Money More Dear

Next week, though it’s certainly clear
The Fed will price money more dear
The dollar’s incurred
Some selling and spurred
More weakness than seen since last year

The dollar remains under pressure this morning with a number of stories having a separate, but a cumulative impact on the buck. For example, overnight we learned that New Zealand’s GDP grew 1.0% in Q2, higher than the expected 0.7% outcome, and sufficient to get investors and traders to consider that the RBNZ, which just last month promised to maintain record low interest rates until at least 2020, may wind up raising rates sooner than that. A surprise of this nature usually leads to currency strength and so it is this morning with NZD higher by 0.8%.

Or consider the UK, where Retail Sales data surprised one and all by rising 0.3% in August (3.3% Y/Y), a much better performance than expected. This was enough to overcome the ongoing Brexit malaise and drive the pound higher by 0.7% and back to its highest level in two months. In truth, this is somewhat surprising given the quite disappointing outcome from the EU meeting Wednesday night in Brussels. Rather than more positive remarks about the viability of a deal being completed, we heard more of the hard-core negativity from the French and Irish, basically saying if the UK doesn’t cave, then there will be no deal. This is certainly not a welcome outcome, especially since there are only 190 days until Brexit will occur, deal or no. Meanwhile, PM May continues to fight a rearguard action against the avid pro-Brexiters in her party in order to retain her position.

Logically, I look at the situation and believe there is no real chance of a satisfactory deal being agreed on time. Frankly, the Irish border issue is intractable in my view. But given that this is entirely about politics, and the Europeans and British are both famous for kicking the can down the road, I suspect that something along the lines of a pure fudge, with neither side agreeing anything, will be achieved in order to prevent a complete disaster. However, there is a very real probability that the UK will simply leave the EU with no deal of any sort, and if that is the case, the initial market reaction will be for a sharp sell-off in the pound.

Interestingly, despite the fact that the little Eurozone data released was on the soft side, the euro has managed to continue its recent rally and is higher by 0.4% as I type. This seems more of a piece with the general dollar weakness that we have witnessed the past two sessions than anything else.

Another potential conundrum is US interest rates, where 10-year Treasury yields jumped to 3.08% yesterday, their highest level since early May, and now gathering momentum for the breakout that many pundits have been expecting for a while. Remember, short Treasury futures are one of the largest positions in the market. This thought process has been led by two concurrent features; the Fed continues to raise short term rates while the Treasury, due to increased fiscal policy stimulus and a growing budget deficit, will be forced to increase the amount of debt issued. When this is wrapped up with the fact that the Fed is reducing the size of its balance sheet, thus removing the one true price-insensitive bid from the market, it seemed a recipe for much higher 10-year yields. The fact that we remain at 3.08% nine months into the year is quite surprising, at least to me. But it is entirely possible that we see a much more aggressive sell-off in Treasuries going forward, especially if the Fed tweaks their message next week to one that is more hawkish.

In this context, let me give a concrete example of just how important the central bank message really is. This morning, Norgesbank raised interest rates in Norway by 25bps, as was universally expected. This was the first time in 7 years they raised rates, and are doing so because the economy there is expanding rapidly while inflation moves closer to their target. But in their policy discussion, they reduced the forecast pace of future interest rate hikes, surprising everyone, and the result was a sharp decline in NOK. Versus the euro it fell more than 1%, which translated into a 0.7% decline vs. the dollar. The point is the market is highly focused on the policy statements as well as the actual moves.

This is equally true, if not more so, with regard to the Fed. Current expectations are that the Fed will raise rates 25bps next week and another 25bps in December. Where things get cloudier is what next year will look like, and how fast they will continue to tighten policy. It is for this reason that next week’s meeting is so widely anticipated, because the Fed will release its updated dot plot, the effective forecasts of each Fed member as to where Fed funds will be at various points in the future. If the dot plot implies higher rates than the last iteration in June, you can expect the dollar to benefit from the outcome. Any implication of a slower pace of rate hikes will certainly undermine the dollar.

