Further Afflictions

Each day there is growing conviction
The buck is due further affliction
More views now exist
The Fed will soon ‘Twist’
Thus, slaking the market’s addiction

But even if Powell and friends
Do act as the crowd now contends
Does anyone think
Lagarde will not blink
And cut rates at which her group lends?

You cannot read the financial press lately without stumbling across multiple articles as to why the dollar is due to fall further.  There is no question it has become the number one conviction trade in the hedge fund community as well as the analyst community.  There are myriad reasons given with these the most common:

1.     The introduction of the vaccine will lead to a quicker recovery globally and demand for risk assets not havens like the dollar
2.     The Biden administration will be implementing a new, larger stimulus package adding to the global reflation trade
3.     The Fed is going to embark on a new version of Operation Twist (where they swap short-dated Treasuries for long-dated Treasuries) in order to add more stimulus, thus weakening the dollar
4.     The market technical picture is primed for further dollar weakness in the wake of recent price action breaking previous dollar support levels.

Let’s unpack these ideas in order to try to get a better understanding of the current sentiment.

The vaccine story is front page news worldwide and we have even had the first country, the UK, approve one of them for use right away.  There is no question that an effective vaccine that is widely available, and widely taken, could easily alter the current zeitgeist of fear and loathing.  If confidence were to make a comeback, as lockdowns ended and people were released from home quarantines, it would certainly further support risk appetite.  Or would it?

Consider that risk assets, at least equities, are already trading at record high valuations as investors have priced in this outcome.  You may remember the daily equity rallies in October and November based on hopes a vaccine would be arriving soon.  The point is, it is entirely possible, and some would say likely, that the vaccine implementation has already been priced into risk assets.  One other fly in this particular ointment is that so many businesses have already permanently closed due to the government-imposed restrictions worldwide, that even if economic demand rebounds, supply may not be available, thus driving inflation rather than activity.

How about the idea of a new stimulus package adding to global reflation?  Again, while entirely possible, if, as is still widely expected, the Republicans retain control of the Senate, any stimulus bill is likely to disappoint the bulls.  As well, if this is US stimulus, arguably it will help support the US economy, US growth and extend the US rebound further and faster than its G10 and most EMG peers.  Yes, risk will remain in favor, but will that flow elsewhere in the world?  Maybe, maybe not.  That is an open question.

Certainly, a revival of Operation Twist, where the Fed extends the maturity of its QE purchases in order to add further support to the economy by easing monetary policy further would be a dollar negative.  I thought it might be instructive to see how the dollar behaved back in 2011-12 when Ben Bernanke was Fed Chair and embarked on the first go-round of this policy.  Interestingly enough, from September 2011 through June 2012, the first leg of Operation Twist, the dollar rallied 8.7% vs. the euro.  When the Fed decided to continue the program for another six months, the first dollar move was a continuation higher, with another 2.75% gain, before turning around and weakening about 6%.  All told, through two versions of the activity, the dollar would up slightly firmer (2.5%) than when it started.

And this doesn’t even consider the likelihood that if the Fed eases further, all the other major central banks will be doing so as well.  Remember, FX is a relative game, so relative monetary policy moves are the driver, not absolute ones.  And once again, I assure you, that if the euro starts to rally too far, the ECB will spare no expense to halt that rally and reverse it if possible.  Currently, the trade-weighted euro is back to levels seen in early September but remains 1.75% below the levels seen in 2018.  It is extremely difficult to believe that the ECB will underperform next week at their meeting if the euro is climbing still higher.  Deflation in Europe is rampant (CPI was just released at -0.3% in November), and a strong currency is not something Lagarde and her compatriots can tolerate.

Finally, looking at the technical picture, it may well be the best argument for further dollar weakness.  To the uninitiated (including your humble author) the variety of technical indicators observed by traders can be dizzying.  However, some include satisfying the target of an “inverted hammer” pattern, recognition of the next part of an Elliott Wave ABC correction and DeMark targets now formed for further dollar weakness.  While that mostly sounded like gibberish, believe me when I say there are many traders who base every action on these indicators, and when levels are reached in the market, they swarm in to join the parade.  At the same time, the hedge fund community, while short a massive amount of dollars, is reputed to have ample dry powder to increase those positions.

In sum, ironically, I would contend that the technical picture is the strongest argument for the dollar to continue its recent decline.  Risk assets are already priced for perfection, the vaccine is a known quantity and any Fed move is likely to be matched by other central banks.  This is not to say that the dollar won’t decline further, just that any movement is likely to be grudging and limited.  The dollar is not about to collapse.

A quick recap of today’s markets shows that risk appetite, not unlike yesterday’s lack of enthusiasm, remains satisfied for now.  Asian equities were mixed with the Hang Seng (+0.7%) the leader by far as both the Nikkei (0.0%) and Shanghai (-0.2%) showed no life.  European bourses are mostly lower (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.25%) although the FTSE 100 is flat on the day.  And US futures are also either side of flat.

Bond markets, are rebounding a bit from their recent decline, with Treasuries seeing yields lower by 1 basis point and European bonds all rallying as well, with yields falling between 2bps and 3bps.  The latter may well be due to the combination of weaker than expected Services PMI releases as well as the news that Germany is extending its partial lockdown to January 10.  (Tell me again why the euro is a good bet here!)

Gold continues to rebound from its correction last week, up another $10 while the dollar, overall, this morning is somewhat softer, keeping with the recent trend.  GBP (+0.6%) is the leading gainer in the G10 on continued hopes a Brexit deal will soon be reached, but the rest of the bloc is +/-0.2%, or essentially unchanged.  EMG gainers include HUF (+0.7%) as the government there expands infrastructure spending, this time on airports, while the rest of the bloc has seen far smaller gains, which seem to be predicated on the idea of US stimulus talks getting back on track.

Initial Claims (exp 775K) data leads the calendar this morning with Continuing Claims (5.8M) and then ISM Services (55.8) at 10:00.  Yesterday’s Beige Book harped on the negative impact that government shutdowns have had on companies with no sign, yet, of vaccine hopes showing up in businesses.  At the same time, Chairman Powell, in his House testimony yesterday, explained that there was no rift between the Fed and the Treasury, and the Fed response when Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said he was recalling unused funds from the CARES act, was merely reinforcement of the idea that the Fed was not going to back away from their stated objectives.

In the end, the dollar remains under pressure and the trend is your friend.  With that in mind, though, it strikes that a decline of more than another 1%-2% will be very difficult to achieve without a more significant correction first.  Again, for receivables hedgers, these are good levels to consider.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Nothing but Cheerful

While yesterday traders were fearful
Today they are nothing but cheerful
The vaccine is coming
While Bitcoin is humming
It’s only the bears who are tearful

Risk is back baby!!  That is this morning’s message as a broad-based risk-on scenario is playing out across all markets.  Well, almost all markets, oil is struggling slightly, but since according to those in the know (whoever they may be) we have reached so-called ‘peak oil’, the oil market doesn’t matter anymore.  So, if it cannot rally on a day when other risk assets are doing so, it is of no consequence.

Of course, this begs the question, what is driving the reversal of yesterday’s theme?  The most logical answer is the release of the newest batch of Manufacturing PMI data from around the world, which while not universally better, is certainly trending in the right direction.  Starting last night in Asia, we saw strength in Australia (55.8), Indonesia (50.6), South Korea (52.9), India (56.3) and China (Caixin 54.9).  In fact, the only weak print was from Japan (49.0), which while still in contractionary territory has improved compared to last month.  With this much renewed manufacturing enthusiasm, it should be no surprise that equity markets in Asia were all bright green.  The Nikkei (+1.35%), Hang Seng (+0.85%) and Shanghai (+1.75%) led the way with New Zealand the only country not to join in the fun.

Turning to European data, it has been largely the same story, with Germany (57.8) leading the way, but strong performances by the UK (55.6) and the Eurozone (53.8) although Italy (51.5) fell short of expectations and France (49.6) while beating expectations remained below the key 50.0 level.  Spain (49.8), too, was weak failing to reach expectations, but clearly, the rest of the Continent was quite perky in order for the area wide index to improve.  Equity markets on the Continent are also bright green led by the FTSE 100 (+1.95%) but with strong performances by the DAX (+1.0%) and CAC (+1.1%) as well.  In fact, here, not a single market is lower.  Even Russian stocks are higher despite the weakest PMI performance of all (46.3).

The point is, there is no risk asset that is not welcome in a portfolio today.  However, while the broad sweep of PMI data is certainly positive, it seems unlikely, given the market’s history of ignoring both good and bad data from this series, that this is the only catalyst.  In fairness, there was some other positive data.  For example, German Unemployment fell to 6.1%, a tick below last month and 2 ticks below expectations.  At the same time, Eurozone CPI was released at a slightly worse than expected -0.3% Y/Y in November, which only encourages the bullish view that the ECB is going to wow us next week when they unveil their latest adjustments to PEPP.

And perhaps, that is a large part of the story, expectations for ongoing central bank largesse to support financial markets continue to be strong.  After all, the buzz in the US is that the combination of Fed Chair Jay Powell alongside former Fed Chair Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary means that come January or February, the taps will once again open in the US with more fiscal and monetary assistance.  Alas, what we know is that the bulk of that assistance winds up in the equity markets, at least that has been the case to date, so just how much this new money will help the economy itself remains in question.

But well before that, we have a number of key events upcoming, notably next week’s ECB meeting and the Fed meeting the following week.  Focusing first on Frankfurt, recall that Madame Lagarde essentially promised action at their late October get together, and the market wasted no time putting numbers on those expectations.  While no rate cut is anticipated, at least not in the headline Deposit rate (currently -0.50%), the PEPP is expected to be increased by up to €600 billion with its tenor expected to be extended by an additional six months through the end of 2021.  However, before we get too used to that type of expansion, perhaps we should heed the words of Isabel Schnabel, the German ECB Executive Board member who today explained that while further support would be forthcoming, thoughts that the ECB would take the Mario Draghi approach of exceeding all expectations should be tempered.  Of course, the question is whether a disappointing outcome next week, say just €250 billion additional purchases, would have such a detrimental impact on the markets economy.  Remember, while Madame Lagarde has a great deal of political nous, she has thus far demonstrated a tin ear when it comes to market signals.  The other topic on which she opined was the TLTRO program, which she seems to like more than PEPP, and which she implied could see both expansion and even a further rate cut from the current -1.00%.

And perhaps, that is all that is needed to get the juices flowing again, a little encouragement that more money is on its way.  Certainly, the bond markets are exhibiting risk on tendencies, although yield increases of between 0.2bps (Germany) and 1.1bps (Treasuries) are hardly earth shattering.  They are certainly no indication of the reflation trade that had gotten so much press just a month ago.

And finally, the dollar, which is definitely softer this morning, but only after having rallied all day yesterday, so is in fact higher vs. yesterday morning’s opening levels.  The short dollar trade remains one of the true conviction trades in the market right now and one where positioning is showing no signs of abating.  Almost daily there seems to be another bank analyst declaring that the dollar is destined for a great fall in 2021.  Perhaps they are correct, but as I have repeatedly pointed out, no other central bank, certainly not the ECB or BOJ is going to allow the dollar to decline sharply without some action on their part to try to slow or reverse it.

A tour of the market this morning shows that CHF (+0.4%) is the leading gainer in the G10, although followed closely by SEK (+0.4%) and EUR (+0.35%).  Of course, if you look at the movement since Friday, CHF and EUR are higher by less than 0.1% and SEK is actually lower by 0.45%.  In other words, do not believe that the dollar decline is a straight-line affair.

Emerging markets are seeing similar price action, although as the session has progressed, we have seen more currency strength.  Currently, CLP (+0.9%), ZAR (+0.85%) and BRL (+0.8%) are leading the way here, all three reliant on commodity markets, which have, other than oil, performed well overnight.  The CE4 are also higher (HUF +0.6%, CZK +0.5%), tracking the euro’s strength, and Asian currencies had a fair run overnight as well, with INR (+0.5%) the best performer as a beneficiary of an uptick in stock and bond investments made their way into the country.

On the data front, today brings ISM Manufacturing (exp 58.0) and Construction Spending (0.8%), with the former certainly of more interest than the latter.  This is especially so given the PMI data overnight and the market response.  But arguably, of far more importance is Chairman Powell’s Senate testimony starting at 10:00 this morning, which will certainly overshadow comments from the other three Fed speakers due later.

Yesterday at this hour, with the dollar under pressure, it seemed we were going to take out some key technical levels and weaken further.  Of course, that did not happen.  With the dollar at similar levels to yesterday morning, and another dollar weakening sentiment, will today be the day that we break 1.20 in the euro convincingly?  As long as CNY remains strong, it is certainly possible, but I am not yet convinced.  Receivables hedgers, these are the best levels seen in two years, so it may not be a bad time to step in.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Pandemic Support

Til now the direction’s been clear
As Jay and Mnuchin did fear
If they didn’t spend
The US can’t mend
And things would degrade through next year

But now, unless there’s a breakthrough
It seems Treasury won’t renew
Pandemic support
Which likely will thwart
A rebound til late Twenty-Two

Just when you thought things couldn’t get more surprising, we wind up with a public disagreement between the US Treasury Secretary and the Federal Reserve Chair.  To date, Steve Mnuchin and Jay Powell have seemed to work pretty well together, and at the very least, were both on the same page.  Both recognized that the impact of the pandemic would be dramatic and there was no compunction by either to invent new ways to support both markets and the economy.  As well, both were appointed by the same president, and although their personal styles may be different, both seemed to have a single goal in mind, do whatever is necessary to maintain as much economic activity as possible.

Aah, but 2020 is unlike any year we have ever seen, especially when it comes to policy decisions.  The legalities of the alphabet soup of Fed programs (e.g. PMCCF, SMCCF, MMLF, etc.) require that they expire at the end of the year and must be renewed by the Treasury Department.  And in truth, this is a good policy as expiration dates on spending programs require continued debate as to their efficacy before renewal.  The thing is, given the rapid increase in covid infections and rapid increase in state economic restrictions and shutdowns, pretty much every economist and analyst agrees that all of these programs should continue until such time as the spread of the coronavirus has slowed or herd immunity has been achieved.  Certainly, every FOMC member has been vocal in the need for more fiscal stimulus as they know that their current toolkit is inadequate.  (Just yesterday we heard from both Loretta Mester and Robert Kaplan with exactly that message.)  But to a (wo)man, they have all explained that the Fed will continue to do whatever it can to help, and that means continuing with the current programs.

Into this mix comes the news that Secretary Mnuchin sent a letter to the Fed that they must return the funds made available to backstop some of the Fed’s lending programs, as they were no longer needed.  The Fed immediately responded by saying “the full suite” of programs should be maintained into 2021.

Let’s consider, for a moment, some of the programs and what they were designed to do.  For instance, the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility do seem superfluous at this stage.  After all, more than $1.9 trillion of new corporate debt has been issued so far in 2020 and the Fed has purchased a total of $45.8 billion all year, just 2.4%, mostly through ETF’s.  It seems apparent that companies are not having any difficulty accessing financing, at very low rates, in the markets directly.  In the Municipal space, the Fed has only bought $16.5 billion while more than $250 billion has been successfully issued year to date.  Mnuchin’s point is, return the unused funds and deploy them elsewhere, perhaps as part of the widely demanded fiscal policy support.  The other side of that coin, though, is the idea that the reason the market’s have been able to support all that issuance is because the Fed backstop is in place, and if it is removed, then markets will react negatively.

In fairness, both sides have a point here, and perhaps the most surprising outcome is the public nature of the spat.  Historically, these two agencies work closely together, especially during difficult times.  But as I said before, 2020 is unlike any time we have seen in our lifetimes.  There is one other potential driver of this dissension, and that could be that politically, the Administration is trying to get Congress to act on a new stimulus plan quickly by threatening to remove some of the previous stimulus.  However, whatever the rationale, it clearly has the market on edge, interrupting the good times, although not yet resulting in a significant risk-off outcome.

If this disagreement is not resolved before the next FOMC meeting in three weeks’ time, the market will be looking for the Fed to expand its stimulus measures in some manner, either by increasing QE purchases or by purchasing longer tenor bonds, thus weighing on the back end of the curve as well as the front.  And for our purposes, meaning in the FX context, that would be significant, as either of those actions are likely to see a weaker dollar in response.  Remember, while no other central bank is keen to see the dollar weaken vs. their own currency, as long as CNY continues to outperform all, further dollar weakness vs. the euro, yen, pound, et al, is very much in the cards.

So, with that as our backdrop, markets today don’t really know what to do and are, at this point, mixed to slightly higher.  Asia, overnight, saw further weakness in the Nikkei (-0.4%), but both the Hang Seng and Shanghai exchanges gained a similar amount.  European bourses have slowly edged higher to the point where the CAC, DAX and FTSE 100 are all 0.5% higher on the day, although US futures are either side of unchanged as traders try to figure out the ultimate impact of the spat.  Bonds are mixed with Treasury yields higher by 1 basis point, but European yields generally lower by the same amount this morning.  Of course, a 1 basis point move is hardly indicative of a directional preference.

Both gold and oil are essentially flat on the day, and the dollar can best be described as mixed, although it is starting to soften a bit.  In the G10 space, NZD (+0.45%) leads the way with the rest of the commodity bloc (AUD, NOK, CAD) all higher by smaller amounts.  Meanwhile, the havens are under a bit of pressure, but only a bit, with JPY and CHF both softer by just (-0.1%).  EMG currencies have seen a similar performance as most Asian currencies strengthened overnight, but by small amounts, in the 0.2%-0.3% range.  Meanwhile, the CE4 were following the euro, which had been lower most of the evening but is now back toward flat, as are the CE4.  And LATAM currencies, as they open, are edging slightly higher.  But overall, while there is a softening tone to the dollar, it is modest at best.

On the data front, there is none to be released in the US today, although early this morning we learned that UK Retail Sales were a bit firmer than expected while Italian Industrial activity (Sales and Orders) was much weaker than last month.  On the speaker front, four more Fed speakers are on tap, but they all simply repeat the same mantra, more fiscal spending, although now they will clearly include, don’t end the current programs.

For the day, given it is the Friday leading into Thanksgiving week, I expect modest activity and limited movement.  However, if this spat continues and the Treasury is still planning on ending programs in December, I expect the Fed will step in to do more come December, and that will be a distinct dollar negative.

One last thing, I will be on vacation all of next week, so there will be no poetry until November 30.

Good luck, good weekend, stay safe and have a wonderful holiday
Adf

More Money They’ll Print

While stock markets make all-time highs
The world’s central banks still advise
More money they’ll print
In case there’s a hint
That prices will simply not rise

In a chicken and egg type question, it is worth asking; is the fact that equity markets continue to rally (yet another all-time high was recorded yesterday, this time by the Dow) despite the fact that economies worldwide remain in chaos and operating at a fraction of their capacity, as governments impose another wave of lockdowns throughout Europe, the UK and many US states, logical?  Obviously, the link between those dichotomous outcomes is the support provided by the central banking community.  Perhaps the way to frame the question is, if markets have already seen past the end of the pandemic, and are willing to fund the business community right now, why do central banks feel they need to, not merely continue with their programs, but promise to increase them going forward?

This was made clear, yet again, when Fed Vice-Chair, Richard Clarida, explained that the FOMC is carefully evaluating the current situation and will not hesitate to use all available tools to help support the economy.  The punditry sees this as a code for an increase in the size of the asset purchase program, from the current $120 billion each month (split $80 billion Treasuries and $40 billion mortgages) to as much as $160 billion each month, with the new money focused on Treasuries.  At the same time, ECB Chief Economist, Philip Lane, explained that the central bank will provide enough monetary stimulus to make sure governments, companies and households have access to cheap credit throughout the coronavirus crisis.

And perhaps, that is the crux of the problem we face.  Despite investor optimism that the future is bright, and despite central banks’ proven inability to get funding to those most in need, namely individual households, those same central banks continue to do the only thing they know how to do, print more money, and by extension fund governments and large companies, who already have access to funding.  As the saying goes, the rich get richer.

The cycle goes as follows: central banks cut interest rates => investors move out the risk curve seeking returns => corporations and governments issue more debt at cheaper levels => an excess (and ultimately unsustainable) amount of debt outstanding.  Currently, that number, globally, is approaching 400% of GDP, and on current trends, has further to go.  The problem is, repayment of this debt can only be achieved in one of two ways, realistically, neither of which will be pleasant.  Either, inflation actually begins to rise sufficiently to diminish the real value of the debt or we get to a debt jubilee, where significant portions are simply written off.

If you were ever wondering why central banks are desperate for higher inflation, this is your answer.  While they are mostly economists, they still recognize that inflation is exactly the kind of debt destructive force necessary to eventually balance the books.  It will take time, even if they can manage the rate of inflation, but their firmly held belief is if they could just get inflation percolating, all that debt would become less of a problem.  At least for the debtors. Creditors may not feel the same excitement.

On the other hand, the debt jubilee idea is being bandied about in many forms these days, with the latest being the cancellation of student debt outstanding.  That’s $1.6 trillion that could be dissolved with the signing of a law.  Now, who would pay for that?  Well, I assure you it is not a free lunch.  In fact, the case could be made that it is this type of action that will lead to the central banks’ desired inflation outcome.  Consider, wiping out that debt would leave $1.6 trillion in the economy with no corresponding liabilities.  That’s a lot of spending power which would suddenly be used to chase after a still restricted supply of goods and services.  And that is just one small segment of the $100’s of trillions of dollars of debt outstanding.  The point is, there are still many hard decisions yet to be made and there are going to be winners and losers based on those decisions.  Covid-19 did not cause these issues to arise, it merely served as a catalyst to make them more widely known, and potentially, will push us toward the endgame.  Be prepared!

But that is all just background information to help us try to understand market activity a bit better.  Instead, let’s take a look at the market today, where yesterday’s risk appetite seems to have developed a bit of indigestion.  Overnight saw a mixed equity picture (Nikkei +0.4%, Hang Seng +0.1%, Shanghai -0.2%) with the magnitude of movements more muted than recent activity.  Europe, on the other hand, has been largely in the red (DAX -0.35%, CAC -0.3%, FTSE -1.15%) as apparently Mr Lane’s comments were not seen as supportive enough, or, more likely, markets are simply overbought after some enormous runs this month, and are seeing a bit of profit taking.  US futures are mixed at this point, with the DOW and S&P both down -0.5%, while the NASDAQ is up about 0.3%.  The biggest stock market story is S&P’s decision to add Tesla to the S&P500 index starting next month, which has helped goose the stock higher by another 10%.

Bond markets this morning are a tale of three regions.  Asian hours saw Australian and New Zealand bonds fall sharply with 10-year yields rising about 7 basis points, as the RBA’s YCC in the 3-year space is starting to really distort markets there.  However, in Europe, we are seeing a very modest bond rally, with yields slightly softer, about 1 basis point throughout the continent, and Treasuries have seen yields slip 1.5 basis points so far in the session. Clearly, a bit of risk-off attitude here.

FX markets, however, are not viewing the world quite the same way as the dollar, at least vs. its G10 counterparts, is somewhat softer, although has seen a more mixed session vs. EMG currencies.  Leading the way in the G10 is GBP (+0.5%) as stories make the rounds that a Brexit deal will be agreed next week.  Now, they are just stories, with no official comments, but that is the current driver.  Next in line is JPY (+0.3%) which perhaps we can attribute to a risk-off attitude, especially as CHF (+0.25%) is moving the same way.  As to the rest of the bloc, gains have been much smaller, and there has been absolutely zero data released this morning.

In the EMG bloc, EEMEA currencies have been the weak spot, with HUF (-0.5%) the worst performer, although weakness in PLN (-0.3%) and RUB (-0.25%) is also clear.  This story has to do with the Hungarian and Polish vetoes of the EU budget and virus recovery fund, as they will not accept the rule of law conditions attached by Brussels.  You may have heard about the concerns Brussels has over these two nations move toward a more nationalist viewpoint on many issues like immigration and judicial framework, something Brussels abhors.  On the positive side, BRL (+0.5%) has opened strongly, and CNY (+0.45%) led the Asian bloc higher overnight.  The China story continues to focus on the apparent strength of their economic rebound as well as the fact that interest rates there are substantially higher than elsewhere in the world and drawing in significant amounts of investor capital.  As to BRL, it seems the central bank has hinted they will be increasing the amount of dollars available to the market, thus adding to pressure on the dollar.

On the data front, yesterday saw a weaker than expected Empire Mfg number, but this morning is really the week’s big number, Retail Sales (exp 0.5%, 0.6% ex autos) as well as IP (1.0%) and Capacity Utilization (72.3%) a little later. On the Fed front, we have Chairman Powell speaking at 1:00, but not a speech, part of a panel, as well as another five Fed members on the tape at 3:00.  However, I anticipate the only thing we will learn is that the entire group will back up Vice-Chair Clarida regarding additional actions.

Despite the lack of risk appetite, the dollar is on its back foot this morning.  Ironically, I expect that we will see a rebound in risk appetite, rather than a rebound in the dollar as the session unfolds.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Can’t Stop the Pain

While central banks worldwide compete
To broaden their own balance sheet
They also complain
They can’t stop the pain
Lest more money reaches Main Street

Fiscal policy is the topic du jour as not only are there numerous stories about the ongoing theatrics in Washington, but we continue to hear virtually every member of the Fed calling for more fiscal stimulus.  Starting from the top, where in a speech on Tuesday, Chairman Powell excoriated Congress for not acting more quickly, and on through a dozen more speeches this week, there is one universal view; the Fed has done everything in its power to support the economy but it is up to the government to add more money to the mix to make up for the impact of the government shutting down businesses.  And while this is not just a US phenomenon, we hear the same thing from the ECB, BOE, BOC and BOJ, it appears that the market is coming to believe that the US is going to be the nation that acts most aggressively on this front going forward.

There is a conundrum here, though, as this view is seen as justification for a weaker dollar.  And frankly, I am confused as to the logic behind that view.  It appears there is a growing belief, based on polling data, that President Trump will lose the election, and that there will be a Democratic sweep taking back the Senate.  With that outcome in mind, investors expect a huge fiscal stimulus will quickly be enacted, perhaps as much as $4 trillion right away.  Now, if this is indeed the case, and if fiscal stimulus is what is required to get the economy growing again, and if the US is going to be the country taking the biggest steps in that direction, wouldn’t it make sense that the dollar would be in demand?  After all, if US data improves relative to that in Europe or elsewhere, doesn’t it stand to reason that the dollar will benefit?

Adding to this conundrum is the fact that we are hearing particularly dovish signals from other central banks (in addition to their calls for more fiscal stimulus) with the Bank of Canada the latest to explain that negative interest rates could well be appropriate policy if the government doesn’t spend more money.  So now, NIRP has the potential to become policy in virtually every G10 nation except the US, where the Fed has been consistent and explicit in saying it is not appropriate.  So, I ask, if US rates remain positive across the curve, while other nations all turn negative, is that really a dollar bearish signal?  It doesn’t seem so to me, but then I’m just a salesman working from home.

And yet, dollar weakness is certainly today’s theme, with the greenback lower vs. every one of its major counterparts today.  For example, the euro is higher by 0.4% this morning despite the fact that production data from the three largest economies point to a renewed slowdown in activity.  French IP has fallen -6.2% since August of last year, rising a less than forecast 1.3% on a M/M basis.  Monday, we saw German IP data fall -0.2% in August, taking its Y/Y results to -9.6%.  hardly the stuff of bullishness.  And while it is true that Italy’s data was better than expected (+7.7% in August, though still -0.3% Y/Y), looking at that suite of outcomes does not inspire confidence in the Eurozone economy.  And recall, too, that the ECB Minutes released Wednesday were clear in their concern over a rising euro, implying they would not allow that to come to pass.  But here we are, with the euro back at 1.1800 this morning.  Go figure.

