For How Long?

The US economy’s strong
Denial of this would be wrong
It’s not too surprising
That rates will be rising
The question is just, for how long?

Despite the Trump administration’s recent discussion of imposing 25% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports, rather than the 10% initially mooted, the Fed looked at the economic landscape and concluded that things continue apace. While they didn’t adjust rates yesterday, as was universally expected, the policy statement was quite positive, highlighting the strength in both economic growth and the labor market, while pointing out that inflation is at their objective of 2.0%. Market expectations for a September rate hike increased slightly, with futures traders now pricing in a nearly 90% probability. More interestingly, despite the increased trade rhetoric, those same traders have increased their expectations for a December hike as well, with that number now hovering near 70%. At this point, despite President Trump’s swipe at higher rates last week, it appears that the Fed is continuing to blaze its rate-hiking path undeterred.

The consequences of the Fed’s stance are starting to play out more clearly now, with the dollar once again benefitting from expectations of higher short term rates, and equity markets around the world, but especially in APAC, feeling the heat. The chain of events continues in the following manner. Higher US rates have led to a stronger US dollar, especially vs. many emerging market currencies. The companies in those countries impacted are those that borrowed heavily in USD over the past ten years when US rates were near zero. They now find themselves struggling to repay and refinance that debt. Repayment is impacted because their local revenues buy fewer dollars while refinancing is impacted by the fact that US rates are that much higher. With this cycle in mind, it should not be surprising that equity markets elsewhere in the world are struggling. And those struggles don’t even include the potential knock-on effects of further US tariff increases. Quite frankly, it appears that this trend has further to run.

Meanwhile, the week’s central bank meetings are coming to a close with this morning’s BOE decision, where they are widely touted to raise the Base rate by 25bps, up to 0.75%. It is actually quite amusing to read some of the UK headlines talking about the BOE raising rates to the ‘highest in a decade’, which while strictly true, seems to imply so much more than the reality of still exceptionally low interest rates. However, given the ongoing uncertainty due to the Brexit situation, I continue to believe that Governor Carney is extremely unlikely to raise rates again this year, and if we are headed to a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, which I believe is increasingly likely, UK rates will head back lower again. Early this morning the UK Construction PMI data printed at a better than expected 55.8, its highest since late 2016, but despite the strong data and rate expectations, the pound has fallen 0.35% on the day.

Other currency movement has been similar, with the euro down 0.35%, Aussie and Kiwi both falling more than 0.5% and every other G10 currency, save the yen declining. The yen has rallied slightly, 0.2%, as interest rates in Japan continue to respond to Tuesday’s BOJ policy tweaks. JGB’s seem to have quickly found a new home above the old 0.10% ceiling, and there is now a growing expectation that as the 10-year yield there approaches the new 0.2% cap, the longer end of the JGB curve will rise with it taking the 30-year JGB to 1.00%. While that may not seem like much to the naked eye, when considering the nature of international flows, it is potentially quite important. The reason stems from the fact that Japanese institutional investors tend to hedge the FX exposure that comes from foreign fixed income purchases thus reducing their net yield from the higher rates received overseas to something on the order of 1.0%. And if the Japanese 30-year reaches that 1.0% threshold (it is currently yielding 0.83%), there is a growing expectation that those same investors will sell Treasuries and other bonds and bring the money home. That will have two impacts. First, I would be far less concerned over an inverting yield curve in the US as yields across the back end of the US curve would rise on those sales, and second, the dollar would likely rally overall on higher rates, but decline further against the yen. These are the type of background flows that impact the FX market, but may not be obvious to most hedgers.

Turning to the emerging markets, the dollar is firmer against virtually all of these currencies as well. One of the biggest movers has been CNY, falling 0.5% and now trading at its weakest level since May 2017. The renminbi’s decline has been impressive since mid-April, clocking in at nearly 9%, and clearly offsetting some of the impact of the recent tariffs. But remember, the renminbi’s decline began well before any tariffs were in place, and has as much to do with a slowing Chinese economy forcing monetary policy ease in China as with the recent trade spat. At this point, capital outflows have not yet become a problem there, but if history is any guide, as we get closer to 7.00, we are likely to see more pressure on the system as both individuals and companies seek to get their money out of China and into a stronger currency. I expect that there are more fireworks in store here.

Aside from China, the usual suspects continue to fall, with TRY having blasted through 5.00 overnight and now down 1.5% on the day. But we have also seen significant weakness in ZAR (-1.75%), KRW (-1.15%), and MXN (-0.75%). Even INR is down 0.5% despite the RBI having raised rates 0.25% overnight to try to rein in rising inflation pressures there. So today’ story is clear, the dollar remains in the ascendancy on the back of optimism in the US vs. increasing pessimism elsewhere in the world.

A quick peek at today’s data shows that aside from the weekly Initial Claims (exp 220K) we see only Factory Orders (0.7%). Yesterday’s ADP Employment data was quite strong, rising 219K, while the ISM Manufacturing report fell to a still robust 58.1, albeit a larger fall than expected. However, given the Fed’s upbeat outlook, the market was able to shake off the news. At this point, however, I expect that eyes are turning toward tomorrow’s NFP report, which will be seen as taking a much more accurate reading on the economy. All in all, I see no reason for the dollar to give back its recent gains, and in fact, expect that modest further strength is in the cards.

Good luck


Still At Its Peak

Three central bank meetings this week
Seem unlikely, havoc to wreak
When they all adjourn
Attention will turn
To joblessness, still at its peak

In the current central bank calendric cycle, the ECB meeting was the first to be completed, and last Thursday we learned virtually nothing new about Mario Draghi’s plans. The ECB is going to reduce QE further starting in October and is due to end it completely by year end. As to interest rates, ‘through summer’ remains the watchword, with markets forecasting a 10bp rate rise in either September or October of next year.

This week brings us the other three big central bank meetings, starting with the BOJ’s announcement tomorrow evening, then the FOMC on Wednesday and finally the BOE on Thursday. Going in reverse order, the market remains convinced that Governor Carney will raise rates 25bps, with a more than 80% probability priced in by futures traders. While I think it is a mistake, it does seem increasingly likely it will be the outcome. As to the Fed, there are no expectations of any policy adjustments at this meeting, and as there is no press conference following, I expect that the statement, when released Wednesday afternoon, will have little market impact.

This takes us to tomorrow evening’s BOJ meeting, which is the only one where there seems to be any real uncertainty. Last week I discussed the questions at hand which boil down to whether or not Kuroda and company have come to believe that QQE is not only ineffective, but actually beginning to have a detrimental impact on the Japanese economy. After all, they have been at it for the better part of five years and have still had zero success in achieving their 2.0% inflation goal. The three biggest problems are that Japanese banks have seen their business models decimated by increasingly narrow lending spreads; the ETF purchase program has had an increasingly large distortive impact on the Japanese stock markets as the BOJ now owns roughly 4% of all Japanese equities; and finally, the yield curve control plan has essentially broken the JGB market as evidenced by the fact that they continue to see sessions where there are actually no trades in the 10-year JGB. (Consider what would happen if there were no trades in 10-year Treasuries one day!)

With all of this as baggage, there has been increasing discussion that the BOJ may seek to tweak the program to try to make it more effective. However, they have painted themselves into a corner because if they reduce their activity in the JGB market, the market is likely to see it as a reduced commitment to QE and it is likely to result in higher yields there, which can easily lead to two separate but related outcomes. First, USDJPY is likely to fall further, as higher JGB yields lead to more interest for Japanese investors to bring their funds home. Given the disinflationary impact of a stronger currency, this would be a disaster. And second, if there is less support for JGB’s, given the fungibility of money and the open capital markets that exist, we are likely to see yields rise in US, UK, European and other developed markets. While Chairman Powell may welcome this as it will reduce concern over the Fed inverting the yield curve, the rest of the world, which retains far easier monetary policy, is likely to be somewhat less welcoming of that outcome. And this is all based on anonymous reports that the BOJ is going to make some technical adjustments to their program, not change the nature of what they are doing. So if you are looking for some fireworks this week, the BOJ is your best bet.

However, beyond the central banks, the market will turn its attention to Friday’s employment report here in the US. Last Friday saw a robust GDP report, as widely expected, and further proof of the divergence between the US and the rest of the global economy. This Friday could simply add to that impression. Here is the full listing of this week’s data, which is quite robust:

Tuesday BOJ Rate Decision -0.10% (unchanged)
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.3% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
  Case-Shiller Home Prices 6.4%
  Chicago PMI 62.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 185K
  ISM Manufacturing 59.5
  ISM Prices Paid 75.8
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.00% (unchanged)
Thursday BOE Rate Decision 0.75% (+0.25%)
  Initial Claims 221K
  Factory Orders 0.7%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
  Private Payrolls 185K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 22K
  Unemployment Rate 3.9%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (2.7% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Trade Balance -$46.2B
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 58.7

So, as you can see there is much to be learned this week. With the focus on the central banks and Friday’s payroll data, don’t lose sight of tomorrow’s PCE report, because remember, that is the Fed’s go-to number on inflation. Overall, looking at forecasts, things remain remarkably strong in the US economy this long into an expansion, which is something that has many folks concerned. We also continue to see important corporate earnings releases this week for Q2, which given the high profile misses we had last week, could well impact markets beyond individual equity names.

