New Standard-Bearers

The largest of all Latin nations
This weekend confirmed its frustrations
Electing a man
Whose stated game plan
Is changing the country’s foundations

Meanwhile in a key German state
Frau Merkel and friends felt the weight
Of policy errors
So new standard-bearers
Like AfD now resonate

This weekend brought two key elections internationally, with Brazil voting in Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing firebrand and nationalist who has promised to clean up the corruption rampant in the country. Not unlike New Jersey and Illinois, Brazil has several former politicians imprisoned for corruption. Bolsonaro represented a change from the status quo of the past fifteen years, and in similar fashion to people throughout the Western world, Brazilians were willing to take a chance to see a change. Markets have been cheering Bolsonaro on, as he has a free-market oriented FinMin in mind, and both Brazilian equities and the real have rallied more than 10% during the past month. The early price action this morning has BRL rising by another 1.65%, continuing its recent rally, and that seems likely to continue until Bolsonaro changes tack to a more populist stance, something I imagine we will see within the first year of his presidency.

Just prior to those results, the German elections in the state of Hesse, one of the wealthiest states in Germany and the home of Frankfurt and the financial industry, showed disdain for the ruling coalition of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats, with their combined share of the vote falling to just 39%, from well above 50% at the last election. The big winners were the far left Green Party and the far right AfD, both of whom saw significant gains in the state house there, and both of whom will make it difficult to find a ruling coalition. But more importantly, it is yet another sign that Frau Merkel may be on her last legs. This was confirmed this morning when Merkel announced she was stepping down as leader of her party, the CDU, but claimed she will serve out her term as Chancellor, which runs until 2021.

One other Eurozone story came out Friday afternoon as Standard & Poors released their updated ratings on Italy’s sovereign debt, leaving the rating intact but cutting the outlook to negative. This was slightly better than expected as there were many who worried that S&P would follow Moody’s and cut the rating as well. Italian debt markets rallied on the opening with 10-year yields falling 10bps and the spread with German Bunds narrowing accordingly. So net, there was a euro negative, with Merkel stepping down, and a euro positive, from S&P, and not surprisingly, the euro wound up little changed so far, although that reflects a rebound from the early price action. My concern is that the positive story was really the absence of a more negative story, and one that could well be simply a timing delay, rather than an endorsement of the current situation in Italy. The budget situation remains uncertain there, and if the government chooses to ignore the EU and implement their proposed budget, I expect there will be more pressure on the euro. After all, what good are rules if they are ignored by those required to follow them? None of this bodes well for the euro going forward.

Two other key stories have impacted markets, first from Mexico, the government canceled the construction of a new airport for Mexico City. This was part of the departing administration’s infrastructure program, but, not surprisingly, it has seen its cost explode over time and the incoming president has determined the money is better spent elsewhere. The upshot is that the peso has fallen a bit more than 1% on the news, and I would be wary going forward as we approach AMLO’s inauguration. By cutting the investment spending, not only will the country’s infrastructure remain substandard, but its growth potential will suffer as well. I think this is a very negative sign for the peso.

The other story comes from China, where early Q4 data continues to show the economy slowing further. The government there, ever willing to do anything necessary to achieve their growth target, has proposed a 50% cut in auto sales taxes in order to spur the market. Auto sales are on track for their first annual decline ever this year, as growth slows throughout the country. Interestingly, the market impact was seen by rallies in auto shares throughout Europe and the US, but Chinese equity markets continued to slide, with the Shanghai Index falling another 2.2% overnight. This also has put further pressure on the renminbi with CNY falling another 0.2% early in the session before recently paring some of those losses. USDCNY continues to hover just below 7.00, the level deemed critical by the PBOC as they struggle to prevent an increase in capital outflows. The last time the currency traded at this level, it cost China more than $1 trillion to staunch the outflow, so they are really working to prevent that from happening again.

And those are the big stories from the weekend. Overall, the dollar is actually little changed as you can see that there have been individual issues across specific currencies rather than a broad dollar theme today. Looking ahead to the US session, we get the first of a number of important data points this morning with the full list here:

Today Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.2% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
Tuesday Case-Shlller Home Prices 5.8%
Wednesday ADP Employment 189K
  Chicago PMI 60.0
Thursday Initial Claims 213K
  Nonfarm Productivity 2.2%
  Unit Labor Costs 1.1%
  ISM Manufacturing 59.0
  ISM Prices Paid 65.0
  Construction Spending 0.1%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
  Private Payrolls 184K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 15K
  Unemployment Rate 3.7%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.1% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Trade Balance -$53.6B
  Factory Orders 0.4%

So there is a ton of data upcoming, with this morning’s PCE and Friday’s Payrolls the key numbers. Last week’s GDP data had a better than expected headline print but the entire weekend press was a discussion as to why the harbingers of weaker future growth were evident. And one other thing we have seen is the equity market dismiss better than expected Q3 earnings data from many companies, selling those stocks after the release, as the benefits from the tax cut at the beginning of the year are starting to get priced out of the future.

The market structure is changing, that much is clear. The combination of central bank actions to reduce accommodation, and an expansion that is exceedingly long in the tooth, as well as increased political uncertainty throughout the world has made investors nervous. It is these investors who will continue to support US Treasuries, the dollar, the yen and perhaps, gold,; the traditional safe havens. At this point, there is nothing evident that will change that theme.

Good luck
Adf

A New Complication

Last Friday it seemed immigration
Had ceased as a cause of vexation
In Europe, but then
On Monday again
It suffered a new complication

The euro first rose, then declined
But now there’s a new deal designed
To finally forestall
For once and for all
The chance Merkel might have resigned

Remarkably, the immigration debate in Germany continues to dominate the news. Last night, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer agreed to a new deal regarding the immigration situation and withdrew his threatened resignation. This led to a major sigh of relief in the markets as the fear of Frau Merkel’s coalition falling apart has once again receded. While Merkel clearly remains in a weakened state, if this deal can be signed by all the parties involved (a big if), the market may be able to move on to its next concerns. It should be no surprise that the euro has rebounded on the news, after all it has tracked the announcements extremely closely, but the rebound this morning, just 0.1%, has been somewhat lackluster after yesterday’s rout. Perhaps that has as much to do with the release of Eurozone Retail Sales data, which disappointed by printing at 0.0% in May, less than expected and yet another indication that growth in the Eurozone is on a slowing trajectory.

As an aside, if I were Mario Draghi, I might be starting to get a little more nervous given that the Eurozone economy is almost certainly trending toward slower growth and the ECB has very little ammunition available to counter that trend. Rates remain negative and QE is set to run its course by the end of the year. It is not clear what else the ECB can do to combat a more severe slowdown in the economy there.

But away from the daily immigration saga in Germany, the dollar has had a mostly softer session. This is primarily due to the fact that it had a particularly strong rally yesterday and we are seeing short-term profit taking.

China remains a key theme of the market as well, with the renminbi having fallen for twelve of the past thirteen sessions with a total decline of nearly 5.0%. While it has rebounded somewhat this morning (+0.35%), that is small beer relative to its recent movement. Last night, PBOC Governor Yi Gang was on the tape explaining that the bank would “keep the yuan exchange rate basically stable at a reasonable and balanced level.” That was sufficient for traders to stop their recent selling spree and begin to take profits. While there are some pundits who believe that the Chinese will allow the renminbi to decline more sharply, I believe there is still too much fear that a sharper decline will lead to more severe capital outflows and potential economic destabilization at home. As such, I expect to see the CNY decline managed in a steady and unthreatening manner going forward. But I remain pretty sure that it will continue to decline.

Other than those two stories, here’s what’s happening today. SEK has been the biggest winner in the G10, rising 1.25% after the Riksbank, although leaving rates on hold at -0.5%, virtually promised they would begin raising them by the end of the year. That is a faster pace than expected and so the currency reaction should be no surprise. However, keep in mind that Sweden is highly dependent on trade, and as trade rhetoric increases, they could well be collateral damage in that conflict. Aussie is the next biggest winner, having risen 0.7% after the RBA also left rates on hold, as expected, but the statement was seen as having a mildly hawkish tinge to it. But remember, AUD had fallen more than 4.5% in the past month, so on a day when the dollar is under pressure, it can be no surprise that the rebound is relatively large.

In the EMG space, MXN is today’s big winner, rallying 1.3% as the new story is that there are now more areas between the US and Mexico where President Trump and President-elect Obrador will be able to find common ground. Certainly both presidents are of the populist stripe, and so perhaps this is true. But my gut tells me that once AMLO and his Congress are sworn in (it doesn’t happen until December 1!) the market will recognize that the investment environment in Mexico is set to deteriorate, and so the currency will follow.

On the data front, yesterday’s ISM data was quite strong at 60.2, well above expectations and a further indication that the economic divergence theme remains alive and well. This morning we await only Factory Orders (exp -0.1%) and Vehicle Sales (17.0M), with the latter likely to be more interesting to market players than the former. Of course, tomorrow is July 4th, and so trading desks are on skeleton staff already. That means that liquidity is probably a bit sparse, and that interest in taking positions is extremely limited. Look for a lackluster session with the dollar probably edging a bit lower, but things to wind up early as everybody makes their escape.

Good luck
Adf

Perhaps, Has Been Quelled

In Europe the powers that be
At last got around to agree
On policy specs
That are quite complex
But take pressure off Italy

So immigrants now will be held
Off shore, and some will be expelled
Frau Merkel survived
The euro? It thrived
This problem, perhaps, has been quelled

The dollar is under pressure this morning, largely led by the gains in the euro, which has rebounded 0.75%. The proximate cause of this rise was news from the EU summit that they agreed on a new immigration plan designed to reduce the pressure on Italy, a key staging point for African immigrants to the EU, as well as create a series of camps in North Africa to detain asylum seekers and refugees while they are processed. This has been a huge issue in Europe, with significant divisions amongst the various players, and has been a key driver of the rise of right wing populism on the continent. While it remains to be seen if the agreement actually comes in to force, and if it is effective in its stated goals, at least for now the market is giving it the benefit of the doubt. One critical feature is the belief that German Chancellor Merkel has now removed the threat of her governing coalition partner, the Christian Social Union, leaving the government and thus CDU/CSU/SPD coalition will continue with Merkel at the helm. Given Germany’s preeminent role in Europe, there has been significant concern that if Merkel is pushed out, ensuing EU leadership will be unable to maintain the growth momentum that currently exists. And remember, data continues to show that growth momentum in Europe is slowing anyway.

There was one bright spot on the data front, though, as Eurozone headline CPI printed at 2.0%, exactly as expected, but a positive nonetheless. Of course, the rise was entirely attributed to oil prices, as core CPI actually disappointed, falling to 1.0%, still very far from the target of “just below 2.0%”. It is by no means obvious that a more genuine inflation impulse is brewing on the Continent just yet, and so I continue to believe that the ECB, while it seems likely to end QE in December, will still not be raising interest rates for quite a long time in the future. In fact, my sense now is that Eurozone rates remain at -0.4% until Q1 2020 at the earliest.

Speaking of rates, we did hear from two Fed speakers yesterday, with both commenting on the brewing trade war situation. Bostic and Bullard remain on the dovish side of the spectrum, with each of them explaining that they were quite concerned over the possibility of a yield curve inversion occurring, and both of them remarking that their conversations with businesses in their respective regions highlighted those businesses’ concerns over the trade situation and the impacts it could have going forward. Bullard, in fact, continues to maintain that the Fed needn’t hike rates any further this year, while Bostic seems in the one more time camp.

I think it is time to have a brief discussion on the yield curve inversion situation. To be clear, I am looking at the yield spread between 2-year Treasuries and 10-year Treasuries, which in more normal times, has traded in a range of 75bps-125bps. This means that the 10-year Treasury’s yield was that much higher than the 2-year Treasury’s yield. This morning, however, that spread is just 32bps, and has been trending lower ever since the Fed started tightening policy. When the spread turns negative, it is called an inverted yield curve, and the concern arises from the fact that every time we have seen an inverted yield curve in the past fifty years, a recession has followed within a fairly short period of time.

Now I greatly respect this historical indicator and it makes sense economically that an inverted curve would lead to a slowdown in economic growth, but I think it is critical that we remember one thing that is truly different this time. In the past, the Fed’s balance sheet represented a much smaller proportion of the economy, generally less than 10%, and so any bonds they owned had only a minor impact on market pricing. Therefore it was reasonable to believe that the 10-year yield was an accurate reflection of what the market demanded for that risk. However, that is not today’s situation. Even though the Fed has begun to reduce the size of its balance sheet ever so slowly, it still remains as ~22% of the economy. And if you recall what QE was all about, it was a price insensitive bid for Treasury bonds that was designed to drive long-term rates lower, and it succeeded in doing so.

My concern is that those long-term rates are still a reflection of the Fed’s buying activity during QE, rather than an accurate reflection of investor demands regarding the risk of holding 10-year debt. In other words, they are likely much lower than they otherwise would be, in the absence of QE ever happening, and thus despite the fact that short term rates have been rising and a curve inversion seems possible soon, it may not be giving us the same type of signal. Given the strength of the US economy, and the current US inflation rate, it would not be hard to make the case that 10-year Treasury yields should be 4.5%-5.0%. After all, that would equate to real rates of just 1.7%-2.2% based on the current CPI readings of 2.8%. And real rates of 2% + or – have been the long run historical average. So if the Fed buying has resulted in 10-year Treasury yields being 170bps lower than the historical record for the economy, perhaps the angst over an inverted yield curve is misplaced at current levels. This could well be the first time that the curve inverts and no recession follows. Food for thought.

Anyway, back to the markets. As I mentioned above, the dollar is broadly weaker, which is not only the result of the European situation, but also seems a simple price correction heading into the weekend. Japanese data showed Unemployment falling sharply, as well as the BOJ able to reduce the amount of JGB purchases necessary to maintain stability in rates in that market. Indonesia surprised the punditry by raising overnight rates by 50bps, to 5.25%, which helped support the rupiyah. And in general, the dollar is on its back foot today.

I have been expecting a correction, so this price action is no surprise. Meanwhile, this morning we get the latest Core PCE number, the critical inflation data point that the Fed uses in their sorcery modeling (exp 0.2%, 1.9% Y/Y). We also see Personal Income (0.4%), Personal Spending (0.4%), Chicago PMI (60.0) and Michigan Confidence (99.1) as the month and quarter come to a close. In the end, while the dollar is under pressure today, I continue to look for the Fed to maintain its tightening cycle and the rest of the world to lag, thus the dollar remains more likely to rise going forward.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf