Making Its Case

The market is making its case
The Fed should be slowing the pace
Of interest rate hikes
That nobody likes
As growth has begun to retrace

The emerging narrative is that the Fed needs to stop raising rates before it is too late, or else the global economy is going to sink into a recession. Funnily enough, I think this is one area where many of the glitterati agree with President Trump; Chairman Powell is doing the wrong thing. Certainly, recent equity market activity has been pretty bad, with the overnight sessions showing sharp declines again (Shanghai -1.7%, Nikkei -1.9%, DAX -2.4%, FTSE -2.5%) and US futures pointing to a -1.75% fall on the opening. While the proximate cause of today’s move may be the surprising arrest of the CFO of Chinese telecoms manufacturer Huawei, the reality is that there are plenty of issues that are generating concerns these days.

Clearly the primary concern continues to be the trade situation between the US and China. Monday’s relief rally was based on the fact that there seemed to be a truce. Tuesday’s sharp decline was based on the fact that there were disputes to that message. This morning’s declines have been a reflection of growing concern that the above-mentioned arrest will undermine any chance at trade progress between the two nations. But in addition to the trade story, the background narrative has been that the Fed is raising rates despite growing evidence that the US economy is slowing rapidly. Exhibit A in that story is the housing market, which has seen a particularly weak run of construction and sales over the past six months. Then there is the auto sector, where sales have fallen back from the remarkable heights seen last year. These two industries make up a significant portion of the market’s perception of the economy because virtually everybody has a house and a car, and is aware of what prices are doing there. They have always been seen as a harbinger of future economic activity, so if they are slowing, that bodes ill for the economy at large.

And this is where the dissatisfaction with Powell arises, because he continues to raise rates based on the idea that inflation, while remaining subdued, has the potential to rise sharply unless the Fed tightens policy. They continue to look at the Unemployment Rate of 3.7%, a rate well below any estimates of the Natural Rate of Unemployment, and expect that inflation is going to jump soon. And it might, but so far, that has just not been evident. In fact, the past couple of readings have shown a softer inflation bias, which further adds to the pundit’s angst over Powell.

This commentator is not going to opine on whether the Fed is right or wrong at this time, but I will say that my fear is that all the tools that the Fed (and every other economist) are using to forecast future economic activity are likely not up to the task. There have been massive structural changes to both the economy in general (ongoing improvements in automation across industries) but more specifically, to the way monetary policy works. The aftermath of the financial crisis has fundamentally changed the way the Fed and every other central bank oversees their respective economies. No longer do they adjust reserves to achieve a desired interest rate at a clearing price. Now they simply tell us where rates are and use their powers of suasion to keep them there. And ten years on, the market has built up structures that are now reliant on the new process, so reverting to the old one is no longer an option. My strong concern about this is that these changes are not reflected in the way econometric models are built, and therefore those models do not produce results that are coherent with the current reality.

With that as background, it is easier to understand why there is so much confusion and concern in markets in general. If the Fed is using outdated tools to manage the economy, odds are they won’t work very well. Perhaps this is what the equity markets are pointing out, and have been doing pretty much all year outside the US.

Pivoting to FX, the question is, how will this narrative impact the dollar? Generally speaking, what we have seen is an ongoing risk-off scenario throughout markets, and that has historically been quite beneficial for the greenback. Last night was no exception with Asian currencies experiencing significant declines (AUD -0.9%, NZD -0.5%, CNY -0.6%) while the yen, the other chief beneficiary of risk reduction, rallied 0.4%. We have also seen weakness in CAD (-0.6%), MXN (-0.5%) and BRL (-0.8%). Granted, the CAD story has more to do with the BOC walking back their recent hawkish views, and behaving the way the market wants the Fed to behave. But as long as the Fed seems certain to raise rates come December, and the rest of the world is crumbling, the dollar will find support.

