10%’s Not Enough

Said Trump, 10%’s not enough
It’s time that we really get tough
So starting next week
A quarter we’ll seek
Believe me, this ain’t just a bluff

If there was any question as to whether or not markets had fully priced in a successful conclusion of the US-China trade talks, last night’s price action should have answered it in full. President Trump is clearly feeling his oats, as his approval rating rises alongside the stock market and the economy, and so he changed the landscape once again. With Chinese Vice-premier Liu He, the chief negotiator in the trade talks, scheduled to arrive in the US later this week to continue, and in the market’s view conclude, those discussions, the President, last night, threatened to increase tariffs on $200 billion of goods to 25% from the current 10%, and to impose 25% tariffs on another $325 billion of goods, which is essentially everything else the US imports from China. In a heartbeat, views changed from rainbows and unicorns to Armageddon. Equity markets around the world plunged, commodity prices tumbled and the dollar and yen both rallied. Interestingly, Treasury prices have not moved much yet, although with the UK and Japan on holiday, overseas Treasury markets are extremely thin, so it could be there just hasn’t been any trading. Of course, it also could be that Treasury prices had already incorporated a less rosy future than equity markets, and so have less need to adjust.

One of the most common themes espoused lately has been the remarkable decline in asset price volatility this year, with measures in equities, bonds and currencies all pushing to cyclical lows. While there is a contingent of analysts (present company included) who believes that this is the calm before the storm, it is also true that market activity has been unidirectional since January, with that direction higher.

With respect to volatility, nothing has yet changed regarding the view that volatility increases when prices fall in both equity and bond markets although the relationship between volatility and the dollar is far less structured. In fact, there has been a significant increase in the amount of short volatility bets being made in the market, similar to the situation we saw at the beginning of 2018. Of course, I’m sure we all remember the disintegration of the XIV ETF (really it was an ETN), when a spike in volatility reduced its value by more than 85% in two days. Well, currently, records show that there is an even larger short volatility position now than there was last February when things went pear-shaped. The point is it is worthwhile to be careful in the current environment.

As to the dollar, historically volatility has increased in both rising and declining dollar environments depending on the circumstances. Given the dollar’s overall strength lately has been accompanies by a decline in volatility, it seems a fair bet to assume that if the dollar were to reverse lower, it would do so in a volatile manner rather than as a steady adjustment. Remember, too, currencies tend to overshoot when large moves occur. However, at this point, I would expect that fear in other markets will continue to support the dollar, and hence keep volatility at bay.

A recap of price movement overnight shows that the Shanghai Composite fell 5.5% and the Hang Seng fell 2.9% (the Nikkei was closed). Europe is currently trading with both the DAX and CAC falling 2.0% (FTSE is also closed) and US futures are pointing to nearly 2.0% losses on the open as well.

Meanwhile, the dollar is broadly higher. It has rallied 0.5% vs. the pound, offsetting a large part of Friday’s GBP rally that was based on the rumor PM May and Labour leader Corbyn were soon going to announce agreement on a Brexit deal. While nothing has come of it yet, that does explain the pound’s sharp Friday movement. AUD and NZD are both lower by 0.5% as the market looks to this evening’s RBA meeting with a 50% probability of a rate cut priced and the belief that the RBNZ will need to match that tomorrow if it occurs. Aussie is back below 0.70, and my sense is it has further to fall, especially if the trade situation deteriorates. Elsewhere in the G10, the euro is little changed after slightly better than expected PMI data seems to have been enough to offset trade concerns. And finally, the yen, as would be expected of a haven asset, is higher by 0.25%.

Versus emerging market currencies, the dollar has had an even stronger performance. It should be no surprise that CNY has fallen sharply (-0.75%) especially since the PBOC cut the RRR for small and medium sized banks by another 1.0% in an effort to stabilize markets. Elsewhere in Asia both INR and KRW fell 0.65% with other currencies having a slightly less negative result. EEMEA has seen ZAR fall 1.0% and TRY -1.20% although the latter has more to do with the possibility that the recent election in Istanbul, where President Erdogan’s party lost, would be overturned and a new one held thus undermining the concept of democracy in Turkey even further. Finally, LATAM markets are waking up under modest pressure, but have not yet fallen sharply.

