A Weakening Buck

Said Powell, we’ve had quite some luck
Inflation’s apparently stuck
Right at two percent
So I won’t lament
If we see a weakening buck

You likely noticed the dollar’s sharp decline on Friday, which actually began shortly before Chairman Powell spoke in Jackson Hole. For that, you can thank the PBOC who reinstated their Countercyclical Factor (CCF). The CCF was the fudge the PBOC created in January of last year to help them regain control of the USDCNY fixing each day. Prior to that, the goal had been to slowly allow the FX market establish the fixing rate in their efforts to internationalize the yuan. But then, market turmoil upset the apple cart and they were no longer pleased with the yuan’s direction. In fact, that was the last time USDCNY made a move toward 7.00. But once they instituted the CCF, which is claimed to include market parameters, they essentially resumed command of the currency and at that time, simply walked it higher over the course of the ensuing year. At that point, they felt things were under control, and early this year they abandoned the CCF as unnecessary. Until Friday, when after the yuan made yet another attempt at 7.00, they decided it was time to reestablish control of the currency. And so, Friday, the yuan rallied in excess of 1.5% and has now stabilized, at least temporarily, around 6.80. With the PBOC’s thumb on the scale, I expect that we are going to see a reduction in CNY volatility, and arguably, a very mild appreciation over time.

Which leads us to discuss the other catalyst for dollar weakness on Friday, Chairman Powell’s speech. In it, he basically said that although inflation has reached their 2.0% target, there is limited reason to expect it to continue to go higher. The market’s take on those comments was that the Fed was likely to slow the trajectory of rate hikes, thereby undermining the dollar. The broad dollar index fell about 0.6% during the speech and has retained those losses since. One of the interesting things is that nobody has accused Powell of succumbing to pressure from Trump with regard to changing his tone. But economists around the world are clearly happier.

Their joy stems from the following sequence of events. In the decade since the financial crisis, when interest rates were pushed to zero or below by developed country central banks, there was a huge expansion of US dollar debt taken on by EMG countries and companies within them. As long as rates were low, and the dollar remained on the soft side, those borrowers had limited issues when it came to rolling over the debt and paying the interest. But once the Fed started to tighten policy, both raising rates and shrinking the available number of dollars in the global system, the dollar rebounded. This was a double whammy for those EMG borrowers because refinancing became more expensive on a rate basis, and it took more local currency to pay the interest, hurting their local currency cash flows as well. This has been a key underlying issue for numerous EMG nations like Argentina, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia and India. It has exacerbated their currency weakness and expanded their current account deficits.

So now, if Powell and the Fed are going to slow down their efforts on the basis of the idea that inflation is not going to continue to rise, it will reduce the pressure on all of those nations and more. Hence the joy from economists. I guess the only thing that can derail this is if inflation doesn’t actually slow down. Remember, despite the fact that the Fed follows PCE, CPI has been rising sharply lately, and they cannot ignore that fact. If that trend continues, and there is a fair chance that it will, look for PCE to follow and for Powell to have to walk back those comments. I guess we shall see.

As to the overnight session, the dollar is little changed from Friday’s closes as we begin the week leading up to the Labor Day holiday in the US. We actually saw our first substantive data release in more than a week overnight, with the German IFO index rising for the first time in nine months to a much better than expected 103.8. But the euro has been unable to take advantage of the news and is essentially unchanged on the day, along with everything else. As to the US data calendar, it remains on the quiet side, although we do see the latest reading of the aforementioned PCE data.

Tuesday Case-Shiller Home Prices 6.5%
  Goods Trade Balance -$68.6B
Wednesday Q2 GDP 2nd Est 4.0%
Thursday Initial Claims 214K
  Personal Income 0.3%
  Personal Spending 0.4%
  PCE 0.1% (2.2% Y/Y)
  Core PCE 0.2% (2.0% Y/Y)
Friday Chicago PMI 63.0
  Michigan Sentiment 95.5

I expect that unless something remarkable happens to the GDP data on Wednesday, that all eyes will be on the Income and Spending data on Thursday. But in the end, there is a new tone to the market, one which is decidedly less dollar bullish, and given the number of dollar long positions that remain in place, I expect that we may see the dollar nursing its wounds for quite a while. This is a plus for receivables hedgers, as it does appear the dollar has stopped rallying for now. Just don’t get greedy!

Good luck
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Tired

Speculation’s rife
Kuroda is tired of
JGB support

For the fifth consecutive session, the Japanese yen is rising amid growing speculation that the BOJ, when it meets next Monday and Tuesday, is going to adjust monetary policy tighter. During that run, which also included President Trump’s harangues on currency manipulation around the world, the yen has strengthened nearly 2%. My point is that the dollar has suffered somewhat overall during that period, so this movement is not entirely due to the BOJ story. But, as the meeting approaches, that is becoming the hottest topic in the market.

A quick look at the Japanese economy shows that inflation remains quiescent, with the latest core reading just 0.2%, a far cry from the 2.0% target the BOJ has been aiming for during the past five years. In addition, last night’s PMI data, (printing at 51.6, well below expectations of 53.2) has to give Kuroda and company pause as well. In other words, while Japan is not cratering, it doesn’t seem like there is any danger of overheating there either. However, with the Fed actively tightening, the BOE widely expected to raise rates in early August and the ECB highlighting its plans to end QE this year with interest rate increases to follow next year, the BOJ is clearly feeling somewhat left out of the mix. Apparently groupthink is a strong emotion for central bankers.

At any rate, whether justified or not, the story that is getting play is that they are going to tweak their operations, perhaps allowing (encouraging?) the long end of the JGB yield curve to see higher yields, although they will likely keep control of the 10-year space and below. But all the market needed to hear was that QE was going to be reduced and the reaction was immediate. JGB yields in the 10-year space jumped from 0.03% to 0.09%, at which point the BOJ stopped the movement by stepping in with an unlimited bid for bonds. Remember, they already own 42% of all outstanding JGB’s, and liquidity in that market is so thin that there have already been six days this year where there were absolutely zero trades in the 10-year JGB. The FX market was not going to be left out and seeing the prospect for less QE immediately added to the yen’s recent gains. It remains to be seen whether Kuroda-san will be able to actually implement any policy changes given the combination of slackening growth and still low inflation, especially with the prospects of a trade war having an even more deleterious impact on the economy. However, the market loves this story and is going to continue to run with it, at least until the BOJ announcement next Tuesday. So I would look for the yen to continue to trade slowly higher during that period.

The other big story overnight was the PBOC injection of CNY502 billion of liquidity into the market as part of their ongoing policy adjustments. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Chinese economy is having trouble dealing with the simultaneous deleveraging demanded by President Xi for the past two years and the increased trade issues that have arisen quite rapidly of late. Of course, the PBOC is no wallflower when it comes to taking action, and so having already cut reserve requirements three times this year; they decided that direct injection of funds into the market was a better method of achieving their goals. In addition the government created tax incentives for R&D, encouraged more state infrastructure spending and told banks to offer more credit to small firms. The market impact of these measures was immediate with the Shanghai Stock Exchange rallying 1.6% while the renminbi fell as much as 0.6% early, before retracing somewhat and now standing just 0.2% lower on the day.

When considering the CNY, the opposing forces are that a weaker yuan will certainly help support short-term growth due to the still significant reliance on exports by the Chinese economy. However, there is a feared tipping point at which a weak yuan may encourage significant capital outflows, thus destabilizing the Chinese economy and Chinese markets. We saw this play out three years ago, shortly after the PBOC surprised markets with its mini (2%) devaluation of the yuan. The ensuing global market sell-off was significant enough to prevent then Fed Chair Yellen to hold off on raising rates, despite having signaled that the Fed was ready to do so. However, it is not clear to me that Chairman Powell sees the world the same way as Yellen, and my take is that he would not be dissuaded from continuing the Fed’s current trajectory despite some increased global volatility. Of course, the Chinese instituted strict capital controls in the wake of the 2015 situation, so it is also not clear that the contagion can even occur this time. In the end, though, this is simply further evidence of the diverging monetary policies between the US and China, and continues to underpin my views of USDCNY moving to 7.00 and beyond before the year ends.

Away from those two stories, the dollar is modestly softer this morning despite mixed to weaker Eurozone PMI data (Germany strong, France weak, Eurozone weak), and US Treasury yields that gained nearly 10bps yesterday after the BOJ story broke. Yesterday saw weaker than expected Existing Home Sales (5.38M), which is the third consecutive monthly decline. While there is no important data today, we do see the critical first look at Q2 GDP on Friday, and of course, the ECB meets Thursday, so there is ample opportunity for more opinion changing information to come to market. But right now, the dollar remains largely trapped between the positive monetary policy story and the negative political story, and so I don’t anticipate it will be breaking out in either direction in the short run. However, as long as US monetary policy continues on its current trajectory, I believe the dollar has further to run. We have not yet evolved to a point where other issues are more important, although that time may well come in the future.

Good luck
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The Fed’s Fallen Short

This morning’s inflation report
Ought show that the Fed’s fallen short
In holding down prices
And so my advice is
It’s time, those short dollars, abort

Yesterday’s session was dominated by two key themes; the suddenly increased trade tensions after the announcement of a new list of $200 billion of Chinese tariff targets, and the sharp decline in oil prices (WTI – 5.0%) after Libya declared the end of force majeure with respect to shipments from its eastern port. The oil price decline, which occurred despite a surprisingly large drawdown of US inventories, was in sync with other commodity prices, notably copper which fell 2.5% and is now down more than 16% in the past month. Copper is generally seen as an important harbinger of future economic growth given its widespread use throughout different industries, and so falling demand for copper often leads to slower economic growth. And yet, despite the declining commodity price environment, yesterday’s PPI data (3.4% Y/Y) was the strongest in more than six years while expectations for today’s CPI are similarly elevated with consensus views looking for 0.2% monthly increases in both headline and core data which translates into 2.8% headline and 2.3% core on a Y/Y basis.

If those expectations are met, the Fed will certainly continue its hiking cycle, which ought to continue to support the dollar going forward. The other key dollar support has been risk aversion, which is where the trade story comes into play. As long as trade tensions remain front-page news, investors are likely to remain skittish which means they will be reducing risk and looking for safe places to invest. US Treasuries remain the global safe haven of choice, and so both Treasuries and the dollar should continue to benefit from this situation.

Yesterday I mentioned that there had been no indication that there were background talks ongoing between the US and China regarding trade, something I found surprising given the situation. However, this morning there is a story that such talks are, in fact, proceeding which implies to me that there will be some type of solution that arrives before the next round of tariffs are in place. Look for concessions on both sides as well as comments highlighting the strength of the Sino-US relationship, especially with regard to North Korea. At least that’s my view. But it will be several months before anything comes to fruition, and so we are likely to be subject to further volatility on the subject.

One of the impacts of the China trade story was yesterday’s very sharp decline in the renminbi (-1.1%), which resulted in the currency falling to its weakest level since last August. Some pundits see this as an attempt to adjust for the recent tariff impositions by the US, but a case can be made that since the dollar was so strong overall yesterday, (USDX +0.65%), the CNY move was not really out of character. And this morning, the renminbi has already retraced half of that movement, so I am inclined to give the Chinese the benefit of the doubt here and accept the broad dollar strength thesis. In fact, one of the things that continues to haunt the PBOC is their mini devaluation in 2015, which triggered significant capital outflows and forced the imposition of very strict capital controls in China. Regardless of the trade situation, I assure you the Chinese will do all they can to prevent a repeat of that outcome. However, steady depreciation of the renminbi going forward remains my base case.

Otherwise, in G10 space the Bank of Canada raised rates by 25bps, as expected, which helped the Loonie temporarily, but in the end, it seems that weaker oil prices overwhelmed the rate hike and CAD fell 0.75% on the day. However, the BOC continues to sound upbeat on the economy for now and is positioned to continue to track the Fed’s policy for the next year or two.

From the UK, this morning, we received PM May’s latest Brexit position paper which is seeking to have the UK track EU goods regulations, but simultaneously looking for the UK to go completely its own way regarding services and seek trade agreements around the world on that basis. While it is an interesting idea, and one with merit given that services represent ~80% of the UK economy, with less than nine months before the Brexit date, it feels like they may not be able to complete much of the process in time. However, the BOE appears completely ready to raise rates next month with the market pricing an 80% probability of the event and Governor Carney commenting that growth in the UK continues to perform as the BOE expected in its rebound from Q1. The pound, however, has added a small 0.1% decline this morning to yesterday’s 0.5% slide.

Beyond these stories, nothing of note to the FX markets has really been evident. Given the strength of yesterday’s dollar move, it would be no real surprise if there was a small retracement, but in fact, I have a feeling that we are going to see high side surprises in the CPI data which will only serve to increase Fed expectations and support the dollar. So my money is on the dollar continuing its strengthening trend of the week and closing yet higher today.

Good luck
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Both Sides Will Lose

The trade story’s back in the news
With stock markets singing the blues
Two hundred bill more
Confirms the Trade War
Will happen, and both sides will lose

The Trump administration’s announcement last evening that they are targeting another $200 billion of Chinese imports for tariffs, this time 10% across the board, has interrupted the markets recent sense of calm. In fact, the immediate response was for equity markets around the world to fall sharply and the dollar to regain its footing. Investors had come to believe that the initial salvo of tariffs on $34 billion by each nation would be the extent of things, and that negotiations would soon begin. However, assuming things with this administration is a fraught activity as unpredictability has been Trump’s hallmark since his election.

It is interesting to consider the market ramifications of this growing trade war between the US and China. For instance, since March 22, the day the first tariffs were announced, the Shanghai Index is down more than 15% while the S&P 500 is higher by a bit more than 3.0%. While economists have ridiculed Trump’s statement that “trade wars are easy to win”, it certainly seems that the US has so far come out ahead, at least on this measure. At the same time, the Chinese renminbi has fallen ~5.6% over the same period, which could mean that investors are more confident that the US will come out ahead…or it could mean that the PBOC has simply forced guided the currency lower in an effort to offset the impact of the tariffs.

However, the one thing that I take away from this process is that neither side is going to back down anytime soon. As Trump is leading the charge, he is unlikely to back off without having won some major concessions from the Chinese. At the same time, Chinese President Xi, who has spent the past five years consolidating his power, cannot afford to look weak to the home crowd. So my advice is to prepare for higher prices on lots of things that you buy, because this is likely to drag on for a long time.

As an aside, while the politics may favor Xi, I think given the nature of the imbalance, where the Chinese not only have far more items that can be taxed, but that they remain a largely mercantilist economy depending on exports for growth, it means that China’s economic situation is likely to deteriorate far more than that of the US. However, it is not clear to me that I would call that ‘winning’!

At any rate, the one thing that seems almost certain is that the dollar is going to be a major beneficiary of this process. Not only are other currencies going to suffer as their nations’ exports are reduced and growth impaired, but the ensuing inflationary impact of tariffs on the US is going to encourage the Fed to be more aggressive. Given the dollar’s positive response to the tightening of Fed policy already, as well as the growing divergence between the US economy and the rest of the world, the brewing trade war has simply increased my dollar bullishness.

Pivoting to the overnight markets, the dollar has rallied for a second straight day, showing strength against all its G10 counterparts and most EMG currencies. There continues to be a dearth of data on which to base trading outcomes and it seems most likely that the dollar’s recent strength, while receiving a catalyst from the trade situation, is a continuation of its rebound from last week’s decline. In the end, the dollar is still largely range bound and has been so since its rally ended in mid May. I continue to believe we will need new data of note to encourage a breakout, with the next real opportunity tomorrow’s CPI print. A surprisingly high print will get tongues wagging over the Fed picking up the pace, and likely support the dollar. However, I don’t believe the opposite is true. A weaker than expected print will simply confirm that the Fed will stay on its current trajectory, which may not help the dollar much, but should not undermine it.

The other potential driver is going to be the general risk tone in markets. It is very clear that the dollar has regained its status as a safe haven, and with every escalation in the trade war, risk aversion will lead to further dollar strength. This is especially true given that the other potential havens, JPY and CHF, continue to offer negative interest rates and so are far less attractive to investors looking for a short-term home for their assets. To me, all the evidence still points to the dollar’s next leg being a move up potentially testing the levels seen back in the beginning of 2017 over time.

On the data front, this morning brings PPI (exp 0.2% for both headline and core) but all eyes will be on tomorrow’s CPI, not today’s number. We also hear from NY Fed President Williams late this afternoon. Given both the timing, some four weeks since the last FOMC meeting, and his elevated role, it is possible that he could create some volatility by adding new information to the mix. However, my read is that the data trajectory has remained quite steady, and although he will almost certainly mention the trade situation and its potential to upend the economy, I doubt there will be new information forthcoming. So in the end, I like the dollar to continue to grind higher as the day progresses.

Good luck
Adf

A New Complication

Last Friday it seemed immigration
Had ceased as a cause of vexation
In Europe, but then
On Monday again
It suffered a new complication

The euro first rose, then declined
But now there’s a new deal designed
To finally forestall
For once and for all
The chance Merkel might have resigned

Remarkably, the immigration debate in Germany continues to dominate the news. Last night, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer agreed to a new deal regarding the immigration situation and withdrew his threatened resignation. This led to a major sigh of relief in the markets as the fear of Frau Merkel’s coalition falling apart has once again receded. While Merkel clearly remains in a weakened state, if this deal can be signed by all the parties involved (a big if), the market may be able to move on to its next concerns. It should be no surprise that the euro has rebounded on the news, after all it has tracked the announcements extremely closely, but the rebound this morning, just 0.1%, has been somewhat lackluster after yesterday’s rout. Perhaps that has as much to do with the release of Eurozone Retail Sales data, which disappointed by printing at 0.0% in May, less than expected and yet another indication that growth in the Eurozone is on a slowing trajectory.

As an aside, if I were Mario Draghi, I might be starting to get a little more nervous given that the Eurozone economy is almost certainly trending toward slower growth and the ECB has very little ammunition available to counter that trend. Rates remain negative and QE is set to run its course by the end of the year. It is not clear what else the ECB can do to combat a more severe slowdown in the economy there.

But away from the daily immigration saga in Germany, the dollar has had a mostly softer session. This is primarily due to the fact that it had a particularly strong rally yesterday and we are seeing short-term profit taking.

China remains a key theme of the market as well, with the renminbi having fallen for twelve of the past thirteen sessions with a total decline of nearly 5.0%. While it has rebounded somewhat this morning (+0.35%), that is small beer relative to its recent movement. Last night, PBOC Governor Yi Gang was on the tape explaining that the bank would “keep the yuan exchange rate basically stable at a reasonable and balanced level.” That was sufficient for traders to stop their recent selling spree and begin to take profits. While there are some pundits who believe that the Chinese will allow the renminbi to decline more sharply, I believe there is still too much fear that a sharper decline will lead to more severe capital outflows and potential economic destabilization at home. As such, I expect to see the CNY decline managed in a steady and unthreatening manner going forward. But I remain pretty sure that it will continue to decline.

Other than those two stories, here’s what’s happening today. SEK has been the biggest winner in the G10, rising 1.25% after the Riksbank, although leaving rates on hold at -0.5%, virtually promised they would begin raising them by the end of the year. That is a faster pace than expected and so the currency reaction should be no surprise. However, keep in mind that Sweden is highly dependent on trade, and as trade rhetoric increases, they could well be collateral damage in that conflict. Aussie is the next biggest winner, having risen 0.7% after the RBA also left rates on hold, as expected, but the statement was seen as having a mildly hawkish tinge to it. But remember, AUD had fallen more than 4.5% in the past month, so on a day when the dollar is under pressure, it can be no surprise that the rebound is relatively large.

In the EMG space, MXN is today’s big winner, rallying 1.3% as the new story is that there are now more areas between the US and Mexico where President Trump and President-elect Obrador will be able to find common ground. Certainly both presidents are of the populist stripe, and so perhaps this is true. But my gut tells me that once AMLO and his Congress are sworn in (it doesn’t happen until December 1!) the market will recognize that the investment environment in Mexico is set to deteriorate, and so the currency will follow.

On the data front, yesterday’s ISM data was quite strong at 60.2, well above expectations and a further indication that the economic divergence theme remains alive and well. This morning we await only Factory Orders (exp -0.1%) and Vehicle Sales (17.0M), with the latter likely to be more interesting to market players than the former. Of course, tomorrow is July 4th, and so trading desks are on skeleton staff already. That means that liquidity is probably a bit sparse, and that interest in taking positions is extremely limited. Look for a lackluster session with the dollar probably edging a bit lower, but things to wind up early as everybody makes their escape.

Good luck
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