If Things Cohere

Said Madame Lagarde, it’s not clear
If the PEPP need extend past next year
It could be the case
We’ll slow down the pace
Of purchases if things cohere

Yesterday’s ECB meeting presented mixed messages to the market as it has become evident there is a growing split between the hawks and doves.  While policy was left unchanged, as universally expected, the question of the disposition of the PEPP was front and center.  Once again, Madame Lagarde indicated that they would continue supporting the economy, but that the need to utilize the entire amount of authorized spending power could be absent.  Despite the fact that she admitted Q1 GDP growth would likely be negative, thus causing a second recession, she would not commit to full utilization, let alone any additional monetary stimulus.  Rather, she discussed “financing conditions” which need to remain “favorable” for the ECB to be happy.  Alas, there is no definition of what those conditions are, nor how to track them.   She mentioned a number of indicators they monitor including; bank lending, credit conditions, corporate yields, and sovereign bond yields, but not which may have more or less importance nor how they combine them.  There doesn’t appear to be an index of any sort although as part of their ongoing strategic review, they are investigating whether or not to create one.  In the end, though, it appears they are very keen to insure they don’t get pinned down to a mechanical reaction function based on either economic or financial indicators.  Instead, they will continue to wing it.

As to the growing split, it is becoming evident that the hawkish contingent, almost certainly led by Germany but likely including the Frugal Four, has been pushing back on any additional stimulus as they already see sufficient money in the system.  Remember, German DNA has been informed by the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic in the 1930’s and Bundesbankers, like Jens Weidmann, everywhere and always see the specter of too much money leading to a recurrence of that outcome.  While that hardly seems like a possible outcome in the current situation, especially with most European countries extending lockdowns through February now, thus further stressing the economy, they know that debt monetization is the first step toward hyperinflation. And while the ECB will never explicitly monetize the debt, they can pretty easily do it implicitly.  All that has to happen is for them to permanently reinvest the proceeds of maturing sovereign debt into the same securities, and that money will be permanently in the system.

Consider, because of the ECB’s construction, with 19 central bank members, the way policy is promulgated is that each national central bank is instructed to purchase sovereign bonds issued by their own country in a given amount. So, the Banca d’Italia buys BTP’s and the Bundesbank buys bunds.  If instructions from the ECB council are to replace maturing debt with newly issued debt constantly, then the country never has to repay the bond, and therefore, the money injection is permanent, i.e. debt monetization.  It seems likely, this is the hawks’ major concern.  It is almost certainly why they insist on repeating the idea that full utilization of the PEPP is not a given, and why Lagarde cannot follow her instincts to throw more money at the second recession.  But of course, this is anathema to the hawks, who want to see the collective ECB balance sheet slowly wound down.  In the end, this tension will inform the ECB’s actions going forward, which implies, to me, that the ECB will be less dovish than some other central banks, namely the Fed, and which implies the euro could well head somewhat higher over time.

And perhaps, despite a clear risk-off theme for today’s trading activity, that is why the euro is retaining a better bid than its G10 brethren.  As equity markets around the world pare back some of their recent gains (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng -1.6%, Shanghai -0.4%, DAX -0.85%, CAC -1.2%, FTSE 100 -0.7%), the clear message is risk is to be reduced heading into the weekend.  And yes, US futures are all pointing lower as well, between -0.5% and -0.8%.  Meanwhile, bond markets are playing their part, true to form, on this risk-off day, with Treasury yields lower by 1.9bps, Bunds by 2.0bps and Gilts by 2.5bps.  However, Italian BTPs have seen yields climb 3.6bps as the market responds to this newly created concern that the ECB will not be supporting Italy as they had in the past.  Add to that the ongoing political concerns in Italy, where PM Conte has just indicated he may be forced to call a new election, and the fact that today’s PMI data showed the recent lockdowns have really been crushing the economy there, and BTP’s are behaving like the risk asset they truly are, rather than the haven asset they aspire to be.

Commodity prices are under pressure across the board this morning, led by oil (-2.5%) but seeing the same in gold (-1.1%) and the entire agricultural bloc, with prices down between 0.8% (cotton) and 2.4% (soft red wheat).

This brings us back to the dollar, which is broadly higher this morning in both G10 and EMG space.  The euro (+0.1%) is the star performer today, as per the above discussion, but beyond that and the CHF (+0.05%), the rest of the bloc is weaker.  NOK (-0.8%) leads the way down with the rest of the commodity bloc (AUD -0.7%, NZD -0.5%, CAD -0.5%) not quite as badly impacted.  At the same time, EMG currencies are also under broad pressure led by RUB (-1.4%) on weaker oil, MXN (-1.0%) and BRL (-1.0%) both on weaker commodities and general risk aversion, and ZAR (-0.9%) as its main export, gold, falls. As to the positive side of the ledger, only minor East European currencies, BGN and RON (both +0.05%), have managed to eke out any gains, apparently tracking the euro ever so slightly higher.

The data picture has not helped inspire any risk taking this morning as preliminary PMI data for January showed weakness throughout.  As we have seen, manufacturing continues to hold up fairly well, but services have seen no respite.  Of all those countries reporting today, the UK was in the worst shape (PMI Services 38.8, down from 49.4) but the Eurozone as a whole (Services 45.0) was no great shakes.  It is abundantly clear that Europe is in the midst of a double-dip recession.  On the US calendar, the preliminary PMI data is released (exp Manufacturing 56.5, Services 53.4) and then Existing Home Sales (6.56M) at 10:00.  One thing we learned yesterday is that the housing market in the US remains quote robust.

But, with the Fed still in its quiet period until the meeting next Wednesday, and Yellen’s testimony done and dusted, FX is going to be reliant on other markets for direction.  If risk continues to be shed, the dollar should be able to hold its own, and even edge a bit higher.  But if equity markets manage to reverse course, then the dollar could well head back lower.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

The Largesse They Bestow

The status is clearly still quo
For central bank policy so
All rates are on hold
And markets consoled
By all the largesse they bestow

But Covid continues to spread
And Q1 growth seems to be dead
So, Christine and Jay
Will soon have to say
More QE is coming ahead

It has been an active week for central banks so far, at least with respect to the number of meetings being held.  By the end of today we will have heard from six different major central banks from around the world (Canada, Brazil, Japan, Indonesia, Norway and the ECB) although not one of them has changed policy one iota.  The implication is that monetary policy has found an equilibrium for now, with settings properly attuned to the current economic realities.

A summary of current central bank policies basically shows that whatever the absolute level of interest rates being targeted, it is almost universally at historically low levels, with 14 key banks having rates 0.25% or lower.  The point is, a central bank’s main tool is interest rate policy, and while negative nominal rates are clearly viable, after all the SNB, ECB and BOJ currently maintain them, central banks are clearly running out of ammunition.  (PS; the efficacy of negative rates has been widely argued and remains unproven.)  Interestingly, prior to this crisis, reserve requirements were seen as an important central banking tool, with a broad ability to inject more liquidity into the markets or remove it if so desired.  However, in the wake of the GFC, when banks worldwide were shown to be too-highly levered, it seems central banks are a bit more reluctant to open those floodgates.  Even if they did, though, it is unclear if it would make a difference.  Perhaps the lesson we should all learn from the Covid crisis, especially the central banks themselves, is that monetary policy is very good at slowing down economies all by itself, but when it comes to helping them pick up, they need help.

So, with interest rate policy basically at its limit, central banks have been forced to implement new and different tools in their quest to support their respective economies, with QE at the forefront.  Of course, at this point, QE has also become old hat, and has yet to be shown to support the economy.  It has, however, done a bang-up job supporting equity markets around the world, as well as other risk assets like commodities.  And that is exactly what it was designed to do.  QE’s transmission mechanism was to be a trickle-down philosophy, where the ongoing search for yield by investors pushed capital into riskier ventures, helping to support increased investment and more economic growth.  Alas, the only thing QE has really served to do is inflate a number of asset bubbles.  This was never clearer than when the data showed more money was spent by corporations on stock repurchases than on R&D.  Thus, if the stated goal of QE was to support economic growth, it is fair to say it has failed at that task.

At any rate, a recap of the central bank comments shows that economic forecasts and expectations have been tweaked lower for Q1 and higher for Q2 and Q3 with a universal assumption that the widespread inoculation of the population via the new vaccines will help reopen economies all over.  And yet, if anything, we continue to hear of more and more draconian measures being put into place to slow the spread of Covid.  This certainly confirms the idea of a weak Q1 growth pattern, but the leap to a stronger Q2 is harder to make in my mind.

Add it all up and it appears that central banks, globally, are pretty much all in the same position, promulgating extremely easy monetary policy with limited hope that it will, by itself, reignite economic growth.  In effect, until it is shown that the vaccines are really changing people’s behavior, assuming governments allow people back out of the house, central banks can do all they want, and it will not have much impact on the economy.  Markets, however, are a different story, as all that monetary largesse will continue to flow to the riskiest, highest yielding assets around.  Until they don’t!  It will not be pretty when this bubble deflates.

So, is that happening today?  Not even close.  Equity markets continue to rise almost universally, with the Nikkei (+0.8%) and Shanghai (+0.8%) leading the way in Asia.  Europe, meanwhile, is not quite as robust, but still largely in the green led by the DAX (+0.5%) and FTSE 100 (+0.25%) although the CAC (-0.1%) is lagging a bit.  And not surprisingly, US markets continue to power ahead on the ongoing belief that there will be yet more stimulus coming, so futures are all higher by roughly 0.3% or so.

Bond markets are playing their part as well, with 10-year yields higher in all the major markets, with Treasuries, Bunds, OATs and Gilts all seeing yields climb about 1 basis point.  The interesting thing about Treasuries, and truthfully all these markets, is that since the Georgia run-off election, when the market assumption for more stimulus was cemented, the yield has barely moved.  Let me say that the reflation trade seems to be on hold, at least for now.

For a change, oil prices have edged a bit lower this morning, with WTI down 0.6%, as it consolidates its spectacular gains since November.  Gold is little changed, although it had a big day yesterday, rising 1.5% as inflation concerns seem to be percolating.  And finally, as perhaps a harbinger of that deflating bubble, Bitcoin is lower this morning and has been falling pretty steadily, if with still spectacular volatility, for the past 2 weeks, and is now down 24% from its recent highs.

Finally, the dollar is under clear pressure this morning, falling against all its G10 peers and all but one of its EMG peers.  In G10, NOK (+0.8%) leads the way as the Norgesbank did not cut rates which some had expected and were less negative on the economy than expected as well.  But NZD (+0.7%) and SEK (+0.6%) are also putting in fine performances amid stronger commodities and hopes for more stimulus.  In fact, CAD (+0.15%) is the laggard, although it had a strong performance yesterday (+0.7%) after the BOC left rates on hold rather than performing a microcut (10 bps) as some analysts had expected.

In the EMG space, CLP (+1.15%) and BRL (+1.1%) lead the way with the former benefitting from strong investor demand in USD and EUR denominated government bonds, leading to a positive outlook, while the latter seems to be responding to hints that tighter policy may be coming soon given rising inflation forecasts.   But really, the dollar’s weakness is pervasive across all three major blocs.

We finally see some data today as follows: Initial Claims (exp 935K), Continuing Claims (5.3M), Housing Starts (1560K), Building Permits (1608K) and Philly Fed (11.8).  The Claims data has certainly deteriorated during the past several weeks given the renewed lockdowns around the country, which doesn’t bode well for the NFP report in 2 weeks’ time.  The housing market remains on fire given the ongoing exodus to the suburbs from large cities and the historically low mortgage rates.  Meanwhile, Philly Fed should show the strength of the manufacturing sector, which continues to far outperform services.

Still no Fed speakers, so beyond the data, which is all at 8:30, we will also hear from Madame Lagarde in her press conference at the same time.  The risk, to me, is that she comes off more dovish than the market anticipates, thus halting the euro’s modest rebound.  But otherwise, there is no obvious catalyst to stop the risk-on meme and dollar’s renewed decline.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Dollar’s Fate (In the Coming Year)

With apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the dollar’s fate in the coming year
In the wake of a time that’s ne’er been seen
Since the Spanish Flu of Nineteen Eighteen
Perhaps Twenty-One will bring joy, not fear

Recapping Twenty shows that despite
A plague of biblical magnitude
The printing press revealed its might
As governments everywhere, debt, accrued
And flooded the markets with cash untold
(The better their citizens be controlled)
But all of that money was used, not for,
Increased production of goods onshore
Instead, for the purchase of stocks galore

Thus, equity markets at home rose higher
With Asia, too, on proverbial fire
Though Europe lagged, as the ECB
Was late to the party with more QE
Risk was embraced with a multiplier
Government bonds, though falling of late
Had seen yields tumble, year-to date
And lastly, the dollar, is now descending
As traders await this trend extending

Looking ahead, what can we expect?
Has Covid passed? Will ‘normal’ return?
Or are there surprises we’ve yet to learn?
Will stocks continue their flights of fancy?
Will bonds, inflation, at last detect?
Will dollars, everyone, start to spurn?
Will gold and bitcoin still seem chancy?

Regarding the virus, it’s not dead yet
Though hope springs eternal, and at last
The vaccines imply the worst has passed
But life, as we knew it, has been reset
Working from home (or living at work)
Is mainstream now, and not just a quirk
Office demand will certainly slide
And travel for business will lessen worldwide
Normal has changed, for boss and for clerk

Let us now speak of growth and inflation
Will growth improve on last year’s “success”?
Or will it instead fall flat and regress
Lockdown renewals bode ill for salvation
Policymakers constantly flail
As policy efforts constantly fail
Stimulus, fiscal, continues to flow
Interest rates are now forevermore low
Central banks tell us that this combination
Is perfect to counter a fearful stagnation
But in their efforts, good times to hail
The rising of prices will bypass their gaze
Leading to many more difficult days
GDP this year will struggle to One
Inflation, however, at Four, will not stun

How, then, will markets respond to this fate?
Equity prices at first will inflate
By spring, though, ‘twill be clear something’s amiss
Traders, their holdings, will start to truncate
While we shall not tumble into the abyss
Do not be shocked if the market does fall
Some twenty percent, at the least, is my call
What about bonds? How will they react?
Powell will ne’er let their prices contract
Yield Curve Control is the future we’ll see
Alongside the horror of pure MMT
Hence, ten-year bonds when December arrives
Will keep up their value, a cat with nine lives
One percent will be the height they attain
Implying the real yield most certainly dives
And so, the dollar will suffer great pain

Starting in Europe where Madame Lagarde
Is trying to keep up with Fed Chairman Jay
Sadly, what’s clear, at the end of the day
The ECB’s structure will make it too hard
While Fed and the Treasury work hand in hand
Pushing more money throughout all the land
Treaties in Europe have outcomes, unplanned
PEPP’s not enough for a rebound unscarred

Even though growth throughout Europe will sag
Even though prices will still be a drag
Nothing Lagarde can create will impact
The outcome, a euro that’s sure to move higher
Thus, if it’s something you need to acquire
At year-end, One-Thirty, you’ll need, that’s a fact

Tumultuous best describes last year’s UK
Twixt Covid and Brexit, the nation felt pain
Unhappily, this year, to Johnson’s dismay
Could worsen for every old bloke on the street
With growth in the toilet while prices show heat
It doesn’t seem much like Pound Sterling could gain

But real rates keep diving throughout the US
Offsetting those troubles, so if you need quid
Come Christmas, One-Fifty, if I had to guess
Is what they will cost as the dollar’s declined
Looking elsewhere, perhaps north of the border
Canada still seems a bit out of order
Oil’s rebounded but still seems confined
Meanwhile, housing there is quite well bid

However, again, it is Fed Chairman Jay
Who’s promised support for considerable time
Thus, when we get to our next Boxing Day
One-Fifteen for Loonies you’ll see on your screen
Eastward now, let’s turn our gaze as we glean
Whether the yen can continue its climb
Long-term, the dollar, its trend has been clear
Even before the debasement of late
Several percent, like a clock every year
Why would this year, something new, demonstrate?

Frankly, it won’t, as the Fed’s in control
Rather, the yen, will continue to roll
So, Winter Solstice this year will reveal
Dollar-Yen, Ninety-Six, where you can deal
Let us turn now to both future and past
Bitcoin and gold, which have both been amassed
Can both their prices continue to rise?
Certainly, as they’ve restricted supplies

For centuries, gold has defined what’s secure
Its glitter unblemished while paper’s debased
So, don’t be surprised if the relic’s embraced
As buyers pay Three Grand their wealth to insure
But youth has ideas which to many seem odd
And bitcoin is one such that’s been called a fraud
So, is it? Or is Bitcoin digital gold?
An updated version important to hold
As fiat debasement continues apace
This digital token gains further allure
And this year it seems Bitcoin’s making its case
As something that everyone needs to procure

It’s starting this year right around thirty grand
And hodlers believe that ‘tween here and the sky
Unless countries call for Bitcoin to be banned
A doubling or tripling’s the gain they’ll apply
One last thing I’ll highlight in digital space

The DCEP is now leading the race
This digital yuan, the first CBDC
Is coming soon courtesy of Mr Xi
It’s impact initially is quite unclear
But I guarantee that inside of a year
Nations worldwide will each roll out their own
And each will define a DC trading zone

While last year was filled with surprises galore
This year we’re likely to see many more
And finally, thank you, my readers and friends
For listening to all the twists and the bends
Now looking ahead to Twenty Twenty-One
Let’s all keep perspective and try to have fun.

Good luck, stay safe and have a wonderful new year
Adf

DCEP = Digital Currency / Electronic Payment
CBDC = Central Bank Digital Coin

Grovel and Kneel

Said Boris, prepare for the worst
Despite all our efforts, the first
Of Jan may result
In quite a tumult
If Europe’s stance isn’t reversed

Said Ursula, we want a deal
But England must grovel and kneel
If French boats can’t fish
Wherever they wish
This rift will have no chance to heal

Brexit remains the top story in the markets as we have heard from both sides that preparations for a no-deal outcome are necessary.  From what I can glean, it appears the fishing rights issue is the final sticking point.  And, in fairness, it is pretty easy to see both sides’ point of view.  From the UK’s perspective, these are their territorial waters, and if Brexit was about nothing else, it was about regaining complete sovereignty over itself, including its canon of laws, and the disposition of its territory.  I’m pretty confident that had the roles been reversed, and British fishing boats were making their living in French waters, the French would be equally adamant about controlling access.  On the flip side, given the UK has been a member of the EU since 1973, there are two generations of French fishermen who have only known unfettered access to UK waters, and assumed it was their birthright.  Losing that access will obviously be a devastating blow to their livelihoods, and one in which they played no part of the decision.  Of course, with that in mind, it still seems like a periodic review of access would be able to satisfy both sides.  Alas, that has not yet been agreed.

The upshot of this change in tone is that the market has begun to price in a more serious probability of a no-deal outcome.  This is obviously evident in the pound, which has fallen a further 0.8% this morning and is now back to levels last seen a month ago.  In fact, versus the euro, the pound is at its weakest since mid-September, although still several percent below the pandemic lows, and more than 6% from its all-time lows seen in the wake of the GFC.  But we are seeing this change in the interest rate markets as well, where UK debt yields are tumbling across the curve. For instance, 10-year Gilt yields have fallen 4.5 basis points today and now sit at 0.15%, just a few ticks above their all-time lows seen in August.  And all shorter maturities have turned negative, with 7-year breaking below 0.0% this morning.  As to the short end, the market is now pricing a base rate cut to 0.0% by the February meeting latest, and a further cut, into negative territory by next summer.

This Brexit gloom also seems to be seeping into other markets as we are seeing a pretty widespread risk-off move today, with European equity markets all pretty substantially lower and US futures pointing in the same direction. Perhaps part of this gloom is the fact that the ECB arguably disappointed markets yesterday.  While Madame Lagarde lived up to her word regarding recalibrating the ECB programs, there was no shock or awe, something markets learned to anticipate under the previous regime.  The PEPP was increased, but by exactly the amount expected.  It was also extended in time, but all that was offset by the comment that it may not need to be fully utilized.  But there was no addition to the asset mix, no junk bonds or equities, anything to demonstrate that the ECB was going to continue to support the markets aggressively.  And with that missing, and growing concern over Brexit, it appears investors are deciding to hunker down a bit going into the weekend.

At this point, both sides in the Brexit talks claim Sunday is the final deadline, so perhaps we will see something this weekend to move markets on Monday.  But right now, there is a palpable air of despair in the markets.

Touring all markets this morning shows that Asian equities were mostly lower (Nikkei -0.4%, Shanghai -0.8%) although the Hang Seng (+0.35%) managed a gain.  However, that is really the only green number on the boards this morning as every European exchange is lower, led by the DAX (-2.0%) and followed by the CAC (-1.3%) and FTSE 100 (-1.1%).  The idea that the FTSE 100 will benefit from a no-deal Brexit seems sketchy, at best, given whatever benefit may come from a weaker pound Sterling, it would seem to be offset by the larger economic hit to the UK economy as well as the thought that many of those companies may find their export markets crimped without a deal, and therefore their profits negatively impacted.  As to the US, futures markets have been trending lower all evening and are now pointing down about 0.8% across the board.

Bond markets are on the same page, with rallies everywhere as yields decline.  Treasury yields are lower by 2 basis points, and all of Europe has seen yield declines of between 1 and 4 basis points, with the PIGS the laggards here.  You may notice I never discuss JGB’s but that is only because the BOJ has effectively closed that market, now owning nearly 50% of outstanding securities, and thus yields there never really move as almost no volume transacts on any given day.

Commodity markets are showing very minor declines with both oil and gold looking at dips of just 0.2% or so.  In other words, this is more about financial issues than economic ones.

And finally, the dollar is definitely stronger this morning, with only the yen (+0.15%) outperforming in the G10 space.  While the pound is the leading decliner, NOK (-0.8%) is right there with it.  This is a bit surprising, as not only has oil not really moved today, but Brent crude rose back above $50/bbl yesterday for the first time since the initial Covid panic in March and remains there this morning.  Given growing expectations that next year is going to bring a lot of growth, it would seem that NOK has a lot of positives on its side.  As to the rest of the bloc, the losses are more moderate, ranging from AUD (-0.15%) to SEK (-0.35%), and all simply following the risk story.

Emerging market currencies are also largely weaker, led by BRL (-0.95%) which really appears to be a reaction to yesterday’s remarkable 3.0% rally.  With spot approaching 5.00, there seems to be a lot of two-way activity in the currency.  But the other laggards are all commodity based, which fits with the overall risk-off theme.  So, ZAR (-0.8%) and MXN (-0.65%) are leading the pack while the bulk of the bloc has declined a more manageable 0.2%-0.3%.  On the flip side TWD (+0.7%) is the biggest gainer despite modest foreign equity outflows.  This is especially odd given the ongoing decline in TWD bond yields.  But whatever the driver, demand for TWD remains robust.

Yesterday’s CPI data was a tick higher than expected, which has become the norm for the second half of the year.  This morning we get PPI (exp 0.7%, 1.5% ex food & energy) although given CPI has already been released, it will largely be ignored.  Perhaps the 10:00 preliminary Michigan Confidence (76.0) reading will garner more interest.  but in the end, neither seems likely to move the needle.  Rather, with risk appetite waning, and concerns over Brexit growing, it does feel like the dollar has further room to run today.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Death Knell

Though dinner was not quite a bust
And everything key was discussed
No deal was secured
And now we’re assured
Past Sunday all hope will combust

The pound, not surprisingly, fell
As traders have heard its death knell
Now eyes have all turned
To Frankfurt, concerned
Christine, Europe’s problems, won’t quell

One need only look at the pound’s performance this morning (GBP -0.8%) to understand that last night’s much touted dinner meeting between Boris and Ursula did not come to any conclusions.  While there appeared to be great comradery all around, and both parties were quick to say they understand how the other side feels, neither was willing to give ground.  The upshot is that the newest deadline appears to be this Sunday coming, when if a deal is not reached, there is a consensus that no deal will be reached in time.  While I continue to believe that this remains political theater, even if Sunday is simply another false deadline, the real deadline is now exactly 3 weeks away, so something needs to happen soon if a no-deal Brexit is to be prevented.  History has shown that deals of this nature, especially in Europe, always come down to the last possible moment.  We shall see if Sunday is that moment.  As to the potential impact on the pound, no-deal could easily take us to 1.25, while a successful conclusion is probably good for 1.40.

On to the day’s other major event, the ECB meeting, where Madame Lagarde is presiding over her fractious team once again as they seek to explain to us exactly what recalibration means.  You may recall that at the October meeting, Lagarde promised that the ECB would “recalibrate” its tools by this meeting.  This has come to be code for increased monetary policy easing of the following nature: €500 billion of additional PEPP purchases and a minimum 6-month extension of both the emergency pandemic program as well as the original QE, the APP (Asset Purchase Program) to run through the end of 2021.  In addition, the TLTRO III program is expected to be extended and expanded.  Expectations are growing that there may be two more tranches of these loans, that the loan tenors may be extended beyond 3 years, and that the interest rate, currently -1.0%, could be cut further.  One of the problems with the TLTRO, though, is that the two biggest users, Italy and Spain, have almost run out of capacity to use more of these loans, so any benefit on this front, even with expansion, is likely limited.

And truthfully, those are really the two key stories of the session so far.  Interestingly, yesterday’s news about an agreement regarding the EU’s pandemic budget seems to have had virtually no impact on the markets as yet.  You may recall that when this was first mooted, back in the summer, and the idea that the EU would issue joint bonds was agreed, many thought this was Europe’s Hamiltonian moment, finally bringing Europe’s fiscal house under one roof, and preparing for great things going forward.  So far, this has not been the case.  But the lack of market response to key steps forward must be a little disheartening for those involved.  Of course, it remains to be seen if this budget is truly the beginning of something new, or simply a response to the Covid pandemic, where Germany and its frugal neighbors felt they had no choice but to accept the outcome.  Certainly, if this is the true way forward, it removes one of the biggest structural impediments to the single currency and opens the way for a secular appreciation.  We shall see.

As to markets today, yesterday’s late day sell-off in the US was followed with modest Asian weakness (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng -0.35%, Shanghai 0.0%) although European bourses have held onto modest gains.  Right now, the FTSE 100 (+0.7%) is leading the way (remember, a weaker pound typically helps the FTSE), with the CAC (+0.3%) and DAX (+0.1%) showing much less promise.  As to US futures, they are very little changed at this hour with no real information from their movement of a few points in either direction.

Bond markets, however, are a little more consistent, generally rallying slightly with yields edging lower.  The biggest mover are UK Gilts, with 10-year yields lower by 5.7 basis points as investors and traders are betting on a weaker UK economy with a no-deal outcome.  After that, the PIGS are doing well, with yields lower between 2-4 bps, as visions of further ECB purchases dance in investors’ heads.  Treasuries are moving in the same direction, but the 1 basis point decline in yield is hardly game-changing.

Commodity markets continue their confusing ways, this time with oil rallying slightly, (WTI
+1.5%) while gold is declining, -0.3%.  And finally, the dollar is having, what can only be described, as a mixed session.  In the G10, the pound has actually extended its early losses and is now down -1.0%.  As well, JPY (-0.3%) is also weaker despite (because of?) what seemed to be pretty reasonable manufacturing data overnight.  The rest of the bloc, however, is firmer vs. the dollar led by AUD (+0.6%) on the back of rising iron ore prices, although the gains fall away to much more modest outcomes beyond that.  CAD (+0.3%) seems to be benefitting from the rise in oil prices but nothing else is even noteworthy.

Emerging market currencies are also mixed, with the gainers led by BRL (+0.8% on the open) after the central bank left rates on hold last night, as universally expected, but also explained that the pledge to keep rates at that level may be coming to an end as inflation starts to rise in the country.  This was taken as quite hawkish, so I would look for further BRL appreciation going forward.  Elsewhere on the plus side is RUB (+0.45%) clearly benefitting from oil’s rise, and HUF (+0.35%) which continues to benefit from the EU budget deal.  On the downside, ignoring TRY, ZAR (-0.4%) is the worst performer, seeming to suffer from a surge in Covid cases, with KRW (-0.3%) seeming to feel the pressure of yesterday’s tech stock sell-off in the US.

We finally get some data of note this morning led by the weekly Initial Claims (exp 725K) and Continuing Claims (5.21M) data.  But we also see the latest reading on headline CPI (0.1%, 1.1% Y/Y) and core (0.1%, 1.5% Y/Y).  The great inflation/deflation debate continues amongst the economic community with the deflationists continuing to point to the data as their trump card, but the inflationists continuing to point to real life.  My money is on inflation, probably as soon as next year, that is far higher than the Fed currently anticipates.

And that’s really it for the day.  All eyes will be on the tape at 7:45 when the ECB releases their statement, and then Madame Lagarde will be on camera starting at 8:30am.  Barring a breakthrough on Brexit today (which seems highly unlikely) the pound seems to have room to fall further.  As to the euro, that is in Lagarde’s hands.  And the dollar in general?  The recent slow trend lower remains intact, and I wouldn’t start that fight quite yet.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Table is Set

In Brussels, the table is set
As Boris and Ursula bet
That dinner together
Will be the bellwether
To ending the hard Brexit threat

So, appetite for risk is whet
With central banks sure to abet
More equity buying
As they keep on trying
To buy every last piece of debt

There hasn’t been this much interest in a meal in Europe since the one painted by DaVinci some 530 years ago.  Clearly, the big story is this evening’s dinner date between UK PM Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, where they will make what appears to be the final attempt to get some political agreement on the last issues outstanding in order to complete the Brexit trade deal.  With just over three weeks before the UK exits the EU, time is clearly of the essence at this stage.  I remain confident that an agreement will be reached as it is in both sides’ collective interest to do so.  Rather, the current political theater is seen as necessary, again for both sides, in order to demonstrate they did everything they could to achieve the best possible outcome.  After all, Boris is going to have to cede some portion of UK sovereignty, and the EU is going to have to cede some adherence to their extraordinarily large canon of laws.

The FX market seems to share my opinion as the pound has rallied more than 1% since I wrote yesterday and is currently firmer by 0.7% since yesterday’s close.  As I wrote last week, I remain convinced that the market has not actually priced in a successful completion of a deal, rather that the pound’s performance over the past several months, a nearly 10% rise since July 1st, has simply been reflective of the broad dollar decline and not a bet on a positive Brexit outcome.  As such, I believe there is a good amount of upside potential for the pound in the event of a positive result, perhaps as much as 3% right away, and 5%-6% over time.  Similarly, if a deal is not reached, a 5% decline is in the cards.  But, for now, all we can do is wait to hear the outcome.  Dinner is at 8pm in Brussels, so likely there will be little news before 4pm this afternoon.

Away from the Brexit story, however, the market discussion continues to revolve around prospects for a quick implementation of the Covid-19 vaccine and the resumption of pre-pandemic economic activity.  One of the conundrums in this regard is that despite what appears to be a growing belief that the vaccine will solve the covid crisis, thus enabling a return to economic growth, the central banking community will continue to inject unfathomable sums of liquidity into banks, (and by extension markets and maybe even the economy), to support economic growth.  It seems a bit duplicative to me, but then I’m just an FX salesman sans PhD.  After all, if the vaccine will allow people to revert to their former selves, what need is there for central banks to keep buying bonds?  (And in some cases, equities.  As an aside, yesterday the BOJ reached a milestone as the largest equity holder in Japan, outstripping the government pension fund, GPIF, and now in possession of nearly 8% of the entire market there.)

The thing is, there is no prospect that this behavior is going to change.  For instance, tomorrow the ECB’s final meeting of the year will conclude, and they are expected to expand the PEPP by at least €500 billion and extend the tenor of the program between six months and a year.  In addition, they are expected to expand the TLTRO III program (targeted long-term refinancing operations) by another year, and there were even some hints at a rate cut there.  The latter would be extraordinary as the current rate is -1.0%.  This means that European banks that borrow funds in this program pay -1.0% (receive 1.0% pa) as long as they lend these funds on to corporate and business clients, with no restrictions on what they can charge.  Balances in this program have fallen from €1.3 trillion to just €180 billion since the summer, so it is believable that the rate will change.  The ECB particularly likes this program as they believe it really encourages business loans.

Something else to watch in tomorrow’s meeting is whether either the statement, or Madame Lagarde in her press conference opening, discusses the exchange rate.  Since the euro first traded above 1.20 back in September, which brought an immediate response from the ECB via some jawboning, the single currency had really done very little, until November, when the latest move higher began.  Now, after a 4% rally, it would not be surprising for the ECB to once again mention the importance of a “competitive” (read: weak) euro.  With inflation in the Eurozone remaining negative, Lagarde and company simply cannot afford for the euro to rise much further.  And none of this discussion includes what may well come from the FOMC next week!

But on to today’s activity.  Risk appetite continues to be strong where equity markets in Asia (Nikkei +1.3%, Hang Seng +0.75%) and Europe (DAX +0.8%, CAC +0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.4%) are all continuing yesterday’s modest gains.  The one exception here is Shanghai (-1.3%) which seemed to respond to inflation data overnight (CPI -0.5%).  The cause here seems to be declining pork prices (remember last year the Asian Swine Flu resulted in the culling of Chinese herds and dramatic price rises) but also the expectation that the PBOC is not going to change course with respect to forcing the deleveraging of the real estate sector and concomitant bubble there.

Bond markets are behaving as one would expect in a risk-on scenario, with Treasury yields reversing yesterday’s 2bp decline, while Bunds and OATs have both seen yields edge higher by 1 basis point.  Oil prices have rallied 1.5%, partly on risk attitude and partly on the story of an attack on Iraqi oil assets disrupting supply.  Finally, gold, which has really been rebounding since the end of last month, has given up 0.65% this morning.

Lastly, the dollar is generally softer today, against most G10 and EMG currencies.  AUD (+0.9%) is the leader this morning after the Westpac Consumer Confidence Survey printed at a much higher than expected 112.0.  For reference, that was the highest print since October 2010!  But as mentioned, the pound is firmer, as is virtually the entire bloc, albeit with less impressive moves.

In emerging markets, HUF (+0.8%) is the leading gainer, followed by PLN (+0.7%) and CZK (+.4%), all of which are far outperforming the euro (+0.1%).  It seems that the EU Stimulus deal, which was being held up by Hungary and Poland over language regarding the rule of law, has finally been agreed by all parties, with those three nations set to receive a significant boost when it is finally implemented next year.  On the flip side, TWD (-0.4%) was the worst performer as a late session sell-off wiped out early gains.  At this point, there is no obvious catalyst for the move, which looks very much like a large order going through an illiquid market onshore.

There is no data of note this morning and no speakers either.  Risk appetite remains the driver, with not only vaccine euphoria, but also hopes for a US stimulus bill rising as well.  In other words, everything is fantastic!  What could possibly go wrong?

As long as equities continue to rally, the dollar is likely to remain under pressure, but with the ECB on tap for tomorrow, I don’t expect a breakout, unless something really positive (or negative) comes out of dinner in Brussels.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Post-Covid Themes

With Thanksgiving now in the past
And Christmas approaching quite fast
The only thing clear
Through end of the year
Is dollar shorts have been amassed

For many, conviction is strong
That currencies, they need be long
The idea, it seems
Is post-Covid themes
Mean risk averse views are now wrong

Having been away for a week, the most interesting thing this morning is the rising conviction in the view that the dollar has much further to decline in 2021.  Much is made of the fact that since its Covid induced highs in March, the dollar has fallen by more than 12% vs the Dollar Index (DXY) which is basically the euro.  Of course, that is nothing compared to the recoveries seen by the commodity currencies like NOK (+33.2%), AUD (+27.6%) and NZD (+23.6%) over the same period.  Yet when viewed on a year-to-date basis, the movement is far less impressive, with NOK actually unchanged on the year, and the leader, SEK, higher by 10.8%.  It is also worth remembering that the euro has rallied by a relatively modest 6.9% thus far in 2020, hardly worthy of the term dollar collapse.

In addition, as I have written before, but given the growing dollar bearish sentiment, I feel worth repeating, is that in the broad scheme of things, the dollar is essentially right in the middle of its long-term trading range.  For instance, from the day the euro came into existence, January 1, 1999, the average daily FX rate, according to Bloomberg, has been 1.1999, almost exactly where it currently trades.  It has ranged from a low of 0.8230 in October 2000 to a high of 1.6038 the summer before the GFC hit.  The point is EURUSD at 1.20 is hardly unusual, neither can it be considered weak nor strong.

Unpacking the rationale, as best I understand it, for the dollar’s imminent decline, we see that a great deal of faith is put upon the idea of a continuing risk rally over the next months as the global economy recovers with the advent of the Covid vaccines that seem likely to be approved within weeks.  The sequence of events in mind is that the distribution of the vaccine will have the dual impact of dramatically reducing the Covid caseloads while simultaneously reinvigorating confidence in the population to resume pre-Covid activities like going out to restaurants, bars and the movies, as well as resuming their travel plans.  The ensuing burst of activity will result in a return to pre-Covid levels of economic activity and all will be right with the world.  (PS  pre-Covid economic activity was a desultory 1.5% GDP growth with low inflation that caused the central bank community to maintain ultra-low interest rates for a decade!)

Equity markets, which are seemingly already priced for this utopian existence, will continue to rally based on the never-ending stream of central bank liquidity…or is it based on the massive growth in earnings given the near certainty of higher taxes and higher interest rates in the future.  No, it can’t be the second view, as higher taxes and higher interest rates are traditionally equity negatives.  So perhaps, equity markets will continue to rally as the prospect of future growth will remain just close enough to seem real, but far enough away to discourage policymakers from changing the rules now.  Perhaps this is what is meant by the Goldilocks recovery.

Of course, while commodity markets have bought into the story hook, line and sinker, it must be recalled that they have been the greatest underperforming segment of markets for the past decade.  Since December 1, 2010, the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI) has fallen 36.5%, while the S&P500 has rallied 191%.  My point is the fact that commodity markets are performing well with the prospects of incipient economic growth ought not be that surprising.

The fly in the ointment, however, is the bond market, where despite all the ink spilled regarding the reflation trade and the steepening of the US Treasury yield curve, 10-year Treasuries refuse to confirm the glowing views of the future. At least, while they may be agnostic on growth, there is certainly little concern over a rekindling of inflation, despite the earnest promises of every central banker in the world to stoke the fires and bring measured inflation back to their targets.  As I type this morning, 10-year Treasury yields are 0.85%, right in the middle of its range since the US election.  You remember that, the event that was to usher in the great reflation?

In the end, while sentiment has clearly been growing toward a stronger recovery next year, encouraging risk appetites in both G10 and, especially, EMG economies, as yet, the data has not matched expectations, and positioning remains based on hope rather than evidence.

Now a quick tour around today’s markets shows that the equity rally has paused, at the very least, with weakness in Asia (Nikkei -0.8%, Hang Seng -2.1%, Shanghai -0.5%) despite stronger than expected economic data from both Japan (IP +3.8%) and China (Mfg PMI 52.1, non-Mfg PMI 56.4).  European markets are also mostly in the red, although the DAX (+0.2%) is the exception to the rule.  However, the CAC (-0.4%) and FTSE 100 (-0.15%) have joined the rest of the continent lower despite positive comments regarding a Brexit deal being within reach this week.  US futures have a bit of gloom about themselves as well, with both DOW and SPX futures pointing to 0.5% declines at the open, although NASDAQ futures are little changed at this hour.

Surprisingly, despite the soft tone in the equity markets, European government bond yields are all edging higher, with Bunds (+1.6bps) pretty much defining the day’s activity as most other major markets are seeing similar moves, including Treasuries (+1.8 bps).  Commodity prices are under pressure with oil (-1.3%) and gold (-0.9%) both suffering although Bitcoin seems to be regaining its footing, rallying 2.3% this morning.

Finally, the dollar, is under a modicum of pressure this morning with G10 currencies mostly a bit firmer (NOK and SEK +0.4%) GBP (+0.3%), although AUD (-0.1%) seems to be getting nosebleeds as it approaches its highest level in two years.  Potentially, word that China has slapped more tariffs on Australian wines, as the acrimony between those two nations escalates, could be removing the rose-colored tint there.  Meanwhile, in the EMG bloc, there is a mix of activity, with some gainers (HUF +0.8%) and BRL (+0.65%), and some losers (ZAR -0.3%), KRW (-0.25%).  Broadly, the commodity focused currencies here are feeling a little pressure from the underperformance in oil and metals, while the CE4 are tracking the euro nicely.

It is an important data week, and we also hear from numerous central bankers.

Today Chicago PMI 59.0
Tuesday ISM Manufacturing 58.0
Construction Spending 0.8%
Wednesday ADP Employment 420K
Fed Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 765K
Continuing Claims 5.81M
ISM Services 57.6
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 500K
Private Payrolls 608K
Manufacturing Payrolls 46K
Unemployment Rate 6.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.1% (4.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Trade Balance -$64.8B
Factory Orders 0.8%

Source: Bloomberg

In addition, we have seven Fed speakers this week, including most importantly, Chairman Powell’s testimony to the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow and the House Finance Panel on Wednesday.  We also hear from Madame Lagarde twice this week, and with the euro hovering just below 1.20, be prepared for her to mention that a too-strong euro is counterproductive.  You may recall in early September, the last time the euro was at these levels, that both she and Philip Lane, ECB Chief Economist, were quickly on the tape talking down the single currency.  Although since that time CNY has rallied strongly (+4%) thus removing some of the pressure on the ECB, there is still no way they want to see the euro rally sharply from here.

But do not be surprised to see the market test those euro highs today or tomorrow, if only to see the ECB response and pain threshold.  Clearly, momentum is against the greenback lately, and today is no exception, but I do not buy the dramatic decline story, if only because no other central bank will sit idly by and allow it.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Growth’s Embers

Said Madame Lagarde, come December
There’s something you all must remember
It’s not ‘bout the size
But how we comprise
Our policy to fan growth’s embers

For a consensus driven institution, the ECB is, apparently, finding it pretty hard to arrive at a consensus on what the promised policy expansion should contain.  You may recall that at their meeting in late October, the ECB appeared pretty explicit that they would be increasing monetary support at the upcoming meeting.  The narrative quickly developed that another €500 billion of PEPP purchases would be appropriate, although there were some ideas that the ECB could expand the APP, their original QE program.  With this in mind, it is crucial to remember that markets typically take the most simplistic approach toward any analysis, and so respond to numbers.  Subtleties are either misunderstood or ignored by the trading community as they require far too much time to appreciate before responding.  After all, it is much easier for algorithms (and traders) to be programmed to buy on a large number and sell on a small number than to dig into the meaning of the words offered up by the ECB.

Keeping this in mind, it is quite interesting that recently, we have started to hear from numerous ECB members that the size of the program adjustments are not as important as their nature.  (Now where have we heard that before?)   Just this morning, Madame Lagarde herself was quoted as follows, “What is really important is that we make sure that the financing conditions are stable, are conducive to economic recovery as it comes.”  She also emphasized that “[market participants must] not only know that the level of financing is going to be there, but that it will be available for a period for time that will last long enough.”  Reading between the lines, this sounds like the mooted €500 billion expansion that has been the market baseline premise since the October meeting, is not going to be realized.  Looking back over the past week, comments from numerous other ECB members, including Chief Economist Philip Lane, as well as Finland’s Olli Rehn, Belgium’s Yves Mersch and Spain’s Pablo Hernandez de Cos have also highlighted that size doesn’t matter, but instead it is the nature and duration of the program that is important.

What are we to make of this change in emphasis?  Initially there are two conclusions that can be drawn.  First, some of the more hawkish members of the ECB; Germany, Austria and the Netherlands most likely, have made it clear that they don’t want to see an unlimited amount of asset purchases as those three nations still believe that central bank financing of government spending is a bad idea.  Thus, the fact that central bankers from more dovish countries are trying to temper expectations is playing to the hawks.

But there is another, more intriguing possibility, and that is that the ECB, who has been terrified of an overly strong euro, has realized that the Chinese renminbi’s consistent strength vs. the dollar (+8.6% since late May) has now been sufficient to offset the euro’s appreciation since that same time.  Essentially, the euro saw a very sharp rise from May through August but has been biding its time since then while the renminbi has been steadily climbing almost every day.  The point is, on a trade-weighted basis, the euro is no longer nearly as strong as it was in August, and so if EURUSD rises a bit further, the ECB may not be too troubled.  This is not to imply that they will be happy to see the euro go screaming up through 1.25 anytime soon, but if it trades to 1.20 or 1.21, it will probably not be ringing alarm bells.

Putting it all together leads me to believe that the ECB no longer is feeling quite as stressed about the euro’s strength vs. the dollar this summer, and so does not feel compelled to increase QE by that much in order to prevent a further rise.  The $2.2 trillion question (that is roughly the amount of EURUSD transacted each day according to the BIS) is, if the ECB disappoints the narrative, despite their claims, and the euro rallies sharply, what will they do then?  Poor Christine already has enough trouble speaking to the market effectively.  If this message gets muddled, it will really create problems, as well as the chance for an emergency program early next year.

With that in mind, let’s look at today’s activities.  After a modest sell-off in the US yesterday, Asia had another mixed session with the Nikkei (-1.1%) falling for a second day after its long run of gains, while the Hang Seng (+0.5%) and Shanghai (+0.2%) both finished with small pluses.  The European markets are all green, but the movement has been de minimis, with the DAX and CAC (+0.2% each) essentially leading the way while the FTSE 100 is simply flat.  Certainly, there is no massive risk-on attitude apparent.  Finally, US futures are all modestly higher at this hour, but 0.2% is a good description here as well.

Bond markets are also fairly muted this morning with Treasury yields essentially unchanged, having retraced half of the vaccine related movement of the past week.  European markets are similarly little changed, except for Greek bonds, where yields have fallen nearly 5 basis points.  But the rest of the curve is within one basis point of yesterday’s levels.  Again, it is hard to discern much risk attitude here.

Oil prices have pushed higher by 1% this morning but have not yet reclaimed the heights seen in the wake of the vaccine announcement.  Gold, meanwhile, has been wandering aimlessly of late, although there is a growing hubbub about Bitcoin, which has traded to $18k this morning.

Finally, to the dollar, which is clearly under pressure virtually across the board this morning.  In the G10 space, NOK (+0.55%) is the leader, following oil prices higher as ongoing enthusiasm over a vaccine driven recovery continues to be felt.  But we are seeing gains in SEK (+0.4%), once again showing its deserved status as a high beta currency, and JPY (+0.2%), which has recouped more than half of its very sharp decline seen last Monday in the wake of the first vaccine announcement.  As this doesn’t appear to be a risk-off scenario, I would attribute the yen’s gains more to the dollar’s broad weakness than anything else.  However, do not be surprised if we test, and this time break, 103.00 before too long.

Emerging market currencies are also broadly stronger, but the movement has been fairly contained.  Leading the pack is CLP (+0.7%) as copper prices are benefitting from the vaccine enthusiasm, as well as RUB (+0.6%) on the back of oil’s strength.  After that, the gains are far less impressive, but they are evident across all three major blocs.  On the downside, today’s notable loser is THB (-0.5%) as the central bank there commented on the baht’s recent strength (+3.0% in the past two weeks) and is set to unveil a package to rein in that strength.

On the data front, yesterday saw weaker than expected Retail Sales numbers here in the States, although that didn’t have much impact on things.  Overnight we have seen CPI data from Europe, which was largely in line with expectations and remains right near 0.0%.  This morning brings Housing Starts (exp 1460K) and Building Permits (1567K), which also seem unlikely to have much impact.  Four more Fed speakers are on the docket, but unlike the ECB, there doesn’t seem to be much disagreement on what needs to be done in the US (more fiscal stimulus, please!)

And that’s it really.  The dollar’s weakness feels a bit overdone in the very short term, but with this new attitude by the ECB, if I am correct, an eventual grind toward 1.21 seems possible.  However, do not mistake that for a dollar collapse in any way, shape or form.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Each of them Dreads

The word from three central bank heads
Was something that each of them dreads
Is failing to let
Inflation beset
Their nations, thus tightening spreads

Instead, each one promised that they
Won’t tighten till some future day
When ‘flation is soaring
And folks are imploring
They stop prices running away

As we come to the end of the week, on a Friday the 13th no less, investors continue to be encouraged by the central bank community.  Yesterday, at an ECB sponsored forum, the heads of the three major central banks, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, ECB President Christine Lagarde and BOE Governor Andrew Bailey, all explained that their greatest fear was that the second wave of Covid would force extended shutdowns across their economies and more permanent scarring as unemployment rose and the skills of those who couldn’t find a job diminished.  The upshot was that all three essentially committed to displaying patience with regard to tightening policy at such time in the future as inflation starts to return.  In other words, measured inflation will need to be really jumping before any of these three, and by extension most other central bankers, will consider a change in the current policy stance.

Forgetting for a moment, the fact that this means support for asset prices will remain a permanent feature, let us consider the pros and cons of this policy stance.  On the one hand, especially given the central banking community’s woeful forecasting record, waiting for confirmation of a condition before responding means they are far less likely to inadvertently stifle a recovery.  On the other hand, this means central banks are promising to become completely reactive, waiting for the whites of inflation’s eyes, as it were, and therefore will be sacrificing their ability to manage expectations.  In essence, it almost seems like they are dismantling one of the major tools in their toolkits, forward guidance.  Or perhaps, they are not dismantling it, but rather they are changing its nature.

Currently, forward guidance consists of their comments/promises of policy maintenance for an uncertain, but extended period of time.  For instance, the Fed’s forecasts indicate interest rates will remain at current levels through 2023.  (Remember Powell’s comment, “we’re not even thinking about thinking about raising rates.”)  But what if inflation were to start to rise significantly before then?  Does the current guidance preclude them from raising rates sooner?  That is unclear, and I would hope not, but broken promises by central banks are also not good policy.  However, if the new forward guidance is metric based, for instance, we won’t adjust policy until inflation is firmly above 2.0% for a period of time, then all they can do is sit back and watch the data, waiting for the economy to reach those milestones, before acting.  The problem for them here is that inflation has a way of getting out of hand and could require quite severe policy medicine to tame it.  Remember what it took for Paul Volcker as Fed Chair back in the early 1980’s.

My observation is that, as with the initiation of forward guidance, this is a policy that is much easier to start than to unwind, and either it will become a permanent feature of monetary policy (a distinct possibility) or the unfortunate soul who is Fed Chair when it needs to be altered will be roasted alive.  In the meantime, what we know is that central banks around the world are extremely unlikely to tighten policy for many years to come.  We have heard that from the BOJ, the RBA, and the RBNZ as well as the big three.  All told, one could make the case that interest rates have found their new, permanent level.

And with that in mind, let us tour market activity this Friday morning.  Equities in Asia followed from Wall Street’s disappointing performance yesterday and all sold off.  The Nikkei (-0.5%) fell for only the second time in the past two weeks.  Meanwhile, after President Trump signed an executive order preventing US investors from supporting companies owned or controlled by the PLA (China’s armed forces), equities in HK (Hang Seng -0.1%) and Shanghai (-0.9%) both fell as well.  The story in Europe is less clear, with some modest strength (DAX +0.2%), CAC (+0.3%) but also some weakness (FTSE -0.5%).  I would blame the latter on further disruption in the UK government (resignation of a high ranking minister, Dominic cummings) and a fading hope on a Brexit deal, but then the pound is higher, so that doesn’t seem right either.

Bond markets, which all rallied sharply yesterday, are continuing that price action, albeit at a more modest pace, with all European markets showing yield declines of between one and two basis points, although Treasuries are essentially unchanged right now.  Of course, Treasuries had the biggest rally yesterday.

Oil is softer (WTI – 1.0%) and gold is a touch firmer (+0.2%) although the latter seems clearly to have found significant support a bit lower than here.  As to the dollar, on the whole it is softer, but not terribly so.  For instance, GBP (+0.3%) is the leading gainer, with AUD (+0.2%) next on the list, but those are hardly impressive moves.  While the bulk of this bloc are firmer, SEK (-0.4%) has fallen on what appears to be a combination of position adjustments and bets on the future direction of the NOKSEK cross.  As to the EMG bloc, there are more gainers than losers, but MXN (+0.3%) is the biggest positive mover, which seems to be a hangover from Banxico’s surprise decision yesterday afternoon, to leave the overnight rate at 4.25% while the market was anticipating a 25-basis point reduction.  On the downside, CLP (-0.95%) is the worst performer, as investors appear concerned that there will be further financial policy adjustments that hinder the long-term opportunity in the country.

On the data front, overnight we saw Eurozone Q3 GDP released at 12.6% Q/Q (-4.4% Y/Y), a tick worse than expectations but it is hard to imply that had an impact of any sort on the markets.  In the US, yesterday saw a modestly better outcome in Initial Claims, and CPI was actually 0.1% softer than expected (helping the bond rally). This morning brings PPI (exp 0.4%, 1.2% Y/Y), about which nobody cares given we have seen CPI already, and then Michigan Sentiment (82.0) at 10:00.  We have two Fed speakers on the docket, Williams early, and then James Bullard.  But given the unanimity of the last vote, and the fact that we just heard from Chairman Powell, it would be a huge surprise to hear something new from either of them.

So, as we head into the weekend, with the dollar having been strong all week, a little further softness would not be a big surprise.  However, there is no reason to believe that there will be a significant move in either direction before we log off for the weekend.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Growth’s Pace Declining

Lagarde said, ‘what we have detected’
“More rapidly than [we] expected”
Is growth’s pace declining
And so, we’re designing
New ways for cash to be injected

The pundits were right about the ECB as they left policy unchanged but essentially promised they would be doing more in December.  In fact, Madame Lagarde emphasized that ALL their tools were available, which has been widely interpreted to mean they are considering a cut to the deposit rate as well as adding to their QE menu of APP, PEPP and TLTRO programs.  Interviewed after the meeting, Austrian central bank president, Robert Holtzmann, generally considered one of the most hawkish ECB members, confirmed that more stimulus was coming, although dismissed the idea of an inter-meeting move.  He also seemed to indicate that a further rate cut was pointless (agreed) but that they were working on even newer tools to utilize.  Meanwhile, Lagarde once again emphasized the need for more fiscal stimulus, which has been the clarion call of every central banker in the Western world.

As an aside, when considering central bank activities during the pandemic, the lesson we should have learned is; not only are they not omnipotent, neither are they independent.  The myth of central bank independence is quickly dissipating, and arguably the consequences of this process are going to be long-lasting and detrimental to us all.  The natural endgame of this sequence will be central bank financing of government spending, a situation which, historically, has resulted in the likes of; Zimbabwe, Venezuela and the Weimar Republic.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Meanwhile, this morning brought the first set of European GDP data, following yesterday’s US Q3 print.  By now, you have surely heard that the US number was the highest ever recorded, +33.1% annualized, which works out to about +7.4% rise in the quarter.  While this was slightly better than expected, it still leaves the economy about 8.7% below its pre-Covid levels.  As to Europe, France (+18.2%), Germany (+8.2%), Italy (+16.1%) and the Eurozone as a whole (+12.7%) all beat expectations.  On the surface this all sounds great.  Alas, as we have discussed numerous times in the past, GDP data is very backward looking.  As we finish the first month of Q4, with lockdowns being reimposed across most of Europe, it is abundantly clear that Q4 will not continue this trend.  Rather, the latest forecasts are for another negative quarter of growth, adding to the woes of the global economy.

Keeping yesterday’s activities in mind, it cannot be surprising that the euro was the weakest performer around.  In fact, other than NOK, which suffered from the sharp decline in oil prices, even the Turkish lira outperformed the single currency.  If the ECB is promising to open the taps even wider than they are already, the euro has further to fall.  This has been my rebuttal to the ‘dollar is going to collapse’ crowd all along; whatever you think the Fed will do, there is literally a zero probability that the ECB will not respond in kind.  Europe cannot afford for the euro to strengthen substantially, and the ECB will do everything in its power to prevent that from happening, right up to, and including, straight intervention in the FX markets should the euro trade above some fail-safe level.  As it is, we are nowhere near that situation, but just remember, the euro is capped.

Turning to markets this morning, risk appetite remains muted, at best.  Asian equity markets ignored the US rebound and sold off across the board with the Hang Seng (-1.95%) leading the way lower, but closely followed by both the Nikkei and Shanghai, at -1.5% each.  European markets are trying to make the best of the GDP data, as well as the idea that the ECB is going to offer support, but that has resulted in a lackluster performance, which is, I guess, better than a sharp decline.  The DAX (-0.4%) and FTSE 100 (-0.35%) are both under a bit more pressure than the CAC (+0.1%), but the French index is hardly inspiring.  As to US futures, the screen is dark red, with all three futures gauges down about 1.0% at this hour.  One other thing to watch here is the technical picture.  US equity markets certainly appear to have put in a short-term double top, which for the S&P 500 is at 3600.  Care must be taken as many traders will be looking to square up positions, especially given that today is month end, and a break of 3200, which, granted, is still 3% away, could well open up a much more significant correction.

Once again, bond market behavior has been out of sync with stocks as in Europe this morning we see bonds under some pressure and yields climbing about 1 basis point in most jurisdictions despite the lackluster equity performance.  And despite the virtual promise by the ECB to buy even more bonds. Treasuries, meanwhile, are unchanged this morning, but that is after a sharp price decline (yield rally) yesterday, which took the 10-year back to 0.82%.  With the US election next week, it appears there are many investors who are reducing exposures given the uncertainty of the outcome.  But, other than a strong Blue wave, where market participants will assume a massive stimulus bill and much steeper yield curve, the chance for a more normal risk-off performance in Treasuries, seems high.  After all, while growth in Q3 represented the summer reopening of the economy, we continue to hear of regional shutdowns in the US as well, which will have a detrimental impact on the numbers.

And lastly, the dollar, which today is mixed to slightly softer.  Of course, this is after a week of widespread strength.  In fact, the only G10 currency that outperformed the greenback this week is the yen, which remains a true haven in most participants’ eyes.  Today, however, we are seeing SEK (+0.4%) leading the way higher followed by GBP (+0.3%) and NOK (+0.2%).  Nokkie is consolidating its more than 3% losses this week and being helped by the fact that the oil price, while not really rallying, is not falling either.  The pound, too, looks to be a trading bounce, as it fell sharply yesterday, and traders have taken the Nationwide House price Index data (+5.8% Y/Y) as a positive that the economy there is not collapsing.  Finally, SEK seems to be benefitting from the fact that Sweden is not being impacted as severely by the second wave of the virus, and so, not forced to shut down the economy.

In the emerging markets, the picture is mixed, with about a 50:50 split in performance.  Gainers of note are ZAR (+0.7%), which seems to be a combination of trading rebound and the benefit from gold’s modest rebound, and CNY (+0.4%), which continues to power ahead as confidence grows that the Chinese economy is virtually back to where it was pre-pandemic.  On the downside, TRY (-0.5%) continues to be troubled by President Erdogan’s current belligerency to the EU and the US, as well as his unwillingness to allow the central bank to raise rates.  Meanwhile, RUB (-0.35%) is continuing its weeklong decline as, remember, Russia continues to get discussed as interfering in the US elections and may be subject to further sanctions in their wake.

Once again, we have important data this morning, led by Personal Income (exp +0.4%) and Personal Spending (+1.0%); Core PCE (1.7% Y/Y); Chicago PMI (58.0) and Michigan Sentiment (81.2).  Arguably, the PCE data is what the Fed will be watching.  It has been rising rapidly, although this month saw CPI data stall, and that is the expectation here as well.  Now, the Fed has been pretty clear that inflation will have to really pick up before they even think about thinking about raising rates, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention, nor that the market won’t respond to an awkwardly higher print.  If inflation is running hotter than expected, it has the potential to mean the Fed will be less inclined to ease further, and that is likely to help the dollar overall.  However, barring a sharp equity market decline today, and given the dollar’s strength all week, I expect we will see continued consolidation with very limited further USD strength.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf