There once was a time in the past
When central banks tried to forecast
When signals were flashing
That rates needed slashing
‘Cause growth wasn’t growing so fast
But now that so many have found
Their rates near the real lower bound
The tools they’ve remaining
See potency waning
Unable to turn things around
Another day, another rate cut to mention. This time Peru cut rates 25bps responding to slowing growth both domestically and in their export markets as well as muted inflation pressures. Boy, we’ve heard that story a lot lately, haven’t we? But that’s the thing, if every central bank cut rates, then it’s like none of them have done so. Remember, FX markets thrive on the differential between policy regimes, with higher interest rates both drawing capital while reducing demand for loans, and correspondingly growth. So, if you can recall the time when there were economies that were growing rapidly, raising rates was the preferred method to prevent overheating.
But it’s been more than a decade since that has been a concern of any central bank, anywhere in the world. Instead, we are in the midst of a ‘race to the bottom’ of interest rates. Every country is trying to stimulate their economy and cutting interest rates has always been the preferred method of doing so, at least from a monetary perspective. (Fiscal stimulus is often far more powerful but given the massive debt loads that so many countries currently carry, it has become much harder to implement and fund.) One of the key transmission mechanisms for pumping up growth, especially for smaller nations with active trade policies, was the weakening in their currency that was a byproduct of cutting rates. But with everybody cutting rates at the same time (remember, we have had six central banks cut rates in the past week!) that mechanism is no longer working. And this is one of the key reasons that no country has been able to set themselves apart and halt their waning growth momentum.
A perfect example of this is the UK, where Q2 GDP figures released this morning printed at -0.2% for the quarter taking the Y/Y figure down to 1.0%. Obviously, the Brits have other issues, with just 84 days left before the Brexit deadline, but it is also clear that the global slowdown is having an impact. And the problem for the BOE is the base rate is just 0.75%, not much room to cut if the UK enters a recession. In fact, that is largely true around the world, there’s just not much room to cut rates at this point.
The upshot is that markets continue to demonstrate increasing volatility. In the FX markets there has been a growing dichotomy with the dollar showing solid strength against virtually the entire emerging market bloc but having a much more muted reaction vs. the rest of the G10. Of course, since the financial crisis, the yen (+0.3% today) has been seen as a safe haven and has benefitted in times of turmoil. So too, the Swiss franc (+0.2%), although not quite to the same extent given the much smaller size of the economy.
But perhaps the most interesting thing of late is that the euro has not fallen further, especially given the ongoing internal struggles it is having. Italy, for example, looks about set to dissolve its government and have new elections with all the polls showing Matteo Salvini, the League party’s firebrand leader set to win a majority. He has been pushing to cut taxes, spend on infrastructure and allow the Italian budget deficit to grow. That is directly at odds with the EU’s stability policy, and while both Italian stocks (-2.25%) and bonds (+25bps) have suffered today on the news, the euro itself has held up well, actually rallying 0.25% and recouping yesterday afternoon’s losses. Given the ongoing awful data out of the Eurozone (German Exports -0.1%, French IP -2.3%) it is becoming increasingly clear that the ECB is going to ease policy further next month. In fact, between Europe’s upcoming recession and Italy’s existential threat to the euro, I would expect it to have fallen further. Arguably, the rumor that the German government may increase spending has been crucial in supporting the single currency today, but if they don’t, I think we are going to see further weakness there as well.
In the meantime, the dollar is starting to pick up against a variety of EMG currencies this morning with MXN falling 0.4%, INR 0.6% and CNY 0.15%. Also, under the risk-off ledger we are seeing equity markets suffer this morning with both Germany (-1.25%) and France (-1.0%) suffering alongside Italy and US futures pointing to -0.6% declines on the open. It is not clear to me why the market so quickly dismissed their concerns over the escalating trade war by Tuesday, after Monday’s sharp devaluation of the CNY. This is a long-term affair and just because the renminbi didn’t continue to collapse doesn’t mean that things are better. They are going to get worse and risk will be reduced accordingly, mark my words.
As to this morning’s data we see PPI here at home (exp 1.7%, 2.4% core) and Canadian Employment Data where the Unemployment Rate is forecast to remain unchanged at 5.5%. Earnings data in the US continues to be mixed, at best, with Uber the latest big-name tech company to disappoint driving its stock price lower after the close yesterday.
I’m sorry, I just cannot see the appeal of risky assets at this time. Global growth is continuing to slow, trade activity is falling rapidly and there are a number of possible catalysts for major disruption, (e.g. hard Brexit, Italian intransigence, and Persian Gulf military escalations). Safety is the order of the day which means that the yen, Swiss franc and dollar, in that order, should be the beneficiaries. And don’t forget gold, which looks for all the world like it is heading up to $1600/oz.
Good luck and good weekend