Turning to this week’s data, there is not much overall, but we do see CPI data Friday.

Tuesday JOLTs Job Openings 7.24M
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Trade Balance -$50.2B
  PPI 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.5% Y/Y)
Friday CPI 0.4% (2.1% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.1% Y/Y)

We also will hear a lot of Fed speaking, with eleven speeches from eight different FOMC members including Chairman Powell on Thursday. This week’s talks could well be market moving as last week’s press conference was not as smooth as it might have been. Look for lots of nuance as to what the Fed is looking at and why they think it is appropriate to be patient. As of now, it doesn’t seem that there is any leaning toward an “insurance” rate cut in the near term, but, especially if Friday’s CPI data is softer than expected, that theme could well change. As such, for now, I don’t see a good policy reason for the dollar to retreat, and if the trade situation deteriorates, it should help the buck, but given the mercurial dynamics of the President’s negotiating tactics, I wouldn’t rule out a complete reversal of things before long.

Good luck
Adf

Rather Wrong

While Powell said growth may be strong
He still thinks it seems rather wrong
That prices won’t rise
So it’s no surprise
That rates will go lower ‘ere long

After the FOMC left policy largely unchanged yesterday (they did tweak the IOER down by 5bps) and the statement was parsed, it appeared that the Fed’s clear dovish bias continues to drive the overall tone of policy. Growth is solid but inflation remains confusingly soft and it appeared that the Fed was moving closer to the ‘insurance’ rate cut markets have been looking hoping for to prevent weakness from showing up. Stocks rallied and so did bonds with the yield on the 10yr falling to 2.45% just before the press conference while stock markets were higher by 0.5% or so. But then…

According to Powell the story
Is price declines are transitory
So patience remains
The thought in Fed brains
With traders stuck in purgatory

Powell indicated that the majority view at the Fed was that the reason we have seen such weak price data lately is because of transitory issues. These include reduced investment management fees in the wake of the sharp equity market declines in Q4 of last year and the change in the way the Fed gathered price data at retail stores where they now collect significantly greater amounts of data digitally, rather than having ‘shoppers’ go to stores and look at price tags. The upshot is that while he was hardly hawkish in any sense of the word, trying to maintain as neutral a stance as possible, he was far more hawkish than the market had anticipated. Not surprisingly, markets reversed their earlier moves with 10yr yields shooting higher by 6bps, closing higher than the previous day’s close, while equity markets ceded all their early gains and wound up falling about 0.7% on average between the three major indices.

What about the dollar? Well, it followed the same type of trajectory as other assets, softening on the dovish ideas throughout the session before rallying a sharp 0.55% in the wake of Powell’s press conference opening statement. Since then, it has largely maintained the rebound, although this morning it is softer by about 0.1% across the board.

Looking ahead, markets are going to continue to focus on the interplay between the data releases and the central bank comments. Nothing has changed with regard to the overarching dovish bias evident in almost all central banks, but in order for them to act, rather than merely talk, the data will have to be clearly deteriorating. And lately, the best description of the data releases has been mixed. For example, yesterday saw a huge ADP Employment number, 275K, boding well for tomorrow’s NFP report. However, ISM Manufacturing fell sharply to 52.8, well below last month’s 55.3 reading as well as far below the 55.0 market expectation. So, which one is more important? That’s the thing. As long as we see strength in some areas of the economy along with weakness in others, the Fed is almost certainly going to sit on the sidelines. That is, of course, unless the inflation data starts to move more aggressively in either direction. I think it is far better than even money that Fed funds are 2.25%-2.50% on December 31.