Perhaps we will hear a new tone from the Fed today and tomorrow, as Chairman Powell testifies to Congress today and we hear from both Williams and Bostic with Governor Brainerd speaking tomorrow. The risk is that each of them starts to walk back the hawkish views that have predominated, and reconsider future rate hikes. In that case, look for equity markets to rocket higher, while the market prices out a December rate hike and the yield curve steepens. Also in that case, watch for the dollar to decline sharply. But in the event they maintain their current tone, I see no reason for the dollar to backpedal.

We actually have a bunch of data today as yesterday’s data was delayed due to the day of mourning for President Bush. Today includes ADP Employment (exp 195K), Initial Claims (225K), Nonfarm Productivity (2.3%), Unit Labor Costs (1.1%), Trade Balance (-$54.9B), ISM Non-Manufacturing (59.2) and Factory Orders (-2.0%). It will be interesting to see if we start to get softer data from ISM but I really believe that the market will be far more focused on the Fedspeak and tomorrow’s payroll data than today’s data dump.

Good luck
Adf

 

Most Are Afraid

Since pundits have often asserted
A yield curve that’s truly inverted
Will lead to recession
The recent compression
Of rates has investors alerted

Meanwhile the concerns over trade
Have not really started to fade
Twixt trade and those yields
Investors need shields
Explaining why most are afraid

It got ugly in the equity markets yesterday, with significant declines in the US followed by weakness overnight in Asia and continuing into today’s European session. With US markets closed today in observance of a day of mourning for ex-president George Herbert Walker Bush, the news cycle has the potential to increase recent volatility. Driving the market activity were two key stories, ongoing uncertainty over the US-China trade situation and, more importantly, further flattening of the US yield curve toward inversion.

At this point, unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past year (although given market activity, that may not have been a bad idea!) you are aware of the relationship between the shape of the US yield curve and the potential for a recession in the US. Every recession since 1975 has been preceded by an inverted yield curve (one where short-term rates are higher than long-term ones). In each of those cases, the driving force raising short-term rates was the Fed, which is no different than today’s situation. What is different is both the level of yields, on both a nominal and real basis, and the size of the Fed’s balance sheet.

From 1963 up to the Financial Crisis, the average of nominal 10-year Treasury yields had been 7.11%. Since the crisis, that number has fallen to 2.62%! Of course that was driven by the Fed’s policy actions of ZIRP and QE, the second of which was explicitly designed to drive longer-term rates lower. Clearly they were successful on that score. However, ten years on from the crisis, rates remain exceptionally low on a historical basis, despite the fact that the economy has been expanding since the middle of 2009. The reasons for this are twofold; first the Fed had maintained ZIRP for an exceptionally long time, and while they have been raising rates since December 2015, the pace at which they have done so has been extremely slow by historical standards. Secondly, although the Fed has begun to reduce the size of their balance sheet, it remains significantly larger, relative to the size of the economy, than it was prior to the crisis. This means that there is less supply of bonds available for other investors, and so prices continue to be artificially high.

This combination of the Fed’s rate hikes, as slow as they have been, and their ownership of a significant portion of available Treasuries has resulted in a much flatter yield curve. Adding to this mixture is the fact that the economy’s performance is now beginning to show signs of slowing down. This has been evident in the recent weakness in both the housing market and the auto sector. Meanwhile, falling equity prices have encouraged more demand for the safety of Treasuries. Put it all together and you have a recipe for a yield curve inversion, which will simply help fulfill the prophesy of an inverted yield curve leading to recession.

The other pressure point in markets has been the ongoing trade drama between the US and China. The weekend’s G20 news was quickly embraced by investors everywhere in the hope that further tariffs had been avoided and the current ones might be reduced or removed. However, China’s interpretation of the weekend discussions and those of President Trump appear to be somewhat different, and now there is concern that the delay in tariff increases may not result in their eventual removal.

Recapping the two stories, fears over a resumption of the trade war have helped undermine views of future economic growth. This has led investors to seek safety in longer dated Treasury securities helping to flatten the US yield curve. That signal is seen as a harbinger of future recession, which has led investors to sell equities, further increasing demand for Treasuries. It is easy to see how this cycle can get out of hand, and may well lead to much weaker equity prices, lower US yields and slower US growth.

That trifecta would be a cogent reason for the dollar to suffer. But remember, the FX market is a relative one, not an absolute one. And if the US is seeing declining growth, you can be certain that the rest of the world is suffering from the same affliction. In fact, the data from Europe this morning showed that Eurozone Services PMI fell to 52.7, its lowest level since September 2016 and further evidence that the Eurozone economy is quickly slowing. While Italy has garnered the headlines, and appears set to enter yet another recession, the data from Germany has also been soft, which bodes ill for the future. If the slowdown in the Eurozone economy continues its recent trend, it will be that much harder for Signor Draghi to begin tightening policy. So once again, despite the fact that the Fed may be slowing down, signs are pointing to the fact that the ECB will be in the same boat. In that case, the euro is unlikely to be seen as terribly attractive, and the dollar still has potential to rise, despite the recent US softness.

The point is that although the long-term structural issues remain quite concerning in the US, the short-term cyclical factors continue to favor the dollar over its G10 and EMG counterparts. We will need to see wholesale changes within the policy mixes around the world for this to change.

With markets closed today, there is no US data to be released, and I expect a subdued session overall. However, nothing has changed my medium term view of dollar strength.

Good luck
Adf

Progress Was Made

The Presidents, Trump and Xi, met
Attempting, trade talks, to reset
Some progress was made
Though China downplayed
Reductions in tariffs as yet

Risk is back! At least it is for today, with the news that there has been a truce, if not an end, to the trade war between the US and China seen as a huge positive for risky assets. And rightly so, given that the trade contretemps has been one of the key drivers of recent investor anxiety. In addition, the G20 managed to release a statement endorsed by all parties, albeit one that was a shadow of its former self. There remain significant disagreements on the value of the G20 with the Trump administration still convinced that these gatherings seek to institutionalize rules and regulations that are contra to the US best interests.

At any rate, equity markets around the world have rallied sharply with Shanghai jumping 2.5%, the Nikkei up 1.25% and the South Korean KOSPI rising by 1.75%. In Europe, the FTSE is higher by 1.75%, the DAX by 2.2% and the CAC, despite ongoing riots in Paris and throughout France, higher by 1.0%. Ahead of the opening here, futures are pointing to an opening on the order of 2.0% higher as well. It should be no surprise that Treasury bonds have fallen somewhat, although the 2bp rise in 10-year yields is dwarfed relative to the equity movements. And finally, the dollar is lower, not quite across the board, but against many of its counterparts. Today, EMG currencies are leading the way, with CNY rising 0.9%, MXN rising 1.7% and RUB up 0.75% indicative of the type of price movement we have seen.

However, the trade story is not the only market driver today, with news in the oil market impacting currencies as well. The story that OPEC and Russia have agreed to extend production cuts into 2019, as well as the news that Alberta’s Premier has ordered a reduction of production, and finally, the news that Qatar is leaving OPEC all combining to help oil jump by more than 3% this morning. The FX impact from oil, however, was mixed. While the RUB and MXN both rallied sharply, as did CAD (+0.9%) and BRL (+0.9%), those nations that are major energy importers, notably India (INR -1.1%), have seen their currencies suffer. I would be remiss not to mention the fact that the euro, which is a large energy importer, has actually moved very little as the two main stories, trade war truce and oil price rise, have offsetting impacts in FX terms on the Continent.

But through it all, there is one currency that is universally underperforming, the British pound, which has fallen 0.3% vs. the dollar and much further against most others. Brexit continues to cast a long shadow over the pound with today’s story that the DUP, the small Northern Irish party that has been key for PM May’s ability to run a coalition government, is very unhappy with the Brexit deal and prepared to not only vote against it in Parliament next week, but to agree a vote of no confidence against PM May as well. This news was far too much for the pound, overwhelming even much better than expected Manufacturing PMI data from the UK (53.1 vs. exp 51.5). So the poor pound is likely to remain under pressure until that vote has been recorded next Tuesday. As of now, it continues to appear that the Brexit deal will fail in its current form, and that the UK will be leaving the EU with no framework for the future in place. This has been the market’s collective fear since the beginning of this process, and the pound will almost certainly suffer further in the event Parliament votes down the deal.

While all this has been fun, the week ahead brings us much more news and
information, as it is Payrolls week in the US.

Today ISM Manufacturing 57.6
  ISM Prices Paid 70.0
  Construction Spending 0.4%
Wednesday ADP Employment 197K
  Nonfarm Productivity 2.3%
  Unit Labor Costs 1.2%
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 59.2
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Trade Balance -$54.9B
  Factory Orders -2.0%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 200K
  Private Payrolls 200K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 19K
  Unemployment Rate 3.7%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.1% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Michigan Sentiment 97.0

So a lot of data, and even more Fed speakers, with a total of 11 speeches, including congressional testimony by Chairman Powell on Wednesday, from six different Fed Governors and Presidents. Now we have heard an awful lot from the Fed lately and it has been interpreted as being somewhat less hawkish than the commentary from September and October. In fact, Minneapolis President Kashkari was out on Friday calling for an end to rate hikes, although he is arguably the most dovish member of the FOMC. Interestingly, the trade truce is likely to lead to one less problem the Fed has highlighted as an economic headwind, and may result in some more hawkish commentary, but my guess is that the current mindset at the Eccles Building is one of moderation. I continue to believe that a December hike is a done deal, but I challenge anyone who claims they have a good idea for what 2019 will bring. The arguments on both sides are viable, and the proponents are fierce in their defense. While the Fed continues to be a key driver of FX activity, my sense is that longer term FX views are much less certain these days, and will continue down to be that way as the Fed strives to remove Forward Guidance from the tool kit. Or at least put it away for a while. I still like the dollar, but I will admit my conviction is a bit less robust than before.

Good luck
Adf

Yikes!

Said Powell, we’re now “just below”
The neutral rate, thus we’ll forego
Too many more hikes
The market said yikes!
And saw all key price metrics grow

If you wonder why I focus on the Fed as much as I do, it is because the Fed continues to be the single most important player in global financial markets. This was reinforced yesterday when Chairman Powell indicated that the current Fed Funds rate, rather than being “…a long way from neutral at this point,” as he described things on October 3rd, are in fact, “…just below” the neutral rate of interest. The implication is that the Fed is much closer to the end of their rate hiking cycle than had previously been anticipated by most market participants. And the market response was immediate and significant. US equity markets exploded higher, with all three major indices rising more than 2.3%; Treasury yields continued their recent decline, with the 10-year yield falling 4.5bps to levels not seen since mid-September; and the dollar fell sharply across the board, with the euro jumping 1% at one point, although it has since given back about 0.3% of that move. But it wasn’t just the euro that rallied, overnight we saw IDR and INR, two of the worst performing EMG currencies, each rally more than 1.0% as a more dovish Fed will clearly bring relief to what has ailed economies throughout the emerging markets.

It is abundantly clear that a more dovish Fed will have significant consequences for markets around the world. In this event we can expect the recent equity market correction to come to an end, we can expect the dollar to give back some portion of its recent gains, and we can expect Treasury yields to level off, especially in the front end, with fears over a yield curve inversion dissipating rapidly. However, is the Fed really changing its tune? Or is yesterday’s market reaction significantly overdone? Unfortunately, it is far too soon to judge. In fact, this will add further significance to the FOMC Minutes from the October meeting, which will be released at 2:00pm today. Remember, that meeting was held nearly four weeks after Powell’s ‘long way from neutral’ comments, so would reflect much more updated thinking.

Something else to keep in mind regarding the potential future path of interest rates is that we continue to see evidence that key sectors of the US economy are slowing down. Yesterday’s New Home Sales data reinforced the idea that higher mortgage rates, a direct consequence of Fed actions during the past two years, continue to take a toll on the housing sector as the print was just 544K, well below expectations and indicative of a market that is flatlining, not growing. We have also seen the trade data deteriorate further despite the president’s strenuous efforts at reversing that trend. In other words, for a data dependent Fed, there is a growing segment of data showing that rates need not go higher. While Powell was clear that there is no preset path of interest rates, the market is now pricing in just two more hikes, one in December and one in March, and then nothing. If that turns out to be the case, the dollar may well come under pressure.

Of course, FX is really about interest rate differentials, not merely interest rates. And while changes in Fed expectations are crucial, so are changes in other central bank actions. For example, early this morning we saw that Eurozone Consumer Confidence fell for the 11th straight month; we saw that Swiss GDP shrank -0.2% unexpectedly in Q3; and we saw that Swedish GDP shrank -0.2% unexpectedly in Q3. The point is that the slowing growth scenario is not simply afflicting the US, but is actually widespread. If Eurozone growth has peaked and is slipping, it will be increasingly difficult for Signor Draghi and the ECB to begin to tighten policy, even if they do end QE next month. The Swedes, who are tipped to raise rates next month are likely to give that view another thought, and the Swiss are certain to maintain their ultra-easy policy. In other words, the interest rate differentials are not going to suddenly change in favor of other currencies, although they don’t seem likely to continue growing in the dollar’s favor. Perhaps we are soon to reach an equilibrium state. (LOL).

On Threadneedle Street there’s a bank
That raised interest rates to outflank
Rising inflation
But now fears stagnation
If they walk the Brexit gangplank

The only currency that has not benefitted from the Powell dovish tone has been the British pound, which has fallen 0.5% this morning back toward the bottom of its recent trading range. The Brexit debate continues apace there and despite analyses by both the government and the BOE regarding the potential negative consequences of a no-deal Brexit (worst case is GDP could be 10% smaller than it otherwise would be with the currently negotiated deal) it seems that PM May is having limited success in convincing a majority of MP’s that her deal is acceptable. Interestingly, the BOE forecast that in their worst-case scenario the pound could fall below parity with the dollar, although every other pundit (myself included) thinks that number is quite excessive. However, as I have maintained consistently for the past two years, a move toward 1.10-1.15 seems quite viable, and given the current political machinations ongoing, potentially quite realistic. All told, the pound remains completely beholden to the Brexit debate, and until the Parliamentary vote on December 11, will be subject to every comment, both positive and negative, that is released. However, the trend remains lower, and unless there is a sudden reversal of sentiment amongst the politicians there, it is feeling more and more like a hard Brexit is in our future. Hedgers beware!

Quickly, this morning’s data brings Initial Claims (exp 221K), Personal Income (0.4%), Personal Spending (0.4%), and the PCE data (Headline 2.0%, Core 1.9%) as well as the FOMC Minutes at 2:00. Unless the PCE data surprises sharply, I expect that markets will remain quiet until the Minutes. But if we see softer PCE prints, look for equities to rally and the dollar to suffer.

Good luck
Adf

 

Headwinds Exist

Of late from the Fed we have heard
That “gradual” is the watchword
Though headwinds exist
The Fed will persist
Their rate hikes just won’t be deferred

It appears there is a pattern developing amongst the world’s central bankers. Despite increasing evidence that economic activity is slowing down, every one of them is continuing to back the gradual increase of base interest rates. Last week, Signor Draghi was clear in his assessment that recent economic headwinds were likely temporary and would not deter the ECB from ending QE on schedule and starting to raise rates next year. This week, so far, we have been treated to Fed speakers Charles Evans and Richard Clarida both explaining that the gradual increase of interest rates was still the appropriate policy despite indications that economic activity in the US is slowing. While both acknowledged the recent softer data, both were clear that the current policy trajectory of gradual rate hikes remained appropriate. Later this morning we will hear from Chairman Powell, but his recent statements have been exactly in line with those of Evans and Clarida. And finally, the Swedish Riksbank remains on track to raise rates next month despite the fact that recent economic data shows slowing growth and declining consumer and business confidence.

Interestingly, the San Francisco Fed just released a research paper explaining that inflation was NOT likely to rise significantly and that the increases earlier this year, which have been ebbing lately, were the result of acyclical factors. The paper continued that as those factors revert to more normal, historical levels, inflation was likely to fall back below the Fed’s 2.0% target. But despite their own research, there is no indication that the Fed is going to change their tune. In fact, the conundrum I see is that Powell’s Fed has become extremely data focused, seemingly willing to respond to short term movement in the numbers despite the fact that monetary policy works with a lag at least on the order of 6-12 months. In other words, even though the Fed is completely aware that their actions don’t really impact the data for upwards of a year, they are moving in the direction of making policy based on the idiosyncrasies of monthly numbers.

All this sounds like a recipe for some policy mistakes going forward. However, as I wrote two weeks ago, current attempts to normalize policy are very likely simply addressing previous policy mistakes. After all, the fact that pretty much every central bank in the G20 is seeking to ‘normalize’ monetary policy despite recent growth hiccups is indicative of the fact that they all realize their policies are in the wrong place for the end of the economic cycle. Belatedly, it seems they are beginning to understand that they will have very limited ability to address the next economic downturn, which I fear will occur much sooner than most pundits currently predict.

The reason I focus on the central banks is because of their outsized impact on the currency markets. After all, as I have written many times, the cyclical factor of relative interest rates continues to be one of the main drivers of FX movements. So as long as central banks are telling us that they are on a mission to raise rates, the real question becomes the relative speed with which they are adjusting policy and how much of that adjustment is already priced into the market. The reason that yesterday’s comments from Evans and Clarida are so important is that the market had begun pricing out rate hikes for 2019, with not quite two currently expected. However, if the Fed maintains its hawkish tone that implies the dollar has further room to rise.

Speaking of the dollar, despite the risk-on sentiment that has been evident in equity markets the past two sessions, the dollar continues to perform well. That sentiment seems to be driven by the idea that the Trump-Xi meeting on Saturday will produce some type of compromise and restart the trade talks. I am unwilling to handicap that outcome as forecasting this president’s actions has proven to be extremely difficult. We shall see.

Pivoting to the market today, the dollar is actually little changed this morning, with the largest G10 movement being a modest 0.3% rally in the pound Sterling. There are numerous articles describing the ongoing machinations in Parliament in the UK regarding the upcoming Brexit vote, and today’s view seems to be that something will pass. However, away from the pound, the G10 is trading within 10bps of yesterday’s close, although yesterday did see the dollar rally some 0.4% across the board. Yesterday’s US data showed that consumer confidence was slipping from record highs and that house prices were rising less rapidly than forecast, although still at a 5.1% clip. This morning brings the second look at Q3 GDP (exp 3.5%) as well as New Home Sales (575K) and the Goods Trade Balance (-$76.7B). However, Chairman Powell speaks at noon, and that should garner the bulk of the market’s attention. Until then, I anticipate very little price action in the FX markets, and truthfully in any market.

Good luck
Adf

 

A Major Mistake

There once was a pundit named Fately
Who asked, is Fed policy lately
A major mistake
Or did Yellen break
The mold? If she did t’was sedately

Please sanction my poetic license by listing Janet Yellen as the primary suspect in my inquiry; it was simply that her name fit within the rhyme scheme better than her fellow central bankers, all of whom acted in the same manner. Of course, I am really discussing the group of Bernanke, Draghi, Kuroda and Carney as well as Yellen, the cabal that decided ZIRP (zero interest rate policy), NIRP (negative interest rate policy) and QE (quantitative easing) made sense.

Recently, there has been a decided uptick in warnings from pundits about how current Fed Chair, Jay Powell, is on the verge of a catastrophic policy mistake by raising interest rates consistently. There are complaints about his plainspoken manner lacking the subtleties necessary to ‘guide’ the market to the correct outcome. In this case, the correct outcome does not mean sustainable economic growth and valuation but rather ever higher equity prices. There are complaints that his autonomic methodology (which if you recall was actually instituted by Yellen herself and simply has been followed by Powell), does not take into account other key issues such as wiggles in the data, or more importantly the ongoing rout in non-US equity markets. And of course, there is the constant complaint from the current denizen of the White House that Powell is undermining the economy, and by extension the stock market, by raising rates. You may have noticed a pattern about all the complaints coming back to the fact that Powell’s policy actions are no longer supporting the stock markets around the world. Curious, no?

But I think it is fair to ask if Powell’s policies are the mistake, or if perhaps, those policies he is unwinding, namely QE and ZIRP, were the mistakes. After all, in the scope of history, today’s interest rates remain exceedingly low, somewhere in the bottom decile of all time as can be seen in Chart 1 below.

5000 yr interest rate chart

So maybe the mistake was that the illustrious group of central bankers mentioned above chose to maintain these extraordinary monetary policies for nearly a decade, rather than begin the unwinding process when growth had recovered several years after the recession ended. As the second chart shows, the Fed waited seven years into a recovery before beginning the process of slowly unwinding what had been declared emergency policy measures. Was it really still an emergency in 2015, six years after the end of the recession amid 2.0% GDP growth, which caused the Fed to maintain a policy stance designed to address a severe recession?

Chart 2

real gdp growth

My point is simply that any analysis of the current stance of the Federal Reserve and its current policy trajectory must be seen in the broader context of not only where it is heading, but from whence it came. Ten years of extraordinarily easy monetary policy has served to build up significant imbalances and excesses throughout financial markets. Consider the growth in leveraged loans, especially covenant lite ones, corporate debt or government debt, all of which are now at record levels, as key indicators of the current excesses. The history of economics is replete with examples of excesses leading to shakeouts throughout the world. The boom and bust cycle is the very essence of Schumpeterian capitalism, and as long as we maintain a capitalist economy, those cycles will be with us.

The simple fact is that every central bank is ‘owned’ by its government, and has been for the past thirty years at least. (Paul Volcker is likely the last truly independent Fed Chair we have had, although Chairman Powell is starting to make a name for himself.) And because of that ownership, every central bank has sought to keep rates as low as possible for as long as possible to goose growth above trend. In the past, although that led to excesses, the downturns tended to be fairly short, and the rebounds quite robust. However, the advent of financial engineering has resulted in greater and greater leverage throughout the economy and correspondingly bigger potential problems in the next downturn. The financial crisis was a doozy, but I fear the next one, given the massive growth in debt outstanding, will be much worse.

At that point, I assure you that the first person who will be named as the culprit for ‘causing’ the recession will be Jay Powell. My point here is that, those fingers need to be pointed at Bernanke, Yellen, Draghi, Carney and Kuroda, as it was their actions that led to the current significantly imbalanced economy. The next recession will have us longing for the good old days of 2008 right after Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, and the political upheaval that will accompany it, or perhaps follow immediately afterwards, is likely to make what we are seeing now seem mild. While my crystal ball does not give me a date, it is becoming abundantly clear that the date is approaching far faster than most appreciate.

Be careful out there. Markets and politics are going to become much more volatile over the next several years.

One poet’s view!

Powell’s Fixation

Though spending by business has slowed
(And debt from the government growed)
There’s no indication
That Powell’s fixation
On raising rates soon will erode

The Fed left rates on hold yesterday, as universally expected. The policy statement was largely unchanged although it did tweak the wording regarding business investment, which previously had been quite strong but is now slowing somewhat. That said, there is absolutely no indication that the Fed is going to slow its trajectory of rate increases anytime soon. With the meeting now out of the way, I expect that the Fedspeak we hear going forward will reinforce that view, with only Kashkari and Bullard seeking to slow the pace, and neither of them is yet a voting member. The market response was actually mildly surprising in that equities sold off somewhat after the news (and have fallen sharply in Asia and Europe) despite the fact that this was the expected outcome. Meanwhile the dollar has continued to rebound from its recent lows touched on Wednesday, with the euro having declined 0.2% further this morning and 1.4% from its peak.

As an aside, I am constantly amazed at the idea that the Fed, especially as overseen by Jay Powell, is more than mildly interested in the happenings in the stock market. The Fed mandate is clear, maximum employment and stable prices, notably lacking any discussion of rising equity markets. Alas, ever since the Maestro himself, Alan Greenspan, was Fed Chair, it seems that the default reaction has been to instantly add liquidity to the market if there was any stock market decline. The result is we have seen three massive bubbles blown in markets, two of which have burst (tech stocks and real estate) with the third ongoing as we speak. If you understand nothing else about the current Fed chairman, it is abundantly clear that he is unconcerned with the day-to-day wobbles in financial markets. I am confident that if there is a significant change in the economic situation, and markets respond by declining sharply, the current Fed will address the economic situation, not the markets, and that, in my view, is the way policy should be handled.

But back to today’s discussion. I fully admit that I did not understand the market response to the election results, specifically why the dollar would have declined on the news. After all, a split Congress is not going to suddenly change policies that are already in place, especially since the Republican majority in the Senate expanded. And as the Fed made clear yesterday, they don’t care about the politics and are going to continue to raise rates for quite a while yet. Certainly, we haven’t seen data elsewhere in the world which is indicative of a significant uptick in growth that would draw investment away from the US, and so the dollar story will continue to be the tension between the short-term cyclical factors (faster US growth and tighter monetary policy) vs. the long-term structural factors (rising budget deficits and questionable fiscal sustainability). Cyclical data points to a stronger dollar; structural data to a weaker one, and for now, the cyclical story is still the market driver. I think it is worth keeping that in mind as one observes the market.

Regarding other FX related stories, the Brexit situation is coming to a head in the UK as PM May is trying to get her cabinet to sign off on what appears to be quite a bad deal, where the Irish border situation results in the UK being forced to abide by EU rules without being part of the EU and thus having no input to their formation. This is exactly what the Brexiteers wanted to avoid, and would seemingly be the type of thing that could result in a leadership challenge to May, and perhaps even new elections, scant months before Brexit. While I have assumed a fudge deal would be agreed, I am losing confidence in that outcome, and see an increasing chance that the pound falls sharply. Its recent rally has been based entirely on the idea that a deal would get done. For the pound, it is still a binary outcome.

The Italian budget story continues to play out with not only Brussels upset but actually the backers of the League as well. While I am no expert on Italian politics, it looks increasingly likely that there could be yet another election soon, with the League coming out on top, five star relegated to the backbenches, and more turmoil within the Eurozone. However, in that event, I think it highly improbable that the League is interested in leaving the euro, so it might well end up being a euro positive net.

So the week is ending on a positive note for the dollar, and I expect to see that continue throughout the session. This morning’s PPI data was much firmer than expected with the headline print at 2.9% and the core at 2.6%, indicating that there is no real moderation in the US inflation story. This data is likely tariff related, but that is no comfort given that there is no indication that the tariff situation is going to change soon. And if it does, it will only get worse. So look for the dollar to continue its rebound as the weekend approaches.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf