Up, Up and Away

Said Powell, “We’re in a good place”
On growth, but we don’t like the pace
That prices are rising
And so we’re surmising
More QE’s what needs to take place

Today, then, we’ll hear from Christine
Who is now the ECB queen
This is her first chance
To proffer her stance
On policy and what’s foreseen

And finally, in the UK
The vote’s taking place through the day
If Boris does badly
Bears will sell pounds gladly
If not, it’s up, up and away

There is much to cover this morning, so let’s get right to it.

First the Fed. As universally expected they left rates on hold and expressed confidence that monetary policy was appropriate for the current conditions. They lauded themselves on the reduction in unemployment, but have clearly changed their views on just how low that number can go. Or perhaps, what they are recognizing is that the percentage of the eligible labor force that is actually at work, which forms the denominator in the unemployment rate, is too low, so that there is ample opportunity to encourage many who had left the workforce during the past decade to return thus increasing the amount of employment and likely helping the Unemployment Rate to edge even lower. While their forecasts continue to point to 3.5% as a bottom, private sector economists are now moving their view to the 3.0%-3.2% level as achievable.

On the inflation front, to say that they are unconcerned would greatly understate the case. They have made it abundantly clear that it will require a nearly unprecedented supply shock to have them consider raising rates anytime soon. However, they continue to kvetch about too low inflation and falling inflation expectations. They have moved toward a policy that will allow inflation to run higher than the “symmetric 2% target” for a while to make up for all the time spent below that level. And the implication is that if we see inflation start to trend lower at all, they will be quick to cut rates regardless of the economic growth and employment situation. Naturally, the fact that CPI printed a touch higher than expected (2.1%) was completely lost on them, but then given their ‘real-world blinders’ that is no real surprise. The dot plot indicated that they expect rates to remain on hold at the current level throughout all of 2020, which would be a first during a presidential election year.

And finally, regarding the ongoing concerns over the short term repo market and their current not-QE policy of buying $60 billion per month of Treasury bills, while Powell was unwilling to commit to a final solution, he did indicate that they could amend the policy to include purchases of longer term Treasury securities alongside the introduction of a standing repo facility. In other words, not-QE has the chance to look even more like QE than it currently does, regardless of what the Chairman says. Keep that in mind.

Next, it’s on to the ECB, which is meeting as I type, and will release its statement at 7:45 this morning followed by Madame Lagarde meeting the press at 8:30. It is clear there will be no policy changes, with rates remaining at -0.5% while QE continues at €20 billion per month. Arguably there are two questions to be answered here; what is happening with the sweeping policy review? And how will Madame Lagarde handle the press conference? Given she has exactly zero experience as a central banker, I think it is reasonable to assume that her press conferences will be much more political in nature than those of Signor Draghi and his predecessors. My fear is that she will stray from the topic at hand, monetary policy, and conflate it with her other, nonmonetary goals, which will only add confusion to the situation. That said, this is a learning process and I’m sure she will get ample feedback both internally and externally and eventually gain command of the situation. In the end, though, there is precious little the ECB can do at this point other than beg the Germans to spend some money while trying to fend off the hawks on the committee and maintain policy as it currently stands.

Turning to the UK election, the pound had been performing quite well as the market was clearly of the opinion that the Tories were going to win and that the Brexit uncertainty would finally end next month. However, the latest polls showed the Tory lead shrinking, and given the fragmentation in the electorate and the UK’s first-past-the-post voting process, it is entirely possible that the result is another hung Parliament which would be a disaster for the pound. The polls close at 5:00pm NY time (10:00pm local) and so it will be early evening before we hear the first indications of how things turn out. The upshot is a Tory majority is likely to see a further 1%-1.5% rally in the pound before it runs out of momentum. A hung Parliament could easily see us trade back down to 1.22 or so as all that market uncertainty returns, and a Labour victory would likely see an even larger decline as the combination of Brexit uncertainty and a program of renationalization of private assets would result in capital fleeing the UK ASAP. When we walk in tomorrow, all will be clear!

Clearly, those are the top stories today but there is still life elsewhere in the markets. Ffor example, the Turkish central bank cut rates more than expected, down to 12.0%, but the TRY managed to rally 0.25% after the fact. Things are clearly calming down there. In Asia, Indian inflation printed higher than expected at 5.54%, although IP there fell less than expected (-3.8%) and the currency impact netted to nil. The biggest gainer in the Far East was KRW, rising 0.65% after a strong performance by the KOSPI (+1.5%) and an analyst call for the KOSPI to rise 12% next year. But other than the won, the rest of the space saw much less movement, albeit generally gaining slightly after the Fed’s dovish stance.