As to the dollar through all this, it is a touch softer this morning, but remains on the strong side of its recent trading range. While I still like it higher, there is so much potential new information coming this week, it is probably wisest to remain as neutral as possible for now. For hedgers, that means the 50% rule is in effect.

Good luck

A Rate Hike’s in Store

Said Mario Draghi once more
‘Through summer’ a rate hike’s in store
When pressed on the timing
That they’d end pump priming
He gave no more scoop than before

As we await this morning’s Q2 US GDP data (exp 4.1%), it’s a good time to review yesterday’s activity and why the euro has given up the ground it gained during the past week. The ECB left policy on hold, which was universally expected. However, many pundits were looking for a more insightful press conference regarding the timeline that the ECB has in mind regarding the eventual raising of interest rates. Alas, they were all disappointed. Draghi continues to use the term ‘through summer’ without defining exactly what that means. It appears that the uncertainty is whether it means a September 2019 hike or an October 2019 hike. To this I have to say, “are they nuts?” The idea that the ECB has such a precise decision process is laughable. The time in question is more than twelve months away, and there is so much that can happen between now and then it cannot be listed.

Consider that just six months ago, Eurozone growth was widely expected to continue the pace it had demonstrated in 2017, which was why the dollar was weak and falling. But instead, despite a large majority of forecasts pointing to great things in Europe, growth there weakened sharply while growth in the US leapt forward. So here we are now, six months later, with the dollar significantly stronger and a new narrative asking why Eurozone growth has disappointed while US growth is exploding higher. Of course the US story is blamed based on the tax changes and increased fiscal stimulus from the budget bill. But in Europe, we have heard about bad weather, a flu epidemic and, more recently, rising oil prices, but certainly nothing that explains the underlying disappointment. And that was only a six-month window! Why would anyone expect the ECB, who are notoriously bad forecasters, to have any idea what will happen, with precision, in fourteen months’ time?

However, that seems to have been the driving force yesterday, lack of confirmation on the timing of the ECB’s initial rate hike next year. And based on the French GDP data this morning (0.2%, below expectations of 0.3% and far below last year’s 0.7% quarterly average), it seems that growth expectations for the Eurozone may well be missed again. Personally, I am not convinced that the ECB will raise rates at all in 2019. Given the recent trajectory of growth in the Eurozone, it appears we have already seen the top, and that before we get ‘through summer’ next year, the discussion may turn to how the ECB are going to help support the economy with further QE. Given this reality, it should be no surprise that the euro suffered yesterday, and in the wake of the weak French data, that it is still lower this morning, albeit only by an additional 0.15%.

Elsewhere the pound fell yesterday after the EU rejected, out of hand, PM May’s solution for the UK to collect tariffs on behalf of the EU. That basically destroyed her attempt to find a middle ground between the Brexiteers and the Bremainers, and now calls into question her ability to remain in office. In fact, she is running out of time to come up with a deal that has a chance of getting implemented. The current belief is that if they do not agree on something by the October EU meeting, there will not be sufficient time for all 29 members to approve any deal. It is with this in mind that I continue to question the BOE’s concerns over slowing inflation. My gut tells me that if they do raise rates next week, it will need to be reversed by the November meeting after the Brexit situation spirals out of control. The pound fell 0.65% yesterday and is down a further 0.1% this morning. That remains the trend.

Another noteworthy event from Tokyo occurred last night as the BOJ was forced to intervene in the JGB market for the second time this week, bidding for an unlimited amount of bonds at 0.10% in the 5-10 year sector. And this time, they bought ~$74 billion worth. Speculation remain rife that they are going to adjust their QQE program next week, but given the fact that it has been singularly unsuccessful in achieving its aim of raising inflation to 2.0% (currently CPI there is running at 0.2%), this appears to be a serious capitulation. If they change policy without any success behind them, the market is likely to aggressively buy the yen. USDJPY is down 1.7% in the past six sessions, and while it rallied slightly yesterday, it seems to me that USDJPY lower is the most likely future outcome.

Yesterday morning’s overall dollar malaise reversed during the US session and has carried over to this morning’s trade. And while most movement so far this morning is modest, averaging in the 0.1%-0.2% range, it is nearly universally in favor of the buck.

This morning brings the aforementioned GDP data as well as Michigan Sentiment (exp 97.1, down a full point from last month), although the former will be the key number to watch. Yesterday’s equity market session was broadly able to shake off the poor earnings forecast of a major tech firm, and this morning has a different FANG member knocking it out of the park. My point is that risk aversion is not high, so this dollar strength remains fundamental. At this point, I look for the dollar to continue to benefit from the current broad narrative of diverging monetary policy, and expect that we will need to see some particularly weak US data to change that story.

Good luck and good weekend



Speculation’s rife
Kuroda is tired of
JGB support

For the fifth consecutive session, the Japanese yen is rising amid growing speculation that the BOJ, when it meets next Monday and Tuesday, is going to adjust monetary policy tighter. During that run, which also included President Trump’s harangues on currency manipulation around the world, the yen has strengthened nearly 2%. My point is that the dollar has suffered somewhat overall during that period, so this movement is not entirely due to the BOJ story. But, as the meeting approaches, that is becoming the hottest topic in the market.

A quick look at the Japanese economy shows that inflation remains quiescent, with the latest core reading just 0.2%, a far cry from the 2.0% target the BOJ has been aiming for during the past five years. In addition, last night’s PMI data, (printing at 51.6, well below expectations of 53.2) has to give Kuroda and company pause as well. In other words, while Japan is not cratering, it doesn’t seem like there is any danger of overheating there either. However, with the Fed actively tightening, the BOE widely expected to raise rates in early August and the ECB highlighting its plans to end QE this year with interest rate increases to follow next year, the BOJ is clearly feeling somewhat left out of the mix. Apparently groupthink is a strong emotion for central bankers.

At any rate, whether justified or not, the story that is getting play is that they are going to tweak their operations, perhaps allowing (encouraging?) the long end of the JGB yield curve to see higher yields, although they will likely keep control of the 10-year space and below. But all the market needed to hear was that QE was going to be reduced and the reaction was immediate. JGB yields in the 10-year space jumped from 0.03% to 0.09%, at which point the BOJ stopped the movement by stepping in with an unlimited bid for bonds. Remember, they already own 42% of all outstanding JGB’s, and liquidity in that market is so thin that there have already been six days this year where there were absolutely zero trades in the 10-year JGB. The FX market was not going to be left out and seeing the prospect for less QE immediately added to the yen’s recent gains. It remains to be seen whether Kuroda-san will be able to actually implement any policy changes given the combination of slackening growth and still low inflation, especially with the prospects of a trade war having an even more deleterious impact on the economy. However, the market loves this story and is going to continue to run with it, at least until the BOJ announcement next Tuesday. So I would look for the yen to continue to trade slowly higher during that period.

The other big story overnight was the PBOC injection of CNY502 billion of liquidity into the market as part of their ongoing policy adjustments. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Chinese economy is having trouble dealing with the simultaneous deleveraging demanded by President Xi for the past two years and the increased trade issues that have arisen quite rapidly of late. Of course, the PBOC is no wallflower when it comes to taking action, and so having already cut reserve requirements three times this year; they decided that direct injection of funds into the market was a better method of achieving their goals. In addition the government created tax incentives for R&D, encouraged more state infrastructure spending and told banks to offer more credit to small firms. The market impact of these measures was immediate with the Shanghai Stock Exchange rallying 1.6% while the renminbi fell as much as 0.6% early, before retracing somewhat and now standing just 0.2% lower on the day.

When considering the CNY, the opposing forces are that a weaker yuan will certainly help support short-term growth due to the still significant reliance on exports by the Chinese economy. However, there is a feared tipping point at which a weak yuan may encourage significant capital outflows, thus destabilizing the Chinese economy and Chinese markets. We saw this play out three years ago, shortly after the PBOC surprised markets with its mini (2%) devaluation of the yuan. The ensuing global market sell-off was significant enough to prevent then Fed Chair Yellen to hold off on raising rates, despite having signaled that the Fed was ready to do so. However, it is not clear to me that Chairman Powell sees the world the same way as Yellen, and my take is that he would not be dissuaded from continuing the Fed’s current trajectory despite some increased global volatility. Of course, the Chinese instituted strict capital controls in the wake of the 2015 situation, so it is also not clear that the contagion can even occur this time. In the end, though, this is simply further evidence of the diverging monetary policies between the US and China, and continues to underpin my views of USDCNY moving to 7.00 and beyond before the year ends.

Away from those two stories, the dollar is modestly softer this morning despite mixed to weaker Eurozone PMI data (Germany strong, France weak, Eurozone weak), and US Treasury yields that gained nearly 10bps yesterday after the BOJ story broke. Yesterday saw weaker than expected Existing Home Sales (5.38M), which is the third consecutive monthly decline. While there is no important data today, we do see the critical first look at Q2 GDP on Friday, and of course, the ECB meets Thursday, so there is ample opportunity for more opinion changing information to come to market. But right now, the dollar remains largely trapped between the positive monetary policy story and the negative political story, and so I don’t anticipate it will be breaking out in either direction in the short run. However, as long as US monetary policy continues on its current trajectory, I believe the dollar has further to run. We have not yet evolved to a point where other issues are more important, although that time may well come in the future.

Good luck