A Bright Line

In Europe there is a bright line
Twixt nations, those strong, those supine
The Germans and Dutch
Refuse to give much
While Italy wilts on the vine

Once again, the EU has failed to accomplish a crucial task and once again, market pundits are calling for the bloc’s demise. The key story this morning highlights the failure of EU FinMins, after a 16-hour meeting yesterday, to reach a support deal for the whole of Europe. The mooted amount was to be €500 billion, but as always in this group, the question of who would ultimately pick up the tab could not be agreed. And that is because, there are only three nations, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, who are in a net financial position to do so. Meanwhile, the other twenty-four nations all have their collective hands out. (And you wonder why the UK voted to leave!) Ultimately, the talks foundered on the desire by the majority of nations to mutualize the costs of the support (i.e. issue Eurobonds backed by the full faith and credit of the entire EU), while the Germans, Dutch and Austrians would not agree. Realistically, it is understandable why they would not agree, because in the end, the obligation will fall on those three nations to pick up the tab. But the outcome does not bode well for either the present or the future.

In the current moment, the lack of significant fiscal support is going to hamstring every EU nation, other than those three, in their attempts to mitigate the impacts of shutting down economies to halt the spread of Covid-19. But in the future, this issue is the latest manifestation of the fundamental flaw in the EU itself.

That flaw can be described as follows: the EU is a group of fiercely competitive nations masquerading as a coherent whole. When the broad situation is benign, like it is most of the time, and there is positive economic growth and markets are behaving well, the EU makes a great show of how much they do together and all the things on which they agree. However, when the sh*t hits the fan, it is every nation for themselves and woe betide any attempt by one member to collaborate with another on a solution. This makes perfect sense because, despite the fact that they have constructed a number of institutions that sound like they are democratically elected representatives of each nation, the reality is in tough times, each nation’s political class is concerned first and foremost with its own citizenry, and only when that group is safeguarded, will they consider helping others. At this point, in the virus crisis, no nation feels its own citizens are safe, so it would be political suicide to offer help to others. (Asking for help is an entirely different matter, that’s just fine.) In the end, I am confident that this group will make an announcement of some sort that will describe the fantastic cooperation and all they are going to do to support the continent. But I am also confident that it will not include a willingness by the Teutonic three to pay for the PIGS.

The initial market impact of this failure was exactly as expected, the euro (-0.5%) declined along with the other European currencies (SEK -0.75%, NOK -1.25%) and European equity markets gave back some of their recent gains with the DAX and CAC both falling around 1.5%. Meanwhile, European government bonds saw Italian, Spanish and Greek yields all rise, as hoped for support has yet to come. However, the EU is nothing, if not persistent, and the comments that have come out since then continue to suggest that they will arrive at a plan by the end of the week. This has been enough to moderate those early moves and at 7:00, as New York walks in the door, we see markets with relatively modest changes compared to yesterday’s closing levels.

In the G10 currencies, while the dollar remains broadly stronger, its gains are far less than seen earlier. For example, NOK is the current laggard, down 0.35%, while SEK (-0.3%) and EUR (-0.2%) are next in line. The pound has actually edged higher this morning, but its 0.1% gain is hardly groundbreaking. However, it is interesting to note that the non-EU currencies are outperforming those in the EU.

Emerging market currencies have also broadly fallen, with just a few exceptions. The worst performer today is INR (-0.9%), which seems to be responding to the growth in the number of coronavirus cases there, now over 5,000. But we are also seeing weakness, albeit not as much, from EU members CZK (-0.35%), BGN (-0.3%) and the rest of the CE4. The one notable gainer today is ZAR (+0.5%) which seems to be benefitting from a much smaller than expected decline in a key Business Confidence indicator. However, I would not take much solace in that as the data is certain to get worse there (and everywhere) before it gets better.

Overall, though, the market picture is somewhat mixed today. The FX market implies some risk mitigation, which is what we are seeing in the European equity space as well. However, US equity futures are all pointing slightly higher, about 0.5% as I type, and oil prices are actually firmer along with most commodities. In other words, there is no clear direction right now as market participants await the next piece of news.

The only data point we see today in the US is the FOMC Minutes, but I don’t see them as being that interesting given both how much the Fed has already done, thus leaving less things to do, and the fact they have gone out of their way to explain why they are doing each thing. So I fear today will be dependent on the periodic reports of virus progression. At the beginning of the week, it seemed as though the narrative was trying to shift to a peak in infections and better data ahead. Alas, that momentum has not been maintained and we have seen a weries of reports where deaths are increasing, e.g. in Spain and New York to name two, where just Monday it was thought things had peaked. Something tells me that the virus will not cooperate with a smooth curve of progress, and that more volatility in the narrative, and thus markets, lays ahead. We are not yet near the end of this crisis, so hedgers, you need to keep that in mind as you plan.

Good luck
Adf

Significant Woe

The data continue to show
A tale of significant woe
Last night’s PMIs
Define the demise
Of growth; from Spain to Mexico

Another day, another set of data requiring negative superlatives. For instance, the final March PMI data was released early this morning and Italy’s Services number printed at 17.4! That is not merely the lowest number in Italy’s series since the data was first collected in 1998, it is the lowest number in any series, ever. A quick primer on the PMI construction will actually help show just how bad things are there.

As I’ve written in the past, the PMI data comes from a single, simple question; ‘are things better, the same or worse than last month?’ Each answer received is graded in the following manner:

Better =      1.0
Same =        0.5
Worse =      0.0

Then they simply multiply the number of respondents by each answer, normalize it and voila! Essentially, Italy’s result shows that 65.2% of the country’s services providers indicated that March was worse than February, with 34.8% indicating things were the same. We can probably assume that there was no company indicating things were better. This, my friends, is not the description of a recession; this is the description of a full-blown depression. IHS Markit, the company that performs the surveys and calculations, explained that according to their econometric models, GDP is declining at a greater than 10% annual rate right now across all of Europe (where the Eurozone Composite reading was 26.4). In Italy (Composite reading of 20.2) the damage is that much worse. And in truth, given that the spread of the virus continues almost unabated there, it is hard to forecast a time when things might improve.

It does not seem like a stretch to describe the situation across the Eurozone as existential. What we learned in 2012, during the Eurozone debt crisis, was that the project, and the single currency, are a purely political construct. That crisis highlighted the inherent design failure of creating a single monetary policy alongside 19 fiscal policies. But it also highlighted that the desire to keep the experiment going was enormous, hence Signor Draghi’s famous comment about “whatever it takes”. However, the continuing truth is that the split between northern and southern European nations has never even been addressed, let alone mended. Germany, the Netherlands and Austria continue to keep fiscal prudence as a cornerstone of their government policies, and the populations in those nations are completely in tune with that, broadly living relatively frugal lives. Meanwhile, the much more relaxed atmosphere further south continues to encourage both government and individual profligacy, leading to significant debt loads across both sectors.

The interesting twist today is that while Italy and Spain are the two hardest hit nations in Europe regarding Covid-19, Germany is in third place and climbing fast. In other words, fiscal prudence is no protection against the spread of the disease. And that has led to, perhaps, the most important casualty of Covid-19, German intransigence on debt and deficits. While all the focus this morning is on the proposed 10 million barrel/day cut in oil production, and there is a modest amount of focus on the Chinese reduction in the RRR for small banks and talk of an interest rate cut there, I have been most amazed at comments from Germany;s Heiko Maas, granted the Foreign Minister, but still a key member of the ruling coalition, when he said, regarding Italy’s situation, “We will help, we must help, [it is] also in our own interest. These days will remind us how important it is that we have the European Union and that we cannot solve the crisis acting unilaterally. I am absolutely certain that in coming days we’ll find a solution that everyone can support.” (my emphasis). The point is that it is starting to look like we are going to see some significant changes in Europe, namely the beginnings of a European fiscal policy and borrowing authority. Since the EU’s inception, this has been prevented by the Germans and their hard money allies in the north. But this may well be the catalyst to change that view. If this is the case, it is a strong vote of confidence for the euro and would have a very significant long-term impact on the single currency in a positive manner. However, if this does not come about, we could well see the true demise of the euro. As I said, I believe this is an existential moment in time.

With that in mind, it is interesting that the market has continued to drive the euro lower, with the single currency down 0.5% on the day and falling below 1.08 as I type. That makes 3.3% this week and has taken us back within sight of the lows reached two weeks ago. In the short term, it is awfully hard to be positive on the euro. We shall see how the long term plays out.

But the euro is hardly the only currency falling today. In fact, the dollar is firmer vs. all its G10 counterparts, with Aussie and Kiwi the biggest laggards, down 1.2% each. The pound, too, is under pressure (finally) this morning, down 1.0% as there seems to be some concern that the UK’s response to Covid-19 is falling short. But in the end, the dollar continues to perform its role of haven of last resort, even vs. both the Swiss franc (-0.35%) and Japanese yen (-0.6%).

EMG currencies are similarly under pressure with MXN once again the worst performer of the day, down 2.1%, although ZAR (-2.0%) is giving it a run for its money. The situation in Mexico is truly dire, as despite its link to oil prices, and the fact that oil prices have rallied more than 35% since Wednesday, it has continued to fall further. AMLO is demonstrating a distinct lack of ability when it comes to running the country, with virtually all his decisions being called into question. I have to say that the peso looks like it has much further to fall with a move to 30.00 or even further quite possible. Hedgers beware.

Risk overall is clearly under pressure this morning with equity markets throughout Europe falling and US futures pointing in the same direction. Treasury prices are slightly firmer, but the market has the feeling of being ready for the weekend to arrive so it can recharge. I know I have been exhausted working to keep up with the constant flow of information as well as price volatility and I am sure I’m not the only one in that situation.

With that in mind, we do get the payroll report shortly with the following expectations:

Nonfarm Payrolls -100K
Private Payrolls -132K
Manufacturing Payrolls -10K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.1
Participation Rate 63.3%
ISM Non- Manufacturing 43.0

Source: Bloomberg

But the question remains, given the backward-looking nature of the payroll report, does it matter? I would argue it doesn’t. Of far more importance is the ISM data at 10:00, which will allow us to compare the situation in the US with that in Europe and the rest of the world on a more real-time basis. But in the end, I don’t think it is going to matter too much regarding the value of the dollar. The buck is still the place to be, and I expect that it will continue to gradually strengthen vs. all comers for a while yet.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

All Stay at Home

While yesterday was, for most, scary
It seems the moves were temporary
This morning we’ve seen
Our screens filled with green
On hopes of response monetary

Meanwhile, as the virus expands
And spreads across multiple lands
The word out of Rome
Is, ‘all stay at home’
And please don’t go round shaking hands!

What a difference a day makes! After what was a total obliteration of risk on Monday, this morning we have seen equity markets around the world rebound sharply as well as haven assets lose some of their luster. While net, risk assets are still lower than before the oil war broke out, there is a palpable sense of relief in trading rooms around the world.

But is anything really different? Arguably, the big difference this morning is that we have begun to hear from governments around the world about how they are planning to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic epidemic, and more importantly, that they actually do have a response. The most dramatic response is arguably from Italy, where the government has locked down the entire nation. Schools and businesses are closed and travel within as well as in and out of the country is banned save for a dire emergency. Given how badly hit Italy has been hit by Covid, nearly 500 deaths from more than 9,000 cases, and the fact that the case load is increasing, this should be no surprise. At the same time, given the demographics in Italy, only Germany and Japan have older populations, and given the fact that the virus is particularly fatal for elderly people, things are likely to continue to get worse before they get better. I have seen two different descriptions of how dire the situation is there, with both calling the health infrastructure completely overwhelmed. Look for Germany to impose more restrictions later this week as well, given the growing spread of the virus there.

But from a market perspective, what is truly turning things around is the discussion of combined monetary and fiscal response that is making the rounds. Last night President Trump explained the administration was considering payroll tax cuts as well as direct subsidies to hourly workers via increased support for paid sick leave. In addition, the market is certain the Fed will cut at least 50bps next week, and still essentially pricing in 75bps. So, the twin barrels of monetary and fiscal policy should go a long way to helping regain confidence. Of course, neither of these things will solve the problems in the oil patch as shale drillers find themselves under extraordinary financial pressure with oil prices still around $34/bbl. While that is a 10% rebound from yesterday, most of the shale drillers need oil to be near $45-$50/bbl to make a living. But there is very little the government can do about that right now.

And we are hearing about pending support from other governments as well, with the UK, France and Japan all preparing or announcing new measures. However, as long as the virus remains as contagious as it is, all these measures are merely stop-gaps. Lockdowns have serious longer-term consequences and there will be significant lost output that is permanently gone. Recession this year seems a highly likely event in many, if not most, G10 countries, so be prepared.

And with that as a start, let’s take a look around the markets. As I mentioned, equities rebounded in Asia (Nikkei +0.85%, Hang Seng +1.4%, Shanghai +1.8%) and are much higher in Europe (DAX +3.6%, CAC +4.4%, FTSE 100 +4.2%). Of course, that was after significantly larger declines yesterday. US futures are sharply higher as I type, with all three indices more than 4% higher at this time. Meanwhile, bond markets are seeing the opposite price action with 10-year Treasury yields rebounding to 0.71% after touching a low of 0.31% yesterday. Bunds have also rebounded 12bps to -0.74%, and more importantly, both Italian and Greek bonds have rallied (yields falling) sharply. Make no mistake, the bonds of those two nations are not considered havens in any language.

In the FX market, yesterday saw, by far, the most volatile trading we have experienced since the financial crisis in 2008-09. And this morning, along with other markets, much of that is reversing. So we are looking at the yen falling 2.4% this morning, by far the worst performer in the G10, but also seeing weakness in the euro (-0.85%), pound Sterling (-0.7%) and Swiss franc (-0.85%). On the plus side, NOK is higher by 1.05% and CAD has regained a much less impressive 0.35%.

Emerging markets have also seen significant reversals with MXN, yesterday’s worst performer, rebounding 1.8%, ZAR +1.65% and KRW +0.95%. On the downside, RUB is today’s loser extraordinaire, falling 3.5% after Saudi Aramco said they would increase production to a more than expected 12.3 million bbls/day. But the CE4 currencies, which rallied with the euro yesterday, are all softer this morning by roughly 0.8%.

The one thing that seems clear is that volatility remains the base case for now, and although market implied volatilities have fallen today, they remain far higher than we had seen just a week ago. I think there will also be far more market liquidity to be involved in this market as well.

On the data front, the NFIB Small Business Optimism report has already been released at 104.5, rising from last month and far better than expected. Now this survey covers February which means that there had to be at least some virus impact. With that in mind, the result is even more impressive. The thing is that right now, data is just not a market driver, so the FX markets have largely ignored this along with every other release.

Looking ahead to today’s session, the reversal of yesterday’s moves is clearly in place and unless we suddenly get new information that the virus is more widespread, or that there is pushback on support packages and they won’t be forthcoming, I expect this morning’s moves to continue a bit further.

Longer term, we remain dependent on the spread of Covid-19 and government responses as the key driver. After all, the oil news seems pretty fully priced in for now.

Good luck
Adf

 

All Stressed

It started in China’s Great Plains
Where factories for supply chains
Were built wall to wall
But now they have all
Been shuttered to stop Covid’s gains

However, the sitch has regressed
While China, their data’s, repressed
Thus Covid’s now spreading
And everywhere heading
No shock, stocks worldwide are all stressed

I know each and every one of you will be incredulous that the G20 meeting of FinMins and central bankers this weekend in Saudi Arabia was not enough to stop Covid-19 in its tracks. I certainly was given the number of statements that we have heard in recent weeks by central bankers explaining that if the virus spreads, they will save the day!

But clearly, whatever power monetary or fiscal power has, it is not well placed to solve a healthcare crisis that is rapidly spreading around the world. This weekend may well have been the tipping point that shakes equity investors out of their dream-induced state. While the steady growth in numbers of infections and fatalities in China remains constant, something which seems to have been accepted by investors everywhere, the sudden jump in Covid cases in South Korea and, even more surprisingly, in Italy looks to have been just the ticket to sow doubt amongst the bullish investment set. And just like that, as markets are wont to do, fear is the primary sentiment this morning.

A quick market recap shows that equity markets worldwide have been decimated, although Europe (DAX -3.5%, CAC -3.5%, FTSE 100 -3.2%, FTSE MIB (Italy) -4.6%) has felt the brunt more than Asia (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng -1.8%, Kospi -3.9%, Shanghai -0.3%). And US futures? Not a pretty picture at this point, with all three down more than 2.5% as I type.

Benefitting from the risk-off sentiment are Treasury bonds (yields -8bps to 1.39%) and bunds (-6bps to -0.50%), while the barbarous relic itself is up 2.4% to $1682/oz. And you thought gold was no longer important!

Finally, in the currency markets, the dollar is king once again, gaining against all comers but one, quite sharply in some cases. The yen has regained some of its haven status, rallying 0.25% this morning, although it remains far lower than just last Thursday. But the rest of the G10 is under pressure with NOK (-1.0%) falling the most as oil prices (WTI -4.0%) are getting crushed today. By contrast, CAD (-0.45%) seems almost strong in the face of the weakness in oil. But aside from the yen, the rest of the bloc is lower by at least 0.25%, and there is nothing ongoing in any of these nations that is driving the story, this is pure risk aversion.

In the EMG space, the story is more of the same, with the entire space lower vs. the dollar today although the biggest losers may be a bit of a surprise. Pesos are feeling the heat with both Mexico (-1.2%) and Chile (-1.1%) the worst performers in the space. The latter is a direct response to the weakness in copper prices, while the former has multiple problems, with oil’s decline just the latest. In fact, since last Thursday morning, the peso has fallen nearly 3.0% as we are beginning to see the very large long MXN carry position start to be unwound. It seems that long MXN had the same perception amongst currency investors as long the S&P had for equity investors. The thing is, at least according to the CFTC figures from last week, there is still a long way to go to reach neutrality. We are still more than 12% from the peso’s all-time lows of 22.03 set in early 2017, but if Covid continues to evade control, look for that level to be tested in the coming months (weeks?).

And that’s today’s story really. There are some political issues in Germany, as the ruling CDU finds itself in the middle of a leadership contest with no clear direction, while Italy’s League leader, Matteo Salvini, is hurling potshots at the weakened Giuseppe Conti government. But even under rock solid leadership, the euro would be lower this morning as would each nation’s stock market. Perhaps of more concern is the news that China, despite the ongoing spread of Covid-19, was relaxing some of its quarantine restrictions as it has become clearer by the day that the economic impact on the mainland is going to be quite substantial. President Xi cannot afford to have GDP growth slow substantially as that would break his tacit(?) deal with the people of more government control for continued material improvement. It has been a full month since virtually anything has been happening with respect to manufacturing throughout China and we are seeing more and more factories elsewhere (South Korea, Eastern Europe) shut down as supply chains have broken. Shipping rates have collapsed with more than 25% of pre-Covid activity having disappeared. This will not be repaired quickly I fear.

Turning to the data, which is arguably still too early to really reflect the impact of the virus, this week brings mostly secondary numbers, although we do see core PCE, which is forecast to have increased by a tick.

Tuesday Case-Shiller Home Prices 2.85%
  Consumer Confidence 132.1
Wednesday New Home Sales 715K
Thursday Q4 GDP 2.1%
  Durable Goods -1.5%
  -ex transport 0.2%
  Initial Claims 211K
Friday Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.3%
  Core PCE 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
  Chicago PMI 46.0
  Michigan Sentiment 100.7

Source: Bloomberg

Of course, the Fed has made it quite clear that they have an entirely new view on inflation, namely that 2.0% is the new 0.0%, and that they are going to try to force things higher for much longer to make up for their internally perceived failures of reaching this mythical target. We all know that the cost of living has risen far more rapidly than the measured inflation statistics, but that does not fit into their models, nor does it given them an excuse to continue to pump more liquidity into markets. In fact, it would not be that surprising to see them double down if today’s declines continue for several days. After all, that would imply tightening financial conditions.

But for now today is the quintessential risk-off day. Look for the dollar to remain king while equities fall alongside Treasury yields.

Good luck
Adf

Turning the Screws

There once was a great city state
That introduced rules and debate
However its heirs
Lead muddled affairs
Thus Roman woes proliferate

Meanwhile from the UK, the news
Gave Johnson’s opponents the blues
Improvements reported
In confidence thwarted
The Sterling bears, turning the screws

Italian politics has once again risen to the top of the list of concerns in the Eurozone. This morning, 5-Star leader, Luigi Di Maio, is on the cusp of resigning from the government, thus forcing yet another election later this year. The overriding concern from the rest of Europe is that the man leading the polls, Silvio Matteo, is a right-wing populist and will be quick to clash with the rest of the EU on issues ranging from fiscal spending to immigration policy. In other words, he will not be welcome by the current leading lights as his views, and by extension the views of the millions who vote for him, do not align with the rest of the EU leadership. Of course, there has been steady dissent from that leadership for many months, albeit barely reported on this side of the Atlantic. For example, the gilets jaunes continue to protest every week around the country, as they voice their disagreement with French President Macron’s attempts to change the rules on issues ranging from pensions to taxes to labor regulations. And they have been protesting for more than a year now, although the destructive impact has been greatly reduced from the early days. As well, there are ongoing protests in the Catalonia region of Spain with separatists continuing to try to make their case. The point is that things in Europe are not quite as hunky-dory as the leadership would have you believe.

However, for today, it is Italy and the potential for more dissent regarding how Europe should be managed going forward. The result has been the euro reversing its early 0.25% gains completely, actually trading slightly lower on the day right now. While there is no doubt the recent Eurozone data has been better than expected, it remains pretty awful on an absolute basis. But markets respond to movements at the margin, so absent non-market events, like Italian political ructions, it is fair to expect the euro to benefit on this data. In fact, there is an ongoing evolution in the analyst community as a number of them have begun to change their ECB views, with several implying that the ECB’s next move will be policy tightening, and some major Investment Banks now forecasting 10-year German bunds to trade back up to 0.0% or even higher by the end of the year. We shall see. Certainly, if Madame Lagarde hints at tighter policy tomorrow, the euro will benefit. But remember, the ECB is still all-in on QE, purchasing €20 billion per month, so trying to combine the need to continue QE alongside a discussion of tighter policy seems a pretty big ask. At this point, the euro remains under a great deal of pressure overall, but I do expect this pressure to ebb as the year progresses and see the dollar decline eventually.

As to the UK, the hits there just keep on coming. This morning, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which is essentially the British Chamber of Commerce, reported that both orders and price data improved modestly more than expected, but more importantly their Optimism Index jumped to +23 from last month’s -44, which is actually its highest level since April 2014, well before Brexit was even a gleam in then-PM David Cameron’s eye. Not surprisingly, the pound has rallied further on this positive jolt, jumping 0.5% this morning and is the leading performer against the dollar overall today. It should also be no surprise that the futures market has reduced its pricing for a BOE rate cut next week to a 47% probability, down from 62% yesterday and 70% on Friday. Ultimately, I think that Carney and company would rather not cut if at all possible, given how little room they have with the base rate at 0.75% currently. If we see solid PMI flash data on Friday, I would virtually rule out any chance for a cut next week, and expect to see the pound rally accordingly.

Away from those two stories though, market activity has been far less interesting. The rest of the G10, beyond the pound, is generally within 10bps of yesterday’s closing levels. As to the Emerging markets, the big winner has been ZAR, which has rallied 0.65% after CPI rose to 4.0%, although that remains well below the midpoint of the SARB’s target range of 3.0% – 6.0%. Expectations are for continued policy ease and continue investment inflows to help support the currency. But other than the rand, it has been far less interesting in the FX market.

The ongoing fears over the spread of the coronavirus seem to be abating as China has been aggressively working to arrest the situation, canceling flights out of Wuhan and being remarkably transparent with respect to every new case reported. In fact, equity markets around the world have collectively decided that this issue was a false alarm and we have seen stocks rally pretty much everywhere (Italy excepted) with US futures pointing higher as well.

And that really sums up the day. The ongoing impeachment remains outside of the framework of the market as nobody believes that President Trump will be removed from office. The WEF participants continue to demonstrate their collective ability to pontificate about everything, but do nothing. And so, we need to look ahead to today’s data, and probably more importantly to equity market performance for potential catalysts for movement. Alas, the only US data of note is Existing Home Sales (exp 5.43M), something that rarely moves markets. This leaves us reliant on equity market sentiment to drive the FX market, and with risk definitively on this morning, I expect to see EMG currencies benefit while the dollar suffers mildly.

Good luck
Adf

 

The Optimists Reign

This morning the optimists reign
As China was keen to explain
They felt it unwise
That tariffs should rise
They’d rather start talking again

Equity bulls are on the rampage this morning as all the negative stories have been overwhelmed by positive sentiment from two areas, China and Italy. From China last night we heard that despite President Trumps’ latest decision to increase tariffs further on Chinese imports, the nation would not escalate the situation, and instead wanted to maintain the dialog and seek common ground. Spokesman Gao Feng said that while China is protesting, they are not responding. He also confirmed that ongoing communications would likely lead to another face-to-face meeting in Washington in September. We heard confirmation from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin that a meeting in Washington was to take place in September, although the final details have not yet been decided.

However, this was more than enough for the bulls to stampede as once again they seem willing to believe that a solution is close at hand. One need only look at the timeline of every other trade negotiation in history to recognize that these things take a very long time to come to agreement. And of course, as I have written before, there are fundamental issues that seem unlikely to ever be addressed to the satisfaction of both sides. For example, while a key issue for the US is the theft of IP by Chinese companies, the Chinese won’t even acknowledge that takes place and therefore cannot agree to stop something they don’t believe is happening. Recall, as well, the issue when talks broke down in late spring, that the issue was the US was seeking the agreement be enshrined in law, as is the case in the US and every Western nation, but the Chinese refused claiming that was an infringement of their sovereignty and that they would simply make rules that would be followed. These are very big canyons to cross and will take a long time to do so. While it is certainly good news that the Chinese are not escalating things, and in fact, are making efforts to reduce market tensions via their CNY fixing activities, we are still a long way from a deal.

The upshot of the China story is that Asian equity markets rebounded from their lows to close near unchanged while European markets are all higher on the order of 1.0%. Treasury yields have edged up slightly as have yields in most sovereign bond markets, and the two main haven currencies, yen and Swiss francs, have both weakened slightly.

The other story that has the bulls on the move is from Rome, where Italian President, Sergio Mattarella has given the nod to the coalition of 5-Star and the Democratic Party (known as the PD and which, contrary to yesterday’s comment, is actually a center left party) to try to form a government. The thing that makes this so surprising, and bodes ill for any government’s longevity, is that 5-Star came to power by constantly attacking the PD as corrupt and the major problem in the country. But their combined fear of an election, where the League is likely to win an outright majority at this time, has pushed these unlikely bedfellows together. The market, however, loves it with Italian equities higher by 1.9% and Italian BTP’s (their sovereign bonds) rallying nearly a full point driving the 10-year yield down to a new historic low of 0.96%. Think about that for a moment, Italian 10-year yields are more than 50bps lower than US yields!

All in all, it is clearly a risk-on type of day. Looking at the FX markets shows a mixed bag of results although the theme is really modest movement. For example, in the G10, the biggest mover has been NOK, which is lower by 0.25%, while the biggest gainer is AUD, up just 0.2%. The latter has been helped by the China story, while the former is suffering after weaker than expected GDP data showed Q2 growth at just 0.3% in the quarter, well below expectations of a 0.5% rebound from last quarter’s negative print.

It should be no surprise that EMG currencies have a slightly larger range, but still, the biggest mover is ZAR, which has gained 0.5% while the weakest currency is TRY, falling 0.4%. From South Africa we learned that price pressures are less acute than anticipated as PPI actually fell in July engendering hope that the SARB can encourage more growth by maintaining the rate structure rather than raising rates. Meanwhile, Turkey continues to see erosion in both the number of incoming tourists, a key industry and source of hard currency, and incoming investment, where foreigners were net sellers of both stocks and bonds last week.

The one other noteworthy move has been CNY, where the renminbi is firmer by 0.25% today after the PBOC very clearly indicated their interest in preventing a sharp decline. The fix overnight was significantly stronger than every forecast and that has helped squeeze the differential between the fix and the currency market back below 1.0%. It is worthwhile to keep an eye on this spread as it can be a harbinger of bigger problems to come if it expands. Remember, the current band is 2.0%, so actions to change that or allow a breech are clear policy statements.

This morning we finally get some useful data led by the second look at Q2 GDP (exp 2.0%) and Initial Claims (214K). Overnight we saw German state inflation data point to continued weakening growth with the national number due soon. We also heard from SF Fed president Daly yesterday who was clearly on board for another rate cut, while Richmond’s Patrick Harker was far less enthused. However, neither one is a voter, so they tend to be seen in a bit less important light.

There is no reason to think that the equity rally will fade, barring a tweet of some sort from the White House. As such, it seems the dollar will likely remain in its current holding pattern, with some gainers and some losers, until the next shoe drops.

Good luck
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Potency Waning

There once was a time in the past
When central banks tried to forecast
When signals were flashing
That rates needed slashing
‘Cause growth wasn’t growing so fast

But now that so many have found
Their rates near the real lower bound
The tools they’ve remaining
See potency waning
Unable to turn things around

Another day, another rate cut to mention. This time Peru cut rates 25bps responding to slowing growth both domestically and in their export markets as well as muted inflation pressures. Boy, we’ve heard that story a lot lately, haven’t we? But that’s the thing, if every central bank cut rates, then it’s like none of them have done so. Remember, FX markets thrive on the differential between policy regimes, with higher interest rates both drawing capital while reducing demand for loans, and correspondingly growth. So, if you can recall the time when there were economies that were growing rapidly, raising rates was the preferred method to prevent overheating.

But it’s been more than a decade since that has been a concern of any central bank, anywhere in the world. Instead, we are in the midst of a ‘race to the bottom’ of interest rates. Every country is trying to stimulate their economy and cutting interest rates has always been the preferred method of doing so, at least from a monetary perspective. (Fiscal stimulus is often far more powerful but given the massive debt loads that so many countries currently carry, it has become much harder to implement and fund.) One of the key transmission mechanisms for pumping up growth, especially for smaller nations with active trade policies, was the weakening in their currency that was a byproduct of cutting rates. But with everybody cutting rates at the same time (remember, we have had six central banks cut rates in the past week!) that mechanism is no longer working. And this is one of the key reasons that no country has been able to set themselves apart and halt their waning growth momentum.

A perfect example of this is the UK, where Q2 GDP figures released this morning printed at -0.2% for the quarter taking the Y/Y figure down to 1.0%. Obviously, the Brits have other issues, with just 84 days left before the Brexit deadline, but it is also clear that the global slowdown is having an impact. And the problem for the BOE is the base rate is just 0.75%, not much room to cut if the UK enters a recession. In fact, that is largely true around the world, there’s just not much room to cut rates at this point.

The upshot is that markets continue to demonstrate increasing volatility. In the FX markets there has been a growing dichotomy with the dollar showing solid strength against virtually the entire emerging market bloc but having a much more muted reaction vs. the rest of the G10. Of course, since the financial crisis, the yen (+0.3% today) has been seen as a safe haven and has benefitted in times of turmoil. So too, the Swiss franc (+0.2%), although not quite to the same extent given the much smaller size of the economy.

But perhaps the most interesting thing of late is that the euro has not fallen further, especially given the ongoing internal struggles it is having. Italy, for example, looks about set to dissolve its government and have new elections with all the polls showing Matteo Salvini, the League party’s firebrand leader set to win a majority. He has been pushing to cut taxes, spend on infrastructure and allow the Italian budget deficit to grow. That is directly at odds with the EU’s stability policy, and while both Italian stocks (-2.25%) and bonds (+25bps) have suffered today on the news, the euro itself has held up well, actually rallying 0.25% and recouping yesterday afternoon’s losses. Given the ongoing awful data out of the Eurozone (German Exports -0.1%, French IP -2.3%) it is becoming increasingly clear that the ECB is going to ease policy further next month. In fact, between Europe’s upcoming recession and Italy’s existential threat to the euro, I would expect it to have fallen further. Arguably, the rumor that the German government may increase spending has been crucial in supporting the single currency today, but if they don’t, I think we are going to see further weakness there as well.

In the meantime, the dollar is starting to pick up against a variety of EMG currencies this morning with MXN falling 0.4%, INR 0.6% and CNY 0.15%. Also, under the risk-off ledger we are seeing equity markets suffer this morning with both Germany (-1.25%) and France (-1.0%) suffering alongside Italy and US futures pointing to -0.6% declines on the open. It is not clear to me why the market so quickly dismissed their concerns over the escalating trade war by Tuesday, after Monday’s sharp devaluation of the CNY. This is a long-term affair and just because the renminbi didn’t continue to collapse doesn’t mean that things are better. They are going to get worse and risk will be reduced accordingly, mark my words.

As to this morning’s data we see PPI here at home (exp 1.7%, 2.4% core) and Canadian Employment Data where the Unemployment Rate is forecast to remain unchanged at 5.5%. Earnings data in the US continues to be mixed, at best, with Uber the latest big-name tech company to disappoint driving its stock price lower after the close yesterday.

I’m sorry, I just cannot see the appeal of risky assets at this time. Global growth is continuing to slow, trade activity is falling rapidly and there are a number of possible catalysts for major disruption, (e.g. hard Brexit, Italian intransigence, and Persian Gulf military escalations). Safety is the order of the day which means that the yen, Swiss franc and dollar, in that order, should be the beneficiaries. And don’t forget gold, which looks for all the world like it is heading up to $1600/oz.

Good luck and good weekend
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