Covid’s Resurgence

Covid’s resurgence Has begun to detract from Asia’s second spring

It seems the global economic rebound is starting to falter.  At least, that is what one might conclude from the run of data we are seeing from virtually every nation, as well as the signals we are starting to get from the global central banking community.  For instance, on the data front, this morning’s UK numbers showed that growth, while still quite positive, is not quite living up to expectations.  May’s GDP reading was 0.8%, a very good number (it would annualize to nearly 10% GDP growth) but far below analysts forecasts of 1.5%.  Similarly, IP also printed at 0.8%, again well above last month’s data but falling far short of the 1.4% expectations.  The point is that economists’ views of the reopening burst seem to have been a bit overexuberant.  The UK is hardly alone in this situation with Italy also showing disappointing IP data for May (-1.5% vs. +0.3% expected).  And we saw the same thing from both Germany and France earlier this month.  In a nutshell, it appears that the European economy, while certainly growing more robustly than Q1, may well have seen its best days.

Meanwhile, in Asia, the delta variant of Covid-19 has become a much larger problem, with Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand particularly hard hit.  You have probably heard that the Olympics will be spectatorless this year in Tokyo as the Suga government has implemented yet another emergency lockdown order that is not due to expire until the end of August.  In South Korea, infections are rising as well and the government has increased curbs on gatherings of more than 5 people, while Thailand has once again closed ‘non-essential’ businesses to prevent the spread of the disease.  Vaccination rates throughout Asia have been much lower than elsewhere, with most of Europe and the US having seen between 40% and 50% of the population vaccinated while Asian countries are in the 5% – 10% range.  The issue is that while the virus continues to spread, economic activity will continue to be impaired and that means that markets in those economies are going to feel the pain, as likely will their currencies.

Of course, the US has not been immune from this run of disappointing data as virtually every reading in the past month has failed to meet expectations.  Two broader indicators of this slowdown are the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow number, which is currently at 7.78%, obviously a strong number, but down from 13.71% two month’s ago.  As well, the Citi Economic Surprise index has fallen from 270 a year ago to essentially 0.0 today.  This measures actual data vs. median expectations and is indicative of the fact that data continues to miss its targets in the US as well as throughout the rest of the world.

Arguably, it is this downturn in economic activity that has been the key driving force in the bond market’s remarkable rally for the past two months, although this morning, it appears that some profit taking is underway as Treasury yields have backed up 4.8bps.  Keep in mind, though, that yields had fallen more than 25bps at their lowest yesterday in just the past two weeks, so a reprieve is no real surprise.  

The question at hand has become, is this just a pause in activity, or have we already seen the peak and now that fiscal stimulus is behind us, growth is going to revert to its pre-pandemic trend, or worse?  My sense is the latter is more likely and given the extraordinary amount of debt that was issued during the past year, the growth trend is likely to be even worse than before the pandemic.  However, slowing growth is not necessarily going to be the death knell for inflation by any means.  Lack of investment and shortages of key inputs will continue to pressure prices higher, as will the demand from consumers who remain flush with cash.  The worst possible outcome, stagflation, remains entirely realistic as an outcome.

And on that cheery note, let’s survey markets quickly.  While yesterday was a clear risk-off session, this morning it is just the opposite, with equity markets rebounding and bonds under some pressure.  While the Nikkei (-0.6%) failed to rebound, we did see the Hang Seng (+0.7%) pick up some while Shanghai (0.0%) was flat.  The big news in China was the PBOC reduced the RRR for banks by 0.5%, to be implemented next week.  Remember, the Chinese continue to try to fight the blowing up of bubbles in markets, both financial and real estate, but are looking for ways to loosen policy.  Remember, too, that inflation in China remains quite high, at least at the factory gate, with PPI released last night at 8.8% Y/Y.  This reading was exactly as forecast and a touch lower than last month’s reading.  But it is still 8.8%!  If this starts to trend lower over the coming months, that will be a strong signal regarding global inflationary concerns, but we will have to wait to see.

European markets, though, are uniformly stronger, led by the CAC (+1.75%) although the DAX (+0.9%) and FTSE 100 (+0.7%) are both doing well this morning despite the weaker data.  It appears that investors remain comforted by the ECB’s continued commitment to supporting the economy and their commitment to not withdraw that support if inflation readings start to tick higher.  As to US futures, while the NASDAQ is unchanged at this hour, both SPX and DOW futures are higher by around 0.5%.

It is not only Treasuries that are selling off, but we are seeing weakness in Gilts (+3.8bps), Bunds (+1.1bps) and OATs +0.5bps) as well.  After all, every bond market rallied over the past weeks, so profit-taking is widespread.

On the commodity front, oil continues to trade in a hugely volatile manner, currently higher by 1.15% after rebounding more than 3% from its lows yesterday.  Base metals are also moving higher (Cu +1.7%, Al +0.6%, Sn +0.1%) although gold (-0.2%) continues to range trade around the $1800/oz level.

As to currencies, the picture is mixed with commodity currencies strong this morning alongside the commodity rally (NOK +0.8%, AUD +0.55%, NZD +0.3%) while the yen (-0.3%) is giving up some of yesterday’s haven related gains.  EMG currencies are behaving in a similar manner with RUB (+0.75%), ZAR (+0.6%) and MXN (+0.3%) all benefitting from higher commodity prices.  However, we are also seeing HUF (+0.85%) rise sharply as inflation surprised to the high side at 5.3% Y/Y and encouraged traders to bet on tighter monetary policy given its resurgence.  On the downside, the Asian bloc suffered the most (PHP -0.4%, THB -0.4%, KRW -0.3%) as traders sold on the negative Covid news.

There is no data today nor any Fed speakers.  That means that FX markets will be looking to equities and bonds for it’s cues, with equity markets seeming to have the stronger relationship right now.  The bond/dollar correlation seems to have broken down lately.    While the dollar is soft at this time, I see no reason for a major sell-off in any way.  As it is a summer Friday, I would look for a relatively quiet session with a drift lower in the dollar as long as risk assets perform well.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

Hopes are now Dashed

Psephologists took a great hit
Their forecasts turned out to be sh*t
The blue wave has crashed
And hopes are now dashed
For Congress, more cash to commit

An astrologer, and economist and a psephologist walk into a bar
“What’s it going to be?” asks the barkeep.
“We have no idea,” they reply

While the final results of the Presidential race are not yet in, nor seem likely to be known before Friday at the earliest, what has become clear is that the Republican party is very likely to retain control of the Senate, no matter what, and that the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has shrunk.  In other words, the idea of the blue wave, where the Democrats would not merely win the presidency, but retake the Senate and expand their control of the House has been crushed.  And with that outcome, the reflation trade that had gained so many adherents of late, is being quickly unwound.

Thus, the election results have spawned both a bull flattening of the yield curve, with 10-year yields currently lower by 11.5 basis points, while 30-year yields are 13 basis points lower and a dollar rebound, especially against most emerging market currencies.  It had seemed odd yesterday to see such significant market movement ahead of the results of what many expected to be a close, and possibly contested, election.  But clearly, there was a significant amount of enthusiasm for that mythical blue wave.

Until the Presidential results are declared, it will be extremely difficult to focus on US economic issues, as in fairness, given the diametrically opposed platforms of the two candidates, we can only surmise a future path once we know who wins.  As such, I expect the two stories that will dominate for the rest of the week will be the election results and the ongoing covid inspired lockdowns throughout Europe.

As this is not a political discussion, let us turn to the other major storyline.  As of today, it appears that Germany, France, Italy and the UK are all imposing significant restrictions on most, if not all, of their citizens for the entire month of November.  Given the rapid spread of the virus in this wave, Europe reported another 239K new cases yesterday, it is understandable that governments feel the need to act.  However, the balance between trying to maintain economic activity and trying to avoid spending so much money on healthcare save citizens’ lives is a difficult one to maintain.  After all, the EU has very strict guidelines as to what type of budget deficits its members can run, and at this point, every member is over the limit.  It is this reason that Madame Lagarde has been so clear that the ECB can, and will, do more to support the economy.  If they don’t, things will get ugly very quickly.  It is also this reason that leads me to believe the euro has limited upside for the foreseeable future.  Whatever is happening in the US, the situation in Europe is not one that inspires confidence.

Thus, let’s look at how markets are responding to the incomplete election results and the increase in Covid infections.  Equities in Asia had a mixed session, with the Nikkei (+1.7%) performing well while the Hang Seng (-0.2%) suffered on the back of the Ant Financial story.  (This story revolves around the expected IPO of the Chinese company, which was forecast to be the largest of the year, but which the Chinese government squashed.)  Shanghai equities were little changed on the session, up just 0.2%.  Europe, however, has seen early gains evaporate and at this point could best be characterized as mixed.  The DAX (-0.1%) is the laggard, while the CAC and FTSE 100 (+0.2% each) are marginally higher.  However, Spain’s IBEX (-1.1%) is feeling the pain of the lockdowns, as is Italy’s MIB (-0.25%).  US futures are quite interesting at this point, with DOW futures actually lower by 0.1%, while NASDAQ futures are 2.0% higher.  And NASDAQ futures were as much as 4.5% higher earlier in the session.  It seems that the status quo in US politics is deemed a positive for the Tech mega caps, while the cyclical companies are expected to have a much tougher time.  As well, if President Trump wins, there will be no expectation of significant tax hikes, something that would have been a virtual certainty with a President Biden.

As discussed above, Treasuries are rallying fiercely.  But we are seeing rallies throughout Europe as well, with Gilt yields leading the way, having fallen by 4.3 bps, but most of the continent looking at 2bp declines.  This appears to be either position unwinding or a renewed enthusiasm that the ECB is going to step up in a massive way next month.  Recall, yesterday, bonds fell everywhere, so a rebound is not that surprising, especially for those who were selling based on the moves in the US.  However, I suspect that given the newest lockdown announcements, investors have become increasingly convinced that the ECB is going to get perilously close to the idea of direct funding of government deficits, something that is verboten within the rules, but something that is desperately needed by the likes of Italy, Spain and Greece.

As to the dollar, yesterday’s sharp decline was puzzling for the same reason the bond market sell-off was puzzling, and so, this morning’s rebound makes perfect sense.  While earlier in the session, the dollar had seen much sharper gains, at this hour (6:52am), those gains are fairly modest.  AUD (-0.4%) is the worst G10 performer, followed closely by GBP (-0.35%) and NZD (-0.35%).  Meanwhile, both haven currencies, CHF and JPY have climbed back to unchanged on the day from earlier session losses.  With the election news still roiling markets, it is nonsensical to try to attribute these moves to anything other than position moves.

EMG currencies are also under pressure virtually across the board, and like the G10, the early declines, which in some cases were quite substantial have abated.  For instance, MXN (-4.1% last night, -1.0% now) showed the most volatility, but CNY (-1.0% last night, unchanged now) also saw substantial movement.  Again, to attribute this, or any currency movement, to anything other than position adjustment in the wake of the US election results would be a mistake.

As to the data today, the Services PMI data was released throughout Europe and was pretty much as expected.  ISM Services (exp 57.5) is out at 10:00 and expected to continue to show surprising growth.  Before that, we see the Trade Balance (exp -$63.9B), but trade policy is just not of interest these days.

Rather, the market will remain enthralled with the election results, which as I type remain decidedly unclear.  Either candidate could win the key remaining states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, although all three are trending Trump right now.

In the end, the election result will matter because it will inform policy ideas.  If we remain status quo ante, the dollar likely has further to rise.  If Mr Biden emerges victorious, the dollar could certainly cede its recent gains, but no collapse is in sight.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

There is Trouble

It seems that the virus mutated
In Spain, which has now complicated
The efforts by France
To alter their stance
On lockdowns, with new ones created

In Germany, too, there is trouble
With cases, this week, set to double
So, Madame Lagarde
Will simply discard
Her fears, and inflate the bond bubble

The second wave of infections, or perhaps the third, is clearly washing over Europe with Covid-19 cases surging across the continent.  The situation has deteriorated so rapidly that, in short order, both Germany and France have ordered lockdowns, closing restaurants, bars, gyms and theaters for the next month.  Public gatherings are being restricted to ten people drawn from only two families as hospital beds throughout both nations fill up quickly.  Research to be released this morning has identified a new strain of the virus that apparently originated in Spanish farm workers during the summer and has been the main version in the latest outbreak.  It seems that it was spread by people returning to their homelands from Spanish holidays.

Meanwhile, Spain and Italy are also contemplating nationwide lockdowns as infections surge there, and even countries that saw a limited outbreak last spring, like the Czech Republic, are under severe pressure now.  Add it all up and you have a recipe for a fourth quarter of negative growth on the continent.  Seemingly, the only part of the Eurozone economy that is performing well are German capital goods exporters as their main market, China, has been rebounding.

With this as background, now consider that you are Christine Lagarde and chairing the ECB policy meeting today.  While the ECB has made significant efforts to support every Eurozone nation during the current crisis, clearly the situation remains fraught.  Is there anything that she can do to shore up confidence?

The punditry is pretty united in their views at this time, not expecting any policy changes at today’s meeting in the belief that the council will want to wait for updated economic forecasts in December before adding to the PEPP. Estimates for an increase in that QE program have coalesced around €500 billion.  If anything, the only expectations for today are for Lagarde to essentially promise that the ECB will announce the expansion of their policy accommodation in December.  While this may well be the outcome, if there is one thing we should have learned from Signor Draghi’s time in Lagarde’s chair, it is that acting sooner than expected and larger than expected are the only ways for the ECB to alter the narrative.  And right now, the narrative is leaning toward the ECB is powerless to prevent the next downturn.

With this in mind, and recognizing that Lagarde, while perhaps not the most sophisticated economic mind on the council, is clearly the best politician, and with the new gloom and doom reports coming in daily, if not hourly, I think there is a decent probability that the ECB acts today.  After all, if they are certain they are going to increase the PEPP program in December, what is the advantage to waiting.  And while I don’t think that a rate cut is in the cards yet, there is a non-zero probability of that too.  News earlier this week, that didn’t get much press in the US, highlighted that small German banks, of which there are nearly 1800, have started to charge depositors to maintain deposits from the first euro.  So, savings accounts are going to be taxed subject to negative interest.  If banks are starting to pass on the costs of ECB monetary policy, then the ECB is likely to be far more comfortable in cutting rates further as they recognize that the banking system there is likely to have halted the decline in lending spreads.  Hence, my out of consensus view is we see some definitive action from the ECB this morning.

Leading up to that meeting, with the announcement to be made at 8:45 this morning (Daylight Savings time has already occurred there), markets are rebounding modestly from yesterday’s risk reducing session.  I’m sure you are all aware of he size of the decline in stock market indices yesterday, with US markets falling ~3.5%, their worst single day performance since June.  What was quite interesting about the session, though, was while equity risk was abandoned, haven assets, which had a bid early in the session, lost their luster as well.  In fact, Treasury bonds wound up the day unchanged, and yields there are actually almost a basis point higher this morning.

A quick tour of equity markets shows that Asian markets were somewhat lower (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng -0.5%, Shanghai +0.1%), although they all closed well off the worst levels of the session.  European bourses are ever so slightly higher, on average, with the DAX (+0.4%), CAC (+0.1%) and FTSE 100 (+0.3%) all in the green.  The big outlier here is Spain’s MIB (-0.95%), which is feeling the pain of the latest story about the genesis of the new strain of the virus, as well as responding to the announcement by PM Sanchez that the national state of emergency has been extended for six months, meaning lockdowns are almost certainly coming there soon.  US futures, meanwhile, are currently up about 0.5%-0.7%, although that is well off the earlier session highs.  The question remains is this a modest trading bounce, or was yesterday an aberration?

Unlike the Treasury market, with a modest uptick in yields, Bunds and OATs are both rallying with 1 basis point declines.  It seems I am not the only one who thinks the ECB may act today, as any early action should see an uptick in demand for European paper.  Oil, on the other hand, is having another tough day, down 3.5%, and at $36/bbl, WTI is back to its lowest level since mid-June.  Fears over slipping demand alongside growing supply are infiltrating the market.

As to the dollar, early price activity was mixed, but it is seeing some demand in the past hour and is now largely higher on the day.  NOK (-0.95%) is the laggard again, following oil lower, but we are seeing weakness, albeit modest weakness, from SEK (-0.4%) and EUR (-0.2%).  Certainly, if I am correct in my view on the ECB, we should see the euro decline further.  On the plus side, only JPY (+0.25%) is gaining on the greenback as the BOJ’s lack of policy action combined with a background of fear over the new lockdowns and their impact on economic activity, has some Japanese investors taking their money home.  This is a trend that has legs.

EMG currencies have also turned from a mixed bag to a nearly universal decline, although the losses are not enormous.  For a change of pace, MXN (-0.7%) is the laggard today, suffering from the ongoing oil price declines, and pushing TRY (-0.6%) back to only the second worst performing currency.  But EEMEA currencies are all lower in the 0.3%-0.5% range.  In fact, the only gainer today is CNY (+0.25%) which continues to benefit from investment inflows as the Chinese economy continues to be the world’s top performer.

On the data front, today we see the most important points of the week.  Initial Claims (exp 770K) and Continuing Claims (7.775M) have been falling but remain substantially higher than even during the worst recessions in the past 75 years.  Of possibly more interest will be this morning’s first reading of Q3 GDP (exp 32.0%), which while it will be a record, will not make up for the loss in Q2.  And right after those are released, we hear from the ECB, so the 30 minutes between 8:30 and 9:00 have the chance for some fireworks.

In the end, it appears to me that risk will continue to be shed leading up to the election, and with that activity, we will see the dollar (and yen) grind higher.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Prepare For Impact

The second wave nears
A swell? Or a tsunami?
Prepare for impact

The cacophony of concern is rising as the infection count appears to be growing almost everywhere in the world lately. Certainly, here in the US, the breathless headlines about increased cases in Texas, Florida and Arizona have dominated the news cycle, although it turns out some other states are having issues as well. For instance:

In Cali the growth of new cases
Has forced them to rethink the basis
Of easing restrictions
Across jurisdictions
So now they have shut down more places

In fact, it appears that this was the story yesterday afternoon that turned markets around from yet another day of record gains, into losses in the S&P and a very sharp decline in the NASDAQ. And it was this price action that sailed across the Pacific last night as APAC markets all suffered losses of approximately 1.0%. These losses resulted even though Chinese trade data was better than expected for both imports (+2.7% Y/Y) and exports (+0.5% Y/Y) seemingly indicating that the recovery was growing apace there. And, given the euphoria we have seen in Chinese stock markets specifically, it was an even more surprising outcome. Perhaps it is a result of the increased tensions between the US and China across several fronts (Chinese territorial claims, defense sales to Taiwan, sanctions by each country on individuals in the other), but recent history has shown that investors are unconcerned with such things. A more likely explanation is that given the sharp gains that have been seen throughout equity markets in the region lately, a correction was due, and any of these issues could have been a viable catalyst to get it started. After all, a 1% decline is hardly fear inducing.

The problem is not just in the US, though, as we are seeing all of Europe extend border closures for another two weeks. The issue here is that even though infections seem to be trending lower across the Continent, the fact that they will not allow tourists from elsewhere to come continues to devastate those economies which can least afford the situation like Italy, Spain and Greece. The result is that we are likely to continue to see a lagging growth response and continued, and perhaps increased, ECB largesse. Remember all the hoopla regarding the announcement that the EU was going to borrow huge sums of money and issue grants to those countries most in need? Well, at this point, that still seems more aspirational than realistic and the idea that there would be mutualized debt issuance remains just that, an idea, rather than a reality. While the situation in the US remains dire, it is hard to point to Europe and describe the situation as fantastic. One of the biggest speculative positions around these days, aside from owning US tech stocks, is being short the dollar, with futures in both EUR and DXY approaching record levels. While the dollar has clearly underperformed for the past several weeks, it has shown no indication of a collapse, and quite frankly, a short squeeze feels like it is just one catalyst away. Be careful.

Meanwhile, ‘cross the pond, the UK
Saw GDP that did display
A slower rebound
And thus, they have found
Most people won’t come out and play

As we approach the final Brexit outcome at the end of this year, investors are beginning to truly separate the UK from the EU in terms of economic performance.  Alas, for the pound, the latest data from the UK was uninspiring, to say the least.  Monthly GDP in May, the anticipated beginning of the recovery, rose only 1.8%, with the 3M/3M result showing a -19.1% outcome.  IP, Construction and Services all registered worse than expected results, although the trade data showed a surplus as imports collapsed.  The UK is continuing to try to reopen most of the economy, but as we have seen elsewhere throughout the world, there are localized areas where the infection rate is climbing again, and a second lockdown has been put in place.  The market impact here has been exactly what one would have expected with the FTSE 100 (-0.4%) and the pound (-0.3%) both lagging.

To sum things up, the global economy appears to be reopening in fits and starts, and it appears that we are going to continue to see a mixed data picture until Covid-19 has very clearly retreated around the world.

A quick look at markets shows that the Asian equity flu has been passed to Europe with all the indices there lower, most by well over 1.0%, although US futures are currently pointing higher as investors optimistically await Q2 earnings data from the major US banks starting today.  I’m not sure what they are optimistic about, as loan impairments are substantial, but then, I don’t understand the idea that stocks can never go down either.

The dollar, overall, is mixed today, with almost an equal number of gainers and losers in both the G10 and EMG blocs.  The biggest winner in the G10 is SEK (+0.6%), where the krona has outperformed after CPI data showed a higher than expected rate of 0.7% Y/Y.  While this remains far below the Riksbank’s 2.0% target, it certainly alleviates some of the (misguided) fears about a deflationary outcome.  But aside from that, most of the block is +/- 0.2% or less with no real stories to discuss.

On the EMG side, we see a similar distribution of outcomes, although the gains and losses are a bit larger.  MXN (+0.65%) is the leader today, as it seems to be taking its cues from the positive Chinese data with traders looking for a more positive outcome there.  Truthfully, a quick look at the peso shows that it seems to have found a temporary home either side of 22.50, obviously much weaker than its pre-Covid levels, but no longer falling on a daily basis.  Rather, the technical situation implies that by the end of the month we should see a signal as to whether this has merely been a pause ahead of much further weakness, or if the worst is behind us, and a slow grind back to 20.00 or below is on the cards.

Elsewhere in the space we see the CE4 all performing well, as they follow the euro’s modest gains higher this morning, but most Asian currencies felt the sting of the risk-off sentiment overnight to show modest declines.

On the data front, this week brings the following information:

Today CPI 0.5% (0.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.1% (1.1% Y/Y)
Wednesday Empire Manufacturing 10.0
  IP 4.4%
  Capacity Utilization 67.8%
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 1.25M
  Continuing Claims 17.5M
  Retail Sales 5.0%
  -ex auto 5.0%
  Philly Fed 20.0
  Business Inventories -2.3%
Friday Housing Starts 1180K
  Building Permits 1290K
  Michigan Sentiment 79.0

Source: Bloomberg

So, plenty of data for the week, and arguably a real chance to see how the recovery started off.  It is still concerning that the Claims data is so high, as that implies jobs are not coming back nearly as quickly as a V-shaped recovery would imply.  Also, remember that at the end of the month, the $600/week of additional unemployment benefits is going to disappear, unless Congress acts.  Funnily enough, that could be the catalyst to get the employment data to start to improve significantly, if they let those benefits lapse.  But that is a question far above my pay grade.

The dollar feels stretched to the downside here, and any sense of an equity market correction could easily result in a rush to havens, including the greenback.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

No Respite

This weekend, alas, brought no respite
As markets are still in the cesspit
A worrying trend
While govs try to end
The panic, is that they turn despot

Well, things have not gotten better over the weekend, in fact, arguably they continue to deteriorate rapidly. And I’m not talking markets here, although they are deteriorating as well. More and more countries have determined that the best way to fight this scourge is to lockdown their denizens and prevent gatherings of more than a few people while imposing minimum distance restrictions to be maintained between individuals. And of course, given the crisis at hand, a virulently contagious disease, it makes perfect sense as a way to prevent its further spread. But boy, doesn’t it have connotations of a dictatorship?

The attempt to prevent large groups from gathering is a hallmark of dictators who want to prevent a revolution from upending their rule. The instructions to maintain a certain distance are simply a reminder that the government is more powerful than you and can force you to act in a certain manner. Remember, too, that governments, once they achieve certain powers, are incredibly loathe to give them up willingly. Those in charge want to remain so and will do almost anything to do so. Milton Friedman was spot on when he reminded us that, “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” The point is, while the virus could not be foreseen, the magnitude of the economic impact is directly proportional to the economic policies that preceded it. In other words, a decade of too-easy money led to a massive amount of leverage, which under ‘normal’ market conditions was easily serviceable, but which has suddenly become a millstone around the economy’s neck. And adding more leverage won’t solve the problem. Both the economic and financial crisis have a ways to go yet, although they will certainly take more twists and turns before ending.

None of this, though, has dissuaded governments worldwide from trying every trick suggested to prevent an economic depression. At the same time, pundits and analysts are in an arms race, to make sure they will be heard, in forecasting economic catastrophe. Q2 US GDP growth is now being forecast to decline by anywhere from 5% to 50%! And the high number ostensibly came from St Louis Fed President James Bullard. Now I will be the first to tell you that I have no idea how Q2 will play out, but I also know that given the current circumstances, and the fact that the virus is a truly exogenous event, it strikes me that any macroeconomic model built based on historical precedents is going to be flat out wrong. And remember, too, we are still in Q1. If the draconian measures implemented are effective, recovery could well be underway by May 15 and that would result in a significant rebound in the second half of Q2. Certainly, that’s an optimistic viewpoint, but not impossible. The point is, we simply don’t know how the next several quarters are going to play out.

In the meantime, however, there is one trend that is becoming clearer in the markets; when a country goes into lockdown its equity market gets crushed. India is the latest example, with the Sensex falling 13.1% last night after the government imposed major restrictions on all but essential businesses and reduced transportation services. Not surprisingly, the rupee also suffered, falling 1.2% to a new record low. RBI activity to stem the tide has been marginally effective, at best, and remarkably, it appears that India is lagging even the US in terms of the timeline of Covid-19’s impact. The rupee has further to fall.

Singapore, too, has seen a dramatic weakening in its dollar, falling 0.9% today and trading to its lowest level since 2009. The stock exchange there also tumbled, -7.3%, as the government banned large gatherings and limited the return of working ex-pats.

These are just highlights (lowlights?) of what has been another difficult day in financial markets around the world. The one thing we have seen is that the Fed’s USD swap lines to other central banks have been actively utilized around the world as dollar liquidity remains at a premium. Right now, basis swaps have declined from their worst levels as these central bank activities have reduced some of the worst pressure for now. A big concern is that next Tuesday is quarter end (year end for Japan) and that dollar funding requirements over the accounting period could be extremely large, exacerbating an already difficult situation.

A tour around the FX markets shows that the dollar remains king against most everything although the yen has resumed its haven status, at least for today, by rallying 0.3%. Interestingly, NOK has turned around and is actually the strongest currency as I type, up 0.8% vs. the dollar after having been down as much as 1.3% earlier. This reversal appears to be on the back of currency intervention by the Norgesbank, which is the only thing that can explain the speed and magnitude of the movement ongoing as I type. What that tells me is that when they stop, NOK will resume its trip lower. But the rest of the G10 is on its heels, with kiwi the laggard, -1.25%, after the RBNZ jumped into the QE game and said they would be buying NZD 30 billion throughout the year. AUD and GBP are both lower by nearly 1.0%, as both nations struggle with their Covid responses on the healthcare front, not so much the financial front, as each contemplates more widespread restrictions.

In the emerging markets, IDR is actually the worst performer of all, down 3.7%, as despite central bank provision of USD liquidity, dollars remain in significant demand. This implies there may be a lack of adequate collateral to use to borrow dollars and could presage a much harsher decline in the future. But MXN and KRW are both lower by 1.5%, and remember, South Korea has been held up as a shining example of how to combat the disease. Their problem stems from the fact that as an export driven economy, the fact that the rest of the world is slowing rapidly is going to be devastating in the short-term.

Turning to the data, this week things will start to be interesting again as we see the first numbers that include the wave of shut-downs and limits on activity.

Today Chicago Fed Activity -0.29
Tuesday PMI Manufacturing 44.0
  PMI Services 42.0
  New Home Sales 750K
Wednesday Durable Goods -1.0%
  -ex transport -0.4%
Thursday Initial Claims 1500K
  Q4 GDP 2.1%
Friday Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.2%
  PCE Deflator core 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
  Michigan Sentiment 90.0

Source: Bloomberg

Tomorrow’s PMI data and Thursday’s Initial Claims are the first data that will have the impact of the extraordinary measures taken against the virus, so the real question is, just how bad will they be? I fear they could be much worse than expected, and that is not going to help our equity markets. It will, however, perversely help the dollar, as fear grows further.

Forecasting is a mugs game at all times, but especially now. The only thing that is clear is that the dollar continues to be in extreme demand and is likely to be so until we start to hear that the spread of Covid-19 has truly slowed down. That said, the dollar will not rally forever, so payables hedgers should be thinking of places where they can add to their books.

Good luck and stay well
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