In the G10, the pound has actually slipped a bit this morning, -0.2%, but otherwise, movement has been even smaller than that. Yesterday, after the Fed meeting, the dollar fell pretty sharply, upwards of 0.5% and essentially, the market has maintained those dollar losses this morning.

Looking ahead to the data today we see Initial Claims (exp 214K) and PPI (1.3%, 1.7% core). However, neither of those will have much impact. With the Fed meeting behind us, we will start to hear from its members again, but mercifully, not today. So Fed dovishness has been enough to encourage risk takers, and it looks for all the world like a modest risk-on session is what we have in store.

Good luck
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Inflation’s Not Bubbled

Ahead of the Fed’s tête-à-tête
The CPI reading we’ll get
Though Jay remains troubled
Inflation’s not bubbled
The rest of us know that’s bullshet

Yes, it is Fed day with the FOMC set to announce their policy stance at 2:00 this afternoon and Chairman Jay scheduled to meet the press at 2:30. At this point, he and his colleagues have done an excellent job of leading market expectations toward no change, with the futures market pricing in a 0.0% probability of a cut. Interestingly, there is the tiniest (just 5.8%) probability of a rate hike, although that is even less likely in my view. While there will be a great deal of interest in the dot plot, certainly there has not been enough data to change Powell’s oft-stated view that the economy and monetary policy are both in “a good place.”

What should be of greater concern to all of us, as individuals and consumers, is that there has been an increase in discussions about the Fed changing their inflation targeting regime to achieving an average inflation rate of 2.0% over time, meaning that for all the time inflation remains below target (the past 10 years), they will allow it to run above target to offset that outcome. Now, we all know that the Fed’s constant complaints about too-low inflation ring hollow in our ears every time we go to the supermarket, or even the mall (assuming anyone else still goes there) as prices for pretty much everything other than flat screen tv’s has consistently risen for years. But given the way the Fed measures such things; they continue to register concern over the lack of inflation. And remember, too, that the Fed uses PCE, Personal Consumption Expenditures, in their models, which reflects not what we pay, but the rate of change of prices at which merchants sell goods. It is a subtle difference, but the construct of PCE, with a much lower emphasis on housing, and inclusion of the costs that the government pays for things like healthcare (obviously at a lower rate than the rest of us) insures that PCE will always track lower over time. In fact, it is an open question as to whether the Fed can even achieve a higher inflation rate, however it is measured, as long as they maintain their financial repression.

All of that is a prelude to today’s CPI release, where the market is anticipating a reading of 2.0% for the headline and 2.3% for the core. Arguably, this should be an important data point for the folks in the Mariner Eccles building today, but I forecast that they will only see weakness here as noteworthy, arguing for even more stimulus. However, whatever today’s print, it will simply be background noise in the end. It would take some remarkable news to change today’s outlook.

But inflation is important elsewhere in the world as well. For example, this morning Sweden’s CPI rose to 1.8%, a tick higher than expected and basically confirmed to the market that the Riksbank, who seem desperate to exit their negative rate policy, are likely to do so at their February meeting. (Expectations for movement next week remain quite muted.) Nonetheless, the Swedish krona has been a major beneficiary in the market, rallying 0.65% vs. the dollar (0.5% vs. the euro), and is today’s top performer.

Another place we are seeing prices rise more rapidly is in Asia, specifically in both China and India. In the former, CPI rose to 4.5% in November, higher than the expected 4.3% and the highest level since January 2012. This is a reflection of the skyrocketing price of pork there as African swine fever continues to decimate the hog population. (It is this problem that is likely to help lead to a phase one trade deal as President Xi knows he needs to be able to feed his people, and US pork is available and cheap!) In India, the October data jumped to 4.62% (what precision!) and November is forecast to rise to 5.3%. Here, too, food prices are taking a toll on the price index, and we need to be prepared for the November release due tomorrow. When the October print hit the tape, the rupee gapped lower (dollar higher) by nearly 1%, and although it has been slowly clawing back those losses, another surprise on the high side could easily see a repeat.

In contrast to those countries, the Eurozone remains an NPZ (no price zone), a place where price rises simply do not occur. Now, I grant that I have not been there in some time, so cannot determine if the European measurements are reflective of most people’s experience, but certainly on a measured basis, inflation remains extremely low, hovering around 1.0% per annum throughout most of the continent. Remember, tomorrow, Christine Lagarde leads her first ECB meeting and while she has spoken about how fiscal policy needs to pick up the pace and how the ECB needs to be more focused on issues like climate change, we have yet to hear her views on what she actually was hired to do, manage monetary policy. While there is no doubt that she is an exceptional politician, it remains to be seen what kind of central banking chops she possesses. Based solely on her commentary over the years, she appears firmly in the dovish camp, but given Signor Draghi’s parting gift of a rate cut and renewed QE, it seems most likely that she will simply stay the course and exhort governments to spend more money. One thing to keep in mind is that markets have a way of testing new central bank heads early in their terms with some kind of stress. That initial response is everything in determining if said central banker will be seen as strong or weak. We can only hope that Madame Lagarde measures up in that event.

The only other story is the UK election, certainly critical, but given it takes place tomorrow, we will look to discuss outcomes then. One interesting thing was that a Yougov poll released last evening showed PM Boris and the Tories would win 339 seats, still a comfortable majority, but a smaller one than the same poll from two weeks earlier. The pound fell sharply on the news, having traded as high as 1.3215 late yesterday afternoon it was actually just above 1.3100 when I left the office. This morning, it is right in the middle at 1.3150, which is apparently where it was at 5:00 last evening as the stated movement today is virtually nil. Barring a major faux pas by either candidate at this late stage, I think we will see choppiness in the pound until the results are released, early Friday morning. While a vic(Tory) by Boris will likely see a knee-jerk response higher in the pound, I remain of the view that any rally will be modest, perhaps 1%-2% at most, and should be seen as an opportunity to add hedges for receivables hedgers.

And that’s really it for today. I would look for modest movement overall, and don’t anticipate the FOMC meeting to generate much excitement.

Good luck
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A New Paradigm

In Germany for the first time
In months, there’s a new paradigm
The pundits are cheering
A rebound that’s nearing
As data, released, was sublime

Perhaps sublime overstates the case a bit, but there is no doubt that this morning’s German ZEW data was substantially better than forecast, with the Expectations index rising to 10.7, its highest level since March 2018. This follows what seems to be some stabilization in the German manufacturing economy, which while still under significant pressure, may well have stopped declining. It is these little things that add up to create a narrative change from; Germany is in recession (which arguably was correct, albeit not technically so) to Germany has stabilized and is recovering on the back of solid domestic demand growth. On the one hand, this is good news for the global growth story, as Germany remains the fourth largest economy in the world, and if it is shrinking that bodes ill for the rest of the world. However, for all those who are desperate for German fiscal stimulus, this is actually a terrible number. If the German economy is recovering naturally, it beggars belief that they will spend any more money than currently planned.

It is important to remember that the Eurozone fiscal stimulus argument is predicated on two things: the fact that monetary policy is now impotent to help stimulate growth throughout the Eurozone; and the belief that if the German government spends more money domestically, it will magically flow through to those nations that really need help, like Italy, Portugal and Greece. Alas for poor Madame Lagarde, this morning’s data has likely lowered the probability of German fiscal stimulus even more than it was before. The euro, however, seems to like the data, edging higher by 0.15% this morning and working its way back to the levels seen just before the US payroll report turned the short-term crowd dollar bullish. There was other Eurozone data released, but none of it (French and Italian IP) was really that interesting, printing within a tick of forecasts. On the euro front, at this point all eyes are on the ECB to see what Lagarde tells us on Thursday. Remember, the last thing she wants is to come across as hawkish, in any manner, because the ECB really doesn’t need the added pressure of a strong euro weighing on already subpar inflation data.

With two days remaining before the UK election, the polls are still pointing to a strong Tory victory and a PM Boris Johnson commanding a majority of Parliament. At this point, the latest polls show the Tories with 44%, Labour with 32% and the LibDems with just 12%. The pound is higher by 0.2% on the back of this activity, despite a mildly disappointing GDP reading of 0.0% (exp 0.1%). A quick look back at recent GBP movement shows that since the election was called on October 30, the pound has rallied 1.8%. While that is a solid move, it isn’t even the largest mover during that period (NZD is higher by 2.45% since then). In fact, the pound really gained ground several weeks earlier after Boris and Irish PM Leo Varadkar had a lunch where they seemed to work out the final issues for Brexit. Prior to that, the pound had been hovering in the 1.22-1.24 area, but gained sharply in the run up to the previous Brexit deadline.

I guess the question is; just how much higher the pound can go if the polls are correct and Boris wins with a Tory majority. There are two opposing views, with some analysts calling for another solid leg higher, up toward 1.40, as the rest of the market shorts get squeezed out and euphoria for UK GDP growth starts to rebound. The other side of that argument is that the shorts have already been squeezed, hence the move from 1.22 to 1.32 in the past two months, and that though finalization of Brexit will be a positive, there are still numerous issues to address domestically that will prevent a sharp rebound in the UK economy. As I’m sure you are all aware, I fall into the second camp, but there is certainly at least a 25% probability that a larger move is in the cards. The one thing that seems clear, though, is that market implied volatility will fall sharply past the election if the Tories win as uncertainty over Brexit will recede quickly.

Turning south of the border, it seems that the USMCA is finally making its way through Congress and will be enacted shortly. The peso has been the quiet beneficiary of this news over the past week as it has rallied 2% in the past week in a very steady fashion, although so far, this morning, it is little changed. One other thing of note regarding the Mexican peso has been the move in the forward curve over the past three weeks. For example, since November 19, 1-month MXN forwards have fallen from 1030 to this morning’s 683. In the 1-year, the decline has been from 10875 to this morning’s 10075. The largest culprit here appears to be the very large long futures position, (>150K contracts) that need to be rolled over by the end of the week, but there is also a significant maturity of Mexican government bonds that will require MXN purchases. At any rate, added to the USMCA news, we have a confluence of events driving both spot and forward peso rates higher. It is not clear how much longer this will continue, so for balance sheet hedgers with short dated exposures, this is probably a great opportunity to reduce hedging costs.

Beyond these stories, there is far less of interest in the market. This morning’s US data consists of Nonfarm productivity (exp -0.1%) and Unit Labor Costs (3.4%) neither of which is likely to move the needle. This is especially so ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC meeting and Thursday’s ECB meeting and UK election. Equity markets are pointing lower this morning, but that feels more like profit taking than a change of heart, as bonds are little changed alongside oil and gold. In other words, look for more choppy markets with no direction ahead of tomorrow’s CPI data and FOMC meeting.

Good luck
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Hawks Would Then Shriek

Lagarde and Chair Powell both seek
Consensus, when later this week
Their brethren convene
While doves are still keen
To ease more, though hawks would then shriek

Markets are relatively quiet this morning as investors and traders await three key events as well as some important data. Interestingly, neither the Fed nor ECB meetings this week are likely to produce much in the way of fireworks. Chairman Powell and his minions have done an excellent job convincing market participants that the temporary cyclical adjustment is finished, that rates are appropriate, and that they are watching everything closely and prepared to act if necessary. Certainly Friday’s blowout NFP data did not hurt their case that no further easing is required. By now, I’m sure everyone is aware that we saw the highest headline print since January at 266K, which was supported by upward revisions of 41K to the previous two months’ data. And of course, the Unemployment Rate fell to 3.5%, which is back to a 50-year low. In fact, forecasts are now showing up that are calling for a 3.2% or 3.3% Unemployment Rate next November, which bodes well for the incumbent and would be the lowest Unemployment Rate since 1952!

With that as the economic backdrop in the US, it is hard for the doves on the Fed to make the case that further easing is necessary, but undoubtedly they will try. In the meantime, ECB President Lagarde will preside over her first ECB meeting where there are also no expectations for policy changes. Here, however, the situation is a bit tenser as the dramatic split between the hawks (Germany, the Netherlands and Austria) and the doves (Spain, Portugal and Italy) implies there will be no further action anytime soon. Madame Lagarde has initiated a policy review to try to find a consensus on how they should proceed, although given the very different states of the relevant economies, it is hard to believe they will agree on anything.

Arguably, the major weakness in the entire Eurozone construct is that the lack of an overarching continent-wide fiscal authority means that there is no easy way to transfer funds from those areas with surpluses to those with deficits. In the US, this happens via tax collection and fiscal stimulus agreed through tradeoffs in Congress. But that mechanism doesn’t exist in Europe, so as of now, Germany is simply owed an extraordinary amount of money (~€870 billion) by the rest of Europe, mostly Italy and Spain (€810 billion between them). The thing is, unlike in the US, those funds will need to be repaid at some point, although the prospects of that occurring before the ECB bails everyone out seem remote. Say what you will about the US running an unsustainable current account deficit, at least structurally, the US is not going to split up, whereas in Europe, that is an outcome that cannot be ruled out. In the end, it is structural issues like this that lead to long term bearishness on the single currency.

However, Friday’s euro weakness (it fell 0.45% on the day) was entirely a reaction to the payroll data. This morning’s 0.15% rally is simply a reactionary move as there was no data to help the story. And quite frankly, despite the UK election and pending additional US tariffs on China, this morning is starting as a pretty risk neutral session.

Speaking of the UK, that nation heads to the polls on Thursday, where the Tories continue to poll at a 10 point lead over Labour, and appear set to elect Boris as PM with a working majority in Parliament. If that is the outcome, Brexit on January 31 is a given. As to the pound, it has risen 0.2% this morning, which has essentially regained the ground it lost after the payroll report on Friday. At 1.3165, its highest point since May 2019, the pound feels to me like it has already priced in most of the benefit of ending the Brexit drama. While I don’t doubt there is another penny or two possible, especially if Boris wins a large majority, I maintain the medium term outlook is not nearly as robust. Receivables hedgers should be taking advantage of these levels.

On the downside this morning, Aussie and Kiwi have suffered (each -0.2%) after much weaker than expected Chinese trade data was released over the weekend. Their overall data showed a 1.1% decline in exports, much worse than expected, which was caused by a 23% decline in exports to the US. It is pretty clear that the trade war is having an increasing impact on China, which is clearly why they are willing to overlook the US actions on Hong Kong and the Uighers in order to get the deal done. Not only do they have rampant food inflation caused by the African swine fever epidemic wiping out at least half the Chinese hog herd, but now they are seeing their bread and butter industries suffer as well. The market is growing increasingly confident that a phase one trade deal will be agreed before the onset of more tariffs on Sunday, and I must admit, I agree with that stance.

Not only did Aussie and Kiwi fall, but we also saw weakness in the renminbi (-0.15%), INR (-0.2%) and IDR (-0.2%) as all are feeling the pain from slowing trade growth. On the plus side in the EMG bloc, the Chilean peso continues to stage a rebound from its worst levels, well above 800, seen two weeks ago. This morning it has risen another 0.85%, which takes the gain this month to 4.8%. But other than that story, which is really about ebbing concern after the government responded quickly and positively to the unrest in the country, the rest of the EMG bloc is little changed on the day.

Turning to the data this week, we have the following:

Tuesday NFIB Small Business Optimism 103.0
  Nonfarm Productivity -0.1%
  Unit Labor Costs 3.4%
Wednesday CPI 0.2% (2.0% Y/Y)
  -ex Food & Energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
  FOMC Rate Decision 1.75%
Thursday ECB Rate Decision -0.5%
  PPI 0.2% (1.2%)
  -ex Food & Energy 0.2% (1.7%)
  Initial Claims 215K
Friday Retail Sales 0.4%
  -ex autos 0.4%

Source: Bloomberg

While there is nothing today, clearly Wednesday and Thursday are going to have opportunities for increased volatility. And the UK election results will start trickling in at the end of the day on Thursday, so if there is an upset brewing, that will be when things are first going to be known.

All this leads me to believe that today is likely to be uneventful as traders prepare for the back half of the week. Remember, liquidity in every market is beginning to suffer simply because we are approaching year-end. This will be more pronounced next week, but will start to take hold now.

Good luck
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Make Boris Bend

As Parliament seeks to extend
The timeline, and make Boris bend
The market’s decided
The deal he provided
Will ultimately pass in the end

Well, Brexit is still the number one topic in markets, although after a quiet Friday on the trade front, we got more discussion there as well. As to Brexit, Boris lost his fight to get a clean vote on the newly renegotiated deal on Saturday. Instead, Parliament voted to force a request for an extension, which at this moment the EU is considering. Interestingly, in the EU there are a number of countries that seem ready to be done with the process and no longer care if the UK exits. However, as sweet as that would be for the Brexiteers, in the end that would require courage by the country(ies) who voted no. And courage is something in short supply at the top of European (and most) governments. At any rate, given the speed with which this story changes, this morning the word is that Johnson has found the votes necessary to get his deal through Parliament, but it means that he has to get another vote. The roadblock there is in the form of John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who has proven himself to be a virulent Bremainer, and wants nothing more than to see Boris fail.

With that as background, one might have thought the pound would have suffered, but the market has looked through all the permutations and decided that a deal is forthcoming in the near-term, or perhaps more accurately, that the odds of a no-deal Brexit have been significantly reduced. This is evident in the fact that as I type, the pound is essentially unchanged since Friday’s optimistic close at 1.2980, and has traded above 1.30 earlier in the session for the first time since May (the month, not the former PM).

However, I think the euro’s performance has been far more interesting lately. Consider that despite an ongoing run of generally awful data, showing neither growth nor inflationary impulse, the single currency continues to climb slowly. A part of this is likely a result of what has been mild dollar weakness amid increasing risk appetite. But I think that the market has also begun to recognize that a Brexit deal will remove uncertainty on the continent and the euro will benefit accordingly. From the time of the referendum in 2016 I have made it clear that Brexit was not just a British pound story, but a euro one as well. And this slow appreciation (EUR is higher by 2.7% this month, about 0.7% more than the dollar index) is a belated reaction to the fact that a Brexit deal is a benefit there as well. At any rate, much of this story is yet to be written, and a successful outcome will almost certainly result in further GBP outperformance, but the euro is likely to continue this grind higher as well.

On the trade front, comments from Chinese vice-premier Liu He explaining China would work with the US to address each other’s core concerns and that ending the trade war would be good for everyone were seen as quite positive by equity and other risk markets. In fact, the combination of optimism on the two big issues of the day, trade and Brexit has led to a clear, if modest, risk-on session. Equity markets in Asia performed well (Nikkei +0.25%, CSI 300 +0.3%), and we are seeing modest gains throughout Europe as well (DAX +0.7%, CAC +0.15%). It is certainly a positive that the trade dialog continues, but I fear we remain a very long way from a broad deal.

Another weekend event was the World Bank / IMF meetings in Washington with the commentary exactly what you would expect. Namely, everyone derided the trade war and explained it would be better if it ended. Everyone derided Brexit and said it would be better if it didn’t happen. And everyone explained that it’s time for fiscal policy to step up to the plate to help central banks. What has become very clear is that central banks are truly running out of room to help support their respective economies but it is impolitic to say so. This results in exhortations for fiscal policy pushes by those who can afford it. However, Germany remains resolute in their belief that there is no reason to implement a supplementary budget of any kind and that continuing to run a budget surplus is the best thing for the nation. Look for pressure to continue to build, but unless growth really starts to crater there, I don’t expect them to change their views, or policies.

A look around the rest of the FX market shows that the biggest gainer this weekend was KRW, rising 0.8% on optimism that a trade deal between the US and China was closer. Certainly it was not the terrible data from South Korea that helped the won rally, as exports in October have fallen nearly 20%, making eleven consecutive monthly declines in that statistic. Otherwise, the mild risk-on atmosphere has helped most EMG currencies edge higher. On the G10 front, NOK is the big winner, rising 0.55%, although that simply looks like a reaction to its sharp declines over the past two weeks.

On the data front it is extremely quiet this week as follows:

Tuesday Existing Home Sales 5.45M
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Durable Goods -0.7%
  -ex Transport -0.3%
  New Home Sales 701K
Friday Michigan Sentiment 96.0

Source: Bloomberg

Arguably, Durable Goods is the most interesting number of the bunch. And after a two-week deluge of Fed speakers, they have gone into their quiet period ahead of next Wednesday’s meeting. The final comments by Kaplan and Clarida were similar to the previous comments we heard, namely that the economy is in a “good place” and that they are essentially going to play it by ear on the next rate decision. As of this morning, the market is still pricing in an 89.5% probability of a rate cut.

Speaking of low rates, Signor Draghi presides over his last ECB meeting this week and while there are no new policies expected, it is universally anticipated that he will renew his call for fiscal stimulus to help the Eurozone economic outlook. Quite frankly, I think it is abundantly clear that the ECB has completely run out of ammunition to fight any further weakness, and that Madame Lagarde, when she takes the seat on November 1, will feel more like Old Mother Hubbard than anything else.

For the day, I see no reason for the risk-on attitude to change, and if anything, I imagine we can see more positive news from the UK which will only help drive things further in that direction. While in the end, I still see the dollar performing well, for now, it is on its back foot and likely to stay there for a little while longer.

Good luck
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Much Dissension

The market has turned its attention
To Draghi to see if he’ll mention
More buying of bonds
Or if he responds
To those who expect much dissension

While there were fireworks galore yesterday in London, where the UK Parliament had their last meeting before prorogation, this morning sees a much calmer market attitude overall. In brief, Boris did not fare well yesterday as he was unable to achieve his goal of a snap election while Parliament passed a law requiring him to ask for an extension on Brexit if there is no deal at the deadline. (I wonder what will happen if he simply chooses not to do so as that seems entirely feasible given the situation there). The market has absorbed the past several days’ activities with increasing amazement, but ultimately, FX traders have started to price out the probability of a hard Brexit. This is clear from the pound’s nearly 3.0% rally in the past week. While much will certainly take place during the next five weeks of prorogation, notably the party conferences, it would seem the only true surprise can be that a deal has been agreed, at which point the pound will be much higher. I don’t foresee that outcome, but it cannot be ruled out.

With Brexit on the back burner, the market is moving on to the trio of central bank meetings over the next nine days. This Thursday we hear from Signor Draghi while next week brings Chairman Powell on Wednesday and then Governor Carney on Thursday. What makes the ECB meeting so interesting is the amount of pushback that Draghi and his fellow doves have received lately from the northern European hawks. While it is never a surprise that the Germans or Austrians remain monetary hawks, it is much more surprising that Franҫois Villeroy de Galhau, the French ECB member and Governor of the Bank of France, has also been vocal in his rejection of the need for further QE at this time. The issue breaks down to whether the ECB should use its very limited arsenal early in an effort to prevent a broader economic downturn, or whether they should wait until they see the whites of recession’s eyes before acting. The tacit admission from this argument is that there is only a very limited amount of ammunition left for the ECB, despite Draghi’s continuous comments that they have many things they can do if necessary.

Unlike the FOMC or most other central banks, the ECB tries not to actually vote on policy, but rather come to a consensus. However, in this case, it may come to a vote, which would likely be unprecedented in and of itself. It would also highlight just how great the split between views remains, and implies that Madame Lagarde, when she takes the reins on November 1st, will have quite a lot of work ahead if she wants to continue along the dovish path.

In the doves’ favor is this morning’s data releases which showed French IP rebounding less than expected from last month’s disastrous reading (0.3%, -0.2% Y/Y) and Italian IP falling more sharply than expected (-0.7%). Meanwhile, after better than expected GDP data yesterday, the UK employment situation also showed a solid outcome with the Unemployment Rate falling back to 3.8% while earnings rose 4.0%, their highest rate since 2008.

And what did this do for currencies? Well, in that respect neither of these data points had much impact. The euro is lower by a scant 0.1% while the pound is essentially unchanged on the day. In fact, that is a pretty good description of the day overall, with the bulk of the G10 trading +/-0.20% from yesterday’s closing levels although the Skandies have seen more substantial weakness (SEK -0.8%, NOK -0.6%). In both cases, CPI was released at softer than expected levels (SEK 1.4%, 1.6% core; NOK 1.6%, 2.1% core) for August, which puts a crimp in the both central banks’ goal to push interest rates higher by the end of the year.

Turning to emerging markets, the largest movers have been ZAR which gained 0.5% after Factory Output fell a less than expected 1.1% and hope springs eternal for further stimulus driving bond investment. In second place was the renminbi, which has gained 0.25% overnight after the government there, in the guise of SAFE, removed barriers for investment in stocks and bonds. Clearly China has been trying to increase the importance of the renminbi within global financial markets, and allowing freer capital flow is one way to address that concern. However, this process has been ongoing for more than 20 years which begs the question, why now? It is quite reasonable to estimate that the continued pressure being applied by the US via the tariffs and trade war are forcing China to change many things that they would have preferred to keep under their own control. And while it is certainly possible they would have done this anyway, history suggests that the Chinese do not willingly reduce their control over any aspect of the economy. Just a thought. At any rate, initially this freedom is likely to see an inflow of assets as most investors and fund managers are underweight Chinese assets. The newfound ability to move funds in and out is likely to see an inflow to start, with corresponding CNY strength.

Beyond those stories though, it has been pretty dull. Treasury yields are lower by just 1bp, hardly the stuff of a risk assessment, while equity markets are slightly softer after a mixed, but basically flat, day yesterday. At this point, the market is looking toward Signor Draghi, who given futures markets are pricing a 100% chance of a 10bp cut and a 50% chance of a 20bp cut, along with a strong probability of the restarting of QE, has the chance to significantly disappoint. If that is the case, look for the euro to rally quickly, although a move of more than 1.0%-1.5% seems unlikely.

As for today, the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index was released at a bit worse than expected 103.1, perhaps indicating the peak is behind us (certainly my view) and at 10:00 we see the JOLTS Job Opening report (exp 7.331M). But it is really shaping up to be a quiet one with everyone thinking about the ECB until Thursday morning.

Good luck
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Thus Far They’ve Failed

The ECB meeting today
Is forcing its members to weigh
The costs if they wait
To cut the base rate
Vs. benefits if they delay

Their problem is as things now stand
Recovery should be at hand
But thus far they’ve failed
As growth’s been curtailed
From Sicily to the Rhineland

Today brings the first of three major central bank meetings in the next six days as the ECB is currently meeting and the market awaits the outcome. Next week we will hear from both the BOJ and then the Fed, but for now all eyes are turned toward Frankfurt.

Expectations, as measured by the futures market, have moved to a 48% probability of a 10bp rate cut by the ECB this morning, although most of the punditry believe that Signor Draghi will simply lay the groundwork for a cut in September at the next meeting. The arguments for waiting are as follows: given the expectations of a Fed rate cut, with some still holding out hope for 50bps, the market benefits of cutting today would be quickly offset, and one of the few arrows the ECB still has left in its quiver would be wasted. The key benefit they are seeking is a weaker euro, and the concern is that any weakness will be short-lived, especially in the event of a 50bp cut by Powell. Of course, one need only look at the chart to see that the euro has been trending steadily lower for the past year, falling nearly 5% since last July, although as we await the meeting outcome it remains unchanged on the day. It’s not clear to me why else they would wait. After all, the data continues to point to ongoing Eurozone weakness every day. This morning’s example was the German Ifo Business Climate Index, which fell to 95.7, its lowest point since April 2013. It is becoming abundantly clear that Germany is heading into a recession and given Germany’s status as the largest economy in the Eurozone, representing nearly one-third of the total, that bodes ill for the entire bloc.

I maintain that it makes no sense to wait if they know that they will cut next month. They are far better off cutting now, maybe even by 20bps, and using September to restart QE, which is also a foregone conclusion. The funny thing about appointing Madame Lagarde, the uber dove, as the next ECB president, is that she won’t have anything to do once she sits down given the fact that all the easing tools will have been used already. Well, perhaps that is not strictly correct. Lagarde will be able to expand QE to cover, first, bank bonds and then, eventually equities.

(As an aside, for all you capitalists out there, the practice of central banks buying equities should cause great discomfort. After all, they can print as much money as they need to effectively buy ownership in all the public companies in an economy. And isn’t the definition of Socialism merely when the government owns the means of production? It seems to me that central bank equity purchases are a great leap down that slippery slope!)

At any rate, FX markets have largely been holding their breath awaiting the ECB outcome this morning. The same cannot be said of equity markets, where we continue to see records in the US, and markets in both Asia and Europe continue to rally on the idea that lower rates will continue to support stocks. At the same time, bond markets are also still on the march, with Bunds trading to yet another new low, touching -0.46% yesterday, and currently at -0.41%. Treasuries, too, remain bid, with the 10-year yield ticking slightly lower to 2.03%. And in the commodity space, oil prices are firmer after both a surprisingly large inventory draw and the ongoing issues in the Persian Gulf as the UK and Iran duke it out over captured tankers.

With the Brexit story now waiting for its next headlines, which will likely take at least a few days to arrive, and the US-China trade story awaiting next week’s meetings in Beijing, it is central banks all the way as the key market drivers for now. This morning’s Initial Claims (exp 219K) and Durable Goods (0.7%, 0.2% -ex transport) seem unlikely to be key movers.

So Mario, it’s all up to you today. How dovish Draghi sounds will be the key event for today, and likely the impetus behind movement until next Wednesday when Chairman Powell takes the spotlight. Personally, I think he will be far more dovish than the market is currently pricing and we will see the dollar rally further.

Good luck
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