Further Afflictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe
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Pandemic Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The week ahead’s certain to be
Remarkable, as we shall see
Election reports
More Fedspeak, of sorts
And data on jobs finally

There should be no lack of excitement this week as (hopefully) the election season finally winds down and we can all try to begin planning for the next four years of policy.  At this point, most of the polls continue to show there will be a change in the White House, with a fair number of polls predicting a blue wave, where the Democrats retake the Senate, as well as the Presidency.  The thing about pollsters is they are very much like economists; they take the data they want and extrapolate the information in a linear fashion going forward.  The problem with this approach, both for economists and psephologists, is that very little about life or the human condition is linear.  If anything, my observation is that life is quite cyclical, with the key being to determine when the cycle is changing.  As Yogi Berra is reputed to have said, “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  But predictions galore are certainly being made these days.

For our purposes, however, it is important to continue to game out the potential outcomes, and for hedgers, ensure that proper hedge protection is in place.  Regarding fiscal policy, it seems quite clear that a blue wave will usher in unprecedented levels of additional fiscal stimulus, with numbers of $3 trillion – $5 trillion being bandied about.  If the status quo remains, with President Trump being reelected and the Senate remaining in Republican control, I expect a much smaller stimulus bill, something on the order of the $1.8 trillion that had been discussed up until last week.  Finally, in the event the Republicans hold the Senate, but Mr Biden wins, we are likely to see the reemergence of fiscal conservatism, at least in a sense, and potentially any bill will be smaller.

With that as our backdrop, the consensus view remains that a Biden victory will see a weakening of the dollar, a steepening of the yield curve and an equity market rally.  Meanwhile a Trump victory will see a strengthening of the dollar, a more modest steepening of the yield curve and an equity market rally.  It is quite interesting to me that the consensus is for stocks to continue to rise regardless of the outcome, and for the long end of the bond market to sell off, with only the degree of movement in question.  I have to ask, why is the dollar story different?  The one conundrum here is the expectation of a weaker dollar and a steeper yield curve.  Historically, steep yield curves, implying strong future growth, lead to a stronger dollar.  And after all, it is not as though, the dollar is at excessively strong levels that could lead one to believe it is overbought.  Regardless, this seems to be what is built in at this stage.

Moving on to the FOMC, Thursday’s meeting, two days after the election, is likely to be the least interesting meeting of the year.  It strains credulity that the Fed will act given what could well be a lack of clarity as to the winner of the election.  And even if it is clear, they really have nothing to do at this time.  They are simply going to reiterate the current stance; rates will not rise before 2023, they will continue to purchase bonds ad infinitum, and please, Congress, enact some more fiscal stimulus!

As to Friday’s employment report, it will depend on whether or not the election is settled as to whether the market views the numbers as important.  If the results are known and it is the status quo, then investors will pay attention to the data.  However, if either there is no clear result, or there is a change at the top, this will all be ancient history as the market will be preparing for the new Administration’s policies, so what happened before will lose its significance.  This is especially so given the expectations for a significantly larger fiscal stimulus outcome, and therefore a significant change in economic expectations.

So, that is how we start things off.  Equity markets have shaken off last week’s poor performance and are rebounding nicely.  Asia started things on the right foot (Nikkei +1.4%, Hang Seng +1.5%) although Shanghai was flat on the day despite a better than expected Manufacturing PMI print (53.6).  Europe, meanwhile, is rocking as well, with the DAX (+1.85%) and CAC (+1.8%) both ripping higher while the FTSE 100 (+1.2%) is also having a solid day.  US futures are all pointing sharply higher as well, around 1.5% as I type.

Bond markets are actually mixed this morning, with Treasuries rallying slightly, and yields lower by 1.5 basis points.  However, in Europe, we are seeing bonds sell off (risk is on, after all) although the movement has been quite modest.  After all, with the ECB promising they will be adding new programs come December, why would anyone want to sell bonds the ECB is going to buy?  Of more interest is the fact that Treasury prices are rallying slightly, but this is likely to do with the fact that the market is heavily short Treasury bond futures, and some lightening of positions ahead of the election could well be in order.

On the commodity front, oil prices are falling further, as the renewed wave of lockdowns in Europe has depressed demand, while Libya simultaneously announced they have increased production to 1 million bbl/day, the last thing the oil market needs.  Gold, meanwhile, is moving higher, which strongly suggests it is behaving as a risk mitigant, given the fact neither rates are falling nor is the dollar.

As to the dollar, arguably, the best description today is mixed.  With so much new information yet to come this week, investors and traders seem to be biding their time.  In the G10, it is an even split, with three currencies modestly firmer, (CAD, NZD and AUD all +0.2%) and three currencies modestly weaker (NOK and GBP -0.2%, CHF -0.1%) with the rest essentially unchanged.  The one that makes the most sense is NOK, with oil continuing its slide.  Surprisingly, the pound is weaker given the story circulating that the EU and UK have essentially reached a compromise on the fisheries issue, one of the key sticking points in Brexit negotiations.

Emerging market currencies have a stronger bias toward weakness with RUB (-1.25%) and TRY (-1.0%) leading the way lower.  Clearly, the former is oil related while the lira has been getting pummeled for weeks as investors continue to vote on their views of Turkish monetary policy and the economic potential given new sanctions from the West.  But after those two, most APAC currencies were under pressure, somewhat surprisingly given the Chinese data, however, INR and TWD (-0.45% each) also underperformed last night.  On the plus side, CZK (+0.35%) is the leader, benefitting from a better than expected PMI print.

Speaking of data, Manufacturing PMI’s from Europe were all revised slightly higher, but had little overall impact on the FX markets.  This week, of course brings a great deal of info:

Today ISM Manufacturing 56.0
ISM Prices Paid 60.5
Construction Spending 1.0%
Tuesday Factory Orders 1.0%
Wednesday ADP Employment 650K
Trade Balance -$63.9B
ISM Services 57.5
Thursday Initial Claims 740K
Continuing Claims 7.35M
Nonfarm Productivity 5.2%
Unit Labor Costs -10.1%
FOMC Rate Decision 0.00% – 0.25%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 580K
Private Payrolls 680K
Manufacturing Payrolls 51K
Unemployment Rate 7.6%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (4.6% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.7
Participation Rate 61.5%
Consumer Credit $7.5B

Source: Bloomberg

Adding to the mix is the BOE meeting on Thursday as well, while the RBA meets tonight.  To me, this is just trying to level set as we await this week’s extraordinary possibilities.  Nothing has changed my view that the dollar is likely to strengthen as the situation elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe, is pointing to a terrible Q4 outcome economically (and, I fear in the health category) which will continue to weigh on the euro, as well as most emerging markets.  But one thing is clear, is there is a huge amount of uncertainty for the rest of this week.

Good luck and stay safe
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