More Trouble is Brewing

The PMI data last night
From China highlighted their plight
More trouble is brewing
While Xi keeps pursuing
The policies to get things right

Any questions about whether the trade conflict between the US and China was having an impact on the Chinese economy were answered last night when the latest PMI readings were released. The Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.2, it’s lowest level in more than two years and barely above the expansion/contraction level of 50.0. Even more disconcertingly for the Chinese, a number of the sub-indices notably export sales and employment, fell further below that 50.0 level (to 46.9 and 48.1 respectively), pointing to a limited probability of a rebound any time soon. At the same time, the Services PMI was also released lower than expected, falling to 53.9, its lowest level since last summer. Here, too, export orders and employment numbers fell (to 47.8 and 48.9 respectively), indicating that the economic weakness is quite broad based.

Summing up, it seems safe to say that growth in China continues to slow. One question I have is how is it possible that when the Chinese release their GDP estimates, the quarter-to-quarter movement is restricted to 0.1% increments? After all, elsewhere in the world, despite much lower headline numbers (remember China is allegedly growing at 6.5% while Europe is growing at 2.0% and the US at 3.5%), the month-to-month variability is much greater. Simple probability would anticipate that the variance in China’s data would be higher than in the rest of the world. My point is that, as in most things to do with China, we don’t really know what is happening there other than what they tell us and that is like relying on a pharmaceutical salesman to prescribe your medicine. There are several independent attempts ongoing to get a more accurate reading of GDP growth in China, with measures of electricity utilization or copper imports seen as key data that is difficult to manipulate, but they all remain incomplete. And it seems highly unlikely that President Xi, who has been focused on improving the economic lot of his country, will ever admit that the growth figures are being manipulated. But I remain skeptical of pretty much all the data that they provide.

At any rate, the impact on the renminbi continues to be modestly negative, with the dollar touching another new high for the move, just below 6.9800, in the overnight session. This very gradual weakening trend seems to be the PBOC’s plan for now, perhaps in order to make a move through 7.00 appear less frightening if it happens very slowly. I expect that it will continue for the foreseeable future especially as long as the Fed remains on track to tighten policy further while the PBOC searches for more ways to ease policy without actually cutting interest rates. Look for another reserve requirement ratio cut before the end of the year as well as a 7 handle on USDCNY.

Turning to the euro, data this morning showed that Signor Draghi has a bit of a challenge ahead of him. Eurozone inflation rose to 2.2% with the core reading rising to 1.1%, both slightly firmer than expected. The difference continues to be driven by energy prices, but the concern comes from the fact that GDP growth in the Eurozone slowed more than expected last quarter. Facing a situation where growth is slowing and inflation rising is every central banker’s nightmare scenario, as the traditional remedies for each are exactly opposite policies. And while the fluctuations are hardly the stuff of a disaster, the implication is that Europe may be reaching its growth potential at a time when interest rates remain negative and QE is still extant. The risk is that the removal of those policies will drive the Eurozone back into a much slower growth scenario, if not a recession, while inflation continues to creep higher. It is data of this nature, as well as the ongoing political dramas, that inform my views that the ECB will maintain easier policy for far longer than the market currently believes. And this is why I remain bearish on the euro.

Yesterday the pound managed to trade to its lowest level since the post-Brexit vote period, but it has bounced a bit this morning, +0.35%. That said, the trend remains lower for the pound. We are now exactly five months away from Brexit and there is still no resolution for the Irish border issue. Every day that passes increases the risk that there will be no deal, which will certainly have a decidedly negative impact on the UK economy and the pound by extension. Remember, too, that even if the negotiators agree a deal, it still must be ratified by 28 separate parliaments, which will be no easy task in the space of a few months. As long as this is the trajectory, the risk of a sharp decline in the pound remains quite real. Hedgers take note.

Elsewhere, the BOJ met last night and left policy unchanged as they remain no closer to achieving their 2.0% inflation goal today than they were five years ago when they started this process. However, the market has become quite accustomed to the process and as such, the yen is unchanged this morning. At this time, yen movement will be dictated by the interplay between risk scenarios and the Fed’s rate hike trajectory. Yen remains a haven asset, and in periods of extreme market stress is likely to perform well, but at the same time, as the interest rate differential increasingly favors the dollar, yen strength is likely to be moderated. In other words, it is hard to make a case for a large move in either direction in the near term.

Away from those three currencies, the dollar appears generally firmer, but movement has not been large. Turning to the data front, yesterday’s releases showed that home prices continue to ebb slightly in the US while Consumer Confidence remains high. This morning brings the first inklings of the employment situation with the ADP report (exp 189K) and then Chicago PMI (60.0) coming at 9:45. Equity futures are pointing higher as the market looks to build on yesterday’s modest rally. All the talk remains about how October has been the worst month in equity markets all year, but in the broad scheme of things, I would contend that, at least in the US, prices remain elevated compared to traditional valuation benchmarks like P/E ratios. At any rate, it seems unlikely that either of today’s data points will drive much FX activity, meaning that the big trend of a higher dollar is likely to dominate, albeit in a gradual fashion.

Good luck
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Both Flexed Their Muscles

In China more policy ease
Did nothing to help to appease
The stock market bears
Who unloaded shares
Along with their spare RMB’s

Then tempers between Rome and Brussels
Got hotter as both flexed their muscles
The latter declared
The budget Rome shared
Was certain to cause further tussles

This morning the dollar has resumed its uptrend. The broad theme remains that tighter US monetary policy continues to diverge from policies elsewhere around the world, and with that divergence, dollar demand has increased further.

China’s weekend action is the latest manifestation of this trend as Sunday they announced a one-percentage point cut in the Required Reserve Ratio (RRR) for all banks. This should release up to RMB 1.2 trillion (~$175billion) of liquidity into the market, helping to foster further economic activity, support the equity markets and keep a lid on interest rates. At least that’s the theory. Alas for the Chinese, whose markets were closed all of last week for national holidays, the Shanghai Composite fell 3.7% on the day, as they caught up with last week’s global equity market decline. It is not clear if the loss would have been greater without the RRR cut, but one other noteworthy feature of the session was the absence of any official attempts to support the market, something we have seen consistently in the past. It ought not be surprising that the renminbi also suffered overnight, as it fell nearly 0.5% and is now trading through the 6.90 level. If you recall, this had been assumed to be the ‘line in the sand’ that the PBOC would defend in an effort to prevent an uptick in capital outflows. As it is just one day, it is probably too early to make a judgment, but this bears close watching. Any acceleration higher in USDCNY will have political repercussions as well as market ones.

Speaking of political repercussions, the other noteworthy story is the ongoing budget saga in Italy. There has been no backing down by the populist government in Rome, with Matteo Salvini going so far as to call Brussels (the EU) the enemy of Italy in its attempts to impose further austerity. The Italians are required to present their budget to the EU by next Monday, and thus far, the two sides are far apart on what is acceptable for both the country and EU rules. At this point, markets are clearly getting somewhat nervous as evidenced by the ongoing decline in Italian stock and bond markets, where 10-year yields have jumped another 15bps (and the spread to German bunds is now >300bps) while the FTSE-MIB Index is down another 2.5% this morning. Given that this is all happening in Europe, it is still a decent bet that they will fudge an outcome to prevent disaster, but that is by no means a certainty. Remember, the Italian government is as antiestablishment as any around, and they likely relish the fight as a way to beef up their domestic support. In addition to the Italian saga, German data was disappointing (IP fell -0.3% vs. expectations of a 0.4% gain), and the combination has been sufficient to weigh on the euro, which is down by 0.4% as I type.

Beyond these stories, the other big news was the Brazilian election yesterday, where Jair Bolsonaro, the right wing candidate, came first with 46% of the vote, and now leads the polls as the nation prepares for a second round vote in three weeks’ time. The Brazilian real has been the exception to EMG currency weakness over the past month, having rallied nearly 9% during the last month. It will be interesting to see if it continues that trend when markets open there this morning, but there is no question that the markets believe a Bolsonaro administration will be better for the economy going forward.

Otherwise, the stories remain largely the same. Ongoing US economic strength leading to tighter Fed policy is putting further pressure on virtually all EMG currencies throughout the world. And it is hard to see this story changing until we see the US economy show signs of definitive slowing.

Turning to the upcoming week, data is sparse with CPI being the key release on Thursday.

Tuesday NFIB Business Optimism 108.9
Wednesday PPI 0.2% (2.8% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.5% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 206K
  CPI 02% (2.4% (Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
Friday Michigan Sentiment 100.5

As to Fed speakers, we have three regional Fed Presidents (Evans, Williams and Bostic) speaking a total of seven times this week. However, it is pretty clear from comments lasts week that there is no indication the Fed is going to relax their view that gradually tighter policy is appropriate for now. The one thing that can derail this move would be much softer than expected CPI data on Thursday, but that just doesn’t seem that likely now. Look for the dollar to continue to trend higher all week.

Good luck
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Goldilocks Ain’t Dead Yet

The Chairman said, no need to fret
Our low unemployment’s no threat
To driving up prices
And so my advice is
Relax, Goldilocks ain’t dead yet

Chairman Powell’s message yesterday was that things were pretty much as good as anyone could possibly hope. The current situation of unemployment remaining below every estimate of NAIRU while inflation remains contained is a terrific outcome. Not only that, there are virtually no forecasts for inflation to rise meaningfully beyond the 2.0% target, despite the fact that historically, unemployment levels this low have always led to sharper rises in inflation. In essence, he nearly dislocated his shoulder while patting himself on the back.

But as things stand now, he is not incorrect. Measured inflationary pressures remain muted despite consistently strong employment data. Perhaps that will change on Friday, when the September employment report is released, but consensus forecasts call for the recent trend to be maintained. Last evening’s news that Amazon was raising its minimum wage to $15/hour will almost certainly have an impact at the margin given the size of its workforce (>575,000), but the impact will be muted unless other companies feel compelled to match them, and then raise prices to cover the cost. It will take some time for that process to play out, so I imagine we won’t really know the impact until December at the earliest. In the meantime, the Goldilocks economy of modest inflation and strong growth continues apace. And with it, the Fed’s trajectory of rate hikes remains on track. The impact on the dollar should also remain on track, with the US economy clearly still outpacing those of most others around the world, and with the Fed remaining in the vanguard of tightening policy, there is no good reason for the dollar to suffer, at least in the short run.

However, that does not mean it won’t fall periodically, and today is one of those days. After a weeklong rally, the dollar appears to be consolidating those gains. The euro has been one of today’s beneficiaries as news that the Italian government is backing off its threats of destroying EU budget rules has been seen as a great relief. You may recall yesterday’s euro weakness was driven by news that the Italians would present a budget that forecast a 2.4% deficit, well above the previously agreed 1.9% target. The new government needs to spend a lot of money to cut taxes and increase benefits simultaneously. But this morning, after feeling a great deal of pressure, it seems they have backed off those deficit forecasts for 2020 and 2021, reducing those and looking to receive approval. In addition, Claudio Borghi, the man who yesterday said Italy would be better off without the euro, backed away from those comments. The upshot is that despite continued weakening PMI data (this time services data printed modestly weaker than expected across most of the Eurozone) the euro managed to rally 0.35% early on. Although in the past few minutes, it has given up those gains and is now flat on the day.

Elsewhere the picture is mixed, with the pound edging lower as ongoing Brexit concerns continue to weigh on the currency. The Tory party conference has made no headway and time is slipping away for a deal. Both Aussie and Kiwi are softer this morning as traders continue to focus on the interest rate story. Both nations have essentially promised to maintain their current interest rate regimes for at least the next year and so as the Fed continues raising rates, that interest rate differential keeps moving in the USD’s favor. It is easy to see these two currencies continuing their decline going forward.

In the emerging markets, Turkish inflation data was released at a horrific 24.5% in September, much higher than even the most bearish forecast, and TRY has fallen another 1.2% on the back of the news. Away from that, the only other currency with a significant decline is INR, which has fallen 0.65% after a large non-bank lender, IL&FS, had its entire board and management team replaced by the government as it struggles to manage its >$12 billion of debt. But away from those two, there has been only modest movement seen in the currency space.

One of the interesting things that is ongoing right now is the fact that crude oil prices have been rallying alongside the dollar’s rebound. Historically, this is an inverse relationship and given the pressure that so many emerging market economies have felt from the rising dollar already, for those that are energy importers, this pain is now being doubled. If this process continues, look for even more anxiety in some sectors and further pressure on a series of EMG currencies, particularly EEMEA, where they are net oil importers.

Keeping all this in mind, it appears that today is shaping up to be a day of consolidation, where without some significant new news, the dollar will remain in its recent trading range as we all wait for Friday’s NFP data. Speaking of data, this morning brings ADP Employment (exp 185K) and ISM Non-Manufacturing (58.0), along with speeches by Fed members Lael Brainerd, Loretta Mester and Chairman Powell again. However, there is no evidence that the Fed is prepared to change its tune. Overall, it doesn’t appear that US news is likely to move markets. So unless something changes with either Brexit or Italy, I expect a pretty dull day.

Good luck
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Southeast of France

The nation that’s southeast of France
Seems willing to leap at the chance
Of increasing spending
While also descending
Into a black hole of finance

Today’s markets have been dominated by a renewed fear that Italy may become Quitaly, quitting the euro in an effort to regain control of their finances. This view came about when Claudio Borghi, the chairman of the lower house budget committee (analogous to the House finance committee in the US), said that the euro was “not sufficient” to solve Italy’s fiscal issues. That was seen as an allusion to the idea that if Italy ditched the euro and returned to the lire, they would have more flexibility to implement the fiscal policies they wanted. In this case, flexibility can be understood to mean that Italy would be able to print and spend more money domestically, while allowing the lire to depreciate. The problem with the euro, as Italy sees it, is since they don’t control its creation, they cannot devalue it by themselves. There can be no surprise that the euro declined, falling 0.6% after a 0.3% decline yesterday. Of course, Italian stock and bond markets have also suffered, and there has been a more general feeling of risk aversion across all markets.

In the meantime, the latest Brexit news covers a new plan to allegedly solve the Irish border issue. It seems that PM May is going to offer up the idea that the UK remains in the customs union while allowing new checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland. The problem with this idea, at least on the surface, is that it will require the EU to compromise, and that is not something that we have seen much willingness to embrace on their part. Remember, French President Macron has explicitly said that he wants the UK to suffer greatly in order to serve as a warning to any other members from leaving the bloc. (Funnily enough, I don’t think that either Matteo Renzi or Luigi Di Maio, the leaders of the League and Five-Star Movement respectively in Italy, really care about that.)

For now, the market will continue to whipsaw around these events as hopes ebb and flow for a successful Brexit resolution. While it certainly doesn’t seem like anything is going to be agreed at this stage, my suspicion remains that some fudge will be found. The one caveat here is if PM May is ousted at the Conservative Party conference that begins later this week. PM Boris Johnson, for instance, will tell the Europeans to ‘bugger off’ and then no deal will be found. In that case, the pound will fall much further, but that seems a low probability event for right now. With all of that in mind, the pound has fallen 0.6% this morning and is back below 1.30 for the first time in three weeks.

In fact, the dollar is higher virtually across the board this morning, with AUD also lower by 0.6% after the RBA left rates unchanged at 1.50% while describing potential weakening scenarios, including a slowdown in China. Even CAD is lower, albeit only by 0.15%, despite the resolution of the NAFTA replacement talks yesterday.

Emerging markets have fared no better with, for example, IDR having fallen nearly 1.0% through 15,000 for the first time in twenty years, despite the central bank’s efforts to protect the rupiyah through rate hikes and intervention. We have also seen weakness in INR (-0.6%), ZAR (-1.3%), MXN (-0.6%), TRY (-1.9%) and RUB (-0.7%). Stock markets throughout the emerging markets have also been under pressure and government bond yields there are rising. In other words, this is a classic risk-off day.

Yesterday’s ISM data was mildly disappointing (59.8 vs. 60.1 expected) but continues to point to strong US economic growth. Since there are no hard data points released today (although we do see auto sales data) my sense is the market will turn its focus on Chairman Powell at 12:45, when he speaks at the National Association of Business Economics Meeting in Boston. His speech is titled, The Outlook for Employment and Inflation, obviously the exact issues the market cares about. However, keeping in mind the fact that Powell has been consistently bullish on the economy, it seems highly unlikely that he will say anything that could derail the current trend of tighter US monetary policy. Combining this with the renewed concerns over Europe and the UK, and it seems the dollar’s rally may be about to reignite.

Good luck
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Too Arcane

The Fed took the time to explain
Why ‘Neutral’ they’ll never attain
Though theories suppose
O’er that rate, growth slows
Its measurement is too arcane

If one needed proof that Fed watching was an arcane pastime, there is no need to look beyond yesterday’s activities. As universally expected, the FOMC raised the Fed funds rate by 25bps to a range of 2.00% – 2.25%. But in the accompanying statement, they left out the sentence that described their policy as ‘accommodative’. Initially this was seen as both surprising and dovish as it implied the Fed thought that rates were now neutral and therefore wouldn’t need to be raised much further. However, that was not at all their intention, as Chairman Powell made clear at the press conference. Instead, because there is an ongoing debate about where the neutral rate actually lies, he wanted to remove the concept from the Fed’s communications.

The neutral rate, or r-star (r*) is the theoretical interest rate that neither supports nor impedes growth in an economy. And while it makes a great theory, and has been a linchpin of Fed models for the past decade at least, Chairman Powell takes a more pragmatic view of things. Namely, he recognizes that since r* cannot be observed or measured in anything like real-time, it is pretty useless as a policy tool. His point in removing the accommodative language was to say that they don’t really know if current policy is accommodative or not, at least with any precision. However, given that their published forecasts, the dot plot, showed an increase in the number of FOMC members that are looking for another rate hike this year and at least three rate hikes next year, it certainly doesn’t seem the Fed believes they have reached neutral.

The market response was pretty much as you would expect it to be. When the statement was released, and initially seen as dovish, the dollar suffered, stocks rallied and Treasury prices fell in a classic risk-on move. However, once Powell started speaking and explained the rationale for the change, the market reversed those moves and the dollar actually edged higher on the day, equity markets closed lower and Treasury yields fell as bids flooded the market.

In the end, there is no indication that the Fed is slowing down its current trajectory of policy tightening. While they have explicitly recognized the potential risks due to growing trade friction, they made clear that they have not seen any evidence in the data that it was yet having an impact. And given that things remain fluid in that arena, it would be a mistake to base policy on something that may not occur. All told, if anything, I would characterize the Fed message as leaning more hawkish than dovish.

So looking beyond the Fed, we need to look at everything else that is ongoing. Remember, the trade situation remains fraught, with the US and China still at loggerheads over how to proceed, Canada unwilling to accede to US demands, and the ongoing threat of US tariffs on European auto manufacturers still in the air. As well, oil prices have been rallying lately amid the belief that increased sanctions on Iran are going to reduce global supply. There is the ongoing Brexit situation, which appears no closer to resolution, although we did have French President Macron’s refreshingly honest comments that he believes the UK should suffer greatly in the process to insure that nobody else in the EU will even consider the same rash act as leaving the bloc. And the Italian budget spectacle remains an ongoing risk within the Eurozone as failure to present an acceptable budget could well trigger another bout of fear in Italian government bonds and put pressure on the ECB to back off their plans to remove accommodation. In other words, there is still plenty to watch, although none of it has been meaningful to markets for more than a brief period yet.

Keeping all that in mind, let’s take a look at the market. As I type (which by the way is much earlier than usual as I am currently in London) the dollar is showing some modest strength with the Dollar Index up about 0.25% at this point. The thing is, there has been no additional news of note since yesterday to drive things, which implies that either a large order is going through the market, or that short dollar positions are being covered. Quite frankly, I would expect the latter reason is more compelling. But stepping back, the euro has traded within a one big figure range since last Thursday, meaning that nothing is really going on. The same is true for most of the G10, as despite both data and the Fed, it is clear very few opinions have really changed. My take is that we are going to need to see material changes in the data stream in order to alter views, and that will take time.

In the emerging markets, we have two key interest rate decisions shortly, Indonesia is forecasts to raise their base rate by 25bps to 5.75% and the Philippines are expected to raise their base rate by 50bps to 4.50%. Both nations have seen their currencies remain under pressure due to the dollar’s overall strength and their own current account deficits. They have been two of the worst three performing APAC currencies this year, with India the other member of that ignominious group. Meanwhile, rising oil prices have lately helped the Russian ruble rebound with today’s 0.2% rally adding to the nearly 7% gains seen in the past two plus weeks. And look for the Argentine peso to have a solid day today after the IMF increased its assistance to $57 billion with faster disbursement times. Otherwise, it is tough to get very excited about this bloc either.

On the data front, this morning brings the weekly Initial Claims data (exp 210K), Durable Goods (2.0%, 0.5% ex transport) and our last look at Q2 GDP (4.2%). I think tomorrow’s PCE data will be of far more interest to the markets, although a big revision in GDP could have an impact. But overall, things remain on the same general trajectory, solid US growth, slightly softer growth elsewhere, and a Federal Reserve that is continually tightening monetary policy. I still believe they will go tighter than the market has priced, and that the dollar will benefit accordingly. But for now, we remain stuck with the opposing cyclical and structural issues offsetting. It will be a little while before the outcome of that battle is determined, and in the meantime, a drifting currency market is the most likely outcome.

Good luck
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Just How He Feels

On Wednesday the Chairman reveals
To all of us, just how he feels
If dovish expect
Bulls to genuflect
If hawkish, prepare for some squeals

This is an early note as I will be in transit during my normal time tomorrow.

On Friday, the dollar continued its early morning rebound and was generally firmer all day long. The worst performer was the British pound, which fell more than 1.0% after Friday’s note was sent. It seems that the Brexit story is seen as increasingly tendentious, and much of the optimism that we had seen develop during the past three weeks has dissipated. While the pound remains above its lowest levels from earlier in the month, it certainly appears that those levels, and lower ones, are within reach if there is not some new, positive news on the topic. This appears to be an enormous game of chicken, and at this point, it is not clear who is going to blink first. But every indication is that the pound’s value will remain closely tied to the perceptions of movement on a daily basis. Hedgers need to be vigilant in maintaining appropriate hedge levels as one cannot rule out a significant move in either direction depending on the next piece of news.

But away from the pound, the story was much more about lightening positions ahead of the weekend, and arguably ahead of this week’s FOMC meeting. The pattern from earlier in the week; a weaker dollar along with higher equity prices around the world and higher government bond yields, was reversed in a modest way. US equity markets closed slightly softer, the dollar, net, edged higher, and 10-year Treasury yields fell 2bps.

The big question remains was the dollar’s recent weakness simply a small correction that led to the other market moves, or are we at the beginning of a new, more significant trend of dollar weakness? And there is no easy answer to that one.

Looking ahead to this week shows the following data will be released:

Tuesday Case-Shiller House Prices 6.2%
  Consumer Confidence 312.2
Wednesday New Home Sales 630K
  FOMC Decision 2.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 208K
  Goods Trade Balance -$70.6B
  Q2 GDP 4.2%
Friday PCE 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.3%
  Chicago PMI 62.5
  Michigan Sentiment 100.8

So clearly, the FOMC is the big issue. It is universally expected that they will raise the Fed funds rate by 25bps to 2.25%. The real question will be with the dot plot, and the analysis as to whether the sentiment in the room is getting even more hawkish, or if the CPI data from two weeks ago was enough to take some of the edge off their collective thinking, and perhaps even change the median expectations of the path of rate hikes. I can virtually guarantee you that if the dot plot shows a lower median, even if it is because of a change by just one FOMC member, equity markets will explode higher around the world, the dollar will fall and government bond yields will rise. However, my own view is that the data since we have last heard from any Fed speaker has not been nearly soft enough to consider changing one’s view. Instead, I expect a neutral to hawkish statement, and a little pressure on equities.

But the big picture narrative does seem to be starting to change, and so any dollar benefit is likely to be short lived. Be ready to hear a great deal more about the structural deficits and how that will force the dollar lower. One last thing, tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports go into effect on Monday, which will only serve to add upward pressure to inflation data, and ultimately keep the FOMC quite vigilant. I remain committed to the idea that the cyclical factors will regain their preeminence, but it just may take a few weeks or months for that to be apparent. In the meantime, look for the dollar to slowly slide lower.

Good luck
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A Terrible Day

The UK’s Prime Minister May
Last night had a terrible day
Her plans for a deal
Were seen as unreal
As hawks in the EU held sway

But elsewhere the market’s embraced
The concept that fear was misplaced
Instead, stocks they’re buying
And so, fortifying
The idea, for risk, they have taste

Arguably, the key headline this morning was the extremely poor reception British PM May received from her 27 dinner companions at the EU dinner last night. She continues to proffer the so-called Chequers deal (named for the PM’s summer residence where the deal was agreed amongst Tory members several weeks ago), which essentially says the UK will toe the EU line when it comes to manufactured and agricultural goods, but wants a free hand in services and immigration. French President Macron was quick to dismiss the notion as he remains adamant that leaving the EU should be seen as a disaster, lest any other nations (Italy are you watching?) consider the idea. At any rate, while the pound had been rallying for the past week, reaching its highest level since early July, that all came a cropper last night. The growing hope that a Brexit deal would be found has been shattered, at least for now, and it should be no surprise that the pound has suffered for it. This morning, it is leading the way lower, having fallen 0.6% from yesterday’s closing levels.

However, while the dollar is modestly firmer this morning across the board, my strong dollar thesis is being severely tested of late. We have seen the dollar fall broadly all week despite the resumption of the march higher in US yields. Or is it because of that movement that the dollar is falling? Let’s consider the alternatives.

Several months ago I wrote about the conflicting cyclical and structural aspects of the market that were impacting the dollar’s value. The cyclical factors were US growth outpacing the rest of the world and the Fed tightening monetary policy faster than any other central bank. This combination led to higher US rates and a better investment environment in the US than elsewhere, and consequently, an increase in dollar buying for global investors to take advantage of the opportunities. Thus higher short-term interest rates led to a higher US dollar, along with a flatter yield curve.

On the other hand, the structural questions that hang over the US economy consist of the impact of late cycle fiscal stimulus in the form of both tax cuts and increased spending. The fact that this was occurring at the same time the Fed was reducing the size of its balance sheet meant that at some point, it seemed likely that increased Treasury supply would find decreased demand. The growing budget and current account deficits would in turn pressure the dollar lower while the excess Treasury supply would push long-term yields higher ending up with a weaker dollar and a steeper yield curve.

Starting in April, it became clear that the cyclical story was the primary market driver, with strong US growth pushing up short-term rates as well as US corporate earnings. Investors flocked to the US to take advantage with the dollar rallying sharply while US equity markets significantly outperformed their foreign counterparts. This was especially notable in the EMG space, where a decade of QE had forced funds to the highest yielding assets they could find, which happened to be those EMG markets. But now that there was an alternative, those funds were quick to return to the US, driving EMG equity markets lower and hammering those currencies as well. There was also a great deal of concern that if the divergence in markets continued, it could result in much more significant losses elsewhere that would eventually come back to haunt US markets.

But a funny thing happened last week, US CPI printed lower than expected. Now you might not think that a 0.1% miss on a number would be that important, but essentially what that signaled to markets was that the Fed would be more likely to ease back on the pace of tightening, thereby slowing the rise in the short-term interest rate structure. It also indicated that US growth may not be as robust as had been previously thought, and therefore, opportunities here, while still excellent, needed to be weighed against what was going on elsewhere in the world. At the same time, elsewhere in the world we have seen continued central bank rhetoric about removing policy accommodation, with ECB President Draghi’s press conference seen as mildly hawkish, while the BOJ seems to be in stealth taper mode. We have also seen the trade situation get pushed to the back of the collective market’s mind as the US imposed a lower tariff rate than expected on Chinese goods, and has not yet moved forward on any other tariffs.

But wait, there’s more!, after four months of selling off, EMG assets have suddenly started to look like they represent a ‘value’ play, with the first buyers tentatively dipping their toes back into those markets. And finally, remember that the speculative long dollar position has been building for months and reaching near record levels. Adding it all up leads to the following conclusion: there is room for the dollar to continue this decline in the medium term. Continued fund movement into EMG markets combined with the reduction of the long dollar positions will be more than sufficient to continue to drive the dollar lower.

That combination is what has taken place this week, and despite the break today, it seems quite viable that we will continue to see this pattern for a bit longer. In the end, I don’t think that the market will completely ignore the cyclical dollar prospects, but for now, the broad structural story is holding sway. Add to this the idea that market technicians are going to get excited about selling dollars because it has reached levels below the 50-day and 100-day moving averages, and thus is ‘breaking out lower’, and we could be in for a couple of months of dollar weakness. If this is true, while individual currencies could still underperform, like the pound if the Brexit situation collapses, it is entirely possible that Chairman Powell could find himself in the best position he could imagine, continuing to remove policy ease while the dollar falls, thus ameliorating the President’s concerns. But it’s not clear to me that is such a good thing overall. We shall see.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf