funds has risen 125 bps while LIBOR is up 187bps. But the market, especially the equity market, remains focused on the Fed funds path, not on the balance sheet, and so breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday.

Given this turn of events, it should also not be surprising that the dollar suffered pretty significantly in the wake of the Minutes’ release. In the moments following the release, the euro jumped 0.7% and continued subsequently to close the day nearly 1% stronger. One of the underpinnings of dollar strength has been the idea that the Fed was going to continue to tighten policy in 2019, but the combination of a continuous stream of comments from Fed speakers and recognition that even back in December the Fed was discussing a pause in rate hikes has served to alter that mindset. Now, not only is the market no longer pricing in rate hikes this year, but also analysts are backing away from calling for further rate hikes. In other words, the mood regarding the Fed has turned quite dovish, and the dollar is likely to remain under pressure as long as this is the case.

Of course, the other story of note has been the trade talks between the US and China which ended yesterday. During the talks, market participants had a generally upbeat view of the potential to reach a deal, however, this morning that optimism seems to be fading slightly. Equity markets around the world have given back some of their recent gains and US futures are also pointing lower. As I mentioned yesterday, while it is certainly good news that the talks seemed to address some key issues, there is still no clarity on whether a more far-reaching agreement can be finalized in any near term timeline. And while there has been no mention of tariffs by the President lately, a single random Tweet on the subject is likely enough to undo much of the positive sentiment recently built.

The overnight data, however, seems to tell a different story. It started off when Chinese inflation data surprised on the low side, rising just 1.9% in December, much lower than expected and another red flag regarding Chinese economic growth. It seems abundantly clear that growth there is slowing with the only real question just how much. Forecasts for 2019 GDP growth have fallen to 6.2%, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them lowered going forward. On the other hand, the yuan has actually rallied sharply overnight, up 0.5%, despite the prospects for further monetary ease from Beijing. It seems that there is a significant inflow into Chinese bond markets from offshore which has been driving the currency higher despite (because of?) those economic prospects. In fact, the yuan is at its strongest level since last August and seemingly trending higher. However, I continue to see this as a short-term move, with the larger macroeconomic trends destined to weaken the currency over time.

As to the G10 currencies, they have stabilized after yesterday’s rally with the euro virtually unchanged and the pound ceding 0.25%. Two data points from the Eurozone were mixed, with French IP slipping to a worse than expected -1.3% while Italian Retail Sales surprised higher at +0.7% back in November. While there was no UK data, the Brexit story continues to be the key driver as PM May lost yet another Parliamentary procedural vote this morning and seems to be losing complete control of the process. The thing I don’t understand about Brexit is if Parliament votes against the current deal next week, which seems highly likely at this stage, what can they do to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Certainly the Europeans have not been willing to concede anything else, and with just 79 days left before the deadline, there is no time to renegotiate a new deal, so it seems a fait accompli that the UK will leave with nothing. I would welcome an explanation as to why that will not be the case.

Turning to this morning’s activity, the only data point is Initial Claims (exp 225K), but that is hardly a market moving number. However, we hear from three regional Fed presidents and at 12:45 Chairman Powell speaks again, so all eyes will be focused on any further nuance he may bring to the discussion. At this point, it seems hard to believe that there will be any change in the message, which if I had to summarize would be, ‘no rate changes until we see a strong reason to do so, either because inflation jumps sharply or other data is so compelling that it forces us to reconsider our current policy of wait and see.’ One thing to keep in mind, though, about the FX markets is that it requires two sets of policies to give a complete picture, and while right now all eyes are on the Fed, as ECB, BOJ, BOE and other central bank policies evolve, those will have an impact as well. If global growth is truly slowing, and the current evidence points in that direction, then those banks will start to sound more dovish and their currencies will likely see plenty of selling pressure accordingly. But probably not today.

Good luck
Adf

A Statement, Acute

The company named for a fruit
Explained in a statement, acute
Though services grew
Its gross revenue
Was destined, not to follow suit

The impact ‘cross markets was vast
As traders, most havens, amassed
Thus Treasuries jumped
The dollar was dumped
While yen demand was unsurpassed

Happy New Year to all my readers. I hope it is a successful and prosperous 2019 for everyone.

But boy, has it gotten off to a rough start! Since I last wrote on December 14, volatility across markets has done nothing but increase as fear continues to pervade both the investor and trader communities. While some pundits point to the trade war and/or the US government shutdown, what has been apparent to me for the past several months is that central banking efforts around the world to normalize policy have begun to take their toll on economic activity and by extension on markets that have become completely dependent on that monetary buffer.

Ten years of extraordinary monetary support by central banks around the world has changed the way markets behave at a fundamental level. The dramatic increase in computer driven, algorithmic trading across markets, as well as passive investing and implicitly short volatility strategies has relegated fundamental analysis to the dust heap of history. Or so it seems. The problem with this situation is that when conditions change, meaning liquidity is no longer being continually added to markets, all those strategies suffer. It will be interesting to watch just how long the world’s central banks, who are desperately trying to normalize monetary policy before the next economic downturn, are able to continue on their present path before the pressure of slowing growth forces a reversion to ‘free’ money for all. (Despite all their claims of independence, I expect that before the summer comes, tighter monetary policy will be a historical footnote.)

In the meantime, last night’s volatility was triggered when a certain mega cap consumer electronics firm explained to investors that its sales in China would be much weaker than previously forecast. Blaming the outcome on a slowing Chinese economy, management tried to highlight growth elsewhere, but all for naught. The market response was immediate, with equity markets falling sharply, including futures in both Europe and the US, and the FX markets picking up where last year’s volatility left off. Notably, with Tokyo still on holiday, the yen exploded more 3.5% vs. the dollar during the twilight hours between New York’s close and Singapore’s open, trading to levels not seen since last March. While it has given back a large portion of those gains, it remains higher by 1.2% in the session, and is more than 5% stronger than when I last wrote. If ever there was a signal that fear continues to pervade markets, the yen’s performance over the past three weeks is surely that signal.

Speaking of slowing Chinese growth, the recent PMI data from China printed below that critical 50.0 level at a weaker than expected 49.4, simply confirming the fears of many. What has become quite clear is that thus far, the trade dispute is having a much more measurable negative impact on China’s economy than on the US economy. This has prompted the PBOC to ease policy further overnight, expanding the definition of a small company to encourage more lending to that sector. Banks there that increase their loans to SME’s will see their reserve requirements reduced by up to a full percentage point going forward. (One thing that is very clear is there is no pretense of independence by the PBOC, it is a wholly owned operation of the Chinese government and President Xi!) I guess China is the first central bank to back away from policy normalization as the PBOC’s previous efforts to wring excess leverage out of the system are now overwhelmed by trying to add back that leverage! Look for the ECB to crack soon, and the Fed not far behind.

And while the rest of the FX market saw some pretty fair activity, this was clearly the key story driving activity. The funny thing about the euro is that there are mixed views as to whether the euro or the dollar is a better safe haven, which means that in risk-off scenarios like we saw last night, EURUSD tends not to move very far. Arguably, its future will be determined by which of the two central banks capitulates to weaker data first. (My money continues to be on the ECB).

This week is a short one, but we still have much data to come, including the NFP report tomorrow. So here is a quick update of what to expect today and tomorrow:

Today ADP Employment 178K
  Initial Claims 220K
  ISM Manufacturing 57.9
  ISM Prices Paid 58.0
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 177K
  Private Payrolls 175K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 20K
  Unemployment Rate 3.7%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5

Tomorrow we also hear from Fed Chair Powell, as well as two other speakers (Bullard and Barkin) and then Saturday, Philly Fed President Harker speaks. At this point, all eyes will be on the Chairman tomorrow as market participants are desperate to understand if the Fed’s reaction function to data is set to change, or if they remain committed to their current policy course. One thing that is certain is if the Fed slows or stops the balance sheet shrinkage, equity markets around the world will rally sharply, the dollar and the yen will fall and risky assets, in general, should all benefit with havens under pressure. At least initially. But don’t be surprised if the central banks have lost the ability to drive markets in their preferred long-term direction, even when explicitly trying to do so!

Good luck
Adf

A More Dovish Muse

The Chair of the Federal Reserve
For months has displayed steady nerve(s)
He’s gradually lifted
Fed Funds as he’s sifted
The data Fed members observe

But Friday brought more iffy news
And many now look for some clues
That Powell may soon
Abandon his tune
And search for a more dovish muse

Meanwhile o’er in Frankfurt they claim
That QE will end all the same
Though growth there is fading
There is no persuading
The Germans they’ll soon take the blame

The dollar started the Asian session on its back foot as market participants have jumped on the idea that softer employment data on Friday is going to prevent the Fed from maintaining their aggressive stance on monetary policy. And in fairness, we have already heard the first cracks in that story, as a number of Fed speakers were quite willing to admit that if the data slowed, they would not be as aggressive. However, the Fed is now in their blackout period, which means that we will not hear anything from them until they release their statement a week from Wednesday. In this market, that is an eternity with the ability for so much to happen and markets to move extraordinary distances.

As far as selling the dollar is concerned, I certainly understand the impulse given the clearly weaker US data and mildly more dovish tone of the latest comments last week. But the key thing to remember in the FX market is that everything is relative. And while US data is not as robust as it was just a few months ago, the same is true of both Eurozone and Japanese data, as well as Chinese and most EMG data. In fact, while the majority of participants continue to believe that the ECB is going to end QE on December 31st, and confirm that stance this week, there is a very big question mark regarding future European growth, especially in the event of a hard Brexit. Will the ECB have the guts ability to restart QE when inflation data suddenly starts to slide while Q4 GDP disappoints? And so while policy ease may be the proper response, having just ended their program they will be desperate to retain any credibility that they have left. At the end of the day, while the US economy appears to be slowing, it remains significantly brighter than the rest of the world. And that, eventually, is going to underpin the dollar. However, apparently not today.

Arguably, the biggest story this morning is the European Court of Justice’s ruling that the UK can unilaterally withdraw their Section 50 letter (the one where they officially declared they were leaving the EU). The upshot is the Bremainers feel there is new life and they can prevent the disastrous outcome of a hard Brexit. The one thing that seems clear, however, is that the Brexit deal, as currently negotiated, is likely to go down to defeat in the House of Commons in any vote. While that vote had been scheduled to occur tomorrow evening, just moments ago PM May took it off the agenda, with no alternative time scheduled. At the same time, her government reiterated that the UK is going through with Brexit as that was the result requested by the nation during the referendum. The FX market response to the latest histrionics has been to sell the pound. As I type, Sterling is lower by -0.45%, although that is also partially due to the fact that UK data was quite weak as well. For example, Construction Orders fell -30.7% in Q3, its worst performance since the depths of the great recession in 2009. IP fell -0.8% and GDP continues to edge along at a mere 0.1% monthly rate, having grown just 1.5% in the past year. It is becoming ever more clear that Brexit uncertainty is having a negative impact on the UK and by extension on the pound.

Away from the pound’s decline, though, the dollar is generally under pressure in the G10. For example, the euro has rallied 0.3% after modestly positive German trade and Italian IP data, although quite frankly, it seems more of a dollar negative than euro positive story. Bearing out the dollar weakness theme are the commodity currencies, with all three (AUD, CAD and NZD) firmer this morning despite declines across the board in energy, metals and agricultural prices.

Turning to the Emerging markets, the story is a little less anti-dollar as INR has fallen -0.7% after local elections added pressure to PM Modi’s political standing and called into question his ability to be reelected next year. In a more normal reaction to weaker commodity prices, both ZAR (-0.55%) and IDR (-0.5%) are suffering. At the same time, ongoing tensions regarding the US-China trade situation continue to weigh on KRW (-0.7%) and, not surprisingly, CNY (-0.5%). But away from those stories, the broad EMG theme is actually one of modest currency strength. Overall, it has been a mixed picture in the FX space.

Looking ahead to the data this week, with the UK vote now pulled from the calendar and Fed speakers absent, the market will look toward inflation data and Retail Sales for the latest clues on the economy.

Today JOLT’s Jobs Report 6.995M
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 107.3
  PPI 0.0% (2.5% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.1% (2.6% Y/Y)
Wednesday CPI 0.0% (2.2% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
Friday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.2%
  IP 0.3%
  Capacity Utilization 78.5%
  Business Inventories 0.5%

While the inflation data is important, the one thing that seems abundantly clear from recent Fed commentary is that they are unconcerned over the potential for inflation to run much higher. Instead, my sense is that they are going to be very focused on the potential first harbingers of a slowdown in the employment situation, where Initial Claims have ended their decade long decline and actually have started to rise. This is often seen as an early sign of potential economic weakness. But in the end, with the Fed quiet this week, I expect that we are going to be subject to much more foreign influence, with the ongoing Brexit situation driving the pound, the potential for a surprise from the ECB (which meets Thursday) and of course, the ongoing trade melee. In addition, we cannot forget the influence of equity markets, which continue to decline this morning after an abysmal week last week. In other words, there is plenty to drive markets this week, even absent the Fed, and for now, the dollar seems to be under pressure.

Good luck
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More Concern

The tide is beginning to turn
As hawks at the Fed slowly learn
Their earlier view
No longer rings true
So they’ve now expressed more concern

These days there are three key drivers of the market narrative as follows:

The Fed – There is no question that the tone of commentary from Fed speakers has softened over the past two weeks, certainly from the way it sounded two months ago. Back then Chairman Powell explained that the Fed Funds rate was “a long way” from neutral, implying numerous further interest rate hikes. Equity markets responded by selling off sharply and talk of a yield curve inversion leading to a recession was nonstop. Meanwhile, the dollar rose nicely vs. most of its counterparties. A funny thing happened, though, on the way to that next rate hike due next week; economic data started to soften.

Softer housing data as well as declines in production numbers and survey data like the ISM have resulted in a more cautionary stance by these same Fed members. While the doves (Kashkari, Bullard and Brainerd) had always shown some concern over the pace of rate hikes given the absence of measured inflation, the rest of the Fed were happy to hew to the Phillips curve model and assume that the exceptionally low unemployment rate would lead to much higher inflation. This latter view encouraged them to gradually raise rates in order to prevent a failure on that part of their mandate.

But whether it is a result of the sharp declines seen in equity prices, the ongoing bashing from President Trump or simply the fact that the growth picture is slowing (I certainly hope it is the last of these!), the tone from this august group is definitely less aggressive. And while yesterday Chairman Powell reiterated that the economy was “very strong” on many measures, he was also clear to indicate that there was much more uncertainty over what the future would bring. This change of tone has been well received by the punditry, and quite frankly, by markets, which saw a sharp late day equity rally sufficient to reduce early session losses to nearly flat.

The Fed’s problem is that they created a monster with Forward Guidance, which was great when it helped them to further their easing bias, but is not well suited to changes in policy. Futures markets are now pricing less than one rate hike in 2019, down from nearly three hikes just a month ago. Transitions are always the hardest times for any market and for all policymakers. It is no surprise that we have seen increased volatility across markets lately, and I expect it will continue.

Trade – The trade situation is extremely difficult to describe. In the course of a week, market sentiment has gone from euphoria over the reopening of talks between the US and China on Monday, to outright fear after the US had the CFO of one of China’s largest companies, Huawei, arrested in Canada regarding the breech of sanctions on Iran. There are two concerns over the trade issue that need to be addressed when considering its impact on markets. First is the impact on prices. Tariffs will unambiguously raise prices to someone as long as they are in place. The question is who will feel the pain. For importers, their choices are pass on the cost by raising prices, eat the cost by reducing margins or have their vendors eat the cost by renegotiating their prices. In the first case, it is a direct impact on inflation data, something that has not yet been evident. In the second case, it is a direct hit to profitability, also something that has not yet been evident, but it has been discussed by a number of CEO’s as they get asked about their business. In the third case, the US makes out well, with neither of the potential problems coming home to roost.

The second, knock-on impact is on growth. Higher prices will reduce demand and lower margins will reduce available cash flow, and correspondingly reduce the ability of companies to invest and grow. In other words, there are no short term positives to be had from the tariffs. However, if negative behavior can be changed because of their imposition, such that IP is protected and an agreement can help reduce all trade barriers, including non-tariff ones, then the ends may justify the means. Alas, I am not confident that will be the case. Looking at the market impact, theory would dictate the dollar should rise on the idea that other currencies will depreciate sufficiently to offset the tariffs and reestablish equilibrium. We have seen that in USDCNY, which has fallen about 8% from its peak in spring, nearly offsetting the 10% tariffs. Looking ahead though, if the tariff rate rises to 25%, it is harder to believe the Chinese will allow the yuan to fall that much further. For the past decade they have been fearful of allowing their currency to fall to quickly as it has led to significant capital flight, so it would be premature to expect a decline anywhere near that magnitude.

Oil – Oil prices have moved back to the top of the market’s play list as a combination of factors has lately driven significant volatility. It wasn’t that long ago that there was talk of oil getting back to $100/bbl, especially with the US sanctions on Iran being reimposed. But then political pressure from the US on Saudi Arabia resulted in a significant increase in production there, which alongside continuing growth in US production, turned fears of a shortage into an absolute oil glut. This resulted in a 33% decline in the price in less than two months’ time, with ensuing impact on petrocurrencies like CAD, RUB and MXN, as well as a significant change in sentiment regarding inflation. With global growth continuing to show signs of slowing further, it is hard to believe that oil prices will rebound anytime soon. As such, one needs to consider that those same currencies will remain under pressure going forward.

All of this leads us to today’s session where the primary focus will be on the employment report. Expectations are as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 200K
Private Payrolls 200K
Manufacturing Payrolls 20K
Unemployment Rate 3.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.1% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
Michigan Sentiment 97.0

It feels like the market is more concerned over a strong number, which might put the Fed on alert for further rate hikes. In fact, it seems like we have moved into a good news is bad situation again, at least for equities. For the dollar, though, strong data is likely to lead to support. My view is that we may start to see a softer tone from the data, which would lead to further softening in the dollar, but a rebound in stocks.

Good luck and good weekend
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