Still Great Disorder

While PM May fought off defeat
The Brexit debate’s incomplete
There’s still great disorder
O’er the Irish border
And angst for the man in the street

Was it much ado about nothing? In the end, PM May won the no-confidence vote, but in a singularly unimpressive manner with more than one-third of the Conservative MP’s voting against her. The upshot is that while she cannot be challenged again for another year, it clarified the strength of the opposition to her handling of the Brexit negotiations. At the same time, the EU has reiterated that the deal, as negotiated, represents all they are willing to offer. May’s strategy now seems to be to delay any vote until such time that the choice is clearly binary; accept the deal or exit with no deal. Despite the increasingly dire warnings that have come from the BOE and some private forecasters, I have lost my faith in the idea that a deal would be agreed. If this is the case, the impact on the pound is going to be quite negative for some time. Over the past two days, the pound has rallied 1.3% although it remains quite close to its post vote lows. However, in the event of a hard Brexit, look for the pound to test its historic lows from 1985, when it traded at approximately 1.05.

As to the rest of the market, it is central bank day in Europe with the Norgebank leaving rates on hold but promising to raise them in Q1; the Swiss National Bank leaving rates on hold and describing the necessity of maintaining a negative interest rate spread vs. the euro as the Swiss economy slows and inflation along with it; and, finally, the market awaits the ECB decision, where Signor Draghi is universally expected to confirm the end of QE this month. One of the interesting things about Draghi’s actions is that he is set to end QE despite his own internal forecasts, which, according to ‘sources’ are going to be reduced for both growth and inflation in 2019. How, you may ask, can a central banker remove policy accommodation despite weakening data? Arguably the answer is that the ECB fears the consequences of going back on its word more than the consequences of implementing the wrong policy. In any event, look for Draghi to speak of transient and temporary causes to the reduced forecasts, but express optimism that going forward, Eurozone growth is strong and will be maintained as inflation edges toward their target of just below 2.0%.

Of greater consequence for the euro this morning, which has rallied a modest 0.1%, is the news from Italy that they have adjusted their budget forecasts to expect a very precise 2.04% deficit in 2019, down from the previous budget deficit forecast of 2.4%. Personally I question the changes other than the actual decimal place on the forecast, but the market has accepted them at face value and we have seen Italian assets rally, notably 10-year BTP’s where yields have fallen 10bps and the spread with German bunds has fallen a similar amount. While the situation in France does not seem to have improved very much, the market is clearly of the view that things in Europe are better than they were last week. However, caution is required in accepting that all the issues have been adequately addressed. They have not.

In the end, though, despite these important issues, risk sentiment continues to be broadly driven by the trade situation between the US and China. Helping that sentiment this morning has been the news that China just purchased several million tons of US soybeans for the first time since the trade tussle began. That has encouraged investors to believe that a truce is coming, and with it, a resumption of the previous regime of steadily increasing global growth. Caution is required here, as well, given the still nascent level of discussions and the fact that the US negotiators, LIghthizer and Navarro, are known trade hawks. While it would certainly be better for all involved if an agreement is reached, it is far from certain that will be the case.

Recapping, the dollar has been under pressure this morning on the basis of a broad view of a better risk environment across markets. These include PM May’s retaining her seat, movement on the Italian budget issue and positive signs from the US-China trade conflict. And yet the dollar is only softer by some 0.1% or so, on average. Nothing has changed my view that the underlying fundamentals continue to favor the greenback.

Pivoting to the emerging markets, INR has performed well again, rallying 0.3% overnight which makes more than 1% this week while nearly erasing the losses over the past month. It appears that investors have taken a new view on the necessity of an independent central bank. Recall that the RBI governor stepped down on Monday as he was at odds with the government about the path of future policy, with ex-governor Patel seeking to maintain tighter money and address excess leverage and non-performing loans, while the government wanted easy money and fast growth in order to be reelected. The replacement is a government hack that will clearly do PM Modi’s bidding and likely cut rates next. Yet, market participants are rewarding this action as evidenced not only by the rupee’s rally, but also by the performance of the Indian stock market, which has led APAC markets higher lately. To this observer, it appears that this short term gain will be overwhelmed by longer term losses in both equities and the currency, if monetary policy falls under the government’s thumb. But right now, that is not the case, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see movement in this direction elsewhere as governments try to maintain economic growth at all costs. This is a dangerous precedent, but one that is ongoing nonetheless.

Yesterday’s CPI data was right in line with expectations at 2.2% for both headline and core, and the market had limited response. This morning brings only Initial Claims (exp 225K) and then the monthly Budget Figures are released this afternoon (exp -$188B). In other words, there is limited new information due once we hear from Signor Draghi. As long as there is a broad risk-on consensus, which appears to be the case, look for the dollar to remain under pressure. But I continue to see this as a short-term phenomenon. At some point, the market will recognize that the rest of the world is going to halt any efforts at tightening policy as global growth slows, and that will help support the dollar.

Good luck
Adf

 

Sans Reason or Rhyme

In England, the Minister Prime
Is serving, now, on borrowed time
No confidence reigns
As Brexit remains
The issue sans reason or rhyme

The biggest headline early this morning was the collection of a sufficient number of letters of no-confidence in PM May to force a vote in Parliament on the issue. Thus, later today, that vote will be held as the UK holds its breath. If she wins, it will likely strengthen her standing there, and potentially help her push through the Brexit deal that is currently on the table, despite its many flaws. If she loses, a leadership contest will begin and though she will remain PM, it will be only in an acting capacity without any power to move the agenda forward. One potential consequence of the latter outcome is that the probability of the UK leaving the EU with no deal will grow substantially.

With that in mind, the two best indicators of the likely outcome of the vote are the bookie market in the UK and the price of the pound. According to Ladbrokes, one of the largest betting shops in the UK, she is a 2:7 favorite to win the vote after starring at even money. In the FX market, the pound, after having fallen below 1.25 yesterday afternoon has rebounded by 0.4% thus far this morning. In other words, market sentiment is in her favor. Of course, if you recall, market sentiment was clearly of the opinion that Brexit would never occur, or that President Trump would never be president, so these measures are hardly perfect. At any rate, the vote is due to be completed by 3:00pm in NY, and results released shortly thereafter, so we won’t have long to wait. If she wins, look for the pound to continue this morning’s rally, with another 1% well within reason. However, a May victory in no way guaranties that the Brexit deal gets through Parliament. If she loses the vote, however, I expect that the pound will sell off pretty sharply, and that 1.20 could well be in the cards before the end of the year. It will be seen as a decided negative.

Away from the UK, the other big market news is the renewed enthusiasm over prospects for a US-China trade deal being achieved. Equity markets continue to rally on the back of a single phone call between the two nations that ostensibly discussed China purchasing more US soybeans and cutting tariffs on US made cars from 40% to 15%. While both of those are obviously good outcomes, neither addresses the issues of IP theft and Chinese subsidies to SOE’s. It feels a little premature to be celebrating an end to the trade conflict after the first phone call, but nobody ever claimed markets were rational. (Or perhaps they did, Professor Fama, and were just mistaken!) At any rate, after a volatile session yesterday, equities in Asia and Europe have all rallied on the trade news and US futures are pointing higher as well.

Meanwhile, the litany of other global concerns continues to exist. For example, there has been no resolution of the Italian budget issue, which has become even more fraught now that French President Macron has decided to expand the deficit in France in order to try to buy off the gilets jaunes protesters. This begs the question as to why it is acceptable for the French to break the budget guidelines, but not for the Italians to do so. Methinks there is plenty more drama left in this particular issue, and likely not to the euro’s benefit. However, the broad risk-on sentiment generated by the trade discussion has lifted the euro by 0.2% this morning, although it remains much closer to recent lows than highs. It would be hard to describe the market as having enthusiasm over the euro’s near-term prospects. And don’t forget that tomorrow the ECB will meet and ostensibly end QE. There is much discussion about how this will play out and what they will do going forward, but we will cover that tomorrow.

In India, the new RBI governor is a long-time Treasury bureaucrat, Shaktikanta Das, which calls into question the independence of that institution going forward. After all, the reason that the former head, Urjit Patel, quit was because he was coming under significant government pressure to act in a manner he thought unwise for the nation, but beneficial to the government’s electoral prospects. It is hardly comforting that a long time government minister is now in the seat. That said, the rupee continued yesterday’s modest rally and is higher by a further 0.4% this morning.

And those are really the big FX market stories for the day. Overall, the dollar’s performance today could be characterized as mixed. While modestly weaker vs. the euro and pound, it is stronger vs. NZD and SEK, with the latter down by 0.7%. As to the rest of the G10, they are little changed. In the EMG space, the dollar is modestly softer vs. LATAM names, but vs. APAC, aside from INR, it has shown modest strength. In other words, there is little uniform direction evident today as I believe traders are awaiting the big news events. So the UK vote and the ECB tomorrow are set to have more significant impacts.

On the data front, this morning brings CPI (exp 2.2% for headline and core), where a miss in either direction could have a market impact. At this time, Fed funds futures are pricing a ~78% chance that the Fed raises rates 25bps next week, but there is less than one rate hike priced in for 2019. My take continues to be that the market is overestimating the amount of tightening we will see from the ECB going forward, and as that becomes clearer, the euro will start its next leg lower. But for the rest of the day, I expect limited movement at least until the UK vote results are announced this afternoon.

Good luck
Adf

Toadies Galore

There once was a time in the past
When jobs like PM were a blast
With toadies galore
And laws you’d ignore
While scheming, all foes, to outlast

But these days when leading a nation
The role has outgrown bloviation
Consider Ms. May
Who just yesterday
Was subject to near ruination

Well, Brexit managed to not be the headline story for the several days between the time the current deal was tentatively agreed with the rest of the EU and the scheduled vote by the House of Commons to approve said deal. During that period, PM May made the rounds to try to sell her deal to the people of the UK. Alas, apparently she’s not a very good saleswoman. Under extreme duress, yesterday she indefinitely delayed the vote that was originally to be held this evening. Amid jeering from the floor of the House of Commons, she tried to make her case, but was singularly unable to do so. As has been the problem all along, the Irish border issue remains intractable with the opposing goals of separating the two nations legally and, more importantly, for customs purposes, while not installing a border between the two. As it currently stands, I will argue there is no compromise solution that is viable. One side is going to have to accept the other side’s demands and frankly, that doesn’t seem very likely. The upshot is that the market has once again begun to assume a no-deal Brexit with all the hyperbolic consequences that entails. And the pound? It was not a happy day if you were long as it fell 2% at its worst point, although only closed down by about 1.5%. This morning, it has regained a further 0.4%, but remains near its weakest levels since April 2017. Unless you believe in miracles (and in fairness there is no better time to do so than this time of year), my strong belief is the UK is going to exit the EU with nothing in place. The pound has further to fall, so hedgers beware.

Let’s pivot to the euro for a moment and discuss all the benefits of the single currency. First, there is the prospect of its third largest trading partner, the UK, leaving the fold and suddenly imposing tariffs on those exports. Next we have France literally on fire, as the gilets jaunes continue to run riot throughout the country while protesting President Macron’s mooted fuel tax increase. In the end, that seems to have been pulled and now he is offering tax cuts! Fiscal probity has been tossed aside in the name of political expediency. Thirdly, we have the ongoing Italian opera over the budget. The antiestablishment coalition government remains adamant that it is going to inject fiscal stimulus to the country, which is slipping into recession as we speak, but the EU powers-that-be are chuffed by the fact that the Italian budget doesn’t meet their criteria. In fact, those same powers continue down the road of seeking to impose fines on Italy for the audacity of trying to manage their own country. (Will someone please explain to me why when the French make outlandish promises that will expand their budget deficit, the EU remains mum, but when the Italians do so, it is an international crisis?)

