Hard to Believe

As travel restrictions expand
And quarantines spread ‘cross the land
It’s hard to believe
That we’ll soon achieve
A surge to pre-Covid demand

Risk is having a tough day today as new travel restrictions announced by the UK, regarding travelers from France and the Netherlands, as well as four small island nations, has raised the specter of a second wave of economic closures. In fact, while the headlines are hardly blaring, the number of new infections in nations that had been thought to have achieved stability (Germany, France, Spain and New Zealand) as well as those that have never really gotten things under control (India, Brazil and Mexico) indicates that we remain a long way from the end of the pandemic. Given the market response to this news, it is becoming ever clearer that expectations for that elusive V-shaped recovery have been a key driver to the ongoing rebound in risk appetites worldwide.

However, most recent data has pointed to a slowing of economic activity in the wake of the initial bounce. Exhibit A is China, where Q2 GDP grew a surprising 3.2%, but where the monthly data released last evening showed IP (-0.4% YTD) and Retail Sales (-9.9% YTD) continue to lag other production indicators. The very fact that Retail Sales continues to slump is a flashing red light regarding the future performance of the Chinese economy. Remember, they have made a huge effort to convert their economy from a highly export-oriented one to a more domestic consumer led economy. But if everyone is staying home, that becomes a problem for growth. And the word is, at least based on several different BBG articles, that many Chinese are reluctant to resume previous activities like going out to dinner or the movies.

The upshot is that the PBOC will very likely be back adding stimulus to the economy shortly, after a brief hiatus. Since it bottomed at the end of May, the renminbi had rallied 3.35%, and engendered stories of ongoing strength as the Chinese sought to reduce USD utilization. A big part of that story has been the idea that China has left the pandemic behind and was set to get back to its days of 6% annual GDP growth. Alas, last night’s data has put a crimp in that story, halting the CNY rally, at least for the moment.

But back to the broader risk picture, which shows that equity markets in Europe are suffering across the board (DAX -1.3%, CAC -2.0%, FTSE 100 -2.1%) as not only has the UK quarantine news shocked markets, but the data continues to be abysmal. This morning it was reported that Eurozone employment had fallen 2.8% in Q2, the largest decline since the euro was born in 1999, and essentially wiping out 50% of all jobs created during the past two decades. Meanwhile, Eurozone GDP fell 12.1% in Q2 and was lower by 15% on a year over year basis last quarter. While the GDP outcome may have been forecast by analysts, it remains a huge gap to overcome for the economies in the Eurozone and seems to have forced some reconsideration about the pace of future growth.

And perhaps, that is today’s story. It seems that there is a re-evaluation of previous assumptions regarding the short-term future of the global economy. US futures are pointing lower although are off their worst levels of the overnight session. Treasury yields, after rising sharply yesterday in the wake of a pretty lousy 30-year auction, have fallen back 2.5 basis points to 0.70%, still well above the lows seen two weeks ago, but unappetizing, nonetheless. Commodity prices are slipping with both oil (-0.5%) and gold (-0.4%) a bit lower. And the dollar is modestly firmer along with the yen, an indication that risk is under pressure.

In the G10, aside from the yen, which seems clearly to be benefitting from today’s risk mood, the pound has actually edged a bit higher, 0.3%, after comments by the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, indicated his belief a deal could be reached by the end of September. Meanwhile, NOK (-0.5%) is the worst performer in the bloc as the decline in oil prices has combined with a strong weekly performance driving profit-taking trades and pushing the currency back down. The rest of the bloc is broadly softer, but the movement has been modest at best.

In the EMG space, there are more losers than gainers with RUB (-0.6%) not surprisingly the laggard, although TRY (-0.5%) continues to demonstrate how to destroy a currency’s value with bad policymaking. The rest of the space is generally softer by much smaller amounts and there has only been one gainer, PHP (+0.2%) which, remarkably, seems to be benefitting from the idea that the central bank is openly monetizing debt. Historically, this type of activity, especially in emerging market economies, was seen as a disaster-in-waiting and would result in a much weaker currency. But apparently, in the new Covid age, it is seen as a mark of sound policy.

A quick diversion into debt monetization and the potential consequences is in order. By this time, MMT has become a mantra to many who believe that inflation is a thing of the past and without inflation, there is no reason for governments that print their own currency to ever stop doing so, thus supporting economic activity. But I fear that view is hugely mistaken as the lessons learned from the economic response to the GFC are not applicable here. Back then, all the new liquidity that was created simply sat on bank balance sheets as excess reserves at the Fed. Very little ever made its way into the real economy. Obviously, it did make it into the stock market.

But this time, there is not merely monetary support, but fiscal support, with much of the money being spent by those recipients of the $1200 bonus check, the $600/week of topped up Unemployment benefits, and the $billions in PPP loans. At the same time, factory closures throughout the nation have reduced the production of ‘stuff’ while government restrictions have reduced the availability of many services (dining, movies, health clubs, etc.) Thus, it becomes easy to see how we now have a situation where a lot more money is chasing after a lot less stuff. Yes, the savings rate has risen, but this is a recipe for inflation, and potentially a lot of it. MMT proponents claim that inflation is the only thing that should moderate government spending. But ask yourself this question, is it realistic to expect the government to slow or stop spending just because inflation starts to rise? Elected officials will never want to derail that gravy train, despite the consequences. And while MMT is not official policy, it is certainly a pretty fair description of what the Fed is currently doing, buying virtually all the new Treasury debt issued. Do not be surprised when next month’s CPI figures are higher still! And the month after…

Anyway, this morning brings Retail Sales (exp +2.1%, +1.3% ex autos) as well as Nonfarm Productivity (1.5%), Capacity Utilization (70.3%), IP (3.0%), Business Inventories (-1.1%) and finally, Michigan Sentiment (72.0). Retail Sales will get all the press. A soft number is likely to enhance the risk-off mood and help the dollar edge a bit higher, while a strong print should give the bulls a renewed optimism with the dollar suffering as a consequence.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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Shareholders’ Dreams

The contrast is hard to ignore
Twixt growth, which is still on the floor
And market extremes
Where shareholders’ dreams
Of gains help them come back for more

“There’s no way I can lose.  Right now, I’m feeling invincible.”

This quote from a Bloomberg article about the massive rally in the Chinese stock markets could just as easily come from a US investor as well.  It is a perfect encapsulation of the view that the current situation is one where government support of both the economy and the markets is going to be with us for quite a while yet, and so, stock prices can only go higher.  So far, of course, that view has been spot on, at least since March 23rd, when the US markets bottomed.

The question this idea raises, though, is how long can this situation endure?  There is no denying the argument that ongoing monetary support for economies is flowing into asset markets.  One need only look at the correlation between the gain in the value of global equity markets since things bottomed, and the amount of monetary stimulus that has been implemented.  It is no coincidence that both numbers are on the order of $15 trillion.  But as we watch bankruptcy after bankruptcy get announced, Brooks Brothers was yesterday’s big-name event, it becomes harder and harder to see how market valuations can maintain their current levels without central bank support.  Thus, if equity market values are important to central banks, and I would argue they are, actually, their leading indicator, it leads to the idea that central banks will continue to add liquidity to the economy forever.  In other words, MMT has arrived.

Magical Money Tree Modern Monetary Theory is the controversial idea that, as long as governments print their own money, like the US does with dollars, as opposed to how euros are created by an “independent” authority, there is nothing to stop governments from spending whatever they want, budgets be damned.  After all, they can either issue debt, and print the money needed to repay it, or skip the issuance step and simply print what they need when they need it.  The proponents explain that the only hitch is inflation, which they claim would be the moderator on overprinting.  Thus, if inflation starts to rise, they can slow down the presses.

Originally, this was deemed a left leaning strategy as their idea was to print more money to pay for social programs.  But like every good (?) idea, it has been co-opted by the political opposition in a slightly different form.  Thus, printing money to buy financial assets (which is exactly what the Fed has been doing since 2009’s first bout of QE, is the right leaning application of this view.  To date, the Fed has only purchased bonds, but you can see the evolution toward stocks is underway. At first it was only Treasuries and then mortgage-backed bonds, which was designed to aid the collapsing housing market.  But now we are on to Munis (at least they are government entities) and investment grade corporate ETF’s, then extending to junk bond ETF’s and then individual corporate bonds.  It is not hard to see that the next step will be SPYders and DIAmonds and finally individual stocks.

It is also not hard to discern the impact on equity prices as we go forward in this scenario, much higher.  But ask yourself this; is this a good long-term outcome?  Consider the classic definition of Socialism:

      noun:   a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the state.

Would it not be the case that if the central bank owns equities, they are taking ownership of the means of production?  Would the Fed not be voting their shareholder rights?  And wouldn’t they be deciding winners and losers based on political issues, not economic ones?  Is this really where we want to go?

The EU is already on the way, with a new plan to take equity stakes in SME’s, the economic sector that has been least aided by PEPP and the ECB versions of QE.  And already the discussion there is of which companies to help; only those that meet current ‘proper’ criteria, such as climate neutrality and social cohesion.  The point is that the future is shaping up to turn out quite differently than the recent past, at least when it comes to the financial/economic models that drive political decisions.  Stay alert to these changes as they are almost certainly on their way.

Once again, I drifted into a non-market discussion because the market discussion is so incredibly boring.  Equity markets continue their climb, based on ongoing financial largesse by central banks.  Bond markets remain mired in tight ranges and the dollar continues to consolidate after a massive rally in March led to a more gradual unwinding of haven asset positions.  But lately, the story is just not that interesting.

Arguably, the dollar’s recent trend lower is still intact, it has just flattened out a great deal.  So we continue to see very gradual weakness in the greenback, just not necessarily every day.  For example, in the past three weeks, the euro has climbed 1.25%, but had an equal number of up and down days during this span.  In other words, if you look hard enough, you can discern a trend, it is just not a steep one.  In fact, as I type, it has turned modest overnight gains into modest losses, but is certainly not showing signs of a breakout in either direction.  And this is a pretty fair description of the entire G10 bloc, modest movement in both directions over the course of a few weeks, but net slightly firmer vs. the dollar.

Today, the pound is the big winner, although it has only gained 0.25%, coming on the back of the government’s announcement of an additional £30 billion of fiscal support for the UK economy focused on wages, job retention and small businesses.  As to the rest of the G10, SEK is firmer by 0.2%, although there are no stories that would seem to support the movement, while the other eight currencies are less than 0.1% changed from yesterday.

In the emerging markets, the story is somewhat similar with just two outliers, RUB (+0.6% as oil is higher) and ZAR (+0.5% as gold is higher).  In fact, the currency that has truly performed best of all this year is gold, which is higher by nearly 20% YTD, and shows no signs of slowing down.  Arguably, the rand should continue to find support from this situation.

Once again, data is scarce, with today’s Initial and Continuing Claims data the highlights (exp 1.375M and 18.75M respectively).  At this stage, these are probably the most important coincident indicators we have, as any signs of increased layoffs will result in a lot more anxiety, both in markets and the White House.  Of course, if those numbers decline, look for the V-shaped recovery story to gain further traction and stronger equity markets alongside a (slightly) weaker dollar.

Good luck and stay safe

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Risk Assets Betray

There once was a time in the past
Ere Covid, when risk was amassed
But now every day
Risk assets betray
That fear is still growing quite fast

It is awfully hard to find the bright side of the current situation, whether discussing markets, the economy or the general state of the world. Volatility remains the watchword in markets as yesterday saw the largest US equity decline since Black Monday in October 1987. Globally, economic data that is remotely current continues to show the disastrous impact of Covid-19. The latest print is this morning’s German ZEW Survey where the Expectations reading fell to -49.5, its lowest level since the middle of the Eurozone crisis in 2011. And finally, one need only listen to the number of government pronouncements and edicts including border closures, business closures and curfews to recognize that it will be quite some time before our lives, as we knew them just a few months ago, return to some semblance of normal.

And while it is virtually certain that this situation will ebb over time, we continue to get estimates that are further and further into the future as to when that time will arrive. What had been assumed to be a six-week process is now sounding an awful lot like a six-month process.

But consider this, it is events of this nature that change the zeitgeist and will have much further reaching effects on every industry. For example, given how much of the US (and global) economy has become service oriented, outside of things like food service, I expect that we will see a much greater reliance on telecommuting going forward. Even in bank dealing rooms, a place that I always considered the last bastion of the importance of proximity of workers, we are seeing a pretty effective adjustment to working from remote locations. And you can be sure that whatever issues are currently still impeding the workflow, they will be addressed by technological fixes in short order.

But what does that do to automobile manufacturers and all their supply chains? And while fossil fuels aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, in fact given how much cheaper they have become, they will be able to supplant alternatives for now, at some point, all those industries are going to suffer as well. Ironically, the move toward urbanization that we have seen during the last decade may find itself halted as people decide that not cramming themselves into small apartments with hundreds of other people (mostly strangers) in close proximity, is really a healthier way to live. And certainly, leisure activities are likely to change their nature as well. While the future remains unknown, it certainly does appear that it will look very little like the recent past. Food for thought.

Turning to the markets more specifically, we continue to see a combination of central bank and government activity in increasingly strident efforts to ameliorate the negative economic impacts of Covid-19. So last night the BOJ bought a record amount (¥121.6 billion) of equity ETF’s to help support the stock market. To their credit, the action was able to prevent a further decline in prices there, as the Nikkei closed unchanged on the day. However, it is still lower by 32% since early February’s recent high. In addition, we have seen equity short-selling bans by France, Italy, Spain, South Korea and Belgium as of this morning in an effort to prevent further market declines. Spain is the only market that seems happy about it, rising 2.6% this morning, with the rest of Europe little changed generally. Risk assets are still on the block for sale, its simply a question of the available liquidity for positions to be unwound.

Of greater interest to me are global government bond markets, which are quickly losing their status as haven assets. Despite rate cuts from all over the globe, yields are rising virtually everywhere, even in the US this morning with 10-year Treasuries seeing a 9bp jump. But Bunds have been underperforming for more than a week, with yields on the 10-year there up nearly 50bps in that time. While it makes perfect sense that the PIGS are seeing yields rise in this environment, what I think we are seeing is a combination of two things for ‘safer’ bonds. First, when yields fall this low, a key haven characteristic, limited probability of losing principal, is put at risk, because any reversal in yields will result in very sharp price declines. And second, with the spending commitments that are being made by governments on a daily basis, I think bond investors are starting to price in the idea that there is going to be a massive increase in the supply of bonds starting pretty soon. And asset managers don’t want to get caught in that blitz either. It is the second of these reasons that will continue to drive central banks to promulgate QE measures, and you can be sure we will continue to see those programs coming. In fact, I think the MMTer’s have won the debate, as that is likely to be a very accurate description of monetary policy in the future.

Finally, this morning the dollar has regained its crown and is, by far, the strongest currency around. It has rallied vs. all the G10, and pretty sharply as well. For instance, CAD is the best performer of the bunch today, and it is lower by 0.75%, having found a new home with the dollar above 1.40. SEK and AUD are the worst performers, both down around 1.7%, as the krona is seeing increased speculative betting that they will be forced to go back to negative rates, while Down Under, the Lucky Country has run out of luck with a collapsing Chinese economy crushing commodity prices, and the RBA promising to do more to stop the economy’s slowdown.

In the EMG space, the dollar is also reigning supreme this morning with EEMEA currencies under the most pressure. Given their relative outperformance lately, it cannot be too surprising that we are seeing this type of price action. HUF is today’s laggard, down 2.1%, but PLN (-2.0%), RON (-1.6%) and BGN (-1.2%) are all feeling the pain. Asian currencies are also lower, but generally not by quite as much, although IDR and KRW are both lower by around 1.5%.

Ultimately, the dollar’s strength today is probably best attributed to the absolute blowout in the basis swaps market, where borrowing dollars vs. other currencies has become hugely expensive. Given the way economic activity is contracting so rapidly, and so revenues everywhere are shrinking, all those non-US companies that need to repay dollar debt are desperate to get hold of the buck. Once financing charges rise high enough, the next step is generally outright purchases of dollars on the FX market. And that is what we are seeing this morning. Look for more of that going forward.

It’s ironic, Retail Sales is released this morning (exp 0.2%, 0.1% ex autos) on the same day I received emails that Nordstrom is closing its stores for the next two weeks along with a myriad of other smaller retailers. We also see IP (0.4%), Capacity Utilization (77.1%) and the JOLT’s Jobs Report (6.40M). But again, this data looks backward and in the quickly evolving world today, I doubt it will have an impact. Rather, while risk stabilized somewhat overnight, my sense is this is a temporary situation, and that we are going to see another wave of risk reduction, certainly before the week is over. So, for now, the dollar will continue to find a lot of demand.

Good luck
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Appetite’s Whet

Both Powell and Kaplan agreed
That lower rates are what we need
The table’s now set
And appetite’s whet
For more cuts to soon be decreed

If there was any uncertainty, prior to yesterday, about a rate cut by the Fed at the end of this month, it should be completely eliminated now. Not only did Chairman Jay reiterate that the Fed was “carefully monitoring” the situation (shouldn’t that always be the case?) and that the Fed would use all its available tools to maintain the expansion, but we heard from Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan that he was turning in favor of a ‘risk management’ cut in order to be sure that things don’t start to turn down soon. Given the integration in the global economy over the past years and given the fact that the US still represents 24% of global GDP, it should be no surprise that things occurring elsewhere in the world have an impact on the US and vice versa. As such, it is not unreasonable for the Fed to try to take the global economic situation into account when determining US monetary policy. And one thing that is clear is that global GDP growth is falling. So folks, we have seen the top in interest rates around the world and the only question is just how quickly they will fall in different jurisdictions.

In a nutshell, that is the FX story. Historically, relative monetary policy has been one of the prime drivers of FX rates, with currencies attached to tight policy appreciating vs. those attached to loose policy. This has been the basis of the carry trade, and arguably, nothing about this process has changed. It’s just that for the first time in memory, pretty much every nation is driving policy in the same direction, in this case looser. This leads to a probable outcome where currency values remain largely stable. After all, if everybody cuts by 25bps, aren’t we all still in the same place?

The irony is that, as discussed by RBA Governor Lowe several weeks ago, if every central bank is cutting rates at the same time, the effectiveness of those rate cuts will be severely diminished. Remember, one of the key transmission mechanisms of rate cuts is to reduce the currency’s value in order to help support trade, and eventually growth. But if everybody cuts, that mechanism will be severely impaired, and so the central banks will be forced to find new tools. And while they are actively looking for new ways to ease policy, in the end, monetary policy is simply some combination of interest rates and money supply. Until now, central banks have focused on managing interest rates. But this is why MMT, or something like it, is a growing possibility. When thoughts turn to money supply as the only other thing to adjust, and as ‘new’ thinking permeates the political class, MMT is going to become increasingly attractive. I’m not sure which nation will be the first to publicly embrace the idea of debt monetization (my money’s on Japan though), but you can be sure that whichever it is will see its currency depreciate sharply, at least until other nations follow their lead. Only time will tell, but that is not a positive future.

With that as a somewhat depressing backdrop, let’s look at market activity. Generally speaking, the dollar has done little this morning after yesterday’s rally. Or perhaps yesterday’s rally was more a function of other currency weakness. Remember, the pound’s decline was all about Brexit, not the US. The euro’s decline was all about weakening economic sentiment in the Eurozone and the idea that the ECB would be acting sooner rather than later. Yesterday also saw the Mexican peso fall sharply, more than 1%, after President Trump tweeted about reimposing tariffs on China. It seems that traders are still nervous over more tariffs, and with the ongoing border situation between the US and Mexico, see any tariff threats as potentially applying to Mexico as well.

But this morning, the biggest movers are RUB and TRY, both recouping about 0.4% of yesterday’s losses. The G10 currencies are within 0.10% of yesterday’s levels and show no sign of breaking out in the near term. Of course, that is subject to another Brexit announcement or comments from central bankers, however, nothing is scheduled on those fronts. Equity markets, too, have had little direction as investors await the next shoe to drop. Interest rate markets remain fully priced for a 25bp rate cut by the Fed in two weeks, while there remains some uncertainty as to just what Signor Draghi will announce next week. I will say that if he did announce a 10bp rate cut, it would have a pretty big impact on the single currency, and not in a positive manner.

As to bonds, both Treasuries and Bunds remain 10-15bps from their recent lows but show no signs of selling off further (higher yields). Rather, those markets are demonstrating all the behavior of a consolidation after a large unwinding move. Given the strong trend lower in central bank policy rates, it seems highly unlikely that yields in the government space, and by extension elsewhere, have anywhere to go but down.

Turning to today’s data, we see Housing Starts (exp 1.261M), Building Permits (1.3M) and then at 2:00 the Fed releases its Beige Book. But we have no more Fed speakers and it seems highly unlikely that any of that will be enough to change any views. One other thing happening this afternoon is the G7 FinMins are meeting in France, but those talks are highly focused on taxation of tech companies with monetary policy a sidelight. After all, everybody is already cutting rates, so what else can they say?

Alas, it appears to be another day with limited cause for FX movement, which for hedgers is great, but for traders, not so much.

Good luck
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Contrite

More stock market records were smashed
And bulls remain quite unabashed
The future is bright
With Powell contrite
As prior rate hikes are now trashed

The world is a fabulous place this morning, or at least the US is, if we are judging by the financial markets. Both the S&P 500 and NASDAQ indices made new all-time highs yesterday, with the Dow Jones scant points away from its own new record. The dollar is back to its highest point since mid-December and looks poised to rally toward levels not seen since mid 2017. Meanwhile, Treasuries remain in demand, despite all this risk appetite, as yields actually dipped yesterday and continue to hover around 2.50%. And the remarkable thing is the fact that there is no reason to believe these trends will end in the near future. After all, as we move into the heart of earnings season, the data shows that 80% of the 105 companies that have so far reported have beaten their (much reduced) estimates. Even though actual earnings growth is sparse, the fact that expectations have been reduced sufficiently to allow a no-growth result to seem bullish is the fuel for market bulls.

Beyond the earnings story, we have had a bit more positive US data, with New Home Sales rising 4.5%, instead of the expected decline. Last week we also saw strong Retail Sales data, and even though broadly speaking, the housing market seems a bit shaky, (Housing Starts and Existing Home Sales were both soft), there has been enough positive news overall to keep up momentum. And when compared to the Eurozone, where Germany’s Ifo fell to 99.2, below expectations and French Business Confidence fell to 101, its lowest point in three years, it is even clearer why the US is in favor.

Of course, there is one other reason that the US is a favored investment spot right now, the Fed. Over the course of the first four months of 2019, we have seen the Fed turn from a clear hawkish view to uber-doves. At this point, if there are two FOMC members who think a rate hike is in the cards for the rest of the year, it would be a lot. The market is still pricing in a chance of a rate cut, despite the ongoing data releases indicating things are pretty good in the US, and of course, President Trump and his staff have been consistent in their view that rates should be lower, and QE restarted. Funnily enough, given the global central bank desire to pump up inflation, and their total inability to do so for the past decade, do not be surprised to see further policy ease from the US this year. In fact, despite all the angst over Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) I would wager that before long, some mainstream economists are going to be touting the idea as reasonable and that it is going to make its way into policy circles soon thereafter.

In fact, one of the things I have discussed in the past, a debt jubilee, where debt is completely written off, seems almost inevitable. Consider how much government debt is owned by various nations’ central banks. The Fed owns $2.2 trillion, the BOJ owns ¥465 trillion (roughly $4.5 trillion) while the ECB owns €2.55 trillion (roughly $2.85 trillion). Arguably, each could make a book entry and simply destroy the outstanding debt, or some portion of it, without changing anything about the economy directly. While in the past that would have been anathema to economists, these days, I’m not so sure. And if it was done in a coordinated fashion, odds are the market response would be pretty benign. In fact, you could make the case that it would be hyper bullish, as the reduction in debt/GDP ratios would allow for significant additional policy stimulus as well as increased demand for the remaining securities outstanding. We continue to get warnings from official quarters (yesterday the IMF’s new chief economist was the latest to explain there is no free lunch) but politicians will continue to hear the siren song of MMT and will almost certainly be unable to resist the temptation.

Anyway, turning back to the FX market, the dollar has proven to be quite resilient over the past several sessions. This morning, after a rally yesterday, it is higher by another 0.2% vs. the euro. As to the pound, it has fallen steadily during the past week, a bit more than 1.2%, and though unchanged this morning, is now trading well below 1.30. Aussie fell sharply last night after inflation data disappointed on the low side and calls for rate cuts were reaffirmed. This morning, it is down 0.95% and pushing back to 0.7000, which has been a long-term support line. However, if rate cuts are coming, and China remains in the doldrums, it is hard to see that support continuing to hold.

This is not just a G10 phenomenon though, with EMG currencies also on the back foot. For instance, KRW fell 0.75% overnight and broke through key support with the dollar trading back to its highest level since mid-2017. RUB, ZAR and TRY are all lower by ~0.7% and LATAM currencies are under pressure as well.

The point is that as I have been explaining for the past months, whatever issues might exist within the US, they pale in comparison to the issues elsewhere. And looking at the economic growth momentum around the world, the US continues to lead the pack. We will get another reading on that come Friday, but until then, the data is sparse, with nothing at all released today.

I see no reason for current market trends to falter, so expect equities to rally with the dollar alongside them as international investors buy dollars in order to buy stocks. We will need something remarkably different to change this narrative, and it just doesn’t seem like there is anything on the horizon to make that happen.

Good luck
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Pure Satisfaction

This weekend the data released
From China showed growth had increased
The market’s reaction
Was pure satisfaction
With short sellers all getting fleeced

Remember all those concerns over slowing growth around the world as manufacturing data kept slipping to recession-like numbers? Just kidding! Everything in the world is just peachy. At least that seems to be the take from equity markets this morning after Chinese PMI data this weekend surprised one and all by showing a significant rebound. The ‘official’ Manufacturing PMI printed at 50.5, up from 49.2 in February and well above the consensus forecast of 49.5. More importantly, it was on the expansion side of the 50.0 boom/bust line. The non-manufacturing number printed at 54.8, also higher than February (54.3) and consensus expectations of 54.1. Then last night, the Caixin data was released and it, too, showed a much better reading at 50.8, up from 49.9 and above consensus expectations of 50.1. And that’s all it took to confirm the bullish case for equity markets with the Nikkei rising 1.4% and Shanghai up 2.6%. In fairness, we also heard soothing words from Chinese Vice-premier Liu He, China’s top trade negotiator, that he was optimistic a deal would soon be reached, perhaps when he is back in Washington later this week.

What makes this so interesting is that European markets are all rallying as well, albeit not quite as robustly (DAX +1.1%, CAC +0.5%) despite weaker than forecast PMI data there. In fact, German Manufacturing PMI fell to 44.1, its lowest level since July 2012 during the European bond crisis, while the French also missed the mark at 49.7. However, it is becoming evident that we are fast approaching the bad news is good phenomenon we had seen several years ago. You may recall that this is the theory that weak economic data is actually good for equity prices because the central banks will ease policy further, thus increasing inequality and making the rich richer helping to support equity market valuations by adding further liquidity to the system.

It cannot be surprising that in this risk-on festival, the dollar has suffered overnight, falling between 0.2% and 0.5% vs. its G10 counterparts and by similar numbers vs. most of the EMG bloc. In fact, the two notable decliners beyond the dollar have been; TRY, currently down 0.6% (although that is well off its worst levels of -2.0%) after local elections over the weekend showed President Erdogan’s support in the major cities in Turkey has fallen substantially; and the yen, which given the risk-on mindset is behaving exactly as expected. In addition, 10-year Treasury yields have backed up to 2.44% and are no longer inverted vs. the 3-month T-bill, after spending all of last week in that situation.

What should we make of this situation? Is everything in the economy turning better and Q4 simply an aberration? Or is this simply the lash hurrah before the coming apocalypse?

On the positive side is the fact that last year’s efforts by central banks around the world to ‘normalize’ monetary policy is clearly over. ZIRP is the new normal, and quite frankly, it looks like the Fed is going to start heading back in that direction soon. Certainly, the market believes so. And as long as free money exists in the current low inflation environment, equity markets are going to be the main beneficiaries.

On the negative side, the number of red flags raised in the economy continues to increase, and it seems hard to believe that economic growth can continue unabated overall. For example, auto manufacturing has been declining rapidly and the housing market continues to slow sharply. These are two of the largest and most important industries in the US economy, and contraction in either will reduce growth. We are looking at contraction in both, despite interest rates still much closer to historic lows than highs. Remember, both these businesses are credit intensive as almost everyone borrows money to buy a car or a house. As an example of the concerns, auto loan delinquencies are at record levels currently with more than 6.5% overdue by more than 90 days.

Obviously, this is a small sample of the economy, albeit an important one with significant knock-on effects, but at the end of the day, investors continue to take the bullish view. Free money trumps all the potential travails of any particular industry.

It’s funny, because this attitude is what has been increasing the hype for the sexiest new economic views of MMT. After all, isn’t this what we have been seeing for the past decade? Fiscal stimulus paid for by central bank monetization of debt with no consequence. At least no consequences yet. Japan is leading the way in this process and despite a debt/GDP ratio of something like 240%, everybody sees the yen as a safe haven with negative 10-year yields. And arguably, last year’s tax and spending bill in the US alongside the end of policy tightening here, and almost certain future easing, is exactly the same story. Ironically, the Eurozone experiment is going to find itself on the wrong side of this process since member countries ceded their seignorage when they accepted the euro for their own currencies. And who knows, maybe MMT is a more correct description of the world and printing money without end has no negative consequences. I remain skeptical that 10 years of experimental monetary policy in the developed world is sufficient to overturn 300 years of economic history, but I am, by nature, a skeptic. At any rate, right now, the market is embracing the idea which means that equity markets ought to continue to gain, and government bond yields are not destined to rise alongside them.

As we start Q2, we are treated to a bunch of data as well as some more Fedspeak:

Today Retail Sales 0.3%
  -ex autos 0.4%
  ISM Manufacturing 54.5
  Business Inventories 0.5%
Tuesday Durable Goods -1.8%
  -ex transport 0.2%
Wednesday ADP Employment 170K
  ISM non-Manufacturing 58.0
Thursday Initial Claims 216K
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 170K
  Private Payrolls 170K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
  Unemployment Rate 3.8%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.4% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5

So, on top of Retail Sales and Payroll data, both seen as critical information, we hear from four more Fed speakers during the second half of the week. The thing is, we already know what the Fed’s view is, no rate hikes anytime soon, but it is too soon to consider rate cuts. That is where the data comes in. Any hint of weakness in the data especially Friday’s payroll report, and you can be sure the calls for a rate cut will increase.

Right now, the market feels like the Fed is going to be the initiator of the next set of rate cuts, and so I expect the dollar will be pressured by that view. But remember, if the Fed is cutting, you can be sure every other central bank will be going down that road shortly thereafter.

Good luck
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The Clear Antidote

Said Corbyn, the clear antidote
To Brexit is hold a new vote
Meanwhile the EU
Said they would push through
Delay, while they secretly gloat

For traders the news was elating
With Sterling bulls now advocating
The lows have been seen
And Twenty-nineteen
Will see the pound appreciating

The pound has topped 1.3220 (+1.0%) this morning as a result of two key stories: first Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has agreed to back a second referendum. This increases the odds that one might be held, assuming there is a delay in the current process which dovetails nicely with the other story, that PM May is mooted to be about to announce a delay in the process. The EU has already essentially agreed that they will allow a delay with the question, as I discussed yesterday, really about the length of time to be agreed.

The two sides of this debate are either a short, three-month, delay, whereby PM May believes she can get the current deal approved or a long, twenty-one-month delay, which would allow enough time for a second referendum where the current belief is that the outcome will be different. Regarding the second referendum, while the press posits it is a slam-dunk the vote would be to remain, the latest polls show remain currently leads 53-47, hardly a landslide, and arguably well within the margin of error. If memory serves, that was the expectation leading up to the first vote! At any rate, I would contend the FX market is pricing in a very high probability of the UK ultimately remaining in the EU. What that says to me is that the upside for the pound is limited. Certainly, in that event, an initial boost is likely, but after that, I would argue a slow decline is the probable path.

As to the trade story, yesterday’s ecstasy seems to have abated somewhat as investors have not yet seen or heard anything new to encourage further expectations. The result has been that equity markets have slipped a bit, and now everybody is waiting for the next announcement or tweet to boost sentiment again. My gut tells me the market is far too sanguine about a successful conclusion to this process, but I am one voice in a million. However, for today, this doesn’t appear to be having a significant impact.

And finally, the third in our trio of key stories, the Fed, will get new impetus today when Chairman Powell sits down in front of the Senate Banking Committee this morning at about 9:45 to offer his semi-annual testimony on the state of the economy. Based on all we have heard lately, the Fed’s current stance appears to be that the economy remains solid, with some very positive aspects, notably the employment situation, and some softer concerns (housing and autos) with confusion over the consumption numbers after the latest Retail Sales data. There is clearly a camp in the Fed that believes further rate hikes are appropriate later this year, and a camp that would prefer to wait until inflation data is already running above target. It would be surprising if the opening comments were committal in either direction, but I expect that a number of Senators will try to dig into that very issue. However, given just how much we have heard from various Fed speakers over the past several weeks, it seems highly unlikely that we will learn much that is truly new.

One thing to watch for is any hint that there is a change in the stance on the balance sheet. As it stands right now, expectations are for a continued running down of assets for a little while longer this year before halting. However, and this is probably more a concern for tomorrow’s House testimony than today’s in the Senate, questions about MMT and the ability of the Fed to simply print funds and buy Treasuries without end may well cause a market reaction. Any indication that the Fed is considering anything of this nature would be truly groundbreaking and have some immediate market impacts, notably, significant dollar weakness, and likely immediate strength in both equities and bonds. Please understand I am not expecting anything like this but given the number of adherents that have gravitated to this concept, I do expect questions. Fortunately, thus far, there has not been any indication the Fed is considering anything like this.

On the data front today we see December Housing Starts (exp 1.25M) and Building Permits (1.29M) as well as the Case-Shiller House Price Index (4.5%) and finally, the only current data of note, February Consumer Confidence (124.7). Much of the data this week is out of date due to the government shutdown last month. But in the end, the morning will be driven by PM May and her Parliamentary speech, and the rest of the session will be devoted to the Fed and Chairman Powell. The dollar has been modestly offered for the past week, trading to the low end of its trading range, but we will need something new to force a breakout. As of now, it is not clear what that will be, so I anticipate another session of modest movement, perhaps this time edging toward strength in the greenback.

Good luck
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The Hawks Will Oppose

As growth there continually slows
The ECB already knows
More policy ease
Will certainly please
The doves, though the hawks will oppose

If you manage to get past Brexit and the US-China trade talks, there are two other themes that are clearly dominating recent economic discussions. The first is the slowing of global growth based on what has been an increasingly long run of disappointing data around the world. Granted part of this is attributed to the ongoing uncertainty over the Brexit outcome, and part of this is attributed to the ongoing uncertainty over the trade talks. But there seems to be a growing likelihood that slowing growth is organic. By that I mean that even without either Brexit or the questions over trade, growth would be slowing. Virtually every day we either see weaker than expected data, or we hear from central bankers that they are closely watching the data to insure their policies are appropriate.

The recent change has been the plethora of those central bankers who are highlighting the weak data and the need to reevaluate what had been tightening impulses. In the past several days we have heard that message from SF Fed President Daly, ECB member Coeuré and ECB member Villeroy, all of whom have pointed out that raising rates no longer seems appropriate. What has been more surprising is that the more hawkish central bankers (Mester and George in the US, Weidmann and Nowotny at the ECB) have not pushed back at all, and instead have subtly nodded their heads in agreement. At this point, my gut tells me that the probability of another rate hike this year by any major central bank is near zero.

This observation leads to the other story which continues to gain ground, with yet another WSJ story on the subject this morning, MMT. Modern Monetary Theory, you may recall, is the post-hoc rationalization that limiting government spending because of silly things like debt and deficits is not merely unnecessary, but actually ‘immoral’ if that spending could be used for benefits like free college tuition or free healthcare for all or a minimum basic wage. It seems that MMT is set to overturn 250 years of economic analysis and upend simple things like supply and demand. The frightening thing about this discussion is that it is being taken very seriously at the highest political levels on both sides of the aisle, which implies to me that we are going to see some changes in the law within the next few years. After all, what politician doesn’t love the idea that they can spend on every harebrained idea and not have to worry about funding it through tax revenues. The guns and butter approach is every elected official’s dream. Borrowing ceilings? Bah, why bother. Deficits growing to 10% or more of GDP? No big deal! The Fed can simply print the money to pay for things and there is no consequence!

Granted, I don’t have 250 years of experience myself, but I do have over 35 years of market experience, and I disagree that there will be no consequences. This time is never different, only the rationales for bad actions change. Ultimately, the question of importance from an FX perspective is, how will currency markets be impacted by these policies? The answer is it will depend on the sequence of timing as different countries adopt them, but I would expect things to go something like this for every country:

Explicit MMT adoption will lead to currency strength as expectations of faster growth will lead to investment inflows. Currency strength will have two results, first MMT proponents will initially claim that the old way of thinking about the economy has been all wrong given that increased supply will lead to a higher priced currency. But the second outcome, which will take a little longer to become evident, will be an increase in inflation and destruction of corporate earnings, both of which will lead to a decided outflow of investment and a much weaker currency. At that point, the available options will be to raise interest rates (leading to recession) or raise taxes (leading to recession). Transitioning from massive fiscal and monetary stimulus, to neither will have a devastating impact on an economy. I only hope that the proponents of this lunacy are held to account during those dark days, but I doubt that will happen.

However, despite my fears that this will occur much sooner than anyone currently expects, it will not be policy this year. Alas, leading up to the 2020 presidential elections, it may look like a good call for Mr. Trump next year.

Let’s move back to today’s markets. After another strong session on Friday, the dollar has given back some of those gains this morning. Friday’s move was on the back of the Coeuré statements that the ECB will be considering rolling over the TLTRO’s, something that I mentioned several weeks ago as a given. But that more dovish rhetoric from the ECB was enough to drive it lower. This morning’s rebound (EUR, GBP and AUD +0.35% each) looks more like profit taking given there has been exactly zero new information in the markets. In fact, all eyes are on the central bank Minutes that will be released later this week as traders are looking for more clarity on just how dovish the central banks are turning. At this point, it feels like there is a pretty consistent view that rate hikes are over everywhere.

What about data this week? In truth, there is very little, with the FOMC Minutes the clear highlight:

Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 229K
  Philly Fed 14.0
  Durable Goods 1.5%
  -ex transport 0.2%
  Existing Home Sales 5.00M

However, we do have six Fed speeches this week from five different FOMC members (Williams speaks twice). Based on all we have heard, there is no reason to believe that the message will be anything other than a continuation of the recent dovishness. In fact, as most of the speeches are Friday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the dovishness ramped up if Thursday’s data is softer than forecast. That is clearly the direction for now. We also hear from four more ECB speakers, including Signor Draghi on Friday. These, too, are likely to reflect the new dovish tone that is breaking out all over.

In the end, the dollar remains hostage to the Fed first, then other central banks. Right now, the narrative has changed quickly from Fed tightening to a Fed that is willing to wait much longer before getting concerned over potential inflation. Unless other central bankers are really dovish, I expect the market will see the current dialog as a dollar negative. Right up until the point where the ECB flinches and says further ease is necessary. But for today, modest further dollar depreciation seems to be about right.

Good luck
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Quite the Sensation

Economists’ latest creation
Called MMT’s quite the sensation
It claims there’s no risk
To nation or fisc
From vast monetary dilation

So, here’s the deal…apparently it doesn’t matter if economic growth is slowing around the world. It doesn’t matter if politics has fractured on both sides of the Atlantic and it doesn’t matter if the US and China remain at loggerheads over how to continue to trade with each other. None of this matters because…MMT is the new savior! Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is the newest output from our central banking saviors and their minions in the academic economic community. In a nutshell, it boils down to this; printing unlimited amounts of money and running massive budget deficits is just fine and will have no long-term negative consequences. This theory is based on the data from the past ten years, when central banks have done just that (printed enormous amounts of money) and governments have done just that (run huge deficits) and nothing bad happened. Therefore, these policymakers theorize, that nothing bad will happen if they keep it up.

Markets love this because hyper monetary and fiscal stimulus is perceived as an unambiguous positive for asset prices, especially equities, and so why would anybody argue to change things. After all, THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT he said with tongue firmly in cheek. This time is never different, and my greatest concern is that the continuing efforts to prevent any slowing of economic growth is going to lead to a situation that results in a massive correction at some point in the (probably) not too distant future. And the problem will be that central banks will have lost their ability to maintain stability as their policy tools will no longer be effective, while governments will have limited ability to add fiscal stimulus given their budget situations. But clearly, that day is not today as evidenced by the ongoing positivity evident from rising equity markets and an increasing risk appetite. Just something to keep in the back of your mind.

Said Mario after his meeting
‘This weakness should really be fleeting’
But traders believe
His view is naïve
Explains, which, why rates are retreating

It can be no surprise that the euro declined further yesterday (-0.8%), although this morning it has regained a small bit (+0.25% as I type). Not only did the PMI data disappoint completely, but Signor Draghi appears to be starting to recognize that things may not be as rosy as he had hoped. While he still held out hope that rates may rise later this year, that stance is becoming increasingly lonely. At this point, the earliest that any economist or analyst on the Street is willing to consider for that initial rate hike is December 2019 with the majority talking 2020. And of course, my view is that there will be no rate rise at all.

The problem they face is that that with rates already negative, when if the Eurozone slips into recession by the end of the year, what else can he do. Fortunately, Mario explained that the ECB still has many options in front of them, “We have lots of instruments and we stand ready to adjust them or use them according to the contingency that is produced.” The thing is, he was talking about forward guidance, more QE and TLTRO’s, all policies that are long in the tooth and appear to have lost a significant portion of their efficacy. As I have written before, Draghi will be happy to vacate his seat given the problems that are on the horizon. Though he certainly had to deal with a series of difficult issues (Eurozone debt crisis, Greek insolvency), at least he still had a full toolkit with which to work. His successor will have an empty cupboard. One last nail in the growth coffin was this morning’s Ifo data, which printed at its worst level in three years, 99.1, much lower than the expected 100.9. I would love to hear the euro bullish case, because I don’t see much there.

Away from that story, Brexit remains an ongoing market uncertainty, although it certainly appears, based on the pound’s recent trajectory, that more and more traders and investors have decided that there will be no Brexit at all. At least that’s the only thing I can figure based on what is happening in the market. On the one hand, I guess it is reasonable to assume that given all the tooth-gnashing and garment rending that we have seen, the belief is that Brexit will be so toxic as to be unthinkable. And we have begun to see some of the rest of the Eurozone members get nervous, notably Ireland which is adamant about preventing a hard border between themselves and Northern Ireland. Alas there is still no resolution as to how to police the border in the event the UK leaves. (And based on the ongoing US discussion, we know that any type of border barrier will be a waste of money!) It is not clear to me that it is viable to rule out a hard Brexit, but that is clearly what investors are beginning to do.

As to the US-China trade story, despite President Trump’s professed optimism that a deal will be done, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, indicated that we are still “miles and miles” away from a deal. And though it certainly appears that both sides are incented to solve this problem, especially given the slowing growth trajectory in both nations, it is by no means clear that will be the outcome. At least not before there is another rise in tariffs. And yet, markets are generally sanguine about the prospects of the talks failing.

So, despite potential problems, risk is in the ascendancy this morning with equity markets rising, commodities and Treasuries stable and the dollar under pressure. It is almost as if there is fatigue over the myriad potential problems and given that none of them have actually created a difficulty of note yet, investors are willing to ignore them. At least that’s my best guess.

A tour around the FX markets shows the dollar softer against most of its G10 counterparts, with JPY the only exception, further adding to the risk-on narrative, while it remains mixed vs. EMG currencies. However, overall, the tone is definitely of the dollar on its back foot. Given the ongoing US government shutdown, there is no data scheduled to be released and the Fed remains in quiet mode ahead of next week’s meeting, so unless something happens regarding trade, my money is on continued dollar weakness in today’s session as more and more investors whistle that happy tune.

Good luck and good weekend
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