Laden With Fears

When lending, a term of ten years
At one time was laden with fears
But not anymore
As bond prices soar
And bond bulls regale us with cheers

Another day, another record low for German bund yields, this time -0.396%, and there is no indication that this trend is going to stop anytime soon. While this morning’s PMI Composite data was released as expected (Germany 52.6, France 52.7, Eurozone 52.2), it continues at levels that show subdued growth. And given the ongoing weakness in the manufacturing sector, the major fear of both economists and investors is that we are heading into a global recession. Alas, I fear they are right about that, and when the dust settles, and the NBER looks back to determine when the recession began, don’t be surprised if June 2019 is the start date. At any rate, it’s not just bund yields that are falling, it is a universal reaction. Treasuries are now firmly below 2.00% (last at 1.95%), but also UK Gilts (0.69%), French OATs (-0.06%) and JGB’s (-0.15%). Even Italy, where the ongoing fight over their budget situation is getting nastier, has seen its yields fall 13bps today down to 1.71%. In other words, bond markets continue to forecast slowing growth and low inflation for some time to come. And of course, that implies further policy ease by the world’s central bankers.

Speaking of which:

In what was a mini bombshell
Said Mester, it’s too soon to tell
If rates should be lowered
Since, as I look forward
My models say things are just swell

Yesterday, Cleveland Fed president Loretta Mester, perhaps the most hawkish member of the Fed, commented that, “I believe it is too soon to make that determination, and I prefer to gather more information before considering a change in our monetary-policy stance.” In addition, she questioned whether lowering rates would even help address the current situation of too-low inflation. Needless to say, the equity markets did not appreciate her comments, and sold off when they hit the tape. But it was a minor reaction, and, in the end, the prevailing wisdom remains that the Fed is going to cut rates at the end of this month, and at least two more times this year. In truth, we will learn a great deal on Friday, when the payroll report is released, because another miss like last month, where the NFP number was just 75K, is likely to bring calls for an immediate cut, and also likely to see a knee-jerk reaction higher in stocks on the premise that lower rates are always good.

The IMF leader Lagarde
(Whom Greeks would like feathered and tarred)
Come later this year
The euro will steer
As ECB prez (and blowhard)

The other big news this morning concerns the changing of the guard at the ECB and the other EU institutions that have scheduled leadership changes. In a bit of a surprise, IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, is to become the new ECB president, following Mario Draghi. Lagarde is a lawyer, not a central banker, and has no technocratic or central banking experience at all. Granted, she is head of a major supranational organization, and was French FinMin at the beginning of the decade. But all that reinforces is that she is a political hack animal, not that she is qualified to run the second most important policymaking institution in the world. Remember, the IMF, though impressive sounding, makes no policies, it simply hectors others to do what the IMF feels is correct. If you recall, when Chairman Powell was nominated, his lack of economics PhD was seen as a big issue. For some reason, that is not the case with Lagarde. I cannot tell if it’s because Powell has proven to be fine in the role, or if it would be seen as politically incorrect to complain about something like that since she ticks several other boxes deemed important. At any rate, now that politicians are running the two largest central banks (or at least will be as of November 1), perhaps we can dispel the fiction that central banks are independent of politics!

Away from the bond market, which we have seen rally, the market impact of this news has arguably been mixed. Equity markets in Asia were generally weak (Nikkei -0.5%, Shanghai -1.0%), but in Europe, investors are feeling fine, buying equities (DAX +0.6%, FTSE + 0.8%) alongside bonds. Arguably, the European view is that Madame Lagarde is going to follow in the footsteps of Signor Draghi and continue to ease policy aggressively going forward. And despite Mester’s comments, US equity futures are pointing higher as well, with both the DJIA and S&P looking at +0.3% gains right now.

Gold prices, too, are anticipating lower interest rates as after a short-term dip last Friday, with the shiny metal trading as low as $1384, it has rebounded sharply and after touching $1440, the highest print in six years, it is currently around $1420. I have to admit that the combination of fundamentals (lower global interest rates) and market technicals (a breakout above $1400 after three previous failed attempts) it does appear as though gold is heading much higher. Don’t be surprised to see it trade as high as $1700 before this rally is through.

Finally, the dollar continues to be the least interesting of markets with a mixed performance today, and an overall unchanged outcome. The pound continues to suffer as the Brexit situation meanders along and the uncertainty engendered hits economic activity. In fact, this morning’s PMI data was awful (50.2) and IHS/Markit is now calling for negative GDP growth in Q2 for the UK. Aussie data, however, was modestly better than expected helping both AUD and NZD higher, despite soft PMI data from China. EMG currencies are all over the map, with both gainers and losers, but the defining characteristic is that none of the movement has been more than 0.3%, confirming just how quiet things are.

As to the data story, this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 223K), the Trade Balance (-$54.0B), ISM Non-Manufacturing (55.9) and Factory Orders (-0.5%). While the ISM data may have importance, given the holiday tomorrow and the fact that payrolls are due Friday morning, it is hard to get too excited about significant FX movement today. However, that will not preclude the equity markets from continuing their rally on the basis of more central bank largesse.

Good luck
Adf

 

Fear and Greed

The two things most traders concede
That drive markets are fear and greed
So lately there’s fear
That trouble is near
But too, FOMO, bulls do still heed

Another day of waiting as the market sharpens its focus on the Trump-Xi meeting to take place on Saturday during the G20 meetings in Osaka, Japan. Yesterday saw extremely limited activity in equity markets in the US, albeit with a negative bias, and we have seen similar price action overnight. Data releases remain sparse (French Business Confidence fell to 102, but that was all there was), which means that investors and traders have time to become contemplative.

On that note, it is a truism that fear and greed are the two most powerful human emotions when discussing financial markets, and both have a history of forcing bad decisions. However, in the classic telling of the story, fear is when investors flee for safety (generally Treasuries, yen, the dollar and gold) while greed is apparent when equity markets rally, corporate credit spreads compress, and high yield bonds outperform everything. I guess we need to throw in EMG excitement as well.

But lately fear has become the descriptor of both bulls and bears, with bulls now driven by FOMO while bears have the old-fashioned sense of fear. The thing that has been remarkable about markets lately is that both types of fear are in full bloom! I challenge anyone to highlight another time when there was so much angst over the current situation while simultaneously there was so much willingness to add risk to portfolios. How can it be that both the safest and riskiest assets are in such demand?

While I am very interested in hearing opinions (please respond) I will offer my own view up front. Global monetary policy in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008-9 has completely altered both the macroeconomic framework as well as how financial markets respond to signals from the economy. The biggest change, in my view, has been the financialization of every major economy, especially the US, where corporate debt issuance has been utilized primarily for financial engineering (either share repurchases or M&A) with only a secondary concern over the development of new, productive assets. This has resulted in a much weaker growth impulse (weakening productivity) with the concurrent effect of having changed the coefficients on all the econometric models in use. It is the latter outcome that has led central banks to become completely incapable of enacting policies that achieve their stated goals. Their reaction functions are based on faulty equipment (models) and so will rarely, if ever, give the right answer. But they are so invested in the current process, the idea of changing it is too far outside the box to even be considered.

Anyway, on a quiet day, I would love to hear other views on the subject.

In the meantime, a look at the markets shows that nothing is going on. The dollar is slightly higher this morning, but then it was slightly lower yesterday. Equity markets are drifting aimlessly (Nikkei -0.5%, FTSE -0.1%, DAX flat, S&P futures -0.1%) as everyone holds their collective breath for Saturday’s Trump-Xi meeting, and haven assets continue to perform well (Treasuries -1bp, Bunds -1bp and within 1bp of historic lows). Well, it is not completely true that nothing is going on, there is one market that has been on fire: gold.

That ‘barbarous relic’ called gold
Has seen its demand rise threefold
To some it is clear
That risks are severe
Although stocks have yet to be sold

Gold ($1432, +1.0% and + 10% this year) has broken out to levels last seen in 2013, when it was on its way down from the historic run-up in the wake of the financial crisis. This is simply the latest evidence of the ongoing conundrum I highlighted above. But beyond this, it has been remarkably quiet. Later this morning we see Case-Shiller Home Price data (exp 2.6%) and New Home Sales (680K) and we hear from NY Fed President John Williams. Yesterday, Dallas Fed prez Kaplan explained that he was concerned over the current situation, but not yet ready to pull the trigger. However, my gut tells me he was one of the ‘dots’ in the plot calling for two cuts by the end of the year. We will see what Mr Williams has to say later.

There is no reason to think that we are going to break out of the doldrums today, or this week at all, as catalysts are few and far between. So look for another quiet day in all markets.

Good luck
Adf