The pound, too, seems to be defying gravity as despite much worse than forecast monthly GDP data (2.1% vs. 4.6% expected) and IP data (0.3% M/M, -6.4% Y/Y), the pound, which has been a strong performer lately, is slightly higher this morning, up 0.1%.  Again, this data hardly inspires confidence in the future economic situation in the UK.

But as they say, you can’t fight city hall.  So, for whatever reason, the current narrative is that the dollar is due to fall further because the US is going to enact more stimulus.  There is, however, one market which seems to understand the ramifications of additional stimulus, the Treasury market.  10-year Treasury yields, which had found a home near 0.65% for a long time, look very much like they are heading higher.  While this morning, bonds have rallied slightly with the yield declining 1.5 bps, we are still at 0.77%, and it seems only a matter of time before we are trading through this level and beyond.  Because, remember, if the narrative is correct and there is a huge stimulus coming, that’s $4 trillion in new paper to be issued.  That cannot be a positive for bond prices.

The European government bond market is also having a good day, with yields declining between 2 and 3 basis points everywhere.  At least here, if the ECB is to be believed, the idea of additional QE driving bond yields lower makes sense, especially since we are not looking at the prospect of multiple trillions of euros of additional issuance.

Looking at those two markets, it is hard to come up with a risk framework for today, and the equity markets are not helping.  Asian markets overnight were generally slightly softer (Nikkei -0.1%, Hang Seng -0.3%) but we did see Shanghai rally nicely, +1.6%, after having been closed all week long.  That seems like it was catching up to the week’s price action.  Europe, on the other hand is mixed, with strength in some markets (CAC +0.35%, FTSE 100 +0.45%) and weakness in others (DAX 0.0%, Spain -0.6%, Italy -0.3%).  I find it interesting that the UK and France, the nations that released the weakest IP data are the best performers.  Strange things indeed.  US futures, though, are pointing higher, somewhere on the order of 0.4%-0.5%.

And as I mentioned, the dollar is weaker across the board.  The best performers in the G10 are NZD (+0.6%) and NOK (+0.5%), with the former looking more like a technical rebound after some weakness earlier this week, while the krone has benefitted from its CPI data.  Earlier this year, as NOK weakened, Norwegian CPI rose sharply, to well over 3.0%, but it appears that the krone’s recent strength (it has rallied back to levels seen before the pandemic related market fluctuations) is starting to have a positive impact on inflation.

EMG currencies are also entirely in the green this morning with CNY (+1.35%) the biggest gainer.  In fairness, this appears to be a catch-up move given China had been closed since last Thursday.  But even CNH, which traded throughout, has rallied 0.7% this morning, so clearly there is a lot of positivity regarding the renminbi.  This also seems to be politically driven, as the assumption is a President Biden, if he wins, will be far less antagonistic to China, thus reducing sanctions and tariffs and allowing the country to resume its previous activities. But the whole bloc is higher with the CE4 showing strength on the order of 0.5%-0.7% and MXN, another politically driven story, rising 0.5%.  The peso is also assumed to be a big beneficiary of an impending Biden victory as immigration restrictions are expected to be relaxed, thus helping the Mexican economy.

And that’s really it for the day.  There is no data to be released and only one Fed Speaker, Richmond’s Barkin, but based on what we have heard this week, we already know he is going to call for more fiscal stimulus and not much else.  Also, as Monday is the Columbus Day holiday, look for things to slow down right around lunch, so if you have things to get done, get them done early.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

The New Weasel Word

The bulk of the FOMC
Explained their preferred policy
More government spending,
Perhaps never ending,
Is what almost all want to see

Meanwhile, ‘cross the pond, what we heard
Is ‘bove 2% is preferred
They’ll soon change their stance
To give growth a chance
Inflation’s the new weasel word

Another day, another central bank explanation that higher inflation is just what the doctor ordered to improve the economy.  This time, Banque de France’s Governor, Francois Villeroy de Galhau, explained that the current formulation used by the ECB, “below, but close to, 2%”, is misunderstood.  Rather than 2% being a ceiling, what they have meant all along is that it is a symmetrical target.  Uh huh!  I’ve been around long enough to remember that back in 1988, when the ECB was first being considered, Germany was adamant that they would not accept a central bank that would allow inflation, and so forced the ECB to look just like the Bundesbank.  That meant closely monitoring price pressures and preventing them from ever getting out of hand.  Hence, the ECB remit, was absolutely designed as a ceiling, with the Germans reluctant to even allow 2% inflation.  Of course, for most of the rest of Europe, inflation was the saving grace for their economies.  Higher inflation begat weaker currencies which allowed France, Italy, Spain, et.al. to continue to compete with a German economy that became ever more efficient.

But twenty-some years into the experiment of the single currency, and despite the fact that the German economy remains the largest and most important in the Eurozone, the inflationistas of Southern Europe are gaining the upper hand.  These comments by Villeroy are just the latest sign that the ECB is going to abandon its price stability rules, although you can be sure that they will never say that.  Of course, the problem the ECB has is similar to that of Japan and the US, goosing measured inflation has been beyond their capabilities for the past decade (more than two decades for the BOJ), so simply changing their target hardly seems like it will be sufficient to do the job.  My fear, and that of all of Germany, is that one day they will be successful in achieving this new goal and will not be able to stop inflation at their preferred level, but instead will see it rise much higher.  But that is not today’s problem.  Just be aware that we are likely to begin hearing many other ECB members start discussing how inflation running hot for a while is a good thing.  Arguably, the only exceptions to this will be the Bundesbank and Dutch central bank.

And once again, I will remind you all that there is literally no chance that the ECB will sit back and watch, rather than act, if the Fed actually succeeds in raising inflation and weakening the dollar.

Speaking of the Fed, this week has seen a significant amount of Fedspeak already, with Chairman Powell on the stand in Congress for the past three days.  What he, and virtually every other Fed speaker explained, was that more fiscal stimulus was required if the government wanted to help boost growth.  The Fed has done all they can, and to listen to Powell, they have been extremely effective, but the next step was Congress’s to take.  The exception to this thought process came from St Louis Fed President Bullard, who explained that based on his forecasts, the worst is behind us and no further fiscal stimulus is needed.  What makes this so surprising is that he has been one of the most dovish of all Fed members, while this is a distinctly hawkish sentiment.  But he is the outlier and will not affect the ultimate outcome at this stage.

Powell was on the stand next to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, who made the comment with the biggest impact on markets.  He mentioned that he and House Speaker Pelosi were back to negotiating on a new stimulus package, which the equity market took as a sign a deal would be reached quickly.  We shall see.  Clearly, there is a great deal of angst in Congress right now, so the ability to agree on anything across the aisle is highly questionable.

With that in mind, a look at markets shows what had been a mixed opening is turning into a more negative session.  Overnight saw Asian equity markets with minimal gains and losses (Nikkei +0.5%, Hang Seng -0.3%, Shanghai -0.2%), but Europe, which had been behaving in a similar manner early in the session has turned sharply lower.  At this time, the DAX (-1.95%) and CAC (-2.0%) are leading the way lower, with the FTSE 100 (-0.8%) having a relatively better day.  At the same time, US futures turned from flat to lower, with all three indices now pointing to -0.6% losses at the open.

It is difficult to point to a specific comment or piece of news driving this new sentiment, but it appears that the bond market is in the same camp as stocks.  Treasury yields, while they remain in a narrow range, have slipped 1bp, to 0.65%, and we are seeing Bunds (-2bps) and Gilts (-3bps) also garner demand as havens are in play.  Apparently, central bank desire for inflation is not seen as a serious situation quite yet.

Commodity prices have turned around as well, with oil falling 2% from morning highs, and gold dropping 1%.  In other words, this is a uniform risk reduction, although I would suspect that gold prices should lag the decline elsewhere.

As to the dollar, it is starting to pick up a more substantial bid with EUR (-0.3%) and GBP (-0.35%) sliding from earlier levels.  NOK (-1.15%) remains the worst performer in the G10, which given the decline in oil prices and evolving risk sentiment should be no surprise.  But at this point in the day, the entire bloc is weaker vs. the buck.  EMG currencies, too, have completely reversed some modest early morning strength, and, once again, ZAR (-1.2%) and MXN (-1.0%) lead the way lower.  One must be impressed with the increased volatility in those currencies, as they start to approach levels seen in the initial stages of the Covid crisis.  For anyone who thought that the dollar had lost its haven status, recent price action should put paid to that notion.

On the data front, today brings Durable Goods (exp 1.4%, 1.0% ex Transport) and we hear from two more Fed speakers, Williams and Esther George.  While Williams is almost certain to repeat Powell’s current mantra of more fiscal support, Ms George is one of the more hawkish Fed members and could well sound more like James Bullard than Jay Powell.  We shall see.

This has been a risk-off week, with equity markets down across the board and the dollar higher vs. every major currency in the world.  It seems highly unlikely that the Durable Goods number will change that broader sentiment, and so the ongoing equity market correction, as well as USD rebound seems likely to continue into the weekend.  Remember, short USD positions are still the rule, so there is plenty of ammunition for a further short covering.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

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

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