Hawks Must Beware

The BOE finally sees
That Brexit may not be a breeze
So hawks must beware
As rates they may pare
For doves, though, this act’s sure to please

Two stories from the UK are driving the narrative forward this morning, at least the narrative about the dollar continuing to strengthen. The first, and most impactful, were comments from BOE member, Michael Saunders, who prior to this morning’s speech was seen as one of the more hawkish members of the MPC. However, he explained that regardless of the Brexit outcome, the continuing slowdown in the UK, may require the BOE to cut rates soon. The UK economy has been under considerable pressure for some time and the data shows no signs of reversing. The market has been pricing in a rate cut for a while, although BOE rhetoric, especially from Governor Carney, worked hard to keep the idea of the next move being a rate hike. But no more. If Saunders is in the cutting camp, you can bet that we will see action at the November meeting, even if there is another Brexit postponement.

And speaking of Brexit postponements, Boris won a court victory in Northern Ireland where a lawsuit had been filed claiming a no-deal Brexit was a breach of the Good Friday accords that brought peace to the country. However, the court ruled it was no such thing, rather it was simply a political act. The upshot is this was seen as a further potential step toward a no-deal outcome, adding to the pound’s woes. In the meantime, Johnson’s government is still at odds with Parliament, and is in the midst of another round of talks with the EU to try to get a deal. It seems the odds of that deal are shrinking, although I continue to believe that the EU will blink. The next five weeks will be extremely interesting.

At any rate, once Saunders’ comments hit the tape, the pound quickly fell 0.5%, although it has since regained a bit of that ground. However, it is now trading below 1.23, its weakest level in two weeks, and as more and more investors and traders reintegrate a hard Brexit into their views, you can look for this decline to continue.

Of course, the other big story is the ongoing impeachment exercise in Congress which has caused further uncertainty in markets. As always, it is extremely difficult to trade a political event, especially one without a specific date attached like a vote. As such, it is difficult to even offer an opinion here. Broadly, in the event President Trump was actually removed from office, I expect the initial move would be risk-off but based on the only other impeachment exercise in recent memory, that of President Clinton in 1998, it took an awful long time to get through the process.

Turning to the data, growth in the Eurozone continues to go missing as evidenced by this morning’s confidence data. Economic Confidence fell to its lowest level in four years while the Business Climate and Industrial Confidence both fell more sharply than expected as well. We continue to see a lack of inflationary impulse in France (CPI 1.1%) and weakness remains the predominant theme. While the euro traded lower earlier in the session, it is actually 0.1% higher as I type. However, remember that the single currency has fallen more than 4.4% since the end of June and nearly 2.0% in the past two weeks alone. With the weekend upon us, it is no surprise that short term positions are being pared.

Overall, the dollar is having a mixed session. The yen and pound are vying for worst G10 performers, but the movement remains fairly muted. It seems the yen is benefitting from today’s risk-on feeling, which was just boosted by news that a cease-fire in Yemen is now backed by the Saudis. It is no surprise that oil is lower on the news, with WTI down 1.1%, and equity market have also embraced the news, extending early gains. On the other side of the coin, the mild risk-on flavor has helped the rest of the bunch.

In the EMG space it is also a mixed picture with ZAR suffering the most, -0.35%, as concerns grow over the government’s plans to increase growth. Meanwhile, overnight we saw strength in both PHP and INR (0.45% each) after the Philippine central bank cut rates and followed with a reserve ratio cut to help support the economy. Meanwhile, in India, as the central bank removes restrictions on foreign bond investment, the rupee has benefitted.

But overall, movement has not been large anywhere. US equity futures are pointing higher as we await this morning’s rash of data including: Personal Income (exp 0.4%); Personal Spending (0.3%); Core PCE (1.8%); Durable Goods (-1.0%, 0.2% ex transport); and Michigan Sentiment (92.1). We also hear from two more Fed speakers, Quarles and Harker. Speaking of Fed speakers (sorry), yesterday vice-Chairman Richard Clarida gave a strong indication that the Fed may change their inflation analysis to an average rate over time. This means that they will be comfortable allowing inflation to run hot for a time to offset any period of lower than targeted inflation. Given that inflation has been lower than targeted essentially since they set the target in 2012, if this becomes official policy, you can expect prices to continue to gain more steadily, and you can rule out higher rates anytime soon. In fact, this is quite dovish overall, and something that would work to change my view on the dollar. Essentially, given the history, it means rates may not go up for years! And that is not currently priced into any market, especially not the FX market.

The mixed picture this morning offers no clues for the rest of the day, but my sense is that the dollar is likely to come under further pressure overall, especially if risk is embraced more fully.

Good luck and good weekend
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A New Plan

While all eyes are turned toward Japan
Most central banks made a new plan
If there’s no trade truce
They’ll quickly reduce
Their base rates, stock markets, to fan

As the week comes to a close, the G20 Summit, and more importantly, tomorrow’s meeting between President’s Trump and Xi are the primary focus of investors and traders everywhere. While there is still great uncertainty associated with the meeting, at this point I would characterize the broad sentiment as an expectation that the two leaders will agree to resurrect the talks that were abruptly ended last month, with neither side imposing additional tariffs at this time. And quite frankly, that does seem like a pretty reasonable expectation. However, that is not nearly the same thing as assuming that a deal will be forthcoming soon. The negotiations remain fraught based on the simple fact that both nations view the world in very different ways, and what is SOP in one is seen as outside the bounds in the other. But in the meantime, I expect that markets will take the news that the situation did not deteriorate as a massive bullish signal, if only because the market has taken virtually everything that does not guaranty an apocalypse as a massive bullish signal.

At the same time, it has become abundantly clear that the major central banks have prepared for the worst and are all standing by to ease policy further in the event the talks fall apart. Of course, the major central banks have all been pretty clear lately that they are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea that interest rates can remain much lower than historical levels without stoking inflation. In fact, there are still several central bankers, notably Kuroda-san and Signor Draghi, who feel they are fighting deflation. In fairness, the latest data, released just last night, highlights that runaway inflation is hardly a cause for concern as Japan clocked in at 1.1%, with core at 0.9% and the Eurozone reported inflation at a rip roaring 1.2%, with core at 1.1%. It has been data of this nature that stokes the imagination for further policy ease, despite the fact that both these central banks are already working with negative interest rates.

Now, it must be remembered that there are 18 other national leaders attending the meeting, and many of them have their own concerns over their current relationship with the US. For example, the president has threatened 25% tariffs on imported autos, a move which would have a significantly negative impact on both Germany (and by extension the EU) and Japan. For now, those tariffs are on hold, but it is also clear that because of the intensity of the US-China trade situation, talks about that issue with both the EU and Japan have been relegated to lower level officials. The concern there is that the original six-month delay could simply run out without a serious effort to address the issue. If that were to be the case, the negative consequences on both economies would be significant, however, it is far too soon to make any judgements on the outcome there.

And quite frankly, that is pretty much the entire story for the day. Equity markets remain mixed, with Asia in the red, although the losses were relatively modest at between 0.25% and 0.50%. Europe, meanwhile, has taken a more positive view of the outcome, with markets there rising between 0.2% and 0.5%, which has left US futures pointing to modest, 0.2%, gains at the opening. Bond prices are actually slightly lower this morning (yields higher) but remain within scant basis points of the lows seen recently. For example, Bunds are trading at -0.319%, just 1.5bps from its recent historic low while Treasuries this morning are trading at 2.017%, just 4bps from its recent multi-year lows. Perhaps the most remarkable news from the sovereign bond market was yesterday’s issuance by Austria of 100-year bonds with a coupon of just 1.20%! To my mind, that does not seem like a reasonable return for the period involved, but then, that may be very backwards thinking.

Consider that the acceptance of two policy changes that have been mooted lately, although are still quite controversial, would result in the Austrian issue as being seen as a virtual high-yield bond. Those are the abolition of cash and the acceptance of MMT as the new monetary policy framework. I can assure you that if when cash is abolished, interest rates will turn permanently negative, thus making a yield of 1.20% seem quite attractive, despite the century tenor. As to MMT, it could play out in one of two ways, either government bonds issued as perpetual 0.0% coupons, or the end of issuing debt completely, since the central banks would merely need to print the currency and pay it as directed. In this case too, 1.20% would seem awfully good.

Finally, let’s look at the FX markets this morning, where the dollar is modestly softer against most of its counterparts. But when I say modestly, I am not kidding. Against G10 currencies, the largest movement overnight was NZD’s 0.14% appreciation, with everything else + or – 0.1% or less. In other words, the FX markets are looking at the Trump-Xi meeting and waiting for the outcome before taking a view. Positions remain longer, rather than shorter, USD, but as I have written recently, that view is beginning to change on the back of the idea that the Fed has much further to ease than other central banks. While I agree that is a short-term prospect, I see the losses as limited to the 3%-5% range overall before stability is found.

Turning to the data picture, yesterday saw GDP print as expected at 3.1%. This morning we get Personal Income (exp 0.3%), Personal Spending (0.4%), Core PCE (1.6%). Chicago PMI (53.1) and Michigan Sentiment (98.0). However, barring an outlandish miss in anything, it seems unlikely there will be too much movement ahead of tomorrow’s Trump-Xi meeting. Look for a quiet one.

Good luck and good weekend
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Totally Thwarted

The data that China reported
Showed growth there somewhat less supported
Meanwhile in Hong Kong
The protesting throng
Has bullish views totally thwarted

Once again, risk is under pressure this morning as the litany of potential economic and financial problems continues to grow rather than recede. The latest concerns began last night when China reported slowing Investment (5.6%, below 6.1% expected) and IP (5.0%, weakest since 2002) data (although Retail Sales held up) which led to further concerns over the growth trajectory in the Middle Kingdom. PBOC Governor Yi Gang assures us that China has significant firepower left to address further weakness, but traders are a little less comforted. Adding to concerns are the ongoing protests in Hong Kong over potential new legislation which would allow extradition, to mainland China, of people accused of fomenting trouble in Hong Kong. That is a far cry from the separation that has been key in allowing Hong Kong’s financial markets and economy to flourish despite its close ties to Beijing.

The upshot is that stocks in Hong Kong (-0.65%) and Beijing (-1.0%) fell again, while interest rates in Hong Kong pushed even higher. This has resulted in a liquidity shortage in Hong Kong which is supporting the HKD (+0.2% this week and finally pushing away from the HKMA’s floor). The renminbi, meanwhile, has gone the other way, softening slightly since the protests began. Other signs of pressure were evident by the weakness in AUD and NZD, both of which rely heavily on the Chinese market as their primary export destinations.

Risk is also evident in the energy markets where there has been an escalation in the rhetoric between the US and Iran after the tanker attacks yesterday. This morning the US is claiming it has video proof that Iran was behind the attacks, although it has not been widely accepted as such. Oil prices, which rose sharply yesterday, have maintained those gains, although on the other side of the oil equation is the slowing economy sapping demand. In fact, the IEA is out with a report this morning that next year, production increases in the US, Canada and Brazil will significantly outweigh anemic increases in demand, further pressuring OPEC and likely oil prices overall. However, for the moment, the market concerns are focused on the increased tension in the Gulf with the possibility of a conflict there seeming to rise daily. Remember, risk assets tend to suffer greatly in situations like this.

Aside from the weaker Aussie (-0.25%) and Kiwi (-0.55%), we have also seen strength in the yen (+0.2%), a huge rally in Treasuries (10-year yield down 4.5bps), gold pushing higher (+1% and back to its highest level in three years) and the dollar, overall performing well. The latter is evidenced by the decline in the euro (-0.2%), the pound (-0.3%) and basically the rest of the G10 with similar declines.

This is the market backdrop as we await the last major piece of data before the FOMC meeting next week, this morning’s Retail Sales numbers. Current expectations are for a 0.6% increase, with the ex-autos number printing at 0.3%. But recall, last month economists were forecasting a significant gain and instead the headline number was negative. A similar result this morning would certainly add more pressure on Chairman Powell and friends next week. And that is really the big underlying story across all markets, just how soon are we likely to see the Fed or the ECB or the BOJ turn clearly dovish and ease policy.

It has become abundantly clear that inflation is the only data point that the big central banks are focusing on these days. And given their fixation on achieving a, far too precise, level of 2.0%, they are all failing by their own metrics. Wednesday’s US CPI data was softer than expected leading to reduced expectations for the PCE data coming at the end of the month. In the Eurozone, 5y/5y inflation swaps, one of the ECB’s key metrics for inflation sentiment, has fallen below 1.20% and is now at its lowest level since the contract began in 2003. And in Japan, CPI remains pegged just below 1.0%, nowhere near the target level. It is this set of circumstances, more than any questions on growth or employment, that will continue to drive monetary policy. With this in mind, one can only conclude that money is going to get easier going forward. I still don’t think the Fed moves next week, but I could easily see a 50bp cut in July. Regardless, markets are going to continue to pressure all central banks until policy rates are lowered, mark my words.

Regarding the impact of these actions on the dollar, it becomes a question of timing more than anything else. As I have consistently maintained, if the Fed starts to ease aggressively, you can be sure that the ECB and BOJ, as well as a host of other central banks, will be doing so as well. And in an environment of global weakness, I expect the dollar will remain the favored place to maintain assets.

As for today, a weak Retail Sales print is likely to see an initial sell-off in the dollar but look for it to reverse as traders focus on the impacts likely to be felt elsewhere.

Good luck and good weekend
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Powell’s Fixation

The latest release on inflation
Revealed, despite Powell’s fixation,
That prices have yet
To pose a real threat
So, look for more accommodation

Much to the Fed’s chagrin, yesterday’s inflation data was disappointing, with CPI rising just 1.8% in May, below both expectations and their target. Of course, they don’t target CPI, but PCE instead, however, history has shown that PCE typically runs about 0.3%-0.4% below CPI. Regardless of the statistic they view, what is abundantly clear is that price pressures, at least as measured by the both the Labor and Commerce departments, remain well below the level the Fed believes is consistent with a healthy economy. And it is this outcome which continues to animate the investment community.

If we ignore the comments from the White House and simply focus on the economic data, it is pretty easy to see why expectations of a rate cut are growing rapidly. The employment situation seems to have peaked and started to reverse, price pressures remain quiescent and every Q2 GDP forecast is for a pretty significant slowdown relative to Q1’s 3.1% rate. Given what appears to be a weakening trajectory in the US economy (not even considering the possibility of bigger issues driven by a full-blown trade war) and given that the Fed has implicitly assumed the responsibility to manage economic growth, a rate cut might seem pretty tempting at this point. While next week’s meeting seems quite aggressive for this line of thought, July, where the market is pricing in nearly a 100% probability, makes sense barring a sudden upturn in the data.

One of the things that has been weighing on the inflation data has been the sharp decline in oil prices over the past two months. Even with today’s 3.5% rally on the news of two oil tanker attacks in the Persian Gulf, WTI is lower by more than 20% since the third week of April. And the oil data continues to point to softening demand and growing supplies. Slowing global growth is sapping that demand, but producers continue to drill as quickly as possible. So, the central bank logic continues to be; lower interest rates will help sustain economic growth which will push up demand for energy (read oil prices) and help inflation get back to their comfort zone. Alas, that has been shown to be a pretty tenuous path for central banks to achieve their desired results and there is limited reason to believe it will work this time. In the end, it is becoming abundantly clear that we are about to embark on the next round of monetary ease, even in those nations which never tightened from the last round.

The difference this time is that markets do not seem to be embracing that as a panacea for all their troubles. While equity markets are modestly higher this morning, that follows two lackluster sessions with small losses. We continue to hear pundits highlighting a Fed cut as an important driver, but slowing global growth, especially the continued weakness in China, means that earnings estimates continue to slide and with them, expected equity gains. Add to this mix the unraveling of a few stories (Tesla, government pressure on tech companies) and suddenly the future is not so bright. We have also seen continued concern registered via the Treasury market, where 10-year yields have edged lower again today, trading at 2.11% as I type. While this is a few bps higher than the recent lows, it remains more than 50bps below where we started 2019 and the trend remains firmly downward. And rightly so if inflation is going to continue to decline.

The FX market has weighed all this evidence and remains…confused. While the dollar remains stronger overall in 2019, it has given back some of its gains during the past several weeks, at least against most G10 currencies. Today is a perfect example of the mixed view we’ve seen lately with the euro and the pound within 0.05% of yesterday’s closing levels, albeit the euro is higher and the pound lower. We see Aussie down 0.3% but CHF up 0.3%. You get the picture, there is little in the way of a trend. And quite frankly, that is likely to remain the case until we actually see the Fed (or ECB or BOJ or BOE) actually change policy. Broadly, there is little evidence that global growth is going to improve in the short run, and so FX movement is going to be based on the relative rate of weakness we see in economic data and the corresponding interest rate assumptions that will follow.

Looking at this morning’s data, we really only see Initial Claims (exp 216K), which is generally not a market mover. However, given the heightened sensitivity to the employment situation based on last Friday’s weak NFP report, any uptick here (above, say 230K) might have an outsized impact. Arguably, tonight’s Chinese data in Retail Sales and IP is likely to have a much bigger impact. And that’s really the day. Once again it looks like limited activity and correspondingly, limited movement in markets.

Good luck
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Here To Stay

Fed speakers are starting to say
That lower rates are here to stay
It’s not about trade
Instead they’re dismayed
Inflation just won’t go their way

Since the FOMC meeting two weeks ago, we have heard a steady stream of Fed speakers with one main theme, current interest rate policy is appropriate for the economy right now. While the market continues to price in another rate cut for later this year, and economists and analysts are starting to lean in that direction as well, the Fed remains resolute in their conviction that they don’t need to do anything. When asked about the trade situation, they mouth platitudes about how free trade helps everyone. When asked about political pressures, they insist they are immune to any such thing. These responses cannot be any surprise and are what every FOMC member would have said any time during the past century. However, there is one theme that is starting to coalesce that is different; the idea that interest rates are going to be permanently lower in the future than they have been in the past.

NY Fed President John Williams has highlighted the fact that recent research indicates r* (the theoretical neutral rate of interest) for the five main economies (US, UK, Japan, Eurozone and Canada) has fallen to just 0.5% from something more like 2.5% prior to the financial crisis. The implication is that there is no reason for interest rates to rise much further, if at all, from current levels as that would result in tightening monetary policy with a corresponding slowing of economic activity. If this is correct, it bodes ill for central banks abilities to help moderate future economic downturns. After all, if rates are near zero when an economy slows down, interest rate cuts are unlikely to have a material impact on the situation. Of course, this is what led to unconventional policies like QE and forward guidance, and we can only assume that every central bank is trying to think up new unconventional policies as those lose their efficacy. Do not be surprised if legislation appears that allows the Fed to purchase any assets it deems appropriate (stocks, real estate, etc.) in its efforts to address the next downturn. This is also why MMT has gained favor in so many places (although not the Fed) as it removes virtually all restrictions on spending and fiscal policy and reduces the role of monetary policy.

One other thing that seems incongruous is the precision with which the Fed believes is should be able to manage inflation. Inflation is a broad reading of price pressures over millions of items ranging from houses to pencils. Its measurement remains controversial and imperfect, at best. Pricing decisions continue to be made by the sellers of products, not by government fiat, and so the idea that the Fed can use a blunt tool like the general level of interest rates, to fine-tune price changes is, on the face of it, absurd. Is there really a difference between 1.6% and 2.0% inflation? I understand the implications regarding compounding, and of course the biggest issue is that cost of living adjustments in programs like Social Security and Medicare have enormous fiscal consequences and are entirely dependent on these measurements. But really, precision is a mistake in this case. It would be far more sensible, and achievable, for the Fed to target an inflation range like 1.5%-2.5% and be happy to focus on that rather than aiming for a target and miss it consistently in the seven years since it was defined.

Now back to markets. While Asian equity markets continued the US sell-off, it seems that the course has been run for now elsewhere. European shares are higher by between 0.5% and 1.0% this morning, while US futures are pointing to a 0.75% or so rebound at the open. At this point, all the tariff news seems to be in the market, and there continues to be a strong belief that a deal will get done, most likely in June when President’s Xi and Trump meet on the sidelines of the G20 meetings in Japan. The dollar continues to hold its own, although it has not been able to make any general headway higher lately.

In the currency market, this morning shows that risk is being tentatively reacquired as the yen falls (-0.35%) while EMG currencies edge higher (MXN +0.25%, INR +0.3%). The G10 beyond the yen is little changed, although most of those currencies suffered during yesterday’s equity rout. One thing that appears to be ongoing lately is that central banks have been slowly reducing the dollar portion of their holdings, taking advantage of the dollar’s recent strength to diversify their portfolios. That would certainly be a valid explanation for the dollar’s inability to make any substantive gains lately.

On the data front, overnight saw a disappointing German ZEW Index reading of -2.1 (exp +5.0), which implies that the hoped for rebound in Germany may still be a bit further away than the ECB is counting on. At the same time, UK labor markets continue to show robust strength with another 99K jobs created and average earnings continuing to grow at a solid 3.3% pace. However, neither of these data points had any impact on the FX market. In the US, the NFIB Business Index rose to 103.5, slightly better than forecast and demonstrating a resiliency in the small business psyche in this country. However, we don’t see any further data here today, and so if pressed, I would expect the FX market to be uninspiring. If equity markets manage to maintain their rebound, then I would expect a modicum of dollar weakness as investors rush back into the EMG bloc, but I think it far more likely that there is little movement overall.

Good luck
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Rather Wrong

While Powell said growth may be strong
He still thinks it seems rather wrong
That prices won’t rise
So it’s no surprise
That rates will go lower ‘ere long

After the FOMC left policy largely unchanged yesterday (they did tweak the IOER down by 5bps) and the statement was parsed, it appeared that the Fed’s clear dovish bias continues to drive the overall tone of policy. Growth is solid but inflation remains confusingly soft and it appeared that the Fed was moving closer to the ‘insurance’ rate cut markets have been looking hoping for to prevent weakness from showing up. Stocks rallied and so did bonds with the yield on the 10yr falling to 2.45% just before the press conference while stock markets were higher by 0.5% or so. But then…

According to Powell the story
Is price declines are transitory
So patience remains
The thought in Fed brains
With traders stuck in purgatory

Powell indicated that the majority view at the Fed was that the reason we have seen such weak price data lately is because of transitory issues. These include reduced investment management fees in the wake of the sharp equity market declines in Q4 of last year and the change in the way the Fed gathered price data at retail stores where they now collect significantly greater amounts of data digitally, rather than having ‘shoppers’ go to stores and look at price tags. The upshot is that while he was hardly hawkish in any sense of the word, trying to maintain as neutral a stance as possible, he was far more hawkish than the market had anticipated. Not surprisingly, markets reversed their earlier moves with 10yr yields shooting higher by 6bps, closing higher than the previous day’s close, while equity markets ceded all their early gains and wound up falling about 0.7% on average between the three major indices.

What about the dollar? Well, it followed the same type of trajectory as other assets, softening on the dovish ideas throughout the session before rallying a sharp 0.55% in the wake of Powell’s press conference opening statement. Since then, it has largely maintained the rebound, although this morning it is softer by about 0.1% across the board.

Looking ahead, markets are going to continue to focus on the interplay between the data releases and the central bank comments. Nothing has changed with regard to the overarching dovish bias evident in almost all central banks, but in order for them to act, rather than merely talk, the data will have to be clearly deteriorating. And lately, the best description of the data releases has been mixed. For example, yesterday saw a huge ADP Employment number, 275K, boding well for tomorrow’s NFP report. However, ISM Manufacturing fell sharply to 52.8, well below last month’s 55.3 reading as well as far below the 55.0 market expectation. So, which one is more important? That’s the thing. As long as we see strength in some areas of the economy along with weakness in others, the Fed is almost certainly going to sit on the sidelines. That is, of course, unless the inflation data starts to move more aggressively in either direction. I think it is far better than even money that Fed funds are 2.25%-2.50% on December 31.

But what about other places? Well, the ECB seems stuck between a rock and a hard place as Q1 data has been disappointing overall and they are running out of tools to fight a slowdown. Given the current rate structure, the question being debated in the halls in Frankfurt is just how low can rates go before having a net detrimental impact on the economy. If we see any further weakness from the Eurozone, we are going to find out. That brings us to this morning’s PMI data, where Bloomberg tried hard to put a positive spin on what remains lousy data. Germany (44.4), Italy (49.1) and France (50.0) remain desultory at best. The Eurozone print (47.2) is hardly the stuff of dreams, although in fairness, it was better than analysts had been expecting. So perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of a stabilization in the decline, rather than a continuing acceleration of such. But that hardly gives a rationale for tighter policy. The ECB remains stuck on hold on the rate front and is certainly going to see significant uptake of their new TLTRO’s when they come out. It remains difficult to see a reason for the euro to rebound given the underlying economic weakness in the Eurozone, especially with the ECB committed to negative rates for at least another year.

What about the UK? Well, the BOE met this morning and left rates on hold by a unanimous vote. They also released new economic forecasts that showed reduced expectations for inflation this year, down to 1.6%, with the out years remaining essentially unchanged. They indicated that the delay in Brexit would have a limited impact as they continue to plan on a smooth transition, and their growth forecasts changed with 2019 rising to 1.5% on the back of the inventory led gains in Q1, although the out years remain unchanged. Here, too, there is no urgency to raise rates, although they keep trying to imply that slightly higher rates would be appropriate. However, the market is having none of it, pricing a 30% chance of a 25bp rate cut before the end of next year. The pound chopped on the news, rallying at first, but falling subsequently and is now sitting at 1.3050, essentially unchanged on the day.

Of course, Brexit continues to influence the pound’s movements and recent hints from both PM May and Labour Leader Corbyn indicate that it is possible they are going to agree a deal that includes permanent membership of a customs union with the EU. Certainly, verification of that will help the pound rally back. But boy, if I voted for Brexit and this is what they delivered, it would be quite upsetting. In essence, it destroys one of the main benefits of Brexit, the ability to manage their own trade function. We shall see how it plays out.

This morning brings more data, starting with Initial Claims (exp 215K), Nonfarm Productivity (2.2%) and Unit Labor Costs (1.5%) at 8:30, then Factory Orders (1.5%) at 10:00. The onslaught of Fed speakers doesn’t start until tomorrow, so that’s really it for the day. Equity futures are rallying this morning as the idea that the markets fell yesterday seems more like a mirage than a market response to new information. In the end, you cannot fight city hall, and though Powell tried to sound tough, I didn’t see anything to change the view that the Fed remains biased toward cutting rates as their next move.

Good luck
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More Not Less

As markets return from vacation
The central banks’ tales of inflation
Continue to stress
They want more, not less
Thus, policy ease is salvation

With the market back to full strength this morning, after a long holiday weekend throughout much of the world, it seems that every story is about the overall change in tone by most major central banks. That tone, of course, is now all about the end of the nascent tightening cycle. Whether considering the Swedish Riksbank, which saw disturbingly higher Unemployment data at the end of last week thus putting the kibosh on their efforts to continue policy normalization and raise rates back up to 0.0%, or the weekend WSJ story that hypothesized how the Fed was reconsidering their framework and trying to determine new lower thresholds for easing policy, all stories point to one thing, central banks have looked in the mirror and decided that they are not going to take the blame for the next recession.

This means that we need to be prepared to hear more about allowing the economy to run hot with higher inflation and lower unemployment than previously deemed prudent. We need to be prepared to hear more about macroprudential measures being used to prevent asset bubbles in the future. But most importantly, we need to be prepared for the fact that asset bubbles have already been inflated and the current monetary policy stance is simply going to help them expand further. (Of course, central banks have proven particularly inept at addressing market bubbles in the past, so the idea that they will suddenly be able to manage them going forward seems unlikely.)

Naturally, there are calls for a switch in the mix of policy initiatives around the G10 with demands for more fiscal stimulus offset by less monetary stimulus. That idea comes right from page one of the Keynesian handbook, but interestingly, when the US implemented that policy last year (tax cuts and four rate hikes) both sets of policymakers got lambasted by the press. Fiscal stimulus at the end of a long growth cycle was seen as crazy and unprecedented while Fed hawkishness was undermining the recovery. These were the themes portrayed throughout the press and the market. When considered in that context, it seems that pundits really don’t care what happens, they simply want to be able to complain about the current policy and seem smart! At any rate, it has become abundantly clear that neither fiscal nor monetary policy is going to tighten anytime soon.

So, what does this mean for markets?

For equity markets, the world is looking incredibly bright. Despite the fact that equity markets have rebounded sharply already this year, (S&P +16%, DAX +15%, Shanghai + 28%, Nikkei +13%), given the clear signals we are hearing from global policymakers, there is no reason to think this should end. One of Keynes’ most important lessons was that ‘markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent’. The point being that even if there is concern that markets have rallied to significantly overvalued levels, there is nothing to stop them from going further in the short run. Another interesting weekend article, this by Kevin Muir, highlighted the dichotomy between current retail enthusiasm for equity markets being so different from professional skepticism in the current situation. His point was one side of the argument is going to be really wrong. My take is that it is more a question of timing with an easily envisioned scenario of a further short-term rally to even more absurd valuation levels before an eventual reversal on some heretofore unseen concern (hard Brexit? US-China trade talks break down? Hot war after Iran tries to shut down the Strait of Hormuz?) The point is, there are still plenty of potential concerns that can derail things, but for now, it is all about easy money!

For bond markets, things are also looking great. After all, if there is no further policy tightening on the horizon, and inflation remains quiescent, government bonds should continue to rally. This is especially so if we see Eurozone economic weakness start to spread more widely. As to corporate bonds, low policy rates and ongoing solid economic activity point to spreads maintaining their current extremely tight levels. The hunt for yield will continue to dominate fixed income investing and that means tighter spreads across all asset classes.

Finally, for the currency markets this is a much more nuanced picture. This is because currencies remain a relative game, not an absolute one like stocks and bonds. So who’s policy is the tightest? Arguably, right now the US. Is that going to change in the near-term? While the Fed has clearly stopped raising rates, and will be ending QT shortly, the ECB is discussing further stimulus, the BOJ is actively adding stimulus, the PBOC is actively adding stimulus and the BOE remains mired in the Brexit uncertainty with no ability to tighten policy ahead of a conclusion there. In other words, the US is still the belle of the ball when it comes to currencies, and there is no reason to expect the dollar to start to decline anytime soon. In truth, given the idea that current policies are ostensibly priced into the market already, and that there are no changes seen in the medium term, I imagine that we are setting up for a pretty long period of limited movement in the G10 space, although specific EMG currencies could still surprise.

On the data front, it is particularly quiet this week, and with the Fed on the calendar for next week, there will be no more speakers until the meeting.

Today New Home Sales 650K
Thursday Initial Claims 200K
  Durable Goods 0.8%
  -ex Transport 0.2%
Friday Q1 GDP (revised) 2.1%
  Michigan Sentiment 97.0

We will see the final data point in this month’s housing story, which has been pretty lousy so far as both Housing Starts and Existing Home Sales disappointed last week. (Anecdotally, I see the slowdown in my neighborhood, where historically there have been fewer than 2 homes for sale at any given time, and there are currently 7, with some having been on the market for at least 9 months.) We also see the second look at Q1 GDP, with a modest downtick expected to 2.1%, still running at most economists’ view of potential, and clearly much faster than seen in either Europe or Japan. As I said, there is nothing that points to a weaker dollar, although significant dollar strength doesn’t seem likely either. I think we are in for some (more) quiet times in FX.

Good luck
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