Doves Are in Flight

Our central bank’s doves are in flight
As this week the Fed will rewrite
Their previous view
That one hike or two
Was needed to make things alright

Instead as growth everywhere slows
More policy ease they’ll propose
Perhaps not QE
But all will agree
The balance sheet’s size reached its lows

If you were to throw a dart at a map of the world, whichever country you hit would almost certainly be in the midst of easing monetary policy (assuming of course you didn’t hit the ocean.) It is virtually unanimous now that the next move in interest rates is going to be lower. In fact, there are only two nations that are poised to go the other way, Norway and Hong Kong. The former because growth there continues to motor along and, uniquely in the world, inflation is above their target range, most recently printing at 2.6%. The latter is actually under a different kind of pressure, draining liquidity from its economy as there has been a huge inflow of funds driving rates down and pressuring the HKD to the bottom of its band. But aside from those two, its easy money everywhere. Last week the ECB surprised the market by announcing the implementation of a new round of TLTRO’s, rather than just talking about the idea. That was a much faster move than the market had anticipated.

This week it is the Feds turn, where new forecasts and a new dot plot are due. It is widely assumed that economic forecasts will be marked lower given the slowing data picture that has emerged in the US, with the most notable data point being the 20K rise in NFP last month, well below the 180K expected. As such, and given the change in rhetoric since the last dot plot was revealed in December, it is now assumed that the median expectation for FOMC members will be either zero or one rate hikes this year, down from two to three. My money is on zero, with only a few of the hawks (Mester and George) likely to still see even one rate hike in the future.

To me, however, the market surprise will come with regard to the balance sheet reduction that has been ongoing for the past two years. What was “paint drying” in October, and “on autopilot” in December is going to end by June! Mark my words. It is already clear that the Fed wants to stop tightening policy, and despite the claims that the slow shrinkage of the balance sheet would have a limited impact, it is also clear that the impact of reducing reserves has been more than limited. In a similar vein to the ECB acting instead of talking about TLTRO’s last week, look for the Fed to stop the shrinkage by June. There is no right answer to the question, how large should the Fed’s balance sheet be? Instead, it is always seen as a range. However, given the current desire to stop the tightening, why would they wait any longer? If I’m wrong it is because they could simply stop at the end of this month and be done with it, but that might send a panicky message, so June probably fits the bill a bit better.

This is going to hit the market in a very predictable way; a weaker dollar, stronger stocks and stronger bonds. The stock story is easy, as less tightening will continue to be perceived as a boon to earnings and eventually to the economy. Funnily enough, the message to the bond market is likely to be quite different. With 10-year yields already below 2.60% (2.58% this morning), news that the Fed is more concerned about growth is likely to drive inflows, and maybe even help the curve invert. Remember, short end rates are already 2.50%, so it won’t take much to get to an inversion. As to the dollar, while everybody is in easing mode, the new information that the Fed is taking another step will be read as quite dovish and force more long dollar positions to be covered. In the end, I maintain that the situation in the Eurozone remains worse than that in the US, but the timing of announcements and perception of surprise is going to drive the short-term price activity.

Elsewhere in markets, while the China trade talks remain a background story for now, Brexit is edging ever closer. There is still no clear outcome there, although PM May is apparently going to try to get her deal through Parliament again this week. You have to admire her tenacity, if not her success. But here’s an interesting tidbit that hasn’t been widely reported: the vote last week by Parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit wasn’t binding! In other words, absent an agreed delay by the rest of the EU, Brexit is still going to happen at the end of the month, deal or no deal. Again, my point is that the probability of a no-deal Brexit remains distinctly non-zero, and the idea that the pound has reflected Brexit risk at its current level of 1.32 is laughable. If they can’t figure it out, the pound will go a LOT lower.

Of course, today, there is virtually nothing going on in the FX markets, with G10 currencies all within 0.1% of their closing levels on Friday. Even the EMG bloc has seen limited movement with the Indian rupee the only currency to have moved more than 0.5% all day. The rupee’s strength has been evident over the past three weeks as recent fiscal stimulus has attracted significant investment inflows. But beyond that, nothing.

