Some Other Soul

It seems like Prime Minister May
Is quickly approaching the day
When some other soul
Will try to control
The mess Brexit’s caused the UK

Once again, the pound is the lead story as the slow motion train wreck, also known as the Brexit process, continues to unfold. Yesterday, you may recall, PM May was promising to present her much reviled Brexit deal to Parliament for a fourth time, with new promises that if it was passed, the UK would hold a second referendum on the subject. However, not only did the opposition Labour party trash the idea, so did most of her own Conservative party, as well as the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, which is the group that has helped her maintain control for the past two years. At this point, her previous idea of having one more vote the first week of June and then stepping down seems to be dead. The latest news is the pressure from her own cabinet is mounting quickly enough to force her to step down as soon as this week. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, who was a key cheerleader for Brexit in the run-up to the initial vote and spent time as Foreign Minister in PM May’s government, is the favorite to move into Number 10 Downing Street. He has made it clear that he is quite willing to simply walk away from the EU with no deal.

With that as the political backdrop, it should be no surprise that the pound continues to suffer. This morning it is lower by 0.3% and is now trading less than a penny from its 2019 lows, which were established back on January 2nd. It is very difficult to create a scenario where the pound rebounds in the short term. Unless there is a massive shift in thinking in Parliament, or the EU decides that they will concede to UK demands regarding the Irish backstop (remember that?), the market is going to continue to price in the probability of a hard Brexit ever so slowly. The post-Brexit vote low of 1.1906, back in October 2016 is on the radar in my view. That said, it will take a while to reach it unless Boris becomes PM and summarily exits the EU. At that point, the pound will fall much faster.

Ironically, the economic data from the UK continues to show an economy that, while having some difficulty, is outperforming many other areas. This morning’s CPI data showed inflation at 2.1%, a tick below expectations and essentially right at the BOE’s target. I am constantly amused by Governor Carney’s comments that he will need to raise rates due to a potential inflation shock. At this point, that seems like an extremely low risk. Granted, given the openness of the UK economy, if the pound were to collapse in the wake of a hard Brexit, inflation would almost certainly rise initially. The question, I think, is whether that would be seen as a temporary shock, or the beginning of a trend. Arguably, the former would be more likely.

Away from the UK, the FX market has been reevaluating its views on EMG currencies and thus far, the verdict is…they suck! While I have highlighted the weakness seen in the Chinese yuan while the trade war brews, I have been less focused on other currencies which have been collateral damage to that war. But there has been significant damage in all three EMG areas. For example, even excluding the Argentine peso, which has all kind of domestic issues unrelated to trade and has fallen nearly 6% this month and more than 26% this year, LATAM currencies have suffered significantly this month. For example, USDBRL is trading back above 4.00 for the first time since last October and is down by 3.0% in May. We have seen similar weakness in both the Colombian and Chilean pesos, down 5% and 4% respectively. In fact, the Mexican peso is the region’s top performer, down just 0.5% this month although it had been weaker earlier in May. It seems that the trade war is acting as a benefit on the assumption that supply chains are going to find their way from China to Mexico in order to supply the US.

It ought not be surprising that many APAC currencies have also performed quite poorly this month led by KRW’s 4% decline and IDR’s 3.2% fall. Even the Taiwan dollar, historically one of the least volatile currencies is feeling the pressure, especially since the Huawei sanctions, and has fallen more than 1.2% in the past week, and for the month overall. Granted, these moves may not seem as large as the LATAM currencies, but historically, APAC currencies are more tightly controlled and thus less volatile. And there is one exception to this, the Indian rupee, which is basically unchanged on the month. This relative strength has a twofold explanation; first India is poised to benefit as a supplier to the US in the wake of the trade war, and second, the surprisingly strong showing of PM Narendra Modi in the recent election was taken as a positive given his pro-business platform.

