Some Real Fed Appeasing

The jobs report Friday suggested
That everyone who has requested
Employment has found
That jobs still abound
And companies are still invested

The market response was less pleasing
At least for the bulls who seek easing
With equities falling
And yields, higher, crawling
Look, now, for some real Fed appeasing

We are clearly amidst a period of ‘good news is bad’ and ‘bad news is good’ within the market context these days. Friday was the latest evidence of this fact as the much better than expected Nonfarm Payroll report (224K vs. 160K expected) resulted in an immediate sell-off in equity and bond markets, with the dollar rallying sharply. The underlying thesis remains that weakness in the US (and global) economy will be sufficient to ensure easier monetary policy, but that the problems will not get so bad as to cause a recession. That’s a pretty fine line to toe for the central banks, and one where history shows they have a lousy record.

However, whether it is good or bad is irrelevant. What is abundantly clear is that this is the current situation. So, Friday saw all three major US indices fall from record highs; it saw 2-year Treasury yields back up 11bps and 10-year yields back up 8pbs; and it saw the dollar rally roughly 0.75%.

The question is, why were markets in those positions to begin with? On the equity side of the ledger, prices have been exclusively driven by expectations of Fed policy. Until the NFP report, not only was a 25bp rate cut priced into Fed funds for the FOMC meeting at the end of the month, but there was a growing probability of a 50bp rate cut. This situation is fraught with danger for equity investors although to date, the bulls have been rewarded. At least the bond story made more sense from a macroeconomic perspective, as broadly weaker economic data (Friday’s numbers excepted) had indicated that both the US and global economies were slowing with the obvious prescription being easier monetary policy. This had resulted in German bunds inverting relative to the -0.40% deposit rate at the ECB as well as US 10-year yields falling below 2.00% for the first time in several years. Therefore, stronger data would be expected to call that thesis into question, and a sell-off in bonds made sense.

And finally, for the dollar, the rally was also in sync with fundamentals as higher US yields, and more importantly, the prospect of less policy ease in the future, forced the dollar bears to re-evaluate their positions and unwind at least some portion. As I have been writing, under the assumption that the Fed does indeed ease policy, it makes sense that the dollar should decline somewhat. However, it is also very clear that the Fed will not be easing policy in a vacuum, but rather be leading a renewed bout of policy ease worldwide. And as the relative interest rate structure equalizes after all the central banks have finished their easing, the US will still likely be the most attractive investment destination, supporting the dollar, but also, dollar funding will still need to be found by non-US businesses and countries, adding to demand for the buck.

With this as a backdrop, the week ahead does not bring much in the way of data, really just CPI on Thursday, but it does bring us a great deal of Fed speak, including a Powell speech tomorrow and then his House and Senate testimony on Wednesday and Thursday. And don’t forget the ECB meeting on Thursday!

Today Consumer Credit $17.0B
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz 105
  JOLT’s Jobs Report 7.47M
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday ECB Meeting -0.4%
  Initial Claims 222K
  CPI 0.0% (1.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.0% Y/Y)
Friday PPI 0.1% (1.6% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)

Remember, that on top of the FOMC Minutes to be released Wednesday afternoon, we will hear from seven different Fed speakers a total of thirteen times this week, including Powell’s testimony on Capitol Hill. Amongst this crowd will be the two most dovish members of the FOMC, Bullard and Kashkari, as well as key members Williams and Quarles. It will be extremely interesting to see how these speakers spin the jobs data relative to their seemingly growing bias toward easing. Much has been made of the idea of an ‘insurance’ rate cut, in order to prevent anything from getting out of hand. But Powell will also need to deal with the allegations that he is capitulating to President Trump’s constant demands for lower interest rates and more QE if he comes across as dovish. I don’t envy him the task.

Regarding the ECB meeting, despite continuing weakness in most of the Eurozone data, it feels like it is a bit too soon for them to ease policy quite yet. First off, they have the issue of what type of impact pushing rates even further negative will have on the banking system there. With the weekend news about Deutsche bank retrenching across numerous products, with no end of red ink in sight, the last thing Signor Draghi wants is to have to address a failing major bank. But it is also becoming clearer, based on comments from other ECB members (Coeure and Villeroy being the latest) that a cut is coming soon. And don’t rule out further QE. The ECB is fast becoming desperate, with no good options in sight. Ultimately, this also plays into my belief that despite strong rationales for the dollar to decline, it is the euro that will suffer most.

However, the fun doesn’t really start until tomorrow, when Chairman Powell speaks at 8:45am. So for today, it appears that markets will consolidate Friday’s moves with limited volatility, but depending on just how dovish Powell sounds, we are in for a more active week overall.

Good luck
Adf

More Concern

Most data of late have been weak
Thus central banks are set to tweak
Their policy rates
As they have mandates
Designed to keep growth at a peak

Now later this morning we’ll learn
If payrolls are starting to turn
Last month’s poor display
And weakness today
Would certainly cause more concern

It’s payroll day in the US and markets have been extremely quiet overnight. In fact, given yesterday’s July 4th holiday here in the US, they have been quiet for two days. However, don’t let the lack of market activity distract you from the fact that there are still a lot of things ongoing in the global economy.

For example, a key question on analysts’ minds has been whether or not a recession is in the offing. Data continues to generally disappoint, with this morning’s sharply lower German Factory Orders (-2.2%) and UK Labor Productivity (-0.5%) as the latest in a long line of crummy results. And given last month’s disappointment on the US payroll front (recall the outcome was 75K vs. the 185K expected) today’s numbers are being closely watched. Here are the current median expectations based on economist surveys:

Nonfarm Payrolls 160K
Private Payrolls 153K
Manufacturing Payrolls 0K
Unemployment Rate 3.6%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.4

A couple of things to note are the fact that the NFP number, even if it comes in at the median expectation, still represents a declining rate of job growth compared to what the US experienced in 2018. This is likely based on two factors; first that this historically long expansion is starting to slow down, and second, that there are less available workers to fill jobs as population growth remains restrained. The other thing to remember is that the Unemployment Report has always been a lagging indicator, looking backwards at how things were, rather than giving direction about the future. The point is that worsening of this data implies that things are already slowing. As I wrote Wednesday, don’t be surprised if when the inevitable recession finally gets determined, that it started in June 2019. I failed to mention the ADP report on Wednesday as a data release, but it, too, disappointed, printing at 102K, some 40K below expectations.

With that as our cheerful backdrop, let’s consider what to expect ahead of the release:

Weaker than expected results – If the NFP number prints at 90K or less, look for equity markets to rejoice as they perceive the Fed will become even more aggressive in their attempts to head off a recession, and the idea of a 50bp rate cut at the end of the month takes hold. Bond markets, too, will soar on the same expectations, while the dollar is likely to give up its overnight gains (granted they were only about 0.2%) as a more aggressive Fed will be seen as a signal to sell the buck. The key conundrum in this scenario remains equities, which continue to rally into weaker economic conditions. At some point, if the economy continues to weaken, the negative impact on earnings is going to outweigh the kneejerk reaction of buying when the Fed cuts, but as John Maynard Keynes reminded us all, ‘markets can stay irrational far longer than you can stay solvent.’

Results on or near expectations – If we see a print in the 120K-180K range, I would expect traders to be mildly disappointed as the call for a more aggressive Fed policy would diminish. Thus equities might suffer slightly, especially given they are sitting at record highs, while bonds are likely to see yields head back toward 2.0%. The dollar, meanwhile, is likely to maintain its overnight gains, and could well see a modest uptick as the idea of more aggressive Fed easing starts to ebb, at least for now.

Stronger than expected results – Any print above 180K will almost certainly, perversely, see a stock market selloff. It is abundantly clear that equity buyers are simply counting on Fed largesse to keep the party going. The market has nothing to do with the fundamentals of the economy or individual company situations. With this in mind, strong data means that the Fed will have no call to cut rates. The result is that the futures market will likely reprice the odds of a rate cut in July lower, perhaps to a 50% probability, while equity traders will take the news as a profit-taking opportunity given the lack of reason for a follow through higher in stocks. Bonds will get tossed overboard as well, as concerns about slowing growth will quickly abate, and a sharp move higher in 10-year yields is entirely realistic. As a point of information, the last time the payroll report was released on July 5th, in 2013, 10-year yields rallied 25bps on a surprising payroll outcome. And remember, technical indicators show that the bond market is massively overbought, so there is ample opportunity for a sharp move. And finally, because of the holiday yesterday, trading desks will have skeleton staffs, further reducing liquidity. Oh yeah, and the dollar will probably see significant gains as well.

The point is that there are two possible outcomes that could see some real fireworks (pun intended) today, so stay on your toes. While one number is just that, a single data point, given the recent trend in place, today’s data seem to have a lot of importance. If pressed, my sense is that the trend of weaker data that has been evident worldwide is going to manifest itself with something like a 50K print, and an uptick in the Unemployment Rate to 3.7% or 3.8%.

We will know shortly.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Stopped at the Border

On Friday the President tweeted
Unless immigration, unneeded,
Is stopped at the border
I will give the order
To raise tariffs til it’s defeated

Friday’s big market news was President Trump’s threat of new tariffs, this time on Mexico, if they don’t address the illegal immigration issue domestically. This is a novel approach to a non-economic problem, but given the President’s embrace of the tariff process, perhaps it is not that surprising. The impact across markets, however, was substantial, with equities suffering while haven assets, notably Treasuries and Bunds, both rallied sharply. In fact, those moves have continued through the overnight session and we now see the 10-year US Treasury yielding just 2.10%, its lowest since September 2017, while 10-year Bunds are yielding a record low -0.21%! In other words, fear is rife that the future is going to be less amenable to investors than the recent past.

Meanwhile, equity markets have also suffered with Friday’s global sell-off continuing this morning in Europe after a mostly negative day in Asia. As to the dollar, it has been a bit more mixed, falling sharply against the yen (JPY +1.1% Friday, flat today), rising sharply against emerging market currencies (MXN -2.5% Friday, -0.3% today), but actually sliding slightly vs. its other G10 counterparts.

It is instructive to consider why the dollar is not maintaining its full status as a haven. Ultimately, the reason is that expectations for aggressive rate cuts by the Fed are becoming the default market expectation. This compares to a much less aggressive adjustment by other central banks, and so the relative forecasts point to a narrowing interest rate differential. Consider that the futures market has now priced in three rate cuts by Q1 2020 in Fed funds. Six months ago, they were pricing in three rate hikes! That is a huge sentiment change, and yet the dollar is actually stronger today than it was at the beginning of the year by about 2%. The point is that while recent economic estimates in the US continue to be downgraded, estimates for the rest of the world are being downgraded equally. In fact, there is substantially greater concern that China’s GDP growth could slow far more than that of the US adding to knock-on effects elsewhere in the world.

One of the things I have consistently maintained is that a slowdown in the US will not happen in isolation, and if the US is slowing, so will be the rest of the world. This means there is virtually no probability that the Fed will cut rates without essentially every other country easing policy as well, and that all important (at least for FX traders) interest rate differential is not likely to shrink nearly as much as reflected by simply looking at the Fed’s activities. A perfect example is Australia, where tomorrow’s RBA meeting is expected to see a 25bp rate cut, with the market pricing between two and three more during the next several quarters. Aussie has been suffering lately and is likely to continue to do so going forward, especially as pressure remains on China’s economy.

The Fed’s done a year-long review
Of policies they might turn to
They’re hoping to find
A new frame of mind
In order to reach a breakthrough

The other story about which you will hear a great deal this week is the gathering at the Chicago Fed of the FOMC and academics as they try to find a better way to effect policy. The positive aspect of this process is that they recognize they are not really doing a very good job. The negative aspect is that they continue to believe inflation remains too low and are extremely frustrated by their impotence to change the situation. We have already heard a number of the ideas; ranging from choosing a higher inflation target to allowing inflation to run hot (if it ever gets there based on their measurements). Alas, there seems little chance that the fundamental issue, the fact that their models are no longer reasonable representations of the real world, will be addressed. To a (wo)man, they all continue to strongly believe in a Keynesian world where more stimulus equals more economic activity. I would contend that, not dissimilar to the differences between Newtonian physics and particle physics, interest rates at the zero bound (and below) no longer have the same impact as they do at higher levels. And it is this failure by all central bankers to recognize the non-linearity of results which will prevent a viable solution from being found until a crisis materializes. And even then I’m not optimistic.

Turning to this weeks’ data dump, there is a ton of stuff coming, culminating in Friday’s NFP report:

Today ISM Manufacturing 53.0
  ISM Prices Paid 52.0
  Construction Spending 0.4%
Tuesday Factory Orders -0.9%
Wednesday ADP Employment 185K
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 55.5
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  Trade Balance -$50.7B
  Nonfarm Productivity 3.5%
  Unit Labor Costs -0.8%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 183K
  Private Payrolls 175K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 4k
  Unemployment Rate 3.6%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5

There are also eleven Fed speakers including Chairman Powell on Tuesday morning as well as the aforementioned Fed conclave regarding new policy tools. In other words, there is plenty available to move markets this week. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the ongoing trade situation, where fears are extremely high, but both China and Mexico have said they want to sit down and discuss things again.

At this point, given how much new information will be added to the mix, it is impossible to say how markets will perform. However, with that in mind, we will need to see some extraordinarily weak US data to change the idea that the US is still the ‘cleanest dirty shirt in the laundry’, to use a terrible metaphor. As well, do not be surprised to see Mexico, at least, agree to implement new policies to address the immigration issue and reduce pressure on the peso. In the end, I continue to look for the dollar to maintain its overall strength, but a modest drift lower against G10 counterparts is well within reason.

Good luck
Adf

The Chaff from the Wheat

As markets await the report
On Payrolls they’re having to sort
The chaff from the wheat
From Threadneedle Street
As Carney, does rate hikes exhort

The gloom that had been permeating the analyst community (although certainly not the equity markets) earlier this year, seems to be lifting slightly. Recent data has shown a stabilization, at the very least, if not the beginnings of outright growth, from key regions around the world. The latest news was this morning’s surprising Eurozone inflation numbers, where CPI rose a more than expected 1.7% in April, while the core rate rose 1.2%, matching the highest level it has seen in the past two years. If this is truly a trend, then perhaps that long delayed normalization of monetary policy in the Eurozone may finally start to occur. Personally, I’m not holding my breath. Interestingly, the FX market has responded by selling the euro with the single currency down 0.2% this morning and 1.0% since Wednesday’s close. I guess that market doesn’t see the case for higher Eurozone rates yet.

In the meantime, the market continues to consider BOE Governor Carney’s comments in the wake of yesterday’s meeting, where he tried to convince one and all that the tendency for UK rates will be higher once Brexit is finalized (and assuming a smooth transition). And perhaps, if there truly is a global recovery trend and policy normalization becomes a reality elsewhere, that will be the case. But here, too, the market does not seem to believe him as evidenced by the pound’s ongoing weakness (-0.3% and back below 1.30) and the fact that interest rate futures continue to price in virtually no chance of rate hikes in the UK before 2021.

While we are discussing the pound, there is one other thing that continues to confuse me, the very fact that it is still trading either side of 1.30. If you believe the narrative, the UK cannot leave the EU without a deal, so there is no chance of a hard Brexit. After all, isn’t that what Parliament voted for? In addition, according to the OECD, the pound at 1.30 is undervalued by 12% or so. Combining these two themes, no chance of a hard Brexit and a massively undervalued pound, with the fact that the Fed has seemingly turned dovish would lead one to believe that the pound should be trading closer to 1.40 than 1.30. And yet, here we are. My take is that the market is not yet convinced that a hard Brexit is off the table or else the pound would be much higher. And frankly, in this case, I agree. It is still not clear to me that a hard Brexit is off the table which means that any true resolution to the situation should result in a sharp rally in the pound.

Pivoting to the rest of the FX market, the dollar is stronger pretty much across the board this morning, and this is after a solid performance yesterday. US data yesterday showed a significant jump in Nonfarm Productivity (+3.6%) along with a decline in Unit Labor Costs (-0.9%), thus implying that corporate activity was quite robust and the growth picture in the US enhanced. We also continue to see US earnings data that is generally beating (quite low) expectations and helping to underpin the equity market’s recent gains. Granted the past two days have seen modest declines, but overall, stocks remain much higher on the year. In the end, it continues to appear that despite all the angst over trade, and current US policies regarding energy, climate and everything else, the US remains a very attractive place to invest and dollars continue to be in demand.

Regarding this morning’s data, not only do we see the payroll report, but also the ISM Non-manufacturing number comes at 10:00.

Nonfarm Payrolls 185K
Private Payrolls 180K
Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Participation Rate 62.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.3% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
ISM Non-Manufacturing 57.0

One cannot help but be impressed with the labor market in the US, where for the last 102 months, the average NFP number has been 200K. It certainly doesn’t appear that this trend is going to change today. In fact, after Wednesday’s blowout ADP number, the whisper is for something north of 200K. However, Wednesday’s ISM Manufacturing number was disappointingly weak, so there will be a great deal of scrutiny on today’s non-manufacturing view.

Adding to the mix, starting at 10:15 we will hear from a total of five Fed speakers (Evans, Clarida, Williams, Bowman, Bullard) before we go to bed. While Bullard’s speech is after the markets close, the other four will get to recount their personal views on the economy and future policy path with markets still open. However, given that we just heard from Chairman Powell at his press conference, and that the vote to leave rates was unanimous, it seems unlikely we will learn too much new information from these talks.

Summing up, heading into the payroll report the dollar is firm and shows no signs of retreating. My take is a good number will support the buck, while a weak one will get people thinking about that insurance rate cut again, and likely undermine its recent strength. My money is on a better number today, something like 230K, and a continuation of the last two days of dollar strength.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

Fleeing the Scene

The latest news from the UK
Is that they have sought a delay
Til midsummer’s eve
When, they now believe,
They’ll duly have something to say

But Europe seems not quite so keen
To grant that stay when they convene
It should be a year
Unless it’s quite clear
The UK is fleeing the scene

Despite the fact it is payroll day here in the US, there are still two stories that continue to garner the bulk of the attention, Brexit and trade with China. In the former, this morning PM May sent a letter to the EU requesting a delay until June 30, which seems to ignore all the points that have been made about a delay up until now. With European elections due May 23, the EU wants the UK out by then, or in for a much longer time, as the idea that the UK will vote in EU elections then leave a month later is anathema. But May seems to believe that now that she is in discussions with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, a solution will soon be found and the Parliament will pass her much reviled deal with tweaks to the political codicil about the future. The other idea is a one-year delay that will give the UK time to hold another referendum and get it right this time determine if it is still the people’s will to follow through with Brexit given what is now generally believed about the economic consequences. The PM is due to present a plan of some sort on Wednesday to an emergency meeting of the EU, after which time the EU will vote on whether to grant a delay, and how long it will be. More uncertainty has left markets in the same place they have been for the past several months, stuck between the terror of a hard Brexit and the euphoria of no Brexit. It should be no surprise the pound is little changed today at 1.3065. Until it becomes clear as to the outcome, it is hard to see a reason for the pound to move more than 1% in either direction.

Regarding the trade story, what I read as mixed messages from the White House and Beijing has naturally been construed positively by the market. Both sides claim that progress is being made, but the key sticking points remain IP integrity, timing on the removal of tariffs by the US, and the ability of unilateral retaliation by the US in the event that China doesn’t live up to the terms of the deal. The latest thought is it will take another four to six weeks to come to terms on a deal. We shall see. The one thing we have learned is that the equity markets continue to see this as crucial to future economic growth, and rally on every piece of ‘good’ news. It seems to me that at some point, a successful deal will be fully priced in, which means that we are clearly setting up a ‘buy the rumor, sell the news’ type of dynamic going forward. In other words, look for a positive announcement to result in a short pop higher in equity prices, and then a lot of profit taking and a pretty good decline. The thing is, since we have no real idea on the timing, nor where the market will be when things are announced, it doesn’t help much right now in asset allocation.

As a side note, I did read a commentary that made an interesting point about these negotiations. If you consider communism’s tenets, a key one is that there is no such thing as private property. So, the idea that China will agree to the protection of private property when it contradicts the Chinese fundamental ruling dicta may be a bit of a stretch. Maybe they will, but that could be quite a hurdle to overcome there. Food for thought.

Now, on to payrolls. Here are the latest consensus forecasts:

Nonfarm Payrolls 180K
Private Payrolls 170K
Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.4% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5

A little worryingly, the ADP number on Wednesday was weaker than expected, but the month-by-month relationship between the two is not as close as you might think. Based on what we have heard from Fed speakers just yesterday (Harker, Mester and Williams), the FOMC believes that their current stance of waiting and watching continues to be appropriate. They are looking for a data trend that either informs coming weakness or coming strength and will respond accordingly. To a wo(man), however, these three all believe that the economy will have a solid performance this year, with GDP at or slightly above 2.0%, and that it is very premature to consider rate cuts, despite what the market is pricing.

Meanwhile, the data story from elsewhere continues to drift in a negative direction with Industrial Production falling throughout Europe, UK House Prices declining and UK productivity turning negative. In fact, the Italian government is revising its forecast for GDP growth in 2019 to be 0.1% all year and all eyes are on the IMF’s updated projections due next week, which are touted to fall even further.

In the end, the big picture remains largely unchanged. Uncertainty over Brexit and trade continue to weigh on business decisions and growth data continues to suffer. The one truism is that central bankers are watching this and the only difference in views is regarding how quickly they may need to ease policy further, except for the Fed, which remains convinced that the status quo is proper policy. As I continuously point out, this dichotomy remains in the dollar’s favor, and until it changes, my views will remain that the dollar should benefit going forward.

Good luck
Adf

Hitting Home

The current Fed Chairman, Jerome
Initially’d taken the tone
That interest rate hiking
Was to the Fed’s liking
Until hikes began hitting home

Then stock markets round the world crashed
And policymakers’ teeth gnashed
He then changed his mind
And now he’s outlined
His new plan where tightening’s trashed

It’s interesting that despite the fact that the employment report was seen as quite positive, the weekend discussion continued to focus on the Fed’s U-turn last Wednesday. And rightly so. Given how important the Fed has been to every part of the market narrative, equities, bonds and the dollar, if they changed their reaction function, which they clearly have, then it will be the focus of most serious commentary for a while.

But let’s deconstruct that employment report for a moment. While there is no doubt that the NFP number was great (304K, nearly twice expectations, although after a sharply reduced December number), something that has gotten a lot less press is the Unemployment Rate, which rose to 4.0%, still quite low but now 0.3% above the bottom seen most recently in November. The question at hand is, is this a new and concerning trend? If the unemployment rate continues to rise, then the Fed was likely right to stop tightening policy. Yet, most analysts, like politicians, want their cake and the ability to eat it as well. If the Fed has finished tightening because growth is slowing, is that really the outcome desired? It seems to me I would rather have faster growth and tighter policy, a much better mix all around. Now it is too early to say that Unemployment has definitely bottomed, but another month or two of rises will certainly force that to creep into the narrative. And you can bet that will include all the reasons that the Fed better start cutting rates again! Remember, too, if the Fed is turning from tightening to easing, I assure you that the idea the ECB might raise rates is absurd.

Now, with the Fed decision behind us, as well as widely applauded, and the payroll report past, what do we have to look forward to? After all, Brexit is still grinding forward to a denouement in late March, although we will certainly hear of more trials and tribulations before then. I was particularly amused by the idea that the British government has developed plans for the Queen to be evacuated in the event of a hard Brexit. WWII wasn’t enough to evacuate royalty, but Brexit will be? Not unlike Y2K (for those of you who remember that) while a hard Brexit will almost certainly be disruptive in the short run, I am highly confident that the UK will continue to function going forward. The fear-mongering that is ongoing by the British government is actually quite irresponsible.

And of course, there are the US-China trade talks. Except that this week is Chinese New Year and all of China (along with much of Asia) is on holiday. So, there are no current discussions ongoing. But markets have taken heart from the view that President’s Xi and Trump will be meeting in a few weeks, and that they will come to an agreement of some sort. The problem I see is that the big issues are not about restrictions as much as about protection of IP and forced technology transfer. And since the Chinese have consistently denied that both of those things occur, it is not clear to me how they can credibly agree to stop them. The market remains sanguine about the prospects for a trade reconciliation, but I fear the probability of a successful outcome is less than currently priced. While this will not dominate the discussion for another two weeks, be careful when it surfaces again.

Looking ahead to this week, while US data is in short supply, really just trade, we do see more central bank meetings led by the BOE (no change expected), Banxico (no change expected) and Banco do Brazil (no change expected). The biggest risk seems to be in Mexico where some analysts are calling for a 25bp rate cut to 8.00%. We also hear from six Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell again, although at this point, it seems the market has heard all it wants. After all, given Friday’s payroll report, it seems impossible to believe that any Fed member can discuss cutting rates. Not raising them is the best they’ve got for now.

Tuesday ISM Non-Manufacturing 57.1
Wednesday Trade Balance -$54.0B
  Unit Labor Costs 1.7%
  Nonfarm Productivity 1.7%
Thursday Initial Claims 220K
  Consumer Credit $17.0B

So, markets are in a holding pattern while they await the next important catalyst. The stories that have driven things lately, the Fed, Brexit and trade talks are all absent this week. That leads to the idea that the dollar will be impacted by equity and bond markets.

We all know that equity markets had a stellar January and the question is, can that continue? With bond markets also rallying, they seem to be telling us different stories. Equities are looking to continued strength in the economy, while bonds see the opposite. I have to admit, based on the data we continue to see around the world, it appears that the bond market may have it right. As such, despite my concerns over the dollar’s future given the Fed’s pivot, a reversal in equities leading to a risk off scenario would likely underpin the dollar. While it is very modestly higher this morning, it is fair to call it little changed. I think the bias will be for a softer dollar unless things turn ugly. If that does happen, make sure your exposures are hedged as the dollar will benefit.

Good luck
Adf

If Things Go Astray

The jobs report Friday was great
Which served to confuse the debate
Is growth on the rise?
Or will it downsize?
And how will the Fed acclimate?

The first indication from Jay
Is data continues to say
While growth seems robust
We’ll surely adjust
Our actions, if things go astray

In what can only be described as remarkable, despite the strongest jobs report in nearly a year, handily beating the most optimistic expectations for both job growth and wages, Fed Chairman Jay Powell told the market that the Fed could easily slow the pace of policy tightening if needed. While this may seem incongruous based on the data, it was really a response to several weeks of market gyrations that have been explicitly blamed on the Fed’s ongoing policy normalization procedure. A key concern over this sequence of events is that the data of ‘data dependence’ is actually market indices rather than economic ones. For every analyst and economist who had been looking for Powell to break the cycle of kowtowing to the stock market, Friday was a dark day. For the stock market, however, it was anything but, with the S&P 500 rising 3.4% and the NASDAQ an even more impressive 4.25%. The Fed ‘put’ seems alive and well after a three month hiatus.

So what can we expect going forward? The futures market has removed all pricing for the Fed to raise rates further in 2019, and in fact, has priced in a 50% probability of a 25bp rate cut before the year is over! Think about that. Two weeks ago, the market was priced for two 25bp rate hikes! This is a very large, and rapid, change of opinion. The upshot is that the dollar has come under significant pressure as both traders and investors abandon the view of continued cyclical dominance and start to focus on the US’ structural issues (growing twin deficits). In that scenario, the dollar has much further to fall, with a 10% decline this year well within reason. Equity markets around the world, however, have seen a short-term revival as not only did Powell blink, but also the Chinese continue to aggressively add to their monetary policy ease. And one final positive note was heard from the US-China trade talks in Beijing, where Chinese Vice-Premier, Liu He, President Xi’s top economic official, made a surprise visit to the talks. This was seen as a demonstration of just how much the Chinese want to get a deal done, and are likely willing to offer up more concessions than previously expected to do so. The ongoing weak data from China is clearly starting to have a real impact there.

It is situations like this that make forecasting such a fraught exercise. Based on the information we had available on December 31, none of these market movements seemed possible, let alone likely. But that’s the thing about predictions; they are especially hard when they focus on the future.

As to markets today, while Asian equity markets followed Friday’s US price action higher, the same has not been true in Europe, where the Stoxx 600 is lower by 0.4%. Weighing on the activity in Europe has been weaker than expected German Factory Order data (-1.0%) as well as the re-emergence of the gilets jaunes protests in France, where some 50,000 protestors, at least, made their presence felt over the weekend.

Turning to the dollar, it is down broadly, with every G10 currency stronger vs. the greenback and most EMG currencies as well. If the market is correct in its revised expectations regarding the Fed, then the dollar will remain under pressure in the short run. Of course, if the Fed stops tightening policy, and we continue to see Eurozone malaise, you can be certain that the ECB is going to be backing away from any rate rises this year. I have maintained that the ECB would not actually raise interest rates until 2020 at the earliest, and I see no reason to change that view. With oil prices hovering well below year ago levels, headline inflation has no reason to rise. At the same time, despite Signor Draghi’s false hope regarding eventual wage inflation, core CPI in the Eurozone seems pegged at 1.0%. As long as this remains the case, it will be extremely difficult for Draghi, or his successor, to consider raising rates there. As that becomes clearer to the market, the euro will likely begin to suffer. However, until then, I can see the euro grinding back toward 1.18 or so.

One last thing to remember is that despite the Christmas hiatus, the Brexit situation remains front and center in the UK, with Parliament scheduled to vote on the current deal early next week. At this time, there is no indication that PM May is going to find the votes to carry the day, although as the clock ticks down, it is entirely possible that some nays turn into yeas in order to prevent the economic catastrophe that is being predicted by so many. The pound remains beholden to this situation, but I believe the likely outcomes are quite asymmetric with a 2-3% rally all we will see if the deal passes, while an 8% decline is quite viable in the event the UK exits the EU with no deal.

As to data this week, it will not be nearly as exciting as last week, but we see both the FOMC Minutes on Wednesday and CPI on Friday. In addition, we hear from seven Fed speakers across nine speeches, including Chairman Powell again, as well as vice-Chairman Clarida.

Today ISM non-Manufacturing 59.0
Tomorrow NFIB Small Business Optimism 105.0
  JOLT’s Job Openings 7.063M
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
Friday CPI -0.1% (1.9% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.2% Y/Y)

All in all, it seems that the current market narrative is focused solely on the Fed changing its tune while the rest of the central banking community is ignored. As long as this is the case, look for a rebound in equity markets and the dollar to remain under pressure. But you can be certain that if the Fed needs to hold rates going forward because of weakening economic data, the rest of the world will be in even more dire straits, and central banks elsewhere will be back to easing policy as well. In the end, while there may be short-term weakness, I continue to like the dollar’s chances throughout the year as the US continues to lead the global economy.

Good luck
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