A Bad Dream

According to pundits’ new theme
December was just a bad dream
Though Europe’s a mess
And China feels stress
The fallout was way too extreme

The thing is, the data of late
Worldwide has not really been great
The only thing growing
Is debt which is sowing
The seeds of a troubled debate

The dollar has been edging higher over the past several sessions which actually seems a bit incongruous based on other market movements. Equity investors continue to see a glass not half full, but overflowing. Bond yields are edging higher in sync with those moves as risk is being acquired ‘before it’s too late’. But the dollar, despite the Fed’s virtual assurance that we have seen the last of the rate hikes, has been climbing against most counterparts for the past two sessions.

Some of this is clearly because we are getting consistently bad economic data from other countries. For example, last night saw Services PMI data from around the world. In France, the index fell to 47.8, its worst showing in five years. German data printed a slightly worse than expected 53.0, while the Eurozone as a whole remained unchanged at 51.2 It should be no surprise that Italy, which is currently in recession, saw its number fall below 50 as well, down to 49.7. Thus, while Brexit swirls on in the background, the Eurozone economy is showing every sign of sliding toward ever slower growth and inflation. As I have been repeating for months, the ECB will not be tightening policy further. And as the Brexit deadline approaches, you can be sure that the EU will begin to make more concessions given the growing domestic pressure that already exists due to the weakening economy. Net, the euro has decline 0.2% this morning, and is ebbing back to the level seen before the Fed capitulated.

Speaking of Brexit, the UK Services PMI data fell to 50.1, its worst showing in two- and one-half years, simply highlighting the issues extant there. PM May’s strategy continues to consist of trying to renegotiate based on Parliament’s direction, but the EU continues to insist it cannot be done. While very few seem to want a hard Brexit, there has been very little accomplished of late that seems likely to prevent it. And the pound? It has fallen a further 0.2% and is trading back just above 1.30, its lowest level in two weeks and indicative of the fact that the certainty about a deal getting done, or at the very least a delay in any decision, is starting to erode.

With the Lunar New Year continuing in Asia, there is no new news on the trade front, just the ongoing impact of the tariffs playing out in earnings releases and economic reports. But this story is likely to be static until the mooted meeting between the two presidents later this month. My observation is that the market has priced in a great deal of certainty that a deal will be agreed and that the tariff regime will end. Quite frankly, that seems very optimistic to me, and I think there is a very real chance that things deteriorate further, despite the incentives on both sides to solve the problem. The issue is that the US’s trade concerns strike at the very heart of the Chinese economic model, and those will not be easily changed.

Elsewhere, the yen has been falling modestly of late, which is not surprising given the recent risk-on sentiment in markets, but the Japanese economy has not shown any signs that the key concern over inflation, or lack thereof, has been addressed. During December’s equity meltdown, the yen rallied ~4.5%. Since then, it has rebound about half way, and in truth, since equity markets stabilized in the middle of January, the yen has been in a tight trading range. At this point, given the complete lack of ability by the BOJ to impact its value based on monetary policy settings, and given the strong belief that it represents a safe haven in times of trouble (which is certainly true for Japanese investors), the yen is completely beholden to the market risk narrative going forward. As long as risk is embraced, the yen is likely to edge lower. But on risk off days, look for it to rebound sharply.

And that’s really all we have for today. This evening’s State of the Union address by President Trump has the potential to move markets given the contentious nature of his current relationship with the House of Representatives. There is growing talk of another Federal government shutdown in two weeks’ time, although as far as the FX market was concerned, I would say the last one had little impact. Arguably, the dollar’s weakness during that period was directly a result of the change in Fed rhetoric, not a temporary interruption of government services.

At 10:00 this morning the ISM Non-Manufacturing data is released (exp 57.2), which while softer than last month remains considerably higher than its European and Chinese counterparts. Overall, as markets continue to reflect an optimistic attitude, I would expect that any further dollar strength is limited, but in the event that fear returns, the dollar should be in great demand. However, that doesn’t seem likely for today.

Good luck
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Growth Had Decreased

While Draghi and his ECB
Evaluate their policy
The data released
Showed growth had decreased
A fact they’re unhappy to see

With limited new information on the two key stories, Brexit and the trade war, the market has turned its attention to this morning’s Flash PMI data for Europe, which it turns out was not very good. French, German and Eurozone numbers (the only ones released) all printed much lower than expected with German Manufacturing dipping to 49.9, a concerning signal about future growth there. The euro responded as would be expected, falling 0.3% and helping to drag down many other currencies vs. the dollar.

This is the backdrop to today’s ECB meeting, further signs of slowing Eurozone growth, which cannot be helping the internal debate about slowly normalizing policy. The policy statement will be released at 7:45 this morning and is expected to show no changes in rates or the balance sheet. Remember, the most recent guidance has been that rates would remain on hold “at least through the end of summer” and that maturing securities would be reinvested. But today’s data has to weigh on that process. As I have argued in the past, there is, I believe, a vanishingly small probability that the ECB raises rates at all. And that is their big problem. If the current slowdown turns into a recession, exactly what else can the ECB do to support the economy there? Nothing! I’m sure they will restart QE, and it is a given that they will roll over the TLTRO’s this year, but will it be enough to change the trajectory? Mario will be pretty happy to turn over the reins to someone else this October as the next ECB President is likely to have a very unhappy time, with lots of problems and lots of blame and not many tools available to address things. This remains the key reason I like the euro to decline as 2019 progresses.

Away from that, though, the Brexit story is waiting for Parliamentary votes next week regarding the elimination of the no-deal choice, which has been seen as a distinct GBP positive. While it is a touch softer this morning, -0.2%, the pound is getting the benefit of every doubt right now. As I wrote yesterday, maintain a fully hedged positions as the risk of a sharp decline has not yet disappeared by any stretch.

There has been no discussion on trade, no US data and no Fed speakers, so traders and investors are running out of cues on which to deal, at least for now. Overall, the dollar is firmer this morning, but that is really just offsetting yesterday’s weakness. In fact, it is very difficult to look at the current situation and anticipate any substantive price action in the near term. While the ECB could surprise by easing policy, that seems highly unlikely for now. However, if we get an even gloomier outlook from Draghi at the 8:30 press conference, I could see the euro declining further. But absent that, it is shaping up to be quite a dull session.

Good luck
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