Filled with Frustration

The Beige Book explained ‘round the nation

That growth was up, as was inflation

As well, we all learned

Of job offers spurned

And businesses filled with frustration

Meanwhile, round the world, PMI’s

Of Services were no surprise

As nations reopen

Most people are hopin’

The world will, at last, normalize

Ahead of tomorrow’s NFP report in the US, one which given last month’s extraordinary miss will be closely scrutinized by both investors and the Fed, most markets appear to be biding their time in narrow ranges.  This was largely true yesterday and so far, remains the case in the Asian and European sessions.  This lull in activity offers an excellent time to consider the supporting data that we have received in the past twenty-four hours, as well as the remainder due this morning.

Starting with the Fed’s Beige Book yesterday, the report highlighted the features of the economy we have been hearing about for the past several months.  The lifting of Covid inspired restrictions has led to strong increases in demand for products and services ranging from houses and cars to hotels and restaurants.  Business owners indicated that a combination of supply chain bottlenecks and increased demand have been forcing prices higher and that they saw no reason for that to end soon.  They also continue to comment on their inability to hire the workers necessary to satisfy demand, especially in lower wage segments of the economy.  The anecdote I feel best illustrates the issue came from St Louis where a job fair held by a dozen restaurants to fill more than one hundred open positions drew only twelve candidates!  It certainly appears as though the ongoing extra Federal unemployment benefits being offered through September are discouraging a lot of people from going back to work.

One of the underlying beliefs regarding the Fed’s transitory inflation story is that supply chain interruptions will quickly resolve themselves.  And it is not just the Fed that believes this will be the case, but virtually every other economist as well.  But I wonder, what prompts their faith in that outcome?  After all, with available labor scarce, who is going to relink those chains?  Consider, as well, industries like mining and extraction of raw materials.  Shortages of copper and iron ore require the reopening of mines or excavating new ones.  One of the impacts of Covid was that not only were current operating mines closed, but capex was drastically cut, so there is a significant disruption in the exploration process.  Add to that the rise of ESG as a business objective, which will, at the very least slow, if not prevent, the opening of new sources of these raw materials, and it becomes quite easy to believe that these bottlenecks will remain for more than just a few months.  In fact, it would not be surprising if it was several years before the supply/demand balance in many commodities is achieved.  Given the current assessment is a lack of supply, you can be certain that prices will continue to rise far longer than the Fed will have you believe.

As to the overnight session, we were regaled with the Services PMI data from around the world.  In Asia we saw Australia solid, at 58.0, and right in line with last month, while Japan, 46.5, did show a marginal increase, but remains well below the growth-contraction line of 50.0.  China’s Caixin data, at 55.1, was disappointing vs. expectations as well as lower by 1.2 points compared to April’s reading.  Is the Chinese economy beginning to roll over?  That is a question that is starting to be asked and would also explain the PBOC’s sudden concern over a too-strong renminbi.  In a strong economy, a rising currency is acceptable, but if things are not as good, currency strength is an unwelcome event.  Finally, the last major Asian nation reporting, India, showed awful data, 46.4, demonstrating the huge negative impact the recent wave of Covid infections is having on the economy there.

The European story was a bit better overall, with Germany (52.8 as expected), France (56.6 as expected), Italy (53.1 better than expected) and the Eurozone (55.2 slightly better than expected) all demonstrating the recovery is underway on the continent.  As well, the UK continues to burn brightly with a 62.9 reading, more than a point higher than forecast.  And don’t forget, later this morning the US releases both the PMI data (exp 70.1) as well as ISM Services (63.2) both demonstrating that the US economy remains the global leader for now.  With that in mind, it is kind of odd that the dollar is so hated, isn’t it?

The other data coming this morning will give us our first hints at tomorrow’s NFP with ADP Employment (exp 650K) released 15 minutes before both Initial (387K) and Continuing (3.614M) Claims.  As well, at 8:30 we see Nonfarm Productivity (5.5%) and Unit Labor Costs (-0.4%), which on the surface would indicate there are no wage pressures at all but continue to be distorted by the past year’s data outcomes.

As to the market situation, while equity markets in Asia were mixed (Nikkei +0.4%, Hang Seng -1.1%, Shanghai -0.4%), Europe has turned completely red (DAX -0.5%, CAC -0.4%, FTSE 100 -0.9%) despite the solid PMI data.  This feels far more like some profit taking ahead of tomorrow’s data as well as the upcoming ECB meeting next week.  US futures are also under pressure, with all three major indices lower by between 0.5% and 0.75%.

What is interesting about the market is that despite the selloff in stocks, we are seeing a selloff in bonds as well, with Treasury yields higher by 1.5bps and European sovereigns all higher by at least 1 basis point (Bunds +1.1bps, OATs +1.4bps, Gilts +2.7bps).  This, of course, begs the question, if investors are selling both stocks and bonds, what are they buying?

The answer is not clear at this point.  Oil (WTI -0.1%) while outperforming everything else, is still down on the day, as are gold (-0.65%) and silver (-1.4%).  Base metals?  Well, copper (-1.0%) is clearly not the winner, although aluminum (+0.25%) is the only green spot on the screen.  Well, that and agricultural products with Soybeans (+1.25%), Wheat (+1.0%) and Corn (+0.85%) all quite strong this morning, punctuating the idea that food inflation is running at its highest level in more than a decade according to a just released UN report.  That is something I certainly see every week at Shop-Rite and I imagine so does everyone else.

Finally, a look at the FX market shows the dollar is having a pretty good day all around.  In the G10, the pound (+0.1%) is the only currency to hold its own vs. the greenback, with the rest of the bloc lower by between 0.2% and 0.4%.  Frankly, this simply looks like a risk-off session as investors are selling both stocks and bonds across the G10, and no longer need to hold the local currencies.  In the EMG bloc, the story is largely the same, with only INR (+0.25%) rising and the rest of the bloc under some pressure.  The rupee movement seems to be more technical as alongside weak PMI data, the RBI meeting, coming up tonight, is expected to see policy remain unchanged with a dovish bias given the ongoing Covid problems in the country.  On the downside, while most currencies are lower, aside from TRY (-0.5%) on slightly lower inflation, therefore less need to maintain high rates, the rest of the bloc’s declines are only on the order of -0.2%.  Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention yesterday’s price action in LATAM currencies, where we saw significant strength in BRL (+1.5%) and CLP (+1.1%) which has been a broad continuation of funds flowing back into the region.

We have a few more Fed speakers today, but they all say exactly the same thing all the time, it seems, that they are thinking about considering starting a discussion on tapering.  In this vein, there was a big announcement yesterday that the Fed would be unwinding one of the emergency bond buying programs, the secondary market corporate program, and selling out the $13 billion of bonds and ETF’s they own.  Of course, that is such a tiny proportion of their balance sheet, and of that market in truth, it seems unlikely to matter at all.