Away from the Fed, this week is extremely quiet on the data front as well:

Tuesday Factory Orders 0.3%
Wednesday FOMC Interest Rate 2.50%
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
  Philly Fed 4.5
Friday Existing Home Sales 5.10M

And that’s it. After the Fed meeting, there is only one speech scheduled, Raphael Bostic on Friday, but given that Powell will be all over the air on Wednesday, it is unlikely to matter much. So this week shapes up as a waiting game, nothing until the FOMC on Wednesday, and then react to whatever they do. Look for quiet FX markets until then.

Good luck
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A Lack of Pizzazz

This week, central banks, numb’ring three
Released information that we
Interpreted as
A lack of pizzazz
So, don’t look for tight policy

Yesterday’s release of the ECB Minutes from their January meeting didn’t garner nearly as much press as the FOMC Minutes on Wednesday. However, they are still important. The topic du jour was the analysis necessary to help them determine if rolling over the TLTRO’s was the appropriate policy going forward. Not surprisingly, the hawks on the committee, like Austria’s Ewald Nowotny, said there is no hurry and a decision doesn’t need to be taken until June when the first of these loans fall below twelve months in their remaining term. I am pretty sure that he is against adding any more stimulus at all. At the same time, given the recession in Italy and slowing growth picture throughout Germany and France, and given that Italian and French banks had been the first and third most active users of the financing, in the end, the ECB cannot afford to let them lapse. I remain 100% convinced that these loans will be rolled over in an effort to ‘avoid tightening financial conditions’, not in order to ease them further. However, the market impact of the Minutes was muted at best, as has been this morning’s data releases; one confirming that German GDP was flat in Q4, and more importantly, the decline in the Ifo Business Climate indicator to 98.5, its lowest level in four years. Meanwhile, Eurozone inflation remains absent from the discussion with January’s data confirmed to have declined to a 1.4% Y/Y rise. Nothing in this data indicates the ECB will tighten policy in 2019, and quite frankly, I would be shocked to see them move in 2020 as well.

The other central bank information of note was the Bank of Canada, where Governor Poloz spoke in Montreal and explained that while the current policy setting (base rates are 1.75%) remain below their range of estimates of the neutral rate (2.5%-3.5%), current conditions dictate that there is no hurry to tighten further, especially with the ongoing uncertainty emanating from the US and the overall global trade situation. So here is another central bank that had been talking up the tightening process and has now backed away.

In virtually every case, the central banks continue to hang their hats on the employment market’s strength, and the idea that a tight jobs market will lead to higher wages, and thus higher inflation. The thing is, this Phillips Curve model has two flaws; first it only relates lower unemployment to higher wages, not higher general inflation; and second, it is based on an analysis of the UK from 1861-1957, which may not actually be a relevant timeline compared to the global economy in 2019. And one other thing to remember is that employment is a lagging indicator with respect to economic signals. This means that it is backward looking and has been demonstrated to have limited predictive power. My point is that despite a clearly strong employment situation, it is still entirely possible that global growth can slow much further and much more quickly than policymakers would have you believe.

Back to the currency markets, the upshot of all the new information was that traders have essentially left both the euro and the Loonie unchanged for the past two days. In fact, they have left most currencies that way. This morning’s largest G10 mover is the pound, which just recently has extended its losses to -0.40% after it became clear that the EU was NOT going to make any concessions regarding the backstop issue as had been believed just yesterday. The latest story is that the UK is going to ask for a three-month extension, which is likely to be granted. The thing is, the problem is not going to get any easier to solve in three months’ time than it is now. This will simply extend the time of uncertainty.

