From Brussels

From Brussels, the word is stop spending
Your budget, you must start amending
But Rome has replied
Get off our backside
And stop being so condescending

The fight between Rome and Brussels is intensifying as the EU has prepared to formally reject Italy’s 2019 budget. Explaining that the forecast budget deficit was too large and potentially destabilizing, EU FinMin’s are trying to apply pressure to prevent any further flouting of their rules. The problem is that the EU has only limited power, other than persuasion, to force change. There is a rule that allows them to impose a penalty of 0.2% of GDP on the offending nation if the situation gets out of control, but it has never been enacted in the entire history of the EU. And just getting to that point would require numerous meetings, lawsuits and hysterics, all of which will take a great deal of time. As well, the precedent is that when both France and Germany ran above target budget deficits for nearly a decade each in the 1980’s and 1990’s, a fine was never imposed. One other thing is that technically, Italy is within the rules, which call for a budget deficit of no more than 3.0%. Meanwhile, Italy is forecasting a 2.4% deficit. In the end, however, the market is growing increasingly concerned that this situation will get worse, not better, as can be seen from the sharp price decline in Italian government debt. In the past two days, the 10-year yield there has risen nearly 30bps and is now 328bps higher than German Bunds, the widest spread since 2013, just before the Greek crisis began.

With this in mind, it should be no surprise that the euro has come under renewed pressure. Yesterday it declined 0.45% and it is now pushing back toward the lows for the year seen in mid August. Recently I highlighted that the structural issues in the US seemed to be starting to exert more influence in the FX markets, which would help weaken the greenback. However, I didn’t really discuss the structural (existential?) issues in the euro, which also have the potential to cause significant damage to the currency. The difference is that the European issues are headline news every day, (the ongoing Italian budget fight and the ongoing Brexit negotiations), neither of which are likely to add value to the single currency. Whereas, the US structural issues, the twin deficits, don’t get nearly as much airtime, and tend to be at the back of traders’ minds. Even the trade issue, which is obvious and acute, does not lead in the US press, as the focus has turned to the mid-term elections here. In the end, it is quite reasonable that we may see yet another leg lower in the euro, testing, and breaking, the August lows. This is self-inflicted by Europe, not a product of Fed policy.

This morning, however, the dollar is actually underperforming slightly. Despite the ongoing Brexit question, the pound has rebounded slightly from yesterday’s decline on the strength of better than expected public finance data that showed the government borrowed less than expected. Meanwhile, the commodity bloc is rebounding on the strength of better performance in both base metal and agricultural markets. And finally, the yen is slightly softer as equity markets seem to have halted their slide, for now, and inflation data continues to disappoint encouraging traders to believe that the BOJ will not be ending their ultra easy monetary policy anytime soon.

Turning to China, we see that the renminbi is little changed this morning, hovering near the 6.94 level despite weaker than expected economic data last night. In fact, GDP in Q2 rose only 6.5%, below the expected 6.6% level, and indicating that the Chinese economy is clearly feeling the strains of the trade conflict with the US. This was made manifest in two ways; first components of the data like Fixed Asset Investment and Retail Sales were both softer than expected (although surprisingly the trade figures remain solid), but second, and more importantly, there was a concerted effort by Chinese financial mandarins to talk up the economy. Statements from PBOC Governor Yi Gang, CSRC head Liu Shiyu and vice premier Liu He were all released within minutes of the opening of the Shanghai stock market and focused on explaining how good things were and that there were no reasons to worry. At this point I must note that the Shanghai index opened lower by more than 1%, following yesterdays 2.9% decline, so the timing was not coincidental. In the end, the Chinese stock markets rallied in the afternoon, closing up by 2.6%, although the move appeared to be completely driven by official buying, rather than ordinary investors.

Stepping back, the overriding theme of late has been increased uncertainty over the economy due to political machinations. Whether it is Brexit, the Italian budget, the US mid-term elections or weakening Chinese growth, key market drivers are nonmarket events. For equities, earnings results have had less impact. In currencies, rate moves don’t seem to be the driver either. When markets reach a point where movement is driven entirely by outside actors, it becomes extremely difficult to manage risk effectively as nobody knows where the next tape bomb is coming from. It was much easier when all eyes were on the Fed and the ECB, as at least there was some consistency. In other words, look for more volatility across markets going forward.

As to the data story today, the only release is Existing Home Sales (exp 5.30M), where it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see a weak number given the weakness we saw in Wednesday’s Housing Starts data. We also hear from Atlanta Fed President Bostic. Yesterday’s two Fed speakers did exactly what was expected, with vice chairman Quarles saying the Fed was on the right course, and uberdove Bullard explaining that there was no reason to raise rates further. Neither one seemed to have a market impact.

I think the weight of evidence is that the dollar is likely to continue to creep higher today as the US rate picture continues to support it, the Italian budget story continues to undermine the euro, and the unlikelihood of positive news from a host of other nations seems set to keep investors focused on higher US yields. Unless the Italians capitulate, which I think is highly unlikely, I think the dollar edges up more before the weekend comes.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

The Next Year Or So

Said Williams, “the next year or so”
Should see rates reach neutral, you know
At that point we’ll see
If our GDP
Is humming or soon set to slow

The dollar is under very modest pressure this morning, although in reality it is simply continuing to consolidate its recent gains. While there have been individual currency stories, the big picture continues apace.

As I write, the IMF is holding its annual meeting in Indonesia and so we are hearing much commentary from key financial officials around the world. Yesterday, IMF Managing Director Lagarde told us that the ongoing trade tensions were set to slow global growth. Overnight, we heard from NY Fed President John Williams, who said that the US economy continued to be strong and that while there is no preset course, it seemed likely that the Fed would continue to adjust policy until rates reached ‘neutral’. Of course, as nobody knows exactly where neutral is, there was no way to determine just how high rates might go. However, there was no indication that the Fed was going to pause anytime soon. Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan, who said that he foresaw three more rate hikes before any pause, corroborated this idea. According to the dot plot, 3.00% seems to be the current thinking of where the neutral rate lies as long as inflation doesn’t push significantly higher than currently expected. All this points to the idea that the Fed remains on course to continued policy tightening, with the risks seemingly that if inflation rises more than expected, they will respond accordingly.

The other truly noteworthy news was from the UK, where it appears that a compromise is in sight for the Brexit negotiations. As expected, there is some fudge involved, with semantic definitions of the difference between customs and regulatory checks, but in the end, this cannot be a great surprise. The impetus for change came from Germany, who has lately become more concerned that a no-deal Brexit would severely impact their export industries, and by extension their economy. The currency impact was just as would be expected with the pound jumping one penny on the report and having continued to drift higher from there. This seems an appropriate response as no deal is yet signed, but at least it appears things are moving in the right direction. In the meantime, UK data showed that Q3 GDP growth is on track for a slightly better than expected outcome of 0.7% for the quarter (not an annualized figure).

As to the other ongoing story, there has been no change in the tone of rhetoric from the Italian government regarding its budget, but there are still five days before they have to actually submit it to their EU masters. It remains to be seen how this plays out. As I type, the euro has edged up 0.15% from yesterday’s close, but taking a step back, it is essentially unchanged for the past week. If you recall, back in August there was a great deal of discussion about how the dollar had peaked and that its decline at that time portended a more significant fall going forward. At this point, after the dollar recouped all those losses, that line of discussion has been moved to the back pages.

Turning to the emerging markets, Brazil remains a hot topic with investors piling into the real in expectations (hopes?) of a Bolsonaro win in the runoff election. That reflected itself in yet another 1.5% rise in the currency, which is now higher by more than 10% over the past month. The China story remains one where the renminbi seems to be on the cusp of a dangerous level, but has not yet fallen below. Equity markets there took a breather from recent sharp declines, ending the session essentially flat, but there is still great concern that further weakness in the CNY could lead to a sharp rise in capital outflows, or correspondingly, more draconian measures by the PBOC to prevent capital movement.

But after those two stories, it is harder to find something that has had a significant impact on markets. While Pakistan just reached out to the IMF for a $12 billion loan, the Pakistani rupee is not a relevant currency unless you live there. However, this issue is emblematic of the problems faced by many emerging economies as the Fed continues to tighten policy. Excessive dollar borrowing when rates were low has come back to haunt many of these countries, and there is no reason to think this process will end soon. Continue to look for the dollar to strengthen vs. the EMG bloc as a whole.

This morning brings our first real data of the week, PPI (exp 2.8%, 2.5% ex food & energy). However, PPI is typically not a market mover. Tomorrow’s CPI data, on the other hand, will be closely watched for signs that inflation is starting to test the Fed’s patience. But for now, other than the Brexit news, which is the first truly positive non-dollar news we have seen in a while, my money is on a quiet session with limited FX movement. The only caveat is if we see significant equity market movement, whereby a dollar reaction would be normal. This is especially so if equities fall and so risk mitigation leads to further dollar buying.

Good luck
Adf

Just How He Feels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck
Adf

Things Went Awry

A decade has passed since the day
That Lehman collapsed all the way
It sank several banks
And brought us Dodd-Frank
In effort to curb foul play

And during those ten years gone by
A number of things went awry
Some xenophobes won
And they’ve overrun
Attempts, good ideas, to apply

The upshot is markets worldwide
Have started to feel the downside
Of higher Fed rates
While there are debates
If euros or dollars will slide

Despite a number of ongoing stories that may ultimately impact markets, notably the US-China trade situation, Italian budget discussions and Brexit negotiations, movement overnight in the FX market has been benign. This morning, the broad dollar index is lower by about 0.25%, with most G10 currencies having strengthened by similar amounts, but the EMG bloc remains under pressure with TRY (-1.5%), INR (-0.75%), KRW (-0.5%) and ZAR (-0.5%) all leaning in the other direction. However, when stepping back to get perspective, the situation can fairly be summed up by saying EMG currencies have been weakening pretty consistently for the past six plus months, while the G10 has barely moved at all since the end of May when the dollar’s sharp rise came to a halt.

Given the relatively uninteresting state of markets this morning, and the fact that there is virtually no data of note until Wednesday this week, I thought I might take a short retrospective look at how things have changed since the financial crisis ten years ago.

Remarkably, last Friday was the tenth anniversary of Lehman Brothers bankruptcy filing. The ensuing ten years has brought about significant changes in the way markets behave, regulators oversee things and investors approach the process. Arguably, the bigger question is what will the next ten years look like. And while there is no way to be sure, there do seem to be several trends that have further to run.

The hardest thing to understand is how a debt fueled crisis resulted in policies designed to increase debt further. While during the immediacy of the extremely deep recession in 2009 there were few complaints about central bank policy trends, which were seen as emergency measures, the first eyebrows were raised when interest rates went negative in Sweden, and then followed throughout Europe and then finally in Japan. But even that would likely have been seen as generally reasonable if the interest rate cycle had been of a more normal duration. Instead, central bankers around the world collectively decided that expanding global money supply inexorably for ten years was the prudent thing to do. Consider that despite global growth chugging along at about 3.5%, global money supply has risen more than 100% since 2008, which means it has grown at nearly an 8% annual clip. As evidenced by the large gap between economic and monetary growth, it is clear that some great portion of that new money found a home outside the ‘real’ economy.

In fact, it is this situation that has defined market activity since 2008, while simultaneously confusing half the economic community. That money has found a home in global debt and equity markets, causing massive inflation there, while only trickling into the real economy and thus allowing measured price inflation, like CPI or PCE, to remain subdued. Most market analysts understood this concept within months of the process beginning, but mainstream economists and policymakers claimed to be puzzled by the lack of inflation, and so were willing to maintain ‘emergency’ policy for ten years, despite rebounding global growth. Now, clearly through this period there were areas in the world that had slowdowns (notably Europe in 2011 and China in 2015), but the idea that flooding the market with funds and then leaving them in place for nigh on ten years was economically prudent seems hard to swallow.

And of course, there were real consequences to these actions, not simply numeric arguments. Income and wealth inequality exploded, as those already rich were the main beneficiaries of the global stock and bond market rallies. At the same time, lower skilled labor found themselves under enormous pressure from a combination of technological improvements in production, reducing the demand for labor and globalization increasing the supply of labor. In hindsight, it should be no surprise at all that we have seen a significant increase in the number of nationalists being elected around the world, especially in the G10. After all, it is much easier to demonize foreign workers than industrial robots, especially since they don’t vote.

The thing is that while the Fed has, at least, made some strides to finally reduce the money supply, both raising rates and allowing their balance sheet to actually shrink, they remain the only central bank doing so. And even though the ECB is slowing its QE purchases, they are still adding funds, while both China and Japan continue to add money to the system indefinitely. Current forecasts show that global money supply will not start to shrink until the end of next year at the earliest based on current policy trajectories and expectations. However, that makes the heroic assumption that when money supply starts to shrink, financial markets will be unaffected. And that seems highly unlikely given how crucial those excess funds have been to financial market performance for the past decade.

Summing up, the Lehman bankruptcy triggered a global crisis that was built on excessive leverage, notably in the US housing market. The crisis response was to cut short-term interest rates dramatically while flooding the markets with cash in order to drive down long-term interest rates. The consequences of this policy, which was repeated around the world once the Fed led the way, was a massive rally in both equity and fixed income markets, and a modest rebound in economic growth. Financial engineering became the norm (issue cheap debt to repurchase shares and drive up EPS and stock prices while increasing balance sheet leverage), whereas R&D and Capex shrank in comparison. The dollar, meanwhile, initially rallied sharply as a safe haven, and despite periodic bouts of weakness, it has continued its long-term uptrend, thus pressuring export industries to move production offshore. And the result of all that economic and financial change has been the rise of nationalist political parties around the world as well as significant pressure on the global free trade movement amongst nations.

There is a great irony in the fact that for many years after the crisis, central bankers were terrified of global deflation, and sought aggressively to push inflation higher. Well, now they have done so in spades, and it will be quite interesting to see how they respond to this more traditional monetary phenomenon. As the Fed continues on its current policy path, we are seeing an increasing number of EMG central banks forced to raise rates as well, despite suspect economic growth, as inflation is breaking out all over the bloc. Friday saw Russia raise rates in a surprise, and all eyes are on Brazil and South Africa this week. My fear is that ten years of emergency monetary accommodation has left the world in a precarious position, one where the future will see even bigger problems than the crisis ten years ago. Ask yourself this, how will global markets respond to a debt “jubilee”, where debt is simply erased from the books and investors are left in the lurch? Don’t think it can’t happen.

And with that as a backdrop, let’s quickly look ahead to a very limited week of data as follows:

Today Empire Manufacturing 23.0
Tuesday TIC Flows $65.1B
Wednesday Housing Starts 1.23M
  Building Permits 1.31M
Thursday Initial Claims 210K
  Philly Fed 16.5
  Existing Home Sales 5.36M

With the FOMC meeting next week, all eyes are going to turn in that direction. While expectations are universal for a 25bp rate hike, the question is how hawkish or dovish will they sound. The interesting thing is that recent comments by Fed speakers have been far more focused on the potential of the ongoing trade issues to negatively impact the economy. (Secretly I believe that they are actually quite happy with this as if things turn south they will be able to blame someone else and the market will accept that explanation.) At any rate, the data of late has been mixed, with the wage data showing stronger than expected growth, while CPI was actually soft. Given the dearth of important data this week, I expect that the dollar will continue its recent wishy-washy performance, with some days of modest rallies and some days of modest declines, but no new trend evolving.

Good luck
Adf

Investor Frustrations

There once was a wide group of nations
Whose growth was built on weak foundations
Their policy actions
Are seen as subtractions
Increasing investor frustrations

Boy, I go away for a few days and world virtually collapses!!!

Needless to say, a lot has happened since I last wrote on Thursday, with a number of emerging market currencies and their respective equity markets really coming under pressure. It was the usual suspects; Turkey, Argentina, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Russia and China, all of whom had felt significant pressure at various times during the year. But this new wave seems a bit more stressful in that prior to the past few days, each one had experienced a problem of its own, but since Friday, markets have pummeled them all together. This appears to be the contagion that had been feared by both investors and policymakers. The thing is, the unifying theme to pretty much all these markets is the stronger dollar. As the dollar resumes its strengthening trend, both companies and governments in those nations are finding it increasingly difficult to handle their debt loads. And given the near certainty that the Fed is going to continue its steady policy tightening alongside consistently stronger US economic data, the dollar strengthening trend seems likely to remain in tact for a while yet.

Could this be one of the ‘unexpected’ consequences of ten years of QE, ZIRP and NIRP? Apparently, despite assurances from esteemed central bankers like Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen and Mario Draghi (as dovish a triumvirate as has ever been seen), there ARE negative consequences to dramatically changing the way monetary policy is handled, massively expanding balance sheets and driving real interest rates to significant negative levels. While there is no doubt that developed economy stock markets have benefitted generally, it seems like some of those risks are becoming more apparent.

These risks include things like the central bankers’ loss of control over markets. After all, markets around the world have basically danced to the tune of free money for the past decade. As that tune changes, investor behavior is sure to change as well. Another systemic risk has been the increasing inability of investors to adequately diversify their portfolios. If every market rises due to exogenous variables, like zero interest rates, then how can prudent investors manage their risk? Many took comfort in the fact that market volatility had declined so significantly, implying that systemic risk was reduced on net. However, what we have observed in 2018 is that volatility is not, in fact, dead, but had merely been anaesthetized by that free money.

The worrying thing is there is no reason to believe that this process is going to end soon. Rather, I fear that it may just be beginning. There are a significant number of excesses to wring out of the markets, and however much central bankers around the world try to prevent that from happening, they cannot hold back the tide forever. At some point, and it could be coming sooner than you think, markets are going adjust despite all the efforts of Powell, Draghi, Carney, Kuroda and their brethren. Never forget that the market is far bigger than any one nation.

We are already seeing how this can play out in some of the above-mentioned countries. Argentina, for example, has short-term interest rates of 60%, inflation of ‘only’ 31%, and therefore real interest rates are now +29%! But the economy is back in recession, having shrunk 6.7% last quarter, and the current account deficit remains a significant problem. So despite jacking rates to 60%, the currency has fallen 22% this week and 120% this year! And they are following orthodox monetary policy. Turkey, on the other hand, has been unwilling to bend to orthodoxy (when it comes to monetary policy) and has kept rates low such that real interest rates are near zero and heading negative as inflation continues its climb (17.9% in September) while rates remain on hold. So the fact that the lira is down 9% this week and 95% this year should be less surprising.

The point is that the market is losing its taste for discrimination and is beginning to treat all currencies under the rubric ‘emerging markets’ as the same. And they are selling them all. As long as the Fed continues its grind higher in rates, there is no reason to believe that this will end. And if these declines are steady, rather than sharp crashes, it will go on for a while. Chairman Powell will have no reason to stop if a few random EMG markets trend lower. If, however, the S&P 500 starts to suffer, that may be a different story, and one we will all watch with great interest!

In the meantime, turning to G10 currencies, the dollar is stronger here as well this morning, although it has fallen back from its best levels of the morning. In fact, while the pound has been consistently undermined (-0.3% today, -1.5% since Thursday) by what seems to be a worsening saga regarding Brexit, the euro has stabilized for now, although it is down about 1% since Thursday as well. Apparently, CAD is not taking the ongoing NAFTA negotiations that well, as it has fallen 2% since Thursday amid pressure on PM Trudeau to cave into US demands. The BOC meets today and while there had been previous expectations that they may raise rates, that has been pushed back to October now in view of the NAFTA process. This is despite the fact that inflation in Canada is running at 2.9%, well above target.

In the end, as long as the Fed continues along its recent path, expect market volatility to increase further, with more and more dominoes likely to fall.

As to today, the only noteworthy data is the Balance of Trade, where expectations are for a $50.3B outcome, not exactly what the president is hoping for, I’m sure. And as far as the dollar goes, there is no reason to believe that its recent strength is going to turn around anytime soon.

Good luck
Adf

 

Percent Twenty-Five

The story, once more’s about trade
As Trump, a new threat, has conveyed
Percent twenty-five
This fall may arrive
Lest progress in trade talks is made

President Trump shook things up yesterday by threatening 25% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports unless a trade deal can be reached. This is up from the initial discussion of a 10% tariff on those goods, and would almost certainly have a larger negative impact on GDP growth while pushing inflation higher in both the US and China, and by extension the rest of the world. It appears that the combination of strong US growth and already weakening Chinese growth, has led the President to believe he is in a stronger position to obtain a better deal. Not surprisingly the Chinese weren’t amused, loudly claiming they would not be blackmailed. In the background, it appears that efforts to restart trade talks between the two nations have thus far been unsuccessful, although those efforts continue.

Clearly, this is not good news for the global economy, nor is it good news for financial markets, which have no way to determine just how big an impact trade ructions are going to have on equities, currencies, commodities and interest rates. In other words, things are likely more uncertain now than in more ‘normal’ times. And that means that market volatility across markets is likely to increase. After all, not only is there the potential for greater surprises, but the uncertainty prevailing has reduced liquidity overall as many investors and traders hew to the sidelines until they have a better idea of what to do. And, of course, it is August 1st, a period where summer vacations leave trading desks with reduced staffing levels and so liquidity is generally less robust in any event.

Moving past trade brings us straight to the central bank story, where the relative hawkishness or dovishnes of yesterday’s BOJ announcement continues to be debated. There are those who believe it was a stealth tightening, allowing higher 10-year yields (JGB yields rose 8bps last night to their highest level in more than 18 months) and cutting in half the amount of reserves subject to earning -0.10%. And there are those who believe the increased flexibility and addition of forward guidance are signals that the BOJ is keen to ease further. Yesterday’s price action in USDJPY clearly favored the doves, as the yen fell a solid 0.8% in the session. But there has been no follow-through this morning.

As to the other G10 currencies, the dollar is modestly firmer against most of them this morning in the wake of PMI data from around the world showing that the overall growth picture remains mixed, but more troubling, the trend appears to be continuing toward slower growth.

The emerging market picture is similar, with the dollar performing reasonably well this morning, although, here too, there are few outliers. The most notable is KRW, which has fallen 0.75% overnight despite strong trade data as inflation unexpectedly fell and views of an additional rate hike by the BOK dimmed. However, beyond that, modest dollar strength was the general rule.

At this point in the session, the focus will turn to some US data including; ADP Employment (exp 185K), ISM Manufacturing (59.5) and its Prices Paid indicator (75.8), before the 2:00pm release of the FOMC statement as the Fed concludes its two day meeting. As there is no press conference, and the Fed has not made any changes to policy without a press conference following the meeting in years, I think it is safe to say there is a vanishingly small probability that anything new will come from the meeting. The statement will be heavily parsed, but given that we heard from Chairman Powell just two weeks ago, and the biggest data point, Q2 GDP, was released right on expectations, it seems unlikely that they will make any substantive changes.

It feels far more likely that this meeting will have been focused on technical questions about how future Fed policies will be enacted. Consider that QE has completely warped the old framework, where the Fed would actually adjust reserves in order to drive interest rates. Now, however, given the trillions of dollars of excess reserves, they can no longer use that strategy. The question that has been raised is will they try to go back to the old way, or is the new, much larger balance sheet going to remain with us forever. For hard money advocates, I fear the answer will not be to their liking, as it appears increasingly likely that QE is with us to stay. Of course, since this is a global phenomenon, I expect the impact on the relative value of any one currency is likely to be muted. After all, if everybody has changed the way they manage their economy in the same manner, then relative values are unlikely to change.

Flash, ADP Employment prints at a better than expected 219K, but the initial dollar impact is limited. Friday’s NFP report is of far more interest, but for today, all eyes will wait for the Fed. I expect very limited movement in the dollar ahead of then, and afterwards to be truthful.

Good luck
Adf

 

Is That Despair?

Forward guidance is
Kuroda-san’s newest hope
Or is that despair?

The BOJ has committed to keep the current extremely low levels for short- and long-term interest rates for an “extended period of time.” Many of you will recognize this phrase as Ben Bernanke’s iteration of forward guidance. This is the effort by central banks to explain to the market that even though rates cannot seemingly go any lower, they promise to prevent them from going higher for the foreseeable future. Alas, forward guidance is akin to Hotel California, from which, as The Eagles famously sang back in 1976, “you can check out but you can never leave.” As the Fed found out, and the ECB will learn once they finally end QE (assuming they actually do so), changing tack once you have promised zero rates forever can have market ramifications. The first indication that forward guidance might be a problem came with the ‘taper tantrum’ in 2013, but I’m confident it won’t be the last.

However, for the BOJ, now trumps the future, and they needed to do something now. But forward guidance was not the only thing they added last night. It was the cover for their attempts to adjust policy without actually tightening. So, yield curve control now has a +/- 20bp range around 0.0% for the 10-year JGB, double the previous level, and thus somewhat more flexible. And they reduced the amount of reserves subject to the -0.10% deposit rate in order to alleviate some of the local banks’ profit issues. In the end, their commitment to maintaining zero interest rates for that extended period of time was sufficient for FX traders to sell the yen (it fell -0.40%), and JGB yields actually fell a few bps, closing at 0.065%, which is down from 0.11% ahead of the meeting. All in all, I guess the BOJ did a good job last night.

There is, however, one other thing to mention, and that is they reduced their own inflation forecasts (to 1.1% in 2019, 1.5% in 2020 and 1.6% in 2021) for the next three years, indicating that even they don’t expect to achieve that elusive 2.0% target before 2022 at the earliest. In the end, the BOJ will continue to buy JGB’s and equity ETF’s and unless there is a substantial acceleration in global growth, (something which seems increasingly unlikely) they will continue to miss their inflation target for a very long time. As to the yen, I expect that while it fell a bit last night, it is still likely to drift higher over time.

In Europe the story is still
That growth there is starting to chill
The data last night
Did naught to delight
Poor Mario, testing his will

Beyond the BOJ, and ahead of the FOMC announcement tomorrow, the major news was from the Eurozone where GDP and Inflation data was released. What we learned was that, on the whole, growth continued to slow while inflation edged higher than expected. Eurozone GDP rose 0.3% in Q2, its slowest pace in a year, while headline inflation rose 2.1%, its fastest rate since early 2013. Of course the latter was predicated on higher energy prices with core CPI rising only 1.1%, still a long way from the ECB’s target. The point is that given the slowing growth trajectory in the Eurozone, it seems that Draghi’s confidence in faster growth causing inflation to pick up on the continent may be unwarranted. But that remains the official line, and it appears that the FX market has accepted it as gospel as the euro has traded higher for a third consecutive day (+0.3%) and is now back in the top half of its trading range. If Q3 growth continues the trajectory that Q2 has extended, it will call into question whether the ECB can stop buying bonds, or at the very least, just how long rates will remain at -0.4%, with those looking for a September 2019 rate hike sure to be disappointed.

There is one country in Europe, however, that is performing well, Sweden. GDP growth there surprised the market yesterday, rising 1.0% in Q2 and 3.3% Y/Y. This has encouraged speculation that the Riksbank will be raising rates fairly soon and supported the krone, which has rallied 1.0% since the announcement.

The final piece of news to discuss from last night was from China, where the PMI readings all fell below expectations. The official Manufacturing data was released at 51.2, down from last month’s 51.5 and the third consecutive monthly decline. The non-manufacturing number fell to 54.0, its weakest print since October 2016. These are the first data from China that include the impact of the US tariffs, and so are an indication that the Chinese economy is feeling some effects. I expect that the government there will add more stimulus to offset any more severe impact, but that will simply further complicate their efforts at reducing excess leverage in the economy. Meanwhile, the renminbi slid 0.25% overnight.

This morning’s data releases bring us Personal Income (exp 0.4%), Personal Spending (0.4%) and PCE (2.3% headline, 2.0% core), as well as the Case-Shiller Home price index (6.4%), Chicago PMI (62.0) and Consumer Confidence (126.0). In other words, there is much for us to learn about the economy. While I believe the PCE data could be market moving, especially if it is stronger than expected, I continue to believe that traders and investors remain far more focused on Friday’s payroll report than this data. Recent weakness in equity markets has some folks on edge, although futures this morning look benign. But if we do see that weakness continue, the chances of a full-blown risk off scenario materializing will grow substantially. And that means, the dollar has the potential to rally quite sharply. Keep that in mind as a tail risk, one where the tail grows fatter each day that equity markets disappoint.

Good luck
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