High Tide

The dollar continues to slide
But is risk approaching high tide?
Last night t’was the Kiwis
Who hinted that their ease
Of policy may soon subside

As well, from the Fed yesterday
Three speakers had two things to say
It soon may be time
To change paradigm
Inflation, though, ain’t here to stay

There will come a time in upcoming meetings, we’ll be at the point where we can begin to discuss scaling back the pace of asset purchases.”  So said, Fed Vice-Chairman Richard Clarida yesterday.  “We are talking about talking about tapering,” commented San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly in a CNBC interview yesterday.  And lastly, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans explained, “the recent increase in inflation does not appear to be the precursor of a persistent movement to undesirably high levels of inflation.  I have not seen anything yet to persuade me to change my full support of our accommodative stance for monetary policy or our forward guidance about the path for policy.”

The Fed’s onslaught of forward guidance continues at full speed as virtually every day at least two or three Fed speakers reiterate that policy is perfect for the current situation, but in a nod to the growing chorus of pundits about higher inflation, they are willing to indicate that there will come a time, at some uncertain point in the future, when it may be appropriate to consider rolling back their current policy initiatives.

But ask yourself this; if inflation is going to be transitory, that implies that the current policy settings are not a proximate cause of rising prices.  If that is the case, why discuss tapering?  After all, high growth and low inflation would seem to be exactly the outcome that a central bank wants to achieve, and according to their narrative, that is exactly what they have done.  Why change?

This is just one of the conundra that is attendant to the current Fed policy.  On the one hand, they claim that their policy is appropriate for the current circumstance and that they need to see substantial further progress toward their goals of maximum employment and average 2% inflation before considering changing that policy.  On the other hand, we have now heard from five separate FOMC members that a discussion about tapering asset purchases is coming, which implies that they are going to change their policy.  Allegedly, the Fed is not concerned with survey data, but want to see hard numbers showing they have achieved their goals before moving.  But those hard numbers aren’t here yet, so why discuss changing policy?

The cynical answer is that the Fed actually doesn’t focus on unemployment and inflation, but rather on the equity markets foremost and the bond market secondarily.  Consider, every time there has been a sharp dislocation lower in stocks, the Fed immediately cuts rates to try to support the S&P.  This has been the case since the Maestro himself, Alan Greenspan, responded to the 1987 stock market crash and has served to inflate numerous bubbles since then.

A more charitable explanation is that they have begun to realize that they are in an increasingly untenable position.  Since the GFC, the Fed has consistently been very slow to reduce policy accommodation when the opportunity arose and so the history shows that rates never regain their previous peak before the next recession comes along.  Recall, the peak in Fed funds since 2009 was just 2.50%, reached in December 2018 just before the Powell Pivot in the wake of a 20% drawdown in the S&P 500.  In fact, since 1980, every peak in Fed Funds has been lower than the previous one.  The outcome of this process is that the Fed will have very little room to cut rates to address the next recession, which is what led to QE in the first place and more importantly has served to reduce the Fed’s influence on the economy.  Arguably, then, a major reason the Fed is keen to normalize policy is to retain some importance in policymaking circles.  After all, if rates are permanently zero, what else can they do?

It is with this in mind that we turn our attention elsewhere in the world, specifically to New Zealand, where the RBNZ signaled that its Official Cash Rate (Fed funds equivalent) may begin to rise in mid-2022.  This is a full year before previous expectations and makes the RBNZ the 3rd G10 central bank to talk about tightening policy sooner than thought.  The Bank of Canada has already started to taper QE purchases and the BOE has explained they will be starting next year as well.  It should be no surprise that NZD (+1.15%) is the leading gainer in the FX market today, nor that kiwi bonds sold off sharply with 10-year yields rising 8bps.

Do not, however, mistake this for a universal change in policy paradigm, as not only is the Fed unwilling to commit to any changes, but the BOJ remains in stasis and the ECB, continues to protest against any idea that they will be tightening policy soon.  For instance, just this morning, ECB Executive Board Member and Bank of Italy President, Fabio Panetta, said, “Only a sustained increase in inflationary pressures, reflected in an upward trend in underlying inflation and bringing inflation and inflation expectations in line with our aim, could justify a reduction in our purchases.  But this is not what we projected in March.  And, since then, I have not seen changes in financing conditions or the economic outlook that would sift the inflation path upward.”

Investors and traders have been moving toward the view that the ECB would be tapering purchases before 2023 as evidenced by the rise in the euro as well as the rise in European sovereign yields.  But clearly, though there are some ECB members (Germany, the Netherlands) who would be very much in favor of that action, it is by no means a universal view.  Madame Lagarde will have her hands full trying to mediate this discussion.

For now, the situation remains that the central bank narrative is still the most important one for markets, and the fact that we are seeing a split amongst this august group is a key reason FX volatility remains under pressure.  The lack of an underlying theme to drive the dollar or any bloc of currencies in one direction or the other leaves price action beholden to short-term effects, large orders and the speculator community.  We need a new paradigm, or at least a reinvigoration of the old one to get real movement.

In the meantime, the dollar continues to drift lower as US yields continue to drift lower.  Right now, the bond market appears to have faith in the Fed narrative of transitory inflation, and as long as that is the case, then a weaker dollar and modestly higher stock prices are the likely outcome.

Today’s price action, NZD excepted, showed that to be the case, with APAC currencies performing well, but otherwise a mixed bag.  Equity markets are marginally higher and bond yields have largely fallen in Europe, although Treasuries are little changed after a 4bp decline yesterday.  Gold is actually the biggest winner lately, having traded back above $1900/oz as investors watch the slow destruction of fiat currency values.  But in the FX space, the USD-Treasury link remains the most important thing to watch.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Aged Like Bad Wine

While Veterans here are recalled
And politics has us enthralled
The dollar’s decline
Has aged like bad wine
With strategies soon overhauled

US markets are closed today in observance of the Veteran’s Day holiday, but the rest of the world remains at work.  That said, look for a far less active session than we have seen recently.  In the first place, with the Fed on holiday, the Treasury market is closed and price action there has been one of the biggest stories driving things lately.  Secondly, while US equity futures markets are trading, all three stock exchanges are closed for the day, so the opportunity for individual company excitement is absent.  And finally, with today being an official bank holiday, while FX staff will be available, staffing will be at skeleton levels and come noon in New York, when London goes home, things here will slow to a standstill.

However, with that as a caveat, the world continues to turn.  For instance, while last week saw meetings in three key central banks, with two of them (RBA and BOE) explaining that easier monetary policy was in store, although the Fed made no such claims, last night saw the smallest of G10 nations, New Zealand, make headlines when the RBNZ explained that they were not changing policy right now, but that the economy there has been far more resilient than expected and they would not likely need to ease monetary policy any further.  It should be no surprise that the market responded by selling New Zealand government bonds (10-year yields rose 14.5 basis points), while overnight rates rose 16 basis points and traders removed all expectations for NIRP. QED, the New Zealand dollar is today’s best performer, rising 0.8%.

Sticking with the central bank theme, and reinforcing my view that the dollar’s decline has likely run its course broadly, although certainly individual currencies can strengthen based on country specific news, were comments from the Bank of Spain’s chief economist, Oscar Arce, explaining that the ECB must do still more to combat the threat of deflation in the Eurozone and that the December meeting will bring an entirely new discussion to the table.  The takeaway from the ECB meeting two weeks ago was that they would be expanding their stimulus programs in December.  Literally every comment we have heard from a European banking official in the interim has, not merely reinforced this view, but has implied that actions then will be massive.

