Addiction To Debt

A policy change did beget
In China, addiction to debt
Per last night’s report
Financial support
Continues, the bulls’ views, to whet

The data from China continues to surprise modestly to the upside. Last week, you may recall, the Manufacturing PMI report printed above 50 in a surprising rebound. Last night, Q1 GDP printed at 6.4%, a tick better than expected, and the concurrent data; Fixed Asset Investment (6.3%), IP (8.5%) and Retail Sales (8.7%) all beat expectations as well. In fact, the IP data blew them away as the analyst community was looking for a reading of 5.9%. While there is some possibility that the data is still mildly distorted from the late Lunar New Year holiday, it certainly seems as though the Chinese have managed to prevent any significant further weakness in their economy.

How, you may ask, have they accomplished this feat? Why the way every government does these days. As we also learned last week, debt in China continues to grow rapidly, far more rapidly than the economy, which means that every yuan of debt buys less growth. It should be no surprise that there is diminishing effectiveness in this strategy, but it should also be no surprise that this is likely to be the way forward. In the short run, this process certainly pads the data story, helping to ensure that growth continues. However, there is a clear and measurable negative aspect to this policy.

Exhibit A is real estate. One of the areas seeing the most investment in China continues to be real estate. The problem with expanding real estate debt (it grew 11.6% in Q1 compared to 6.4% growth for GDP) is that real estate investment is not especially productive. For an economy that relies on manufacturing, productivity growth is crucial. The more money invested in real estate, the less available for improved efficiencies in the economy. Longer term this will lead to slower GDP growth in China, just as it has done in all the developed world economies. However, as politics, even in China, is based on the here and now, there is no reason to expect these policies to change. Two years ago, President Xi tried to force a crackdown on excessive debt used to finance the property bubble that had inflated throughout China. However, it is abundantly clear that the priorities have shifted to growth at all costs. At this stage, I expect that we will see consistently better numbers out of China going forward, regardless of any trade resolution. If Xi wants growth, that is what the rest of the world will see, whether it exists or not.

Turning to the FX market, this implies to me that we are about to see CNY start to strengthen further. Last night saw a 0.40% rally taking the dollar down to key support levels between 6.68-6.69. I expect that we are going to see the renminbi start a more protracted move higher and at this point would not be surprised to see the USDCNY end 2019 around 6.30. That is a significant change in my view from earlier this year, but there has also been a significant change in the policy stance in China which cannot be ignored.

Elsewhere, risk overall has been ‘on’ as investors have responded to the better than expected Chinese data, as well as the continued dovishness from the central banking community, and keep buying stocks. If you recall several weeks ago, there was a conundrum as both stocks and bonds were rallying. At the time, the view from most pundits was that the stock market was wrong and that the bond market was presaging a significant slowdown in the economy. In fact, we saw that first yield curve inversion at the time in early March. However, since then, 10-year Treasury yields have backed up by 22bps and now sit above 2.60% for the first time in a month, while stock prices have continued to rally. As such, it appears that the bond market had it wrong, not the stock market. The one caveat is that this stock market rally has been on diminishing volumes which implies that it is not that widely supported. The opposing viewpoints are the bulls believe there is a big catch up rally in the wings as those who have missed out reach peak FOMO, while the bears believe that though the rally has been substantial, it has a very weak underlying basis, and will retreat rapidly.

As to the FX market, yesterday saw dollar strength, which was a bit surprising given the weaker than expected economic data (both IP and Capacity Utilization disappointed) as well as mixed to negative earnings data from the equity market. However, this morning, the dollar has retraced those gains with the pound being the one real outlier, falling slightly amid gains in virtually every other currency, as inflation data from the UK printed softer than expected at 1.9%, thus pushing any concept of tighter policy even further into the future.

On the data front, this morning brings the Trade Balance (exp -$53.3B) and then the Fed’s Beige Book is released this afternoon. We also have two more Fed speakers, Harker and Bullard, but that message remains pretty consistent. No change in policy in the near future and all efforts to determine the best way to push inflation up to the target level. What this means in practice is that there is a vanishingly small probability that US monetary policy will tighten any further in the near future. Of course, neither will policy elsewhere tighten, so I continue to view the dollar’s prospects positively with the clear exception of the CNY as mentioned above.

Good luck
Adf

 

Impugned

The continent east of the ‘pond’
Makes many things of which we’re fond
But data of late
Impugned their growth rate
Just when will Herr Draghi respond?

There is an ongoing dichotomy in the economic landscape that I continue to have difficulty understanding. Pretty much every day we see data that describes slowing economic activity from multiple places around the world. Sales are slowing, manufacturing is ebbing, or housing markets are backing away from their multiyear explosion higher. And all this is occurring while in the background, international trade agreements, that have underpinned the growth in global trade for the past forty years, are also under increasing pressure. And yet, equity markets around the world seemingly ignore every piece of bad news and, when there is a glimmer of hope, investors grab hold and markets rally sharply.

Arguably the best explanation is that the dramatic change in central bank policies have evolved from emergency measures to the baseline for activity. Following that line of thought and adding the recent central bank response to increased ‘volatility’ (read declines) as seen in December, it has become apparent that economic fundamentals no longer matter very much at all. While the central bankers all pay lip service to being data dependent, the only data that seems to matter is the latest stock market close. For someone who has spent a career trying to identify macroeconomic risks and determine the best way to manage them, I’m concerned that fewer and fewer investors view that as important. I fear that when the next downturn comes, and I remain highly confident there will be another economic downturn too large to ignore, we will be wistful for the good old days of 2008-09, when recession was ‘mild’.

Please excuse my little rant, but it continues to be increasingly difficult to justify market movements when looking at economic data. For example, last night we learned that PMI data throughout the Eurozone was confirmed to be abysmal in February (Germany 47.6, Italy 47.7, Spain 49.9, Eurozone overall 49.2) and has led to a reduced forecast for Eurozone GDP growth in Q1 of just 0.1%. Naturally, every equity market in Europe is higher on the news. Even the euro has edged higher, climbing 0.15% (albeit after falling 0.4% in yesterday’s session). Adding to the malaise, Eurozone core inflation unexpectedly fell to 1.0%, a long way from the ECB’s target of just below 2.0% and showing no signs of increasing any time soon.

With the March ECB meeting on the docket for next week, the discussion has focused on how Signor Draghi will justify his ongoing efforts to normalize monetary policy amid weakening growth. His problem is that he has downplayed economic weakness as temporary, but it has lingered far longer than anticipated. It is widely expected that the new economic forecasts will point to further slowing, and this will just make his task that much more difficult. Ultimately, the market is not pricing in any interest rate hikes until June 2020, and there is a rising expectation that TLTRO’s are going to be rolled over with an announcement possible as soon as April’s meeting. Draghi’s term as ECB president ends in October, and it is pretty clear that he will have never raised interest rates during his eight years at the helm. The question is, will his successor get a chance in the next eight years? Once again, I have looked at this information, compared it to the ongoing Fed discussion, and come out on the side of the euro having further to decline. We will need to see much stronger growth and inflation from Europe to change that view.

Other than that discussion, there is very little of real note happening today. Chinese Caixin PMI data was slightly better than expected at 49.9, which has been today’s argument for adding risk, but recall just yesterday how weak the official statistic was. As with everything from China, it is difficult to understand the underlying story as the data often has inconsistencies. But this has been enough to create a risk-on atmosphere with Treasuries falling (10-year yields +2bps) and JPY falling (-0.4%) while commodities and equities rally. Gold, naturally, is the exception to this rule as it has softened this morning.

Regarding trade, today’s news stories discuss documents being prepared for an eventual Trump-Xi summit later this month. If there really is a deal, that will be a global positive as it would not only clear up US-Chinese confusion, but it would bode well for all the other trade discussions that are about to begin (US-Japan, US-Europe). Hopefully, President Trump won’t feel the need to walk away from this deal.

Looking back at yesterday’s session, we saw Q4 GDP actually grew 2.6%, a bit stronger than expected, which arguably helped underpin the dollar’s performance. We also learned that the House Finance Committee is equally unconcerned over what the Fed is doing, as Chairman Powell’s testimony was a complete sleeper. So, with no oversight, the Fed will simply motor along. At this point, it would be remarkable if the Fed raised rates again in 2019, and unless Core PCE goes on an extended run higher, perhaps even in 2020. I have a feeling that we are going to see this flat yield curve for a long time.

This morning brings a bunch more data with both December and January numbers due. Looking at the January data, the only forecast I find is Personal Income (exp 0.3%) but Personal Spending, and PCE are both due as well. At 10:00 we see ISM Manufacturing (55.5) which is now biased higher after yesterday’s Chicago PMI printed at a robust 64.7, its strongest print in 18 months. With risk being embraced today, I think we are far more likely to see the dollar edge lower than not by the end of the day.

Good luck and good weekend
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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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A Narrative Challenge

From Europe, the data released
Showed growth there has clearly decreased
For Draghi this poses
(What everyone knows is)
A narrative challenge, at least

Once upon a time there was a group of nations that came together in an effort to reap the theoretical benefits of closely adhering to the same types of economic policies. They believed that by linking together, they would create a much larger ‘domestic’ market, and therefore would be able to compete more effectively on the global stage. They even threw away their own currencies and created a single currency on which to depend. Under the guidance of their largest and most successful member, this currency was managed by a completely independent central bank, so they could never be accused of printing money recklessly. And after a few initial hiccups, this group generally thrived.

But then one day, clouds arose on the horizon, where from across the great ocean, a storm (now known as the Great financial crisis) blew in from the west. At first it appeared that this group of nations would weather the storm pretty well. But quickly these nations found out that their own banks had substantial exposure to the key problem that precipitated the storm, real estate investment in the US. Suddenly they were dragged into the maelstrom and their economies all weakened dramatically. The after effects of this included questions about whether a number of these countries would be able to continue to repay their outstanding debt. This precipitated the next crisis, where the weakest members of the club, the PIIGS, all saw their financing costs skyrocket as investors no longer wanted to accept the risk of repayment. This had the added detriment of weakening those nations’ banks further, as they had allocated a significant portion of their own balance sheets to buying home country debt. (The very debt investors were loath to own because of the repayment risks.)

Just when things reached their nadir, and the very weakest piggy looked like it was about to leave the group, a knight in shining armor rode to the rescue, promising to do “whatever it takes” to prevent the system from collapsing and the currency from breaking up. Being a knight in good standing, he lived up to those words and used every monetary policy trick known to mankind in order to save the day. These included cutting interest rates not just to zero, but below; force-feeding interest-free loans to the banks so that that they could on lend that money to companies throughout the group; and finally buying up as much sovereign, and then corporate, debt as they could, regardless of the price.

Time passed (five years) and that shining knight was still doing all those same things which helped avoid the worst possible outcomes, but didn’t really get the group’s economy growing as much as hoped. In fact, it seems that last year was the best it was going to get, where growth reached 2.5%. But now there are new storm clouds brewing, both from the West as well as from within, and the growth narrative has changed. And it appears this new narrative may not have a happy ending.

Data released this morning showed that GDP growth in Italy was nil, matching Germany’s performance, and helping to drag Eurozone growth down to 0.2% for Q3, half the expected rate. French growth, while weaker than expected at 0.4%, was at least positive. In addition, a series of confidence and sentiment indicators all demonstrated weakness describing a situation where not only has the recent performance been slipping, but expectations for the future are weakening as well. It can be no surprise that the euro has slipped further on the news, down 0.2% this morning and continuing its recent trend. During the month of October, the single currency has fallen more than 2.2%, and quite frankly, there doesn’t appear to be any reason in the short run for that to change.

What may change, though, is Signor Draghi’s tune if Eurozone growth data continues to weaken. It will be increasingly difficult for Draghi to justify ending QE and eventually raising rates if the economy is truly slowing. Right now, most analysts are saying this is a temporary thing, and that growth will rebound in Q4, but with the ongoing trade fight between the US and China weakening the Chinese economy, as well as the Fed continuing to raise interest rates and reduce dollar liquidity in global markets, it is quite realistic to believe that there will be no reprieve. And none of that includes the still fragile Italian budget situation as well as the potential for a ‘hard’ Brexit, both of which are likely to negatively impact the euro. And don’t get me started about German politics and how the end of the Merkel era could be an even bigger problem.

The point is, there is still no good reason to believe the dollar’s rally has ended. Speaking of Brexit, the pound is under pressure this morning, down -0.35%, as the market absorbs the most recent UK budget, where austerity has ended while growth is slowing. Of course, everything in the UK is still subject to change depending on the Brexit outcome, but as yet, there has been no breakthrough on the Irish border issue.

As to the rest of the G10, Aussie and Kiwi both benefitted from a bounce in the Chinese stock market, at least that’s what people are talking about. However, it makes little sense to me that a tiny bounce there would have such a big impact. Rather, I expect that both currencies will cede at least some of those gains before the day is done. Meanwhile, the yen has softened, which has been attributed to a risk-on sentiment there, and in fairness, Treasury yields have risen as well, but the rest of the risk clues are far less clear.

Speaking of China, the PBOC fixed the renminbi at a new low for the move, 6.9724, which promptly saw it trade even closer to 7.00, although it is now essentially unchanged on the day. The market talk is that traders are waiting for the meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi, later this mornth, to see if a further trade war can be averted. If tensions ease in the wake of the meeting, look for USDCNY to slowly head lower, but if there is no breakthrough, a move through 7.00 would seem imminent.

And that’s really it for this morning. Yesterday’s US data showed PCE right at 2.0% for both headline and core, while Personal Spending rose 0.4%, as expected. Today’s data brings only the Case-Shiller Home Price Index (exp 5.8%) and Consumer Confidence (136.0), neither of which is likely to move markets. In addition, the Fed is now in its quiet period, so no more Fed speak until the meeting next week. Equity futures are pointing slightly higher, but that is no guarantee of how the day proceeds. In the end, it is hard to make a case for a weaker dollar quite yet.

Good luck
Adf

New Standard-Bearers

The largest of all Latin nations
This weekend confirmed its frustrations
Electing a man
Whose stated game plan
Is changing the country’s foundations

Meanwhile in a key German state
Frau Merkel and friends felt the weight
Of policy errors
So new standard-bearers
Like AfD now resonate

This weekend brought two key elections internationally, with Brazil voting in Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing firebrand and nationalist who has promised to clean up the corruption rampant in the country. Not unlike New Jersey and Illinois, Brazil has several former politicians imprisoned for corruption. Bolsonaro represented a change from the status quo of the past fifteen years, and in similar fashion to people throughout the Western world, Brazilians were willing to take a chance to see a change. Markets have been cheering Bolsonaro on, as he has a free-market oriented FinMin in mind, and both Brazilian equities and the real have rallied more than 10% during the past month. The early price action this morning has BRL rising by another 1.65%, continuing its recent rally, and that seems likely to continue until Bolsonaro changes tack to a more populist stance, something I imagine we will see within the first year of his presidency.

Just prior to those results, the German elections in the state of Hesse, one of the wealthiest states in Germany and the home of Frankfurt and the financial industry, showed disdain for the ruling coalition of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats, with their combined share of the vote falling to just 39%, from well above 50% at the last election. The big winners were the far left Green Party and the far right AfD, both of whom saw significant gains in the state house there, and both of whom will make it difficult to find a ruling coalition. But more importantly, it is yet another sign that Frau Merkel may be on her last legs. This was confirmed this morning when Merkel announced she was stepping down as leader of her party, the CDU, but claimed she will serve out her term as Chancellor, which runs until 2021.

One other Eurozone story came out Friday afternoon as Standard & Poors released their updated ratings on Italy’s sovereign debt, leaving the rating intact but cutting the outlook to negative. This was slightly better than expected as there were many who worried that S&P would follow Moody’s and cut the rating as well. Italian debt markets rallied on the opening with 10-year yields falling 10bps and the spread with German Bunds narrowing accordingly. So net, there was a euro negative, with Merkel stepping down, and a euro positive, from S&P, and not surprisingly, the euro wound up little changed so far, although that reflects a rebound from the early price action. My concern is that the positive story was really the absence of a more negative story, and one that could well be simply a timing delay, rather than an endorsement of the current situation in Italy. The budget situation remains uncertain there, and if the government chooses to ignore the EU and implement their proposed budget, I expect there will be more pressure on the euro. After all, what good are rules if they are ignored by those required to follow them? None of this bodes well for the euro going forward.

Two other key stories have impacted markets, first from Mexico, the government canceled the construction of a new airport for Mexico City. This was part of the departing administration’s infrastructure program, but, not surprisingly, it has seen its cost explode over time and the incoming president has determined the money is better spent elsewhere. The upshot is that the peso has fallen a bit more than 1% on the news, and I would be wary going forward as we approach AMLO’s inauguration. By cutting the investment spending, not only will the country’s infrastructure remain substandard, but its growth potential will suffer as well. I think this is a very negative sign for the peso.

The other story comes from China, where early Q4 data continues to show the economy slowing further. The government there, ever willing to do anything necessary to achieve their growth target, has proposed a 50% cut in auto sales taxes in order to spur the market. Auto sales are on track for their first annual decline ever this year, as growth slows throughout the country. Interestingly, the market impact was seen by rallies in auto shares throughout Europe and the US, but Chinese equity markets continued to slide, with the Shanghai Index falling another 2.2% overnight. This also has put further pressure on the renminbi with CNY falling another 0.2% early in the session before recently paring some of those losses. USDCNY continues to hover just below 7.00, the level deemed critical by the PBOC as they struggle to prevent an increase in capital outflows. The last time the currency traded at this level, it cost China more than $1 trillion to staunch the outflow, so they are really working to prevent that from happening again.

And those are the big stories from the weekend. Overall, the dollar is actually little changed as you can see that there have been individual issues across specific currencies rather than a broad dollar theme today. Looking ahead to the US session, we get the first of a number of important data points this morning with the full list here:

Today Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.2% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
Tuesday Case-Shlller Home Prices 5.8%
Wednesday ADP Employment 189K
  Chicago PMI 60.0
Thursday Initial Claims 213K
  Nonfarm Productivity 2.2%
  Unit Labor Costs 1.1%
  ISM Manufacturing 59.0
  ISM Prices Paid 65.0
  Construction Spending 0.1%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
  Private Payrolls 184K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 15K
  Unemployment Rate 3.7%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.1% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Trade Balance -$53.6B
  Factory Orders 0.4%

So there is a ton of data upcoming, with this morning’s PCE and Friday’s Payrolls the key numbers. Last week’s GDP data had a better than expected headline print but the entire weekend press was a discussion as to why the harbingers of weaker future growth were evident. And one other thing we have seen is the equity market dismiss better than expected Q3 earnings data from many companies, selling those stocks after the release, as the benefits from the tax cut at the beginning of the year are starting to get priced out of the future.

The market structure is changing, that much is clear. The combination of central bank actions to reduce accommodation, and an expansion that is exceedingly long in the tooth, as well as increased political uncertainty throughout the world has made investors nervous. It is these investors who will continue to support US Treasuries, the dollar, the yen and perhaps, gold,; the traditional safe havens. At this point, there is nothing evident that will change that theme.

Good luck
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The Doves’ Greatest Friend

Despite signs that growth is now slowing
Said Draghi, he would keep on going
With plans to soon end
The doves’ greatest friend
QE, which has kept Europe growing

While all eyes have been focused on the recent equity market gyrations, which in fairness have been impressive, there are other things ongoing that continue to have medium and long-term ramifications. One of the most important is the ECB and its future path of monetary policy. Yesterday, to no one’s surprise they left policy on hold, but of more interest were the comments Signor Draghi made during his press conference following the meeting. Notably, he continued to characterize the risks to the Eurozone economy as “balanced” despite the fact that virtually every piece of data we have seen in the past two months has indicated growth is slowing there more rapidly than previously anticipated.

If you recall, the declared rationale for the ending of QE was that Eurozone growth had been running above its potential throughout 2017 and it was expected to continue to do so this year. Alas, that no longer seems to be the case. Instead, recent data indicates that the growth impulse there is back at potential, if not slightly below. Recent PMI and IP data have all shown weakness, which when added to the stresses induced by Brexit uncertainty and slowing growth in China make for a substandard future. But not according to Draghi, who indicated that the ECB is going to end QE in December regardless, and that rate hikes are still slated to start next year. Perhaps he is correct and this is simply a temporary rough patch. The problem is the message from recent equity market performance is that there is a growing widespread concern that trouble is brewing everywhere around the world. Of course Draghi’s biggest problem is that if the Eurozone tips into a recession in 2019, they will have a serious problem trying to add monetary stimulus to the economy given the current, still ultra easy, settings. As I have written frequently in the past, this is why I continue to expect the dollar to outperform going forward. Yesterday saw the early morning rally in the euro reverse completely and the single currency closed -0.2%, and this morning it is a further 0.25% lower. The trend is your friend, and this trend is still for a lower euro.

In the meantime, we continue to see Brexit uncertainty plague the pound, which after a 0.5% decline yesterday has continued to fall this morning (-0.2%) as there is no indication that a compromise is in the offing. With the pound back to its lowest levels since late summer, and the trend decidedly lower, it will take a significant breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations to change things. This morning, the NIESR (a well-regarded British economic research institute) published a report that a hard Brexit will result in GDP growth being 1.6% lower than it otherwise would have been in 2019. That’s a pretty big hit, and simply adds to the Brexit concerns going forward. But the clock is still ticking and there is no indication that a solution can be found for the Irish border situation. One side will have to cave, and at this point, my money is on the UK.

As to the rest of the G10 space, the commodity bloc (AUD, CAD and NZD) has had a rough go of it overnight, with all three falling 0.5% or more in the session. It seems that concerns over slowing Chinese and global growth is being recognized as commodity prices continue to slide. With that, these currencies are also taking a beating with Aussie falling back near 0.7000, its lowest level since January 2016. Keep in mind that the more questions that are raised about the global growth trajectory, the more these currencies are likely to suffer.

Turning to our favorite EMG currency, CNY, it traded to a new low for the move overnight, although has since recouped some of those losses. The PBOC fixed the yuan at another new low (6.9510), and that saw both the offshore and onshore markets push the currency down below (dollar above) 6.9700. This is the weakest that the renminbi has been since December 2016 when the PBOC was forced to intervene more aggressively to prevent a rout. Remember they remain extremely concerned that if it trades above 7.00 that will be seen as a trigger for an increase in capital outflows from the country, and lead to a spiraling lower currency and greater domestic issues. Last time the market reached these levels, the PBOC withdrew liquidity from the offshore market, driving interest rates there massively higher, and forcing speculators with short positions to cover. That could well be what we will see next week, but as of now, there has been no activity like that observed. Speculators will only be deterred if the cost of speculation is high, which is not yet the case. Given that, I expect that we will see a run at 7.00 before long, likely next week, unless the PBOC acts. Words will not be sufficient to stop the move.

Away from CNY, other EMG currencies are almost universally weaker with declines ranging between 0.1% and 0.6%. The point is that this is a wide and shallow move, not one driven by specific national idiosyncrasies.

Yesterday’s data showed that defense spending was propping up the US manufacturing sector, with Durable Goods surprising to the high side although the ex-Defense number was soft. This morning, however, brings the most important data of the week, Q3 GDP. The median forecast is for growth of 3.3% and there will be a great deal of scrutiny on any revisions to Q2. A strong number ought to help support the dollar, as it will back up the Fed’s contention that strong growth demands higher interest rates. A soft number, or a big revision lower to Q2, seems likely to have a bigger impact though, as positions are still long dollars, and that would be a chink in its armor. Later this morning we see the Michigan Consumer Sentiment data (exp 99.0) and we also hear from Signor Draghi again, perhaps to try to clarify his message. But as it stands, if data is as expected, the dollar remains the best bet. This is even more likely if we continue to see equity markets decline. Spoiler alert, they have been doing that in Asia and Europe, and US futures are pointing in the same direction!

Good luck and good weekend
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Trembling With Fear

The one thing increasingly clear
Is markets are trembling with fear
As stock markets tumble
Most central banks fumble
Their message, then get a Bronx cheer

Being a central banker has become much more difficult recently, especially in the wake of yesterday’s global equity market rout. It seems that policies that they have collectively promulgated, QE and ZIRP/NIRP are now quite long in the tooth, and no longer having the positive impact desired. Let’s recap quickly.

The Great recession in 2008 called for an extraordinary monetary response by central banks around the world, and rightly so. The deepest recession since the Great Depression saw liquidity across many markets completely dry up. Even FX, arguably the most liquid market of them all, had structural problems. So the combination of QE and USD swap lines offered by the Fed to the rest of the world’s central banks was an appropriate response to help untangle the mess. Alas, fiscal policy never chipped in to the recovery and central banks took it upon themselves to do all the lifting, thus relieving governments of the need to make hard decisions. In hindsight, this was a key mistake!

Fast forward ten years to today and the situation, remarkably, is that most of that extraordinary monetary stimulus is still sloshing around the world as other than the Fed and the Bank of Canada (who raised rates yesterday and indicated they would be quickening the pace of doing so in the future), no other major central bank has done anything of note. The ECB, the BOJ and the PBOC are all still adding liquidity to their systems, while the BOE has raised rates just 25bps, net, from the lows established after the crisis. And the same is true of peripheral nations like Switzerland, Sweden and Australia, where interest rates remain at their post crisis nadirs (-0.75%, -0.50% and 1.50% respectively).

The problem for these central banks is that growth is starting to slow on a global basis. Whether it is the increased trade friction between the US and China, concerns over Brexit or simply that the US recovery (which still arguably drives most of the global economy) is now the longest on record and due to end, the situation is increasingly fraught. And that’s the rub. If interest rates are already negative, what can central banks do to stimulate the economy in the event of a recession? The answer, of course, is not much. More QE and even deeper negative interest rates are unlikely to have the same positive impact the first efforts had, in fact they could have the opposite effect by generating greater concern amongst investors and causing a more severe sell-off in markets. But politically, no central bank will be able to sit by and do nothing if a recession does appear. As I said, central banking has become much more difficult lately.

That is all a preamble to discuss what is going on in markets right now. FX is a backburner issue with equities front and center around the world. While European markets have stabilized at this time, one session of stability is not sufficient to declare an end to the rout. In the end, markets remain beholden to broad sentiment, the narrative if you will, and for the past ten years that narrative was that continued low inflation combined with steady growth would allow the central banks to maintain ultra easy monetary policy with no negative side effects. But in the past year, the cracks in that narrative have grown to the point where it is no longer seen as viable. First, inflation has begun to creep higher in certain areas around the world, notably the US and China. At the same time, growth data appears to have peaked last quarter. Tomorrow we will see the first estimate of Q3 GDP growth in the US (exp 3.3%), which is already considerably lower than Q2. In addition, we have seen Chinese growth slow more than expected and German growth fall to 0.0% in Q3. The combination of rising inflation and slower growth has put central banks in a bind forcing them to choose which issue to address first. The problem is by addressing one they are likely to exacerbate the other. So as the Fed fights threats of higher inflation, it impedes growth. Meanwhile, China has opted to support growth, thus feeding faster inflation. In the end, as the next recession looms closer, central banks will find themselves with fewer policy arrows in their quiver.

But this is an FX note, so let’s take a quick look at the market this morning. The dollar is a touch softer, with both the euro and the pound higher by 0.15% while we are seeing similar moves in most emerging market currencies. Activity in the market seems muted relative to the excitement in equities, but my sense is this will not last. Rather, if the equity sell-off continues, the dollar should find itself in a much stronger position. As to the stories that have been driving things in FX, the Italian budget, Brexit, central bank policies, there have been no real changes in the past twenty-four hours. The possible exception is that the interest rate futures market in the US has removed one price hike from the Fed’s expected path as concern grows that a continues slide in the stock market will lead to weaker growth and less need to keep driving rates higher. It seems that the Fed realizes that it began its tightening process far too late (thank you Chair Yellen!) and is now desperately trying to catch up so they can respond to the next downturn. But hey, the ECB is MUCH further behind.

Looking forward to today’s session, we start with the ECB meeting, where they announced no change in policy rates, but we still await Signor Draghi’s press conference at 8:30. It will be interesting if he continues to characterize the Eurozone economy risks as balanced, or if the downside risks are now elevated. If the latter, look for the euro to decline sharply! We also get US data including Durable Goods (exp -1.0%, ex transport +0.5%) and the Goods Trade Balance (-$74.9B). Yesterday’s New Home Sales data was awful, just 553K, well below expectations, and another sign that parts of the economy here are rolling over. I still don’t believe that the data turn has been enough to change the Fed’s mind about a December rate hike, but if numbers start to fall, watch out. Tomorrow’s GDP print will be quite important to the market. But today, I think the ECB dominates the story.

Good luck
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