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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Called Into Question

A key market gauge of recession,
The yield curve, has called into question
Growth’s pace up ahead
And whether the Fed
Will restart financial repression

While markets this morning have stopped falling, there is no question that investors are on heightened alert. Yesterday saw further declines in the major stock indices and a continuation of the dollar’s rally alongside demand for Treasuries and Bunds. Today’s pause is hardly enough to change the predominant current view which can best be summed up as, AAAAGGGHHHH!

In the Treasury market, 10-year yields reached their steepest inversion vs. 3-month yields, 14bps, since 2007. While many pundits and analysts focus on the 2-year vs. 10-year spread, which remains slightly positive, the Fed itself has published research showing the 3-month vs. 10-year spread is a better indicator of future recessions. So the combination of fears over a drawn out trade war between the US and China and ongoing uncertainty in Europe given the Brexit drama and the uptick in tensions between Italy and the European Commission regarding Italy’s mooted budget, have been enough to send many investors hunting for the safest assets they can find. In this classic risk-off scenario, the fact that the dollar and the yen remain the currencies of choice is no surprise.

But let’s unpack the stories to see if the fear is warranted. On the trade front, every indication of late is that both sides are preparing for a much longer conflict. Just this morning China halted all imports of US soybeans. The other chatter of note is the idea that the Chinese may soon halt shipments of rare-earth metals to US industry, an act that would have significant negative consequences for the US manufacturing capability in the technology and aerospace industries. Of course, the US ban on Huawei and its increased pressure to prevent any allies from buying their equipment strikes at the heart of China’s attempts to move up the value chain in manufacturing. All told, until the G20 meeting in about a month’s time, I cannot foresee any thaw in this battle, and so expect continued negative consequences for the market.

As to Brexit, given the timing is that there won’t be a new Prime Minister until September, it seems that very little will happen in this arena. After all, Boris Johnson is already the favorite and is on record as saying a hard Brexit suits him just fine. While my personal view is that the probability of that outcome is more than 30%, I am in the minority. In fact, I would argue the analyst community, although not yet the market, is coalescing around the idea that no Brexit at all has become the most likely outcome. We have heard more and more MP’s talk about a willingness to hold a second referendum and current polls show Remain well ahead in that event. Of course, the FX market has not embraced that view as evidenced by the fact the pound remains within spitting distance of its lowest levels in more than two years.

Finally, the resurrection of the Italy story is the newest addition to the market’s menu of pain, and this one seems like it has more legs. Remarkably, the European Commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, is demanding that Italy reduce its fiscal spending by 1.5% of GDP despite the fact that it is just emerging from a recession and growth this year is forecast to be only 0.3%. This is remarkable given the Keynesian bent of almost all global policymakers. Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League whose power is growing after his party had a very strong showing in last week’s EU elections, has categorically rejected that policy prescription.

But of more interest is the fact that the Italian Treasury is back to discussing the issuance of ‘minibots’ which are essentially short-term Italian notes used by the government to pay contractors, and which will be able to trade in the market as a parallel currency to the euro. While they will be completely domestic, they represent a grave threat to the sanctity of the single currency and will not be lightly tolerated by the ECB or any other Eurozone government. And yet, it is not clear what the rest of Europe can do to stop things. The threat of a fine is ludicrous, especially given that Italy’s budget deficit is forecast to be smaller than France’s, where no threats have been made. The thing is, introduction of a parallel currency is a step into the unknown, and one that, in the short-term, is likely to weigh on the euro significantly. However, longer term, if Italy, which is generally perceived as one of the weaker links in the Eurozone, were to leave, perhaps that would strengthen the remaining bloc on a macroeconomic basis and the euro with it.

With that as background, it is no surprise that investors have been shunning risk. While this morning markets are rebounding slightly, with equity indices higher by a few tenths of a percent and Treasury yields higher by 3bps, the trend remains firmly in the direction of less risk not more.

The final question to be asked is, how will the Fed respond to this widening array of economic issues? Arguably, they will continue to focus on the US story, which while slowing, remains the least problematic of the major economies. At least that has been the case thus far. But today we have the opportunity to change things. Data this morning includes the first revision of Q1 GDP (exp 3.1%) as well as Initial Claims (215K) and the Goods Trade Balance (-$72.0B) at 8:30. There are concerns that the Q1 data falls below 3.0% which would not only be politically inconvenient, but perhaps a harbinger of a faster slowdown in Q2. Then, throughout the next week we get a significant run of data culminating in the payroll report next Friday. So, for now, the Fed is going to be watching closely, as will all market participants.

The predominant view remains that growth around the world is slowing and that the next easing cycle is imminent (fed funds futures are pricing in 3 rate cuts by the end of 2020!) However, Fed commentary has not backed up that view as yet. We will need to see the data to have a better idea, but for now, with risk still being shunned, the dollar should remain bid overall.

Good luck
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Will Powell React?

The Treasury curve is implying
That growth as we knew it is dying
Will Powell react?
Or just be attacked
For stasis while claiming he’s trying?

Scanning markets this morning shows everything is a mess. Scanning headlines this morning shows that fear clearly outpolls greed as the driving force behind trading activity. The question at hand is, ‘Have things gone too far or is this just the beginning?’

Treasury and Bund yields are the best place to start when discussing the relative merits of fear and greed, and this morning, fear is in command. Yields on 10-year Treasuries have fallen to 2.23% and 10-year Bunds are down to -0.17%, both probing levels not seen in nearly two years. The proximate causes are numerous. First there is the continued concern over the trade war between the US and China with no sign that talks are ongoing and the market now focusing on a mooted meeting between President’s Trump and Xi at the G20 in June. While there is no chance the two of them will agree a deal, as we saw in December, it is entirely possible they can get the talks restarted, something that would help mitigate the current market stress.

However, this is not only about trade. Economic data around the world continues to drift broadly lower with the latest surprise being this morning’s German Unemployment rate rising to 5.0% as 60,000 more Germans than expected found themselves out of work. We have also been ‘treated’ to the news that layoffs by US companies (Ford and GE among others) are starting to increase. The auto sector looks like it is getting hit particularly hard as inventories build on dealer lots despite what appears to be robust consumer confidence. This dichotomy is also evident in the US housing market where despite strong employment, rising wages and declining mortgage rates, home prices are stagnant to falling, depending on the sector, and home sales have been declining for the past fourteen months in a row.

The point is that the economic fundamentals are no longer the reliable support for markets they had been in the recent past. Remember, the US is looking at its longest economic expansion in history, but its vigor is clearly waning.

Then there are the political ructions ongoing. Brexit is a well-worn story, yet one that has no end in sight. The pound remains under pressure (-0.1%, -3.0% in May) and UK stocks are falling sharply (-1.3%, -3.3% in May). As the Tory leadership contest takes shape, Boris Johnson remains the frontrunner, but Parliament will not easily cede any power to allow a no-deal Brexit if that is what Johnson wants. And to add to the mess, Scotland is aiming to hold a second independence referendum as they are very keen to remain within the EU. (Just think, the opportunity for another border issue could be coming our way soon!)

Then there is the aftermath of the EU elections where all the parties that currently are in power in EU nations did poorly, yet the current national leadership is tasked with finding new EU-wide leaders, including an ECB President as well as European Commission and European Council presidents. So, there is a great deal of horse-trading ongoing, with competence for the role seen as a distant fifth requirement compared to nationality, regional location (north vs. south), home country size (large vs. small) and gender. Meanwhile, Italy has been put on notice that its current financial plans for fiscal stimulus are outside the Eurozone stability framework but are not taking the news sitting down. It actually makes no sense that an economy crawling out of recession like Italy should be asked to tighten fiscal policy by raising taxes and cutting spending, rather than encouraged to reinvigorate growth. But hey, the Teutonic view of the world is austerity is always and everywhere the best policy! One cannot be surprised that Italian stocks are falling (-1.3%, -8.0% this month).

At any rate, the euro also remains under pressure, falling yesterday by 0.3%, a further 0.1% this morning and a little more than 1% this month. One point made by many is that whoever follows Signor Draghi in the ECB President’s chair is likely to be more hawkish, by default, than Draghi himself. With that in mind, later this year, when a new ECB leader is named, if not yet installed, the euro has the chance to rally. This is especially so if the Fed has begun to cut rates by then, something the futures market already has in its price.

Other mayhem can be seen in South Africa, where the rand has broken below its six-month trading range, having fallen nearly 3% this week as President Ramaphosa has yet to name a new cabinet, sowing concern in the market as to whether he will be able to pull the country out of its deep economic malaise (GDP -2.0% in Q1). And a last piece of news comes from Venezuela, where the central bank surprised one and all by publishing economic statistics showing that GDP shrank 19.2% in the first nine months of 2018 while inflation ran at 130,060% last year. That is not a misprint, that is the very definition of hyperinflation.

Turning to today’s session, there is no US data of note nor are any Fed members scheduled to speak. Given the overnight price action, with risk clearly being cast aside, it certainly appears that markets will open that way. Equity futures are pointing to losses of 0.6% in the US, and right now it appears things are going to remain in risk-off mode. Barring a surprise positive story (or Presidential tweet), it feels like investors are going to continue to pare back risk positions for now. As such, the dollar is likely to maintain its current bid, although I don’t see much cause for it to extend its gains at this time.

Finally, to answer the question I posed at the beginning, there is room for equity markets to continue to fall while haven bonds rally so things have not yet gone too far.

Good luck
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Still Feeling Stressed

The overnight data expressed
That China is still feeling stressed
But Europe’s reports
Showed growth of some sorts
Might finally be manifest

The dollar is on its heels this morning after data from Europe showed surprising strength almost across the board. Arguably the most important data point was Eurozone GDP printing at 0.4% in Q1, a tick higher than expected and significantly higher than Q4’s 0.2%. The drivers of this data were Italy, where Q1 GDP rose 0.2%, taking the nation out of recession and beating expectations. At the same time Spain grew at 0.7%, also better than expectations while France maintained its recent pace with a 0.3% print. Interestingly, Germany doesn’t report this data until the middle of May. However, we did see German GfK Consumer Confidence print at 10.4, remaining unchanged on the month rather than falling as expected. Adding to the growth scenario were inflation readings that were generally a tick firmer than expected in Italy, Spain and France. While these numbers remain well below the ECB target of “close to but just below” 2.0%, it has served to ease some concerns about Europe’s future. In the end, the euro has rallied 0.25% while European government bond yields are all higher by 2-5bps. However, European equity markets did not get the memo and remain little changed on the day.

Prior to these releases we learned that China’s PMI data was softer than expected, with the National number printing lower at 50.1, while the Caixin number printed at 50.2. Even though both remain above the 50.0 level indicating future growth, there is an increasing concern that China’s Q1 GDP data was more the result of a distorted comparison to last year’s data due to changed timing of the Lunar New Year. Remember, that holiday has a large impact on the Chinese economy with manufacturing shutdowns amid widescale holiday making, and so the timing of those events each year are not easily stabilized with seasonal adjustments to the data. As such, it is starting to look like Q1’s 6.4% GDP growth may have been somewhat overstated. Of course, China remains opaque in many ways, so we may need to wait until next month’s PMI data to get a better handle on things. One other clue, though, has been the ongoing decline in the price of copper, a key industrial metal and one which China represents approximately 50% of global demand. Arguably, a falling copper price implies less demand from China, which implies slowing growth there. Ultimately, while it is no surprise that the renminbi is little changed on the day, Chinese equities edged higher on the theory that the PBOC is more likely to add stimulus if the economic slowdown persists.

Of course, the other China story is that the trade talks are resuming in Beijing today and market participants will be watching closely for word that things are continuing to move in the right direction. You may recall the President Xi Jinping gave a speech last week where he highlighted the changes he anticipated in Chinese policy, all of which included accession to US demands in the trade talks. At this point, it seems the negotiators need to “simply” hash out the details, which of course is not simple at all. But if the direction from the top is broadly set, a deal seems quite likely. However, as I have pointed out in the past, the market appears to have already priced in the successful conclusion of a deal, and so when (if) one is announced, I would expect equity markets to fall on a ‘sell the news’ response.

Turning to the US, yesterday’s data showed that PCE inflation (1.5%, core 1.6%) continues to lag expectations as well as remain below the Fed’s 2.0% target. With the FOMC meeting starting this morning, although we won’t hear the outcome until tomorrow afternoon, the punditry is trying to determine what they will say. The universal expectation is for no policy changes to be enacted, and little change in the policy statement. However, to me, there has been a further shift in the tone of the most recent Fed speakers. While I believe that Loretta Mester and Esther George remain monetary hawks, I think the rest of the board has morphed into a more dovish contingent, one that will respond quite quickly to falling inflation numbers. With that in mind, yesterday’s readings have to be concerning, and if we see another set of soft inflation data next month, it is entirely possible that the doves carry the day at the June meeting and force an end to the balance sheet roll-off immediately as a signal that they will not let inflation fall further. I think the mistake we are all making is that we keep looking for policy normalization. The new normal is low rates and growing balance sheets and we are already there.

As Powell and friends get together
The question is when, it’s not whether
More policy easing
Will seem less displeasing
So prices can rise like a feather

Looking at this morning’s releases, the Employment Cost Index (exp 0.7%) starts us off with Case-Shiller home prices (3.2%) and then Chicago PMI (59.0) following later in the morning. However, with the Fed meeting ongoing, it seems unlikely that any of these numbers will move the needle. In fact, tomorrow’s ADP number would need to be extraordinary (either high or low) to move things ahead of the FOMC announcement. All this points to continued low volatility in markets as players of all stripes try to figure out what the next big thing will be. My sense is we are going to see central banks continue to lean toward easier policy, as the global focus on inflation, or the lack thereof, will continue to drive policy, as well as asset bubbles.

Good luck
Adf

Fleeing the Scene

The latest news from the UK
Is that they have sought a delay
Til midsummer’s eve
When, they now believe,
They’ll duly have something to say

But Europe seems not quite so keen
To grant that stay when they convene
It should be a year
Unless it’s quite clear
The UK is fleeing the scene

Despite the fact it is payroll day here in the US, there are still two stories that continue to garner the bulk of the attention, Brexit and trade with China. In the former, this morning PM May sent a letter to the EU requesting a delay until June 30, which seems to ignore all the points that have been made about a delay up until now. With European elections due May 23, the EU wants the UK out by then, or in for a much longer time, as the idea that the UK will vote in EU elections then leave a month later is anathema. But May seems to believe that now that she is in discussions with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, a solution will soon be found and the Parliament will pass her much reviled deal with tweaks to the political codicil about the future. The other idea is a one-year delay that will give the UK time to hold another referendum and get it right this time determine if it is still the people’s will to follow through with Brexit given what is now generally believed about the economic consequences. The PM is due to present a plan of some sort on Wednesday to an emergency meeting of the EU, after which time the EU will vote on whether to grant a delay, and how long it will be. More uncertainty has left markets in the same place they have been for the past several months, stuck between the terror of a hard Brexit and the euphoria of no Brexit. It should be no surprise the pound is little changed today at 1.3065. Until it becomes clear as to the outcome, it is hard to see a reason for the pound to move more than 1% in either direction.

