A Wonderful Place

The world is a wonderful place
As evidenced by today’s race
Twixt stock market gains
And bond market strains
While dollars proceed to debase

It seems a bit unusual, but the animal spirits are out in force today as risk is being snapped up everywhere in the world while haven assets are being shunned.  It is unusual because there is no discernible catalyst for this behavior, but the risk impulse is strong.  For instance, a quick scan of the headlines shows that there was a powerful (magnitude 7.3) earthquake in Fukushima, Japan this weekend, although fortunately, while there has been some property damage, there has been no reported loss of life.  Ten years ago, almost to the day, Japan suffered the Tohoku earthquake in the same region, with a much more powerful reading (magnitude 9.3, and remember the Richter Scale is logarithmic, so 9.3 is 100x more powerful than 7.3).  At any rate, it seems hard to believe that was a signal to buy risk.

Other stories are the deep freeze throughout the middle of the US, with Texas suffering greatly, as up to 2 million residents will have lost power today.  Again, hardly a catalyst to buy risk, although it has certainly helped push up energy prices as WTI (+2.1%) is back above $60/bbl for the first time since November 2018.  On the virus front, infection rates seem to be declining and vaccinations are slowly increasing, so that is certainly a positive, but that has been ongoing for the past several weeks, this is not new news, and so doesn’t seem a likely candidate as a risk-on catalyst.  On the political front, former President Trump was acquitted, again, on an impeachment proceeding, but markets have been pretty clear in the fact that they do not respond to purely political memes.  Politics only matters when it impacts policies that will impact markets, like the fight over the current stimulus package.

And yet, risk is clearly in demand today as evidenced by equity market price action around the world, (Nikkei +1.9%, FTSE 100 +1.6%, CAC +1.25%, DAX +0.35%) and bond market price action in Europe (Treasury markets are closed today) with Gilts (+5.4bps), Bunds (+4.0bps), OATs (+3.9bps) all selling off sharply and the rest of the continent following suit.  Even JGBs (+1.3bps) sold off and Australian government bonds had the biggest move (+10.1bps, despite YCC in place in the 3-year space) as not only did the government issue more debt, but there was increased talk of the reflation trade with expectations that economic growth was going to pick up sooner led by the US.

And I guess, this is the story driving markets today, an increasing confidence that we are past the worst impact of the coronavirus and that the continuous fiscal and monetary support that is coming from governments and central banks around the world will feed into risk assets and drive prices ever higher.  So, it is not one catalyst, but a confluence of stories that are doing the job.  In the end, it would seem there are two questions to be answered though; first, have equity markets already priced in all the benefits of the recovery in economies worldwide?  And second, will all of that excess financial support, from both fiscal and monetary policy ease, result in higher, and possibly much higher, measured inflation?

As of today, neither of these seem to be a concern, but many very smart folks, with long experience in markets and economics, are asking those two questions as the answers will have a huge impact on our lives going forward.  We will try to explore these starting tomorrow.

In the meantime, the risk impulse is quite evident in major markets around the world.  In fact, the only one I have not discussed is FX, where the traditional risk-on behavior is in full bloom.  The dollar is weaker vs. essentially all its major counterparts except the yen, which has weakened 0.35%.  But looking at the rest of the G10, we see NOK (+0.5%) leading the way on the oil rally, followed by GBP (+0.4%), which has rallied to its strongest level, above 1.39, since April 2018.  The pound’s strength seems predicated on the ongoing success the UK has had in vaccinating its population, with more than 15 million doses of the vaccine having been given, meaning upwards of a quarter of the population as been given at least the first dose.  That pace is far ahead of anywhere except Israel, and certainly dominates the large nations.  As to the rest of the G10, gains are uniform, but small.

Turning to EMG currencies, TRY (+1.0%) is the leader today followed by ZAR (+0.8%), with the former continuing to benefit from the strong words of the new central bank chief who has been adamant that he will maintain higher rates to fight inflation, which helps to draw investors in a ZIRP world.  ZAR, too, is the beneficiary of its relatively higher interest rates and remains a destination of choice for those seeking yield.  But essentially, the entire bloc is firmer barring two currencies, THB and HUF that have fallen less than 0.1%.  This is a risk-on, dollar selling day, it is that simple.

On the data front, with today’s holiday, nothing is to be released here in the US, but we do get several interesting reports this week:

Tuesday Empire Manufacturing 6.0
Wednesday PPI 0.4% (0.9% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (1.1% Y/Y)
Retail Sales 1.0%
-ex autos 0.9%
IP 0.4%
Capacity Utilization 74.8%
Business Inventories 0.5%
FOMC Minutes
Thursday Initial Claims 773K
Continuing Claims 4.423M
Housing Starts 1658K
Building Permits 1677K
Philly Fed 20.0
Friday Existing Home Sales 6.61M

Source: Bloomberg

Aside from this data, with arguably Retail Sales being the highlight, and the FOMC Minutes, we also hear from 9 different Fed speakers this week, although none of the big guns, and given Chairman Powell is clearly uninterested in even thinking about thinking about tighter policy, I don’t think we will learn too much.  The next big Fed issue will arise when inflation readings start to rise much faster than expected and the yield curve continues to steepen.  At that point, will the Fed watch and wait?  Or will they act?  But that is a summer question, not a Q1, or even Q2 event.

So, on this President’s Day holiday, I see nothing that will stop the risk-on meme, thus, a modestly softer dollar seems quite reasonable.  We are here to help if you need something, although I assure you, come noon, when London goes home, markets will be essentially done.

Good luck and stay safe