Flames of Concern

The story is still Evergrande
Whose actions last night have now fanned
The flames of concern
‘Til bondholders learn
If coupons will be paid as planned

Though pundits have spilled lots of ink
Explaining there’s really no link
Twixt Evergrande’s woes
And fears of new lows
The truth is they’re linked I would think

It must be very frustrating to be a government financial official these days as despite all their efforts to lead investors to a desired outcome, regardless of minor details like reality, investors and traders continue to respond to things like cash flows and liquidity, or lack thereof.  Hence, this morning we find ourselves in a situation where China Evergrande officially failed to pay an $83.2 million coupon yesterday and now has a 30-day grace period before they can be forced into default on the bond.  The concern arises because China Evergrande has more than $300 billion in bonds outstanding and another $300 billion in other liabilities and it is pretty clear they are not going to be able to even service that debt, let alone repay it.

At the same time, the number of articles written about how this is an isolated situation and how the PBOC will step in to prevent a disorderly outcome and protect the individuals who are on the hook continue to grow by leaps and bounds.  The true victims here are the many thousands of Chinese people who contracted with Evergrande to build their home, some of whom prepaid for the entire project while others merely put down significant (>50%) deposits, and who now stand to lose all their money.  Arguably, the question is whether or not the Chinese government is going to bail them out, even if they allow Evergrande to go to the wall.  Sanguinity in this situation seems optimistic.  Remember, the PBOC has been working very hard to delever the Chinese property market, and there is no quicker way to accomplish that than by allowing the market to reprice the outstanding debt of an insolvent entity.  As well, part of President Xi’s calculus will be what type of pain will be felt elsewhere in the world.  After all, if adversaries, like the US, suffer because of this, I doubt Xi would lose any sleep.

But in the end, markets this morning are demonstrating that they are beginning to get concerned over this situation.  While it may not be a Lehman moment, given that when Lehman was allowed to fail it was truly a surprise to the markets, the breadth of this problem is quite significant and the spillover into the entire Chinese property market, which represents ~25% of the Chinese economy, is enormous.  If you recall my discussion regarding “fingers of instability” from last week (Wednesday 9/15), this is exactly the type of thing I was describing.  There is no way, ex ante, to know what might trigger a more significant market adjustment (read decline), but the interconnectedness of Chinese property developers, Chinese banks, Chinese shadow financiers and the rest of the world’s financial system is far too complex to parse.  However, it is reasonable to estimate that there will be multiple knock-on effects from this default, and that the PBOC, no matter how well intentioned, may not be able to maintain control of an orderly market.  Risk should be off, and it is this morning.

It ought not be surprising that Chinese shares were lower last night with the Hang Seng (-1.3%) leading the way but Shanghai (-0.8%) not that far behind.  Interestingly, the only real winner overnight was the Nikkei (+2.1%) which seemed to be making up for their holiday yesterday.  European shares are having a rough go of it as well, with the DAX (-0.8%), CAC (-1.0%) and FTSE 100 (-0.3%) all under the gun.  There seem to be several concerns in these markets with the primary issue the fact that these economies, especially Germany’s, are hugely dependent on Chinese economic growth for their own success, so signs that China will be slowing down due to the Evergrande mess are weighing on these markets.  In addition, the German IFO surveys were all released this morning at weaker than expected levels and continue to slide from their peaks in June.  Slowing growth is quickly becoming a market meme.  After yesterday’s rally in the US, futures this morning are all leaning lower as well, on the order of -0.3% or so.

The bond market this morning, though, is a bit of a head-scratcher.  While Treasuries are doing what they are supposed to, rallying with yields down 2.6bps, the European sovereign market is all selling off despite the fall in equity prices.  So, yields are higher in Germany (Bunds +1.4bps) and France (OATs +2.2bps), with Italy (BTPs +5.0bps) really seeing some aggressive selling.  Gilts are essentially unchanged on the day.  But this is a bit unusual, that a clear risk off session would see alleged haven assets sell off as well.

Commodity markets are having a mixed day with oil unchanged at this hour while gold (+0.75%) is rebounding somewhat from yesterday’s sharp decline.  Copper (+0.1%) has edged higher, but aluminum (-1.4%) is soft this morning.  Agricultural prices are all lower by between 0.25% and 0.5%.  In other words, it is hard to detect much signal here.

As to the dollar, it is broadly stronger with only CHF +0.1%) able to rally this morning.  While the euro is little changed, we are seeing weakness in the Antipodean currencies (AUD, NZD -0.4%) and commodity currencies (CAC -0.2%, NOK -0.15%).  Granted, the moves have not been large, but they have been consistent.

In the EMG bloc, the dollar has put on a more impressive show with ZAR (-1.3%) and TRY (-0.9%) leading the way, although we have seen other currencies (PHP -0.6%, MXN -0.4%) also slide during the session.  The rand story seems to be a hangover from yesterday’s SARB meeting, where they left rates on hold despite rising inflation there.  TRY, too, is still responding to the surprise interest rate cut by the central bank yesterday.  In Manila, concern seems to be growing that the Philippines external balances are worsening too rapidly and will present trouble going forward.  (I’m not sure you remember what it means to run a current account deficit and have markets discipline your actions as it no longer occurs in the US, but it is still the reality for every emerging market economy.)

On the data front, we see only New Home Sales (exp 715K), a number unlikely to have an impact on markets.  However, we hear from six different Fed speakers today, including Chairman Powell, so I expect that there will be a real effort at fine-tuning their message.  Three of the speakers are amongst the most hawkish (Mester, George and Bostic), but of this group, only Bostic is a voter.  You can expect more definitive tapering talk from these three, but in the end, Powell’s words still carry the most weight.

The dollar remains in a trading range and we are going to need some exogenous catalyst to change that.  An Evergrande collapse could have that type of impact, but I believe it will take a lot more contagion for that to be the case.  So, using the euro as a proxy, 1.17-1.19 is still the right idea in my view.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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Covid’s Resurgence

Covid’s resurgence Has begun to detract from Asia’s second spring

It seems the global economic rebound is starting to falter.  At least, that is what one might conclude from the run of data we are seeing from virtually every nation, as well as the signals we are starting to get from the global central banking community.  For instance, on the data front, this morning’s UK numbers showed that growth, while still quite positive, is not quite living up to expectations.  May’s GDP reading was 0.8%, a very good number (it would annualize to nearly 10% GDP growth) but far below analysts forecasts of 1.5%.  Similarly, IP also printed at 0.8%, again well above last month’s data but falling far short of the 1.4% expectations.  The point is that economists’ views of the reopening burst seem to have been a bit overexuberant.  The UK is hardly alone in this situation with Italy also showing disappointing IP data for May (-1.5% vs. +0.3% expected).  And we saw the same thing from both Germany and France earlier this month.  In a nutshell, it appears that the European economy, while certainly growing more robustly than Q1, may well have seen its best days.

Meanwhile, in Asia, the delta variant of Covid-19 has become a much larger problem, with Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand particularly hard hit.  You have probably heard that the Olympics will be spectatorless this year in Tokyo as the Suga government has implemented yet another emergency lockdown order that is not due to expire until the end of August.  In South Korea, infections are rising as well and the government has increased curbs on gatherings of more than 5 people, while Thailand has once again closed ‘non-essential’ businesses to prevent the spread of the disease.  Vaccination rates throughout Asia have been much lower than elsewhere, with most of Europe and the US having seen between 40% and 50% of the population vaccinated while Asian countries are in the 5% – 10% range.  The issue is that while the virus continues to spread, economic activity will continue to be impaired and that means that markets in those economies are going to feel the pain, as likely will their currencies.

Of course, the US has not been immune from this run of disappointing data as virtually every reading in the past month has failed to meet expectations.  Two broader indicators of this slowdown are the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow number, which is currently at 7.78%, obviously a strong number, but down from 13.71% two month’s ago.  As well, the Citi Economic Surprise index has fallen from 270 a year ago to essentially 0.0 today.  This measures actual data vs. median expectations and is indicative of the fact that data continues to miss its targets in the US as well as throughout the rest of the world.

Arguably, it is this downturn in economic activity that has been the key driving force in the bond market’s remarkable rally for the past two months, although this morning, it appears that some profit taking is underway as Treasury yields have backed up 4.8bps.  Keep in mind, though, that yields had fallen more than 25bps at their lowest yesterday in just the past two weeks, so a reprieve is no real surprise.  

The question at hand has become, is this just a pause in activity, or have we already seen the peak and now that fiscal stimulus is behind us, growth is going to revert to its pre-pandemic trend, or worse?  My sense is the latter is more likely and given the extraordinary amount of debt that was issued during the past year, the growth trend is likely to be even worse than before the pandemic.  However, slowing growth is not necessarily going to be the death knell for inflation by any means.  Lack of investment and shortages of key inputs will continue to pressure prices higher, as will the demand from consumers who remain flush with cash.  The worst possible outcome, stagflation, remains entirely realistic as an outcome.

And on that cheery note, let’s survey markets quickly.  While yesterday was a clear risk-off session, this morning it is just the opposite, with equity markets rebounding and bonds under some pressure.  While the Nikkei (-0.6%) failed to rebound, we did see the Hang Seng (+0.7%) pick up some while Shanghai (0.0%) was flat.  The big news in China was the PBOC reduced the RRR for banks by 0.5%, to be implemented next week.  Remember, the Chinese continue to try to fight the blowing up of bubbles in markets, both financial and real estate, but are looking for ways to loosen policy.  Remember, too, that inflation in China remains quite high, at least at the factory gate, with PPI released last night at 8.8% Y/Y.  This reading was exactly as forecast and a touch lower than last month’s reading.  But it is still 8.8%!  If this starts to trend lower over the coming months, that will be a strong signal regarding global inflationary concerns, but we will have to wait to see.

European markets, though, are uniformly stronger, led by the CAC (+1.75%) although the DAX (+0.9%) and FTSE 100 (+0.7%) are both doing well this morning despite the weaker data.  It appears that investors remain comforted by the ECB’s continued commitment to supporting the economy and their commitment to not withdraw that support if inflation readings start to tick higher.  As to US futures, while the NASDAQ is unchanged at this hour, both SPX and DOW futures are higher by around 0.5%.

It is not only Treasuries that are selling off, but we are seeing weakness in Gilts (+3.8bps), Bunds (+1.1bps) and OATs +0.5bps) as well.  After all, every bond market rallied over the past weeks, so profit-taking is widespread.

On the commodity front, oil continues to trade in a hugely volatile manner, currently higher by 1.15% after rebounding more than 3% from its lows yesterday.  Base metals are also moving higher (Cu +1.7%, Al +0.6%, Sn +0.1%) although gold (-0.2%) continues to range trade around the $1800/oz level.

As to currencies, the picture is mixed with commodity currencies strong this morning alongside the commodity rally (NOK +0.8%, AUD +0.55%, NZD +0.3%) while the yen (-0.3%) is giving up some of yesterday’s haven related gains.  EMG currencies are behaving in a similar manner with RUB (+0.75%), ZAR (+0.6%) and MXN (+0.3%) all benefitting from higher commodity prices.  However, we are also seeing HUF (+0.85%) rise sharply as inflation surprised to the high side at 5.3% Y/Y and encouraged traders to bet on tighter monetary policy given its resurgence.  On the downside, the Asian bloc suffered the most (PHP -0.4%, THB -0.4%, KRW -0.3%) as traders sold on the negative Covid news.

There is no data today nor any Fed speakers.  That means that FX markets will be looking to equities and bonds for it’s cues, with equity markets seeming to have the stronger relationship right now.  The bond/dollar correlation seems to have broken down lately.    While the dollar is soft at this time, I see no reason for a major sell-off in any way.  As it is a summer Friday, I would look for a relatively quiet session with a drift lower in the dollar as long as risk assets perform well.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

Quite Premature

In Europe, to pundits’ surprise

The rate of inflation did rise

The ECB’s sure

It’s quite premature

To think prices will reach new highs

Meanwhile at the PBOC

They altered FX policy

Banks there must now hold

More money, we’re told

Preventing the yuan to run free

Two big stories presented themselves since we last observed markets before the Memorial Day holiday in the States; a policy change by the PBOC raising FX reserve requirements in order to encourage less renminbi buying dollar selling, and the release of Eurozone CPI showing that rising demand into supply bottlenecks does, in fact, lead to rising prices.  In line with the second story, let us not forget that Friday’s core PCE reading of 3.1%, was not only higher than anticipated but reinforced the idea that inflation is rising more rapidly than central bankers would have you believe.

But let’s start with China, where the renminbi has been appreciating very steadily since last May, rising more than 11% in that time.  initially, this was not seen as a concern as the starting point for USDCNY was well above 7.0, which is a level that had widely been seen as concerning for the PBOC with respect to excessive weakness.  But twelve months later, it has become clear that the PBOC now believes enough is enough.  Remember, the Chinese economy continues to be heavily reliant on exports for total activity, and an appreciation of that magnitude, especially for the low value items that are produced and exported, can be a significant impediment to growth.  Remember, too, that while a strong renminbi helps moderate inflation in China, it effectively exports that inflation to its customers. (We’ll get back to this shortly.)

Ultimately, China’s goal is to continue to grow their economy as rapidly as possible to insure limited unemployment and increased living standards for its population.  To the extent that a strengthening currency would disrupt that process, it is no longer a welcome sight.  Hence the PBOC’s move to reign in speculation for further CNY appreciation.  By raising the FX reserve requirement, they reduce the amount of onshore USD available (banks must now simply hold onto them) hence counting on the dollar to rise in value accordingly.  Or at the very least, to stop sliding in value.  Consider that China’s long-term stated goal is to further internationalize the renminbi, which means that direct intervention is an awkward method of control.  (International investors tend to shy away from currencies that are subject to the whims of a government or central bank).  This effort to change the FX reserve ratio, thus altering the supply/demand equation is far more elegant and far less intrusive.  Look for this ratio, now set at 7%, to rise further should the renminbi continue to appreciate in value.

As to the inflation story, this time Europe is the setting where prices are rising more rapidly than anticipated.  This morning’s CPI print of 2.0% is the first time it has printed that high since November 2018.  Now, price pressures in Europe are not yet to the level seen in the US, where Friday’s data was clearly an unwelcome surprise, but based on the PMI data releases, with the Eurozone composite rising to a record high of 63.1, and the fact that the latest spate of European lockdowns is coming to an end within the next week or two, it appears that economic activity on the continent is set to grow.  So, the demand side of the equation is moving higher.  meanwhile, the rising value of the CNY has raised input prices for manufacturers as well as retail prices directly.  While margins may be compressed slightly, the fact that Eurozone aggregate savings are at an all-time high suggests that there is plenty of money available to spend on higher priced items.  It is this combination of events that is set to drive inflation.

There is, however, a dichotomy brewing as bond markets, both in the US and Europe, do not seem to be indicating a great deal of concern over higher inflation.  Typically, they are the first market to demonstrate concern, usually forcing a central bank response.  But both here in the States, where Friday’s PCE data resulted in a collective yawn (Treasury yields actually fell 1 basis point) and  this morning in the Eurozone, where across major Eurozone countries, German bunds 0.1 bp rise is the only gain, with yields declining slightly elsewhere, the market is telling us that bond investors agree with the central banks regarding the transitory nature of the current rising inflation.  

Perhaps they are right.  While it is difficult to go to the store, any store, and not see that prices for many items have increased during the post-pandemic period, rising inflation means that those price rises will continue for a long time to come, not a simple one-off jump. Both the Fed and the ECB are certain that supply bottlenecks will be loosened soon, thus describing the temporary nature of their inflation views.  However, it is not as clear to me that is the case.  one of the defining features of the global economy during the past decade has been the adjustment of investment priorities at the corporate level, from investing and building new capacity to repurchasing outstanding shares.  This financialization of the economy is not well prepared to expand actual output.  I fear it may take longer than central banks anticipate to loosen those bottlenecks, which means price pressures are likely to be with us for a lot longer than central banks believe.  

A quick tour of markets this morning shows that regardless of Chinese activity or inflation concerns, risk is ON.  While Asia was mixed (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng +1.1%, Shanghai +0.2%), Europe is a green machine (DAX +1.5%, CAC +0.9%, FTSE 100 +1.1%) after strong PMI data across the board.  US markets are not to be left out of this rally with futures in all three major indices rising by about 0.4% at this hour.

As mentioned above, the bond market is far less interesting this morning.  While Treasury yields have backed up 2bps, Europe is going the other way, save Gilts (+1.1bps).  Clearly there is no inflation concern there right now.  And this is despite the fact that oil prices are much higher (WTI +2.8%, Brent +2.1% and >$70/bbl) along with copper (+4.7%) although wedid see Aluminum slip (-0.6%).  Grains are rising as well as is Silver (+0.75%), although gold, which was higher earlier, is back to flat on the day.

The dollar, this morning, is mixed, with roughly an equal number of currencies higher and lower, although the gains are much greater than the losses.  For instance, NOK (+0.7%) is clearly responding to oil’s rise, while SEK (+0.5%) is benefitting from continued strong PMI data.  However, the rest of the G10 space is +/- 0.2% with the pound (-0.25%) the most noteworthy decliner after concerns were raised that a new Covid variant could delay the reopening of the economy.

In the EMG space, KRW (+0.4%) and THB (+0.3%) have been the best performers as both are thriving amid improving economic performance and anticipation that China’s recovery will help support them further.  Meanwhile, on the flipside, TRY (-0.5%) is the laggard followed by INR (-0.4%) and ZAR (-0.3%).  CNY (-0.2%) slipped in the wake of the PBOC action, while INR is suffering as Covid cases continue to surge.  The same is true in South Africa, and Turkey suffered after higher inflation readings than expected.

Data this week is big starting with ISM and culminating in the payroll report.

TodayConstruction Spending0.5%
 ISM Manufacturing60.9
 ISM Prices Paid89.0
WednesdayFed’s Beige Book 
ThursdayADP Employment650K
 Initial Claims395K
 Continuing Claims3.615M
 ISM Services63.0
FridayNonfarm Payrolls650K
 Private Payrolls600K
 Manufacturing Payrolls25K
 Unemployment Rate5.9%
 Average Hourly Earnings0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
 Average Weekly Hours34.9
 Participation Rate61.8%
 Factory Orders-0.2%

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to this data we will hear from six more Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell on Friday.  All ears will be tuned toward the tapering debate and how this week’s speakers address the situation.  However, if you consider it, if inflation is transitory and growth is going well, why would they need to taper?  After all, they appear to have achieved the nirvana of  explosive growth with no inflation. 

Needless to say, not everyone believes that story.  However, the one story that is gaining credence everywhere is that the dollar is likely to decline going forward.  That was the consensus view at the beginning of the year, and after a quarter of concern, it appears to be regaining many adherents.  To date, the relationship between the dollar and 10-year Treasury yields has been very strong.  It has certainly appeared that the bond drove the dollar.  However, recent activity has been less conclusive.  I still believe that relationship holds, but will be watching closely.  That said, the dollar does feel heavy these days.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Fated To Burst

While here in the US the word
Is stimulus, more, is preferred
The UK is thinking
‘Bout how they’ll be shrinking
Their deficit, or so we’ve heard

Meanwhile, China, last night, explained
That excesses would be contained
The bubble inflated
By Powell is fated
To burst, as it can’t be sustained

If you look closely enough, you may be able to see the first signs of governments showing concern about the excessive policy ease, both fiscal and monetary, that has been flooding the markets for the past twelve months.  This is not to say that the end is nigh, just that there are some countries who are beginning to question how much longer all this needs to go on.

The first indication came last night from China, remarkably, when the Chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, and Party secretary for the PBOC, explained that aside from reducing leverage in the Chinese property market to stay ahead of systemic risks, he was “very worried” about the risks from bubbles in the US equity markets and elsewhere.  Perhaps bubbles can only be seen from a distance of 6000 miles or more which would explain why the PBOC can recognize what is happening in the US better than the Fed.  Or perhaps, the PBOC is the only central bank left in the world that has the ability, in the words of legendary Fed Chair William McChesney Martin “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going”.  We continue to hear from Fed speakers as well as from Treasury secretary Yellen, that the Fed has the tools necessary if inflation were to return, and that is undoubtedly true.  The real question is do they have the fortitude to use them (take away that punch bowl) if the result is a recession?

The second indication that free money and government largesse may not be permanent comes from the UK, where Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is set to present his latest budget which, while still offering support for individuals and small businesses, is now also considering tax increases to start to pay for all the previous largesse.  The UK budget deficit is running at 17% of GDP, which in peacetime is extremely large.  And, as with the US, the bulk of that money is not going toward productive investment, but rather to maintenance of the current situation which has been crushed by government lockdowns.  However, the UK does not have the world’s reserve currency and may find that if they continue to issue gilts with no end, there is a finite demand for them.  This could easily result in the worst possible outcome, higher interest rates, slowing growth and a weakening currency driving inflation higher.  The pound has been amongst the worst performers during the past week, falling 1.4% (-0.1% today), as investors start to question assumptions about the ability of the UK to continue down its current path.

But not to worry folks, here in the US, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill is starting to get considered in the Senate, where some changes will need to be made before reconciliation with the House, but where it seems certain to get the clearance it needs for passage and eventual enactment within the next two weeks.  So, the US will not be heeding any concerns that going big is no longer the right strategy, despite what has been a remarkable run of economic data.  In the current Treasury zeitgeist, as we learned from Florence + The Machine in 2017, “Too Much is Never Enough”!

Where does that leave us today?  Well, risk struggled in the overnight session on the back of the PBOC concerns about bubbles and threats to reduce liquidity (Nikkei -0.9%, Hang Seng -1.2%, Shanghai -1.2%), but after a weak start, European bourses have decided that Madame Lagarde will never stop printing money and have all turned positive at this time (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.5%, FTSE 100 +0.6%).  And, of course, that is a valid belief given that we continue to hear from ECB speakers that the PEPP can easily be adjusted as necessary to insure continued support.  The most recent comments come from VP Luis de Guindos, who promised to prevent rising bond yields from undermining easy financing conditions.  US futures, meanwhile, while still lower at this hour by about 0.2%, have been rallying back from early session lows of greater than -0.7%.

Treasury yields continue to resume their climb higher, up another 2.9 basis points this morning, although they remain below the 1.50% level.  In Europe, bunds (+2.0bps), OATs (+2.7bps) and Gilts (+0.6bps) are all giving back some of yesterday’s rally, as risk appetite is making a comeback.  Also noteworthy are ACGBs Down Under with a 5.2 bp rise last night although the RBA did manage to push 3-year yields, their YCC target, even lower to 0.087%.

Commodity prices seem uncertain which way to go this morning, with oil virtually unchanged, although still above $60/bbl, and gold and silver mixed.  Base metals are very modestly higher with ags actually a bit softer.  In other words, no real direction is evident here.

As to the dollar, the direction is higher, generally, although not universally.  In the G10, NOK (+0.6%) is the leading gainer followed by AUD (+0.3%) which has held its own after the RBA stood pat and indicated they would not be raising rates until 2024! That doesn’t strike me as a reason to buy the currency, but that is the word on the Street.  But the rest of the bloc is softer, although earlier declines of as much as 0.5% have been whittled down.

EMG currencies have also seen a few gainers (RUB +0.4%, INR +0.25%) but are largely softer led by BRL (-0.7%) and ZAR (-0.7%).  It is difficult to derive a theme here as the mixed commodity markets are clearly impacting different commodity currencies differently.  However, the one truism is that the dollar is definitely seeing further inflows as its broad-based strength is undeniable today.

There is no data released today in the US, although things certainly pick up as the week progresses from here.  On the speaker front we hear from two arch doves, Brainerd and Daly, neither of whom will indicate that a bubble exists or that it is time to cut back on any type of stimulus.  Perhaps at this point, markets have priced in the full impact of the stimulus bill, and the fact that the Fed is on hold, and is looking at other central bank activities as the driver of rates.  After all, if other central banks seek to expand policy, as we have heard from the ECB, then those currencies are likely to come under pressure.

Here’s the thing; investors remain net short dollars against almost every currency, so every comment by other central banks about further support is going to increase the pain level unless the Fed responds.  Right now, that doesn’t seem likely, but if yields do head back above 1.5%, don’t be surprised to see something out of the FOMC meeting later this month.  However, until then, the dollar seems likely to hold its recent bid.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Was It Ever?

The BOJ asked
Is QE still effective?
Or…was it ever?

One of the constants in financial markets since 2012 has been the BOJ’s massive intervention in Japanese markets.  They were the first major central bank to utilize QE, although they call it QQE (Quantitative and Qualitative Easing – not sure what quality it brings) and have now reached a point where the BOJ owns more than 51% of the JGB market.  In fact, given their buy and hold strategy removes those bonds from trading, the liquidity in the JGB market has suffered greatly.  Remember, too, that JGB issuance is greater than 230% of the Japanese GDP, which means the BOJ’s balance sheet is larger than the Japanese economy, currently sitting at ~$6.74 Trillion or 133.2%.

But they don’t only purchase JGB’s, they are also actively buying equity ETF’s in Japan, and by using their infinite printing press have now become the largest single shareholder in the country with holdings of ~$435 Billion, or roughly 7.5% of all the equities outstanding in the country.  And you thought the Fed was pursuing an activist monetary policy!

The thing is, it is not hard to describe all these efforts as utter failures in achieving their aims.  Those aims were to support growth and push inflation up to 2.0%.  (As an aside, it is remarkable how 2.0% has become the ‘magic’ number for the right amount of inflation in central banking circles.  Thank you Donald Brash.)  However, a quick look at the history of inflation in Japan since Kuroda-san’s appointment to Governor of the BOJ in March 2013, and the latest surge in activist monetary policy, shows that the average inflation rate during his tenure as been 0.73%.  Inflation peaked in May 2014, in the wake of the GST hike (a tax rise on consumption) at 3.7%, and spent 12 months above the 2.0% level as that impact was felt, but then the baseline was permanently higher and inflation quickly fell back below 1.0%, never to consider another rise to that level.

Looking at growth, the picture is similar, with the average Q/Q GDP growth during Kuroda-san’s tenure just 0.1%.  It is abundantly clear that central bankers are no Einsteins, as they seem constantly surprised that the same strategies they have been using for years do not produce new results.  Perhaps you must be insane to become a central banker.

What makes this relevant today is that last night, it was learned that BOJ policymakers are considering some changes to their policies.   It’s current policy of YCC has short-term rates at -0.1% and a target for 10-year yields of 0.00% +/- 0.20% leeway.  They also currently purchase ¥12 Trillion ($115 Billion) of equity ETF’s per year.  However, their new plans indicate that they are going to change the mix of JGB purchases, extending the tenor and cutting back purchases of short-term bonds, while also allowing more flexibility in the movement of 10-year yields, with hints it could widen that band from the current 40bps to as much as 60bps.  While that may not seem like a lot, given the minimal adjustments that have been made to these policies over the past 8 years, any movement at all is a lot.

And the market took heed quickly, with JPY (-0.5%) falling to its weakest point vs. the dollar since mid-November.  Technically, USDJPY has broken through some key resistance levels and the prospects are for further USD appreciation, at least in the short run.

In China, the PBOC
Is worried that bubbles will key
More problems ahead
And to punters’ dread
Have drained out more liquidity

China is the other noteworthy story this morning, where the central bank has aggressively drained liquidity from the market as they remain extremely wary of inflating bubbles.  Overnight funding costs rose 29bps last night, to their highest level since March 2015.  Not surprisingly, Chinese equity markets suffered with Shanghai (-0.6%) and the Hang Seng (-0.95%) both unable to follow yesterday’s US rally.  (The Nikkei (-1.9%) also suffered as concerns were raised that the BOJ, in their revamp of policy, may choose to buy less equities.)  What is so interesting about this action is that if you ask any Western central banker about bubbles you get two general responses; first, they cannot tell when a bubble exists; and second, anyway, even if they could, it is not their job to deflate them.  Yet, the PBOC is very clear that not only can they spot a bubble, but they will address it.

I think it is fair to say that given the recent activity in certain stocks like GameStop and AMC, the US market is really exhibiting bubble-like tendencies.  Rampant speculation by individual investors is always a sign of a bubble.  We saw that in 1999-2000 during the Tech bubble, when people quit their day jobs to become stock traders and we saw that in the housing bubble of 2007-8, when people quit their day jobs to speculate in real estate and flip houses.   It also seems pretty clear that the combination of current monetary and fiscal policies has resulted in equity markets being the final repository of that cash.  Having lived, and traded, through the previous two bubbles, I can affirm the current situation exhibits all the same hallmarks, with one exception, the fact that central banks are explicitly targeting asset purchases.  However, this situation cannot extend forever, and at least one part of the financial framework will falter. When that starts, price action will become extremely volatile, similar to what we saw last March, but for a longer period of time, and market liquidity, which has already suffered, will get even worse.  All this points to the idea that hedging financial risk remains critical.  Do not be dissuaded by some volatility, because I assure you, it can get worse.

Anyway, a quick tour of markets shows some real confusion today.  Equities, which we saw fell sharply in Asia, are falling across Europe as well (DAX -0.8%), CAC (-0.9%), FTSE 100 (-1.0%) despite the fact that preliminary GDP data from the continent indicated growth in Q4 was merely flat, not negative. US futures are all pointing lower as well, between 0.5% and 0.9%.

Bonds, however, are all being sold as well, with Treasury yields rising 2.6bps, and European market seeing even greater rate rises (Bunds +3.3bps, OATs +3.3bps, Gilts +3.9bps).  So, investors are selling both stocks and bonds.  What are they buying?

Commodities are in favor this morning, with oil (+0.5%) and the ags rising, but precious metals are in even greater favor (Gold +1.1%, Silver +3.25%).  And finally, the dollar, is under broad pressure, with only the yen really underperforming today.  NOK (+0.9%) is leading the way in the G10, while the rest of the bloc, though higher, is less enthusiastic with gains ranging from 0.1%-0.3%.  Emerging market currencies are having a much better day, led by ZAR (+1.3%) on the back of the commodity rally, followed by TRY (+0.85%) and MXN (+0.45%).  CNY (+0.25%) has rallied on the back of the Chinese monetary actions and BRL (-0.1%) is the only laggard in the bloc as bets on rate hikes, that had been implemented earlier in the week, seem to be getting unwound.

There is important data this morning as well, led by Personal Income (exp 0.1%) and Personal Spending (-0.4%), but also Core PCE (1.3%), Chicago PMI (58.5) and Michigan Sentiment (79.3).  The PCE data has the best chance of being the most interesting, as a higher than expected print will get tongues wagging once more regarding the reflation trade and higher bond yields.

But, when looking at the markets in their totality, there is no specific theme.  Risk is neither on, nor off, but looks more confused.  If I had to describe things, I would say that fiat linked items are under pressure while real items are in demand.  Alas, given current monetary policy globally, I fear that is the future in a nutshell.  As to the dollar, relative to other currencies, clearly, today it is under the gun, but arguably, it is really just consolidating its recent modest gains.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

No Bubble’s Detected

While Jay and his friends at the Fed
Claim when they are looking ahead
No bubble’s detected
So, they’ve not neglected
Their teachings and won’t be misled

But China views markets and sees
Their policy has too much ease
So, money they drained
As they ascertained
Investors, they need not appease

Perhaps there is no clearer depiction of the current difference between the Fed (and truly all G10 central banks) and the PBOC than the fact that last night, the PBOC drained liquidity from the market.  Not only did they drain liquidity, they explained that they were concerned about bubbles in asset markets like stocks and real estate, inflating because of current conditions.  Think about that, the PBOC did not simply discuss the idea that at some point in the future they may need to drain liquidity, they actually did so.  I challenge anyone to name a G10 central banker who could possibly be so bold.  Certainly not Chairman Powell, who tomorrow will almost certainly reiterate that this is not the time to be considering the removal of policy support.  Neither would ECB President Lagarde venture down such a road given the almost instantaneous damage that would inflict on the PIGS economies.

One cannot be surprised that stock markets fell in Asia after this action, with the Hang Seng (-2.6%) leading the way, while Shanghai (-1.5%) also fared poorly.  By contrast, the Nikkei’s -1.0% performance looked pretty good.  It should also be no surprise that the stock markets of the APAC nations whose trade relations with China define their economies saw weak outcomes.  Thus, Korea’s KOSPI (-2.1%) and Taiwan’s TAIEX (-1.8%) suffered as well.  And finally, it cannot be surprising that the Chinese renminbi traded higher (+0.15%) and is pushing back to levels last seen in June 2018.

Arguably, the key question here is, what does this mean for markets going forward?  Despite constant denials by every G10 central banker, it remains abundantly clear that equity market froth is a direct result of central bank policy.  The constant addition of liquidity to the economic system continues to spill into financial markets and push up equity (and bond and other asset) prices.  If the PBOC action were seen as a harbinger of other central bank activity, I expect that we would see a very severe repricing of risk assets.  However, a quick look at European equity markets shows that no such thing is occurring.  Rather, the powerful rally we are seeing across the board on the continent today (DAX +1.5%, CAC +1.1%, FTSE MIB +0.85%) indicates just the opposite.  Investors are not merely convinced that the ECB will never remove liquidity, but we are likely seeing some of the money that fled Asia finding a new home amid the easy money of Europe.

If the PBOC continues down this road, it is likely to have a far greater impact over time.  In fact, if they are successful in deflating the asset bubbles in China without crushing the economy, something that has never successfully been done by any central bank, it would certainly bode well for China going forward, as global investors would beat a path to their door.  While that is already happening (in 2020, for the first time, China drew more direct investment than the US), the speed with which it would occur could be breathtaking, especially in the current environment when capital moves at a blinding pace.  And that implies that Western equity markets might lose their allure and deflate.  The irony is that a communist nation firmly in the grip of the government would be deemed a better investment opportunity than the erstwhile bastion of free markets.  Ironic indeed!

However, that will only take place over a longer time frame, while we want to focus on today.  So, don’t ignore this occurrence, but don’t overreact either.

In the meantime, a look at today’s activity shows that there is little coherence in markets right now.  As you’ve seen, European equity markets are rallying nicely despite the fact that the Italian government just fell as PM Giuseppe Conte resigned.  A few months ago, this would have been seen as a significant negative for Italian assets, but not anymore.  Not only are Italian stocks higher, but BTP’s have seen yields decline another 3 basis points, taking their rally since Friday to 10 basis points!  As I have often written, BTP’s and the bonds of the other PIGS countries trade more like risk assets than havens, so it should be no surprise they are rallying.  In fact, haven assets all over are declining with Treasuries (+2.2bps), Bunds (+1.4bps) and Gilts (+1.6bps) all being sold today.

Recapping the action so far shows APAC stocks falling sharply, European stocks rallying sharply and haven bonds falling.  Is that risk-on?  Or risk-off?  Beats me!  Commodity prices point to risk-on, with oil rising 0.55% and most agricultural products higher by between 0.4%-1.0%.

Finally, looking at the dollar gives us almost no further information.  While the SEK (-0.25%) is under pressure on a complete lack of news, and the NZD (+0.2%) has moved higher after PM Arcern explained that the country would remain closed to outside travelers until the pandemic ended, the rest of the bloc is +/- 0.1% or less.  In the EMG bloc, the picture is also mixed, with KRW (-0.5%) the worst performer followed by IDR (-0.3%).  Given China’s monetary move last night, this should be no surprise.  On the plus side, TRY (+0.7%) leads the way followed by BRL (+0.4%), with the former benefitting from the IMF raising its GDP growth forecast to 6% in 2021, from a previous estimate of 5%. Meanwhile, the real has benefitted from the news that the BCB meeting last week contained discussions of raising interest rates from their current historically low level of 2.0%.  Concern over inflation picking up has some of the more hawkish members questioning the current policy stance.  Certainly, given that BRL has been one of the worst performing currencies for the past year, having declined 26% since the beginning of 2020, there is plenty of room for it to rise on the back of higher interest rates.

On the data front, this morning brings Case Shiller Home Prices (exp +8.7%) and Consumer Confidence (89.0).  On the former, this reflects historically low mortgage rates and a lack of inventory.  As to the latter, it must be remembered that this reading was above 120 for the entire previous Administration’s tenure until Covid came calling.  Alas, there is no indication that people are feeling ready to head back to the malls and movies yet.

With the FOMC on tap for tomorrow, I expect that the FX market will take its cues from equities.  If the US follows Europe, I would expect to see the dollar give up a little ground, but as I type, futures are little changed with no consistent direction.  While the dollar’s medium-term trend lower has been interrupted, for now, it also appears that the correction has seen its peak.  However, it could take a few more sessions before any downward pressure resumes in earnest, subject, naturally, to what the Fed tells us tomorrow.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Blue Wave at Last

Psephologists have now decided
The run-off election provided
A blue wave at last
So laws can be passed
Republicans view as misguided

The market responded by sellin’
The 10-year, with traders foretellin’
Inflation to come
As Powell stays mum
While financing Treasury’s Yellen

While the election results from Georgia are not yet final, the indications at this time are that the Democratic party won one of the seats with the second one still too close to call.  However, the market has already made its decision, that both seats flipped to the Democrats and that the Senate will now be split 50:50, which means that the Vice President will be able to cast the deciding vote.  The clear implication is that, while hardly a mandate, the Democrats will control both the executive and legislative branches and be able to implement a great deal of their agenda.  In other words, the blue wave high tide has finally crested.

The initial reaction to this news has been seen in the sell-off of the 10-year Treasury, where the yield has risen to 1.02% as I type, its first foray above 1.00% since March 19th, during the first days of the Covid-19 market panic.  The reflation trade is back in vogue, with expectations now that the new administration will be aggressively adding fiscal stimulus, thus increasing Treasury issuance significantly and ultimately steepening the yield curve as demand for long-dated Treasuries will not be able to keep pace with the new supply.  However, given the already record levels of debt outstanding, the government simply cannot afford for interest rates to rise too far, as if they do, interest payments will soak up an ever-increasing proportion of available revenues.  It is for this reason that I continue to believe the Fed will increase their current activity, and whether tacitly, by expanding QE and extending the maturity of purchases, or explicitly, by setting a yield target, implement Yield Curve Control (YCC).

At the same time, the Fed has made it abundantly clear that higher inflation is of no concern to the committee.  The latest proof comes from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, who explained to us yesterday, “Frankly, if we got 3% inflation, that would not be so bad.  It is very difficult to imagine out of control inflation, even with the large debt that fiscal authorities have been running up.”   Perhaps, as a Regional Fed President, he simply lacks imagination.  After all, just yesterday, almost at the same time he was recounting his views, the ISM Prices Paid index printed at 77.6, well above expectations and at a level seen only twice, briefly, in the past decade.  There is a strong correlation between this index and PPI, so the idea that inflation pressures are building is hardly unimaginable.

Which brings us back to the prospects for the dollar, as well as other markets.  While yields have climbed today, the prospect of inflation rising more rapidly and real rates falling further into negative territory still informs my view that the dollar has further to decline.  This will become more obvious when the Fed steps in to prevent the rise in nominal yields, which I am confident will occur sooner rather than later.  Again, while I don’t anticipate a dollar collapse, as other central banks will fight to prevent such an outcome, further dollar weakness is in the cards.

Speaking of other central banks fighting the dollar’s weakness, last night the PBOC started to do just that by establishing the CNY fix at a weaker renminbi rate than anticipated.  Since August 1st, CNY has appreciated by nearly 8% vs. the dollar, which for an economy that remains heavily reliant on exporting for GDP growth, is a growing problem.  As the PBOC makes no bones about directing the value of the currency, you can expect that they will be actively managing the renminbi’s value going forward in an effort to prevent too much further strength.  But, as long as both nominal and real yields remain positive in China, that will attract significant capital flows and continue to pressure the renminbi higher.

So, what has all this news done to other markets?  Well, most of Europe is ecstatic at the election outcome, at least that seems to be the case based on the rallies seen in equity markets there.  The FTSE 100 (+2.3%) is leading the way, but we are seeing strong gains in the DAX (+0.9%) and CAC (+0.8%) as well, despite the fact that the PMI Services data disappointed across the board.  The story in Asia was more mixed with the Nikkei (-0.4%) and Australia (-1.1%) underwhelmed by the outcome, although the Hang Seng (+0.2%) and Shanghai (+0.6%) both wound up in the green.  As to US futures, as I type, they are a mixed bag, with DOW futures higher by 0.2%, SPU’s lower by 0.4% while NASDAQ futures are down 2.0%.  The latter’s decline are a response to the election results as concerns grow that Big Tech will now be in the crosshairs of Congress for more regulation if not outright dismemberment.

While we have already discussed the Treasury market, European government bonds are mostly softer today as well, with yields rising as much as 4bps in the UK, although German bunds are unchanged on the session.

Another inflationary impulse comes from oil, where yesterday the Saudis surprised the market by unilaterally cutting production by 1 million barrels/day helping to take WTI above $50/bbl for the first time since late February.  If this rally continues, look for gasoline prices to creep higher, one of the key sentiment indicators regarding the perception of inflation.

And finally, the dollar remains broadly under pressure this morning, with NOK (+0.75%) the leading gainer in the G10 on the back of the oil rally, although both AUD (+0.6%) and NZD (+0.65%) are also having a good day as both commodity prices gain and they serve as a proxy for Asian growth.  Meanwhile, the euro (+0.35%) is trading at new highs for the move and back to levels not seen since April 2018.

Emerging market currencies are universally higher this morning, led by PLN (+0.85%), MXN (+0.8%) and HUF (+0.8%).  Those stories are easy to see, with oil helping the peso, while the CE4 currencies are tracking the euro’s strength.  Asian currencies, while all firmer, did not show nearly the enthusiasm, with gains between 0.1% and 0.2%, but of course, the election results were not fully known during their session.

On the data front, this morning brings ADP Employment (exp 75K) as well as Factory Orders (0.7%) and the PMI Services index (55.2).  Then, this afternoon, we see the FOMC Minutes of the December meeting, one where they disappointed many folks by not easing further. The first thing to note is that after yesterday’s ISM data, the ADP forecast increased from 50K.  Clearly, the manufacturing sector remains in better shape than expected.  At the same time, the Minutes ought to be interesting as perhaps we will learn more about attitudes regarding any prospects for what could change policy.  Of course, given the world was a different place then, and as Evans explained, inflation is of no concern, the real question from the Minutes will be what will the Fed do next to ease further.

As to the dollar, it is hard to see a short-term path in any direction other than lower, but I continue to expect the decline to be slow and orderly.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

QE’s Not Constrained

For everyone who seems to think
The dollar will steadily sink
This weekend disclosed
The world is opposed
To letting the buck’s value shrink

In China they eased the restrictions
On short sales in all jurisdictions
While Europe explained
QE’s not constrained
And further rate cuts are not fictions

It cannot be a surprise that we are beginning to see a more concerted response to dollar weakness from major central banks.  As I have written consistently, at the current time, no nation wants their currency to be strong.  Each is convinced that a weak currency will help obtain the twin goals of improved export performance leading to economic growth and higher inflation.  While financial theory does show that, in a closed system, those are two natural consequences of a weak currency, the evidence over the past twelve years has been less convincing.  Of course, as with every economic theory, a key assumption is ‘ceteris paribus’ or all else being equal.  But all else is never equal.  A strong argument can be made that in addition to the global recession undermining pricing power, the world is in the midst of a debt deflation.  This is the situation where a high and rising level of overall debt outstanding directs cash flow to repayment and reduces the available funding for other economic activity.  That missing demand results in price declines and hence, the debt deflation.  History has shown a strong correlation between high levels of debt and deflation, something many observers fail to recognize.

However, central banks, as with most large institutions, are always fighting the last war.  The central bank playbook, which had been effective from Bretton Woods, in 1944 until, arguably, sometime just before the Great Financial Crisis in 2008-09, explained that the reflexive response to economic weakness was to cut interest rates and ease financing conditions.  This would have the dual effect of encouraging borrowing for more activity while at the same time weakening the currency and making the export community more competitive internationally, thus boosting growth further.  And finally, a weaker currency would result in imported inflation, as importers would be forced to raise prices.

The Great Financial Crisis, though, essentially broke that model, as both the economic and market responses to central bank activities did not fit that theoretical framework.  Instead, adhering to the playbook saw interest rates cut to zero, and then below zero throughout Europe and Japan, additional policy ease via QE and yet still extremely modest economic activity.  And, perhaps, that was the problem.  Every central bank enacted their policies at the same time, thus there was no large relative change in policy.  After all, if every central bank cut interest rates, then the theoretical positive outcomes are negated.  In other words, ceteris isn’t paribus.

Alas, central banks have proven they are incapable of independent thought, and they have been acting in concert ever since.  Thus, rate cuts by one beget rate cuts by another, sometimes explicitly (Denmark and Switzerland cutting rates after the ECB acts) and sometimes implicitly (the ECB, BOE and BOC cutting rates after the Fed acts).  In the end, the results are that the relative policy settings remain very close to unchanged and thus, the only beneficiary is the equity market, where all that excess money eventually flows in the great hunt for positive returns.

Keeping the central bank mindset at the fore, we have an easy time understanding the weekend actions and comments from the PBOC and the ECB.  The PBOC adjusted a reserve policy that had been aimed at preventing rampant selling speculation against the renminbi.  For the past two plus years, all Chinese banks had been required to keep a 20% reserve against any short forward CNY positions they executed on behalf of customers.  This made shorting CNY prohibitively expensive, thus reducing the incentive to do so and helped support the currency.  However, the recent price action in CNY has been strongly positive, with the renminbi having appreciated nearly 7% between late May and Friday.  For a country like China, that sells a great many low margin products to the rest of the world, a strong currency is a clear impediment to their economic plans.  The PBOC action this weekend, removing that reserve requirement completely, is perfectly in keeping with the mindset of a weaker currency will help support exports and by extension economic growth.  Now there is no penalty to short CNY, so you can expect more traders to do so.  Especially since the fixing last night was at a weaker CNY level than expected by the market.  Look for further CNY (-0.8% overnight) weakness going forward.

As to the ECB, their actions were less concrete, but no less real.  ECB Chief Economist Philip Lane, the member with the most respected policy chops, was on the tape explaining that the Eurozone faces a rocky patch after the initial rebound from Covid.  He added, “I do not see that the ECB has a structurally tighter orientation for monetary policy[than the Federal Reserve].  Anyone who pays attention to our policies and forward guidance knows that we will not tighten policy without inflation solidly appearing in the data.”  Lastly, he indicated that both scaling up QE purchases and further rate cuts are on the table.

Again, it should be no surprise that the ECB is unwilling to allow the euro to simply rally unabated in the current environment.  The playbook is clear, a strong currency needs to be addressed, i.e. weakened. This weekend simply demonstrated that all the major central banks view the world in exactly the same manner.

Turning to the markets on this holiday-shortened session, we see that Chinese equities were huge beneficiaries of the PBOC action with Shanghai (+2.65%) and the Hang Seng (+2.0%) both strongly higher although the Nikkei (-0.25%) did not share the market’s enthusiasm.  European markets are firming up as I type, overcoming some early weakness and now green across the board.  So, while the FTSE 100 (+0.1%) is the laggard, both the DAX (+0.45%) and CAC (+0.75%) are starting to make some nice gains.  As to US futures, they, too, are now all in the green with NASDAQ (+ 1.3%) far and away the leader.  Despite the federal holiday in the US, the stock market is, in fact, open today.

Banks, however, are closed and the Treasury market is closed with them.  So, while there is no movement there, we are seeing ongoing buying interest across the European government bond markets as traders prepare for increased ECB QE activity.  After all, if banks don’t own the bonds the ECB wants to buy, they will not be able to mark them up and sell them to the only price insensitive buyer in the European government bond market.  So, yields here are lower by about 1 basis point across the board.

As to the dollar, it is broadly, but mildly stronger this morning.  Only the yen (-0.15%) is weaker in the G10 space as the rest of the block is responding to the belief that all the central banks are going to loosen policy further, a la the ECB.  As to the EMG bloc, CZK is actually the biggest loser, falling 0.9% after CPI there surprised the market by falling slightly, to 3.2%, rather than extending its recent string of gains.  This has the market looking for further central bank ease going forward, something that had been questioned as CPI rose.  Otherwise, as we see the prices of both oil and gold decline, we are seeing MXN (-0.6%), ZAR (-0.5%) and RUB (-0.5%) all fall in line.  On the flip side, only KRW (+0.55%) has shown any strength as foreign investors continue to pile into the stock market there on the back of Chinese hopes.

We do get some important data this week as follows:

Tuesday CPI 0.2% (1.4% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
Wednesday PPI 0.2% (0.2% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (0.9% Y/Y)
Thursday Empire Manufacturing 14.0
Initial Claims 825K
Continuing Claims 10.4M
Philly Fed 14.0
Friday Retail Sales 0.8%
-ex autos 0.4%
IP 0.6%
Capacity Utilization 71.9%
Michigan Sentiment 80.5

Source: Bloomberg

Remember, we have seen five consecutive higher than expected CPI prints, so there will be a lot of scrutiny there, but ultimately, the data continues to point to a slowing recovery with job growth still a major problem.  We also hear from nine more Fed speakers, but again, this message is already clear, ZIRP forever and Congress needs to pass stimulus.

In the end, I find no case for the dollar to weaken appreciably from current levels, and expect that if anything, modest strength is the most likely path going forward, at least until the election.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Still Aren’t Buying

The market continues to fear
The virus, as it’s become clear
Whatever they try
Recession is nigh
And coming worldwide late this year

But Jay and his friends keep on trying
To help us all so they’re supplying
A hundred beep cut
Which might aid somewhat
Investors, though, still aren’t buying

It is getting hard to keep up with all the policy actions being undertaken by the world’s central banks and governments as every nation tries to address the Covid-19 outbreak. By now, I am sure you are all aware that the Fed, in an unprecedented Sunday night move, cut the Fed funds rate by 100bps, back to the zero bound. But here is what else they did:

• They committed to QE4, which involves purchasing $500 billion in Treasury coupon bonds as well as $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities.
• They cut the interest rate at the discount window to 0.25% and will allow borrowings there for up to 90 days (it had been an overnight facility prior to this).
• And perhaps the most interesting thing, they cut bank reserve requirements to 0.0%, essentially allowing infinite leverage for banks to encourage them to lend.
• Finally, they reinstituted USD swap lines with other major central banks around the world to help everyone else get access to USD liquidity.

The Bank of Japan, meanwhile, pulled their monthly meeting forward to last night so they could act in concert with the rest of the world. With interest rates already negative, they did not touch those, but doubled their target for ETF and corporate bond purchases to ¥12 trillion and they introduced a new zero-rate lending program to help businesses hit by the pandemic. Kuroda-san also made clear there was more they can do if necessary.

The PBOC in a somewhat lukewarm response offered 100 billion yuan of liquidity via the medium-term lending facility at an unchanged rate of 3.15%. Given they are one of the few central banks with room to cut rates, that was somewhat of a surprise. It was also surprising given just how incredibly awful the economic data releases were last night:

Retail Sales -20.5%
Industrial Production -13.5%
Fixed Asset Investment -24.5%
Unemployment Rate 6.2%

The RBNZ cut its base rate by 0.75%, taking it down to 0.25%, and promised to maintain that rate for at least 12 months. They also indicated they would be starting QE if they needed to do anything else. (And to think, New Zealand historically had been considered a ‘high-yielder’!)

The Bank of Korea cut its base rate by 0.50%, taking it to 0.75% in an unscheduled emergency meeting. Analysts are looking for another 50bps at their regular meeting on April 9.

The RBA offered further liquidity injections via repurchase agreements (repos) extending their tenor and indicated it “stands ready” to purchase government bonds (i.e. start QE) with further announcements due Wednesday.

In addition, we saw the Philippines, Hong Kong, Turkey and Sri Lanka act last night. This is clearly a global effort, but one that has not yet gained traction amid the investment community.

Speaking of the investment community, equity markets worldwide are getting crushed, with Asia falling sharply and Europe in even worse shape, as all markets are down at least 6%. Meanwhile, US equity futures are limit down at -5.0% after Friday’s remarkable late day short-covering rally. Again, the only constant here is that volatility is extremely elevated!

Treasury yields have fallen sharply again, down 20bps as I type, but were lower earlier. Interestingly, other than Treasuries, Bunds and Gilts, the rest of the government bond markets have lost their appeal to investors. Instead, we are seeing them sold off alongside equity markets with French yields higher by 4bps, Italian yields +16bps and Greek yields +26bps. In fact, pretty much every other country is seeing yields rise today. I think part of this is the fact that as equity markets decline and margin calls come in, investors must sell the only thing that has any liquidity, and that is government bonds. This behavior could go on for a while.

And lastly, turning to the dollar, it is a mixed picture this morning. The haven currencies, JPY (+1.6%) and CHF (+0.7%) are doing what they are supposed to. The euro, too, has rallied a bit, up 0.5% in what arguably is a response to the dramatically lower US interest rate picture. But NZD and NOK are both lower by 1.5%, the former on the back of its surprise central bank actions while the krone is suffering because oil has collapsed 5.6% this morning amid the ongoing oil war. CAD and AUD, the other G10 commodity currencies are also under pressure, down 0.8% and 0.5% respectively.

Turning to the EMG space, the bright spot is Central Europe, which has seen gains in PLN, RON and BGN. But otherwise, these currencies are under pressure again, some more extreme than others. RUB is the leading decliner, -2.9%, along with oil’s decline, and MXN is also getting hammered, -2.6%. ZAR (-2.4%) and CZK (-1.8%) are the next in line, but basically all APAC currencies have suffered by at least 0.5%, and one can only imagine what will happen to LATAM when it opens. It is not likely to be pretty.

We do see some data this week, but it is not clear how important it will be. Arguably, these will be the last data points prior to the onset of the epidemic.

Today Empire Manufacturing 4.9
Tuesday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.1%
  IP 0.4%
  Capacity Utilization 77.1%
  JOLT’s Job Openings 6.401M
Wednesday Housing Starts 1502K
  Building Permits 1500K
Thursday Initial Claims 219K
  Philly Fed 10.0
  Leading Indicators 0.1%
Friday Existing Home Sales 5.50M

Source: Bloomberg

At this point, the Fed has canceled their meeting this week, having acted yesterday, which means that we will be able to hear from Fed speakers as they try to massage their message. But the essence of the problem is this is not a financially driven crisis, it is a global health crisis, and all the central banks can do is adjust monetary policy. Fiscal policy adjustments as well as government actions directed at ameliorating the impacts of Covid-19 are much harder, especially in large democratic nations, and so I fear that it will be a number of weeks before things even begin to return to a semblance of normal. Only then will we learn how effective all this monetary policy action will be. In the meantime, I see further declines in equity markets and continued volatility. In fact, the only positive catalyst I could see coming up is the announcement of successful testing of a vaccine for Covid-19, and its immediate production. Alas, nobody knows when that will come.

In the meantime, while bid-ask spreads will be wider, and based on what we have seen in the CDS markets, credit spreads are wider as well, the FX market is still operating, and hedgers should be able to get most everything they need done.

Good luck
Adf

 

Investors Remain Unconcerned

There once was a time in the past
When market bears quickly amassed
Positions quite short
While they would exhort
Investors, their holdings, to cast

But these days the story has turned
So bears that go short now get burned
A global pandemic?
It’s just academic
Investors remain unconcerned

One has to be impressed with the current frame of mind of global investors as they clearly feel bulletproof. Or perhaps, one has to be impressed with the job that central bankers around the world have done to allow those feelings to exist.

The coronavirus is quickly becoming back page news, where there will be a tally of cases and deaths daily, morphing into weekly, as the investment community turns its attention to much more important things, like how many new streaming customers each of the streaming services picked up in Q4. It seems the fact that China’s economy is going to feel some extreme pain in Q1 is being completely dismissed. At least from the market’s perspective. And this is where the central banks get to take a bow. It turns out that overwhelming liquidity support is all one needs to make people forget about everything else. It is truly the opioid of the market masses.

So as you sit down this morning you will see that equity markets around the world are on a tear higher, with every market that has been open today in the green, most by well more than 1%. And don’t worry; US futures are all more than 1% higher as well. Everything is clearly fantastic!

Last night, the PBOC fixed the renminbi more than 0.5% stronger than the market would have indicated, thus demonstrating they would not let things get out of hand. Then after a weak opening, where equity indices there fell more than 2%, the government stepped in along with official buyers and turned the tide higher. Once this occurred, equity markets elsewhere in Asia took their cues and everything rallied. Risk was no longer anathema and we have seen that across all assets as havens come under pressure and other risk assets, notably oil has rebounded. The lifecycle of a negative event has grown increasingly shorter as central banks continue to demonstrate their willingness to do ‘whatever it takes’ to prevent a sell-off of any magnitude in any equity market.

This is not just a US phenomenon, but a global one. To me the question is: Is this peak financialization of the global economy? By that I mean are we now in a period where the real economy, the one where cars and other stuff are manufactured and food is grown, has become completely secondary to the idea that companies that do those things need to be entirely focused on their capital structure to be sure that they are appropriately overleveraged? While I recognize that I am old-fashioned in my thoughts, I cannot help but believe that we are going to see a pretty significant repricing of assets at some point in the not too distant future. In truth, despite the market’s insouciance with regard to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, it is entirely possible that it continues to expand for several more months and that China, the second largest economy in the world and one representing 16% of total global economic activity, does not grow at all in Q1 while supply chains are closed and manufacturing around the world grinds to a much slower pace. Many recessions have been born of less than that. Just remember, trees don’t grow all the way to the sky, and neither do economies!

So let’s turn back to the other things ongoing in this morning’s session. Broadly speaking, the dollar is under modest pressure along with Treasury bonds and the Japanese yen. After all, safe havens do not boost your returns when Tesla is rallying 20% a day! There has been limited data today (Italian CPI +0.5% Y/Y) so FX markets are watching equities. Yesterday saw a big surprise in the US ISM data, which printed above 50 for the first time since July and has a number of analysts reconsidering their forecasts for slowing growth. The dollar definitely responded to this yesterday, rallying across the board as Fed funds futures backed off taking the probability of a rate cut by the Fed in July down to 85%. Remember, Friday that was at 100%.

Yesterday also saw the pound suffer significantly as the initial saber rattling by both the UK and the EU continued, which helped push the pound back to its key support level of 1.2950-1.3000. But as I said yesterday, this is simply both sides trying to get an advantage in the negotiation. While anything is possible, I continue to believe that a deal will be reached, or at the very least that a delay agreed on a timely basis. Boris is not going to jeopardize his power on this principle, remember he’s a politician first, and principles for them are fluid.

In the EMG bloc, pretty much every currency has rallied today as investors have quickly returned to those currencies with either higher yields (ZAR +0.6%, MXN +0.5%) or the best prospects assuming the coronavirus situation quickly dissipates (KRW +0.6%, CLP +0.6%, THB +0.5%). And in truth, I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.

In the US this morning we see December Factory Orders (exp 1.2%), generally not a major data point. There are no Fed speakers scheduled today which means that FX is going to be a secondary story. All eyes will be on equity markets and I expect that as risk assets are acquired, the dollar (and yen and Swiss franc) will continue to soften slowly.

Good luck
Adf