Of course, the other story is the trade talks and the positive spin that we continue to hear despite the information that there remain wide differences on key issues like enforcement of any deals as well as the speed with which the Chinese are willing to open up their markets. It is all well and good for the Chinese to say they will buy more corn, or more soybeans or more oil, but while nice, those pledges don’t address the question of IP protection and state subsidies. I remain concerned that any deal, if it is brokered, will be much less impactful than is claimed. And it is quite possible that the US will not remove any of the current tariffs until they have validation that the Chinese have upheld their side of any deal. I feel like the market is far too optimistic on this subject, but then again, I am a cynic.

While FX markets have been slow to respond to these stories, we continue to see equity markets wholeheartedly embrace the idea that a deal is coming soon and there is no reason to worry. Last night, Chinese equity markets rallied sharply (Shanghai +1.9%), although the Nikkei actually slipped -0.2%. European markets this morning are higher by around 0.4%-0.5%, as they, too, seem bullish on the trade picture. Certainly, it is not based on the economic picture in the Eurozone.

But as we have seen for the past several weeks, central banks, Brexit and trade are the only stories that matter. Right now, investors and traders are giving mixed signals, with the equity markets feeling positive, but currency and bond markets much less so. My money is on the bond market vs. the stock market as having correctly analyzed the situation.

Good luck and good weekend
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Carefully Looking Ahead

The Minutes explained that the Fed
Was carefully looking ahead
But so far it seems
The hawks’ fondest dreams
Of hiking again might be dead

As well, when it comes to the size
Of the Fed’s balance sheet, in their eyes
It’s likely to stay
Quite large like today
Not shrink while they, debt, monetize

Markets are little changed this morning after a lackluster session yesterday when the Fed released their Minutes from the January meeting. Overall, the tone of the Minutes seemed to be slightly less dovish than the tone of the Powell press conference that followed the meeting, as well as much of the commentary we have heard since then. Apparently, Cleveland’s Loretta Mester is not the only one who believes rates will need to be raised further this year, as the Minutes spoke of “several’ members with the same opinion. Of course, that was offset by “several” members who had the opposite view and felt that there was no urgency at all to consider raising rates further this year. Patience continues to be the watchword at the Mariner Eccles building, and I expect that as long as the economic data does not differ dramatically from forecasts, the Fed will be quite happy to leave rates on hold. They specifically mentioned the potential problems that could derail things like slowing global growth, a poor outcome in the US-China trade talks or a disruptive Brexit. But for now, it appears they are comfortable with the rate setting.

The balance sheet story was of even more interest to many market participants as the gradual running off of maturing securities has seemingly started to take a bite out of available liquidity in markets. And in fact, this seems to be where the Fed minutes indicated a more dovish stance in my eyes. While there is still a thought that rates might be raised later this year, it was virtually unanimous that shrinking the balance sheet will end this year, leaving the Fed with a much larger balance sheet (~$3.5-$4.0 trillion) than many had expected. Recall, prior to the financial crisis the Fed’s balance sheet was roughly $900 billion in size. To many, this is effectively a permanent injection of money into the economy and so should support both growth and inflation going forward. However, the risk is that when the next downturn arrives (and make no mistake, it Will arrive), the Fed will have less room to act to support the economy at that time. This is especially true since even with another one or two rate hikes, Fed Funds will have topped out at a much lower level than it has historically, and therefore there will be less rate cutting available as a policy tool.

Adding it up, it seems rate guidance was mildly hawkish and balance sheet guidance was mildly dovish thus leaving things largely as expected. It is no surprise market activity was muted.

This morning, as the market awaits the ECB Minutes, we see the dollar little changed overall, although there have been some individual currency movements. For example, AUD has fallen 0.7% (and dragged NZD down -0.5%) after a well-respected local economist changed his rate view to two RBA rate cuts later this year due to the rapidly weakening housing market. Prior to this, the market had anticipated no rate movement for at least another 18 months, so this served as quite a change. And all this came despite strong Australian employment data with the Unemployment rate remaining at 5.0% and job growth jumping by 39K.

Meanwhile, mixed data from Europe has leaned slightly bullish as surprisingly strong French Composite PMI data (49.9 vs 49.0 expected) offset surprisingly weak German Manufacturing PMI data (47.6 vs 49.7 expected). I guess the market already knows that Germany is slowing more rapidly than other nations in the Eurozone (except for Italy) due to the ongoing trade friction between the US and China. But despite the ongoing Gilets Jaune protests, the French economy managed to find some strength. At any rate, the euro has edged higher by 0.15% after the reports. At the same time, the pound has also rallied 0.15% after releasing the largest budget surplus on record (since 1993), and perhaps more importantly, on some apparent movement by the EU on Brexit. PM May is hinting that she may be able to get a legally binding way to end the backstop in a codicil to the Brexit negotiations, which if she can, may allow cover for the more euro skeptical members of her party to support the deal. There is no question the pound remains completely beholden to the Brexit story and will continue to do so for at least another month.

Pivoting to the trade talks, there are several stories this morning about how negotiators are preparing a number of memos on separate issues with the idea they will be brought together at the Trump-Xi meeting to be held in the next several weeks. There is no question that the market continues to view the probability of a deal as to be quite high, but I keep looking at the key issues at stake, specifically with regards to IP and the coercion alleged by US companies, and I remain skeptical that China will back away from that tactic. The Chinese do not view the world through the same eyes as the US, or the Western World at large. As per an article in the WSJ this morning, “We must never follow the Western path of constitutionalism, separation of powers and judicial independence,” Mr. Xi said in an August speech. That comment does not strike me as a basis for compromise nor enforcement of any deal that relies on those issues. But for now, the market continues to believe.

And that’s pretty much the stuff that matters today. We do get most of our data for the week this morning with Initial Claims (exp 229K), Durable Goods (1.5%, 0.3% ex transport), Philly Fed (14.0) and Existing Home Sales (5.00M). While individually, none of them have a huge impact, the suite of information if consistently strong or weak, could well lead to some movement given the broad sweep of the economy covered. There are no Fed speakers on the docket today, and so it doesn’t appear that there is much reason to expect real movement today. Equity markets around the world have seen limited movement and US futures are flat to slightly lower. Treasury yields are slightly firmer but remain at the bottom end of their recent trading range. Overall, it seems like a dull day ahead.

Good luck
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If Things Go Very Wrong

Last year he thought growth would be strong
This year, “if things go very wrong”
It seems Signor Draghi
Just might restart QE
And rate hikes? They’ll ne’er come along!

Markets continue to bide their time ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC statement and the press conference by Chairman Powell. In addition, the Brexit saga continues with a series of votes scheduled today in Parliament that may help determine the next steps in that messy process. And of course, the next round of US-Chinese trade talks are set to begin tomorrow. So, there is plenty of potential news on the near-term horizon. But before I touch on those subjects, I wanted to highlight comments from ECB President Draghi yesterday speaking to EU lawmakers in Brussels. From the Bloomberg article this morning:

        The president of the European Central Bank blamed “softer external demand and some country and sector-specific factors” for the slowdown, but indicated he still has some confidence in the underlying strength of the economy.
       “If things go very wrong, we can still resume other instruments in our toolbox. There is nothing objecting to that possibility,” he told lawmakers in Brussels in response to a question on whether net asset purchases could be restarted. “The only point is under what contingency are we going to do this. And at this point in time, we don’t see such contingency as likely to materialize, certainly this year.”

Basically, he opened the door to reinstate QE, something which just two months ago would never have been considered. And while he tried to downplay the problems, it is clear there is growing concern in Frankfurt about Eurozone growth. Surprisingly, to me, the euro barely budged on the report, as I would have anticipated a sell-off. However, given the Fed is due to make its comments tomorrow, it appears that traders are waiting to see where Powell comes out on the hawkish-dovish spectrum. Because to me, Draghi’s comments were quite dovish. But essentially, the euro has been unchanged since trading opened in Asia yesterday, so clearly the market doesn’t see these comments as newsworthy.

Now, looking at the other three stories, there has been virtually no new information released since last week. Regarding the Fed, yesterday’s WSJ had an article that looked like a Fed plant discussing how unimportant the balance sheet issue was, and how the Fed sees no evidence that shrinking the balance sheet is having any impact on markets. That assessment is quite controversial as many investors and pundits see the balance sheet as a key issue driving recent market volatility. I expect we will hear more on Wednesday from Powell, but I also expect that now that Powell has shown he cannot withstand pressure from a declining stock market, that the pace of balance sheet reduction is going to slow. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it cut in half with a corresponding rally in both stocks and bonds on the news. In this event, the dollar should come under pressure as well.

As to Brexit, there still seems to be this disconnect between the UK and the EU in that the UK continues to believe that if Parliament votes to renegotiate parts of the deal, the EU will do so. Thus far, the EU has been pretty consistent that they like the deal the way it is and that there is not enough time to make changes. But from what I have seen this morning, it seems the most likely outcome is the ‘Malthouse proposal’ which will essentially do just that. Get support from Parliament to go back and change the Irish backstop arrangement. While I know that there is no desire for a hard Brexit, it strikes me that one cannot yet be ruled out.

Finally, on to the trade talks, we continue to get conflicting information from the US side as to where things stand, but ultimately the key issue is much more likely to be enforcement of any deal, rather than the deal itself. There is a great wariness that the Chinese will agree to something, and then ignore the details and go back to business as usual. Or perhaps create new and different non-tariff barriers to maintain their advantages. While the equity market continues to be positive on the process, I don’t see things quite so rosily. I think a deal would be great, but I don’t ascribe more than a 50% chance to getting one. However, I do expect that any tariff increases will be postponed for another round of talks to be enabled.

Beyond those stories, not too much of note is happening, which is evident by the fact that there has been almost no movement in the FX market, or any market for that matter. The G10 currencies are within pips of yesterday’s closing levels, and even EMG currencies are generally little changed. One exception is BRL, which has fallen -0.6% as ongoing news regarding the mining disaster and its impact on CRDV, a huge Brazilian mining conglomerate, seems to be generating a little angst. But otherwise, even this bloc of currencies is little changed. Equity markets are close to flat, as are bond and commodity markets. In other words, investors and traders are looking to the horizon and waiting for the big stories to play out. First in line is the Brexit voting, so perhaps later this afternoon we will see some movement, but I suspect that the FOMC is actually THE story of note for most people right now.

Good luck
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A Market Doomsday

Last week it was Mario’s turn
To tell us what gave him heartburn
The risk which is growing
That Europe is slowing
Thus, negative rates won’t adjourn

This week eyes are on Chairman Jay
Whose last comments tried to defray
The idea the rates
That he regulates
Will e’er cause a market doomsday

As we begin the new week, the biggest weekend event was the reopening of the US Federal government, although apparently it could shut down again in three weeks. Funnily enough, while economists have calculated that each week the government was closed, GDP would be reduced by 0.1%, nobody seemed to care that much. I think if traders can explain an anomaly, they will ignore it in pricing. And certainly, a government shutdown is a big picture anomaly.

But all the other stories remain the same. Brexit is still unresolved with the next series of votes to be held tomorrow. It remains unclear exactly how things will play out, but it seems pretty clear that neither side wants a no-deal outcome. However, whether that means a vote to delay things, or acceptance of the deal that was roundly rejected just two weeks ago is completely uncertain. Of course, the third option is that they simply opt not to leave the EU, which is within their power. At this point, it seems the most likely outcome is a delay, as nobody likes the deal, and PM May has consistently indicated she would follow the vote to leave.

With that as the background, the pound is lower by -0.4% this morning, actually one of the larger movers in FX overnight. This appears to be short term profit taking by traders who have been accumulating long positions over the past month. But keep in mind that the big, long-term positions remain short pounds. So as long as there is no hard Brexit, which seems highly unlikely given both sides’ stated opposition to that outcome, there is room for the pound to rebound in the next months. However, I continue to like the dollar far better than the pound given the potential for future growth in both places. And while the Fed may not be aggressively tightening policy anymore, I don’t think we are that close to easing. Meanwhile, the BOE is watching the UK economy slow perceptibly, and cannot be serious about raising rates in the near term.

But this week is really about two things, the FOMC meeting and the trade talks with China. Looking at the latter first, both sides have made encouraging noises, but the key issues for the US remain IP theft and SOE support, neither of which have been adequately addressed. I know the equity market has been euphoric over every hint that the trade war would end, and tariffs would be removed, but I think they are way ahead of themselves. I fear there is, at best, a 50:50 chance that talks are concluded successfully before the March deadline. However, I think it likely that as long as the dialog remains open, the US postpones implementation of new, larger tariffs. As to the FX impact, you can be sure that the PBOC is going to prevent CNY from weakening in any substantial way until the talks are concluded one way or the other. But given the ongoing weak data in China, I continue to expect to see the renminbi weaken over time.

And finally, the Fed. On Wednesday Chairman Powell will have a press conference after the statement is released at 2:00 EST. (There is zero expectation that policy will change.) There has been a great deal of carping by Street economists that because Powell is not a PhD economist himself, he cannot adequately deliver the message. But I disagree. Instead, I would argue the reason there has been difficulty in articulating the Fed’s stance is that they don’t really know what to do. The current situation is unprecedented historically, between the size of the balance sheet and the level of interest rates relative to the growth trajectory of the economy. They have already had to change the way they manage interest rates, no longer adjusting balances in the market and instead paying interest on excess reserves. The upshot of that change is that there is no history for them to examine regarding potential outcomes. At the same time, to a wo(man), every Fed member is adamant that because Treasuries have behaved well, the balance sheet rundown is not having any impact on markets at all. To which I ask, if it’s not having an impact, why did they do it in the first place? Clearly the Fed thought that QE was going to help support the economy by supporting the stock market (you remember, the Portfolio Balance Channel). So how can they seriously believe that if the implementation of QE was stimulative, its reduction would not reverse that stimulus? It is arguments like this that frustrate investors and help chip away at the Fed’s credibility.

As to the markets today, the dollar is pretty well behaved, having stabilized after pretty substantial weakness on Friday. Other than the pound mentioned above, not much significant movement has been observed. Equity markets are softer around the world and US futures are pointing in the same direction. Treasury yields have not moved from Friday, and oil prices are slipping slightly. It is hard to characterize the market as anything other than confused.

On the data front, although the government shutdown has ended, all the data has not been collected, let alone collated, so I expect that we will start to see things during the week. Of course, Friday brings the payroll report, and that seems set to be released. There is nothing of note scheduled today, so I will wait to list things until tomorrow when there is more certainty as to what is coming and when. So, for today, there seems little reason for the dollar to do much unless something really negative occurs in equities. That’s not my base case, but you never know, especially as there are key earnings releases later this week (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet) and any rumors could drive things. But overall, I expect a quiet session today.

Good luck
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Problem’s Aplenty

Two stories have traders’ attention
The first showed the Fed’s apprehension
That their preferred path
Was earning the wrath
Of markets, thus causing dissention

The other is that the G20
(According to the cognoscenti)
May let Xi explain
A trade war’s insane
Since both men have problems aplenty

Once again the market has narrowed its focus on two things only, in this case the Minutes from the November FOMC meeting and the upcoming dinner between Presidents Trump and Xi at the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires. It seems that traders in virtually every market are taking their cues from these stories.

Starting with the Minutes, it is clear that the Fed finds itself at an inflection point in their policymaking with the easy part now behind them. Up until September, it was evident that policy was extremely accommodative, and the Fed’s goal of gradually reducing that accommodation was easy to achieve, hence the steady pace of a 25bp rate hike every other meeting. However, despite the fact that nobody actually knows where the neutral rate of interest (also known as r*) is, it is apparent that the current Fed funds rate is much closer to that mythical rate than it used to be. Hence the dilemma. How much further should the Fed raise rates, and at what pace? The last thing they want is to raise rates sufficiently to slow the economy into a recession. But they also remain quite wary of policy settings that are too easy, since that could lead to financial instability (read bubbles) and higher inflation. This is why they get paid the big bucks!

Signals from the US economy lately have been mixed, with the housing market slowing along with auto sales, but general consumer confidence and spending remaining at very high levels. Underpinning the latter is the ongoing strength in the labor market, where the Unemployment rate remains near 50 year lows of 3.7%. There is a caveat with the labor market though, and that is the Initial Claims data, which had been trending lower consistently for the past nine years, but has suddenly started to tick higher over the past month. While this could simply be a temporary fluctuation based on changes in seasonal adjustments, it could also be the proverbial canary in the coalmine. We will have a better sense next Friday, when the November NFP report is released, but based on the recent Initial Claims data, a soft employment report is entirely within reason.

The upshot is that the Fed is no longer certain of its near term rate path which means that many of the investing memes of the past ten years, notably buy-the-dip, may no longer make sense. Instead, the volatility that we have seen lately across all markets is likely to be with us going forward. But remember, too, that volatility is a market’s natural habitat. It has been the extreme monetary policies of central banks that have moderated those natural movements. And as central banks back away from excessive monetary ease, we should all expect increased volatility.

The second story is the upcoming meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi tomorrow night. Signals from Trump going into the meeting have been mixed (aren’t all his signals mixed?) but my take is that sentiment is leaning toward at least a pause in any escalation of the trade war, with the true optimists expecting that concrete progress will be made toward ending the tariffs completely. Color me skeptical on the last part, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a temporary truce is called and negotiations restarted as both men are under increasing domestic pressure (China’s PMI just fell to 50.0 last night indicating the economy there is slowing even more rapidly than before) and so a deal here would play well both on a political level, as well as to markets in each country. And when the needs of both parties are aligned, that is when deals are made. I don’t think this will end the tension, but a reduction in the inflammatory rhetoric would be a welcome result in itself.

Recapping the impact of the two stories, the fact that the Fed is no longer inexorably marching interest rates higher has been seen as quite the positive for equities, and not surprisingly a modest negative for the dollar. Meanwhile, optimism that something positive will come from the Trump-Xi dinner tomorrow has equity bulls licking their collective chops to jump back into the market, while FX traders see that as a dollar negative. In other words, both of the key stories are pointing in the same direction. That implies that prices already reflect those views, and that any disappointment will have a more significant impact than confirmation of beliefs.

As it happens, the dollar is actually a bit firmer this morning, rallying vs. most of its G10 counterparts, but only on the order of 0.2%. The pound remains under pressure as traders continue to try to handicap the outcome of the Parliamentary vote on Brexit on December 11, and the signs don’t look great. Meanwhile, the euro has softened after weaker than expected CPI data (headline 2.0%, core 1.0%) and continued weak growth data are making Signor Draghi’s plans to end QE next month seem that much more out of touch.

This morning brings a single data point, Chicago PMI (exp 58.0) as well as a speech from NY Fed President John Williams. However, at this point, given we have heard from both the Chairman and vice-Chairman already this week, it seems unlikely that Williams will surprise us with any new views. Remember, too, that Powell testifies to Congress next week, so we will get to hear an even more detailed discussion on his thinking on Tuesday. Until then, it seems that the dollar will continue its recent range trading. The one caveat is if there truly is a breakthrough tomorrow night in Buenos Aires, we can expect the dollar to respond at the opening in Asia Sunday night. But for today, it doesn’t feel like much is on the cards.

Good luck and good weekend
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Brexit Doomsday

In London, Prime Minister May
Has started revealing, some say
Details of the deal
Which optimists feel
Could postpone the Brexit doomsday

With the elections now past, market participants are looking for the next potential catalysts for movement and Brexit regularly leads the list. According to the British government, the deal is 95% complete, although the Irish border issue remains unsolved. The essence of this issue is as follows: ever since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Northern Ireland has been part of the UK, but has had no hard border between itself and the Republic of Ireland. As both Ireland and the UK were members of the EU, there were no issues regarding tariffs or trade, and so the process worked effectively. However, now that the UK is leaving the EU, as well as the customs union, suddenly there are likely to be tariffs on goods that cross that border. The problem stems from the fact that neither side wants a ‘hard’ border between the two nations, meaning no customs checking there. Therein lies the problem. How can Northern Ireland remain in the customs union but not England, Wales and Scotland? It would mean a border of some type between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Of course, that doesn’t go over very well either. Hence the stalemate. The EU is willing to allow Northern Ireland to maintain its current stance with Ireland, but not the rest of the UK. The UK doesn’t want Northern Ireland to have a different status than itself with the EU. Those are exactly opposite positions and there is no obvious middle ground.

The risk becomes that PM May negotiates a deal, which will by definition be imperfect, and that said deal gets defeated in a Parliamentary vote, thus leaving nothing completed. Given the shrinking timeline available to come up with a deal, less than five months at this point, it seems pretty clear that this is the last opportunity to get something done. The market, at least based on the recent performance of the pound, has become increasingly optimistic that a solution will be found. While the pound has edged slightly lower overnight, it is up by more than 3% since Halloween with the entire movement based on the idea that a deal will be done. In addition, this morning there have been several comments by investors that a Brexit deal will result in a powerful rally in the pound, up to 1.50 or beyond. While I disagree with that assessment, it is important that everyone understands the different viewpoints in the market. The idea is that a Brexit deal will end uncertainty, spur investment and allow the BOE to become more aggressive raising interest rates. And while some of that is certainly true, for the pound to reach 1.50, the dollar will need to be much lower against all its counterparties, and I just don’t see that outcome.

The other key story today is the FOMC meeting, where no change in policy is anticipated, although there are some analysts looking for a tweak to the policy statement. At this point, it seems abundantly clear that the Fed is unconcerned with the level of the stock market, and that last month’s decline will have no bearing on their policy decision. There is talk of a tweak to IOER, where the Fed may reduce that rate relative to the current Fed Funds corridor of 2.00% – 2.25%, but I agree with the analysts who say that it makes limited sense for the Fed to do something this month, and they will be better off waiting until December when they raise rates again.

Beyond that, the data overnight showed a modest slowdown in Chinese exports with a reduction in their trade surplus, both globally and with the US. We also saw that German exports decline 0.8%, a surprisingly weak outcome attributed to ongoing issues with the German diesel auto sales. While yesterday morning saw the dollar under significant pressure across the board, the reality is that it reversed many of those losses during the session. This morning the dollar is marginally higher across the board, but the movements have not been significant. For example, the euro is lower by 0.15% and the pound by 0.3%. We have seen similar magnitude moves by the commodity bloc, and the yen has softened by 0.2%. As you can see, it has been a dull market.

In the EMG space, the dollar is generally, though not universally, stronger but here, too, the magnitude of movement has been modest, on the order of 0.2%-0.4% overall.

The only piece of data aside from the FOMC meeting is Initial Claims (exp 214K) this morning, and aside from the fact that this data continues to show a robust labor market, it has not been a market catalyst for a long time. After a big equity rally yesterday, futures are pointing slightly softer to open, and Treasury yields, after rallying sharply at the beginning of the month, remain near their multiyear highs with this morning’s level at 3.23%.

In sum, it is hard to get excited about large upcoming movement in the market today, and so a modest further dollar rally seems about right. Removing some more of the recent excesses would make sense in the context of the still uncertain outcomes from key issues like Brexit and the Italian budget quesoins.

Good luck
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