In the end, the mixture of new information has been sufficient to push the dollar lower by 0.3% when looking at the broad dollar index. Interestingly, despite its recent weakness, it remains within the trading range that has defined its movement since it stopped appreciating in April. Frankly, I expect this range trading to continue unless the Fed significantly changes its tune.

This morning brings a bit more data with Initial Claims (exp 210K) and Philly Fed (17.0) due at 8:30 while Existing Home Sales (5.35M) are released at 10:00. Yesterday’s housing data was mixed with New Home Sales rising more than expected, but Building Permits plunging. And remember that both of those data points tend to have a great deal of volatility. With that in mind, looking at the longer term trend shows that while Housing Starts seem to be rebounding from a bad spot, the trend in Permits is clearly downward, which doesn’t speak well for the housing market in the medium term.

In the end, as I wrote yesterday, continued modest dollar weakness seems the most likely outcome for now, but I suspect that we are coming to the end of this soft patch, and that the dollar will find its legs soon. I remain confused as to why there is so much bullishness attached to the Eurozone economy given the data continues to underperform. And there is no indication that the ECB is going to suddenly turn truly hawkish. Current levels strike me as attractive for dollar buyers.

Good luck
Adf

 

A Rate Hike’s in Store

Said Mario Draghi once more
‘Through summer’ a rate hike’s in store
When pressed on the timing
That they’d end pump priming
He gave no more scoop than before

As we await this morning’s Q2 US GDP data (exp 4.1%), it’s a good time to review yesterday’s activity and why the euro has given up the ground it gained during the past week. The ECB left policy on hold, which was universally expected. However, many pundits were looking for a more insightful press conference regarding the timeline that the ECB has in mind regarding the eventual raising of interest rates. Alas, they were all disappointed. Draghi continues to use the term ‘through summer’ without defining exactly what that means. It appears that the uncertainty is whether it means a September 2019 hike or an October 2019 hike. To this I have to say, “are they nuts?” The idea that the ECB has such a precise decision process is laughable. The time in question is more than twelve months away, and there is so much that can happen between now and then it cannot be listed.

Consider that just six months ago, Eurozone growth was widely expected to continue the pace it had demonstrated in 2017, which was why the dollar was weak and falling. But instead, despite a large majority of forecasts pointing to great things in Europe, growth there weakened sharply while growth in the US leapt forward. So here we are now, six months later, with the dollar significantly stronger and a new narrative asking why Eurozone growth has disappointed while US growth is exploding higher. Of course the US story is blamed based on the tax changes and increased fiscal stimulus from the budget bill. But in Europe, we have heard about bad weather, a flu epidemic and, more recently, rising oil prices, but certainly nothing that explains the underlying disappointment. And that was only a six-month window! Why would anyone expect the ECB, who are notoriously bad forecasters, to have any idea what will happen, with precision, in fourteen months’ time?

However, that seems to have been the driving force yesterday, lack of confirmation on the timing of the ECB’s initial rate hike next year. And based on the French GDP data this morning (0.2%, below expectations of 0.3% and far below last year’s 0.7% quarterly average), it seems that growth expectations for the Eurozone may well be missed again. Personally, I am not convinced that the ECB will raise rates at all in 2019. Given the recent trajectory of growth in the Eurozone, it appears we have already seen the top, and that before we get ‘through summer’ next year, the discussion may turn to how the ECB are going to help support the economy with further QE. Given this reality, it should be no surprise that the euro suffered yesterday, and in the wake of the weak French data, that it is still lower this morning, albeit only by an additional 0.15%.

Elsewhere the pound fell yesterday after the EU rejected, out of hand, PM May’s solution for the UK to collect tariffs on behalf of the EU. That basically destroyed her attempt to find a middle ground between the Brexiteers and the Bremainers, and now calls into question her ability to remain in office. In fact, she is running out of time to come up with a deal that has a chance of getting implemented. The current belief is that if they do not agree on something by the October EU meeting, there will not be sufficient time for all 29 members to approve any deal. It is with this in mind that I continue to question the BOE’s concerns over slowing inflation. My gut tells me that if they do raise rates next week, it will need to be reversed by the November meeting after the Brexit situation spirals out of control. The pound fell 0.65% yesterday and is down a further 0.1% this morning. That remains the trend.