Regarding the trade story, what I read as mixed messages from the White House and Beijing has naturally been construed positively by the market. Both sides claim that progress is being made, but the key sticking points remain IP integrity, timing on the removal of tariffs by the US, and the ability of unilateral retaliation by the US in the event that China doesn’t live up to the terms of the deal. The latest thought is it will take another four to six weeks to come to terms on a deal. We shall see. The one thing we have learned is that the equity markets continue to see this as crucial to future economic growth, and rally on every piece of ‘good’ news. It seems to me that at some point, a successful deal will be fully priced in, which means that we are clearly setting up a ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ type of dynamic going forward. In other words, look for a positive announcement to result in a short pop higher in equity prices, and then a lot of profit taking and a pretty good decline. The thing is, since we have no real idea on the timing, nor where the market will be when things are announced, it doesn’t help much right now in asset allocation.

As a side note, I did read a commentary that made an interesting point about these negotiations. If you consider communism’s tenets, a key one is that there is no such thing as private property. So, the idea that China will agree to the protection of private property when it contradicts the Chinese fundamental ruling dicta may be a bit of a stretch. Maybe they will, but that could be quite a hurdle to overcome there. Food for thought.

Now, on to payrolls. Here are the latest consensus forecasts:

Nonfarm Payrolls 180K
Private Payrolls 170K
Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.4% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5

A little worryingly, the ADP number on Wednesday was weaker than expected, but the month-by-month relationship between the two is not as close as you might think. Based on what we have heard from Fed speakers just yesterday (Harker, Mester and Williams), the FOMC believes that their current stance of waiting and watching continues to be appropriate. They are looking for a data trend that either informs coming weakness or coming strength and will respond accordingly. To a wo(man), however, these three all believe that the economy will have a solid performance this year, with GDP at or slightly above 2.0%, and that it is very premature to consider rate cuts, despite what the market is pricing.

Meanwhile, the data story from elsewhere continues to drift in a negative direction with Industrial Production falling throughout Europe, UK House Prices declining and UK productivity turning negative. In fact, the Italian government is revising its forecast for GDP growth in 2019 to be 0.1% all year and all eyes are on the IMF’s updated projections due next week, which are touted to fall even further.

In the end, the big picture remains largely unchanged. Uncertainty over Brexit and trade continue to weigh on business decisions and growth data continues to suffer. The one truism is that central bankers are watching this and the only difference in views is regarding how quickly they may need to ease policy further, except for the Fed, which remains convinced that the status quo is proper policy. As I continuously point out, this dichotomy remains in the dollar’s favor, and until it changes, my views will remain that the dollar should benefit going forward.

Good luck
Adf

Expansion is Done

The planet that’s third from the sun
Is learning expansion is done
At least with respect
To growth that’s subject
To what politicians have done

It ought not be much of a surprise that the dollar is regaining its footing this morning and has been doing so for the past several sessions. This is due to the fact that the economic data continue to point to the US as the last bastion of hope for global growth. Yesterday’s data showed that there is still life in the US economy as both Non-Manufacturing ISM (59.7) and New Home Sales (621K) handily beat expectations. At the same time, the data elsewhere around the world continues to show slowing growth.

For example, Australian GDP growth in Q4 printed at a lower than expected 0.2%, with the annual number falling to 2.3%. While RBA Governor Lowe continues to cling to the idea that falling unemployment (a lagging indicator) is going to save the day, the fact remains that the housing bubble there is deflating and the slowdown in China’s economy is having a direct negative impact on Australian growth. In the wake of the report, analysts throughout Asia adjusted their interest rate forecasts to two rate cuts this year even though the RBA has tried to maintain a neutral policy with an eventual expectation to raise rates. Aussie fell sharply, down 0.75% this morning and >2.5% in the past week. It is once again approaching the 0.70 level which has thus far proven to be formidable support, and below which it has not traded in three years. Look for it to crack this time.

But it is not just problems Down Under. In fact, the much bigger issues are in Europe, where the OECD has just released its latest forecasts for GDP growth with much lower numbers on the table. Germany is forecast to grow just 0.7% this year, the UK just 0.8% and of course, Italy which is currently suffering through a recession, is slated to grow just 0.2% this year! Tomorrow Signor Draghi and his ECB colleagues meet again and there is a growing belief that a decision on rolling over the TLTRO bank financing will be made. I have been pounding the table on this for several months and there has certainly been nothing lately to change my view. At this point, the market is now pricing in the possibility of the first ECB rate hike only in mid 2020 and my view is it will be later than that, if ever. The combination of slowing growth throughout the Eurozone, slowing growth in China and still absent inflation will prevent any rate hikes for a very long time to come. In fact, Europe is beginning to resemble Japan in this vein, where slowing growth and an aging population are the prerequisites for NIRP forever. Plus, the longer growth remains subpar, the more call for fiscal policy ease which will require additional borrowing at the government level. As government debt continues to grow, and it is growing all around the world, the ability of central banks to guide rates higher will be increasingly throttled. When you consider these issues it become very difficult to be bullish on the euro, especially in the long-term. But even in the short run, the euro is likely to feel pressure. While the euro has barely edged lower this morning, that is after a 0.35% decline yesterday which means it is down just over 1.0% in the past week.

In the UK, meanwhile, the Brexit debate continues but hope is fading that the PM will get her bill through Parliament this time. Thus far, the EU has been unwilling to make any concessions on the language of the Irish backstop, and despite a herculean effort by May, it is not clear she can find the votes. The vote is scheduled for next Tuesday, after which, if it fails, Parliament will look to pass some bills preventing a no-deal Brexit and seeking a delay. However, even those don’t look certain to pass. Just this morning, Governor Carney said that a no-deal Brexit would not, in fact, be the catastrophe that had been earlier forecast as many companies have made appropriate plans to handle it. While the underlying thesis in the market continues to be that there will be a deal of some sort, it feels like the probability of a hard Brexit is growing somewhat. Certainly, the pound’s recent performance would indicate that is the case. This morning it is down a further 0.3% which takes the move to -1.75% in the past week.

One last central bank story is that of Canada, where the economy is also slowing much more rapidly than the central bank had believed just a few weeks ago. Last week we learned that inflation is lower than expected, just 1.4%, and that GDP grew only 0.1% in Q4, actually falling -0.1% in December. This is not a data set that inspires optimism for the central bank to continue raising rates. Rather, it should become clear that the BOC will remain on hold, and more importantly likely change its hawkish slant to neutral at least, if not actually dovish. As to the Loonie, it is lower by 0.3% this morning and 2.0% since the GDP release on Friday.

Add it all up and you have a story that explains global growth is slowing down further. It is quite possible that monetary policy has been pushed to its effective limit with any marginal additional ease likely to have a very limited impact on the economy. If this is the case, it portends far more difficulty in markets ahead, with one of the most likely outcomes a significant increase in volatility. If the global economy is now immune to the effects of monetary policy anesthesia, be prepared for a few more fireworks. It remains to be seen if this is the case, but there are certainly some indications things are playing out that way. And if central banks do lose control, I would not want to have a significant equity market position as markets around the world are certain to suffer. Food for thought.

This morning we get one piece of data, Trade Balance (exp -$57.9B) and we hear from two more Fed speakers, Williams and Mester. Then at 2:00 the Fed’s Beige Book is released. It seems unlikely that either speaker will lean hawkish, even Mester who is perhaps the most hawkish on the FOMC. Comments earlier this week from other speakers, Rosengren and Kaplan, highlighted the idea of patience in their policy judgements as well as potential concern over things like the extraordinary expansion of corporate debt in this cycle, and how in the event the economy slows, many more companies are likely to be vulnerable. While fear is not rampant, equity markets have been unable to rally the past several sessions which, perhaps, indicates that fear is beginning to grow. And when fear is in vogue, the dollar (and the yen) are the currencies to hold.

Good luck
Adf