Every Reason

While prices in Europe are leaping
According to Christine’s bookkeeping
She’s got “every reason”
To keep on appeasin’
The ECB doves who are sleeping

So, rather than look to the Fed
She’s focused on China instead
Where they just cut rates
As growth there stagnates
And Covid continues to spread

One has to wonder exactly what Christine Lagarde is looking at when she makes comments like she did this morning.  Specifically, she said the following in a radio interview in France, [emphasis added] “We have every reason to not react as quickly and as abruptly as we could imagine the Fed might, but we have started to respond and we, of course, stand ready to respond with monetary policy if figures, data, facts, require it.”  Remember, the ECB has a single mandate, achieving price stability which they define as 2% inflation over the medium term.  With this in mind, let me recount this morning’s data, which clearly has Madame Lagarde nonplussed: German Dec PPI +5.0% M/M and +24.2% Y/Y, the highest figures ever in the history of German record keeping back to 1949.  Eurozone Dec CPI +0.4% M/M and 5.0% Y/Y, also the highest since the creation of the Eurozone.  I realize I am a simple FX salesman, but to my uneducated eye, those indications of inflation seem somewhat above 2.0%.  Perhaps mathematics in France is different than here in the US, but I would challenge Madame Lagarde to explain a bit more carefully why, despite all evidence to the contrary, she thinks the ECB is acting in accordance with their mandate.  I suspect there are about 83 million people in Germany who may be wondering the same thing.

Certainly, traders do not believe her or her colleagues when they say, as Pablo Hernandez de Cos did “an increase in interest rates is not expected in 2022.”   De Cos is the head of the Spanish central bank and a Governing Council member and clearly not a hawk.  Yet, the OIS market in Europe is pricing in 0.20% of rate hikes by the end of 2022 (the ECB has been moving in 10 basis point increments), so two rate hikes.  I also realize that there appear to be many econometric models around that are forecasting a return to much lower inflation within the next twelve months, certainly those are the models the central banks themselves are using.  It seems that the real question is at what point will the central banks, specifically the Fed and ECB, recognize that their models may not be a very accurate representation of reality?  And I fear the answer is, never!

Perhaps Madame Lagarde was channeling Yi Gang, the PBOC’s Governor, although the situation on the ground in China is clearly different than that in Europe.  For instance, after cutting two important interest rates last Friday, the PBOC cut two different interest rates last night, the 1-year loan prime rate by 0.10% down to 3.70%, and the 5-year rate was cut by 5 basis points to 4.60%.  China continues to struggle with their zero covid policy.  They continue to fall behind the curve there as the omicron variant is so incredibly transmissible.  But what is clear is that China is growing increasingly concerned over the pace of growth in the economy and so the PBOC has begun to act even more aggressively.  While 5 and 10 basis point moves may not seem like a lot, given how infrequently the PBOC has been willing to cut interest rates, they are an important signal to market participants that support is at hand.  This was made clear by the equity markets last night where the Hang Seng, home to so many property companies, exploded higher by 3.4% although Shanghai’s market was quite subdued, actually slipping 0.1%.

In the end, it is clear that global synchronicity is not an appropriate way to think about the current macroeconomic situation.  Given the dramatically different ways that different nations approached the Covid pandemic, it should be no surprise that there are huge differences in rates of growth and inflation around the world.  The hedging implications of this outcome are that it will require more specific analysis of each country in which there is an exposure to determine the best way to mitigate risks there.

With that in mind, let us take a look at markets this morning.  Despite Shanghai’s lackluster performance, the rest of Asia was actually quite solid with the Nikkei (+1.1%) rounding out the top markets.  Europe, on the other hand, has been less positive with the DAX (+0.1%) edging higher while both the CAC (-0.1%) and FTSE 100 (-0.1%) are slipping a bit.  I guess more promises of ongoing policy ease were not enough to overcome the soaring inflation story on the continent.  US futures are all pointing higher at this hour, with NASDAQ (+0.9%) leading the way although that index has fallen by 10% from its highs, so has more room to catch up.

Looking at the bond market, I can’t help but wonder if we have seen peak hawkishness earlier this week, at least for the Fed.  After the long weekend, we saw the 10-year Treasury yield trade up to 1.88%, but since then it has slipped back with today’s price action seeing yields fall an additional 2.7 basis points and placing us 4bps off those highs.  Now, this could simply be a short-term correction, but with the Fed announcement next week, it really does feel like the market has gotten way ahead of itself.  At this point, the only way next week’s FOMC could be seen as hawkish would be if they actually raised rates, something to which I ascribe a zero probability.  One other thing to recall is that recent surveys continue to show a large contingent of fund managers believe that inflation is transitory which implies that they are likely to take advantage of the current rise in yields and prevent things from running away.

On the commodity front, oil (-0.4%) has stopped running higher, although this pause seems much more like a consolidation than a change in views.  NatGas (-1.5%) is also a bit softer today in both the US and Europe as seasonal or higher temperatures continue to reduce marginal demand.  Turning to metals markets, gold (-0.2%) is slightly softer this morning, but overall, despite rising interest rates, has held up quite well lately and remains well above the $1800/oz level.  Interestingly, silver (0.0% today +4.6% this week) seems to be having a much better time of things and technically looks to have broken out higher.  Arguably, this information blends well with the thought that bond yields may have peaked, but we shall see.

As to the dollar, it is mixed this morning with both gainers and losers in both the G10 and EMG spaces.  The funny thing is, other than RUB (-0.6%) which is leading the way lower today on the back of threats of more substantial sanctions in the event Russia does invade the Ukraine, the rest of the story is much harder to pin down.  For instance, from a news perspective Bank Indonesia met last night and left rates on hold, as expected, but indicated that it would begin normalizing monetary policy in March, returning its RRR to its pre-covid levels, but the rupiah only rose 0.2%.  In fact, today’s leading gainer is ZAR (+0.75%), but given the dearth of either data or news, the best bet here seems to be a response to precious metals strength.  One other thing to remember is that despite easing by the PBOC, the renminbi continues to edge higher.  Frankly, I see no reason for it to weaken anytime soon, especially with my view the dollar will be suffering going forward.

On the data front, Initial Claims (exp 225K), Continuing Claims (1563K), Philly Fed (19.0) and Existing Home Sales (6.43M) are on the calendar.  Remember, Empire Manufacturing was a huge bust earlier this week, so watch the Philly Fed number for any indication of weakness and slowing growth here at home.  In fact, it is that scenario that will allow the Fed to remain on the dovish side, although I fear it will not slow down the inflation train.

If there are any inklings that the Fed is not going to be as hawkish as had seemed to be believed just a few days ago, I expect that the dollar will come under further pressure.  In fact, in order to change that view we will need to see a very hawkish outcome from next Wednesday’s FOMC, something I do not anticipate.  Payables hedgers, I fear the dollar may be near its peak, so don’t miss out.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Mishap

When most of us think of an APP
It’s something on phones that we tap
But Madame Christine,
The ECB queen,
Fears PEPP’s end would be a mishap

So, word is next week when they meet
Expansion of APP they’ll complete
Thus, PEPP they’ll retire
But still, heading higher
Are PIGS debt on their balance sheet

Over the next seven days we will hear from the FOMC, ECB and BOE with respect to their policies as each meets next week.  Expectations are for the Fed to increase the speed at which they are tapering their QE purchases, with most pundits looking for that to double, thus reducing QE by $30 billion/month until it is over.  Rate hikes are assumed to follow shortly thereafter.  However, if they sound quite hawkish, do not be surprised if the equity market sells off and all of our recent experience shows that the Fed will not allow too large a decline in stock prices before blinking.  Do not be envious of Chairman Powell’s job at this point, it will be uncomfortable regardless of what the Fed does.

As to the ECB, recent commentary has been mixed with some members indicating they believe continued support for the economy is necessary once the PEPP expires in March, and that despite internal rules prohibiting the ECB from buying non IG debt, they should continue to support Greece via the Asset Purchase Program.  The APP is their original QE tool, and has been running alongside the PEPP throughout the crisis.  Both the doves on the ECB and the punditry believe that any unused capacity from the PEPP will simply be transferred to the APP so there is more buying power, and by extension more support for the PIGS.  However, we are hearing more from the hawks recently about the fact that QE has been inflating asset prices and inflation, and perhaps it needs to be reined in.  When considering ECB activity, though, one has to look at who is running the show, just like with the Fed.  And Madame Christine Lagarde has never given any indication that she is considering reducing the amount of support the ECB is providing to the Eurozone economy.  Rather, just last week she explained that inflation’s path is likely to be a “hump” which will fall back down to, and below, their 2.0% target in the near future, so there is no need to be concerned over recent data.

Finally, the BOE finds itself in a sticky situation because of the relatively larger impact of the omicron variant in the UK versus elsewhere.  While Governor Bailey had indicated back in October that higher rates were on the way, the BOE’s failure to act last month was a shock to the markets and futures traders are now far less certain that UK interest rates will be rising in order to fight rapidly rising prices there.  Instead, there is increased discussion of the negative impact of omicron and the fact that the Johnson government appears to be setting up for yet another nationwide lockdown, something that will clearly reduce demand pressure.  So, there is now only a 20% probability priced into the BOE raising rates to 0.25% next week from the current 0.10% level.  This is not helping the pound’s performance at all.

And lastly, the PBOC
Adjusted a rare policy
FX RRR
Was raised to a bar
Two points o’er its prior degree

One last piece of news this morning was the PBOC announcement that they were raising the FX Reserve Ratio Requirement from 7% to 9% effective the same day the RRR for bank capital is being cut.  This little-known ratio is designed to help the PBOC in its currency management efforts by forcing banks to increase their FX liquidity.  This is accomplished by local banks buying dollars and selling renminbi.  It is a clear sign that the PBOC was getting uncomfortable with the renminbi’s recent strength.  Today is the second time they have raised the FX RRR this year with the first occurring at the end of May.  Prior to that, this tool had not been used since 2007!  Also, if you look at the chart, following this move in May, USDCNH rose 2.25% in the ensuing three weeks.  Since the announcement at 6:10 this morning, USDCNH is higher by 0.5% already.  It can be no surprise that the Chinese are fighting the strength of the yuan as it remains a key outlet valve for economic pressures.  And while Evergrande is officially in default, as well as several other Chinese property developers, the PBOC maintains that is not a problem.  But it is a problem and they are trying to figure out how to resolve it without flooding the economy with additional liquidity and without losing face.

With all that in mind, let’s see how markets have behaved.  Yesterday’s ongoing rebound in US equity markets only partially carried over to Asia with the Nikkei (-0.5%) failing to be inspired although the Hang Seng (+1.1%) and Shanghai (+1.0%) both benefitted from PBOC comments regarding the resolution of Evergrande.  European bourses are in the red, but generally not by that much (DAX -0.35%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 -0.2%).  There was little in the way of data released in the Eurozone or UK, but Schnabel’s comments about PEPP purchases inflating assets have put a damper on things.  US futures, too, are sliding this morning with all three major indices lower by about -0.4% or so.

One cannot be surprised that bonds are rallying a bit, between the large declines seen yesterday and the growing risk-off sentiment, so Treasuries (-2.2bps) are actually lagging the move in Europe (Bunds -3.6bps, OATs -3.8bps, Gilts -4.7bps) and even PIGS bond yields have slipped.  Clearly bonds feel like a better investment this morning.

After a 1-week rally of real significance, oil (-0.7%) is consolidating some of those gains and a bit softer on the day.  NatGas (-0.7%) is also lower and we are seeing weakness in metals prices, both precious (Au -0.2%. Ag -0.7%) and industrial (Cu -1.4%).  Foodstuffs are also under pressure this morning, but at this time of year that is far more weather related than anything else.

As to the dollar, it is broadly stronger this morning with the only G10 currency to gain being the yen (+0.1%) and the rest of the bloc under pressure led by NOK (-1.0%) and AUD (-0.45%) feeling the heat of weaker commodity prices.  I must mention the euro (-0.3%) which seems to be adjusting based on the slight change in tone of the relative views of FOMC and ECB policies, with the ECB dovishness back to the fore.

EMG currencies are also mostly softer although there are a few outliers the other way.  The laggards are ZAR (-1.0%) on the back of softer commodity prices and TRY (-0.9%) which continues to suffer from its current monetary policy stance and should continue to do so until that changes.  We’ve already discussed CNY/CNH and see HUF (-0.5%) also under pressure as the 0.2% rise in the deposit rate was not seen as sufficient by the market to fight ongoing inflation pressures.  On the plus side, the noteworthy gainer is CLP (+0.5%) which seems to be responding to the latest polls showing strength in the conservative candidate’s showing.  Also, I would be remiss if I did not highlight BRL’s 1.5% gain since yesterday as the BCB raised rates by the expected 1.50% and hawkish commentary indicating another 1.50% rate rise in February.

On the data front, Initial (exp 220K) and Continuing (1910K) Claims are really all we see this morning, neither of which seem likely to have an FX impact.  Tomorrow’s CPI data, on the other hand, will be closely watched.

The current narrative remains the Fed is quickening the pace of tapering QE in order to give themselves the flexibility to raise rates sooner given inflation’s intractable rise.  As long as that remains the story, the dollar should remain well supported, and I think that can be the case right up until the equity markets respond negatively.  Any sharp decline will be met with a dovish Fed response and the dollar will suffer at that point.  Be prepared.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Slower than Planned

There once was a firm, Evergrande
Whose ethos was just to expand
But its wanderlust
Led it to go bust
When China grew slower than planned

The aftermath now seems to be
Impacting the PBOC
They cut RRR
And could well do more
Inverse to Fed ending QE

As we begin a new week, and arguably the second to last where market liquidity will be close to its ordinary levels, the news of the day centers on the PBOC reducing its Reserve Ratio Requirement (RRR), as foreshadowed by Premier Li Keqiang last week.  While the official comments are focused on the government’s efforts to insure stable growth amid concerns over the omicron variant’s spread, it appears the reality may reach a little deeper.  Of more importance to market participants than the virus is the status of China Evergrande and the entire property sector in China.  It now appears that there is going to be an total restructuring of that company’s debt as it defaults on its remaining obligations.  Recall, Evergrande is was the largest property developer in China, and the most highly leveraged having total debts in excess of $300 billion as it expanded its business from purely property development to interests as far flung as theme parks, a soccer club and electric vehicles.  As of last night, it has notified creditors that a restructuring is on its way and that clearly has the PBOC a little concerned.

Property is the largest sector of the Chinese economy, representing more than 30%, and a key revenue source for most provinces and cities as they sell land to fund operations.  Evergrande was one of the largest purchasers, and so its slow-motion demise is being felt throughout the nation.  It is for this reason that the PBOC finds itself in a situation where it feels the need to add more liquidity to the economy, hence the RRR cut.  Interestingly, the problems here have not stopped the Chinese government’s crackdown on its tech sector, at least on the personal tech sector, as Didi Chuxing is being forced to delist from the NYSE and looks to reestablish its shares in Hong Kong.

From a vantage point some 7000 miles away, it appears that President Xi Jinping is moving quite rapidly in his efforts to completely control all aspects of the Chinese economy.  Do not be surprised to see every Chinese company listed outside Shanghai or Hong Kong to wind up moving that listing, nor to see further declines in those equity markets.  Capitalism with Chinese characteristics turns out to be socialism/communism after all, at least from the definitional perspective of the state controlling the means of production.  Whether this results in faster growth, or whether the rest of the world will even be able to determine that remains to be seen.  However, classical economics would suggest that the more internalization and the stricter the business regulations, the slower will be future growth.

Why, you may ask, is this important?  Well, first off it is reasonable to expect that ongoing liquidity injections in the Chinese economy are likely to eventually weaken the renminbi.  Second, if the growth trajectory of the Chinese economy is flattening, one of the few things the Chinese will be able to do to address that is weaken the currency to make its exporters more competitive.  The point is, while recent PBOC policy has been to maintain a strong and stable currency, and we have seen the renminbi appreciate more than 11% since it bottomed post-pandemic, the case for that trend to end and a weakening trend to develop appears to be growing.  For asset and receivables hedgers, careful consideration must be given to managing that risk.

With that in mind, let us turn to this morning’s activity.  Friday’s NFP report was mixed, with a weaker than expected headline number for jobs growth, but a much better than expected outcome in the Unemployment Rate as it appears more and more people are leaving large organizations and striking out on their own.  The upshot is labor market tightness is still with us and unlikely to ease in the short run.  Investors decided that was an equity market negative as it would encourage the Fed to taper policy even more quickly hence Friday’s equity sell-off.  At the same time, concerns over tighter policy slowing growth seem to have bond traders flattening the curve rapidly as they fear a Fed policy mistake of raising rates into slowing growth.  In other words, it’s all a mess!

Ok, overnight saw weakness in Asia (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng -1.8%, Shanghai -0.5%) following the US Friday narrative, while Europe has decided things are far better this morning with rallies across the board (DAX +0.3%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE 100 +0.9%).  On a relative basis these moves make sense given the terrible Factory Orders data from Germany (-6.9% in October) while UK Construction PMI surprisingly rose to 55.5.  Meanwhile, US futures are a bit schizophrenic this morning with the DOW (+0.6%) looking to rebound from Friday while the NASDAQ (-0.4%) seems set to continue to slide.

The bond market, which rallied sharply Friday (Treasury yields falling 10bps) is giving back some of those price gains with the 10-year yield higher by 5.2bps this morning.  European yields are also a higher, but by much less (Bunds +0.9bps, OATs +0.7bps, Gilts +1.2bps), which are also consolidative moves, just not quite as dramatic.

On the commodity front, oil continues to whipsaw with a sharp rebound today (+3.25%) although NatGas (-7.9%) is getting crushed on a combination of forecasts for warmer weather in the Northeast as well as lower LNG prices in Europe.  In the metals markets, gold (-0.2%) continues to trade just below $1800/oz, neither rallying alongside inflation nor collapsing.  Copper (+0.8%) seems to be following oil, but aluminum (-0.85%) and tin (-1.9%) both seem to be in a more fearful mode.

Turning to the FX markets, mixed is the best description as we have both substantial gainers and losers vs. the dollar.  In the G10, AUD (+0.5%), SEK (+0.5%) and NOK (+0.5%) are leading the way higher on the back of the better commodity sentiment.  Meanwhile, CHF (-0.5%) and JPY (-0.3%) are both under pressure on the same story plus the European risk appetite.  In the EMG bloc, ZAR (+0.7%) leads the way with CLP (+0.3%) next as the commodity story seems to be driving thing here too.  On the downside, TRY (-0.45%) continues its volatile trading while the other laggards are from both APAC and EEMEA but have not seen significant declines.

On the data front, it is inflation week with CPI on Friday the biggest number to watch.  Leading up to that is the following:

Tuesday Q3 Nonfarm Productivity -4.9%
Q3 Unit Labor Costs 8.3%
Trade Balance -$66.9B
Wednesday JOLTS Job Openings 10500K
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
Continuing Claims 1910K
Friday CPI 0.7% (6.7% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (4.9% Y/Y)
Michigan Sentiment 68.0

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to this data, we hear from the Bank of Canada on Wednesday, where expectations are for no rate movement although they have been amongst the most hawkish of the G10 central banks of late.  As to CPI, while it is not the Fed’s preferred gauge, Chairman Powell clearly feels the pressure and so next week we can expect to see just how much faster they are going to reduce QE purchases…at least for now.

There are so many cross-currents driving markets right now, it is very difficult to find a specific underlying theme in the short-term.  Longer term, nothing has changed my view that the Fed will halt their tapering/tightening script as soon as equity markets begin to decline a little more substantially.  At that point, I feel like the dollar may come under pressure, although during the decline, it should probably rally further.  Payables hedgers should be taking advantage of this relatively strong dollar as I don’t think it will last that long.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Somewhat Weak

In China, the PBOC
Whose policy, previously
Consisted of planks
Instructing the banks
To buy more and more renminbi

Has seemingly now changed its mind
With prop trading now much maligned
Instead, what they seek
Is yuan, somewhat weak
And banks that object will be fined

Let’s face it, constantly harping on inflation is getting tiresome.  While it remains the biggest topic in the market, we have discussed it extensively, and in fact, until there is some clarity as to the next Fed chair, it is very difficult to even try to determine how the Fed will respond going forward.  The word is that President Biden will be revealing his nomination tomorrow at which point we can game out potential future scenarios.

In the meantime, we have seen large movements in some emerging market currencies, and we have heard about some potential changes in policies underlying one of the less volatile ones, the Chinese renminbi.  One of the more surprising features of the dollar’s rally since summertime has been the fact that the renminbi has actually strengthened about 0.6% while the euro has declined nearly 8%.  In fairness, the euro has many self-inflicted problems that have been underlying its recent weakness, but the dollar, as measured by the Bloomberg dollar index, has risen by nearly 6%, implying there has been a lot of broad-based dollar strength.  This begs the question, why hasn’t the renminbi followed suit?

There are several potential answers to this question with the likelihood that each has been a part of the process.  Remember, for a mercantilist economy like China’s, a weaker currency tends to be the goal in an effort to improve the competitiveness of its exporters.  So, acceptance of a stronger currency demonstrates other priorities.

If nothing else, China plays the long game, historically willing to sacrifice short-term economic performance for the sake of a longer-term goal, often a political one.  And one of the things China is very keen to achieve is de-dollarization of its economy.  Given the growing antagonism between the US and China, President Xi has determined his nation is better served by an alternative to the US dollar in as many areas as possible.  One of those areas is in trade with other developing nations.  To the extent that the Chinese can convince other Asian, Middle Eastern or African nations to accept renminbi in exchange for their products, rather than dollars, it both strengthens Xi’s grip on those nations’ economies as well as reduces his reliance on the US led SWIFT system thus preventing any interference by the US.  As such, it is incumbent upon Xi to insure that CNY is a strong and stable currency, the exact words the PBOC uses to describe the renminbi in almost every press release.

Now, while this may have been at odds with short-term potential benefits, Xi understood the long-term benefits of removing as much of the Chinese economy from the dollar’s global sphere of influence as possible.  And it seems, that a major tool used to help maintain the renminbi’s strength has been the encouragement of local Chinese banks prop trading desks to continue to buy the currency.  There have long been stories of the PBOC whispering in the ear of Chinese banks to do just that, with the implication that the PBOC would prevent any significant weakness.

But that was then.  It seems now that the ongoing malaise in the Chinese economy, where growth forecasts continue to slide and expectations for another 50 basis point RRR cut are growing, has the PBOC apparently cracking down on prop desks buying too much CNY.  They have been instructed to monitor client activity and keep it at more ‘normal’ levels.  Some see that as a tacit admission that the previous policy, which was never explicit, was in fact a reality.  In addition, much will be made of the fixing, which last night was printed 0.2% weaker than expected.  Now, while 0.2% may not seem like much, in a currency with historical volatility around 3%, it is a signal.  In addition, the PBOC indicated that it would be ready to allow a “more flexible currency”, their code for weakness.  This is not to say the CNY is going to collapse, just that the unusual strength we have seen over the past six plus months is likely coming to an end.  Be warned.

Turning to the rest of the market this morning, the situation is somewhat mixed, with equity markets showing both gains and losses, although bond markets are under universal pressure.  Starting with equities, Asia gave no directional cues with the Nikkei (+0.1%) little changed while the Hang Seng (-0.4%) and Shanghai (+0.6%) gave confusing signals.  It seems that there is a very large sell order making the rounds in Evergrande stock, which is weighing on HK, while Shanghai responded to the first hints of easing by the PBOC.  Europe, which was modestly higher earlier in the session, has drifted to a mixed performance as well with the DAX (-0.1%) and CAC (-0.2%) both a touch softer although the FTSE 100 (+0.1%) has eked out a gain.  In the absence of any data releases, it seems that traders are biding their time for the next big thing.  US futures, on the other hand, are all firmer by about 0.35%, despite talk of a faster taper by more Fed speakers late last week.

Bond markets, though, are having a rougher time of things with Treasuries (+3.3bps) leading the way, but Bunds (+1.3bps) and Gilts (+2.5bps) both following along.  OATs are unchanged on the day, although have spent the bulk of the session with modestly higher yields.  The thing about yields, though, is that they remain range-bound and have shown little impetus to trend in either direction.  This is a market waiting for the next central bank discussion.

In the commodity space, oil continues under pressure as the thought of SPR releases in a coordinated manner from a number of nations continues to dog the price.  NatGas (-5.4%), interestingly, has tumbled after a larger than expected build in inventories, something US homeowners will welcome.  In the metals space, gold (-0.2%) is slightly softer and copper (-0.6%) is feeling a bit more strain.  However, aluminum (+0.6%) and nickel (+2.1%) show that this is not a universal issue.

As to the dollar, in the G10 the story is mixed with AUD (+0.3%) the best performer while SEK (-0.4%) is the worst.  However, these appear to be flow related movements as there has been no data or commentary from either nation.  The rest of the bloc has barely moved, +/- 0.1% for most of them, as traders await the next big idea.  In the emerging markets, CLP (+3.0%) is the big gainer as yesterday’s presidential election resulted in the conservative candidate performing far better than expected and investors now hoping that the country will maintain its investment friendly policies.  On the downside, RUB (-1.3%) and HUF (-0.6%) are in the worst shape with the former feeling pain based on concerns recent troop movements near the Ukraine border will result in an invasion and potential further sanctions, while the forint is suffering despite a more aggressive central bank as inflation there continues to ramp higher.  Expectations are growing for yet another rate hike as the fear is they are falling further behind the curve.

With the holiday before us, data is all crammed into the first three days this week, and most of it is on Wednesday:

Today Existing Home Sales 6.18M
Tuesday Manufacturing PMI 59.1
Services PMI 59.0
Wednesday Initial Claims 261K
Continuing Claims 2052K
GDP 2.2%
Durable Goods 0.2%
-ex Transport 0.5%
Personal Income 0.2%
Personal Spending 1.0%
Core PCE 0.4% (4.1% Y/Y)
New Home Sales 800K
Michigan Sentiment 66.9
FOMC Minutes

Source: Bloomberg

Consider that on the day before Thanksgiving, we are going to see some of the most important data of the month, and there will be relatively few people around.  If there is any surprise, we could see significant volatility.  In fact, for the week as a whole, the lack of liquidity is likely to result in a choppier market.  Keep that in mind if you need to execute anything of substance, but overall, the dollar’s recent rally seems likely to continue.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

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