Hardly a Sign

The thing that I don’t understand
Is why people think it’s not planned
The dollar’s decline
Is hardly a sign
The FOMC’s lost command

Based on the breathless commentary over the weekend and this morning, one would have thought that the dollar is in freefall.  It’s not!  Yes, the dollar has been sliding for the past two months, but that is a blink of an eye compared to the fact that it has been trending higher since its nadir a bit more than twelve years ago.  In fact, if one uses the euro as a proxy, which many people do, at its current level, 1.1725 as I type, the single currency remains below the average rate over its entire life since January 1999.  The point is, the current situation is hardly unprecedented nor even significant historically, it is simply a time when the dollar is weakening.

It is, however, instructive to consider what is happening that has the punditry in such a tizzy.  Arguably, the key reason the dollar has been declining lately is because real US interest rates have been falling more rapidly than real rates elsewhere.  After all, the Eurozone has had negative nominal rates since 2014.  10-year German bunds went negative in May 2019 and have remained there ever since.  Given that inflation has been positive, albeit weak, there real rates have been negative for years so the world is quite familiar with negative rates in Europe.  The US story, however, is quite different.  While nominal rates have not yet crossed the rubicon, real rates have moved from positive to negative quite recently and done so rapidly.  So, what we are really witnessing is the FX market responding to this relative change in rates, at least for the most part.  Undoubtedly, there are dollar sellers who are bearish because of their concerns over the macro growth story in the US, the second wave of Covid infections in the South and West and because of the growth in US debt issuance.  But history has shown that the most enduring impacts on a currency’s value are driven by relative interest rates and their movement.  And that is what we are seeing, US rates are falling relative to others and so the dollar is falling alongside them.

In other words, the current price action is quite normal in the broad scheme of things, and not worthy of the delirium it seems to be inspiring.  As I mentioned Friday, this is also what is driving the precious metals complex, which has seen further strength this morning (XAU +$40 or 2.1%, XAG +$1.50 or 6.7%).  And it must be noted that gold is now at a new, all-time nominal high of $1943/oz.  But since we are focusing on the concept of real valuation, while the price is higher than we saw in 2011 on a nominal basis, when adjusted for inflation it still lags pretty substantially, by about 18%, and both current and 2011 levels are significantly below gold’s inflation adjusted price seen in 1980 right after the second oil crisis.

However, the fact that the current reporting of the situation appears somewhat overhyped does not mean that the dollar cannot fall further.  And in fact, I expect that to be the case for as long as the Fed continues to add liquidity, in any form, to the economy.  Markets move at the margin, and the current marginal change is the decline in US real interest rates, hence the dollar is likely to continue to fall if US rates do as well.

The current dollar weakness begs the question about overall risk attitude.  So, a quick look around equity markets globally today shows a mixed picture at best, certainly not a strong view in either direction.  For instance, last night saw the Nikkei edge lower by 0.2% (after having been closed since Wednesday) and the Hang Seng (-0.4%) also slide.  But Shanghai (+0.25%) managed to eke out small gains.  In Europe, the DAX (+0.3%) is pushing ahead after the IFO figures bounced back much further than expected, although the CAC and FTSE 100 (-0.2% each) have both suffered slightly.  A special mention needs to be made for Spain’s IBEX (-1.3%) as the sharp increase in Covid infections seen in Catalonia has resulted in several European nations, notably the UK and Sweden, reimposing a 14-day quarantine period on people returning from Spain on holiday.  Naturally, the result is holidays that had been booked are being quickly canceled.  As to US futures, they are currently in the green, with the NASDAQ up 1.0%, although the others are far less enthusiastic.

Bond markets continue to show declining yields, with Treasuries down another basis point plus and now yielding 0.57%.  Bunds, too, are seeing demand, with yields there down 3 bps, although both Spanish and Italian debt are being sold off with yields edging higher.  In other words, the bond market is not pointing to a risk-on session.

Finally, the dollar is weak across the board, against both G10 and EMG currencies.  In the latter bloc, ZAR is the leader, up 1.3% on the back of the huge rally in precious metals, but we are also seeing the CE4 currencies all keeping pace with the euro, which is higher by 0.6% this morning.  As a group, those four currencies are higher by about 0.65%.  Asian currencies also performed well, but not quite to the standards of the European set, but it is hard to find a currency that declined overnight.  In G10 space, the SEK is the leader, rising 1.0%, cementing its role as the highest beta G10 currency.  But we cannot forget about the yen, which has rallied 0.75% so far this morning, and is now back to its lowest level since the Covid spike, and before that, prices not seen since last August.  A longer-term look at the yen shows that 105 has generally been very strong support with only the extraordinary events of this past March driving it below that level for the first time in four years.  Keep on the lookout for a move toward those Covid inspired lows of 102, although much further seems hard to believe at this point.

On the data front, this week’s highlight is undoubtedly the FOMC meeting on Wednesday, but there is plenty to see.

Today Durable Goods 7.0%
  -ex Transport 3.6%
Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 4.10%
  Consumer Confidence 94.4
Wednesday FOMC Rate Decision 0.0% – 0.25%
Thursday GDP Q2 -35.0%
  Personal Consumption -34.5%
  Initial Claims 1.445M
  Continuing Claims 16.3M
Friday Personal Income -0.5%
  Personal Spending 5.4%
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.0% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 43.9
  Michigan Sentiment 72.8

Source: Bloomberg

Of course, the GDP data on Thursday will be eye opening, as a print anywhere near forecasts will be the largest quarterly decline in history.  However, that is backward looking.  Of more importance, after the Fed of course, will be the Initial Claims data, which last week stopped trending lower.  Another tick higher there and the V-shaped recovery narrative is likely to be mortally wounded.  As to the Fed, while we will discuss it at length later this week, it seems unlikely they will do or say anything that is going to change the current market sentiment.  And that sentiment continues to be to sell dollars.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

 

 

 

About to Retrace

The question investors must face
Is what type of risk to embrace
Are we in a movie
Where things turn out groovy?
Or are stocks about to retrace?

The risk narrative is having a harder time these days as previous rules of engagement seem to have changed. For instance, historically, when risk was ‘off’, stock prices fell, government bond markets rallied, although credit spreads would widen, the dollar and the yen, and to an extent the Swiss franc, would all out perform the rest of the currency world and gold would outperform the rest of the commodity complex. Risk on would see the opposite movement in all these markets. Trading any product successfully mostly required one to understand the narrative and then respond mechanically. Those were the days!

Lately, the risk narrative has been in flux, as a combination of massive central bank interference across most markets and evolving views on the nature of the global geopolitical framework have called into question many of the previous market assumptions.

The adjustments have been greatest within the bond markets as global debt issuance has exploded higher ever since the GFC in 2009, taking an even sharper turn up in the wake of Covid-19. Of course, central banks have been so heavily involved in the market via QE purchases that it is no longer clear what the bond market is describing. Classical economics explained that countries that issued excessive debt ultimately saw their interest rates rise and their currencies devalue amidst an inflationary spike. However, it seems that theory must be discarded because the empirical evidence has shown that massive government debt issuance has resulted in low inflation and relative currency stability for most nations.

The MMT crowd will explain this is the natural response and should be expected because government spending is an unalloyed good that can be expanded indefinitely with nary a consequence. Meanwhile, the Austrians are hyperventilating over the idea that the ongoing expansion of both government spending and debt issuance will result in a debt deflation and anemic growth for as long as that debt remains a weight on the economy.

These days, the distortion in the bond markets has rendered them unrecognizable to investors with any longevity. Central banks are actively buying not only their own government debt, but corporate debt (IG and junk) and municipal debt. Thus, credit spreads have been compressed to record low levels despite the fact that the current economic situation is one of a cataclysmic collapse in activity. Bankruptcies are growing, but debt continues to be sought by investors worldwide. At some point, this final dichotomy will reconcile itself, but for now, central banks rule the roost.

Equity markets have taken a slightly different tack; when things are positive, buy the FANGMAT group of stocks before anything else, although other purchases are allowed. But when it is time to be concerned because the economic story is in question, simply buy FANGMAT and don’t touch any other stocks. If you remove those seven stocks from the indices, the result is that the S&P and NASDAQ have done virtually nothing since the crash in March, and US markets have actually underperformed their European brethren. Of course, those stocks are in the indices, so cannot be ignored, but the question that must be asked is, based on their current valuation of >$6.8 trillion, are they really worth more than the GDP of Germany and the UK combined? While yesterday saw a modest sell-off in the US, which has continued overnight (Hang Seng -2.2%, Shanghai -3.9%, DAX -1.5%, CAC -1.3%) the fact remains stock markets continue to price in a V-shaped recovery and nothing less. And since stock markets tend to drive the overall narrative, if that story changes, beware the movement elsewhere.

It should be noted that yesterday’s Initial Claims data, printing at 1.41M, the first rise in the data point since March, bodes ill for the idea that growth is going to quickly return to pre-Covid levels. And given the uncertainty over how long that recovery will take, stocks may soon be telling us a different story. Just stay alert.

While idioms tell us what’s bold
Is brass, we must all now behold
The barbarous relic
Whose rise seems angelic
Of course, I’m referring to gold!

Turning to precious metals as risk indicators, price action in both gold and silver indicates a great deal of underlying concern in the current market framework. Gold, as you cannot have missed, is fast approaching $1900/oz and its record high level of $1921 is in sight. Silver, while still well below its all-time highs of $49.80/oz, has rallied more than 24% in July, and is gaining more and more adherents. The key unknown is whether this is due to an impending fear of economic calamity, or simply the fact that real interest rates have turned negative throughout the G10 nations and so the cost of owning gold is de minimis.

For the conspiracy theorists, the concern is that ongoing central bank money printing is going to ultimately debase the value of all currencies, so while they may remain relatively stable in the FX markets, their value in purchasing real goods will greatly diminish. In other words, inflation, that the central banks so fervently desire, will reveal itself as a much greater threat than currently imagined by most. Here, too, the geopolitics comes into play, as there is growing concern that the current tit-for-tat squabbles between the US and China will escalate into a more dangerous situation, one where shots are fired in anger, at which times gold is seen as the ultimate safe haven. Personally, I do not believe the US-China situation deteriorates into a hot war as while both presidents need to show they are strong and tough against their rivals, thus the rhetoric and diplomatic squabbles, neither can afford a war.

And finally, to the FX market, where the dollar has clearly lost its luster as the ultimate safe haven, a title it held as recently as two month’s ago. While today’s movement is relatively benign across all currencies, what we have seen this month is a dollar declining against the entire G10 bloc and the bulk of the EMG bloc as well, with several currencies (CLP +7.0%, HUF +5.4%, SEK +5.2%) showing impressive gains. If we think back to the narrative heading into the July 4th holiday, it was focused on the upcoming payroll release and the recent FOMC meeting which had everyone buying into the risk-on narrative. That came from the fact that the payroll data was MUCH better than expected and the Fed made clear they were going to stand ready to continue to add liquidity to markets forever, if they deemed it necessary. Back then, the euro was trading just above 1.12, and its future path seemed uncertain to most. But now, here we are just three weeks later, and the euro has been rising steadily despite the fact that concerns continue to grow over the growth narrative.

Is the euro becoming the new haven currency of last resort? That seems a bit premature, although the EU’s recent agreement to issue mutual debt and inaugurate a more fulsome EU-wide fiscal policy will be an important part of that story in the future. But for now, it seems that there is an almost willful blindness on the part of the investor community as they pay lip service to worries about the recovery’s shape but continue to find succor in (previous) risk-on assets.

While the dollar today is mixed with limited movement in any currency, there is no doubt the FX narrative is evolving toward ‘the dollar has much further to fall between the political chaos and the still positive view of the economy’s future. But remember this, while the dollar has traded to its weakest point in about two years, it is far away from any level that could be considered weak. Current momentum is against the dollar, and if the euro were to trade to resistance between 1.17-1.18, it would not be surprising, but already the pace of its decline has been ebbing, so I do not expect a collapse of any sort, rather a further gradual decline seems the best bet for now.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

 

Stocks Dare Not Wane

Can someone, to me, please explain
The reason that stocks dare not wane?
If this is to be
Then how come we see
Both silver and gold, new heights gain?

It seems like the narrative is becoming more difficult to explain these days. On the one hand, risk appetite appears to be gaining as evidenced by the ongoing rally in equity markets, the continued rebound in oil prices and the dollar’s steady decline. The rationale continues to be one where hope springs eternal for the elusive Covid vaccine and that fiscal stimulus will continue to be pumped into the global economy until said vaccine arrives driving a V-shaped recovery. Meanwhile, paying for that fiscal stimulus will be global central banks, who are printing money as quickly as possible in order to mop up all the newly issued bonds. (I would wager that the ECB will purchase at least 50% of the new EU bonds when they are finally issued.)

The potential flaw in this theory is the price behavior of haven assets, notably gold, silver and Treasuries, all of which have continued to rally right alongside risk assets. Now, it is certainly possible that the continuous flood of new money into the global economy has simply resulted in all assets rising in price, including the haven assets, but it would be a mistake to ignore the signals those haven assets are flashing. For instance, 10-year Treasury yields have fallen back below 0.60% today for the first time since establishing their historic low at 0.569% in mid-April. Historically, the message of low 10-year yields has been slow growth ahead. It seems to me that doesn’t jive very well with the V-shaped recovery story that appears to be driving equity prices. Of course, the issue here could easily be that the Fed’s purchases are simply distorting the market thus removing any signaling power from 10-year yields, but they have assured us repeatedly that is not the case. Rather, their purchases are designed to insure the opposite, that the market functions normally.

Turning to precious metals, both gold and silver have been on a tear of late, with silver really turning it on in July, rising 21%, while gold has seen steady buying and is higher by 4.3% so far this month. Granted, this could simply be part of the dollar weakness effect, where a declining dollar lifts the value of all commodities. But you cannot rule out the idea that this price movement is a signal of growing concerns over the value of all fiat currencies as central banks around the world work overtime to provide liquidity to markets.

From the perspective of the narrative, it is important to accept that this time it’s different, and that these haven asset signals are merely noise in the new world order. And maybe they are. Maybe the fact that central banks around the world have added nearly $20 trillion of liquidity to global markets without corresponding economic growth is of no real concern and will not result in consequences like rising inflation or growth in inequality. Unfortunately, the one thing that we have learned during this crisis is that central banks have a single playbook regardless of the situation…print more money. Like a man with a hammer, to whom every problem looks like a nail, central bankers see a problem and respond in one way only… turn on the presses. I certainly hope the Fed et al, know what they are doing, but the evidence is that their models are no longer reflective of reality, and that is the big problem. Any model is only as good as its data, but good data doesn’t make a bad model good, in fact it is more likely to give misinformation instead.

So, let us now turn to the market’s activities this morning to see if there is anything new under the sun. While equity markets around the world are under pressure, the losses are relatively small and arguably just a reflex response to what has been a strong run for the past several sessions. Government bonds continue to rally ever so slowly in both the US and Europe, but the truly interesting things are happening in the FX world.

To start, the euro has well and truly broken out of its range, easily taking out resistance at 1.1495 during its 0.7% climb yesterday. This morning, it has added to those gains, up another 0.4% and trading at levels last seen in October 2018. Momentum is on its side and as I mentioned yesterday, I see no real resistance until at least 1.17, meaning another 1.0%-2.0% is quite within reason. At this stage, there doesn’t need to be a narrative, just the acceptance that the current trend is strong. But yesterday saw the entire G10 space rally, led by AUD (+1.6%) and NOK (+1.3%) with the former benefitting from a serious short squeeze while the latter had oil to thank for its gains. But even the yen (+0.45% yesterday) showed real strength, despite no concern about risk.

But the real story was in the EMG space, where virtually the entire bloc was firmer, although none so impressively as BRL, which rocketed 3.1% during the day. It seems that a combination of general positivity from the EU’s announced deal and the specifics of the introduction of the long-awaited new tax reform by the Bolsonaro administration were enough to get the juices flowing. Technically, it appears that barring any significant negative news, this could continue until USDBRL tests 5.00, or even the 4.85 lows seen in mid-June.

But the entire EMG bloc was on fire, with the CE4 far outperforming the euro (CZK +1.95%, HUF +1.90%, PLN +1.6%) but also strength elsewhere in LATAM (CLP +1.75%, COP +0.75%). In fact, APAC currencies were the laggards, although most of them did rise modestly. This morning’s price action has been a bit more muted, although we have seen IDR (+0.6%) halt what has been an impressive weakening trend. It seems that a local company is planning to move into Covid vaccine trials next month which has encouraged optimists to believe the second wave of infections there may be addressed soon.

Arguably, the one truly interesting thing today is the weakness in CNY (-0.2%) which seems to be a response to the story that the US has closed the Chinese consulate in Houston. The Chinese are now threatening to close the US consulate in Wuhan (who would want to work in that office anyway?) with the real concern that the ongoing cold war between the two nations shows no signs of abating. In fact, if you want a rationale for owning haven assets, this situation offers plenty of scope.

Turning to the data today, we get our first from the US in the form of Existing Home Sales (exp 4.75M) which would represent a 21% gain from last month. Of course, the level remains far below the pre-Covid situation where 5.5M was the norm for more than 5 years. The Fed remains in its quiet period as the market will eventually turn their attention to next Wednesday’s meeting, but for now, the market doesn’t need any further impetus. The story is the dollar is falling and risk is to be acquired. While the latter idea might be a little bit of a concern, the former, a weaker dollar, seems a fait accompli for now.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

It’s Over

“It’s over”, Navarro replied
When asked if the trade deal had died
The stock market’s dump
Forced President Trump
To tweet the deal’s still verified

What we learned last night is that the market is still highly focused on the trade situation between the US and China. Peter Navarro, the Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, was interviewed and when asked if, given all the issues that have been ongoing between the two countries, the trade deal was over, he replied, “it’s over, yes.” The market response was swift, with US equity futures plummeting nearly 2% in minutes, with similar price action seen in Tokyo and Sydney, before the president jumped on Twitter to explain that the deal was “fully intact.”

One possible lesson to be gleaned from this story is that the market has clearly moved on from the coronavirus, per se, and instead is now focusing on the ramifications of all the virus has already wrought. The latest forecasts from the OECD show trade volumes are expected to plummet by between 10% and 15% this year, although are expected to rebound sharply in 2021. The key is that infection counts and fatality rates are no longer market drivers. Instead, we are back to economic data points.

Arguably, this is a much better scenario for investors as these variables have been studied far more extensively with their impact on economic activity reasonably well understood. It is with this in mind that I would humbly suggest we have moved into a new phase of the Covid impact on the world; from fear, initially, to panicked government response, and now on to economic fallout. Its not that the economic impact was unimportant before, but it came as an afterthought to the human impact. Now, despite the seeming resurgence in infections in many spots around the world, at least from the global market’s perspective, we are back to trade data and economic stories.

This was also made evident by all the talk regarding today’s preliminary PMI data out of Europe, which showed French numbers above 50 and the Eurozone, as a whole, back to a 47.5 reading on the Composite index. However, this strikes me as a significant misunderstanding of what this data describes. Remember, the PMI question is, are things better, worse or the same as last month? Now, while April was the nadir of depression-like economic activity, last month represented the second worst set of numbers recorded amidst global shutdowns across many industries. It is not a great stretch to believe that this month is better than last. But this does not indicate in any manner that the economy is back to any semblance of normal. After all, if we were back to normal, would we all still be working from home and wearing masks everywhere? So yes, things are better than the worst readings from April and May, but as we will learn when the hard data arrives, the economic situation remains dire worldwide.

But while the economic numbers may be awful, that has not stopped investors traders Robinhooders from taking the bull by the horns and pouring more energy into driving stocks higher still. Of course, they are goaded on by the President, but they seem to have plenty of determination on their own. Here’s an interesting tidbit, the market cap of the three largest companies, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon now represents more than 20% of US GDP! To many, that seems a tad excessive, and will be pointed to, after prices correct, as one of the greatest excesses created in this market.

And today is no different, with the risk bit in their teeth, equity markets are once again trading higher across the board. Once the little trade hiccup had passed, buyers came out of the woodwork and we saw Asia (Nikkei +0.5%, Hang Seng +1.6%, Shanghai +0.2%) and Europe (DAX +2.7%, CAC +1.6%, FTSE 100 +1.2%) all steam higher. US futures are also pointing in that direction, currently up between 0.6% and 0.8%. Treasury yields are edging higher as haven assets continue to lose their allure, with 10-year Treasury yields up another basis point and 2bp rises seen throughout European markets. Interestingly, there is one haven that is performing well today, gold, which is up just 0.15% this morning, but has rallied more than 5% in the past two weeks and is back to levels not seen since 2012.

Of course, the gold explanation is likely to reside in the dollar, which in a more typical risk-on environment like we are currently experiencing, is sliding with gusto. Yesterday’s weakness has continued today with most G10 currencies firmer led by NOK (+0.9%) and SEK (+0.75%) on the back of oil’s ongoing rebound and general optimism about future growth. It should be no surprise that the yen has declined again, but its 0.1% fall is hardly earth shattering. Of more interest is the pound (-0.3%) which after an early surge on the back of the UK PMI data (Mfg 50.1), has given it all back and then some as talk of the UK economy faring worse than either the US or Europe is making the rounds.

In the EMG bloc, the dollar’s weakness is broad-based with MXN and KRW (+0.6% each) leading the way but INR an PLN (+0.5% each) close behind. As can be seen, there is no one geographic area either leading or lagging which is simply indicative of the fact that this is a dollar story, not a currency one.

On the data front in the US, while we also get the PMI data, it has never been seen as quite as important as the ISM data due next week. However, expectations are for a 50.0 reading in the Manufacturing and 48.0 in the Services indices. We also see New Home Sales (exp 640K) which follow yesterday’s disastrous Existing Home Sales data (3.91M, exp 4.09M and the worst print since 2010 right after the GFC.) We hear from another Fed speaker today, James Bullard the dove, but I have to admit that Chairman Powell has everybody on the FOMC singing from the same hymnal, so don’t expect any surprises there.

Instead, today is very clearly risk-on implying that the dollar ought to continue to trade a bit lower. My hypothesis about the dollar leading stocks last week has clearly come a cropper, and we are, instead, back to the way things were. Risk on means a weaker dollar and vice versa.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

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