My observation lately has been that NY tends to go against the prevailing trend for the day during its session, meaning on a day like today, when the dollar is well bid as NY arrives, I would look for a bit of dollar selling.  We shall see, but in fairness, all eyes are really on tomorrow.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Markets Rejoice

He once said, “Whatever it takes”
To fix all the prior mistakes
Is what he would do
And Draghi came through
Though that was ere Covid outbreaks

But now Italy’s in a bind
As Conte, the PM, resigned
So, Draghi’s first choice
(And markets rejoice)
To lead a land that’s much maligned

***FLASH***  Mario Draghi accepts mandate to form new Italian government!

Now that GameStop fever is ebbing, far more quickly than Covid-19 I might add, it is time to look elsewhere for market drivers and sentiment.  With this in mind, we turn to the nation that puts the “I” in PIGS, Italy.  My personal experience in Italy is that it is a beautiful country, with extraordinary history and even better food.  The people are warm and welcoming, and it is truly a delightful place.  Alas, it is also, historically, one of the worst run nations on earth.  Attention to detail and a sense of urgency are two things that tend to be missing from the Italian culture, but both are necessary to be able to govern effectively.  Thus, it is not surprising that Italy has had 66 different governments since the end of WWII, with the most recent one falling two weeks ago.  The norm has been for coalitions, often fractious, to come together on short-term issues and then fall apart when longer term questions need to be addressed.

This is an apt description of the current situation, where PM Giuseppe Conte, a law professor with no previous political experience, was tapped to lead a disparate coalition of center-left and radical-left parties in an effort to prevent Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord, a right-wing party, from taking control.  While this effort stumbled along for nearly two years, it recently foundered when a key supporter of the coalition, Matteo Renzi, withdrew his support and Conte lost a vote of no-confidence in the Italian Senate.  Conte has been unable to piece together another coalition which leaves two choices; the President, Sergio Mattarella, can appoint someone else to try to do so, or elections must be held.

Enter Mario Draghi.  Since his time as ECB President ended in 2019, he has been relatively quiet on most issues, and has not been willing to get involved in the morass of Italian politics at all.  Arguably, because of that, he remains the most popular public figure (non sports or entertainment) in the country.  And so, President Mattarella is meeting with Draghi today to ask him to form a new government with wide latitude to do “whatever it takes” to fix Italy’s many problems.  While the early word from political figures there is mixed, at best, the market thinks this is the best idea since sliced bread.  This is clear from both the equity market, where the FTSE MIB has rallied by a world-beating 2.7% today, as well as from the bond market, where BTPs have rallied sharply with yields falling 9.2 basis points and the spread to bunds has fallen to just over 100 basis points, its tightest level since 2016.

Remember, Italy has been one of the worst hit nations from Covid, as the infections appeared there early and the economy is hugely reliant on tourism and services, exactly the areas Covid destroyed.  Add to that the government’s general incompetence which has slowed the distribution of the vaccines (although in fairness, this seems to be true throughout Europe, Germany included) and you have a situation where the economy, which shrunk 9.0% in 2020, remains on course to shrink again through at least the first half of 2021.  It is not clear, by any means, that Draghi will accept the position, nor if he does, if he will be able to bring together the disparate views in the Italian congress to pass legislation that helps the situation.  But, boy, the markets are all-in on the trade!

The Draghi story has been icing on the market bullish cake this morning with risk continuing to be embraced as US stimulus talks turn away from the bipartisan idea and therefore toward a quicker passage under budget reconciliation terms (where the Senate does not have a chance to filibuster).  As well, in many nations we have seen upticks in data releases, although there are still some, notably China, where the data is falling short of estimates.

Starting with equities, Asia saw strength in the Nikkei (+1.0%) and Hang Seng (+0.2%) but Shanghai (-0.5%) fell after Caixin PMI Services data (52.0) fell short of expectations and pretty significantly from last month’s reading of 56.3.  While still above the key 50.0 level, momentum in China appears to be stalling for now.  Europe is all green, but Italy is truly the outlier.  The DAX (+0.7%) comes next and then the CAC (+0.3%) and FTSE 100 (+0.2%) are both positive, but just barely.  As to US futures, after yesterday’s strong session, with all three indices rising around 1.5%, and after some strong earnings reports yesterday afternoon, futures are higher by modest amounts, led by the NASDAQ’s 0.6% climb.

Bond markets are offering the same message, with yields higher in Treasuries (2.1bps), bunds (1.1bps) and Gilts (1.1bps).  Meanwhile, the bonds of the PIGS are all rallying on the combination of general risk attitude and the hope that good news in Italy will spread.

Oil continues its winning ways, rising another 0.5% this morning which puts WTI above $55/bbl, a level many technicians believe opens the way for a sharper rally from here.  Gold, after a dreadful day yesterday, is still under modest pressure, down 0.15%, but silver, after an even more dreadful day yesterday, having fallen more than 8%, is actually bouncing a bit, and up 0.5% as I type.

Finally, the dollar is generally stronger vs. G10 currencies, with only AUD and NZD (both +0.1%) showing any life.  The kiwi story is based on stronger than expected employment data indicating the economy is rebounding and more monetary support may not be necessary, while Aussie seems to be benefitting from strong PMI data.  But otherwise, the dollar is on top this morning, with broad-based gains although they are not substantial.  SEK (-0.4%) is the worst performer, followed by the pound (-0.25%) and euro (-0.25%), both of which saw underwhelming PMI services data. In the EMG bloc the picture is more mixed, with both gainers and losers, although it is hard to piece together a coherent story.  The CE4 are the laggards, down 0.3% on average as they track the euro.  LATAM is also underperforming, although both MXN and BRL are softer by just 0.2%.  On the plus side, RUB (+0.3%) leads the way, arguably on oil’s uptick, and then some APAC currencies eked out marginal gains as well.  However, given the modest magnitude of movement, this feels an awful lot like position adjustments.

On the data front today we see ADP Employment (exp 50K) and ISM Services (56.7).  The former will attract more attention than the latter, in my view, as the market looks ahead to Friday’s NFP data. It would also be a mistake if I did not mention that Eurozone CPI was released this morning at a much higher than expected 0.9% (1.4% core) which is hard to reconcile with the collapsing economic activity.  Although perhaps, inflation is not dependent on demand as much as supply, and central bankers have it completely wrong.  Nah.

For now, the dollar’s correction continues, and we are right at the 1.2010 level that proved the breakout point in December.  At this stage, a move to 1.1950 seems a good bet, but we will need to see many more positions unwind if we are to overcome the dollar weakness narrative.  The confusing part is the ongoing equity rally alongside the dollar rally, something we have not seen for quite a while.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t continue for a while longer.  I still like the dollar to fall in H2, but right now, momentum is building for further dollar strength.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Much Bluer Skies

Ahead of the Fed, PMI’s
From Europe were quite a surprise
It seems that despite
The lockdowns in sight
The future has much bluer skies

Preliminary PMI data from around the world this morning is the market’s key focus, at least until 2:00 this afternoon when we hear from the Fed.  But, in the meantime, the much better than expected readings surprised the market and are driving yet another increase in risk appetite.  (One wonders if that appetite will ever be sated!)

Starting in Asia, Australian data was considerably stronger than last month, with the Composite figure printing at 57.0, its second highest print in the (short) history of the series.  On the other hand, Japanese data was the sole disappointment, with the Composite slipping 0.1 to 48.0, still pointing to a contracting economy.  The European numbers, however, were all much better than expected with Germany printing 2 points higher than expected at 52.5 on the Composite while France (49.6 Composite) actually beat expectations by 6.6 points.  As such, the Eurozone Composite PMI printed at 49.8, significantly better than expectations of a 45.7 print.  The point here is that while the Eurozone economy is hardly booming (other than German manufacturing), there is a clear sense that the worst may be behind it.

