Started To Fade

On Monday, the data released
Showed growth in the US decreased
As well, hope ‘bout trade
Has started to fade
And snow overwhelmed the Northeast

In a word, yesterday sucked. At least that’s the case if you were bullish on essentially any US asset when the session started. Early equity market gains were quickly reversed when the ISM data printed at substantially worse than expected levels. Not only did the headline release (48.1) miss expectations, which was biased toward a modest improvement over the October readings, but all of the sub-indices along with the headline number actually fell further from October. Arguably the biggest concern came from the New Orders Index which printed its lowest level (47.2) since the financial crisis. Granted, this was the manufacturing sector and manufacturing represents only about 12% of the US economy, but still, it was a rout. The juxtaposition with the green shoots from Europe was not lost on the FX market either as the dollar fell sharply across the board. In fact, the euro had its best day since early September, rallying 0.6%.

This morning, the situation hasn’t improved either, as one of the other key bullish stories for equity sentiment, completion of the phase one trade deal with China, was dealt a blow when President Trump explained that he was in no hurry to complete the deal and would only do so when he was ready. In fact, he mused that it might be better to wait until after the 2020 elections before agreeing a deal with China, something that is clearly not priced into the market. When those comments hit the tape, US equity futures turned around from small gains to losses on the order of 0.3%. Bullishness is no fun yet.

Perhaps it’s worth a few moments to consider the essence of the bullish US case and determine if it still holds water. Basically, the broad consensus has been that despite its sluggish pace, growth in the US has been more robust than anywhere else in the developed world and that with the FOMC having added additional stimulus via 75 bps of interest rate cuts and, to date, $340 billion in non-QE QE, prospects for continued solid growth seemed strong. In addition, the tantalizing proximity of that phase one trade deal, which many had assumed would be done by now or certainly by year end, and would include a reduction in some tariffs, was seen as a turbocharger to add to the growth story.

Now, there is no doubt that we have seen some very positive data from the US, with Q3 GDP being revised higher, the housing market showing some life and Retail Sales still solid. In fact, last week’s data releases were uniformly positive. At the same time, the story from Europe, the UK, China and most of the rest of the world was of slowing or non-existent growth with central banks having run out of ammunition to help support those economies and a protracted period of subpar growth on the horizon. With this as a backdrop, it is no surprise that US assets performed well, and that the dollar was a key beneficiary.

However, if that narrative is going to change, then there is a lot of price adjustment likely to be seen in the markets, which arguably are priced for perfection on the equity side. The real question in the FX markets is, at what point will a risk-off scenario driven by US weakness convert from selling US assets, and dollars by extension, to buying US dollars in order to buy US Treasuries in a flight to safety? (There is a great irony in the fact that even when the US is the source of risk and uncertainty, investors seek the safety of US Treasury assets.) At this point, there is no way to know the answer to that question, however, what remains clear this morning is that we are still in the sell USD phase of the process.

With that in mind, let’s look at the various currency markets. Starting with the G10, Aussie is one of the winners after the RBA left rates on hold, as widely expected, but sounded less dovish (“global risks have lessened”) than anticipated in their accompanying statement. Aussie responded by rallying as much as 0.65% initially, and is still higher by 0.35% on the day. And that is adding to yesterday’s 0.85% gain taking the currency higher by 1.2% since the beginning of the week. While the longer term trend remains lower, it would not be a surprise to see a push toward 0.70 in the next week or so.

The other major winner this morning is the British pound, currently trading about 0.4% higher after the latest election poll, by Kantar, showed the Tories with a 12 point lead with just nine days left. Adding to the positive vibe was a modestly better than expected Construction PMI (45.3 vs. 44.5 expected) perhaps implying that the worst is over.

Elsewhere in the G10, things have been far less interesting with the euro maintaining, but not adding to yesterday’s gains, and most other currencies +/- a few bps on the day. In the EMG bloc, the noteworthy currency is the South African rand, which has fallen 0.55% after a much worse than expected Q3 GDP release (-0.6% Q/Q; 0.1% Y/Y). The other two losing currencies this morning are KRW and CNY, both of which have suffered on the back of the Trump trade comments. On the plus side, BRL has rallied 0.4% after its Q3 GDP release was better than expected at +0.6% Q/Q. At least these moves all make sense with economic fundamentals seeming to be today’s driver.

And that’s really it for the day. There is no US data this morning, although we get plenty the rest of the week culminating in Friday’s payroll report. Given the lack of economic catalysts, it feels like the dollar will remain under general pressure for the time being. The short term narrative is that things in the US are not as good as previously had been thought which is likely to weigh on the buck. But for receivables hedgers, this is an opportunity to add to your hedges at better levels in quiet markets. Take advantage!

Good luck
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Quite a Breakthrough

Is stealing IP now taboo?
If so that is quite a breakthrough
Now maybe Phase One
Can finally be done
Or is this just more déjà vu?

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before; a phase one trade deal is really close! For the umpteenth time in the past six months, this is the story driving markets this morning, although, in fairness, today’s version may have a bit more substance to it. That substance comes from an announcement by China that they are going to institute penalties on IP theft and potentially lower the threshold for considering criminal punishments for those convicted of the crime. This, of course, has been one of the key US demands in the negotiations thus far and the fact that the Chinese have conceded the argument is actually quite a big deal. Recall, if you will, that when this entire process started, the Chinese wouldn’t even admit that the practice was ongoing. Now they are considering enshrining the criminality of these actions into law. That is a huge change. Perhaps the current US stance in the negotiations is beginning to bear fruit.

Given this positive turn in the discussions, it should be no surprise that risk assets are in demand today and we are seeing equity markets rally around the world. Overnight in Asia, we saw strength across the board (Nikkei +0.8%, Hang Seng +1.5%, Shanghai +0.7%) and we are seeing solid gains in Europe as well (DAX +0.4%, CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.8%). The two outliers, Hong Kong and London have additional positive stories to boot. In Hong Kong the weekend’s local council elections resulted in the highest turnout in years and not surprisingly, given the ongoing protests for democracy, the pro-democracy candidates won 85% of the seats. HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam was quick to respond by explaining the government will listen carefully to the public on this issue. One other aspect of the elections was that they were completely peaceful, with no violence anywhere in the city this weekend, a significant difference to recent activity there, and that was also seen as a risk positive outcome.

Meanwhile, in the UK, PM Boris Johnson released his election manifesto and it was far more sensible than his predecessor’s attempt three years ago. While it included spending promises on infrastructure and increased hiring of nurses for the National Health Service, there were few other spending categories. Of course, he did remind everyone that a Tory majority will allow him to deliver Brexit by January 31 and he assured that the trade deal would be complete by the end of 2020. The latest polls show that the Tories lead 42% to 30% for Labour with the rest still split amongst minor players. Also, a Datapraxis study shows that on current form, the Tories will win 349 of the 650 seats in Parliament, a solid majority that will allow Boris to implement his policies handily. Given this news less than three weeks from the election, investors and traders are becoming increasingly bullish on the outcome and the pound has benefitted accordingly this morning, rising 0.3%. Now, it is still well below the levels seen last month, when it briefly peeked over 1.30 in the euphoria that Boris was going to get Brexit done by October 31. But, it is today’s clear winner in the G10 space.

Away from the pound, the rest of the G10 space has been quite dull, with the euro slipping a scant 0.1% after German IFO data showed that while the economy may not be getting worse, it is not yet getting much better. In keeping with the equity driven risk-on theme, the yen is softer this morning as well, -0.2%, but that is entirely risk related.

Turning to the EMG space, there has been a touch more activity but still nothing remarkable. On the positive side we see CLP rising 0.7% which has all the earmarks of a position consolidation after a very troubled couple of weeks. There has been no specific news although a background story has been focused on shifts in the local pension scheme. It seems there are five funds, labeled A through E with A the most aggressive, invested 60% in international equities, while E is the most conservative, investing 92% in local fixed income assets. It seems that in the wake of the protests, there was a substantial shift into the A fund, which has outperformed given the peso’s weakness. However, it now appears that local investment advisors are highlighting the benefits of the E fund which will result in CLP purchases and corresponding CLP strength. This is certainly consistent with the idea that risk is back in vogue so perhaps we have seen the worst in CLP. But otherwise, nothing much of interest here either.

During this holiday shortened week, we actually get a decent amount of data with most of it released Wednesday morning.

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 3.30%
  New Home Sales 707K
  Consumer Confidence 127.0
Wednesday Initial Claims 221K
  Q3 GDP 1.9%
  Durable Goods -0.8%
  -ex Transport 0.1%
  Chicago PMI 46.9
  Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.3%
  Core PCE 0.1% (1.7% Y/Y)
  Fed’s Beige Book  

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to this, where my sense is the market will be most focused on the Personal Income and Spending data, we hear from Chairman Powell later this evening. While it is always an event when a Fed chair speaks, it seems pretty unlikely that we are going to learn anything new here. At this stage, it has been made quite clear that the Fed is on hold for the foreseeable future. If that is not the message, then you can look for market fireworks.

So the session today is shaping up to be risk focused which means that away from the yen and maybe Swiss franc, I expect the dollar to be softer rather than firmer.

Good luck
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Not Been Tested

From Germany data suggested
The slowdown in growth’s been arrested
If true, that’s good news
But still there are views
The hypothesis, null’s, not been tested

There seems to be an inordinate amount of positivity surrounding a single data point this morning, German Factory Orders, which printed at +1.3% in September versus expectations of a 0.1% rise. And while this is certainly good news, two things to keep in mind are that the Y/Y rate of growth is -5.4%, (that’s right a significant decline) and that the other German data out this morning showed that October PMI’s printed at 48.9 on a composite level. In other words, all signs still point to a German recession on the basis of negative GDP growth in both Q3 and Q4. This will be confirmed next week when the official data is released. And remember, a negative print will be the third subzero outcome there in the past five quarters. My point is that Germany continues to drag on the Eurozone as a whole, and until the global trade situation improves, it is likely to continue to do so.

Yet, despite a spate of positive sounding articles about the nadir in Eurozone growth having been reached, the markets have taken a much less enthusiastic approach to things this morning. Yes, the euro is higher as I type, alas, by just 0.1%, and that is after a 0.6% decline yesterday. In other words, it is difficult to describe the FX market as jumping on board this narrative. What about equities you may ask? Well, the DAX is up by 0.15%, but again, this doesn’t seem to warrant much hype. In fact, looking at the Eurozone as a whole, we see a mixture of small gains (Germany, France, and Italy) and losses (Spain, Portugal and Austria) and a net of not much movement. In other words, it appears the press is far more excited than the investment community.

Perhaps a more interesting story has been the indication that Germany may be ready to allow more Eurozone banking integration by finally embracing allowing joint European deposit insurance. Recall that northern European nations, those that run surpluses, are loathe to bail out Italian and Spanish (and Greek and Cypriot, etc.) banks when they eventually go bust. However, it seems that Chancellor Merkel, whose power has been slipping away by the day, has decided that in order to maintain her grip she needed to do something to encourage her Social Democrat partners, and this is the latest wheeze. That said, if Germany and the rest of the north do sign off on this, it will be an unmitigated positive for the continent and, likely, for the euro. As is often the case with issues like this, there is a long way to go before an agreement is reached, but this is the first positive movement on the subject since the euro’s creation twenty years ago. In fact, success here is likely to permanently improve the euro’s value going forward.

Elsewhere in markets things have been pretty quiet. The rest of the G10 has seen modest movement with only Sweden’s krona rallying smartly, +0.45%, after the Minutes of the latest Riksbank meeting confirmed that they are working feverishly to figure out a way to exit the negative interest rate trap. At this point the market is pricing in a better than 60% probability of a rate hike at the December meeting, taking the base rate back to 0.00%. But away from that, the G10 is completely uninteresting.

In the EMG space, India’s rupee was the worst performer, falling 0.45% after weaker than expected PMI data (Services 49.2, Composite 49.6) indicated that the growth impulse in India remains absent and that further policy ease is likely from the RBI. Elsewhere, the Bank of Thailand, which has been trying to slow the baht’s steady appreciation, +8.5% in the past twelve months, cut its base rate by 25bps and relaxed some currency controls in an effort to release some pressure on the currency. However, given the economy’s ongoing relative strength, this seems unlikely to have a long term impact. In the end, the baht has declined 0.4% overnight, but hardly seems like it is getting ready to tumble.

And in truth, that’s really all that has been going on overnight. Yesterday we heard from a few more Fed speakers, Barkin, Kaplan and Kashkari, and the message remains consistent; i.e. the US economy is strong and monetary policy is appropriate, although the balance of risks still seem tilted toward the downside. In the end, Chairman Powell and his minions have done an excellent job of getting the markets to accept that there will be no further rate movement for the foreseeable future barring some catastrophic data.

Speaking of data, yesterday showed the Trade Balance shrunk to -$52.5B as imports fell sharply, and that the services sector in the US remains robust with ISM Non-manufacturing rising to 54.7. This morning we await Nonfarm Productivity (exp 0.9%) and Unit Labor Costs (2.2%), neither of which is likely to move the needle, and we hear from three more Fed speakers; Evans, Williams and Harker, none of whom are likely to deviate from the current mantra.

Overall, it has been a mixed session so far with no real direction and at this point, there is nothing obvious that is likely to change that mood. Look for a quiet one as the market seeks out its next big thing, maybe confirmation that the trade deal is going to be signed, but until then, hedgers should take advantage of the quiet market to execute.

Good luck
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Choler on Display

There once was a large group of nations
Whose common goal was trade relations
But then as time passed
More rules they amassed
Which caused, for the Brits, complications

So three years ago, the UK
Decided to go its own way
Then Europe was miffed
Lamenting the rift
And put their choler on display

Along then came Boris the blond
Who’s tried to move Britain beyond
The uncertain ways
Of Brexit delays
But Europe’s now scared to respond

Alas, we are back to Brexit as the key story this morning. In a nutshell; the EU indicated they would offer a three-month extension, to January 31, 2020 but has not confirmed that; Boris called for an election to be held on December 12 in order to consolidate what he perceives to be his current power, but Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn insists that, though he wants to have an election, he will not do so until it is guaranteed there is no hard Brexit. Boris’s argument is that he has a deal that has been approved in principal by Parliament, so there should be no hard Brexit. However, Corbyn seems to realize that an election before Brexit is likely to lead to a significant Tory victory, so he won’t allow it. Meanwhile, the jellyfish in Brussels can’t make up their collective mind as to how long the extension should be and are claiming they ‘don’t want to get involved in UK politics’! Are they kidding? They have been involved in UK politics since the vote in June 2016. I tell you, the next decision they make will be their first. At any rate, we are now in a catch-22 where the EU doesn’t want to decide on the length of an extension until the situation in London is clearer, while Labour will prevent an election until they know the situation in Brussels.

All this has been somewhat negative for the pound, which saw quite a bit of volatility in yesterday’s session, falling a bit more than 1.0% during the NY morning as this saga started to play out, although it rebounded and recouped about half of those losses by the end of the day. This morning, price action has been quite choppy, but the range has been much smaller. As I type, the pound is lower by just 0.1%, but it has traded both sides of its trading range today, 1.2825-1.2860 four times. My advice is if you have to trade cable right now, leaving an order at your preferred level is the best practice.

In the end, while the market has priced in a slightly higher probability of a no-deal Brexit, I continue to firmly believe that the outcome will be the current deal will be passed and the pound will be set to trade substantially higher, with a medium term target of 1.35.

Yesterday was also Signor Draghi’s final meeting as ECB President and he kept to the script. He exhorted Eurozone members, who could afford to do so, to increase fiscal stimulus. He said the current monetary policy stance was appropriate and would remain in place until inflation was stable at the ECB’s target of ‘just below 2.0%’, and he insisted there was plenty more the ECB can do if necessary. But now it is Madame Lagarde’s problem going forward, as she will be installed as ECB president one week from today. And the euro? Well it has been pretty dull for the past week, trading in a tight range as it consolidates its 2.5% gains since the beginning of the month. We continue to get pretty lousy Eurozone data, with today’s survey data showing Consumer Confidence continuing to decline while the IFO Business data remained unchanged at its lowest level in more than ten years. There has been some effort to spin this as positive, but that’s a hard case to make.

On the trade front, there has been no real news, although China appears to be relenting with regard to pork imports as some 60% of their swine herd has been decimated by African swine fever and pork prices on the mainland have exploded higher. And remember, the US is not imposing tariffs on their own pork, it is China that is doing so for political reasons. Thus, if the domestic politics outweighs the trade politics, you can be sure there will be no tariffs on pork! So far, it still seems like President’s Trump and Xi are on track to sign a phase 1 deal next month at the APEC conference in Chile, but that is a long way away.

Elsewhere in the FX market, it is dullsville. I cannot find a single currency that has moved even 0.4% vs. the dollar, with most plus or minus 10bps or less from yesterday’s closing levels. Treasury prices are little changed as are equity markets in Europe and US futures. In other words, there is not a lot ongoing right now.

Looking at the data story, yesterday’s Durable Goods data was a bit disappointing, but not horrifying. This morning we are awaiting Michigan Sentiment (exp 96.0) but that hardly seems likely to move markets. For now, given the lack of Fedspeak, earnings data and its impact on equity markets are likely to be the biggest influencers of spot FX. That is, of course, unless we hear something unexpected from London, Brussels or Washington. However, it is shaping up as a day of consolidation ahead of next week’s FOMC and BOJ meetings, as well as the pending decision by the EU on the length of any Brexit delay. Enjoy the quiet while it lasts!

Good luck and good weekend
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Quite Sublime

The markets are biding their time
Awaiting a new paradigm
On trade and on growth
While hoping that both
Instill attitudes quite sublime

The dollar has rebounded this morning as most of the news from elsewhere in the world continues to point to worsening economic activity. For example, the German ZEW survey printed at -13.4, which while marginally better than the expected -13.6, remains some 35 points below its long-term average of +22. So, while things could always be worse, there is limited indication that the German economy is rebounding from its stagnation in H2 2018. Meanwhile, Italian Industrial Orders fell to -1.8%, well below the +0.5% expectation, and highlighting the overall slowing tenor of growth in the Eurozone. As I have mentioned over the past several days, we continue to hear a stream of ECB members talking about adding stimulus as they slowly recognize that their previous views of growth had been overestimated. With all this in mind, it should be no surprise the euro is lower by 0.25% this morning, giving back all of yesterday’s gains.

At the same time, Swedish inflation data showed a clear decrease in the headline rate, from 2.2%, down to the Riksbank’s 2.0% target. This is a blow to the Riksbank as they had been laying the groundwork to raise rates later this year in an effort to end ZIRP. Alas, slowing growth and inflation have put paid to that idea for now, and the currency suffered accordingly with the krone falling 1.5% on the release, and remaining there since then. Despite very real intentions by European central bankers to normalize policy, all the indications are that the economy there is not yet ready to cooperate by demonstrating solid growth.

The last data point of note overnight was UK employment, where the Unemployment rate remained at a 40 year low of 4.0% and the number of workers grew by 167K, a better than expected outcome. In addition, average earnings continue to climb at a 3.4% pace, which remains the highest pace since 2008. Absent the Brexit debate, and based on previous comments, it is clear that the BOE would feel the need to raise rates in this situation. But the Brexit debate is ongoing and uncertainty reigns which means there will be no rate hikes anytime soon. The latest news is that Honda is closing a factory in Swindon, although they say the driving impulse is not Brexit per se, but weaker overall demand. Nonetheless, the 4500 jobs lost will be a blow to that city and to the UK overall. Meanwhile, the internal politics remain just as jumbled as ever, and the political infighting on both sides of the aisle there may just result in the hard Brexit that nobody seems to want. Basically, every MP is far more concerned about their own political future than about the good of the nation. And that short-sightedness is exactly how mistakes are made. As it happens, the strong UK data has supported the pound relative to other currencies, although it is unchanged vs. the dollar this morning.

Pivoting to the EMG bloc, the dollar is generally, but not universally higher. Part of that is because much of the dollar’s strength has been in the wake of European data well after Asian markets were closed. And part of that is because today’s stories are not really dollar focused, but rather currency specific. Where the dollar has outperformed, the movement has been modest (INR +0.2%, KRW +0.2%, ZAR +0.4%), but it has fallen against others as well (BRL -0.2%, PHP -0.2%). In the end, there is little of note ongoing here.

Turning to the news cycle, US-China trade talks are resuming in Washington this week, but the unbridled optimism that seemed to surround them last week has dissipated somewhat. This can be seen in equity markets which are flat to lower today, with US futures pointing to a -0.2% decline on the opening while European stocks are weaker by between -0.4% and -0.6% at this point in the morning. On top of that, Treasury yields are creeping down, with the 10-year now at 2.66% and 10-year Bunds at 0.10%, as there is the feeling of a modest risk-off sentiment developing.

At this point, the key market drivers seem to be on hold, and until we receive new information, I expect limited activity. So, tomorrow’s FOMC Minutes and Thursday’s ECB Minutes will both be parsed carefully to try to determine the level of concern regarding growth in the US and Europe. And of course, any news on either trade or Brexit will have an impact, although neither seems very likely today. With all that in mind, today is shaping up to be a dull affair in the FX markets, with limited reason for the dollar to extend its early morning gains, nor to give them back. There is no US data and just one speaker, Cleveland’s Loretta Mester, who while generally hawkish has backed off her aggressive stance from late last year. Given that she speaks at 9:00 this morning, it may be the highlight of the session.

Good luck
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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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