Manna From Heaven

On Friday, the world nearly ended
On Monday, investors felt splendid
Today the G7
Brings manna from heaven
But will rate cuts work as intended?

Of course, everyone is aware of yesterday’s remarkable equity market rally as investors quickly grasped the idea that the world’s central banks are not going to go down without a fight. While there were separate statements yesterday, this morning the G7 FinMins and Central bankers are having a conference call, led by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, to discuss next steps in support of the global markets economy.

It is pretty clear that they are going to announce coordinated actions, with the real question simply what each bank is going to offer up. The argument in the US is will the cut be 25bps or 50bps? In the UK it is clearly 25bps. The ECB and BOJ have their own problems, although I wouldn’t be shocked to see 10bps from them as well as a pledge to increase asset purchases. And, of course, Canada remains largely irrelevant, but will almost certainly cut 25bps alongside the Fed.

But equity markets rebounded massively yesterday, so is there another move in store on this new news? That seems less probable. And remember, Covid-19 has not been cured and continues to spread pretty rapidly. The issue remains the government response, as we continue to see large events canceled (the Geneva Auto Show was the latest) which result in lost, not deferred, economic activity. The one thing that is very clear is that Q1 economic data is going to be putrid everywhere in the world, regardless of what the G7 decides. But perhaps they can save Q2 and the rest of the year.

The interesting thing is that bond markets don’t seem to be singing from the same hymnal as the stock markets. We continue to see a massive rally in bonds, with 2-year yields down to 0.87% while the 10-year is at 1.15%. That is hardly a description of a rip-roaring economy. Rather, that sounds like fears over an imminent recession. The only thing that is certain is that there are as many different views as there are traders and investors, and that has been instrumental in the significant increase in volatility we have observed.

As to the dollar, it has been under significant pressure since yesterday morning, with the euro climbing to its highest level since mid-January. I maintain the dollar’s weakness can be ascribed to the fact that the Fed is the only major central bank with room to really cut rates, and the market is in the process of pricing in 4 cuts for 2020, with more beyond. So further USD weakness ought not be too surprising, but I expect it is nearer its bottom than not, as in the end, the US remains the best place to invest in the current global economy. My point is that receivables hedgers need to be active and take advantage of the dollar’s recent decline. I don’t foresee it lasting for a long period of time.

The first actions were seen in Asia, as both Australia and Malaysia cut their base rates by 25bps while explaining that their close relationships with China require action. And that is certainly true as the extent of how far the Chinese economy will shrink in Q1 is still a huge unknown. Interestingly, AUD managed to rally 0.35% after the rate cut as investors seemed to approve of the action. The thing is, now rates Down Under are at 0.50%, so there is precious little room left to maneuver there. MYR, on the other hand, slipped slightly, -0.1%, although stocks there managed to rally 0.8% on the news.

Meanwhile, the market continues to punish certain nations that have their own domestic problems which are merely being exacerbated by Covid-19. A good example is South Africa, where the rand tumbled 1.45% this morning after Q4 GDP was released at a much worse than expected -0.5% Y/Y, which takes the nation to the edge of recession. And remember, this was before there was any concern over the virus, so things are likely to get worse before they get better. This doesn’t bode well for the rand in the near and medium term.

But overall, today has been, and will continue to be driven by expectations for, and then the response to the G7 meeting. While it is certain that whatever statement is made will be designed to offer support, given yesterday’s huge rebound in markets, there is ample chance for the G7 to disappoint. Arguably, the risks for the G7 are asymmetric as even an enormous support package of rate cuts and added fiscal spending seem mostly priced into the market. On the other hand, any disappointment could easily see the next leg down in both equity markets and bond yields as investors realize that sometimes, the only way to deal with a virus is to let it run its course.

Good luck
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No Solutions Are Near

There is a group that’s quite elite
And every six months they all meet
In France this weekend
They tried to pretend
That problems, worldwide, they could treat

Alas what was really quite clear
Is that no solutions are near
The trade war remains
The source of most pains
And Brexit just adds to the fear

It has been a pretty dull session overnight with the dollar somewhat softer, Treasuries rallying and equities mixed. With the G7 meeting now over, the takeaways are that the US remains at odds with most members over most issues, but that those members are still largely reliant on the US as their major trade counterparty and overall security umbrella. In the end, there has been no agreement on any issue of substance and so things remain just as they were.

And exactly how are things? Well, the US economy continues to motor along with all the indications still pointing to GDP growth of 2.0% annualized or thereabouts in Q3, continuing the Q2 pace. This contrasts greatly with the Eurozone, for example, where German GDP was confirmed at -0.1% in Q2 this morning as slowing global trade continues to weigh on the economy there. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank president, remains firm in his view that negative growth is no reason for easier monetary policy. While every other central bank in the world would be responsive to negative output, the Bundesbank truly does see things differently. As an aside, it is also interesting to see Weidmann revert to his old, uber-hawkish, self as opposed to the show of pragmatism he displayed when he was vying to become the next ECB President. You can be sure that Madame Lagarde will have a hard time convincing him that once the current mooted measures (cutting rates further and more QE) fail, extending policy to other asset purchases or other, as yet unconsidered, tools will be appropriate.

And the rest of Europe? Well, Italy continues to slide into recession as well while the country remains without a government. Ongoing talks between Five-Star and the center-left PD party remain stuck on all the things on which weird coalitions get stuck. But fear of another election, where League leader, Matteo Salvini, is almost certain to win a ruling majority will force them to find some compromise for a few months. None of this will help the economy there. Meanwhile, France is muddling along with an annualized growth rate below 1.0%, better than Germany and Italy, but still a problem. Despite the fact that the Fed has much more monetary leeway than the ECB, the problems extant in the Eurozone are such that buying the euro still seems quite a poor bet.

Turning to the UK, PM Johnson was quite the charmer at the G7, but with just over two months left before Brexit, there is still no indication a deal is in the offing. However, I remain convinced that given the dire straits in the Eurozone economic outlook, the willingness to allow a hard Brexit will fall to zero very quickly as the deadline approaches. A deal will be cut, whether a fudge or not is unclear, but it will change the tone completely. While the pound has edged higher this morning, +0.4%, it remains quite close to its post-vote lows at 1.2000 and there is ample room for a sharp rebound when the deal materializes. For hedgers, please keep that in mind.

The other story, of course, remains the trade war, where the PBOC is overseeing a steady deterioration in the renminbi while selectively looking for places to ease monetary policy and support the economy. Growth on the mainland has been slowing quite rapidly, and while I don’t expect reported data to surprise on the downside, indicators like commodity inventories and electricity usage point to a much weaker economy than one sporting a 6.0% growth handle. Of course, the G7 did produce a positive trade story, the in-principal agreement between the US and Japan on a new trade deal, but that just highlights the other pressure on the EU aside from Brexit, namely the need to make a deal with the US. Bloomberg pointed out the internal problem as to which constituency will be thrown under the bus; French farmers or German automakers. The US is seeking greater agricultural access, and appears willing to punish the auto companies if it is not achieved. (Once again, please explain to me how the EU can possibly allow a hard Brexit with this issue on the front burner).

And that is really today’s background news. The overnight session saw modest dollar weakness overall, and it would be easy to try to define sentiment as risk-off given the strength in the yen (+0.3%), gold (+0.2%) and Treasuries (-3bps). But equities are holding their own and there is no palpable sense in the market that fear has been elevated. Mostly, trading desks remain thinly staffed given the time of year, and I expect more meandering than trending in FX today. Of course, any tweet could change things quickly, but for now, yesterday’s modest dollar strength looks set to be replaced by today’s modest dollar weakness.

Good luck
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