At the same time as all of this is ongoing, the ECB is bound and determined to end QE this month and keeps talking about starting to normalize interest rates next autumn. Whistling past the graveyard anyone? When three of the four biggest nations in the EU are under significant duress, it seems impossible to consider that owning the euro is the best position. While it is clear that the situation in the US is not nearly as robust as had been believed just a month ago, and the Fed seems to be responding to that by softening their tone; at some point, the ECB is going to recognize that things in the Eurozone are also much worse, and that talk of tightening policy is going to fade from the scene. Rather, the discussion will be how large to make the new TLTRO loan program and what else can the ECB do to help support the economy since cutting rates seems out of the question given the starting point. None of that is priced into the market right now, and so as that unfolds, the euro will fall. However, in today’s session, the euro has recouped about half its losses from yesterday, rebounding by 0.4% after a more than 0.8% decline Monday. As much as there is a building discussion over the impending collapse of the dollar, it continues to seem to me that there are much bigger problems elsewhere in the world, which will help the dollar retain its haven status.

Away from those two stories, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Reserve Bank of India’s widely respected governor, Urjit Patel, resigned suddenly Monday evening leading to a 1.5% decline in the rupee and a sharp fall in Indian equity markets Tuesday. But then, results from recent local elections seemed to shift toward the ruling BJP, instilling a bit more confidence that PM Modi will be able to be reelected next year. Given the perception of his market/business friendliness, that change precipitated a sharp reversal in markets with the rupee actually rallying 0.9% and Indian equity markets closing higher by 0.6%.

In fact, despite my warnings above, the dollar is under pressure across the board this morning while global equity markets are looking up. It seems there was a call between the US and China restarting the trade negotiation process, which was taken by investors as a sign that all would be well going forward. And while that is certainly encouraging, it seems a leap to believe a solution is at hand. However, there is no question the market is responding to that news as equity markets in Europe are all higher by between 1.0% and 2.0%, US equity futures are pointing to a 1% gain on the open, government bonds are softer across the board and the dollar is down. Even commodities are playing nice today with most rallying between 0.5%-1.0%. So everyone, RISK IS ON!!

Turning to the data story, first let me say that the euro has been helped by a better than expected German ZEW Index (-17.5 vs. exp -25), while the pound has benefitted from a modestly better than expected employment report, with Average earnings rising 3.3% and the Employment Change jumping 79K. At the same time, the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index was just released at a worse than expected 104.8, indicating that the peak may well be behind us in the US economy. At 8:30 we see PPI data (exp 2.5%, 2.6% core) however, that tends not to be a significant market mover. Rather, today is shaping up as a risk-on day and unless there is a change in the tone of the trade talks, there is no reason to believe that will change. Accordingly, for hedgers, take advantage of the pop in currencies as the big picture continues to point toward eventual further dollar strength.

Good luck
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There Is No Plan B

Said Europe, “there is no Plan B”
This deal is the best that you’ll see
Opponents keep saying
The deal is dismaying
Because it cedes full sovereignty

It turns out last week was quite a difficult one in markets, with equity prices around the world under significant pressure as concerns continue to grow regarding growth prospects everywhere. In fact, for the first time we heard Fed Chair Jay Powell moderate his description of the US economy’s growth trajectory. It seems that the clear slowing in the housing sector combined with less positive IP and Durable Goods data has been enough to alert the Fed to the possibility that all may not be right with the world. While there is no indication that the Fed will delay its December rate hike, questions about 2019’s rate path have certainly been debated more aggressively with the consensus now believing that we can see a pause before just two more rate hikes next year. With the Powell Fed indicating that they are truly data dependent (as opposed to the Yellen Fed which liked the term, but not the reality), if we continue to see slowing US growth, then it is quite reasonable to expect a shallower trajectory of rate hikes in the US.

But that was last week’s news and as the new week begins, the biggest story is that the EU has agreed the terms of the Brexit negotiations that were just completed two weeks ago. The entire process now moves on to the next stage, where all 28 parliaments need to approve the deal. Given the terms of the deal, which has the opportunity to lock the UK into the EU’s customs union with no say in its evolution, it would be surprising if any of the other 27 members reject the deal. However, it remains unclear that the deal will be accepted by the UK parliament, where PM May does not hold a majority and rules because of a deal with the Northern Irish DUP. Of course the irony here is that Northern Ireland is the area of greatest contention in the deal, given the competing desires of, on the one hand, no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and on the other hand, the desire to be able to separate the two entities for tariff and immigration purposes.

At this stage, it seems there is at best a fifty-fifty chance that the deal makes it through the UK parliament, as the opposition Labour Party has lambasted the deal (albeit for different reasons) in the same manner as the hard-line Brexiteers. But political outcomes rarely follow sound logic, and so at this point, all we can do is wait until the vote, which is expected to be on December 12. What we do know is that the FX market is not sold on the deal’s prospects as despite the announcement by the EU, the pound has managed to rally just 0.25% today and remains, at 1.2850, much closer to the bottom of its recent trading range than the top. I continue to believe that a no vote will be tantamount to a hard Brexit and that the pound will suffer further from here in that event. However, if parliament accepts the deal, I would expect the pound to rally to around1.35 initially, although its future beyond that move is likely to be lower anyway.

Last week’s risk-off behavior led to broad-based dollar strength, with the greenback rallying on the order of 1.0% against both its G10 and major EMG counterparts. While that movement pales in comparison to the rout in equity markets seen last week, it was a consistent one nonetheless. This morning, though, the dollar is under a modicum of pressure as the fear evident last week has abated.

For example, despite softer than expected German IFO data (102.0 vs. exp 102.3), the euro has rallied 0.25% alongside the pound. A big part of this story seems to be that the Italians have made several comments about a willingness to work with a slightly smaller budget deficit in 2019 than the 2.4% first estimated. While the euro has clearly benefitted from this sentiment, the real winner has been Italian debt (where 10-year BTP’s are 17bps lower) and Italian stocks, where the MIB is higher by 2.7%. In fact, that equity sentiment has spread throughout the continent as virtually every European market is higher by 1% or more. We also saw strength in APAC equity markets (Nikkei +0.75%, Hang Seng +1.75%) although Shanghai didn’t join in the fun, slipping a modest 0.15%. The point is that market sentiment this morning is clearly far better than what was seen last week.

Looking ahead to the data this week, the latest PCE data is due as well as the FOMC Minutes, and we have a number of Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell on Wednesday.

Tuesday Case-Shiller Home Prices 5.3%
  Consumer Confidence 135.5
Wednesday Q3 GDP 3.5%
  New Home Sales 578K
Thursday Initial Claims 219K
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.2% (2.1% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.9% Y/Y)
Friday Chicago PMI 58.3

In addition to Powell, we hear from NY Fed President Williams as well as Vice-Chairman Richard Clarida, both of whom will be closely watched. Given the recent change in tone to both the US data (slightly softer) and the comments from Fed speakers (slightly less hawkish), I think the key this week will be the Minutes and the speeches. Investors will be extremely focused on how the evolution in the Fed’s thinking is progressing. But it is not just the Fed. Remember, the ECB has promised to end QE come December despite the fact that recent data has shown slowing growth in the Eurozone.

The greatest fear central bankers currently have is that their economy rolls into a recession while interest rates are already at “emergency” levels and monetary policy remains extremely loose. After all, if rates are negative, what can they do to stimulate growth? This has been one of the forces driving central bankers to hew to a more hawkish line lately as they are all keen to get ahead of the curve. The problem they face collectively is that the data is already beginning to show the first indications of slowing down more broadly despite the continuation of ultra easy monetary policy. In the event that the global economy slows more rapidly than currently forecast, there is likely to be a significant increase in market volatility across equities, bonds and currencies. In this case, I am not using the term volatility as a euphemism for declines, rather I mean look for much more intraday movement and much more uncertainty in expectations. It is this scenario that fosters the need for hedgers to maintain their hedge programs at all times. Having been in the markets for quite a long time, I assure you things can get much worse before they get better.

But for today, there is no reason to believe that will be the case, rather the dollar seems likely to drift slightly lower as traders position for the important stuff later this week.

Good luck
Adf

Into the Tank

The German economy shrank
Japan’s heading into the tank
Italians declared
The budget prepared
Is gospel, and oil just sank

There are a number of stories this morning competing for market attention as investors and traders continue to try to get a reading on growth prospects going forward. Perhaps the most surprising story is that German GDP, which had been expected to print at 0.0% in Q3, actually fell -0.2%, significantly worse than expected. While every pundit and economist has highlighted that it was a confluence of one-time events that drove the data and that expectations for Q4 are far more robust, the fact remains that Q3 growth in Germany, and the whole of Europe, has been much weaker than anticipated. The euro has not benefitted from the news, falling 0.25%, and broadly continuing its recent downtrend.

Adding to the single currency’s woes is the ongoing Italian budget opera, where the EU huffed and puffed and demanded the Italians change their plans. The Italians, formally, told the EU to pound salt yesterday evening, and now the EU is at a crossroads. Either the emperor has no clothes (EU does nothing and loses its fiscal oversight capability) or is in fact well dressed and willing to flaunt it (initiates procedures to sanction and fine Italy). The problem with the former is obvious, but the problem with the latter is the potential impact on EU Parliamentary elections to be held in the spring. Attacking Italy could easily result in a far more antiestablishment parliament with many of the current leadership finding themselves in the minority. (And the one thing we absolutely know is that incumbency is THE most important aspect of leadership, right?) The point is that there are ample reasons for the euro to remain under pressure going forward.

At the same time, Japanese economic data continues to disappoint, with IP declining -2.5% Y/Y in September and Capacity Utilization falling 1.5%. At the same time, we find out that the BOJ’s balance sheet is now officially larger than the Japanese economy! Think about that, Japan’s debt/GDP ratio has long been over 200%, but now the BOJ has printed money and bought assets equivalent to the entire annual output of the nation. And despite the extraordinary efforts that the BOJ has made, growth remains lackluster and inflation nonexistent meaning the BOJ has failed to achieve either of its key aims. At some point in time, and it appears to be approaching sooner rather than later, central banks around the world will completely lose the ability to adjust market behavior through either words or action. And while it is not clear which central bank will lose that power first, the BOJ has to be the frontrunner, although the ECB is certainly trying to make a run at the title.

Meanwhile, from Merry Olde Englande we have news that a draft Brexit deal has been agreed between PM May and the EU. The problem remains that her cabinet has not yet seen nor signed off on it, and there is the little matter of getting the deal through Parliament, which will be dicey no matter what. On the one hand, it is not wholly surprising that some type of agreement was reached, but as is often the case in a situation as fraught as Brexit, nobody is satisfied, and quite frankly, it is not clear that it will gather sufficient support from either the UK Parliament, or the EU’s other nations. This is made evident by the fact that the pound has actually fallen today, -0.2%, despite the announcement. I maintain that a Brexit deal will clearly help the pound’s value, so the market does not yet believe the story. At the same time, UK inflation data was released at a softer than expected 2.4% in October, thus reducing potential pressure on the BOE to consider raising rates, even if a Brexit deal is agreed. After all, if inflation falls to 2.0%, their concerns will be much allayed.

One other story getting a lot of press has been the sharp decline in the price of oil, which yesterday fell 7.1% in the US, and is now down more than 26% since its high in the beginning of October, just six weeks ago. There is clearly a relationship between commodity prices and the dollar given the fact that most commodities are priced in dollars, and that relationship is consistently an inverse one. The question, that I have yet to seen answered effectively, is the direction of the causality. Does a stronger dollar lead to weaker commodity prices? Or do weaker commodity prices drive the dollar higher? While I am inclined to believe in the first scenario, there are arguments on both sides and no research has yet been able to answer the question effectively. However, it should be no surprise that the dollar continues to rally coincidentally with the decline in oil, and other commodity, prices.

I didn’t even get a chance to discuss the ongoing slowdown in Chinese economic growth, but we can touch on that tomorrow. As for today’s session, this morning we see the latest CPI readings (exp 0.3%, 2.5% Y/Y headline, 0.2% 2.2% core) and then as the FX market gets set to go home, Chairman Powell speaks, although it is hard to believe that his views on anything will have changed that much. In the end, the big picture remains that the dollar should continue to benefit from the Fed’s ongoing monetary policy activities as well as the self-inflicted wounds of both the euro and the yen.

Good luck
Adf

A Too Bitter Pill

Three stories today are of note
First, Italy’s rocking the boat
Next Brexit is still
A too bitter pill
While OPEC, a cut soon may vote

The outcome in all of these cases
Has been that the market embraces
The dollar once more
(It’s starting to soar)
And quite clearly off to the races

On this Veteran’s Day holiday in the US, where bond markets will be closed although equity markets will not, the dollar has shown consistent strength across the board. Interestingly, there have been several noteworthy stories this morning, but each one of them has served to reinforce the idea that the dollar’s oft-forecast demise remains somewhere well into the future.

Starting with Italy, the current government has shown every indication that they are not going to change their budget structure or forecasts despite the EU’s rejection of these assumptions when the budget was first submitted several weeks ago. This sets up the following situation: the EU can hold firm to its fiscal discipline strategy and begin the procedure to sanction Italy and impose a fine for breaking the rules, or the EU can soften its stance and find some compromise that tries to allow both sides to save face, or at least the EU to do so.

The problem with the first strategy is the EU Commission’s fear that it will increase the attraction of antiestablishment parties in the Parliamentary elections due in May. After all, the Italian coalition was elected by blaming all of Italy’s woes on the EU and its policies. The last thing the Commission wants is a more unruly Parliament, especially as the current leadership may find themselves on the sidelines. The problem with the second strategy is that if they don’t uphold their fiscal probity it will be clear, once and for all, that EU fiscal rules are there in name only and have no teeth. This means that going forward, while certain countries will follow them because they think it is proper to do so, many will decide they represent conditions too difficult with which to adhere. Over time, the second option would almost certainly result in the eventual dissolution of the euro, as the problems from having such dramatically different fiscal policies would eventually become too difficult for the ECB to manage.

With this in mind, it is no surprise that the euro is softer again today, down 0.6% and now trading at its lowest level since June 2017. In less than a week it has fallen by more than 2.0% and it looks as though this trend will continue for a while yet. We need to see the Fed soften its stance or something else to change in order to stop this move.

Turning to the UK, the clock to make a deal seems to be ticking ever faster and there is no indication that PM May is going to get one. Over the weekend, there was no progress made regarding the Irish border issue, but we did hear from several important constituents that the PM’s current deal will fail in Parliament. If Labour won’t support it and the DUP won’t support it and the hard-line Brexiteers won’t support it, there is no deal to be had. With this in mind it is no surprise that the pound has suffered greatly this morning, down 1.4% and back well below 1.30. You may recall that around Halloween, the market started to anticipate a Brexit deal and the pound rallied 3.7% in the course of a week. Well, it has since ceded 2.7% of that gain and based on the distinct lack of progress on the talks, it certainly appears that the pound has further to fall. Do not be surprised if the pound trades below its recent lows of 1.2700 and goes on to test the post-Brexit vote lows of 1.1900.

The third story of note is regarding OPEC and oil prices, which have fallen nearly 20% during the past six weeks as US production and inventories continue to climb while the price impact of sanctions on Iran turned out to be much less then expected. This has encouraged speculation that OPEC may cut its production quotas, although the news from various members is mixed. Adding to oil’s woes (and in truth all commodity prices) has been the fact that global growth has been slowing as well, thus reducing underlying demand. In fact, the biggest concern for the market has been the slow down in China, which continues apace and where stories of further policy ease by the PBOC, including interest rate cuts, are starting to be heard. Two things to note are first, the typical inverse correlation between the dollar and commodity prices such that when the dollar rises, commodity prices tend to fall, and second, in line with the dollar’s broad strength, the Chinese yuan has fallen further today, down 0.3%, and pushing back to the levels that inspired calls for a move beyond 7.00 despite concerns over increased capital outflows.

And frankly, those are the stories of note. The dollar is higher vs. pretty much every other currency today, G10 and EMG alike, with no distinction and few other stories that are newsworthy. Looking at the data this week, there are two key releases, CPI and Retail Sales along with a bit of other stuff.

Tuesday NFIB Biz Confidence 108.0
  Monthly Budget -$98.0B
Wednesday CPI 0.3% (2.5% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Philly Fed 20.2
  Empire State 20.0
  Retail Sales 0.5%
  -ex Autos 0.5%
Friday IP 0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 78.2%

Overall, the data continues to support the Fed’s thesis that tighter monetary policy remains the proper course of action. In addition to the data we will hear from three Fed speakers including Chairman Powell on Wednesday. It seems hard to believe that he will have cause to change his tune, so I expect that as long as the rest of the world exhibits more short-term problems like we are seeing today, the dollar will remain quite strong.

Good luck
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Powell’s Fixation

Though spending by business has slowed
(And debt from the government growed)
There’s no indication
That Powell’s fixation
On raising rates soon will erode

The Fed left rates on hold yesterday, as universally expected. The policy statement was largely unchanged although it did tweak the wording regarding business investment, which previously had been quite strong but is now slowing somewhat. That said, there is absolutely no indication that the Fed is going to slow its trajectory of rate increases anytime soon. With the meeting now out of the way, I expect that the Fedspeak we hear going forward will reinforce that view, with only Kashkari and Bullard seeking to slow the pace, and neither of them is yet a voting member. The market response was actually mildly surprising in that equities sold off somewhat after the news (and have fallen sharply in Asia and Europe) despite the fact that this was the expected outcome. Meanwhile the dollar has continued to rebound from its recent lows touched on Wednesday, with the euro having declined 0.2% further this morning and 1.4% from its peak.

As an aside, I am constantly amazed at the idea that the Fed, especially as overseen by Jay Powell, is more than mildly interested in the happenings in the stock market. The Fed mandate is clear, maximum employment and stable prices, notably lacking any discussion of rising equity markets. Alas, ever since the Maestro himself, Alan Greenspan, was Fed Chair, it seems that the default reaction has been to instantly add liquidity to the market if there was any stock market decline. The result is we have seen three massive bubbles blown in markets, two of which have burst (tech stocks and real estate) with the third ongoing as we speak. If you understand nothing else about the current Fed chairman, it is abundantly clear that he is unconcerned with the day-to-day wobbles in financial markets. I am confident that if there is a significant change in the economic situation, and markets respond by declining sharply, the current Fed will address the economic situation, not the markets, and that, in my view, is the way policy should be handled.

But back to today’s discussion. I fully admit that I did not understand the market response to the election results, specifically why the dollar would have declined on the news. After all, a split Congress is not going to suddenly change policies that are already in place, especially since the Republican majority in the Senate expanded. And as the Fed made clear yesterday, they don’t care about the politics and are going to continue to raise rates for quite a while yet. Certainly, we haven’t seen data elsewhere in the world which is indicative of a significant uptick in growth that would draw investment away from the US, and so the dollar story will continue to be the tension between the short-term cyclical factors (faster US growth and tighter monetary policy) vs. the long-term structural factors (rising budget deficits and questionable fiscal sustainability). Cyclical data points to a stronger dollar; structural data to a weaker one, and for now, the cyclical story is still the market driver. I think it is worth keeping that in mind as one observes the market.

Regarding other FX related stories, the Brexit situation is coming to a head in the UK as PM May is trying to get her cabinet to sign off on what appears to be quite a bad deal, where the Irish border situation results in the UK being forced to abide by EU rules without being part of the EU and thus having no input to their formation. This is exactly what the Brexiteers wanted to avoid, and would seemingly be the type of thing that could result in a leadership challenge to May, and perhaps even new elections, scant months before Brexit. While I have assumed a fudge deal would be agreed, I am losing confidence in that outcome, and see an increasing chance that the pound falls sharply. Its recent rally has been based entirely on the idea that a deal would get done. For the pound, it is still a binary outcome.

The Italian budget story continues to play out with not only Brussels upset but actually the backers of the League as well. While I am no expert on Italian politics, it looks increasingly likely that there could be yet another election soon, with the League coming out on top, five star relegated to the backbenches, and more turmoil within the Eurozone. However, in that event, I think it highly improbable that the League is interested in leaving the euro, so it might well end up being a euro positive net.

So the week is ending on a positive note for the dollar, and I expect to see that continue throughout the session. This morning’s PPI data was much firmer than expected with the headline print at 2.9% and the core at 2.6%, indicating that there is no real moderation in the US inflation story. This data is likely tariff related, but that is no comfort given that there is no indication that the tariff situation is going to change soon. And if it does, it will only get worse. So look for the dollar to continue its rebound as the weekend approaches.

Good luck and good weekend
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