QE’s Not Constrained

For everyone who seems to think
The dollar will steadily sink
This weekend disclosed
The world is opposed
To letting the buck’s value shrink

In China they eased the restrictions
On short sales in all jurisdictions
While Europe explained
QE’s not constrained
And further rate cuts are not fictions

It cannot be a surprise that we are beginning to see a more concerted response to dollar weakness from major central banks.  As I have written consistently, at the current time, no nation wants their currency to be strong.  Each is convinced that a weak currency will help obtain the twin goals of improved export performance leading to economic growth and higher inflation.  While financial theory does show that, in a closed system, those are two natural consequences of a weak currency, the evidence over the past twelve years has been less convincing.  Of course, as with every economic theory, a key assumption is ‘ceteris paribus’ or all else being equal.  But all else is never equal.  A strong argument can be made that in addition to the global recession undermining pricing power, the world is in the midst of a debt deflation.  This is the situation where a high and rising level of overall debt outstanding directs cash flow to repayment and reduces the available funding for other economic activity.  That missing demand results in price declines and hence, the debt deflation.  History has shown a strong correlation between high levels of debt and deflation, something many observers fail to recognize.

However, central banks, as with most large institutions, are always fighting the last war.  The central bank playbook, which had been effective from Bretton Woods, in 1944 until, arguably, sometime just before the Great Financial Crisis in 2008-09, explained that the reflexive response to economic weakness was to cut interest rates and ease financing conditions.  This would have the dual effect of encouraging borrowing for more activity while at the same time weakening the currency and making the export community more competitive internationally, thus boosting growth further.  And finally, a weaker currency would result in imported inflation, as importers would be forced to raise prices.

The Great Financial Crisis, though, essentially broke that model, as both the economic and market responses to central bank activities did not fit that theoretical framework.  Instead, adhering to the playbook saw interest rates cut to zero, and then below zero throughout Europe and Japan, additional policy ease via QE and yet still extremely modest economic activity.  And, perhaps, that was the problem.  Every central bank enacted their policies at the same time, thus there was no large relative change in policy.  After all, if every central bank cut interest rates, then the theoretical positive outcomes are negated.  In other words, ceteris isn’t paribus.

Alas, central banks have proven they are incapable of independent thought, and they have been acting in concert ever since.  Thus, rate cuts by one beget rate cuts by another, sometimes explicitly (Denmark and Switzerland cutting rates after the ECB acts) and sometimes implicitly (the ECB, BOE and BOC cutting rates after the Fed acts).  In the end, the results are that the relative policy settings remain very close to unchanged and thus, the only beneficiary is the equity market, where all that excess money eventually flows in the great hunt for positive returns.

Keeping the central bank mindset at the fore, we have an easy time understanding the weekend actions and comments from the PBOC and the ECB.  The PBOC adjusted a reserve policy that had been aimed at preventing rampant selling speculation against the renminbi.  For the past two plus years, all Chinese banks had been required to keep a 20% reserve against any short forward CNY positions they executed on behalf of customers.  This made shorting CNY prohibitively expensive, thus reducing the incentive to do so and helped support the currency.  However, the recent price action in CNY has been strongly positive, with the renminbi having appreciated nearly 7% between late May and Friday.  For a country like China, that sells a great many low margin products to the rest of the world, a strong currency is a clear impediment to their economic plans.  The PBOC action this weekend, removing that reserve requirement completely, is perfectly in keeping with the mindset of a weaker currency will help support exports and by extension economic growth.  Now there is no penalty to short CNY, so you can expect more traders to do so.  Especially since the fixing last night was at a weaker CNY level than expected by the market.  Look for further CNY (-0.8% overnight) weakness going forward.

As to the ECB, their actions were less concrete, but no less real.  ECB Chief Economist Philip Lane, the member with the most respected policy chops, was on the tape explaining that the Eurozone faces a rocky patch after the initial rebound from Covid.  He added, “I do not see that the ECB has a structurally tighter orientation for monetary policy[than the Federal Reserve].  Anyone who pays attention to our policies and forward guidance knows that we will not tighten policy without inflation solidly appearing in the data.”  Lastly, he indicated that both scaling up QE purchases and further rate cuts are on the table.

Again, it should be no surprise that the ECB is unwilling to allow the euro to simply rally unabated in the current environment.  The playbook is clear, a strong currency needs to be addressed, i.e. weakened. This weekend simply demonstrated that all the major central banks view the world in exactly the same manner.

Turning to the markets on this holiday-shortened session, we see that Chinese equities were huge beneficiaries of the PBOC action with Shanghai (+2.65%) and the Hang Seng (+2.0%) both strongly higher although the Nikkei (-0.25%) did not share the market’s enthusiasm.  European markets are firming up as I type, overcoming some early weakness and now green across the board.  So, while the FTSE 100 (+0.1%) is the laggard, both the DAX (+0.45%) and CAC (+0.75%) are starting to make some nice gains.  As to US futures, they, too, are now all in the green with NASDAQ (+ 1.3%) far and away the leader.  Despite the federal holiday in the US, the stock market is, in fact, open today.

Banks, however, are closed and the Treasury market is closed with them.  So, while there is no movement there, we are seeing ongoing buying interest across the European government bond markets as traders prepare for increased ECB QE activity.  After all, if banks don’t own the bonds the ECB wants to buy, they will not be able to mark them up and sell them to the only price insensitive buyer in the European government bond market.  So, yields here are lower by about 1 basis point across the board.

As to the dollar, it is broadly, but mildly stronger this morning.  Only the yen (-0.15%) is weaker in the G10 space as the rest of the block is responding to the belief that all the central banks are going to loosen policy further, a la the ECB.  As to the EMG bloc, CZK is actually the biggest loser, falling 0.9% after CPI there surprised the market by falling slightly, to 3.2%, rather than extending its recent string of gains.  This has the market looking for further central bank ease going forward, something that had been questioned as CPI rose.  Otherwise, as we see the prices of both oil and gold decline, we are seeing MXN (-0.6%), ZAR (-0.5%) and RUB (-0.5%) all fall in line.  On the flip side, only KRW (+0.55%) has shown any strength as foreign investors continue to pile into the stock market there on the back of Chinese hopes.

We do get some important data this week as follows:

Tuesday CPI 0.2% (1.4% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (1.7% Y/Y)
Wednesday PPI 0.2% (0.2% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (0.9% Y/Y)
Thursday Empire Manufacturing 14.0
Initial Claims 825K
Continuing Claims 10.4M
Philly Fed 14.0
Friday Retail Sales 0.8%
-ex autos 0.4%
IP 0.6%
Capacity Utilization 71.9%
Michigan Sentiment 80.5

Source: Bloomberg

Remember, we have seen five consecutive higher than expected CPI prints, so there will be a lot of scrutiny there, but ultimately, the data continues to point to a slowing recovery with job growth still a major problem.  We also hear from nine more Fed speakers, but again, this message is already clear, ZIRP forever and Congress needs to pass stimulus.

In the end, I find no case for the dollar to weaken appreciably from current levels, and expect that if anything, modest strength is the most likely path going forward, at least until the election.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A New Paradigm

As mid-year approaches, it’s time
To ponder the central bank clime
Will negative rates
Appear in the States
And welcome a new paradigm?

With the end of the first half of 2020 approaching, perhaps it’s time to recap what an extraordinary six months it has been as well as consider what the immediate future may hold.

If you can recall what January was like, the big story was the Phase One trade deal, which was announced as almost completed at least half a dozen times, essentially every time the stock market started to decline, before it was finally signed. In hindsight, the fact that it was signed right at the beginning of the Lunar New Year celebrations in China, which coincided with the recognition that the novel coronavirus was actually becoming a problem, is somewhat ironic. After all, it was deemed THE most important thing in January and by mid-February nobody even cared about it anymore. Of course, by that time, Covid-19 had been named and was officially declared a pandemic.

As Covid spread around the world, the monetary responses were impressive for both their speed of implementation and their size. The Fed was the unquestioned leader, cutting rates 150bps in two emergency meetings during the first half of March while prepping the market for QE4. They then delivered in spades, hoovering up Treasuries, mortgage-backed bonds, investment grade corporate bonds and junk bonds (via ETF’s) and then more investment grade bonds, this time purchasing actual securities, not ETF’s. Their balance sheet has grown more than $3 trillion (from $4.1 trillion to $7.1 trillion) in just four months and they have promised to maintain policy at least this easy until the economy can sustainably get back to their inflation and employment goals.

On the fiscal front, government response was quite a bit slower, and aside from the US CARES act, signed into law in late March, most other nations have been less able to conjure up enough spending to make much of a difference. There was important news from the EU, where they announced, but have not yet enacted, a policy that was akin to mutualization of debt across the entire bloc. If they can come to agreement on this, and there are four nations who remain adamantly opposed (Sweden, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands), this would truly change the nature of the EU and by extension the Eurozone. Allowing transfers from the richer northern states to the struggling Mediterranean countries would result in a boon for the PIGS as they could finally break the doom-loop of their own nation’s banks owning the bulk of their own sovereign debt. But despite the support of both France and Germany, this is not a done deal. Now, history shows that Europe will finally get something along these lines enacted, but it is likely to be a significantly watered-down version and likely to take long enough that it will not be impactful in the current circumstance.

Of course, the ECB, after a few early stumbles, has embraced the idea of spending money from nothing and is in the process of implementing a €1.35 trillion QE program called PEPP in addition to their ongoing QE program.

Elsewhere around the world we have seen a second implementation of yield curve control (YCC), this time by Australia which is managing its 3-year yields to 0.25%, the same level as its overnight money. There is much talk that the Fed is considering YCC as well, although they will only admit to having had a discussion on the topic. Of course, a quick look at the US yield curve shows that they have already essentially done so, at least up to the 10-year maturity, as the volatility of yields has plummeted. For example, since May 1, the range of 3-year yields has been just 10bps (0.18%-0.28%) while aside from a one-week spike in early June, 10-year yields have had an 11bp range. The point is, it doesn’t seem that hard to make the case the Fed is already implementing YCC.

Which then begs the question, what would they do next? Negative rates have been strongly opposed by Chairman Powell so far, but remember, President Trump is a big fan. And we cannot forget that over the course of the past two years, it was the President’s view on rates that prevailed. At this time, there is no reason to believe that negative rates are in the offing, but in the event that the initial rebound in economic data starts to stumble as infection counts rise, this cannot be ruled out. This is especially so if we see the equity market turn back lower, something which the Fed seemingly cannot countenance. Needless to say, we have not finished this story by a long shot, and I would contend there is a very good chance we see additional Fed programs, including purchasing equity ETF’s.

Of course, the reason I focused on a retrospective is because market activity today has been extremely dull. Friday’s equity rout in the US saw follow through in Asia (Nikkei -2.3%, Hang Seng -1.0%) although Europe has moved from flat to slightly higher (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.25%, FTSE 100 +0.5%). US futures are mixed, with the surprising outcome of Dow and S&P futures higher by a few tenths of a percent while NASDAQ futures are lower by 0.3%. The bond market story is that of watching paint dry, a favorite Fed metaphor, with modest support for bonds, but yields in all the haven bonds within 1bp of Friday’s levels.

And finally, the dollar is arguably a bit softer this morning, with the euro the leading gainer in the G10, +0.5%, and only the pound (-0.2%) falling on the day. It seems that there are a number of algorithmic models out selling dollars broadly today, and the euro is the big winner. In the EMG bloc, the pattern is the same, with most currencies gaining led by PLN(+0.65%) after the weekend elections promised continuity in the government there, and ZAR (+0.55%) which is simply benefitting from broad dollar weakness. The exception to the rule is RUB, which has fallen 0.25% on the back of weakening oil prices.

On the data front, despite nothing of note today, we have a full calendar, especially on Thursday with the early release of payroll data given Friday’s quasi holiday

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 3.70%
  Chicago PMI 44.0
  Consumer Confidence 90.5
Wednesday ADP Employment 2.95M
  ISM Manufacturing 49.5
  ISM Prices Paid 45.0
  FOMC Minutes  
Thursday Initial Claims 1.336M
  Continuing Claims 18.904M
  Nonfarm Payrolls 3.0M
  Private Payrolls 2.519M
  Manufacturing Payrolls 425K
  Unemployment Rate 12.4%
  Average Hourly Earnings -0.8% (5.3% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.5
  Participation Rate 61.2%
  Trade Balance -$53.0B
  Factory Orders 7.9%
  Durable Goods 15.8%
  -ex transport 4.0%

Source: Bloomberg

So, as you can see, a full slate for the week. Obviously, all eyes will be on the employment data on Wednesday and Thursday. At this point, it seems we are going to continue to see data pointing to a sharp recovery, the so-called V, but the question remains, how much longer this can go on. However, this is clearly today’s underlying meme, and the ensuing risk appetite is likely to continue to undermine the dollar, at least for the day. We will have to see how the data this week stacks up against the ongoing growth in Covid infections and the re-shutting down of portions of the US economy. The latter was the equity market’s nemesis last week. Will this week be any different?

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Tremors of Dread

This weekend we learned nothing new
‘Bout what central bankers will do
As they look ahead
With tremors of dread
That QE’s a major miscue

There is a bit of a conundrum developing as headlines shout about a surge in new cases of the coronavirus at the same time that countries around the world continue to reopen from their previous lockdowns. It has become increasingly apparent that governments everywhere have determined that the economic damage of the shutdown in response to Covid now outweighs the human cost of further fatalities from the disease. Of course, three months on from when the epidemic really began to rage in the West, there is also a much better understanding of who is most vulnerable and how to maintain higher levels of safe behavior, notably social distancing and wearing masks. And so, while there are still extremely vocal views on both sides of the argument about the wisdom of reopening, it is very clear economies are going to reopen.

Meanwhile, central banks continue to bask in the glow of broadly positive press that their actions have been instrumental in propping up the stock market preventing an even greater contraction of economic activity than what has actually played out. The constant refrain from every central bank speaker has been that cutting rates and expanding their balance sheets has been very effective. Oh, they are also prepared to do even more of both if they deem such action necessary because it turns out it wasn’t effective.

However, despite these encomiums about central bank perspicacity, investors find themselves at a crossroads these days. Risk assets continue to perform extremely well overall, with stocks having recouped most of their losses from March, but haven assets continue to demonstrate significant concern over the future as long-term government bond yields continue to point to near-recessionary economic activity over the medium and long term. At the end of the day, however, I think the only universal truth is that the global economy, and certainly financial markets, have become addicted to QE, and the central banks are not about to stop providing that liquidity no matter what else happens.

On this subject, this morning we had two very different visions espoused, with BOE Governor Bailey explaining that when things get better, QT will be the first response, not a raising of rates. Of course, we all remember the “paint drying” effect of QT in the US in 2018, and how it turns out removing that liquidity is really hard without causing a financial earthquake. At the same time, the ECB’s Madame Lagarde and her minions have been enthusiastically describing just how proportionate their QE purchases have been in response to the German Constitutional Court ruling from last month. Frankly, it would be easy for the ECB to point out the proportionality of buying more Italian debt given there is much more Italian debt than any other type in the EU. But I don’t think that was the German court’s viewpoint. At any rate, there is no reason to expect anything but ongoing QE for the foreseeable future. In fact, the only thing that can stop it is a significant uptick in measured inflation, but that has not yet occurred, nor does it seem likely in the next couple of quarters. So, the presses will continue to roll.

With this as background, a turn to the markets shows a fairly benign session overall. Equity market in Asia were very modestly lower (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng -0.5%, Shanghai flat) while European markets are also a touch softer (DAX -0.1%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 flat) although US futures are pointing higher, with all three indices up about 0.75% as I type. Meanwhile, bond markets are also showing muted price action, although the tendency is toward slightly lower yields as Treasuries have decline 1bp and Bunds 2bps. While the direction here is consistent with a risk off session, the very slight magnitude of the moves makes it less convincing.

As to the dollar, it is definitely on its back foot this morning, falling against most G10 and many EMG currencies. Kiwi is atop the leaderboard this morning, rallying 0.6% with Aussie just behind at 0.5%, as both currencies recoup a bit of the past two week’s losses. In fact, that seems to be the story behind most of the G10 today, we are seeing a rebound from the dollar’s last two weeks of strength. The only exception is the yen, which is essentially unchanged, after its own solid recent performance, and NOK, which has edged lower by 0.15% on the back of a little oil price weakness.

In the EMG bloc, the picture is a bit more mixed with APAC currencies having suffered last night, led by KRW (-0.5%) as tensions with the North increase, and IDR (-0.35%) as the market demonstrated some concern over the future trajectory of growth and interest rates there. On the positive side, it is the CE4 that is showing the best gains today with PLN (+0.8%) far and away the best performer after posting a much better than expected Retail Sales number of +14.5%, which prompted the government to highlight the opportunity for a v-shaped recovery.

Looking ahead to data this week, nothing jumps out as likely to have a big impact.

Today Existing Home Sales 4.09M
Tuesday PMI Manufacturing 50.8
  PMI Services 48.0
  New Home Sales 635K
Thursday Initial Claims 1.35M
  Continuing Claims 19.85M
  Durable Goods 10.9%
  -ex transport 2.3%
  GDP Q1 -5.0%
Friday Personal Income -6.0%
  Personal Spending 8.8%
  Core PCE 0.0% (0.9% Y/Y)
  Michigan Sentiment 79.0

Source: Bloomberg

The thing about the PMI data is that interpretation of the data is more difficult these days as a rebound from depression levels may not be indicative of real strength, rather just less weakness. In fact, the bigger concern for policymakers these days is that the Initial Claims data is not declining very rapidly. After that huge spike in March, we have seen a substantial decline, but the pace of that decline has slowed alarmingly. It seems that we may be witnessing a second wave of layoffs as companies re-evaluate just how many employees they need to operate effectively, especially in a much slower growth environment. And remember, if employment doesn’t rebound more sharply, the US economy, which is 70% consumption based, is going to be in for a much longer period of slow or negative growth. I assure you that is not the scenario currently priced into the equity markets, so beware.

As to the dollar today, recent price activity has not been consistent with the historic risk appetite, and it is not clear to me which is leading which, stocks leading the dollar or vice versa. For now, it appears that the day is pointing to maintaining the overnight weakness, but I see no reason for this to extend in any major way.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Sand on the Beach

The central bank known as the Fed
Injected more funds, it is said
Than sand on the beach
While they did beseech
The banks, all that money to spread

But lately the numbers have shown
Liquidity, less, they condone
Thus traders have bid
For dollars, not quid
Nor euros in every time zone

A funny thing seems to be happening in markets lately, which first became evident when the dollar decoupled from equity markets a few days ago. It seemed odd that the dollar managed to rally despite continued strength in equity markets as the traditional risk-on stance was buy stocks, sell bonds, dollars and the yen. But lately, we are seeing stock prices continue higher, albeit with a bit tougher sledding, while the dollar has seemingly forged a bottom, at least on the charts.

The first lesson from this is that markets are remarkably capable at sussing out changes in underlying fundamentals, certainly far more capable than individuals. But of far more importance, at least with respect to understanding what is happening in the FX market, is that dollar liquidity, something the Fed has been proffering by the trillion over the past three months, is starting to, ever so slightly, tighten. This is evident in the fact that the Fed’s balance sheet actually shrunk this week, to “only” $7.14 trillion from last week’s $7.22 trillion. While this represents just a 1% shrinkage, and seemingly wouldn’t have that big an impact, it is actually quite a major change in the market.

Think back to the period in March when the worst seemed upon us, equity markets were bottoming, and central banks were panicking. The dollar was exploding higher at that time as both companies and countries around the world suddenly found their revenue streams drying up and their ability to service and repay their trillions of dollars of outstanding debt severely impaired. That was the genesis of the Fed’s dollar swap lines to other central banks, as Chairman Jay wanted to insure that other countries would have temporary access to those needed dollars. At that time, we also saw the basis swap bottom out, as borrowing dollars became prohibitively expensive, and in the end, many institutions decided to simply buy dollars on the foreign exchange markets as a means of securing their payments.

However, once those swap lines were in place, and the Fed announced all their programs and started growing the balance sheet by $75 billion/day, those apocalyptic fears ebbed, investors decided the end was not nigh and took those funds and bought stocks. This explains the massive rebound in the equity markets, as well as the dollar’s weakness that has been evident since late March. In fact, the dollar peaked and the stock market bottomed on the same day!

But as the recovery starts to gather some steam, with recent data showing that while things are still awful, they are not as bad as they were in April or early May, the Fed is reducing the frequency of their dollar swap operations to three times per week, rather than daily. They have reduced their QE purchases to less than $4 billion/day, and essentially, they are mopping up some of that excess liquidity. FX markets have figured this out, which is why the dollar has been pretty steadily strengthening for the past seven sessions. As long as the Fed continues down this path, I think we can expect the dollar to continue to perform.

And this is true regardless of what other central banks or nations do. For example, yesterday’s BOE action, increasing QE by £100 billion, was widely expected, but interestingly, is likely to be the last of their moves. First, it was not a unanimous vote as Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, voted for no change. The other thing is that expectations for future government Gilt issuance hover in the £70 billion range, which means that the BOE will have successfully monetized the entire amount of government issuance necessary to address the Covid crash. But regardless of whether this appears GBP bullish, it is dwarfed by the Fed activities. Positive Brexit news could not support the pound, and now it is starting to pick up steam to the downside. As I type, it is lower by 0.3% on the day which follows yesterday’s greater than 1% decline and takes the move since its recent peak to more than 3.4%.

What about the euro, you may ask? Well, it too has been suffering as not only is the Fed beginning to withdraw some USD liquidity, but the ECB, via yesterday’s TLTRO loans has injected yet another €1.3 trillion into the market. While the single currency is essentially unchanged today, it is down 2.0% from its peak on the 10th of June. And this pattern has repeated itself across all currencies, both G10 and EMG. Except, of course, for the yen, which has rallied a bit more than 1% since that same day.

Of course, in the emerging markets, the movement has been a bit more exciting as MXN has fallen more than 5.25% since that day and BRL nearly 10%. But the point is, this pattern is unlikely to stop until the Fed stops withdrawing liquidity from the markets. Since they clearly take their cues from the equity markets, as long as stocks continue to rally, so will the dollar right now. Of course, if stocks turn tail, the dollar is likely to rally even harder right up until the Fed blinks and starts to turn on the taps again. But for now, this is a dollar story, and one where central bank activity is the primary driver.

I apologize for the rather long-winded start but given the lack of interesting idiosyncratic stories in the market today, I thought it was a good time for the analysis. Turning to today’s session, FX market movement has been generally quite muted with, if anything, a bias for modest dollar strength. In fact, across both blocs, no currency has moved more than 0.5%, a clear indication of a lack of new drivers. The liquidity story is a background feature, not headline news…at least not yet.

Other markets, too, have been quiet, with equity markets around the world very slightly firmer, bond markets very modestly softer (higher yields) and commodity markets generally in decent shape. On the data front, the only noteworthy release was UK Retail Sales, which rebounded 10.2% in May but were still lower by 9.8% Y/Y. This is the exact pattern we have seen in virtually every data point this month. As it happens, there are no US data points today, but we do hear from four Fed speakers, Rosengren, Quarles, Mester and the Chairman. However, they have not changed their tune since the meeting last week, and certainly there has been no data or other news which would have given them an impetus to do so.

The final interesting story is that China has apparently recommitted to honoring the phase one trade deal which means they will be buying a lot of soybeans pretty soon. The thing is, I doubt it is because of the trade deal as much as it is a comment on their harvest and the fact they need them. But the markets have largely ignored the story. In the end, at this point, all things continue to lead to a stronger dollar, so hedgers, take note.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

They’re Trying

The Kiwis have doubled QE
The Brits saw collapsed GDP
The Fed keeps on buying
More bonds as they’re trying
To preempt a debt jubilee

The RBNZ was the leading economic story overnight as at their meeting, though they left interest rates unchanged at 0.25%, they virtually doubled the amount of QE purchases they will be executing, taking it up to NZ$60 billion. Not only that, they promised to consider even lower interest rates if deemed necessary. Of course, with rates already near zero, that means we could be looking at the next nation to head through the interest rate looking glass. It should be no surprise that NZD fell on the release, and it is currently lower by 0.9%, the worst performing currency of the day.

Meanwhile, the UK released a raft of data early this morning, all of which was unequivocally awful. Before I highlight the numbers, remember that the UK was already suffering from its Brexit hangover, so looking at slow 2020 growth in any case. GDP data showed that the economy shrank 5.8% in March and 2.0% in Q1 overall. The frightening thing is that the UK didn’t really implement any lockdown measures until the last week of March. This bodes particularly ill for the April and Q2 data. IP fell 4.2% and Consumption fell 1.7%. Thus, what we know is that the UK economy is quite weak.

There is, however, a different way to view the data. Virtually every release was “better” than the median forecast. One of the truly consistent features of analysts’ forecasts about any economy is that they are far more volatile than the actual outcome. The pattern is generally one where analysts understate a large move because their models are not well equipped for exogenous events. Then, once an event occurs, those models extrapolate out at the initial rate of change, which typically overstates the negative news. For example, if you recall, the early prognostications for the US employment data in March called for a loss of 100K jobs, which ultimately printed at -713K. By last week’s release of the April data, the analyst community had gone completely the other way, anticipating more than 22M job losses, with the -20.5M number seeming better by comparison. So, we are now firmly in the overshooting phase of economic forecasts. The thing about the current situation though, is that there is so much uncertainty over the next steps by governments, that current forecasts still have enormous error bars. In other words, they are unlikely to be even remotely accurate on a consistent basis, regardless of who is forecasting. Keep that in mind when looking at the data.

In fact, the one truism is that on an absolute basis, the economic situation is currently horrendous. A payroll report of -20.5M instead of -22.0M is not a triumph of policymaking, it is a humanitarian disaster. And it is this consideration, that regardless of data outcomes vs. forecasts, the data is awful, that informs the view that equity markets are unrealistically priced. Thus, the battle continues between those who look at the economy and see significant concerns and those who look at the central bank support and see blue skies ahead. This author is in the former camp but would certainly love to be wrong. Regardless, please remember that data that beats a terrible forecast by being a little less terrible is not the solution to the current crisis. I fear it will be many months before we see actual positive data.

Turning to this morning’s session, the modest risk aversion seen in equity (DAX -1.5%, CAC -1.7%) and bond (Treasuries -1bp, Bunds -2bps) markets is less clear in the FX world. In fact, other than the NZD, the rest of the G10 is firmer this morning led by NOK (+0.7%) on the strength of the continuing rebound in the oil market. Saudi Arabia’s announcement that they will unilaterally cut output by a further 1 million bpd starting in June has helped support crude. In addition, another thesis is making the rounds, that mass transit will have lost its appeal for many people in the wake of Covid-19, thus those folks will be returning to their private vehicles and using more gasoline, not less. This should also bode well for the Big 3 auto manufacturers and their supply chains if it does describe the post-covid reality. It should be no surprise that in the G10, the second-best performer is CAD (+0.4%) nor that in the EMG bloc, it is MXN (+1.0%) and RUB (+0.5%) atop the leaderboard.

Other than the oil linked currencies, though, there has been very little movement overall, with more gainers than losers, but most movement less than 0.25%. the one exception to this is HUF, which has fallen 0.5%, after news that President Orban is changing the tax rules regarding city governments (which coincidentally are controlled by his opponents) and pushing tax revenues to the county level (which happen to be controlled by his own party). This nakedly political maneuvering is not seen as a positive for the forint. But other than that, there is little else to tell.

On the data front, this morning brings PPI data (exp -0.4%, 0.8% ex food & energy) but given we already saw CPI yesterday, and more importantly, inflation issues are not even on the Fed’s agenda right now, this is likely irrelevant. Of more importance will be the 9:00 comments from Chairman Powell as market participants will want to hear about his views on the economy and of likely future activity. Will there be more focused forward guidance? Are negative rates possible? What other assets might they consider buying? While all of these are critical questions, it does seem unlikely he will go there today. Instead, I would look for platitudes about the Fed doing everything they can, and that they have plenty of capacity, and willpower, to do more.

And that’s really it for what is starting as a quiet day. The dollar is under modest pressure but remains much closer to recent highs than recent lows. As long as investors continue to accept that the Fed and its central bank brethren are on top of the situation, I imagine that we can see further gains in equity markets and further weakness in the dollar. I just don’t think it can go on that much longer.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Overkill

The talk in the market is still
‘Bout German high court overkill
While pundits debate
The bond program’s fate
The euro is heading downhill

Amid ongoing dreadful economic data, the top story continues to be the German Constitutional Court’s ruling on (rebuke of?) the ECB’s Public Sector Purchase Program, better known as QE. The issue that drew the court’s attention was whether the ECB’s actions to help support the Eurozone overall are eroding the sovereignty of its member states. Consider, if any of the bonds that are bought by the central banks default, it is the individual nations that will need to pay the cost out of their respective budgets. That means that the unelected officials at the ECB are making potential claims on sovereign nations’ finances, a place more rightly accorded to national legislatures. This is a serious issue, and a very valid point. (The same point has been made about Fed programs). However, despite the magnitude of the issues raised, the court gave the ECB just three months to respond, and if they are not satisfied with that response, they will bar the Bundesbank from participating in any further QE programs. And that, my friends, would be the end. The end of the euro, the end of the Eurozone, and quite possibly the end of the EU.

Remember, unlike the Fed, which actually executes its monetary policy decisions directly in the market, the ECB relies on each member nation’s central bank to enter the market and purchase the appropriate assets. So, the ECB’s balance sheet is really just a compilation of the balance sheets of all the national central banks. If the Bundesbank is prevented from implementing ECB policy on this score, given Germany’s status as the largest nation, and thus largest buyer in the program, the effectiveness of any further ECB programs would immediately be called into question, as would the legitimacy of the entire institution. This is the very definition of an existential threat to the single currency, and one that the market is now starting to consider more carefully. It is clearly the driving force behind the euro’s further decline this morning, down another 0.5% which makes 1.5% thus far in May. In fact, while we saw broad dollar weakness in April, as equity markets rallied and risk was embraced, the euro has now ceded all of those gains. And I assure you, if there is any doubt that the ECB will be able to answer the questions posed by the court, the euro will decline much further.

The euro is not the only instrument under pressure from this ruling, the entire European government bond market is falling today. Now, granted, the declines are not that sharp, but they are universal, with every member of the Eurozone seeing bond prices fall and yields tick higher. This certainly makes sense overall, as the ECB has been the buyer of (first and) last resort in government bond markets, and the idea that they may be prevented from acting in the future is a serious concern. Simply consider how much more debt all Eurozone nations are going to need to issue in order to pay for their fiscal programs. Across the entire Eurozone, forecasts now point to in excess of €1 trillion of new bonds this year, already larger than the ECB’s PEPP. And if there is a second wave of the virus, forcing a reclosing of economies with a longer period of lockdown, that number is only going to increase further. Without the ECB to absorb the bulk of that debt, yields in Eurozone debt will have much further to climb. The point is that this issue, which was initially seen as minor and technical, may actually be far more important than anything else. And while the odds are still with the ECB to continue with business as usual, the probability of a disruption is clearly non-zero.

Away from the technicalities of the German Constitutional Court, there is far less of interest in the markets overall. Equity markets are mixed, with gainers and losers in both the Asian session as well as Europe. US futures, at this time, are pointing higher, with all three indices looking toward 1% gains at the open. And the dollar is broadly, though not universally, higher.

Aside from the euro’s decline, we have also seen weakness in the pound (-0.4%) after the Construction PMI (the least impactful of the PMI measures) collapsed to a reading of 8.2, from last month’s dreadful 39.2. This merely reinforces what type of hit the UK economy is going to take. On the plus side, the yen is higher by 0.3%, seemingly on the back of position adjustments as given the other risk signals, I would not characterize today as a risk-off session.

In the EMG space, there are far more losers than gainers today, led by the Turkish lira (-1.0%) and the Russian ruble (-0.8%). The lira is under pressure after new economic projections point to a larger economic contraction this year of as much as 3.4%. This currency weakness is despite the central bank’s boosting of FX swaps in an effort to prevent a further decline. Meanwhile, despite oil’s ongoing rebound (WTI +3.6%) the ruble seems to be reacting to recent gains and feeling some technical selling pressure. Elsewhere in the space, we have seen losses on the order of 0.3%-0.5% across most APAC and CE4 currencies. The one exception to the rule is KRW, which rallied 0.6% overnight as expectations grow that South Korea is going to be able to reopen the bulk of its economy soon. One other positive there is that demand for USD loans (via Fed swap lines) has diminished so much the BOK is stopping the auctions for now. That is a clear indication that financial stress in the nation has fallen.

On the data front, this morning brings the ADP Employment number (exp -21.0M), which will be the latest hint regarding Friday’s payroll data. Clearly, a month of huge Initial Claims data will have taken its toll. Yesterday’s Fed speakers didn’t tell us very much new, but merely highlighted the fact that each member has their own view of how things may evolve and none of them are confident in those views. Uncertainty remains the word of the day.

For now, the narratives of the past several weeks don’t seem to have quite the strength that they did, and I would say that the focus is on the process of economies reopening. While that is very good news, the concern lies after they have reopened, and the carnage becomes clearer. Just how many jobs have been permanently erased because of the changes that are coming to our world in the wake of Covid-19? It is that feature, as well as the nature of economic activity afterwards, that will drive the long-term outcome, and as of now, no clear path is in sight. The opportunity for further market dislocations remains quite high, and hedgers need to maintain their programs, especially during these times.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

To Aid and Abet

The treaties that built the EU
Explain what each nation should do
The German high court
Ruled that to comport
A challenge was in their purview

But politics trumps all the laws
And so Lagarde won’t even pause
In buying up debt
To aid and abet
The PIGS for a much greater cause

Arguably, the biggest story overnight was just not that big. The German Constitutional Court (GCC) ruled that the Bundesbank was wrong not to challenge the implementation of the first QE program in 2015 on the basis that the Asset Purchase Program (APP) was a form of monetary support explicitly prohibited. Back when the euro first came into existence, Germany’s biggest fear was that the ECB would finance profligate governments and that the Germans would ultimately have to pay the bill. In fact, this remains their biggest fear. While technically, QE is not actually debt monetization, that is only true if central banks allow their balance sheets to shrink back to pre-QE sizes. However, what we have learned since the GFC in 2008-09 is that central bank balance sheets are permanently larger, thus those emergency purchases of government debt now form an integral part of the ECB structure. In other words, that debt has effectively been monetized. The essence of this ruling is that the German government should have challenged QE from the start, as it is an explicit breach of the rules preventing the ECB from financing governments.

The funny thing is, while the court ruled in this manner, it is not clear to me what the outcome will be. At this point, it is very clear that the ECB is not going to be changing their programs, either APP or PEPP, and so no remedy is obvious. Arguably, the biggest risk in the ruling is that the GCC will have issued a binding opinion that will essentially be ignored, thus diminishing the power of their future rulings. Undoubtedly, there will be some comments within the three-month timeline laid out by the GCC, but there will be no effective changes to ECB policy. In other words, like every other central bank, the ECB has found themselves officially above the law.

While the actuality of the story may not have much impact on ECB activities, the FX market did respond by selling the euro. This morning it is lower by 0.5%, which takes its decline this month to 1.2% and earns it the crown, currently, of worst performing G10 currency. The thought process seems to be that there is nothing to stop the ECB in its efforts to debase the euro, so the path of least resistance remains lower.

Beyond the GCC story though, there is little new in the way of news. Equity markets have a better tone on the strength of oil’s continuing rebound, up nearly 10% this morning as I type, as production cuts begin to take hold, as well as, I would contend, the GCC ruling. In essence, despite numerous claims that central banks have overstepped their bounds, it is quite clear that nobody can stop them from buying up an ever larger group of financial assets and supporting markets. So, yesterday’s late day US rally led to a constructive tone overnight (Hang Seng +1.1%, Australia +1.6%, China and Japan are both closed for holidays) which has been extended through the European session (both DAX and CAC +1.8%, FTSE 100 +1.4%) with US futures pointing higher as well.

In the government bond market, Treasury yields are 3.5bps higher, but the real story seems to be in Europe. Bund yields have also rallied a bit, 2bps, but that can easily be attributed to the risk-on mentality that is permeating the market this morning. However, I would have expected Italian and Spanish yields to have fallen on the ruling. After all, they have become risk assets, not havens, and yet both have seen price declines of note with Italian yields higher by 10bps and Spanish (and Portuguese) higher by 5bps. Once again, we see the equity and bond markets looking at the same news in very different lights.

As to the FX market, it is a mixed picture this morning. While the Swiss franc is tracking the euro lower, also down by 0.5% this morning, we are seeing NOK (+0.4%) and CAD (+0.2%) seeming to benefit from the oil price rally. Aussie, too, is in better shape this morning, up 0.2% on the broad risk-on appetite and news that more countries are trying to reopen after their Covid inspired shutdowns.

The EMG space is similarly mixed with ZAR (+1.25%), RUB (+1.0%) and MXN (+0.6%) the leading gainers. While the ruble’s support is obviously oil, ZAR has benefitted from the overall risk appetite. This morning, the South African government issued ZAR 4.5 billion of bonds in three maturities and received bid-to-cover ratios of 6.8x on average. With yields there still so much higher than elsewhere (>8.0%), investors are willing to take the risk despite the recent credit rating downgrade. Finally, the peso is clearly benefitting from the oil price as well as the broad risk-on movement. The peso remains remarkably volatile these days, having gained and lost upwards of 5% several times in the past month, often seeing daily ranges of more than 3%. Today simply happens to be a plus day.

On the downside, the damage is far less severe with CE4 currencies all down around the same 0.5% as the euro. When there are no specific stories, those currencies tend to track the euro pretty tightly. As to the rest of APAC, there were very modest gains to be seen, but nothing of consequence.

On the data front, yesterday’s Factory Orders data was even worse than expected at -10.3% but did not have much impact. This morning brings the Trade Balance (exp -$44.2B) as well as ISM Non-Manufacturing (37.9). At this point, everybody knows that the data is going to look awful compared to historical releases, so it appears that bad numbers have lost their shock value. At least that is likely to be true until the payroll data later this week. The RBA left rates unchanged last night, as expected, although they have reduced the pace of QE according to their read of what is necessary to keep markets functioning well there. And finally, we will hear from three Fed speakers today, Evans, Bostic and Bullard, but again, it seems hard to believe they will say anything really new.

Overall, risk appetite has grown a bit overnight, but for the dollar, it is not clear to me that it has a short-term direction. Choppiness until the next key piece of news seems the most likely outcome. Let’s see how things behave come Friday.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

 

Risk Off’s Set To Soar

Though April saw rallies galore
In equities, bonds and much more
The first days of May
Seem set to convey
A tale that risk-off’s set to soar

Last week finished on a down note for risk appetite, as we saw equities decline sharply on Friday, at least in those markets that were open, as well as the first cracks in the rebound in currencies vs. the dollar. This morning, those trends are starting to reassert themselves and we look to be heading toward a full-blown risk-off session.

A quick recap reminds us that Thursday, which was month end, saw a modest decline in equities which was easily attributed to portfolio rebalancing. After all, the April rally was impressive in any context, let alone the current situation where huge swathes of the global economy have been shuttered for more than a month. Friday, while a holiday in many markets around the world, saw far more significant equity market declines in countries that were open, with US markets falling between 2.5% and 3.2%. The weekend saw loads of stories highlighting the adage, ‘Sell in May and go away’, as an appropriate strategy this year. This was compounded by the far more bearish take by Warren Buffett regarding the US economy, where he explained that Berkshire Hathaway had exited its positions in airline stocks and instead had grown its cash pile to $138 billion. These are not the signs of confidence that investors crave, and so this morning, European equity markets are all much lower, led by the CAC (-4.0%) and DAX (-3.5%). While both China and Japan were closed for holidays, the Hang Seng had a terrible performance, falling 4.2%, and we saw sharp declines throughout the rest of Emerging Asia. Meanwhile, US futures markets are all lower by about 1% as I type.

I guess the question at hand remains the sustainability of last month’s price action. Right now, there are two key subjects where the underlying narrative is up for grabs; risk appetite and inflation. For the former, there is a large contingent who believe that the worst is over with respect to Covid-19, and its spread is abating. This means that over the course of the next few weeks and months, economies are going to reopen and that the situation will return to normal. There is much talk of a V-shaped recovery on the strength of the extraordinary efforts of central banks and governments around the world. The flip side of this argument is that despite the tentative steps toward reopening economies worldwide, the pace of recovery will be significantly slower than the pace of the decline. Concerns about how much of the economy has been irrevocably destroyed, with small businesses worldwide closing, and unemployment everywhere rising sharply, are rife. While we are still in the first half of Q1 earnings season, the data to date have not been pretty, and remember, the virus only became a significant issue in March, generally. This implies that the bearish view may have more legs, and it is the side I believe fits the fact pattern more accurately.

The inflation narrative is just as fierce, with the hard money advocates all decrying the central bank activity as opening the door to currency collapses and hyperinflation right around the corner. Meanwhile, the other side of the argument looks to the history of the past twenty years, where Japan has been printing yen and effectively monetizing its debt, while still unable to achieve any sort of inflation at all. In this case, I think the deflationistas make the best case for the near term, as the combination of unprecedented demand destruction as well as extraordinary growth in debt both point to slower growth and price declines in the short and medium term. However, that is not to ignore the fact that central banks have gone far outside the boundaries of what had traditionally been viewed as their bailiwick, and especially if we do see a debt jubilee of some type, where government debt owned by a nation’s own central bank is forgiven, then the opportunity for a significant inflationary outcome remains on the table. Just not right away.

Adding it up for today points to a reduced risk appetite as evidenced by those equity markets that are open. Bond markets have not played along as one might have expected, with Treasury yields lower by only 1bp, and Bund yields, along with the rest of Europe’s, actually higher this morning. That price action seems to be a response to concerns over the outcome of the German Constitutional Court’s ruling due tomorrow, regarding the legality of QE, the PEPP and, perhaps more critically, the necessity of the ECB to follow the Capital Key when purchasing bonds.

In the FX markets, the dollar has resumed its role as king of the world, rallying against every currency except the yen, which has essentially stayed flat. In the G10 space, NOK is the leading decliner, down 1.2% as oil prices are back on the schneid with WTI down 6.3% this morning. But we are seeing the pound (-0.8%) and Swedish krone (-0.7%) under significant pressure as well. GBP traders are looking ahead to Thursday’s BOE meeting where expectations are rising for another bout of policy ease, which fits in with the broad risk-off framework. The krone, meanwhile, is suffering as the Riksbank finds itself in a difficult spot regarding its QE program. It seems that despite its claims that it would be purchasing not only government bonds, but corporates as well, that is illegal based on the bank’s guiding legislation, and so there is some monetary policy confusion now undermining the currency.

In the EMG space, IDR (-1.45%) and RUB (-1.3%) have been the weakest performers, with the ruble suffering from both weaker oil prices as well as the recent increase in the pace of infections in Russia. While things there are already under pressure, they could well get worse before they get better. Meanwhile, Indonesia saw a reversal of half of last week’s currency gains as PMI data (27.5) highlighted just how weak the near-term looks for the island nation. While the bulk of the rest of the space has suffered on the back of the overall risk-off sentiment, there has been a later reversal in ZAR, where the rand is now higher by 0.75% after its PMI data surprised one and all by printing at 46.1, well above expectations and a very modest decline compared to March, albeit still in contractionary territory.

On the docket this week, we see a great deal of information culminating in the payroll report on Friday, and that is certain to be frightful.

Today Factory Orders -9.4%
Tuesday Trade Balance -$44.2B
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 37.8
Wednesday ADP Employment -20.5M
Thursday Initial Claims -3.0M
  Continuing Claims -19.6M
  Nonfarm Productivity -5.5%
  Unit Labor Costs 3.8%
  Consumer Credit $15.0B
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls -21.3M
  Private Payrolls -21.7M
  Manufacturing Payrolls -2.25M
  Unemployment Rate 16.0%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.3% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 33.5
  Participation Rate 61.6%

Source: Bloomberg

The range of expectations for the payroll number highlight the ongoing confusion, with estimates between -840K and -30.0M. Regardless, the number will be a record, of that there is no doubt.

In addition to all this data, we hear from the RBA and the BOE on Thursday, with further ease on the cards, and we get to hear from five different Fed speakers. In these unprecedented times, as policymakers struggle to keep up with the economic destruction, we will soon become inured to shocking data. But that will not make it any better, and I fear that shock or not, risk appetites will continue to diminish as the month, and year, progresses. This means that the dollar is likely to retain its bid for a while yet.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Infinite Buying

Is infinite buying
Kuroda-san’s new mantra
If so, will it help?

An interesting lesson was learned, for those paying attention, yesterday after a headline hit the tape about the BOJ. The headline, BOJ Considering Unlimited JGB Purchases, had an immediate impact on the yen’s value, driving it lower by 0.7% in minutes. After all, logic dictates that a central bank that will buy all the government debt available will drive rates, no matter where they are, even lower, and that the currency would suffer on the back of the news. But, as is often the case, upon further reflection, the market realized that there was much less here than met the eye, and the yen recouped all those losses by early afternoon. In fact, over the past two sessions, the yen is essentially unchanged overall.

But why, you may ask, would that headline have been misleading. The key is to recognize that the BOJ’s current policy describes their QQE (Qualitative and Quantitative Easing) as targeting ¥80 trillion per year, equivalent in today’s market to approximately $740 billion. But they haven’t come close to achieving that target since 2017, actually only purchasing about ¥15 trillion last year. That’s a pretty big miss, but a year after they created that target, they began Yield-Curve Control (YCC), which states that 10-year JGB’s will be kept at around a 0.0% yield, +/-0.2%. Now, given that the BOJ already owns nearly 50% of all JGB’s outstanding, there is very little actual trading ongoing in the JGB market, so it doesn’t really move very much. The point is, the BOJ doesn’t need to buy many JGB’s to keep yields around 0.0%. However, they have been concerned over the optics of reducing that ¥80 trillion target, as reducing it might seem a signal that the BOJ was tightening policy. But now, in the wake of the Fed’s announcement that they will be executing unlimited QE, the BOJ has the perfect answer. They can get rid of a target that no longer means anything, while seeming to expand their program. At the same time, when pressed, they will point to their successful YCC and claim they are purchasing everything necessary to keep rates low. And in fairness, they will be right.

Next week it’s the central bank three
Who meet and they’ll try to agree
On proper next steps
(Increasing the PEPP?)
And printing cash like it was free

This was merely a prelude to what the next several days are going to hold, anticipation of the next central bank actions as the three major central banks, BOJ, Fed and ECB, all meet next week. At this point, we have already seen all the excitement regarding the BOJ, and as to the Fed, while they may well announce more details on their efforts to get funds flowing to SME’s, they are already at unlimited QE (and they are active, buying $75 billion/day) and so it seems unlikely that there will be anything else new to be learned.

The ECB, however, is the place where all the action is going to be. Remember, Madame Lagarde was a little slow off the mark, when back in March she stated that the ECB’s job was not to worry about spreads in the government bond market. Granted, within two weeks, after the market crushed Italian BTP’s and called into question Italy’s ability to fund its Covid-19 response, she realized that was, in fact, her only role. And so subsequently we got a €750 billion PEPP program that included Greek debt for the first time. But clearly, based on the recent PMI data, as well as things like this morning’s Ifo Expectations Survey (69.4 vs. exp 75.0), more is needed. So, speculation is now rampant that PEPP will be increased by €250 billion, and that the Capital Key will be explicitly scrapped. The latter is important because that is the driver of which nation’s debt they purchase and is based on the relative size of each economy. But the main problem is Italy, and so you can be sure that the ECB is going to wind up with a lot more Italian debt than would be allowed under the old rules.

Turning back to this week, though, we still have a whole day to traverse before the weekend arrives. Overall, markets are beginning to quiet down, with actual volatility a bit softer than we had seen recently. For example, though equity markets in Europe are lower, the declines are between 0.7% (FTSE 100) and 1.1% (Spain’s IBEX), with the CAC and DAX in between. If you recall, we were seeing daily movement on the order of 2%-5% not that long ago. The same was true overnight, with the Nikkei (-0.9%), Hang Seng (-0.6%) and Shanghai (-1.1%) all softer but by less dramatic amounts. As to US futures, while they were negative earlier, they are actually currently higher by about 0.5%, although we have a long way to go before the opening.

Bond markets are uninspiring, with Treasuries basically unchanged. European markets are a bit firmer (yields lower) across the board as investors try to anticipate the mooted increase in PEPP. And JGB’s are yielding -0.026%, right where the BOJ wants them.

The dollar this morning is now ever so slightly softer, with CAD actually the leading gainer up 0.2%, while the rest of the G10 is +/-0.1%. The Ifo data was the only release of note, although we have seen oil prices rebound slightly, currently higher by about 1.0% helping both CAD and NOK. In the EMG bloc, the story is a bit more mixed, although gainers have had a better day than losers. By that I mean, CZK (+1.35%), HUF (+1.1%) and RUB (+1.0%) have seen stronger gains than the worst performers (INR and KRW both -0.5%). As always, there are idiosyncratic drivers, with CZK seeming to benefit from word that lockdowns are about to ease, while HUF is gaining on the imminent beginning of QE purchases by the central bank. As to RUB, the combination of oil’s continuing rally off its worst levels earlier this week, and the Bank of Russia’s 50bp rate cut, to 5.50%, has investors looking for better times ahead. Ironically, that stronger oil seems to be weighing on the rupee, while the won fell as foreign equity selling dominated the market narrative.

Yesterday’s Claims data was pretty much as expected, granted that was 4.4M, still horrific, but the market absorbed the news easily. This morning brings Durable Goods (exp -12.0%, -6.5% ex transport) and then at 10:00 Michigan Sentiment (68.0). Not surprisingly, expectations are for some of the worst readings in history, but the way the market has been behaving, I think the risk is actually for a less negative data print and a sharp risk rally. Eventually, unless there really is a V-shaped recovery, I do see risk being shed, but it doesn’t seem like today is the day to get started.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

 

Rule By Decree

The virus continues to be
Our number one priority
The global response
Has been to ensconce
The idea of rule by decree

Thus governments, both left and right
Expand as they all try to fight
Their total demise
And what that implies
‘Bout politics as a birthright

Covid-19 has created a new lens through which we view everything these days, from financial market activity to whether or not to answer the doorbell. And in every task, we have become more circumspect as to the potential effects of our choices. As Dorothy said, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” But despite the major upheavals we have seen, we must still seek the best possible outcomes at our appointed tasks, be they as important caring for our loved ones, or as mundane as hedging FX risk. Of course, this note talks about the latter not the former, so while I truly wish you all to stay healthy and safe, that will not be the topic du jour.

Instead, I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss just how much firepower central banks and governments have thrown at Covid-19, or more accurately at the disruptions the spread of the virus has wrought. I have gathered from central bank websites the remarkable amount of actions that they have taken so far in just March of this year. This is not meant to be exhaustive but merely illustrative of the breadth of activity we have seen:

Central Bank Rate cuts Current rate QE  Bio USD equivalent
Fed -1.50% 0.25% 5000
BOC -1.50% 0.25% 90
Norgesbank -1.25% 0.25%
RBNZ -0.75% 0.25%
Chile -0.75% 1.00%
RBI -0.75% 4.40% 12
Bank of England -0.65% 0.10% 240
RBA -0.50% 0.25% 80
BOKorea -0.50% 0.75%
Philippines -0.50% 3.75%
BCBrazil -0.50% 3.75%
Colombia -0.50% 3.75%
Banxico -0.50% 6.50%
Thailand -0.25% 0.75%
Indonesia -0.25% 4.50%
PBOC -0.20% 2.20%
SNB 0.00% -0.75%
ECB 0.00% -0.50% 1100
BOJ 0.00% -0.10% 205
Riksbank 0.00% 0.00% 30
MASingapore 0.00% 1.26%
Russia 0.00% 6.00%
Danmark Nationalbank 0.15% -0.60%

The collective amount of rate cutting has been 10.70%! And QE that was easily confirmed now totals more than $6.75 trillion equivalent. Central banks are pulling out all the stops. Meanwhile, governments, to the extent they are separate than central banks, have been adding fiscal stimulus by the truckload as they create inventive new ways to support both businesses and individuals in this most remarkable of situations. Will it be enough to stem the tide? Only time will tell, but nobody can accuse these officials of not trying, that’s for sure.

Of course, as I have discussed previously, the biggest concern ought to be just how much of the economy is controlled by governments, especially in ostensibly free market nations, when all this finally passes. And even more importantly, how quickly they reduce that control. Alas, if history is any guide, it will require a revolution for governments to cede their grip on the economy, and by extension the power it brings. There is a book, “The Fourth Turning” by Neil Howe, which discusses the cycles of history. It is a fascinating read, and one which seems quite prescient as to the current global political situation. I highly recommend taking a look.

In the end, what seems quite certain is that what we assumed was normal just two months ago may never return. This is true of businesses as well as market behaviors. Safe havens have lost much of their luster as investors find themselves in a very difficult situation. How can getting paid just 0.6% nominally for 10 years (current 10-year treasury yield) be considered a safe place to hold your funds with inflation running at 2.3%, and after a likely short-term deflationary bout due to demand destruction, set to move to heights not seen since prior to the GFC? Of course, the answer is, it can’t. But then Treasuries have a higher return than Gilts, Bunds or JGB’s, the other nations to which one would naturally gravitate for a safe haven. Equities certainly don’t create warm and fuzzy feelings given the extraordinary situation with businesses shutting down everywhere and revenues and earnings collapsing. Commodities? Even gold has had a tough time, although it is marginally higher since all this really got going in earnest, but as a safe haven? Cryptocurrencies? (LOL). In fact, despite the ongoing depreciation of the dollar through creeping inflation, Benjamins are clearly the one thing that remain accepted as a place to maintain value. They are fungible and recognized worldwide as a store of value and medium of exchange. It is with this in mind that we should recognize the near-term outlook for the dollar should remain positive.

So what has happened overnight? The dollar is king once again, rising against all its G10 counterparts with CAD the laggard, -1.1%, after oil prices once again sold off sharply (WTI briefly traded below $20/bbl and isdown about 5.2%) this morning. But the weakness is widespread with SEK -1.0% and EUR -0.8% following closely behind the Loonie. European data released this morning showed, not surprisingly, that Economic Confidence (94.5 from 103.5) had fallen at its fastest pace ever, although it has not yet plumbed the depths of the Eurozone crisis in 2012. Give it time!

Emerging markets are also under significant pressure, with MXN today’s biggest loser, down 1.8%, as the combination of tumbling oil prices, the rapid decline of US demand and AMLO’s remarkably insouciant response to Covid-19 has investors fleeing despite the highest yields available in LATAM. But RUB (-1.3%) on the back of declining oil prices and ZAR (-1.1%) on the back of declining commodity prices as well as internal credit problems, are also suffering. In fact, just two currencies, MYR and PHP were able to rally today, each by about 0.2% as each nation announced additional fiscal and monetary support.

Looking ahead this week, aside from the ongoing virus news, we do get more data as follows:

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 3.29%
  Chicago PMI 40.0
  Consumer Confidence 110.0
Wednesday ADP Employment -150K
  Construction Spending 0.5%
  ISM Manufacturing 45.0
  ISM Prices Paid 41.8
Thursday Trade Balance -$40.0B
  Initial Claims 3150K
  Factory Orders 0.2%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls -100K
  Private Payrolls -110K
  Manufacturing Payrolls -10K
  Unemployment Rate 3.8%
  Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (3.0% Y/Y)
  Average Weekly Hours 34.2
  Participation Rate 63.3%
  ISM Non-Manufacturing 44.0

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, much of this is still backward looking and the real question on the NFP report is just how much of the disruption took place during the survey week, which was 3 weeks ago. I think the Initial Claims number will have more power this month, as well as the ISM data. But boy, next month’s NFP report is going to be UGLY!

At any rate, there is not going to be anything positive from the economic data set this week, or probably throughout April. Rather the next piece of positive news we will hear is when the infection curve has started to flatten and there is an end to this disruption in sight. As of now, one man’s view is we will be like this for another month at least. I sincerely hope for everyone, that it is shorter than that.

Good luck and stay safe
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