I will repeat my strongly held view that the ECB will not, nay cannot, allow the euro to rise very far in their efforts to reboot the Eurozone economy.  Remember, one of the major benefits expected from easing monetary policy is a weakening of the currency.  When an economy is struggling with growth and deflation issues, as the Eurozone is currently struggling, a weak currency is the primary prescription to fix things.  You can be certain that every time the euro starts to rally near 1.20, which seems to be their tolerance zone, we will hear even more from ECB members about the additional easing in store as Madame Lagarde does her level best to prevent a euro rally.  And if the euro declines, so will the CE4 as well as the pound, Swiss franc and the Scandies.  In other words, the dollar is unlikely to decline much further than we have already seen.

In truth, those are the most noteworthy stories of the session so far.  Virtually every other headline revolves around either the ongoing election questions in the US, both the contestation of the presidential outcome and the upcoming run-off elections in Georgia for two Senate seats and control of the Upper House, or the vaccine and how quickly it can be approved and then widely distributed.

So, a quick look around markets this morning shows that risk appetite is moderate, at best.  For instance, equity markets in Asia were mixed with the Nikkei (+1.8%) continuing its recent strong run, up more than 10% this month, but the Hang Seng (-0.3%) and Shanghai (-0.5%) couldn’t find the same support.  Europe, on the other hand, is all in the green, but the movement is pretty modest with the FTSE 100 (+0.7%) the leader and both the DAX and CAC up just 0.4% at this hour.  US futures, which are trading despite the fact that equity markets here will be closed today, are all higher as well, with the NASDAQ (+1.0%) leading the way after having been the laggard for the first part of the week, while the other two are showing solid gains of 0.65%.

Bond markets in Europe are rising slightly, with yields slipping between 1 and 3 basis points on prospects for further ECB policy ease courtesy of Senor Arce as highlighted above, as there was no new economic data nor other statements of note.  As I mentioned, the Treasury market will be closed today for the holiday.

But commodity markets continue to perform well, with oil prices higher yet again, this morning by 3.2% taking the gains this week to 15%!  Metals prices, both base and precious, are also firmer as the vaccine news continues to spread good cheer regarding economic prospects going forward.

And finally, the dollar is best described as mixed to stronger.  For instance, against its G10 brethren, only NZD is firmer, as explained above.  But the rest of the bloc is softer led by NOK (-0.65%) and EUR (-0.4%).  While the euro makes sense given the Arce comments and growing belief that the ECB will really be aggressive next month, with oil’s sharp rebound, one must be surprised at the krone’s performance.  In fact, this merely reinforces my view that as the euro goes (lower) it will drag many currencies along for the ride.

However, in the EMG bloc, movement has been pretty even (excepting TRY) with a few more losers than gainers, but generally speaking, no really large movement.  On the plus side we see THB (+0.5%) and KRW (+0.45%) leading while on the downside it is MXN (-0.6%) and HUF (-0.45%) in the worst shape.  Looking a bit more deeply, the baht has been rallying all quarter and we may be looking at the last hurrah as the government has asked the BOT to manage the currency’s strength in order to help export industries compete more effectively.  Meanwhile, the won was the beneficiary of a significant jump in preliminary export data, with a 20.1% Y/Y gain for the first ten days of November auguring well for the economy.  Meanwhile, on the downside, the peso, which would have been expected to rally on the back of oil prices, is actually serving as a proxy for Peruvian risk as the impeachment of the president there Monday night has thrown the nation into turmoil and investors are seeking a proxy that is more liquid than the sol.  As to HUF, it is simply tracking the euro’s decline, and we can expect to see the same behavior for the entire CE4 bloc.

And that’s really it for today.  There is no news and no scheduled speakers and the session will be short.  But the dollar is edging higher, so keep that in mind.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Uncertainty Reigns

Concerns over trade still remain,
For bullish investors, a bane
They want to believe
That Trump will achieve
His goals, so investments can gain

But right now uncertainty reigns
Resulting in stock market pains
When risk is reduced
Then bonds get a boost
While euros and pounds feel the strains

The one thing we know for sure is that the trade situation continues to be a major topic on investor minds, whether those investors are of the equity or fixed income persuasion. Despite the ostensible good news that Chinese vice-premier Liu He would still be coming to Washington later this week to continue the trade talks with Mnuchin and Lighthizer, it seems the market has become a bit less convinced that a deal is coming soon. As I have written several times over the past few weeks, it seems clear the market had fully priced in a successful completion of the trade talks and an (eventual) end to tariffs. But the President’s tweets on Sunday has caused a serious reconsideration of that pricing. Arguably, the 2% decline we have seen in US equity indices over the past two sessions is not nearly enough to offset the full risk, but it is a start. Ironically, I think the constant reiteration by financial heavyweights like Christine Lagarde and Mario Draghi, of how important it is to avoid a trade war, has set up a situation where in the event no deal is reached, the market reaction will be worse than if they had never piped up in the first place.

At any rate, the increased tensions have certainly reduced risk appetites across the board. Not only have equity markets suffered (Nikkei -1.5%, Shanghai -1.1% after yesterday’s US declines) but Treasury yields continue to fall. This morning 10-year Treasury yields have fallen to 2.43%, their lowest since late March and essentially flat to the 3-month T-Bill. Expect to hear more discussion about an inverted yield curve and the omens of a recession in the near future.

Away from the trade situation, it seems most other market stories are treading water. For example, the Brexit situation has been back page news for the past two weeks. PM May continues to negotiate with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, but there is no consistency to the reports of progress. Labour wants to join the customs union which is something the pro-Brexiteers are fiercely against. Depending on the source of the article you read, a deal is either imminent or increasingly unlikely, which tells me that nobody really knows anything. The pound, which had seen some strength last week, especially on Friday when rumors of a deal were rife, has fallen a further 0.45% this morning and is back near the 1.30 level. It seems increasingly likely to me there will be no solution before the EU elections, and that there will be no solution before the October 31 deadline. Parliament remains riven and leadership there has been completely absent. I expect this to be exhibit A in the long tradition of muddling through by European nations.

Elsewhere in the FX markets, the RBNZ did cut rates last night by 25bps, unlike their Australian brethren who stayed on hold. Kiwi is softer by 0.25% this morning on the back of the news and has helped drag the Aussie with it. Of course, part of the malaise in these currencies is the ongoing uncertainty over the trade talks, as well as the suspect Chinese data.

Speaking of that data, last night China released much worse than expected trade results with exports falling 2.7% and imports rising just 4.0% resulting in a trade surplus of ‘just’ $13.8B, well below expectations. It seems that the tariffs are starting to have a real impact now that inventories need to be replenished. Aside from the impact on the Shanghai exchange noted above, the renminbi also drifted modestly lower, -0.1%, and continues to push toward levels last seen in January. One thing of which I am confident is that if the trade talks fall apart completely, CNY will weaken sharply and test the 7.00 level in short order. Part of the recent stability in the currency has been due to a general malaise in the FX market as evidenced by the extremely low volatility across the board. But part of it, no doubt, is the result of the PBOC managing the currency and absorbing any significant selling in order to demonstrate they are not manipulating the currency lower to enhance their trade. But that will surely end if the talks end unsuccessfully.

Away from those stories it is much more about a modest risk-off scenario today with both JPY and CHF stronger by 0.2%, while EMG currencies are suffering (MXN -0.4%, TRY -0.5%). However, the overall market tone is, not unlike the Fed, one of patience for the next catalyst to arrive. Given the dearth of important data until Friday’s CPI, that should be no real surprise.

In fact, this morning there are no data releases in the US although we do hear from Fed Governor Lael Brainerd at 8:30. Yesterday’s comments from Governor Clarida were generally unenlightening, toeing the line that waiting was the best idea for now and that there were no preconceived notions as to the next rate move. As such, I expect Brainerd to be on the same page, and the FX market to continue to tread water at least until Friday’s CPI.

Good luck
Adf

Great Apprehensions

In England the rate of inflation
Has fallen despite expectation
By Carney and friends
That recent price trends
Would offer rate hike validation

But markets have turned their attentions
To news of two likely extensions
The deadline on trade
And Brexit charade
Have tempered some great apprehensions

Two key data points lead the morning news with UK inflation falling below the BOE’s 2.0% target for the first time since the Brexit vote while Eurozone IP fell far more sharply than expected. Headline CPI in the UK declined to 1.8% while core remained at 1.9%, with both printing lower than market expectations. Given the slowing economic picture in the UK (remember the slowest growth in six years was reported for Q4 and 2018 as a whole), this cannot be that much of a surprise. Except, perhaps, to Governor Carney and his BOE brethren. Carney continues to insist that the BOE may need to raise rates in the event of a hard Brexit given the possibility of an inflation spike. Certainly, there is no indication that is likely at the present time, but I guess anything is possible. Granted he has explained that nothing would be done until the “fog of Brexit” has lifted but given the overall global growth trajectory (lower) and the potential for disruption, it seems far more likely that the next BOE move is down, not up. The pound originally sold off on the news but has since reversed course and is higher by 0.3% as I type. Overriding the data seems to be a growing belief that both sides will blink in the Brexit negotiations resulting in a tentative agreement of a slightly modified deal with a few extra months made available to ratify everything. That’s probably not a bad bet, but it is by no means certain.

On the Continent, the data story was also lackluster, with Eurozone IP falling a much worse than expected -0.9% in December and -4.2% Y/Y. It is abundantly clear that Germany’s problems are not unique and that the probability of a Eurozone recession in 2019 is growing. After all, Italy is already there, and France has seen its survey data plummet in the wake of the ongoing Gilets Jaunes protests. However, despite this data, the euro has held onto yesterday’s modest gains and is little changed on the day. The thing is, I still cannot figure out a scenario where the ECB actually raises rates given the economic situation. Even ECB President Draghi has recognized that the risks are to the downside for the bloc’s economy, and yet he is fiercely holding onto the idea that the next move will be higher rates. It won’t be higher rates. The next move is to roll over the TLTRO’s and interest rates will remain negative for as far as the eye can see. There is a growing belief in the market that because the Fed has halted its policy tightening, the dollar will fall. But since every other central bank is in the same boat, the relative impact still seems to favor the US.

Away from those stories, the market continues to believe that a US-China trade deal is almost done. At least, that’s the way equity markets are trading. President Trump’s comment that he would consider extending the March 1 tariff deadline if there was sufficient progress and it looked like a deal was in the offing certainly helped sentiment. But as with the Brexit issue, where the Irish border situation does not offer a simple compromise, the US requests for ending forced technology transfer and IP theft as well as the reduction of non-tariff barriers strike at the heart of the Chinese economic model and will not be easily overcome. It seems that the most likely outcome will be a delay of some sort and then a deal that will have limited long-term impact but will get played up by both sides as win-win. In the meantime, the PBOC will continue to add stimulus to the economy, as will the fiscal authorities, as they seek to slow the rate of decline. And you can be sure that no matter how the economy actually performs, the GDP data will be firmly above expectations.

And those are the big stories. The dollar has had a mixed performance overnight with two currencies making substantial gains, NZD +1.25% and SEK +0.6%, both of which responded to surprises by their respective central banks. The RBNZ left rates on hold, as universally expected, but instead of offering signs of further rate cuts, simply explained that rates would remain on hold for two years before likely rising. This was taken as hawkish and the currency responded accordingly. Similarly, the Riksbank in Stockholm explained that they still see the need for rates to rise later this year despite the current slowing growth patterns throughout Europe. As I had written yesterday, expectations were growing that they would back away from any policy tightening, so the krone’s rally should be no real surprise. But beyond those two stories, movement has been much less substantial in both the G10 and EMG blocs.

This morning’s data brings CPI (exp 1.5% headline, 2.1% core) which will be closely watched by all markets. Any further weakness will likely see another leg higher in equity markets as it will cement the case for the Fed having reached the end of the tightening cycle. A surprise on the high side ought to have the opposite impact, as concerns the Fed might not yet be done will resurface. There are also three Fed speakers, but for now, that message of Fed on hold seems pretty unanimous across the FOMC.

Absent a surprise, my money is on a directionless day today. The dollar’s recent rally has stalled and without a new catalyst will have a hard time restarting. However, there is no good reason to think things have gotten worse for the buck either.

Good luck
Adf

 

Up To New Tricks

The nation that first tried to fix
Its price target’s up to new tricks
Last night it explained
That rates would remain
Unchanged til growth, up, finally ticks

You know it has been a relatively uneventful session when the most interesting story is about New Zealand! For those with a bent toward history, it was then-RBNZ Governor Donald Brash, who in 1988 set the first inflation target for a nation, 3.0% at that time, and who was able to maintain the RBNZ’s independence from government meddling ( a new philosophy then) to help achieve that target and eventually bring interest rates down from more than 15% to low single digits. Well, last night when the RBNZ met, they left rates on hold at a record low level of 1.75%, as was universally expected, but they added a sentence to their policy statement “…that rates will remain at this level through 2019 and into 2020”, adding forward guidance to the mix and surprising markets completely. The result was that the NZD fell a bit more than 1% instantly and has continued lower to currently trade down 1.4% on the session and back to its lowest level since March 2016.

This action simply underscores the policy divergence that we have seen over the past two and a half years. Since the Fed’s first, tentative steps towards tightening in December 2015, it has been clear that the US remains ahead of the global growth cycle. And now we find ourselves in a world where several countries are trending higher (US, Canada, India, Sweden) in growth and inflation, while others are seeing the opposite outcome (China, New Zealand, Australia). Of course there are those who are in between, like the Eurozone and Japan, where they want to believe that things are getting better so they can normalize policy, but just don’t quite have the confidence yet. Maybe soon. And it is these policy differences, as well as expectations for their evolution, that will continue to be the key drivers of currencies going forward.

However, away from New Zealand, the G10 has been a dull affair. There has been limited data released and currency movement has been extremely modest, generally less than 0.1% since yesterday’s closing levels.

Emerging markets, though, have been a different story, with several of them really taking a tumble. Starting with Turkey, which has, of course, been under pressure for the past several months, last night saw yet another significant decline of 2.2%, which makes 6.5% this week and more than 50% in the past year. Additional US sanctions driven by the arrest of a US pastor in Turkey have been the recent catalyst, but the reality is that there is an increasing sense of doom attached to President Erdogan’s economic management theories, which include the idea that high interest rates cause inflation; they don’t fight it. But high inflation is what they have there, with the annual rate now running above 16% and rising. The lira has further to fall, mark my words.

Next on the list is the Russian ruble, which has recovered as I write to only be down by 0.6%, after having been lower by as much as 1.3% earlier in the session. However, this week it is lower by 4.2% and nearly 7% this month. The story here is a combination of both new US sanctions as the latest response to the poisoning of an ex Russian agent in the UK earlier this year, as well as the sharp decline in oil prices yesterday, WTI fell 3.2% after storage data indicated there was much more oil and products around than expected. The Russian economy is definitely feeling the squeeze of US sanctions and I expect that the ruble will continue to be pressured lower for a while yet.

But once we get past those currencies, there is precious little to discuss in this space as well. Which takes us to the upcoming data releases. This morning we see Initial Claims (exp 220K) and PPI (3.4%, 2.8% core) at 8:30 and then we hear from Chicago Fed president Evans at 9:30. Evans is a known dove, so the only possibility of a newsworthy event would be if he sounded hawkish. Yesterday, Richmond Fed president Barkin said it was time to get rates back to ‘normal’ and that two more hikes this year seem reasonable. While the futures market is not yet pricing in great confidence in a December move by the Fed, it seems a foregone conclusion to me.

In the end, nothing has happened to alter my views that the Fed will continue to lead the way in tighter monetary policy and that the dollar will be the main beneficiary of that action.

Good luck
Adf