But what about other places? Well, the ECB seems stuck between a rock and a hard place as Q1 data has been disappointing overall and they are running out of tools to fight a slowdown. Given the current rate structure, the question being debated in the halls in Frankfurt is just how low can rates go before having a net detrimental impact on the economy. If we see any further weakness from the Eurozone, we are going to find out. That brings us to this morning’s PMI data, where Bloomberg tried hard to put a positive spin on what remains lousy data. Germany (44.4), Italy (49.1) and France (50.0) remain desultory at best. The Eurozone print (47.2) is hardly the stuff of dreams, although in fairness, it was better than analysts had been expecting. So perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of a stabilization in the decline, rather than a continuing acceleration of such. But that hardly gives a rationale for tighter policy. The ECB remains stuck on hold on the rate front and is certainly going to see significant uptake of their new TLTRO’s when they come out. It remains difficult to see a reason for the euro to rebound given the underlying economic weakness in the Eurozone, especially with the ECB committed to negative rates for at least another year.

What about the UK? Well, the BOE met this morning and left rates on hold by a unanimous vote. They also released new economic forecasts that showed reduced expectations for inflation this year, down to 1.6%, with the out years remaining essentially unchanged. They indicated that the delay in Brexit would have a limited impact as they continue to plan on a smooth transition, and their growth forecasts changed with 2019 rising to 1.5% on the back of the inventory led gains in Q1, although the out years remain unchanged. Here, too, there is no urgency to raise rates, although they keep trying to imply that slightly higher rates would be appropriate. However, the market is having none of it, pricing a 30% chance of a 25bp rate cut before the end of next year. The pound chopped on the news, rallying at first, but falling subsequently and is now sitting at 1.3050, essentially unchanged on the day.

Of course, Brexit continues to influence the pound’s movements and recent hints from both PM May and Labour Leader Corbyn indicate that it is possible they are going to agree a deal that includes permanent membership of a customs union with the EU. Certainly, verification of that will help the pound rally back. But boy, if I voted for Brexit and this is what they delivered, it would be quite upsetting. In essence, it destroys one of the main benefits of Brexit, the ability to manage their own trade function. We shall see how it plays out.

This morning brings more data, starting with Initial Claims (exp 215K), Nonfarm Productivity (2.2%) and Unit Labor Costs (1.5%) at 8:30, then Factory Orders (1.5%) at 10:00. The onslaught of Fed speakers doesn’t start until tomorrow, so that’s really it for the day. Equity futures are rallying this morning as the idea that the markets fell yesterday seems more like a mirage than a market response to new information. In the end, you cannot fight city hall, and though Powell tried to sound tough, I didn’t see anything to change the view that the Fed remains biased toward cutting rates as their next move.

Good luck
Adf

Biding Their Time

While markets in Europe are closed
For May Day, the Fed is disposed
To biding their time
Til prices do climb
Or else til slow growth is exposed

As Fed day dawns in NY, market activity has been muted around the world for two reasons. First, it happens to be May Day, an official holiday in 66 nations around the world, including most of Europe, honoring labor solidarity. While May Day was initially a pagan rite of spring (the origin of the Maypole) it was coopted in the mid 1800’s by the International Labor movement as a day to recognize its demands for better working conditions, including the beginning of the eight-hour workday norm. To this day, it remains a labor holiday, with large marches overnight throughout Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan and other Asian nations as well as in Europe, where the French, specifically, are concerned given the recent history of violent protests by the gilets jaunes.

But of more interest is the other reason market activity has been muted, the FOMC meeting ends this afternoon and the market will hear the latest words of wisdom from Chairman Powell at 2:30pm.

There are currently no expectations that Fed policy is going to change at this meeting, at least not by the Wall Street analyst community. Instead, all eyes are on the tone of the statement as well as Powell’s responses to the Q&A at his press conference.

Ever since the Fed’s pivot to patience in January, financial conditions in the US (and worldwide) have eased considerably. After all, government bond yields have tumbled (Treasuries -25bps, Bunds -25 bps, JGB’s -7bps) while equity markets have soared (S&P +21%, DAX +18%, Nikkei +16%). This combination has reduced corporate bond yields in both the investment and non-investment grade sectors, thus freeing up further cash flow and helping to prime the economy’s collective pump. At the same time, as evidenced by Monday’s data, PCE inflation, the number the Fed uses in their models, has fallen back well below their 2.0% symmetrical target, printing at 1.5% in March. The problem for the Fed is that their go to move of preemptive rate hikes when growth starts to pick up has been increasingly called into question. And not just by President Trump, who laughably suggested a 1.0% rate cut for today, but by economists of all stripes who are still at a loss as to why their cherished econometric models no longer represent economic reality.

‘Patience’ seems to be the Fed’s way of explaining that since they don’t have a clue as to what to expect from the economic data going forward, they have decided to sit on their hands. Arguably, that is a pretty good move, although I’m sure they are not keen to admit they are clueless right now. But in the end, it has become clear that throughout the central bank community, the idea of raising interest rates simply because growth numbers improved, if there is no concurrent rise in inflation has become discredited. As long as inflation remains quiescent, at least on a measured basis, the pressure to maintain or cut rates will be enormous. And while every central banker will explain they are apolitical, there is no question that they respond to political pressure like everyone else in government.

So the real question is at what point will central banks start easing further if inflation continues to stagnate? Ironically, I would argue that central banks have painted themselves into a different corner lately, continuously making the claim that 2.0% inflation, or thereabouts depending on the country, is necessary to insure a healthy economy. But if growth is solid and inflation is falling, are they going to cut rates further, to the extent possible given current levels, in order to revive inflation at the risk of blowing asset bubbles? And that doesn’t even consider the issue for Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and the Eurozone, where interest rates are already negative, and how those central banks will respond if either growth or inflation weakens more aggressively. The point is, despite all its warts, it continues to be clear that the US economy remains the most attractive place to invest capital. And with that, the dollar will continue to be supported.

Recapping the most recent data shows that yesterday’s Chicago PMI was quite disappointing at 52.6, well below expectations and the lowest print in more than two years. A harbinger of the future or an outlier? We will find out more this morning when the national ISM number is released (exp 55.0). The other data point of note in the US yesterday was Case-Shiller Home prices, which rose only 3.0%, reinforcing the idea that the housing market continues to cool. Meanwhile, Canadian GDP for February printed at -0.1%, with forecasts for Q1 now falling down to stagnation north of the border. So even though the housing market in the US is under modest pressure, the broad economy here continues to outperform just about everywhere else in the world.

This morning we also see ADP Employment (exp 180K) and then the Fed speaks. Overall, the dollar has been under modest pressure for the past several sessions, but all told, the movement has barely been a 1% decline. And while choppy, the trend remains in the dollar’s favor at this point. I have yet to see an argument that supports a much weaker dollar, at least on a cyclical basis, and as such, see no reason to change my views of further dollar strength ahead.

Good luck
Adf

Mere Nonchalance

On Friday we learned the US
Grew faster, but not to excess
The market response
Was mere nonchalance
In stocks, but the buck did depress

This morning in Europe, however,
The outcome did not seem as clever
Growth there keeps on slowing
Thus Mario’s going
To need a new funding endeavor

If you needed a better understanding of why the dollar, despite having declined ever so modestly this morning, remains the strongest currency around, the contrasting data outcomes from Friday in the US and this morning in the Eurozone are a perfect depiction. Friday saw US GDP in Q1 rise 3.2% SAAR, significantly higher than expected, as both trade and inventory builds more than offset softer consumption. Whatever you make of the underlying pieces of the number, it remains a shining beacon relative to the rest of the G10. Proof positive of that difference was this morning’s Eurozone sentiment data, where Business Confidence fell to 0.42, its weakest showing in nearly three years while Economic Sentiment fell to 104, its sixteenth consecutive decline and weakest since September 2016.

It is extremely difficult to look at the Eurozone data and conclude that the ECB is not going to open the taps again soon. In fact, while the official line remains that no decisions have been made regarding the terms of the new TLTRO’s that are to be offered starting in June, it is increasingly clear that those terms are going to be very close to the original terms, where banks got paid to borrow money from the ECB and on-lend it to clients. The latest comment came from Finnish central bank chief Ollie Rehn where he admitted that hopes for a rebound in H2 of this year are fading fast.

With that as the backdrop, this week is setting up for the chance for some fireworks as we receive a great deal of new information on both the economic and policy fronts. In fact, let’s take a look at all the information upcoming this week right now:

Today Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.7%
  PCE 0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (1.7% Y/Y)
Tuesday Employment Cost Index 0.7%
  Case-Shiller Home Prices 3.2%
  Chicago PMI 59.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 181K
  ISM Manufacturing 55.0
  ISM Prices Paid 55.4
  Construction Spending 0.2%
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.5% (unchanged)
Thursday BOE Rate Decision 0.75% (unchanged)
  Initial Claims 215K
  Unit Labor Costs 1.4%
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.2%
  Factory Orders 1.5%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 181K
  Private Payrolls 173K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
  Unemployment Rate 3.8%
  Participation Rate 62.9%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.4% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 57.0

So, by Friday we will have heard from both the Fed and the BOE, gotten new readings on manufacturing and prices, and updated the employment situation. In addition, on Friday, we have four Fed speakers (Evans, Clarida, Williams and Bullard) as the quiet period will have ended.

Looking at this morning’s data, the PCE numbers continue to print below the Fed’s 2.0% target and despite recently rising oil prices, there is no evidence that is going to change. With the employment situation continuing its robust performance, the Fed is entirely focused on this data. As I wrote on Friday, it has become increasingly clear that the Fed’s reaction function has evolved into ‘don’t even consider raising rates until inflation is evident in the data for a number of months.’ There will be no more pre-emptive rate hikes by Jay Powell. Inflation will need to be ripping higher before they consider it. And in fact, as things progress, it is entirely possible that the Fed does cut rates despite ongoing solid GDP growth, if they feel inflation is turning lower in a more protracted manner. As of Friday, the futures market had forecast a 41% probability of a Fed rate cut by the end of 2019. In truth, I am coming around to the belief that we could see more than one cut before the year ends, especially if we see any notable slowing in the US economy. (At this point, the Fed’s only opportunity to surprise the market dovishly is if they do cut rates on Wednesday, (although in the wake of the GDP data, that seems a little aggressive.)

The real question is if the Fed turns more dovish, will that be a dollar negative. One thing for certain is that it won’t be an equity negative, and it is unlikely to have a negative impact on Treasuries either, but by rights, the dollar should probably suffer. After all, a more dovish Fed will offset the dovishness emanating from other nations.

The problem with this thesis is that it remains extremely expensive for speculators to short the dollar given the still significantly higher short-term rates in the US vs. anywhere else in the G10. And so, we are going to need to see real flows exiting the US to push the dollar lower. Either that, or a change in the narrative that the Fed, rather than being on hold, is getting set to take rates back toward zero. For now, neither of those seem very likely, and so significant dollar weakness seems off the table for the moment. As such, while it was no surprise that the dollar fell a bit on Friday as profit taking was evident after a strong run higher, the trend remains in the dollar’s favor, so hedgers need to take that into account. And for all you hedgers, given the significant reduction in volatility that we have witnessed during the past several months, options are an increasingly attractive alternative for hedging. Food for thought.

Good luck
Adf

Worries ‘Bout Debt

In DC this weekend they met
The World Bank and IMF set
They bitched about Trump
Explained there’s no slump
But did express worries ‘bout debt

Markets are on the quiet side this morning as they consolidate the gains seen on Friday. Risk continues to be in vogue and so haven currencies; dollars, Swiss francs and Japanese yen, remain under modest pressure. That said, the FX market remains broadly range bound, at least within the G10 space.

The annual World Bank / IMF meetings were held this past weekend in Washington D.C. and all the global economic glitterati were present. Arguably there were three key themes; central bank independence is paramount to successful policy and there is great concern over President Trump’s ongoing, and increasingly strident, complaints about the Fed. Secondly there continues to be broad concern over the slowing growth trajectory that was highlighted by the IMF reducing their global growth forecast yet again last week, this time down to 3.3% in 2019 from their 3.7% estimate last October. Finally, there was evidence that the massive growth in debt around the world is starting to make a few policymakers more nervous.

Of course, the question is will policymakers actually change anything that they do given their concerns? As to the first, the only hope they have is to raise the issue frequently enough so that it gains a broad consensus amongst the non-economic set. Frankly, if you asked the proverbial man on the street who was Fed Chair, or the names of any of the other governors, I would wager less than one in ten people would know any of the answers. At the same time, with the President’s constant haranguing, the Fed remains an excellent scapegoat for any weakness in the US economy going forward. As much as it galls the establishment, there is no reason to believe that this behavior is going to change throughout the rest of the Trump presidency and probably well beyond that.

Regarding the second issue, slowing growth, once again given the current stance of virtually the entire global economic central bank community, it is unclear they have any ability to do anything else. After all, the whole group is already set at ultra-easy money, with limited ability to move any further. But perhaps more importantly, it is questionable whether the central banks are the actual drivers of economic growth, as much as they would like to think they are. Arguably, economic growth comes from a combination of consumer demand and production of those goods and services demanded. The last time I checked, the Fed neither consumed very much nor produced anything (other than hot air and paperwork). All I’m saying is that the ongoing belief that central banks control the economy might be faulty. What they do control is money and financial assets, but as we have seen during the past decade, a strong rally in financial assets does not necessarily translate into strong growth.

Finally, regarding the massive increase in debt that we have seen during the past decade, they are absolutely right to be concerned about this process. As Rogoff and Reinhart explained in their classic book, This Time is Different, excessive debt is the one thing that has consistently been shown to have a negative effect on economic growth. And while the definition of excessive may be uncertain, it is abundantly clear that debt/GDP ratios >100% is excessive.

Add it all up and it seems unlikely that there is going to be a surge in economic growth in the near future, or even the medium term. Thus, when comparing the situations across the globe, the current status is likely to remain the future status.

Turning to the upcoming week, we have a fair amount of data as well as another group of Fed speakers.

Today Empire Manufacturing 6.7
Tuesday IP 0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 79.1%
Wednesday Trade Balance -$53.5B
  Fed Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 205K
  Philly Fed 10.4
  Retail Sales 0.9%
  -ex autos 0.7%
  Business Inventories 0.4%
Friday Housing Starts 1.23M
  Building Permits 1.30M

In addition to this, we hear from five more Fed speakers, although none of them are the big guns like Powell or Williams. And as I have repeatedly described, the Fed story is already well known and unlikely to change unless the data really starts to adjust. Add to this the fact that now Brexit is a back-burner issue and there remains scant information on the US-China trade talks and quite frankly, this week in FX is going to be all about US equity market earnings data. If the data is good and risk is embraced, the dollar will suffer and vice versa.

Good luck
Adf

Hawks Are Now Doves

Two years ago Minister May
Put Article 50 in play
But when she unveiled
Her deal, it detailed
A course many felt went astray

Instead of the exit they sought
And for which the Brexiteers fought
Today the UK
Is forced, still, to play
By rules that the EU has wrought

So, it’s Brexit day and yet there is no final solution. Later today Parliament will vote on the legally binding aspects of the negotiated deal, but that still appears destined to fail. The problem remains that the Northern Irish DUP, which holds the ten votes that maintain the Tory majority in Parliament, has categorically refused to back the deal. The problem, as they see it, is that the deal splits them away from the UK and impinges too greatly on their sovereignty. If this vote fails (it is due to take place at 10:30 this morning) then the debate will shift to what to do next. The EU has afforded the UK another two weeks to come up with any decision at all, but even that seems increasingly doubtful. Earlier this morning, it appeared that the probability of a no-deal Brexit was increasing, at least according to the market as the pound traded down to 1.30 (-0.3%), but it has since rebounded a bit and is, in fact, higher by 0.35% on the session now. It appears the ebbs and flows of the debate in Parliament are moving the price right now, so be prepared for a sharper move in a few hours. It is devilishly difficult to predict political outcomes, thus at this point, all we can do is watch and wait.

Both patience and data dependence
Are hallmarks of Powell’s transcendence
The hawks are now doves
And everyone loves
The theory of Fed independence

This takes us to the other topic of note in the markets, the Fed. Yesterday, yet again, we heard from Fed speakers who have all said virtually the same thing. The current mantra is there is no reason for the Fed to act right now on rates, and that they will carefully analyze all the data, both from the US and the rest of the world, before making their next decision. They cannot tell us frequently enough how in 1998-9, when growth elsewhere in the world was suffering (the Asian crisis was unfolding), the Fed eased policy even though things were fine in the US, and that is what helped prevent a much worse outcome. (Of course, they never discuss how those extra low rates helped inflate the tech bubble which burst dramatically the following year, but that doesn’t really suit the narrative, does it?) At any rate, it is abundantly clear that the Fed is on hold for the rest of the year, and that the balance sheet program is going to taper off and end by the autumn. And there is no question that the Fed has remained independent throughout this process, remember that!

The last of the big three stories, trade talks with China, was back in the news as well as the US delegation was seen going “line by line” through the text with their Chinese counterparts to try to come to an agreement. It does appear that the Chinese are conceding some points, with a story this morning about how US cloud companies are going to be allowed access, without a partner, into China to compete with locals. The other story was about a change in Chinese law that ostensibly addresses IP theft. These are two key issues for the US and seem to indicate that there is a real possibility that an agreement will actually make changes in the relationship that could benefit the US in the long run. Certainly, equity markets see it that way as Chinese stocks rallied sharply, more than 3% and Europe is higher along with US futures.

Elsewhere, yesterday’s BRL collapse was largely reversed, although the Turkish lira continues to suffer ahead of the local elections this weekend. In the former, it appears that foreign investors are taking advantage of a weaker real and stock market to buy in at better levels as there is an underlying belief that pension reform will be passed. In the latter, it remains to be seen how President Erdogan’s allies fare this weekend, and there is no clarity as to how he will react if he loses some measure of power.

Yesterday saw the dollar perform well, overall, despite the GDP data coming in on the soft side (2.2% vs. 2.6% expected), but again, that is backward looking data. This morning brings PCE (exp 1.4%, core 1.9%) as well as Personal Income (0.3%) and Spending (0.3%). We also see Chicago PMI (61.0), New Home Sales (620K) and Michigan Sentiment (97.8) later on. There are also a few more Fed speakers, but we pretty much know what they are going to say, don’t we?

Overall, the dollar has performed well this week, although it is a touch softer this morning. My sense is that we could see a bit more weakness by the end of the day, simply on position adjustments. And of course, if somehow the UK makes a decision of some sort, that will help the pound rebound and add to pressure on the buck. Just don’t count on that last part!

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

So Despised

Is anyone truly surprised
That Parliament, once authorized
To find a solution
Found no substitution
For May’s deal that they so despised?

One of the more confusing aspects of recent market activity was the rally in the pound when Parliament wrested control of the Brexit process from PM May. The idea that a group of 650 fractious politicians could possibly agree on a single idea, especially one so fraught with risks and complexities, was always absurd. And so, predictably, yesterday Parliament voted on seven different proposals, each designed to be a path forward, and none of them even came close to achieving a majority of votes. This included a vote to prevent a no-deal Brexit. In the meantime, PM May has now indicated she will resign regardless of the outcome, which, arguably, will only lead to more chaos as a leadership fight will now consume the Tories. In the meantime, there is still only one deal on the table, and it doesn’t appear to have the votes to become law. As such, while I understand that the idea of a hard Brexit is anathema to so many, it cannot be dismissed as a potential outcome. It should not be very surprising that the FX market is taking the idea a bit more seriously this morning, although only a bit, as the pound has fallen a further 0.4%, which makes the move a total of 1.0% lower in the past twenty-four hours.

One way to look at the pound’s value is as a probability weighted price of three potential outcomes; no deal, passing May’s deal and a long delay. Based on my views that spot would trade to 1.20, 1.38 or 1.40 depending on those outcomes, and assigning probabilities of 40%, 20% and 40% to those outcomes, spot is actually right where it belongs near 1.3160. But that leaves room for a lot of movement!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the FX market, volatility is making a comeback. Between Turkey (-5.0%), Brazil (-3.0%) and Argentina (-3.0%), it seems that traders are beginning to awaken from their month’s long hiatus. Apparently, the monetary policy anesthesia that had been administered by central banks globally is wearing off. As it happens, each of these currencies is dealing with local specifics. For instance, upcoming elections in Turkey have President Erdogan on the defensive as his iron grip on power seems to be rusting and he tries to crack down on speculators in the lira. Meanwhile, recently elected Brazilian president Bolsonaro has seen his honeymoon end quite abruptly with his approval ratings collapsing and concerns over his ability to implement key policies seen as desirable by the markets, notably pension reform. Finally, Argentine president Macri remains under pressure as the slowing global growth picture severely restricts local economic activity although inflation continues to run away to unsustainable levels (4% per month!) and the peso, not surprisingly is suffering.

As to the G10, activity there has been less impressive although the dollar’s tone this morning is one of strength, not weakness. In fact, risk continues to be jettisoned by investors as can be seen by the continuing rally in government bonds (Treasury yields falling to 2.35%, Bund yields to -0.07%, JGB’s to -0.09%) while equity markets were weak in Asia and have gained no traction in Europe. Adding to the impression of risk-off has been the yen’s rally (0.2% overnight, 1.0% in the past week), a reliable indicator of market sentiment.

Turning to the data, yesterday saw the Trade Balance shrink dramatically, to -$51.1B, a much lower deficit than expected, and sufficient to positively impact Q1 GDP measurement by a few tenths of a percent. This morning we see the last reading on Q4 GDP (exp 1.8%) as well as Initial Claims (225K). Given the backward-looking nature of Q4 data, it seems unlikely today’s print will impact markets. One exception to this thought would be a much weaker than expected print, which may convince some investors the global slowdown is more advanced than previously thought with equities selling off accordingly. But a better number is likely to be ignored. We also hear from (count ‘em) six more Fed speakers today (Quarles, Clarida, Bowman, Williams, Bostic and Bullard), but given the consistency of recent comments by others it seems doubtful we will learn anything new. To recap, every FOMC member believes that waiting is the right thing to do now and that they should only respond when the data indicates there is a change, either rising inflation or a significant slowing in the economy. Although the market continues to price rate cuts before the end of the year, as yet, there is no indication that Fed members are close to believing that is necessary.

Ultimately, the same key stories are at the fore in markets. Brexit, as discussed above, slowing global growth and the monetary policy actions being taken to ameliorate that, and the US-China trade talks, which are resuming but have made no new progress. One of the remarkable features of markets lately has been the resilience of equity prices despite a constant drumbeat of bad economic news. Investors have truly placed an enormous amount of faith in central banks (specifically the Fed and ECB) to be able to come to the rescue again and again and again. Thus far, that faith has been rewarded, but keep in mind that the toolkit continues to dwindle, so that level of support is likely to diminish. In the end, I continue to see the dollar as a key beneficiary of the current policy mix, as well as the most likely ones for the near future.

Good luck
Adf