Another noteworthy event from Tokyo occurred last night as the BOJ was forced to intervene in the JGB market for the second time this week, bidding for an unlimited amount of bonds at 0.10% in the 5-10 year sector. And this time, they bought ~$74 billion worth. Speculation remain rife that they are going to adjust their QQE program next week, but given the fact that it has been singularly unsuccessful in achieving its aim of raising inflation to 2.0% (currently CPI there is running at 0.2%), this appears to be a serious capitulation. If they change policy without any success behind them, the market is likely to aggressively buy the yen. USDJPY is down 1.7% in the past six sessions, and while it rallied slightly yesterday, it seems to me that USDJPY lower is the most likely future outcome.

Yesterday morning’s overall dollar malaise reversed during the US session and has carried over to this morning’s trade. And while most movement so far this morning is modest, averaging in the 0.1%-0.2% range, it is nearly universally in favor of the buck.

This morning brings the aforementioned GDP data as well as Michigan Sentiment (exp 97.1, down a full point from last month), although the former will be the key number to watch. Yesterday’s equity market session was broadly able to shake off the poor earnings forecast of a major tech firm, and this morning has a different FANG member knocking it out of the park. My point is that risk aversion is not high, so this dollar strength remains fundamental. At this point, I look for the dollar to continue to benefit from the current broad narrative of diverging monetary policy, and expect that we will need to see some particularly weak US data to change that story.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

Trump’s Latest Tirade

There once was a time when men thought
That trade wars should never be fought
But that was back then
And now those same men
Think trade wars can help votes be bought

However, attacking free trade
By building a tariff blockade
Can open the doors
To currency wars
Just like in Trump’s latest tirade

Jerome Powell’s job got a LOT tougher on Friday, when President Trump not only reiterated his concern over the Fed raising rates and the impact it would have on the economy, (i.e. tapping on the brakes), but on the impact Fed policy is having on the dollar as it continues to rise. The President then called out China, Europe and Japan for manipulating their currencies lower and calling it unfair and a serious problem.

Now put yourself in Powell’s seat. Maintaining Fed independence, and any perceptions thereof is crucial. But so is managing monetary policy as he see’s fit. However, now that Trump has complained about rising US interest rates and the ongoing policy divergence we have seen over the past fifteen months, if the US economy slows and the Fed believes that a change in policy is appropriate, it may look like he is bending to the President’s will. At the same time, if he continues to raise rates because he believes that is appropriate, he will seemingly come under further pressure from the President. As I said, his job got a lot harder. One doesn’t have to be too cynical to believe that Powell and the Fed will continue to raise rates until the economy falters, at which point it will be clearly appropriate for the Fed to ease policy, and there will be no question of the Fed’s independence. Of course, purposely engineering a slowdown or recession doesn’t seem like such a wonderful idea either.

At the same time, the President has just created his fall guy for any bad outcomes in the economy. If things go bad, he blames the Fed and says, ‘I told you this would happen if they raised rates.’ And if everything continues with positive growth, he claims it’s his policies in spite of the Fed that is doing the job.

With that as the lay of the land, it should be no surprise that on the back of Trump’s discussion of currency manipulation, that the dollar fell sharply in Friday’s session. The dollar Index fell 0.75% with almost every major currency rallying. As the Asian session opens this evening, we are seeing some follow through in that price action, with the dollar index down a further 0.2%. JPY is leading the way higher, up 0.45%, but the movement remains widespread.

Interestingly, it appears that most of the punditry have decided that the dollar’s rally is now over. With the President now keen to see the dollar fall, that is what will happen. I, however, disagree with that assessment. At this point, as long as the interest rate divergence continues, I see no reason to believe that traders are going to change their tune. The carry available remains too great a temptation to ignore. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the current level of dollar bullishness, as measured by open futures positions, rise over the next several weeks, as traders take advantage of the dollar’s short-term decline to add to positions at better levels. Until we start to see concrete changes in monetary policy (and there is no indication that any other country is going to tighten policy sooner than they otherwise would have), the dollar still holds all the cards. In fact, if the ongoing trade ructions lead to a more significant equity market correction, meaning risk is jettisoned, then the dollar will probably rise further. I will change my views when policy changes, but for now, I see this move as a temporary correction.

There is really no other story in the FX markets right now other than the evolution of the trade war into a currency war. While there will be some data this week, and the ECB meets Thursday, everything we hear will be in a response to Trump’s comments. The G20 arrived at no decisions, which can be no surprise, as they never do. However, all the talk is on the trade cum currency war that is brewing. At this point, given the ECB is not going to change anything, (perhaps they will refine their rate message more specifically, but I doubt it), it is headline roulette until the Fed meets next month. And even then, there is no expectation of a move until September, so really we are beholden to the headlines for now. I wish I could give more guidance than that, but let’s face it; nobody knows what will happen there.

Good luck
Adf

The Beast of the East

This weekend the data released
By China showed growth had decreased
Investment has slowed
And that doesn’t bode
Too well for the Beast of the East

It has been a fairly quiet session overnight, as the weekend news cycle seems to have reverted back toward the summer doldrums of the past. While traders and investors remain on edge over the brewing trade conflict between the US and China, and how that may impact the rest of the world, the only actual news was Chinese data out last night.

It can be no surprise that the GDP figure, at 6.7%, was exactly as forecast [Woe betide the statistician in China who releases a GDP number less than President Xi declares], but it was somewhat surprising that both IP (6.0%) and Fixed Asset Investment (6.0%) were both released at levels softer than expected, and more importantly, at the softest levels in 15-20 years. Given that it is too early for the trade situation to have impacted the Chinese data, the most likely situation is that even the Chinese are beginning to recognize that growth on the mainland is set to slow further. In fairness, China has made a big deal about their pivot away from mercantilist policies to a more domestically focused economy, and given that Retail Sales (9.0%) were actually slightly firmer than expected, perhaps they are moving in that direction. However, unlike most developed countries, China’s domestic consumption is only around 50% of the economy (it is between 70% and 80% for OECD nations), and so that modestly better performance is not likely to be enough to maintain the growth trajectory that Xi wants over time.

In the end, though, there was only limited market reaction to the news, with Chinese equity markets slightly softer (Shanghai -0.25%) and the renminbi, though initially falling slightly, has since rebounded and is firmer by 0.3% as I type. Of course, in context, the dollar is softer across the board this morning with most major currencies appreciating by a similar amount.

Aside from the Chinese news, there was precious little of interest to drive trading. Oil prices have been sliding as Saudi Arabia has agreed to pump more oil and the US and other nations are considering tapping their strategic reserves in an effort to lower prices. Earnings season is underway with continued high hopes for US companies and less robust ones for the rest of the world. However, US equity futures are barely higher at this time, <0.1%, indicating a wait-and-see attitude has developed. And rounding things out, Treasury yields have edged higher by about 1bp although they remain well below levels seen back in May.

Pivoting to the data for the week, it is a mixed bag, with arguably the most important events Chairman Powell’s testimony to the Senate on Tuesday and House on Wednesday.

Today Empire Manufacturing 22
  Retail Sales 0.5%
  -ex autos 0.4%
  Business Inventories 0.4%
Tuesday Capacity Utilization 78.3%
  IP 0.6%
  Powell Testimony  
  TIC Flows $34.3B
Wednesday Housing Starts 1.32M
  Building Permits 1.333M
  Powell Testimony  
  Fed Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Philly Fed 22

However, we cannot ignore Retail Sales this morning, which is seen as a descriptor of the current economic situation. This has been one of the highlights of the economic story in the US, especially in the wake of the tax cuts and stimulus spending bills at the beginning of the year.

As long as growth in the US continues above its estimated long term trend (which is often pegged just below 2.0%), the Fed is going to continue to tighten policy via both rate hikes and a shrinking balance sheet, and the dollar should remain relatively well bid. While there is a case to be made that added fiscal stimulus at this stage in the economic cycle is a mistake (classical economics indicates tighter fiscal policy is warranted), there is no mistaking that the US economy remains the key engine of growth for the world, and that as the Fed tightens policy further, the dollar is set to benefit more.

Good luck
Adf