They’re Still Exposed

Though merely a few angstroms wide
The pressure that Covid’s applied
To all politicians
Has led to conditions
That many find unjustified

For instance, New Zealand has closed
Its borders, and rights they’ve bulldozed
To help in prevention
Of viral retention
Unfortunately, they’re still exposed

While the major headlines around the world continue to focus on the ongoing events in Afghanistan, at this point, they have had limited, if any, impact on markets in general.  And let’s face it, if for some reason there was a negative market impact traced to the Afgahi government collapse, it is pretty clear that the global central bank response would simply be to print more money thus supporting markets more completely.  But so far, that has not been the case (I just hope you weren’t long Afghani, interestingly the name of their currency as well, as it has fallen about 4.5% in the past 72 hours.)

This means we must turn our attention elsewhere for market moving information.  Asia continues to be the region with the most interesting issues, although Oceania is making a run for the money there in the following way; PM Ardern of New Zealand has imposed a level 4 lockdown for the next three days because a single case of the delta variant of Covid-19 has been found in the entire country!  This has resulted in a significant reevaluation of the RBNZ’s next move.  Prior to this devastating outbreak, the punditry had largely concluded that the RBNZ would be the first developed country to raise rates at their meeting tonight.  But now, second thoughts have crept in and a number of economists have changed their view and are calling for no change.  You would have thought that Covid was the most powerful force in the universe based on the (over)reaction of policymakers.  A single case!  At any rate, this change in view has resulted in NZD (-1.4%) falling sharply along with the local equity market, while NZ government bonds rallied almost a full point with yields declining by 9.7bps to 1.70%.  A single case! 

Meanwhile, in Australia, the government is proposing rounding up 24,000 unvaccinated children in a stadium to insure they are vaccinated as half that nation remains under lockdown.  The economic data Down Under has clearly rolled over with Consumer confidence the latest number to fall, while the RBA minutes, released last night, indicated that they were “prepared to act” in the event a further outbreak had a significant impact on the economy.  Not surprisingly, the market understood that to be a more dovish stance than the comments immediately following their meeting two weeks ago when they promised to start taper asset purchases next month.  AUD (-0.7%) is correspondingly under pressure as well today.

As to Asia, the big news continues to come from China where the government continues its relentless attack on its tech behemoths as President Xi has become more focused on removing any sources of power that do not emanate from his office.  Chinese equity markets sold off once again (Shanghai -2.0%, Hang Seng -1.7%) as investors read about the newest competition rules that were to come into force there and would break down the walls between financial networks run by Alibaba and Tencent.  It appears that capitalism with Chinese characteristics actually means, government-controlled businesses…full stop.

And so, before Europe even walked in, risk was under severe pressure and continues that way as I type.  Markets remain amazingly resilient with respect to business failures, but when it comes to potential policy failures, investors have less confidence that everything will work out well.  Remember, too, that it has been many months since we have even seen a 5% drawdown in the S&P 500, so do not be surprised if this is the catalyst for some further risk mitigation.

Thus far, today is definitely in the risk-off column with not just the Chinese markets declining, but the Nikkei (-0.4%) also sliding, albeit not nearly as drastically.  European markets are generally weak (Dax -0.24%, CAC -0.55%, FTSE MIB -1.0%, IBEX -0.95%) although the UK (FTSE 100 +0.1%) is holding its own after much better than expected employment data was released earlier.  It seems the combination of a highly vaccinated population and massive fiscal and monetary stimulus is helping the UK economy recover quite nicely.

It can be no surprise that bond markets are rallying sharply on this risk-off day, with Treasuries seeing yields fall by 3.7 basis points while all of Europe (Bunds -2.1bps, OATs -2.1bps, Gilts -3.8bps) are also seeing demand for haven assets.  This is even true for the PIGS where yields have fallen between 1 and 2 basis points.

On the commodity front, oil (-0.8%) continues to respond to concerns over slowing economic growth worldwide amid the spread of the delta variant, as does copper (-0.9%).  Both of these commodities are seen as the most sensitive to economic expectations.  Gold (+0.4% today, +6.2% from last week’s low) is performing the way many believe it should in times of stress.  As to the rest of the bloc, there are gainers and losers amid both base metals and agricultural products.

Finally, the dollar is on top of the world this morning, rallying against 9 of its G10 counterparts with only CHF (+0.1%) maintaining its status as a world haven.  Granted, the commodity currencies are the worst off, with CAD (-0.35%) also under pressure.  Interestingly, despite the positive UK data, the pound (-0.45%) is feeling the weight of the dollar today.

Emerging market currencies continue to struggle in general, although there are a couple of positive stories.  First up is PHP (+0.45%) which saw equity inflows as bargain hunters were seen following several days of equity market declines, and the central bank indicated no policy change was upcoming, an upgrade from concerns over further easing.  THB (+0.45%) was also stronger on the back of comments from the central bank governor as well as the fact that it had fallen so far lately, more than 6% in the past two months and back to 3-year lows, that there was a bout of profit taking.  On the downside, KRW (-0.65%) continues to be the region’s laggard as ongoing concern over chip stocks has encouraged more equity market selling (KOSPI -0.9%) and seen funds flow out of the country.  Adding to this pressure is the continued increase in Covid infections and that has been enough for the won to fall 3.4% in the past two weeks.

On the data front, this morning brings Retail Sales (exp -0.3%, +0.2% ex autos) as well as IP (0.5%) and Capacity Utilization (75.7%).  The Retail Sales data has been quite volatile lately, as each wave of Federal stimulus money has quickly found uses, but when that money has not been forthcoming, sales decline sharply.  I have seen estimates that we could see a MUCH worse than expected outcome here, something on the order of -2.5%, which would be of a piece with the weaker Michigan and Philly Fed data that we have seen lately.

This afternoon, Chairman Powell hosts a town hall meeting with educators, which does not seem like a venue for new information.  We also hear from the uber dove, Neel Kashkari.

While I understand tapering talk remains all the rage, I cannot help but look at what clearly appears to be a weakening economic impulse and wonder if by the time the Fed says they want to start tapering, the data are pointing in the wrong direction and it never comes to pass.  In that event, I feel the dollar, which has greatly benefitted from tapering talk, is likely to fall back, maybe quite a bit.  But that is still a few months away.  For now, it feels like the dollar remains numero uno.

Good luck and stay safe
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They’re Trying

The Kiwis have doubled QE
The Brits saw collapsed GDP
The Fed keeps on buying
More bonds as they’re trying
To preempt a debt jubilee

The RBNZ was the leading economic story overnight as at their meeting, though they left interest rates unchanged at 0.25%, they virtually doubled the amount of QE purchases they will be executing, taking it up to NZ$60 billion. Not only that, they promised to consider even lower interest rates if deemed necessary. Of course, with rates already near zero, that means we could be looking at the next nation to head through the interest rate looking glass. It should be no surprise that NZD fell on the release, and it is currently lower by 0.9%, the worst performing currency of the day.

Meanwhile, the UK released a raft of data early this morning, all of which was unequivocally awful. Before I highlight the numbers, remember that the UK was already suffering from its Brexit hangover, so looking at slow 2020 growth in any case. GDP data showed that the economy shrank 5.8% in March and 2.0% in Q1 overall. The frightening thing is that the UK didn’t really implement any lockdown measures until the last week of March. This bodes particularly ill for the April and Q2 data. IP fell 4.2% and Consumption fell 1.7%. Thus, what we know is that the UK economy is quite weak.

There is, however, a different way to view the data. Virtually every release was “better” than the median forecast. One of the truly consistent features of analysts’ forecasts about any economy is that they are far more volatile than the actual outcome. The pattern is generally one where analysts understate a large move because their models are not well equipped for exogenous events. Then, once an event occurs, those models extrapolate out at the initial rate of change, which typically overstates the negative news. For example, if you recall, the early prognostications for the US employment data in March called for a loss of 100K jobs, which ultimately printed at -713K. By last week’s release of the April data, the analyst community had gone completely the other way, anticipating more than 22M job losses, with the -20.5M number seeming better by comparison. So, we are now firmly in the overshooting phase of economic forecasts. The thing about the current situation though, is that there is so much uncertainty over the next steps by governments, that current forecasts still have enormous error bars. In other words, they are unlikely to be even remotely accurate on a consistent basis, regardless of who is forecasting. Keep that in mind when looking at the data.

In fact, the one truism is that on an absolute basis, the economic situation is currently horrendous. A payroll report of -20.5M instead of -22.0M is not a triumph of policymaking, it is a humanitarian disaster. And it is this consideration, that regardless of data outcomes vs. forecasts, the data is awful, that informs the view that equity markets are unrealistically priced. Thus, the battle continues between those who look at the economy and see significant concerns and those who look at the central bank support and see blue skies ahead. This author is in the former camp but would certainly love to be wrong. Regardless, please remember that data that beats a terrible forecast by being a little less terrible is not the solution to the current crisis. I fear it will be many months before we see actual positive data.

Turning to this morning’s session, the modest risk aversion seen in equity (DAX -1.5%, CAC -1.7%) and bond (Treasuries -1bp, Bunds -2bps) markets is less clear in the FX world. In fact, other than the NZD, the rest of the G10 is firmer this morning led by NOK (+0.7%) on the strength of the continuing rebound in the oil market. Saudi Arabia’s announcement that they will unilaterally cut output by a further 1 million bpd starting in June has helped support crude. In addition, another thesis is making the rounds, that mass transit will have lost its appeal for many people in the wake of Covid-19, thus those folks will be returning to their private vehicles and using more gasoline, not less. This should also bode well for the Big 3 auto manufacturers and their supply chains if it does describe the post-covid reality. It should be no surprise that in the G10, the second-best performer is CAD (+0.4%) nor that in the EMG bloc, it is MXN (+1.0%) and RUB (+0.5%) atop the leaderboard.

Other than the oil linked currencies, though, there has been very little movement overall, with more gainers than losers, but most movement less than 0.25%. the one exception to this is HUF, which has fallen 0.5%, after news that President Orban is changing the tax rules regarding city governments (which coincidentally are controlled by his opponents) and pushing tax revenues to the county level (which happen to be controlled by his own party). This nakedly political maneuvering is not seen as a positive for the forint. But other than that, there is little else to tell.

On the data front, this morning brings PPI data (exp -0.4%, 0.8% ex food & energy) but given we already saw CPI yesterday, and more importantly, inflation issues are not even on the Fed’s agenda right now, this is likely irrelevant. Of more importance will be the 9:00 comments from Chairman Powell as market participants will want to hear about his views on the economy and of likely future activity. Will there be more focused forward guidance? Are negative rates possible? What other assets might they consider buying? While all of these are critical questions, it does seem unlikely he will go there today. Instead, I would look for platitudes about the Fed doing everything they can, and that they have plenty of capacity, and willpower, to do more.

And that’s really it for what is starting as a quiet day. The dollar is under modest pressure but remains much closer to recent highs than recent lows. As long as investors continue to accept that the Fed and its central bank brethren are on top of the situation, I imagine that we can see further gains in equity markets and further weakness in the dollar. I just don’t think it can go on that much longer.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Growth Will Soon Sleep

The place with less people than sheep
Last night said rates might be too steep
A cut now seems fated
Their dollar deflated
As Kiwis fear growth soon will sleep

You can tell it’s a dull day in the FX markets when the most interesting thing that happened was the RBNZ turned dovish in their policy statement, indicating the next interest rate move in New Zealand would be lower. This was a decided change of pace, but also cannot be too great a surprise since their larger neighbor, Australia, pivoted the same way just two weeks ago. The upshot is NZD fell sharply, down 1.4% in the wake of the statement. While I understand that given the diminutive size of the New Zealand economy, any exposures there are likely to be quite small, I think this simply reinforces the story about slowing global growth. In the same vein, we heard a similar story from Bank Negara Malaysia as they lowered their growth and inflation forecasts and hinted that they will cut rates if they see things slowing too rapidly. While the impact on MYR was less impressive, just -0.25%, it is of a piece with the overall global economic situation. That story remains one of slowing growth with central banks hopeful the slowdown is temporary but prepared to react quickly if it appears longer lasting. As I wrote yesterday, it is virtually impossible for the Fed to be responding to slowing growth without every other major central bank (and many minor ones) reacting in the same manner.

Yesterday actually saw the dollar rally during the US session, with the euro falling about 0.4% in NY hours. That helps explain why this morning it is higher by 0.15% on the session, yet lower than when I wrote yesterday. There has been limited new information on the data front (Italian Business Confidence falling more than expected to 100.8), but there has been a widely reported story about Signor Draghi hinting that the ECB is beginning to recognize that five years of negative interest rates might be having some negative impacts on the Eurozone banking sector. It certainly would have been hard to predict that an economic area that heavily relies on bank lending, rather than capital markets, would feel negative impacts from compression of bank lending margins…NOT! But back when NIRP was taking shape, the apocalyptic fears were so great these issues were simply glossed over as meaningless. And now that Eurozone growth has turned lower, the ECB’s plans to normalize rates have fallen by the wayside. It is quite possible that they, too, have painted themselves into an intractable policy corner. It is yet another reason I remain long-term bearish on the euro.

Finally, this morning’s dose of Brexit shows that the hardline euro skeptics may be coming around to PM May’s deal after all. If you recall, this afternoon there will be a series of votes in Parliament as MP’s try to find a solution, mostly to the Irish border question. However, as I have written frequently in the past, this is a truly intractable issue, one where there is no compromise available, but only capitulation on one side or the other. However, there is a growing call for Brexit to be canceled which has the euro skeptics on edge. This line of thought seems to have been PM May’s when she called for a third vote on her plan, and it may well be falling into place. Of course, the caveat for her is that she may be asked required to step down from her role in order to get it over the line. The two alternatives to her plan are now clearly either a lengthy delay, one giving time for a second vote and a reversal of Brexit, or a no-deal outcome on April 12. Since nobody seems to want the latter, and the hard-liners don’t want the former, they may finally get the votes to approve May’s deal. It is the “least worst option” as so delicately put by Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the leaders of the euro skeptics. Given the toing and froing over the issue, it should be no surprise that the pound is little changed on the day, still hanging around 1.32 as nobody is prepared to take a position on the outcome. If pressed, I would estimate that a vote for the deal will result in the pound rallying toward 1.38 before running into significant selling, while a no-deal outcome probably sees a quick move toward 1.20. And if the result of today’s Parliamentary votes leads toward a long delay, that is likely the pound’s best friend, perhaps driving the beleaguered currency back above 1.40 for a while.

Away from that, the only other noteworthy feature today has been weakness in some oil related currencies with MXN (-1.0%), RUB (-0.75%), NOK (-0.55%) and CAD (-0.25%) all softer. It appears that after a strong run, oil prices are ebbing back somewhat, and these currencies are feeling the brunt today. Quite frankly, the currency movements seem overdone relative to the oil price decline, but it is the only connector I can find across this group.

On the data front, yesterday’s Housing Starts number was quite weak, just 1.162M (exp 1.213M) as was the Consumer Confidence reading at 124.1. We also heard from several other Fed speakers (Kaplan and Daly) both telling us that patience remains a virtue and that while they had modest concern over the yield curve inversion, it wasn’t a game changer for their current policy models. This morning’s only data point is the Trade Balance (exp -$57.0B) and then we hear from KC Fed President Esther George this evening. I am hard pressed to find a change in market sentiment at this point and so hard pressed to change my views. The equity market continues to rally based on more easy money, but monetary policy around the world continues to turn easier and easier, with the Fed still the least tight of them all. In other words, to me, the dollar still has the best position.

Good luck
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