Finally, a look at EEMEA shows weakness across the board here as well, albeit not quite as drastically. For example, TRY has fallen 4.5% this month, although the cause seems self-inflicted rather than from outside events. The ongoing political turmoil and inability of the central bank to tighten policy given President Erdogan’s clear opposition to that has encouraged foreign investors to flee. But we have also seen HUF fall 2.5%, and weakness in the Scandies with both NOK and SEK down more than 2.0% this month.

All in all, you can see that the dollar has been ascendant this month as a combination of slowing global growth, trade concerns and the relative outperformance of the US economy continues to draw inflows.

Looking at the data picture, the only US release is the FOMC Minutes at 2:00 this afternoon. Analysts are going to be parsing the comments to see if they can determine if there is building sentiment regarding an ‘insurance’ rate cut. Certainly, some members are willing to go down that road as we heard from St Louis Fed President Bullard yesterday saying just that. There are a number of other speakers today, and in truth, it does seem as though there is an evolution in the FOMC’s thinking. Remember, the market is pricing a cut before the end of the year, and if we continue to see mixed economic data and inflation’s dip proves more than ‘transitory’, I think we will see a consensus build in that direction. While in the very short run, a decision like that could be a dollar negative, my sense is that if the Fed starts to cut, we will see the rest of the world’s central banks ease further thus offsetting the negative impact.

Good luck
Adf

 

Truly Displeasing

Down Under the story’s that rates
May soon fall, which just demonstrates
That growth there is easing
Thus truly displeasing
The central bank head and his mates

The RBA Minutes were released last evening and the central bank in the lucky country is not feeling very good. Governor Lowe and his team painted two, arguably similar, scenarios under which the RBA would need to cut rates; a worsening of the employment situation or a continued lack of inflation (driven by a worsening of the employment situation). We have been hearing this tune from Lowe for the past several months and the market is already pricing in more than one full 25bp cut before the end of 2019. However, as is often the case, when these theories are confirmed the market adjusts further. And so, it should be no surprise that AUD is lower again this morning, falling 0.35% and now trading back to the lows last seen in January 2016. For a bit more perspective, the last time Aussie was trading below these levels was during the financial crisis in Q1 2009 amidst a full-on risk blowout. But the combination of slowing Chinese growth, and generic dollar strength is taking a toll on the Aussie dollar. The trend here is lower and appears to have further room to run. Hedgers take note!

In England, meanwhile, it appears
The outcome that everyone fears
A no-deal decision
Might soon be the vision
And Sterling might weaken for years

Turning to the UK, the odds of a hard Brexit seem to be increasing by the day. As the EU elections, scheduled for later this week, approach, the hardline Tories are in the ascendancy. Nigel Farage, one of the most vocal anti-EU voices, is leading his new Brexit party into the elections and they are set to do quite well. At the same time, Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Minister in PM May’s government, as well as former Mayor of London, and also a strong anti-EU voice, is now the leading candidate to replace May in the ongoing leadership struggle. The PM is still trying to push water uphill find support for her thrice defeated bill, but it should be no surprise that, so far, that support has yet to materialize. After all, it was hated three times already and not a single word in the bill has changed. At this point, her only hope is that the increasingly real threat of a PM Johnson, who has stated he will simply exit the EU quickly, may be enough to get those wavering to come to her side. Based on the FX market price action over the past three weeks, however, it is becoming clearer that her bill is going to fail yet again.

Since the beginning of the month, the pound has fallen 3.6% (-0.25% today) and is trading at levels last seen in early January. As this trend progresses, it looks increasingly likely that the market will test the post-Brexit lows of 1.1906. And, of course, if Johnson is the next PM and he does pull out of the EU without a deal, an initial move to 1.10 seems quite viable. Once again, hedgers beware. As an aside, do not think for a moment that the euro will go unscathed in a hard Brexit. It would be quite easy to see a 2%-3% decline immediately, although I suspect that would moderate far more quickly than the damage to the pound.

Turning our eyes eastward, we see that the ongoing trade war (it has clearly escalated past a spat) between the US and China continues to have ramifications in the FX markets. Not only is the yuan continuing to weaken (-0.2% today) but other currencies are starting to feel the brunt. The most obvious loser has been the Korean won (-0.15% overnight) which has fallen 5.4% in the past month. While the central bank there is clearly concerned, given the cause of the movement and the strong trend, there is very little they can do to halt the slide other than raising interest rates aggressively. However, that would be devastating for the South Korean economy, so it appears that there is further room for this to decline as well. All eyes are on the 1200 level, which last traded in the major dollar rally in the beginning of 2017.

Do you see the trend yet? The dollar is continuing its strengthening tendencies across the board this morning. Other news adding fuel to the fire was the latest revision of OECD growth forecasts, where the US data was upgraded to 2.6% for 2019 while virtually every other area (UK, China, Eurozone, Japan, etc.) was downgraded by 0.1%-0.2%. It should be no surprise that the dollar remains well-bid in this environment.

Turning to the data this week, it is quite sparse as follows:

Today Existing Home Sales 5.35M
Wednesday FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 215K
  New Home Sales 675K
Friday Durable Goods -2.0%
  -ex transport 0.2%

Obviously, all eyes will be on the Minutes tomorrow, but the data set is not very enticing. That said, we do hear from eight more Fed speakers across a total of ten speeches (Atlanta’s Rafael Bostic is up three times this week). Yesterday, Chairman Powell explained that while corporate debt levels are high, this is no repeat of the mortgage crisis from 2008. Of course, Chairman Bernanke was quite clear, at the time, that the mortgage situation was “contained” just before the bottom fell out. I’m not implying the end is nigh, simply that the track record of Fed Chairs regarding forecasting market and economic dislocations is pretty dismal. At this time, there is no evidence that the Fed is going to do anything on the interest rate front although the futures market continues to price for nearly 50bps of rate cuts this year. And when it comes to forecasting, the futures market has a much better track record. Just sayin’.

All told, at this point there is no reason to think the dollar is going to reverse any of its recent strength, and in fact, seems likely to add to it going forward.

Good luck
Adf

The Chaff from the Wheat

As markets await the report
On Payrolls they’re having to sort
The chaff from the wheat
From Threadneedle Street
As Carney, does rate hikes exhort

The gloom that had been permeating the analyst community (although certainly not the equity markets) earlier this year, seems to be lifting slightly. Recent data has shown a stabilization, at the very least, if not the beginnings of outright growth, from key regions around the world. The latest news was this morning’s surprising Eurozone inflation numbers, where CPI rose a more than expected 1.7% in April, while the core rate rose 1.2%, matching the highest level it has seen in the past two years. If this is truly a trend, then perhaps that long delayed normalization of monetary policy in the Eurozone may finally start to occur. Personally, I’m not holding my breath. Interestingly, the FX market has responded by selling the euro with the single currency down 0.2% this morning and 1.0% since Wednesday’s close. I guess that market doesn’t see the case for higher Eurozone rates yet.

In the meantime, the market continues to consider BOE Governor Carney’s comments in the wake of yesterday’s meeting, where he tried to convince one and all that the tendency for UK rates will be higher once Brexit is finalized (and assuming a smooth transition). And perhaps, if there truly is a global recovery trend and policy normalization becomes a reality elsewhere, that will be the case. But here, too, the market does not seem to believe him as evidenced by the pound’s ongoing weakness (-0.3% and back below 1.30) and the fact that interest rate futures continue to price in virtually no chance of rate hikes in the UK before 2021.

While we are discussing the pound, there is one other thing that continues to confuse me, the very fact that it is still trading either side of 1.30. If you believe the narrative, the UK cannot leave the EU without a deal, so there is no chance of a hard Brexit. After all, isn’t that what Parliament voted for? In addition, according to the OECD, the pound at 1.30 is undervalued by 12% or so. Combining these two themes, no chance of a hard Brexit and a massively undervalued pound, with the fact that the Fed has seemingly turned dovish would lead one to believe that the pound should be trading closer to 1.40 than 1.30. And yet, here we are. My take is that the market is not yet convinced that a hard Brexit is off the table or else the pound would be much higher. And frankly, in this case, I agree. It is still not clear to me that a hard Brexit is off the table which means that any true resolution to the situation should result in a sharp rally in the pound.

Pivoting to the rest of the FX market, the dollar is stronger pretty much across the board this morning, and this is after a solid performance yesterday. US data yesterday showed a significant jump in Nonfarm Productivity (+3.6%) along with a decline in Unit Labor Costs (-0.9%), thus implying that corporate activity was quite robust and the growth picture in the US enhanced. We also continue to see US earnings data that is generally beating (quite low) expectations and helping to underpin the equity market’s recent gains. Granted the past two days have seen modest declines, but overall, stocks remain much higher on the year. In the end, it continues to appear that despite all the angst over trade, and current US policies regarding energy, climate and everything else, the US remains a very attractive place to invest and dollars continue to be in demand.

Regarding this morning’s data, not only do we see the payroll report, but also the ISM Non-manufacturing number comes at 10:00.

Nonfarm Payrolls 185K
Private Payrolls 180K
Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
Unemployment Rate 3.8%
Participation Rate 62.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.3% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.5
ISM Non-Manufacturing 57.0

One cannot help but be impressed with the labor market in the US, where for the last 102 months, the average NFP number has been 200K. It certainly doesn’t appear that this trend is going to change today. In fact, after Wednesday’s blowout ADP number, the whisper is for something north of 200K. However, Wednesday’s ISM Manufacturing number was disappointingly weak, so there will be a great deal of scrutiny on today’s non-manufacturing view.

Adding to the mix, starting at 10:15 we will hear from a total of five Fed speakers (Evans, Clarida, Williams, Bowman, Bullard) before we go to bed. While Bullard’s speech is after the markets close, the other four will get to recount their personal views on the economy and future policy path with markets still open. However, given that we just heard from Chairman Powell at his press conference, and that the vote to leave rates was unanimous, it seems unlikely we will learn too much new information from these talks.

Summing up, heading into the payroll report the dollar is firm and shows no signs of retreating. My take is a good number will support the buck, while a weak one will get people thinking about that insurance rate cut again, and likely undermine its recent strength. My money is on a better number today, something like 230K, and a continuation of the last two days of dollar strength.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

So Despised

Is anyone truly surprised
That Parliament, once authorized
To find a solution
Found no substitution
For May’s deal that they so despised?

One of the more confusing aspects of recent market activity was the rally in the pound when Parliament wrested control of the Brexit process from PM May. The idea that a group of 650 fractious politicians could possibly agree on a single idea, especially one so fraught with risks and complexities, was always absurd. And so, predictably, yesterday Parliament voted on seven different proposals, each designed to be a path forward, and none of them even came close to achieving a majority of votes. This included a vote to prevent a no-deal Brexit. In the meantime, PM May has now indicated she will resign regardless of the outcome, which, arguably, will only lead to more chaos as a leadership fight will now consume the Tories. In the meantime, there is still only one deal on the table, and it doesn’t appear to have the votes to become law. As such, while I understand that the idea of a hard Brexit is anathema to so many, it cannot be dismissed as a potential outcome. It should not be very surprising that the FX market is taking the idea a bit more seriously this morning, although only a bit, as the pound has fallen a further 0.4%, which makes the move a total of 1.0% lower in the past twenty-four hours.

One way to look at the pound’s value is as a probability weighted price of three potential outcomes; no deal, passing May’s deal and a long delay. Based on my views that spot would trade to 1.20, 1.38 or 1.40 depending on those outcomes, and assigning probabilities of 40%, 20% and 40% to those outcomes, spot is actually right where it belongs near 1.3160. But that leaves room for a lot of movement!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the FX market, volatility is making a comeback. Between Turkey (-5.0%), Brazil (-3.0%) and Argentina (-3.0%), it seems that traders are beginning to awaken from their month’s long hiatus. Apparently, the monetary policy anesthesia that had been administered by central banks globally is wearing off. As it happens, each of these currencies is dealing with local specifics. For instance, upcoming elections in Turkey have President Erdogan on the defensive as his iron grip on power seems to be rusting and he tries to crack down on speculators in the lira. Meanwhile, recently elected Brazilian president Bolsonaro has seen his honeymoon end quite abruptly with his approval ratings collapsing and concerns over his ability to implement key policies seen as desirable by the markets, notably pension reform. Finally, Argentine president Macri remains under pressure as the slowing global growth picture severely restricts local economic activity although inflation continues to run away to unsustainable levels (4% per month!) and the peso, not surprisingly is suffering.

As to the G10, activity there has been less impressive although the dollar’s tone this morning is one of strength, not weakness. In fact, risk continues to be jettisoned by investors as can be seen by the continuing rally in government bonds (Treasury yields falling to 2.35%, Bund yields to -0.07%, JGB’s to -0.09%) while equity markets were weak in Asia and have gained no traction in Europe. Adding to the impression of risk-off has been the yen’s rally (0.2% overnight, 1.0% in the past week), a reliable indicator of market sentiment.

Turning to the data, yesterday saw the Trade Balance shrink dramatically, to -$51.1B, a much lower deficit than expected, and sufficient to positively impact Q1 GDP measurement by a few tenths of a percent. This morning we see the last reading on Q4 GDP (exp 1.8%) as well as Initial Claims (225K). Given the backward-looking nature of Q4 data, it seems unlikely today’s print will impact markets. One exception to this thought would be a much weaker than expected print, which may convince some investors the global slowdown is more advanced than previously thought with equities selling off accordingly. But a better number is likely to be ignored. We also hear from (count ‘em) six more Fed speakers today (Quarles, Clarida, Bowman, Williams, Bostic and Bullard), but given the consistency of recent comments by others it seems doubtful we will learn anything new. To recap, every FOMC member believes that waiting is the right thing to do now and that they should only respond when the data indicates there is a change, either rising inflation or a significant slowing in the economy. Although the market continues to price rate cuts before the end of the year, as yet, there is no indication that Fed members are close to believing that is necessary.

Ultimately, the same key stories are at the fore in markets. Brexit, as discussed above, slowing global growth and the monetary policy actions being taken to ameliorate that, and the US-China trade talks, which are resuming but have made no new progress. One of the remarkable features of markets lately has been the resilience of equity prices despite a constant drumbeat of bad economic news. Investors have truly placed an enormous amount of faith in central banks (specifically the Fed and ECB) to be able to come to the rescue again and again and again. Thus far, that faith has been rewarded, but keep in mind that the toolkit continues to dwindle, so that level of support is likely to diminish. In the end, I continue to see the dollar as a key beneficiary of the current policy mix, as well as the most likely ones for the near future.

Good luck
Adf

 

Rapidly Falling

Magnanimous is the EU
Extending the deadline for two
Weeks so that May
Might still get her way
And England can bid them adieu

But data this morning displayed
That Eurozone growth, as surveyed
Was rapidly falling
While Mario’s stalling
And hopes for a rebound now fade

On a day where it appeared the biggest story would be the short delay granted by the EU for the UK to try to make up their collective mind on Brexit, some data intruded and changed the tone of the market. No one can complain things are dull, that’s for sure!

Eurozone PMI data was released this morning, or actually the Flash version which comes a bit sooner, and the results were, in a word, awful.

German Manufacturing PMI 44.7
German Composite PMI 51.5
French Manufacturing PMI 49.8
French Composite PMI 48.7
Eurozone Manufacturing PMI 47.6
Eurozone Composite PMI 51.3

You may have noticed that manufacturing throughout the Eurozone is below that key 50.0 level signaling contraction. All the data was worse than expected and the German Manufacturing number was the worst since 2012 in the midst of the Eurobond crisis. It can be no surprise that the ECB eased policy last week, and perhaps is only surprising that they didn’t do more. And it can be no surprise that the euro has fallen sharply on the release, down 0.6% today, and it has now erased all of this week’s gains completely. As I constantly remind everyone, FX is a relative game. While the Fed clearly surprised on the dovish side, the reality is that other countries all have significant economic concerns and what we have learned in the past two weeks is that virtually every central bank (Norway excepted) is doubling down on further policy ease. It is for this reason that I disagree with the dollar bears. There is simply no other economy that is performing so well that it will draw significant investment flows, and since the US has about the highest yields in the G10 economies, it is a pretty easy equation for investors.

Now to Brexit, where the EU ‘gifted’ the UK a two-week extension in order to allow PM May to have one more chance to get her widely loathed deal through Parliament. The EU debate was on the amount of time to offer with two weeks seen as a viable start. In any case, they are unwilling to delay beyond May 22 as that is when EU elections begin and if the UK is still in the EU, but doesn’t participate in the elections, then the European Parliament may not be able to be legally constituted. Of course, the other option is for a more extended delay in order to give the UK a chance to run a new referendum, and this time vote the right way to remain.

And finally, there is one last scenario, revoking Article 50 completely. Article 50 is the actual law that started the Brexit countdown two years ago. However, as ruled by the European Court of Justice in December, the UK can unilaterally revoke this and simply remain in the EU. It seems that yesterday, a petition was filed on Parliament’s website asking to do just that. It has over two million signatures as of this morning, and the interest has been so high it has crashed the servers several times. However, PM May is adamant that she will not allow such a course of action and is now bound and determined to see Brexit through. This impact on the pound is pretty much what one might expect, a very choppy market. Yesterday, as it appeared the UK was closer to a no-deal outcome, the pound fell sharply, -1.65%. But this morning, with the two-week delay now in place and more opportunity for a less disruptive outcome, the pound has rebounded slightly, up 0.3% as I type. Until this saga ends, the pound will remain completely dependent on the Brexit story.

Away from those two stories, not much else is happening. The trade talks continue but don’t seem any closer to fruition, with news continuing to leak out that the Chinese are not happy with the situation. Government bond yields around the world are falling with both German and Japanese 10-year yields back in negative territory, Treasuries down to 2.49%, there lowest level since January 2018, and the same situation throughout the G10. Overall, the dollar has been the big winner throughout the past twenty-four hours, rallying during yesterday’s session and continuing this morning. In fact, risk aversion is starting to become evident as equity markets are under pressure this morning along with commodity prices, while the dollar and yen rally along with those government bond prices. The only US data point this morning is Existing Home Sales (exp 5.1M) which has been trending lower steadily for the past 18 months. There is also a bunch of Canadian data (Inflation and Retail Sales) which may well adjust opinions on the BOC’s trajectory. However, it seems pretty clear that the Bank of Canada, like every other G10 central bank, has finished their tightening cycle with the only question being when they actually start to ease.

A week that began with the market absorbing the EU’s efforts at a dovish surprise is ending with clarification that dovishness is the new black. It is always, and everywhere, the chic way to manage your central bank!

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

A Market Doomsday

Last week it was Mario’s turn
To tell us what gave him heartburn
The risk which is growing
That Europe is slowing
Thus, negative rates won’t adjourn

This week eyes are on Chairman Jay
Whose last comments tried to defray
The idea the rates
That he regulates
Will e’er cause a market doomsday

As we begin the new week, the biggest weekend event was the reopening of the US Federal government, although apparently it could shut down again in three weeks. Funnily enough, while economists have calculated that each week the government was closed, GDP would be reduced by 0.1%, nobody seemed to care that much. I think if traders can explain an anomaly, they will ignore it in pricing. And certainly, a government shutdown is a big picture anomaly.

But all the other stories remain the same. Brexit is still unresolved with the next series of votes to be held tomorrow. It remains unclear exactly how things will play out, but it seems pretty clear that neither side wants a no-deal outcome. However, whether that means a vote to delay things, or acceptance of the deal that was roundly rejected just two weeks ago is completely uncertain. Of course, the third option is that they simply opt not to leave the EU, which is within their power. At this point, it seems the most likely outcome is a delay, as nobody likes the deal, and PM May has consistently indicated she would follow the vote to leave.

With that as the background, the pound is lower by -0.4% this morning, actually one of the larger movers in FX overnight. This appears to be short term profit taking by traders who have been accumulating long positions over the past month. But keep in mind that the big, long-term positions remain short pounds. So as long as there is no hard Brexit, which seems highly unlikely given both sides’ stated opposition to that outcome, there is room for the pound to rebound in the next months. However, I continue to like the dollar far better than the pound given the potential for future growth in both places. And while the Fed may not be aggressively tightening policy anymore, I don’t think we are that close to easing. Meanwhile, the BOE is watching the UK economy slow perceptibly, and cannot be serious about raising rates in the near term.

But this week is really about two things, the FOMC meeting and the trade talks with China. Looking at the latter first, both sides have made encouraging noises, but the key issues for the US remain IP theft and SOE support, neither of which have been adequately addressed. I know the equity market has been euphoric over every hint that the trade war would end, and tariffs would be removed, but I think they are way ahead of themselves. I fear there is, at best, a 50:50 chance that talks are concluded successfully before the March deadline. However, I think it likely that as long as the dialog remains open, the US postpones implementation of new, larger tariffs. As to the FX impact, you can be sure that the PBOC is going to prevent CNY from weakening in any substantial way until the talks are concluded one way or the other. But given the ongoing weak data in China, I continue to expect to see the renminbi weaken over time.

And finally, the Fed. On Wednesday Chairman Powell will have a press conference after the statement is released at 2:00 EST. (There is zero expectation that policy will change.) There has been a great deal of carping by Street economists that because Powell is not a PhD economist himself, he cannot adequately deliver the message. But I disagree. Instead, I would argue the reason there has been difficulty in articulating the Fed’s stance is that they don’t really know what to do. The current situation is unprecedented historically, between the size of the balance sheet and the level of interest rates relative to the growth trajectory of the economy. They have already had to change the way they manage interest rates, no longer adjusting balances in the market and instead paying interest on excess reserves. The upshot of that change is that there is no history for them to examine regarding potential outcomes. At the same time, to a wo(man), every Fed member is adamant that because Treasuries have behaved well, the balance sheet rundown is not having any impact on markets at all. To which I ask, if it’s not having an impact, why did they do it in the first place? Clearly the Fed thought that QE was going to help support the economy by supporting the stock market (you remember, the Portfolio Balance Channel). So how can they seriously believe that if the implementation of QE was stimulative, its reduction would not reverse that stimulus? It is arguments like this that frustrate investors and help chip away at the Fed’s credibility.

As to the markets today, the dollar is pretty well behaved, having stabilized after pretty substantial weakness on Friday. Other than the pound mentioned above, not much significant movement has been observed. Equity markets are softer around the world and US futures are pointing in the same direction. Treasury yields have not moved from Friday, and oil prices are slipping slightly. It is hard to characterize the market as anything other than confused.

On the data front, although the government shutdown has ended, all the data has not been collected, let alone collated, so I expect that we will start to see things during the week. Of course, Friday brings the payroll report, and that seems set to be released. There is nothing of note scheduled today, so I will wait to list things until tomorrow when there is more certainty as to what is coming and when. So, for today, there seems little reason for the dollar to do much unless something really negative occurs in equities. That’s not my base case, but you never know, especially as there are key earnings releases later this week (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet) and any rumors could drive things. But overall, I expect a quiet session today.

Good luck
Adf

Plan B

As PM May turns to ‘Plan B’
The choices are not one, but three
Will Brexit be hard?
Or will she discard
The vote so Bremainers feel glee

The third choice is seek a delay
From Europe so that the UK
Can head to the polls
To sort out their goals
And maybe this time choose to stay

Once again Brexit remains the topic du jour as the ongoing political maelstrom in the UK is both riveting and agonizing at the same time. The latest news is that PM May survived the no-confidence vote. Her next step was to reach out to all opposition parties to try to determine what they wanted to see in Brexit as a prelude to going back to the EU with more demands requests. But the market has dismissed that idea as a non-starter (which I think is correct) and instead is clearly expecting that the decision will be for the UK to seek an extension of several months so that the UK can organize a second referendum on the question. At that point, the result would be binary, either stay in the EU or accept a hard Brexit. At least, that seems to be the current thinking amongst market participants and pundits. The pound has continued its slow recovery from the December lows as investors and traders start to assume that there will be no Brexit after all, and that the only reason the pound trades at its current levels is because of the prospect of leaving the EU. I cannot handicap how a second referendum would turn out, but it does appear that any result would be extremely close in either direction. Like many of you, I am ready for this saga to end, but I fear we will be hearing about it for another six months. In the meantime, the pound will remain hostage to the latest thoughts on the outcome, with Brexit still resulting in a significant decline, while confidence in Bremain will result in sterling strength.

As an indication of just how remarkable the Brexit story has become, Fed activity has faded from the front pages. We continue to hear from Fed speakers and the consistent message is that the Fed is now in ‘wait-and-see’ mode, with no rate hikes likely in the near future unless economic data indicates that prices are rising sharply. It appears that the Fed is losing faith in its Phillips Curve models, and although there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what should replace them, concerns over runaway inflation based on continued low Unemployment rates are diminishing.

Economic data from around the world continues to moderate, if not outright slow, and while recession remains in the future, it is arguably closer. The upshot is that no central banks are going to consider tightening policy further for quite a while, and the odds favor more policy ease from the big banks instead. As I have consistently written, the FX market remains entirely focused on the Fed without considering the fact that the ECB is in no position to think about raising interest rates later this year and is, in fact, more likely to have to reintroduce QE as the Eurozone economy slows. If the market is beginning to price in rate cuts by the Fed, which it is, then rate cuts by the ECB (or at least QE2) is a given. It is very difficult to see a path where the Fed eases and the ECB doesn’t follow suit, if not lead. This is not a positive outlook for the single currency.

Speaking of easing policy, the PBOC has been at it consistently as growth in China ebbs with no indication they will be reducing these efforts soon. While policy rates remain unchanged, the PBOC has continued to inject excess liquidity into the market there (so far this week they have injected CNY 1.169 Billion) in an effort to bring down short term financing costs for banks. The objective is to help the banks maintain their loan books, especially for those loans that are underperforming. As long as the renminbi remains relatively firm (and although weakening 0.3% overnight remains more than 3.0% from the 7.00 level that is seen as critical in preventing capital outflows), they will be able to continue this easing policy. However, at the point in time that the renminbi begins to weaken (and it will at some point), the PBOC will find its toolkit somewhat more restricted. Remember, despite the fact that so much has occurred in markets and policy circles recently, we are less than three weeks into 2019. There is plenty of time for trader and investor views to change if forecasted activities don’t materialize.

Once again, beyond those three stories, FX remains generally dull. Overall, the dollar is little changed this morning, rising against some currencies (CNY, NZD, RUB, MXN) and falling against others (JPY, EUR, GBP, BRL). The data releases were uninspiring with Eurozone inflation the most noteworthy release but coming in exactly as expected at 1.6% headline and 1.0% core. Those are not inflation rates that quicken the pulse. Yesterday’s Beige Book indicated an increase in uncertainty by a number of businesses but described ongoing decent economic activity. This morning we see Initial Claims (exp 220K) and Philly Fed (10.0), with the latter more likely to be interesting than the former. But for now, FX market attention continues to focus on Brexit first and then the Fed. And today that is not a recipe for excitement! I see little reason, at this point, for the dollar to do much of anything today.

Good luck
Adf