No Respite

This weekend, alas, brought no respite
As markets are still in the cesspit
A worrying trend
While govs try to end
The panic, is that they turn despot

Well, things have not gotten better over the weekend, in fact, arguably they continue to deteriorate rapidly. And I’m not talking markets here, although they are deteriorating as well. More and more countries have determined that the best way to fight this scourge is to lockdown their denizens and prevent gatherings of more than a few people while imposing minimum distance restrictions to be maintained between individuals. And of course, given the crisis at hand, a virulently contagious disease, it makes perfect sense as a way to prevent its further spread. But boy, doesn’t it have connotations of a dictatorship?

The attempt to prevent large groups from gathering is a hallmark of dictators who want to prevent a revolution from upending their rule. The instructions to maintain a certain distance are simply a reminder that the government is more powerful than you and can force you to act in a certain manner. Remember, too, that governments, once they achieve certain powers, are incredibly loathe to give them up willingly. Those in charge want to remain so and will do almost anything to do so. Milton Friedman was spot on when he reminded us that, “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” The point is, while the virus could not be foreseen, the magnitude of the economic impact is directly proportional to the economic policies that preceded it. In other words, a decade of too-easy money led to a massive amount of leverage, which under ‘normal’ market conditions was easily serviceable, but which has suddenly become a millstone around the economy’s neck. And adding more leverage won’t solve the problem. Both the economic and financial crisis have a ways to go yet, although they will certainly take more twists and turns before ending.

None of this, though, has dissuaded governments worldwide from trying every trick suggested to prevent an economic depression. At the same time, pundits and analysts are in an arms race, to make sure they will be heard, in forecasting economic catastrophe. Q2 US GDP growth is now being forecast to decline by anywhere from 5% to 50%! And the high number ostensibly came from St Louis Fed President James Bullard. Now I will be the first to tell you that I have no idea how Q2 will play out, but I also know that given the current circumstances, and the fact that the virus is a truly exogenous event, it strikes me that any macroeconomic model built based on historical precedents is going to be flat out wrong. And remember, too, we are still in Q1. If the draconian measures implemented are effective, recovery could well be underway by May 15 and that would result in a significant rebound in the second half of Q2. Certainly, that’s an optimistic viewpoint, but not impossible. The point is, we simply don’t know how the next several quarters are going to play out.

In the meantime, however, there is one trend that is becoming clearer in the markets; when a country goes into lockdown its equity market gets crushed. India is the latest example, with the Sensex falling 13.1% last night after the government imposed major restrictions on all but essential businesses and reduced transportation services. Not surprisingly, the rupee also suffered, falling 1.2% to a new record low. RBI activity to stem the tide has been marginally effective, at best, and remarkably, it appears that India is lagging even the US in terms of the timeline of Covid-19’s impact. The rupee has further to fall.

Singapore, too, has seen a dramatic weakening in its dollar, falling 0.9% today and trading to its lowest level since 2009. The stock exchange there also tumbled, -7.3%, as the government banned large gatherings and limited the return of working ex-pats.

These are just highlights (lowlights?) of what has been another difficult day in financial markets around the world. The one thing we have seen is that the Fed’s USD swap lines to other central banks have been actively utilized around the world as dollar liquidity remains at a premium. Right now, basis swaps have declined from their worst levels as these central bank activities have reduced some of the worst pressure for now. A big concern is that next Tuesday is quarter end (year end for Japan) and that dollar funding requirements over the accounting period could be extremely large, exacerbating an already difficult situation.

A tour around the FX markets shows that the dollar remains king against most everything although the yen has resumed its haven status, at least for today, by rallying 0.3%. Interestingly, NOK has turned around and is actually the strongest currency as I type, up 0.8% vs. the dollar after having been down as much as 1.3% earlier. This reversal appears to be on the back of currency intervention by the Norgesbank, which is the only thing that can explain the speed and magnitude of the movement ongoing as I type. What that tells me is that when they stop, NOK will resume its trip lower. But the rest of the G10 is on its heels, with kiwi the laggard, -1.25%, after the RBNZ jumped into the QE game and said they would be buying NZD 30 billion throughout the year. AUD and GBP are both lower by nearly 1.0%, as both nations struggle with their Covid responses on the healthcare front, not so much the financial front, as each contemplates more widespread restrictions.

In the emerging markets, IDR is actually the worst performer of all, down 3.7%, as despite central bank provision of USD liquidity, dollars remain in significant demand. This implies there may be a lack of adequate collateral to use to borrow dollars and could presage a much harsher decline in the future. But MXN and KRW are both lower by 1.5%, and remember, South Korea has been held up as a shining example of how to combat the disease. Their problem stems from the fact that as an export driven economy, the fact that the rest of the world is slowing rapidly is going to be devastating in the short-term.

Turning to the data, this week things will start to be interesting again as we see the first numbers that include the wave of shut-downs and limits on activity.

Today Chicago Fed Activity -0.29
Tuesday PMI Manufacturing 44.0
  PMI Services 42.0
  New Home Sales 750K
Wednesday Durable Goods -1.0%
  -ex transport -0.4%
Thursday Initial Claims 1500K
  Q4 GDP 2.1%
Friday Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.2%
  PCE Deflator core 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
  Michigan Sentiment 90.0

Source: Bloomberg

Tomorrow’s PMI data and Thursday’s Initial Claims are the first data that will have the impact of the extraordinary measures taken against the virus, so the real question is, just how bad will they be? I fear they could be much worse than expected, and that is not going to help our equity markets. It will, however, perversely help the dollar, as fear grows further.

Forecasting is a mugs game at all times, but especially now. The only thing that is clear is that the dollar continues to be in extreme demand and is likely to be so until we start to hear that the spread of Covid-19 has truly slowed down. That said, the dollar will not rally forever, so payables hedgers should be thinking of places where they can add to their books.

Good luck and stay well
Adf

No Panacea

Fiscal stimulus
Is no panacea, but
Welcome nonetheless

At least by markets
And politicians as well
If it buys them votes!

Perhaps the MMTer’s are right, fiscal rectitude is passé and governments that are not borrowing and spending massive amounts of money are needlessly harming their own countries. After all, what other lesson can we take from the fact that Japan, the nation with the largest debt/GDP ratio (currently 236%) has just announced they are going to borrow an additional ¥26 trillion ($239 billion) to spend in support of the economy, and the market response was a stock market rally and a miniscule rise in JGB yields of just 1bp. Meanwhile, the yen is essentially unchanged.

Granted, despite the fact that this equates to nearly 5% of the current GDP, given JGB interest rates are essentially 0.0% (actually slightly negative) it won’t cost very much on an ongoing basis. However, at some point the question needs to be answered as to how they will ever repay all that debt. It seems the most likely outcome will be some type of explicit debt monetization, where the BOJ simply tears up maturing bonds and leaves the cash in the economy, thus reducing the debt and maintaining monetary stimulus. However, macroeconomic theory explains following that path will result in significant inflation. And of course, that’s the crux of the MMT philosophy, print money aggressively until inflation picks up.

The thing is, every time this process has been followed in the past, it basically destroyed the guilty country. Consider Weimar Germany, Zimbabwe and even Venezuela today as three of the most famous examples. And while inflation in Japan is virtually non-existent right now, that does not mean it cannot rise quite rapidly in the future. The point is that, currently, the yen is seen as a safe haven currency due to its strong current account surplus and the fact that its net debt position is not terribly large. But the further down this path Japan travels, the more likely those features are to change and that will be a distinct negative for the currency. Of course, this process will take years to play out, and perhaps something else will come along to change the trajectory of these long term processes, but the idea that the yen will remain a haven forever needs to be constantly re-evaluated. Just not today!

In the meantime, markets remain in a buoyant mood as additional comments from the Chinese that both sides remain in “close contact”, implying a deal is near, has the bulls ascendant. So Tuesday’s fears are long forgotten and equity markets are rallying while government bond yields edge higher. As to the dollar, it is generally on its back foot this morning as well, keeping with the theme that risk is ‘on’.

Looking at specific stories, there are several of note today. Overnight, Australia released weaker than expected GDP figures which has reignited the conversation about the RBA cutting rates in Q1 and helped to weaken Aussie by 0.3% despite the USD’s overall weakness. Elsewhere in the G10, British pound traders continue to close out short positions as the polls, with just one week left before the election, continue to point to a Tory victory and with it, finality on the Brexit issue. My view continues to be that the market is buying pounds in anticipation of this outcome, and that once the election results are final, there will be a correction. It is still hard for me to see the pound much above 1.34. However, there are a number of analysts who are calling for 1.45 in the event of a strong Tory majority, so be aware of the differing viewpoints.

On the Continent, German Factory Order data disappointed, yet again, falling 0.4% rather than rising by a similar amount as expected. This takes the Y/Y decline to 5.5% and hardly bodes well for a rebound in Germany. However, the euro has edged higher this morning, up 0.15% and hovering just below 1.11, as we have seen a number of stories rehashing the comments of numerous ECB members regarding the idea that negative interest rates have reached their inflection point where further cuts would do more harm than good. With the ECB meeting next Thursday, expectations for further rate cuts have basically evaporated for the next year, despite the official guidance that more is coming. In other words, the market no longer believes the ECB can will ease policy further, and the euro is likely edging higher as that idea makes its way through the market. Nonetheless, I see no reason for the euro to trade much higher at all, especially as the US economy continues to outperform the Eurozone.

In the emerging markets, the RBI surprised the entire market and left interest rates on hold, rather than cutting by 25bps as universally expected. The rupee rallied 0.35% on the news as the accompanying comments implied that the recent rise in inflation was of more concern to the bank than the fact that GDP growth was slowing more rapidly than previously expected. In a similar vein, PHP is stronger by 0.5% this morning after CPI printed a bit higher than expected (1.3%) and the market assumed there is now less reason for the central bank to continue its rate cutting cycle thus maintaining a more attractive carry destination. On the other side of the ledger, ZAR is under pressure this morning, falling 0.5% after data releases showed the current account deficit growing more rapidly than expected while Electricity production (a proxy for IP) fell sharply. It seems that in some countries, fiscal rectitude still matters!

On the data front this morning, we see Initial Claims (exp 215K), Trade Balance (-$48.5B), Factory Orders (0.3%) and Durable Goods (0.6%, 0.6% ex transport). Yesterday we saw weaker than expected US data (ADP Employment rose just 67K and ISM Non-Manufacturing fell to 53.9) which has to be somewhat disconcerting for Chairman Powell and friends. If today’s slate of data is weak, and tomorrow’s NFP report underwhelms, I think that can be a situation where the dollar comes under more concerted pressure as expectations of further Fed rate cuts will build. But for now, I am still in the camp that the Fed is on hold, the data will be mixed and the dollar will hold its own, although is unlikely to rally much from here for the time being.

Good luck
Adf

Talks Remain Tough

In Brussels they’re starting to say
A soft Brexit’s soon on the way
Though talks remain tough
There could be enough
To reach an agreement today!

Nothing has changed with regard to which stories are market drivers, although on the equity front we now get to add Q3 earnings to the mix. But as far as FX is concerned, Brexit and trade still dominate the discussion. Regarding Brexit, the rumblings from Brussels have been far more positive this morning, with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, explaining that a deal was still possible before the EU Summit on Thursday, but difficult. Apparently, the UK has submitted detailed plans of how they would like to address the Irish border situation, and there is serious consideration although negotiations continue. From Parliament, the word is that the votes will be there to pass any deal agreed by PM Johnson, as the Tories and Brexiteers recognize that Boris was a Brexiteer from the get-go. The Summit begins in two days, and I continue to expect that a deal, ‘in principal’ will be agreed beforehand. It should be no surprise that the pound has rallied on the news, after giving up some of Friday’s gains during the European session yesterday. This morning, Sterling is higher by 0.4%, although since we closed Friday, it is actually lower by 0.2%. Nonetheless, I continue to see scope for significant advancement here upon the news that deal has been reached.

As to the trade story, Friday also proved to be something of a false dawn as the Chinese backed away from the idea that a deal has been struck and are seeking continued discussions. This morning, however, there seems to be a bit more upbeat tone, even with the Chinese, as it is clear that talks will continue over the next few weeks at both mid-level and high-level (Mnuchin, Lighthizer and Liu He) conference calls. The Chinese have also figured out that they need to import a LOT if pork and that is something of which the US possesses a great deal. Overnight, Chinese data showed PPI falling 1.2%, meaning factories continue to lose pricing power, but CPI rose 3.0%, above expectations and starting to put pressure on the government. As part of that CPI rise, pork prices rose 69%! African swine fever is clearly taking its toll on the Chinese swine herd. This morning, the Chinese offered to remove tariffs on $50 billion of agricultural products if the US would remove a similar amount. While no decision has been made, I expect that there will be agreement on this subject as for President Trump, the demographics of the beneficiaries of this action would be his biggest supporters. Despite broad dollar strength since Friday, we continue to see the renminbi (+0.2% since Friday) perform well, a testimony to the PBOC’s efforts to prevent the currency from weakening, but also in response, I think, to the idea that there is positive movement on the trade front.

Away from those stories, we continue to see weak Eurozone growth data, with the German ZEW Survey falling to -22.8, slightly better than expected but still miles below its longer term average of +12.8. On top of that, a survey of 53 economists by Bloomberg has forecast that German GDP will shrink 0.1% in Q3, defining a technical recession in the country, and weighing further on the entire Eurozone. As I have repeatedly pointed out, the EU cannot afford a hard Brexit and are highly incented to reach an agreement this week. The euro, which had been holding its own of late has given up 0.2% this morning and a bit more since Friday and is back at the 1.1000 level, although that is in the upper half of performers in the G10 space. The biggest loser is NZD, which is down 1.1% since Friday after the RBNZ bid for bonds, which traders read as a form of QE, and which is tracking Aussie lower after remarks from the RBA indicate that further easing is on the way.

The other big loser this morning is the Norwegian krone, which has fallen 0.8% since Friday following oil prices’ downward trajectory. The latter is due to a combination of concerns over slowing global growth reducing demand for oil, while inventories continue to rise.

In the EMG space, INR is today’s largest mover, sliding 0.75% after CPI data was released at a higher than expected 3.99% in September. The rupee had been a beneficiary of inward investment based on the idea that quiescent inflation would allow further RBI rate cuts and enhanced growth and equity market performance. However, if inflation has bottomed, it seems that investors are likely to be a little more circumspect. Overnight there was clear selling of Indian bonds by international investors leading to the currency’s decline. However, beyond that movement, the EMG bloc had more losers than gainers, but none with a significant move or story.

On the data front this week, we see a bunch of middle tier data with the highlight arguably Retail Sales.

Wednesday Retail Sales 0.3%
  -ex autos 0.2%
  Business Inventories 0.2%
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Housing Starts 1320K
  Building Permits 1350K
  Philly Fed 8.0
  IP -0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 77.7%
Friday Leading Indicators 0.1%

In addition to the data, we hear from a total of ten Fed speakers this week, ranging from the uber-dove James Bullard to the uber-hawk Esther George and every spot along the spectrum in between. Overall, the Fed message has been that they feel the economy is in a ‘good’ place, but they won’t hesitate to ease further if the data turns downward. Of course, their message was also that buying $60 billion / month of T-bills to help ease reserve conditions was in no way more QE. That is a much tougher circle to square.

Looking ahead, the market remains headline driven so care needs to be taken. There is no clear risk view this morning with both equity futures and Treasuries higher, and the dollar is mixed, again clouding any view. My expectation is that the market will likely tread water ahead of the next piece of news. And my money remains on that being a positive Brexit story.

Good luck
Adf

Past Its Shelf Life

The narrative most of this year
Described central banks full of fear
So rates they would cut
Which might help somewhat
But so far that hasn’t been clear

Instead every meeting’s been rife
With conflict, dissension and strife
For NIRP, the doves pine
While hawks like to whine
That policy’s past its shelf life

At the end of a week filled with numerous central bank meetings, it’s time to consider what we’ve learned. Arguably, the first thing is that groupthink in the central banking community is not quite as widespread as we previously believed. This was made evident by the three dissenting votes at the FOMC on Wednesday as well as last week’s ECB meeting, where at least five members of the council argued vociferously for no further stimulus. The funny thing is that while I understand the European monetary hawks’ zeitgeist, (German hyperinflation of the 1920’s) the fact remains that Europe is slipping into recession and arguably the ECB is correct in trying to address that. With that said, I would argue they would have been far better off extending the TLTRO’s to an even longer maturity and cut rates there, allowing banks to earn from the ECB while they lend to clients at a positive rate. Simply cutting the deposit rate to -0.50% is very unlikely to spur growth further, at least based on the fact that it has not helped yet.

At the same time, the FOMC also has a wide range of opinions on display. Not only were there two hawkish dissents, there was a dovish one as well. And based on the dot plot, after this cut, there are now ten of the seventeen members who see no further rate action in 2019. Meanwhile, the market is still pricing in a 69% probability of a cut by the December meeting. There was a comment by a famous hedge fund trader that Chairman Powell is the weakest chairman in decades, based on these dissents, but it was just three years ago, in the September 2016 meeting when Janet Yellen chaired the Fed, that there were also three dissents at a meeting, with all three seeking a rate hike, while the Fed stood pat. The point is, it is probably a bit unfair to be claiming Powell is weak because some members have different views. And in the big picture, shouldn’t we want a diversity of ideas at the Fed? I think that would make for a healthier debate.

Two other meetings stand out, the BOJ and the PBOC, or at least actions by those banks stand out. While the BOJ left policy on hold officially, they not only promised a re-evaluation of the current monetary policy framework, but last night, they significantly reduced the amount of JGB’s that they purchased in the longer maturities. The absent ¥50 billion surprised market players and helped drive the yields on the back end higher by between 3-4bps. The BOJ have made it clear that they are interested in a steeper yield curve, and that’s just what they got. Their problem is that despite decades of ZIRP and then NIRP, as well as a massive QE program, their inflation target remains as far away as ever. Last night, for example, CPI was released at 0.5% Y/Y ex fresh food, the lowest level since mid-2017. It seems pretty clear that their actions have been a failure for decades and show no sign of changing. Perhaps they could use a little dissent!

Finally, the PBOC cut its 1-year Loan Prime Rate (its new monetary benchmark) by 5bps last night, the second consecutive cut and an indication that they are trying to add stimulus without inflating any financial bubbles. While this move was widely anticipated, they did not change the level of the 5-year Rate, which was also anticipated. The overall difference here, though, is that the PBOC is clearly far less concerned with what happens to investors than most Western central banks. After all, they explicitly take their marching orders from President Xi, so the overall scope of policy is out of their hands.

When looking at the impact of these moves, though, at least in the currency markets, the thrust was against the grain of what was desired by the central banks. If you recall last week, the euro initially declined, but then rallied sharply by the end of the day after the ECB meeting and has largely maintained those gains. Then yesterday we saw JPY strength, with no reprieve overnight after their change of stance, while the renminbi has actually strengthened 0.2% overnight in the wake of the rate cut. As I have been writing, central banks are slowly losing their grip on the markets, a situation which I believe to be healthy, but also one that will see increased volatility over time.

Looking at the market activity overnight, the screen shows that one of the best performers was INR, with the rupee gaining 0.5%. This comes on the back of the government’s announced $20 billion stimulus plan of corporate tax cuts. While equity markets there responded joyfully, Sensex +5.3%, government bonds fell sharply, with 10-year yields rising 15bps as bond investors questioned the ability of the government to run larger deficits. But away from that, the FX market was quite dull. EMG currencies saw both gainers and losers, with INR the biggest mover. G10 currencies were pretty much the same story with NZD the biggest mover, falling 0.4% after S&P explained that New Zealand banks still had funding problems.

The other two big stories have had mixed impact, with positive trade vibes being felt as low-level talks between the US and China have been ongoing this week, while the UK Supreme Court is now done with its hearings and we all simply await the decision. At the same time, EC President Juncker sounded positive that a Brexit deal could be done although Ireland continues to claim that nothing is close. The pound rallied on Juncker’s comments, but fell back below 1.25 after Ireland weighed in. Ask yourself if you think the rest of the EU will tolerate a solo Irish dissent on getting to a deal. It ain’t gonna happen.

As to today’s session, there is no data to be released but we will hear from three Fed speakers, Williams first thing, then Rosengren and Kaplan. It will be interesting to see how they try to spin things as to the Fed’s future activities. With that in mind, the biggest surprise seems like it can come from the UK , if we hear from the Supreme Court later today. While there is no clarity when they will rule, it is not out of the question. As to the dollar, it has no overall momentum and I see no reason for it to develop any without a catalyst.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Still Some Doubt

One vote from six hundred is all
That set apart sides in this brawl
So hard Brexit’s out
But there’s still some doubt
That hard Brexit they can forestall

Well, Parliament finally found a majority yesterday regarding Brexit. In a cross-party vote, by 313-312, Parliament voted to not leave the EU without a deal in hand. While they still hate the deal on the table, there are now discussions between PM May and opposition Labour leader Corbyn as to how they can proceed. There is lots of talk of a customs union solution, which would essentially prevent the UK from making trade deals on its own, one of the key benefits originally touted by the pro Brexit crowd. But time is still running out with PM may slated to speak to the EU next Wednesday and explain why the UK should be granted another delay. Remember, it requires a unanimous vote of the other 27 members to grant that delay.

Another interesting tidbit is that the UK government has 10,000 police on standby for potential riots this weekend as there is some talk that Parliament may simply cancel Brexit completely. You may recall that late last year, the European Court of Justice ruled that the UK could do that unilaterally, and so that remains one option. This follows from the train of thought that now that the law states they cannot leave the EU without a deal, if there is no deal to which they can agree, then not leaving is the only other choice. Arguably, the most interesting thing about this has been the market’s reaction. The pound is actually a touch softer this morning, by just 0.1%, but that was after a very modest 0.2% rally yesterday. It continues to trade just north of 1.30 and market participants are clearly not yet convinced that a solution is at hand. If that were the case, I would expect the pound to have rallied much more significantly. If Brexit is canceled, look for a move toward 1.38-1.40 initially. The thing is, it is not clear that it will maintain those levels given the ongoing economic malaise. Ultimately, if we remove Brexit from the calculations, the pound is simply another currency that needs to compare its economic fundamentals to those in the US and will be found wanting in that category as well. I expect a slow drift lower after an initial jump.

Turning to the US-China trade discussions, today Chinese vice-premier Liu He is scheduled to meet with President Trump, a sign many believe means that a deal is quite near. From the information available, it seems that the sticking points continue to be tariff related, with the US insisting that the current tariffs remain in place until the Chinese demonstrate they are complying with the deal and only then slowly rolled back. The US is also seeking the ability to unilaterally impose tariffs in the future, without retaliation, in the event that terms of the deal are not upheld by China. Naturally, China wants all tariffs removed immediately and doesn’t want to agree to unilateral action by the US. One side is going to have to back down, but I could see it being a split where tariffs remain for now, but unilateral action is not permitted. In the end, one of the key issues has always been the fact that the Chinese tend to ignore the laws they write when it is deemed to suit the national interest. Will this time be different? History shows that this time is never different, but we shall see.

Certainly, equity markets cannot get enough of the idea that this trade deal is coming as it continues to rally, especially in China, on the prospects of a successful conclusion. While markets today are generally little changed, Shanghai did manage another 1% jump last night. I guess the real question here is if a deal is agreed and President’s Trump and Xi meet and sign it sometime later this month, what will be the next catalyst for the equity market to rally? Will growth really rebound that quickly? Seems unlikely. Will the central banks add more stimulus? Also unlikely if they see these headwinds fade. In other words, can risk-on remain the market preference indefinitely?

Turning to the actual data, once again Germany showed that the slump there is real, and possibly worsening. Factory Orders fell 4.2% in February, much worse than the expected 0.2% gain and the steepest decline in two years. It is also the third decline in the past four months, hardly the sign of an economy rebounding. In fact, German growth forecasts were cut significantly today by its own Economy Ministry, taking expectations for 2019 down to 0.8% GDP growth for the year, less than half the previous forecast. But despite the lousy data, the euro is basically unchanged on the day and actually over the past week. Traders are looking for a more definitive catalyst, arguably something new from a central bank, before they make their next move. Ultimately, as the German data shows, I think it increasingly unlikely that the ECB can tighten policy in any way for a long time yet, and that bodes ill for the since currency.

There has been one noteworthy mover overnight, the Indian rupee has fallen a bit more than 1% after the RBI cut rates by 25bps at their monthly meeting last night. While this was widely anticipated, the RBI came out much more dovish than expected, indicating another cut was on the way and that they would ‘…use all tools available to it to ensure liquidity in the banking system…’ which basically means that easier money is on the way. I expect that the rupee will have a bit further to fall from here.

But otherwise, it was a pretty dull session overnight. The only data this morning is Initial Claims (exp 216K), but with payrolls tomorrow, that is unlikely to quicken any pulses. We also hear from both Loretta Mester and John Williams, but the Fed story is carved in stone for now, no policy changes this year. Yesterday’s softer than expected ISM Non-Manufacturing data will simply reconfirm that there is no reason for the Fed to start tightening again. All told, it doesn’t feel like much is going to happen today as the market starts to prepare for tomorrow’s NFP report. Unless Brexit is canceled, look for a quiet session ahead.

Good luck
Adf

 

Heavy-Handed

There once was a large bloc of nations
That gathered to foster relations
On how they should trade
That they might dissuade
A conflict midst trade accusations

But slowly their mission expanded
As rules on more things they demanded
One nation resented
These unprecedented
Requests which they thought heavy-handed

This nation expressed their dissention
By voting to leave that convention
But three years have passed
And no deal’s amassed
Support so they need an extension

I apologize for the length of this morning’s ditty, but sometimes it takes more than one stanza to tell the story.

Brexit is once again the top story today, although the FOMC meeting and US-China trade talks are still in the news. With just nine days left before the UK is due to leave the EU, there is still no agreed upon deal between the two sides of the negotiation. Today, the EU has a council meeting of all its leaders and PM May will be making a speech and asking for an extension. The question has been, how long would she request? At this time, it appears it will be short, just three months, as she is seeking to get the negotiated text voted on in Parliament one more time. However, there has been pushback by several other EU members concerned that three months won’t be enough time to change anything. In fact, some EU members want a much longer delay in order to push for a second Brexit vote; you know, to get the ‘right’ answer this time. At any rate, Brexit continues to be a slow-motion train wreck and all are fascinated to watch, if not to live through its consequences.

As an aside, a conversation I had yesterday with a local who has become more engaged in politics there, indicated that there is an abject fear of leaving without a deal, and that despite the many bad things about PM May’s deal, there will be many MP’s who vote for it rather than allowing a hard Brexit. Certainly that is what May is counting on. We shall see. The FX market continues to react to the ebbs and flows of the conversation and this morning is ebbing. The pound is down 0.3% as it seems some traders are losing confidence in the outcome. As I have repeatedly said, despite the fears of a no-deal outcome, the law remains for the UK to leave next Friday whether there is a deal in place or not, and that is a non-zero probability. If that is the case, the pound will suffer greatly, especially because that is clearly not the current expectation. Hedgers be ready.

On to the FOMC, which will release their policy statement at 2:00 this afternoon, along with their latest economic projections (expected to see GDP growth lowered slightly) and the infamous dot plot. Chairman Powell had made an effort, prior to the quiet period, to minimize the importance of the dots as those projections do not contain error bars showing the level of uncertainty attached to the forecasts. But the market is still talking about them non-stop. I guess six years of harping on the importance of forward guidance, BY THE FED, has trained market participants to pay attention to forward guidance. My money remains on the idea that the median dot will be at no more rate increases this year, and a more pronounced reduction in the long-term neutral rate. However, there are a number of analysts who are warning that the dot plot could look much more hawkish, highlighting another rate hike this year and one more next year. if that is the case, I expect equity markets to suffer, as it is pretty clear the market has priced out any further rate hikes.

In addition, we cannot forget the balance sheet story, where I remain convinced that the balance sheet roll-off will be slated to end by June, and that the composition will be focused on shorter term securities. The idea that shortening the maturity profile now will result in more ammunition for fighting the next economic downturn will prove quite appealing. After all, a big fear of the Fed is the howls of protest from the Austrian school (read Congressional monetary hawks) if they restart QE during the next recession. Shortening the average maturity of holdings now will allow them to maintain the size of the balance sheet while still adding stimulus in the next downturn by extending the maturity then.

And finally, on the trade front, despite a story yesterday indicating the Chinese were backing away from earlier agreements on IP security, the US delegation of Lighthizer and Mnuchin are heading to Beijing this week, with the Chinese delegation expected to come back here the week after in the final push for a deal. Certainly, equity markets have priced in a successful deal here, and probably so has the dollar. Interestingly, Treasury markets continue to look at the world with a very different view of much slower growth now, and in the future. It appears there is a bit more skepticism by bond traders on the successful outcome of a trade deal, than that of equity traders.

Overall, the dollar is marginally firmer this morning, but as we have seen the last several days, individual currency movements have been muted. The Indian rupee continues to perform well as an equity market rally in Mumbai has drawn in foreign investment and the market increasingly prices in a Modi victory in the upcoming election, which is seen as the most economic friendly outcome available. But even there, the rupee has only rallied 0.3% this morning. Throughout the G10, movement continues to be extremely limited, with 0.1% being the extent of today’s activity (the pound excepted).

Ahead of the FOMC meeting, there is no data to be released today, and equity futures are basically flat, pointing to very modest 0.1% declines on the open. Look for very little movement until the FOMC announcement and the following press conference. And then, it will all depend on the outcome.

Good luck
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Doves Are in Flight

Our central bank’s doves are in flight
As this week the Fed will rewrite
Their previous view
That one hike or two
Was needed to make things alright

Instead as growth everywhere slows
More policy ease they’ll propose
Perhaps not QE
But all will agree
The balance sheet’s size reached its lows

If you were to throw a dart at a map of the world, whichever country you hit would almost certainly be in the midst of easing monetary policy (assuming of course you didn’t hit the ocean.) It is virtually unanimous now that the next move in interest rates is going to be lower. In fact, there are only two nations that are poised to go the other way, Norway and Hong Kong. The former because growth there continues to motor along and, uniquely in the world, inflation is above their target range, most recently printing at 2.6%. The latter is actually under a different kind of pressure, draining liquidity from its economy as there has been a huge inflow of funds driving rates down and pressuring the HKD to the bottom of its band. But aside from those two, its easy money everywhere. Last week the ECB surprised the market by announcing the implementation of a new round of TLTRO’s, rather than just talking about the idea. That was a much faster move than the market had anticipated.

This week it is the Feds turn, where new forecasts and a new dot plot are due. It is widely assumed that economic forecasts will be marked lower given the slowing data picture that has emerged in the US, with the most notable data point being the 20K rise in NFP last month, well below the 180K expected. As such, and given the change in rhetoric since the last dot plot was revealed in December, it is now assumed that the median expectation for FOMC members will be either zero or one rate hikes this year, down from two to three. My money is on zero, with only a few of the hawks (Mester and George) likely to still see even one rate hike in the future.

To me, however, the market surprise will come with regard to the balance sheet reduction that has been ongoing for the past two years. What was “paint drying” in October, and “on autopilot” in December is going to end by June! Mark my words. It is already clear that the Fed wants to stop tightening policy, and despite the claims that the slow shrinkage of the balance sheet would have a limited impact, it is also clear that the impact of reducing reserves has been more than limited. In a similar vein to the ECB acting instead of talking about TLTRO’s last week, look for the Fed to stop the shrinkage by June. There is no right answer to the question, how large should the Fed’s balance sheet be? Instead, it is always seen as a range. However, given the current desire to stop the tightening, why would they wait any longer? If I’m wrong it is because they could simply stop at the end of this month and be done with it, but that might send a panicky message, so June probably fits the bill a bit better.

This is going to hit the market in a very predictable way; a weaker dollar, stronger stocks and stronger bonds. The stock story is easy, as less tightening will continue to be perceived as a boon to earnings and eventually to the economy. Funnily enough, the message to the bond market is likely to be quite different. With 10-year yields already below 2.60% (2.58% this morning), news that the Fed is more concerned about growth is likely to drive inflows, and maybe even help the curve invert. Remember, short end rates are already 2.50%, so it won’t take much to get to an inversion. As to the dollar, while everybody is in easing mode, the new information that the Fed is taking another step will be read as quite dovish and force more long dollar positions to be covered. In the end, I maintain that the situation in the Eurozone remains worse than that in the US, but the timing of announcements and perception of surprise is going to drive the short-term price activity.

Elsewhere in markets, while the China trade talks remain a background story for now, Brexit is edging ever closer. There is still no clear outcome there, although PM May is apparently going to try to get her deal through Parliament again this week. You have to admire her tenacity, if not her success. But here’s an interesting tidbit that hasn’t been widely reported: the vote last week by Parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit wasn’t binding! In other words, absent an agreed delay by the rest of the EU, Brexit is still going to happen at the end of the month, deal or no deal. Again, my point is that the probability of a no-deal Brexit remains distinctly non-zero, and the idea that the pound has reflected Brexit risk at its current level of 1.32 is laughable. If they can’t figure it out, the pound will go a LOT lower.

Of course, today, there is virtually nothing going on in the FX markets, with G10 currencies all within 0.1% of their closing levels on Friday. Even the EMG bloc has seen limited movement with the Indian rupee the only currency to have moved more than 0.5% all day. The rupee’s strength has been evident over the past three weeks as recent fiscal stimulus has attracted significant investment inflows. But beyond that, nothing.

Away from the Fed, this week is extremely quiet on the data front as well:

Tuesday Factory Orders 0.3%
Wednesday FOMC Interest Rate 2.50%
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
  Philly Fed 4.5
Friday Existing Home Sales 5.10M

And that’s it. After the Fed meeting, there is only one speech scheduled, Raphael Bostic on Friday, but given that Powell will be all over the air on Wednesday, it is unlikely to matter much. So this week shapes up as a waiting game, nothing until the FOMC on Wednesday, and then react to whatever they do. Look for quiet FX markets until then.

Good luck
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