They Just Might

This afternoon traders will learn
About how the Fed did discern
A rate cut was right
And how they just might
Keep cutting despite no downturn

As we look forward to the first truly interesting information of the week, this afternoon’s release of the FOMC Minutes from the July meeting, markets have a better attitude this morning than they did yesterday. As has been the case for the past decade, all eyes remain on central bank activity with the Fed in the lead. If you recall, at the July meeting when the Fed cut the Fed funds rate by 25bps, there were two dissenting votes, Boston’s Rosengren and Kansas City’s George. Monday, Eric Rosengren reiterated that he saw no reason to cut rates given the recent economic data and the outlook for continued solid growth. At the same time, yesterday we heard from San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly, a non-voter, that the cut was the right thing to do despite the growth prospects as continued low inflation and the opportunity to improve the labor market further called for more action. Of course, Chairman Powell will be on the wires Friday morning from Jackson Hole and the market is quite anxious to hear what he has to say, but until then, this afternoon’s Minutes are the best thing available for the market to try to discern the FOMC’s overall attitude.

With that as a backdrop, this morning’s market activity can more readily be described as risk-on as opposed to yesterday’s risk-off flavor. At this point, though, all we have seen is a retracement of yesterday’s losses in equities and gains in the bond market. As to the dollar, it is modestly softer this morning, but that too is simply a retracement of yesterday’s price action.

Clearly it has not been the data which is fueling market movements as there was just not much to see overnight. The little bit released showed continued weakness in Japanese consumer activity (Department Store Sales -2.7%) while UK public finances were modestly less worrisome than forecast. But neither one of those was ever going to move the market. Instead the stories that are of most interest have included Germany’s failed 30-year bund auction, where only €824 million of the €2 billion offered were bought. The interesting thing here was that the coupon was set at 0.00% and the yield that cleared was -0.11%. So the question being asked is; have we reached a limit with respect to what bond investors are willing to buy? While I am surprised at the poor outcome, given my view, as well as the growing consensus, that the ECB is going to restart QE next month and absorb up to €50 billion per month of paper, I believe this will be seen as a temporary phenomenon, and that going forward, we will see far more interest at these levels and even lower yields.

On a different note, Brexit has seen a little more headline activity as yesterday German Chancellor Merkel seemed to start the concessionary talk on behalf of the EU by explaining they need “practical solutions” to solve the Irish impasse. As soon as those words hit the tape the pound rebounded sharply from its lows rallying more than a penny and closed higher on the day by 0.3%. However, this morning, Irish Deputy PM Coveney complained that British PM Johnson was trying to ‘steamroll’ Ireland into accepting new terms and that the result of this was a hard Brexit was far more likely. Funnily enough I don’t remember the Irish complaining when the EU was ‘steamrolling’ former PM May into a completely unacceptable deal for the Brits. At any rate, the latest comments have taken a little steam out of the pound’s rally and it has given back yesterday’s gains. In the end though, I think Germany’s word is going to be far more important than Ireland’s and if Johnson and Merkel have a successful discussion today, the Irish are going to have to accept any deal that is brokered. If anything, yesterday’s commentary and price action have simply reinforced my view that the EU will blink and that the pound is destined to trade much higher before the end of the year.

And in truth, away from those stories it is hard to find anything of interest in the G10 space. In the emerging markets, this morning sees strength virtually across the board as risk appetite everywhere improves. ZAR is leading the way, up 1.1% after a better than expected CPI print of just 4.0%, well below the 4.3% market expectation encouraged inflows to the local bond market where 10-year yields have fallen by 10bps this morning (to a still robust 8.96%). But we have also seen a stronger RUB (+0.95%) on firmer oil prices; and KRW (+0.5%), as traders reduce long dollar positions despite weaker than expected trade data, where exports fell a troubling -13.3% in the first 20 days of the month.

It should be no surprise that European equity markets are firm (DAX and FTSE 100 +1.1%) and that US equity futures are firmer as well, with all three indices seeing gains on the order of 0.6%.

Ahead of the Minutes we will see Existing Home Sales (exp 5.39M) but remember this has been the one area of the economy that has suffered recently. Given the continued decline in yields, and correspondingly in mortgage rates, one would think the housing market would stabilize, but we shall see. And then it is a collective breath-holding until 2:00pm when the Minutes come out. Ahead of that I don’t anticipate much movement at all. After that…

Good luck
Adf

 

Weakness Worldwide

The Fed followed through on their pledge
To cut rates, as they try to hedge
‘Gainst weakness worldwide
But Jay clarified
It’s not a trend as some allege

The market response was quite swift
With equities given short shrift
Commodities fell
While bonds did excel
In FX, the buck got a lift

Something has really begun to bother me lately, and that is the remarkable inconsistency over the benefits/detriments of a currency’s value. For example, the dollar has been relatively strong lately, and as you are all aware, I believe will continue on that path overall. The key rationales for the dollar’s strength lie in two factors; first, despite yesterday’s cut, US interest rates remain much higher than every other G10 country, in most cases by more than 100bps, and so the relative benefit of holding dollars vs. other currencies continues. The second reason is that the US economy is the strongest, by far, of the G10, as recent GDP data demonstrated, and while there are certain sectors of weakness, notably housing and autos, things look reasonably good. This compares quite favorably to Europe, Japan and Oceania, where growth is slowing to the point that recession is a likely outcome. The thing is, article after article by varying analysts points to the dollar’s strength as a major problem. While President Trump rightly points out that a strong dollar can hinder US exports, and as a secondary effect corporate earnings, remember that trade represents a small portion of the US economy, just 12% as of the latest data.

Contrast this widespread and significant concern over a strong currency with the angst over the British pound’s recent performance as it continues to decline. Sterling is falling not only because the dollar is strong, but also because the market is repricing its estimates of the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. Ever since the Brexit vote the pound has been under pressure. Remember that the evening of the vote, when the first returns pointed to a Remain win, the pound touched 1.50. However, once the final results were in, the pound sold off sharply, losing as much as 20% of its value within four months of the vote. However, since then, during the negotiation phase, the pound actually rallied back as high as 1.4340 when it looked like a deal would get done and agreed. Alas, that never occurred and now that no-deal is not only back on the table, but growing as a probability, the pound is back near its lows. And this is decried as a terrible outcome! So, can someone please explain why a strong currency is bad but a weak currency is also bad? You can’t have it both ways. Arguably, every complaint over the pound’s weakness is a political statement clothed in an economic argument. And the same is true as to the dollar’s strength, with the difference there being that the President makes no bones about the politics.

In the end, the beauty of a floating currency regime is that the market adjusts based on actual and expected flows, not on political whims. If there is concern over a currency’s value, that implies that broader policy adjustments need to be considered. In fact, one of the most frightening things we have heard of late is the idea that the US may intervene directly to weaken the dollar. Intervention has a long and troubled history of failure, especially when undertaken solo rather than as part of a globally integrated plan a la the Plaza Accord in the 1980’s. An unsolicited piece of advice to the President would be as follows: if you want the strongest economy in the world, be prepared for a strong currency to accompany that situation. It is only natural.

With that out of the way, there is no real point in rehashing the FOMC yesterday as there are myriad stories already available. In brief, they cut 25bps, but explained it as an insurance cut because of global uncertainties. Weak sauce if you ask me. The telling thing is that during the press conference, when Powell explained that this was not the beginning of a new cycle and the stock market sold off sharply, he quickly backtracked and said more cuts could come as soon as he heard about the selloff. It gets harder and harder to believe that the Fed sees their mandate as anything other than boosting the stock market.

This morning brings the final central bank meeting of the week with the BOE on the docket at 7:00am. At this point, with rates still near historic lows and Brexit on the horizon, the BOE is firmly in the wait and see camp. Concerns have to be building as more economic indicators point to a slump, with today’s PMI data (48.0) posting its third consecutive month below the 50.0 level. I think it is clear that a hard Brexit will have a short-term negative impact on the UK economy, likely making things worse before they get better, but I also believe that the market has already priced in a great deal of that weakness. And in the end, I continue to believe that the EU will blink as they cannot afford to drive Europe into a recession just to spite the UK. So there will be no policy change here.

One interesting outcome since the Fed action yesterday was how many other central banks quickly cut interest rates as well. Brazil cut the Selic rate by 50bps, to a record low 6.00% as they had room from the Fed move and then highlighted the fact that a key pension reform bill seemed to have overwhelming support and was due to become law. This would greatly alleviate government spending pressures and allow for even more policy ease. As well, the Middle East saw rate cuts by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain all cut rates by 25bps as well. In fact, the only bank that does not seem likely to respond is the PBOC, where they have been trying to use other tools, rather than interest rate policy, to help bolster the economy there.

This morning sees the dollar broadly higher with both the euro and pound down by ~0.40%, and similar weakness in a number of EMG currencies like MXN and INR. Even the yen has weakened this morning by 0.2%, implying this is not so much a risk-off event as a dollar strength event. Data today brings Initial Claims (exp 212K) and ISM Manufacturing (52.0). Regarding the ISM data, yesterday saw an extremely weak Chicago PMI print of just 44.4, its lowest since December 2015. Given how poor the European and Chinese PMI data were overnight and this morning, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a weak outcome there. However, I don’t think that will be enough to weaken the dollar much as the Fed just gave the market its marching orders. We will need to see a very weak payroll report tomorrow to change any opinions, but for today, the dollar remains in the ascendancy.

Good luck
Adf

 

A Rate Cut’s Assumed

In Washington DC today
We’ll get to hear from Chairman Jay
A rate cut’s assumed
So, equities boomed
While dollar strength seems here to stay

Markets are on tenterhooks as the release of the FOMC statement approaches. That actually may be overstating the case. The market is highly confident that the Fed is going to cut the funds rate by 25 bps this afternoon as there has not been nearly enough change in the trajectory of the economic data over the past ten days to change any views. During this ‘quiet period’ we have seen solid, if unspectacular economic indicators. Certainly nothing indicating a severe slowdown, but also nothing indicating that the economy is overheating. As well, we have heard from several other central banks, notably the ECB and BOJ, that further policy ease is on the way and they are ready to move imminently. Finally, the whipped cream on this particular decision was released yesterday morning when core PCE data printed at 1.6%, a lower than expected outcome, and sufficient proof that inflation remains too quiescent for the Fed’s liking. At this point, it all seems anticlimactic.

Perhaps of more interest will be the press conference to be held at 2:30, when Chairman Powell will be able to explain more fully the rationale behind cutting rates with an economy running at potential, historically low unemployment and the easiest financial conditions seen in a decade. But hey, inflation is a few ticks low, so that is clearly justification. (As an aside, I find it remarkable that any central bank is so wedded, with precision, to a specific target inflation rate, and that not achieving that target is grounds for policy change. Let’s face it, monetary policy tools are blunt instruments and work with a significant lag. In fact, when a target is achieved, that seems to be more luck than skill. There are a number of central banks that aim for inflation to be within a range, and that seems to make far more sense than setting a 2.0% target and complaining when the rate is at 1.6%.)

In the meantime, there are still a few other things that are impacting markets today, notably the US-China trade talks and the ongoing Brexit story. Regarding the trade talks, the delegations met for two days in Shanghai and made approximately zero headway. The word is they are further apart now than when talks broke down three months ago. Suddenly it is dawning on a lot of people that these trade talks may not be concluded on a politically convenient schedule (meaning in time for the US election). The market impact was a decline in Asian equity indices with the Nikkei falling 0.9%, both Shanghai and Korea falling 0.7%, and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong down 1.3%. However, European indices have barely moved on the day and US futures are pointing higher after Apple beat earnings estimates following the close yesterday. The implication here is that US markets have moved on from the trade story while Asian ones are still beholden to every word. Quite frankly, that seems to be a realistic outcome given the fact that trade represents such a small part of the US economy as opposed to every Asian nation, where it is a major driver of economic activity.

Turning to the Brexit story, the pound plumbed new depths yesterday, trading close to 1.21 before a modest bounce this morning (+0.15%) as Boris continues to hold a hard line on talks. He is pushing very hard for the EU to reopen the existing, unratified deal and will not meet face-to-face with any EU counterparts until they do so. Thus far, the EU has been adamant that the deal is done, and they refuse to change it.

But here’s the first clue that things are going to change; the Bank of Ireland said that a hard Brexit will reduce GDP growth in 2020 to 0.7% from the currently expected 4.1% growth. As I mentioned before, Ireland is on the front lines and will feel the brunt of the early impacts. At some point, probably pretty soon, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is going to prevail on the rest of the EU to reopen talks before Ireland is crushed. And remember, too, that a no-deal Brexit leaves the EU with a £39 billion hole in their budget as that was to be the UK’s parting alimony payment.

While the EU tries to convince one and all that they hold the upper hand, it is not clear to me that is the case. Working in Boris’s favor was today’s Q2 GDP data from the Eurozone showing growth falling to 0.2% in the quarter with Italy at 0.0%, Spain dipping to 0.5% and France having reported 0.2% yesterday. Germany doesn’t actually report until next month, but indications are 0.0% is the best they can expect. The euro remains under pressure, trading at the bottom of its recent 1.11-1.14 trading range and shows no signs of rebounding. And of course, the fact that the ECB is getting set to ease policy further is not helping the single currency at all. I maintain that despite the Fed’s actions today, unless Powell promises three more cuts soon, the dollar will remain bid.

And those are really today’s stories. Overall, the FX market is pretty benign today, with the largest mover being TRY, which rallied 0.45% as optimism is growing that the economy is stabilizing which means that the current high rates are quite attractive to investors. But away from that, movement has been on the order of 0.10%-0.20% in either direction. In other words, nothing is happening.

On the data front, remember this is payroll week as well, and today we see ADP Employment (exp 150K) and then Chicago PMI (50.6) before the FOMC this afternoon. As earnings season is still underway, I expect equities to respond to that data, but the dollar will likely bide its time until the Fed. After that, nothing has changed my broadly bullish view, although an uber-dovish Powell could clearly do so.

Good luck
Adf

A Half Point’s Preferred

Said Williams, the Fed must be swift
When acting if growth is adrift
The market inferred
A half point’s preferred
Which gave all stock markets a lift

If there was any doubt that markets are still entirely beholden to the Fed, they should have been removed after yesterday’s price action. First, recall that a number of emerging market central banks cut interest rates, some in a complete market surprise (South Korea), while others were anticipated (Indonesia, South Africa, Ukraine) and yet all of those currencies strengthened on the day. It is always curious to me when a situation like that occurs, as it forces a deeper investigation as to the market drivers. But this investigation was pretty short as all the evidence pointed in one direction; the Fed. Yesterday afternoon, NY Fed President John Williams gave an, ostensibly, academic speech about how central banks should respond to economic weakness and highlighted that they should act quickly and aggressively in such cases. Notably, he said, “take swift action when faced with adverse economic conditions” and “keep interest rates lower for longer.” The market interpretation of those comments was an increased expectation for a 50bp rate cut by the Fed at the end of the month. Stocks reversed early losses, bonds rallied, with yields falling 4bps and the dollar fell as much as 0.5%. While a spokesperson for the NY Fed made a statement later trying to explain that Williams’ speech was not about policy, just academic research, the market remained convinced that 50bps is coming to a screen near you on July 31! We shall see.

The problem with the 50bp theme is that the economic data of late has actually been generally, although not universally, better than expected. Consider that last week, both core CPI (2.1%) and PPI (2.3%) printed a tick higher than expectations; Retail Sales were substantially stronger at 0.4% vs. the 0.1% expected; and both the Empire State and Philly Fed indices printed stronger than expected at 4.3 and 21.8 respectively. Also, the jobs report at the beginning of the month was much stronger than expected. Of course, there have been negatives as well, with IP (0.0%), Housing Starts (-0.9%) and Building Permits (-6.1%) all underperforming. In addition, we cannot forget the situation elsewhere in the world, where China printed Q2 GDP at 6.2%, its lowest print in the 27 years they have been releasing quarterly data, while Eurozone data continues to suffer as well. The implication is that if you assume there is a case for a rate cut at all, the case for a 50bp rate cut relies on much thinner gruel.

At this point, even if we continue to see stronger than expected US data, I believe that Powell and company are locked into a rate cut. Given that futures markets have fully priced that in, as well as the fact that the equity markets are unquestionably counting on that cut, disappointment would serve to truly disrupt markets, potentially impinging on financial conditions and certainly draw the ire of the White House. None of these consequences seem worthwhile for the potential benefit of leaving 25bps of dry powder in the magazine. Add to this the fact that we have heard from several Fed members; Bostic, Kaplan and George, none of whom are enthused about a rate cut at all. Now, of those three, only Esther George is a current voter, but one dissenting vote will not be enough to sway a clearly dovish FOMC. Add it all up and I think we see 25bps when the dust settles. Of course, if that’s the case, it is entirely realistic to see equity prices ‘sell the news’ unless Powell is hyper dovish in the press conference.

And in truth, that is the entire story today. Virtually every story in the financial press focuses on rate cuts, whether the question about the Fed, or the discussion of all the other central banks that have already acted. There is an ongoing argument about whether the ECB actually cuts rates next week, or if they simply prepare the market for a cut in September and the reinstitution of QE in January. Most analysts are opting for the latter, believing that Signor Draghi will wait and see, but if they know they are going to cut, why wait? I think there is a much better chance of immediate action than is being priced into the market.

On the Brexit front, the voting by Tory members continues, and by all accounts, Boris is still in the lead and due to be the next PM. That will continue to pressure the pound, as unless there is further movement by the EU, the chances of a no-deal Brexit will continue to rise. In fact, next week will be quite momentous as we hear from the ECB and get the UK voting results on Thursday.

Away from these stories, most things fall into the background. For example, China Minsheng Group, a major Chinese conglomerate, is defaulting on a $500 million bond repayment due in August. Clearly, this is not a positive event, but more importantly speaks to two specific issues, the lack of US dollar liquidity available in emerging markets as well as the true nature of the slowdown in the Chinese economy. This will be used as further ammunition for the camp that believes the Chinese significantly overstate their economic data.

Turning to this morning’s activity, the only data point is the Michigan Sentiment data (exp 98.5) and we get one more Fed speech, from uber-dove James Bullard. The dollar is stronger today, after yesterday’s afternoon selloff, having risen 0.35% vs. the euro and with gains also against the yen (0.3%), Aussie (0.25%) and most emerging market currencies (MXN 0.3%, ZAR 0.6%, CNY 0.1%). My sense is that yesterday afternoon’s price action was a bit overdone on the dollar, and so we will see more of that unwound ahead of the weekend. Look for modest further USD strength.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf

 

Appetite’s Whet

Both Powell and Kaplan agreed
That lower rates are what we need
The table’s now set
And appetite’s whet
For more cuts to soon be decreed

If there was any uncertainty, prior to yesterday, about a rate cut by the Fed at the end of this month, it should be completely eliminated now. Not only did Chairman Jay reiterate that the Fed was “carefully monitoring” the situation (shouldn’t that always be the case?) and that the Fed would use all its available tools to maintain the expansion, but we heard from Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan that he was turning in favor of a ‘risk management’ cut in order to be sure that things don’t start to turn down soon. Given the integration in the global economy over the past years and given the fact that the US still represents 24% of global GDP, it should be no surprise that things occurring elsewhere in the world have an impact on the US and vice versa. As such, it is not unreasonable for the Fed to try to take the global economic situation into account when determining US monetary policy. And one thing that is clear is that global GDP growth is falling. So folks, we have seen the top in interest rates around the world and the only question is just how quickly they will fall in different jurisdictions.

In a nutshell, that is the FX story. Historically, relative monetary policy has been one of the prime drivers of FX rates, with currencies attached to tight policy appreciating vs. those attached to loose policy. This has been the basis of the carry trade, and arguably, nothing about this process has changed. It’s just that for the first time in memory, pretty much every nation is driving policy in the same direction, in this case looser. This leads to a probable outcome where currency values remain largely stable. After all, if everybody cuts by 25bps, aren’t we all still in the same place?

The irony is that, as discussed by RBA Governor Lowe several weeks ago, if every central bank is cutting rates at the same time, the effectiveness of those rate cuts will be severely diminished. Remember, one of the key transmission mechanisms of rate cuts is to reduce the currency’s value in order to help support trade, and eventually growth. But if everybody cuts, that mechanism will be severely impaired, and so the central banks will be forced to find new tools. And while they are actively looking for new ways to ease policy, in the end, monetary policy is simply some combination of interest rates and money supply. Until now, central banks have focused on managing interest rates. But this is why MMT, or something like it, is a growing possibility. When thoughts turn to money supply as the only other thing to adjust, and as ‘new’ thinking permeates the political class, MMT is going to become increasingly attractive. I’m not sure which nation will be the first to publicly embrace the idea of debt monetization (my money’s on Japan though), but you can be sure that whichever it is will see its currency depreciate sharply, at least until other nations follow their lead. Only time will tell, but that is not a positive future.

With that as a somewhat depressing backdrop, let’s look at market activity. Generally speaking, the dollar has done little this morning after yesterday’s rally. Or perhaps yesterday’s rally was more a function of other currency weakness. Remember, the pound’s decline was all about Brexit, not the US. The euro’s decline was all about weakening economic sentiment in the Eurozone and the idea that the ECB would be acting sooner rather than later. Yesterday also saw the Mexican peso fall sharply, more than 1%, after President Trump tweeted about reimposing tariffs on China. It seems that traders are still nervous over more tariffs, and with the ongoing border situation between the US and Mexico, see any tariff threats as potentially applying to Mexico as well.

But this morning, the biggest movers are RUB and TRY, both recouping about 0.4% of yesterday’s losses. The G10 currencies are within 0.10% of yesterday’s levels and show no sign of breaking out in the near term. Of course, that is subject to another Brexit announcement or comments from central bankers, however, nothing is scheduled on those fronts. Equity markets, too, have had little direction as investors await the next shoe to drop. Interest rate markets remain fully priced for a 25bp rate cut by the Fed in two weeks, while there remains some uncertainty as to just what Signor Draghi will announce next week. I will say that if he did announce a 10bp rate cut, it would have a pretty big impact on the single currency, and not in a positive manner.

As to bonds, both Treasuries and Bunds remain 10-15bps from their recent lows but show no signs of selling off further (higher yields). Rather, those markets are demonstrating all the behavior of a consolidation after a large unwinding move. Given the strong trend lower in central bank policy rates, it seems highly unlikely that yields in the government space, and by extension elsewhere, have anywhere to go but down.

Turning to today’s data, we see Housing Starts (exp 1.261M), Building Permits (1.3M) and then at 2:00 the Fed releases its Beige Book. But we have no more Fed speakers and it seems highly unlikely that any of that will be enough to change any views. One other thing happening this afternoon is the G7 FinMins are meeting in France, but those talks are highly focused on taxation of tech companies with monetary policy a sidelight. After all, everybody is already cutting rates, so what else can they say?

Alas, it appears to be another day with limited cause for FX movement, which for hedgers is great, but for traders, not so much.

Good luck
Adf

 

Akin to Caffeine

There once was a time in the past
Where weakness in growth, if forecast
Resulted in prices
That forewarned a crisis
And traders sold what they’d amassed

But nowadays weakness is seen
As something akin to caffeine
‘Cause central bank measures
Will add to their treasures
It’s like a brand new cash machine

Chinese growth data was weak last night, falling to its lowest quarterly rate in the twenty-seven years that China has measured growth on a quarterly basis. The outcome of 6.2%, while expected, confirms that the ongoing trade situation with the US is having an increasingly negative impact on GDP worldwide. Naturally, not unlike Pavlov’s dogs, the market response was to rally on the theory that the PBOC would be adding more stimulus soon. After all, every other central bank in the world (save Norway’s) is preparing to ease policy further as growth worldwide continues to slow down. And so far, the Pavlovian response of buying stocks on bad news continues to be working as evidenced by the fact that equity markets throughout Asia rose. However, the magnitude of that rise has been quite limited, with gains of between 0.2% and 0.4% the norm. in fact, that market response is actually a bad sign for the central banks, because it demonstrates that the effectiveness of their policies is expected to be much less than in the past. Diminishing returns is a normal outcome for the repeated use of anything, and monetary policy is no different. The implication of this outcome is that despite the growing certainty that the Fed, ECB, BOJ, PBOC, BOE and more are going to ease policy further, equity markets seem unlikely to benefit as much as they have in the past. And if when a recession finally arrives, look for a change of heart in the equity community. But in the meantime, party hearty!

Speaking of further policy ease, it seems the market is chomping at the bit for next week’s ECB meeting, where there are two schools of thought. The conservative view is that Signor Draghi will sound quite dovish and indicate a 10bp cut is coming in September. But that is not nearly as exciting a view as the more aggressive analysts are discussing, which is a 20bp cut next week and the introduction of QE2 in September. Interestingly, despite all this certitude about ECB rate cuts, the euro is actually slightly higher this morning (albeit just 0.1%). It appears that traders are betting on the fact that if Draghi is aggressive, the Fed will have the opportunity the following week to match and outperform the ECB. Remember, the Fed has 250bps of rate cuts before it reaches ZIRP while the ECB is already negative. Despite the recent academic work explaining that negative rates are just fine and helping the situation, it still seems unlikely that we are going to see -2.0% anywhere in the world anytime soon. Ergo, the relative policy stance implies the Fed will ease more and the dollar will suffer accordingly. Just not today. Rather, today, the dollar is little changed overall, with some gains and some losses, but few large moves.

And those have been the real stories of note over what was a very quiet weekend. This week we see a fair amount of data, including Retail Sales, but more importantly, we hear from five more Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell tomorrow, in a total of nine speeches.

 

Today Empire Manufacturing 2.0
Tuesday Retail Sales 0.2%
  -ex autos 0.2%
  IP 0.2%
  Capacity Utilization 78.2%
  Business Inventories 0.3%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1.262M
  Building Permits 1.30M
  Fed’s Beige Book  
Thursday Initial Claims 216K
  Philly Fed 5.0
  Leading Indicators 0.1%
Friday Michigan Sentiment 98.5

Given the importance of the consumer to the US economy, the Retail Sales data is probably the most important data point. Certainly, a weak outcome will result in rate cut euphoria, but it will be interesting to see what happens if there is a strong print. But otherwise, this seems more like a week where Fed speakers will dominate, as we hear from NY’s John Williams twice, as well as a mix of other governors and regional presidents. In the end, though, Powell’s comments are key, as I expect he will be looking to fine tune his message from last week’s congressional testimony.

It remains clear that the Fed has the most room to ease policy, and as long as that is the case, the dollar should remain under pressure. However, given the fact that the US economy continues to outperform the rest of the developed world, I don’t anticipate the dollar’s decline to be extreme, a few percent at most.

For today, there is precious little else to really drive things, so look for more of the recent choppiness that we have observed in markets, with no real directional bias.

Good luck
Adf

Soon On the Way

Said Brainerd and Williams and Jay
A rate cut is soon on the way
Inflation’s quiescent
And growth’s convalescent
So easing will help save the day

We have learned a great deal this week about central bank sentiment from the Fed, the ECB, the BOE, Sweden’s Riksbank as well as several emerging market central banks like Mexico and Serbia. And the tone of all the commentary is one way; easier policy is coming soon to a central bank near you.

Let’s take a look at the Fed scorecard to start. Here is a list of the FOMC membership, voting members first:

Chairman Jerome Powell                – cut
Vice-Chair Richard Clarida             – cut
Lael Brainerd                                    – cut
Randal Quarles                                 – cut
Michelle Bowman                            – ?
NY – John Williams                           -cut
St Louis James Bullard                    – cut
Chicago – Charles Evans                  – cut
KC – Esther George                           – stay
Boston – Eric Rosengren                 – cut

Non-voting members
Philadelphia – Patrick Harker       – cut
Dallas – Robert Kaplan                    – ?
Minneapolis – Neel Kashkari         – cut 50!
Cleveland – Loretta Mester            – stay
Atlanta – Rafael Bostic                    – stay
Richmond – Thomas Barkin          – stay

While we have not yet heard from the newest Governor, Michelle Bowman, it would be unprecedented for a new governor to dissent so early in their tenure. In the end, based on what we have heard publicly from voting members, only Esther George might dissent to call for rates to remain on hold, but it is clear that at least a 25bp cut is coming at the end of the month. The futures market has priced it in fully, and now the question is will they cut 50. At this point, it doesn’t seem that likely to me, but there are still two weeks before the meeting, so plenty can happen in the interim.

But it’s not just the Fed. The ECB Minutes were released yesterday, and the telling line was there was “broad agreement” that the ECB should “be ready and prepared to ease the monetary policy stance further by adjusting all of its instruments.” It seems pretty clear to me (and arguably the entire market) that they are about to ease policy. There are many analysts who believe the ECB will wait until their September meeting, when they produce new growth and inflation forecasts, but a growing number of analysts who believe that they will cut later this month. After all, if the Fed is about to cut based on weakening global growth, why would the ECB wait?

And there were the Minutes from Sweden’s Riksbank, which were released this morning and showed that their plans for raising rates as early as September have now been called into question by a number of the members, as slowing global growth and ongoing trade uncertainties weigh on sentiment. While Sweden’s economy has performed better than the Eurozone at large, it will be extremely difficult for the Riksbank to tighten policy while the ECB is easing without a significant adjustment to the krona. And given Sweden’s status as an open economy with significant trade flows, they cannot afford for the krona to strengthen too much.

Meanwhile, Banco de Mexico Minutes showed a split in the vote to maintain rates on hold at 8.25% last month, with two voters now looking for a cut. While inflation remains higher than target, again, the issue is how long can they maintain current policy rates in the face of cuts by the Fed. Look for rate cuts there by autumn. And finally, little Serbia didn’t wait, cutting 25bp this morning as growth there is beginning to slow, and recognizing that imminent action by the ECB would need to be addressed anyway.

In fairness, the macroeconomic backdrop for all this activity is not all that marvelous. For example, just like South Korea reported last week, Singapore reported Q2 GDP growth as negative, -3.4% annualized, a much worse than expected outcome and a potential harbinger of the future for larger economies. Singapore’s economy is hugely dependent on trade flows, so given the ongoing US-China trade issues, this ought not be a surprise, but the magnitude of the decline was significant. Speaking of China, their trade data, released last night, showed slowing exports (-1.3%) and imports (-7.3%), with the result a much larger than expected trade surplus of $51B. Additionally, we saw weaker than expected Loan growth and slowing M2 Money Supply growth, both of which point to slower economic activity going forward. Yesterday’s other important economic data point was US CPI, where core surprised at 2.1%, a tick higher than expected. However, the overwhelming evidence that the Fed is going to cut rates has rendered that point moot for now. We will need to see that number move much higher, and much faster, to change any opinions there.

The market impact of all this has generally been as expected. Equity prices, at least in the US, continue to climb as investors cling tightly to the idea that lower interest rates equal higher stock prices. All three indices closed at new records and futures are pointing higher across the board. The dollar, too, has been under pressure, as would be expected given the view that the Fed is going to enter an easing cycle. Of course, while the recent trend for the dollar has been down, the slope of the line is not very steep. Consider that the euro is only about 1% above its recent cyclical lows from late April, and still well below the levels seen at the end of June. So while the dollar has weakened a bit, it is quite easy to make the case it remains within a trading range. In fact, as I mentioned yesterday, if all central banks are cutting rates simultaneously, the impact on the currency market should be quite limited, as the relative rate stance won’t change.

Finally, a quick word about Treasury bonds as well as German bunds. Both of these markets were hugely overbought by the end of last week, as investors and speculators jumped on the idea of lower rates coming soon. And so, it should be no surprise that both of these markets have seen yields back up a decent amount as those trades are unwound. This morning we see 10-year yields at 2.13% in the US and -0.21% in Germany, well off the lows of last week. However, this trade is entirely technical and at some point, when these positions are gone, look for yields on both securities to head lower again.

This morning brings just PPI (exp 1.6%, 2.2% core) which is unlikely to have much impact on anything. With no more Fed speakers to add to the mix, I expect that we will continue to see equities rally, and that the dollar, while it may remain soft, is unlikely to move too far in any direction.

Good luck and good weekend
Adf