Woe Betide Every Forecast

The number of those who have passed
Is starting to slow down at last
The hope now worldwide
Is this won’t subside
But woe betide every forecast

Arguably, this morning’s most important news is the fact that the number of people succumbing to the effects of Covid-19 seems to be slowing down from the pace seen during the past several weeks. The highlights (which are not very high) showed Italy with its fewest number of deaths in more than two weeks, France with its lowest number in five days while Spain counted fewer deaths for the third day running. Stateside, New York City, which given its highest in the nation population density has been the US epicenter for the disease, saw the first decline in fatalities since the epidemic began to spread. And this is what counts as positive news these days. The world is truly a different place than it was in January.

However, as everything is relative, at least with respect to financial markets, the prospects for a slowing of the spread of the virus is certainly welcome news to investors. And they are showing it in style this morning with Asian equity markets having started things off on a positive note (Nikkei +4.25%, Hang Seng +2.2%, Australia +4.3) although mainland Chinese indices all fell about 0.6%. Europe picked up the positive vibe, and of course was the source of much positive news regarding infections, and equity markets there are up strongly across the board (DAX +4.5%, CAC +3.7%, FTSE 100 +2.1%). Finally, US equity futures are all strongly higher as I type, with all three major indices up nearly 4.0% at this hour.

The positive risk attitude is following through in the bond market, with 10-year Treasury yields now higher by 6.5bps while most European bond markets also softening with modestly higher yields. Interestingly, the commodity market has taken a different approach to the day’s news with WTI and Brent both falling a bit more than 3% while gold prices have bounced nearly 1% and are firmly above $1600/oz.

Finally, the dollar is on its back foot this morning, in a classic risk-on performance, falling against all its G10 counterparts except the yen, which is lower by 0.6%. AUD and NOK are the leading gainers, both higher by more than 1% with the former seeming to be a leveraged bet on a resumption of growth in Asia while the krone responded positively to a report that in the event of an international agreement to cut oil production, they would likely support such an action and cut output as well. While oil prices didn’t benefit from this news (it seems that there are still significant disagreements between the Saudis and Russians preventing a move on this front), the FX market saw it as a distinct positive. interestingly, the euro, which was the epicenter of today’s positive news, is virtually unchanged on the day.

EMG currencies are also broadly firmer this morning although there are a couple of exceptions. At the bottom of the list is TRY, which is lower by 0.6% after reporting a 13% rise in coronavirus cases and an increasing death toll. In what cannot be a huge surprise, given its recent horrific performance, the Mexican peso is slightly softer as well this morning, -0.2%, as not only the weakness in oil is hurting, but so, too, is the perception of a weak government response by the Mexican government with respect to the virus. But on the flipside, HUF is today’s top performer, higher by 1.0% after the central bank raised a key financing rate in an effort to halt the freefalling forint’s slide to further record lows. Since March 9, HUF had declined more than 16.5% before today’s modest rally! Beyond HUF, the rest of the space is holding its own nicely as the dollar remains under broad pressure.

Before we look ahead to this week’s modest data calendar, I think it is worth a look at Friday’s surprising NFP report. By now, you are all aware that nonfarm payrolls fell by 701K, a much larger number than expected. Those expectations were developed because the survey week was the one that included March 12, just the second week of the month, and a time that was assumed to be at least a week before the major policy changes in the US with closure of businesses and the implementation of social distancing. But apparently that was not the case. What is remarkable is that the Initial Claims numbers from the concurrent and following week gave no indication of the decline.

I think the important information from this datapoint is that Q1 growth is going to be much worse than expected, as the number indicates that things were shutting down much sooner than expected. I had created a simple GDP model which assumed a 50% decrease in economic activity for the last two weeks of the quarter and a 25% decrease for the week prior to that. and that simple model indicated that GDP in Q1 would show a -9.6% annualized decline. Obviously, the error bars around that result are huge, but it didn’t seem a crazy outcome. However, if this started a week earlier than I modeled, the model produces a result of -13.4% GDP growth in Q1. And as we review the Initial Claims numbers from the past two weeks, where nearly 10 million new applications for unemployment were filed, it is pretty clear that the data over the next month or two are going to be unprecedentedly awful. Meanwhile, none of this is going to help with the earnings process, where we are seeing announcements of 90% reductions in revenues from airlines, while entire hotel chains and restaurant chains have closed their doors completely. While markets, in general, are discounting instruments, always looking ahead some 6-9 months, it will be very difficult to look through the current fog to see the other side of this abyss. In other words, be careful.

As to this week, inflation data is the cornerstone, but given the economic transformation in March, it is not clear how useful the information will be. And anyway, the Fed has made it abundantly clear it doesn’t care about inflation anyway.

Tuesday JOLTS Job Openings 6.5M
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 5000K
  PPI -0.4% (0.5% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.0% (1.2% Y/Y)
  Michigan Sentiment 75.0
Friday CPI -0.3% (1.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.1% (2.3% Y/Y)

Source: Bloomberg

Overall, Initial Claims continues to be the most timely data, and the range of forecasts is between 2500K and 7000K, still a remarkably wide range and continuing to show that nobody really has any idea. But it will likely be awful, that is almost certain. Overall, it feels too soon, to me, to start discounting a return to normality, and I fear that we have not seen the worst in the data, nor the markets. Ultimately, the dollar is likely to remain THE haven of choice so keep that in mind when hedging.

Good luck and stay safe
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This Terrible Blight

The data from China last night
Showed PMI looking alright
But what does this mean?
Has China now seen
The end of this terrible blight?

Many pundits were both shocked and amazed when China’s PMI data was released last night and printed back above 50 (Manufacturing 52.0 and Composite 53.0), given the ongoing global economic shutdown. But if you simply consider the question asked to create the statistic; are things worse, the same or better than last month, it seems pretty plausible that things were at least the same as the previous month when commerce on the mainland shut down. And arguably, given the word that some proportion of the Chinese economy is starting to get back to work, the idea that a small proportion of respondents indicated improvement is hardly shocking. Instead, what I think we need to do is reconsider exactly what the PMI data describes.

Historically, when the global economy was functioning on, what we used to consider, a normal basis, the difference of a few tenths of a percent were seen as important. They seemed to tell a story of marginal improvement or decline on an early basis. Perhaps this was a false precision, but it was clearly the accepted narrative. The PMI data remains a key input into many econometric models, and those tenths were enough to alter forecasts. But that was then. As we all are abundantly aware, today’s economy and working conditions are dramatically different than they were, even in January. And so, the key question is; does the data we used to focus on still tell us the same story it did? Forward looking survey data is going to be far more volatile than in the past given the extraordinary actions taken by governments around the world. Quarantine, shelter-in-place and working from home will require a different set of measurements than the pre-Covid commuting world with which most of us are familiar.

Certainly, measurements of employment and consumption will remain key, but things like ISM, Fed surveys and productivity measurements are going to be far more suspect in the information they provide. After all, when the lockdowns end, and the surveys shoot higher, while the relative gains will be large, we are still likely to be in a much slower and different economic situation than we were back in January. A major investment bank is now forecasting Q2 GDP to decline by 34% annually, while Q3 is forecast to rebound 19%. The total story is one of overall decline, but the Q3 story will certainly be played up for all it is worth as the fastest growth in US history. My point is, be a little careful with what the current data is describing because it is not likely the same things we are used to from the past. The new narrative has yet to form, as the new economy has yet to emerge. While we can be pretty sure things will be different, we just don’t yet know exactly in which sectors and by how much. In other words, data will continue to be uncertain for a while, and its impact on markets will be confusing.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at where things stand this morning. After a very strong start to the week yesterday, at least on the equity front, things are a bit more mixed today. Asian markets saw both strength (Hang Seng + 1.8%) and weakness (Nikkei -0.9%), although arguably there were a few more winners than losers. Interestingly, despite the blowout Chinese PMI data, Shanghai only rose 0.1%. It seems the equity market there had a reasonable interpretation of the data. In Europe, meanwhile, things are generally positive, but not hugely so, with the DAX and FTSE 100 both higher by 0.8%, although the CAC has edged lower by 0.1%. at this time, US futures are pointing modestly higher and well off the earlier session highs.

Bond markets suffered yesterday on the back of the equity rally, as risk assets had some short-term appeal, but this morning the picture is more mixed. Treasury yields have fallen by 4bps, but Bund yields are little changed on the day. And in the European peripheral markets, Italian BTP’s are seeing yields edge higher by 1bp while Greek yields have softened by 4bps. I think today’s price action has much more to do with the fact it is month and quarter end, and there is a lot of rebalancing of portfolios ongoing, rather than as a signal of future economic/intervention activity.

In the FX market, though, the dollar continues to reign supreme with only NOK able to rally this morning in the G10 space as oil prices have rebounded sharply. A quick peek there shows WTI +7.5% and Brent +3.9%, although the price of oil remains near its lowest levels since 2001’s recession. But away from NOK, the dollar is quite firm with AUD under the most pressure, down 1.4% after some awful Australian confidence data. Clearly, the surprisingly positive Chinese data had little impact. But the euro has fallen 1.0% as concerns grow over Italy’s ability to repay its debt and what that will mean for the rest of the continent with respect to picking up the tab. Even the yen is under pressure today, perhaps on the news that the government is preparing a ¥60 trillion support package, something that will simply expand their already remarkable 235% debt/GDP ratio.

In the emerging markets, it should be no surprise that Russia’s ruble is top dog today, +1.3% on the oil rebound. Meanwhile, ZAR and KRW have also moved higher by 0.5% each with the rand benefitting from a massive influx of yield seekers as they auctioned a series of debt with yields ranging from 7.17% for 3-year to 11.37% for the 10-year variety. Meanwhile, in Seoul, the results of the USD swap auctions showed that liquidity there is improving, meaning there is less pressure on the currency. On the downside, CE4 currencies are under the gun as they track the euro lower, with the entire group down by between 0.8% and 1.3%. Perhaps the biggest disappointment today is MXN, which despite the big rebound in oil is essentially unchanged today after a 2% decline yesterday. The peso just cannot seem to get out of its own way, and as long as AMLO continues to be seen as ineffective, it is likely to stay that way.

There is some data due this morning, with Case Shiller Home Prices (exp 3.23%) and the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index (110.0 down from 130.7), but it is not clear it will have much impact. Yesterday’s Dallas Fed Manufacturing Index was released at -70, the worst print in its 16-year history, but one that cannot be surprising given the nationwide shutdowns and problems in the oil patch. I don’t see today’s data having an impact, and instead, expect that the focus will be on the next bailout package, the implementation of this one, and month-end rebalancing. It is hard to make the case that the dollar will decline in this environment, but that remains a short-term view.

Good luck
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The Optimists Reign

This morning the optimists reign
As China was keen to explain
They felt it unwise
That tariffs should rise
They’d rather start talking again

Equity bulls are on the rampage this morning as all the negative stories have been overwhelmed by positive sentiment from two areas, China and Italy. From China last night we heard that despite President Trumps’ latest decision to increase tariffs further on Chinese imports, the nation would not escalate the situation, and instead wanted to maintain the dialog and seek common ground. Spokesman Gao Feng said that while China is protesting, they are not responding. He also confirmed that ongoing communications would likely lead to another face-to-face meeting in Washington in September. We heard confirmation from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin that a meeting in Washington was to take place in September, although the final details have not yet been decided.

However, this was more than enough for the bulls to stampede as once again they seem willing to believe that a solution is close at hand. One need only look at the timeline of every other trade negotiation in history to recognize that these things take a very long time to come to agreement. And of course, as I have written before, there are fundamental issues that seem unlikely to ever be addressed to the satisfaction of both sides. For example, while a key issue for the US is the theft of IP by Chinese companies, the Chinese won’t even acknowledge that takes place and therefore cannot agree to stop something they don’t believe is happening. Recall, as well, the issue when talks broke down in late spring, that the issue was the US was seeking the agreement be enshrined in law, as is the case in the US and every Western nation, but the Chinese refused claiming that was an infringement of their sovereignty and that they would simply make rules that would be followed. These are very big canyons to cross and will take a long time to do so. While it is certainly good news that the Chinese are not escalating things, and in fact, are making efforts to reduce market tensions via their CNY fixing activities, we are still a long way from a deal.

The upshot of the China story is that Asian equity markets rebounded from their lows to close near unchanged while European markets are all higher on the order of 1.0%. Treasury yields have edged up slightly as have yields in most sovereign bond markets, and the two main haven currencies, yen and Swiss francs, have both weakened slightly.

The other story that has the bulls on the move is from Rome, where Italian President, Sergio Mattarella has given the nod to the coalition of 5-Star and the Democratic Party (known as the PD and which, contrary to yesterday’s comment, is actually a center left party) to try to form a government. The thing that makes this so surprising, and bodes ill for any government’s longevity, is that 5-Star came to power by constantly attacking the PD as corrupt and the major problem in the country. But their combined fear of an election, where the League is likely to win an outright majority at this time, has pushed these unlikely bedfellows together. The market, however, loves it with Italian equities higher by 1.9% and Italian BTP’s (their sovereign bonds) rallying nearly a full point driving the 10-year yield down to a new historic low of 0.96%. Think about that for a moment, Italian 10-year yields are more than 50bps lower than US yields!

All in all, it is clearly a risk-on type of day. Looking at the FX markets shows a mixed bag of results although the theme is really modest movement. For example, in the G10, the biggest mover has been NOK, which is lower by 0.25%, while the biggest gainer is AUD, up just 0.2%. The latter has been helped by the China story, while the former is suffering after weaker than expected GDP data showed Q2 growth at just 0.3% in the quarter, well below expectations of a 0.5% rebound from last quarter’s negative print.

It should be no surprise that EMG currencies have a slightly larger range, but still, the biggest mover is ZAR, which has gained 0.5% while the weakest currency is TRY, falling 0.4%. From South Africa we learned that price pressures are less acute than anticipated as PPI actually fell in July engendering hope that the SARB can encourage more growth by maintaining the rate structure rather than raising rates. Meanwhile, Turkey continues to see erosion in both the number of incoming tourists, a key industry and source of hard currency, and incoming investment, where foreigners were net sellers of both stocks and bonds last week.

The one other noteworthy move has been CNY, where the renminbi is firmer by 0.25% today after the PBOC very clearly indicated their interest in preventing a sharp decline. The fix overnight was significantly stronger than every forecast and that has helped squeeze the differential between the fix and the currency market back below 1.0%. It is worthwhile to keep an eye on this spread as it can be a harbinger of bigger problems to come if it expands. Remember, the current band is 2.0%, so actions to change that or allow a breech are clear policy statements.

This morning we finally get some useful data led by the second look at Q2 GDP (exp 2.0%) and Initial Claims (214K). Overnight we saw German state inflation data point to continued weakening growth with the national number due soon. We also heard from SF Fed president Daly yesterday who was clearly on board for another rate cut, while Richmond’s Patrick Harker was far less enthused. However, neither one is a voter, so they tend to be seen in a bit less important light.

There is no reason to think that the equity rally will fade, barring a tweet of some sort from the White House. As such, it seems the dollar will likely remain in its current holding pattern, with some gainers and some losers, until the next shoe drops.

Good luck
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Potency Waning

There once was a time in the past
When central banks tried to forecast
When signals were flashing
That rates needed slashing
‘Cause growth wasn’t growing so fast

But now that so many have found
Their rates near the real lower bound
The tools they’ve remaining
See potency waning
Unable to turn things around

Another day, another rate cut to mention. This time Peru cut rates 25bps responding to slowing growth both domestically and in their export markets as well as muted inflation pressures. Boy, we’ve heard that story a lot lately, haven’t we? But that’s the thing, if every central bank cut rates, then it’s like none of them have done so. Remember, FX markets thrive on the differential between policy regimes, with higher interest rates both drawing capital while reducing demand for loans, and correspondingly growth. So, if you can recall the time when there were economies that were growing rapidly, raising rates was the preferred method to prevent overheating.

But it’s been more than a decade since that has been a concern of any central bank, anywhere in the world. Instead, we are in the midst of a ‘race to the bottom’ of interest rates. Every country is trying to stimulate their economy and cutting interest rates has always been the preferred method of doing so, at least from a monetary perspective. (Fiscal stimulus is often far more powerful but given the massive debt loads that so many countries currently carry, it has become much harder to implement and fund.) One of the key transmission mechanisms for pumping up growth, especially for smaller nations with active trade policies, was the weakening in their currency that was a byproduct of cutting rates. But with everybody cutting rates at the same time (remember, we have had six central banks cut rates in the past week!) that mechanism is no longer working. And this is one of the key reasons that no country has been able to set themselves apart and halt their waning growth momentum.

A perfect example of this is the UK, where Q2 GDP figures released this morning printed at -0.2% for the quarter taking the Y/Y figure down to 1.0%. Obviously, the Brits have other issues, with just 84 days left before the Brexit deadline, but it is also clear that the global slowdown is having an impact. And the problem for the BOE is the base rate is just 0.75%, not much room to cut if the UK enters a recession. In fact, that is largely true around the world, there’s just not much room to cut rates at this point.

The upshot is that markets continue to demonstrate increasing volatility. In the FX markets there has been a growing dichotomy with the dollar showing solid strength against virtually the entire emerging market bloc but having a much more muted reaction vs. the rest of the G10. Of course, since the financial crisis, the yen (+0.3% today) has been seen as a safe haven and has benefitted in times of turmoil. So too, the Swiss franc (+0.2%), although not quite to the same extent given the much smaller size of the economy.

But perhaps the most interesting thing of late is that the euro has not fallen further, especially given the ongoing internal struggles it is having. Italy, for example, looks about set to dissolve its government and have new elections with all the polls showing Matteo Salvini, the League party’s firebrand leader set to win a majority. He has been pushing to cut taxes, spend on infrastructure and allow the Italian budget deficit to grow. That is directly at odds with the EU’s stability policy, and while both Italian stocks (-2.25%) and bonds (+25bps) have suffered today on the news, the euro itself has held up well, actually rallying 0.25% and recouping yesterday afternoon’s losses. Given the ongoing awful data out of the Eurozone (German Exports -0.1%, French IP -2.3%) it is becoming increasingly clear that the ECB is going to ease policy further next month. In fact, between Europe’s upcoming recession and Italy’s existential threat to the euro, I would expect it to have fallen further. Arguably, the rumor that the German government may increase spending has been crucial in supporting the single currency today, but if they don’t, I think we are going to see further weakness there as well.

In the meantime, the dollar is starting to pick up against a variety of EMG currencies this morning with MXN falling 0.4%, INR 0.6% and CNY 0.15%. Also, under the risk-off ledger we are seeing equity markets suffer this morning with both Germany (-1.25%) and France (-1.0%) suffering alongside Italy and US futures pointing to -0.6% declines on the open. It is not clear to me why the market so quickly dismissed their concerns over the escalating trade war by Tuesday, after Monday’s sharp devaluation of the CNY. This is a long-term affair and just because the renminbi didn’t continue to collapse doesn’t mean that things are better. They are going to get worse and risk will be reduced accordingly, mark my words.

As to this morning’s data we see PPI here at home (exp 1.7%, 2.4% core) and Canadian Employment Data where the Unemployment Rate is forecast to remain unchanged at 5.5%. Earnings data in the US continues to be mixed, at best, with Uber the latest big-name tech company to disappoint driving its stock price lower after the close yesterday.

I’m sorry, I just cannot see the appeal of risky assets at this time. Global growth is continuing to slow, trade activity is falling rapidly and there are a number of possible catalysts for major disruption, (e.g. hard Brexit, Italian intransigence, and Persian Gulf military escalations). Safety is the order of the day which means that the yen, Swiss franc and dollar, in that order, should be the beneficiaries. And don’t forget gold, which looks for all the world like it is heading up to $1600/oz.

Good luck and good weekend
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More Clear

The contrast could not be more clear
Twixt growth over there and right here
While Europe is slowing
The US is growing
So how come a rate cut is near?

It seems likely that by the time markets close Friday afternoon, investors and traders will have changed some of their opinions on the future given the extraordinary amount of data and the number of policy statements that will be released this week. Three major central banks meet, starting with the BOJ tonight, the Fed tomorrow and Wednesday and then the BOE on Thursday. And then there’s the data download, which includes Eurozone growth and inflation, Chinese PMI and concludes with US payrolls on Friday morning. And those are just the highlights. The point is that this week offers the opportunity for some significant changes of view if things don’t happen as currently forecast.

But before we talk about what is upcoming, perhaps the question at hand is what is driving the Fed to cut rates Wednesday despite a run of better than expected US economic data? The last that we heard from Fed members was a combination of slowing global growth and business uncertainty due to trade friction has been seen as a negative for future US activity. Granted, US GDP grew more slowly in Q2 at 2.1%, than Q1’s 3.1%, but Friday’s data was still better than expected. The reduction was caused by a combination of inventory reduction and a widening trade gap, with consumption maintaining its Q1 pace and even speeding up a bit. The point is that things in the US are hardly collapsing. But there is no doubt that growth elsewhere in the world is slowing down and that prospects for a quick rebound seem limited. And apparently, that is now the driving force. The Fed, which had been described as the world’s central bank in the past, seems to have officially taken on that mantle now.

One fear of this action is that it will essentially synchronize all major economies’ growth cycles, which means that the amplitude of those cycles will increase. In other words, look for higher highs and lower lows over time. Alas, it appears that the first step of that cycle is lower which means that the depths of the next recession will be wider and worse than currently expected. (And likely worse than the last one, which as we all remember was pretty bad.) And it is this prognosis that is driving global rates to zero and below. Phenomenally, more than 25% of all developed market government bonds outstanding now have negative yields, something over $13.4 Trillion worth. And that number is going to continue to grow, especially given the fact that we are about to enter an entirely new rate cutting cycle despite not having finished the last one! It is a strange world indeed!

Looking at markets this morning, ahead of the data onslaught, shows that the dollar continues its winning ways, with the pound the worst performer as more and more traders and investors begin bracing for a no-deal Brexit. As I type, Sterling is lower by 0.55%, taking it near 1.23 and its lowest point since January 2017. As long as PM BoJo continues to approach the EU with a hard-line stance, I expect the pound to remain under pressure. However, I think that at some point the Irish are going to start to scream much louder about just how negative things will be in Ireland if there is no deal, and the EU will buckle. At that point, look for the pound to turn around, but until then, it feels like it can easily breech the 1.20 level before summer’s out.

But the dollar is generally performing well everywhere, albeit not quite to the same extent. Rather we are seeing continued modest strength, on the order of 0.1%-0.2% against most other currencies. This has been the pattern for the past several weeks and it is starting to add up to real movement overall. It is no wonder that the White House has been complaining about currency manipulation elsewhere, but I have to say that doesn’t appear to be the case. Rather, I think despite the international community’s general dislike of President Trump, at least according to the press, investors continue to see the US as the destination with the most profit opportunity and best prospects overall. And that will continue to drive dollar based investment and strengthen the buck.

Away from the FX markets, we have seen pretty inconsequential movement in most equity markets with two exceptions (FTSE +1.50% on the weak pound and KOSPI -1.8% on increasing trade issues and correspondingly weaker growth in South Korea). As to US futures markets, they are pointing to essentially flat openings here this morning, although the earnings data will continue to drive things. And bond markets have seen similarly modest movement with most yields within a basis point or two of Friday’s levels. Consider two bonds in Europe in particular; Italian 10-year BTP’s yield 1.54%, more than 50bps less than Treasuries, and this despite the fact that the government coalition is on the rocks and the country’s fiscal situation continues to deteriorate amid a recession with no ability to cut rates directly; and Greek 10-year yields are 2.05% vs. 2.08% for US Treasuries! Yes, Greek yields are lower than those in the US, despite having defaulted on their debt just 7 years ago! It is a strange world indeed.

A look at the data this week shows a huge amount of information is coming our way as follows:

Tuesday BOJ Rate Decision -0.10% (unchanged)
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.3%
  Core PCE 1.7%
  Case-Shiller Home Prices 2.4%
  Consumer Confidence 125.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 150K
  Chicago PMI 50.5
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.25% (-25bps)
Thursday BOE Rate Decision 0.75% (unchanged)
  Initial Claims 214K
  ISM Manufacturing 52.0
  ISM Prices Paid 49.6
  Construction Spending 0.3%
Friday Trade Balance -$54.6B
  Nonfarm Payrolls 165K
  Private Payrolls 160K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 5K
  Unemployment Rate 3.6%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.2% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.4
  Factory Orders 0.8%
  Michigan Sentiment 98.5

And on top of that we see Chinese PMI data Tuesday night, Eurozone GDP and Inflation on Wednesday and a host of other Eurozone and Asian data releases. The point is it is quite possible that the current view of the world changes if the data shows a trend, especially if that trend is faster growth. Right now, the default view is global growth is slowing with the question just how quickly. However, a series of strong prints could well stop that narrative in its tracks. And ironically, that is likely the best opportunity for the dollar to stop what has been an inexorable, if slow, climb higher. However, the prospects of weak data elsewhere are likely to see an acceleration of central bank easing around the world with the dollar benefitting accordingly.

In sum, there is an awful lot happening this week, so be prepared for potentially sharp moves on missed expectations. But unless the data all points to faster growth away from the US while the US is slowing, the dollar’s path of least resistance remains higher.

Good luck
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The Doldrums

In summer, the doldrums at sea
Describe lack of activity
The same can be said
As markets stop dead
Awaiting some new policy

Markets remain generally dull this morning as despite what appear to be a number of catalysts to drive things, (tension in the Persian Gulf, increased tension in HK, debt ceiling concerns in the US, etc.) all eyes remain focused on the FOMC meeting next week, and to a somewhat lesser extent, the ECB meeting this Thursday. The Fed is now in their quiet period, meaning we won’t hear anything from any FOMC members until they release the statement on July 31. And remember, the last thing we heard was NY Fed President John Williams explaining that when rates are already low (like they are now) that history shows it is better if a central bank acts preemptively and aggressively when cutting rates. Yes, it’s true that the NY Fed issued a statement afterward explaining that was an academic speech and had nothing to do with current monetary policy discussion, but that doesn’t really matter. The market reaction last week was to ramp up expectations for a 50bp cut next week, and the disclaimer only had a marginal impact.

Meanwhile, virtually every analyst believes that the ECB is merely going to set the table for cutting rates in September, with a number looking for confirmation that they are going to restart QE next January. It seems to me that if they already know they are going to cut rates in September, and they know that the incoming ECB president, Madame Lagarde, is going to be in favor of the move, that there is a pretty good chance they cut rates this week. Markets are not priced for that outcome which means that it would likely have a pretty significant impact on the euro, pushing it lower right away. And consider the situation if the Fed only cuts 25bps, which I continue to believe is the most likely outcome, whereby you would have a more dovish than expected ECB and more hawkish than expected Fed. That will not help the euro, trust me. In addition, on Wednesday, we will see the Flash PMI data from Europe and Thursday, just before the ECB meeting ends, German Ifo data as well. Weakness there could easily be used as a justification for an earlier rate cut. All I’m saying is that the idea that the Fed is starting out on an easing path does not necessarily imply the dollar is going to tumble, despite the President’s wishes.

However, ahead of those meetings, traders are reluctant to maintain large positions, and we have seen trading activity ebb. At least in the FX markets. Looking at current levels, the euro, which is down a marginal 0.10% this morning, is back within pips of the lows seen just before Chairman Powell, in June, explained that the Fed would be cutting rates again soon. So, if the ECB does cut, that could easily help take the euro down to levels last seen in mid 2017. Meanwhile, the pound is today’s worst performing G10 currency, falling a further 1/3 of 1% as the market awaits tomorrow’s announcement as to the results of the Tory leadership contest, the winner of which will become the next UK PM. All signs still point to Boris Johnson, and the market interpretation of that is a greater likelihood of a hard Brexit. Remember, too, that despite all the machinations in Parliament there, Brexit remains the law of the land in the UK, so the efforts to prevent or mollify it actually have an uphill battle.

Away from those two currencies, the dollar is marginally stronger, but the performance is somewhat mixed. For instance, the yen is weaker by 0.2%, but Aussie is stronger by 0.1%, and perhaps that is the message. While there is no broad theme, movement has been limited overall. The same situation exists within the EMG bloc, where there are both gainers and decliners, but none of them have moved very far, certainly not enough to describe a trend.

Looking ahead to the data this week, we see the following:

Tuesday Existing Home Sales 5.33M
Wednesday New Home Sales 660K
Thursday ECB Meeting -0.40%
  Initial Claims 219K
  Durable Goods 0.7%
  -ex transport 0.2%
Friday Q2 GDP 1.8%

Arguably, after the ECB meeting, where a surprise cannot be ruled out, Friday’s first look at Q2 GDP is going to be the most interesting thing we see. There is a pretty wide range of expectations for this number, as there are more and more analysts falling into one of two camps, either recession is coming, or everything is full steam ahead. But more importantly, if the GDP data is weak, look for expectations of a 50bp rate cut next week to be cemented in, while a strong print is likely to see just the opposite; stocks decline, the dollar rise and expectations of a 25bp rate cut only. But until then, the housing data is likely not that interesting, after all that has been a consistently weak sector of the economy, and Durable Goods will be superseded by GDP. So with no speakers on the docket, it should be a pretty dull week until we get to Thursday.

One caveat is that if Jeremy Hunt surprises and wins the Tory contest in the UK, look for the pound to rally a few cents initially. However, there is still little to recommend a sharp rally unless Brexit is canceled, and he has promised to leave as well.

Good luck
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Still Feeling Stressed

The overnight data expressed
That China is still feeling stressed
But Europe’s reports
Showed growth of some sorts
Might finally be manifest

The dollar is on its heels this morning after data from Europe showed surprising strength almost across the board. Arguably the most important data point was Eurozone GDP printing at 0.4% in Q1, a tick higher than expected and significantly higher than Q4’s 0.2%. The drivers of this data were Italy, where Q1 GDP rose 0.2%, taking the nation out of recession and beating expectations. At the same time Spain grew at 0.7%, also better than expectations while France maintained its recent pace with a 0.3% print. Interestingly, Germany doesn’t report this data until the middle of May. However, we did see German GfK Consumer Confidence print at 10.4, remaining unchanged on the month rather than falling as expected. Adding to the growth scenario were inflation readings that were generally a tick firmer than expected in Italy, Spain and France. While these numbers remain well below the ECB target of “close to but just below” 2.0%, it has served to ease some concerns about Europe’s future. In the end, the euro has rallied 0.25% while European government bond yields are all higher by 2-5bps. However, European equity markets did not get the memo and remain little changed on the day.

Prior to these releases we learned that China’s PMI data was softer than expected, with the National number printing lower at 50.1, while the Caixin number printed at 50.2. Even though both remain above the 50.0 level indicating future growth, there is an increasing concern that China’s Q1 GDP data was more the result of a distorted comparison to last year’s data due to changed timing of the Lunar New Year. Remember, that holiday has a large impact on the Chinese economy with manufacturing shutdowns amid widescale holiday making, and so the timing of those events each year are not easily stabilized with seasonal adjustments to the data. As such, it is starting to look like Q1’s 6.4% GDP growth may have been somewhat overstated. Of course, China remains opaque in many ways, so we may need to wait until next month’s PMI data to get a better handle on things. One other clue, though, has been the ongoing decline in the price of copper, a key industrial metal and one which China represents approximately 50% of global demand. Arguably, a falling copper price implies less demand from China, which implies slowing growth there. Ultimately, while it is no surprise that the renminbi is little changed on the day, Chinese equities edged higher on the theory that the PBOC is more likely to add stimulus if the economic slowdown persists.

Of course, the other China story is that the trade talks are resuming in Beijing today and market participants will be watching closely for word that things are continuing to move in the right direction. You may recall the President Xi Jinping gave a speech last week where he highlighted the changes he anticipated in Chinese policy, all of which included accession to US demands in the trade talks. At this point, it seems the negotiators need to “simply” hash out the details, which of course is not simple at all. But if the direction from the top is broadly set, a deal seems quite likely. However, as I have pointed out in the past, the market appears to have already priced in the successful conclusion of a deal, and so when (if) one is announced, I would expect equity markets to fall on a ‘sell the news’ response.

Turning to the US, yesterday’s data showed that PCE inflation (1.5%, core 1.6%) continues to lag expectations as well as remain below the Fed’s 2.0% target. With the FOMC meeting starting this morning, although we won’t hear the outcome until tomorrow afternoon, the punditry is trying to determine what they will say. The universal expectation is for no policy changes to be enacted, and little change in the policy statement. However, to me, there has been a further shift in the tone of the most recent Fed speakers. While I believe that Loretta Mester and Esther George remain monetary hawks, I think the rest of the board has morphed into a more dovish contingent, one that will respond quite quickly to falling inflation numbers. With that in mind, yesterday’s readings have to be concerning, and if we see another set of soft inflation data next month, it is entirely possible that the doves carry the day at the June meeting and force an end to the balance sheet roll-off immediately as a signal that they will not let inflation fall further. I think the mistake we are all making is that we keep looking for policy normalization. The new normal is low rates and growing balance sheets and we are already there.

As Powell and friends get together
The question is when, it’s not whether
More policy easing
Will seem less displeasing
So prices can rise like a feather

Looking at this morning’s releases, the Employment Cost Index (exp 0.7%) starts us off with Case-Shiller home prices (3.2%) and then Chicago PMI (59.0) following later in the morning. However, with the Fed meeting ongoing, it seems unlikely that any of these numbers will move the needle. In fact, tomorrow’s ADP number would need to be extraordinary (either high or low) to move things ahead of the FOMC announcement. All this points to continued low volatility in markets as players of all stripes try to figure out what the next big thing will be. My sense is we are going to see central banks continue to lean toward easier policy, as the global focus on inflation, or the lack thereof, will continue to drive policy, as well as asset bubbles.

Good luck
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