Perfect Right Here

Said Harker, by end of this year
A taper could be drawing near
But Mester explained
No cash would be drained
As policy’s perfect right here

Ahead of this morning’s payroll report, I believe it worthwhile to recap what we have been hearing from the FOMC members who have been speaking lately.  After all, the Fed continues to be the major force in the market, so maintaining a clear understanding of their thought process can only be a benefit.

The most surprising thing we heard was from Philadelphia Fed president Harker, who intimated that while he saw no reason to change things right now, he could see the Fed beginning to taper their asset purchases by the end of 2021 or early 2022.  Granted, that still implies an additional $1 trillion plus of purchases, but is actually quite hawkish in the current environment where expectations are for rates to remain near zero for at least the next three years.  Given what will almost certainly be a significant increase in Treasury issuance this year, if the Fed were to step back from the market, we could see significantly higher rates in the back end of the curve.  And, of course, it has become quite clear that will not be allowed as the government simply cannot afford to pay higher rates on its debt.   As well, Dallas Fed President Kaplan also explained his view that if the yield curve steepened because of an improved growth situation in the US, that would be natural, and he would not want to stop it.

But not to worry, the market basically ignored those comments as evidenced by the fact that the equity market, which will clearly not take kindly to higher interest rates in any form, rallied further yesterday to yet more new all-time highs.

At the same time, three other Fed speakers, one of whom has consistently been the most hawkish voice on the committee, explained they saw no reason at all to adjust policy anytime soon.  Regional Fed presidents from Cleveland (Loretta Mester), Chicago (Charles Evans) and St Louis (James Bullard) were all quite clear that it was premature to consider adjusting policy as a response to the Georgia election results and the assumed increases in fiscal stimulus that are mooted to be on the way.

Recapping the comments, it is clear that there is no intention to adjust policy, meaning either the Fed Funds rate or the size of QE purchases, anytime soon, certainly not before Q4.  And if you consider Kaplan’s comments more fully, he did not indicate a preference to reduce support, just that higher long-term rates ought to be expected in a well-performing economy.  Vice-Chairman Clarida speaks this morning, but it remains difficult to believe that he will indicate any changes either.  As I continue to maintain, the government’s ability to withstand higher interest rates on a growing amount of debt is limited, at best, and the only way to prevent that is by the Fed capping yields.  Remember, while the Fed has adjusted its view on inflation, now targeting an average inflation rate, they said nothing about allowing yields to rise alongside that increased inflation.  Again, the dollar’s performance this year will be closely tied to real (nominal – inflation) yields, and as inflation rises in a market with capped yields, the dollar will decline.

Turning to this morning’s payroll release, remember, Wednesday saw the ADP Employment number significantly disappoint, printing at -123K, nearly 200K below expectations.  As of now, the current median forecasts are as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 50K
Private Payrolls 13K
Manufacturing Payrolls 16K
Unemployment Rate 6.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (4.5% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Participation Rate 61.5%
Consumer Credit $9.0B

Source: Bloomberg

These numbers are hardly representative of a robustly recovering economy, which given the cresting second wave of Covid infections and the lockdowns that have been imposed in response, ought not be that surprising.  The question remains, will administration of the vaccine be sufficient to change the trajectory?  While much has been written about pent up demand for things like travel and movies, and that is likely the case, there has been no indication that governments are going to roll back the current rules on things like social distancing and wearing masks.  One needs to consider whether those rules will continue to discourage those very activities, and thus, crimp the expected recovery.  Tying it together, a slower than expected recovery implies ongoing stimulus

But you don’t need me to explain that permanent stimulus remains the basic premise, just look at market behavior.  After yesterday’s US equity rally, we have seen a continuation around the world with Japan’s Nikkei (+2.35%) leading the way in Asia, but strength in the Hang Seng (+1.2%) and Australia (+0.7%), although Shanghai (-0.2%) didn’t really participate.  Europe, too, is all green, albeit in more measured tones, with the DAX (+0.8%) leading the way but gains in the CAC (+0.5%) and FTSE 100 (+0.2%) as well as throughout the rest of the continent.  And finally, US futures are all pointing higher at this hour, with all three indices up by 0.25%-0.35%.

The Treasury market, which has sold off sharply in the past few sessions, is unchanged this morning, with the yield on the 10-year sitting at 1.08%.  In Europe, haven assets like bunds, OATs and gilts are little changed this morning, but the yields on the PIGS are all lower, between 1.6bps (Spain) and 3.9bps (Italy).  Again, those bonds behave more like equities than debt, at least in the broad narrative.

In the commodity space, oil continues to rally, up another 1.3% this morning, and we continue to see strength in base metals and ags, but gold is under the gun, down 1.1%, and clearly in disfavor in this new narrative of significant new stimulus and growth.  Interestingly, bitcoin, which many believe as a substitute for gold has continued to rally, vaulting through $41k this morning.

And lastly, the dollar, which everyone hates for this year, is ending the week on a mixed note.  In the G10, NOK (+0.3%) is the best performer, as both oil’s rise and much better than expected IP data have investors expecting continued strength there.  But after that, the rest of the bloc is +/- 0.2% or less, implying there is no driving force here, rather that we are seeing position adjustments and, perhaps, real flows as the drivers.

In the emerging markets, ZAR (+1.2%) and BRL (+0.6%) are the leading gainers, while IDR (-0.8%) and CLP (-0.6%) are the laggards.  In fact, other than those, the bloc is also split, like the G10, with winners and losers of very minor magnitude.  Looking first at the rand, today’s gains appear to be position related as ZAR has been under pressure all week, declining more than 5.6% prior to today’s session.  BRL, too, is having a similar, albeit more modest, correction to a week where it has declined more than 5% ahead of today’s opening.  Both those currencies are feeling strain from weakening domestic activity, so today’s gains seem likely to be short-lived.  On the downside, IDR seems to be suffering from rising US yields, as the attractiveness of its own debt starts to wane on a relative basis.  As to Chile, rising inflation seems to be weighing on the currency as there is no expectation for yields to rise in concert, thus real yields there are under pressure.

And that’s really it for the day.  We have seen some significant movement this week, as well as significant new news with the outcome of the Georgia election, so the narrative has had to adjust slightly.  But in the end, it is still reflation leads to higher equities and a lower dollar.  Plus ça change, plus ça meme chose!

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Still a Threat

For Boris, and all Brexiteers
They can’t wait for this, Eve, New Year’s
Alas, as of yet
There is still a threat
That no deal might bring both sides tears

Investors, however, seem sure
The UK, a deal, will secure
That’s why Britain’s pound
Is robustly sound
Let’s hope that view’s not premature

EU official sees UK trade deal “imminent” barring last-minute glitch

This Reuters News headline from this morning, aside from being inane, is a perfect example of the market narrative in action.  The broad view is that a deal will be reached, despite the fact that deadline after deadline has been missed during these negotiations.  The pound has rallied nearly 10% since the only deadline of consequence on June 30.  That was the date on which both sides would have been able to extend the current negotiations.  However, no extension was sought by the UK and none granted, so we are heading into the last four weeks of the year with nothing concrete completed.  And yet, markets on the whole continue to trade under the assumption a deal will be reached and there will be no meaningful disruption to either the UK or EU economy on January 1st.

And that is the point of the headline.  It is essentially telling us a deal is a given, and both sides are now just playing to their domestic constituencies to show how hard they are working to achieve a ‘good’ deal.  In fact, once again today, the French held out the possibility that they would veto a deal as French European Affairs Minister, Clement Beaune, told us, “If there is a deal which is not good, then we would oppose it.  We always said so.”  This comment appears to be just another part of the ongoing theater.  A senior UK official, meanwhile, claimed talks had regressed because of a change in the EU’s position regarding the fishing issue.

But let’s go back to the pound.  A 10% rally in five months is a pretty impressive outcome.  Can this movement be entirely attributed to Brexit beliefs?  At this stage, I think not.  Consider, that during that same period, both SEK and NOK have rallied nearly 11%.  And even the laggard of the G10, JPY, has rallied 3.5% in the second half of the year.  The point is that perhaps the market has not priced in as high a probability of a successful outcome as many, including me, had thought likely.  After all, if the other nine G10 currencies have rallied an average of 8.0% in a given time frame, at the margin, the additional 1.6% that cable has rallied does not seem that impressive after all.

What are the potential ramifications of this line of thinking?  Well, assuming that a deal is actually reached on time, and I believe that is the most likely outcome, it seems possible that the pound has considerably more upside than the rest of the G10.  Looking back to the original referendum in the summer of 2016, the pound touched 1.50 the night of the vote, before it became clear that Brexit was going to be the outcome.  Since then, in Q1 2018, the pound traded above 1.40, but that too, was simply a reflection of the times as the euro was trading above 1.25.  In other words, the Brexit impact on the pound, other than in the immediate aftermath of the vote, seems to have been remarkably modest.  Certainly, month-to-month movement has been in lockstep with all the other G10 currencies, and it is only the level of the pound, which adjusted back in June 2016, which is different.  The implication is that the announcement of a successful deal is likely to see the pound outperform higher.  This is opposite my previous views but appears to account for the historical price action more effectively.  Remember, within two days of the Brexit vote, the pound fell 11%.  While a deal seems unlikely to recoup that entire amount, perhaps half of that is available, which from current levels means that a move above 1.40 is viable without a corresponding rise in the euro.  At that point, the pound will revert to being just another G10 currency, with price movement locked into the dollar narrative, not the Brexit narrative.  Food for thought.

As to today’s session, it is payrolls day with the following expectations according to Bloomberg:

Nonfarm Payrolls 470K
Private Payrolls 540K
Manufacturing Payrolls 45K
Unemployment Rate 6.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.1% (4.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Participation Rate 61.7%
Trade Balance -$64.8B
Factory Orders 0.8%

The question, of course, is has this data yet returned to its prior place of importance in investors’ minds.  And arguably, the answer is no.  There continues to be a strong market narrative that the current data is unimportant because everyone knows that the ongoing lockdowns are going to make things look worse.  This is true all over the world (except, perhaps, China).  But given the near universal central bank promises of low rates forever for the foreseeable future, investors continue to add risk to their portfolios with abandon.  In order to change that mindset, I believe we would need to see a number so shocking, something like -1000K, that it could indicate the impact of Covid might not be temporary.  But barring that, my sense is the payroll number has lost its luster.

It will be interesting to see if that luster returns in the post-Covid environment, or perhaps some other statistic will embody the zeitgeist in the future.  Remember, NFP has not always been that important.  When Paul Volcker was Fed Chair, M2 money supply was the only number that mattered.  Once Alan Greenspan took over, it was the trade data that drove markets.  Perhaps inflation will be deemed “THE” number going forward, especially in the event that MMT becomes the norm.

Ahead of the data, a tour of markets shows that risk appetite is positive, if modest.  European equity markets are generally firmer (CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.8%) although the DAX just gave up its earlier gains and is now lower by 0.2%.  Overnight, things were also fairly dull as the Nikkei (-0.2%) slipped modestly while both the Hang Seng (+0.4%) and Shanghai (+0.1%) edged higher.  In fact, the best performer overnight was South Korea with the KOSPI (+1.3%) rallying on continued strong data and KRW (+1.35%) rallying on the back of inflows to the KOSPI as well as market technicals.  Meanwhile, US futures are higher by roughly 0.3% at this hour.

The bond market has slipped a bit with yields rising by 2bps in Treasuries, but European govvies, which had been softer (higher yields) earlier in the session, have found support with yields now edging lower by about 0.5bps.  It seems a Bloomberg story released a short time ago indicated that the ECB is likely to extend their PEPP by a full year, not the 6 months mooted by most analysts.

As to the dollar, it is actually mixed in the G10, but movement has been modest in both directions.  So, CHF (+0.25%) and GBP (+0.2%) are leading the way, but realistically don’t tell us much given how insignificant the moves have been.  On the downside, NZD (-0.4%) and AUD (-0.2%) are lagging, but neither has released data of note.  Essentially, this all seems like position adjustments.

Emerging markets, however, have seen a bit more demand with the commodity bloc supported after OPEC+ reached a compromise and helped oil prices back above $46/bbl.  This is the highest they have been since before the Covid panic, so it is quite important from a market technical perspective.  In the meantime, RUB (+0.55%) and MXN (+0.5%) are leading the way (after KRW of course) with most others in this space higher by much lesser amounts.

And that’s where we stand heading into payrolls and then the weekend.  Nothing has changed the dollar weakening narrative, and the pound remains the true wildcard.  Despite my change of heart regarding the pound’s upside, that does not change my view that if the negotiations fall apart and no Brexit deal is reached, the pound can decline 5%-7%.  Arguably, we are looking at some symmetry there.  In any event, a case for a larger move in the pound is very viable, one way or the other.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Haven’t a Doubt

The Fed, yesterday, made the case
That fiscal support they’d embrace
But even without
They haven’t a doubt
The dollar they still can debase
Their toolbox can help growth keep pace

As of yet, there is no winner declared in the Presidential election, although it seems to be trending toward a Biden victory.  The Senate, as well, remains in doubt, although is still assumed, at least by the market, to be held by the Republicans.  But as we discussed yesterday, the narrative has been able to shift from a blue wave is good for stocks to gridlock is good for stocks.  And essentially, that remains the situation because the Fed continues to support the market.

With this in mind, yesterday’s FOMC meeting was the market focus all afternoon.  However, the reality is we didn’t really learn too much that was new.  While universal expectations were for policy to remain unchanged, and they were, Chairman Powell discussed two things in the press conference; the need for fiscal stimulus from the government as quickly as possible; and the composition of their QE program.  Certainly, given all we have heard from Powell, as well as the other FOMC members over the past months, it is not surprising that he continues to plea for a fiscal response from Congress.  As I have written before, they clearly recognize that their toolkit has basically done all it can for the economy, although it can still support stock and bond markets.

It is a bit more interesting that Powell was as forthright regarding the discussion on the nature of the current asset purchase program, meaning both the size of purchases and the tenor of the bonds they are buying.  Currently, they remain focused on short-term Treasuries rather than buying all along the curve.  Their argument is that their purchases are doing a fine job of maintaining low interest rates throughout the Treasury market.  However, it seems that this question was the big one during the meeting, as clearly there are some advocates for extending the tenor of purchases, which would be akin to yield curve control.  The fact that this has been such an important topic internally, and the fact that the erstwhile monetary hawks are on board, or seem to be, implies that we could see a change to longer term purchases in December, especially if no new fiscal stimulus bill is enacted and the data starts to turn back lower.  This may well be the only way that the Fed can ease policy further, given their (well-founded) reluctance to consider negative interest rates.  If this is the case, it would certainly work against the dollar in the near-term, at least until we heard the responses from the other central banks.

But that was yesterday.  The Friday session started off in Asia with limited movement.  While the Nikkei (+0.9%) managed to continue to rally, both the Hang Seng (+0.1%) and Shanghai (-0.25%) had much less interesting performances.  Europe, on the other hand, started off with a serious bout of profit taking, as early on, both the DAX and CAC had fallen about 1.5%.  But in the past two hours, they have clawed back around half of those losses to where the DAX (-0.9%) and CAC (-0.6%) are lower but still within spitting distance of their recent highs.  US futures have shown similar behavior, having been lower by between 1.5% and 2.0% earlier in the session, and now showing losses of just 0.5% across the board.  One cannot be surprised that there was some profit taking as the gains in markets this week have been extraordinary, with the S&P up more than 8% heading into today, the NASDAQ more than 9% and even the DAX and CAC up by similar amounts.

The Treasury rally, too, has stalled this morning with the 10-year yield one basis point higher, although we are seeing continued buying interest throughout European markets, especially in the PIGS, where ongoing ECB support is the most important.  Helping the bond market cause has been the continued disappointment in European data, where for example, German IP was released at a worse than expected -7.3%Y/Y this morning.  Given the increasingly rapid spread of Covid infections throughout Europe, with more than 300K new infections reported yesterday, and the fact that essentially every nation in the EU is going back on lockdown for the month of November, it can be no surprise that bond yields here are falling.  Prospects for growth and inflation remain bleak and all the ECB can do is buy more bonds.

On the commodity front, oil is slipping again today, down around 3% as the twin concerns of weaker growth and potentially more supply from OPEC+ weigh on the market.  Gold however, had a monster day yesterday, rallying 2.5%, and is continuing this morning, up another 0.3%.  This is one market that I believe has much further to run.

Finally, looking at the dollar, it is definitely under pressure overall, although there are some underperformers as well.  For instance, in the G10, SEK (+0.6%), CHF (+0.5%) and NOK (+0.5%) are all nicely higher with NOK being the biggest surprise given the decline in oil prices.  The euro, too, is performing well, higher by 0.45% as I type.  Arguably, this is a response to the idea that Powell’s discussion of buying longer tenors is a precursor to that activity, thus easier money in the US.  However, the Commonwealth currencies are all a bit softer this morning, led by AUD (-0.15%) which also looks a lot like a profit-taking move, given Aussie’s 4.2% gain so far this week.

In the emerging markets, APAC currencies were all the rage overnight, led by IDR (+1.2%) and THB (+0.95%) with both currencies the beneficiaries of an increase in investment inflows to their respective bond markets.  But we are also seeing the CE4 perform well this morning, which given the euro’s strength, should be no surprise at all.  On the flipside, TRY (-1.2%) continues to be the worst performing currency in the world, as its combination of monetary policy and international gamesmanship is encouraging investors to flee as quickly as possible.  The other losers are RUB (-0.5%) and MXN (-0.3%), both of which are clearly feeling the heat from oil’s decline.

This morning, we get the payroll data, which given everything else that is ongoing, just doesn’t seem as important as usual.  However, here is what the market is looking for:

Nonfarm Payrolls 593K
Private Payrolls 685K
Manufacturing Payrolls 55K
Unemployment Rate 7.6%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (4.5% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.7
Participation Rate 61.5%

Source: Bloomberg

You may recall that the ADP number was much weaker than expected, although it was buried under the election news wave.  I fear we are going to see a decline in this data as the Initial Claims data continues its excruciatingly slow decline and we continue to hear about more layoffs.  The question is, will the market care?  And the answer is, I think this is a situation where bad news will be good as it will be assumed the Fed will be that much more aggressive.

As such, it seems like another day with dollar underperformance is in our future.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

More Sales Than Buys

The virus has found a new host
As Trump has now been diagnosed
Investors reacted
And quickly transacted
More sales than buys as a riposte

While other news of some import
Explained that Lagarde’s come up short
Seems prices are static
Though she’s still dogmatic
Deflation, her ideas, will thwart

Tongues are wagging this morning after President Trump announced that he and First Lady Melania have tested positive for Covid-19.  The immediate futures market response was for a sharp sell-off, with Dow futures falling nearly 500 points (~2%) in a matter of minutes.  While they have since recouped part of those losses, they remain lower by 1.4% on the session.  SPU’s are showing a similar decline while NASDAQ futures are down more than 2.2% at this time.

For anybody who thought that the stock markets would be comfortable in the event that the White House changes hands next month, this seems to contradict that theory.  After all, what would be the concern here, other than the fact that President Trump would be incapacitated and unable to continue as president.  As vice-president Pence is a relative unknown, except to those in Indiana, investors seem to be demonstrating a concern that Mr Trump’s absence would result in less favorable economic and financial conditions.  Of course, at this time it is far too early to determine how this situation will evolve.  While the President is 74 years old, and thus squarely in the high-risk age range for the disease, he also has access to, arguably, the best medical attention in the world and will be monitored quite closely.  In the end, based on the stamina that he has shown throughout his tenure as president, I suspect he will make a full recovery.  But stranger things have happened.  It should be no shock that the other markets that reacted to the news aggressively were options markets, where implied volatility rose sharply as traders and investors realize that there is more potential for unexpected events, even before the election.

Meanwhile, away from the day’s surprising news we turn to what can only be considered the new normal news.  Specifically, the Eurozone released its inflation data for September and, lo and behold, it was even lower than quite low expectations.  Headline CPI printed at -0.3% while Core fell to a new all-time low level of 0.2%.  Now I realize that most of you are unconcerned by this as ECB President Lagarde recently explained that the ECB was likely to follow the Fed and begin allowing inflation to run above target to offset periods when it was ‘too low’.  And according to all those central bank PhD’s and their models, this will encourage businesses to borrow and invest more because they now know that rates will remain low for even longer.  The fly in this ointment is that current expectations are already for rates to remain low for, essentially, ever, and business are still not willing to expand.  While I continue to disagree with the entire inflation targeting framework, it seems it is becoming moot in Europe.  The ECB has essentially demonstrated they have exactly zero influence on CPI.  As to the market response to this news, the euro is marginally softer (-0.25%), but that was the case before the release.  Arguably, given we are looking at a risk off session overall, that has been the driver today.

Finally, let’s turn to what is upcoming this morning, the NFP report along with the rest of the day’s data.  Expectations are as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 875K
Private Payrolls 875K
Manufacturing Payrolls 35K
Unemployment Rate 8.2%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (4.8% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.6
Participation Rate 61.9%
Factory Orders 0.9%
Michigan Sentiment 79.0

Source: Bloomberg

Once again, I will highlight that given the backward-looking nature of this data, the Initial Claims numbers seem a much more valuable indicator.  Speaking of which, yesterday saw modestly better (lower) than expected outcomes for both Initial and Continuing Claims.  Also, unlike the ECB, the Fed has a different inflation issue, although one they are certainly not willing to admit nor address at this time.  For the fifth consecutive month, Core PCE surprised to the upside, printing yesterday at 1.6% and marching ever closer to their (symmetrical) target of 2.0%.  Certainly, my personal observation on things I buy regularly at the supermarket, or when going out to eat, shows me that inflation is very real.  Perhaps one day the Fed will recognize this too.  Alas, I fear the idea of achieving a stagflationary outcome is quite real as growth seems destined to remain desultory while prices march ever onward.

A quick look at other markets shows that risk appetites are definitely waning today, which was the case even before the Trump Covid announcement.  The Asian markets that were open (Nikkei -0.7%, Australia -1.4%) were all negative and the screen is all red for Europe as well.  Right now, the DAX (-1.0%) is leading the way, but both the CAC (-0.9%) and FTSE 100 (-0.9%) are close on its heels.  It should be no surprise that bond markets have caught a bid, with 10-year Treasury yields down 1.5 basis points and similar declines throughout European markets.  In the end, though, these markets remain in very tight ranges as, while central banks seem to have little impact on the real economy or prices, they can manage their own bond markets.

Commodity prices are softer, with oil down more than $1.60/bbl or 4.5%, as both WTI and Brent Crude are back below $40/bbl.  That hardly speaks to a strong recovery.  Gold, on the other hand, has a modest bid, up 0.2%, after a more than 1% rally yesterday which took the barbarous relic back over $1900/oz.

And finally, to the dollar.  This morning the risk scenario is playing out largely as expected with the dollar stronger against almost all its counterparts in both the G10 and EMG spaces.  The only exceptions are JPY (+0.35%) which given its haven status is to be expected and GBP (+0.15%) which is a bit harder to discern.  It seems that Boris is now scheduled to sit down with EU President Ursula von der Leyen tomorrow in order to see if they can agree to some broad principles regarding the Brexit negotiations which will allow a deal to finally be agreed.  The market has taken this as quite a positive sign, and the pound was actually quite a bit higher (+0.5%) earlier in the session, although perhaps upon reflection, traders have begun to accept tomorrow’s date between the two may not solve all the problems.

As to the EMG bloc, it is essentially a clean sweep here with the dollar stronger across the board.  The biggest loser is RUB (-1.4%) which is simply a response to oil’s sharp decline.  But essentially all the markets in Asia that were open (MYR -0.3%, IDR -0.2%) fell while EEMEA is also on its back foot.  We cannot forget MXN (-0.55%), which has become, perhaps, the best risk indicator around.  It is extremely consistent with respect to its risk correlation, and likely has the highest beta to that as well.

And that’s really it for the day.  The Trump story is not going to change in the short-term, although political commentators will try to make much hay with it, and so we will simply wait for the payroll data.  But it will have to be REALLY good in order to change the risk feelings today, and I just don’t see that happening.  Look for the dollar to maintain its strength, especially vs. the pound, which I expect will close the day with losses not gains.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Singing Off-Tune

The Jobless report showed that June
Saw Payroll growth really balloon
But stubbornly, Claims
Are fanning the flames
Of bears, who keep singing off-tune

Markets are quiet this morning as not only is it a summer Friday, but US equity and commodity markets are closed to celebrate the July 4th holiday. In fact, it is curious that it is not a Fed holiday. But with a limited and illiquid session on the horizon, let’s take a quick peak at yesterday’s data and some thoughts about its impact.

The Jobless report was clearly better than expected on virtually every statistic. Payrolls rose more than expected (4.8M vs. exp 3.06M) while the Unemployment Rate fell substantially (11.1% from 13.3%). Happily, the Participation Rate also rose which means that the country is getting back to work. It should be no surprise that this was touted as a great outcome by one and all.

Of course, there was some less positive news, at least for those who were seeking it out. The Initial and Continuing Claims data, both of which are much more current, declined far less than expected. The problem here is that while tremendous progress was made in June from where things were before, it seems that progress may be leveling off at much worse than desired numbers.

It seems there are two things at work here. First, the second wave of Covid is forcing a change in the timeline of the reopening of the economy. Several states, notably Texas and California, are reimposing lockdowns and closing businesses, like bars and restaurants, that had reopened. This is also slowing the reopening of other states’ economies. Second is the pending end of some of the CARES act programs, notably PPP, which has seen the money run out and layoffs occur now, rather than in April. It is entirely realistic that the Initial and Continuing Claims data run at these much higher levels going forward for a while as different businesses wrestle with the right size for their workforce in the new economy.

Odds are we will see a second stimulus bill at some point this summer, but it is not yet a certainty, nor is it clear how large it will be or what it will target. But it would be a mistake to assume that the road ahead will be smooth.

The other potential market impacting news was this morning’s European Services PMI data, which was generally slightly better than expected, but still pointing to slowing growth. For instance, Germany’s Services number was at 47.3, obviously well above the April print of 16.2, but still pointing to a slowing economy. And that was largely the case everywhere.

The point is that nothing we have seen either yesterday or today indicates that the global economy is actually growing relative to 2019. It is simply not shrinking as quickly as before. The implication here is that central banks will continue to add liquidity to their respective economies through additional asset purchases and, for those with positive interest rates still, further rate cuts. Governments will be loath to stop their fiscal stimulus as well, especially those who face elections in the near-term. But in the end, 2020 is going to be a decidedly lost year when it comes to the world’s economy!

On the market side, risk generally remained in demand overnight as Asian equity markets continued to rally (Nikkei +0.7%, Hang Seng +1.0%, Shanghai +2.0%). Will someone please explain to me how Hong Kong’s stock market continues to rally in the face of the draconian new laws imposed by Beijing on the freedom’s formerly available to its citizens? While I certainly don’t have proof, this must be coordinated buying by Chinese government institutions trying to demonstrate that everything there is great.

However, despite the positive cast of APAC markets, Europe has turned red this morning with the DAX (-0.2%), CAC (-0.7%) and FTSE 100 (-0.9%) all under pressure. Each nation has a story today starting with Germany’s Angela Merkel trying to expand fiscal stimulus, not only in Germany, but fighting for the EU program as well. Meanwhile, in France, President Macron has shaken up his entire government and replace most of the top positions including PM and FinMin. Finally, the UK is getting set to reopen tomorrow, and citizens are expected to be ready to head back to a more normal life.

In the bond markets, while US markets are closed, we are seeing a very modest bid for European government bonds, but yields are only about 1 basis point lower on the day. Commodity markets show that oil is once again under pressure, down a bit more than 1% but still hanging onto the $40/bbl level.

Turning to currencies, in the G10, only NOK (+0.4%) is showing any real life today as its Unemployment Rate printed at a lower than expected 4.8% encouraging some to believe it is leading the way back in Europe. Otherwise, this bloc is doing nothing, with some gainers and some losers and no direction.

In emerging markets, the story is of two weak links, IDR (-1.0%) and RUB (-0.9%). The former, which has been falling for more than a week, is suffering from concerns over debt monetization by the central bank there, something that I’m sure will afflict many currencies going forward. As to the ruble, the only explanation can be the oil price decline as their PMI data was better than expected, although still below 50.0. But there are issues there regarding the spread of the infection as well, and concerns over the potential imposition of new sanctions by the US.

And that is really it for the day. With no data or speakers here, look for markets to close by lunchtime, so if you have something to do, get it done sooner rather than later.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend and stay safe
Adf

 

Dreams All Come True

The Minutes explained that the Fed
Was actively looking ahead
Twixt yield curve control
And guidance, their goal
Might not be achieved, so they said

This morning, though, payrolls are due
And traders, expressing a view
Continue to buy
Risk assets on high
Here’s hoping their dreams all come true!

In the end, it can be no surprise that the Fed spent the bulk of their time in June discussing what to do next. After all, they had to be exhausted from implementing the nine programs already in place and it is certainly reasonable for them to see just how effective these programs have been before taking the next step. Arguably, the best news from the Minutes was that there was virtually no discussion about negative interest rates. NIRP continues to be a remarkable drag on the economies of those countries currently caught in its grasp. We can only hope it never appears on our shores.

Instead, the two policies that got all the attention were forward guidance and yield curve control (YCC). Of course, the former is already part of the active toolkit, but the discussion focused on whether to add an outcome-based aspect to their statements, rather than the more vague, ‘as long as is necessary to achieve our goals of stable prices and full employment.’ The discussion centered on adding a contingency, such as; until inflation reaches a certain level, or Unemployment falls to a certain level; or a time-based contingency such as; rates will remain low until 2023. Some would argue they already have that time-based contingency in place, (through 2022), but perhaps they were leading up to the idea it will be longer than that.

The YCC discussion focused on research done by their staff on the three most well-known instances in recent history; the Fed itself from 1942-1951, where they capped all rates, the BOJ, which has maintained 10-year JGB yields at 0.0% +/- 0.20%, and the RBA, which starting this past March has maintained 3-year Australian yields at 0.25%. As I mentioned last week in “A New Paradigm” however, the Fed is essentially already controlling the yield curve, at least the front end, where movement out to the 5-year maturities has been de minimis for months. Arguably, if they are going to do something here, it will need to be in the 10-year or longer space, and the tone of the Minutes demonstrated some discomfort with that idea.

In the end, my read of the Minutes is that when the FOMC meets next, on July 29, we are going to get a more formalized forward guidance with a contingency added. My guess is it will be an Unemployment rate contingency, not a time contingency, but I expect that we will learn more from the next set of Fed speakers.

Turning to today, as the market awaits the latest payroll report, risk assets continue to be on fire. The destruction in so many areas of the economy, both in the US and around the world, is essentially being completely ignored by investors as they continue to add risk to their portfolios amid abundant central bank provided liquidity. Here are the latest median forecasts as compiled by Bloomberg for today’s data:

Nonfarm Payrolls 3.06M
Private Payrolls 3.0M
Manufacturing Payrolls 438K
Unemployment Rate 12.5%
Average Hourly Earnings -0.7% (5.3% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
Participation Rate 61.2%
Initial Claims 1.25M
Continuing Claims 19.0M
Trade Balance -$53.2B
Factory Orders 8.7%
Durable Goods 15.8%
-ex Transport 6.5%

Because of the Federal (although not bank) holiday tomorrow, the report is being released this morning. It will be interesting to see if the market responds to the more timely Initial Claims data rather than the NFP report if they offer different messages. Remember, too, that last month’s Unemployment rate has been under much scrutiny because of the misclassification of a large subset of workers which ultimately painted a better picture than it might otherwise have done. Will the BLS be able to correct for this, and more importantly, if they do, how will the market interpret any changes. This is one reason why the Initial and Continuing Claims data may be more important anyway.

But leading up to the release, it is full speed ahead to buy equities as yesterday’s mixed US session was followed by strength throughout Asia (Nikkei +0.1%, Hang Seng +2.85%, Shanghai +2.1%) and in Europe (DAX +1.6%, CAC +1.3%, FTSE 100 +0.6%). US futures are also higher, between 0.4%-0.8%, to complete the virtuous circle. Interestingly, once again bond yields are not trading true to form on this risk-on day, as yields in the US are flat while throughout Europe, bond yields are declining.

But bonds are the outlier here as the commodity space is seeing strength in oil and metals markets and the dollar is under almost universal pressure. For example, in the G10, NZD is the leading gainer, up 0.6%, as its status as a high beta currency has fostered buying interest from the speculative crowd betting on the recovery. But we are also seeing NOK and SEK (both +0.5%) performing well while the euro (+0.3%) and the pound (+0.3%) are just behind them. The UK story seems to be about the great reopening that is due to occur starting Saturday, when pubs and restaurants as well as hotels are to be allowed to reopen their doors to customers. The fear, of course, is that this will foster a second wave of infections. But there is no doubt there is a significant amount of pent up demand for a drink at the local pub.

In the EMG bloc, the ruble is today’s winner, rising 1.2% on the back of oil’s continued rebound. It is interesting, though, as there is a story that Saudi Arabia is having a fight with some other OPEC members, and is close to relaunching a full-scale price war again. It has been the Saudis who have done the lion’s share of production cutting, so if they turn on the taps, oil has a long way to fall. Elsewhere in the space, INR (+0.8%) and ZAR (+0.75%) are having solid days on the back of that commodity strength and recovery hopes. While the bulk of the space is higher, IDR has had a rough session, in fact a rough week, as it has fallen another 0.65% overnight which takes its loss in the past week near 2.0%. Infection rates continue to climb in the country and investors are becoming uncomfortable as equity sales are growing as well.

So, this morning will be a tale of the tape. All eyes will be on the data at 8:30 with the odds stacked for a strong risk session regardless of the outcome. If the data shows the recovery is clearly strengthening, then buying stocks makes sense. On the other hand, if the data is disappointing, and points to a reversal of the early recovery, the working assumption is the Fed will come to the rescue quite quickly, so buying stocks makes sense. In this worldview, the dollar is not seen as critical, so further dollar weakness could well be in our future.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Buy With More Zeal

The stimulus story is clear
Expect more throughout the whole year
C bankers are scared
And war they’ve declared
On bears, who now all live in fear

Thus, Wednesday the Fed will reveal
They’ll not stop til they hear the squeal
Of covering shorts
While Powell exhorts
Investors to buy with more zeal!

The market is biding its time as traders and investors await Wednesday’s FOMC statement and the press conference from Chairman Powell that follows. Patterns that we have seen over the past week are continuing, albeit on a more modest path. This means that the dollar is softer, but certainly not collapsing; treasury yields are higher, and those bonds almost seem like they are collapsing; commodity prices continue to mostly move higher; and equity markets are mixed, with pockets of strength and weakness. This is all part and parcel of the V-shaped recovery story which has completely dominated the narrative, at least in financial markets.

Friday’s payroll report was truly surprising as the NFP number was more than 10 million jobs higher than estimated. This led to a surprisingly better than expected, although still awful, Unemployment Rate of 13.3%. However, this report sowed its own controversy when the Labor Department happened to mention, at the bottom of the release, that there was a little problem with the count whereby 4.9 million respondents were misclassified as still working and temporarily absent rather than unemployed. Had these people been accounted for properly, the results would have been an NFP outcome of -2.4 million while the Unemployment rate would have been about 3% higher. Of course, this immediately raised questions about the propriety of all government statistics and whether the administration is trying to cook the books. However, Occam’s Razor would point you in another direction, that it is simply really difficult to collect accurate data during the current pan(dem)ic.

What is, perhaps, more interesting is that the financial press has largely ignored the story. It seems the press is far more interested in fostering the bullish case and this number was a perfect rebuttal to all the bears who continue to highlight things like the coming wave of bankruptcies that are almost certain to crest as soon as the Fed (and other central banks) stop adding money to the pot every day. Of course, perhaps the central banking community will never stop adding money to the pot thus permanently supporting higher equity valuations. Alas, that is the precise recipe for fiat currency devaluation, perhaps not against every other fiat currency, but against real stuff, like gold, real estate, and even food. So, while FX rates may all stay bounded, inflation would become a much greater problem for us all.

At this point, the universal central bank view is that deflation remains the primary concern, and inflation is easily tamed if it should appear. But ask yourself this, if central banks have spent trillions of dollars to drive rates lower to support the economy, how much appetite will they have to raise rates to fight inflation at the risk of slowing the economy? Exactly.

So, let’s take a look at today’s markets. After Friday’s blowout performance by US equities, which helped drive the dollar lower and Treasury yields higher, Asia was actually very quiet with only the Nikkei (+1.4%) showing any life at all. And that came after a surprisingly good Q1 GDP report showing Japan shrank only 2.2% in Q1, not the -3.4% originally reported. This also represents a data controversy as Capex data appeared far more robust than originally estimated. However, this too, seems to be a case of the government having a difficult time getting accurate data with most economists expecting the GDP result to be revised lower. But the rest of Asia was basically flat in equity space.

Meanwhile, European bourses are mixed with the DAX (-0.4%) and CAC (-0.5%) leading the way lower although we continue to see strength in Spain (+0.7%) and Italy (+0.2%). The ongoing belief that the largest portion of ECB stimulus will be used to support the latter two nations remains a powerful incentive for investors to keep buying into their markets.

On the bond front, Treasury yields, after having risen 25bps last week, in the 10-year, are higher by a further 2bps this morning. 30-year yields are rising even faster, up 3.5bps so far today. This, too, is all part of the same narrative; the V-shaped recovery means that lower rates will no longer be the norm going forward. This is setting up quite the confrontation with the Fed and is seen as a key reason that yield-curve control (YCC) is on the horizon. The last thing the Fed wants is for the market to undermine all their efforts at economic recovery by anticipating their success and driving yields higher. Thus, YCC could be the perfect means for the Fed to stop that price action in its tracks.

As to the dollar, it is having a more mixed performance today as opposed to the broad-based weakness we saw last week. In the G10, SEK and NOK (+0.4% each) are the best performers although we are seeing modest 0.15%-0.2% gains across the Commonwealth currencies as well as the yen. NOK is clearly following oil prices higher, while SEK continues to benefit from the fact that its rising yields are attracting more investment after reporting positive Q1 growth last week. On the downside, the pound is the leading decliner, -0.25%, although the euro is weakening by 0.15% as well. While the pound started the session firmer on the back of easing lockdown restrictions, it has since turned tail amid concerns that this dollar decline is reaching its limits.

In the EMG bloc, RUB (+0.65%) is the clear leader today, also on oil’s ongoing rally, although there are a number of currencies that have seen very modest gains as well. On the downside, TRY and PHP (-0.25% each) are the leading decliners, but here, too, there is a list of currencies that have small losses. As I said, overall, there is no real trend here.

While this week brings us the FOMC meeting, there is actually very little other data to note:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Sentiment 92.2
  JPLT’s Job Openings 5.75M
Wednesday CPI 0.0% (0.3% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.0% (1.3% Y/Y)
  FOMC Rate Decision  0.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 1.55M
  Continuing Claims 20.6M
  PPI 0.1% (-1.3% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy -0.1% (0.5% Y/Y)
Friday Michigan Sentiment 75.0

Source: Bloomberg

While we can be pretty sure the Fed will not feel compelled to change policy at this meeting, you can expect that there will be many questions in the press conference regarding the future, whether about forward guidance or YCC. As they continue to reduce their daily QE injections, down to just $4 billion/day, I fear the equity market may start to feel a bit overdone up here, and a short-term reversal seems quite realistic. For now, risk is still on, but don’t be surprised if it stumbles for a while going forward. And that means the dollar is likely to show some strength.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Trade is the Word

Remember last year when Phase One
Was all that was needed to run
The stock market higher,
Light bears’ hair on fire
And help all the bulls to have fun?

Well, once again trade is the word
Investors are claiming has spurred
Their risk appetite
Both morning and night
While earnings and growth are deferred

Another day, another rally in equity markets as the bulls now point to revamped conversations between the US and China regarding trade as the critical feature to return the economy to a growth stance. Covid-19 was extremely effective at disrupting the phase one trade deal on two fronts. First, given a key part of the deal was the promise of substantial agricultural purchases by China, the closure of their economy in February and corresponding inability to import virtually anything, put paid to that part of the deal. Then there was the entire issue about the origin of Covid-19, and President Trump’s insistence on ascribing blame to the Chinese for its spread. Certainly, that did not help relations.

But yesterday, the White House described renewed discussions between senior officials to help ensure that the trade deal remains on track. Apparently, there was a phone conversation including Chinese Premier, Liu He, and both Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Trade Rep Lighthizer last night. And this is the story on the lips of every buyer in the market. The thesis here is quite simple, US economic output will be goosed by a ramp up by the Chinese in buying products. Recall, they allegedly promised to purchase in excess of $50 billion worth of agricultural goods, as well as focus on the prevention of IP theft and open their economy further. Covid slowed their purchases significantly, so now, in order to meet their obligations, they need to dramatically increase their buying pace, thus supporting US growth. It’s almost as though last year’s news is driving this year’s market.

Nonetheless, that is the situation and yesterday’s US performance has carried over through Asia (Nikkei +2.6%, Hang Seng +1.0%, Shanghai + 0.8%) and on into Europe (DAX +0.9%, CAC + 0.8%). Not to worry, US futures are right in line, with all three indices currently higher by just over 1.0%.

Bond markets are rallying today as well, which after yesterday’s rally and the broader risk sentiment seems a bit out of place. But 10-year Treasury yields are down 10bps in the past two sessions, with this morning’s price action worth 3bps. Bunds have seen a similar, albeit not quite as large, move, with yields falling 5bps since Wednesday and down 1.5bps today. In the European market, though, today’s big story is Italy, where Moody’s is due to release its latest credit ratings update this afternoon. Moody’s currently has Italy rated Baa3, the lowest investment grade rating, and there is a risk that they cut Italy to junk status. However, we are seeing broad optimism in markets this morning. In fact, Italian BTP yields have fallen (bonds rallied) 8bps this morning and 14bps in the past two sessions. In other words, it doesn’t appear that there is great concern of a downgrade, at least not right now. Of course, that means any surprise by Moody’s will have that much larger of a negative impact.

Put it all together and you have the makings of yet another positive risk day. Not surprisingly, the dollar is under pressure during this move, with most G10 and EMG currencies in the black ahead of the payroll data this morning. And pretty much, the story for all the gainers is the positive vibe delivered by the trade news. That has helped oil prices to continue their recent rally and correspondingly supported CAD, RUB, MXN and NOK. And the story has helped renew hopes for a return to a pickup in international trade, which has fallen sharply during the past several months.

The data this morning is sure
To set records that will endure
For decades to come
As depths it will plumb
And question if hope’s premature

Here are the most recent median expectations according to Bloomberg:

Nonfarm Payrolls -22.0M
Private Payrolls -21.855M
Manufacturing Payrolls -2.5M
Unemployment Rate 16.0%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.5% (3.3% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 33.5
Participation Rate 61.0%
Canadian Change in Employment -4.0M
Canadian Unemployment Rate 18.1%

Obviously, these are staggeringly large numbers in both the US and Canada. In fact, given the US economy is more than 12x the size of Canada, the situation north of the border looks more dire than here at home. Of course, the market has likely become somewhat inured to these numbers as we have seen Initial Claims numbers grow 30M in the past six weeks. But that does not detract from the absolute carnage that Covid-19 has caused to the economy. The question at hand, though, is whether the confirmation of economic destruction is enough to derail the idea that a V-shaped recovery is in the cards.

Once again, I look at the dichotomy of price action between the equity markets and the Treasury market in an effort to find an answer. The anticipated data this morning is unequivocal evidence of destruction of huge swathes of the US economy. We are looking at a decade’s worth of job growth disappearing in one month. In addition, it does appear likely that a significant proportion of these jobs will simply not return as they were. Instead, we are likely to see major transformations in the way business is carried out in the future. How long will it be before people are comfortable in large crowds? How long before they want to jostle each other in a bar to watch a football game? Or just go out on a Thursday night? The point is, equity markets don’t see the glass half full, they see it overflowing. However, 10-year Treasury yields at 0.60% are hardly an indication of strong economic demand. In fact, they are the opposite, an indication that future growth is going to be extremely subdued when it returns, and the fact that the entire term structure of rates is so low tells me that return is likely to take a long time. Much longer than a few quarters. To complete the analogy, the bond market sees that same glass as virtually emplty. So, stocks continue to point to a V and bonds to an L. Alas, history has shown the bond market tends to get these things right more often than the stock market.

The point is that the current robust risk appetite seems unlikely to have staying power, and that means that the current dollar weakness is likely to be fleeting. The bigger picture remains that the dollar, for the time being, will remain the ultimate haven currency. Look for its bid to return.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Woe Betide Every Forecast

The number of those who have passed
Is starting to slow down at last
The hope now worldwide
Is this won’t subside
But woe betide every forecast

Arguably, this morning’s most important news is the fact that the number of people succumbing to the effects of Covid-19 seems to be slowing down from the pace seen during the past several weeks. The highlights (which are not very high) showed Italy with its fewest number of deaths in more than two weeks, France with its lowest number in five days while Spain counted fewer deaths for the third day running. Stateside, New York City, which given its highest in the nation population density has been the US epicenter for the disease, saw the first decline in fatalities since the epidemic began to spread. And this is what counts as positive news these days. The world is truly a different place than it was in January.

However, as everything is relative, at least with respect to financial markets, the prospects for a slowing of the spread of the virus is certainly welcome news to investors. And they are showing it in style this morning with Asian equity markets having started things off on a positive note (Nikkei +4.25%, Hang Seng +2.2%, Australia +4.3) although mainland Chinese indices all fell about 0.6%. Europe picked up the positive vibe, and of course was the source of much positive news regarding infections, and equity markets there are up strongly across the board (DAX +4.5%, CAC +3.7%, FTSE 100 +2.1%). Finally, US equity futures are all strongly higher as I type, with all three major indices up nearly 4.0% at this hour.

The positive risk attitude is following through in the bond market, with 10-year Treasury yields now higher by 6.5bps while most European bond markets also softening with modestly higher yields. Interestingly, the commodity market has taken a different approach to the day’s news with WTI and Brent both falling a bit more than 3% while gold prices have bounced nearly 1% and are firmly above $1600/oz.

Finally, the dollar is on its back foot this morning, in a classic risk-on performance, falling against all its G10 counterparts except the yen, which is lower by 0.6%. AUD and NOK are the leading gainers, both higher by more than 1% with the former seeming to be a leveraged bet on a resumption of growth in Asia while the krone responded positively to a report that in the event of an international agreement to cut oil production, they would likely support such an action and cut output as well. While oil prices didn’t benefit from this news (it seems that there are still significant disagreements between the Saudis and Russians preventing a move on this front), the FX market saw it as a distinct positive. interestingly, the euro, which was the epicenter of today’s positive news, is virtually unchanged on the day.

EMG currencies are also broadly firmer this morning although there are a couple of exceptions. At the bottom of the list is TRY, which is lower by 0.6% after reporting a 13% rise in coronavirus cases and an increasing death toll. In what cannot be a huge surprise, given its recent horrific performance, the Mexican peso is slightly softer as well this morning, -0.2%, as not only the weakness in oil is hurting, but so, too, is the perception of a weak government response by the Mexican government with respect to the virus. But on the flipside, HUF is today’s top performer, higher by 1.0% after the central bank raised a key financing rate in an effort to halt the freefalling forint’s slide to further record lows. Since March 9, HUF had declined more than 16.5% before today’s modest rally! Beyond HUF, the rest of the space is holding its own nicely as the dollar remains under broad pressure.

Before we look ahead to this week’s modest data calendar, I think it is worth a look at Friday’s surprising NFP report. By now, you are all aware that nonfarm payrolls fell by 701K, a much larger number than expected. Those expectations were developed because the survey week was the one that included March 12, just the second week of the month, and a time that was assumed to be at least a week before the major policy changes in the US with closure of businesses and the implementation of social distancing. But apparently that was not the case. What is remarkable is that the Initial Claims numbers from the concurrent and following week gave no indication of the decline.

I think the important information from this datapoint is that Q1 growth is going to be much worse than expected, as the number indicates that things were shutting down much sooner than expected. I had created a simple GDP model which assumed a 50% decrease in economic activity for the last two weeks of the quarter and a 25% decrease for the week prior to that. and that simple model indicated that GDP in Q1 would show a -9.6% annualized decline. Obviously, the error bars around that result are huge, but it didn’t seem a crazy outcome. However, if this started a week earlier than I modeled, the model produces a result of -13.4% GDP growth in Q1. And as we review the Initial Claims numbers from the past two weeks, where nearly 10 million new applications for unemployment were filed, it is pretty clear that the data over the next month or two are going to be unprecedentedly awful. Meanwhile, none of this is going to help with the earnings process, where we are seeing announcements of 90% reductions in revenues from airlines, while entire hotel chains and restaurant chains have closed their doors completely. While markets, in general, are discounting instruments, always looking ahead some 6-9 months, it will be very difficult to look through the current fog to see the other side of this abyss. In other words, be careful.

As to this week, inflation data is the cornerstone, but given the economic transformation in March, it is not clear how useful the information will be. And anyway, the Fed has made it abundantly clear it doesn’t care about inflation anyway.

Tuesday JOLTS Job Openings 6.5M
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 5000K
  PPI -0.4% (0.5% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.0% (1.2% Y/Y)
  Michigan Sentiment 75.0
Friday CPI -0.3% (1.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.1% (2.3% Y/Y)

Source: Bloomberg

Overall, Initial Claims continues to be the most timely data, and the range of forecasts is between 2500K and 7000K, still a remarkably wide range and continuing to show that nobody really has any idea. But it will likely be awful, that is almost certain. Overall, it feels too soon, to me, to start discounting a return to normality, and I fear that we have not seen the worst in the data, nor the markets. Ultimately, the dollar is likely to remain THE haven of choice so keep that in mind when hedging.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Coming Up Short

All week what the market has said
Is fears in re China are dead
But last night it seems
The latest of memes
Showed fear is still somewhat widespread

This morning the payroll report
If strong, ought, the dollar, support
The US this week
Has been on a streak
While Europe keeps coming up short

After a week where early fears about the spread of the coronavirus morphed into a belief that any issues would be contained and have only a short term impact on the global economy, it seems that some investors and traders are having second thoughts. For the first time since last Friday, equity markets around the world have fallen, albeit not very far, and risk is starting to be unloaded. Certainly, this could well be short-term profit taking. After all, since Friday’s close on the S&P 500, the index was higher by nearly 4% as of last night, and pretty much in a straight line. The remarkable thing about the equity rally, which was truly global in nature, was that it very studiously ignored the ongoing growth of the epidemic and its economic impacts.

Last night, however, it seems the announcements by Toyota and Honda that they would extend their mainland Chinese factory shutdowns by another week, as well as the force majeure declarations by Chinese energy and copper companies have served to highlight just how severely economic activity in China is slowing. Alas, the human impact continues its steady climb higher, with more than 600 deaths now attributed to the virus and more than 31,000 cases confirmed. It certainly appears as the situation has not yet reached anything near a peak, which implies that more market impacts are still to come.

One of the things we are beginning to see is a more significant reduction in expectations for Chinese economic activity this year. Last night, several more analysts reduced their expectations for Q1 GDP growth there by more than 2%. Given the fact that China has quarantined some 90 million people at this point, which is a remarkable 6.5% of the population, I expect that before all is said and done, Q1 GDP growth in China is going to be much lower, probably on the order of 2% annualized. In fact, I would not be surprised if the Chinese don’t release a Q1 number at all. There is precedent for this as just last night, the customs administration there announced that there would be no January trade data release, and that the numbers would be merged with February’s data to smooth out the impact of the Lunar New Year. Assuming the virus situation is under control by the end of Q1, it would be well within the Chinese prerogative to do the same with that data, hopefully masking just how bad things were.

In the end, there was nothing positive to be learned from Asia last night, which was confirmed by weakness in both equity markets throughout the region as well as the FX markets, where every currency in the APAC group fell. And all of this movement is directly attributable to the virus story.

Moving westward to Europe, things are looking no better there this morning, with equity markets lower across the board and their currencies also under pressure. NOK is the worst performer, down 0.6% as fears over further weakness in the oil market are weighing on the currency. But, the euro is feeling more heat today as well; down 0.25% after IP data from everywhere in the Eurozone was markedly disappointing. Germany (-3.5%), France (-2.8%), Spain (-1.4%) and the Netherlands (-1.7%) demonstrated that a risk of a recession remains quite real on the continent. In fact, you may recall how Germany barely dodged that recession status in Q4, when GDP rose 0.1% in a bit of a surprise. Well, right now, Q1 looks like it is going to be negative again. It seems to me that if a country has three negative GDP prints in six quarters, with the other three quarters printing around +0.1%, that could easily be defined as a recession. But regardless of how it is described in print, the reality is that Germany has not come out of its funk yet, and it may be dragging the rest of Europe down with it.

But there is something else ongoing in the euro which is likely to have been a significant part of the currency’s recent weakness. Recall that LVMH has agreed to buy Tiffany’s for ~$16.5 billion. Well, LVMH issued both EUR (7.5 billion) and GBP (1.5 billion) bonds this week to pay for the purchase, which means that there was a massive conversion in both currencies that is a one-way flow. And as large as these markets are, a significant dollar purchase like that is going to have a major impact. As I wrote earlier this week, the euro is leaning heavily on support at 1.0950, and if it manages to break through, there is nothing technically in the way until 1.0850. If you are a payables hedger, this could be an excellent opportunity.

Turning to the US, this morning is payrolls day. After Wednesday’s blowout 291K number for ADP Employment, expectations are running high that things are going to be quite good. The current median forecasts are as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 165K
Private Payrolls 155K
Manufacturing Payrolls -2K
Unemployment Rate 3.5%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.3
Participation Rate 63.2%

Source: Bloomberg

A quick look at the revisions in NFP estimates since the ADP number shows that the average is now 180K. As I said, expectations are running high. And given the strength of US data we have seen all week, if we do get a strong number, I expect to see the dollar break higher, likely taking out technical resistance in a number of currencies.

To recap, we have a risk-off session leading up to a key economic indicator. It will be interesting to see if strong US data can offset the growing fear of further negative news from china, but ironically, I think that the dollar is likely to be in demand regardless of the outcome. A weak number implies a potential negative impact from the virus, and risk-off which helps the dollar. A strong number means that the US remains above the fray, and that US investments are poised to continue to lead the world, thus drawing in more dollar buyers. Either way, the dollar seems primed to rally further today.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf