The Minutes released yesterday
Had not very much new to say
Rates will keep on rising
And assets downsizing
Despite Trump’s propense to inveigh
The market reaction was swift
With 10-years receiving short shrift
The stock market fell
(Was this its death knell?)
While dollars received quite a lift!
And here I thought the FOMC Minutes would be dull and boring with limited market impact. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While the text itself was as dry as usual, it seems the market read between the lines and gleaned the following: interest rates are going to go higher for a while yet, a longer time than previously considered.
Arguably the biggest change in the September FOMC statement was the removal of the sentence regarding policy being accommodative. Chairman Powell focused on this at the ensuing press conference, and has commented on it since then as well. The gist of his message has been that since the dividing line between accommodative and not accommodative is so uncertain (r* is immeasurable) and that it is not likely to be stationary either, there is no way the Fed can be certain they have reached that target. Given that premise, describing their policy as accommodative seemed to express too much precision in something that is extremely uncertain.
However, the compilation of views from the Minutes seemingly showed a larger group of members sounding hawkish. In the end, the market read this to mean that the Fed was going to be raising rates at least another 100bps before they stop. Consider that if they act every quarter through the end of 2019, raising rates 25bps each time, Fed Funds is going to be in a range of 3.25%-3.50% at the end of next year. And while that is still low on a historic basis, it is much higher than markets have seen in more than a decade. Based on what we have heard from the ECB and BOJ, it is also much higher than their cash rates are going to be at that time. In fact, it is quite possible that in both those cases, cash rates will still be 0.00% or negative at the end of next year.
If you play out that scenario, it cannot be very surprising that the dollar was a beneficiary of the release of the Minutes. So yesterday’s 0.6% decline in the euro makes a great deal of sense. In fact, the dollar index performed in exactly the same manner, rising 0.6% on the day. And one thing to keep in mind is that Fed funds futures markets are still pricing in only a 25% probability that rates will be that high at the end of next year. If the Fed stays the course, and there is no reason yet to believe they won’t, that market will need to adjust, and other markets will adjust accordingly.
So a quick recap of the G10 currencies showed that the dollar performed will against all of them yesterday, but has since ceded some of that ground in what appears to be a short-term trading effect. So this morning’s 0.15% rise in the euro, or 0.1% rise in the pound hardly seems compelling.
But there was another story of note yesterday as well, the US Treasury issued its semiannual report on currencies and, once again, did not find China a currency manipulator by its legal definition. This cannot be a real surprise because despite the President’s constant complaints, according to the law, a country can only be designated a manipulator if three conditions are met; consistent currency intervention, running a large trade surplus with the US and running a large current account surplus overall. In fact, China has not been actively intervening on a net basis in the FX markets, and its overall current account surplus has actually fallen to near flat, although obviously it continues to run a large surplus with the US.
Recent price action in USDCNY had been extremely stable, with the PBOC seeking to maintain very modest volatility and expressly saying that they would not be using the exchange rate as a ‘weapon’ in trade. But interestingly, last night, after the release of the Treasury report, the PBOC fixed CNY at its weakest level in nearly two years and the renminbi fell 0.25%. As well, Chinese stock markets continued their recent declines, with Shanghai falling another 2.9% and now trading at its lowest point since December 2014. Concerns are growing that the Chinese economy may be slowing faster than anticipated and this is also being reflected in commodity prices, where base metals have been falling along with oil. (Oil also suffered because of the ongoing inventory build in the US, which when combined with fears over slowing global growth have been sufficient to add a little caution to all those claims that $100 oil was returning soon.)
And those were the big stories yesterday. The US data was surprisingly weak, with both Housing Starts and Building Permits falling and coming in well short of expectations. But this market is far more focused on the Fed and its perceived intentions than on a piece of data. That tells me that this morning’s Initial Claims (exp 212K) and Philly Fed (20.0) are unlikely to move markets. Of more interest may be speeches by two Fed speakers, Bullard and Quarles, especially if they delve into more detail of their policy expectations.
Equity futures are pointing lower, and Treasury yields have maintained yesterday’s gains and are back at 3.20%. My sense is that risk is being reduced across the board here, thus driving both stocks and bonds lower at the same time. If that is true, then look for further commodity price weakness and the dollar to retain its recent gains.