Of course, what makes this so surprising is that the German government has shuttered non-essential businesses until January 10th, with hints that could be extended, after the largest single day fatality count was recorded yesterday.  We are also hearing from other European countries, (France and Italy), that further lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings are being considered as the second (third?) wave of Covid-19 sweeps across the continent.  Yet, not only markets, but businesses have clearly grabbed hold of the idea that the vaccine is going to lead to a swift end to the government intervention in virtually every economy and allow economic activity to resume as it was before.

The spanner in the works, as it were, is that governments are loathe to cede power and control once it is obtained.  If this holds true again, then businesses need to be prepared to have far more rules and restrictions imposed on their operations, something which is typically not associated with an economic boom.  However, for now, it appears that the prospect of the tightest restrictions being lifted outweighs the potential longer-term negative impacts of intrusive government.  So, as Timbuk 3 explained back in 1986, “The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades).

With that in mind, a quick turn to the FOMC meeting today shows us that the market consensus is for no policy changes in scope or size, but rather, more clarity on what is required for the Fed to consider tighter policy in the future.  Expectations continue to center on achieving a specific Unemployment Rate or Inflation Rate or, probably, both in combination.  Perhaps Chairman Powell will resurrect the Misery Index (not the current show on TBS, but the original one defined by Ronald Reagan, when he was running for president in 1980, as the sum of inflation and unemployment.)  For instance, a target of 3.5% Unemployment and 2.0% Inflation would seem to be right where policymakers would be thrilled.  Alas, today we are looking at a reading of 7.9%, with a poor mixture to boot (Unemployment 6.7%, CPI 1.2%).  However, as long as Congress fails to pass a new fiscal stimulus bill, do not be too surprised if the Fed does change the program, with my bet being on Operation Twist redux, where they extend the maturities of their current purchases.  We will find out at 2.

Turning to the markets, all that hunger for risk has shown up in all markets today, with equities and commodities broadly firmer while bonds and the dollar are broadly weaker.  Last night, following the strong equity performance in the US yesterday, we saw less impressive, but still positive price action in Asia with the Nikkei (+0.3%) and Hang Seng (+1.0%) both rallying although Shanghai was flat on the day.  Europe, however, has embraced the PMI data, as well as word that a Brexit deal is approaching (told ya so!) and markets there are all much firmer; DAX (+1.6%), CAC (+0.7%), FTSE 100 (+1.0%).  Finally, US futures are actually the laggards this morning, with all three in the green but the magnitude of those gains more muted than one might have expected, in the 0.2%-0.3% range.

Bond markets have come under pressure as there is certainly no case to own a low yielding haven asset when one can be gorging on risk, but the price declines are far larger in Europe (Bunds and OATs +3.7bps, Gilts +2.7bps) than in the US (Treasuries +1.0bp).  Interestingly, even the PIGS bonds are selling off as it appears Portugal is not quite so interesting a place to hold your cash when the yield there is -0.04% on 10-year paper!

Commodities are firmer, with gold having a second strong performance in a row, up 0.4% this morning, and oil prices are also drifting higher, albeit barely so at this hour.  And finally, the dollar is under significant pressure this morning after breaking through several key technical levels, with only CAD (-0.4%) underperforming in the G10.  And in truth, I cannot find a good reason for the decline as there don’t appear to be either technical or fundamental reasons evident.  On the other side, though, NOK (+0.45%) and GBP (+0.4%) are the leading gainers, although the rest of the space is higher by about 0.3%.  Aside from the Brexit hopes, this is all really about the dollar and the ever-growing conviction that it has much further to fall as 2021 approaches and unfolds.

As to the emerging markets, the CE4, taking their cues from the euro, are leading the way with CZK (+0.75%) and PLN (+0.6%) at the head of the pack.  Beyond those, the gains are less impressive, on the order of 0.2%-0.3%, with APAC currencies little changed overnight and LATAM currencies opening with less oomph than we are seeing in Europe.

On the data front, ahead of the FOMC this afternoon, we see Retail Sales (exp -0.3%, +0.1% ex autos) and then the preliminary PMI data as well (55.8 Manufacturing, 55.9 Services).  My sense is stronger than expected data would have only a limited impact on the dollar, but if the data is weak, another wave lower seems quite possible.

And that is really what we have today.  For now, the dollar is under pressure and likely to remain so.  At 2:00, there is potential for an additional leg lower, if the Fed opts to increase QE or extend maturities, but I cannot make a case for the dollar to benefit from their announcement.  In fact, for now, the only thing that can help the dollar is the fact that it has already moved a long way, and it could be due for a simple trading correction.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Nothing but Cheerful

While yesterday traders were fearful
Today they are nothing but cheerful
The vaccine is coming
While Bitcoin is humming
It’s only the bears who are tearful

Risk is back baby!!  That is this morning’s message as a broad-based risk-on scenario is playing out across all markets.  Well, almost all markets, oil is struggling slightly, but since according to those in the know (whoever they may be) we have reached so-called ‘peak oil’, the oil market doesn’t matter anymore.  So, if it cannot rally on a day when other risk assets are doing so, it is of no consequence.

Of course, this begs the question, what is driving the reversal of yesterday’s theme?  The most logical answer is the release of the newest batch of Manufacturing PMI data from around the world, which while not universally better, is certainly trending in the right direction.  Starting last night in Asia, we saw strength in Australia (55.8), Indonesia (50.6), South Korea (52.9), India (56.3) and China (Caixin 54.9).  In fact, the only weak print was from Japan (49.0), which while still in contractionary territory has improved compared to last month.  With this much renewed manufacturing enthusiasm, it should be no surprise that equity markets in Asia were all bright green.  The Nikkei (+1.35%), Hang Seng (+0.85%) and Shanghai (+1.75%) led the way with New Zealand the only country not to join in the fun.

Turning to European data, it has been largely the same story, with Germany (57.8) leading the way, but strong performances by the UK (55.6) and the Eurozone (53.8) although Italy (51.5) fell short of expectations and France (49.6) while beating expectations remained below the key 50.0 level.  Spain (49.8), too, was weak failing to reach expectations, but clearly, the rest of the Continent was quite perky in order for the area wide index to improve.  Equity markets on the Continent are also bright green led by the FTSE 100 (+1.95%) but with strong performances by the DAX (+1.0%) and CAC (+1.1%) as well.  In fact, here, not a single market is lower.  Even Russian stocks are higher despite the weakest PMI performance of all (46.3).

The point is, there is no risk asset that is not welcome in a portfolio today.  However, while the broad sweep of PMI data is certainly positive, it seems unlikely, given the market’s history of ignoring both good and bad data from this series, that this is the only catalyst.  In fairness, there was some other positive data.  For example, German Unemployment fell to 6.1%, a tick below last month and 2 ticks below expectations.  At the same time, Eurozone CPI was released at a slightly worse than expected -0.3% Y/Y in November, which only encourages the bullish view that the ECB is going to wow us next week when they unveil their latest adjustments to PEPP.

And perhaps, that is a large part of the story, expectations for ongoing central bank largesse to support financial markets continue to be strong.  After all, the buzz in the US is that the combination of Fed Chair Jay Powell alongside former Fed Chair Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary means that come January or February, the taps will once again open in the US with more fiscal and monetary assistance.  Alas, what we know is that the bulk of that assistance winds up in the equity markets, at least that has been the case to date, so just how much this new money will help the economy itself remains in question.

But well before that, we have a number of key events upcoming, notably next week’s ECB meeting and the Fed meeting the following week.  Focusing first on Frankfurt, recall that Madame Lagarde essentially promised action at their late October get together, and the market wasted no time putting numbers on those expectations.  While no rate cut is anticipated, at least not in the headline Deposit rate (currently -0.50%), the PEPP is expected to be increased by up to €600 billion with its tenor expected to be extended by an additional six months through the end of 2021.  However, before we get too used to that type of expansion, perhaps we should heed the words of Isabel Schnabel, the German ECB Executive Board member who today explained that while further support would be forthcoming, thoughts that the ECB would take the Mario Draghi approach of exceeding all expectations should be tempered.  Of course, the question is whether a disappointing outcome next week, say just €250 billion additional purchases, would have such a detrimental impact on the markets economy.  Remember, while Madame Lagarde has a great deal of political nous, she has thus far demonstrated a tin ear when it comes to market signals.  The other topic on which she opined was the TLTRO program, which she seems to like more than PEPP, and which she implied could see both expansion and even a further rate cut from the current -1.00%.

And perhaps, that is all that is needed to get the juices flowing again, a little encouragement that more money is on its way.  Certainly, the bond markets are exhibiting risk on tendencies, although yield increases of between 0.2bps (Germany) and 1.1bps (Treasuries) are hardly earth shattering.  They are certainly no indication of the reflation trade that had gotten so much press just a month ago.

And finally, the dollar, which is definitely softer this morning, but only after having rallied all day yesterday, so is in fact higher vs. yesterday morning’s opening levels.  The short dollar trade remains one of the true conviction trades in the market right now and one where positioning is showing no signs of abating.  Almost daily there seems to be another bank analyst declaring that the dollar is destined for a great fall in 2021.  Perhaps they are correct, but as I have repeatedly pointed out, no other central bank, certainly not the ECB or BOJ is going to allow the dollar to decline sharply without some action on their part to try to slow or reverse it.

A tour of the market this morning shows that CHF (+0.4%) is the leading gainer in the G10, although followed closely by SEK (+0.4%) and EUR (+0.35%).  Of course, if you look at the movement since Friday, CHF and EUR are higher by less than 0.1% and SEK is actually lower by 0.45%.  In other words, do not believe that the dollar decline is a straight-line affair.

Emerging markets are seeing similar price action, although as the session has progressed, we have seen more currency strength.  Currently, CLP (+0.9%), ZAR (+0.85%) and BRL (+0.8%) are leading the way here, all three reliant on commodity markets, which have, other than oil, performed well overnight.  The CE4 are also higher (HUF +0.6%, CZK +0.5%), tracking the euro’s strength, and Asian currencies had a fair run overnight as well, with INR (+0.5%) the best performer as a beneficiary of an uptick in stock and bond investments made their way into the country.

On the data front, today brings ISM Manufacturing (exp 58.0) and Construction Spending (0.8%), with the former certainly of more interest than the latter.  This is especially so given the PMI data overnight and the market response.  But arguably, of far more importance is Chairman Powell’s Senate testimony starting at 10:00 this morning, which will certainly overshadow comments from the other three Fed speakers due later.

Yesterday at this hour, with the dollar under pressure, it seemed we were going to take out some key technical levels and weaken further.  Of course, that did not happen.  With the dollar at similar levels to yesterday morning, and another dollar weakening sentiment, will today be the day that we break 1.20 in the euro convincingly?  As long as CNY remains strong, it is certainly possible, but I am not yet convinced.  Receivables hedgers, these are the best levels seen in two years, so it may not be a bad time to step in.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Naught Left to Wield

The PMI data revealed
The Continent’s yet to be healed
The second wave’s crest
Must still be addressed
And Christine has naught left to wield

It appears as though the market reaction function has returned to ‘bad news is good.’  This observation is based on the market response this morning, to what can only be described as disappointing PMI data from Europe and Japan, while we have seen equity markets higher around the world, bond yields generally declining and the dollar under pressure.  The working assumption amongst the investment community seems to be that as economic weakness, fostered by the much discussed second wave of Covid infections, spreads, it will be met with additional rounds of both fiscal and monetary stimulus.  And, this stimulus, while it may have only a marginal impact on economies, is almost certainly going to find its way into investment portfolios driving asset prices higher.

Unpacking the data shows that France is suffering the most, with Manufacturing PMI declining to 51.0 and Services PMI declining to 46.5, with both of those falling short of market expectations.  Germany, on the other hand, saw Manufacturing PMI rise sharply, to 58.0, on the back of increased exports to China, but saw its Services data decline more than expected to 48.9.  And finally, the Eurozone as a whole saw Manufacturing rise to 54.4 on the back of German strength, but Services fall to 46.2, as tourism numbers remain constrained, especially throughout southern Europe.

This disappointment has analysts reconfirming their views that the ECB is going to increase the PEPP by €500 billion come December, with many expecting Madame Lagarde to basically promise this at the ECB meeting next week.  The question is, will that really help very much?  The ECB has been hoovering up huge amounts of outstanding debt and there is no indication that interest rates on the Continent are going to rise one basis point for years to come.  In fact, Euribor rates fell even further, indicating literally negative concern about rates increasing.  And yet, none of that has helped the economy recover.  While the ECB will offer counterfactuals that things would be worse if they didn’t act as they have been, there is no proof that is the case.  Except for one thing, stock prices would be lower if they hadn’t acted, that much is true.  However, in their counterfactual world, they are focused on the economy, not risk assets.

The message to take away from this information is that the second wave of infections is clearly on the rise in Europe, (>217K new cases reported yesterday), and correspondingly as governments react by imposing tighter restrictions on activities, specifically social ones like dining and drinking, economic activity is going to slow.  At this point, estimates for Q4 GDP are already sliding back toward 0.0% for the Eurozone as a whole.

One last thing, the weakening growth and inflation impulses in Europe is a clear signal to…buy euros, which is arguably why the single currency is higher by 0.25% this morning.  Don’t even ask.

A quick look at the UK story shows PMI releases were also slightly worse than expected, but all well above the critical 50.0 level (Mfg 53.3, Services 52.3, Composite 52.9).  While these were softer than September’s numbers, they do still point to an economy that is ticking over on the right side of flat.  Retail Sales data from the UK was also better than expected in September, rising 1.6% in the month and are now up 6.4% Y/Y.  Despite all the angst over Brexit and the mishandling of the pandemic by Boris, the economy is still in better shape than on the Continent.  One other positive here is that the UK and Japan signed a trade deal last night, the UK’s first with a major country since Brexit.  So, it can be done.  Ironically, in keeping with the theme that bad news is good, the pound is the one G10 currency that has ceded ground to the dollar this morning, falling a modest 0.15%, despite what appear to be some pretty good headlines.

And that is pretty much the story this morning.  Last night’s debate, while more civil than the first one, likely did nothing to change any opinions.  Trump supporters thought he won.  Biden supporters thought he won.  Of more importance is the fact that the stimulus discussions between Pelosi and Mnuchin seem to be failing, which means there will be nothing coming before the election, and quite frankly, my guess is nothing coming until 2021 at the earliest.  If this is the case, the stock market will need to refocus on hopes for a vaccine, as hopes for stimulus will have faded.  But not to worry, there is always hope for something (trade deal anyone?) to foster buying.

So, let’s quickly tour markets.  Asian equities were generally on the plus side (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng +0.5%), but Shanghai didn’t get the memo and fell 1.0%.  European indices have been climbing steadily all morning, with the DAX (+1.2%), CAC (+1.55%) and FTSE 100 (+1.7%) all now at session highs.  Meanwhile, US futures, which had basically been unchanged earlier in the session, are now higher by 0.3% to 0.5%.

Bond markets are actually mixed at this time, with Treasury yields edging ever so slightly higher, less than 1bp, with similar increases in France and Germany.  The PIGS, however, are seeing demand with yields there lower by between 1bp and 3bps.  As an aside, S&P is due to release their latest ratings on Italian debt, which currently sits at the lowest investment grade of BBB-.  If they were to cut the rating, there could be significant forced selling as many funds that hold the debt are mandated to hold only IG rated paper.  But it seems that the market, in its constant hunt for yield, is likely to moderate any impact of the bad news.

As to the dollar, it is broadly, but not steeply, weaker this morning.  AUD (+0.35%) is the leading gainer in the G10 bloc as copper prices have been rising on the back of increased Chinese demand for the metal.  Otherwise, movement in the bloc remains modest, at best, although clearly, this week’s direction has been for a weaker dollar.

In the emerging markets, most currencies are stronger, but, here too, the gains are not substantial.  HUF and CZK (+0.35% each) are the leaders, following the euro, although there is no compelling story behind either move.  The rest of the bloc is generally higher although we have seen some weakness in TRY (-0.35%) and MYR (-0.3%).  The lira is still suffering the aftereffects of the central bank’s surprise policy hold as many expected them to raise rates.  Rationale for the ringgit’s decline is far harder to determine.  One last thing, there was a comment from the PBOC last night indicating they were quite comfortable with the renminbi’s recent strength.  This helped support further small gains in CNY (+0.2%) and seems to give free reign for investors to enter the carry trade here, with Chinese rates substantially higher than most others around the world.

On the data front here, yesterday saw the highest Existing Home Sales print since 2005, as record low mortgage rates encourage those who can afford it, to buy their homes.  This morning brings the US PMI data (exp 53.5 Mfg, 54.6 Services), but recall, that gets far less traction than the ISM data which is not released until Monday, November 2nd.  As to Fed speakers, we are mercifully entering the quiet period ahead of the next FOMC meeting.  But the message has been consistent, more fiscal stimulus is desperately needed.

As the weekend approaches, I would not be surprised to see the dollar’s recent losses moderated as short-term traders take risk off the table ahead of the weekend.  At this point, having broken through a key technical level in EURUSD, I expect an eventual test of 1.20, but once again, I see no reason for a break there, nor expect that if the dollar does fall to that level, it will be the first steps toward the end of its status as a reserve currency.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Some Despair

In Germany, data revealed
That growth there’s apparently healed
But data elsewhere
Implied some despair
As problems, porcine, are concealed

Risk is back in vogue this morning as the market appears to be responding positively to a much better than expected PMI reading from Germany (Services PMI 50.6, up from 49.1 Flash reading, Composite 54.7, up from 53.7 Flash) and a modestly better outcome for the Eurozone (48.0 vs. 47.6 for Services, 50.4 vs. 50.1 for Composite) as a whole.  At least that’s the surface story I keep reading.  The problem with this version is that markets in Asia were also highly risk-centric and that was well before the PMI data hit the tape.  Which begs the question, what is really driving the risk narrative today?

When President Trump was infected
The thing that most people expected
Was two weeks before
He’d walk out the door
Explaining he wasn’t affected

A different, and timelier, explanation for today’s positive risk sentiment stems from the ongoing story of President Trump’s covid infection and his ability to recuperate quickly.  While the standing assumption had been that there is a two-week timeline from infection to recovery, the President has consistently indicated that he feels fine, as have his doctors, and the story is that he will be released today from his weekend stay at Walter Reed Memorial Hospital.  In other words, any concerns that attended the announcement of his illness from Friday, when we did see equity markets suffer, is in the process of being unwound this morning.  The rationale here seems to be twofold.  First, the President is set to be back at the White House and in control, something which matters greatly from a national security perspective.  But second, the fact that he, as a 74-year-old man, was able to recover so quickly from the infection speaks to the reduced impact covid is likely to have on the population as a whole.  And arguably, that may even have a bigger impact.  While we continue to hear of new lockdown’s being announced in certain places, NYC, Spain and France to name just three, if the potency of the infection is waning such that it is a short-term event with limited side effects, that could well lead to an increase in confidence amongst the population.  And, of course, confidence is the one thing that the economy is searching for desperately.

The problem is that since virtually everything has become political theater lately, it is difficult to discern the facts in this situation.  As such, it seems hard to believe that overall confidence has been lifted that significantly, at least as of this morning.  However, if President Trump remains active and vigorous this week, it will certainly put a dent into the thesis that covid is incredibly debilitating.  We will need to watch how things evolve.

Interestingly, there is one issue that seems to be getting short shrift this morning, the growing concern that there will be no Brexit deal reached in the next ten days.  Recall that Boris and Ursula had a virtual lunch date on Saturday, and both claimed that a deal was close, but there were a couple of issues left to address.  The two key differences remain the issue of acceptable state aid by the UK government and, the big one, the type of access that European (read French) fishing vessels will have to UK waters.  It seems that French President Macron is adamant that the UK give the French a (large) annual quota and be done with it, while Boris is of the mind that they should agree to meet annually and discuss the issue based on the available fish stocks and conditions.  It also seems that the rest of Europe is getting a bit annoyed at Macron as for them, the issue is not that significant.  This fact is what speaks to an eventual climb-down by Macron, but, as yet, he has not been willing to budge on the matter.  Based on the price of the pound and its recent performance (+0.2% today, +1.0% in the past week), the market clearly believes a deal will be reached.  However, that also foretells a more significant decline in the event both sides fail to reach said agreement.

So, now let’s take a look at the bullishness in markets today.  Asia saw strength across the board with the Nikkei(+1.25%) and Hang Seng (+1.3%) nicely higher and Australia (+2.6%) really showing strength.  (China remains closed virtually all week for a series of national holidays).  European indices are all green as well, albeit not quite as enthusiastic as Asia.  Thus, we have seen solid gains from the three major indices, DAX, CAC and FTSE 100, all higher by 0.7%.  And finally, US futures are pointing to a stronger opening, with current pricing showing gains of between 0.7% and 1.0%.

It should be no surprise that bond marks are under some pressure with 10-year Treasury yields up to 0.71% this morning, higher by 1 basis point on the session and 6 bps in the past week.  In fact, yields are back at their highest level in a month.  European bonds are also broadly softer (higher yields) but the movement remains muted as well, about 1bp where they have risen.  And it should also not be surprising that Italy, Portugal and Greece have seen yields decline, as those three certainly qualify as risk assets these days.

Oil prices are firmer, again taking their cue from the confidence that is infusing markets overall, while precious metals prices are flat.  And finally, the dollar is definitely softer, except against the yen, which continues to be one of the best risk indicators around.  So, in the G10 space, NOK (+0.7%) is the leader, following oil as well as benefitting from the general dollar weakness.  Next on the list is CHF (+0.5%) where data showed ongoing growth in sight deposits, an indication that capital flows continue to enter the country, despite today’s risk attitude.  But broadly speaking, the whole space is firmer.

As to EMG currencies, ZAR (+0.7%) is the leader today, with firmer commodity prices and still the highest real interest rates around keeping the rand attractive in a risk-on environment.  But it is almost the entire bloc with the CE4 (CZK +0.55%, PLN +0.45%, HUF +0.45%) showing their high EUR beta characteristics and MXN (+0.45%) also performing well, again benefitting from both firmer oil prices as well as a weaker dollar.  The one exception here is RUB (-0.5%), which appears to be suffering from the effects of the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and how much it is going to cost Russia to maintain its support for Armenia.

On the data front, it is a relatively quiet week with only a handful of numbers to be released:

Today ISM Services 56.2
Tuesday Trade Balance -$66.2B
JOLTs Job Openings 6.5M
Wednesday FOMC Minutes
Thursday Initial Claims 820K
Continuing Claims 11.4M

Source: Bloomberg

However, what we lack in data we make up for with Fedspeak, as eight different speakers, including Chairman Powell tomorrow, speak at 13 different events.  What we have heard lately is there is a growing difference of opinion by some FOMC members regarding the robustness of the US economic rebound.  However, despite those differences, the universal request is for further fiscal stimulus.  Given the dearth of data this week, I expect that Chairman Powell’s speech tomorrow morning is likely to be the most important thing we hear, barring a Brexit breakthrough or something else from the White House.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Growth Has Now Faltered

The working assumption had been
That governments soon would begin
To lift their restrictions
Across jurisdictions
From Lisbon to well past Berlin
 
But Covid had other designs
By spreading, despite strict guidelines
So, growth has now faltered
And views have been altered
Regarding recovery times
 
Remember how smug so many publications around the world seemed when comparing the spread of Covid in the US and throughout Europe?  The narrative was that despite a devastating first wave in Italy and Spain, nations on the Continent handled the situation significantly better than the chaos occurring in the US.  Much was blamed on the different types of healthcare systems, and of course, there was significant opprobrium set aside for the US president. But a funny thing has happened to that narrative lately, and it was reinforced this morning by the preliminary PMI data that was released.  Suddenly, the growth in Covid cases throughout Europe is expanding to what seems very much like a true second wave, with France and Spain leading the way, each reporting more than 10,000 cases yesterday, while in the US, we continue to see a true flattening of the curve.  The discussion in many European countries is whether or not to impose a second lockdown, as governments there try to decide if their economies and budgets can withstand such an outcome.  (I don’t envy them their choice as no matter the outcome, some people will suffer and scream loudly about the decision.)
 
But a funny thing seems to be happening within economies, despite this government wariness to act, people are making the decisions for themselves.  And so, service businesses are seeing real declines in activity as people naturally avoid restaurants, travel and entertainment companies.  And that’s just what the data shows.  PMI Services surveys showed significantly worse outcomes in France (47.5 vs. 51.5 expected), Germany (49.1 vs. 53.0) and the Eurozone as a whole (47.6 vs. 50.6).  In other words, it appears that people are pretty good at self-preservation, and will not put themselves knowingly at risk without a good reason.  Getting a pint at the local pub is clearly not a good enough reason.
 
For elected policymakers, however, this is the worst of all worlds.  Not only does economic activity contract, for which they will be blamed, but they are not making the decisions for the people, which appears to be their primary motivation in so many cases.  Of course, there is a class of policymakers to whom this outcome is seen as a pure benefit…central bankers.  It is this group who gets to continue to preen about all they have done to support the markets economy, and while the Fintwit community blasts them regularly, the bulk of the population sees them as saviors.  Central banking continues to be a pretty good gig.  Lots of power, no responsibility.
 
Meanwhile, the investment community, including those blasting the central bankers on Fintwit, continue to take advantage of the ongoing central bank largesse and pump asset prices ever higher.  While there was a very short correction back at the beginning of the month, now that merely seems like a bad dream.  And if the data continues to turn lower, the one thing we know is that central banks will step further on the accelerator, announcing greater asset purchase programs, and potentially dragging a few more countries (is the UK next?) into the negative rate world.
 
But that is the world in which we live, whether or not we like it, or agree with the policies.  And as our focus is on markets, we need to be able to describe them and try to understand the evolving trends.  Today, and really this week, that trend continues to see the dollar grind higher despite the fact that we have seen both up and down equity market activity.  In other words, this does not appear to be simply a risk-off related USD rally.  Rather, this appears to be a USD rally built on short-term economic fundamentals.  Remember, FX is a relative game, and even if things in the US are not great, if they are perceived as better than elsewhere, that is sufficient to help drive the value of the dollar higher.  One other thing to note regarding the current market activity is that the hysteria over the dollar’s ‘imminent collapse’, which was all the rage throughout the summer, seems to have completely disappeared. 
 
So, turning to this morning’s session, we find equity markets in the green around the world.  Yesterday’s US rally was followed by a fairly dull Asian session (Nikkei -0.1%, Hang Seng +0.1%) but Europe has really exploded higher.  It seems that the weakening economic data has convinced investors the ECB will be even more active in their policy mix, thus adding more support to equity markets there.  Hence today’s gains (DAX +1.6%, CAC +1.8%, FTSE 100 +2.3%) are a direct response to the weaker data.  It appears we are in the bad news is good phase for investors.  Not to worry, US futures are also pointing higher, albeit not quite as aggressively as we are seeing in Europe.
 
Bond markets remain somnolent as 10-year Treasury yields are at 0.675%, essentially unchanged from yesterday and right in the middle of the tiny 7 basis point range we have seen since September 1st.  (For those of you who were disappointed the Fed did not announce yield curve control, the reason is that they already have it, there is no need to announce it!)  At the same time, German bunds are unchanged on the day, and also mired within a fairly tight, 10bp range.  But the ongoing winners are Italy and Greece, who have seen their 10-year yields decline by 2 and 3 basis points, respectively today, with Italy’s down more than 25 basis points since the beginning of the month.
 
The strong dollar is having a deleterious impact in one market, gold, which has fallen 0.4% today and is now lower by nearly 10% from the highs seen in early August.  The driving forces of the rally remain in place, with real rates still under pressure and inflation still percolating, but it was a very overcrowded trade that seems to be getting unwound lately.
 
Finally, a look at the dollar vs. its G10 brethren shows that commodity currencies are the worst performers today with AUD and NZD both lower by -0.6%, while NOK (-0.5%) and CAD (-0.2%) complete the list.  However, at this hour, the entire bloc is softer vs. the dollar.  In the emerging markets, one needn’t be prescient to have guessed that MXN (-0.85%) and ZAR (-0.75%) are the leading decliners given the combination of their recent volatility and connection to commodity prices.  RUB (-0.6%) is also a leading decliner, suffering from the commodity market malaise, but frankly, APAC and CE4 currencies are also somewhat softer this morning.  This is all about USD strength though, not specific currency story weakness.
 
On the data front, yesterday’s Existing Home Sales were right on the button at 6.0M, as I mentioned, the highest reading since the middle of 2007.  Today the only thing to see is Markit’s US PMI data, expected to print at 53.5 for Manufacturing and 54.5 for Services.  Given the European readings, it will be quite interesting to see if the same pattern is evolving here.
 
Yesterday we also heard from Chairman Powell, but all he said was that the Fed has plenty of ammo and has done a great job, but things would be better if Congress passed another fiscal stimulus bill.  No surprises there.
 
This morning’s USD strength, while broad-based, is shallow.  Perhaps the biggest thing working in the dollar’s favor right now is the size of the short-USD positioning and the fact that recent price action is starting to warm up the technicians for a more sustained move higher.  I think that trend remains but believe we will need to see some real confirmational data to help it extend.
 
Good luck and stay safe
Adf
 
 

Singing Off-Tune

The Jobless report showed that June
Saw Payroll growth really balloon
But stubbornly, Claims
Are fanning the flames
Of bears, who keep singing off-tune

Markets are quiet this morning as not only is it a summer Friday, but US equity and commodity markets are closed to celebrate the July 4th holiday. In fact, it is curious that it is not a Fed holiday. But with a limited and illiquid session on the horizon, let’s take a quick peak at yesterday’s data and some thoughts about its impact.

The Jobless report was clearly better than expected on virtually every statistic. Payrolls rose more than expected (4.8M vs. exp 3.06M) while the Unemployment Rate fell substantially (11.1% from 13.3%). Happily, the Participation Rate also rose which means that the country is getting back to work. It should be no surprise that this was touted as a great outcome by one and all.

Of course, there was some less positive news, at least for those who were seeking it out. The Initial and Continuing Claims data, both of which are much more current, declined far less than expected. The problem here is that while tremendous progress was made in June from where things were before, it seems that progress may be leveling off at much worse than desired numbers.

It seems there are two things at work here. First, the second wave of Covid is forcing a change in the timeline of the reopening of the economy. Several states, notably Texas and California, are reimposing lockdowns and closing businesses, like bars and restaurants, that had reopened. This is also slowing the reopening of other states’ economies. Second is the pending end of some of the CARES act programs, notably PPP, which has seen the money run out and layoffs occur now, rather than in April. It is entirely realistic that the Initial and Continuing Claims data run at these much higher levels going forward for a while as different businesses wrestle with the right size for their workforce in the new economy.

Odds are we will see a second stimulus bill at some point this summer, but it is not yet a certainty, nor is it clear how large it will be or what it will target. But it would be a mistake to assume that the road ahead will be smooth.

The other potential market impacting news was this morning’s European Services PMI data, which was generally slightly better than expected, but still pointing to slowing growth. For instance, Germany’s Services number was at 47.3, obviously well above the April print of 16.2, but still pointing to a slowing economy. And that was largely the case everywhere.

The point is that nothing we have seen either yesterday or today indicates that the global economy is actually growing relative to 2019. It is simply not shrinking as quickly as before. The implication here is that central banks will continue to add liquidity to their respective economies through additional asset purchases and, for those with positive interest rates still, further rate cuts. Governments will be loath to stop their fiscal stimulus as well, especially those who face elections in the near-term. But in the end, 2020 is going to be a decidedly lost year when it comes to the world’s economy!

On the market side, risk generally remained in demand overnight as Asian equity markets continued to rally (Nikkei +0.7%, Hang Seng +1.0%, Shanghai +2.0%). Will someone please explain to me how Hong Kong’s stock market continues to rally in the face of the draconian new laws imposed by Beijing on the freedom’s formerly available to its citizens? While I certainly don’t have proof, this must be coordinated buying by Chinese government institutions trying to demonstrate that everything there is great.

However, despite the positive cast of APAC markets, Europe has turned red this morning with the DAX (-0.2%), CAC (-0.7%) and FTSE 100 (-0.9%) all under pressure. Each nation has a story today starting with Germany’s Angela Merkel trying to expand fiscal stimulus, not only in Germany, but fighting for the EU program as well. Meanwhile, in France, President Macron has shaken up his entire government and replace most of the top positions including PM and FinMin. Finally, the UK is getting set to reopen tomorrow, and citizens are expected to be ready to head back to a more normal life.

In the bond markets, while US markets are closed, we are seeing a very modest bid for European government bonds, but yields are only about 1 basis point lower on the day. Commodity markets show that oil is once again under pressure, down a bit more than 1% but still hanging onto the $40/bbl level.

Turning to currencies, in the G10, only NOK (+0.4%) is showing any real life today as its Unemployment Rate printed at a lower than expected 4.8% encouraging some to believe it is leading the way back in Europe. Otherwise, this bloc is doing nothing, with some gainers and some losers and no direction.

In emerging markets, the story is of two weak links, IDR (-1.0%) and RUB (-0.9%). The former, which has been falling for more than a week, is suffering from concerns over debt monetization by the central bank there, something that I’m sure will afflict many currencies going forward. As to the ruble, the only explanation can be the oil price decline as their PMI data was better than expected, although still below 50.0. But there are issues there regarding the spread of the infection as well, and concerns over the potential imposition of new sanctions by the US.

And that is really it for the day. With no data or speakers here, look for markets to close by lunchtime, so if you have something to do, get it done sooner rather than later.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend and stay safe
Adf

 

It’s Over

“It’s over”, Navarro replied
When asked if the trade deal had died
The stock market’s dump
Forced President Trump
To tweet the deal’s still verified

What we learned last night is that the market is still highly focused on the trade situation between the US and China. Peter Navarro, the Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, was interviewed and when asked if, given all the issues that have been ongoing between the two countries, the trade deal was over, he replied, “it’s over, yes.” The market response was swift, with US equity futures plummeting nearly 2% in minutes, with similar price action seen in Tokyo and Sydney, before the president jumped on Twitter to explain that the deal was “fully intact.”

One possible lesson to be gleaned from this story is that the market has clearly moved on from the coronavirus, per se, and instead is now focusing on the ramifications of all the virus has already wrought. The latest forecasts from the OECD show trade volumes are expected to plummet by between 10% and 15% this year, although are expected to rebound sharply in 2021. The key is that infection counts and fatality rates are no longer market drivers. Instead, we are back to economic data points.

Arguably, this is a much better scenario for investors as these variables have been studied far more extensively with their impact on economic activity reasonably well understood. It is with this in mind that I would humbly suggest we have moved into a new phase of the Covid impact on the world; from fear, initially, to panicked government response, and now on to economic fallout. Its not that the economic impact was unimportant before, but it came as an afterthought to the human impact. Now, despite the seeming resurgence in infections in many spots around the world, at least from the global market’s perspective, we are back to trade data and economic stories.

This was also made evident by all the talk regarding today’s preliminary PMI data out of Europe, which showed French numbers above 50 and the Eurozone, as a whole, back to a 47.5 reading on the Composite index. However, this strikes me as a significant misunderstanding of what this data describes. Remember, the PMI question is, are things better, worse or the same as last month? Now, while April was the nadir of depression-like economic activity, last month represented the second worst set of numbers recorded amidst global shutdowns across many industries. It is not a great stretch to believe that this month is better than last. But this does not indicate in any manner that the economy is back to any semblance of normal. After all, if we were back to normal, would we all still be working from home and wearing masks everywhere? So yes, things are better than the worst readings from April and May, but as we will learn when the hard data arrives, the economic situation remains dire worldwide.

But while the economic numbers may be awful, that has not stopped investors traders Robinhooders from taking the bull by the horns and pouring more energy into driving stocks higher still. Of course, they are goaded on by the President, but they seem to have plenty of determination on their own. Here’s an interesting tidbit, the market cap of the three largest companies, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon now represents more than 20% of US GDP! To many, that seems a tad excessive, and will be pointed to, after prices correct, as one of the greatest excesses created in this market.

And today is no different, with the risk bit in their teeth, equity markets are once again trading higher across the board. Once the little trade hiccup had passed, buyers came out of the woodwork and we saw Asia (Nikkei +0.5%, Hang Seng +1.6%, Shanghai +0.2%) and Europe (DAX +2.7%, CAC +1.6%, FTSE 100 +1.2%) all steam higher. US futures are also pointing in that direction, currently up between 0.6% and 0.8%. Treasury yields are edging higher as haven assets continue to lose their allure, with 10-year Treasury yields up another basis point and 2bp rises seen throughout European markets. Interestingly, there is one haven that is performing well today, gold, which is up just 0.15% this morning, but has rallied more than 5% in the past two weeks and is back to levels not seen since 2012.

Of course, the gold explanation is likely to reside in the dollar, which in a more typical risk-on environment like we are currently experiencing, is sliding with gusto. Yesterday’s weakness has continued today with most G10 currencies firmer led by NOK (+0.9%) and SEK (+0.75%) on the back of oil’s ongoing rebound and general optimism about future growth. It should be no surprise that the yen has declined again, but its 0.1% fall is hardly earth shattering. Of more interest is the pound (-0.3%) which after an early surge on the back of the UK PMI data (Mfg 50.1), has given it all back and then some as talk of the UK economy faring worse than either the US or Europe is making the rounds.

In the EMG bloc, the dollar’s weakness is broad-based with MXN and KRW (+0.6% each) leading the way but INR an PLN (+0.5% each) close behind. As can be seen, there is no one geographic area either leading or lagging which is simply indicative of the fact that this is a dollar story, not a currency one.

On the data front in the US, while we also get the PMI data, it has never been seen as quite as important as the ISM data due next week. However, expectations are for a 50.0 reading in the Manufacturing and 48.0 in the Services indices. We also see New Home Sales (exp 640K) which follow yesterday’s disastrous Existing Home Sales data (3.91M, exp 4.09M and the worst print since 2010 right after the GFC.) We hear from another Fed speaker today, James Bullard the dove, but I have to admit that Chairman Powell has everybody on the FOMC singing from the same hymnal, so don’t expect any surprises there.

Instead, today is very clearly risk-on implying that the dollar ought to continue to trade a bit lower. My hypothesis about the dollar leading stocks last week has clearly come a cropper, and we are, instead, back to the way things were. Risk on means a weaker dollar and vice versa.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Dire Straits

In Europe, that grouping of states
Now find themselves in dire straits
The PMI data
Described a schemata
Of weakness and endless low rates

In the past, economists and analysts would build big econometric models with multiple variables and then, as new data was released, those models would spit out new estimates of economic activity. All of these models were based on calculating the historic relationships between specific variables and broader growth outcomes. Generally speaking, they were pretty lousy. Some would seem to work for a time, but the evolution of the economy was far faster than the changes made in the models, so they would fall out of synch. And that was before Covid-19 pushed the pace of economic change to an entirely new level. So now, higher frequency data does a far better job of giving indications as to the economic situation around the world. This is why the Initial Claims data (due this morning and currently expected at 4.5M) has gained in the eyes of both investors and economists compared to the previous champ, Nonfarm Payrolls. The latter is simply old news by the time it is released.

There is, however, another type of data that is seen as quite timely, the survey data. Specifically, PMI data is seen as an excellent harbinger of future activity, with a much stronger track record of successfully describing inflection points in the economy. And that’s what makes this morning’s report so disheartening. Remember, the PMI question simply asks each respondent whether activity is better, the same or worse than the previous month. They then subtract the percentage of worse from the percentage of better and, voila, PMI. With that in mind, this morning’s PMI results were spectacularly awful.

Country Manufacturing Services Composite
France 31.5 10.4 11.2
Germany 34.4 15.9 17.1
UK 32.9 12.3 12.9
Eurozone 33.6 11.7 13.5

Source: Bloomberg

In each case, the data set new historic lows, and given the service-oriented nature of developed economies, it cannot be that surprising that the Services number fell to levels far lower than manufacturing. After all, social distancing is essentially about stopping the provision of individual services. But still, if you do the math, in France 94.8% of Service businesses said that things were worse in April than in March. That’s a staggering number, and across the entire continent, even worse than the dire predictions that had been made ahead of the release.

With this in mind, two things make more sense. First, the euro is under pressure this morning, falling 0.6% as I type and heading back toward the lows seen last month. Despite all the discussion of how the Fed’s much more significant policy ease will ultimately undermine the dollar, the short-term reality continues to be, the euro has much bigger fundamental problems and so is far less attractive. The other thing is the ECB’s announcement last evening that they were following the Fed’s example and would now be accepting junk bonds as collateral, as long as those bonds were investment grade as of April 7. This is an attempt to prevent Italian debt, currently rated BBB with a negative outlook, from being removed from the acceptable collateral list when if Standard & Poor’s downgrades them to junk tomorrow. Italian yields currently trade at a 242bp premium to German yields in the 10-year bucket, and if they rise much further, it will simply call into question the best efforts of PM Conte to try to support the Italian economy. After all, unlike the US, Italy cannot print unlimited euros to fund themselves.

Keeping all that happy news in mind, market performance this morning is actually a lot better than you might expect. Equities in Asian markets were mixed with the Nikkei up nicely, +1.5%, but Shanghai slipping a bit, -0.2%. Another problem in Asia is Singapore, where early accolades about preventing the spread of Covid-19 have fallen by the wayside as the infection rate there spikes and previous efforts to reopen the economy are halted or reversed. Interestingly, the Asian PMI data was relatively much better than Europe, with Japanese Services data at 22.8. Turning to Europe, the picture remains mixed with the DAX (-0.3%) and FTSE 100 (-0.3%) slipping while the CAC (+0.1%) has managed to keep its head above water. The best performer on the Continent is Italy (+1.0%) as the ECB decision is seen as a win for all Italian markets. US futures markets are modestly negative at this time, but just 0.2% or so, thus it is hard to get a sense of the opening.

Bond markets are also having a mixed day, with the weakest links in Europe, the PIGS, all rallying smartly with yields lower by between 5bps (Italy) and 19bps (Greece). Treasury yields, however, have actually edged higher by a basis point, though still yield just 0.63%. And finally, the dollar, too, is having a mixed session. In the G10 bloc, the euro and Swiss franc are at the bottom of the list today, with Switzerland inextricably tied to the Eurozone and its foibles. On the plus side, NOK has jumped 1.0% as oil prices, after their early week collapse, are actually rebounding nicely this morning with WTI higher by 12.4% ($1.70/bbl), although still at just $15.50/bbl. Aussie (+0.6%) and Kiwi (+0.75%) are also in the green, as both have seen sharp recent declines moderate.

EMG currencies also present a mixed picture, with the ruble on top of the charts, +1.4%, on the strength of the oil market rebound. India’s rupee has also performed well overnight, rising 0.8%, as the market anticipates further monetary support from the Reserve bank there. While there are other gainers, none of the movement is significant. On the other side of the ledger, the CE4 are all under pressure, tracking the euro’s decline with the lot of them down between 0.3% and 0.5%. I must mention BRL as well, which while it hasn’t opened yet today, fell 2.6% yesterday as the market responded to BCB President Campos Neto indicating that further rate cuts were coming and that QE in the future is entirely realistic. The BRL carry trade has been devastated with the short-term Selic rate now sitting at 3.75%, and clearly with room to fall.

Aside from this morning’s Initial Claims data, we see Continuing Claims (exp 16.74M), which run at a one week lag, and then we get US PMI data (Mfg 35.0, Services 30.0) at 9:45. Finally at 10:00 comes New Home Sales, which are forecast to have declined by 16% in March to 644K.

The big picture remains that economic activity is still slowing down around the world with the reopening of economies still highly uncertain in terms of timing. Equity markets have been remarkable in their ability to ignore what have been historically awful economic outcomes, but at some point, I fear that the next leg lower will be coming. As to the dollar, it remains the haven of choice, and so is likely to remain well bid overall for the foreseeable future.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf