Time’s Crunch

When Boris and Leo had lunch
No panties were balled in a bunch
The signals showed promise
And no doubting Thomas
Appeared, as both sides felt time’s crunch

Meanwhile, though there’s been no bombshell
The trade talks have gone “very well”
Today Trump meets He
And then we will see
If a deal betwixt sides can now gel

And finally from the Mideast
The story ‘bout risk has increased
A tanker attack
Had market blowback
With crude a buck higher at least

There is no shortage of important stories today so let’s jump right in. Starting with Brexit, yesterday’s lunch meeting between Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar, the Irish PM, turned into something pretty good. While the comments have been very general, even EU president Donald Tusk as said there were “promising signals.” It is crunch time with the deadline now less than three weeks away. Apparently, the rest of the EU is beginning to believe that Boris will walk with no deal, despite the Benn Act requiring him to ask for an extension if there is no deal in place. At the same time, everybody is tired of this process and the EU has many other problems, notably a declining economy, to address. And so, I remain confident that we will soon hear, probably early next week, about a ‘deal in principle’ which will be ratified by Parliament as well as the EU. Though all the details will not have been completed, there will be enough assurances on both sides to get it through. Remember, Boris has Parliament on his side based on the deal he showed them. I’m pretty sure that his conversation with Leo yesterday used that as the starting point.

When that news hit the tape yesterday morning a little past 10:00, the pound started a significant rally, ultimately gaining 2% yesterday and it is higher by a further 1.0% this morning after more promising comments from both sides of the table. Remember, too, that the market remains extremely short pound Sterling and has been so for quite a while. If I am correct, then we could see the pound well above 1.30 as early as next week. Of course, if it does fall apart, then a quick trip back to 1.20 is on the cards. As I have said, my money is on a deal. One other thing to note here is what happened in the FX options market. For most of the past twelve years, the risk reversal (the price the market pays for 25 delta puts vs. 25 delta calls) has traded with puts at a premium. In fact earlier this year, the 1mo version was trading at a 2.5 vol premium for puts. Well, yesterday, the risk reversal flipped positive (bid for calls) and is now bid more than 1.0 vol for GBP calls. This is a huge move in this segment of the market, and also seen as quite an indicator that expectations for further pound strength abound.

Regarding the trade talks, risk assets have taken a very positive view of the comments that have come from both sides, notably President Trump describing things as going “very well” and agreeing to meet with Chinese Vice-premier Liu He this afternoon before he (He) returns to Beijing. The information that has come out points to the following aspects of a deal; a currency pact to insure the Chinese do not weaken the renminbi for competitive advantage; increased Chinese purchases of grains and pork; a US promise not to increase tariffs going forward as the broader negotiations continue; and the lifting of more sanctions on Chinese companies like Huawei and COSCO, the Chinese shipping behemoth. Clearly, all of that is positive and it is no surprise that equity markets globally have responded with solid gains. It is also no surprise that Treasury and Bund yields are much higher this morning than their respective levels ahead of the talks. In fact, Treasuries, which are just 1bp higher this morning, are up by more than 15bps since Tuesday. For Bunds, today’s price action shows no change in yields, but a 12bp move (less negative rates) since then. The idea is a trade deal helps global economic growth pick back up and quashes talk of deflation.

The last big story of the morning comes from the Persian Gulf, where an Iranian oil tanker, carrying about 1 million barrels of oil, was attacked by missiles near the Saudi port of Jeddah. At first the Iranians blamed the Saudis, but they have since retracted that statement. It should be no surprise that oil prices jumped on the news, with WTI futures quickly rallying more than a dollar and maintaining those gains since then. One of the key depressants of oil prices has been the global economic malaise, which does not yet look like it is over. However, if the trade truce is signed and positive vibes continue to come from that area, I expect that oil prices will benefit greatly as well.

As to the FX market per se, the dollar is overall under pressure. Of course, the pound has been the biggest mover in the G10 space, but AUD has gained 0.55% and the rest of the block is higher by roughly 0.3%. The only exceptions here are the yen (-0.3%) and Swiss franc (-0.1%) as haven assets are unloaded.

Turning to the EMG bloc, ZAR is today’s big winner, rallying more than 1.1% on two features; first the general euphoria on trade discussed above and second on the news that former President Jacob Zuma must face corruption charges. The latter is important because it demonstrates that the rule of law may be coming back into favor there, always a benefit for an emerging market. But most of the space is firmer this morning, with many currencies higher by between 0.5% and 0.6% (RUB, KRW, PLN, HUF, MXN, etc.) In fact, the only loser this morning is TRY (-0.4%), which remains under pressure as President Erdogan presses his military campaign against the Kurds in Syria.

On the data front, the only US news is Michigan Sentiment (exp 92.0) but we also get the Canadian employment picture (exp 7500 new jobs and a 5.7% Unemployment Rate). Three more Fed speakers, Kashkari, Rosengren and Kaplan, are on the slate, but so far, the only clarity of message we have received this week is that everybody is watching the data and will respond as they see fit. Hawks are still hawks and doves are still doves.

I see no reason for the dollar to regain ground today assuming the good news from Trade and Brexit continue. So look for a further decline into the holiday weekend.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

PS. While typing, the pound jumped another 1.0%.

The Question at Hand

There is an old banker named Jay
Who’ll cut Fed Funds later today
The question at hand
Is, are more cuts planned?
Or is this the last one he’ll weigh?

Well, no one can describe the current market situation as dull, that’s for sure! The front burner is full of stories but let’s start with the biggest, the FOMC announcement and Chairman Powell’s press conference this afternoon. As of now, futures markets are fully pricing in a 25bp cut this afternoon, with a small probability (~18%) of a 50bp cut. They are also pricing in a 50% chance of a cut at the October meeting, so despite the hawkish rhetoric and relatively strong data we have seen lately, the doves are keeping the faith. In fact, it would be shocking if they don’t cut by 25bps, although I also expect the two regional Fed presidents (George and Rosengren) who dissented last time to do so again. What has become clear is that there is no overriding view on the committee. The dot plot can be interesting as well, as given there are only two meetings left this year, it will give a much better view of policy preferences. My guess is it will be split pretty evenly between one more cut and no more cuts.

Then it’s all on Chairman Jay to explain the policy thinking of the FOMC in such a way that the market accepts the outcome as reasonable, which translates into no large moves in equity or bond markets during or after the press conference. While, when he was appointed I had great hopes for his plain spoken comments, I am far less confident he will deliver the goods on this issue. Of course, I have no idea which way he will lean, so cannot even guess how the market will react.

But there’s another issue at the Fed, one that is being described as technical in nature and not policy driven. Yesterday saw a surge in the price of overnight money in the repo market which forced the Fed to execute $53 billion of repurchase agreements to inject cash into the system. It turns out that the combination of corporate tax payments in September (removing excess funds from the banking system and sending them to the Treasury) and the significant net new Treasury issuance last week that settles this week, also in excess of $50 billion, removed all the excess cash reserves from the banking system. As banks sought to continue to manage their ordinary business and transactions, they were forced to pay up significantly (the repo rate touched 10% at one point) for those funds. This forced the Fed to execute those repos, although it did not go off smoothly as their first attempt resulted in a broken system. However, they fixed things and injected the funds, and then promised to inject up to another $75 billion this morning through a second repo transaction.

It seems that the Fed’s attempt at normalizing their balance sheet (you remember the run-off) resulted in a significant drawdown in bank excess reserves, which are estimated to have fallen from $2.8 trillion at their peak, to ‘just’ $1.0 trillion now. There are a number of economists who are now expecting the Fed to begin growing the balance sheet again, as a way to prevent something like this happening again in the future. Of course, the question is, will this be considered a restarting of QE, regardless of how the Fed tries to spin the decision? Certainly I expect the market doves and equity bulls to try to spin it that way!

Ultimately, I think this just shows that the Fed and, truly, all central banks are losing control of a process they once felt they owned. As I have written before, at some point the market is going to start ignoring their actions, or even moving against them. Last week the market showed that the ECB has run out of ammunition. Can the same be said about Powell and friends?

Moving on to other key stories, oil prices tumbled ~6% yesterday as Saudi Arabia announced that 41% of their production was back on line and they expected full recovery by the end of the month. While oil is still higher than before the attacks, I anticipate it will drift lower as traders there turn their collective focus back toward shrinking growth and the potential for a global recession. Chinese data continues to look awful, Eurozone data remains ‘meh’ and last night Tokyo informed us that their trade statistics continued to deteriorate as well, with exports falling 8.2%, extending a nearly year-long trend of shrinking exports. The point is, if the global economy continues to slow, demand for oil will slow as well, reducing price pressures quite handily. In a direct response to the declining oil price we have seen NOK fall 0.5% this morning, although other traditional petrocurrencies (MXN, RUB) have shown much less movement.

On the Brexit story, Boris met with European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday, and while he spun the meeting as positive, Juncker was a little less optimistic. His quote was the risk of a no-deal Brexit was now “palpable” while the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said, “nobody should underestimate the damage of a no-deal Brexit.” It should be no surprise the pound fell after these comments, but that is a very different tone to yesterday’s NY session. Yesterday, we saw the pound rally more than a penny after word got out that the UK Supreme Court justices were ostensibly very skeptical toward the government’s argument and sympathetic to the plaintiffs. The market perception seems to be that a ruling against the government will essentially take a no-deal Brexit off the table, hence the rally, but that is certainly not this morning’s tale. In the end, the pound remains binary, with a deal of any sort resulting in a sharp rally, and a hard Brexit on Halloween, causing just the opposite. The UK hearings continue through tomorrow, and there is no official timeline as to when an opinion will be released. I expect the market will continue to follow these tidbits until the announcement is made. (And for what it’s worth, my sense is the Supremes will rule against the government as based on their biographies, they all voted remain!)

Finally, a look at the overnight data shows that UK inflation fell to its lowest level, 1.7%, since December 2016. With the BOE on tap for tomorrow, it beggars belief they will do anything, especially with Brexit uncertainty so high. At the same time, Eurozone inflation was confirmed at 1.0% (0.9% core), another blow to Signor Draghi’s attempts to boost that pesky number. As such, the euro, too, is under some pressure this morning, falling 0.25% after yesterday’s broad dollar sell-off. In fact, vs. the G10, the dollar is higher across the board, although vs. its EMG counterparts it is a much more mixed picture.

Ahead of the FOMC at 2:00 we see Housing Starts (exp 1250K) and Building Permits (1300K), but they will not excite with the Fed on tap. Equity markets are modestly higher in Europe though US futures are pointing slightly lower. Overall, barring something from the UK ahead of the Fed, I expect limited activity and then…

Good luck
Adf

Gone To Extremes

In England, the Court of Supremes
Will soon rule on Boris’s dreams
He thought it a breeze
To prorogue MP’s
But they think he’s gone to extremes

Meanwhile oil markets are stressed
With traders, quite rightly, obsessed
‘bout all of the facts
From last week’s attacks
And if a response will be pressed

As New York walks in this morning, markets are still on edge regarding the unprecedented attack on Saudi oil infrastructure over the weekend. Yesterday’s price action saw oil close higher by more than 13%, although this morning WTI has backed off by $1.00/bbl or 1.5%. The short-term issue is how long it will take the Saudis to restore production. Initial estimates seemed a bit optimistic, and the latest seem to be pointing to at least several months before things are back. The long-term issue is more focused on supply disruption risk, something which the market had essentially removed from prices prior to yesterday. It seems that the ongoing problems in Venezuela and Libya, where production gets shuttered regularly, had inured the market to the idea that a short-term disruption would impact prices. After all, oil prices are still well below levels seen a year ago. Now all the talk is how the oil market will need to permanently price in a risk assessment, meaning that prices will default higher. I challenge that view, though, as history shows traders and investors have very short memories, and I would estimate that once the Saudi production is back up and running, it will only be a matter of months before any risk premium is removed. This is especially true if the global growth story continues to deteriorate meaning oil demand will diminish.

The other story of note comes from the UK, where two separate lawsuits against PM Johnson’s act to prorogue (suspend) parliament for five weeks leading up to the Brexit deadline are to be heard by the UK Supreme Court. The government’s argument is that this is not a legal matter, but a political one, and therefore is fine. Of course, Brexit opponents are doing everything they can to prevent Boris from his stated intentions of leaving on October 31 ‘come hell or high water.’ The thing is, unlike the US, where we have a written constitution, there is no such document in the UK. The upshot is twelve unelected officials will be making what may be the most momentous decision in UK history based solely on their personal views of the law, and no doubt, Brexit. And while I am in no way trying to disparage this group, who I am certain are all well-deserved of their roles, the fact that there is neither a guiding document nor precedence results in the opportunity for whichever side loses the argument to scream quite loudly, and I’m sure they will!

A funny thing about this situation is that if the Supremes declare the prorogation illegal, I think the market will see that as a sign that a no-deal Brexit is now off the table completely. And you know what that means for the pound, a significant rally. So for all of you Sterling hedgers out there, the next several days are going to be critical. Hearings are scheduled to take place through Thursday with a decision possible as early as Friday, although more likely next week. So gaming out possible scenarios consider the following choices: 1) Supreme Court (SC) rules against the government and parliament reconvenes => pound rallies sharply, probably back toward 1.30 as markets assume Brexit is dead; 2) SC rules government is within its rights to prorogue parliament for an extended time => pound sells off back to 1.20 as chance of no-deal Brexit grows. Remember, however, that the law in the UK is now that the PM must ask for an extension if there is no deal by the October 18 EU summit. The question, of course, is whether Boris will do so despite the political consequences of not asking, and whether the EU will grant said extension. The latter is not a given either.

With all of that ongoing, the FOMC begins their two-day meeting this morning with the market convinced that they will be cutting rates by 25 bps tomorrow afternoon. Changes to the narrative of late have shown a reduced expectation for a December rate cut, now 53% from more than 90% earlier in the month. Doves will certainly point to the rise in geopolitical risks from the attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure this weekend while hawks will continue to point to solid US data. However, that is a discussion for tomorrow morning.

Turning to market activity overnight, risk is definitely under pressure this morning as most haven type bonds (Treasuries, Bunds, Gilts, etc.) have rallied while Italy, Spain and Portugal have all seen yields rise. Equity markets are somewhat softer, although by no means collapsing, and the dollar is generally, though not universally, stronger. In the G10 space, the Skandies are under the most pressure, with both SEK and NOK falling about 0.4%, as the former is suffering after a terrible employment report which saw the Unemployment Rate rise to 7.4%, rather than decline to 6.8%. NOK, meanwhile, seems to be tracking the price of oil. In the EMG space, KRW was the big loser, still suffering over the much weaker than expected Chinese data and concerns over slowing growth in the economy there.

Data early this morning showed the German ZEW falling more than expected to -19.9, simply highlighting the problems in Germany and increasing the likelihood that the nation enters a technical recession this quarter. Yesterday’s Empire Manufacturing data was a touch weaker than expected, but hardly disastrous. This morning we see IP (exp 0.2%) and Capacity Utilization (77.6%), neither of which is likely to move markets. At this point, it is difficult to make the case for significant movement today as market participants will be waiting for tomorrow’s FOMC decision. Look for a dull one, but with a chance of fireworks on the horizon.

Good luck
Adf

 

Calm’s Been Restored

Remarkably, though oil soared
Responding to Yemen, who roared
Most markets of note
Have taken a vote
And seen to it calm’s been restored

Of course the big news over the weekend was the attack on Saudi oil production by a number of unmanned drones on Saturday. It was quite successful, at least in terms of the attackers (Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility) seeming goals, as it shut down half of Saudi production for an unspecified period. That means that 5% of the world’s oil production is off-line, although between reserves stored around the globe and the ability of US producers to ramp up production, the impact seems to be less substantial on world markets. Naturally oil prices are higher, with WTI currently +8.25%, although that is well off the initial highs which showed a 15% jump. And Treasury prices are higher as well, with the 10-year higher by half a point and yields falling 6.5bps. Gold is up 1.0%, and equity markets are softer, but not that much with only Italy’s market down even 1.0% and the rest of Europe lower by somewhere on the order of 0.6%. APAC stocks were also modestly softer, and US futures are pointing to a softer opening, but none of this speaks to any panic.

Finally, the dollar can only be described as mixed, at least at this point in the session. Granted, APAC currencies were mostly softer, led by INR’s 0.85% decline, which is directly attributed to the jump in oil prices (India imports virtually all their oil.) But that is actually the largest move on the day. Remember, in the wake of the ECB meeting last week, the euro rallied more than 1.0%! The point is, the FX market is not hugely concerned about this situation and seems unlikely to become so unless there are more attacks and the supply situation changes far more dramatically and permanently.

The only conclusion I can draw from this price action is that the market is still entirely focused on central bank activity with this week the culmination of a series of meetings. By Thursday, we will have heard from the Fed, the BOJ, the BOE, Bank Indonesia and the Norgesbank regarding any new policy actions. Expectations are as follows:

Wednesday FOMC Cut 0.25%
Thursday BOJ No rate change
  Bank Indonesia Cut 0.25%
  Norgesbank No rate change
  BOE No rate change

But in reality, the only one that matters is the Fed, which is driving the entire global conversation. If you recall, it was only a few weeks ago when expectations were rampant that they would cut 50bps. Treasury yields had fallen to 1.45% and there was a growing belief that recession was on its way. But then the US employment data was decent, Retail Sales were strong and CPI came in higher than expected for the third consecutive month. It became much harder with that economic backdrop for the doves to be squawking about adding stimulus aggressively. And remember, in July, there were already two dissensions, so the concept of unanimity has long been missing. At this point, the question is more about Chairman Powell’s press conference and whether or not he puts forth a dovish message. (Arguably, anything that is not outright dovish will be seen as hawkish by the market.)

While the Fed and ECB are clearly in different places, it is also important to remember that as much as the market is focused on the Fed, the same was true of the ECB right up until last week, when it became clear the ECB had run out of ammunition. It is every central banker’s greatest fear to find themselves with no ability to impact the market and push it in the direction they choose. My sense is that day is coming soon for many major central banks. Other than the ECB, it has not yet arrived, but trust me; it is coming sooner than you might think.

With all that in mind, the narrative has quickly moved beyond oil and is now back to discussing the FOMC meeting. Other than that, we have a bit of data, and after the meeting a number of Fed speakers.

Today Empire Manufacturing 4.0
Tuesday IP 0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 77.6%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1250K
  Building Permits 1300K
  FOMC Rate Decision 2.00% (-0.25%)
Thursday Initial Claims 213K
  Philly Fed 10.0
  Leading Indicators 0.1%
  Existing Home Sales 5.37M

So all in all, not too exciting. I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight that Chinese data overnight was uniformly awful, with the big three indicators; Retail Sales (7.5%), IP (4.4%), and Fixed Asset Investment (5.5%) all falling short of estimates and all reaching levels not seen since records began to be kept. And this was data from August, before the latest round of tariffs kicked in. Growth in China is slowing rapidly and the PBOC has not been able to adjust policy sufficiently to offset it. The renminbi weakened a bit, but in line with today’s general lack of movement, the 0.25% decline is hardly significant.

And that’s really all there is. The modest risk-off scenario seems likely to remain in place, but it is hard to see a significant extension of the overnight moves absent another catalyst. And right now, there is none on the horizon. Look for a dull day, with limited movement from the opening levels.

Good luck
Adf

Powell’s Fixation

The latest release on inflation
Revealed, despite Powell’s fixation,
That prices have yet
To pose a real threat
So, look for more accommodation

Much to the Fed’s chagrin, yesterday’s inflation data was disappointing, with CPI rising just 1.8% in May, below both expectations and their target. Of course, they don’t target CPI, but PCE instead, however, history has shown that PCE typically runs about 0.3%-0.4% below CPI. Regardless of the statistic they view, what is abundantly clear is that price pressures, at least as measured by the both the Labor and Commerce departments, remain well below the level the Fed believes is consistent with a healthy economy. And it is this outcome which continues to animate the investment community.

If we ignore the comments from the White House and simply focus on the economic data, it is pretty easy to see why expectations of a rate cut are growing rapidly. The employment situation seems to have peaked and started to reverse, price pressures remain quiescent and every Q2 GDP forecast is for a pretty significant slowdown relative to Q1’s 3.1% rate. Given what appears to be a weakening trajectory in the US economy (not even considering the possibility of bigger issues driven by a full-blown trade war) and given that the Fed has implicitly assumed the responsibility to manage economic growth, a rate cut might seem pretty tempting at this point. While next week’s meeting seems quite aggressive for this line of thought, July, where the market is pricing in nearly a 100% probability, makes sense barring a sudden upturn in the data.

One of the things that has been weighing on the inflation data has been the sharp decline in oil prices over the past two months. Even with today’s 3.5% rally on the news of two oil tanker attacks in the Persian Gulf, WTI is lower by more than 20% since the third week of April. And the oil data continues to point to softening demand and growing supplies. Slowing global growth is sapping that demand, but producers continue to drill as quickly as possible. So, the central bank logic continues to be; lower interest rates will help sustain economic growth which will push up demand for energy (read oil prices) and help inflation get back to their comfort zone. Alas, that has been shown to be a pretty tenuous path for central banks to achieve their desired results and there is limited reason to believe it will work this time. In the end, it is becoming abundantly clear that we are about to embark on the next round of monetary ease, even in those nations which never tightened from the last round.

The difference this time is that markets do not seem to be embracing that as a panacea for all their troubles. While equity markets are modestly higher this morning, that follows two lackluster sessions with small losses. We continue to hear pundits highlighting a Fed cut as an important driver, but slowing global growth, especially the continued weakness in China, means that earnings estimates continue to slide and with them, expected equity gains. Add to this mix the unraveling of a few stories (Tesla, government pressure on tech companies) and suddenly the future is not so bright. We have also seen continued concern registered via the Treasury market, where 10-year yields have edged lower again today, trading at 2.11% as I type. While this is a few bps higher than the recent lows, it remains more than 50bps below where we started 2019 and the trend remains firmly downward. And rightly so if inflation is going to continue to decline.

The FX market has weighed all this evidence and remains…confused. While the dollar remains stronger overall in 2019, it has given back some of its gains during the past several weeks, at least against most G10 currencies. Today is a perfect example of the mixed view we’ve seen lately with the euro and the pound within 0.05% of yesterday’s closing levels, albeit the euro is higher and the pound lower. We see Aussie down 0.3% but CHF up 0.3%. You get the picture, there is little in the way of a trend. And quite frankly, that is likely to remain the case until we actually see the Fed (or ECB or BOJ or BOE) actually change policy. Broadly, there is little evidence that global growth is going to improve in the short run, and so FX movement is going to be based on the relative rate of weakness we see in economic data and the corresponding interest rate assumptions that will follow.

Looking at this morning’s data, we really only see Initial Claims (exp 216K), which is generally not a market mover. However, given the heightened sensitivity to the employment situation based on last Friday’s weak NFP report, any uptick here (above, say 230K) might have an outsized impact. Arguably, tonight’s Chinese data in Retail Sales and IP is likely to have a much bigger impact. And that’s really the day. Once again it looks like limited activity and correspondingly, limited movement in markets.

Good luck
Adf

 

Animal Spirits Were Stirred

All week from the Fed we have heard
That patience is their new watchword
The market’s reaction
Implied satisfaction
And animal spirits were stirred!

While it may be a new day, nothing has really changed. Yesterday we heard from both Chairman Powell and vice-Chairman Clarida and both said essentially the same thing: the Fed is watching both the economy and markets closely, and given where policy rates currently stand, they can afford to be patient before acting next. On the subject of the Fed’s balance sheet, neither indicated there was cause for a policy change, but Powell, when asked, remarked that if they thought the shrinking balance sheet was becoming a problem, they would not hesitate to adjust policy. The market interpretation was: the Fed is not going to raise rates anytime soon so we better buy stocks as quickly as we can. The result was yet another rally in equities with all three US market indices rising about 0.5% on the day. At this point, even the Fed must recognize that they have gotten their message across.

The next key story that remains ongoing is the trade situation between the US and China. There was no specific news on the subject and no comments from either side. The market view is that there was clearly some progress made during the initial discussions earlier this week and many people are optimistic that the next round of talks, which will include more senior representatives from both sides, can lead to a permanent resolution. As long as that remains the collective mindset, it is one less pressure point for global equity markets. However, it must be remembered that the US is seeking significant changes in the structure of the Chinese economy, and so a complete resolution will not be easy to achieve, especially in the accelerated timeline currently extant. I expect an extension of the timeline as the first concrete result.

The third key story has been Brexit, which continues to be a complete mess. Next week’s Parliamentary vote looks destined to fail, and now there is a growing movement for the deadline to be extended three months to the end of June. While that requires a unanimous vote to do so, comments from European members seem to be heading in that direction. The pound has benefitted from the discussion, as traders believe that the extra three months will help alleviate the risk of a no-deal Brexit and the forecast consequences on both the economy and the currency in that event. However, the Irish border remains unchanged and there has been no indication that the UK will accept an effective walling off of Northern Ireland for the sake of the deal. We shall see.

Two other stories are also gaining in their importance, the rebound in oil prices and further weakness in the Eurozone economy. As to the first, the OPEC agreement to cut production by 1.2 million barrels/day has served to remove fears of an oil glut and recent inventory figures have backed that up. As well, while WTI has traded back above $50/bbl, there is a growing belief that the US fracking community is not going to be able to produce as much oil as previously thought, especially if prices slip back below that $50 level. Oil prices have rallied for nine consecutive days but remain far below levels seen just last October. Historically, rising commodity prices have gone hand in hand with a declining dollar, and for right now, that correlation has been holding.

Finally, we continue to see weak economic data from the Eurozone, with this morning’s Italian IP data (-1.6% in Nov) the latest in a string that has shown Europe’s manufacturing sector is under increasing pressure. This story is the one that has received shortest shrift from the market overall. In fact, I would argue it has been completely ignored, certainly by FX traders. While everyone focuses intently on the Fed and the recent change of heart regarding future rate hikes, there has been almost no discussion with regard to the ECB and how, as economic growth continues to slow in the Eurozone, the idea that they will be tightening policy further come September is laughable. At some point, the market will realize that the Eurozone is in no position to normalize policy further, and that instead, the question will arise as to when they will seek to add more stimulus. My gut tells me that a change in forward guidance will be the first step as they extend the concept of rate hikes from; “not until the end of summer” to something along the lines of “when we deem appropriate based on the economic data”. In other words, the current negative rate regime will be indefinite, and if (when) the next recession arrives, look for a reintroduction of QE there. My point is that the euro has no business rallying in any substantive way.

With all of this as background, a quick tour of markets shows that while the dollar actually performed fairly well during the US session yesterday, it is giving back some of those gains this morning. For example, the euro, despite weak data, is higher by 0.3%. The pound, on the back of the renewed Brexit deal hope is higher by 0.5%. Firmer commodity prices have helped AUD (+0.6%), NZD (+0.9%) and CAD (+0.3%). But the biggest consistent winner of late has been CNY, which has rallied a further 0.65% overnight and is now up 1.6% this week. This is a far cry from the situation just a few weeks ago, when there were concerns the yuan might break through the 7.00 level. Two things come to mind here as to the cause. The first possibility is that there has been an increase in investment flows into the Chinese bond market, where yields remain higher than in much of the developed world, and the Chinese bond market is slowly being added to global bond indices requiring fund managers to add positions there. The second, slightly more conspiratorial idea is that the Chinese government is pushing the yuan higher during the trade negotiations with the US to insure that its value is not seen as an impediment to reaching any deal. Whatever you think of President Trump’s tactics, there is no question that the Chinese economy has come under increased pressure since the imposition of US tariffs on their exports. It is not hard to believe that the stronger yuan is a direct response to help reach an agreement as quickly as possible.

And that’s pretty much everything to watch today. This morning we get CPI data with expectations for headline to print at -0.1% (1.9% Y/Y) and ex food & energy to print at +0.2% (2.2% Y/Y). Thankfully there are no more Fed speakers, but I would say given the near unanimity of the message from the nine speakers this week, we have a pretty good idea of what they are thinking. Equity futures are pointing slightly lower following European markets, which are softer today. However, given that equity markets around the world have rallied steadily all week, it can be no real surprise that a little profit taking is happening on a Friday. As to the dollar, in the short term I think it remains under pressure, but over time, I continue to see more reasons to own it than to short it.

Good luck and good weekend
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If Job Numbers Swoon

For Powell, the data he’s viewing
Shows weakness is palpably brewing
Will he change his tune
If job numbers swoon?
If not, it could prove his undoing!

The admonition that markets will remain volatile in 2019 certainly has held true to form thus far. After a significant sell-off in global equity markets yesterday, two pieces of news have now helped a partial rebound. First was the story that vice-ministerial trade talks are now scheduled to be held between the US and China next Monday and Tuesday. The market has taken this as a sign that the trade conflict is abating and that there will be a deal forthcoming shortly. While that would certainly be great news, it seems a bit premature. Nonetheless, it was clearly seen as a market positive overnight.

The second bit of news comes from China, where the PBOC has announced a 1.0% cut in the RRR for all Chinese banks, half to be implemented next week and half two weeks later. As opposed to the very targeted efforts announced earlier in the week, this is a broad-based easing of monetary policy, the first since 2016, and appears to be a direct response to the fact that the Manufacturing PMI data is alluding to contraction in the Chinese economy. As I have written before, China will be forced to continue to ease monetary policy this year due to slowing growth, and it is for that reason that I expect the renminbi to gradually decline all year.

But the bad news is not restricted to China, we have also seen weaker data from both the US and Europe. Yesterday’s ISM Manufacturing data printed at 54.1, significantly lower than expectations and its weakest print November 2016, and while still in expansionary territory is indicative of slowing growth ahead. Meanwhile, inflation data from the Eurozone showed that price pressures continue to recede there on the back of sharply declining oil prices with the area wide CPI rising only 1.6% and the core reading remaining at 1.0%. It appears that the mooted inflation pressures Signor Draghi has been dreaming about remain only in his dreams.

Bond market reaction to this data was very much as would be expected, with 10-year Treasury yields falling to 2.57%, their lowest level since last January, while Bund yields have fallen back to 0.15%, levels not seen since April 2017. In fact, the futures market in the US is now beginning to bet on a rate cut by the Fed before the end of 2019. If you recall, at the December FOMC meeting, the dot plot indicated a median expectation of two more rate hikes this year.

What we can safely say is that there is a great deal of uncertainty in markets right now, and many disparate opinions as to how the economy will perform going forward, and to how the Fed and its central banking brethren will respond. And that uncertainty is not likely to dissipate any time soon. In fact, my fear is that when it does start to fade, it will be because the data is pointing to a much slower growth trajectory, or a recession on a widespread basis. At that point, uncertainty will diminish, but so will asset values!

And how, you may ask, is all this affecting the dollar? Well, yesterday’s price action was of the risk off variety, where the yen was the leader, but the dollar outperformed most emerging market currencies, as well as Aussie and Kiwi, but was slightly softer vs. the rest of its G10 counterparts. This morning, however, on the strength of the trade talk news and policy ease by China, risk is being tentatively embraced and so the yen has fallen a bit, -0.35%, and the dollar has ceded most of its recent gains vs. the EMG space. For example, ZAR (+1.3%), RUB (+1.0%), TRY (+1.1%), and IDR (+1.0%) have all managed to rally sharply alongside a rebound in commodity prices. As well, the market is still enamored of newly installed President Bolsonaro in Brazil with the real higher by a further 0.9% this morning, taking the YTD gain up to 3.0%.

As for the G10, AUD has benefitted from the Chinese news, rising 0.55%, while CAD and NOK are both higher by 0.5% on the back of the rebound in oil prices. This move was a reaction to OPEC output falling sharply. As to the euro, it is higher by just 0.2% although it has recouped about half its losses from Wednesday now. And finally, the pound has bounced as well after its PMI data was actually a positive surprise. That said, it remains within a few percent of its post Brexit vote lows, and until there is a resolution there, will be hard-pressed to gain much ground. Of course, if there is no deal, the pound is likely to move sharply lower. The UK Parliament is due to vote on the current deal next week, although recent news from PM May’s political allies, the Northern Irish DUP, indicates they are unhappy with the deal and cannot support it yet. With less than three months to go before Brexit is upon us, it is increasingly looking like there will be no deal beforehand, and that the pound has further to fall. For hedgers, I cannot exhort you enough to consider increasing your hedges there. I think the risks are highly asymmetric, with a deal resulting in a modest rally of perhaps 2-3%, while a no-deal outcome could easily see an 8% decline.

For today, the NFP report is on tap with expectations as follows:

Nonfarm Payrolls 177K
Private Payrolls 175K
Manufacturing Payrolls 20K
Unemployment Rate 3.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5

We also hear from Chairman Powell at 10:15, where the market will be parsing every word to try to get a better understanding of the Fed’s data reaction function, and perhaps to see which data points they deem most important. At this point, strong NFP data ought lead to declining Treasury prices and rising stock prices although I expect the dollar would remain under pressure based on the risk-on feeling. If the data is weak, however, look for stock futures to reverse course (currently they are higher by ~1.0%) and Treasuries to find support. As to the dollar then, broadly stronger, although I expect the yen will be the best performer overall.

Good luck
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