Completely Dissolved

The last time the FOMC
Sat down to discuss policy
The trade talks were purring
While folks were concurring
A hard Brexit never could be

But since then the world has evolved
And good will completely dissolved
So what they discussed
They now must adjust
If problems are e’er to be solved

It wasn’t too long ago that the Fed was the single most important topic in markets. Everything they said or did had immediate ramifications on stocks, bonds and currencies. In some circles, the Fed, and their brethren central banks, were seen as omnipotent, able to maintain growth by simply willing it higher. A natural consequence of that narrative was that the FOMC Minutes especially, but generally those of all the major central banks, were always seen as crucial in helping to better understand the policy stance, as well as its potential future. But that time has passed, at least for now. Yesterday’s FOMC Minutes were, at best, the third most important story of the day mostly because they opened the window on views that are decidedly out of date. Way back then, three weeks ago, the backdrop was of a slowly resolving trade dispute between the US and China with a deal seeming imminent, growing confidence that a no-deal Brexit was out of the picture, and an equity market that was trading at all-time highs. My how quickly things can change!

To summarize, the Minutes expressed strong belief amongst most members that patience remained the proper stance for now, although a few were concerned about too low inflation becoming more ingrained in the public mind. And then there was a technical discussion of how to manage the balance sheet regarding the tenors of Treasury securities to hold going forward, whether they should be focused in the front end, or spread across the curve. However, no decisions were close to being made. It should be no surprise that the release had limited impact on markets.

The thing is, over the past few sessions we have heard an evolution in some FOMC members’ stance on things, specifically with Bullard and Evans discussing the possibility of cutting rates, although as of now, they are the only two. However, we have heard even some of the more hawkish members willing to imply that rate cuts could be appropriate if the ‘temporary’ lull in the growth and inflation data proves more long-lasting. As has been said elsewhere, while the bar for cutting rates is high, the bar for raising rates is much, much higher. The next move is almost certainly lower.

And what has caused this evolution in thought since the last FOMC meeting? Well, the obvious answers are, first, the sharp escalation in the trade war, with the US raising tariffs on $200B of Chinese imports from 10% to 25% as well as threatening to impose that level of tariffs on the other $325B of Chinese imports. And second, the fact that the Brexit story has spiraled out of control, with further cabinet resignations (today Andrea Leadsom, erstwhile leader of the Tories in the House of Commons quit the Cabinet) adding to pressure on PM May to resign and opening up the potential for a hardline Boris Johnson to become the next PM and simply pull the UK out of the EU with no deal.

In fact, while I have written consistently on both topics over the past several months, the Fed remained the top driver previously. But now, these events are clearly completely outside the control of monetary officials and markets are going to respond to them as they unfold. In other words, look for more volatility, not less going forward.

With that as a backdrop, it can be no surprise that risk is being jettisoned across the board this morning. Equity markets are down around the world (Shanghai -1.4%, Nikkei -0.6%, DAX -1.75%, FTSE -1.4%, DJIA futures -0.9%, Nasdaq futures -1.25%); Treasuries (2.35%) and Bunds (-0.11%) are both in demand with yields falling; and the dollar is back on top of the world, with the yen along for the ride. A quick survey of G10 currencies shows the euro -0.15% and back to its lowest level since May 2017, the pound -0.2% extending its losing streak to 13 consecutive down days, while Aussie and Canada are both lower by 0.25%.

In the emerging markets, despite the fact that the PBOC continues to fix the renminbi stronger than expected, and still below 6.90, the market will have none of it and CNY is lower by a further 0.2% this morning and back above 6.94. Despite higher oil prices RUB and MXN are both softer by 0.6% and 0.4% respectively. CE4 currencies are under pressure with HUF leading the way, -0.4%, but the rest down a solid 0.25%-0.3%. In other words, there is no place to hide.

The hardest thing for risk managers to deal with is that these events are completely unpredictable as they are now driven by emotions rather than logical economic considerations. As such, the next several months are likely to see a lot of sharp movement on each new headline until there is some resolution on one of these issues. Traders and investors will be quite relieved when that happens, alas I fear it will be mid-summer at the earliest before anything concrete is decided. Until then, rumors and stories will drive prices.

Turning to today’s session we see a bit of US data; Initial Claims (exp 215K) and New Home Sales (675K). Tuesday’s Existing Home Sales disappointed and represented the 14th consecutive month of year-on-year declines. Of more interest, we have four Fed speakers (Kaplan, Barkin, Bostic and Daly) at an event and given what I detect is the beginnings of a change in view, these words will be finely parsed. So, at this point the question is will the fear factor outweigh the possible beginning of a more dovish Fed narrative. Unless all four talk about the possibility of cutting rates as insurance, I think fear still reigns. That means the dollar’s recent climb has not ended.

Good luck
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Some Other Soul

It seems like Prime Minister May
Is quickly approaching the day
When some other soul
Will try to control
The mess Brexit’s caused the UK

Once again, the pound is the lead story as the slow motion train wreck, also known as the Brexit process, continues to unfold. Yesterday, you may recall, PM May was promising to present her much reviled Brexit deal to Parliament for a fourth time, with new promises that if it was passed, the UK would hold a second referendum on the subject. However, not only did the opposition Labour party trash the idea, so did most of her own Conservative party, as well as the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, which is the group that has helped her maintain control for the past two years. At this point, her previous idea of having one more vote the first week of June and then stepping down seems to be dead. The latest news is the pressure from her own cabinet is mounting quickly enough to force her to step down as soon as this week. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, who was a key cheerleader for Brexit in the run-up to the initial vote and spent time as Foreign Minister in PM May’s government, is the favorite to move into Number 10 Downing Street. He has made it clear that he is quite willing to simply walk away from the EU with no deal.

With that as the political backdrop, it should be no surprise that the pound continues to suffer. This morning it is lower by 0.3% and is now trading less than a penny from its 2019 lows, which were established back on January 2nd. It is very difficult to create a scenario where the pound rebounds in the short term. Unless there is a massive shift in thinking in Parliament, or the EU decides that they will concede to UK demands regarding the Irish backstop (remember that?), the market is going to continue to price in the probability of a hard Brexit ever so slowly. The post-Brexit vote low of 1.1906, back in October 2016 is on the radar in my view. That said, it will take a while to reach it unless Boris becomes PM and summarily exits the EU. At that point, the pound will fall much faster.

Ironically, the economic data from the UK continues to show an economy that, while having some difficulty, is outperforming many other areas. This morning’s CPI data showed inflation at 2.1%, a tick below expectations and essentially right at the BOE’s target. I am constantly amused by Governor Carney’s comments that he will need to raise rates due to a potential inflation shock. At this point, that seems like an extremely low risk. Granted, given the openness of the UK economy, if the pound were to collapse in the wake of a hard Brexit, inflation would almost certainly rise initially. The question, I think, is whether that would be seen as a temporary shock, or the beginning of a trend. Arguably, the former would be more likely.

Away from the UK, the FX market has been reevaluating its views on EMG currencies and thus far, the verdict is…they suck! While I have highlighted the weakness seen in the Chinese yuan while the trade war brews, I have been less focused on other currencies which have been collateral damage to that war. But there has been significant damage in all three EMG areas. For example, even excluding the Argentine peso, which has all kind of domestic issues unrelated to trade and has fallen nearly 6% this month and more than 26% this year, LATAM currencies have suffered significantly this month. For example, USDBRL is trading back above 4.00 for the first time since last October and is down by 3.0% in May. We have seen similar weakness in both the Colombian and Chilean pesos, down 5% and 4% respectively. In fact, the Mexican peso is the region’s top performer, down just 0.5% this month although it had been weaker earlier in May. It seems that the trade war is acting as a benefit on the assumption that supply chains are going to find their way from China to Mexico in order to supply the US.

It ought not be surprising that many APAC currencies have also performed quite poorly this month led by KRW’s 4% decline and IDR’s 3.2% fall. Even the Taiwan dollar, historically one of the least volatile currencies is feeling the pressure, especially since the Huawei sanctions, and has fallen more than 1.2% in the past week, and for the month overall. Granted, these moves may not seem as large as the LATAM currencies, but historically, APAC currencies are more tightly controlled and thus less volatile. And there is one exception to this, the Indian rupee, which is basically unchanged on the month. This relative strength has a twofold explanation; first India is poised to benefit as a supplier to the US in the wake of the trade war, and second, the surprisingly strong showing of PM Narendra Modi in the recent election was taken as a positive given his pro-business platform.

Finally, a look at EEMEA shows weakness across the board here as well, albeit not quite as drastically. For example, TRY has fallen 4.5% this month, although the cause seems self-inflicted rather than from outside events. The ongoing political turmoil and inability of the central bank to tighten policy given President Erdogan’s clear opposition to that has encouraged foreign investors to flee. But we have also seen HUF fall 2.5%, and weakness in the Scandies with both NOK and SEK down more than 2.0% this month.

All in all, you can see that the dollar has been ascendant this month as a combination of slowing global growth, trade concerns and the relative outperformance of the US economy continues to draw inflows.

Looking at the data picture, the only US release is the FOMC Minutes at 2:00 this afternoon. Analysts are going to be parsing the comments to see if they can determine if there is building sentiment regarding an ‘insurance’ rate cut. Certainly, some members are willing to go down that road as we heard from St Louis Fed President Bullard yesterday saying just that. There are a number of other speakers today, and in truth, it does seem as though there is an evolution in the FOMC’s thinking. Remember, the market is pricing a cut before the end of the year, and if we continue to see mixed economic data and inflation’s dip proves more than ‘transitory’, I think we will see a consensus build in that direction. While in the very short run, a decision like that could be a dollar negative, my sense is that if the Fed starts to cut, we will see the rest of the world’s central banks ease further thus offsetting the negative impact.

Good luck
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Continue Restrained

Come autumn and next Halloween
The UK may finally wean
Itself from the bloc
To break the deadlock
But Parliament still must agree(n)

Meanwhile Signor Draghi explained
That growth would continue restrained
And Fed Minutes noted
That everyone voted
For policy to be maintained

There has been fresh news on each of the main market drivers in the past twenty-four hours, and yet, none of it has been sufficient to change the market’s near-term outlook, nor FX prices, by very much.

Leading with Brexit, there was a wholly unsatisfying outcome for everyone, in other words, a true compromise. PM May was seeking a June 30 deadline, while most of the rest of the EU wanted a much longer delay, between nine months and a year. However, French President Emanuel Macron argued vociferously for a short delay, actually agreeing with May, and in the end, Halloween has a new reason to be scary this year. Of course, nothing has really changed yet. May will still try to get her deal approved (ain’t happening); Euroskeptic Tories will still try to oust her (possible, but not soon) and Labour will push for new elections (also possible, but not that likely). The topic of a second referendum will be heard frequently, but as of right now, PM May has been adamant that none will not take place. So, uncertainty will continue to be the main feature of the UK economy. Q1 GDP looks set to be stronger than initially expected, but that is entirely due to stockpiling of inventory by companies trying to prepare for a hard Brexit outcome. At some point, this will reverse with a corresponding negative impact on the data. And the pound? Still between 1.30 and 1.31 and not looking like it is heading anywhere in the near future.

On to the ECB, where policy was left unchanged, as universally expected, and Signor Draghi remarked that risks to the economy continue to be to the downside. Other things we learned were that the TLTRO’s, when they come later this year, are pretty much the last arrow in the policy quiver. Right now, there is no appetite to reduce rates further, and more QE will require the ECB to revise their internal guidelines as to the nature of the program. The issue with the latter is that EU law prevents monetization of government debt, and yet if the ECB starts buying more government bonds, it will certainly appear that is what they are doing. This morning’s inflation data from France and Germany showed that there is still no inflationary impulse in the two largest economies there, and by extension, throughout the Eurozone.

At this point, ECB guidance explains rates will remain on hold through the end of 2019. My view is it will be far longer before rates rise in the Eurozone, until well into the recovery from the next recession. My forecast is negative euro rates until 2024. You read it here first! And the euro? Well, in its own right there is no reason to buy the single currency. As long as the US economic outlook remains better than that of the Eurozone, which is certainly the current case, the idea that the euro will rally in any meaningful way seems misguided. Overnight there has been little movement, and in fact, the euro has been trading between 1.12 and 1.1350 for the past three weeks and is currently right in the middle of that range. Don’t look for a break soon here either.

The FOMC Minutes taught us that the Fed is going to be on hold for quite a while. The unanimous view is that patience remains a virtue when it comes to rate moves. Confusion still exists as to how unemployment can be so low while inflation shows no signs of rising, continuing to call into question their Phillips Curve models. In fact, yesterday morning’s CPI showed that core inflation fell to 2.0% annually, a tick lower than expected and continuing to confound all their views. The point is that if there is no inflationary pressure, there is no reason to raise rates. At the same time, if US economic growth continues to outpace the rest of the world, there is no reason to cut rates. You can see why the market is coming round to the idea that nothing is going to happen on the interest rate front for the rest of 2019. Futures, which had priced in almost 40bps of rate cuts just last month, are now pricing in just 10bps (40% chance of one cut). Despite the ongoing rhetoric from President Trump regarding cutting rates and restarting QE, neither seems remotely likely at this juncture. And don’t expect either of his Fed nominees to be approved.

Finally, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin declared that the US and China have agreed a framework for enforcement of the trade agreement, with both nations to set up an office specifically designed for the purpose and a regular schedule of meetings to remain in touch over any issues that arise. But Robert Lighthizer, the Trade Representative has not commented, nor have the Chinese, so it still seems a bit uncertain. Enforcement is a key issue that has been unsolved until now, although IP protection and state subsidies remain on the table still. Interestingly, equity markets essentially ignored this ‘good’ news, which implies that a completed deal is already priced into the market. In fact, I would be far more concerned over a ‘sell the news’ outcome if/when a trade deal is announced. And of course, if talks break off, you can be certain equity prices will adjust accordingly.

This morning brings Initial Claims (exp 211K) and PPI (1.9%, 2.4% ex food & energy) and speeches from Clarida, Williams, Bullard and Bowman. But what are they going to say that is new? Nothing. Each will reiterate that the economy is doing well, still marginally above trend growth, and that monetary policy is appropriate. In the end, the market continues to wait for the next catalyst. In equities, Q1 earnings are going to start to be released this afternoon and by next week, it will be an onslaught. Arguably, that will drive equities which may yet impact the dollar depending on whether the earnings data alters overall economic views. In the meantime, range trading remains the best bet in FX.

Good luck
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A One-Year Delay

Prime Minister May wanted weeks
The EU, however, now seeks
A one-year delay
Which for PM May
Means Tories will up their critiques

Today brings two important decisions from Europe. First and foremost is the EU Council meeting called to discuss Brexit and determine how long a delay will be granted to the UK to make up their mind. (Hint: it doesn’t seem to matter, there is no clear preference for any decision!) Secondly, the ECB meets a day earlier than usual and will announce its policy decisions (there will be no changes) and at 8:30 Signor Draghi will face the press. The reason they are meeting early is so they can get to Washington for the annual IMF/World Bank meetings.

As to the first, PM May has asked for an extension to June 30, as she continues to try to force her deal down Parliament’s collective throat. However, given how unsuccessful she has been in this process, it seems more likely that the EU is going to force the UK to take a nine-month or one-year extension. In their view, this will allow the political process to play out with either a new referendum or a new election or both, but with some type of mandate finally achieved. Naturally, the hard-core Brexiteers are horrified at this outcome because the thought is that a new vote would result in canceling Brexit. This would not be the first time that a referendum in the EU went badly and was subsequently rerun in order to get the leadership’s desired outcome. Both the French and the Dutch rejected the EU Constitution in 2005 initially, but subsequently reversed the initial vote while the Danes rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 but also voted a second time to approve it. So this would hardly be unprecedented.

The problem for the UK is that the only thing they have agreed on, and just barely, is that they don’t want to leave without a deal. However, if anything, there has been increased rancor amongst the MP’s and there is no clear view on how to proceed. Actually, I guess the other thing Parliament has agreed on is they HATE PM May’s negotiated deal! Meanwhile, UK data this morning was surprisingly robust with IP jumping 0.6% and GDP in February rising at a 2.0% annualized clip, both data points being far better than expected. And the pound has benefitted rising 0.2% this morning, although it still remains mired between 1.30 and 1.31with little prospect of moving until something new happens in the Brexit saga.

On to the ECB, which is still struggling to stimulate the Eurozone economy. In fact, yesterday, the IMF announced reduced forecasts for 2019 GDP growth globally, taking their expected rate down to 3.3% with Europe being one of the key weak spots. The IMF’s 2019 projection is down to 1.3% for the Eurozone, from their previous forecast of 1.5%.

It is this situation that Signor Draghi is trying desperately to address but has so far been largely unsuccessful. It seems clear that the ECB will not countenance a move to further negativity in interest rates, and the TLTRO announcement from last month has faded from view. At this point, the only thing they can do would be reopen QE, but I don’t think that is yet likely. However, do not be surprised if we continue to see the growth trajectory slow in the Eurozone, that the ECB does just that.

On that subject, it may be time to question just how much worse things are going to get in the global economy. After all, one of the key issues has been Brexit, which at this point looks like it will be delayed for a long time at the very least. As well, we continue to hear that the trade talks between the US and China are making progress, so if there is a successful conclusion there, that would be another positive for global growth. With the IMF (a frequent negative indicator) sounding increasing warnings, and some stirrings of better data (not only the UK, but Italian IP surprised on the high side today rising 0.8% in February, compared to expectations of a -0.8% outcome), and last week’s slightly better than expected Chinese PMI data, perhaps the worst is behind us. Of course, counter to that view is the global bond market which continues to price in further economic weakness based on the increased number of bonds with negative yields as well as the ongoing lethargy in US rates. It is easy to become extremely pessimistic as global policymakers have not shown great command, but this view cannot be ignored.

Overall, the dollar is slightly softer this morning, down 0.15% vs. the euro and 0.35% vs. AUD (RBA Governor DeBelle sounded slightly less dovish in a speech last night) as well as lesser amounts vs. other currencies. We are seeing similar magnitude gains in many EMG currencies, but overall, the pattern seems to be that the dollar softens overnight and regains its footing in the US session.

This morning brings CPI data (exp 1.8% and 2.1% ex food & energy) and then the FOMC Minutes from March are released at 2:00. We also hear from Randall Quarles, although, as I continue to say, at this point, there seems little likelihood of a change in view by any of the FOMC’s members. I see no reason for the recent pattern to change, so expect that the dollar will stabilize, and likely rebound slightly as the day progresses. But despite the EU meeting and the ECB meeting, it seems unlikely there will be much new information to change anybody’s view when the bell rings this afternoon.

Good luck
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Carefully Looking Ahead

The Minutes explained that the Fed
Was carefully looking ahead
But so far it seems
The hawks’ fondest dreams
Of hiking again might be dead

As well, when it comes to the size
Of the Fed’s balance sheet, in their eyes
It’s likely to stay
Quite large like today
Not shrink while they, debt, monetize

Markets are little changed this morning after a lackluster session yesterday when the Fed released their Minutes from the January meeting. Overall, the tone of the Minutes seemed to be slightly less dovish than the tone of the Powell press conference that followed the meeting, as well as much of the commentary we have heard since then. Apparently, Cleveland’s Loretta Mester is not the only one who believes rates will need to be raised further this year, as the Minutes spoke of “several’ members with the same opinion. Of course, that was offset by “several” members who had the opposite view and felt that there was no urgency at all to consider raising rates further this year. Patience continues to be the watchword at the Mariner Eccles building, and I expect that as long as the economic data does not differ dramatically from forecasts, the Fed will be quite happy to leave rates on hold. They specifically mentioned the potential problems that could derail things like slowing global growth, a poor outcome in the US-China trade talks or a disruptive Brexit. But for now, it appears they are comfortable with the rate setting.

The balance sheet story was of even more interest to many market participants as the gradual running off of maturing securities has seemingly started to take a bite out of available liquidity in markets. And in fact, this seems to be where the Fed minutes indicated a more dovish stance in my eyes. While there is still a thought that rates might be raised later this year, it was virtually unanimous that shrinking the balance sheet will end this year, leaving the Fed with a much larger balance sheet (~$3.5-$4.0 trillion) than many had expected. Recall, prior to the financial crisis the Fed’s balance sheet was roughly $900 billion in size. To many, this is effectively a permanent injection of money into the economy and so should support both growth and inflation going forward. However, the risk is that when the next downturn arrives (and make no mistake, it Will arrive), the Fed will have less room to act to support the economy at that time. This is especially true since even with another one or two rate hikes, Fed Funds will have topped out at a much lower level than it has historically, and therefore there will be less rate cutting available as a policy tool.

Adding it up, it seems rate guidance was mildly hawkish and balance sheet guidance was mildly dovish thus leaving things largely as expected. It is no surprise market activity was muted.

This morning, as the market awaits the ECB Minutes, we see the dollar little changed overall, although there have been some individual currency movements. For example, AUD has fallen 0.7% (and dragged NZD down -0.5%) after a well-respected local economist changed his rate view to two RBA rate cuts later this year due to the rapidly weakening housing market. Prior to this, the market had anticipated no rate movement for at least another 18 months, so this served as quite a change. And all this came despite strong Australian employment data with the Unemployment rate remaining at 5.0% and job growth jumping by 39K.

Meanwhile, mixed data from Europe has leaned slightly bullish as surprisingly strong French Composite PMI data (49.9 vs 49.0 expected) offset surprisingly weak German Manufacturing PMI data (47.6 vs 49.7 expected). I guess the market already knows that Germany is slowing more rapidly than other nations in the Eurozone (except for Italy) due to the ongoing trade friction between the US and China. But despite the ongoing Gilets Jaune protests, the French economy managed to find some strength. At any rate, the euro has edged higher by 0.15% after the reports. At the same time, the pound has also rallied 0.15% after releasing the largest budget surplus on record (since 1993), and perhaps more importantly, on some apparent movement by the EU on Brexit. PM May is hinting that she may be able to get a legally binding way to end the backstop in a codicil to the Brexit negotiations, which if she can, may allow cover for the more euro skeptical members of her party to support the deal. There is no question the pound remains completely beholden to the Brexit story and will continue to do so for at least another month.

Pivoting to the trade talks, there are several stories this morning about how negotiators are preparing a number of memos on separate issues with the idea they will be brought together at the Trump-Xi meeting to be held in the next several weeks. There is no question that the market continues to view the probability of a deal as to be quite high, but I keep looking at the key issues at stake, specifically with regards to IP and the coercion alleged by US companies, and I remain skeptical that China will back away from that tactic. The Chinese do not view the world through the same eyes as the US, or the Western World at large. As per an article in the WSJ this morning, “We must never follow the Western path of constitutionalism, separation of powers and judicial independence,” Mr. Xi said in an August speech. That comment does not strike me as a basis for compromise nor enforcement of any deal that relies on those issues. But for now, the market continues to believe.

And that’s pretty much the stuff that matters today. We do get most of our data for the week this morning with Initial Claims (exp 229K), Durable Goods (1.5%, 0.3% ex transport), Philly Fed (14.0) and Existing Home Sales (5.00M). While individually, none of them have a huge impact, the suite of information if consistently strong or weak, could well lead to some movement given the broad sweep of the economy covered. There are no Fed speakers on the docket today, and so it doesn’t appear that there is much reason to expect real movement today. Equity markets around the world have seen limited movement and US futures are flat to slightly lower. Treasury yields are slightly firmer but remain at the bottom end of their recent trading range. Overall, it seems like a dull day ahead.

Good luck
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No Magical Date

March 1st is no magical date
Said Trump, while investors fixate
On whether a deal
On trade will be sealed
By then, or if tariffs can wait

After a day where there was mercifully little discussion of the ongoing trade negotiations, they have come back to the fore. Yesterday, President Trump indicated that the March 1st deadline for a deal was now far more flexible than had previously been indicated. Based on the reports that there has been substantial progress made so far, it seems a foregone conclusion that tariffs will not be rising on March 2nd. However, key issues remain open, notably the question of forced technology transfer and IP theft. Of course, as the Chinese maintain that neither one of those things currently occur, it is difficult for them to accept a resolution and change their methods. On the flip side, both Trump and Xi really need a deal to remove a major economic concern as well as to demonstrate their ability to help their respective nations.

One of the things that appears to be on the agenda is a Chinese pledge to maintain a stable yuan going forward, rather than allowing the market to determine its value. Looking back, it is ironic that the IMF allowed the yuan to join the SDR in 2016 to begin with, given that it continues to lack a key characteristic for inclusion in the basket; the ability to be “freely usable” to make payments for international transactions. And while the PBOC had been alleging that they were slowly allowing more market influence on the currency in their efforts to internationalize it, the results of the trade talks seem certain to halt whatever progress has been made and likely reverse some portion of it. It should be no surprise that the yuan strengthened on the back of these reports with the currency rallying 0.8% since yesterday morning. If currency control is part of the deal, then my previous views that the renminbi will weaken this year need to be changed. Given the continued presence of financial controls in China, if they choose to maintain a strong CNY, they will be able to do so, regardless of what happens in the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, away from the trade saga, the ongoing central bank activities remain the top story for markets. This has been made clear by comments from several central bankers in the past 24 hours. First, we heard from Cleveland Fed President Mester who, unlike the rest of the speakers lately, indicated that she expects rates to be higher by the end of the year. her view is that 3.00% is the neutral rate and that while waiting right now makes sense, the growth trajectory she expects will require still higher rates. However, while the FX market paid her some attention, it is not clear that the equity market did. Two things to note are that she is likely the most hawkish member of the Fed to begin with, and she is not a voting member this year, so will not be able to express her views directly.

Remember, too, that at 2:00 this afternoon, the FOMC Minutes of the January meeting will be released. Market participants and analysts are all very interested to see the nature of the conversation that led to the remarkable reversal from ‘further rate hikes are likely, to ‘patience is appropriate for now’ all while economic data remained largely unchanged. Until that release, most traders will be reluctant to add to any positions and movement is likely to be muted.

Across the pond, ECB Member Peter Praet continues to discuss the prospect of rolling over TLTRO’s which begin coming due in June of next year. Remember, one of the key issues for the Eurozone banks who availed themselves of this funding is that once the maturities fall below one year, it ceases to be considered long term funding and impacts bank capital ratios. Banks will then either have to call in loans that were made on the basis of this funding, or raise loan interest rates, or see their profits reduced as they pay more for their capital. None of these situations will help Eurozone growth. So, despite claims that banks must stand on their own, and TLTRO’s will only be rolled over if there is a monetary policy case to be made, the reality is that it is quite clear the ECB will roll these loans over. If they don’t, it will require the restarting of asset purchases or some other easing measure.

Once again, I will highlight that given the current growth and inflation trajectories in the Eurozone, there is a vanishingly small probability that the ECB will allow policy to get tighter than its current settings, and a pretty large probability that they will ease further. This will not help the euro regardless of the Fed’s actions. Yesterday saw the euro rally on the back of the updated trade story, but that has been stopped short as the market begins to accept the idea that the ECB is not going to tighten policy at all. Thus, this morning, the euro is unchanged.

The final story of note is, of course, Brexit, where the most recent word is that PM May is seeking to get a subtle change in the EU stance on the backstop plan thus allowing a new vote, this time with a chance of passing. The pro-Brexit concern is that the current form of the backstop will force the UK to be permanently attached to the EU’s trade regime with no say in the matter, exactly the opposite of what they voted for. May is meeting with EU President Juncker today, and it is quite possible that the EU is starting to feel the pressure of the ramifications of a no-deal Brexit and getting concerned. The Brexit outcome remains highly uncertain, but the FX implications remain the same; a Brexit deal will help the pound rally initially, while a no-deal Brexit will see a sharp decline in Sterling. Yesterday there was hope for the deal and the pound rallied. This morning, not so much as the pound has given back half the gain and is down 0.2% on the day.

Elsewhere, the dollar has been mixed with gainers and losers in both the G10 and the EMG blocs as everybody awaits the Minutes, which is the only data for the day. It is hard to believe there will be much movement ahead of them, and afterwards, it will depend on what they say.

Good luck
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Greater Clarity

Last year rate hikes had regularity
But now the Fed seeks greater clarity
‘Bout whether our nation
Is feeling inflation
Or some other source of disparity

Investors exhaled a great sigh
And quickly realized they must buy
Those assets with risk
To burnish their fisc
Else soon prices would be too high

The December FOMC Minutes were received quite positively by markets yesterday as it appears despite raising rates for the fourth time in 2018, it was becoming clearer to all involved that there was no hurry to continue at the same pace going forward. The lack of measured inflation and the financial market ructions were two key features that gave pause to the FOMC. While the statement in December didn’t seem to reflect that discussion, we have certainly heard that tune consistently since then. Just yesterday, two more Fed regional presidents described the need for greater clarity on the economic situation before seeing the necessity to raise rates again. And after all, given the Fed has raised rates 225bps since they began in December 2015, it is not unreasonable to pause and see the total impact.

However, regarding the continued shrinking of the balance sheet, the Fed showed no concern at this point that it was having any detrimental effect on either the economy or markets. Personally I think they are mistaken in this view when I look at the significant rise in LIBOR beyond the Fed funds rate over the past year, where Fed Funds has risen 125 bps while LIBOR is up 187bps. But the market, especially the equity market, remains focused on the Fed funds path, not on the balance sheet, and so breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday.

Given this turn of events, it should also not be surprising that the dollar suffered pretty significantly in the wake of the Minutes’ release. In the moments following the release, the euro jumped 0.7% and continued subsequently to close the day nearly 1% stronger. One of the underpinnings of dollar strength has been the idea that the Fed was going to continue to tighten policy in 2019, but the combination of a continuous stream of comments from Fed speakers and recognition that even back in December the Fed was discussing a pause in rate hikes has served to alter that mindset. Now, not only is the market no longer pricing in rate hikes this year, but also analysts are backing away from calling for further rate hikes. In other words, the mood regarding the Fed has turned quite dovish, and the dollar is likely to remain under pressure as long as this is the case.

Of course, the other story of note has been the trade talks between the US and China which ended yesterday. During the talks, market participants had a generally upbeat view of the potential to reach a deal, however, this morning that optimism seems to be fading slightly. Equity markets around the world have given back some of their recent gains and US futures are also pointing lower. As I mentioned yesterday, while it is certainly good news that the talks seemed to address some key issues, there is still no clarity on whether a more far-reaching agreement can be finalized in any near term timeline. And while there has been no mention of tariffs by the President lately, a single random Tweet on the subject is likely enough to undo much of the positive sentiment recently built.

The overnight data, however, seems to tell a different story. It started off when Chinese inflation data surprised on the low side, rising just 1.9% in December, much lower than expected and another red flag regarding Chinese economic growth. It seems abundantly clear that growth there is slowing with the only real question just how much. Forecasts for 2019 GDP growth have fallen to 6.2%, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them lowered going forward. On the other hand, the yuan has actually rallied sharply overnight, up 0.5%, despite the prospects for further monetary ease from Beijing. It seems that there is a significant inflow into Chinese bond markets from offshore which has been driving the currency higher despite (because of?) those economic prospects. In fact, the yuan is at its strongest level since last August and seemingly trending higher. However, I continue to see this as a short-term move, with the larger macroeconomic trends destined to weaken the currency over time.

As to the G10 currencies, they have stabilized after yesterday’s rally with the euro virtually unchanged and the pound ceding 0.25%. Two data points from the Eurozone were mixed, with French IP slipping to a worse than expected -1.3% while Italian Retail Sales surprised higher at +0.7% back in November. While there was no UK data, the Brexit story continues to be the key driver as PM May lost yet another Parliamentary procedural vote this morning and seems to be losing complete control of the process. The thing I don’t understand about Brexit is if Parliament votes against the current deal next week, which seems highly likely at this stage, what can they do to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Certainly the Europeans have not been willing to concede anything else, and with just 79 days left before the deadline, there is no time to renegotiate a new deal, so it seems a fait accompli that the UK will leave with nothing. I would welcome an explanation as to why that will not be the case.

Turning to this morning’s activity, the only data point is Initial Claims (exp 225K), but that is hardly a market moving number. However, we hear from three regional Fed presidents and at 12:45 Chairman Powell speaks again, so all eyes will be focused on any further nuance he may bring to the discussion. At this point, it seems hard to believe that there will be any change in the message, which if I had to summarize would be, ‘no rate changes until we see a strong reason to do so, either because inflation jumps sharply or other data is so compelling that it forces us to reconsider our current policy of wait and see.’ One thing to keep in mind, though, about the FX markets is that it requires two sets of policies to give a complete picture, and while right now all eyes are on the Fed, as ECB, BOJ, BOE and other central bank policies evolve, those will have an impact as well. If global growth is truly slowing, and the current evidence points in that direction, then those banks will start to sound more dovish and their currencies will likely see plenty of selling pressure accordingly. But probably not today.

Good luck
Adf