Is That Despair?

Forward guidance is
Kuroda-san’s newest hope
Or is that despair?

The BOJ has committed to keep the current extremely low levels for short- and long-term interest rates for an “extended period of time.” Many of you will recognize this phrase as Ben Bernanke’s iteration of forward guidance. This is the effort by central banks to explain to the market that even though rates cannot seemingly go any lower, they promise to prevent them from going higher for the foreseeable future. Alas, forward guidance is akin to Hotel California, from which, as The Eagles famously sang back in 1976, “you can check out but you can never leave.” As the Fed found out, and the ECB will learn once they finally end QE (assuming they actually do so), changing tack once you have promised zero rates forever can have market ramifications. The first indication that forward guidance might be a problem came with the ‘taper tantrum’ in 2013, but I’m confident it won’t be the last.

However, for the BOJ, now trumps the future, and they needed to do something now. But forward guidance was not the only thing they added last night. It was the cover for their attempts to adjust policy without actually tightening. So, yield curve control now has a +/- 20bp range around 0.0% for the 10-year JGB, double the previous level, and thus somewhat more flexible. And they reduced the amount of reserves subject to the -0.10% deposit rate in order to alleviate some of the local banks’ profit issues. In the end, their commitment to maintaining zero interest rates for that extended period of time was sufficient for FX traders to sell the yen (it fell -0.40%), and JGB yields actually fell a few bps, closing at 0.065%, which is down from 0.11% ahead of the meeting. All in all, I guess the BOJ did a good job last night.

There is, however, one other thing to mention, and that is they reduced their own inflation forecasts (to 1.1% in 2019, 1.5% in 2020 and 1.6% in 2021) for the next three years, indicating that even they don’t expect to achieve that elusive 2.0% target before 2022 at the earliest. In the end, the BOJ will continue to buy JGB’s and equity ETF’s and unless there is a substantial acceleration in global growth, (something which seems increasingly unlikely) they will continue to miss their inflation target for a very long time. As to the yen, I expect that while it fell a bit last night, it is still likely to drift higher over time.

In Europe the story is still
That growth there is starting to chill
The data last night
Did naught to delight
Poor Mario, testing his will

Beyond the BOJ, and ahead of the FOMC announcement tomorrow, the major news was from the Eurozone where GDP and Inflation data was released. What we learned was that, on the whole, growth continued to slow while inflation edged higher than expected. Eurozone GDP rose 0.3% in Q2, its slowest pace in a year, while headline inflation rose 2.1%, its fastest rate since early 2013. Of course the latter was predicated on higher energy prices with core CPI rising only 1.1%, still a long way from the ECB’s target. The point is that given the slowing growth trajectory in the Eurozone, it seems that Draghi’s confidence in faster growth causing inflation to pick up on the continent may be unwarranted. But that remains the official line, and it appears that the FX market has accepted it as gospel as the euro has traded higher for a third consecutive day (+0.3%) and is now back in the top half of its trading range. If Q3 growth continues the trajectory that Q2 has extended, it will call into question whether the ECB can stop buying bonds, or at the very least, just how long rates will remain at -0.4%, with those looking for a September 2019 rate hike sure to be disappointed.

There is one country in Europe, however, that is performing well, Sweden. GDP growth there surprised the market yesterday, rising 1.0% in Q2 and 3.3% Y/Y. This has encouraged speculation that the Riksbank will be raising rates fairly soon and supported the krone, which has rallied 1.0% since the announcement.

The final piece of news to discuss from last night was from China, where the PMI readings all fell below expectations. The official Manufacturing data was released at 51.2, down from last month’s 51.5 and the third consecutive monthly decline. The non-manufacturing number fell to 54.0, its weakest print since October 2016. These are the first data from China that include the impact of the US tariffs, and so are an indication that the Chinese economy is feeling some effects. I expect that the government there will add more stimulus to offset any more severe impact, but that will simply further complicate their efforts at reducing excess leverage in the economy. Meanwhile, the renminbi slid 0.25% overnight.

This morning’s data releases bring us Personal Income (exp 0.4%), Personal Spending (0.4%) and PCE (2.3% headline, 2.0% core), as well as the Case-Shiller Home price index (6.4%), Chicago PMI (62.0) and Consumer Confidence (126.0). In other words, there is much for us to learn about the economy. While I believe the PCE data could be market moving, especially if it is stronger than expected, I continue to believe that traders and investors remain far more focused on Friday’s payroll report than this data. Recent weakness in equity markets has some folks on edge, although futures this morning look benign. But if we do see that weakness continue, the chances of a full-blown risk off scenario materializing will grow substantially. And that means, the dollar has the potential to rally quite sharply. Keep that in mind as a tail risk, one where the tail grows fatter each day that equity markets disappoint.

Good luck
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Still At Its Peak

Three central bank meetings this week
Seem unlikely, havoc to wreak
When they all adjourn
Attention will turn
To joblessness, still at its peak

In the current central bank calendric cycle, the ECB meeting was the first to be completed, and last Thursday we learned virtually nothing new about Mario Draghi’s plans. The ECB is going to reduce QE further starting in October and is due to end it completely by year end. As to interest rates, ‘through summer’ remains the watchword, with markets forecasting a 10bp rate rise in either September or October of next year.

This week brings us the other three big central bank meetings, starting with the BOJ’s announcement tomorrow evening, then the FOMC on Wednesday and finally the BOE on Thursday. Going in reverse order, the market remains convinced that Governor Carney will raise rates 25bps, with a more than 80% probability priced in by futures traders. While I think it is a mistake, it does seem increasingly likely it will be the outcome. As to the Fed, there are no expectations of any policy adjustments at this meeting, and as there is no press conference following, I expect that the statement, when released Wednesday afternoon, will have little market impact.

This takes us to tomorrow evening’s BOJ meeting, which is the only one where there seems to be any real uncertainty. Last week I discussed the questions at hand which boil down to whether or not Kuroda and company have come to believe that QQE is not only ineffective, but actually beginning to have a detrimental impact on the Japanese economy. After all, they have been at it for the better part of five years and have still had zero success in achieving their 2.0% inflation goal. The three biggest problems are that Japanese banks have seen their business models decimated by increasingly narrow lending spreads; the ETF purchase program has had an increasingly large distortive impact on the Japanese stock markets as the BOJ now owns roughly 4% of all Japanese equities; and finally, the yield curve control plan has essentially broken the JGB market as evidenced by the fact that they continue to see sessions where there are actually no trades in the 10-year JGB. (Consider what would happen if there were no trades in 10-year Treasuries one day!)

With all of this as baggage, there has been increasing discussion that the BOJ may seek to tweak the program to try to make it more effective. However, they have painted themselves into a corner because if they reduce their activity in the JGB market, the market is likely to see it as a reduced commitment to QE and it is likely to result in higher yields there, which can easily lead to two separate but related outcomes. First, USDJPY is likely to fall further, as higher JGB yields lead to more interest for Japanese investors to bring their funds home. Given the disinflationary impact of a stronger currency, this would be a disaster. And second, if there is less support for JGB’s, given the fungibility of money and the open capital markets that exist, we are likely to see yields rise in US, UK, European and other developed markets. While Chairman Powell may welcome this as it will reduce concern over the Fed inverting the yield curve, the rest of the world, which retains far easier monetary policy, is likely to be somewhat less welcoming of that outcome. And this is all based on anonymous reports that the BOJ is going to make some technical adjustments to their program, not change the nature of what they are doing. So if you are looking for some fireworks this week, the BOJ is your best bet.

However, beyond the central banks, the market will turn its attention to Friday’s employment report here in the US. Last Friday saw a robust GDP report, as widely expected, and further proof of the divergence between the US and the rest of the global economy. This Friday could simply add to that impression. Here is the full listing of this week’s data, which is quite robust:

Tuesday BOJ Rate Decision -0.10% (unchanged)
  Personal Income 0.4%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.3% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.1% (2.0% Y/Y)
  Case-Shiller Home Prices 6.4%
  Chicago PMI 62.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 185K
  ISM Manufacturing 59.5
  ISM Prices Paid 75.8
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.00% (unchanged)
Thursday BOE Rate Decision 0.75% (+0.25%)
  Initial Claims 221K
  Factory Orders 0.7%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 190K
  Private Payrolls 185K
  Manufacturing Payrolls 22K
  Unemployment Rate 3.9%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (2.7% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Trade Balance -$46.2B
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 58.7

So, as you can see there is much to be learned this week. With the focus on the central banks and Friday’s payroll data, don’t lose sight of tomorrow’s PCE report, because remember, that is the Fed’s go-to number on inflation. Overall, looking at forecasts, things remain remarkably strong in the US economy this long into an expansion, which is something that has many folks concerned. We also continue to see important corporate earnings releases this week for Q2, which given the high profile misses we had last week, could well impact markets beyond individual equity names.

As to the dollar through all this, it is a touch softer this morning, but remains on the strong side of its recent trading range. While I still like it higher, there is so much potential new information coming this week, it is probably wisest to remain as neutral as possible for now. For hedgers, that means the 50% rule is in effect.

Good luck
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The Winsome Ms. May

The lady who leads the UK
Last night had a terrible day
Dave Davis resigned
And strongly maligned
The PM, the winsome Ms. May

Arguably the biggest news over the weekend was the sudden resignation last night of the UK Brexit Minister, David Davis, who decided he couldn’t countenance the outcome of Friday’s Cabinet meeting. The crux of that agreement was that the UK would continue to abide by EU food and manufacturing regulations after Brexit becomes final in March. Davis, who had campaigned for Brexit and was always seen as more of a hard-liner, thought this was too much of a concession, and heeded PM May’s general call to leave if he couldn’t get on board. While Dominic Raab, another pro-Brexit voice, quickly replaced him, the resignation has simply highlighted the ongoing uncertainties within the UK on the subject.

Markets, however, have remained surprisingly subdued on the news. It appears that traders are far more focused on how the BOE responds to the Brexit story than on the Brexit story’s daily twists and turns. And as of now, there has been no change in the view that the Old Lady is going to raise rates next month come hell or high water. Futures markets continue to price a more than 80% probability of that occurring. So in the end, despite a key political shakeup, the pound has actually rallied 0.45% and is now more than 2.2% clear of the nadir reached at the end of June. Perhaps the mindset is that PM May now has greater control over the cabinet and so is in a stronger position going forward which means that a soft Brexit will be the outcome. At least, that’s the best I can come up with for now.

Otherwise, the weekend has been extremely quiet. With that in mind I think a recap of Friday’s events is in order. The employment report was probably as good as it gets, at least from the Fed’s perspective. NFP increased a better than expected 213K and last month’s number was revised higher to 244K. The Unemployment Rate actually ticked higher to 4.0%, but that was because the Participation Rate rose as well, up to 62.9%, which while better than last month remains well below the longer-term historical trend. But for now, it demonstrates to the Fed that there is still some slack in the labor market, which means there is less concern that wage increases are going to spur much higher inflation. And the AHE data proved that out, rising 2.7% Y/Y, in line with both expectations and recent history. It seems the Fed is going to continue to focus on the shape of the yield curve rather than rising inflation, at least for now. If, however, we start to see some sharply higher inflation data (CPI is released this Thursday), that may begin to change some thinking there.

The other data Friday showed that the Trade deficit shrank to -$43.1B, it’s smallest gap since October 2016. This is somewhat ironic given that Friday was also the day that the US imposed tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods. It is too early to determine exactly how the trade situation will play out, although virtually every economist has forecast it will be a disaster for the US, and if it expands potentially for the world. That said, the equity markets have clearly spoken as Chinese stocks have fallen more than 20% in the past months, while US stocks have edged slightly higher. This story, however, has much further to go with there likely being many new twists and turns going forward.

Here in the middle of the summer, it is a light data week, with Thursday’s CPI clearly the highlight.

Today Consumer Credit $12.7B
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 105.6
  JOLT’s Job Openings 6.583M
Wednesday PPI 0.2% (3.2% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.6% Y/Y)
Thursday CPI 0.2% (2.9% Y/Y)
  -ex food & energy 0.2% (2.3% Y/Y)
Friday Michigan Sentiment 98.2

We also hear from four Fed speakers and we are at the point between meetings where there has been enough data for some views to have changed. However, my sense is there will be more discussion of the yield curve than of the economy as that has once again become a hot topic amongst a number of the regional Presidents.

Broadly the dollar has been under pressure overnight, continuing last week’s corrective price action. There has been some indication that data elsewhere in the world, especially in the Eurozone, has started to pick up again. If that trend continues, then I expect that the dollar will remain on its back foot. After all, its recent strength had been predicated on the idea that the US was continuing to show economic strength, diverging from the rest of the world’s near-term prospects. A change in that narrative will clearly change the FX story. However, it is not a foregone conclusion that is the outcome. I remain convinced that the dollar is likely to be the leader for quite a while yet.

Good luck
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