Quickly Diminished

As Covid continues to spread
The hopes for a rebound ahead
Have quickly diminished
And though, not quite finished
The data needs to, higher, head

Today, for example, we learned
That Germany’s growth trend has turned
Instead of a V
The bears, filled with glee
Are certain the bulls will be burned

The seeds of doubt that were sown last week may have started to sprout green shoots.  Not only is it increasingly unlikely that any stimulus deal will be reached before the election in eight days, but we are starting to see the data reflect the much feared second wave in the number of Covid-19 cases.  The latest example of this is Germany’s IFO data this morning, which disappointed on the two most important readings, Business Climate and Expectations.  Both of these not only missed estimates, but they fell compared to September’s downwardly revised figures.  This is in concert with last week’s Flash PMI Services data, which disappointed throughout Europe, and can be directly attributed to the resurging virus.  Germany, Spain, Italy and France are all imposing further restrictions on movement and activity as the number of new cases throughout Europe continues to rise, climbing above 200K yesterday.  With this data as this morning’s backdrop, it cannot be surprising that risk is under pressure.

For investors, the landscape seems to have shifted, from a strong belief in a V-shaped recovery amid additional fiscal stimulus throughout the G10 along with a change at the White House, that for many would bring a sigh of relief, to a far less certain outcome.  The increase in government restrictions on activity is leading directly to more uncertainty over the economic future.  Meanwhile, a tightening in the polls has started to force those same investors to reevaluate their primary thesis; a blue wave leading to significant fiscal stimulus, a weaker dollar and a much steeper yield curve.  That has seemingly been the driver of 10-year and 30-year yields in the US, which last week traded to their highest levels since the position related spike in June.  In fact, positioning in the long bond future (-235K contracts) is at record short levels.

With this as backdrop, it is entirely realistic to expect some position unwinding, especially if the underlying theses are being called into question.  This morning, that seems like what we are watching.  Risk is decidedly off this morning, with equity markets around the world broadly lower, haven government bond yields falling and the dollar on the move higher.  Oil prices are under pressure, and the risk bulls’ rose-tinted glasses seem to be fogging up, at the very least.

Starting with equity markets, Asia had a mixed session, taking its lead from Friday’s US price action, as the Hang Seng (+0.5%) managed to rally a bit while both the Nikkei (-0.1%) and Shanghai (-0.8%) finished in the red.  Europe, meanwhile, is floating in a red tide with Germany’s DAX (-2.3%) the laggard, but the CAC (-0.6%) and FTSE 100 (-0.4%) starting to build momentum lower.  The DAX is suffering, not only from the IFO data, but also from the fact that SAP, one of the major components in the index, is lower by nearly 19% after dramatically cutting its revenue forecasts due to the virus’ impact on the economy.  It seems the question should be, how many other companies are going to have the same outcome?  And finally, US futures are all pointing lower by 0.8% or so, certainly not an encouraging sign.

Bond markets have shown quite a bit of volatility this morning, with 10-year Treasury prices climbing and yields down 3 basis points from Friday.  However, the European session is quite different.  The first thing to note is Italian BTP’s have rallied sharply, with yields there falling 5.5 basis points after S&P not only failed to downgrade the country’s credit rating, but actually took it off negative watch on the basis of the idea that ECB support plus a resumption in growth would allow the country to reduce its budget deficit and hence, the trend growth in its debt/GDP ratio.  German bunds, on the other hand, have sold off a bit and are higher by 1bp, but that appears to be the result of the unwinding of Bund-BTP spread wideners, as the market was definitely convinced a downgrade was coming.  The S&P news also has helped the rest of the PIGS, which have all seen yields decline about 2 basis points this morning.  Caution, though, is required, as an ongoing risk-off performance by equity markets will almost certainly result in Bunds finding significant bids.

As to the dollar, it is broadly stronger this morning, although not universally so.  In the G10, the euro (-0.3%) is under pressure as Germany suffers, and we are also seeing weakness in CAD (-0.4%) with oil prices making a strong move lower, and WTI now sitting well below $40/bbl.  On the plus side, the pound (+0.15%) seems to be benefitting from a bit of Brexit hope as talks between the two sides have resumed, while SEK (+0.15%) is the beneficiary of the fact that Sweden will not be locking down the country as the growth in Covid cases there remains miniscule, especially compared to the rest of Europe.

EMG currencies, though, are having a tougher time this morning with TRY (-1.25%) leading the way, but MXN (-0.8%) and ZAR (-0.6%) also significantly underperforming.  The latter two here are directly related to weakness in commodity prices across the board, while Turkey remains in its own private nightmare of an impotent central bank trying to overcome the threat of further economic sanctions driven by President Erdogan’s aggressive actions in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Meanwhile, the CE4 are all softer (CZK -0.6%, PLN -0.4%) as they feel the pain of further government restrictions on social activities amid a growing caseload of new covid infections.  In fact, there was really only one gainer of note in this bloc, KRW (+0.45%) which responded to growing expectations that South Korea’s economy would rebound more quickly than the G7 amid growing exports and the so-far absent second wave.

As it is the last week of the month, we have a bunch of data to which to look forward, including the first reading of Q3 GDP, and we also hear from the ECB on Thursday.

Today New Home Sales 1025K
Tuesday Durable Goods 0.5%
-ex Transport 0.4%
Case Shiller Home Prices 4.20%
Consumer Confidence 101.9
Thursday ECB Deposit Rate -0.50%
Initial Claims 780K
Continuing Claims 7.8M
Q3 GDP 31.8%
Friday Personal Income 0.3%
Personal Spending 1.0%
Core PCE Deflator 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
Chicago PMI 58.0
Michigan Sentiment 81.2

Source: Bloomberg

Now, the GDP number, which will almost certainly be the largest ever, is forecast to mirror the percentage gain of Q2’s percentage loss, but remember, the way the math works is that a 30% decline requires a 42% gain to make up the difference, so the economy is still well below the activity levels seen pre-covid.  As to the ECB, there are no expectations for policy changes, but most analysts are looking for strong indications of what will come in December.  To me, the risk is they act sooner rather than later, so perhaps a little more opportunity for the euro to decline on that.

As for today, unless we see positive stimulus bill headlines from the US, my sense is that the dollar will drift a bit lower from here as further position adjustments are the order of the day.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

‘Twas Nothing At All

Does anyone here still recall
When Covid had cast a great pall
On markets and life
While causing much strife?
Me neither, ‘twas nothing at all!

One can only marvel at the way the financial markets have been able to rally on the same story time and again during the past two years. First it was the trade talks. After an initial bout of concern that growing trade tensions between the US and China would derail the global economy led to a decline in global equity market indices, about every other day we heard from President Trump that talks were going very well, that a Phase One deal was imminent and that everything would be great. And despite virtually no movement on the subject for months, those comments were sufficient to drive stock prices higher every time they were made. Of course, we all know that a phase one deal was, in fact, reached and signed, but it occurred a scant week before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

What has been truly remarkable is that the market’s reaction to the virus has followed almost the exact same pattern. Once it became clear that Covid-19 was going to be a big deal, causing significant disruption throughout the world, stock prices tumbled in a series of extraordinary sessions in March and early April. But since then, we have seen a powerful rally back to within a few percent of the all-time highs set in February. And these days, every rally is based on the exact same story; to wit, some company [insert name here] is on the cusp of creating a successful Covid vaccine and things will be back to normal soon.

So, as almost all of us continue to work from home, shelter in place and maintain our social distance, investors (gamblers?) have discerned that everything is just fine, and that economic recovery is on the way. And maybe they are right. Maybe history is going to look back on this time and show it was an extremely large disruption, but an extremely short-term one that had almost no long-term impact. But, boy, that seems like a hard picture to paint if you simply look at the data and understand how economies work.

Every day we see data that describes how extraordinary the impact of government lockdown policies has been, with rampant unemployment, virtual halts in manufacturing, complete halts in group entertainment and bankruptcies of erstwhile venerable companies. And every day the global equity markets rally on the prospect of a new vaccine being discovered. I get that markets are forward looking, but they certainly seem blind to the extent of damage already inflicted and what that means for the future. Even if activities went back to exactly the way they were before the outbreak, the fact remains that many businesses are no longer in existence. They could not withstand the complete absence of revenues for an extended period of time, and so have been permanently shuttered. And while new businesses will rise to take their place, that is not an overnight process. It seems thin gruel to rally on the fact that Germany’s IFO Expectations Index rallied from its historically worst print (69.4) to its second worst print (80.1), but slightly higher than expected. Or that the GfK Consumer Confidence managed the same feat (-23.4 to -18.9). Both of these data points are correlated with extremely deep recessions.

And yet, that is the situation in which we find ourselves. The dichotomy between extremely weak economic activity and a strong belief that not only is the worst behind us, but that the damage inflicted has been modest, at best. Today is a perfect example of that situation with risk firmly in the ascendancy after the long holiday weekend.

Equity markets are on fire, rallying sharply in Asia (Nikkei +2.5%, Hang Seng +1.9%, Shanghai +1.0%) despite the fact that there is evidence that a second wave of infections is growing in China and may once again force the government there to shut down large swathes of the economy. Europe, too, is rocking with the FTSE 100 (+1.2%) leading the way although gains seen across the board (DAX +0.6%, CAC +1.1%). And US futures would not dare to be left out of this rally, with all three indices up around 2.0%. Meanwhile, Treasury yields are higher by 3.5 basis points with German bund yields higher by 6bps. Of course, Italy, Portugal and Greece have all seen their yields slide as those bond markets behave far more like risk assets than havens.

I would be remiss to ignore the commodity markets which have seen oil rally a further 2.25% this morning, back to $34/bbl and the highest point since the gap down at the beginning of this process back in early March. Gold, on the other hand, is a bit softer, down 0.3%, but remains firmly above $1700/oz as many investors continue to look at central bank activity and register concern over the future value of any fiat currency.

And then there is the dollar, which has fallen almost across the board overnight, and is substantially lower than where we left it Friday afternoon. In the G10 space, AUD (+1.3%) and NZD (+1.5%) are the leaders on the back of broadly positive risk sentiment helped by a better than expected Trade Surplus in New Zealand along with a larger than expected rebound in the ANZ Consumer Confidence Index, to its second lowest reading in history. But the pound is higher by 1.1% on prospects of an end to the nationwide lockdown in the UK. And in fact, other than the yen, which is unchanged, the rest of the bloc is firmer by 0.5% or more, largely on the positive risk sentiment.

In the emerging markets, the runaway winner is the Mexican peso, up 2.7% since Friday’s close as a combination of higher oil prices, a more hawkish Banxico than expected and growing belief that the US, its major export partner, is reopening has led to a huge short-squeeze in the FX markets. In the past week, the peso has recouped nearly 7% of its losses this year and is now down a mere 14.5% year-to-date. Helping the story is the just released GDP number for Q1, which showed a decline of only -1.2%, better than the initially reported -1.6%. But we are also seeing strength throughout the EMG bloc, with PLN (+1.8%), BRL (+1.6%) and ZAR (+1.2%) all putting in strong performances. Risk sentiment is clearly strong today.

Into this voracious risk appetite, we will see a great deal of data this holiday-shortened week as follows:

Today Case Shiller Home Prices 3.40%
  New Home Sales 480K
  Consumer Confidence 87.0
Wednesday Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 2.1M
  Continuing Claims 25.75M
  Q1 GDP -4.8%
  Q1 Personal Consumption -7.5%
  Durable Goods -19.8%
  -ex transport -15.0%
Friday Personal Income -6.5%
  Personal Spending -12.8%
  Core PCE Deflator -0.3% (1.1% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 40.0
  Michigan Sentiment 74.0

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to the plethora of data, we hear from six different Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell on Friday morning. On this front, however, the entire FOMC has been consistent, explaining that they will continue to do what they deem necessary, that they have plenty of ammunition left, and that the immediate future of the economy will be awful, but things will improve over time.

In the end, risk is being snapped up like it is going out of style this morning, as both investors and traders continue to look across the abyss. I hope they are right…I fear they are not. But as long as they continue to behave in this manner, the dollar will remain under pressure. It rallied a lot this year, so there is ample room for it to decline further.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Truly a Curse

In China, it’s gotten much worse
This virus that’s truly a curse
How fast will it spread?
And how many dead?
Ere treatment helps it to disperse.

Despite the fact that we have two important central bank meetings this week, the Fed and the BOE, the market is focused on one thing only, 2019-nCoV, aka the coronavirus. The weekend saw the number of confirmed infections rise to more than 2800, with 81 deaths as of this moment. In the US, there are 5 confirmed cases, but the key concern is the news that prior to the city of Wuhan (the epicenter of the outbreak) #fom locked down, more than 5 million people left town at the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday. While I am not an epidemiologist, I feel confident in saying that this will seem worse before things finally settle down.

And it’s important to remember that the reason the markets are responding has nothing to do with the human tragedy, per se, but rather that the economic impact has the potential to be quite significant. At this point, risk is decidedly off with every haven asset well bid (JPY +0.35%, 10-year Treasury yields -7bps, gold +0.8%) while risk assets have been quickly repriced lower (Nikkei -2.0%, DAX -2.0%, CAC -2.1%, FTSE 100 -2.1%, DJIA futures -1.4%, SPX futures -1.4%, WTI -3.0%).

Economists and analysts are feverishly trying to model the size of the impact to economic activity. However, that is a Sisyphean task at this point given the combination of the recency of the onset of the disease as well as the timing, at the very beginning of the Lunar New year, one of the most active commercial times in China. The Chinese government has extended the holiday to February 2nd (it had been slated to end on January 30th), and they are advising businesses in China not to reopen until February 9th. And remember, China was struggling to overcome a serious slowdown before all this happened.

It should be no surprise that one of the worst performing currencies this morning is the off-shore renminbi, which has fallen 0.8% as of 7:00am. In fact, I think this will be a key indicator of what is happening in China as it is the closest thing to a real time barometer of sentiment there given the fact that the rest of the Chinese financial system is closed. CNH is typically a very low volatility currency, so a movement of this magnitude is quite significant. In fact, if it continues to fall sharply, I would not be surprised if the PBOC decided to intervene in order to prevent what it is likely to believe is a short-term problem. There has been no sign yet, but we will watch carefully.

And in truth, this is today’s story, the potential ramifications to the global economy of the spreading infection. With that in mind, though, we should not forget some other featured news. The weekend brought a modestly surprising outcome from Italian regional elections, where Matteo Salvini, the populist leader of the League, could not overcome the history of center-left strength in Emilia-Romagna and so the current coalition government got a reprieve from potential collapse. Salvini leads in the national polls there, and the belief was if his party could win the weekend, it would force the governing coalition to collapse and new elections to be held ushering in Salvini as the new PM. However, that was not to be. The market response has been for Italian BTP’s (their government bonds) to rally sharply, with 10-year yields tumbling 18bps. This has not been enough to offset the risk-off mentality in equity markets there, but still a ray of hope.

We also saw German IFO data significantly underperform expectations (Business Climate 95.9, Expectations 92.9) with both readings lower than the December data. This is merely a reminder that things in Germany, while perhaps not accelerating lower, are certainly not accelerating higher. The euro, however, is unchanged on the day, as market participants are having a difficult time determining which currency they want to hold as a haven, the dollar or the euro. Elsewhere in the G10, it should be no surprise that AUD and NZD are the laggards (-0.85% and -0.65% respectively) as both are reliant on the Chinese economy for economic activity. Remember, China is the largest export destination for both nations, as well as the source of a significant amount of inbound tourism. But the dollar remains strong throughout the space.

Emerging markets are showing similar activity with weakness throughout the space led by the South African rand (-1.0%) on the back of concerns over the disposition of state-owned Eskom Holdings, the troubled utility, as well as the general macroeconomic concerns over the coronavirus outbreak and its ultimate impact on the South African economy. Meanwhile, the sharp decline in the price of oil has weighed on the Russian ruble, -0.9%.

As I mentioned above, we do have two key central bank meetings this week, as well as a significant amount of data as follows:

Today New Home Sales 730K
  Dallas Fed Manufacturing -1.8
Tuesday Durable Goods 0.5%
  -ex Transport 0.3%
  Case Shiller Home Prices 2.40%
  Consumer Confidence 128.0
Wednesday Advance Goods Trade Balance -$65.0B
  FOMC Rate Decision 1.75% (unchanged)
Thursday BOE Rate Decision 0.75% (unchanged)
  Initial Claims 215K
  GDP (Q4) 2.1%
Friday Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.3%
  Core PCE Deflator 1.6%
  Chicago PMI 49.0
  Michigan Sentiment 99.1

Source: Bloomberg
Regarding the BOE meeting, the futures market is back to pricing in a 60% probability of a rate cut, up from 47% on Friday, which seems to be based on the idea that the coronavirus is going to have a significant enough impact to require further monetary easing by central banks. As to the Fed, there is far more discussion about what they may be able to do in the future as they continue to review their policies, rather than what they will do on Wednesday. Looking at the spread of data this week, we should get a pretty good idea as to whether the pace of economic activity in the US has changed, although forecasts continue to be for 2.0%-2.5% GDP growth this year.

And that’s really it for the day. Until further notice, the growing epidemic in China remains the number one story for all players, and risk assets are likely to remain under pressure until there is some clarity as to when it may stop spreading.

Good luck
Adf