Soon On the Way

Said Brainerd and Williams and Jay
A rate cut is soon on the way
Inflation’s quiescent
And growth’s convalescent
So easing will help save the day

We have learned a great deal this week about central bank sentiment from the Fed, the ECB, the BOE, Sweden’s Riksbank as well as several emerging market central banks like Mexico and Serbia. And the tone of all the commentary is one way; easier policy is coming soon to a central bank near you.

Let’s take a look at the Fed scorecard to start. Here is a list of the FOMC membership, voting members first:

Chairman Jerome Powell                – cut
Vice-Chair Richard Clarida             – cut
Lael Brainerd                                    – cut
Randal Quarles                                 – cut
Michelle Bowman                            – ?
NY – John Williams                           -cut
St Louis James Bullard                    – cut
Chicago – Charles Evans                  – cut
KC – Esther George                           – stay
Boston – Eric Rosengren                 – cut

Non-voting members
Philadelphia – Patrick Harker       – cut
Dallas – Robert Kaplan                    – ?
Minneapolis – Neel Kashkari         – cut 50!
Cleveland – Loretta Mester            – stay
Atlanta – Rafael Bostic                    – stay
Richmond – Thomas Barkin          – stay

While we have not yet heard from the newest Governor, Michelle Bowman, it would be unprecedented for a new governor to dissent so early in their tenure. In the end, based on what we have heard publicly from voting members, only Esther George might dissent to call for rates to remain on hold, but it is clear that at least a 25bp cut is coming at the end of the month. The futures market has priced it in fully, and now the question is will they cut 50. At this point, it doesn’t seem that likely to me, but there are still two weeks before the meeting, so plenty can happen in the interim.

But it’s not just the Fed. The ECB Minutes were released yesterday, and the telling line was there was “broad agreement” that the ECB should “be ready and prepared to ease the monetary policy stance further by adjusting all of its instruments.” It seems pretty clear to me (and arguably the entire market) that they are about to ease policy. There are many analysts who believe the ECB will wait until their September meeting, when they produce new growth and inflation forecasts, but a growing number of analysts who believe that they will cut later this month. After all, if the Fed is about to cut based on weakening global growth, why would the ECB wait?

And there were the Minutes from Sweden’s Riksbank, which were released this morning and showed that their plans for raising rates as early as September have now been called into question by a number of the members, as slowing global growth and ongoing trade uncertainties weigh on sentiment. While Sweden’s economy has performed better than the Eurozone at large, it will be extremely difficult for the Riksbank to tighten policy while the ECB is easing without a significant adjustment to the krona. And given Sweden’s status as an open economy with significant trade flows, they cannot afford for the krona to strengthen too much.

Meanwhile, Banco de Mexico Minutes showed a split in the vote to maintain rates on hold at 8.25% last month, with two voters now looking for a cut. While inflation remains higher than target, again, the issue is how long can they maintain current policy rates in the face of cuts by the Fed. Look for rate cuts there by autumn. And finally, little Serbia didn’t wait, cutting 25bp this morning as growth there is beginning to slow, and recognizing that imminent action by the ECB would need to be addressed anyway.

In fairness, the macroeconomic backdrop for all this activity is not all that marvelous. For example, just like South Korea reported last week, Singapore reported Q2 GDP growth as negative, -3.4% annualized, a much worse than expected outcome and a potential harbinger of the future for larger economies. Singapore’s economy is hugely dependent on trade flows, so given the ongoing US-China trade issues, this ought not be a surprise, but the magnitude of the decline was significant. Speaking of China, their trade data, released last night, showed slowing exports (-1.3%) and imports (-7.3%), with the result a much larger than expected trade surplus of $51B. Additionally, we saw weaker than expected Loan growth and slowing M2 Money Supply growth, both of which point to slower economic activity going forward. Yesterday’s other important economic data point was US CPI, where core surprised at 2.1%, a tick higher than expected. However, the overwhelming evidence that the Fed is going to cut rates has rendered that point moot for now. We will need to see that number move much higher, and much faster, to change any opinions there.

The market impact of all this has generally been as expected. Equity prices, at least in the US, continue to climb as investors cling tightly to the idea that lower interest rates equal higher stock prices. All three indices closed at new records and futures are pointing higher across the board. The dollar, too, has been under pressure, as would be expected given the view that the Fed is going to enter an easing cycle. Of course, while the recent trend for the dollar has been down, the slope of the line is not very steep. Consider that the euro is only about 1% above its recent cyclical lows from late April, and still well below the levels seen at the end of June. So while the dollar has weakened a bit, it is quite easy to make the case it remains within a trading range. In fact, as I mentioned yesterday, if all central banks are cutting rates simultaneously, the impact on the currency market should be quite limited, as the relative rate stance won’t change.

Finally, a quick word about Treasury bonds as well as German bunds. Both of these markets were hugely overbought by the end of last week, as investors and speculators jumped on the idea of lower rates coming soon. And so, it should be no surprise that both of these markets have seen yields back up a decent amount as those trades are unwound. This morning we see 10-year yields at 2.13% in the US and -0.21% in Germany, well off the lows of last week. However, this trade is entirely technical and at some point, when these positions are gone, look for yields on both securities to head lower again.

This morning brings just PPI (exp 1.6%, 2.2% core) which is unlikely to have much impact on anything. With no more Fed speakers to add to the mix, I expect that we will continue to see equities rally, and that the dollar, while it may remain soft, is unlikely to move too far in any direction.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Some Real Fed Appeasing

The jobs report Friday suggested
That everyone who has requested
Employment has found
That jobs still abound
And companies are still invested

The market response was less pleasing
At least for the bulls who seek easing
With equities falling
And yields, higher, crawling
Look, now, for some real Fed appeasing

We are clearly amidst a period of ‘good news is bad’ and ‘bad news is good’ within the market context these days. Friday was the latest evidence of this fact as the much better than expected Nonfarm Payroll report (224K vs. 160K expected) resulted in an immediate sell-off in equity and bond markets, with the dollar rallying sharply. The underlying thesis remains that weakness in the US (and global) economy will be sufficient to ensure easier monetary policy, but that the problems will not get so bad as to cause a recession. That’s a pretty fine line to toe for the central banks, and one where history shows they have a lousy record.

However, whether it is good or bad is irrelevant. What is abundantly clear is that this is the current situation. So, Friday saw all three major US indices fall from record highs; it saw 2-year Treasury yields back up 11bps and 10-year yields back up 8pbs; and it saw the dollar rally roughly 0.75%.

The question is, why were markets in those positions to begin with? On the equity side of the ledger, prices have been exclusively driven by expectations of Fed policy. Until the NFP report, not only was a 25bp rate cut priced into Fed funds for the FOMC meeting at the end of the month, but there was a growing probability of a 50bp rate cut. This situation is fraught with danger for equity investors although to date, the bulls have been rewarded. At least the bond story made more sense from a macroeconomic perspective, as broadly weaker economic data (Friday’s numbers excepted) had indicated that both the US and global economies were slowing with the obvious prescription being easier monetary policy. This had resulted in German bunds inverting relative to the -0.40% deposit rate at the ECB as well as US 10-year yields falling below 2.00% for the first time in several years. Therefore, stronger data would be expected to call that thesis into question, and a sell-off in bonds made sense.

And finally, for the dollar, the rally was also in sync with fundamentals as higher US yields, and more importantly, the prospect of less policy ease in the future, forced the dollar bears to re-evaluate their positions and unwind at least some portion. As I have been writing, under the assumption that the Fed does indeed ease policy, it makes sense that the dollar should decline somewhat. However, it is also very clear that the Fed will not be easing policy in a vacuum, but rather be leading a renewed bout of policy ease worldwide. And as the relative interest rate structure equalizes after all the central banks have finished their easing, the US will still likely be the most attractive investment destination, supporting the dollar, but also, dollar funding will still need to be found by non-US businesses and countries, adding to demand for the buck.

With this as a backdrop, the week ahead does not bring much in the way of data, really just CPI on Thursday, but it does bring us a great deal of Fed speak, including a Powell speech tomorrow and then his House and Senate testimony on Wednesday and Thursday. And don’t forget the ECB meeting on Thursday!

Today Consumer Credit $17.0B
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz 105
  JOLT’s Jobs Report 7.47M
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday ECB Meeting -0.4%
  Initial Claims 222K
  CPI 0.0% (1.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.0% Y/Y)
Friday PPI 0.1% (1.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)

Remember, that on top of the FOMC Minutes to be released Wednesday afternoon, we will hear from seven different Fed speakers a total of thirteen times this week, including Powell’s testimony on Capitol Hill. Amongst this crowd will be the two most dovish members of the FOMC, Bullard and Kashkari, as well as key members Williams and Quarles. It will be extremely interesting to see how these speakers spin the jobs data relative to their seemingly growing bias toward easing. Much has been made of the idea of an ‘insurance’ rate cut, in order to prevent anything from getting out of hand. But Powell will also need to deal with the allegations that he is capitulating to President Trump’s constant demands for lower interest rates and more QE if he comes across as dovish. I don’t envy him the task.

Regarding the ECB meeting, despite continuing weakness in most of the Eurozone data, it feels like it is a bit too soon for them to ease policy quite yet. First off, they have the issue of what type of impact pushing rates even further negative will have on the banking system there. With the weekend news about Deutsche bank retrenching across numerous products, with no end of red ink in sight, the last thing Signor Draghi wants is to have to address a failing major bank. But it is also becoming clearer, based on comments from other ECB members (Coeure and Villeroy being the latest) that a cut is coming soon. And don’t rule out further QE. The ECB is fast becoming desperate, with no good options in sight. Ultimately, this also plays into my belief that despite strong rationales for the dollar to decline, it is the euro that will suffer most.

However, the fun doesn’t really start until tomorrow, when Chairman Powell speaks at 8:45am. So for today, it appears that markets will consolidate Friday’s moves with limited volatility, but depending on just how dovish Powell sounds, we are in for a more active week overall.

Good luck
Adf

Constant Hyperbole

On Wednesday the FOMC
Will offer their latest decree
Will Fed funds be pared?
Or will Jay be scared
By Trump’s constant hyperbole?

The one thing that’s patently clear
Is rates will go lower this year
And lately some clues
Show Powell’s new views
Imply NIRP he’ll soon engineer

Once again, market movement overnight has been muted as traders and investors look ahead to Wednesday’s FOMC meeting and Chairman Powell’s press conference afterwards. Current expectations are for the removal of the word ‘patient’ from the statement and some verbiage that implies rates will be adjusted as necessary to maintain the US growth trajectory. Futures markets are pricing just a 25% probability of a rate cut on Wednesday, but a virtual certainty of one at the July meeting in six weeks’ time. With that said, there are several bank analysts calling for a cut today, or a 50bp cut in July. The one thing that seems abundantly clear is that interest rates in the US have reached their short-term peak, with the next move lower.

However, in the Mariner Eccles building, they have another dilemma, the fact that Fed funds are just 2.50%, the lowest cyclical peak in history. It has been widely recounted that the average amount of rate cutting by the Fed when fighting a recession has been a bit more than 500bps, which given the current rate, results in two possibilities: either they will have to quickly move to use other policy tools, like QE; or interest rates in the US are going to go negative before long! And quite frankly, I expect that it will be a combination of both.

Consider, while the Fed did purchase some $3.5 trillion of assets starting with QE1 in 2009, the Fed balance sheet still represents just 19% of US GDP. This compares quite favorably with the ECB (45%) and the BOJ (103%), but still represents a huge increase from its level prior to the financial crisis. Funnily enough, while there was a great deal of carping in Congress about QE by the (dwindling) hard-money set of Republicans, if the choice comes down to NIRP (Negative Interest Rate Policy) or a larger balance sheet, I assure you the politicians will opt for a larger balance sheet. The thing is, if the economy truly begins to slow, it won’t be a choice, it will be a combination of both, NIRP and QE, as the Fed pulls out all the stops in an effort to prevent a downturn.

And NIRP, in the US, will require an entirely new communications effort because, as in Europe and Japan, investors will find themselves on the wrong side of the curve when looking for short term investments. Money market funds are going to get crushed, and corporate treasuries are going to have to find new places to invest. It will truly change the landscape, and it is not clear it will do so in a net positive way. But regardless, NIRP is coming to a screen near you once the Fed starts cutting, although we are still a number of months away from that.

With that in mind, the obvious next question is how it will impact other markets. I expect that the initial reaction will be for a sharp equity rally, as that is still the default response to rate cuts. However, if the Fed is looking ahead and sees trouble on the horizon, that cannot be a long-term positive for equities. It implies that earnings numbers are going to decline, and no matter how ‘bullish’ interest rate cuts may seem, declining earnings are hard to overcome.

Bonds, on the other hand, are easy to forecast, with a massive rally in Treasuries, a lagging rally in corporates, as spreads widen into a weakening economy, but for high-yield bonds, I would expect significant underperformance. Remember, during the financial crisis, junk bond yield spreads rose to 20.0% over Treasuries. In another economic slowdown, I would look for at least the same, which compares to the current level of about 5.50%.

Finally, the dollar becomes a difficult question. Given the Fed has far more room to ease policy than does the ECB, the BOJ, the BOE or the BOC, it certainly seems as though the first move would be lower in the buck. However, if the Fed is easing policy that aggressively, you can be sure that every other central bank is going to quickly follow. Net I expect that we could see a pretty sharp initial decline, maybe 5%-7%, but that once the rest of the world gets into gear, the dollar will find plenty of support.

A quick look at markets overnight shows that the dollar is little changed overall, with some currencies slightly firmer and others slightly softer. However, there is no trend today, nor likely until we hear from the Fed on Wednesday.

Looking at data this week, it is much less interesting than last week’s and unlikely to sway views.

Today Empire Manufacturing 10.0
Tuesday Housing Starts 1.239M
  Building Permits 1.296M
Wednesday FOMC Rates 2.50% (unchanged)
Thursday BOJ Rates -0.10% (unchanged)
  Initial Claims 220K
  Philly Fed 11.0
  Leading Indicators 0.1%
Friday Existing Home Sales 5.25M

As I said, not too interesting. And of course, once the Fed meeting is done, we will get to hear more from the various Fed members, with two speakers on Friday afternoon (Brainard and Mester) likely to be the beginning of a new onslaught.

Yes, the trade situation still matters, but there is little chance of any change there until the G20 meeting next week, and that assumes President’s Trump and Xi agree to meet. So, for now, it is all about the Fed. One last thing, the ECB has their Sintra meeting (their answer to Jackson Hole) this week, and it is likely that we will hear more about their thinking when it comes to easing policy further given their current policy settings include NIRP and a much larger balance sheet already. Any hint that new policies are coming soon will certainly undermine the single currency. Look for that beginning on Wednesday as well.

Good luck
Adf

Completely Dissolved

The last time the FOMC
Sat down to discuss policy
The trade talks were purring
While folks were concurring
A hard Brexit never could be

But since then the world has evolved
And good will completely dissolved
So what they discussed
They now must adjust
If problems are e’er to be solved

It wasn’t too long ago that the Fed was the single most important topic in markets. Everything they said or did had immediate ramifications on stocks, bonds and currencies. In some circles, the Fed, and their brethren central banks, were seen as omnipotent, able to maintain growth by simply willing it higher. A natural consequence of that narrative was that the FOMC Minutes especially, but generally those of all the major central banks, were always seen as crucial in helping to better understand the policy stance, as well as its potential future. But that time has passed, at least for now. Yesterday’s FOMC Minutes were, at best, the third most important story of the day mostly because they opened the window on views that are decidedly out of date. Way back then, three weeks ago, the backdrop was of a slowly resolving trade dispute between the US and China with a deal seeming imminent, growing confidence that a no-deal Brexit was out of the picture, and an equity market that was trading at all-time highs. My how quickly things can change!

To summarize, the Minutes expressed strong belief amongst most members that patience remained the proper stance for now, although a few were concerned about too low inflation becoming more ingrained in the public mind. And then there was a technical discussion of how to manage the balance sheet regarding the tenors of Treasury securities to hold going forward, whether they should be focused in the front end, or spread across the curve. However, no decisions were close to being made. It should be no surprise that the release had limited impact on markets.

The thing is, over the past few sessions we have heard an evolution in some FOMC members’ stance on things, specifically with Bullard and Evans discussing the possibility of cutting rates, although as of now, they are the only two. However, we have heard even some of the more hawkish members willing to imply that rate cuts could be appropriate if the ‘temporary’ lull in the growth and inflation data proves more long-lasting. As has been said elsewhere, while the bar for cutting rates is high, the bar for raising rates is much, much higher. The next move is almost certainly lower.

And what has caused this evolution in thought since the last FOMC meeting? Well, the obvious answers are, first, the sharp escalation in the trade war, with the US raising tariffs on $200B of Chinese imports from 10% to 25% as well as threatening to impose that level of tariffs on the other $325B of Chinese imports. And second, the fact that the Brexit story has spiraled out of control, with further cabinet resignations (today Andrea Leadsom, erstwhile leader of the Tories in the House of Commons quit the Cabinet) adding to pressure on PM May to resign and opening up the potential for a hardline Boris Johnson to become the next PM and simply pull the UK out of the EU with no deal.

In fact, while I have written consistently on both topics over the past several months, the Fed remained the top driver previously. But now, these events are clearly completely outside the control of monetary officials and markets are going to respond to them as they unfold. In other words, look for more volatility, not less going forward.

With that as a backdrop, it can be no surprise that risk is being jettisoned across the board this morning. Equity markets are down around the world (Shanghai -1.4%, Nikkei -0.6%, DAX -1.75%, FTSE -1.4%, DJIA futures -0.9%, Nasdaq futures -1.25%); Treasuries (2.35%) and Bunds (-0.11%) are both in demand with yields falling; and the dollar is back on top of the world, with the yen along for the ride. A quick survey of G10 currencies shows the euro -0.15% and back to its lowest level since May 2017, the pound -0.2% extending its losing streak to 13 consecutive down days, while Aussie and Canada are both lower by 0.25%.

In the emerging markets, despite the fact that the PBOC continues to fix the renminbi stronger than expected, and still below 6.90, the market will have none of it and CNY is lower by a further 0.2% this morning and back above 6.94. Despite higher oil prices RUB and MXN are both softer by 0.6% and 0.4% respectively. CE4 currencies are under pressure with HUF leading the way, -0.4%, but the rest down a solid 0.25%-0.3%. In other words, there is no place to hide.

The hardest thing for risk managers to deal with is that these events are completely unpredictable as they are now driven by emotions rather than logical economic considerations. As such, the next several months are likely to see a lot of sharp movement on each new headline until there is some resolution on one of these issues. Traders and investors will be quite relieved when that happens, alas I fear it will be mid-summer at the earliest before anything concrete is decided. Until then, rumors and stories will drive prices.

Turning to today’s session we see a bit of US data; Initial Claims (exp 215K) and New Home Sales (675K). Tuesday’s Existing Home Sales disappointed and represented the 14th consecutive month of year-on-year declines. Of more interest, we have four Fed speakers (Kaplan, Barkin, Bostic and Daly) at an event and given what I detect is the beginnings of a change in view, these words will be finely parsed. So, at this point the question is will the fear factor outweigh the possible beginning of a more dovish Fed narrative. Unless all four talk about the possibility of cutting rates as insurance, I think fear still reigns. That means the dollar’s recent climb has not ended.

Good luck
Adf

 

Contrite

More stock market records were smashed
And bulls remain quite unabashed
The future is bright
With Powell contrite
As prior rate hikes are now trashed

The world is a fabulous place this morning, or at least the US is, if we are judging by the financial markets. Both the S&P 500 and NASDAQ indices made new all-time highs yesterday, with the Dow Jones scant points away from its own new record. The dollar is back to its highest point since mid-December and looks poised to rally toward levels not seen since mid 2017. Meanwhile, Treasuries remain in demand, despite all this risk appetite, as yields actually dipped yesterday and continue to hover around 2.50%. And the remarkable thing is the fact that there is no reason to believe these trends will end in the near future. After all, as we move into the heart of earnings season, the data shows that 80% of the 105 companies that have so far reported have beaten their (much reduced) estimates. Even though actual earnings growth is sparse, the fact that expectations have been reduced sufficiently to allow a no-growth result to seem bullish is the fuel for market bulls.

Beyond the earnings story, we have had a bit more positive US data, with New Home Sales rising 4.5%, instead of the expected decline. Last week we also saw strong Retail Sales data, and even though broadly speaking, the housing market seems a bit shaky, (Housing Starts and Existing Home Sales were both soft), there has been enough positive news overall to keep up momentum. And when compared to the Eurozone, where Germany’s Ifo fell to 99.2, below expectations and French Business Confidence fell to 101, its lowest point in three years, it is even clearer why the US is in favor.

Of course, there is one other reason that the US is a favored investment spot right now, the Fed. Over the course of the first four months of 2019, we have seen the Fed turn from a clear hawkish view to uber-doves. At this point, if there are two FOMC members who think a rate hike is in the cards for the rest of the year, it would be a lot. The market is still pricing in a chance of a rate cut, despite the ongoing data releases indicating things are pretty good in the US, and of course, President Trump and his staff have been consistent in their view that rates should be lower, and QE restarted. Funnily enough, given the global central bank desire to pump up inflation, and their total inability to do so for the past decade, do not be surprised to see further policy ease from the US this year. In fact, despite all the angst over Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) I would wager that before long, some mainstream economists are going to be touting the idea as reasonable and that it is going to make its way into policy circles soon thereafter.

In fact, one of the things I have discussed in the past, a debt jubilee, where debt is completely written off, seems almost inevitable. Consider how much government debt is owned by various nations’ central banks. The Fed owns $2.2 trillion, the BOJ owns ¥465 trillion (roughly $4.5 trillion) while the ECB owns €2.55 trillion (roughly $2.85 trillion). Arguably, each could make a book entry and simply destroy the outstanding debt, or some portion of it, without changing anything about the economy directly. While in the past that would have been anathema to economists, these days, I’m not so sure. And if it was done in a coordinated fashion, odds are the market response would be pretty benign. In fact, you could make the case that it would be hyper bullish, as the reduction in debt/GDP ratios would allow for significant additional policy stimulus as well as increased demand for the remaining securities outstanding. We continue to get warnings from official quarters (yesterday the IMF’s new chief economist was the latest to explain there is no free lunch) but politicians will continue to hear the siren song of MMT and will almost certainly be unable to resist the temptation.

Anyway, turning back to the FX market, the dollar has proven to be quite resilient over the past several sessions. This morning, after a rally yesterday, it is higher by another 0.2% vs. the euro. As to the pound, it has fallen steadily during the past week, a bit more than 1.2%, and though unchanged this morning, is now trading well below 1.30. Aussie fell sharply last night after inflation data disappointed on the low side and calls for rate cuts were reaffirmed. This morning, it is down 0.95% and pushing back to 0.7000, which has been a long-term support line. However, if rate cuts are coming, and China remains in the doldrums, it is hard to see that support continuing to hold.

This is not just a G10 phenomenon though, with EMG currencies also on the back foot. For instance, KRW fell 0.75% overnight and broke through key support with the dollar trading back to its highest level since mid-2017. RUB, ZAR and TRY are all lower by ~0.7% and LATAM currencies are under pressure as well.

The point is that as I have been explaining for the past months, whatever issues might exist within the US, they pale in comparison to the issues elsewhere. And looking at the economic growth momentum around the world, the US continues to lead the pack. We will get another reading on that come Friday, but until then, the data is sparse, with nothing at all released today.

I see no reason for current market trends to falter, so expect equities to rally with the dollar alongside them as international investors buy dollars in order to buy stocks. We will need something remarkably different to change this narrative, and it just doesn’t seem like there is anything on the horizon to make that happen.

Good luck
Adf

 

Continue Restrained

Come autumn and next Halloween
The UK may finally wean
Itself from the bloc
To break the deadlock
But Parliament still must agree(n)

Meanwhile Signor Draghi explained
That growth would continue restrained
And Fed Minutes noted
That everyone voted
For policy to be maintained

There has been fresh news on each of the main market drivers in the past twenty-four hours, and yet, none of it has been sufficient to change the market’s near-term outlook, nor FX prices, by very much.

Leading with Brexit, there was a wholly unsatisfying outcome for everyone, in other words, a true compromise. PM May was seeking a June 30 deadline, while most of the rest of the EU wanted a much longer delay, between nine months and a year. However, French President Emanuel Macron argued vociferously for a short delay, actually agreeing with May, and in the end, Halloween has a new reason to be scary this year. Of course, nothing has really changed yet. May will still try to get her deal approved (ain’t happening); Euroskeptic Tories will still try to oust her (possible, but not soon) and Labour will push for new elections (also possible, but not that likely). The topic of a second referendum will be heard frequently, but as of right now, PM May has been adamant that none will not take place. So, uncertainty will continue to be the main feature of the UK economy. Q1 GDP looks set to be stronger than initially expected, but that is entirely due to stockpiling of inventory by companies trying to prepare for a hard Brexit outcome. At some point, this will reverse with a corresponding negative impact on the data. And the pound? Still between 1.30 and 1.31 and not looking like it is heading anywhere in the near future.

On to the ECB, where policy was left unchanged, as universally expected, and Signor Draghi remarked that risks to the economy continue to be to the downside. Other things we learned were that the TLTRO’s, when they come later this year, are pretty much the last arrow in the policy quiver. Right now, there is no appetite to reduce rates further, and more QE will require the ECB to revise their internal guidelines as to the nature of the program. The issue with the latter is that EU law prevents monetization of government debt, and yet if the ECB starts buying more government bonds, it will certainly appear that is what they are doing. This morning’s inflation data from France and Germany showed that there is still no inflationary impulse in the two largest economies there, and by extension, throughout the Eurozone.

At this point, ECB guidance explains rates will remain on hold through the end of 2019. My view is it will be far longer before rates rise in the Eurozone, until well into the recovery from the next recession. My forecast is negative euro rates until 2024. You read it here first! And the euro? Well, in its own right there is no reason to buy the single currency. As long as the US economic outlook remains better than that of the Eurozone, which is certainly the current case, the idea that the euro will rally in any meaningful way seems misguided. Overnight there has been little movement, and in fact, the euro has been trading between 1.12 and 1.1350 for the past three weeks and is currently right in the middle of that range. Don’t look for a break soon here either.

The FOMC Minutes taught us that the Fed is going to be on hold for quite a while. The unanimous view is that patience remains a virtue when it comes to rate moves. Confusion still exists as to how unemployment can be so low while inflation shows no signs of rising, continuing to call into question their Phillips Curve models. In fact, yesterday morning’s CPI showed that core inflation fell to 2.0% annually, a tick lower than expected and continuing to confound all their views. The point is that if there is no inflationary pressure, there is no reason to raise rates. At the same time, if US economic growth continues to outpace the rest of the world, there is no reason to cut rates. You can see why the market is coming round to the idea that nothing is going to happen on the interest rate front for the rest of 2019. Futures, which had priced in almost 40bps of rate cuts just last month, are now pricing in just 10bps (40% chance of one cut). Despite the ongoing rhetoric from President Trump regarding cutting rates and restarting QE, neither seems remotely likely at this juncture. And don’t expect either of his Fed nominees to be approved.

Finally, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin declared that the US and China have agreed a framework for enforcement of the trade agreement, with both nations to set up an office specifically designed for the purpose and a regular schedule of meetings to remain in touch over any issues that arise. But Robert Lighthizer, the Trade Representative has not commented, nor have the Chinese, so it still seems a bit uncertain. Enforcement is a key issue that has been unsolved until now, although IP protection and state subsidies remain on the table still. Interestingly, equity markets essentially ignored this ‘good’ news, which implies that a completed deal is already priced into the market. In fact, I would be far more concerned over a ‘sell the news’ outcome if/when a trade deal is announced. And of course, if talks break off, you can be certain equity prices will adjust accordingly.

This morning brings Initial Claims (exp 211K) and PPI (1.9%, 2.4% ex food & energy) and speeches from Clarida, Williams, Bullard and Bowman. But what are they going to say that is new? Nothing. Each will reiterate that the economy is doing well, still marginally above trend growth, and that monetary policy is appropriate. In the end, the market continues to wait for the next catalyst. In equities, Q1 earnings are going to start to be released this afternoon and by next week, it will be an onslaught. Arguably, that will drive equities which may yet impact the dollar depending on whether the earnings data alters overall economic views. In the meantime, range trading remains the best bet in FX.

Good luck
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Not Yet Inflated

Said Chairman Jay, we are frustrated
That prices have not yet inflated
So, patient we’ll be
With rates ‘til we see
More growth than now’s anticipated

The market response was confusing
With stocks up, ere taking a bruising
While Treasuries jumped
The dollar was dumped
And gold found more buyers, it, choosing

Close your eyes for a moment and think back to those bygone days of… December 2018. The market was still giddy over the recent Brexit deal agreed between the UK and the EU. At the same time, hopes ran high that the US-China trade war was set to be defused following a steak dinner in Argentina with President’s Trump and Xi hashing out a delay of tariff increases. And of course, the Fed had just raised the Fed Funds rate 25bps to its current level of 2.50% with plans for two or three more hikes in 2019 as the US economy continued to outperform the rest of the world. Since that time, those three stories have completely dominated the dialog in market and economic circles.

Now, here we are three months later and there has been painfully little progress on the first two stories, while the third one has been flipped on its head. I can only say I won’t be unhappy if another major issue arises, as at least it will help change the topic of conversation. But for now, this is what we’ve got.

So, turning to the Fed, yesterday afternoon, to no one’s surprise, the Fed left policy rates on hold. What was surprising, however, was just how dovish Chairman Powell sounded at the press conference, essentially declaring that there will be no more rate hikes in 2019. He harped on the fact that the Fed has been unable to push inflation to their view of stable, at 2.0%, and are concerned that it has been so long since prices were rising at that pace that they may be losing credibility. (I can assure them they are losing credibility, but not because inflation has remained low. Rather, they should consider the fact that they have ceded monetary policy to the stock market’s gyrations and how that has impacted their credibility. And this has been the case ever since the ‘Maestro’ reacted in October 1987!)

So, after reiterating their current patient stance, markets moved as follows: stocks rallied, bonds rallied, and the dollar fell. Dissecting these moves leads to the following thoughts. First stocks: what were they thinking? The Fed’s patience is based on the fact that the US economy is slowing and that the global economy is slowing even more rapidly. Earnings growth has been diminished and leverage is already through the roof (Corporate debt as %age of GDP is at record levels, above 75%, with more than half of the Investment Grade portion rated BBB, one notch from junk!) Valuations remain extremely high and history has shown that long-term returns from periods of high valuations are de minimus. Granted, by the end of the session, they did give back most of those gains, but it is difficult to see the bull case for equities from current levels given the economic and monetary backdrop. I would argue that all the best news is already in the price.

Next bonds, which rallied to the point where 10-year Treasury yields, at 2.51%, are now at their lowest level since January 2018, and back then, Fed Funds were 100bps lower. So now we have a situation where 3mo T-bills are yielding 2.45% and 10-year T-bonds are yielding 6bps more. This is not a market that is anticipating significant economic growth, rather it is beginning to look like one that is anticipating a recession in the next twelve months. (My own view is less optimistic and that we will see one before 2019 ends.) Finally, the dollar got hammered. This makes sense as, at the margin, with the Fed clearly more dovish than the market had expected, perception of policy differentials narrowed with the dollar on the losing side. So, the 0.6% slide in the broad dollar index should be no surprise. However, until I see strong growth percolating elsewhere, I cannot abandon my view the dollar will remain well supported.

Turning to Brexit, the situation seems to be deteriorating in the final days ahead of the required decision. PM May’s latest gambit to get Parliament to back her bill appears to be failing. She has indicated she will request a 3-month delay, until June 30, but the EU has said they want a shorter one, until May 23 when European parliament elections are to be held (they want the UK out so there will be no voting by UK citizens) or a much longer one so that, get this, the UK can have another referendum to reverse the process and end Brexit. It is remarkable to me that there is so much anxiety over foreign interference in local elections on some issues, but that the EU feels it is totally appropriate to tell the UK they should vote again to overturn their first vote. Hypocrisy is the only constant in politics! With all this, May is in Brussels today to ask for the delay, but it already seems like the EU is going to need to meet again next week as the UK Parliament has not formally agreed to anything except leaving next Friday. Suddenly, the prospect of that happening has added some anxiety to the heretofore smug EU leaders.

Meanwhile, the Old Lady meets today, and there is no chance they do anything. In fact, unless the UK calls off Brexit completely, they will not be tightening policy for years. Slowing growth and low inflation are hardly the recipe for tighter monetary policy. The pound has fallen 0.5% this morning as concerns over the Brexit outcome are growing and its value remains entirely dependent on the final verdict.

As to the trade story, mixed signals continue to emanate from the talks, but the good news is the talks are continuing. I remain more skeptical that there will be a satisfactory resolution but thus far, equity markets, at least, seem to believe that a deal will be signed, and all will be right with the world.

Turning away from these three stories, we have heard from several other central banks, with Brazil leaving the Selic rate on hold at 6.50%, a still historic low, with a statement indicating they are comfortable with this rate given the economic situation there. Currently there is an attempt to get a new pension bill through Congress their which if it succeeds should help reduce long-term debt implications and may open the way for further rate cuts, especially since inflation is below their target band of 4.25%-5.25%, and growth is slowing to 2.0% this year. Failure of this bill, though, could well lead to more turmoil and a much weaker BRL.

Norway raised rates 25bps, as widely expected, as they remain one of the few nations where inflation is actually above target following strong growth throughout the economy. Higher oil prices are helping, but the industrial sector is also growing, and unemployment remains quite low, below 4.0%. The Norgesbank indicated there will be more rate hikes to come this year. It should be no surprise that the krone rallied sharply on the news, rising 0.9% vs. the dollar with the prospect for further gains.

Finally, the Swiss National Bank left rates unchanged at -0.75%, but cut its inflation forecast for 2019 to 0.3% and for 2020 to 0.6%. The downgraded view has reinforced that they will be sidelined on the rates front for a very long time (and they already have the lowest policy rates in the world!) and may well see them increase market intervention going forward. This is especially true in the event of a hard Brexit, where their haven status in Europe is likely to draw significant interest, even with a -0.75% deposit rate.

On the data front today, Philly Fed (exp 4.5) and Initial Claims (225K) are all we’ve got. To my mind, the market will continue to focus on central bank policies, which given central banks’ collective inability to drive the type of economic rebound they seek, will likely lead to government bond support and equity market weakness. And the dollar? Maybe a little lower, but not for long.

Good luck
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